In my latest interview I spoke with fellow blogger and writer Justin Hernandez. Justin’s blog Naked In New York City has its own following and he’s gained a whole new fan base with his recently released first book Inside the Vortex. The book has the makings of a great Lifetime movie: sex, drugs, strippers, low points matched with triumphant comebacks. Check out what he had to say in this exclusive interview with The Man Crush Blog about his life, book and why you need to pick up his book.
Man Crush: As you know, I like to start every interview with a round of random questions to get the ball rolling. I hope you’re ready! In your book you talk about being a dancer. You’re planning an enticing, tantalizing routine for a room full of eager and horny men. What song will serve as the backdrop?
Justin Hernandez: Without a doubt, “Confide In Me” by Kylie Minogue. I always looked at stripping as engaging in the art of seduction. Accomplishing that successfully comes by establishing trust with the crowd. Make and maintain eye contact, and let everyone in the room know that they are your priority at that moment.
Man Crush: The book touches on your nickname “J-Boogie.” Let’s say you’re going for a bit of a re-invention and adapt a new nickname. What would it be and why?
Justin Hernandez: I don’t know if I have it in me to do another re-invention. I’ve been through quite a few already, and even the luckiest cat runs out of lives eventually! Besides, I’m really comfortable with where I’m at right now so it’s hard to pick another nickname and envision adopting a new persona.
Man Crush: What’s the biggest difference between West and East coast men?
Justin Hernandez: West coast men, particularly Los Angeles men, pretend they’re important, whereas East coast men know they’re important. There’s a different swag that involves much more confidence in New York, and I’m not just saying that because I’m from here. After living in both cities, it just seems like Los Angeles men always set themselves up to become the punch line of a cruel joke.
Man Crush: Say you have a crush on a guy. How would you let your interests be known to him?
Justin Hernandez: I strike up a conversation and feel out the situation. If the interest is mutual, I usually walk away with a phone number. If not, well at least I stepped out of my comfort zone and chatted up a stranger. Nobody ever died from approaching a man and being rejected, so I try not to let fear hold me back when I see someone I like.
Man Crush: You run a blog titled Naked In New York City that if you visit … you don’t see much nakedness happening! What’s the story behind the name of your blog?
Justin Hernandez: It’s a reflection of the complete honesty I’ve embraced. I kept secrets for years and it damaged my soul. I wanted to be as honest as possible on my blog. When I thought about that, I came up with the term “emotionally naked” for my writing style. Plus, it’s a playful “wink wink” reference to my past as a stripper because no matter how many years pass by, some people love to throw my past in my face. This is my way of beating them to the punch and saying, “Yeah I may have danced for dollars, but I have no shame about it.”
From Blogger to Published Writer
Man Crush: This interview is really about your recent book Inside The Vortex that was recently released. Before we get into details of the book could you talk about how you went from blogging to suddenly having a top-selling book? I know of many bloggers who wish they could make such a leap.
Justin Hernandez: I have two friends who one day told me flat out that I was a writer, and should think of myself as so. I had toyed with the idea of writing a book, but it was one of those wild dreams that I wasn’t sure would pan out. With their encouragement, I pushed myself and began writing Inside the Vortex. I started writing the book last July, and it shocks most people that it was published so quickly. I didn’t go the traditional route of finding a literary agent and then having the book shopped in hopes of getting a deal. I went to Createspace, which is a self-publishing platform. It allowed me full creative control, and I didn’t have to wait for a green light from anyone else. I hope it shows people you can be successful without adhering to a blueprint.
Man Crush: In cases of autobiographies it’s always interesting what gets cut more so than what makes it to the final printing. As you wrote your book, how did you choose what to put out there and what needed to stay private?
Justin Hernandez: Nothing was private. This is absolutely a no holds barred look at my life. Not everything I wrote made it into the final manuscript, but it came down to editing. Some of my L.A. dating stories are hilarious, but including them would have changed the tone and altered the flow of Inside the Vortex. There’s also another episode from my 20s, which involved a fling with a guy that moved me to Miami for about six months that was left out. This was my debut book—I think it’s better to leave people wanting more. It sets the stage for my future literary works. All the excerpts I edited out are going to be included in something else very soon.
Man Crush: I’ve kept up with your blog for some time now and know with your blog, you’re writing and keeping the focus on you. Therefore your experiences sometimes involve other real people. That could make for some complicated relationships with people wondering how much of their interaction with you will be exposed for all to read about and what will be private. Has writing and talking about the content of Inside the Vortex made you re-evaluate how you handle writing not only about your life but the lives of others?
Justin Hernandez: I think it reinforced my belief that I was on the right track. There’s something very therapeutic about chronicling one’s life. I’ve exercised a lot of my demons as a result. Yes, other people get written about as well, but I think I’m respectful with my approach. I changed all my exes names in the book (with the exception of one), and while I might talk about some of their unsavory characteristics, I wrote about my own as well. It takes walking a fine line to write about oneself publicly but still maintain privacy. I’m doing a pretty good job at it. The guys I date now know about my blog and the book, and they know that the intimate details between us stay between us.
Man Crush: One of the reasons I wanted to do the interview some time after the release of your book is because I wanted to get your perspective after you’ve read some reviews heard feedback and have had some time to reflect. So now that your book is out there and people have read and reacted to it, are there any aspects of the writing process that you wish you’d have done differently? Stories you feel should’ve been told, things that needed to be left out that made it in?
Justin Hernandez: No regrets here. Inside the Vortex was published exactly the way I initially envisioned it. The stories that I mentioned earlier will make their way into another publication down the road, and I think when people read them, they will understand why they weren’t included in the book.
Man Crush: Inside the Vortex covers a lot of your life. Are you considering writing another book and if so would it be a continuation of this book or would you take a different direction with it?
Justin Hernandez: I already have books two and three outlined. They’re not direct continuations of Inside the Vortex, but they will remain in the non-fiction genre. I enjoy writing about real life because truth is always stranger and far more interesting than fiction. There will be a sequel to Inside the Vortex someday, but I need to do a few more years of living before that happens.
Inside The Vortex
Man Crush: Now let’s actually discuss the book and a few themes and parts that stood out to me. Toward the end of The Amazing Spider Man Peter Parker’s English teacher says that one of her professors once said there are ten basic plots in fiction but she believes there’s only one- the exploration of the question, “Who am I?” As I read Inside the Vortex, I saw that theme being explored continuously. After writing the book do you feel you have a better understanding of yourself?
Justin Hernandez: Yes. I had a good idea of the man I was evolving into, but Inside the Vortex definitely gave me a clearer picture of who I am and where I’m going. Reading over the drafts of my manuscript was a core shaker. Seeing the past in print made me realize I spent years trying to understand myself. It seemed like I had glimpses of hope, but I just wasn’t able to get it together. It was my inability to do so that did me in on many occasions.
Man Crush: People may read the description of this book or may simply see it in gay and lesbian fiction and assume this is just another story about a gay guy dating, having sex, getting involved in drugs and so on. When I read this book I instead see this story about a guy in search of completeness. That sounds a bit like Jerry Maguire but there’s this overall feeling that in this book, you’re missing something and at each turn you think you’ve found something to fill it-whether it be a man, a drug, a job-but then you’re back to square one. Perhaps I’m completely off in my assessment but I’m curious to know what drives you in life and the narrative you’ve spawned. Is it a sense of being incomplete or something else entirely?
Justin Hernandez: You’re absolutely right in your assessment! I’ve always searched for something to bring me happiness and completion in the past. I wound up in a lot of hot water as a result of that. Drugs, alcohol, sex, money, stripping, more sex. I know most gay men would hear that and say, “What’s wrong with those things? They sound great!” The road to self-completion has been a long one for me. I’m on the other end of that journey now, and I find that exploring and dissecting what helped me get here is empowering. I certainly don’t see my book as being a cautionary tale or a “this is what not to do with your life” story. I’m just a guy who’s lived a wild life and was fortunate enough to come out of it alive and without many scratches.
Man Crush: If I had to put this into a genre of literature other than the broad gay and lesbian category I’d actually put it in the romance genre. And not the harlequin romance but the classic genre that dealt with adventure, courtly love all topped with moral lessons to be taught and learned. I of course have known you for a bit before reading this book but after doing so I got the sense that you’re this very romantic figure stuck in a world that’s sort of grown a bit callous and cold toward feelings and romance. Did you tell your life story with love and the desire to be loved taking center stage or was that not even a focus for you?
Justin Hernandez: It wasn’t my primary intention, but after I was done, I did see the theme of love throughout the book. I think that’s one of the elements that everyone can identify with. I’m an optimist, so I believe even the coldest person secretly longs for love somewhere deep inside of them. What’s funny is I also see how my desire and fixation with being loved caused me to neglect the development of my own self-love.
Man Crush: How do you feel your being a minority within a minority community effects your story or perspective? I know some may believe race doesn’t impact your experiences as an out gay male while others, me included, know that sometimes being a minority within the gay community can really be an experience within itself.
Justin Hernandez: It’s unfortunate, but I think the gay community at times caters to a cyclical merry go round of being cruel and mistreating those that are perceived as different. Sadly, that also applies to race. It’s ironic considering we all went through our fair share of getting teased as kids and being called sissies. Then we grow up and practice that same teasing and discrimination. I know it’s out there, but I try not to let it impact my thoughts and what I’m putting out into the universe. I try to have nothing but love for even the most vicious gays. I know they are just channeling their inner mean girls to make up for having their lunch money stolen as kids.
Man Crush: I’m trying hard not to reveal too much about the book so not to spoil it for the readers so I’ll ask you, if there was one overall lesson to take away from the book, what would it be?
Justin Hernandez: I would love it if everyone who reads Inside the Vortex turns the last page and says, “Wow this guy went through hell and became a better person because of it.” I want everyone to know that we can change anything we are unhappy with about our lives. We just have to want it bad enough, and be willing to do the work to make it happen. And it’s never too late to get it together!
Justin Hernandez: Inside the Vortex has everything your audience could want or need in a book. Men, sex, stripping, and more sex. Plus, everyone always wants to know what happens backstage between the strippers. Are they getting high? Do they fool around with each other? You’ll find out when you pick up this book. And trust me…it’s more salacious and revealing than anything that was in the movie Magic Mike.
Man Crush: Your book has a proper beginning and ending though you’re life is of course still going on. If you were to sit down and pen Once More Into the Vortex how would you hope your story or narrative would change? What parts or elements of your life would you hope would remain the same?
Justin Hernandez: I hope what would remain the same is the honesty with which I write about my life. As for what would be different? Well hopefully I won’t have had a relapse in the future and revert back to some of my old patterns and bad behaviors. Nothing would be more tragic than for people to pick up a sequel just to read about how I still chase after dysfunctional relationships, love to get drunk, and at the age of 40, decided to return to a career as a stripper.
Man Crush: Here’s that classic question writers get asked. If someone were to turn your book into a movie, do you have an actor in mind to play you? If you don’t have anyone in mind, what sort of characteristics or attributes would the right actor need to have to play Justin Hernandez?
Justin Hernandez: No one in particular comes to mind, but I would say that the actor playing me would have to have the ability to portray both light and dark emotional characteristics. Since I was a dancer, he should also be rhythmically coordinated. He needs to come across as hard and tough, but still be fragile in certain ways. He should also embody sex appeal, while still maintaining optimism and innocence. Basically, a bald-headed Puerto Rican male version of Marilyn Monroe!
Man Crush: I want you to tell people all the creative manners in which you’ve promoted your book. I’m asking specifically about your use of Grindr and other gay apps.
Justin Hernandez: I’m a New York hustler, and we do what we have to do to get people to notice us. Having said that, I want to give a HUGE thank you to Grindr, Scruff, and Jack’d for providing me with profiles that allow me to hawk my book. I would thank Mister, but they caught on to me right away, and both deleted and banned me. I’ve had guys buy my book just from reading my profiles on these apps. It’s a little underhanded, but I do chat politely with most people (and block the rude and inappropriate ones). It’s not all business though, I met a cool guy on Grindr and we’re dating.
Man Crush: You get the final word in the interview! What parting shot or thought would you like to deliver as readers rush off to purchase Inside the Vortex after reading this entertaining and tantalizing interview?
Justin Hernandez: Every copy of Inside the Vortex that is purchased on Amazon comes with its own virtual lap dance! Buy the paperback, and I’ll be more than happy to meet up with you and sign it! Buy the Kindle copy, and I’ll sign your underwear! Buy the paperback and Kindle copy…hell, I’ll sign my underwear and give it to you! On a more serious note, I’m grateful that my literary debut has been well received. It’s such a great feeling knowing that I wrote a book that people are enjoying and relating to. Thank you.
You can keep up with Justin by joining his Facebook page, following him on Twitter @justin_jboogie or by visiting his blog Naked in New York City. His book Inside the Vortex is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle edition. Click here to purchase your copy today.