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My Debut Novel – “The Silent Fountain”

The Chief is happy to announce the upcoming publication of my first completed novel, “The Silent Fountain”, courtesy of Book Baby – an independent firm based in Pennsauken, New Jersey.  It will be available in both print and electronic versions by mid-December 2018.  Once I confirm the actual publication date, I will issue another formal announcement.

To family and friends who have known of my literary dreams for decades and heard me speak of this for so long (too long actually), yes finally, it is now becoming a reality!  Following what seems like a lifetime of promises, it IS happening.  Now, aren’t you glad you waited!

After some two decades of writing and rewriting; plotting and planning; submitting and getting rejected; hoping and praying; and slaving over hot pencils and hotter keyboards, it is all coming to fruition.  It took a while (to put it mildly), but I have kept my promise to all of you.

“The Silent Fountain” is best classified as a paranormal romance – emphasis on paranormal.  I don’t do romance very well – either in literature or real life.  I came up with the story idea around 1996 and first submitted it to a traditional publisher in 2001.  The publisher, a university-based imprint that shall go unnamed, specializes in fiction and non-fiction from both published and unpublished writers of Hispanic heritage, with a focus on all things Hispanic or Latino.  The company stated in their mission that they strive to combat stereotypes about Latinos and to give a voice to a group that has otherwise been ignored by the mainstream press and the literary world.

I felt “The Silent Fountain” met that criteria.  As my blog followers should know by now, I am definitely of Hispanic heritage.  I’ve been fighting stereotypes about Latinos my entire life.  Most of the characters in “The Silent Fountain” are Hispanic; yet don’t fit the Hollywood mold of how we behave and what we look like.  They’re not gang-bangers or low-riders; they’re not violent, alcoholic, dim-witted and sexually-obsessed cretins; and they’re not illiterate fools who snuck across the U.S. border in the middle of the night with a handful of clothes stuffed into plastic bags.

The people in my novel are educated, smart and possess the amazing ability to speak perfect English.  Most are native-born Texans who own and operate a real estate conglomerate; live in a large, century-old, well-appointed home; listen to classical music; and wear nice clothes.  They are much like my own relatives and other Latinos I’ve known and worked with over the nearly six decades of my life on Earth.

But that university turned it down, giving me the most classic of all literary rejections: it didn’t meet “their needs at this time.”  I got the same response from the seven other publishing houses where I submitted the novel.  One editor actually returned the manuscript with a note declaring the “characters are too implausible” because of their wealth and Hispanic ethnicity.  “The average reader won’t believe that,” they told me.  I replied with a letter to that editor (which I know sounds childish and unprofessional) telling them I write for smart people anyway.  They didn’t reply.

After taking a closer look at the type of books and essays the university imprint publishes and distributes, I realized why they turned me down.  I’m not some pathetic wetback who made their way to the U.S. via a harrowing journey across vast expanses of deserts and mountains atop an aging train; thus, neither are my characters.  I don’t know many people like that anyway.  I’ve spent my life avoiding people who are illiterate and don’t care about the sanctity of U.S. law.  My book also isn’t a saccharine-laced tale told in a first-person narrative by a young child who grew up in huts with no shoes and little schooling; yet still has the ability to comprehend everything that’s going on around them and are subsequently able to offer their elders sensible explanations on how to deal with critical issues.  This is not a children’s picture book with verbiage sweet enough to give you cavities.  In fact, there are no children in my novel.  Moreover, it’s a paranormal romance with some sexual activity and foul language.  So, while they look for Hispanic-oriented literary works by Hispanic authors that defy mainstream stereotypes, I feel they essentially created a stereotypical classification for themselves.  And, as usual, I didn’t fit into it.  But that’s okay.  People have always tried to place me in a box to make themselves comfortable with who they think I am or should be and ended up failing.  Such as happened in this case.

Upon starting this blog in 2012, I had to sit back and reconsider where I wanted my writing ventures to go.  Did I want to attempt the traditional route again?  Go through the same decades-old procedures for contacting a publishing house?  Between 2001 and 2012, it seemed the list of book publishers had dwindled.  Publishing has fallen victim to the same corporate evil as banks did in the 1990s and IT firms did in the last decade: mergers and acquisitions.

By 2012, however, self-publishing had become a more popular route for average writers.  In fact, self-publishing has come a long way from the vanity press market several years ago; the last resort road for luckless writers.  Growth of that beloved monstrosity known as the Internet gave storytellers a more direct path to seeing their words in print.  And thus, I made my decision.  And here I am.

Below is a synopsis of the novel, which is the verbiage that will appear on the back cover.

 

Juan Miguel de la Montana lives a quiet life as a single man, spending his personal time reading, exercising, listening to music and drinking white wine. But his carefully-structured routine is interrupted when he learns of the death of an old college friend.  He attends the funeral and planned to return home quickly. He didn’t expect to encounter another college friend at the grave site, much less strike up a conversation and then meet him for dinner. He certainly didn’t expect the man to invite him to a nearby ranch estate where he’s vacationing with friends, much less accept the offer.

Yet, once there, Juan Miguel feels pleasantly overwhelmed – and begins to enjoy the company of the estate’s owners, the Santiago family, and their colorful friends. Black orchids, a blue-eyed cat, lilac perfume and a long-dormant water fountain slip into his subconscious and initially mean nothing to him. But, just as Juan Miguel falls in love with his new friends and the ranch’s bucolic surroundings, he’s unprepared to fall in love with Esperanza, a Santiago relative.

And, it doesn’t seem to matter that she died sixty years ago.

 

I’m dedicating this book to my parents, George and Guadalupe De La Garza, who tolerated more from me than most reasonable people would have.  My father especially helped me with the Spanish translations; we’d spend an hour or more on the phone.  My biggest regret is that I didn’t make a more concerted effort to get this thing published before he died in 2016.  And my mother’s mental health has deteriorated to the point where she probably doesn’t remember me talking about it much.

So, if there’s one piece of advice I can give to anyone, it’s NEVER put off what you can do as soon as possible.  I always said that life got in the way.  But I finally realized life wasn’t getting in the way.  I was letting it get in the way.  My writing and my dreams have always been a part of my persona.  But I kept putting them on hold to take care of other stuff.  Don’t do that!  Your best dreams can never die, but the people you love the most eventually do.

 

Image by J.L.A. De La Garza

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Banned Books Week 2018

Many social movements begin with the simplest of acts.  In the fall of 1975, a group of parents called Parents of New York United complained to a local school board that school policies on library books were too “permissive.”  Among the offensive tomes were Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five” and Langston Hughes’ “Best Short Stories by Negro Writers,” which, the parents moaned, were “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and just plain filthy.”  In response, the school district removed the books in February of 1976.  But a senior high school student, Steven Pico, and four classmates challenged the board’s decision; claiming the books were removed simply because “passages in the books offended [the group’s] social, political, and moral tastes and not because the books, taken as a whole, were lacking in educational value.”  Other libraries and free speech organizations filed briefs on the students’ behalf, and the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982 as Island Trees School District v. Pico.

While many parents surely were upset that a group of high school kids had the audacity to circumvent their authority, the more significant issue was the school board’s actions.  And, on a grander scale, who has the right to determine what is acceptable and unacceptable?

As the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once declared, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so.  But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

Shortly after the SCOTUS reversal of the aforementioned school board’s decision, “Banned Books Week” was founded.  Since then it has grown into an international event with the goal of ensuring that true freedom begins with our ability and the right to read and see pretty much whatever we want.  There’s a reason, after all, why the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is first.

Like any legitimate scribe, I strongly support the right to free speech and free expression.  We in these democratic societies don’t often appreciate the importance of it.  But speak with anyone who grew up in a totalitarian state – where people are told what to read and how to think – and you’ll realize the value of it.

Sadly this battle will never be won.  We will ALWAYS have to combat those who feel that, since they’re offended by something, no else should have access to it either.  In the current chaos of extreme political correctness and assaults on the media by a deranged American president, none of us should have to tolerate the narrow-minded choices of others.

Keep writing and keep fighting!

Banned Books Week runs this year from September 23 – 29.

Frequently Challenged Books

Ten Most Challenged Books Lists

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Happy 80th Birthday SPCA Texas!

The animal rights movement in the United States is nothing new.  But the “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals” was something of an anomaly when the New York State Legislature granted Henry Bergh a charter for it in 1866.  In the more than 150 years since, the ASPCA has been advocate for the netherworld of animal welfare.  The Texas branch of the SPCA was incorporated on September 22, 1938 and works in conjunction with state and local leaders to oversee the well-being various non-human creatures (not including, of course, politicians and child molesters).

Currently, the ASPCA is monitoring the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, which hit the East Coast last week.  After the debacle involving Hurricane Katrina – and the literally millions of animals forcibly left stranded to be killed or die in agony – people demanded better protections for human and animal survivors of natural or even human-made disasters.

But, just as importantly, we now understand that animal abuse is tied to more severe problems in society.  Some of the world’s worst serial killers, for example, had a history of animal cruelty.  While most people who do something mean to an animal won’t turn into a Hannibal Lecter-type monster, we take it seriously now and often involve law enforcement.

I implore everyone to help in any way possible.  Besides, animals actually appreciate when you help them out.

 

ASPCA

SPCA Texas

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In Memoriam – Tom Wolfe: 1931 – 2018

“Love is the ultimate expression of the will to live.”

“The surest cure for vanity is loneliness.”

“I do novels a bit backward. I look for a situation, a milieu first, and then I wait to see who walks into it.”

“To me, the great joy of writing is discovering.  Most writers are told to write about what they know, but I still love the adventure of going out and reporting on things I don’t know about.”

“This is the artist, then, life’s hungry man, the glutton of eternity, beauty’s miser, glory’s slave.”

“The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence.”

“It’s fortunate that I am a writer, because that has helped me understand the properties of words.  They are what have made life complex.  In the battle for status in the animal kingdom, power and aggressiveness have been all-important.  But among humans, once they acquired speech, all that changed.”

“There are some people who have the quality of richness and joy in them and they communicate it to everything they touch.  It is first of all a physical quality; then it is a quality of the spirit.”

“I never forget.  I never forgive.  I can wait.  I find it very easy to harbor a grudge.  I have scores to settle.”

“People complain about my exclamation points, but I honestly think that’s the way people think.  I don’t think people think in essays; it’s one exclamation point to another.”

“I have never knowingly, I swear to God, written satire.  The word connotes exaggeration of the foibles of mankind.  To me, mankind just has foibles.  You don’t have to push it!”

“There was a time in the 1930s when magazine writers could actually make a good living.  ‘The Saturday Evening Post’ and ‘Collier’s’ both had three stories in each issue.  These were usually entertaining, and people really went for them.  But then television came along, and now of course, information technology… the new way of killing time.”

“My idol is Emile Zola.  He was a man of the left, so people expected of him a kind of ‘Les Miserables,’ in which the underdogs are always noble people.  But he went out, and found a lot of ambitious, drunk, slothful and mean people out there.  Zola simply could not – and was not interested in – telling a lie.”

“The modern notion of art is an essentially religious or magical one in which the artist is viewed as a holy beast who in some way, big or small, receives flashes from the godhead, which is known as creativity.”

“Nonfiction is never going to die.”

Tom Wolfe

 

Tom Wolfe Bibliography

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Writers

Alejandro De La Garza, 2018

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March 9, 2018 · 12:57 AM

In Memoriam – Ursula K. Le Guin: 1929 – 2018

“The way to make something good is to make it well.  If the ingredients are extra good (truffles, vivid prose, fascinating characters) that’s a help. But it’s what you do with them that counts. With the most ordinary ingredients (potatoes, everyday language, commonplace characters) – and care and skill in using them – you can make something extremely good.”

“If your manuscript doesn’t follow the rules of what’s currently trendy, the rules of what’s supposed to be salable, the rule some great authority laid down, you’re supposed to make it do so. Most such rules are hogwash, and even sound ones may not apply to your story. What’s the use of a great recipe for soufflé if you’re making blintzes? The important thing is to know what it is you’re making, where your story is going, so that you use only the advice that genuinely helps you get there. The hell with soufflé, stick to your blintzes.”

“Distrust anybody — fellow writer, agent, editor — who tells you that fiction must use only limited third person.  It’s trendy at the moment, sure. But the surest way to go out of vogue is to be in it.”

“All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. If we don’t, our lives get made up for us by other people.” – The Wave in the Mind, 2004.

“I think the word success confuses people. They get recognition mixed up with achievement, and celebrity mixed up with excellence. I rarely use the word – it confuses me. I didn’t want to be a success, I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t set out to write successful books. I tried to write good ones.”

“There is no reason a married woman with children can’t also be a committed artist. This seems self-evident now but wasn’t immediately clear to me.”

“You can regret a decision you made in an earlier book and correct it in a later work. This is a hard one in our unforgiving times, when your previous missteps are eternal and only a google away. But there is nothing shameful in becoming a better person, a wiser person. Done right, it’s pretty heroic.”

“Other writers are not your competition. They are your sustenance. Writing is joyous, but never as joyous as reading.”

“Speak up for the books, poems, shows, music, and paintings you love even though you sound smarter and more discerning when you can’t be pleased.”

“[I]mmortality has never worked out well for anyone. Avoid it at all costs.”

Ursula K. Le Guin

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Old Christmas Photos

I first posted this essay on December 24, 2012, as I neared the first anniversary of my blog.  I had printed out a copy for my parents to read.  My father got hold of it first and became somewhat emotional.  But both he and my mother appreciated my honesty and ultimately liked it.

 

In the five years since, there’s seems to have been a lifetime’s worth of changes in my world.  Most notably my father is gone, and so is my dog.  My mother just turned 85, but didn’t seem to remember until she saw the birthday card and a glass vase stuffed with pinkish-red flowers on her dresser.  Always give your loved ones flowers while they’re still alive!  Laying them at a grave site is actually a waste of time and almost ghoulish.

 

In retrospect, it’s odd because none of us ever really got into the spirit of Christmas (whatever that’s supposed to mean), but relished it for the sake of family.  My father’s side would gather on Christmas Eve, usually at my grandmother’s home, as Hispanic clans often do.  On my mother’s side, we often convened at the home of her older sister on Christmas day, as non-Hispanics often do.  That “non-Hispanic” side is really half-German.  And, while there’d be a Teutonic-looking angel perched atop my aunt’s Christmas tree, we’d have chicken enchiladas as the main lunch course.  Yes, Christmas in America takes many forms!

 

I don’t know why people wait until the end of the year to reflect on events of the previous twelve months.  Is it just neater?  Or purely sentimental?  Perhaps both.  Regardless, I have to thank all of you who have stuck with me and my quirky dispositions these past five years.  In this hyper-fast, electronic-based, Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/latest I-Phone age, there’s much to be said for people who actually take time to read stuff online (as opposed to just scanning through it) or in print (as opposed to asking, ‘Can I just download a copy?’).

 

Thanks again, everyone, for tolerating this 50-something Wolfman!  And we’ll see what howl-worthy events 2018 brings!

Chief Writing Wolf

christmas-tree

I don’t get too much into the Christmas thing; never really have.  But, I do wish most folks a ‘Merry Christmas.’  It’s just a tradition for most of us born and raised in Christian-based societies.  There is one tradition, though, that I think about often.  My father’s family used to gather every Christmas Eve at his mother’s house.  It’s a common Hispanic ritual.  They gather late on Christmas Eve, eat tamales and other conventional Mexican foods, and then go to midnight mass at a local Catholic church.  Most of us in the family, however, didn’t partake of midnight mass.  We’d usually eaten and drank too much by then.

My father’s family last converged on my grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve 2000; she died the following February at age 97.  And, that was it.  No one got together anymore.  Not for Thanksgiving, not for Christmas, not for Easter.  In fact, the…

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