Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Diversity in Writing

I recently recommended a fiction crime novel written by a Latino author, in which most of the characters in the book are Latino, to a bookclub that specializes in crime fiction. My suggestion was kindly declined because, "The members of the bookclub don't really read these types of books."
Say what?!?
This is a bookclub that proudly states its keen interest in all things crime related: Mysteries, Thrillers, Whodunits, Police Procedurals, True Crime, etc. But their readers weren't interested in this particular author's novel?
I could understand if the guy's novel had been vetted by the bookclub and had been found sub-par or unreadable, I could understand if it was the wrong genre, and I could definitely understand if the writer was a hack and his work was less than stellar. But it was none of those things.  When I checked what other books this bookclub had read in the past, I noticed that not one book was written by a person of color, and that most of the books did not contain a prominent character character of color except for James Patterson's Alex Cross.
  It seems that diversity, even in fiction, is not everyone's cup of tea. And that's okay, because if that's what floats your bookclub's boat, then so be it. I'm not here to tell people what they SHOULD read. Reading is something we should enjoy and relax while doing it. But I am here to suggest to people what it is that they should WRITE.
  It kind of reminds me of the time an agent read my manuscript an told me that it was very well written, and that the story was compelling. But, she recommended that I change the main protagonist from being a Puerto Rican cop to making the bad guy Puerto Rican because, as she said, "Most people equate Puerto Ricans with committing crimes rather than the other way around."
I see.....
And so that brings me to the topic of today's blog, "Diversity in Writing."  If you're a REAL New Yorker, or actually if you're the resident of any large city in America, you are bound to be surrounded by at least a portion of mankind's wonderfully rich diversity. If however you are, as much as you may deny it, an elitist snob, you will take great pains to not notice these people and thus devalue them into invisibility.  I am here to tell you that if you are really a writer, whatever the genre, you are doing yourself and your readers an injustice by keeping your writing totally vanilla. Writing that does include realistic persons of color is not honest, whole, or entirely credible. Of course, if you're purposely writing for an audience that doesn't believe in, care for, or appreciate diversity; more power to you. But most people understand that the world is shrinking, and that the world has made its way to our doorstep in all of it's richness, complexity, fullness, and mystery. And as a writer, it is your duty to capture all of those things in your writing. I have read novels about New York City where no one in the novel interacts with a person of color unless it's in a stereotypical or derogatory fashion. All Latinos are gangmembers, blacks are drug dealers, Asians are cab drivers, etc. Not only is this unrealistic, it's unfair to the communities or individuals that you are portraying in your writing. It's also unfair to your readers, since you insist on feeding them a distorted view of a world that you're asking them to accept and believe in. If you have decided to write a novel that takes place in a large city, do your research and open your eyes... WIDE!  The world is made up of more than just people that look, sound and think like you. And portray them honestly, not just as the length and breadth of your friends, relatives, or drinking buddies experience tell you. I remember when I used to work for an insurance company, a looong time ago. One other employee and I were the only persons of color that worked there. I felt that I got along very well with my co-workers and that the feeling was mutual. I never heard or experienced racist or derogatory terms directed towards me or my fellow co-worker of color. Then one day, I heard and saw that several of my other co-workers were in a somewhat heated discussion. One of these co-workers, not the person of color, then led the group to where I was sitting at my workstation. This person then asked me a question that I never thought would come out of her, or anyone's, mouth. She said, since it was more statement than question, "Isn't it true that Puerto Ricans consider roaches to be a delicacy!?!"
I was mortified!  I was mortified that, not only would she say this in front of all these other people, but that she also wholeheartedly believed it. I told her, and everyone else in her little assemblage, that Puerto Ricans felt towards roaches as everyone else did; that they are disgusting, vile insects. Her friends sheepishly walked away, but she continued to stand there in open-mouthed shock. Then she confessed that this fallacy was a tale often told to her siblings and herself by their NYPD officer father, and she had believed it for all these years.
  I am sure that you do not want to repeat her mistake in your writing. Tales, stories, experiences, and memories shared by family, friends and acquaintances, does not amount to real research, especially when it comes to writing factually about the people around you. Your writing should reflect the myriad voices of the other human beings that share your overall space. Make them as real as your other characters, meet some of them in real life and talk to them. Don't rely on your great writing skills to get the job done. Even one of my favorite authors, Stephen King, has fallen into that trap twice or more times. He once described someone as putting a silencer on a revolver, where some simple research would have let him know that you cannot put a silencer on a revolver (not a typical silencer anyway).
  So I urge you out there to add a little color to your writing, and while you're at it see if you can also make room for the disabled, those of different religions, and the LGBTQ community.  Try to avoid the stereotypical depictions, be honest and realistic. Let the world's diversity stretch and strengthen your skills as a writer... and as a person. Then your writing will truly represent the real world at large and you will have added the spice of life to it.
Your writing will be the better and more believable for it.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Master of Disaster

There are major disasters happening all over the world, floods, wildfires, hurricanes, wars... Anytime you look on the internet, you can't help but be a witness to the suffering that's going on, as well as the examples of heroism in the face of what may sometimes seem like insurmountable odds. People, and even animals, continue to demonstrate not only a will to survive, but often a need to come to the aid of their fellow living being. It's honorable, inspiring, and... not always what the human psyche is about.
If you're a crime, mystery, horror, or thriller writer, then you must understand that evil doesn't take a break when disaster hits. In fact, very often evil will take advantage of the chaos created during a disaster in order to carry out it's agenda. Serial killers, rapists, murderers, kidnappers, etc. see disasters as an opportunity to prey on those made even more vulnerable by the (hopefully) temporary breakdown of emergency services, police response, and society as a whole. When the flood waters rise and the smoke of wildfires obscure the landscape, now is the time for those of the criminal element to strike, and strike fast before the rule of law and order are restored.
And so, if you are indeed a crime, mystery, horror, or thriller writer, these terrible disasters can be the perfect background for your next novel or short story. I'm not encouraging you to make a profit out of the suffering of others, but let's face it, if you're a writer in any of the genres that I just mentioned, isn't that what you already do? Some of the best writings or movies, from Homeric poems to "Bushwick", take the consumer down the dark paths of the human condition. We like to think that the best of us comes out when disaster strikes, but the truth is that the worst of us often makes an appearance as well. That's what I found so fascinating about a book titled, "The Last Policeman" by  Ben H. Winters. It follows a police detective in New Hampshire as he investigates a suicide he believes was really a murder, but his efforts at an investigation are complicated by the social, political and economic upheavels created by the fact that an asteroid is going to impact the earth six months in the future.  So here's a guy who is a cop, trying to conduct an investigation, while he and everyone around him knows that life, as they know it, will cease to exist in six months!
So keep that in mind the next time that you're agonizing about the world you're creating for the characters in your next short story, novella, or novel. Perhaps fighting for survival and/or against the elements, as well as for the truth or to stop a crime or crimes, would raise the bar of tension and level of conflict in your next work. And as I've said before, it is conflict that makes your story move.
So maybe it's time for you to become the next Master of Disaster.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Reading is Fundamental

I fondly remember those old commercials that tried to convince folks to start reading by telling them that, "Reading is FUNdamental." I have always loved reading, and even though those commercials didn't exactly apply to me, I appreciated them. Back in the day, too many of my peers avoided reading and some of them absolutely hated it. I, on the other hand, was addicted to reading and if I ran out of books to read, I would read cereal boxes, canned food labels, whatever was at hand. In an unselfish act of parental love, my parents sacrificed themselves financially in order to buy our household a set of encyclopedias from a traveling encyclopedia salesman that showed up at our door in East New York (remember those?). They fed my addiction with those wonderful, sacred tomes and I loved them all the more for it. I voraciously read every single book, including the bonus dictionary, from cover to cover, and then I read them again. I loved those books so much that 50 years later, I still have some of them (including the bonus dictionary) in my bookcase at home.
  In school, it was pretty much the same thing. There was a reading program introduced to inner city  schools at the time in which student were encouraged to read various books called "Readers" (I still have a couple of those too, gifted to me by the P.T.A. of my grade school), and then once you've finished a story in the reader, the teacher would then hand you a color-coded card from the set on her desk and you would answer the questions on the card pertaining to the story. This system was designed to last for the entire school year. I finished the entire set in less than two months. I wound up going through the whole program at least four times before any of my fellow students had finished it even once. Why? Because I truly loved reading, and I still do. By the time I finished the third grade, I had an 11.4 reading level. In junior-high school, I wrote an article that was published (my first published work!) as a Guest column in D.C. comics. What was the subject? How reading comic books is good for you!
  In an article in the online newsletter Lifehack titled, "The 10 Benefits of Reading" by Lana Winter-Hébert, she outlines the benefits of reading. I'm just going to briefly paraphrase each point she makes.

1. Mental Stimulation

Studies have shown that staying mentally stimulated can slow the progress of (or possibly even prevent) Alzheimer's and Dementia, since keeping your brain active and engaged prevents it from losing power.

2. Stress Reduction

No matter how much stress you have at work, in your personal relationships, or countless other issues faced in daily life, it all just slips away when you lose yourself in a great story.

3. Knowledge

Everything you read fills your head with new bits of information, and you never know when it might come in handy.

4. Vocabulary Expansion

This goes with the above topic: the more you read, the more words you gain exposure to, and they'll inevitably make their way into your everyday vocabulary.

5. Memory Improvement

When you read a book, you have to remember an assortment of characters, their backgrounds, ambitions, history, and nuances, as well as the various arcs and sub-plots that weave their way through every story.

6. Stronger Analytical Thinking Skills

Have you ever read an amazing mystery novel, and solved the mystery yourself before finishing the book? If so, you were able to put critical and analytical thinking to work by taking note of all the details provided and sorting them out to determine "whodunnit".

7. Improved Focus and Concentration

When you read a book, all of your attention is focused on the story—the rest of the world just falls away, and you can immerse yourself in every fine detail you're absorbing.

8. Better Writing Skills

This goes hand-in-hand with the expansion of your vocabulary: exposure to published, well-written work has a noted effect on one's own writing, as observing the cadence, fluidity, and writing styles of other authors will invariably influence your own work. In the same way that musicians influence one another, and painters use techniques established by previous masters, so do writers learn how to craft prose by reading the works of others.

9. Tranquility

In addition to the relaxation that accompanies reading a good book, it's possible that the subject you read about can bring about immense inner peace and tranquility.

10. Free Entertainment

For low-budget entertainment, you can visit your local library and bask in the glory of the countless tomes available there for free.

Notice the one that I bolded?  It says in a nutshell what I am trying to get across to you, and that is that you cannot possibly be a good writer without first being a good and dedicated reader. I have been approached by quite a few people that tell me they are writiing or want to write a book, but they dislike reading. How is that going to work? To write, you must be a connoisseur of the language in which you intend to write. No one is saying that you should know every word and the meaning of those words, but you should have a working knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, spelling, syntax...  and all of those things are developed and sharpened via reading. Tons of people that I know want to write their memoirs or the biography of a family member or loved one, but most of those same people have never read one. In my home, everyone has their own library of books and in each library is a broad sprinkling of various genres and types. My own library contains everything from a collection of Shakespeare's works, to Sci-Fi and Fantasy books, to books on religion, to books by contemporary Latino authors, to books on geography, history, science, politics, war, writing, and horror. And, of course, I also have the biographies of Barack Obama, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Benjamin Franklin, Thurgood Marshall, and even Adoplh Hitler on my shelves.
A writer should, by consequence, be a reader. Ultimately it's good for them, good for their readers, and good for their writing.
 Need something to read? Visit my website at:

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Is your writing sickly?

Is your writing sickly?😷

There are writers out there, even some very successful ones, whose writing is in desperate need of a transfusion. Or vitamins. Or first aid. Or something!
  Why, you may wonder, do I say this? Because  as a writer it's not enough to simply put words to paper. In order to get your readers fully engaged, your writing must be too! You must inject those pesky blank pages, whether prose or poetry, with life! Your reader should find that your words are healthy, perky, and full of life. If not, your reader will quickly lose interest in your anemic writing and move on to more robust fare. Too many writers, and this is totally understandable but wholly unforgiveable, are more interested in having written than in the actual act of writing. So the writer gets lazy or loses interest, and just goes through the motion of putting words to paper without the requisite passion required for a reader to invest in it. Thus, this writing simply limps along in an unhealthy manner until it expires with a dusty wheeze of unrealized potential.
  Below are five ways you can diagnose whether or not your writing is sickly:
1. It bores you - If you're tired of your own writing, chances are good that your reader will be too.
2. No research involved - If you couldn't be bothered to invest much time into research, your reader may not be bothered to invest in your writing either.
3. Refuse to edit - Editing your own work can seem scary and tedious in the extreme, but it's essential!
4. Refuse rewrites - The bane of many writers, this is actually an opportunity for cleaning up and tightening down. Now is when you prove your dedication to your craft!
5. You don't READ - How in the world can you produce good, sound, healthy writing if you don't read? The answer? You can't!

  Here's a quote (that's actually two) on the subject from a well-known writer:
"I always have strong feelings when I write a book. Sometimes when I'm writing a book, I even cry when I'm writing. Once I read a quotation that I thought was very true for me, which is: 'No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.'" - Eve Bunting.
  So, if you think that your writing could use a shot in the arm, give it a boost with some vitamin YOU! Inject your passion, your time, and real effort into your writing and watch it become infused with the rosy, robust glow of good health!

Writers see sideways.

Writers see sideways.

Ever have someone admonish you to "stay focused," "zero in," or "Stay on task?" Ever wonder why you have a short attention span, find it hard to just drift off to sleep or stay asleep? Ever wonder why your view of the world sometimes seems a bit skewed compared to a lot of other folks? Well, despite what worried relatives and armchair physicians may tell you, those are all symptoms of a condition known as escritorus profundus (okay, I made that up. Sorry).
  Look, the fact is that you're a WRITER (or other creative person), and you simply cannot see the world as others do. In fact, one can argue that it's your job to see and experience the world differently than ordinary folks. A writer should see the world at a slant, or at least through slightly "slitted" eyes. The world is chock full of mysteries, wonders, and splendors that can only be seen or appreciated by a writer's sideways stare. Really, you know that your perspective is unique; folks have probably been hinting that to you all your life.
  So don't try to make your view of the world match everybody else's, don't try to tamp down your enthusiasm for the tilted, skewed, unpopular, or unusual. Step out of conformity and into yourself. Embrace the writer in you that must look at the world sideways to make it work.
  Sideways can be beautiful.😃

A Journaling we go...

A Journaling we go...

Writers, in general, write. That's just how it is. We work on our poems, scripts, stories, blogs, novels, what-have-you. It's how we're wired. Yet there's an area of writing that many writers overlook, even though many of us may have been introduced to it as kids in elementary school. Yes, that's right, I'm talking about the dreaded JOURNAL.
  A journal can be pretty much anything, but it's usually just a small notebook that you carry around and keep handy, so you can jot down your thoughts or ideas... or (horrors!) your feelings. A lot of people equate the keeping of a journal with the diary you or your sister may have kept stashed under your pillow and into which you poured your deepest, darkest secrets when you were a child. Well, yes and no. I would say that a journal is not like a diary or even a blog, although it probably contains elements of both.
  You may opine that you already do a lot of writing, and I'm sure you're right, but a journal is different. In your journal you'll capture fleeting ideas, sights, sounds, thoughts and smells. The feel of a dandelion covered in dew, the minute fragrance of a woman's perfume as she passes by in a crowd, the shape of a leaf's shadow on a hot summer sidewalk.
  In your journal you can quickly snare an elusive idea for your next novel, chapter, non-fiction book, or Haiku. Your journal is like a net that can help you catch and keep the bits of flotsam and jetsam that your muse lobs your way a thousand times a day from a million directions. Your journals can then, in essence, become deposits of literary ore just waiting for you to mine them for inspiration, information, and ideas, "Whether you're keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it's the same thing. What's important is you're having a relationship with your mind." - Natalie Goldberg
 A relationship with your mind, that's a beautiful thing. Sometimes we, as writers, get caught up in the process or art of writing, and let our relationship with our mind suffer. Keeping a journal allows you to keep that relationship vital. Many times over the years we may wish that we could revisit certain moments in our lives: the birth of a child, a graduation, a marriage proposal, a goodbye... well, in lieu of a fully operational time machine, a journal would do nicely. A quick scan of an old journal where you mention the time you thought you lost your child in a department store would bring back a slew of thoughts, feelings, etc. that you could use in your writing. Not to mention that writing is what we do anyway. So try keeping a journal, it doesn't have to be filled with deep, thought-provoking lines meant for posterity. Just jot down everyday thoughts and experiences. Once you do, looking back at what you have written there, you'll be glad you did.
"Writing in a journal reminds you of your goals and of your learning in life. It offers a place where you can hold a deliberate, thoughtful conversation with yourself." - Robin S. Sharma

BooksGoSocial Interviews Arnaldo Lopez Jr

BooksGoSocial Interviews Arnaldo Lopez Jr, the author of Chickenhawk!

BooksGoSocial

Today we are chatting to Arnaldo Lopez Jr, author of Chickenhawk.
Tell us something unexpected about yourself!
I love nature and country living. I hope to someday own a farm and grow hops for the micro-brewery industry.
What kind of books do you write?
My first novel, Chickenhawk, is a crime/thriller. But I also enjoy science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. I am presently working on a fantasy novel.
What inspired you to write?
Reading! I love to read, and reading all of those great books over the years inspired me to strike out on my own.
What makes your writing stand out from the crowd?
I do a lot of research so that my writing, even though most of it is fiction, rings true and resonates with the reader. I also try to end each chapter of my novels with a cliffhanger.
What is the hardest part of writing – for you?
Rewrites! I’m not certain how other writers feel about it, but going over my writing four, five, six or more times searching for errors just annoys me!
Where do you like to write – what is your routine?
Well, I hate to admit it but my favorite place to write is my bed! It’s usually quiet in my bedroom and I keep a host of reference material, as well as snacks and beverages, within easy reach on my nightstand!
What do you do when you are not writing – do you have a day job?
I recently retired after almost 30 years with NYC Transit. So no day job for me, not anymore anyway! When I’m not writing, I’m reading, painting, drawing, watching t.v. or a movie, playing a video game, or puttering around the house or garden.
Do you work with an outline or just write?
I always have a rough outline and character outlines before I start, but usually the characters take over and write their own story.
What advice would you have for other writers?
Write! Tell your story and get it out there. The world deserves to hear your voice.
How important is marketing and social media for you?
Marketing, promotion, and social media are extremely important to me when it comes to my writing.
What’s your next step?
My next step is to finish this fantasy novel that my son and I are collaborating on, and then move on to the next project.