Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Writer Wednesday: Stephen Cleath

Through my writing I've been able to meet a wonderful variety of people and have interacted with writers of all types and in all stages of their career. Some have one book just about to come out, others are querying, others have several titles under their belt, and others are just starting out. Although Stephen Cleath is starting to share his work, his flash fictions are already interesting slices of literature that definitely have caught people's attention. In addition, he is one of the kindest people I've ever come in contact with, showing a true heart of gold and potential to create something special. Although busy with many writes and several life adventures, Stephen was kind enough to accept the invite to be part of Writer Wednesday, so here we go. 

1. Firstly, thanks for taking some time from your busy schedule to answer some questions. I always enjoy variety and I think it’s interesting to see a writer who’s beginning to blossom in their writer journey. What does writing mean in your life?

Writing has always been the easiest way for me to communicate, so it is a vital outlet for my hopes, dreams, feelings, and my imagination. Thus far, I am greatly enjoying pouring words onto paper, and witnessing the stories that come alive from them. It is a true passion and full-time obsession for me, in the best possible way.

2. What are some of your goals in the next 5 years in regards to writing?

My main goals are to find a writer’s voice that is 100% my own, to finish writing several stories that I am in the process of developing, and to get these stories published, either with a standard publisher or a self-publishing option.

3. What are some of your influences and if you had to recommend 5 books or series, which would they be and why?

Some of my influences are Simon R. Green, Brian Jacques, Lilian Jackson Braun, Janet Evanovich, and Arthur Conan Doyle. 

My top 5 recommendations would be:

  1. The Nightside series, Simon R. Green. An amazing blend of sarcastic wit, horror, fantasy, mythology, pop culture references, and a brilliant private eye straight from film noir.
  2. The Cat Who series, Lilian Jackson Braun. A great mystery series about a former news reporter who gets an inheritance and moves to Moose County, about 400 miles north of everywhere, with his two Siamese cats. These books have been a longtime favorite of mine.
  3. Redwall, Brian Jacques. A wonderful story about a world inhabited by animals, both good and evil. Full of adventure, vivid characters, and heroes emerging from the most unlikely places to fight evil
  4. One For The Money, Janet Evanovich. A story about the action-packed world of bail bondsmen in New Jersey. A great mix of humor, action, hilarious characters, and sexual tension between one Stephanie Plum and two men who are both too wrong & too right for her. Make sure you’re sitting down when you reach a funny part, they are ubiquitous.
  5. The Fallen, T. Jefferson Parker. A great mystery story, about an honest detective in San Diego, California, with a gift for finding the truth. He takes on a ring of prostitution and corrupt policemen & politicians, while working on a mysterious murder of a police force overseer.

4. You discover a long lost relative is actually a renowned explorer. It turns out he had left you in the will and entrusted you a special relic. What is this relic and what does it do?

The relic is a gnomon, a hand of a sundial, which belonged to a specific sundial at my relative’s villa in Italy. The only thing that my relative told me was that it opened a door.

5. You can meet one video game character for lunch, who would you have lunch with and why?

I would probably pick 8-bit Mario, because his character was a major influence on how I ended up a full-time geek.

6. You are working on several projects, I have it understood. What can you tell us about those?

The two main projects that I am developing currently are 1) a present day story about long-lost twins with mysterious powers and a forgotten past, and their search for the parents that left them in the foster system, and 2) a story about a girl in 1890s England who has magic in her tears, and a shadowy antagonist who wants to capture her for dark purposes. The first project is a labor of love with my best friend, @wanderingelf2. The second project started as a piece of flash fiction, based on a picture I found on Pinterest. The concept stuck in my mind, new characters and twists for the story appeared, and now I have to see this story through to completion.

7. Mention 3 things you’d like to leave in your legacy.

The three things I’d like to leave behind for future generations would be
  1. An example of true love and compassion for all of humanity, regardless of any differences that might separate us or cause hostility.
  2. A spirit/attitude of child-like wonder and awe at the world that we live in, since so many people nowadays have cynical, jaded world views.
  3. A deep love and hunger for reading actual books, especially the classics (Poe, Doyle, Wells, Hugo, et cetera). I know that e-books are all the rage now, but they just can’t compare to the experience of reading from a real book.

8. What is your Patronus?

I would either want a Patronus in the form of an adult panda bear or a falcon.

9. You have been asked to make a fireworks show for your nephew Timmy. Run us through that show.

I would plan the show to go about five to ten minutes long, because I don’t to overwhelm him with a long display, in his first fireworks experience. I’d pick mostly pinwheel fireworks in many colors, because he’s a huge fan of pinwheel shapes.

10. Where can people follow you and read more of what you are doing and are planning?

I can be followed on Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter. My early attempts at writing are on Pinterest, but now I share my writing solely on Twitter. Please check it out and leave me feedback on what you like/what can be improved! 

* * *

Huge thanks to Stephen for these lovely answers. Definitely looking forwards to more from this talented fellow. Fyi, he does enjoy contributing to the 1lineWednesday tags on Twitter, so keep an eye out. In addition, I shared a prompt to see if he'd be into writing a collaboration, so for now, enjoy the prompt and stay tuned to this channel for a nice slice of smile inducing random. 

Peace, love, and maki rolls.

PromptOn his way to Draem, JD gets lost in his dreams and ends up in the Land of Nod. Master Cleath receives him warmly and shares with us his version of a Dreamland.

Monday, June 20, 2016

JD Estrada Presents Shadow of a Human at Libros AC

With this event, that makes 3 book activities in 3 places I’ve done so far and all I can say for sure is that every experience is immensely revealing for several reasons. Libros AC is a beautiful bookstore located on Ponce De Leon Avenue in Puerto Rico’s Santurce neighborhood, a random an eclectic area that is as mixed as it is fascinating.

Santurce has an expressway separating it from the Condado Area and it’s had several wonderful restaurants and locales opened. Libros AC definitely fits in by not fitting in because that’s how Santurce is, equal parts hipster, Dominican, posh, and low income. You can go to the Fine Arts movie theater as easy as you can go to several strip clubs located nearby.

The particular block where Libros AC is located has Ciudadela in front, a housing complex, with a fitness center, some interesting establishments and all you need to survive within a block. The store itself is gorgeous, with a lovely selection, proudly and beautifully displayed, while they also sell beer and delicious food. It’s such a nice place to just visit, that it must be said. And that’s where I had my 3rd book event.

Friends whom I didn’t expect came and I took the mic at around 7:30 at night. I then proceeded to talk about the Human Cycle and how it is my exploration of humanity through fiction. I shared how a tetralogy became a trilogy as it makes more sense that way. I spoke how Only Human focused a lot on the physical aspect of humanity and what differentiates us or more so, how the physical aspect of Nathaniel is the center stage. I spoke how one of the main influences of Shadow of a Human is Carl Jung especially the aspects of his work that focus on the shadow self.

I then proceeded to read chapter 2 in its entirety. It’s funny because I clearly remembered that chapter being shorter than it really is. 7 minutes afterwards, I finish reading that chapter and I honestly felt people were mainly there for support, which means the world to me.

Then I began to read from my Spanish poetry collection and they paid more attention. Pensando in Metáforas is a very personal work, as are most of my works. But honestly, about a third of the poems within I penned while mom was under the knife for surgery. The poems are short, but honest, intensely truthful slices of who I am and how I feel, how I live, and how I process what I go through. People paid a lot of attention in regards to the poem Ladrón, basically my confession to my mom that I would do anything to steal her pain, her worries and woes, and give her peace, but that life does not allow me to due to the nature of experience and that even in that scenario she taught me it's better to give than receive.

Afterwards, I read excerpts from my first bilingual collection, Twenty Veinte. Again, people paid a lot more attention to my selections here. I read a poem called Rant for me where I talk about the experience of being Hispanic, i.e. being stuck in a limbo in a black and white world I choose to not side with. I also read the eponymous poem that splits the English from the Spanish, or more so transitions from one language into the other. It is written in Spanglish and talks about how it feels like to live a bilingual life. The last piece I shared was Puerto Rico Salsa, Puerto Rico Reggatón, a Spanish essay of my point of view in regards to comparing Puerto Rico in the 80’s and present day PR. It shares a very honest view of the state of the Island, which I love with all its pros and cons.

By the end of that, people were really paying attention and actually emotionally involved.

A brief Q&A followed where I talked about future projects, what I would do if I had the option of an undo key for my life, writing in English and Spanish and some of the hardest things in life, like finishing a project. After my presentation I was able to share some ideas with good friends whom I have from life, from work, from family, and from the Puerto Rico Comic Con. It was a special night because I was able to learn a valuable lesson in gauging an audience for a reading. People went there for Shadow of a Human but were more interested in my other work, and that is quite the blessing. It means that I have the good fortune of having enough variety to find something for the particular audience and that I was able to go from an Ok event, to something much better, just by switching the focus. I learned how insecure I am reading in Spanish which is almost a comedy in and of itself and that I will do much better as I continue on my writer's journey.

Most importantly, I learned that my love of variety is as much my salvation to my path as a writer as is my love to write a salvation in my life and that my desire to write with enough variety to please a wide variety of people can be beneficial to me, because it means that I can make it worthwhile for most people who are kind enough to invest time in me and my writing and listen to me ramble for an hour and change. 

I left two copies of all my works at Libros AC (that’s 16 books lol) and I do hope to be lucky enough to get a call asking for more books to be delivered, although only time will tell. What has become evident though is that I’m not half bad at this writing business and that people do seem to enjoy me live and direct lol. That’s pretty cool and so are you for reading a 1,000+ word post on this experience. :D

Let’s see what other adventures we get up to. Thanks for sticking around and spending some of your wonderful time with me.

Peace, love, and maki rolls.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Artist Spotlight - José "Tony" Arocho

Who is Tony Arocho? Although for some he is the man behind the covers of the Human Cycle, he is also a wonderful friend and a kickass artist. To give you a bit of background, I met Tony when I was on my fourth job in advertising (yes there is a lot of turnover in that industry). He was part of a select crew that shall forever be to me the group of people I know I could have survived anything with. Simply put, if they dropped us in the middle of a jungle, the collaborative effort and camaraderie we shared meant that not only would we make it out alive and intact, but wearing crocodile shoes and drinking a local brew.

Having known Tony for a long time, I had a good grasp of his skill and when I decided I wanted to give this writing adventure a go, I needed someone I trusted to assign them the hefty task of making the cover for my first novel.

Tony was the guy.

We sat down, discussed a couple of ideas, and I told him to do some rough layouts on paper. Second time we sat down, he showed me the layouts… and I saw the beginnings of the cover. No second-guessing, I knew which one it was, and that’s how we worked. Communicating, sharing ideas, fine-tuning, until he did the impossible, he took a crazy idea and helped me bring it to life.

I asked Tony some questions some time back and he had sent me these answers long ago, so my apologies to him and to you, dear reader. Here’s a bit more of Tony.

How long have you been an artist?

Wow, it’s been so long that I don't even remember. The earliest I remember drawing was Ghostbusters with my older sister’s markers. I used to love drawing how the rays from their guns intertwined with form and color. It was awesome. Ghostbusters was a big thing in 1984 so I guess you can say that more or less since I was in first grade and yeah, I can say that I became an artist thanks to the Ghostbusters.

How would you describe your style?

An amalgamation of the techniques and styles of all my favorite comic book illustrators and fantasy artists from the 80’s and 90’s. It’s fascinating how each of them can solve visual problems in different ways.

Tell us a bit about your process when crafting your art.

It depends. If the work is somebody else's vision, I use pencil on paper sketches in a thumbnail fashion (small 2”x2” squares). I try different approaches while exploring the same idea. The one that works best in composition is the one I develop further and submit to get approval from the client. Once it is approved, I take a picture with my phone and upload it to the computer to later work on top of that. It’s the best tool for that particular job. In the case of the cover for Only Human, I used Photoshop.

How was your experience developing the artwork for Only Human?

It was really fun! It took me a couple of months from talking about the concept, showing the rough sketches, and how the final piece was going to look. But in the end it worked out and I feel I got the vibe he was looking for just right. Since I knew the style that we were going for, the second cover was a lot easier. 

[For comparison purposes I'm including both covers so you see how he not only upped the game, but was still true to the original cover.]

I used to paint by looking at artwork just for myself. I honestly think nobody had ever seen that kind of work from me, but when J.D. told me that this was what he wanted I jumped at the challenge and the rest is history. I'm really glad that he liked it and that people seem to respond to the cover. Although I like it, in the end I'm not that crazy about the first one. True, I enjoyed working on it but as an artist, I see a lot of my insecurities and shortcomings. But I guess that’s pretty normal for me, I probably hate 95% of what I do until I see it with fresh eyes.

Compare that experience to your work on the cover for Dark Strands.

The cover for Dark Strands was actually right up my alley. I was really comfortable working on it and J.D. told me what he wanted and at the same time I could see it clearly in my head. Because of the nature of that particular job I decided to use Adobe Illustrator (a vector based program) which is incredible at generating clean and crisp lines and that's what I wanted. I’m happy to report I nailed that particular cover on the first try.

What are you working on now?

I’m always working on many things, but right now, settling down in a new job, although I always love to work on something creative and fun. I normally work on artwork when I get a request, but when the mood takes, I’ll happily draw something. Who knows? Might eventually do something bigger one of these days.

As an artist, what do you want to accomplish in the coming years?

As an artist I struggle with drawing on a regular basis, but I’m working on that. It’s that whole work life balance. To be honest, I see myself in the future drawing regularly and focusing more on what’s really important to me. That may very well include other projects with JD, and who knows? I might follow the desire to write my own story.

Where can people find out more about you or get in contact if they’d like to work with you?

Right now I have a Behance page where people can see my graphic design work and some of my digital illustrations.


I’d like to thank Tony for sparing some time to share a bit more about the artist behind the Human Cycle and Dark Strands. Expect much more work from him and feel free to contact him on his portfolio page, or if you need, I’ll hook you up in case you need a book cover or two.

For now?

Peace, love, and maki rolls

Saturday, June 4, 2016

His name was Muhammad

It takes courage to lace up a pair of boxing gloves and step into a ring.

Muhammad Ali had that courage and beyond.

Ali may have been physically gifted, but as a boxer what makes him so great are all the intangibles and how he transcended the sport. People ask which was greatest fight, wondering if it was with Foreman or Frazier, but the reality is that the greatest fight in Ali’s career was with the US Armed forces when he refused to go to serve in a war he didn’t believe in. This cost him his title, prison time, and he didn’t fight in four years.

That’s courage.

If you see his fights, you’ll also see what makes him so great. He didn’t take the easy fights. He didn’t choose opponents based on paydays. He chose fights based on greatness and legacy. He was also a mean guy.

Boxing is not a sport for the squeamish and greatness in this sport often comes at the price of someone getting knocked out. Ali was particularly mean and two outings come to mind. The first I’ll mention is the fight where he famously asked Ernie Terrel “What’s my name?” before proceeding to beat the man for 15 rounds, mercilessly, inflicting serious damage but never enough to stop the fight.

This was another of Ali’s gifts, his psychological prowess and getting into people’s heads. This sometimes led to ugly moments in his career, a perfect example was his relationship with Joe Frazier. When they fought, Ali crossed pretty much every line you could cross and called Frazier horrible things that Joe would never forget much less forgive. Being called dumb and being accused of being an Uncle Tom in an age where that was one of the biggest insults you could offer a black person.

But that was Ali. He was a trash talker. But he never shied away from a fight and he never backed down. But definitely, another of his greatest assets as a boxer was pretty much being the most quotable fighter of all time.

"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."

"If you even dream of beating me, you'd better wake up and apologize."

"I'm so mean, I make medicine sick."

"Bragging is when a person says something and can't do it. I do what I say."

And he did what he said, even when he lost.

In the first fight with Frazier, Frazier won, including one hellacious left hook that shattered Ali’s jaw in the 15th round and sent him to the canvas. But he got up and finished the fight. They met twice more, Ali winning the first by decision and the Thrilla in Manilla by TKO in the 14th

Think about that, his reaction to losing a fight and in the process getting his jaw broken was to want a rematch. He also did that with Ken Norton and Leon Spinks. Also, feel free to see the names I’m mentioning. All Hall of Famers. That’s because Ali wasn’t much for ducking unless it was in the ring to return a right cross or left hook.

Psychologically speaking, he was also the best. Pretty much no one could get in your head like Ali and you can ask George Foreman about that. For perspective, please note that George Foreman was one of the hardest punching heavyweights of all time. Where Ali beat Norton and Frazier by unanimous decision, Foreman knocked both of these men out in 2 rounds. He was a beast and physically, no one could stand toe to toe with him. Period.

So if you can’t win with strength, you still have wits, agility, and speed. The psychological warfare Ali unleashed on Foreman was relentless and the people of Africa were on his side. Add to this an outdoor ring and sweltering heat, and conditioning comes into play. Another notch in Ali’s favor. These were times where fights were 15 rounds and Ali went the distance in more than one long grueling fight. Then we saw the birth of the rope a dope. Might I repeat the fact that Foreman is one of the hardest hitting heavyweights of all time (68 KOs). Then try to imagine the gall of Ali to coax Foreman into giving him his best shot… or shots. Ali laid on the ropes and allowed Foreman to unleash barrage after barrage of punches to the head and body, answering just enough so the fight wasn’t stopped. These were not pitter-patter punches. These were sledgehammers. And Ali leaned on the ropes almost reaching the crowd while Foreman was in full berserker mode. There were two options, either Foreman would punch himself out or Foreman would get another vicious knockout. 

Ali won by KO in the 8th. The stuff of legend.

When it comes to boxing prowess, only two people come to mind that might have been better boxers. Henry Hank Armstrong and Sugar Ray Robinson. Multiple division champions themselves whose skill in the ring was next level. I mention this not to diminish Ali’s reputation, but to keep in perspective the caliber of boxer, the record, and the accomplishments it takes to be called the greatest boxer of all time.

But unlike the two other legends, Ali brought boxing to the forefront of a world audience. Boxing had been around for a long time, but Ali is the reason it is truly global. His legacy comes from showing all sorts of courage, from being human, from having faults, from showing he was far from perfect, from trying to mend old wounds and not being forgiven for them, for being mean, for never ducking a fight, and for backing up what he said.

The reason Ali is the greatest of all time is precisely because his record as a boxer and a human has faults and blemishes. He knew greatness had a price and he paid it in full. He also knew that to be great, you had to welcome any and every challenge. And he did.

It could not have been easy to be Muhammad Ali, but in the end, only one person could do it, and his name was once Cassius.