“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” in Spanish, was what started Eduardo Santiago on his career path. “I was confined in bed for two months with hepatitis when I was 7,” said Santiago remembering his boyhood in Cuba. “It felt like two years.” The gift of the book from his uncle not only helped Santiago through his confinement but played a big role in shaping him into the adult he is today. “From that moment on I started becoming who I am — adventurous, curious, reckless. It came from the book.”
By the time Santiago and his family left Cuba for the United States in 1968 when he was 10, that early immersion in literary fiction had taken hold. “I wanted to write from the time I was young. I always thought being a novelist was the highest accomplishment one could achieve in life.” And in getting to that goal, it was Mark Twain, driven by curiosity, who inspired him. “I went down the Mississippi of the imagination,” remembered Santiago. “I was that kid that adults didn’t know where I had gone. I was off investigating.”
After graduating from Cal Arts with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts, he worked successfully in television, writing for Group W Productions, an entertainment arm of Westinghouse, with syndicated afternoon shows. “None of them lasted too long, which was good for me because I didn’t get too comfortable in television,” he said. He noted the money was good and allowed him to continue to hone his craft — writing short stories and learning as he went along. “You don’t realize until you are older that you have lived your life as an adventurer,” he said. “My father can’t figure out why I live my life this way and why I left a career in television. Nothing I have done since has made me that much money, yet.”
He left television for his second career, as a novelist. By the time he graduated from Antioch University with a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing, he had already published his first novel “Tomorrow They Will Kiss” (Little Brown and Co. 2006) which took Best Historical Novel and Best First Book honors at the International Latino Book Awards and was a finalist for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction. His second novel, “Midnight Rumba,” was published in 2012. His shorter works of fiction have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Advocate and other publications.
Many in Idyllwild know Santiago from his annual author series, now in its fifth year. Upon buying a home in Idyllwild five years ago, Santiago, already a successful novelist, started his eight-week summer series. He used his Los Angeles connections to import a broad mix of Los Angeles authors for his free series. He had no money to fund it, but characteristically, he launched it anyway, certain he’d find ways to make it work. He quickly developed a following, both because of the diverse authors he featured and also because of his engaging interview style.
The series, in many ways, was part of a transition into Santiago’s next and present career — as a teacher at UCLA Extension and the Menifee Campus of Mt. San Jacinto College. He said he finds incredible satisfaction and fulfillment in teaching. “I got to live my dream of becoming a published author,” he said. “It makes me happy to help others achieve a similar dream. If you have to work for a living, and I do, how much more wonderful can it be to sit in a room with people who love books and get paid for it?”
As a writer and teacher, Santiago has drawn upon his journey from being that 7-year-old reading Tom Sawyer, to being an immigrant who “fell in love with the English language,” to being a professional who fashioned multiple careers from always being curious. “As a boy, I took emotional photographs, forcing myself to remember — not the visual details, not the colors of the wall, but how I felt about what was going on,” he said. “If I can write a scene emotionally, I can always fill in the physical details to support the scene.”
Santiago is presenting his second Idyllwild Writer’s Retreat in May and has one writer returning from China for the four-day course.
“I’m open to having a fourth career,” said Santiago, smiling. “I just don’t know what it is yet.”
For more information about Santiago see www.eduardosantiago.com.