Monday, April 23, 2018

I’m somewhat of a failure…

So as a writer, who am I?
  • Un-best-selling author
  • Un-award-winning author
  • Un-award-winning blogger

That’s a lot of uns and they’re all mine, it’s true. Getting a sale isn’t as easy as it is for other people. Part of it is due to me not doing a bang-up job in promoting myself, but people know me enough to know I write, yet that conversion doesn’t happen as often as you’d think.

The fact is that I’m an indie author and that’s a tough sell. Some people write me off like someone who couldn’t cut it with traditional publishing and had to go the indie route. Still, if I were that good, it wouldn’t be this hard. Right? It’s curious because I know I’ve sold around 27 books in the year, which averages to about 7 books a month. So I’m not exactly blistering the charts either, but I’m not at 0. It’s odd because some people scoff while others are marveled… and I’m not exaggerating.

And reviews? Well it’s been 5 years since I published my first book, which first came out digitally in 2013. It’s gotten 28 reviews on Goodreads and 21 on Amazon. My second novel was published in 2016 and it hasn’t gotten to 10 reviews (funnily enough I get asked all the time when the third book will be done so people can enjoy the series as a whole). My English poetry collections are similar, and my first collection got to 10 reviews on Goodreads recently, quite an odd thing to herald as a milestone, but a milestone nonetheless. My Spanish poetry collection? 1 rating and 1 review. Twenty Veinte, my first bilingual collection, which is actually one of the books I’m proudest of? Similar results. Also, at the moment, I’ve sold 2 Estrada Crates and about 3 books through Libros 787.

All of these could unequivocally categorize me as a failure, and to a certain degree they do. But this isn’t a pity party or a mope fest. I’m sharing several facts in this post to show that paths aren’t easy. Following a passion is not easy. Believing in yourself when the results are not there is not easy. Pushing forwards and continuing to throw caution to the wind is not easy. Listening to your gut is not always easy. There are misgivings. There is hesitation. There is doubt, doubt in general and self-doubt… and some days, it’s relentless.

But I look at what I’ve achieved, and I smile. However much or however little has been achieved is relative to perception and it all depends on the lens. But I have achievements. I know what I stand for. I don’t sacrifice artistic integrity in favor of what appeals to the market. That's because the market changes, while I remain and so does my author name. I publish under my mother’s name, so trust me I do my best to give my best. I don’t hold back in content, in style, in wording, in ideas, in concepts, in topics, in themes, in structure, or anything. I explore who I am through my books and I share them. That’s better than saying I sell them because although I do well at some events, that unicorn of sustainability still eludes and not by a little, but completely. But I do share those works rather well and I’m fortunate that the people who read do enjoy and many do genuinely believe in me even if I don’t grant myself the same kindness.

Some people ask how I stay positive and the answer is simple: with a lot of work.

It’s easy to get tangled up in doubt, anger, frustration, and despair. It’s laughably easy to enter thought patterns wondering why it’s so easy for other people, which is damn silly. It isn’t easy for anyone. Even people who rig the game have to work hard. Even people who post fake reviews and trade like for like have to work hard. And for those who’ve earned their success, ask them how easy it was just to see the look on their face and I suspect the conversation would probably go something like this:

Is it easy?
Not in a million years.

Is it worth it?
Every second. Every hurdle. Every challenge. Every frustration. All of it.

Which can bring us back to the initial question: as a writer, who am I?

I am a poet. A short story writer. A novelist. I am Puerto Rican. A dreamer. A daydreamer. A fool. A wise man. A boy. Everything in between. I am someone who doesn’t always believe in himself but always believes in the words he says. I’m weird like that and in many other sock loving, banana wielding, visual typoing ways. I am someone who offers honest opinions and constructive criticism. I am someone who will help you if he can. I am a cheeky Cheshire grinning monkey as much as I am a pensive tiger. I am read in over a dozen countries even though I don’t have huge audiences. I’m someone who has somehow managed to write things that can make the difference in someone’s life in post, poem, essay, song, story, or novel form. I am someone who doesn’t sacrifice in the name of market share and gives it all in the name of something that is as me as I can make it. I am Only Human which means I’m as heavenly as I am flawed and imperfect. I’m writing my own script rather than following others’ footsteps. I am a man of words who adores dialogue but cherishes silence. I am a husband, a son, a friend, and someone who works hard to show he cares. When I speak I work hard to show that I also listen and not just to myself. I ask for no charity and only request an opportunity and still manage to smile when people say “no, thank you.” Above all else, I am as me as I can be in everything I create, and that’s something a LOT of people can’t say.

Like I said at the beginning, I’m somewhat of a failure… but I’m also somewhat of a success, because what you focus on can say something about the day you’ve had, but the direction in which you insist on walking says a lot about who you are.

And I shall always be me: in thoughts, actions, words, and life.

Peace, love, and maki rolls

Sunday, April 22, 2018

My Support is NOT for Sale

Although some people might obsess that everybody has their price, there are certain things that aren’t on the table, and for me, it’s my support. I give it freely and willingly and the more time passes, the more that seems to hold true.

Supporting others is not something that comes naturally to a lot of people, but I do my best to do so and do so with no agenda or intention because I know the power of real support firsthand. We’ve all had those days where nothing works, where everything goes wrong, where we feel as far from success as it can get. However, at least for me, it’s often been someone who chimes in with the right thing to say that keeps you moving forward or gives you the kick in the ass you need to do awesome stuff. They don’t write for any other reason except to say hi, check on you, and actually motivate you if need be.

THAT’S why my support is not for sale.

Because I know the power of genuine support and the change it can do in a day, week, month, year, or life. And because bullshit stinks from a mile away.

Being an indie author, I can attest to how much we strive for success and in how many ways we fail. Unfortunately for many of us, it can be a very common thing. Sales might not be there. Reviews might be few and far in between. Even something as simple as something we posted didn’t have the reaction we’d hoped for, and some of us find new ways of beating ourselves up. Yet for many of us, random people we don’t know offer support. People whom we don’t know in real life and who are kind enough to read us or follow up our online antics on our chosen platforms.

Yet there are those who make contact just to shove their product in your face. And I use the words "product" and "shove" with every intention. It’s not a work of art. It’s not something special to them. It’s a commodity, a means to an end, a thing, and they wave it and try to cram it down your throat. They also vary the tactics from being completely obvious to being downright deceitful just to gain one more sale, one more share, one more step towards what they perceive as success. The problem with this tactic is that I unfortunately know a lot of people with a LOT of heart and a LOT of talent. Genuine and generous people. People with no agenda. I’ve also met hundreds of readers thanks to the events I’ve gone to and the things I share online. Readers who write me later through Twitter, IG, Facebook, G+, the blog, or even send me an email. And they have no idea what a difference a little kindness makes, but it does. We get to follow each other on social media and I see what they get up to and when I see some of their projects, it’s easy to support them. Not just because they supported me in the first place, but because they have passions and it’s wonderful to see anyone truly go after a dream that is genuine.

That’s a key word: genuine. That's because I’ll never charge anyone a thing to support them, because when I support someone’s dream, that’s because they are genuine, they are going for it, and they didn’t coerce me into it. There are countless dreams out there. Good dreams. Genuine dreams. Dreams that you can help take one step in the right direction and quite often free of charge. You can help change a life with just a little support, which begs one final question: what’s holding you back from giving it freely?

Peace, love, and maki rolls.

Ps.: Last week on the Writer’s Edge, I had the honor to participate in a panel titled “How and Why to Support Fellow Authors”. It had Andy Peloquin, Joe Compton, Katie Salidas, Christie Stratos, and myself talking about support and why we do it. So if you want a deeper look into why some of us do the things we do and how we do them, check out the link below.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Puerto Rico after María: Battered, Bruised, For Sale, yet somehow beautiful

Puerto Rico has not had the easiest 6 months in its history after Hurricane María. Recently I visited the Island and I was able to see some of what’s happening, though obviously a microscopic snapshot and centered in the Metro Area, which does not reflect the whole situation. People often ask me how the Island’s doing often followed by regret at how the situation has been handled or more so mishandled.

Before giving a recap, let’s be clear: a LOT of people have wanted and continue to want to help Puerto Rico and they do their best. Every day people, people you know, people you work with… those people? They have a good heart and want to do what other people don’t want to do and to them I say thank you. Unfortunately, most of these people are not in charge of relief efforts, reconstruction efforts, or any type of assistance efforts. They’ve gone to donation drives, they’ve donated money, food, water, and time and have raised awareness. They show the best humanity has to offer. But alas, the people in charge of fixing Puerto Rico don’t have the same intentions and their agenda is much different… they’re in it for the money in several ways. Now there are things that are a matter of opinion, others that are a matter of perception, and others that are a matter of fact. I will do my best to focus on the facts though opinion and perception seep in because this is my home and I feel for it.

So let’s start with a basic question, how many people still don’t have power/water on the Island? The guesstimate I last saw and that makes sense is around 100-200 thousand people for each utility. This means that some people might have water but not electricity and others might have power but no water (most likely is that they don't have power, which is harder to fix than water due to the type of damage suffered). Most of the people I know and all of my family have both. The zones that are more isolated still don’t have power and water has been something they’ve had to deal with in several municipalities.

So how’s the power grid? Fragile, susceptible, and running on and off - let me explain what that means. 

Fragile: if there’s bad weather, the grid can cope with it. Odds are high power will go out but it can be reestablished. 

Susceptible: if a big storm comes, it’ll be bad news. FYI, hurricane season starts in less than 100 days and ocean temps already have meteorologists concerned about the season. See below for an example of how things are being fixed... it's like using duct tape for a power grid.

Running on and off: since monetary issues are at the core of the situation on the Island, this unfortunately means that there isn’t enough money to run power continuously and some places get selective outages. This is somewhat debatable as part is due to the money issue and in part is unrelated and is just the grid being overloaded. Outages aren't constant but they do happen. 

How’s water service? A lot more stable than power but still various situations on the Island call for caution. There have been contaminated bodies of water in several parts of the Island and beaches haven't always been safe. You need to keep an eye out for advisories and know where and when to go. Most of the tourist destinations are safe, thankfully, and there's been a slight increase in people visiting the Island, which definitely helps the situation (seriously, if you want to help, travel to PR and have a good time with local restaurants, activities, and amenities). Water service is constant for most of the Island, but not all. Some places still struggle to get water and power and aid of any sort. But why? Some people ask. Well pretty simple, getting there is a challenge and NOT a priority and let’s say that clearly without mincing words. It's an awful reality, but a reality nonetheless.

How are roads? Busted to hell and worse than the last time I went last year. Potholes (i.e. craters) are frequent (the farther from tourist areas the worse the road conditions). Also take into account that people from certain municipalities got tired of waiting and are fixing the roads themselves. Let that sink in and picture yourself talking with your neighbors to do roadwork. Mayors of each municipality work on their town and some have done a commendable job while others should be fired on the spot (a matter of opinion, I know), but, and I can’t stress it enough, these people have done endlessly more than the clowns in the local senate.

So how’s the Island being run? To the ground. Politics being as toxic as they’ve ever been are doing the Island no favors. Legislative measures are further taxing the middle class that continues to flee the abuses of the measures passed and an ever higher cost of living. People in local government are getting paid handsomely, though not as handsomely as people from the states doing their best impersonation of a vulture. Some examples: how much would you pay an average person to wave a flag for directing traffic near a construction? Ten, fifteen, twenty dollars? Try $60 an hour (which is a case that's more common than we'd like to see). Imagine the local power company being gutted and privatized (a topic of debate of whether it’ll be better or worse off) and people who continue to land lucrative contracts. Before the energy crisis, Lisa Donahue got a sizeable multi-million-dollar contract and her efforts yielded no perceivable results and then one major power plant went up in flames, literally. Now another American has been assigned to the AEE, though he’s charging $450,000 but with the potential to double his salary (less than what other people in similar positions have earned and still a lot, yet at least something that kind of sort of possibly makes some type of sense?). Here's the thing, to me results speak for themselves and if it’s worth it, so be it. But my perception of the AEE (and VARIOUS other local agencies) is of people taking all the money and leaving the Island and the power grid in ruins, which is why I’m not surprised another advisor for the person who will run the AEE is seeking a multi-million-dollar contract. Then there’s the whole Department of Education debacle… where something like 15 million dollars is looking to be invested in anti-bullying programs… now… because that’s the priority. Btw, this would be a program that will take all of 6 months to roll out. You can imagine how complete a program this will be… and yes, pardon the skepticism but $15M in 6 months seems a little stiff, even by NBA contract standards, and especially for an anti bullying contract at this juncture.

So did food, water, clothes, and supplies arrive? A lot of it didn’t make it out of the ports. How much is anyone's guess. Between the states and local government and bureaucracy, tons of supplies were spoiled because they didn’t get discharged from the ports in a timely fashion or at all and temperatures inside cargo containers left in the sun would make quick work of the contents. If this infuriates you, imagine how it makes people who need those supplies. There are people who are still sleeping under FEMA tents, which you can actually see clearly every time you fly into PR in the daytime (see below). It’s a very sad situation indeed and people are doing the best they can.

OK so how are companies working to fix the Island? Well it depends on which company. Some are doing a fair job, others are doing a hack job, and treating the Island like a third world country they don’t care about and just want to cash a check. Specific names of companies would vary depending on who you're asking and it would be an exercise in futility because getting to the truth of the matter is quite the challenge. But for some examples of how people work, imagine taking rental cars and returning them in barely recognizable conditions, using money to buy booze and get laid (I’ve heard quite a few stories from people I trust, though no pictures). Oh, and that's if they return the vehicles. Some they leave on the side of the road and call for people to go pick up. Hours are not being allocated correctly and it will be a logistical nightmare when they want to audit everything that’s been done and every dollar that’s been spent.

In regards to conditions around the Island, if it’s broken but not in the way, it will not get fixed. Period. I saw I don’t know how many light posts on the ground and I don’t know how many more than aren’t working. Exit signs that were turned 45 degrees because of winds haven’t been turned back, so good luck finding your exit (see picture below). I saw a house that had collapsed and it remains as it’s probably been since the hurricane. Debris is still a common thing and people (including my mom) have had to do the work themselves and hire people to pick up and dispose of debris and garbage. Everyone wants someone to blame and it could be pinned on many people... but the fact remains, it wasn't done in a timely fashion or if at all.


What about greenery? Well if you’re not from PR you won’t feel the difference as intensely but for me, every so often I’d turn to a place and feel it off… and then I’d realize that half the trees or more were missing. A good example is when I went to surf. On the turn that eases into the surf strip in Piñones, you can already see how the mangroves have been left bare. When I paddled out and looked to the shore I was spooked at seeing how the foliage behind the palm trees had been thinned out. That’s the same ALL around. You see buildings, houses, neighborhoods, and countless other things you’d never seen before because they were covered. It’s unsettling at best and upsetting at worst…. But things are growing and you see green coming in many forms, particularly in trees that grow faster. But in short, the Island looks like it was in a bad car accident and you’re seeing it 3 weeks after it got discharged from the hospital, it’s limping, but recovering. I've seen local farmers focusing on things that they can grow fast to promote a farm to table movement on the Island. More of this is needed because it is definitely a step in the right direction.

Some people have left the Island to return while others have left for good. Cost of life and what’s to come is definitely frightening and blaming anyone for the decisions they make is an exercise in futility and a pure lack of empathy. Students are now fighting for their rights and like with any protest, some people do it right while many don’t. Countless local agencies are being dismantled to be either eliminated or absorbed by larger agencies. From over 100 local agencies will be consolidated, absorbed, or sold off to have about 14 agencies. Like I said though, some are being sold off (many to the US, some even to Canada - look at the Luis Muñoz Marín Airport). Actually a LOT is being sold off and if anyone’s making a killing beyond the government and large agencies, it’s bitcoiners who are setting up shop in Puerto Rico and it’s actually a direction the Island can take… which I honestly have no idea how to feel about (from what I gather, bitcoiners have bought a Children's Hospital in San Juan, make of that what you will, it could be good, it could be very not good but we'll have to wait and see). I haven’t invested in any cryptocurrencies because to me it feels like a bubble that could implode at any given moment and I know people who’ve invested and have gotten a taste of how volatile and unstable that is… so again, pardon my skepticism and worry, but if the bubble bursts, PR will also have to cope with that situation if things go as they are going.

The main thing is that when you ask people how they’re doing, they say they’re getting used to the New Normal, which is a dangerous phrase and exactly what shareholders and greedy politicians want to hear… because if anything offers additional incentive for further exploitation and legislative abuse it’s the ability to endure. What will happen to PR? I have no idea… but in case you were wondering, all monetary relief being given is in the form of a loan… and that won’t change, because again, a LOT of people are making a killing and the tragedy of Puerto Rico is good for certain businesses… and whoever is making coin will want to keep things running that way as long as possible, whatever and whoever it costs.

I’m normally one to look for the positive, but I’m also one to keep things honest and clear. I think the middle class will continue to exit the Island, because living there is becoming increasingly unsustainable. Some people will adapt better than others and government officials in the US and PR will continue finding ways to squeeze more profit from the Island while giving little if anything back. Some people ask why this is happening and the answer is unfortunately simple, Puerto Ricans have always been considered second class citizens of the United States and you can disagree all you like, but facts are facts: we pay the same taxes than the states and much more are forced into treaties and contracts that limit what the Island can do and we get about half the benefits. But don’t believe me. Look at Social Security. Look at Medicare. Look at Medicaid. Look at welfare. Look at the Jones Act. Look and see for yourself.

For me, I made my decision to leave and it was down to several factors and a LOT of people are facing even more daunting circumstances. We’ll see what’s left of the Island. That said, there are signs of hope. Local farmers are becoming creative in their approach and if things play right, it can help the Puerto Rican economy. Although full scale efforts are not underway, green energy is still a very viable option and to me a very path to take. Cannabis distribution, for all its moral gray areas is also becoming a viable option to gain new income and regardless of how you feel about legalization, other states have gained stability thanks to burgeoning businesses and it might repeat in PR. Not saying this as a pro legalization statement, by the way, just stating what's worked for Colorado and other states. Lastly, for however bare the Island was stripped from 200+ MPH winds sustained for over 10 hours at the very least, you see the green coming back slowly. The Island wants to heal. People want to help the Island heal. How we help is anyone's guess but we can be creative in how we support people and businesses from the Island and although some people might say it's a lost cause, it's the home to me and many others. Sure, we may have joined the diaspora and reside elsewhere, but home shall always be home, and Puerto Rico shall always be beautiful to my eyes.