Wednesday
May062015

Maybe He Had It Coming

This article originally appeared in the Hispanic Fanatic.

So if I haven’t mentioned it lately, I’ve published a mystery novel featuring a Latino detective.

Although there are plenty of book series with Hispanic sleuths, none of them have really broken through to the mainstream (so you gotta love my odds of being the first).

In any case, I read a lot of mystery novels, the better to study and learn about the genre.

Recently, I was reading a bestseller from a few years ago, by an author I don’t want to mention, because I might, you know, need a blurb someday. The detective in the book is white, of course, and oh so very angsty and tortured.

About halfway through the novel, the detective is doing something shady and illegal, but as is often the case with flawed anti-heroes, it is in the service of uncovering a sinister truth, so as readers, we let it slide.

However, in the process of committing this ethically dubious act, the hero is stopped by a Latino (the first one to appear in the book). So what happens?

Well, our main character insults and threatens the Hispanic guy, demanding that he get the hell out of the way. Then threats are made to call immigration and get him deported. When this fails to dissuade the Latino character — who, it is important to remember, is actually trying to do the right, legal thing — the hero pistol-whips him.

I’m not kidding. The sole Hispanic in the book… trying to be good and pure… gets degraded and physically assaulted by the white hero.

It’s not hard to read the subtext in this one.

I’ll also mention that in the next chapter, the hero narrates how that illegal action saved the life of a pretty white girl and how this proves the detective isn’t such a bad person after all.

No mention of the Latino who got his meddling ass pistol-whipped.

Sunday
May032015

Drink Up

You may not know this, but I really like Benedictine, a fancy liquor. Recently, I wondered just what went into the stuff, so I Googled it and found out… nothing.

Apparently, the exact ingredients of Benedictine are known to only three people at any given time, and the secret formula is passed down from generation to generation. It could be made of flowers, or potatoes, or squashed rat’s livers for all I know.

Furthermore, Benedictine was supposedly created by 16th-century monks, and the aforementioned three people who know the formula always includes at least one monk.

So the only people who know what the hell I’m drinking are tight-lipped chemists, greedy business executives, and a handful of silent men who have sworn off sex.

This is a little disturbing.

Wednesday
Apr292015

Why Aren’t More Latino Authors Being Published?

This article originally ran in the Huffington Post.

It may be apocryphal. But supposedly an unnamed New York publishing executive was once asked why there were so few books by Hispanic authors, or novels featuring Latino characters.

His response was a blasé “Hispanics don’t read.”

This is indeed bad news for the people running HuffPo Latino, as apparently none of you Hispanic readers are literate enough to even comprehend this article. And I’m not literate enough to write it, which is quite the paradox.

In any case, that publishing exec was clearly not familiar with Latin America’s rich literary tradition, exemplified by the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the greatest writer of all time (let’s not debate this). He also didn’t know that one Latin American country, Cuba, has the highest literacy rate in the world.

But closer to home, why hadn’t this exec heard of the brilliant Junot Díaz or the groundbreaking Sandra Cisneros? Or did he believe only white people were reading those authors?

For whatever reason, our anonymous publishing executive refused to believe that the largest ethnic minority in America was interested in books. And in this refusal came justification for the continued blackballing of Latino authors.

“There are several factors contributing to the paucity of published books written by Latinos,” says Marcela Landres, an editorial consultant who publishes the award-winning e-zine Latinidad and co-founded the Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference.

“Primarily, we need more Latinos on the inside working in key positions, such as agents, publicists, sales reps, bookstore owners, and especially as acquisitions editors,” she says.

Landres adds that Hispanic culture itself is another barrier.

“Latinos immigrated to the U.S. so their kids could live the American Dream, which is defined by financial security,” Landres says. “Writing generally does not pay well, so our parents understandably pressure us to choose more sensible careers. In order to be successful as artists, Latinos need to respect our parents but perhaps not obey them.”

As any Hispanic can tell you, disobeying your parents is a tall order. But that is another story.

In any case, some Latino advocates believe that the big publishing houses have hoodwinked us into buying their mainstream books, giving them little impetus to change the formula.

Of course, one strategy to force change is to bypass the big publishing houses altogether. That’s what I did with my novel Barrio Imbroglio.

After some nibbles of interest from the majors, I got the picture that my black comedy tale — about a reluctant detective named Hernandez — didn’t fit in with the preconceived notions about Hispanic literature. Yes, I had the word “barrio” right there in the title, but where were all the undocumented immigrants and magic realism and metaphors using avocados? It was a little too different. So I’ve done what more and more authors — Latino and otherwise — are doing, and publishing directly to Amazon.

But this end run has its drawbacks.

“There are few Latino self-publishing success stories,” says Landres. “I have yet to see literary writers, and/or writers who take years to produce a single manuscript, whose self-published books have sold well. If you write genre and have a bunch of books ready to go, the odds are in your favor. If you’re a literary writer who spends years polishing a single manuscript, not so much.”

In addition to the self-publishing crapshoot, there is the unpleasant fact that — like it or not — the NYC houses still have the most influence on what people read. And they are not packing the midlist with Hispanic authors.

Now, this isn’t just a matter of fairness, nor is it even all about artistic integrity and the myth of meritocracy. A more fundamental reason becomes clear when one considers that “Latino children seldom see themselves in books.” Education experts say, “the lack of familiar images could be an obstacle as young readers work to build stamina and deepen their understanding of story elements like character motivation.”

Basically, there are only so many tales of brave and adventurous white people that Hispanic kids can read. At some point, they disconnect.

And if that is future we want — a self-fulfilling prophecy where Hispanics truly don’t read — then we should just preserve the status quo.

Monday
Apr272015

The Whole Wide World

Over the weekend, it rained here in California. That may not be big news for you, but for us, it is celebration time. Our drought has gone past frustrating to worrisome to damn scary, so any precipitation is welcome.

Meanwhile, there was a massive earthquake in Nepal, and a volcanic eruption in Chile. Basically, the earth hates us, and humanity will continue to find our home an indifferent, even hostile place.

But the good news is… well, I don't have any good news on this front. Many scientists believe that we are in a sweet zone between ice ages, or that climate change will devastate civilization. When looked at this way, it can be argued that right now is as good as it gets.

So live it up and enjoy nature… I mean, before it kills all of us, I mean.

In the meantime, send any water you're not using out here to us. We appreciate it.

Thursday
Apr232015

Numbers

Well, I’m a few days into the fray of being a published author with a book to sell, and of course, I am checking the stats on Amazon roughly every nine minutes.

Now, let’s not get crass by discussing how many books have sold. Suffice to say that it is more than a couple and fewer than a bajillion.

Beyond the actual numbers, it is reward enough that people are running through the streets, shouting the title of my novel, and grabbing complete strangers and shouting into their faces that they must must must must buy this book at once.

What's that? You say that isn’t happening by you? Well, check again and get back to me.