Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review: LIFE OF A BASTARD (Vol. 1) by Damien Black

"My memories from this period are often nebulous. They bend and warp like clouds caught between two fronts. A lot of terrible things happened to me that I try not to remember, but I was a child, I was innocent, and I used to be happy sometimes. "

Born in Spanish Harlem in 1972 to a teenage Puerto Rican mother and a Black father, Javier Soto is a blemish on the face of American society. After a suspicious fire allegedly set by his mother, while his father serves time in prison, Javier and his sisters are removed from their home into foster care. This true story of Javier Soto's life takes you on the soul-stirring journey of a young boy in the custody of a brutal world.

Beginning at the Catholic Home Bureau, Javier's tale depicts the evolution of an innocent child into an enraged teenager as he battles his way through the perils of abuse, starvation, and neglect. Like thousands of American children who are driven into the foster care network Javier and his siblings are repeatedly shuffled through numerous foster homes, each one less welcoming than the last. Following eventual separation from his sisters, Javier is left to continue his crusade of survival alone.

An indelible account that tells of a boy's anguish, self-loathing and an unsatisfied yearning for love that is the birthright of every child. With such little grounds for hope, how far will Javier go?

Reviewed by: Celia
Rating: 3.5 stars


Review: This is the harrowing story of a boy named Javier. His troubles first began in the womb, conceived by a mentally unstable Hispanic woman and a convicted Black man. By the age of 19, Javier’s mother had had enough of birthing “bastard” children and tried to kill them by setting the house on fire, which prompted Javier’s induction into the foster care system.

From that point forward, Javier experiences life as a bastard with abuse and neglect. Even in the face of such hardships, he holds a glimmer of hope for that “empty hero” to rescue him, whether it be his sperm donor or some guy named Jesus. Still, through his keen perception, he could not deny the evils of the heartless world he was thrown into. It was then that he learned to “survive at all costs.” The atrocities were just heart-wrenching and crude. It was just a never-ending battle—a rather daunting battle. Sometimes it was just too hard to take. Story had some considerable lag and grammatical errors, and, at times, became too vulgar for my taste; but, still, its endearing and infantile poignancy remains throughout.

Raw and gritty, Damien Black crafted a novel full of struggle and emotional turmoil. The author managed to infuse this simple grace into a child’s remedial perspective. And the illustrations, which were full of innocence and joy, were an exquisite contrast to the hardship of the story. Like the Yin Yang symbol, the white purity of Javier was juxtaposed with the dark corruption of society, which gave a suitable balance to the story.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Q&A with Damien Black

Damien Black was born and brought up in New York during the more interesting times of ‘the summer of Batman’ when Times Square was less frilly. He was the writer, producer, and editor of the podcast and TV show, ‘The Short Film Show,' on MNN New York. Damien is currently a Language Arts and Science ESL teacher in China. He lives in Shanghai with his 5-year-old son, Hannibal, who shares his ardent love for Legos. Although Hannibal is his only biological son, Damien considers all his students as his children and is a passionate teacher.

The Life of a Bastard is Damien Black’s first book. In writing the story of Javier Soto, he wishes to capture the essence of life in foster care and to expose the raw truths of the struggle for identity and the shocking violence inflicted on these abandoned children. He hopes that the series will increase awareness among readers and allow them to comprehend and empathize with each of the 20,000 children that leave the foster system every year in the United States of America.

1.    What inspired you to write Life of a Bastard?

Back 1990 I discovered "Down These Mean Street" by Piri Thomas, I highly recommend this book about being Afro-Latino, growing up in the 50's in East Harlem and the struggle of identity. I read Down these Mean Streets and felt I had something relatable to share about the Life of Javier Soto ( also Afro-Latino) as he journeys to find calm and his place in this world.




2.    What was Javier’s ultimate purpose?

The purpose is a two-sided coin on one side if his story is concluded with a happy ending of success without having a mother and father to guide him, along with the demons of child abuse that haunts many and most times play a destructive role in their adult years. The ultimate purpose can inspirational to those who might have a shared experience with Javier. On the flip side, cautionary tales because in the end, we have to get out of our way and find ways to cope.




3.    What goals, if any, did Javier achieve in the end and what did he learn?

The end is not written, and perhaps we can learn more in Volume 2 (2018).


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

Making sure that journals that were written 30 years ago maintain that voice with little hindsight and I self-censorship because sometimes a journal entry had no real structure just rantings of a child.


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

From Javier's viewpoint his raw view of welfare, the crack epidemic (1980's ),  East and West Harlem decay, and tidbits of other things that were going on during his childhood.


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

While it has elements of foster care and family dysfunctionality, in the end, it's a "coming of age" story it's American. Readers can just enjoy and see the outcome and do nothing or voice their concerns about child welfare in the America or share their story.  


7.    What inspired you to be a writer?

The need for therapy and to make sense of life.


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

Having someone read my book and the least not having a pen when I get an idea.


9.    Who are some of your favorite authors?

Piri Thomas and James Baldwin


10.    If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of the main character? (Actor can be ANYONE, living or dead.)

I would cast someone new an unknown but maybe Samuel L. Jackson can play Javier's father.


11.    Are you working on anything right now?

I had my first book event at Shanghai Comic Con , and I hope to have more. I am also working on the Spanish version of Life of a Bastard.


12.    And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature? 
For the future of Latino literature, we need more visibility, bloggers to review books, making sure our children have good reading habits, diverse stories, and more writers.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Review: THE ANGEL OF A MADMAN by Ricky Dragoni

In the dusty desert town of Pecos New Mexico, a unique and strange friendship blossoms. Bracket a self-proclaimed intergalactic spy encounters Gabriel. Gabriel, a world traveler, has returned home after a family tragedy and is now looking for hope in the bottom of the bottle.
The desert and its majestic mesas bear witness to a grand escape, and what is to be a friendship for the ages. Experience this tale through both unique perspectives; the intergalactic science fiction prism of Bracket’s reality, and Gabriel’s grip on the sad realities of life.
Be part of this journey of friendship, self-realization and the healing of a broken mind. As we explore the beautiful depths of the human intellect and what it can truly achieve.

Reviewed by: Margo
Rating: 3.5 stars


Review: Bracket is his codename. After escaping from prison, he recounts his treacherous road through the deserted jungles. Then he meets up with Gabriel, a self-loathing man drowning in his sorrows.  The possibility of an escaped intergalactic spy running into a run-of-the-mill joe is pretty unlikely and far-fetched. I mean, what could they have in common? It’s like pairing up Rambo with Waldo.

Through the eyes of these two men, reader becomes familiar with their pain and history. I found Gabriel’s story much more endearing.

Infused with lovely words of New Mexico landscapes, Dragoni penned a story of tragedy and penance. His style is dark and poetic, which accurately reflected the emotional frailties and struggles of the characters. The pace lagged in some areas, and, at some point, I wondered if one of these characters was dead. For example, when Bracket first meets Gabriel, Bracket is surprised that he could see him because he was but a “human.” What could he have meant by this? Was he an alien from outer space or a fallen soldier that died in battle? This might have added a little mystery to the mix, but it was perplexing nonetheless. It feels like the story almost crosses over into a ghostly plane of existence.

Still, the story retains its well-written message of hope and strength. Readers will be impressed by this work’s massive feat of beauty and strength.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Q&A with Ricky Dragoni

Originally from Puerto Rico, Ricky Dragoni  spent half of his life in the United States. His true passions are writing and cooking. His favorite authors include Edgar Allan Poe and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. From an early age, he started writing poetry and short stories, and his books are born out of the nightmares of his mind and melded with his life experiences. He would describe his books as reality sprinkled with a good magical dose of faerie dust and hopes they can be entertaining and make the reader think.

1.       What inspired you to write The Angel of a MadMan?

I wanted to do my part in encouraging an honest conversation regarding mental illness.  Just before I started writing it, two local middle schoolers committed suicide as well as Robin Williams.  Everyone seemed eager to talk about mental illness, then Kim Kardashian got naked on the cover of Paper magazine and everyone forgot about the conversation.  I understand it is hard to talk about mental illness during a time of tragedy, so I wanted the book to open the conversation to focus on the everyday, the funny, the brilliant, the sad, the scary and the human part of mental illness.


2.       Upon first meeting, why was Bracket so surprised that Gabriel could see him?

Bracket believes he can become invisible.  He rationalizes the failure of his “powers” at the convenience store, but with Gabriel he doesn’t quite have an answer.  It is the beginning of his anchoring back to reality.



3.       What did Bracket and Gabriel provide for each other?

Friendship, support, and the belief in each other.  Even though they looked at the world through incredibly different prisms they believed in each other.  Sometimes in life that is what we need the most.


4.       What did each character achieve in the end?

Even though the end is bitter sweet, each character got the opportunity to redeem themselves. 


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

Mental illness, grieving and stigma associated with the mentally ill.  If you look through history some of the most brilliant minds, whether scientific or artistic, would be considered mentally ill.  If we can stop looking at mental illness as someone being broken, and instead looking at is as someone experiencing life through a different prism, I think the conversation could finally advance beyond prayers during times of tragedy.



6.       In the end, who was the angel and who was the madman?

Wouldn’t you like to know? LOL. The reality is that we all have a little madness inside of us and we can all be an angel to someone else.


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

I want the reader to know that whether it is mental illness or dealing with the loss of someone we love, they are not alone.  We all go through it and it is ok.  No matter how lost a situation might seem there is always light at the end of the tunnel and a chance for redemption and happiness.



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

I love being able to express my ideas through my imagination and hopefully make a positive impact on the world.  I love being able to spend quality time with my kids.  I love the feeling of being able to be happy following my passion.

What I like the least?   The uncertainty of when the paycheck is coming.  Having worked in the corporate world for over 12 years and having the stability of a paycheck, it has been an adjustment on how the literary world works.


9.       Who are some of your favorite authors?

Edgar Allan Poe, love his short stories, they are not only entertaining but they keep you thinking for days.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a big influence as well during my formative years.  Current authors I enjoy Simon Green’s Nightside series, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Dean Koontz, I am partial to the Odd Thomas books and Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake Vampire hunter series.


10.   If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of the main characters? (Actor can be ANYONE, living or dead.)

For Gabriel there is no question, it would be Gabriel Iglesias also known as “Fluffy.  I went to his show around that time and he talked a lot about the passing of his mom.  It was a huge influence and inspiration for the character.  Bracket I would love if Don Cheadle would play him.  He is an amazing actor and I could see him being able to play an outlandish character yet keeping the kindness and humanity in his eyes. 


11.   Are you working on anything right now?

Yes, I am working on “The Swift” It is a dark story, along the same vein as “I am Legend” but with different creepy crawler monsters.  It is a post-apocalyptic survival story but with a huge twist in the end.  That is all I can say right now without giving too much away.

I am also working on Tommy Jones, a young adult series which I am writing with my 13 year old, Lorenzo.


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

I think the sky is the limit.  Many of us get exposed to so many kinds of different literatures, whether American, Hispano-American, European and the local ones from our countries that it polishes us as authors and writers.  I think we need to keep writing from our unique and interesting perspectives.  Soon the days of Gabriel Garcia Marquez being the only well-known international Latino author would be a thing of the past, and the Ramirez, Dragoni and Santiago will be as common as Koontz, King and Rice.