Monsters & gremlins

This is what I was doing earlier when the machine was super sluggish. So what the devil's going on?

It's almost all always the case, when I come face to face with some enormous monster blocking my path, if I don't flinch I realize that it's an optical illusion. Instead of one gigantic, ferocious problem -- a monster -- it is really just a swarm of much smaller gremlins, some of them fierce. This week they massed together to create an apparent monster of computer failure. I've lost about two days' work in blind combat (because I didn't really understand what I was doing), but I've driven off or maybe slain the worst of the gremlins and now continue on my quest.

Our changing US population

"As hundreds of scholars get ready to gather in Harlem on Thursday night for a conference on the state of black studies, many find that suddenly their attention is turning to another topic: Hispanics," reports Felicia R. Lee in today's NYT.

Some folks are having a hard time coping with these issues, which are the same ones I raised in Hispanic Nation (1996): this country can't go on thinking of itself as just black-and-white any more. Identities are too fluid, and the newcomers -- especially but not only those from Spanish-speaking lands -- refuse to accept the simple dichotomy.


Writers beware
High-handed dealings by the troubled AOL Time Warner leave writers in the lurch, which is not where they want to be. Read all about it in Jill E. Vaile's website.


I've promised not to take time off from my personal quest right now to save the world, but you really must read Confronting Empire, Arundhati Roy's speech at the anti-globalization gathering in Porto Alegre.

Progress and setbacks

What would a saga be, without monsters to overcome in the hero's quest? More about those later. At the moment it is urgent to record what may be progress: a draft of a query letter to agents. The essential paragraphs are:
"[W]e are in the presence of a formidable new writer," said The New York Times Book Review about my short story collection Welcome to My Contri. Of my nonfiction Hispanic Nation, the Washington Post said,"Fox is most effective in reporting the important ways the barrios are altering the profile and coloration of our inner cities." This book, a University of Arizona Press bestseller, was also the basis for a 6-part nationwide radio series, "Hispanic Nation: Made in the U.S.A." I have also written young adult books praised by the Voice of Youth Advocates and the Children's Book Council Booklist and chosen for the New York Public Library's "Books for the Teenage" list. Now I have written a historical novel, set in and around Constantinople in 1402, that I believe has great relevance to our times.

A Gift for the Sultan is the story of the greatest city in the Christian world beset by an Islamic horde, of the Christian princess betrothed to the sultan's son to save it and the Ottoman warrior who has sworn to deliver her to the sultan's camp. On their way through the mountains of Anatolia, they learn that the sultan has been defeated and captured by Tamerlane-- as in fact happened in July 1402-- and the Islamic warrior and his Christian charges find themselves with nowhere to go in a treacherous no-man's land.


Saga, opening episode

To hold an observer's attention, any extended performance needs a thread or story line. (For an amusing attempt to challenge this principle, read David Markson's This is Not a Novel (2001)). The story line of this blog is going to be one man's struggle to achieve his goal while confronting other challenges. You know, the usual plot line. Our protagonist is not especially glamorous or heroic or good, though all these terms take on new meaning in the context of a story. What he's got are two things: belief in his own talent -- which, he is prepared to accept, may be modest but real -- and desire.

From here on, first person. What I'm declaring here is that I'm going to try to stick to the story of how I work to become both a better writer and a better known one, and cut such distractions as comments on Venezuelan politics, Bush's war, and lots of other stuff. Will anybody care? Probably, because we are a naturally nosy race, and anybody's struggle is interesting if its clearly told and it looks like there may be a beginning, a middle and an end. My main reason for telling it, though, is not you but me, to keep myself on track.

So we'll start our story today. I've written a novel that took a lot of effort (see Archive entry for 1/18 for that story, and apologetic Postscript from the next day, down at the bottom of the page). Now I have to find an agent to sell it well. Meanwhile, I have to complete about half of a very large, unrelated book draft by May. That's challenge Number 1, complicating the main story line. (You always have to have complications.)

The other complication, or peculiar circumstance, is that I'm not making any money. Last year's clients (nonprofits) suffered big funding cuts, so expected assignments haven't materialized. This adds incentive to my struggle: I really need to sell that novel, and I also really need to turn in that draft on Latin American Architecture and Urbanism (LAU) to collect the next portion of the advance. I just lost two days work dealing with technical problems (getting another computer networked for my collaborator on LAU, and installing OS X). I also lost some data on agents, but I think I can reconstruct it. The rest of today is going to be devoted to getting the agent queries off.


Photo of me at the X-Readings (Brookly Arts Exchange) -- courtesy of Bill Coffel.

The weight of opinion

Op-Eds & Blogs
My op-ed, 'Minority Groups' Have Outgrown Their Labels, is now up at the Los Angeles Times.

Writing op-eds is rare for me. My only previous one appeared in Newsday in 1995. In Languages Don't Bind People I managed to connect language issues facing Hispanics in the U.S. to 1995's big story, the war in the Balkans. (Quite a trick, but it got the editor's attention.)

Like you, I have lots opinions. I consider it irresponsible not to form an opinion on important issues of the day, and I've even got lots of opinions on unimportant issues. Generally, if I feel the urge to express them, I put them on this blog.

This time, however, I had an opinion about something I'd written a whole book about. So when César Chelala called me Wednesday evening to urge me to write an op-ed on something in that morning's news, I already had, and had sent it off to The New York Times. César, an old friend, has written hundreds of op-eds for papers all over the world (look at this list of 53 op-eds by Chelala at the Japan Times). He suggested the LA Times for this topic. Great idea, I thought, but I didn't want to send them the same article -- not just because of journalistic scruple, but because, with a few more hours to think about it, I'd come up with another angle.

The one I sent to the NYT basically rehashes my book's argument about how a new "Hispanic/Latino" identity is being formed. This one, written Thursday afternoon, is, as you can see, about a different, conceptual issue. Thanks to C�sar for suggesting the LA Times. Editor Bruce McLeod got back to me right away, wanted the piece but wanted me to amplify it by about 50 more words -- if I could write it fast enough to get it to him before lunch, LA time. And I did, and he and I talked through the minor editorial changes cordially and efficiently (e.g. they especially liked a thought in my last paragraph and wanted it moved up higher in the story, which seemed like a good idea to me). And there it is.

I still haven't heard back from the NYT, by the way. César tells me they can take as long as 10 days to respond, by which time the topic has probably grown cold. But no matter. If they like it, it's an entirely different piece. And if they don't, well, I've still got my blog, and if I want to, I can write a new op-ed in a hurry.


Union resolutions opposing war on Iraq

The National Writers Union is currently debating whether to adopt a resolution against attacking Iraq similar to those already adopted by unions in the coalition Labor Against War. The one passed by New York City's CWA Local 1180 pretty much expresses my views. Saddam is awful, but a massive military attack like the one the US launched on Afghanistan is a reckless and very dangerous way to try to get rid of him. His regime is part of a much wider problem, and unless the US can develop a comprehensive policy for the whole Middle East, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and do it in concert with allies in the region and beyond it, we're likely to do more harm than good -- and to cause the deaths of great numbers of people who are no threat to us.

Meanwhile, here's info on the Not In Our Name demo at the UN tomorrow, January 27.

A night at BAX

A Gift for the Sultan withstood its first audience test last night, at the first in the new Brooklyn Arts Exchange X-Readings series. Series host Bill Coffel, jovial, portly and bearded, was arrayed in full battle-attire: belt and suspenders and baseball cap. (You can never be too careful around wordslingers.) Readers/performers included Alexandra van de Kamp, whose vivid word-portraits made paintings appear in the air; her husband, whose name I didn't catch, with a story-in-progress about committing adultery and not enjoying it very much; bushy-haired Jero, who performed "Semantics," a biting poem about phony sex talk and phony war-on-terror talk; and Bill Coffel himself, who read from his new novel about Americans behaving badly in Mexico. Bill also played recordings of Alan Ginsburg performing "Sunflowers" and "Howl" -- good to hear, though they made the event run a tad late. It was a small crowd (me and my posse of four accounted for a quarter of us), comfortable size for trying out new material. Thanks, Bill, for creating this proving ground. Next event in the series will be February 22. You can reach him at X-Readings. For more about A Gift for the Sultan, check the Archive for entry for 1/18.