Novel backdrop: Family Social Clubs

theatlanticcities.comThe other day a new acquaintance in my life asked me if I knew about social clubs. Did I? I sure did and was proud of it! This woman is a couple of years older than I am. I imagined looking up to her as the idealized “teenager” when I was still an achingly shy kid. She went on to reminisce and share how she missed going in for a beer or two and for the camaraderie only obtained with family and close friends. She said she can’t find any in Park Slope anymore. What had been easy to come by went out when high priced rents rolled in. A community, my community, was changed.

Social clubs, especially family owned, were popular in the fifties, sixties and seventies. Club membership could include athletics and games. In my family’s case the sport was softball played in Prospect Park and domino tournaments. Winning teams were sent on a trip to Puerto Rico by sponsoring beer companies such as Miller and they also received shiny trophies. We lined the mantel over the fireplace with proof of where my Pop was most evenings.

Julia Acevedo, the star of my novel, Covering the Sun with My Hand, goes to pick up her “Papi” at “the club.” She goes there to alert him that her mother is ill but sometimes she goes because he needs a reminder that he has “a home to go to.” Some of my earliest memories and pictures are of the family social clubs where I spent many of my childhood years. The club was usually a barren storefront filled with a billiard table, jukebox, and tables and chairs. A corner was usually emptied for the band that played on the weekends for dances, Valentine’s Day or a wedding. A bar took up the expanse of a wall and housed bottles of all types of liquor. There was refrigerator filled with beer. Budweiser, Miller High Life, Schafer and Rolling Rock.

Sounds of music blaring and Dominoes slammed against tables signaling ‘un chivo’ still ring in my ears. The smell of beer coagulated in dark walls of the establishment that promised anonymity. Occasionally the overhead lights would be turned on for a children’s celebration.  A horde of neighborhood kids would storm the club with parents along for a Halloween party. The children’s cheeks were red as the apples they bobbed for in metal buckets. One year my uncle made a scarecrow for another children’s gathering. He also made stilts for me that were somehow ‘lost’ in the club because of my own Mami’s fear that I’d break my neck.


The inclusion of the ‘social club’ scene takes up about half a chapter in the beginning of my novel. But in actuality it takes up a lot more. This is where husbands, brothers, uncles and male cousins spent their evenings after long hours of work. Occasionally wives, mothers, and daughters were invited for dancing, partying and the like. I will never forget the importance the family social club took up in my family. And that’s me, the angel, in the upper left corner with my sister, the nurse, and my cousins and friends!


Interview with German William Cabassa Barber

German William Cabassa Barber

I’m happy to introduce German William Cabassa Barber. He is the author of “Cazadores de Libros Perdidos: EL DIARIO DE BETANCES” (Hunters of Lost Books: THE DIARY OF BETANCES”) soon to be published by Aignos Publishing. His literary energy seems inexhaustible. I’m looking forward to reading more by this very promising author!

What is your genre and your intended audience?

My genre in this book is adventure, and my audience is every one that wants to read a good book, but in the beginning it was my people, the Puerto Ricans, both young and old fellows, because the book can be enjoyed by both. The book was made also with the intention of bringing our literature to the level of Europe, without losing our identity. You know, to have our own “great saga” that inspires other Latin America fellows to create great stories with national elements, such as historical figures or places. Some people describe the book like “Indiana Jones meets The Ninth Gate set in Puerto Rico.” Other people say that is the most original piece of Literature that they have read. You will tell me.

What are you currently writing?

Well, that one is complex, I am writing many books and searching for a publisher for at least other twenty books, but to answer your question with a concrete answer I will tell you some titles: I am writing “La Transformación” (The Transformation) with my friend Carol Cruzado Roman, that novel tells the story of an FBI agent that awakens from amnesia from a one year coma after an assassination attempt that ended up in a horrifying car accident. He must now recover his life and search for one of the most successful assassins in the history of New York, called “The Invisible Man,” that for four years has been killing all the members of the Ruiz family in the state. The story is a garden of mysteries and lies that Andres (main character) must discover in order to survive and recover his true life and the love of his live. This book is based upon a dream of Cruzado.

Talking about dreams, another book that I am working on is “El Pacto con Hathor” (A PACT with HATHOR),this one is based upon a dream I had and tells the story of Seth and Geth, two half-brothers that are in love with the same girl back in the time of the Ancient Egypt. After the sudden death of the girl, one of them makes a pact with the Egyptian god of love to keep returning to life to find her in order to be happy, but his brother won`t stop at anything to possess what he desires.  He also make a pact but with a different deal. The story brings us from ancient Egypt passing through the centuries to the present times in which this story will end…for now.

I am also working on a novel about a Latter Day Saint New York Detective that has abandoned the church because he has fallen in love with a sensual schizophrenic girl called Tatiana. After all he does with her, that costs him to be excommunicated from the church, she leaves him and disappears for a year. When the detective is trying to go back to where he was, the girl returns and the crimes of a diabolical, but creative, assassin that calls himself, The Artist will change his plans and put the agent to the test one last time. This novel is called “El asesino que no podía dejar de reír” (The Murderer Who Couldn`t Stop laughing”)

Then I am writing a story for all my sons and daughters (I have my own private army, that`s a joke) about family values and a big sister trying to help his working mother raise the little ones, this is called “Hermana para dos” (“Sister for two” or alternatively Play it again, Sister”)

Also I am “finishing” or most precisely “Editing” or co-authoring, (who knows how to call it?)  my father`s only novel (he tells short stories that I later write) called “28 dias en el infierno” (28 days in Hell: a Christian Novel). This story is probably my favorite. It’s about a man that has lost faith and moves way from the church “losing” everything that God has once given him. An illness makes him search for all that he has once lost. This is kind of a traditional story, it’s like his own version of  “A Christmas Carol” because it has a powerful lesson at the end. Finally, a TRILOGY of novels for my beloved wife Sheila Marie Vega Veléz  this are called “El Amor duele” (Love Hurts), “La Beutishan” (The Beautician) and El diary Perdido (The Lost Diary) . I think that`s ok for now. Don`t want to get you bored.

When do you make time to write?

I work and study and have a wife and some very intelligent kids that need a lot from me. All of them are first, but frankly at any moment I am not with them, especially before going to sleep.

What would you have done differently in your writing life? If anything at all?

Be more mature in my early novels and not trust everyone. But I am good with myself:  I do not use bad words and do not use only one style or writing about only one theme, in other worlds I like being “universal”.

Tell us about your marketing strategy.

That`s more complex. I use e-mails, Facebook, and also YouTube, web pages, festivals that may fit with the theme, talking to professors and university. One of the things I like to do is to make trailers of the book that looks like movies. That`s fascinating for me. But the editorial also is important, they point the way.

Does your spiritual or political life influence your writing? If so, how?

Yes, I was raised Latter Day Saint, and that make my characters kind of different but not perfect. They do not live in Utah and go to church every Sunday. They are imperfect characters that learn from the situations of life. They fall, they learn, they rise and they know when to walk way, like the Batman of Christopher Nolan. In this book, I deal a lot with political issues but I try not to torment the readers with it. The same with history, the book deal a lot with it, but is not a History Book. It’s a novel about an important historical Figure and is about kids recovering their own history. Ramón Emeterio Betances is the father of all of us (The Puerto Ricans)… this book is a good book that united us.

Do you have a particular theoretical foundation that keeps you afloat?

Yes. The Holy Trinity: Write about the things you like, write of the things you think a book should be about and write about your personal experience- the experiences you would like to have and the ones you won`t want to have. This makes for a good canon.

What would you like to see in your literary community?

Yes, second Holy Trinity: Discussion, I want people to talk about my book, that people want to know more about it, that people ask for more books, and that they like the idea of a movie or a TV series.  Also, I like to inspire to make similar books in their own country.

This is a little about the book:

“Joe” and Mila have a very peculiar pastime for some young people of our time. They are dedicated to finding, rediscovery and sales of old and strange “lost books.” They are hunters. Their lives change dramatically when one of his clients Endecha, is involved in the reading of a will, which reveals the existence one of the most fascinating books in the history of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean of the nineteenth century: The Doctor’s Journal Ramón Emeterio Betances and Alacán. Together “Joe”, Mila and Endecha are in a race against time to seize it before the book end in the wrong hands, such as those of its greatest rival, a collector who will stop at nothing: Ámel .

Hunters Lost Books: THE DIARY OF BETANCES.

El Diario de Betances

German Cabassa William Barber was born in Mayagüez and raised in Cabo Rojo, is a student in Higher Education in History, Inter American University in San Germán campus. He has devoted much time and effort to Hunters Lost Books series, which is to bring the literature of Puerto Rico at European level without losing our identity. This novel promises to be a truly international phenomenon.



Interview with Author Sarah Cortez

Sarah Cortez has numerous poems anthologized here and in Europe.  Winner of the PEN Texas Literary Award in poetry, her debut collection is entitled How to Undress a Cop.  One of her poems recently placed in the annual contest of Rattle: Poetry for the 21st Century.  An award-winning anthologist of five volumes, her most recent is You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens for Arte Público Press.

What was the motivating factor that started you writing?

From an early age, I was convinced that being a writer was the coolest occupation under the sun—with the exception of being a soldier. Reading was introduced to me at an early age, and I adored the magic of fictional stories.

What is your genre and who is your intended audience?

I write and have been published in almost all genres: fiction, poetry, prose [including personal essay, memoir essay (a type of personal essay], journalistic pieces, academic pieces, prayers, etc.  The intended audiences differ depending upon the publisher.  I write for the adult market, the young adult or teen market, the academic market, the blue collar market, the literary market, etc.  You might also look at markets in terms of literary vs. popular, rather than looking at age ranges, but I believe that the false distinction between “literary” and “popular” is being seen as such by many perceptive readers.

A large part of what I write is poetry.  You can see an example on my website at   

I also write and edit a lot of crime fiction or mystery.  In fact, the last three anthologies I’ve edited (selected the stories, then worked with the authors to get them in publishable form) are in crime fiction:  “Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery,”  “Indian Country Noir,” and “You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens.”  The publishers are Arte Público Press (Houston) and Akashic Books (Brooklyn).


What are you currently writing?

Currently, I am writing several pieces.  I have two personal essays I am working on for national distribution.  I am also working on a book of poetry lessons for the intermediate and/or advanced poet.  The other items on my agenda include book proposals for my next three books.

How do you make time to write?

Oh, gosh, this is a difficult question to answer.  Since I have my own freelance editing/consulting business, AND I also teach classes in advanced poetry, as well as in memoir, there is precious little time for me to write my own work.  In fact, the only reason I finished a poetry ms. that I had been working on for eleven years was that I broke a bone in my foot last summer and, thus, was confined to bed.  This old-fashioned “confinement” allowed me to spend hours a day working on poems.  In fact, one of the ones I wrote just recently placed as a semi-finalist in the annual contest of Rattle: Poetry for the 21st Century.  They told me that it was chosen as one of twenty out of 6,000 poems for that distinction.

What inspires you to write, other than fame and fortune?

I would say that “fame and fortune” have never inspired me to write.  I write to communicate with an audience.  I write to try to put something that is basically ineffable onto the written page.

What would you have done differently in your writing life, if anything at all?

I can’t think of any major decision that I would change.

Tell us about your marketing strategy.

It’s fascinating that we authors now live in an age where we are expected to know the marketplace and maneuver within it in ways that will both sell books and “sell” ourselves.  Many writers prefer to look with disdain upon the marketing aspect of writing, perhaps because they feel that writing is an art form and they don’t wish to sully their art.  However, none of us who are currently producing have the luxury of knowing whether we produce art or something that will be eminently forgettable.  In other words, others will decide after we die if what we wrote is “art” or not.

I feel that if a writer’s goal is communication, then he/she doesn’t have the luxury of saying that he/she won’t help market books.

With that said, I feel that the foundation of a marketing strategy is to produce excellent and brilliant work.  (In the final analysis, the work must stand on its own.)  Once an author produces a high quality product, then he/she must use any and all tools to let people know about the work:  book readings/signings, visits to universities/schools, speeches, presentations, chairing panels at academic conferences, sending out a newsletter, etc, etc.  Each author will have certain activities that they are in a unique position to do.  You must do it all.

Does your spiritual life influence your writing? If so, how?

My spiritual life is the cornerstone and anchor of everything in my life, including my creative life in writing and teaching.

What’s your literary community’s burning desire?

I have so many different literary communities that this is a difficult question to answer.  I do a lot of work with middle school and high school kids to connect them with the power and joy of writing.  If I could wave a magic wand, I would give to this particular literary community the gift of intellectual curiosity—the desire to keep learning more and more and more about everything they encounter.

I also work with many fine advanced and intermediate literary poets.  If I had a magic wand, I would give them each an impeccable ear for hearing the breath, intonation, and effect of each syllable of a poem.

It is my pleasure to work with many memoir writers, from beginning to advanced.  Here, my magic wand would be for confidence in their hard-won wisdom already attained and the persistence to find the perfect words to capture it on the page in a fresh and unpredictable way.

My most prized community, however, is my law enforcement community.  I have been a police officer for sixteen years and took a crippling pay cut to change from the corporate world to the law enforcement world.  For this literary community, I would give them continued courage to communicate their vision and vocation.  You see, because so many loud-mouthed people in America like to praise and protect criminals, it is easy to become discouraged and feel that there aren’t too many decent, law-abiding folks left—which isn’t true.  But because the social misfits are always louder than the decent people, they steal the show.  Yes, I would give this community the steadfastness of vision amid the social chaos of our contemporary society.

And, finally, to those readers you might have who desire to become writers, I would give persistence.  I have been studying writing for almost twenty-five years.  I’ve had good teachers and bad; I’ve had shining opportunities and depressing rejections; I’ve had glorious promises come to naught and chance meetings with strangers open doors into amazing opportunities.    And, just recently, I had a ms. of my own accepted for publication that had sat in a drawer untouched for almost eight years.  If you truly wish to become a writer—a good writer—you must be in it for the long haul, study hard, find good teachers or mentors, and work at each piece of writing until it is “perfect.”

I hope you’ll visit my website, Theresa.


I’ve been to your site, Sarah, and I can’t decide which book to choose next! I’ve read Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery (Arte Público Press) and Indian Country Noir (Akashic Books) – both that you co-edited with Liz Martinez.  The writings are evocative and the stories are told in a language that speaks to my heart. I think that my next selection will be Urban Speak: Poetry of the City. I’m making a Christmas list with your titles on it!

I thank you for visiting and sharing your experience as a writer and service oriented individual on my blog. Mostly, I thank you for your tireless efforts in fulfilling a vision that includes helping others that have sparks of creativity to build a fire that roars with the telling of their stories – all meant to be shared in this world, at this time.  This was an honor for me.