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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"The Fact That We Have To Say It.."

The grand jury in New York decided today to not indict the cop who choked Eric Garner to death on a Staten Island sidewalk.  This comes a week after a grand jury decided to not indict the police officer in Ferguson, MO for shooting an unarmed Michael Brown.  This has led to the not-unexpected and not-unfounded outrage in minority communities about their treatment at the hands of police, how people of color are viewed as "problems before people."  Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York has come out and said publicly that "Black Lives Matter."

Here's a little background for those of you that don't know me: my two oldest brothers are now-retired NYPD.  My ex-roommate from about 10 years ago is my oldest brother's former patrol partner and a former member of a community affairs division.  I have no illusions as to how difficult it is to be a police officer, especially in a large city.  But there has to be some kind of way to deal with us that doesn't involve a dead body, especially if there's no threat of physical harm.  I'm willing to concede that the officer in Ferguson testified to there being some kind of immediate threat to his person; not saying I believe it per se, but it's what he said under oath.  Eric Garner posed a threat to no one.  At no point during the video of his chokehold nor the moments leading up to it was he in an aggressive posture, nor was he at all at an advantage.  He was on the ground in seconds gasping that he couldn't breathe.  Did the cop know that Mr. Garner was an asthmatic? Likely not, but should it have mattered?  Why did it escalate so quickly to "choke out?"

Mayor de Blasio had good intentions when he stated that Black lives matter.  His wife is a Black woman with whom he has two children.  But the President's response to that about an hour later is much more on point: The fact that we have to say that says we haven't come as far as we think we have.  So now what we have is a climate in which being "threatening" is enough for a Black man to die, without any concrete definition of what "threatening" is.  The way one dresses?  Walks?  Talks?  The kind of music one listens to?
Size and physique?  The way that the establishment interacts with us has to change, it has to.  We're Americans, and we're supposed to be innocent until proven guilty as opposed to threatening until dead.  The way we interact with the police has to change, because they aren't supposed to be our enemies.  Equal protection under the law, that's what we're promised.

I shouldn't be scared to be Black.  Someone shouldn't have to say my life matters in order to legitimize it in the eyes of law enforcement.  And we should have overcome this 50 years ago.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson.

In line with my new directive to actually speak my mind...

The police officer didn't get charged with a crime by the grand jury.  I'm not entirely surprised.  Putting aside my personal feelings on the subject, without incontrovertible video proof, there was no way that grand jury was going to charge a cop for shooting a black kid.    And as Ferguson, MO burns in rage and goes to war with itself, the narrative now changes to the media head-shaking about the violent and uncivilized citizens of this broken-hearted city, all while subtly implying that somehow, he deserved it.  That, like Trayvon Martin, if he just decided to be Black somewhere else, none of this would have happened.

Okay, maybe that was a little more personal feeling than I intended.

The problem for me is that the narrative should be concern about the increasing militarization of our police force.  The fact that police seem to seek confrontation more than ever.  That there is shockingly little psych evaluation of police officers before they fire a shot, instead of after the fact.  That racial profiling, that many men and women of color-- including myself--  have had to endure, is still the go-to method of determining likely criminals.  But we will likely hear none of this.

We instead hear the garbage spewed forth by people like Rudy Giuliani, stating that police brutality or overreaction isn't the issue, black-on-black crime is the issue.  This is somehow our fault.

I'm going to sidestep the racial issue.  I'm going to table the police brutality issue.  A city burns tonight.  We should all be concerned as to why.

Something to Talk About

I haven't written in my blog in a while.

There are comfortable reasons why.  I've been busy at work, I've been on vacation, I've been working on other writing projects.  I've been busy finding a new apartment and preparing to move there.  I've been busy living.

All of these things are true.  None of them are the real reason.  I haven't written in my blog of late because I haven't had anything to say.

In January, while anticipating my novel's release, I made what could only be called a business decision when I decided that I would not write about politics or race or religion or my opinion on any of the controversy of the day.  I didn't want to offend and alienate potential customers.  I was afraid.  Consequently, I haven't had much to talk about because politics, race, and religion seem to be the top three conversation pieces in this country.  So, in my effort to not offend anyone, I've essentially silenced myself.

It's a messed up commentary on the world we live in today.  But we'll put that aside for now.

It is a thought process that has bled over into my personal life, and I find myself silent more often than not when a situation demands to be called out.  I've let things pass because I've felt it was inappropriate to comment on it, or unwise to alienate certain people.  Jeez, I'm strategizing my personal life!

When you're young and you have nothing to lose, you tend to speak your mind more; after all what difference does it make if some random person doesn't like you.  But as you get older, an you acquire stuff -- possessions, careers, respectability -- you get less likely to risk the trappings of comfort and adulthood by speaking your mind.  So in holding on to your stuff, you kind of lose your compass.

And to that I say, f**k that.

I will speak my mind more. I will say what people may not like to hear, not to be controversial, or to be funny per se.  I won't do it to be crass or clever.  I'll do it because I want to be honest with myself, and honor the things I believe in.  I want to question the things that I don't understand, and expose the things that make no sense.

I want to have something to talk about.

Oh, yeah, coincidentally-but-not-really, there was a grand jury verdict today that caused a little hubbub.  Make no mistake I'll have something to say about that.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Review: Aerie by Anne Riley

I met Anne Riley at an author event at Jan's Paperbacks in Portland, Oregon this past summer.  We shared a table, talked writing and sold some books.  She's a very interesting and pleasant lady with roots in the area, and I have to say in the past year involving promotion of my own work, that one day in July was probably the best day possible.  At the end of the day we exchanged purchases of work.  Anne read and reviewed The Favorite, and I read Aerie with every intention of reviewing it.  I'm horribly late.  That introduction (and a hearty apology to Anne) aside, here's my review of Aerie.

Aerie by Anne Riley

Okay, I don't do romance novels.

I'm not normally for overtly sticky stories about longing and temptation, about the internal struggle between what you want and what's good for you, about the normally melodramatic reasons why a hero or heroine would deny themselves the right person that's standing right in front of them.  Nothing against the genre, but I always found those stories to be kind of hokey.  So, all things being honest and equal, it's hard to say that I opened the book with an open mind.

It didn't take long to convince me.

Aerie tosses aside the normal convention of impossibly many hero and damsel-in-distress, and instead plays a budding romance against a strong workplace drama and with legal and techno elements.  It's sounds like a weird recipe that shouldn't work when you say it out loud, but like a peanut-butter bacon cheeseburger the first bite is surprisingly satisfying of all tastes.

The story centers on high powered systems analyst Cara Larson, whose tech firm Pyramid is contracted by Liam Scofield, CEO of an outdoor-wear company, to help develop a computerized distribution and payment system for his company.  The year is 1991 and the system is quite literally ahead of it's pre-worldwide web time.  The potential of this system to revolutionize the way business is done is recognized by Cara's bosses at Pyramid as well as the lawyers working for Liam's company WindWear, so when they systematically try to cut Liam out of his potentially billion-dollar idea, Cara and Liam work frantically to save it.  In the midst of this is the love-at-first-sight drama between Cara and Liam, the potential romantic rival in Liam's lawyer Lauren Janelle, and even a heaping helping of corporate greed.

Anne Riley's mastery of the tech aspects of Aerie draw you into a realistic world of pre-Internet computer jargon that is easy enough to follow even if you don't have a degree in computer engineering.  She makes that part of the world she's created plausible and accessible, which is no easy feat, making us care about the product everyone is fighting over.  However that would mean nothing without good characters.  Ms. Riley's leads, Cara and Liam, are very well-developed and even if you are like me and not a romance buff, how and why they're into each other makes sense, even though for much of the book their organizations are pitted against each other.  It's very West Side Story.

Anne Riley has created a very appealing romantic story that, like the movie Jerry Maguire, slips the romance in under a Trojan Horse of typically guy stuff, like money and tech.  Even though the romantic part seemed a little hokey to me, I really enjoyed this book.

Rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Captain Clutch (short post)

Okay. Wow.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the final season of Derek Jeter, shortstop and captain of the Yankees.  He's the all-time team leader in, well, most offensive categories not already topped by Babe Ruth.  This entire season has been a sort of tribute to the Captain, despite the lackluster performance of the team.  There have been commercials and gifts, fan tributes and the ever-present "De-rek Jee-ter" chants wherever he's gone.

Until tonight, though, there hasn't been a moment.  No flip play.  No Mr. November.

This hasn't been a banner year for the Yankees.  We're not making the playoffs.  Injuries have kicked the hell out of the team.  We score at Mets-like levels.  Our saving grace is that the Red Sox suck worse.  Jeter has had an especially lackluster season.  But -- and I've said this in conversation with friends -- you give me a list of players to have up in a make-or-break situation, if Jeter's name is on it, he's my guy.

Take today, for instance.  In his final game at Yankee Stadium, he came up in three key situations: first inning with the Yankees down 2-0, he bangs an RBI double off the left field wall, and scores one batter later, tying the game; fifth inning with the bases loaded, he slaps an RBI grounder that gets turned into a 2 run error, Yankees up 4-2.

And the big one.

Bottom of the 9th, game tied at 5.  Jeter comes up with a runner on second and his a walk-off RBI single.  In his final at-bat at Yankee Stadium.  With the sold-out crowd expecting magic.  The perfect capper to a charmed career.

That, my friends, is what it means to be clutch.

It is totally en vogue to hate the Yankees; ask any Met fan, and you will hear -- at length -- why the Yankees are an abomination, about how the fans are douchebags, about how we bought all of our championships, and mostly, how Derek Jeter is probably the most overrated player since Yogi Berea or Joe DiMaggio. But I would like to think even the most ardent of haters have to give props to what can only be described as a "Field of Dreams" moment from a guy who seems to have made a Hall of Fame career of big moments.

So I take this time to join in the "Thank You Derek" chant, and raise a glass to salute Derek Jeter for the finest 20 years of my baseball fandom.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Remember, Remember

I haven't forgotten.

Usually on September 11, I'll post my favorite picture of Lower Manhattan post terrorist attack, one taken from Jersey and depicting the Tribute in Light, where high-intensity lamps are shone skyward from the footprints of the World Trade Center.  The lamps are aimed and positioned in such a way that it looks like two towers of light standing watch over the city, a haunting afterimage of what was once there.  The picture I have of that has the lights hitting cloud cover and stopping.  It's quite pretty.

I didn't do that this year.

Every year on September 11, I wax poetic about the loss of life we endured that day, about how my city came together and for a few weeks.  The city was more humane, more human.

I didn't do that either.

It's not because I forgot.  I could never forget.  Neither could anyone who was cognitively alive that day.  Or anyone who has any kind of documentary channel.  I remember the before, and that memory pains me for the after.  I didn't do my usual thing because somewhere along the line thirteen years later, as I relocated 3,000 miles away, September 11 became just another day.

I don't mean that to disrespect the families who lost loved ones in that attack, as this will never be just another day for them.  However these days I'm living in an area where, beyond a passing mention about the terror attack, it's been just business as usual.  They didn't show on TV or play on the radio the reading of the names of the lost.  September 11 birthdays aren't some tragic cosmic joke.  The people I know here only ask me about it when they find out I'm from New York.  And in the course of day-to-day interaction without the shawl of grief and mourning, it's just another day.

The site has been built over.  One World Trade is now complete.  The 9/11 museum immortalizes the event and the aftermath.  Lower Manhattan looks like this now:


And the world keeps spinning.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

One Year Later

I had every intention of posting last week.

I was going to post a review of a novel a friend of mine wrote.  I was going to post what this actually is: musings about the anniversary of my Dad's death.  But I couldn't do it.  My Dad's death in particular, I couldn't write about last week.  It's so much deeper than just his passing.

That event kicked in motion what's been the most interesting year of my life.

My dad died and I had to take out a loan on the car I had just paid off.  I needed the money for a last minute flight to , New York.  I used the remainder to publish The Favorite.  I started learning valuable skills which I can and will use throughout my writing career (marketing skills, speaking skills, etc.). And ultimately, I fulfilled a dream my dad had for me.

I remember a car ride when I was in my early teens with my dad and my brother.  I forget what started it, but I do remember, vividly, him talking about picking something and being good at it.  "Even if it's a bank robber," he said, "find something you love and keep doing it.". I'll be honest, when he said those words, even for years after, I can't say I was applying them on purpose.  They didn't inspire me to do what I wanted to.  Lately though, I've been thinking about him, a lot.  I suppose it's natural, his passing is still relatively fresh.  And I don't know why, but those words in particular, from a random day in New York more than 20 years ago bubbled up to the surface.

I'm doing what I love.  And I won't stop.

My Dad's last great gift to me was the means to accomplish a dream, and the means to take a very wild ride.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Protect Everyone Smaller Than You"

Robin Williams passed away yesterday at 63 from an apparent suicide.



I was initially not going to comment on this, to write about it, because I didn't want to be seen as jumping on the bandwagon.  How silly of me.  Expression of grief and loss as a community and a species is not bandwagon jumping.

It goes without saying I was, and remain, a huge fan of Robin Williams' work.  He was a great comic, a great comedian, and an even better character actor.  I watched reruns of Mork & Mindy as a kid.  It was very far ahead of its time.  He's remembered for the roles that made us feel good (Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets' Society, Good Will Hunting), but there are two of his movies in particular that are appointment viewing.

Hook was amazing in updating the Peter Pan story, to the point where in my mind, Peter Pan and Robin Williams are one and the same.  It's the kind of casting that is a complete no-brainer, and left an indelible mark on my life.  I have made an effort, actually, to live my life according to one line he delivers toward the end of the movie, where he tells the Lost Boys to "protect everyone smaller than you."  (The smallest Lost Boy then asks him "Who do I protect?" and he says "Neverbugs.  Little ones.")

And then there's the creepy store attendant he plays ingeniously in One Hour Photo.  If you haven't seen it, I won't ruin it for you.

Much will be made about the demons he faced, about depression as mental illness, and about suicide.  Perhaps that's something to write about later.  But today we light a candle for one of the best our species had to offer.  And wherever he is now, we can be sure he's entertaining the hell out of them.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Williams.  The world has lost an irreplaceable spark of madness.

Monday, August 11, 2014

And It's Almost Gone...

My girlfriend wrote a lovely essay about summer on her blog.  She mentioned awesome things like sunshine and your favorite ice cream (Peanut Butter Explosion from ColdStone Creamery, if you were wondering).  The point she was trying to make, in my opinion, that for some reason, be it the sunshine or the heat, or the fact that it was ingrained in us since we were all children to do so, is that summer is usually the time we take the foot off the gas and kind of coast.  We're more inspired to do things for ourselves that are geared toward pure joy.  For me, that's always been sports.

Growing up in New York, we may not have had as much access to greenery that my friends in the Northwest do.  We didn't go fishing or swimming in the creek (because honestly, that might kill you), we didn't go hiking through the woods, but what we did was make use of our environment.  Fire escape rungs became makeshift basketball hoops and one-way streets and alleys became makeshift football fields.  Before we were allowed to head to the further out parks where blacktop courts and open meadows became our arenas of play (and even after, on days when we lacked the funds or the time) we dominated our blocks, then took our talents to other blocks in the neighborhood.  And we enjoyed ourselves.

This summer, as I have for the last five summers since I moved out here, I played rec league softball with a team called the Shakrz.  It tends to be the high point of my summer these days, because it brings me back to when I was a teenager and played with my friends.  Am I particularly good?  Hell no!  But it's fun  And I enjoy these people.  We wrapped up our season this past weekend in a tournament where our best moment was a thrilling 14-13 win in extra innings.
Fun moment with the team.  Photo by Amy Hill.

And just like that, we look up and the summer is almost over.  God, that sucks.  You look up and smile as you realize the roses smelled sweet, the heat that licked your skin left its indelible mark, and that there was never enough sunblock.  You think of the sand between your toes and the picnic blanket you have in your trunk and you smile wistfully as fall approaches.  You keep in mind one thing that will get you through the cold dark months ahead.

Summer is coming.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Retrospective on The Fab 5

I have a confession to make.

Over the last three or four years I've been distancing myself from my first novel, The Fab 5.  I had what I thought was a good reason.  My grandmother, 84 years old at the time, read it.

The Fab 5.  Available on Amazon and B&N.


I never intended for her to read it.  I didn't write it for her.  And it never occurred to me for even a half a second that she would.  It's a street-flavored basketball story following five lifelong friends from Flatbush.  So when I wrote about some of the realities of living in a neighborhood not too dissimilar from the one in which I grew up, there was a heavy dose of, shall we say, colorful language.

                         Castillo’s face went purple, and I swear I saw steam come out of his ears. “Yo,
                   f*** you, you b****-a** monkey n****!”
                          Shiver stood up straight, shocked by the comment. He got right in between
                   Jay and Castillo, getting nearly nose-to-nose with him. “What did you say?”
                   Shiver said, as angry as I had ever seen him.
                          Jay forced his way back in between Shiver and Castillo, and forced them both
                    back. He held Shiver back, and turned to face the Puerto Rican kid. “F*** it,” he
                    said with a heavy sigh. “Get your squad together, Miguel.” Shiver stopped resisting,
                    and joined the four of us in a shocked look at Jay. “If it’s gonna shut his little
                    punk a** up, then fine, let’s beat him again.”
                         Castillo smiled as he walked past Jay. “Don’t go nowhere,” he said as he
                   walked toward the other side of the park. As he walked past Shiver, he said under
                   his breath, “B**** n****.”

And so on.  That is from page 18.  While some people were able to relate to and even appreciate the authenticity of the language -- if you grew up in a rougher neighborhood in New York, I suppose you would too -- I had some friends tell me they created the first literary drinking game in history for every time I swore in that book.  

Up until that point, the only book my grandmother had ever read was the Bible.  Sure, she read newspapers and magazines and such, but The Bible was all she read that came in a hardcover or paperback.  For the record, she still has both.  She had never read a novel.  

Until her youngest grandson gave her a signed copy of The Fab 5.

So several weeks later, when I did my good grandson thing and visited her after work, she looked at me sternly through her glasses like she always did and said in a thick Jamaican accent, "I read your book, Franklyn."  And suddenly every cuss word I wrote, every questionable situation I conceived flooded my head.  I mean, I referred to a certain female character in the five most unflattering ways you could in one line.  (I guess the fact that no word in that line was more than five letters can be considered impressive, if you squint one eye.)

My mouth hit the ground.   "You read it?!  Jeez, Mama, you weren't actually supposed to read the thing!"  I composed myself and cleared my throat.  "So what'd you think?"

She turned her attention to the word search puzzle she was doing and let the question hang for a while.  "I liked it," she said, I'm sure to be polite.  "Too many bad words though."

And just like that, my enthusiasm for promoting my first novel kind of tanked.  I was embarrassed that my grandmother read it.  There's no way there's a market for this thing, I thought.  And that was that.

Fast-forward to 2014.  I'm scrolling through Netflix and stumble across a documentary by Bobbito Garcia called Doin' It In the Park, which followed the streetball scene in the five boroughs, and suddenly I realize exactly how wrong I was.  Bobbito's respect for the sport that I played and loved was oozing from the film, and I saw elements of my book -- the gamesmanship, the competition, the trash-talking, the court culture and such-- played out in reality and motion.

I realized then that The Fab 5 did have value, and did have a market.  Was it perfect?  Not by any means. It's not even my best work; my second novel is leaps and bounds better, and all writers criticize their previous projects.  But it was an accurate depiction of what my world was like at 16, 17, and 18.  You had the park.  You had your crew.  You had a ball.

I may be more actively promoting my current novel, The Favorite, but my earlier work is (in my very humble and obviously biased opinion) very much worth the read.

And keep a bottle of Jack nearby in case you want to play the drinking game.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Jan's Paperbacks Event (7/26/2014)

This past weekend combined a road trip, an author event, and hanging out with some very cool people, old friends and new.  See why I love what I do?

After a 12-hour shift I was asked to do last minute, I made a solo drive to Beaverton, OR for an afternoon at Jan's Paperbacks.  The staff there was welcoming and fun (those ladies were actually incredibly awesome).  I was paired with an author much more local to the area than I was, one Anne Riley, author of Aerie.  I picked up a copy that day to check out.

Aside from the cookies and the charming customers that came in pretty steadily throughout the day, it was  also great to pick Anne's brain about writing and self-publishing, give our opinions about Amazon (short version, CreateSpace is awesome, but indie bookstores won't touch Amazon with a ten-foot pole).

I'm gonna take this very brief post to thank Shari, Debbie, Jody and Anne for a wonderful afternoon! I am going to definitely make them a part of my next project's promotional tour!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Progress Report (Short Post)

Hey all!

Here's an update on various writing projects and a plan for what's next!

This week, I finished Chapter 16 (24 planned) of the first draft of my next novel, which examines a married couple whose relationship has gone stale, and the bad decisions they make to try and reignite their interest.  The working title is Open, but I will likely find a new one.  I'm plotting the next eight chapters and I'm going to start writing Chapter 17 this week.  I'm on target for finishing the draft by October of this year!  Woo-hoo!

I finished the first draft of a short story called Father Figures, which serves as a sequel to my first novel, The Fab 5.  I will offer the story, gratis, on this site once I've edited it.  This is the second short story I've finished this year, but the first one I'll be sharing.

I'm starting character sketches and plot arcs for my next project, Urban Legend, today.  I'm not offering details on that publicly yet, only to say it's different than the stuff I've been writing the last few years.

As for my currently available novel, The Favorite...

I'll be at Jan's Paperbacks in Aloha, Oregon on July 26, sharing a signing table with Anne Riley.  She will be there signing and promoting her novel Aerie.

The Favorite is a finalist for a Readers' Favorite Book Award in Sports Fiction, along with Jacqueline Eubanks's well-received novel, The Last Time.  Winners are informed in early September, so good luck to us both!

And finally, later this summer I will be watching my nephew, Desmond Diaz, compete with the US National Martial Arts Team in the World Martial Arts Games in Vancouver.  And you can bet you will all hear about that!

Cheers!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Stay-cation Daze

I don't usually take vacations.

Don't get me wrong, I take time to go places.  I take time to be sick.  I go back to New York at least once a year.  But very rarely do I ever unplug, go off the grid like I have the last couple of weeks.  I mean, I was still connected at my father's funeral last year.

The last couple of weeks, I've been off.  No day job, no writing, very little in the way of shameless self-promotion.  I needed a break.  It's not even like I went anywhere of importance: I rediscovered my liver, and went on a local boat cruise; went to Pike Place Market with my girlfriend; sat on my butt and watched the All-Star Game.  There was a fun picnic and a beach day where I had an unfortunate skin reaction to lake water (itchy, itchy, itchy!!!).  And I have to say, there's definitely something to this whole vacation thing.

The last time I took this much time off, I went to the Dominican Republic for a week or so and had a blast.  There's a story in there about how my brothers and I were mistaken for members of the 2012 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, which I will happily recount another day.  I can't begin to tell you how relaxed I felt afterwards, except that I feel the same way now.

There is something to be said about recharging your batteries, putting yourself on airplane mode, so to speak.  A couple of weeks away and I'm ready to get back to the grind of the paying job and the fun of writing.  I'm ready to get the rest of this year going.

I'm back.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

"It's... it's a cookbook!"

Ah, the Fourth of July.

Independence Day.  A where we celebrate our love for our country, where we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  It is a day that is marked by time-honored celebration, where we indulge our love for the things that are so incredibly American.  Such as:

Recreational explosives.



Meat.


Apple pie.


Baseball.



And Twilight Zone Marathons.


Since I was a kid, I had a fascination for reruns of The Twilight Zone. Summer nights routinely had me staying up late to watch the episodes at 2 and 3 in the morning on WPIX.  That was back before the CW ran it, back before the WB ran it.  I could watch that show anytime, anywhere.  To date there isn't an episode of the original 1956 series that I haven't seen at least once.

Imagine my glee when, at 10 years old, WPIX announced the first 12-hour Twilight Zone marathon.  It's rare on a summer day when a kid wants to stay inside, especially in a New York City summer with no air conditioning.  But on that first 4th of July marathon, I wasn't going anywhere.  Up at 7 to watch "Time Enough at Last," done at 7 with "Monsters Are Due On Maple Street."  I became familiar with old actors unburdened from classic roles, like Burgess Meredith not playing Mick from Rocky, or William Shatner as someone other than James T. Kirk.  Jack Klugman was not Oscar Madison (The Odd Couple), and he was alongside Jonathan Winters.

Mostly though, the draw for me was the storytelling.  A lot of my early writing hinged heavily on slightly supernatural plots, science fiction and twist endings, and that is all stuff I attribute to watching this genius show.  It's creator, Rod Serling, was one of the master storytellers of his day.  His writing credit appears on such classic episodes as "I Shot An Arrow Into The Air," and his iconic deadpan delivery of the shows monologues are hallmarks of that show.  A lot of that found its way into my writing as a teenager and some still filters through today.

As a matter of fact, the title of this post, if you are uninitiated, is one of the series most quoted lines, from the episode "To Serve Man."

So, I leave you today, to visit a dimension not of sight or sound, but of mind. A dimension where the only limits we know are the limits of imagination.  A dimension called...

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Summer in the City

It's no secret: I'm a big fan of summer.  All my favorite things are summer things.  All my favorite activities are summer activities.  And not just any summer, either.  City summer, the kind I haven't been a part of in half a decade.  Once the weather gets warm, everything about life I find worthwhile starts to happen.

Back home, summer meant kids.  After June 22, schools were out and all the kids in the city ran rampant around town.  To some that means playing in creeks and woods and what have you.  To me, it was no curfew, football in the streets (I had a mean arm once) until you couldn't see the ball.  It was basketball from noon 'til dusk, or later if the court was near a streetlamp.  It meant movie hopping from one summer flick to another, sneaking around ushers and cameras to turn a matinee ticket into an all-day film festival.

It meant the Mister Softer Ice Cream trucks, whose distinct jingle could be heard from blocks away like an approaching T-Rex.  On the hottest of those summer days, that jingle meant relief was coming and sprinkles were free.  It meant the Spanish dude selling Icees on the corner of Church and Flatbush Avenues, and how with a little hustle and the guts to stand the heat, you could turn a 20-pound block of ice and some syrups into shaved ice treats, happy kids, and money.

It meant baseball, and who didn't love baseball? It was the middle of the season and the pennant races were either really starting to get interesting, or really getting out of hand (I'm a Yankee fan, guess which end I usually saw?), and we waited in anticipation of the Home Run Derby.  It meant work for some, play for others.

As adolescence set in, summer meant exposed midriffs and cut-off shorts.  It meant teased hair and bikinis.  It meant sundresses.  It meant sweat making every inch of fabric, no matter how thin, stick strategically to bronzed skin.  It meant girls in their late teens and early 20's knowing full well they had me and my hormones in the palms of their hands.  As an adult summer meant late nights chasing women and thrills, fueled by drink and dance.  It meant that even if the temperature cooled slightly, the streets were just as hot as they were in the daytime.  It meant watching the transformation as women traded in their business wear for outfits that were less confining to their bodies and attitudes.

It meant thunderstorms.  It meant that just before one would hit, the air would be heavy with a certain energy, thick with humidity and heavy with expectation.  When it was over, the air was cool and light and if you were outside,  you were happily drenched and enjoyed a powerful lightshow full of sound and fury.

It meant Coney Island and the rides that, even though you had been on them a million times, you still once in a while ponied up that $5 for one more go at the Cyclone or the Zipper. 

It meant not having a backyard pool, but having a fire hydrant and a hollowed out tin can.  It meant skelly in the streets, and if you're from Brooklyn or the Bronx and I have to explain that to you, you need to put the video games down, son, and get out more.  (For my Canadian friends, think curling, only with bottlecaps on asphalt.)

Summertime was eight short weeks of wide open possibility, that always seemed to last forever until it was almost over.  And even though as a working man I never had summers off, there's still a conditioned mind-shift that you anticipate in late May, starts in earnest late June, winds down around Labor Day and ends around the first day of school.

I still love Summer.  Let the games begin.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

I Believed That We Would Win

Okay, so a day after the US was eliminated from the World Cup, it's time to take a quick look back at what it did.

Despite what Ann Coulter said, it kind of reinforced the commonality of all Americans.  No matter our walk of life, political alignment, ethnic background, or religious slant, we all supported our team.  We all chanted.  We all watched. 

We all gave props to Tim Howard for his gutsy performance against Belgium.

The beauty of it all was that we did so without hesitation, without consideration of whether the person chanting next to us was pro-choice or not, without worrying about the confrontation between creationism and evolution.  We did so without the worry about whether or not climate change was real.

For the first time in a long time, it wasn't the 1% versus the 99%.  It was the USA against the World.

Maybe it was because we were such huge underdogs, and everyone loves underdogs.  Maybe it's because secretly, some part of our evolving national identity loves soccer as much as NFL or baseball.  But for some reason, we were all believers.  And it's even lasted after we've lost.


We need to hold on to this feeling of unity.  Moments like this, where even an embattled President and his supporters and rivals are all on the same page in support of our country, are too precious to allow to pass.  And they should happen much more often than every four years.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Boy and His Tiger

I recently watched a documentary on Calvin and Hobbes.  Well, most of it.  It WAS five in the morning.

This documentary focused on the impact that little comic strip had, and inevitably, I thought about the impact it had on me.

When I was a kid, Calvin and Hobbes was one of the handful of reasons I ever touched the Sunday paper.  As I got older and developed an interest in the world around me (and sports), I developed a system for reading the New York Daily News on 15 minute subway ride to my high school: lead story on last night's Yankees or Knicks games, comic pages (Calvin and Hobbes, For Better or For Worse, Doonesbury), league standings.  Everything I needed to know about the world.

Calvin and Hobbes, for the uninitiated, is a strip about a six year-old boy and his stuffed tiger.  The tiger comes to life in when he and the boy are alone and they have adventures that range from the closeness of their backyard to the far reaches of time and space.  The boy's boundless imagination, as well as what would today be diagnosed as ADHD, lead him into hilarious situations with his parents and teachers, and he observes life with a simplicity and poignancy that only a child could.  It's one of the few things created in a decade of cheesy schlock that holds up years and years later.

I won't lie and say I saw myself in Calvin.  By the time I was reading that strip, I was old enough to know that stuffed tigers didn't come to life, that girls weren't so slimy and that a cardboard box was just a cardboard box.  I did get the messages in the story, that imagination is priceless an that life is best lived with a friend.  As I got older, a lot more of the jokes made sense, and a lot more of the subtle philosophy became clearer, but it was always about a boy's imagination to me.

Looking back at Calvin and Hobbes, I will say I found a degree of inspiration from that strip.  It's just way more fun to embrace your imagination than to suppress it, way more honest to think things like a child would.  Bill Watterson left behind something timeless, and that's something every writer or artist would want to do.

December 31, 1995 was a sad day for me.  It was the day that this strip ran: 


The last one.  One that suggested it was time to move on, to turn the page, to explore new possibilities, and (dare I say) to grow up.  I was 17 years old.  And I cried a little.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Summer Resolutions

The one thing about living where I live is that the summers are gorgeous.  The sun doesn't go down until unfathomably late and while I sometimes get sentimental about the stultifying heat and humidity in New York City, a mild summer day isn't so bad.  Being outside in the summer in the Pacific Northwest is natural and encouraged.  I've developed an affection for Disc Golf.

The problem with that however is that the time I'm spending outside is time I'm not spending writing.  It's time I'm not spending on skill development or research or world building.  And while that's awesome in small doses, I worry about too much of a good thing.  I still carry with me a bit of the person that was on the Public School calendar, where I did a whole lot of not much between mid-June and Labor Day.  Old habits are hard to break.

But here's where I try: I've got a commitment in my head to not only finish the first draft of the new novel I'm working on, but to also post two short stories -- at least -- on this blog, all by the end of the summer.  Lofty goals, I know.  I've been working on the first draft for three years already, and I'm only a little better than halfway done.  That's why I'm stating it here, on the blog.

I joined a couple of like-minded individuals in a writing group that was based on a simple concept: accountability.  Our stories are our assignments.  Not unlike school, where a teacher handed out homework (Every.  Damn.  Day.), only here there's no algebra.  We are accountable to the group, lest we provide the coffee.

I'm also going to use the summer to make my weight loss goals, once again made public for the sake of accountability.  I'm going to restart the "Chubby Me" posting I did a couple of years ago and work myself into being less "fluffy."

And, of course, I'm going to blog more.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Including The Sun/The Dream and The Reality

First of all, yes, this is the same blog.

I decided on a little facelift, within the confines of my web design ability.  Meaning I looked at the Settings tab to see what Google would let a novice like me do.  So the color palette has been brightened, and it looks kind of like a sunny day.  Because, you know, Under The Sun.

It was either that or change the name to "Through The Black."  Which some people might think to be racist.

***

When I decided that writing was what I was going to eventually do with my life, I had this vision in my head of it being not unlike the creative writing and journalism classes I took throughout high school and college.  Publishers, intellectuals, professors and high school English teachers alike would laud and praise my work, it would be consumed by the masses in quantities unheard of, and I would not only achieve fame and fortune but I would usher in a new era of world peace.  And I'd have groupies at coffee shop readings, because Sean Connery in Finding Forrester said so.


As an adult, the reality was a bit different.  My first novel was rejected out of hand by two dozen publishers, big and small, often without any word that they'd even opened the proposal.  The nerve of them, I thought, impeding my path to wealth and glory with their small-mindedness.  I chose to self-publish.

In the early 2000's, just before Kindle existed, conversations about publishing went like this:

"Oh, I published my novel?"
"Oh, really? Congratulations!"
"Yeah.  I self-published."
"Oh, really.  Congratulations?"

There were a lot of things that an arrogant 25 year-old tried to do.  First off, I decided that the traditional publishing model was broken.  After doing several hundred hours of very focused searching (the Internet is wonderful for giving you an unbiased base for your bias), I came to the conclusion that the only people making money anymore from publishing were the publishers and the very big name authors, the Dan Browns and Tom Clancys, and unknown writers like myself had little to no shot of breaking in.  The big publishers wouldn't look at you unless you had an agent, and an agent very likely avoided you unless and until you had a deal (I kept one of my agency rejection letters that actually said I should think of them when I secure a deal with a publisher).  I looked at self-publishing -- through iUniverse (as shady as they are, they are useful for what they're useful for)-- as the only way to unleash my genius upon the world.  And The Fab 5 was born.  I completed my book, had my name in print, and all I had to do was sit back and wait for my money to roll in.  My landlord at the time wasn't as fond of the idea and recommended I keep my day job.

With time and distance I realized The Fab 5 wasn't going to make me money.  I was an unknown who hadn't promoted my work at all and had no clue how to do so.  There are life reasons for that I won't get into right now, but anyway.  It was a slap in the face; how could all of those English teachers been wrong?

Fast forward some years, and I've adjusted my expectations.  The Favorite is enjoying a modicum of success, which for me now means more people dig it than not.  And one of the things I've realized is that I have to constantly promote, constantly remind, constantly pitch and sell.  And the truth is, as much of a hassle as it can be, I kind of enjoy it.

I was right about a few things.  The traditional publishing model is broken.  It is reliant on the idea that the big  publishers are the gatekeepers of inclusion into some sort of artsy-fartsy literary club, and the only way to have any sort of legitimacy is by begging for their approval  (I had an iUniverse employee refer to self-publishing as the "minor leagues").  Technology has made them the keyholders to a vacant, dilapidated and overpriced apartment building in a really crappy neighborhood.  Yeah, you could live there, but for the same amount of hassle you could live somewhere else and have more money. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Vilage Books Event (4/19/2014)

A couple of weekends ago I had my first speaking event at Village Books in Fairhaven.

I gotta say, that was a cool experience.  For a guy that doesn't enjoy public speaking -- I go out of my way to avoid them, mostly -- it was a lot of fun!  Best part?  The Favorite was sold out! 

If you live in or near Bellingham, visit Village Books and pick up a copy.  If not, you can order it here. 

Also, take a look at the reading from the event!

Part 1
Part 2

Friday, April 18, 2014

When I'm Bored in a Border Line.

So...

I was visiting my girlfriend in Canada last night, and on the way back, there was a long border line.  Apparently, Canadians don't work on Good Friday.  Slackers.

It was a bright sunny day, so what's a guy to do?  He rolls down his windows, turns up his stereo, and belts out songs at the top of his lungs.  To my surprise, many of the people mired in wait alongside me appreciated my vocal stylings... or at least that I was a happy guy trying to have fun in a situation most would find at the very least oppressively dull.  I wish I had pictures of my newfound fans, but alas, I'll save that for next time.

Cheers!

video



video

Monday, April 14, 2014

Dreams Do Come True!

This past weekend I had the wonderful pleasure of doing a book signing at Page 2 Books in Burien, WA, an event that coincided with their official grand opening.

First off, let me say the store is gorgeous.  Well laid out, tons of natural light, hardwood floors (a deep seated and well programmed favorite from my days in NYC), it had a combination of new book smell and pine.  The owners, Jenny Cole and Bill Virgin, were both friendly and easy to talk to, and their love of books and of their store simply flowed off them.  Bill chatted me up several times over the three hours I was there, about writing, about boxing, about New York, and I enjoyed the conversation.  The saleswoman on the floor, Cathy, also took time out of her break to chat me up, and plied the conversation with homemade cookies (yeah, I gained three pounds).

I chatted up several of the adventurous and curious customers Bill and Jenny directed my way (sidebar: thanks for that.  I have a hard time standing up and saying "over here!").  A woman named Elizabeth talked to me for at least half an hour, about boxing, about her friends from Mexico, about some of her own adventures.  I found myself quite enjoying it!

I spoke with a couple who lived in Queens for a year.  I spoke with a young man who wanted to train to box.  And I spoke to a guy who worked at a nearby model train shop (which, sadly, I was unable to find after the event was over.  Pity. That would have been interesting...).  All in all I had a blast!

Back to the title of this post, that signing was the culmination of years and years of dreaming and hard work.  When I was in my early 20's and living in New York (and for quite some time after) I would wander into the nearest bookstore, head over to the part of the fiction rack where my book would be and stare at that spot for most of my lunch break.  Three years ago, with the help of a good friend, I bought a button-down shirt, specifically for the purpose of wearing it to my first book signing (Okay, yeah, I'm a little nuts.  So sue me.) Similarly, I get the impression that Bill and Jenny's love of books, of language and literature, drove them to purchase their store.

To them I just want to say, thank you for being part of my dream, and for allowing me into yours.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

If A Hate Monger Falls In the Woods, Does Anyone Give A Damn?

Last week the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps, passed away.  He was 84.  If by some chance you're not sure where you've heard either name -- bless your media-avoiding little heart -- the Westboro Baptist Church is the group that pickets funerals and other public events with signs that say "GOD HATES F*GS" or "OBAMA IS THE DEVIL," or other such aggressively ignorant spiel.  His death was met with reactions from the public that ranged from apathetic and disinterested to gleeful celebration.

And rightfully so.  Anyone that turns the message of love and peace that most religious denominations claim to project into a message of intolerance, hatred and fear deserves nothing less than to have their passing go un-celebrated.  In my opinion, he should occupy the same fiery cell block as Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Tim McVeigh and so on.  I say this as an atheist, not believing in hell or heaven.  However...

The man DID have a family.  Someone loved him enough to bear his 13 children (even though he reportedly beat them all, wife included), and that means one of two things: either everyone involved in that little twisted slice of Americana is seriously delusional and disconnected with reality, or there was something privately redeemable about the man, in his past or present.  I'm an optimist, I choose the latter.  He was a civil rights lawyer once, after all, and helped Kansas strike down the Jim Crow laws.  Irony knows no bounds.

Now, I'm not saying we excuse his hypocrisy or forgive the hate in his message.  But maybe we should curb our enthusiasm in regards to his passing.  Hate nay begets hate, and we should let this particular brand of hatred die with the man.

I'm not a believer, but I have read the Bible (and parts of the Qur'an, Torah, and other religious texts.  I can't-- and won't-- quote scripture but everything I've read says that the supposed supreme being -- God, Jehovah, Allah, Life, the Universe, or whatever you want to call it-- doesn't hate anyone.

Neither should we.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Best Second Job, Ever. (No, seriously)

I'm at my job right now as a sleep tech with my one patient sleeping like a baby.  While I'm watching this person, I'm scouring the internet, looking for free review websites, looking for pay review websites, looking for bookstores that support indie authors.  I jot down numbers and email addresses and email my new list of people, asking what their indie book policies are, and if they'd be willing to carry my novel.  I'm taking the reviews I do have and cobbling them together in a press kit while cursing myself for not having enough scratch to hire a publicist.  I'm designing flyers for my first (ever) author event and trying to set up more in one of the stores that cautiously agrees to buy one copy of my book as a tester to see if it sells.

When I get off my 12-hour shift at 7:00 in the morning, I go home, try to eat something with at least one healthy ingredient and get back on the internet for another hour.  I send out a few more emails, a few more requests, and obsessively check my inbox for a reply from the previous day, or from earlier in the night.  By 9 I'm wiped and head to bed, but I keep my phone nearby on vibrate so I can hear it when and if someone eventually calls back.  I wake up at 3:00 in the afternoon and call the numbers from the previous night; it's my first opportunity to reach them since they opened while I was sleeping.  I speak to the book buyer, or whomever will actually listen to me, and I pitch them my book.

This is my experience at being an author.  This is my second job.

I'm completely untrained, totally inexperienced, an winging it as I go.  The only instruction I have is a three year old copy of The Indie Author Guide and my own notes as to what hasn't worked.   I'm my own marketing department, sales division, budgetary committee.  I'm my own press room, advertising firm.

It's more of a daunting task than I expected.

So why do it myself?  Why not go the traditional route?  A few reasons.  For starters, the traditional publishing industry has changed dramatically than what you may remember.  I hear stories of authors putting together their own book tours, contacting news media on their own... basically doing everything I'm doing now.  So if the only difference is the name of the company on the spine and the percentage of royalty you get (I hear it's low by the way), then why not do it yourself?

And if the truth were to be known, I rather enjoy it.

For the first time in my adult life, success or failure is completely, expressly in my hands, AND directly affects me.  This isn't like being productive at the desk that we sit behind at work (incidentally, I need to periodically check on my patient while I rant).   In that environment, there is a higher margin for error, and your best efforts make your bosses' bosses' bosses  rich, not you.  I'm happy to know that I only go as far as my abilities take me.  I like this.

Don't get me wrong, I like being a writer more, and there is a distinct difference between the two, but this is great!  I'm getting a list together of today's emails, moving south to see who wants to join Village Books in Bellingham and Edmonds Bookshop (both in Washington, and yes I'm name dropping).  This is the best second job you could have.]

It's about 4:00 AM now.  I've got my new list to create, new numbers to pull, and a flyer design to refine.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Home I Knew Is Gone

Required listening: Spike Lee's "rant" on gentrification in Brooklyn, NY

I grew up in Flatbush and my teen years were spent during the early to mid '90s witnessing firsthand the effects of the crack epidemic and the drug war on a neighborhood.  Shootouts were common and gunfire echoed through the night like a snare drum.  The apartment I grew up in, which my family to some degree still lives in, was cheap for New York, even at the time.  The unfortunate part about New York being built on a series of islands is that there's no space to expand, and the housing market gets competitive and expensive. Years ago, before the war on the lower and middle classes, city planners had the foresight to install rent control and stabilization laws to prevent the laws of supply and demand from cannibalizing the populace.  After all, what's the point of having a good job if you can't afford to live there.  Rudy Giuliani, who won his first term as mayor with the not insubstantial financial backing of the real estate lobby, ended those laws which set in motion the runaway increase in rent in Manhattan, and eventually throughout the city.

Looking back, it's effect has been multi-tiered.  Drive the prices up in Manhattan.  The middle class who were able to live there before are forced to move to the outer boroughs.  But wait, some of those neighborhoods are sketchy and filled with drug addicts and minorities.  That's okay.  Arrest the drug addicts and minorities (in New York in the mid 90's, the NYPD's zero-tolerance policy and propensity for racial profiling made the terms interchangeable), rebrand the neighborhood by changing it's makeup (building more Manhattan-style dwellings and inviting more displaced Manhattanites) and/or by changing it's name to eliminate it's negative connotation (Spanish Harlem becomes SpaHa, the South Bronx becomes SoBro, Bushwick becomes East Williamsburg, and parts of East Flatbush and Flatbush become extensions of Park Slope and Prospect park South).  The rising rents eventually price existing tenants out, and if that doesn't work, the landlords were empowered to let buildings fall into decay until the undesirables moved out, then repair them and rent for full market value.  And slowly, over 20, 30 years, people of color and/or less than extraordinary means are pushed further and further away from the city proper, or shunted into overpriced public housing.

Spike Lee has said some less than brilliant things in the past about race relations that you likely haven't heard if you're not from New York.  His views on gentrification are spot on.  I was priced out of my hometown.  I agree that it shouldn't have taken an influx of wealthier residents to have the city services (Police, Parks, Sanitation, Education) do their jobs in certain neighborhoods.  Trash would pile high and linger on the sidewalk for days (and in the summer, stink like hell) due to once a week trash collection.  Those same neighborhoods are now getting daily collection.  They're getting increased police protection, which is a marked difference from the "contain" mentality of my youth.  And while I don't begrudge anyone the increased service they get, I can't help but feel a little cheated.

Maybe it shouldn't matter to me so much what's going on in New York.  I'm not there anymore, not subject to anything Spike Lee was talking about.  But, I've always had a problem with injustice though, and what we're seeing there is the last bits of a systematic injustice become revealed.  And it saddens me.

UPDATE:  This is purely anecdotal.  I'm going on my own experiences plus what I've observed while I lived in New York and since I left.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Final Season

Now for something less angry and more... bittersweet.

A legend of my own time has announced this is his final go-round with the Yankees.

Derek Jeter, shortstop, #2, Yankee captain has announced that this is his final season, that he rides off into the sunset (and likely the Hall of Fame) after the 2014 season.  I'm sad, I admit it.  Jeter may not be the flashiest player, or the one with the biggest power numbers, but what he did on the field, what he has meant for baseball, echoes something that the last 20 or so years have meant in my life.

Consistency.

Every season you could pencil Derek Jeter in for a batting average at or near .300, between 10 and 20 home runs, 70-90 RBIs, and 185-200 hits.  Every year.  Like clockwork.  These are not easy numbers to achieve, and yet he did it with such quiet regularity that when it didn't happen, and he had an average ballplayer's year, the sky was falling, and reporters heralded his demise as eminent.

Jeter was -- is -- a winner.  And beyond that, he's smart enough to understand what it means to be a star.  It's why you've heard nothing negative about him off the field.  Arrive, play the game, go home, repeat.  On top of that, he did it with the biggest media draw in the biggest media market.  New York is a baseball-crazy city to the point where even the most ignorant to the sport has a cursory knowledge at least of what's going on.  New York is a celebrity driven media market to the point where we know which restaurants certain stars will dine in.  And Derek Jeter has consistently remained in the spotlight but not of the spotlight.  An ESPN reporter described this feat as like "surviving in Chernobyl, and then emerging as the healthiest person to have ever lived."

Consistency.

I turned 18 the year Derek Jeter won the AL Rookie of the Year in 1996.  It was the first championship I had the pleasure of enjoying (I was only a few days old in '78 when the Yanks won.  The Mets in '86? Well, they're the Mets, it doesn't count.) and really kicked off my formative years.  My twenties were played out with Yankee championships in the backdrop, and I enjoyed the wonders of the twenties: youth and awareness being at equal levels for the only time in your life.  I equate the career of this man, the one great player whose career I had the pleasure of closely following as a fan, as a link to those wonderful days of being young and dumb, energetic and impetuous, and the championships as a metaphor for my own perceived invincibility.  I loved being in my 20's in New York City.  I loved my life.  The only person I would have traded with at the time is Derek Jeter.  After all, as fun as it was for me, I didn't date supermodels, nor did I have multiple millions in the bank.

As that link to my young adulthood fades off, I find that I'm suddenly facing the realization that I'm not 20 something anymore.  Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with my age, my life and so on, but that time is gone forever, and only exists as memories -- stories that through retelling are elevated to legend.

Much like the career of one Derek Jeter.

So as this nascent baseball season gets underway, I thank Mr. Jeter, much like I thanked his teammate Mariano Rivera last year, for providing an excellent backdrop to an awesome story.

Sidebar:  I want to be in my hometown for Jeter's final home game at Yankee Stadium, I don't care if I have to Kickstarter that thing...

Monday, February 17, 2014

I Know I Said I Wouldn't Talk About It...

I made a promise to myself that when the book came out, when I would start to promote, I would tone down the political stuff that came out of my head and ended up in my blog.  I would tone down my comments on racism,  I would stop spreading my unsolicited liberal opinion.  I made the conscious decision to make no comment on perceived injustice in this country, in the news, in any viewpoint.  I'm a fiction writer, not a political journalist.  I stopped watching the news, interested myself only in the sports pages.

Unsuprisingly, I've had very little to write in this blog for quite some time.

Then came the Jordan Davis trial.

I heard that Michael Dunn was convicted of everything but murder 1, to the outrage of most.  I didn't understand why, so I read up on the trial.  Horror crept into my mind.  We've got another Stand Your Ground case.

Short version:  White dude drunkenly tells SUV full of black kids to turn their rap music down.  Black kids politely (maybe not so politely) tell him where to go.  Drunk white dude goes thinks someone is pointing a shotgun at him, goes back to his own car, grabs a gun and caps off 10 times into the SUV.  Nine shots hit, one kid dies.

It makes me want to puke writing it.

I'm not even going to talk about the verdict.  That is it's own animal.  I'm going to rant for a second on the horrific racial injustice inherent in the murder and the racist nature of the SYG law in and of itself.  It speaks to an era we convinced ourselves ended when Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Washington.  It speaks of a mindset people declared over with the election of President Obama.  The idea that you can blast someone when you feel threatened is not universal.  Those kids in the car were threatened.  If they produced a weapon and shot Mr. Dunn, would there be any doubt as to the treatment they would receive in the legal system and in the media? There would be referendum on the violence inherent in rap music, a call to arms to stop this scourge to our youth, and oh yeah, those kids would ALL be put away for life.  Trayvon Martin was shot dead in his own neighborhood because a white guy, who we now know is batsh** crazy, saw his hoodie and decided he was a threat, and for half a minute people blamed the hoodie.

I think we can agree that a law is unjust if it is not or cannot be applied evenly, which was the driving force behind eliminating the "Separate, but Equal" thinking behind the Jim Crow laws.  The Stand Your Ground laws are of the same ilk.  It punishes people for being Black, assigns a threat level to being Black, makes it okay for citizens fearing a phantom menace to police you for being Black, and to what end?  So that we'll tip our caps to every white person walking by and greet them with a "Good mornin' suh" to put them at ease?  So that we'll keep to "our own" neighborhoods with people who look like us and therefore stay where we're supposed to be?

If you've never met me or spoken to me, I'm a threatening looking Black guy -- 6'4", 260 pounds give or take.  I like wearing hoodies.  I like rap music.  Have I signed my own death warrant? Like the quote says, "There ain't much I can do about being big and Black at the same time."

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Writing Advice

Last night, a friend of mine made me feel like a grown-up.

I hadn't seen him in a while, so there were of course pleasantries exchanged as well as the updates as to what we've been doing with ourselves.  He congratulated me on the book and asked me how it was doing, to which I honestly have no earthly idea.  He then told me his young daughter wants to be a writer, wants to pursue a career in writing, and what should he as a father tell her.

Now, I have no clue what qualifies me as someone to give advice on how to be a writer.  I have an unfinished degree in journalism, wrote one unsuccessful novel, and another one that may or may not do better.  My blog has a grand total of 6 followers (change that, please, and subscribe).  But he's a friend, and I tell him what I was told in high school.  "You want to be a writer?  Write.  Read.  And Write."

A day later, I had a little more time to think about it, and I want to give this addendum to that little nugget of advice.

Take writing classes.  Creative writing, journalism, English composition.  Any class that gives you a different experience and feel on the craft, do it.

Read.  A lot.  Read anything you can get your hands on, and finish it.  Even if it's terrible.  ESPECIALLY if it's terrible.

Keep a journal.  Not only does it give you great practice in organizing your thoughts, but it makes you used to writing every day, makes writing second nature.

This last bit is important as anything.  Read what you want to write, and write what you want to read.  Writing is one of those things that you should do because you love it. Not for the acclaim.  Especially not for money (spoiler alert: there isn't a lot for most of us at first).  Rejection is part of the game, no matter what you write.  Your work should make you happy before you parade it to the world.  If you write something you would read, your enthusiasm will carry you through. 

Writing has been an extremely rewarding thing for me.  It's gotten me through some tough times mentally and emotionally, it's chronicled my greatest moments and memories.  And if someone can benefit from that experience, then that's what I have to share.

But I'm the wrong guy to ask for advice.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Discipline

It kind of came to me as I stepped out of the shower and stepped onto my bathroom scale.

That used to be a ritual I had before I went anywhere. My day would begin (or end, considering I work nights) with me getting home from the gym, showering, and taking a step on the scale, being proud that a workout ended in a slowly but surely shrinking number.  This ghost of my routine kicked in at the end of its cycle and I stepped on the scale without doing all the previous stuff, and the number I saw reminded me of it.

I haven't been to the gym -- not consistently, anyway -- in quite a while.

People are slaves to routine, followers of habit.  They do what they do with repetition, as the repetition is comfortable.  It's why bad habits are so hard to break; they become hardwired into our daily lives until our bodies and minds crave it.  Creative types -- artists and writers for instance -- are even more susceptible to habits, both good and bad, as they drive how and what we create.  I thought about that as well as I dried off and sucked in my gut as I looked in the mirror.  I've lost all my good habits.

I haven't written -- not consistently, anyway -- in quite a while.

We all have our reasons for this, of course, and some of them are even valid.  Good habits, for instance, are invariably the ones that are more difficult and more of an investment in time, and sometimes changing life situations -- good and/or bad -- make it tough to keep good habits.  Or sometimes we get lazy, as bad habits are easier, more instantly gratifying, and creep in when we least expect it.  Either way, whatever the reasons or excuses, the problem comes down to one thing: discipline.

My life situation has changed a bit.  I find myself less willing to engage in the high-energy, cardio-intensive routine of early-morning basketball two to three days a week, and more willing to spend that time in bed.  I end up talking myself out of my workouts as I drag my feet to get to the gym.  I'm completely unwilling to go for a run in the midst of the recent (and absolutely, insanely bitter) cold snap.  I find myself writing less, and I give myself reasons like "Gotta promote the novel," or "Don't have time right now.". Or, if I'm being truthful, the reasons are "I don't feel like it," or "I'm not in the headspace to produce anything good."

Damn that.  No more excuses.  Life is passing us by as we fill the days with stuff we should have done and reasons why we didn't do them.  Our bad habits are killing us.  My bad habits are killing me.  Not with any disease or anything, but with malaise and missed opportunity.  The game is not called because of cold.  We -- I -- just have to find the find the discipline, to create the good habits, that restores the natural order of things.

And with that, I reveal the number I saw. 271.

I say this a lot, but now I'm saying it publicly over the internet, which will hold me accountable.  I will reduce that number by 30 in the coming months.  It's going to take planning, hard work, and discipline.

The other thing, the writing?  Well, something must be done about that too.  At the beginning of the year, I set forth an unreachable goal: to write a million words of fiction.  I know the goal is insanely difficult, but I set it with the idea that if I try and don't make it, I'll stilt have done an unbelievable amount of work.  So far, my word count isn't all that impressive.  I'm going to take a NaNoWriMo-style approach and try to generate 1200 words a day of fiction.  Yeah, I'll be well short of my million-word mandate, but the point wasn't a million words, the point was forging the discipline to transition into a writing career.

And I trust the internet to hold me accountable.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

MLK Day and Richard Sherman (or, Just Because Chris Rock Said It...)


Warning: Graphic content follows.  Words and video are in this blog that are nowhere near appropriate for most people to see, say or hear in public.

I'm not a Seahawks fan, but people are way overreacting to Richard Sherman's post-game interview.  He made a fantastic, game-winning, send-your-team-to-the-Super-Bowl play, and immediately after was interviewed about a play he made on a player he didn't like.    The response has ranged from finger-wagging to just plain shameful.

Before I get into the meat of this post, let's start with the source, in my opinion, of the problem.


In 1996, Chris Rock's HBO special, Bring The Pain, famously and hilariously makes the distinction between black people and "niggas."  I'm a fan of Chris Rock.  At the time, it was kinda-sorta more acceptable for black people to refer to other black people as "nigga," or "my nigga."  The rationale was that we took something that was meant to demean and turned it into a insider thing of respect.  Looking back, that was stupid.  But that's not the point.

Chris Rock's famous rant about "niggas" made a specific distinction between "undesirable elements" and normal black people, and through that distinction made it okay for people to use the word who had no business using the words, and using it for its original purpose to boot.  I got into several conversations with my more melanin-deprived friends on the East Coast in the months and years immediately following that HBO special that went something like this: "I fucking hate niggers, they're lazy and unmotivated and steal my stuff and my girl.  Not you though, you're cool."

No.

Just because Chris Rock said it doesn't make it okay for you to say it.

So, flash forward 18 years.  Richard Sherman makes his play.  He has his interview.  Then, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, comes the internet response.


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Whoa, white dude.  WTF?




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For the record, Richard Sherman went to Stanford.  As in, Ivy League.  And he was a 3.9 student.  Which means, even by the Chris Rock definition, he's not.







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Wow.  Speechless.  Stay classy, dude.
























You can see the rest here.

By no means is this okay.  The N-word isn't cool.  You don't legitimize your "down" ness by spouting it off at every turn.  And there is no distinction.  We're black people, African-American, not niggers.  You don't distinguish, you demean.  Especially when you call someone who's done things, and is doing things, that you can't.  Such as go from a 3.9 at Stanford to the best cornerback in the NFL.

Chris Rock was wrong.




Sunday, January 19, 2014

Laughably shameless

First of all, I'd like to very belatedly wish you all a happy new year.  I've been so busy the last couple of weeks that I haven't had a spare moment to write in this blog.  For those of you who don't know, my new novel, The Favorite recently became available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and I've been shamelessly plugging it for all who can see and hear.  Seriously.  Shamelessly.  It's embarrassing.



I mean, really, how many of my friends didn't know this was coming?  I've only been talking about my novel, The Favorite, self-published with the help of iUniverse, Inc. for six, seven months now?  You had to believe that at some point, I would release my novel, The Favorite, available wherever books are sold online so I could finally stop talking about it. 

Anyway, the thing I've learned about this whole experience: I'm really bad at advertising.