Friday, November 23, 2018

Writers and the daily commute...

One of my favorite authors to follow online is a talented gentleman by the name of Manuel Melendez.  I not only admire his well-crafted stories and heartfelt poetry, but I also admire the sheer volume of his work (11 books and counting!).  He is the type of prolific writer that I, and I'm sure many others as well, aspire to be.  Now, if memory serves me right, I'm pretty sure that I remember him mentioning that he has done plenty of his writing while on his daily commute to and from work.  And if you live and/or work in New York City, that means that your commute probably includes taking the bus and/or subway.  Many, if not most, of us grab our newspaper, bagel and coffee, and make that mad dash for the mode of public transportation that will take us to or from the place where we make our daily bread.  It's just the way it is; heck, it's practically a tradition!  Personally, I live in Queens, NY; and my daily commute to work was almost 2 hours long, with another 2 hours thrown in for the trip back home.  Most of that time was spent riding the subway, where I used to juggle my paper, coffee, and bagel on my lap (if I was lucky enough to get a seat!), while I lamented the waste of time this commute was.  Then one day I brought along a story I was working on and a pencil, and as I delved into writing, the time just seemed to melt away.  The commute seemed to go by faster and much more interestingly, and instead of viewing it as a waste of my time, I was able to see it as an opportunity to write.

  And I'm not the only one.  As I've mentioned earlier, prolific writer Manuel Melendez uses the opportunity offered by his commute to get some writing done.  I actually finished my first novel while commuting back and forth from work.  I also notice lots of folks working on their laptops or other devices while sitting on the train, and I like to think that they're taking advantage of this time to work on their latest poem, novel, or book.  But is this a good idea?  Can someone actually effectively use this sometimes chaotic block of time to work on their writing?  Is it realistic to think that you can concentrate and "get into" your writing while surrounded by hundreds of your fellow commuters; not to mention all of the other distractions that public transportation has to offer?  The answer is, and has been for many of your fellow writers, a resounding YES!

Here are some other examples...

Fiona Mozley, the author of Man Booker shortlisted and Dylan Thomas Prize longlisted Elmet, wrote her debut novel while travelling between Peckham, in South London, and her nine to six job in Central London.

Peter Brett's first novel is a dark, demonic fantasy - the Brooklyn author wrote it while riding on the F train.  Brett, 36, tapped out most of "The Warded Man," which hit U.S. bookshelves last month, on his smartphone on daily trips from the Fort Hamilton Parkway stop near his Kensington home to his job in Times Square.

Gabriel Gambetta, author of the Golden Legacy, says, "It is said that everyone has a book in them. Ask around and you’ll find most people have an amazing idea that would make for a great story — if they only had the time to write it! Having a full-time job, family, friends, and all these annoying “adult” responsibilities leaves little time to write. But I found the time I needed in the otherwise dead time known as “the commute”.

Anthony Trollope commissioned a knee-mounted desk to extend his morning writing session into the train journey. John le Carré squeezed in his first novel en route to his office. Jeffrey Deaver used the trip to his Wall Street law firm to crack one of the few things that pay better than a Wall Street law firm: bestselling crime novels...

And there are so many others!  And really, there is no reason why you can't join them.  So next time you're lamenting about what a waste of time your daily commute to your daily grind is, whip out that story or poem that you've been working on or thinking about and make that time productive.  Who knows, it could be the next commute-driven best-seller!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Making Pasteles

There's a traditional Puerto Rican dish that outgrew its humble beginnings to earn the status of culinary legend.  Pasteles, a tasty compilation of yuca, plantains, and various other ingredients, often occupy a place of honor at the tables of millions of Americans.several times a year.  If you've ever had one (or more!), or prepared them, then you know that not only are they delicious, they're also quite labor intensive. In fact, they take so much work to produce that they're usually relegated to the role of "holiday" food. Writing can also be labor intensive, but unlike the aforementioned (and delicious!) pasteles, you want your writing to be the opposite of holiday fare.  Just realize that if you want to produce writing that is enjoyed by your readers (delicious!), it will take more than just the casual rattling of those figurative pots and pans, you have to make pasteles...

Jane Trombley, a well-known travel writer, gives you 5 reasons why writing is so labor intensive:

 1. Writing requires focus
It sounds simple, right? But here’s the first catch: topics don’t fall from trees. You have to think them up. And think them over. It’s one thing to say, “here’s a topic”….and quite another to say, “Here’s what I have to say about this topic that is interesting, fresh, and authentic.”
Writing is hard.

2. Writing requires practice
The pros, the charlatans hawking writing e-courses, they all say you’ve got to write practice, a lot. And post frequently, here on Medium or a platform of choice. Practice your craft, they all advise.
The first week or so, that’s easy. The second week, not so much. By the third week the only thing that’s easy is to say, “not today”.
Writing is hard.

3. Writing requires diligence.
If you’re serious about writing you have to be all in. Or don’t bother. It’s too hard to be half-assed about it.
That’s where diligence comes in.
Diligence is not quite like focus, not quite like practice. Even worse, diligence is like commitment.
It’s about being dedicated. You’ve got to do it every day. You’ve got to be committed to getting better, to wrestling this tiger to the ground. It’s hard, the diligence thing.
Writing is hard.

4. Writing requires courage
Writing requires exposing your most vulnerable and insecure self…and that my friends, takes courage.
Taking up the mental exercise of focus, gingerly attempting to practice with diligence until the practice is a practice, you’ve revealed something essential about yourself.
You’ve revealed you have the courage to step outside of your comfort zone.
Writing, whether as a rookie or a veteran, requires the courage to be emotionally susceptible. Writing the courage to put your own insecurity — that uncertainty and anxiety that comes with the new and unfamiliar — aside in the service of the endeavor.
Writing is hard.

5. Writing requires humility
There are days when you’re just humming along. “Oh, I’ve got this,” as the focus is crystal clear, the muse is bouncing on your shoulder spewing garlands of poetic prose. The sense of accomplishment may be a bit premature or it may be valid, but it is probably short lived.
Writing not only requires humility, it demands humility.
To be good at writing is to take your ego out of the story, or at out of least the headline and certainly out of the lead. And that’s hard because at the same time, as confidence grows, the ego is encouraged as well.
There is a fine line between your creativity, the fruit of your ideas, your communications skills and your self-importance. It’s not about you. You, as the writer, are the vessel, probably not the source. Your gift is one of expression. Ideas themselves, most good ones at least, are also timeless.
Writing is damn hard.

So, now we're sure that writing is hard.  Does that mean you should give up?  Find something easier to do?  No, not at all.  It just means that you square your shoulders, hunker down, and get the job done!  As Stan Lee would say... "Excelsior!"

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Best Halloween Reads.....

Hello all, just a reminder that the scariest season of all, Halloween, is almost upon us.  So as a way of celebrating the season in a literary fashion, I'd like to introduce you to works of horror with a Latino touch.  All of these books are available on amazon's and barnes & noble's websites.  I urge you all to treat yourselves to at least one this Halloween season, or who knows... you may be in for a trick!
Happy reading, bwah-ha-ha-ha!
Manuel A. Meléndez was born in Puerto Rico and came to the United States when he was ten years old.   He was raised in Spanish Harlem, better known as El Barrio.  His stories are gritty dramas of life that capture the flavor and the rawness of the everyday people that he sees or meets on the streets of New York. His novel, Wicked Remnants, dares you to walk with him on the dark side and enter into the macabre in this collection of 16 bone-chilling stories that will take you to the place your nightmares begin. From an old Gypsy curse to a serial killer at large to a whining tree possessed by old secrets to a diabolical enigmatic vampire, there is something here bound to scare you into the holiday spirit!

Mariana Enriquez is an Argentine journalist, novelist and short story writer. This year saw her English-lanaguage debut in the form of a short story collection called “Things We Lost in the Fire.” The collection serves as a great example of how horror can be a powerful vehicle for social commentary. Macabre and disturbing, the collection features stories that will chill you to the bone while also offering an insight into Argentina as experienced by the author.

Edgar Cantero originally hails from Spain. His English-language debut, “The Supernatural Enhancements,” is part classic ghost story, part mystery, as the two protagonists uncover the secrets of the haunted house they inherited.

Zoraida Córdova is quickly becoming a rising star in the literary world. “The Vicious Deep,” her mermaid series, is definitely worth a read. Her most recent novel and the first book in her Brooklyn Brujas series, “Labyrinth Lost,” just won an International Latino Book Award, among other accolades, and has been optioned by Paramount. In this book, a teenage bruja tries to rid herself of her powers and accidentally makes her family disappear. This precipitates a journey to an in-between underworld called Los Lagos to bring them back. Dark and magical, this is a fabulous Latino update for “Alice in Wonderland” devotees.

Carmen Maria Machado has been killing it for a long time as a short story writer, critic and essayist. Her stories have been reprinted in “Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy,” “Best Horror of the Year” and “Year’s Best Weird Fiction.” Her debut short story collection, “Her Body and Other Parties,” has already generated a lot of buzz, and is a finalist for the National Book Award. Machado brings women’s issues to the forefront with an approach to horror that will delight fans of the genre and bring those who are on the fence about it on board. It’s original, it’s feminist af and it will blow your mind.

Michael Paul Gonzalez is always busy with a new project. His body of work can best be described as noir with a healthy dose of carnage. His stories have been included in many anthologies, including “Gothic Fantasy: Chilling Horror Short Stories” and “Year’s Best Hardcore Horror.” If you are someone who likes audiobooks or podcasts, his newest endeavor is “Larkspur Underground,” a serialized fictional account of a woman with Stockholm Syndrome who is the sole survivor of a serial killer’s house of horrors. It is not for the squeamish.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a Canadian short story writer, novelist and editor. In her short story collections and novels, the real and the magical overlap, often examining contemporary issues like her modern take of La Llorona, “Lacrimosa,” which was printed in the November 2015 issue of Nightmare Magazine. Her second novel, “Certain Dark Things,” was on many best of lists in 2016. Vampires in Mexico City. Need I say more? As an editor, she is unapologetic about championing the work of writers of color, making her a great follow on Twitter.

Samanta Schweblin is an Argentine author who has garnered much attention for her Spanish-language work, being named one of the 22 Best Writers in Spanish Under 35 by Granta in 2010. Her novel, “Fever Dream,” was translated into English and published earlier this year. It’s part ghost story and part psychological thriller that you will find yourself compulsively tearing through, hurtling towards the end. It’s a wave you feel compelled to ride. Fans of David Lynch will find a friend in this book. It’s brilliant and grotesque.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a much-celebrated author in Spain. His most popular series, “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books,” is a noir mystery which just saw its final installment late last year in Spanish. However, English language readers have one more year to catch up on the first three books before the translation comes out. His novel, “Marina,” is a cult classic. It features two teenagers who get caught up in the mystery behind a woman who ritualistically comes to the cemetery at the same time every month to leave a rose on a grave. There’s a little creep factor, a little romance and a lot to love in regards to the beautiful writing.

While YA author Guadalupe Garcia McCall is not known for horror, she did write a novel that incorporates the mythology of Mexico into an epic supernatural tale. “The Summer of the Mariposas” takes place on and across the Texas border, and starts as a female-driven version of “Stand by Me” when four sisters find a dead body. From there, the story takes on a hero’s journey where the girls find themselves encountering all the monsters your abuela warned you about.

Friday, August 17, 2018

To Free or not to Free?

(Reprinted from 1 year ago)

It is apparently the nature of humankind to try and obtain the coveted, but ever elusive, freebie. Oh, you know what I'm talking about. It turns out that if you're a person with a skill (doctor, lawyer, plumber, artist, writer, etc.), folks want you to share what you know ...for free (or close to it!).
  I've been guilty of it in the past, and just chalked it up to me getting some helpful tips... which they were. But some folks don't know when to quit and insist on more than mere tips. If you crochet, they want full-blown lessons and even free yarn. If you write, they want free critiques, editing services, or even your *ahem* help in writing their book or novel.
  So what do you do? That's entirely up to you, there's nothing wrong with sharing some knowledge or passing along some helpful hints. But there is something wrong with being taken advantage of. Your hard-earned skillset, whatever it is, deserves to be acknowledged and rewarded. The same way you wouldn't expect a car mechanic to fix your car for free (unless you got the hook-up), is the same way that folks shouldn't expect you to speak, critique, edit, write, or teach without some sort of honorarium or financial remuneration. The late and venerable poet, Louis Reyes Rivera of the National Writers Union, was a strong and outspoken proponent of this. Unfortunately many uninformed people consider those of us that work in the arts to be indulging in hobbies rather than actual "work", so they don't understand why we'd like to get paid.
  Ultimately it's your decision of course, but I'd urge you not to sell yourself, or your art, short.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Editing and Reviewing Services

Latino Authors & Writers Society
Are you working on your latest short story, novel, novella, or non-fiction book? You may want to have it edited and proofread before shipping it off to that agent or publisher!  Or maybe your work has already been published and you'd like an honest review that you can post onto your website or on social media.  Or maybe you can use some help with some basic promotion and marketing.  Well the Latino Authors & Writers Society, an organization dedicated to Latino Literature and literacy, will soon be offering these important services at reasonable prices!  Other companies, agencies & organizations may charge THOUSANDS of dollars for their services, while we provide those same services at prices much more affordable to the beginning, aspiring, or struggling writer (with a special understanding and appreciation for the works of POC). Of course, veteran writers can take advantage of these very reasonable prices as well!
1. Editing for Fiction (novels, novellas) - Flat rate of $150.00 for up to 74,000 words, with an additional 5-cents per word after the initial 74,000.
2. Editing for Non-Fiction (Memoirs, Religious, etc.) - Flat rate of $400.00 for up to 80,000 words, with an additional 5-cents per word after the initial 80,000. 
3. Editing for Short Stories (any genre) - Flat rate of $20.00 for up to 3,000 words, with an additional 5-cents per word after the initial 3,000.
4. Book Reviews (any genre) - Flat rate of $40.00 for works of up to 74,000 words, with an additional 5-cents per word after the initial 74,000.
5. Marketing & Promotion (any genre) - Flat rate of $200.00.
Please check out the traditional businesses that offer these services first, and then make up your mind.  We look forward to working with you!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Who inspired you?

Quite often, at various writing events that I have attended, someone will ask me what inspires or inspired me to write.  My answer is always the same: my parents.

I know that plenty of other writers may find this answer kind of corny, but it's the truth.  I was always somewhat eccentric when I was a kid, if you call having a lot of very varied interests "eccentric."  I read everything that I could get my hands on, built models (usually of the Universal monsters, animals, or scientific subjects), studied most of the sciences (I even had a lab in my parent's basement), practiced boxing and the martial arts, played baseball, I also kept a menagerie in my home that consisted of all sorts of reptiles, amphibians, and birds. And I still found the time and the wherewithal to write.

Throughout all this, my parents always encouraged me and never put me or my ideas down.  When the encyclopedia salesman came to our door, even though money was scarce, they bought me the entire set. I read the whole thing, including the bonus dictionary, that summer.  My father built me a huge terrarium out of 2X4's and Plexiglas to house my burgeoning collection of reptiles. And when some neighborhood kids brought a sick seagull to my house in the hopes that I could nurse it back to health (which I did), my mother didn't say no.

And so it was that through all of the problems regular folks go through like bills, health concerns, etc., my parents still found the strength and patience to encourage me, and thus to inspire me.  I learned more from observing my parent's strength, positivity, support for their kids, hard work ethic, and love, than I ever learned from any books.  I was inspired to be patient, loving, strong, and hard-working. These things in turn inspired me to write, and it's no coincidence that my first published work was titled, "My Mother: Superstar!"  My father and I used to visit used bookstores where I'd buy books and comics, and this inspired me to write a guest column for D.C. comics where I extolled the benefits of reading comicbooks.

So, it was my parents and their truly unconditional love that inspired me most to put pen to paper and share parts of my life with the world.  My mom passed away a few years ago, and took a huge part of my heart with her. I will always miss and treasure her.  My father is still here, and we try to make it to his favorite restaurant, IHOP, about once a month.  His resilience at having lost his best friend is another source of inspiration to me.

Thanks mom. Thanks pop. For inspiring me to live. Love. Write.

So fellow writers, who or what inspired you to write?

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Story of... Me.

  As a writer, you've probably already experienced having someone approach you and mention how they would like to write a book about their life and experiences, but they don't know where to start. These folks are usually earnest about sharing their story, some may even be driven to do so, thinking that this would be a way to exorcise their demons.  Or it's possible that they feel that their story would make for an exciting, worthwhile, or cautionary tale.
  Maybe you're actually that potential author that feels that your life is worth writing about.  Yes, maybe you are and maybe it is.  Let's talk about your life story...

  First you have to realize that just about every person on the planet feels that his or her life story is unique and worth telling.  And they're right.  Which means, of course, that you're right.  Your story is worth telling.  Almost everyone has a story to tell, and if that story has to do with what you have experienced or gone through in your life, then it's probably worth sharing.  Maybe you were (or still are) an arsonist, or a drag queen, or a Walmart's cashier... it doesn't matter.  Your life is unique and different from any other.  You have a unique perspective, and a different way of saying or doing things that other people may not have thought of or experienced.  Some of the best novels, non-fiction books, and movies, are based on people and/or situations that to the casual observer or reader may seem ordinary and mundane at first, but which blossom into full-blown life-altering experiences full of "ah-h-h" moments.  So if you're teetering on the proverbial threshold of whether or not you should write the story of your life, or a chapter of your life, take that step and do it.  It's always a good bet to go with your first mind on certain things.  If for some reason you honestly feel compelled to write about something you and/or your family have gone through, then it's probably a good idea to do so. It can be a cathartic experience that may help answer questions that maybe even you and your loved ones didn't know you had.  "Each of us is a book waiting to be written, and that book, if written, results in a person explained." ~Thomas M. Cirignano, author of The Constant Outsider: Memoirs of a South Boston Mechanic.

  Speaking of loved ones...   Be aware that if and when you do write the story of your life, that there have probably been  many persons that have shared your experiences with you - mom, dad, grandma, the mailman... and not all of them would be happy to have their lives and experiences immortalized alongside yours.  In writing the story of your life, this issue may become a big, glaring one that may cause you more pain and angst if not handled correctly.  One avenue to consider as a way of avoiding trouble is to "change the names to protect the innocent", or guilty, or whatever.  This is okay, but it's by no means the best option.  You can change people's names in your book, but they may still be easily recognizable.  In which case this person or persons can argue in court (yes, court!) that you have used their likeness without their permission, or that you may have actually defamed them if your part of the story that includes them is less than positive.  In this case you may have to go as far as changing their appearance, job, relation to you... all in an effort to keep yourself safe from trouble and possible litigation.  Depending on the story you want to tell however, this may water-down or alter your story in an unsatisfying way.  In this case, it would be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the laws concerning the use of real names, etc. in your written work.  I would also like to recommend Helen Sedwick's wonderful book, The Self-Publisher's Legal Handbook.  The following is an excerpt from her website,
 "Writers face three big risks when using real people in their writing: defamation, invasion of privacy, and misappropriation of the right of publicity. Yet every fiction writer bases characters on real people. Memoirists and nonfiction writers identify people by name. How can writers use real people in their work without risking a lawsuit?
First, a simple rule. If what you write about a person is positive or even neutral, then you don’t have defamation or privacy issues."
  But, that may be the problem.  Rarely do we want to write a life story in which everyone, everything, and every experience is positive or neutral.  So, in that case, read the article on Helen's website and then buy her book.  It's better to be safe than sorry!  Also, be prepared to have family, friends, relatives, and acquaintances tell you how they're not being portrayed correctly, or how their memories of the same events are different than yours.
  Another thing you can do is to have everyone mentioned in your book sign a release form or waiver which absolves you from any litigation for using their name and/or likeness in your book.  Often, that's just not practical however.

  Now let's get to the nitty-gritty, the actual writing!  Many people that want to write about their life experiences just don;t know where to start.  They stare at a blank sheet of paper and get intimidated.  What's the first thing I should say?  Well, I'm going to give you a word of advice that I give most aspiring writers... don't "write."  You see, the part of the writing process that intimidates most new or aspiring writers is the writing process itself.  Many folks get bogged down with grammar, spelling, making sure that their T's are crossed and their I's are dotted.  The process becomes a chore and next thing you know, that manuscript is relegated to the underwear drawer maybe to never see the light of day again.  Write?  No.  What you want to do is tell your story.  Don't sit there trying to give birth to a book that's probably a breach anyway.  It will be all pain, grunting and screaming with an outcome that could have been achieved in an easier, gentler, and more accommodating way.  Just. Tell. Your. Story.  When you're talking to your friends and family about things that really interest you or mean a lot to you, you don't worry about grammar or spelling.  Your words come from your heart and your gut.  That's how you're going to successfully tell your story to that blank sheet of paper.  Disregard the "writing" part for now and just let your words flow from your fingertips, even if you have to speak aloud while you're doing it (a lot of writers do this!).  Forget about spelling, punctuation, grammar, or anything you may have learned in a writing class.  Let your gut and heart do the talking, your brain can fix and clean it up later.  Tell the story as if you are talking to your friend while sitting in your livingroom, or at the bar, or standing around the water cooler at work.  Get comfortable and let the memories and the words flow.  The most important thing is to tell your story.

Tell your story.