Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Q&A with Owen Lewis

Owen H Lewis had his heart set on a career in the creative arts from an early age and, after gaining a degree in English Literature in 1998, he was able to break into film and television. At first working in London and then Madrid, Lewis finally settled in Los Angeles with his own production company. As well as making promotional videos for big named business, the company also produced two shorts films scripted by Lewis. However, outside pressures eventually forced him to adopt a more conformist career path and he reluctantly put aside his creative ambitions, moving instead into real estate investment.

After gaining a Masters from Cass Business School, Lewis moved to The City, where his rise through the world of real estate commerce was relatively meteoric. He rapidly secured a directorship within a FTSE 250 company before eventually setting up his own International Real Estate Business in 2008.

But Lewis became increasingly jaded with the environment in which he worked – at this crossroads in his life he once more turned to his first love – writing. And this time he had a truly profound, thoughtful and challenging story to tell.

Coloured by his experiences, Lewis started work on what was to become the ground breaking The Mark of Man, a novel about a future where humanity’s cannon of accepted philosophies are challenged and our passive inertia is confronted.

Owen currently lives in Kew, with his wife and two children, and is already writing a companion piece to his debut, which promises to be darker and even more contentious.

1.       What inspired you to write The Mark of Man?

Initially it was three short stories that I’d been developing for quite some time. However following an extremely vivid dream, where I woke up believing I was living in the environment of The Mark of Man, I had finally found my premise with which to link the three together and therefore was able to embark on a triptych. The result is a thrilling ride which provides a window into mankind’s soul, whilst casting a glance on our constant internal struggle with science vs. religion and nature vs. technology.



2.       What was the development process like?

The entire process took me two years to the day. I started writing the treatment to The Mark of Man on September 10th 2012 and I had my first launch on September 10th 2014.

The treatment took me three months to create the story arcs, develop the characters and then create the alternative timeline. It took another eleven months to get the entire story down in raw form.

It took me six months to find a publisher and then another three months to get it out there, for all to see. In its original state there were more than 200,000 words, of which I kept only 116,000 after the final (publisher) edit.



3.       What was the hardest part about writing this book?

Ensuring that there is a beating heart to the story - that it never waivers nor meanders. When you construct such a web of deception and hidden truths, it sometimes gets hard to keep control of your characters. Once I felt satisfied that this was so, my ultimate focus was to leave the reader enlightened by their journey, as if they were either one of the two main protagonists. I believe that The Mark of Man meets these targets and pushes us on further – I would like to think that the readers will agree…




4.       What was the best part about writing this book?

 I guess, as we all broaden our horizons through our use of technology, we re-educate ourselves     and therefore reach the point where it is acceptable to question our own beliefs and  convictions; those that were formed before the  advent of the web.

 The story provided me with a blank canvass to posit my theories and ideals, without necessarily hurting anyone in particular. It gives me a clean slate to start over again; with our culture, our systems and the environment. I can challenge the reader without alienating them and I can keep them guessing because there are no rules.



5.       What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

 The Mark of Man’s central premise concerns a mark on the wrist which indicates the death age of the bearer - contrary to other similar tales; this is posited as a genetic anomaly. So the race is  not a simple chase and pursuit tale from evil overlords with a reliance on the familiar clichés and tenets, but one that concerns the whole of humankind and compels everybody (including the reader) to try to find an answer to this ticking doomsday clock.

The book is an adventure yarn with the protagonist counting down the days he has left, whilst trying to come to terms with losing the love of his life. Fate however seems intent on throwing them back together.

 This is a novel about a future where humanity’s cannon of accepted philosophies are challenged and our passive inertia is confronted.

The Mark of Man is a philosophical romance, more than anything else, and just because     most of  the world is clamouring for the next vampire saga or Game of Thrones clone, I’m of the conviction that the world is now ready for a more intelligent and challenging story. Science  fiction shouldn’t just be about shiny spaceships or flesh eating  aliens, it should challenge and  create discussion; perhaps even arguments.





6.       What inspired you to be a writer?

Through a love of literature and film – I studied English Literature at university and then worked in TV & Film afterwards, until family life took over and I felt compelled to move into real estate investment. However one’s interests and skills never leave them and with almost another 20 years living a varied existence, one would hope that I have acquired enough life experience to be a social commentator.



7.       What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?

Control over creativity and lack of control over your audience – it’s incredibly liberating – cathartic at best, frustrating at worst.

I had my heart set on a career in the creative arts from an early age and, after gaining a degree in English Literature in 1998, I broke into film and television. At first I worked in London, then Madrid and finally settled in Los Angeles with my own production company.  

However, outside pressures eventually forced me to adopt a more conformist career path and I moved into real estate investment. After gaining a Masters from Cass Business School, I moved to The City and what followed was a relatively meteoric rise through the ranks, where I secured a directorship within a FTSE 250 company, before eventually setting up my own International Real Estate Business in 2008.

However I became jaded with the environment in which I worked - the global recession was a major contributing factor. At this crossroads I once more turned to my first love – writing - this time I had a profound, thoughtful and challenging story to tell.



8.       Who are some of your favorite authors?

Philip Pullman, Martin Amis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Louis De Bernieres would have to be up there as my greatest influences but then again there are so many more. It really depends on who’s asking.


9.       Are you working on anything right now?

When is an artist ever satisfied? This is the 1st part of triptych, in that I have another two stories to tell, which are in principal unconnected. They will take a look at the human condition but perhaps from another stand point, whilst being set in a similar paradigm. I am currently writing the treatment to The Dark of Man as we speak.



10.   And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?
Not long ago Latino Literature represented the whimsical and fantastical but then Gabriel Garcia Marquez came on the scene in the late 60’s and cast a surrealist influence on everyone

 Through the 80’s, and 90’s the interest in this Boom generation has disappeared and neo-   realism has taken its place, where writers have fled Marquez's mystical landscapes and crash landed  in the hard-boiled, decidedly un-magical, realm of the crime novel. 

 During the last ten years, narconovelas have flooded the bookstores, sparking interest among  Mexican readers and foreign critics in a new strain of Latin American exoticism and displacing  magic realism as the region’s characteristic genre.

The future will no doubt see a dampening of these narco-flames and we’ll see a return to the fantastic as these stories become more and more mystical, in order to win back the hearts and minds of the very people that grew tired of it in the first place.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Review: OFFSIDE: A MYSTERY by William Barrett

In 2006, amid the great real estate bubble, Rick Hermannik, an adult referee of youth soccer, is found murdered in a ritzy Los Angeles suburb, his whistle left in an unnatural place. Suspicion quickly falls upon volunteer coach Diego Diaz, a one-time gang member whose hot Latino rant over an offside call pops up on YouTube. The media eagerly pursue the delicious story line of out-of-control soccer parents. Case closed–until the boyfriend of Diaz’s grown daughter, Hector Rivera, a former high school soccer star but now a college dropout in a dead-end job, tries to figure out the truth, and himself.

Reviewed by: Celia
Rating: 3 stars

Review: Witty and frank, Offside is an intriguing mystery with a solid in-depth base of history, politics, pop culture, and, of course, soccer. Soccer seemed to be the central theme, and why wouldn’t it? It’s vital to Latino culture. But not being a sport buff, it was a little much and a tad confusing at times.

Barrett paints a true landscape of the SoCal scene and he does so with such brutal finesse. The Mexican cultural references and historical facts were a great value and only enhanced the Latino awareness. 

Although slow at capturing my interest, the book illustrates the writer’s impressive skills. He cleverly explores poverty, racism, and other socio-economical issues that Latinos face today. It’s enlightening and thought-provoking. The book is almost suitable for a Chicano Studies class; portions of it can be printed in textbooks. The story, however, was not as great. I felt like I was waiting for the mystery. Also, the variety of characters made it hard to keep track of the story.

It was evident that the author had vast experience and knowledge in police protocol, government, politics, pop culture, and sports, but I felt that it all depleted the energy from the story. Overall, this was an okay first novel.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Q&A with William P. Barrett

Chronicling a wide cross-section of the human condition, William P. Barrett has worked as an award-winning journalist across the country and abroad for major newspapers and national magazines dating back more than four decades. At various times he’s been a police reporter, court reporter, local government reporter, feature writer, foreign correspondent, national correspondent writing about very small places with very big problems, investigative reporter and business reporter. Barrett’s longest stretch was at Forbes, where his writings illuminated dark sections of the financial world and sent miscreants to prison. A New Jersey native, Barrett holds two degrees from Rutgers, one in law, and is a Chartered Financial Analyst charterholder. On the weekends he has refereed youth soccer in the West, including Southern California, for 17 years. Barrett now lives in Seattle. This is his debut novel.

1. What inspired you to write Offside: A Mystery?

 I have been a magazine and newspaper journalist across the country and abroad for more than four decades, writing thousands of stories. But I never had written something as long and detailed as a book. So that became a challenge. I thought a murder mystery would be interesting, so long as it incorporated some real history and allowed me to indulge in social commentary. I had been a referee of youth soccer for years, first in New Mexico and then in Southern California, so I knew a lot about soccer. As an old courts-and-crime newspaper reporter with a law degree, I knew something about the legal system. And as a business writer for Forbes for nearly a quarter-century, I knew a lot about finance. Having lived in Houston, Albuquerque and the Los Angeles area, I knew something about Latino culture. And when I started working on the book, I was living around Los Angeles and was quite aware of--struck even, by--the racial tensions. So I wrote about what I knew.




2. What was the development process like?

Lengthy. The process took eight years. I don't write long works without first composing an outline. I started working on OFFSIDE: A Mystery in 2006. I dashed off my first complete outline on a yellow pad during on a single cross-country airplane trip. But I kept revising the outline, trying to work through problems with the plot. Then in 2008 we had the mortgage meltdown as a result of the bursting of the real estate bubble, and Los Angeles was more or less at Ground Zero. I immediately knew I had to get that into the book. So I basically threw out most of my first outline and started over. At some point I stopped writing and spent nearly a year researching more about the history of soccer, California, finance, whatever.




3. Did you relate to the main character, Diego Diaz, in any way? If so, what?

I'd say the main character is Hector Rivera, the 24-year-old college dropout dating the adult daughter of Diaz, the coach accused of killing the referee. Rivera has clear intellectual and physical talent but is stuck in a dead-end job while trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. I think there are a lot of people out there in his situation. I am reminded of Thoreau, who wrote, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." Fortunately, I decided while in high school to become a journalist. Because as a journalist I've written so many hard-luck stories, I can relate to Rivera, but not on the basis of personal events. An interesting comparison with me, a part-time soccer referee, is with the part-time referee in the book who ends up seriously dead. I hope the book doesn't prove to be too autobiographical.




4. What was the hardest part about writing this book?

Constant rewriting, making the plot believable, working through plot problems, while holding down a full-time day job.




5. What are some of the main socio-economic issues that you explore in this book and why did you explore them?

The final version is set in 2006, two years before the real estate/mortgage meltdown, but there's plenty of foreshadowing. I was quite aware when I moved from New Mexico to Southern California in 2004 that an epic real estate bubble was under way, driven by easy credit. I was old fashioned enough to only buy a home with 20% down and a fixed-rate loan for 15 years. One real estate agent told me he hadn't had a client do that in 18 years. Everything had become little down, adjustable rate, and sometimes interest-only payments. About the same time, I went to a college alumni function in the L.A. area and heard 23-year-old recent graduates bragging about making $120,000 by working as a mortgage broker. I thought that was a commodity business, but it turns out a lot of the brokers were convincing buyers to borrow way more than they should, and maybe helping to "spruce up" the paperwork. The events take place in a town I invented, the allegorically named Valley Mirage, an upscale, racist place full of big homes but with a small Latino population in the rundown older part of town doing much of the menial labor. Rivera's mom ekes out a living as a seamstress, which she is able to do because hardly anyone knows anymore how to sew. I have a line about this in the book: "Much of the American economy was based on the inability of Americans to be economic." In Valley Mirage--as elsewhere--youth soccer is a unifying theme.




6. What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

A feeling that they didn't waste their time in reading the book.




7. What inspired you to be a writer?

I have ancestors on both sides who were newspapermen; one actually co-owned a newspaper in Scranton, Pa. So maybe it's in the DNA. I like learning about things and communicating what I learn to others. Writing is a good way to do this. As baseball great Yogi Berra once said, "You can observe a lot by just watching."




8. What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?

Best: the research and observation process. Worst: the writing process.




9. Who are some of your favorite authors?

For fiction, Rudolfo Anaya and Tony Hillerman come to mind. But frankly, most of what I read is nonfiction, often biography, like the works of Robert A. Caro. I just finished John Lewis Gaddis's award-winning biography of the diplomat George F. Kennan. It was a terrific book, although Gaddis had the benefit of cooperation with Kennan himself.




10. Are you working on anything right now?

I now live in Seattle, so I guess it's likely the next book will be set here. However, family members think I should do a sequel to OFFSIDE: A Mystery with the same characters, or at least the ones not killed off.




11. And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?

While my book involves Latino characters and deals with Latino/American issues, I don't consider it Latino literature per se. I'm not a Latino, but rather a mere outsider observing. I wrote a murder mystery involving Latino characters with, perhaps, some elements of literary fiction. However, I can't help but notice how much of the writing of the new generation of genuine Latino novelists consists of, for want of a better description, crime fiction. I am thinking especially of Juan Gabriel Vásquez and his translated novel,

 "The Sound of Things Falling." I don't think this development is a bad thing. One thing contemporary novels should do is deal with the problems of society, and crime is definitely a problem. So the future is good.



Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Revolution uprooted six-year-old Cecilia from her comfortable middle-class Cuban home and dropped her into the low-income Miami neighborhood of Little Havana. Her philandering father all but abandoned his family to focus on his mistress and rebuilding his career, chasing the American promise of wealth and freedom from the past. Her mother spiraled into madness trying to hold the family together and get him back. Neglected and trapped, Cecilia rebelled against her conservative heritage and embraced the 1960s counter-culture, seeking love and attention anywhere she could get it. And just maybe a place of her own in America. But immigrant children either thrive or self-destruct in a new land. How will Cecilia beat the odds? While most memoirs by Cuban-Americans revolve around childhood scenes in Cuba and explore the experiences of a young man, LEAVING LITTLE HAVANA is the first refugee memoir to focus on a Cuban girl growing up in America, rising above the obstacles and clearing a path to her dream.

Reviewed by: Bela
Rating: 3 stars

Review: This book is a well-written and vivid account of a young girl’s coming-of-age during “pre-revolutionary Cuba.” The writer engulfs the reader in the rich, vibrant history and cultural traditions of Cuba. Perhaps it was too involved with minute details that it almost read like a war documentary at times. I also thought that it had too many characters and too much politics to hold my interest. Can Cubans talk of nothing else but Castro?

Although witty and heart-felt, the story’s attempt at humor was overshadowed by the political weight and the abundance of historical facts. It was just a long lecture on Cuba.

The writing was good, but this is mainly a story for those who want to learn about Cuba.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Q&A with Cecilia Fernandez

Cecilia M. Fernandez is the author of Leaving Little Havana: A Memoir of Miami’s Cuban Ghetto. She is an independent journalist and college instructor with a passion for literature. Her work has appeared in Latina Magazine, Accent Miami, Upstairs at the Duroc: the Paris Workshop Journal, Vista Magazine, and Le Siecle de George Sand.

A former reporter for The Stockton Record, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Miami television stations WPBT, WSVN, WSCV, and WLTV, Cecilia covered the state legislature, the National Democratic Convention, local and presidential elections, Operation Desert Storm, Hurricane Andrew, the drug trafficking trial of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, the rape trial of William Kennedy Smith, the Mariel boatlift, and the Miami riots among many other stories. She believes her best reporting – and writing – happened while covering the lives of the simple folk living in the ethnic neighborhoods of California and Florida.

An Emmy nominee from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Cecilia received Dartmouth University’s Champion Tuck Award (Honorable Mention for Television), the Scripps-Howard Award: News Writer of the Month and a Fellowship for Independent Summer Study from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Cecilia earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Florida International University, an MA in English Literature from the University of Miami, and a BA in Journalism and Social Science from the University of California, Berkeley.
Her debut memoir, Leaving Little Havana, was selected as a finalist in the 2011 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Book Contest.

She lives in Weston, Florida and teaches writing and literature at Broward College and Miami International University of Art and Design. She is working on a collection of short stories, among four other projects.





1.       What inspired you to write Leaving Little Havana?

I wanted to tell the story of the first Cuban immigrants fleeing Castro’s communist regime in the early 1960s before they are forgotten deep within the history books. I did so by telling my own story and how the political realities of two nations – the U.S. and Cuba – impacted the individuals of those first generations.  


2.       What was the development process like?

I started this book as an essay in a memoir writing class while I was working toward my Masters in Fine Arts ten years ago. From there it kept growing as I turned in more and more assignments, all related to my book. When my publisher accepted it for publication in 2013, the editor sent me lists of items I had to expand. I worked on these for three months straight, morning, noon and night, during the summer. I happily partnered with the editor who had become part of my remembering. I had to turn to my old journals to fill in the gaps. After the final draft was finished, we had to agree on a title and a cover. We did so after much brainstorming. The process was the most exhilarating and educational of my professional writing life.


3.       What was the hardest part about writing this book?
     The hardest was excavating the depths of memory for the details needed to tell a really good story. It is not enough to remember a scene; the scene has to fit into the narrative arc of each chapter which forms the overall narrative arc of the book.


4.       What was the best part about writing this book?

Settling old debts with my father. A famous writer once said that all writing has a tinge of revenge in it. Because my father was such a hurtful, inconsiderate person, I was able to expunge the damage he created through writing my story and his. Revenge is sweet, always. Hand in hand with this purging was the opportunity to take my mother’s story, along with the stories of the first generations of Cuban-Americans, out of the shadows and into the forefront of American history.



5.       What do you hope readers will gain from your book?

I hope to reach the young reader who is mired in the same tragic circumstances of alienation, truancy, shoplifting, drugs and aimless sex as I was and show him or her how possible it is to overcome the obstacles and reach one’s dream. Moreover, I hope to inform the world of the specific immigration circumstances faced by the first immigrants from Fidel’s communist Cuba. This group of pioneers set the stage for what Miami is today. Good and bad. I want to educate others about this small segment of American history.


6.       What inspired you to be a writer?

My mother and step-grandmother inspired me through their love of language and books. My step-grandmother gave me numerous books in the first six years of my life and read them with me. My mother signed me up for a creative writing class in fifth grade. She happily wrote down all the stories I dictated to her as a child, since she wrote faster than I did. I have always known I was going to be a writer. Stories have just kept whirring around in my head since I can recall.  



7.       What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?

 I love my ability to access my imagination and intellect in a split second to produce a scene, a line of dialogue, a descriptive paragraph, and then wonder where it all came from. I love walking around in the world writing in my head. That means I am never alone.

What I really hate is that writing can only be done in the spare minutes of your life, since very few writers can support themselves through the sale of their books. But the tug of war with time is also part of the delicious state of alert that a writer must cultivate to produce that beloved book in stolen minutes.


8.       Who are some of your favorite authors?

I love and am deeply influenced by Joan Didion’s journalism, Anais Nin’s diaries, Virginia Woolf’s essays and Simone de Beauvoir’s memoirs. These four writers weave astute observations about their social and political environments into the art of their writing, offering intensity, texture, depth. Their words spark my own thinking about things.  Their insights and their writing act as a magical spell on me, propelling me into that creative moment needed for writing.   


9.       Are you working on anything right now?

I am just about to start a second book taking up where Leaving Little Havana left off.  Moving to California, I experienced a second “exile” similar to the one I faced when I left Cuba. I dealt with very similar identity and marginalization issues. The book will focus on the struggle to learn how to be a writer/journalist at UC Berkeley and then on the struggle to practice my profession in numerous newsrooms throughout California, New York, Washington DC and Miami despite the obstacles of racism and sexism.  The political and social milieu of the seventies and eighties in the U.S. and Cuba will provide the backdrop for this story. Feelings of alienation and questions about identity are not, intrinsically, the inner state of immigrants, but also the status quo for most of society. Everyone is caught up in an existential conundrum.


10.   And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?

Latino/a literature needs to be brought out of the shadows and into the forefront of book selling as exciting reading for the general book buying public. Marketing is essential in making these books appeal to everyone and not only to the Hispanic consumer. The topic of immigration is now and has always been a major issue in American society. The arrival of the immigrant and his or her efforts to adjust, assimilate and keep a cultural identity is happening all throughout the world as more and more people flee instability at home. These themes resonate with almost everybody. But the marketing and awareness of Latino/a literature have a long way to go.  

Up next: A review of Leaving Little Havana: A Memoir of Miami’s Cuban Ghetto.