Tag Archives: novels

A Personal Review

“I couldn’t put it down.”

What author doesn’t love to hear that?!  Especially about their debut novel!

I had a late lunch/early dinner (I’ll call it “lunner”) at a nearby restaurant.  It had been a full, yet satisfying day.  On many levels, things are starting to improve for me.  I won’t go into dramatic detail, but I felt better Friday than I had in months.  The stress of dealing with aging parents and now unemployment in the midst of a global pandemic has beaten my mental and physical health down worse than anything I’ve ever experienced.

So I decided to treat myself for a good meal and a couple of mixed drinks.  My favorite server, Kendra*, was staffing the bar, and after providing my first beverage, suddenly told me how much she loved my novel, The Silent Fountain.  I have known Kendra for a few years and only through the restaurant where she works – long and hard.  It seems every time I visit the place, Kendra is there.  I had provided her an autographed copy of the book back in June, shortly after my mother died.  Friday was the first time I’d been to the restaurant since then.

I didn’t expect Kendra to bring up The Silent Fountain.  Her reaction to it was extraordinary.  It’s my nature to be suspicious of people most of the time.  I don’t know Kendra that well, but I like her.  She has a pleasant and personable demeanor.  Still, it took me a little while to accept fully how much she seems to like my book.  I thought she might be exaggerating just to make me feel good and because I’m somewhat of a regular who tips very well.  So I just let her talk.

And I quickly realized the impact the tale had on her.  In fact, it had the effect I hope to achieve with my readers – for this and all of my stories.  The characters and the locale meshed with the pastoral imagery to create the universe in Kendra’s mind that I envisioned in my own.  A few others who have read it so far have had mostly the same response.

It’s intoxicating to hear all of that, but I have to temper my literary ego with sanity.  Writers work hard to compose a world – realistic or fantastic – within their stories.  We always want to attain that level of likeability as raconteurs; as someone who can dream up a tale – no matter how outrageous – and still be credible.  But then isn’t that what all artists want?

I’ve come to accept that I may never become rich and famous with my writing, and that’s genuinely fine with me.  I don’t write stories – and I didn’t start this blog – to become acclaimed and unbelievably wealthy.  Admittedly, that would be great and ideal, but it simply isn’t realistic.  And no one should engage in any kind of artistic pursuit with that goal in mind.  It’s foolish.

But if I don’t achieve any kind of notoriety until after I die, then that would be just as good for me.  We are still consuming the writings and other artworks of people who passed away long ago.  Kendra is just one person, yet her opinion meant so much to me.  She expressed what I hoped someone would feel when they read that book.  Again, that’s what every artist wants: to be appreciated.

*Name changed.

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This Is Why I Write

“I loved words. I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.”

Anne Rice

So far, 2020 has been one of the roughest years in the lives of many people.  Not just here in the United States, but across the globe.  For me, it’s been extraordinarily tough.  Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I became leery as my savings dwindled.  My freelance writing career hasn’t proven as successful as I’d hoped, so writing gigs have dried up.  My mother’s stroke at the end of January sent me into an emotional tailspin.  I felt incredibly guilty sending her to a rehabilitation center.  But, as her own health failed, I realized she was entering the final stages of her life.  She finally passed away June 22.

My mother worked in the insurance industry her entire adult life, retiring in 2003 at the age of 70.  She was earning pensions from the last two companies where she worked.  One has already informed me there was no final beneficiary payout, and I’m waiting to hear from the other.  They have to (snail) mail me some documentation that I have to complete and sign and return to them with a copy of her death certificate.  Okay, I’m thinking, this is the 21st century.  Did they not get the memo?  It’s like much of the Southeastern U.S. with the Civil War.  But it’s not financial; it’s an issue I have to resolve from a legal perspective in order to probate the will and get this house transferred into my name.

Still, I remain unemployed, with little financial backup.  I’ve had to delay utility payments – something I’ve never done in my entire life.  Now my truck is showing its age.  Like a dog, 14 is old for a vehicle.

Moreover, I thought briefly I had contracted the dreaded novel coronavirus.  Symptoms like fever and a persistently runny nose alarmed me.  The lethargy overwhelmed me.  I kept thinking (hoping) these were the effects of allergies – a constant plague in my life.  Or perhaps I’m simply recovering from the stress of caring for both my parents.  Maybe it’s male menopause.  (I’ll be 57 in November.)  I didn’t know.  But a friend recently suggested another problem: a lack of exercise (which I’d already admitted) and/or an iron deficiency (which I’d already suspected.)  Thus, I purchased some iron supplements and have become determined to reinvigorate my various exercise regimens.  I’ve been out walking along an exercise trail behind my home these past couple of weeks.  During one of those I actually made an attempt to jog – and promptly stopped.  You just can’t go months without running and then expect to break into an Olympic-style sprint!  I’m watching middle age gently fade from my soul in real time.

That same friend, however, said something to me last week that offended me more than anything else he – or most anyone else – has ever said.  We’ve always had a sometimes-contentious, yet brutally honest friendship.  But he coyly criticized me for spending so much time on my writing – and this blog; that I’m wasting that time and energy on my creative pursuits instead of trying to find a full-time job.

His comments stunned me.  I promptly reminded him of my previous years of employment; where I slaved away over hot computer keyboards during weekdays, before turning to my creative writing endeavors in the evenings and on weekends.  I’ve always felt a greater sense of responsibility to myself and my community than to suffer for my art and live off the grid and on the edge.

I write because I enjoy it.  I feel I’m good at it.  It’s the one thing about myself in which I’m 100% confident.  Writing is mostly all I’ve ever wanted to do with my life.  It’s therapeutic.  It’s kept me from hurting myself and others.  I understood long ago that my chances at becoming a famous author were slim.  But I don’t write stories in the hopes of becoming wealthy and renowned.  I fully realize the odds of that are incredibly rare.  I’m not naïve – or irresponsible.

I continue to search for full-time, even contract or part-time, work.  And I continue to write – on this blog and my stories.  I’m not writing now just to piss off my friend, which would suck up too much of my energy.

Once more, I write because I love it.  It’s who I am and who I always will be.

There are some parts of our souls upon which we can never give up.

Image: Fernando Doglio

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Retro Quote – Don DeLillo

“Writing is a form of personal freedom.  It frees us from the mass identity we see all around us.  In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.”

Don DeLillo

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In Memoriam – Toni Morrison, 1931-2019

“The writing is — I’m free from pain.  It’s where nobody tells me what to do; it’s where my imagination is fecund and I am really at my best.  Nothing matters more in the world or in my body or anywhere when I’m writing.”

Toni Morrison

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Ooooh…Yes! Do It Like That!

As a writer, I’ve often fancied myself the most popular book in the library and love it when people thumb through my pages!

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Of Cats, Moons and Unsettled Love

James paused before stepping onto the patio.  Juan Miguel followed.

A crescent moon hovered above.  He heard voices – and music.  He looked around, as the voices became louder; people talking and laughing, while gathered along the walkways in the yard.  Then, he noticed the orbs of light amidst the trees – lanterns.  Along with the moon, they lit up the area.  The chatter and laughter continued, as the orchestral music grew stronger.

“She’s out there,” James said.  “She’s waiting for you.  She loves you.”  He receded into the house and dropped into a chair.  The blue-eyed cat hopped onto his lap.  He began caressing it, as the animal laid its head upon its paws.

Juan Miguel peered into the foliage through the opaque light of both the moon and the lanterns.  The laughter – it sounded so good.  Nights made for lovers.  He smiled, as floral aromas swarmed around him, and light winds cavorted with the trees.

 

Remember, my debut novel, “The Silent Fountain”, is available in both print and e-versions.  It’s the perfect gift – birthday, Christmas, retirement, a month without a road incident – for anyone on any occasion, especially those who like their romance a little on the creepy – I mean, surreal! – side.

 

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“The Silent Fountain” – Print Version Out Today

“You never really stop loving someone.”

 

 

            “Just grass,” Juan Miguel mumbled. Just flowers. What kind of flowers?

            Lílas.

            Yes – lilacs. I don’t know much about flowers. Lilacs, orchids… He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. Love that scent – fresh grass – lilacs – her. Her scent, her soft skin. He opened his eyes, as sunlight spilled through a gap in the ceiling and bounced off her auburn hair.

            “Ay, que simpatico,” she crooned, as if seeing him for the first time.

            He grinned modestly, realizing how he must look: half naked and sweaty with matted hair. “Gracias,” he finally chirped, feeling like an awkward teenager – again.

            “Es verdad.” (It’s true.)

            He didn’t know what to say. How did she manage to do this to him? Her dark green eyes still bore that strong sense of love and admiration – and hurt. Why? Why do you look so sad? What hurts so much?

 

The print version of my debut novel, “The Silent Fountain”, is now available.  The e-version has been out since December 21, 2018.  Today, January 14, 2019, also happens to be my father’s 86th birthday.  That wasn’t by design, but I also don’t believe it’s purely coincidental either.

As always, thanks for your continued support, my good followers!

Keep writing and keep fighting!

 

“A kind heart is a fountain of gladness, making everything in its vicinity freshen into smiles.”

Washington Irving (1783-1859)

 

Image by J.L.A. De La Garza

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“The Silent Fountain” – Now Available

“You never really stop loving someone.”

The hours moved quickly: midnight, one o’clock, two o’clock… Why can’t I sleep? He flipped the pillow again, sighing heavily, and closed his eyes, determined to keep them that way.

Then David’s smiling face sprinted through his mind. “Oh, God!” he hollered, more out of irritation than sadness, his hands slamming onto his forehead. “Not now! I’m too tired!” His arms flopped down on either side of him. “I’m just too damn tired.”

David’s quirky grin disappeared, but the same guilty sensation settled back into him. He sat up, face buried in his hands. “It’s not fair,” he whispered. “It’s just not right. Why, God? Why David? Why’d you do that to him? I’ve asked you again and again, and you still won’t tell me.”

“You shouldn’t be afraid of death,” Juan Miguel’s paternal grandfather once told him and his brothers. The old man actually admired death. “It doesn’t discriminate. It takes whomever it wants: young, old, anyone.”

But as Juan Miguel now let his body convulse in quiet sobs, he had to disagree; it does discriminate. It takes the young, when it should take the old. It takes the good, when it should take the bad.

I know.

 

The e-book version of my debut novel, “The Silent Fountain”, is now available.  And what better Christmas present than a story of someone in a gigantic old house filled with colorful characters and strange sounds?!  Aside from me in a Speedo with a bottle of wine…no, wait!  That was in another life.  Never mind!  I told you people when I started this blog nearly 7 years ago I was weird!  Like you needed more proof, right?  Anyway, thanks for your love and adoration, my good followers!

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“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act.  There is no other route to success.”

Pablo Picasso

 

Image by J.L.A. De La Garza

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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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National Banned Books Week 2015

Old Covered Books on Table HD Wallpaper

Today is the official start of “Banned Books Week” here in the U.S.; the annual counter-assault against the angry and the self-righteous who dare to tell the rest of us independent thinkers what we can and cannot read. It’s a relentless battle.

This year the theme is “Young Adult” fiction. YA fiction, as it’s more commonly known, is the newest fad among adventurous scribes who want to help teenagers cross the troubled bridge into full-blown adulthood; the period of life where people learn the hard way that they aren’t the center of the universe. Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy is one highly successful example. Despite its popularity, it has garnered its own share of conservative protestors. I really can’t understand that. Within the context of American mythology, “The Hunger Games” has everything: violence, racial exceptionalism and plenty of bad luck. I mean, people getting shot down like wild animals. What’s more American than that?

One of the more curious books being challenged is Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman, born Loretta Pleasant in Virginia in 1920, who died of cervical cancer in Baltimore in 1951. It’s not her brief life or tragic death that is necessarily so compelling. It’s not even the fact she died of cervical cancer. It’s what resulted from her death, and the variety of ethical challenges her situation posed. The type of cervical cancer she developed was unique; something oncologists at the time had never seen. Shortly before Lacks’ death, doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital removed two samples of the cancer – without her knowledge or permission. They ended up in the laboratory of researcher Dr. George Otto Gey who noticed the cells were unusually durable. Gey isolated and multiplied some of the cells, producing a line he dubbed “HeLa.” The HeLa line would go on to assist cancer researchers in the ensuing decades.

Perhaps the most famous outcome was the cure for one of humanity’s greatest scourges. Jonas Salk used the HeLa line to develop the polio vaccine, which was approved for general use in 1955, after only three years of testing. Immediately thereafter, other scientists began cloning the HeLa cell line; since then, over 10,000 patents involving the HeLa cells have been granted.

The Lacks Family didn’t learn of these advances until 1973, when a scientist contacted them, wanting blood samples and other genetic materials. For them and many African-Americans, this scenario reminded them of the infamous “Tuskegee syphilis study;” perhaps the most egregious and blatant example of medical racism in the U.S. The tale of Henrietta Lacks is nonetheless a compelling study of medical research and medical ethics. But one idiot in Knoxville, Tennessee has a different view: she calls it pornography. Parent Jackie Sims found Skloot’s book inappropriate for students at L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville. The term “inappropriate,” of course, means: ‘I don’t like it, so no one else should have access to it.’ Sims apparently equates gynecology with pornography. The term “cervical” surely sent her frail mind into a tizzy. Her precious on was given an alternate text (maybe something along the lines of a Disney coloring book), but Sims – like the typical self-righteous curmudgeon – wants Skloot’s tome to be banished from the entire school district. Fortunately, district authorities haven’t backed down, and – as of this writing – the matter is still under consideration.

For a complete selection of this year’s frequently-challenged books, check out this list. Then go out and buy, or download, one of them and read it, if you haven’t already. Remember, true freedom begins with the written word.

Banned Books Week on Twitter.

Banned Books Weeks is partnered with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

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