“Like a dream come true”: Karla Martinez faces life (and writing) head on

Karla Martinez

by Timothy Pike

Author Karla Martinez‘s writing career almost didn’t survive a computer crash.

“I wrote a fantasy trilogy called The Guardians,” Karla says. “I was very proud of myself for finishing that story—three complete books with a well-developed plot—but then I lost the file because my computer broke. I came back from work and the computer wouldn’t turn on. It wouldn’t do anything. My masterpiece was gone.”

This would be a big setback for anybody, but to a young writer just starting out, it was beyond discouraging. “It broke my heart to the point of quitting,” she says. “I stopped writing. I boxed all the books I was going to read and never saw them again. I dedicated myself to work, and doing nothing else.”

But as devastating as losing an entire trilogy was for Karla, she had already been through far worse.

When Karla was just a child, her family was forced to flee El Salvador—where she was born—because of rising gang violence in her hometown. “My life in El Salvador was very difficult,” she says, “from being robbed at gunpoint to being homeless. Because of the violence and lack of opportunities, my mother was left with only one choice: run away before the gangsters who controlled the neighborhoods killed us all. I was forced to leave my house and loved ones behind.”

Today, Karla, who describes herself as a “very private person,” lives with her husband and two puppies in Columbia, Maryland. It’s a quieter life, but there, opportunity abounds. “My husband supports me by giving me the time I need to invest myself in every project I have in mind,” she says. “He listens to my ideas and helps figure out a plan to make everything work.”

Karla spends her days working as a customer representative for “a small but well-respected company,” and spends the rest of her time steadily building her writing career. She knows that many of her colleagues have no idea what she does outside of work, and it’s a thought she actually relishes. “I like surprising people by doing unexpected things,” she says, “like publishing a book.”

Though her love of writing goes back to childhood, high school was a tipping point for Karla—particularly her junior year. That’s when she started reading manga—Japanese comics—the Twilight series, and pretty much any book by Nicholas Sparks she could get her hands on. “I’ve always been a big fan of Nicholas Sparks,” she says. “Every book he writes turns out to be an emotional story that makes everyone cry, hurt, and hate at the same time.”

All that reading paid off when one day, inspiration struck. “After reading so many books, I wanted to officially create my own story,” Karla recounts. “Something similar but different at the same time. Something people would like and relate to on a different level.”

So she did what any other devoted Twilight fan her age would do: dove in headfirst and started writing about vampires and angels. But as time went on, she realized that wasn’t what she truly wanted to write. “Reading helped me survive social anxiety and depression,” she remembers thinking. “How can I help the kids that are now going through the same thing I went through?” Soon, a new story took shape, one that would become her first published book, Don’t Let Go, a young adult novel that explores a number of complicated topics and situations:

Like a princess, one day Samantha is awakened with a kiss from her crush, Cameron. Someone dreamy and gorgeous which, of course, can’t be any good for her. Samantha finds herself torn by her painful fate when she finds out she doesn’t have long to live. The reality of every moment she spends with Cameron is that her heart races and her life shortens. This painful truth brings her closer to Cameron’s best friend, Yael, a nice guy who hides a big secret. It’s a secret that turns Samantha’s short life into chaos: to choose friendship over love, or to choose life over death.

Sounds good, right? Fortunately, Karla has made her debut novel available for you to read on ChapterBuzz for a limited time.

Don’t Let Go is the second story I ever wrote and completed,” she explains, “in which I want to show people that even if you’re going through a very difficult time in your life, you can still look at the bright side of every obstacle.”

By that time, Karla was no stranger to life’s obstacles. But there was one she still found particularly difficult to overcome: venturing outside of her comfort zone.

It was fear, mainly, that held her back. “The fear of not being good enough,” she says, “and also the pressure of not pushing myself to the best of my ability.” It didn’t help that throughout childhood, she constantly felt upstaged by her brother, who had a knack for drawing. “I remember growing up under the shadow of my brother,” she recalls. “Being in the same school, watching how easygoing he was, how people loved everything he did. I wanted people to like what I did as well, but the fear of letting my family down by doing something they didn’t approve of stopped me from telling them what I loved to do.”

Then one day, she made a surprising discovery. In the midst of all of her inner turmoil, Karla found words of encouragement in the most unexpected place: her own novel.

“I started reading my own story, Don’t Let Go,” she tells me, “which focuses on the life of Samantha Collins, a normal girl that thinks she lives a normal life, until something happens and she has to make a choice: live life to the fullest even if it’s for a short time, or live longer but not experience anything at all. I realized that I was doing something wrong. I needed to follow my own message in the story. I need to live life and experience what I want before it’s too late.”

But how? She so badly wanted to spread her message and help others, while living her own life to the fullest, but she had more than a few doubts about her ability to do it.

“I’m not very good at expressing myself in person,” Karla admits. “I’ve never been very good at selling myself or anything I do.” But what she could do was write, and she already knew how powerful stories could be. “Once I start writing,” she says, “I can’t stop.”

Drawing on her strengths, she made a decision that instantly boosted her confidence—and set her writing career in motion.

“Once I decided to ignore those inner voices and all those fears, I posted Don’t Let Go online and people started to connect. Every day I would find a comment or a review that would tell me how much people loved the story.”

For Karla, it gave her a new outlook on life. “Everything I’ve done since I decided to step out of my comfort zone and publish my book,” she says, “is like a dream come true.”

And with her dreams coming true, there’s no slowing Karla down. As you might expect from such a determined writer, she’s already hard at work on her next novel.

“I’m currently working on Beyond the Deep Water, a story I hold very dear to my heart,” she tells me. “Because even though the characters are a creation of my imagination, every emotion is something I was feeling at the time I was writing it.”

Publishing that book is one of her short-term goals, but these days, Karla is training her gaze a little further down the road. “There are many stories for me to tell, many scenarios for me to explore, and a lot of will to make it happen,” she says. “In five years, I see myself accomplished enough to go back to El Salvador and serve as an example for the youth who are growing up in difficult conditions. Show them that nothing is impossible, that with determination we can make great things happen.”

“I know it will require a lot of work, discipline, and sacrifices,” adds Karla, “but I believe I can do it.”

You can read the entirety of Karla’s first published novel, Don’t Let Go, on ChapterBuzz in our brand-new Hot Off the Press section. Also, check out Karla’s work-in-progress, Beyond the Deep Water, that she’s writing under the name Ivette Martinez.

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