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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.