Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sneak Peek at My New Soccer Mystery Thriller Called Disposable Heroes

[photo by Robb Hanks]

I am offering a sneak preview of my brand new novel Disposable Heroes. This standalone short story was first published in issue 5 of Botticelli Magazine back in May. Disposable Heroes is something of Sports/Mystery/Thriller/Love Story. The main character Gil Reyes has mistakenly thought to be the Soccer Super Star, Rolo Peña who has gone missing. When Gil is offered a handsome bribe to pose as the kidnapped star, he doesn’t shy away. He needs the money, and is intrigued by the challenge. For the first time, he feels like he’s making something out of his crummy life. He thrives on the cheers and sometimes even believes he’s Mamajauana’s big hero. Curiosity drives him to find out what happened to the real Rolo so Gil begins to pursue the missing player’s trail, all the while honoring his commitment to the crooked officials. When he meets Rolo’s girlfriend, Millie, at a charming beach town, Gil knows he’s doomed. He falls in love with her, and his conscience goes into a tailspin. Then he meets the real Rolo Peña and fireworks spew.

The Inner Stitches

Welcome to Mamajuana City. Bask in the belching fumes, tiny smog monsters, as cars shoehorn through lanes and the constant, horn-blare suggest the sound of vuvuzela marking the rush hour. By Avenida Lijares, crusty-nailed men whisk off orange vests and cruddy helmets. Stray dogs prowl the rubble-ridden streets.

At the foothills, they make the finest furniture: solid pine dressers, bookcases, and wicker chairs. The hills behind are dotted with mountain people trying to stitch a better life. They weave scarves and blankets then return to their squalor in the hills. They’re happy.

In the open market, a young mother slumps on a stool, breastfeeding her baby while shoppers buy mangoes and frijolitos. Scattered on the floor is a rainbow of fruit and nuts. Chunky women weigh bags of grain and rice. Flies buzz in harmony. This brings us to the sun-baked boy, stitching soccer balls. He sits Buddha-still on the dirt with bloodshot eyes, zeroing in on his rubber meal ticket, whisking tight loops with his needle through the ball between his knees. He’s got surgical precision. His lithe fingers belong to a gifted pianist, but his raw knuckles are crooked, two nails spliced.

Shattered huts, trash, and the stench of decay stretch languorously. While the boy takes a moment to rub his eyes, some punk snatches the ball, tucks it underarm and blazes off. He heads toward the hills. The boy jumps up, stutters two steps and slips on a mango rind— #%@*#. He wipes his soiled hand on his shirt, leaving behind smudge. Then he grabs a few more strips of rubber and stitches anew.

Across the street, spindly boys kick a tattered ball back and forth. They bully each other, their hardened eyes and bruised cheeks have the deft touch of fine patina. Blur of dirt, and dreams so near, make them squint and scramble. They push, shove, kick and cajole. They carry on until a purple wound splits the ashen sky. Rain pelts the earth with unbridled malice.

Two intrepid boys stay put while the rest rush for cover. A frazzled mother, clutching a tin frying pan, shouts indignantly from her unguarded window. She seizes a dishrag and wipes wet bangs from her hair. Her boy refuses to come home.

“Chucho,” the small boy screams.

Chucho turns.

“Chucho,” the small one shouts again. The ragamuffins, who haven’t had the chance to escape, loiter by the street and watch the showdown about to unfold.

“I got you Manito,” Chucho says, bouncing on his chicken legs, future warrior.

“Spread out,” Manito says to his invisible teammates.

Chucho crackles his knuckles and Manito pumps his legs, waist level. Chucho leaps, bringing his knees, kangaroo-high to his chest. They spit, snort, and kick dirt.

“You shoot first,” Manito says.

“No, you go,” Chucho rebukes.

And they size each other up, two dripping boys fringed with pride. Manito guards the goal, lets Chucho take the first crack. Chucho kicks the ball a yard over the goal line, scrawled in marker blue on the wall. Then he nails the second one into the right corner. Manito dives, cannot get a finger on it and the boys, huddled underneath the tree, cheer. Chucho pumps his fist and Manito staggers, punch-drunk. Manito wipes his chin and rubs his heartache.

Manito blocks the next kick, but misses the fourth, right between the legs and the kids howl, shattering the goalkeeper’s dignity. His blinking eyes, crackling into myriad pieces. He slaps his own cheek. Chucho teases, dribbling the ball between his mud-crusty inseams. The crouching Manito stumbles on the slick street. Chucho races to the ball, takes a wicked roundhouse kick. Manito stops the ball with the filthy tip of his toe, stares in wonder. They laugh it off, slapping hands. They blow raspberries at each other. Then Manito switches positions with his pal. Chucho takes over as goalie. He bends down as if ready to embark in strenuous prayer then leaps up. He wipes his soiled cheeks and chin, pulls snot from his nose and flicks at his jittery pal. Manito flinches each time Chucho snaps a flake of snot even though it merely melts into his fingernails. Manito dances around until he’s good and ready. He has more meat on his calves and hamstrings than his chicken-legged chum. There’s a vicious cut below his right knee, the sloshing rainwater makes it look like fruit punch.

He peers over at the tree where his cowering compadres huddle, protected from the pour. Manito grits his teeth, flaunting his bottom canines, shark tips. He fires the first shot for a goal then follows it up with another. To celebrate, he does a whirly dance, nearly breaks his neck. When he finds his balance, he wipes his dripping wet hands on his waterlogged shirt and shakes the rain from his floppy hair. Manito scores a fourth in a row and Chucho slumps off, rubbing blotchy eyes, but Manito yells,
“Send it back.” He fires again. Five goals. Chucho slinks off, head hanging, and Manito blasts into the unguarded goal. The kids stare in disbelief and horror. Manito goes into a frenzied spree and makes an obscene, loopy dance each time he pummels the wall. The wet thud of the ball, caroming off the wall makes a tortured plea. The stitches sheer and air slowly fizzles out.

Manito keeps firing. With each shot that smites off the wall instead of smashing through the bricks, Manito seems heart-broken. He kicks with fury, hard enough to cleanse his soul of whatever sin his pint-sized body may’ve committed. His sharp eyes narrow in reckless ardor and his mouth shrinks into a slimy rictus, not a speck of joy. He winds himself tighter and tighter until he snaps his last stitch, tumbling over as a deflated ball.

The sky sighs with relief, but seems to keep drizzling for the hell of it.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Splitting A Muse from the Amused

Some of my happiest moments, on this so-called mudball, come from people watching. I get a slew of ideas for my writing this way, and it weans me off of my other favorite pastime, navel-gazing. As far as people watching goes, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Usually, I pick one or two interesting subjects and study their expressions, their gestures, their quirks. Consider me the progeny of a one-night stand between Margaret Meade and a patrol cop.

One thing I notice now is that I seldom get scoped back. My fellow mudballers seem to be too smitten with their iPhones to really care if their being admired. We have to update our “friends” about every last excruciating bit of minutia that whisks into our lives. Which reminds me, would you mind liking this blog post when you’re done? Anyway, it wasn’t long ago when that all-encompassing killjoy (iPhone) wasn’t even an embryo. Those were the days.

Back in 2001, when I spent the Summer in Prague, I was in people watching heaven. Sure there were plenty of great sites to see and I consumed the Vltava, the Dancing House (think of a modern, glass-walled Leaning Tower of Pisa),

the myriad bookshops, Charles Bridge, and so on, but, more than anything, I loved to plant myself in a café and study my fellow diners and coffee-swiggers. This is what I was born to do. I guess that makes me an armchair anthropologist. I’ve always been fascinated by how tablemates choose to position themselves in relation to the other, whether they dab their lips with their napkin or sleeve, whether or not they crunch their ice cubes, or if they have a greater affinity for making air quotes or bowing air violins.

In the middle of my first week in Prague, after a rigorous morning of navel-gazing, I cast my gaze outward. I absorbed the guests in the café. There was a svelte young man in a canary yellow shirt who kept smoothing the crease in his collar with his thumb. He seemed to be making a G clef pattern or else he was tracing an ampersand. He carried on jubilantly, for what seemed like a full epoch. So enamored was I by his finger-tracing, I didn’t realize I looped into my own table-scribbling. Fortunately, I had the cap to my pen covered. It would’ve been a crime to ruin such an exquisite tabletop.

Anyway, when I grew tired of the collar-massager, I snooped around for another muse. I saw a few possibilities, but I wasn’t sold on them. That’s when I noticed somebody had taken me for their own amusement. A young lady in a black hat was sketching me. And to think, I hadn’t even shaved that morning. I don’t know why I was unsettled at first. Maybe it was because I didn’t know how long my sketcher had been keeping her eye on me or maybe it was because I had lost the upper hand. I no longer had a monopoly on the people watching in the café, and, on top of that, a sketcher trumped an idle-gazer like me.

I wanted to be a good sport so I tried not to disturb her sketchscape. I sat as still as possible, and that didn’t work out so hot. It was hard to appear natural because my awareness of the sketcher, sketching me, precluded my ordinarily limber mind from being its regular self. The burden of wanting to seem natural made me more tense. Inner awareness can be a doozy. I got so flustered my foot became bouncy and then the table started rocking. You know that bumper sticker that says Don’t come a Knockin if you see this van’s a Rockin? Poor table.

My good friend, the sketcher, was in no better shape. By that point, she looked miffed by all this shaking. I almost wanted to get up and say timeout, you know how a speed demon does after he’s swiped second base and he asks the ump for his momentary reprieve to dust off his uniform. I wanted permission to do this all over again. I’m burdened and blessed with empathy, as you can probably tell. Because I thought I was disturbing the sketcher, I in turn, got more jittery. What the hell does one do in a spot like that? Emily Post never wrote anything on the etiquette for a café model asking for a do-over. Not to my knowledge.

Things got dicey until I found a new focal point. I spotted an old man folding his napkin. He folded with such love and authority as if he’d been a waiter and was reliving his past shifts. He approached each napkin afresh, without a shred of disdain. He almost seemed to relish the ritual, foreplay with myriad cloth lovers. I became so enamored by his meticulous and mollifying nature that I stopped bouncing the table. When I looked up, some while later, the sketcher offered me a pleased grin, a toothy ciao for now, maybe I’ll catch you strolling along the Vltava sometime. I stayed put even though I wanted to go over and kiss her hand, take a peek at her little brown pad.

Monday, June 30, 2014

World Cup Fever

(Photo by Trey Ratcliff)

Have you caught it yet, #WorldCupFever? I’m all in. Each Cup, I get pulled in deeper. It probably has something to do with the fact that I ditched soccer for baseball as a kid. Believe me I’ve made up for the lost time. I don’t just get gaga every four years. I watch Copa Mundial, English Premier League, MLS, and friendlies at Citi Field when the Mets are out of town.

As much as I enjoy the matches themselves, and witnessing a #DempseyGoal or a #Messigoal, I am completely enamored with the fans and the pageantry. As a recovering anthropologist, I cannot get enough of the fans and the flavor they add to an already spicy game. I’m quite fortunate to live in Astoria Queens, which is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the universe. Spiciness off-the-charts. Flags of competing nations (past and present) can be found, dangling off car windshields, hookah bar awnings, stapled to takeout menus. Astoria is jackpot for the consummate Futbol fan, a movable feast for the feverish. You can catch a game in any number of bars, diners, pizza joints, chicken shacks, social clubs (if you’re member). I prefer the Studio Square Beer Garden while soaking in the Cup during the 30-day binge.

Wherever you go you’ll be elbow to cramped elbow with checkered-ball zealots. It’s contiguous, unbridled euphoria, sans Budweiser or Audi commercials. No trips to the john or you’ll lose your seat or standing post or, more likely, the cherished goal. Swill in the range of emotions, jouncing with the pitch as the plumber, the landscaper, and the mortgage banker crane their necks toward the zipping ball on the giant plasma screen. The neighborhood dentist, who has cancelled a day’s worth of root canals, gobbles beer nuts. The mailman almost leaps out of his wrinkle-free shirt as Tim Howard deflects the impossible. Who needs another L.L Bean catalog anyway? The laser beam focus on that screen is both marvelous and disconcerting something we 3rd generation gamers know oh so well. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have tickets to the extravaganza in Brazil then an over-sized beer garden will do. The writhing amplification from the speakers and the fans blowing into their vuvuzelas suggests tsunami or some other seismic treat.

I see the Cup as a way for grownups to relive their “Spider-man” or “The Lion King” dreams. And why not? There’s enough electric joy in the game to pry Buddhist monks away from their prayers, to allow warring nations to extend an olive branch for 90 minutes of bliss. As the striker lines up for his penalty kick, there’s that brief (inertia-stifling) moment as if Superman or Zeus has stopped the globe from spinning. Then the striker zips to the ball and, once the ball has been struck, your heart leaps.

On the surface, it’s about trophies. Yeah, it’s about pride, but really it’s about connecting. It’s about connecting to something deeper than wins and losses and bicycle-kick goals. The true pulse of WorldCupFever is reconnecting to one’s childhood, tying shared cultural experiences of kicking cans in the street on the way to school, blocking balled-up socks from whisking into your open locker. When you watch a game, myriad memories fuse together and you chase the ball of nostalgia. There’s electricity not because of the glowing lights, glinting on the grass or because you feel a glimmer of excitement being among the crowd, but because wherever you are there’s a crowd and another crowd and another crowd of crowds. The exponential charge dwarfs DC and rips into AC.

It’s more than a game. It’s about feeling that electric charge and reeling in the indescribable.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Call Me Blogger

Call me Blogger or Blowhard, whichever you think is more apt or accurate. I bet you're itching to scold me for being a Melville-mugger since I've shamelessly snagged Ishmael's famous opening from Moby Dick; or, The Whale. For your information, I'm also referencing (pilfering) from the intro to Cat's Cradle. Oh yes, Foma and Grandfalloon fanatics, Mr. Vonnegut repackaged, re-purposed that juicy opener in his scrumptious Calypso Rhapsody. Ahem, here goes Vonnegut's twist. "Call me Jonah. My parents did, or nearly did. They called me John." I dare you to find a snazzier or snarkier greeting. I double dog dare you.

Referencing is not only a high compliment to the artist, but it tells something about the person who is refashioning the thought, line, or idea and shaping it into a novel context. It shows you did your homework that you're not hiding under some rock but are engaged in your passion. Jazz musicians are masters of this trick. Poets too. Lately, I've been noodling with variations of this luring first-liner like an overzealous kid given an unchaperoned tub of Legos. It's good exercise. Better than dumbbell-curling or Chia Pet-grooming. Below you will find a few of my latest concoctions.

The New and Improved Lolita

Call me Humbert Humbert or Big Papi, but never, under any circumstances, call me Humperdinck don't even mention that lout even if you're in a lampooning mood because that greasy lounge lubber Jerry Lewis wannabe makes my skin crawl. I don't even like his superfluously-named superior that ho-hum composer from the 19th century with the kooky beard. Give me a book and a babe and I'll gladly shut my piehole.

Stop Whining Lot 49

Call me Mucho. All the swinging señoritas do while I'm spinning my set. You like Chuck Berry, the Four Tops? Got Vinyl? Meet me in the back of the Walmart parking lot and I'll take you for a whirl in my Dodge Duster.

Huck For Hire

Call me Huckleberry or Huck my homeslice Tommy often does. Can't ya tell this is my big break, my big launch and I'm gonna shine. You might recall I made my first appearance in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer some years back when I was still wet behind (maybe even dirty) behind the ears and that's kind of like how Spider-man got cooking. First, he appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 and then the focus groups and the comic-a-razzi gave him the big thumb's up and then boo-yah he got his own deal. You got a crib in Bushwick or Bed-Stuy I can crash in just till they front me my advance?

Jane (I'm Every Woman) Austin

Call me Jane or Zombie Queen. Nobody let's me sleep anymore. Frankly, if I may be so flippant, I feel like somebody turned me into a Seven Eleven. You might as well think of me as that lovable chameleon from Woody Allen's Zelig. I don't know how much of this morphing I can go through and where's my bobblehead and my bubblegum card? How can you say somebody is great unless they've had their picture plastered on a bubblegum card. Hmm.

That's all the noodling for now. See you at the local coffee beanery.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Welcome Back

Hello Sportsfans, We haven’t checked in for a while and we’re sorry for the hiatus. We’re going through a little transition and wanted to keep you cyber-posted. A lot has happened since we last clocked in and maybe that’s a good thing. We’ve still been writing and reading up a storm. And drinking lot’s of coffee. At some point, in the not too distant future, we are planning on releasing the follow-up to Shades of Luz. Fortunately, it’s not a sequel although there are plenty of monkeys in this adventure. The “Working Title” is “Disposable Heroes” and it takes place in an unknown Latin American country called Mamajuana. That’s about all the scoop we can share for now.The good news is that we plan on bugging you a bit with new posts. Soon. Hang onto your helmets. Sincerely, Slush Pile Editor #4

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Catching Up With Katherine Gilraine

Today my guest is the Distinguished Writer Katherine Gilraine whose first book of The Index Series was Runner-up at the Nashville Book Festival in the YA Category. Book 1 of her The Index Series made it into the 2nd Round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards back in March 2010. In addition to her amazing skill as an author, she is a talented graphic designer and music photographer.

JG: Katherine, thanks for agreeing to come back to my humble cyber abode. The last time you visited Paper Cut, you were putting out your first book of your series. Now you’re on Book 4. What’s that feel like to plow so far ahead?

KG: It still feels like I felt in college, when I was working on Book 1, that I had bitten off more than I could chew, in a certain sense. It’s just unbelievably huge to think that, in the past years, I’ve released a book a year, made some modest royalties, and had a very hands-on crash course in everything having to do with the publishing business. This series had changed my life in many, many ways, both as an individual and as a growing author, but every time I am wrapping up a manuscript, it feels just like the first time, every time.

JG: You’ve also recently launched your own company KG Creative Enterprises. What was the impetus behind that? Does running your own business cut into your writing time?

KG: I have a great number of creative skills, and everyone was always telling me, “Why not make money off it?” You know what – they’re right. And it doesn’t cut into my writing any more than my day job does; I offer writing/ghostwriting/editing services under the umbrella of KG Creative Enterprises, and I don’t see running my business as work. It’s something that feels very natural and right to me, like it’s what I’m meant to be doing.

JG: Where do you see The Index Series going? Do you plan on launching other projects?

KG: To film! I want it to go to the silver screen, and have started researching the nuances of screenwriting in order to re-template Book 1 into that form. In the meanwhile, I want to flex my short-story writing muscle. My editor, Gayle F. Moffet, had released an anthology of her short stories, and I got the idea of doing something similar, but encompassing my love of jazz.

JG: What have you been reading lately?

KG: I’ve really started digging into other indie authors. I meet and network with fellow self-pubs every day, and 9 times out of 10, I would click “Buy” on their Kindle links. Of course, this means that I have a very, very lengthy reading list, and I’ve been plowing through it on my daily commute. Some of these authors, like Rachel Cotterill, S.R. Torris, Taylor Wilmering, Jessica Elliott, and many many more, are extraordinarily talented. I cannot tell you just how much talent is out there, waiting to get tapped by a reader.

JG: Through the grapevine, I’ve heard you have a coffee habit. Me too. Balzac was said to have drank ten cups a day.

KG: I’m with Monsieur Balzac on this one. I drink about 6 myself, and vary with tea for good measure. I love a good English tea.

JG: What’s your experience been like with Goodreads?

KG: Frankly? I like it. It’s a much more reliable review system than Amazon. With Amazon and the deluge of 5-star reviews, I have grown to ask, “What won’t I like, then?” and that’s not a good way to start off a new read. Goodreads is much more honest, and there’s a lot to gain from recommendations.

JG: Besides Amazon, Barnes &, where else can we get copies of The Index Series? Do you have any readings coming up?

KG: Unfortunately, no readings yet. I am also available in print via CreateSpace. As far as other e-distributors are concerned, I will be honest in the fact that after Smashwords had its recent debacle, I would much rather not host my work through them. I’m working on finding alternate means to get my books to the iBook and Diesel markets.

JG: Do you go to any readings? What are your thoughts on them? It seems there is so much attention on video and Social Media. Has the paradigm shifted for building a readership?

KG: I would love to go, but it’s just been insane lately, as far as time is concerned. And while the options for readership-buildings had expanded, I am hard-pressed to say that in-person marketing isn’t the way to go. I have great success in getting new readers when I go out to social events…whenever that is.

JG: If you could pick one book, story, or thesis paper to have written which would you choose?

KG: That is a very good question. I would love to write a thesis on the mentality of people in the Gilded Age of America (industrial revolution, turn of the 20th Century), because my inner historian would be happy. And I think I would have to do just that; grad school is back on the table.

JG: I really enjoy your Improvisations on Reality blog. You cover some great topics like writing about what you fear. You also wrote a recent post about reviewer’s etiquette. It takes a lot of guts for a writer to put their stuff out there and then listen to the praise and potshots. What’s your initial response to a review? 1) A “good” review 2) A “bad” review?

KG: Thanks, JG. In both cases, I have to thank the reviewer for their opinion, and if I get a bad one, I try to address their questions – sometimes, anyway. The thing is this: every time you put your work out into a public medium, you become fair game. Anyone can read it, anyone can dislike it, but one way or the next, it’s your work.

As I said in the blog post, there is such a thing as a “good bad review”. If I get one of those, I take it as a valid critique and put myself into the reviewer’s shoes. If their point is valid, I file it away, and improve on it. If it is a not-so-good bad review, I file it away and don’t think about it. In the end it’s my story vs. other people’s opinion. I hadn’t given a whit of a care for other people’s opinions of me in some time and hardly intend to start; if I would, I doubt that I’d write another word, and that simply wouldn’t do.

JG: Last time you were on Paper Cut you said Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was your favorite author. Has that changed? Who else do you dig?

KG: Still a Sir Arthur fan, and have gotten heavily into reviewing self-published authors. I mentioned some names above, and stand by them. Those are some awesome authors, and I look forward to their next installments.

JG: Do you write every day?

KG: I try, but it doesn’t always work. I make sure to write at least 3-4 times a week, under any circumstances, even if it means just a blog post or a scribble in a journal. Life has a funny way of interfering with the best-laid plans.

JG: What are you reading now?

KG: Right now, I’m digging into Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith. I’ve read the entire Leo Demidov series so far (Child 44, The Secret Speech) and I find his writing very engrossing.

JG: Any parting words, wisdom for aspiring writers?

KG: Research, research, and research. When I had first started out with self-publishing, which was just as it was beginning to catch on but good, I had a crash course in how important it is to research absolutely everything about the various publication options before you decide to go with one or the next. You need to know writing on the business side if you want to get ahead, because no matter how much writing is a calling or an art form, first and foremost, it is an industry and functions as such. It is very, very important to build yourself as a businessperson as well as a writer, because you will invariably find that one is lost without the other.

JG: Please feel free to share anything else I may have missed out on.
Well, you haven’t missed out on much.  I’m still busy as hell, still work in accounting, still chase jazz, and have picked up a penchant for buffalo wings. Life is good, thinks I.

Release date for Book 4 is tentatively slated for May 13th, 2012.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Honoring the Maze Maven, Jorge Luis Borges at 112

Find your way out of maze as we celebrate the 112th birthday of Jorge Luis Borges. I’m sure he has had a tremendous impact on your writing. I know he has on mine. When I was introduced to his stories, more than a dozen years ago, I’d found my mentor. The very idea of sneaking hardcore philosophy into literature with such mathematical and narrative precision was an awakening for me.

Reading his brilliant stories, I realized it was imperative to tackle the unknown and deepen one’s prose with academic quandaries while still keeping one’s finger on the human pulse. Borges did this better than anybody I know. We think of HG Wells as the godfather of Sci-fi, Poe the high priest of the bizarre, and Sartre as the Prince of Philosophical lit, but Borges mixed these into his own unique stew.

I’d caution writers to read, but not emulate his style. It is too difficult to master and Post-Modernism has led to very mixed results. Then again, tapping into magic realism’s sly genius is great counterpoint for most of the realistic, hardboiled fluff we leaf through nowadays.

All I’m really saying is this, treat yourself to “The Dead Man”, “The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths”, “The Circular Ruins”, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”, really, anything you can get your hands on and don’t let a day go by without toiling over the nagging itch of writing. Grope for it like “The Book of Sand” or pinch for a single grain. One a day, mind you, will get you through the daily toil.