Tag Archives: literature

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a university-based imprint that shall go unnamed, specializes in fiction and non-fiction from both published and unpublished writers of Hispanic heritage, with a focus on all things Hispanic or Latino.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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Writers

Alejandro De La Garza, 2018

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March 9, 2018 · 12:57 AM

The Alphabet of Me

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A is for adamant.  I have a certain view of how my life should function and I refuse to relinquish it.  It’s how I’ve survived all these years without going crazy and killing myself.  I don’t impose my ideals on others, though.  I’ve had that done to me and sometimes I’d obey; thinking if I did what others thought I should do, they’d like me.  It never worked!  So I stopped doing that shit.  Other people’s rules don’t apply to me.

B is for barrier.  I’ve placed too many barriers in front of me; impediments of my own making; excuses to prevent me from taking unnecessary risks and possibly hurting myself.  I’ve told myself I can’t do X because of Y.  Or worst, because someone else told me I can’t or shouldn’t do it.  So, I’ve finally learned to knock down those barriers.

C is for curious.  I’ve always been curious about the world around me, even if I feared it most of the time.  I’ve wondered why hurricanes form and why dogs move in circles several times before laying down.  I wonder why most people are assholes and refuse to get along, when the alternative is constant yelling and fighting.  When I get curious about human nature, I become frustrated.  So, I start thinking about dogs and hurricanes.  At least they have a reason for being the way they are.

D is for depression.  It’s one of the ugliest words in the English language.  It’s been a constant, demonic companion in my life.  It’s robbed me of life’s simple pleasures more times than I can count.  It’s held me back from taking the chances I needed to move forward.  It’s kept me in bed or drunk, when I should be out doing something good for myself.  It’s almost killed me – several times.  It’s still there; lurking in the back of my psyche like a dormant flu virus.  But I finally stood up to it and beat the fucker back down into the gutter where it belongs.

E is for education.  I feel this is the single most important factor in any civilized society.  Odd, considering I dropped out of college in the late 1980s and didn’t return until almost 20 years later to earn my college degree.  But, I did it.  And, my education didn’t end when I finished that last class.  It continues.  I’m still learning.  I’ll always keep my mind open to new experiences and different things.

F is for fear.  There it is again – fear of the unknown; fear of people; fear of taking chances.  Fear has been the other unwanted companion that just won’t leave me alone.  It’s taken almost my entire life to learn to smack that thing down into oblivion.  Still, on occasion, it extends a grimy finger upwards and points at me.  It still tries to intimidate me.  But now, it’s all been turned upside down.  Fear is scared of me.

G is for glaring.  The truth about people and things is often glaringly obvious to me.  Why don’t others see the various and sundry colors of the world, instead of just the grays?  Some folks look at me like I’m crazy.  But I just have my own unique view of my surroundings and the people who occupy it.  More importantly, I no longer expect people to think and feel exactly as I do.

H is for health.  After seeing an aunt battle with cancer in the late 1980s and a friend ravaged by AIDS just a few years later, my physical and mental health became paramount.  Few other things matter as much.  For years, however, I had a handle on my physical health.  I lifted weights, jogged regularly and did some basic calisthenics almost every weekday morning before heading out to work.  It took a while longer, though, to get a grip on my psychological welfare.  I know my body will grow tired, as I continue to age.  But I refuse to get “old.”  That’s more a state of mind.

I is for introvert.  It used to upset me so much.  I had such a hard time making friends.  I just couldn’t get too many people to like me.  I felt, for so many years, that I was defective.  Something was wrong, I kept telling myself; something wrong with me.  But now, I embrace that attribute.  It’s me; it’s who I am.  I am just quiet and insulated.  I’m a reader and a thinker; not a showman.  I don’t have to make a spectacle of myself anymore to feel important.  That introverted attribute generates a slew of story ideas and compels me to write and to read.

J is for jaded – as in cynical.  You get that way after a half century of experiencing life’s bullshit; enduring years of being shoved around because you won’t conform to others’ expectations.  I’m jaded as in bitter; bitter that it took me so long to realize I’m important and have much to offer this world.  But, at this point in time, that jaded personality has given me a more clear view of life.

K is for kill.  If I killed everybody who pissed me off, I’d be the world’s worst serial murderer.  Then again, who wouldn’t?  Part of being introverted and jaded is that I don’t like people much.  I’ve always said the more I get to know people, the more I like my dog.  Animals are cool; most people are assholes.  But, I couldn’t waste my time killing anyone.  I don’t want to spend that much gas money driving out to secluded locations to bury the bodies.  I have stories to write!

L is for lost.  Growing up so shy and timid I often felt lost in a world of bullies and cool kids.  Now, I feel lost in a world of idiots.  So I get lost in my world of reading, writing, music and good wine.

M is for meticulous.  I’m a very detail-oriented person.  Some people like that about me, especially at work; others find it annoying.  People don’t have a certain place in society, but objects do.

N is for nearby.  I keep the memory of long-gone loved ones close to me.  People who helped raise me and had an impact on my life reside in my heart and my soul.  I won’t let them drift away.  I can’t.  I can’t turn my back on them just because they’re no longer physically present on Earth.  They’ll be the ones to come get me when my own life expires.

O is for ordinary.  As difficult as I am to get to know – this, according to my own parents – I consider myself rather ordinary.  I’m not handsome and I don’t have the perfect physique.  I certainly no a genius, but I’m intelligent and well-educated.  I do consider myself a very good writer, so on that level, I’m somewhat extraordinary.  Writing is the one part about me in which I’m 100% confident.  Otherwise, I’m an ordinary individual trying to live a relatively ordinary life.

P is for past.  I’ve dwelled on it too often.  I always wanted to make things better – things that happened a while back and can’t be altered now.  I’d spend – waste – so much time thinking about the past.  You do that a lot, when you grow up shy.  People always seemed to take advantage of me and get the best of my mind and soul.  So, even though I finally stopped doing that to myself, I occasionally have trouble breaking free of the past.  Pulling my mind away from way back there and keeping it in the here and now.

Q is for quiet.  Teachers and other adults always said I was quiet as a child.  I’m still somewhat quiet.  Now, it depends more on the situation than on my desire to stay out of trouble.  If I’m quiet, that usually means I’m listening; sometimes plotting.  What’s wrong with that?  No one needs to be loud and obnoxious.  Those who feel the need to be that way actually need to be smacked.  As a writer, I relish the quiet; the solitude; the isolation.  I’m quiet because I’m observing the people around me – and trying to figure out how their personas would fit into one of my stories.

R is for rebellious.  Yes, I’ve always been quiet.  But, I’m also rebellious.  Quietly rebellious – as oxymoronic as that sounds.  I don’t like to make a scene, unless I become enraged.  It always startles the crap out of people when that happens.  But I’m generally a silent rebel.  My parents wanted me to study computer science, or anything related to computers.  I wanted to be a writer.  They equated that with being a bum; thus I started studying computer programming in college – just to please them.  But my inner self said no; that’s not who you are.  You’re a writer.  Now, I’m a technical writer by day and a creative writer by night.  Ironically, I’ve had to become a computer aficionado to engage in both tasks.  Either way I’m still a writer.  I rebelled against my parents’ desired plans for my future – quietly.

S is for smart.  I’m smarter than I look.  I like to read, so I know a lot; a lot of different things.  Things like arctic hurricane is the formal name for a blizzard.  Things like Polynesians in the South Pacific sometimes have blond hair, not because some European sailor got shipwrecked on an island 300 years ago and then got lonely, but because there’s a genetic trait among them that produces fair-colored locks.  I’m smart because I understand human nature, even if I don’t like people that much.  I’m smart because I know the environment is worth saving and not from a politically correct standpoint.  I’m smart because I’ve been around and listen and observe more than I talk.

T is for tender.  I have a good heart – physically and emotionally.  My disdain for human beings notwithstanding, I still have compassion for people in general; mainly children and the disabled.  I certainly have a tender spot for animals.  Yes, that’s kind of odd to hear from someone with a leather fetish and a taste for vodka.

U is for underappreciated.  Once more, growing up in a cocoon of timidity, I always felt underappreciated.  It also means underpaid, and the two are usually interconnected.  Showing someone respect is showing your appreciation for them.  For example, I always try to remember people on their birthdays.  To hell with Christmas or Valentine’s Day!  Those are easy to recall.  But, if you really want to show someone you care about them, or at least acknowledge their presence on Earth, wish them a ‘Happy Birthday.’  They’ll appreciate that more than ‘Merry Christmas.’

V is for various.  I like a variety of things.  My blog, as well as my writings, reflect that.  I like different foods, different genres of literature and different styles of music.  I have definite opinions on various subjects; some of which seem contradictory.  I urge people to vote, for example, but I despise most politicians.

W is for weird.  I’m a writer.  I’m just weird.  They’re symbiotic elements – ying and yang.  They just go together.  Only other writers will understand.  But, whereas I once cringed at the mere hint of being dubbed weird, I now celebrate it.  Actually, it’s pretty normal for me.  Other people are the ones who think I’m weird.  They just don’t understand.  And, that’s fine.

X is for X-ray.  Sometimes, I’ll expose my true self to people, so they can see who I really am.  Those who think I’m weak will see the strength deep inside me.  Others who think I’m cold and calculating will see the clown figure that lies beneath the rigid exterior.  That’s not a common occurrence, though.  I rarely let people get inside me like that.

Y is for yes – as in a restrained yes.  I won’t say yes to just anything.  I’m too cautious.  I’ll say yes to saving an injured animal; yes to good vodka; yes to dancing to my favorite music.  I reserve my yeses for the most important elements of life.

Z is for zeal – a zest for reading and writing.  Well, I guess that’s two words for this one letter.  In case you haven’t figured it out yet, though, my passion for the written word is boundless.  We writers have to possess such an innate desire to sit down and drop words onto paper or a computer.  It can be exciting and rewarding, but quite often, it’s frustrating and disappointing.

 

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Dumb Luck

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During the first semester of my senior year in high school, I took an Advanced Placement (AP) English course.  I’d always been good in English; having learned to read and write even before I entered kindergarten.  Reading and writing were two means to deal with the intense shyness that plagued my youth.  I’d always earned A’s in English classes, even going back to grade school.  Until that AP class.  I ended up with a B+, which – to me – was depressing.  Towards the end of the course, the teacher urged me to take a regular English class for my final semester; saying something about the next AP English course dealing with poetry, which “takes it to a whole new level.”  Translation: you’re too big of a dumb ass to handle it.  Her and I hadn’t really connected anyway, which had made me feel ostracized.  In retrospect, she reminds me Hillary Clinton; you could tell she’d lead a really hard life, but still have off fake smiles to get through the day.

For that final half of my senior year, I took a “regular” English class (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean) and ended up with an A+.  I’d had that particular teacher (another Hillary Clinton predecessor) before and didn’t have any problems with her.  But another student in that class did.  As the spring semester wound down, and all of us seniors became more eager to leave, that one student was in peril.  The teacher had openly informed him (and everyone else) that he might not pass, which meant he wouldn’t be able to graduate on time.  One day she loudly proclaimed that she was going through all of his previous coursework to see if she’d made any mistakes in grading.  I could see the mortified look on his normally gregarious face.  It was a good thing he was seated at the very back of the room.  The rest of us remained silent.  When the class ended that day, the teacher told him to stay.

I encountered him in a boys’ restroom later and asked him “if everything was okay.”  He said yes; that he’d just barely passed the course and would be able to graduate as scheduled.  I told him it was “chicken shit” that the teacher had publicly humiliated him and virtually announced to everybody that he was a potential failure.  A couple of other guys in that class happened to show up and overheard our conversation.  They agreed with me.  That one guy (I can’t remember his name) then mentioned something I thought was odd at the time.  He said he’d always had trouble with reading and writing; that letters and words sometimes looked “mixed up” to him.  Thinking about that now makes me realize he was probably dyslexic; a neurological condition that impacts people (usually males) at a young age.

I’ve known other boys and young men who had trouble reading and writing and remember the open ridicule they’d face at the hands of teachers and other students.  Calling out someone in public like that and telling them they’re about to fail is cruel and unethical.  But people do it anyway.  It happens all the time in schools – and in the workforce.  It’s a form of bullying.

In the summer of 2009, the supervisors at my job decided upon a new tactic to educate associates en masse should we encounter a work-related problem.  They would email everyone at once and try to get a resolution as quickly as possible.  The genesis was time constraints.  They didn’t want to deal with telling people one by one how to handle a troublesome issue.  The plan bombed as soon as it was implemented; thanks to yours truly.

I had a question about something, so the supervisor, Monica*, emailed everyone (copying our project manager, Dave*, and her own assistant, Diana*) about it.  She initially didn’t mention that it was me who had started the inquiry.  Monica gave us all an hour to figure it out.  When I thought I’d gotten it, I asked Diana who merely responded with a shrug.  “Oh, so you’re gonna play this chicken shit little game, too, huh?” I said.

“It’s not a game,” she muttered.

“It’s also not a game when you ridicule someone publicly.  Go back to sleep.”  I left her office, which she shared with Monica and another supervisor.

Moments later Monica sent out another group email telling everyone that I need help with this problem – to which I replied (only to Monica, Dave, Diana and the other supervisor): “I don’t know who came up with this idea, but it’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen.”

Dave wasn’t on site that day, and Monica reacted with her usual dismissive demeanor when I finally confronted her.  “Well, we didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” she said, still staring at her monitor.  The comment had prompted a barely-audible chuckled from Diana.

“Oh, no!” I replied.  “I don’t have feelings for you or anyone else in this dump.  None of you are worth that much trouble, so don’t impress yourselves too goddamned much.”

She still wouldn’t look at me and started talking to Diana.

I reached behind and slammed the office door with enough force to cause the wall to vibrate.  It startled the other supervisor.  “Do I have your attention now?” I said to Monica.

Her and I had engaged in verbal battles before.  That wasn’t the first time she’d called me out publicly.  I’d confronted her afterwards, and she said she’d say whatever she wanted whenever she wanted.  I informed my then-supervisor, Robert*, telling him Monica and I “had words.”

Monica had the habit of ridiculing people in public.  I recall another nasty situation about two years earlier than the group email stunt where she’d loudly gone off on a woman about the standard operating procedures (SOP) manual.  People on the other side of the office – with stacks of metal shelves and a slew of paper-laden boxes between us – could hear her.  Robert called Dave who was in another location.  I don’t know what exactly happened next, but a security official showed up several minutes later.  By the end of that year, Robert left the company.  Speaking with another colleague, James*, months later, I learned Robert had had it with Monica.  He had apparently been unable to reason with her on any level and – unwilling to tolerate it – found another job.

James (who remains a good friend to this day), a female colleague, Andrea*, and I then all fell under the group supervised by Monica.  For Andrea, it was a veritable death sentence.  Israelis and Palestinians get along better than those two did.  I chalked it up initially to the usual drama that erupts between people in the workplace.  But the two women literally despised one another.  The following year Andrea took a leave of absence – and never came back.

A few months after the group email mess Monica got her comeuppance.  Late one Friday afternoon she’d marched up to the office of our company’s liaison to the government agency with which we contracted (our client in other words) and unleashed a verbal tirade.  The incident started the liaison, an older woman who was bound to a motorized scooter.  That other company supervisor happened to accompany Monica; unaware, as she later told me, that Monica would “go off like that.”

A security official happened to overhear the exchange and promptly ordered Monica and the other supervisor to leave the office.  Someone then called Dave who was at a client site a few miles away.  He hurried to downtown Dallas in evening rush-hour traffic – which often moves slower than fat people walking through a cactus field – and ultimately walked Monica out of the building.  She was gone.  The rest of us didn’t find out until the following Monday morning, when Dave called us into a meeting.  “If you have any questions, get with me privately,” he added.

The only question James and I had was whether or not they had to escort Monica out in handcuffs or a straight-jacket.  It was somewhat of a relief.  The big, evil, loud-ass witch had evaporated from our lives.

I hate to see anyone to lose their job.  Most anyone.  Some people just beg for it in a way, either through their own incompetence or because of brutish behavior.

If I try to count the times someone ridiculed me during my school years, I’d have to break out a calculator.  If I try to do the same with work-related fiascos, the stories would include more than a few arguments.  Not long after landing in the corporate world, I discovered that schoolyard bullies and cranky teachers reappear in corner offices with designated titles and self-righteous dispositions.

I’m a firm believer, though, in that what goes around comes around.  The proverbial karma is a bitch theory.

In early 1990, I had a temporary job at a financial company’s lock box division.  One of the assistant supervisors was an older woman who seemed to relish pointing out the mistakes of everyone in the unit.  At weekly meetings she’d call out people’s names like a headmistress admonishing disobedient school children.  The tactic was supposed to enlighten and help educate the group, thus guarding against future costly errors.  It had the opposite effect.  Aside from generating extreme animosity against the woman, it impacted morale.  Then, salvation arrived in the most unlikely of circumstances.  That woman made an error, a really egregious error that cost the company some money.  It was a serious offense.  The unit manager, an older man with a seesaw personality, gathered everyone around to announce publicly the nature of the mistake.  In a perverse form of emotional rioting, the entire crowd – including me – reacted with unabashed joy.  The old hag got a healthy dose of her own self-righteousness.  Hurts, doesn’t it, I thought, to be shamed and humiliated in front of everybody.  A few weeks later I found a job at a bank, just as the assignment was scheduled to end.

Humiliating someone publicly just doesn’t turn out well in either school or work.  Cooperation and private consultations may sound like bleeding-heart liberal ideology, but it’s much more of a productive approach in both business and education.  Think about it.  How many times have you been part of a group where members constantly bickered, and everything still came out wonderfully?  Wonderfully, that is, without any break in the hostilities.  I never have.  Competition and debates are inevitable – and good.  Good most of the time.  People will disagree and argue.  But, unless they eventually come to some sort of understanding, nothing positive will come of it.  We only have to look at the centuries-old battle between Israelis and Palestinians to see what a lack of solid communication and mutual agreement can do to a society.

It may have taken me decades before I finally completed my college education, but I’m no idiot and I’m no fool.  If anything, I’ve been naïve in believing that people can work together all of the time.

Another thing I’ve learned – perhaps, the most critical lesson of all – is that hard work isn’t equal to luck or good fortune.  It really is difficult and generally pays off – whether in an actual workplace or in your own personal endeavors.  I haven’t achieved success yet with my fictional writing career.  But I’ll never give up on it because that’s pretty much all I’ve ever wanted to do with myself and I know I’m good at it.  And I’m good because I really enjoy the craft of reading.

Regardless, I don’t need the approval of haggard English teachers or cantankerous managers to succeed in anything.

*Name changed.

 

Image courtesy of Marc Phares / Epic Studios.

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Booked Up

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Hi, my name is Alejandro, and I’m a bibliophile. And damn proud of it, too!

Yes, of all my curious habits, book collecting is the most pronounced. A gatherer of literature; a captive of scribes; a hoarder of tomes. Don’t try an intervention on me, though! Your picture might end up on a milk carton.

My fascination with books goes back to my toddler years, when my parents bought a slew of children’s literature – mainly the classic “Little Golden Books” – and set me down in front of them. Their determination to instill a love for reading in me stemmed from their own upbringing. They come from a generation where a high school diploma was enough to get through life. But, while it took me more years than I wished to complete my own formal education, that love for the written word was embedded into my brain at that young age and has never faded. I still have all those “Little Golden Books.” They’re aged and crinkled – practically falling apart – but they’re mine. And they’re just as valuable as the rest of my vast cache of reading material.

I recently did a comprehensive inventory of my books and have counted 459. This gallery doesn’t include my equally grand collection of magazines, such as “National Geographic.” Some neighbors, a childless couple, bought my parents and I a gift subscription for Christmas 1975. I fell in love with the magazine and have maintained an annual subscription ever since. Over the years, I’ve collected a number of older “National Geographic” periodicals; some dating back to the 1920s. Other magazines include “Archaeology,” “International Artist,” “Smithsonian” and “The Sun.”

But it’s the myriad of books that harbor the essence of my cerebral interests. I don’t have enough shelves for them, so – as you can see from the photos below – I’ve merely stacked them wherever I can. Among my prized tomes are first editions of Edna Ferber’s “Giant” and Jacqueline Susann’s “Once Is Not Enough.” I have a 50th anniversary edition of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” from the Folio Society and “The Multi-Orgasmic Man.” (No, it’s not erotic fiction.) I have the complete works of both Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekhov; Leonardo Da Vinci’s notes compiled into a 3-volume set; almost every Agatha Christie murder mystery; and Geoff Mains’ “Urban Aboriginals,” a comprehensive guide for leather fetish aficionados.

Two items from Taschen, “Circus Book: 1870 – 1950” and “Magic: 1400s – 1950s,” go beyond qualifying as coffee table books – they practically are coffee tables! They’d also qualify as deadly weapons and – in a state like Texas where education is virtually an elective – I might be committing a crime in owning them.

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It’s not unusual for me to be reading two or more books at once. Currently, I have three going: “The Orphan Tsunami of 1700,” Robert Ludlum’s “The Aquitaine Progression,” and Tom Bianchi’s “Fire Island Pines.” “The Orphan Tsunami of 1700” is so called because of a mysterious series of tsunamis that struck Japan’s eastern coastlines in January of 1700; an orphan in that no local seismic activity had been noted. Scientists finally made the connection between that “orphan” and a powerful earthquake that rocked what is now the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

My love for dogs matches my love for books. The two merge in Catherine Johns’ “Dogs: History, Myth, Art,” Bruce Fogle’s “New Encyclopedia of the Dog,” and “Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives & Evolutionary History.” The latter is very much like a text book, but it’s the best one on the canine species I’ve ever read.

My collection ranges from the practical – Charles Schwab’s “Guide to Independence” – to the whimsical – H. Jackson Browne’s “Life’s Little Instruction Book,” the smallest-sized item in the group.

Although I’m no longer a practicing Roman Catholic, I have Steven Runciman’s “A History of the Crusades,” which is a triptych piece: “The First Crusade,” “The Kingdom of Jerusalem” and “The Kingdom of Acre.” “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” is an in-depth analysis of the possibility Jesus Christ survived crucifixion and went on to get married and have children. Conversely “The Day Christ Died” is Jim Bishop’s intimate retelling of Jesus’ purported final days before his death. Malachi Martin’s “Hostage to the Devil” is an account of five cases of demonic possession the late Irish-born Jesuit priest attended. Martin gained notoriety several years ago when he claimed Satanism had been practiced within the Vatican. I once offered to lend Martin’s book to a close friend, but he vehemently refused. “That’d be scary to read something like that,” he told me. He’s the only person I’ve ever known to be terrified of a book.

Anyone who knows me wouldn’t be surprised that my preoccupation with the macabre and supernatural manifests itself in Ann Arensberg’s “Incubus,” as well as “Ghosts,” a collection of short stories compiled by Marvin Kaye, and Mary Higgins Clark’s “Where Are the Children?” But I also like to view the so-called supernatural from a practical lens, as is evident in Nicholas Roger’s “Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night.” Before my parents saw “The Exorcist” at the theatre, my mother read William Peter Blatty’s book of the same name. We had moved into a house in suburban Dallas more than a year earlier; an area that had once been farm land. Displaced mice and scorpions often turned up in the home. Reading “The Exorcist” one night after I’d gone to bed and my father had returned to work for a short while, my mother was startled by faint scratching sounds coming from within the walls. (If you’ve either seen the book or read the movie, you know what I’m talking about.) ‘We need to get this house blessed,’ my mother thought, as we were still devout Catholics. But an exterminator later told us the noises came from confused mice, trying to get out. Or – so he said.

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My fascination with Earth’s natural elements shows up in Erik Larson’s “Isaac’s Storm” and R.A. Scotti’s “Sudden Sea,” each about two of the deadliest hurricanes to strike the United States in the 20th century. The National Geographic Society’s “Realms of the Sea” is as much a study of the world’s oceans as it is a photographic collage. Simon Winchester’s “Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded” details the 1883 eruption of the notorious Indian Ocean volcano that altered the planet’s climate, even into the 20th century, and became a synonym for all types of global cataclysms.

History has a firm place in this array: Barbara Tuchman’s “A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous 14th Century,” Edmund Morris’ “Theodore Rex” and A. Scott Berg’s “Wilson.”   I believe Jared Diamond’s “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” and “Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies” should be required reading in schools. Together they explain a lot how the world has come to exist in its current condition. Neither is told from a strictly Euro-Christian viewpoint, so that would be the first obstacle to overcome in getting them into the hands of grade-school students. But it’d be worth the trouble.

I’m also not the only writer in the family. One of my first cousins, Richard De La Garza, PhD., co-authored “Cocaine and Methamphetamine Dependence: Advances in Treatment.” A guide for psychiatrists specializing in drug addiction, it’s just one factor in Richard’s ongoing efforts to mitigate the damage caused by substance abuse; mainly cocaine and methamphetamine.

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Aside from “Giant” and “The Day Christ Died,” one of my oldest books is Lareina Rule’s “Name Your Baby,” published the same year I was born. I’ll search through it sometimes, as I name the characters in my stories. I still have some actual reference and text books, such as Reader’s Digest’s “Family Word Finder,” which I still use religiously for my writing; the always indispensable “Chicago Manual of Style (6th ed.)”; and Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think,” a guide for the Internet age. Of my three dictionaries, “The Living Webster: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language,” is the oldest, as well as the largest. It wouldn’t qualify as a coffee-table; it’s more of a small-lamp end-table type. One of my mother’s work colleagues had bought it for me as a birthday present in the 1970s. That woman knew I liked to write stories and felt it would make the perfect gift for me. She was right. My mother had said the woman’s son had been killed in Vietnam and had become so distressed by it that she’d periodically tell people at the office she needed to call her son…before realizing he was dead. Now I watch helplessly as my mother’s own memory keeps faltering. That mammoth dictionary still ranks as one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

I’ve tried to share my love for reading with other people. In July of 1998, I was surprised to get a notice in the mail from some friends announcing the birth of their daughter. I rushed out to buy a gift certificate and a large book of children’s nursery rhymes. In 2005, my then-supervisor and his wife adopted a baby boy from Guatemala. I did the exact same thing: bought a gift certificate and a large book of children’s nursery rhymes. Get that kid into reading as soon as possible!

I’ve heard more than a few people say that reading is a waste of time. To them, I politely say, ‘You’re an asshole.’ More directly: an illiterate asshole. Many of them are the same ones who consider TV guides and beer bottle labels reading material. Others have told me the Christian Bible is the only book they’ve read front to back or are reading at that moment. In that regard, I consider Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire” on equal grounds, since it’s also filled with violence and erotic imagery. (Yes, I have that one, too, and find it more plausible than the Bible.)

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If people spent more time reading, they’d learn more about the world around them and wouldn’t have much time left for fighting or fucking. Fewer people would get killed and / or get sick.

Literacy is such an integral part of civilization I can’t understand why someone would find it boring. Societies with high rates of literacy and education generally have lower rates of violence and are more politically and socially stable. Nations such as Australia, Israel, Japan and Norway boast some of the highest standards of living in the world, which correlates to their equally high rates of literacy – almost 100% in each case. People who can read and write spend more time contemplating the mysteries of the universe and how to make the world better for everyone. Yes, sometimes they misuse that knowledge to harm others. But, then again, there are people who view education itself as dangerous; a detriment to the structure of the society they’ve carefully designed for themselves. An educated populace is composed of people who can think for themselves. They have the audacity to question authority and wonder aloud why things have always been done a certain way. Such boldness upsets the oppressors, but it’s a measure of true spiritual freedom. For me, freedom comes in all shapes, sizes and colors of the written word.

Top image courtesy of “Must Be This Tall to Ride.”

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