Sunday, February 17, 2019

Don’t tell me I don’t try


When it comes to my Writer Journey, there are a lot of things you can say. Some things I could have done better, other times I could have released things more organized, but at the very least, no one can say that I don’t try different things, that I don’t give well over my 100%, and that I don’t throw caution to the wind and go for it. 

Some people are fortunate enough to get an easy ride, a contact, a mentor with connections, and countless other things. I’m not saying everyone gets spoon-fed to success but a lot of people do get a break and that's great for them and power to anyone whose gotten that help. It makes a hell of a difference, I'm sure. For me, any success I’ve achieved is thanks to the generosity of people who read me, friends and family who push / motivate / read / review / motivate me, and for me saying what the hell and finding out if I can do X or Y thing rather than wallow, wonder, and remain idle. A lot has been far from neat and easy. Everything has been with time, effort, and money and although it can be frustrating at times, I'm proud of what I've achieved because it's been mostly through my own volition. No easy rides. No short cuts. 

I’ve been asked how I got events at Libros AC in Santurce, The Poet’s Passage in Old San Juan, and The Bookmark at San Patricio Plaza (all locales in Puerto Rico). Answer? I walked up to someone at a register, asked for the manager, and found out if I could do an event. I left them a card, asked for a contact, and followed up. That’s three events I got just for asking although it has to be said that this hasn’t always worked, by the way. I tried to do the same at Librería Norberto González in Plaza las Américas, spoke with 3 people on the phone, emailed two people, and unfortunately wasn’t able to schedule an event or even get my books in the store. I've also not been able to get a response from Barnes and Noble here stateside, but I'll keep writing, asking, calling, and doing my best.

In regards to getting my books in stores, Libros AC and The Bookmark were the only ones that agreed to have my books on there and it was because I asked, I took the product to the store, and I did whatever was asked of me to make that happen. Mind you, having an inventory at both stores and getting consignment payments was also a challenge. As an indie author, you dream about getting your books in a store, but after you do, there’s more work to be done. I had to send people to the stores to ask for my books… people did, because people rock that way… and they were told I was not in stock…. Yet when I visited, there were my books. Sure, they were at the bottom shelf treated like expired generic cereal, but there they were. I organized the shelf so that all the books were visible. Not mine over others, but all equal… something apparently uncommon. I even went to el Festival de la Palabra at el Paseo de La Princesa in Old San Juan representing one of those book stores. They let me be there 2 ½-3 hours. I sold 8 books. 3 were mine, the other 5 were other books available in the exhibitor. Maybe it’s that mom and my grandfather had a store, but I felt a need to sell something if not my own and to me, any book was game. I would have liked if it were mine, but I offered information on other books and even sold a book on hamburgers (a sizzling read, I'm sure). I treated all the books equal even if I love mine way more, because to me it’s the right thing to do. The other two people in the tent sold 2 books during my time there (but that’s another topic altogether). My assessment was that their sales force might have lacked focus even though they were kind enough to help if you asked, but they were more interested in selling books that were easy to sell than making a concerted effort to sell any book and get great books to readers of all genres. So I decided to pull my books from those stores, which offered me the delightful experience of learning to keep my cool when I was told that either I picked up my books by a certain day or they would toss them. 

Most recently I had my books on Libros 787, a Puerto Rican website dedicated to promoting Puerto Rican literature worldwide. When I got on the site, they were kind enough to do a piece where they mentioned my bilingual collection Twenty Veinte. It was nice to have some type of exposure but I do believe that having the website exclusively in Spanish hurt my ability to sell books since I predominantly write in English. Not only that, but when I began supporting the site, I’d get likes on my posts, retweets, and even shares. I even did a demo of electronic music to encourage people to buy on the site, but that didn’t work to drive sales. (I’ll be offering this later in the year, but more news on that soon). I also wrote the descriptive for my latest book, Given to Fly, in Spanish to see if it could help sales on Libros 787 and drive traffic, but the descriptive uploaded was the English one and I only sold a couple of copies. I was in Puerto Rico for two weeks and even asked if there was any chance to say hello to people from the company and possibly do an interview on their live shows to try something new or at least say hi. Didn’t get a response for that but hey, you can’t get a "yes" for everything or even an acknowledgment. I know that and I’ve always known that. Still, I tried. I always do my best, and always try because I always prefer to find out rather than wonder. Recently, Libros 787 changed their policy and to carry your books, you’ll get charged an amount for storage and shipping, plus you’d be limited to a certain amount of titles available on the site, both measures I understand but that would eat into any profit I make and limit me, and I'll never be about limiting myself. So between the combination of lack of results and feeling a disconnect with their business, it led me to pull my books from that website. 

Also, people might question why I am naming names and saying the exact places where I've had my experiences even if they were not positive. For me, I'm big on accountability and on being honest and rather than beat around a bush, I'd rather tell people my experiences in places, the real experience. Not just the frosting and the good bits, but everything so people have a clear image of the effort it takes in case they want to go for it. My intention is never to deter anyone from their dreams, but I'll never BS you and say everything is an easy ride. My dream is to dedicate my life to writing and creating and I will always keep pushing because I believe in my work, I love writing, and I think I have interesting stories and writes to share. I'm also for positivity but sometimes you need to be clear, to thank people who have been there for you, to businesses who gave you a chance, and to let people know when things don't work out to avoid surprises. I used to always expect the worse and life has taught me that's a foolish way to live, but it's also foolish to think it's all sunshine and flowers. There's challenges in the road and I'm happy to tell anyone about my experiences without tearing anyone down. 


You see, that’s the thing about books. Even if it’s a passion, at the end of the day, it’s still a business, and if you don’t sell, then you have to try something else… and like I said, I’m always up for trying something new. Mind you, I’m not saying any of these businesses were particularly mean and I actually do wish them much success. Didn't like the whole prospect of tossing my books or the tone of that communication in that particular instance, but at the end of the day, it's a business and I wasn't helping their business as much as they needed it to be worth their while. But it’s like a friendship, you can’t be the only one investing in it and expect things to work out.

I’ve been asked how I got into the Puerto Rico Comic Con and the answer is this: the same as everyone else. I applied for an exhibitor, wished for the best, paid for a booth, and got it. The event coordinators have always been extremely kind, supportive, and helped me to get more exposure when it’s possible. They’ve always made sure all is well with me and my booth, which is why I thoroughly encourage people to attend as a fan or an exhibitor. They go all out with their event and I’m proud that it is by far my best event. People who go to the PRCC are inquisitive, they love to talk books, and they’ve given me a chance to get on their bookshelves... and  when it comes down to it… that’s all I ever want. A chance. Will I always get the best results? Not necessarily. Sometimes I fail. A lot of times actually. Sometimes I sprain my back pushing and the needle doesn’t budge… but sometimes I do connect. Sometimes I succeed. And that’s because of three things… always giving my best, always going forward, and the kindness of every reader. 

So like my 2019 mantra says, forward is the way to go… and I thank you for joining me on this ride. It's bumpy, but with good company, any ride can feel like smooth sailing or at least can be fun.

Peace, love, and maki rolls

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Best books of 2018

As a book geek, I not only love reading but love sharing the great reads I come across, especially the ones that don’t get the hype that BookTube is so generous with. Once upon a time I did top 5’s or top 10’s but rather than that, I decided to share my top 20 reads, in alphabetical order. No favorites, no top anything. If it’s A it’s 1st, if it’s Z it’s last. Period. The reason is that we all like different things and I want to talk a smidge about each book but include pictures and links to my Goodreads review in case it makes you want to learn more about one or the other.

So let’s get started:

1. Anaerfell – High Fantasy

I’d been meaning to read a book by Joshua Robertson for a looong time so it’s curious I chose a collaboration between him and his brother as my first. Still, this high fantasy is a dark read where the main characters have no intention of being liked but have every intention of seeing their mission to the end, no matter who they have to kill… and trust me, there are a lot of people in the way. If you want a story that goes beyond gray moral areas and dives head first into how low can you go, then this highly developed high fantasy might be your black cup of tea.




2. Beasts of Burden – (Graphic Novel)
One of several library reads, Beasts of Burden is the type of book I’d buy. A brilliantly dark graphic novel where a pack of neighborhood dogs is actually what’s keeping the end of the world at bay. Compelling, gripping, beautifully drawn, and funny even in between the darkness. For people who want a graphic novel with bite in more ways than one, can’t recommend this enough.





3. Blue is the warmest color – Graphic Novel (LGBTQA+)

Reading this book as a heterosexual male, I can’t help but think this beautiful but tragic graphic novel is the type of book that can resonate with LGBTQ+ audiences. It’s heartfelt, real, honest, gritty, and shows the possibility of happiness and how avoiding it because of people’s opinions, even people whom you love, is never the right path.




4. Bone Vols 1 and 2 – Graphic Novels

I started this curious series thanks to a piece written by Neil Gaiman in regards to Bone. He has no shortage of good things to say about the series and it is quirky, and smart, and clever, and random, and all the things you’d expect Neil to love… and guess what? I agree with him. Just bought the third volume.






5. Brotherhood of Secrets – Historical Fiction

Christie Stratos is not only my favorite indie author, she’s one of my favorite authors, period. This second installment of her Dark Victoriana collection is just as dark as her first novel, but offers a different perspective of what’s happening in the town where these stories take place in. Intricately crafted, meticulously edited, it is a lean mean, work of literary delight. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, Stratos is elite, and if you don’t know about her it’s because she doesn’t have a huge advertising budget. The talent is there in spades.




6. Death Note Vol 2 – Graphic novel

I’m doing a small experiment where certain books I read in bookstores. This is part of my effort to hoard less even whilst I get my read on. Death Note is a challenging series to do this with because the story is so good. I’ve read volumes 1 and 2 in Barnes and Nobel (Don’t worry, I’ve also bought other books and not just mooched) and I’ve greatly enjoyed the evolution of the story. While Volume 1 had certain plot elements that I didn’t agree with, Volume 2 had a ton of surprises and always kept me guessing. We’ll see how this series continues but I wouldn’t blame you if you want to buy it.




7. Fried Pickle Noir – Graphic novel

If you go to a convention in the ATL, odds are there you might find what some people refer to as “The Pickle Guy.” JR Mounts is an engaging and charismatic character and his Fried Pickle series is as quirky and random as it is highly infused with terrible laugh inducing puns. This is silly fun to the core and at least the first volume I read, I found a ton of things to enjoy. If you go to a convention and see him, by all means, say hello and get ready for a slice of friendly randomness. Also, his animal print vests are the vest. :)




8. Goodbye darkness, hello light - Poetry

I know Erin from online and I was very happy to see her release this lovely collection of poetry. The genre can be a lot of things, but some of my favorite poetry is the one that is intimate and honest… and this collection is a whole lotta both.



9. La Gran Muralla de la ciudad Corazón – short stories (Spanish)

My fellow Puerto Rican indie author, Maricel Jiménez is best known for her Pixie Piper series (available in English and Spanish). That said, this mostly Spanish short story collection has some beautiful gems in it, which I hope means more from her in her native language. Varied, eclectic, and interesting.




10. The House at Pooh Corner – Middle-grade fantasy

I’ve always had a soft spot for Pooh so it’s amazing that it took me to my late 30’s to read the series. This second instalment of short stories is as brilliant as the first and just as endearing. Tender, silly, sweet, and fun. A perfect read for kids of all ages.



11. Keithan Quintero and the Sky Phantoms – Middlegrade Sci-fi

If you like Robotech, you might want to check out this middle-grade adventure out. Another fellow Puerto Rican indie author, Francisco Muñiz was actually a neighbor at one of the Puerto Rico Comic Cons. Apart from a great writer, he’s a great guy and his book is set in near future Puerto Rico. It’s a fun adventure with great race sequences, intriguing mysteries, and a description of a drinkable dessert that still has me wondering what that tastes like.




12. Kurintor Nyusi – High Fantasy

One of the most surprising reads last year was Kurintor Nyusi. Aaron-Michael Hall is a fellow indie based in Atlanta and although she is as friendly and personable as it gets, this book really amazed me with its tight writing, great world building, and compelling storyline, complete with one badass meanie. Diverse, elegant, never predictable… one of the year’s most solid reads for me.




13. Mort - Fantasy

I am a late fan of Terry Pratchett and like a fool I got into Disc World after he passed away. In 5 books, Terry has become one of my favorite writers for the simple reason that I can’t think of a better writer in terms of what you can do with a sentence. Why say anything ordinarily when you can have multiple quotes on every single page. To be clear, Terry Pratchett was absolutely brilliant and after 4 great reads, it’s amazing to read a book that surpasses anything else I’d read from him. I suspect Mort shall be amongst the elite works of Pratchett forever and with good reason. It has an incredibly compelling narrative, characters you can engage with, and a storyline that is pure Pratchett. I’ve been reading the series chronologically and I think it’s the best way for now… we’ll see after I read the next 10.




14. No Cierres los Ojos – horror short story compilation (Spanish)

Dark, brutal, unflinching, crude, scary… so many single words to describe this collection of horror stories from Puerto Rico. It is one of the most Puerto Rican reads I’ve ever enjoyed and with a variety of authors, guaranteed to have several great reads in Spanish. In addition, it’s one of the most exquisitely presented books I’ve ever read, with black pages, white font, and a lot of love in words and format. Can’t wait for the next one.




15. Perfect Break – YA novel in verse form

Anaïs Chartschenko is one of the most unique voices I’ve come across indie or otherwise. I like how she attacks words and always say she is an acquired taste. I say this not to put anyone off, but to invite people to broaden their horizons by reading what is one of my favorite poets. Not one of my favorite indie poets, or indie authors, but one of my favorite people who happens to put words to a page. Perfect Break is a YA novel in verse form capturing the interactions between two friends. Each one has a distinct voice and each poem drives home the narrative that distance can make or break a relationship, but true love knows no limits, especially between best friends. Honest, tender, real, intense… use these words for the book or the author and both apply.




16. Pink Plastic House – poetry

Pink Plastic House is absolutely brilliant and Kristin Garth has one of the most genuine voices you’ll ever read. This collection is impressive but for me, the reading experience was taken up a notch because I got a physical copy with notes from the author. An intimate exploration of what it means for the author to be a woman child who is as innocent as she is sexually alive. Recommended for older audiences and easily some of the best verses I’ve read in the last decade.




17. Portraits of Dread – short stories/horror

Michael J. Elliot likes to write scary things… but beyond the dread, there is a writer who can tug at your heartstrings as easy as he can tug at your lower intestine. This collection of horror shorts has some amazing highpoints that paint a bleak world we wouldn’t like to live in… but that are beyond plausible. Seriously, with stories like this, it’s easy to support indie writers.




18. Writing from the restless – short stories/poetry

Brittany Moore’s short story collection shows the promise of an up and coming author that prefers honesty to a pretty perfect plot. Life can get murky and rough and maddening, and she’s out to capture all those emotions and more.




19. Zodiac – sci-fi/fantasy

I’ll be reading Romina Garber’s second installment in the Zodiac series sooner rather than later. She has created something very special indeed and I only docked the book a star for some typos and the appearance of YA tropes that serve to cater to certain audiences but pale in comparison to the impressive world building and deep philosophical threads beneath the surface of this novel. The narrative is compelling enough, but when Garber decides to get philosophical, you see that maybe those tropes were to lull readers into a sense of safety to hit them hard and profoundly with the underlying exploration of human philosophy. In addition, although the book is finely written, some lines just jump out, hit you on the face, and not only invite you to quote them, but to incorporate them in your life. Will be Wandering Star soon so we’ll see how this narrative progresses but one hell of a first entry in a series.




20. Zoo - poetry

It’s fitting that Ogden Nash’s Zoo is last on this list because it serves as a reminder that sometimes you need to lighten things the hell up. It’s silly, cheeky, laugh-out-loud quirky and will invite you to put words to paper and laugh as you express your inner cheeky monkey.




And there you have it. I had some other pretty solid reads last year, but I think 20 titles is enough to go around lol. Hope your reading year is off to a great start.

Peace, love, and maki rolls

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Calling All Indie Musicians


So I realized something a little silly: I’ve never officially announced I do indie music reviews on Go Indie Now’s flagship show… and I’ve been doing it for like a year LOL. That’s me in a nutshell. 

Ok, so last year, my good friend, Joe Compton (Founder of Go Indie Now and author of Amongst the Killing) needed someone to do indie music reviews, I asked if he needed help, and he said hell yes.

I’ve always loved sharing interesting musical discoveries with friends and family and thought this would fit right in with that. I took it upon myself to check which artists I’ve listened to that are fully indie and have found quite a few artists to share… but there’s always room to share more.

I’m calling out all indie musicians and bands alike because I know exposure isn’t exactly easy. At Go Indie Now the mantra is simple, support indies so they can do more of what they love. We’ve reviewed instrumental artists, acoustic guitarists, pianists, singer-songwriters, cellists, hip-hop acts, punk rockers, and this year we started out by reviewing an EP from a Spanish rock band from Valencia, Spain. That’s because there are indie artists around the world and we’d like to showcase how much talent there is out there. So consider this your invitation to get in touch with us so I can listen to and review your music and if you’re interested, we might even have a slot to interview you on the show.

Reviews are casual, conversational, and discussed with the intention of convincing people to check you out. If you’d like to hear how they are, below are the links to the segments where I’ve reviewed the artists. Just click the artist name to go the the video.

Lowercase Noises 




So by all means, if you're an indie artist or are in an indie band and would like for us to check you out, either comment here, write to me on my Facebook Author Page or get in touch with Joe Compton

Peace, love, and maki rolls

JD

Thursday, February 7, 2019

My year in reading – 2018

So a full month into 2019 and I’m finally able to talk a bit about my reading year last year, which even with alllllll the madness I still managed to get my read on. 

Final tally? 47 books. I had a couple of goals and I achieved them. Will talk about those further down below, but first, here’s the rundown to get more into specifics:


- Male authors: 28 books

- Female authors: 17 books

- Indie books: 17 books

- Library books: 14 

- Poetry: 11

- Fiction: 22

- Graphic novels: 14

- Non-fiction: 2 books

- Spanish books: 5


In regards to the ratings, here’s a recap of the quality of reads as perceived by moi. Btw, there are reviews on Goodreads for all the books I read last year. 

5 star – 13
4 star – 23
3 star – 8
2 star - 1 
1 star – 1




So all in all, a pretty awesome year I have to say. I had the goal to have a more balanced male to female ratio, to take more books out from the library, to balance out with poetry, and to read more Spanish. The reading more Spanish continues and will also be looking into reading more non-fiction, but overall, I’m very happy with what I read. 

Stay tuned for my best of books of 2018. But first, how about you? How was your reading year last year? Did you have any specific goals you wanted to reach? Thanks for reading, and til next time…

Peace, love, and maki rolls

JD

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Free books do not a good review get you


Last year I gave my first 1-star review. It wasn’t an enjoyable experience for several reasons… and among them is that I was gifted the book… which is uncomfortable for quite a few reasons, to be honest. The thing is that I ALWAYS tell people I’ll be honest when I review. I don’t toss the towel, I don’t ignore shortcomings, and I always keep it honest.

I share this because if you’re an indie author, there’s something really important you need to know: giving someone a free book cannot and should not come with the expectation of getting a positive review back.

The book I alluded to was a very rough read and although I gave a negative review, I tried to be constructive with it. But it was still a 1-star review and I stand by my opinion. I know a LOT of people who gift their books and as an indie author, I’ve done it as well, with mixed results… which is actually a GOOD thing. I’ve known to send along books to reading groups and get back 3-star reviews. Some of them were constructive and some weren’t. At the end of all my books, I include a message asking the reader to please leave a review. I don’t ask for a good review… I just ask for a review and I appreciate the people who are gracious enough with their time to leave a review and I’m immensely humbled by the people who go all out and leave an in-depth review, be it good or bad.

In the reviews I’ve received, I’ve gotten praised, but I’ve also been called out on typos, excess amount of characters, disjointedness, and several other things that have or haven't bothered other people. Still, these are all great things to know because I’ve learned to see what I’m told and focus on what will help me improve as a writer. Some things you read are more on the lines of I didn’t like this plot element, or a character, or something of the sorts, and that’s to be expected and in cases, encouraged. It’s good for different people to like different things. It’s healthy for some people to not like certain things in what we write… opinions are good and being engaged with what you read is best.

But please, please, please avoid asking for people to leave a kind review meaning you want people to 5-star you. For me, I did give a kind review… it just happened to be 1 star… and sometimes we all need for that to happen.

Peace, love, and maki rolls

JD