Wednesday, December 23, 2015

#BoTB Results: Band Aid vs USA for Africa

So sorry to be late with the results, everyone. It's been crazy days.

I'm still processing this result. Honestly, I expected USA for Africa to win by a landslide. But I'm (very, very) pleased to announce that IT DIDN'T HAPPEN:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

#BoTB: The Christmas Special

If you grew up in the 80's, chances are you already have a favorite in this Battle of the Bands.

First up: 25 November 1984, Bob Geldof's Band Aid records Do They Know It's Christmas to raise funds for Ethiopia. (WARNING: tough, tough images.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

#BoTB Results: ZZ Top vs Paul Rodgers on 'I Thank You'

Wow. I was really really not expecting this. Okay, let me start by saying I'd never heard of Paul Rodgers. And, also, I love ZZ Top. Not all their stuff—I don't even know all their stuff—but... well, enough of their songs have a place on my Anthem List. And my Feel-Good List. So... yeah, I thought this would be a shut-out.

Surprise, surprise...

ZZ Top: 11 

Paul Rodgers: 10

Elliptical Man

Yeah. Wow.

The other thing I thought was that my vote would go to ZZ Top. I love their rendition of I Thank You. Love, love, LOVE it. It makes me dance every time. It makes me happy.

But, like I said, I hadn't listened to the Paul Rodgers version. And, like I heard from many of the comments y'all left here, it blew me away.

So... My vote goes to Paul. Which makes this battle a tie. After all the see-sawing (one vote for ZZ, one vote for Paul, one vote for ZZ, two votes for Paul, two more for ZZ...), maybe this is the fairest of all possible results. But I sure hate the responsibility of making that happen. The only thing I'd have hated more would've been to be the one to break the tie. So thanks for not letting that happen :)

See y'all on the 15th! (And apologies for the late posting... Not sure what happened to yesterday. One minute it was Monday and then... it wasn't.)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Elevate Your Pitch!

Now that November is over, it's time to start editing the hell out of that NaNo manuscript. Getting rid of all the plot bunnies, the useless (yes, even if fun) tangents, the darlings and the indulgently purple prose.

And nothing helps focus on—even discover—the core of your novel like a cut-'em-to-the-bone pitch. Which is why Samantha Redstreake Geary, spectacular author and freelance writer for the music industry, has opened the Elevate Your Pitch competition.

Got a novel? Whether it's this year's NaNo project or something you've been working for longer than 30 days (and nights), you probably know that it's going to get nowhere without a brilliant elevator pitch.

What is an elevator pitch?
The way writers convey the promise of what reading their book will deliver on.
(paraphrased from Chuck Sambuchino @ WD)

He follows that with a tidbit of magic to illustrate:

"An unforgettable novel about finding a piece of yourself in someone else."
~ And The Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini

Think of the pitch as the teaser trailer to your book. You have 20 seconds to hook a potential reader; how will you do it?

The best part: for this contest, you get to do it with music (like the pros!). Sam's providing all tracks of the Elevation album on the contest page—and if these awesome pieces don't inspire you to take your pitch to the next level, nothing will.

So go for it. Take a listen to the Elevation tracks, choose one that feels right for your manuscript, polish that pitch (max 3 sentences!), and submit via the comments form. Remember to mention which of the tracks you chose, so the judges can listen to it while reading.

Speaking of judges, I'm one of them—and I'm in excellent company, with author Amy Willoughby-Burle and Really Slow Motion director Agus González-Lancharro. Contest is open from now until January 8th, and prizes include:

— For the top three favorite pitches, digital copies of the Elevation album and of The Miracle of Small Things
One lucky overall winner will receive a gratis license to one of the Elevation tracks for use in a book trailer, and a signed paperback of The Miracle of Small Things

Sound cool? Sign up here! (And check the contest site for guidelines.)

If, for whatever reason, you're not ready to participate, you might still want to follow along; several guests and judges will be providing pitch-rocking tips while the competition runs. (And Sam's blog is totally worth following anyway, for content and visuals. And music.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

#BoTB: I Thank You (1979 vs 2014)

I'm still working through the whole gratitude thing...

The original belongs to Sam & Dave, American tenor and baritone (respectively) duo popular in the late 60's. I Thank You is from 1968, year that marked the beginning of the decline that ended with their split in1970.

ZZ Top covered it in 1979, to incredible success in spite of the change in genre. Show us how it's done, ZZ:

Bonus: this version comes with the lyrics.

And then, just last year, Paul Rodgers included it in his album The Royal Sessions, ten covers of soul, R&B, and blues (some good ones for future battles, y'all). Paul was named one of the top 100 singers by Rolling Stone (No. 55, to be exact), so I'm hoping he can give ZZ Top a good run for their money. Plus, Paul's version takes the song back to its soul roots...

Or this version, if the other one doesn't play (thanks for letting me know, Dixie!)

There you have it, folks. Who did it better? Who sucks less? Which of these would be more likely to find their way to your iPod? Which wouldn't you be caught dead listening to? Come back next Monday (7th) to check how the votes played out.

Thanks so much for the visit, all. Seriously.

You didn't have to love me like you did
but you did, but you did
and I thank you...

Enjoyed this? Go check out the other BoTB participants... Some epic battles being fought today. And thanks, as always, to FAE and Stephen for keeping the BoTB going.

Monday, November 30, 2015

"... in the grace of the world..." (and the close of the #MiracleTour)

Of course Wendell had to be a dog lover. Of course.

In the spirit of this month's gratitude zeitgeist, here is a tiny beauty from poet Wendell Berry:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

"... in the grace of the world..." That line gives me goosebumps. There is so much gorgeousness around us, so much to be grateful for, and so much of it we miss because we're too busy with larger concerns, with the big picture, worried about things that will never happen, things we can't control—and, yet, things that would never be a concern if we all devoted our time to "the peace of wild things".

This year has taught me a lot, far beyond what I expected, what I even imagined. Today is the close of the MIRACLE tour, and awesome friend and blogger Damyanti Biswas is hosting me on her blog to talk about these unexpected lessons—of which perhaps the greatest is precisely this: Gratitude. To you.

Thank you. You've made an enormous difference in my life. From now on, every day, no matter where I am or what I'm doing, you'll be in my thoughts. Because you cared, because you had a kind word for me, because you went above and beyond (even though you may not realize you did... even though you didn't really know me).

I will never forget that.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Weekend #MiracleTour Stop: That Annoying Animal Advocate

I'm over at Michele Truhlik's awesome blog this weekend, on the next-to-last post for the MIRACLE tour, talking about the pitfalls of animal advocacy in fiction... And the work-around I found — at least I think I found. Readers will tell :) I'd love it if you came by to say hi, and to help me shower Michele with love and gratitude for being such a wonderful hostess.

Happy Saturday!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Gratitude is my religion

Join the Gratitude Circle!

I don't believe in much of anything, having grown up an atheist. Religion — of any kind — doesn't make sense to me. Neither does life after death, or the promise of rewards (or punishment) in some place beyond this world. I don't believe in a higher power, a mover and shaker that makes things happen or not happen. I don't believe in prophets or prophecies, or in angels, or in absolute good or absolute evil.

But I do believe in gratitude. I believe it's the single most powerful force we can harness to change the world. It's more powerful than hate, or fear, or even love. Gratitude is what makes a life worth living.

Which is why I love Thanksgiving.

No, we don't celebrate it in Mexico, or here in Curaçao, or pretty much anywhere else in the world other than the U.S. (and Canada, on a different date)—but we should. Actually, we should celebrate it much more often than once a year. Like every day.

We have so much to be grateful. All of us. There is beauty and wisdom and goodness and brilliance in every moment we're alive. Pain and helplessness and disappointment and fear and loss are also blessings; there can be no positive without a negative.

It's so easy to let the big stuff get in the way... It absorbs so much space, so much energy. But the choice is yours. I believe looking at the "big picture" may be a mistake. It's in the small things, the little pleasures and tiny details that surround me, that I've found the greatest joy.

Happy Thanksgiving. Today, and every day.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Mexico Trip (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

The Plan was as follows:

- Fly out of Mexico City at 8 am, get into Miami at 11 am.
- Seven-hour layover in Miami. (I had a really great book to look forward to.)
- Leave Miami at 6:30 pm, get into Curaçao at 10 pm.

Inconvenient, with that incredibly long layover, but no more so than I'm used to.

And it all went according to plan. Until the last part. And it ended with me not sleeping (or changing clothes, eww) for over 48 hours.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

#BoTB Results: The Battle of the Genres (Ranchera vs Norteño)

It really did look like a slam-dunk there for a bit... Pepe Aguilar was keeping the Norteño guys down and wouldn't let them up for even a wild swing. And then there was hope... The band got in a couple of good punches, Pepe faltered—but, in the end, it just wasn't enough.

The winner: Pepe Aguilar

Pepe Aguilar (9)

Poder del Norte (6)

My vote? Dang... I forgot about that. Not that it would make a shred of difference either way... This is a hard one. The Aguilar version is charged with emotional context for me. Norteño music, in general, is not (again, for me). But if I stick to this which cantina would you rule I seem to have imposed on this battle, then the answer is the Poder del Norte dudes. So. Final tally is Aguilar with 9 votes, and the band guys with 7.

Not bad for what looked like a shut-out, eh?

They say it's impossible to please everyone all of the time, but—being the contrary soul I am—I'm still going to try. Here's Pepe Aguilar, plus daughter and son, singing a Norteño potpourri. On MTV Unplugged, no less.

Happy weekend, y'all!

(I'll be back tomorrow with Part II of the Mexico trip... Just haven't had time to finish that one. And on Monday, if you're in the neighborhood, I'll be up at Yolanda Renee's blog talking about indie presses, and I'd love it if you came by to say hi. No, seriously, I would.)

Monday, November 16, 2015

#BooktagsBlogHop: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

About the Author
About the Book

I just finished reading this one yesterday. At 4:00 am. Yes, it was that good. I've been hooked onto short stories since I happened, completely by accident, upon a collection of Roald Dahl's adult (and oh-so-twisted) short stories. I was thirteen. And I'd never be the same again.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

#BoTB: Por Mujeres Como Tú (aka The Mexican Chauvinist Anthem)

Welcome to another Battle of The Bands! Get your sombreros and your bottle of tequila, because it doesn't get any more Mexican than this.

Us Mexicans, we take the sombrero very seriously.

When I say serenade, what's the image that comes first into your head?

a) Moonlit night, starry-eyed Juliet on her balcony, starry-eyed Romeo below singing sweet songs of everlasting love with a soulful guitar?

b) A broken-hearted drunk with his staggering-drunk buddies shouting up abuse at an empty balcony?

A, right? Of course. That's the image perpetuated by Tom & Jerry and black & white movies of the 1940's. And, in truth, it can be like that.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Amid the chaos, let *your* voice be one of reason.

"Who would you be, if the world never gave you a label? Never gave you a box to check? Would you be white, black, Mexican, Asian, Native American, Middle Eastern, Indian? No. We would be one. We would be together."

Labels are at the root of the world's worst evils today. And they need to stop.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Mexico Trip (The Gory Details)

Divi-Divi airlines. (No, these don't fly to Miami.)

I've mentioned before that traveling from Curaçao is never a simple matter... It can be, if you're going to Caracas or Bogotá. Or Miami. Or Amsterdam. Or Dominican Republic. Or Bonaire. Or St. Maarten. Or Aruba. Or, nowadays—thank you, JetBlue!—New York City.

But not Mexico.

To the point that once I received an itinerary from a travel agent helping me with my trip (this was years ago, before online booking caught on) suggesting that I travel from Curaçao—in the Caribbean—to Mexico—North America—via Charles de Gaulle. Yeah. The Paris airport. You know. Paris, Europe.

(That's a good story. Remind me to tell it to you some day.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Driving Licenses: Mexico vs. Curaçao (+ The Metaphor of Prison, c/o @ArleeBird )

So. The Mexico trip. Man, that was a fiasco. I mean, it's not easy to travel anywhere from Curaçao. Even direct flights come with delays and cancellations and whatnot. But I've never had as much trouble going to and from Mexico as this time. I'm even down with a weird cold/flu virus since Sunday—and I blame the night I spent on the carpet at the Miami airport.

12:30 am Saturday morning, relaxing with a guilty-pleasure novel on the comfy carpet at MIA International.

Before I go into the gory details, let me tell you I'm over at Tossing It Out today, care of blogosphere's marvelous Arlee Bird, talking about prisons: of the mind, the soul, and the flesh. It's the latest stop for the MIRACLE tour in blogs, after a celebration of the book's quirkiness over at Corinne Rodrigues's place last week, and then the crazy author vs character interview argument that ended with me apologizing and Luis Villalobos in maudlin tears over at The Doglady's Den this past Monday.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Author vs Character @DebbieDoglady: Bring it on, Luis Villalobos!

This stop in the MIRACLE Tour in Blogs turned out a tad, uhm... emotional. It had to do with MacArthur Park, the song Debbie chose for her last Battle of The Bands—and one which has special meaning for Luis Villalobos, protagonist of THE MIRACLE OF SMALL THINGS. Emotional, teary meaning. And we'd love to see you over there, if you have a minute.

So. Inquiring minds want to know? A guy that cries with a Disco song. Is he a wuss, or a darling?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

#BoTB Results: La Llorona (Chabela Vargas vs. Lila Downs)

When I thought up this battle, back at the beginning of October when everyone was talking about Halloween, I made what turned out to be some pretty inexact predictions:

Prediction No. 1 (and I almost didn't do this Battle because of it):
Everyone—okay, at least the great majority of BoTB-ers—is going to hate this Battle.

Reality: not only didn't you guys hate it, but even loved it (with a few exceptions, which make the "Love It" ones all the more believable).

Prediction No. 2 
Sure, I'll be in Mexico Nov. 1, but my mom's place has internet... Nothing to worry about.

Reality: Internet sucks in Mexico. Not only is public wi-fi a rarity, but even in places where you get a password (usually one of those interminable 0ES45J2100KM5R443BE codes, impossible not to mess up), some devices just won't connect. Either the signal is not strong enough, or the router is set up with some sort of firewall that keeps out certain devices (my MacBook always has problems), or, when I did connect, YouTube videos took forever to load, and then refused to play.

Prediction No. 3
Lila's going to leave Chabela in the dirt.

Friday, November 6, 2015

On Quirks & Books, & Books With Quirks... #MIRACLEtour

The MIRACLE tour continues! I'm over at Corinne Rodrigues's blog talking about the quirks in THE MIRACLE OF SMALL THINGS. Take a hop over, if you get the chance... I'd love to know what you think.

Thank you so much for hosting me, Corinne!

P.S. — I'm flying back home today, so I'll be back online by Saturday morning. I'm so, so sorry for the BoTB posts I missed... I'll find a way to make it up to you guys.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

#BoTB — Día de Muertos special: Llorona

The Mexican fascination — some would say 'obsession' — with death dates back to before the European encounter. Most pre-Columbine civilizations had beliefs based on the concept of duality (twins, for instance, were considered sacred, as were homosexuals and hermaphrodites in many of these cultures)... And nothing embodies the essence of duality like life and death.

Mictlantecuhtli, god of the underworld (or Mictlan). Sculpted in raw clay in life size. Found in a building dedicated to the cult of death at El Zapotal, La Mixtequilla, in the Mexican state of Veracruz.
Photo: Carlos Blanco / Raíces / Arqueología Mexicana

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Live Interview All Weekend! #MIRACLEtour via @Desertwriter

This is a tour stop like no other... Author Bob Sanchez is interviewing me, live, all weekend. Take a hop over if you get a chance, drop us a question, and help me get the conversation roaring to thank Bob for his generous hospitality (and his creativity! LOVE this idea!).

Happy weekend!

Friday, October 30, 2015

The First Dozen (A Love Story)

3 houses lived in.
8 dogs adopted.
10+ dogs rescued.
13 puppies raised.
3 puppies adopted. (By accident, sort of.)
100+ books read.
6 companies worked for, combined.
3 serious fights.
3 beautiful reconciliations.
7 amazing trips.
Laughter, far too prevalent to measure.
Love, in bucketfuls. 
And loving every moment of it.
Oct. 30, 2003 - Oct. 30, 2015

The story of how it all began is up at Vidya Sury's wonderful blog today,
Would love to see you there.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

We're celebrating! (With a Tour in Blogs)

THE MIRACLE OF SMALL THINGS is, finally, available as an e-book—and, to celebrate, we're going on tour.  And the inaugural stop is TODAY! Yep, right now, actually. At Sam Redstreake's blog, where we will:

  • share the e-book links (!);
  • talk about the potential music unlocks in fiction (yes, we'd love to hear your thoughts!);
  • announce Sam's newest brainchild, a flash-fiction contest inspired by MIRACLE!

So. See you there?

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Listing Hop!

Happy Monday, and bon siman! 

(That's 'happy week' in Papiamentu, the language of Curaçao—and if you ever do come to Curaçao, make a note: all your greetings on Monday need to be accompanied by that... Under penalty of being classified as another rude foreigner ;) )

Today's the day for Bish Denham's
Make a list. Any list. Sign up at Bish's page and join the fun. Here's mine:

Top ten twenty-two fifteen pieces of writing advice
(in no particular order)

Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.

No. 6 in Neil Gaiman's 8 Rules of Writing

Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

No. 7 on Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Tips to Write a Great Story

Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.

No. 4 in Zadie Smith's 10 Rules of Writing

Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.

No. 10 in Zadie Smith's 10 Rules of Writing

Writing is a little door. Some fantasies, like big pieces of furniture, won’t come through.

From Susan Sontag's thoughts on writing

A writer, like an athlete, must ‘train’ every day. What did I do today to keep in ‘form’?

From Susan Sontag's thoughts on writing

Have moral intelligence — which creates true authority in a writer.

From Susan Sontag's thoughts on writing

You cannot write the pages you love without writing the pages you hate.

Exaggeration is not a way of altering reality but of seeing it. 

Mario Vargas Llosa, History of a Deicide, speaking about Gabriel García Márquez 
(my translation from the Spanish)

Ordinary language is an accretion of lies. The language of literature must be, therefore, the language of transgression, a rupture of individual systems, a shattering of psychic oppression. The only function of literature lies in the uncovering of the self in history.

From Susan Sontag's thoughts on writing

If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

No. 6 of John Steinbeck's 6 Tips on Writing

Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

No. 2 of John Steinbeck's 6 Tips on Writing

You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

No. 7 of Margaret Atwood's 10 Rules of Writing

The more abstract a truth which one wishes to teach, the more one must first entice the senses.

No. 8 of Nietzsche's 10 Rules for Writers

The richness of life reveals itself through a richness of gestures. One must learn to feel everything — the length and retarding of sentences, interpunctuations, the choice of words, the pausing, the sequence of arguments — like gestures.

No. 5 of Nietzsche's 10 Rules for Writers


Hooked? Here's a fabulous compilation of writerly advice, via Brainpickings.

Speaking of writer wisdom, tomorrow I'll be over at Sam Redstreake's awesome blog sharing a pearl of my own on how music helps with writing... 
(With some outrageously wonderful music, of course.)
AAANNNDD — drum roll, please — also to celebrate the e-book release of
Come on over tomorrow and help me thank Sam for hosting me.

Want more lists? You'll find the complete list of Listing Hop List-makers at Bish's page... Hop on over and pay them a visit.

What's your favorite piece of writing advice? Inquiring (list-making) minds would love to know. And I looooove comments :)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Patricia... And the disaster it promises

This is Patricia. As seen from the space station. Somewhere under there is Mexico.

She made landfall this evening at around 6:00 pm, as a category 5 hurricane (190+ mph winds), on the southwest coast of Mexico (Manzanillo, Puerto Vallarta). Its eye was 10 km (6 miles) across... Very small, very dangerous.

Since landfall, it has already weakened to a category 4... But the danger is a long way from being over. It's not about the record-breaking ocean surge, or those 200+ kilometer-per-hour winds. The main concern is rain.

In 48 hours, the area could receive 40% of its yearly rainfall.

And then there's that cold front coming from the north. Which will barrel right onto Patricia as she moves inland.

By all calculations, this is going to be a major, horrible disaster. Because once this monster gets past the coastline, it's going to slam into a huge mountain range (the Sierra Madre Occidental). There will be landslides. There will be floods. There will be whole towns swallowed by mud.

So here's the thing. Mexico appreciates your prayers, and your light- and love-sending. Really, they do. But if you're of the more—uhm, practical kind of mind, please do prepare to help in more realistic ways: contact relief organizations and animal shelters (why is it no one thinks of the animals when cataclysm hits?); contact your local Red Cross and donate blood and whatever supplies you can; organize your community to collect water and non-perishables that can be forwarded to the affected communities; contact authorities to inquire about (and maybe organize) relief actions...

The world is a village. We need each other. Over the coming weeks (hopefully not months), Mexico will need you.

Easy ways to help:

And, on behalf of all Mexico, muchísimas gracias.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

#BoTB Results: The Saints Are Coming (U2 & Green Day vs. Skids)

And yet another super-close battle, guys. Got to say, I was not expecting this result:

U2 & Green Day: 10
Elliptical Man

Skids: 9

I wasn't only not expecting it, I was—more and more fervently, as the days passed and the votes kept coming in—really hoping against it.

Because, you see, at some point during the Battle, I made up my mind to vote for Skids.

Don't get me wrong; I love the U2/Green Day version. I love each band alone, and I love them together; I love that they got together for this song, and for this purpose (Katrina hurricane relief)... and I will listen to their version over the Skids' any day, any time.

So why Skids?

Because it's the original. Aaaand because that original isn't, as several of you pointed out, all that different from the 2006 U2/GD cover. I really do feel that the original didn't get all the love it deserved back in 1978—why doesn't really matter. The song is fantastic, the lyrics are rich and well-crafted, and the music is a great composition.

The question for me boiled down to this: if Skids hadn't composed this song, would U2/GD have produced something similar for their Katrina benefit? I'm forced to answer No... I'm a believer in the magic of artistry and originality.

But what clinched it for me was the fact that two extraordinary bands got together to record something special for a worthy cause and not only chose an existing song but decided to use, basically, the original arrangement as well. I believe that means that both bands respect the Skids version.

Which is why I vote Skids.

And which brings this Battle to a tie.

Well played, Skids. Well played.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

#BoTB: The Saints Are Coming!

Get your earplugs ready, turn the volume down—or up: a good, hard, punk rock song for today's Battle of the Bands!

Most of my generation knows The Saints Are Coming from the U2 / Green Day cover of 2006, recorded to raise funds for Hurricane Katrina relief. But the song is much, much older. It's an original of Scottish punk-rock band Skids, featured on their debut album back in 1979. In November 1978, when the single was first released, the song hit #48 on the UK charts. In 2006, the U2 / Green Day version went all the way up to #1. Was this a belated recognition to an until-then underestimated song? Or did Bono, Billie Joe, & Co. really do it so much better?

Today, YOU decide.

First up: the 2006 #1 hit by U2 and Green Day:

And here is the original Skids version:

It's been just over 10 years since the Katrina tragedy in New Orleans, and just under 17 years since the original single hitting its top spot at #48 on UK charts. Who does it better—or less worse? Is the U2/Green Day ensemble worthy of that #1 spot? Are The Skids deserving of only #48? What do you think? Leave a comment with your thoughts, and come back next week (22nd) to check the final results (along with my own vote).

Other epic Battles are being fought on these blogs. Take a hop over, get your music fix, help decide the face-offs with your vote!

As always, HUGE thanks to Stephen and FAE for their ongoing efforts in keeping BoTB going strong... You guys are wonderful.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The NYC Chronicles: About the Book Launch

It went great. Really, really great — no thanks to me or my novice-ness and general lack of prepared-ness, no. This landmark moment and its success was due entirely to two groups of awesome people:

Dedication page,
The ones who helped make it happen: 
  • fabulous publisher
  • fabulous dushi, to whom the book is dedicated,
  • fabulous Curaçao expats living in NYC who a) invited all their friends and basically shepherded them to the event, and b) introduced me to 
  • fabulous La Casa Azul bookstore owner & staff, and
  • fabulous PR people at the office of the Dutch consulate in NYC, who were beyond instrumental... Let me put it this way: without the DCNY, we would've had a book launch without books; and
  • assorted sites who shared the event, among them an ultra-flattering mention in NYC's Village Voice.

But what's an event—any event, but especially a book launch—without an audience? And we struck gold there.

Our beyond-wonderful audience.

  • friends who came in from as far away as Boston and Texas—and even Curaçao! And exclusively for the launch! Man... oh, man. Thank you doesn't even come close to beginning to cover it...
  • decades-long friends who, having read zero-zilch-nada of my work—and who, given the distance in time, had no real investment in supporting me—showed up anyway, all smiles and enthusiasm and good wishes;
  • ex-colleagues from that other life I once lived in the financial industry—and their friends, from as far away as SPAIN!
  • aforementioned Curaçao expats—a director at the Huffington Post, a director of Sugar Hill Children's Museum, an anthropologist professor at NYU, and a marketing strategist—some of whom showed up with friends, and even visiting Curaçao family;
  • perfect strangers who, somehow, heard about this book launch by an unknown author and not only gave it a shot but participated wholeheartedly in the conversation about this mystery island called Curaçao.

A blast, I tell you. No debut author has a right to expect a show of support at this level.

And then there were all the people who couldn't be there but wanted to, and sent awesome vibes of goodwill and confidence through the airwaves. I'm convinced all those positive thoughts conspired to create a bubble in space/time where nothing could go wrong.

Or, okay, not much could.

We had a moment of panic when the train we were on skipped the 103rd Street stop (a hundred meters from the bookstore). Maybe we got on the wrong train, we thought. The local vs the express or something. So we went on to the next stop (116th), crossed the tracks, and got on a train going back to 103rd — after double-checking this one did, actually, stop at 103rd.

Outside the Dutch consulate
after picking up the books.
(We were still on track, time-wise,
which is why I look so relaxed.)

Instead, 103rd zoomed past our windows while a blurry voice on the intercom said, "We've received confirmation there will be no stops at 103rd due to ongoing construction. The next stop on the line is 86th street."

Shit. Shit.

86th street is seventeen blocks away from 103rd. And it was 5:15; no way we could walk that (even if we hadn't had a suitcase with 50 books to roll along) and make it to the bookstore before 6:00—and even if we did, I certainly wouldn't be in any condition to give a speech—or even say Welcome—before passing out.

(Oh, man. The Speech. Well, we'll get to that.)

So we did the only thing we could: the four of us—my Super Dushi, my friend from Texas and my other friend from Curaçao—piled into a taxi (only later we'd realize how lucky we'd been to find one at 5:15 pm on Lexington... Like I said, good vibes make a huge difference) and high-tailed it—as it were, given rush-hour traffic—to 103rd. Good we knew exactly where we were going (thank you, phone GPS—how did anyone ever get anywhere without you?) because the taxi driver spoke enough English to say thank you and yessir, but not much more.

So we made it, roller suitcase chock-full of books and all, to the bookstore at about 5:40. (Instead of 5:00, as I'd originally planned... What's that saying about plans and god and evil cackling? Yeah.)

And people were already there.

So instead of having a nice moment with Aurora, the bookstore owner, to meet and get to know each other a little bit, or to meet her staff—or even, dammit, to take in the beautiful space and the shelves packed with amazing Latino authors—it was a rush-rush "Nice to meet you. Where do you want the books?" "Yeah, me too. Do you have the consignment form?" "The price's missing." "Where do I need to sign?" "What genre do you want these listed as?" And in between people kept arriving; people I had only traded emails with but never met face to face, people I didn't expect to see, people who had come a long way—whether through time or distance, or both—to support me. So of course that turned into a mass session of interrupted catch-up and introductions and ICAN'TBELIEVEYOU'REHEREs and photos and group hugs...

One of the amazing Curaçao People photos—with, unfortunately, a couple of main players too far back
in the shadows to see properly (and with the Curaçao flag held the wrong way around... we were that excited).
Publisher Matt Potter of Truth Serum Press is the gorgeous guy on the left, back row.

And then Aurora gave me a nudge. "I think it's time."

To Be Continued.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

#BoTB Results: The First Cut Is The Deepest

Wow... Another close one. Judith van Hel (aka nose-ring tattoo princess) started out with a clear, if surprising, advantage, but after a flurry of last-minute votes, The McClymonts caught up. For a while there, it looked like my vote would be the one to either break or make a tie, which I was not looking forward to, haha. This is the tally, sans my vote:

The McClymonts (11)

Judith van Hel (9)
Elliptical Man

My vote goes to Judith; her deeper voice totally did it for me. That would bring her count up to 10, versus The McClymonts' 11. The McC girls won, fair and square, and well deserved; like several people pointed out, the sound they achieved with only three voices and an acoustic guitar is well deserving of this victory. Too sweet, maybe (depending on your taste), but certainly a musical achievement. Congratulations, girls!

See you next week (15th) for another awesome Battle! In the meantime, I leave you with some more saccharine sweetness from the champions... Treat or torture depends on how you voted, I guess :D

Thursday, October 1, 2015

#BoTB: The First Cut Is The Deepest

Welcome back to another session of Battle of The Bands!

The song is probably one of the most well-known tunes in the world: Cat Stevens' The First Cut Is The Deepest. Cat is, of course, NOT in the running, but I found two obscure versions (okay, obscure to me) that sound kinda worth putting up for a face-off. The first interpreters you might actually know, although I didn't — The McClymont girls.

Challenging them is a total unknown singer to me. Straight from The Voice of Germany, I present unto you: Judith van Hel.

Both versions are different from the original, certainly, and in that they're similar, but I thought they brought enough variation between each other to warrant competition. What do you think? Who cut you deepest, the McClymonts or Judith? If you had to put one of these versions on your iPod, which one would you choose? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to get into the ins and outs of why the version you'd choose is better — or less worse — than the other.

When you've done that, hop on over to the other Battles!

Monday, September 21, 2015

#BoTB results: El Rey (José Alfredo Jiménez vs. Maná)

This was way closer than I expected — and the winner was a surprise. Here's the final tally, without my vote:

José Alfredo Jiménez (8)
Robin (& Robin's dad)

Maná (6)

I was fairly certain Maná would win this. Let's face it, the folk music of Mexico is an acquired taste, and a rock/modern vibe can make it more palatable to the "undomesticated" ear. Maná has long been on my yuck list, pretty much for the reasons Stephen mentioned: lack of originality, recycling of bigger and better music, an overly — and overtly — commercial feel to their work, but I make an effort to give credit where credit is due: as I mentioned in a few replies, I do recognize Maná's achievement in bringing a traditional song (originally appealing only to a pretty specific, and thus limited, demographic) to a broader audience. I'm even grateful for it. In many countries, Mexico would still be under the stereotype of big hats and tacos in a basket if it weren't for the international reach Maná has achieved. (Thanks to them it's big hats and tacos in a basket BUT listening to Maná :D )

But I'm beyond pleased by the result. My dislike of Maná has finally, internationally and objectively, if a tad narrowly, been validated :D Thank you for that, guys. And, from the perspective of the BATTLE, I'm really glad it was close. Again, kudos to Maná for winning over so many. And thanks to all who voted, as well, for giving the contenders and their foreign-language singing a listen :)

See you on the 1st!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

#BoTB September 15: VIVA MEXICO!

Today is Mexico's 205th birthday. On the night of September 15th, 1810, a priest by the name of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla called the townspeople of Dolores to arms — and thus began the war for independence from Spain (perhaps not what the Catholic priest intended, but that's a bone for another post).

Traditionally, on the night of Sept. 15th, the president of Mexico reenacts the Grito de Dolores (the "cry of Dolores", aka Mr. Hidalgo's rebel yell) from the presidential balcony in Mexico City. Traditionally, today is Mexico's biggest celebration (Cinco de Mayo, you might be surprised to know, is only a bank holiday for us Mexicans). Traditionally, there's all-you-can-eat mole, all-you-can-listen-to Mariachi; fireworks all night, dancing the Mexican zapateado, and lots and lots of tequila and mezcal (preferrably before the zapateado, seeing as quantity is directly proportional to improvement in dancing style).

Case in point: these good people have consumed a substantial amount of tequila.
Look at those smiles.

This year, however, celebrations will be muted.

September 15th is the day when us Mexicans do our best to remind ourselves the country is more than the politicians and drug lords that run the country; more than the corruption that rules every aspect of life; that we come from a tradition so rich in culture and diversity that it's produced some of the world's most renowned art — painting, sculpture, cinema, weaving, architecture, ceramics, gastronomy... and, of course, music.

This year, Mexico has more to mourn than to celebrate. Perhaps that is a good thing; perhaps, finally, it is the hour for reckoning.  Corruption is rampant in Mexico; more so than ever before. Impunity at all levels is the rule of law. The law itself has become an object of plutocracy... a laughingstock, really. This year it's hard to remember the good stuff. But... how can we save Mexico unless we keep in mind what it is we're saving?

In that spirit, my song for the Battle of the Bands today is a classic of Mexican popular music, one of Mexico's unofficial anthems: El Rey. This is the cantina song par excellence. Every Mexican knows the words (lyrics at the end of the post, along with translation); as a matter of fact, if you don't know the words, you're not Mexican.

First up: the original version by singer/songwriter José Alfredo Jiménez:

The would-be contender is Mexican band Maná, who's single-handedly spread (their version of) Mexican culture way farther, and with way better effectiveness, than the best Mexican diplomats.

I'm really curious to see how the voting turns out for this one, since this face-off is a matter of contention for most Mexicans. I'm hoping that, being that most of this blog's readers are not Mexican, we might get an objective assessment for a change :)

Other awesome battles being fought at the links below — visit them and vote, and join the BoTB fun!

Thanks so much for reading, listening, and voting! I'll post the results next Monday 21st. In the meantime, have an awesome week — and VIVA MEXICO!

El Rey lyrics (English in italics):

Yo sé bien que estoy afuera 
I know only too well I'm out
Pero el día que yo me muera
But the day that I die
Sé que tendrás que llorar
I know you're going to cry
(Llorar y llorar...)
(Cry and cry...)
Dirás que no me quisiste
You'll say you didn't love me
Pero vas a estar muy triste
But you're going to be devastated
Y así te vas a quedar
And that's how you're going to stay

Con dinero y sin dinero
With money or without
Hago siempre lo que quiero
I do always as I please
Y mi palabra es la ley!
And my word is law
No tengo trono ni reina
I have no throne or queen
Ni nadie que me comprenda
Or anyone that understands me
Pero sigo siendo el rey
But I'm still the king

Una piedra en el camino
A stone on the path
Me enseñó que mi destino
Taught me that my destiny
Era rodar y rodar
Is to roll and roll
(Rodar y rodar...)
(Roll and roll)
Después me dijo un arriero
Later a laborer told me
Que no hay que llegar primero
That it's not about arriving first
Pero hay que saber llegar
But about knowing how to arrive

Con dinero y sin dinero
With money or without
Hago siempre lo que quiero
I do always as I please
Y mi palabra es la ley!
And my word is law
No tengo trono ni reina
I have no throne or queen
Ni nadie que me comprenda
Or anyone that understands me
Pero sigo siendo el rey
But I'm still the king
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