Saturday, December 29, 2012

24 Years

   Shelton High School looks much the same as it did the first time I saw it in August of 1988.  At least superficially.  But nothing escapes change.  Everything evolves, and my old school is no exception.  
   I walked on the track, recalling the many times I ran after school at the direction of my coaches.  The cold air echoed the memory of the crowd's roar during football games.  I'm a little part of the field's past, a fact that puts a smile on my face.
   I just finished doing the first set of edits and revisions on a novel that's been 24 years in the making.  The very first few words that marked the beginning of this story were written right on the bleachers of the school's stadium.  Those words were also written in Spanish, my first language.  Through the years, the translations have been compiled into impressions, observations, events, and an endless stream of anecdotes since that first page.  As it turns out, I never finished writing it.  It's a body of work that has undergone as many evolutions as I have in real life.  It is after all based on much of my experience as a teenager starting his life anew in a different country with a much different culture.
   It's been my most difficult piece to commit to the page.
 Personal experience is a writer's fuel.  Everything we write demands a piece of ourselves, and this novel demanded entire parts of my heart and soul, some that I didn't even know I had.
  Even now, two decades later, the trophy cases at the main lobby evoked a series of emotions, and conjured an array of memories that I once thought lost.
   To say that the first book of the My Two Flags series is dear to my heart would be a severe understatement.  Although much of the novel exposes facets of the life I lived, I've gained enough experience to infuse a proper amount of fiction in order to give the story a unique tone; perhaps even a life of its own.  Each character is a conglomeration of people who touched my life, and in many ways, shaped me into who I am today. 
  It took 24 years, not to write this novel in its present form, but to muster the courage to share it.  I'm sure that once it's out there, in the hands of someone else, who may see themselves or someone they knew in the scenes, I may be more at peace with the fact that I willingly placed 24 years of work at the mercy of strangers.  
   In all honesty, I might have lost all perspective, for I'm too close to the story.  I know who in my life inspired whom within its pages, and I can only hope I did an adequate enough job in portraying what they meant in the life of the kid I once was.
   I've never been more torn over presenting something I wrote.  And yet, reliving some of the experiences has given me new levels of understanding about the better person I could be. I pray that 24 years of composing, creating, altering, remembering, and honoring the memories of a life I've been blessed to live, goes on to touch  the lives of those who take the journey with Tony Amaya, and if that person is you, perhaps you know someone like Tony.   
   Maybe one of your parents or grandparents left their countries to give their children a life in America.  Maybe you know a Chris Jawskowski.  Maybe you stood up to a Mrs. Erhoff.  Maybe you've been blessed with the friendship of a Patricia Paris.  Maybe you were a Rex, a Beth, a Derek, a Sean.  Maybe you forged a bond with someone different from you during a common struggle, be it sports, academics, or learning a new language.  
   Maybe you were able to find encouragement from a teacher like Mrs. Gennaro.  Maybe, just maybe, you look back on those four years of high school as the starting point of the person you are today.  

   Javier A. Robayo

Thursday, December 20, 2012


   This is one of those self-addressed posts that we all need once in a while.  I'm hoping to balance being my own worst critic with a small vote of confidence.  And so...

   Talk to any artist about their grand masterpieces and they'll point out all the flaws.  Ask any poet or author whether they've finalized their work, and they'll nod even as they recall that one or two phrases that could be more polished.  An artisan in any field is a perfectionist at heart.  It's just the way it is.
   This is why it only takes one slam into a writer's block, one less than kind review, and we bleed confidence like a sieve.
   But everything in life has two sides, doesn't it?  Life is constantly struggling with that balance, and it's us who ride these whimsical currents.
   Sometimes you're knocked down so far into a hole, you don't even bother looking up for that pinpoint of light that promises something better.  It's almost easier to curl up and become one with the darkness surrounding us.
   Get up!
   And if you don't, go back and focus on that one review that someone took the time to write.  Focus on the praise, focus on how much what you wrote touched that one person.
   Now that you believe in your writing once more, look up, and make your way out, slowly, steady, and patiently.
   Different obstacles will trip you up, like that job you hate to go to; the cell phone bill or any of those monthly fees we have no choice but to pay.  Some of those will inevitably knock you back down and leave you wondering whether what you write matters.
   It does.
   Get up!
   Perhaps there's someone out there who has it worse.  Perhaps tragic events will bring you a new perspective and you learn to appreciate your own situation, despite the bad.
   You're in full control of your ascent.  Know that.  Remember it.  Let your creativity conjure up new characters, give them a voice, give them a life, and believe in your story.  
   You might walk into a bookstore, probably the most intimidating setting for an Indie author.  Long to be there with the John Grishams and the Suzanne Collins's of the world.  It might be easier to ran back home, determined to delete your story, and it might be easier to fall and forget to write another word.
   Get up!
   What you write matters.  When characters take over the writing and use you to build their lives on the page, you need to believe in the story, and know that it will touch someone in some way.  It'll make them write praises and more than a few lines that will feel like the pats on the back we all want, but don't always know that we deserve them.  That review will make you believe.
   Javier A. Robayo

inspired by the newest review for The Gaze

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


     I drove to Newtown in the rain...     
   I'm a writer and so I must write.  I can't help it.  It's ingrained in every molecule of my being and tonight, I want to write, but this won't be just any piece of writing.  No book review or writing anecdote.  No simile or metaphor   I'm not writing tonight as a writer.  I'm just writing because it's the only way I can cope with the tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
   Twenty beautiful children were killed on December 14th.  Six courageous women gave up their lives trying to protect them.  We were left in collective sorrow, and as President Obama said: "our hearts are broken..."
   My daughters are 5 and 8.  Before they were even born, I wondered what they would look like and be like at this age.  Now I daydream about a sweet sixteen, driving lessons, and a college graduation.  Never did I stop to consider the fragility of our lives.  I didn't allow any thoughts of losing them to enter my mind, just like virtually every parent out there.  
   Twenty-six candles flickering during a rainy night in Newtown have forced me to think differently, and I rage at the helplessness, the despondency, and the grief that's robbed me of that illusory sense of security.
   It's difficult to hear Christmas carols and think of smiling children opening gifts, knowing twenty children's bedrooms are forever  empty; knowing their gifts will remain beneath the tree, without small hands to claim them.  
   I don't want to read a joke, a book review, an event invitation, a political commentary or some sports bit online because it feels callous.  I don't want to read about prayers and how God was there for the victims.  I don't care to hear or engage in arguments about gun rights and gun control.  I don't want to hear some politician use the tragedy as a platform to advance his own agenda and rewrite our constitution.  I don't want to hear about some press jackal interviewing one of the survivors.
   I think of the moment Vicki Soto confronted the assassin, perhaps drawing comfort from the fact that her kids were hidden, and valiantly accepting her fate...
   What were the last seconds of each child before they were struck?  What kind of horror did they endure as they saw their friends go down?
   I'm so sorry...  
   It's all I've had in mind since Friday morning, and it won't go away.  
   Anxiety grips me while my kids are in school, and I don't breathe right until I know they're safe at home.  My fears abate only when I hold them in my arms.
   Back in September of 2001, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Butler Eagle.  I invoked patriotism and the unique resiliency of this place called America.  I had faith that we would move on.  We mourned thousands back then...
   But Newtown...  
   I'll mourn these twenty-six victims for the rest of my life.  No, I never met them, but somehow my heart knows what they each mean.  
   I pray I don't add another day in my lifetime where our flag flies at half staff.  
   Inevitably, life will go on.  The images might fade.  I hope we regain that sense of security surrounding our schools, frail as it may be.  I hope we change our direction, close the chasms between the ideologies that now separate us, and unite in the name of our kids.  They deserve a safer nation.  
   I hope we begin to recognize educators for the amazing people they are, for how much they care for and love our kids.
   I hope...
   I will not forget Principal Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach, Lauren Rousseau, Anne Marie Murphy, Rachel D'Avino, and Vicki Soto, heroes in the truest sense of the word.  I hope we keep that in mind before we throw the term around when glorifying professional athletes.  
   And for Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, Ana, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Jessica, Benjamin, Dylan, Avielle, Allison, Caroline, and Josephine, no words are remotely adequate to convey what their loss means.  No phrase exists that can lessen this sorrow.  My only expressions are the tears I desperately try to hide when I picture their smiles. 
   None of them will be forgotten.
   With a heavy heart, I drove away from Newtown in the rain.  I left a part of me there in the form of a candle.  I left some prayers and a lot of tears for whatever they're worth, and I rushed home to my little girls, a changed father, a changed person.

   Javier A. Robayo 


Friday, November 23, 2012

Lewis (An Interview)

   Lower Thames Street follows the Old River into London.  Like many of the streets in the timeless city, the harmony between old and new has to be seen to be believed.  I walk on the blue stones marveling at my surroundings.  
   In just a few moments, I'm meeting with Lewis Bettford, one of the driving forces behind The Gaze, and The Next Chapter.  
   At the junction of Thames and the end of Monument Street, the Walrus and The Carpenter is ensconced behind the shade of an ash tree.  The traditionally narrow doors are nonetheless welcoming, and soon I'm enjoying a sip of the best Amaretto sour I've ever had, sitting by a window.
   Outside, a man strolls easily while talking on his mobile.  Dressed impeccably in a dark ensemble, he exudes a classy elegance that sets him apart from the people around him.  He ends the call with a smile on his face.  He runs a hand through his brown hair and shakes his head as though frustrated, except for the bemused grin.  He must have been talking with his best friend, Samantha.
   When he sees me, he begs for a moment to order a glass of wine before joining me at the small, heavily lacquered table.
   "Was that Samantha you were just talking to?"
   "The bloody Queen of England herself, lad.  Just ask her, she'll tell you all about it," he says, shaking my hand in a strong grip.  "The word is you've been busy, visiting each of us.  I appreciate you hopping the pond for me.  I couldn't get away from this conference, and you know how life can be so busy."
   "I do.  I'm just glad you agreed to see me."
   "Believe me, the pleasure is all mine."  He reaches for something in his pocket.  "Got us tickets for the Liverpool match.  I was supposed to take Sam, but..." he shrugs.
   "Great, so you leave me to contend with her wrath."
   Lewis laughs.  "It is legendary.  You'd know better than any of us.  To the next great story, chap."
   "To friendship," I toast back.
   We touch our drinks and settle in to do a bit of catching up.  When we begin our third round, I pull my notepad out and suffer his lecture on technological advances.  I explain that when it comes to writing, I still enjoy the very basics, and we begin with the interview.

JR: So what's it like to have the adoration of so many readers?

Lewis: (grins) There is nothing whatsoever to dislike about receiving the love and adoration of complete strangers.  Mum would be quite proud of her son, and take all the credit, of course.

JR: Of course.  I don't think I've had anyone say anything bad about you, especially when it comes to your friendship with Samantha.

Lewis: I'm sure I'm found as imperfect as the next man.  Despicable even but there are times you have no choice, but to love a dear friend no matter what they do.  Perhaps allow them to find their own answers.  It's not easy to be around Sam at times. You know that.  I can only say that I like a good challenge, and being a best friend to someone as bloody complex as our dear girl, is quite overwhelming indeed.

JR: It's almost hard to believe there isn't something more between you too.

Lewis: Friendships between men and women always ride an undercurrent of sexual attraction.  But there comes a point in the relationship when your roles are so well defined that you want for your friend to be happy, and be there for them when they're not.  I always looked at Samantha as my obnoxious, often-troubled, little sister, and I love her as such.

JR: Is that how you view all your friends?

Lewis: A certain lovely lass by the name of Gwen truly pulled my strings.  She's tough, kind, and ever so lovely. 

JR: In other words, you really like her.

Lewis: Gwen is someone you want by your side.

JR: There were more special relationships that you formed throughout the story.  Can you say something about those?

Lewis: Brooke and Emily.  I love them dearly.  Children are incredibly capable of bringing  the clearest perspective to those of us, so called grownups, when we need it most.  I love kids.  I'm a big kid myself so it's easy for me to assume a carefree outlook and live the moment for what it is.  It's really too bad we lose that in our never ending quest for more.  

JR: Are you always this eloquent?

Lewis: (laughs) I love poetry.  Sometimes it gets away from me and comes through in my speech.

JR: If I tell you that I have an inbox full of messages about you, where the senders want someone like you in their lives, what does that do for your ego?

Lewis: Samantha would undoubtedly assume that it would send my ego into the stratosphere, but I'm humbled by their opinion.  I can always say I was following the author's script.  Do you agree?

JR: Not at all.  Some characters become larger than life and the author is unable to suppress their glow.  Sam did say you'd try turning the tables on me.

Lewis: Can't blame me, lad.  Authors are interesting to me.

JR: Some people want to know exactly what it is you do for work.

Lewis: I deliberately break into digital fortresses, expose their weaknesses, and then make improvements to attain impregnability. We live in an age where once somebody figures out everything is either a one or a zero, the power to move information is within reach.  I could give you a long lecture that may inevitably spark a new novel that may raise the hair on the back of everyone's neck, but simply put, I build digital super vaults.

JR: Wow.  Guess I'd better stick to the topic at hand.  What's your take on The Gaze, overall?  Don't pull any punches.

Lewis: Modesty aside, it's one smashing story.  I can't imagine it's a simple task to get inside the mind and soul of a troubled lass, and guide a reader through their labyrinths.  Based on the reviews, Gaze manages to touch more than one nerve.  I'll say that you took many risks and I will sincerely say you have my respect.  Some parts are difficult to read, but the characters are memorable, and the ending is satisfying.  What did Samantha say about it?

JR: You'll have to ask her yourself.  Gaze has a tiny fan group, but each person demanded to see more of a certain character.

Lewis: It's a just reward to your readers.  (he looks at the cover of the new novel, but doesn't reach for it)  The Next Chapter, is it? What's in store for our dear girl?

JR: You'll have to read it once I leave.  

Lewis: If it's a fraction of what Gaze turned out to be, I wager I'm in for another emotional roller coaster.  What are the fans saying about it?

JR: (smiling) You're a good guy, Lewis.  I'm proud to know you.

Lewis: As am I, my friend.  It means quite a bit coming from you.  May your new future be bright, Mr. Author. 

JR: My new future?

Lewis: I read a short story, John and Ezekiel.  Every work of fiction has a kernel of truth and all that.  Now, I believe we have a match to attend.

   The Liverpool Reds beat Tottenham by a goal, much to our delight.  Lewis and I part ways only after I talk about a certain friend of mine, who became the basis for the main character of The Next Chapter.  His approval and interest mean the world to me.  
   Much later, as my flight descends towards the runway at JFK, I realize that there may never be an ending for the voices of Lewis and Samantha.  I once vowed never to write a series but the truth is, I miss being a tiny part in the lives of my British friends.  I wonder if there's anything strange about missing my characters.  
   Does Elise Stokes miss Cassidy in between books?  Does CF Winn miss Savannah?  Does Kristi Ayers miss Chayton and Darian?  Does Kaye Vincent miss Jodie and Jay?  
   I'm willing to bet they do.
   I think about the entire experience until I finally find myself at home in front of the screen.  With My Two Flags Book 1 in edits, and A Girl Called Mom in its final stages, I give in to an impulse and set my fingers over the keyboard.
   The tapping and clicking go on for an unknown length of time.  
   Recalling CF Winn's strong opinion of the first sentence, I stop and scroll back to the top of the page...

   Small towns are cradles of secrets.  I left the promenades of Margate as a child, and lost every shred of innocence in a laughable war that left deeper scars than the ones on my back.  I never returned...  
   I allow myself a tiny smile of satisfaction, knowing I'm on the right track.  I'm just not ready to let go of my friends.  They may exist only in my mind, but have also managed to live in the hearts of my readers for more than a few pages.  Jason Stephen McElroy, another of my characters has got a story to tell, and Samantha and Lewis will be a part of it as well.  

   Javier A. Robayo

Saturday, November 3, 2012


  The life of an Indie author is not all peaches and cream.  It's not exactly a complete and utter struggle either, but the joggling can be incredibly overwhelming.  Most of us keep a day job, have a business, have kids, a husband, a wife, even a pet.  
   Not everyone understands the convoluted rhythms of an Indie author.  We are all dreamers at heart, otherwise we wouldn't be creating people and settings while complicating the ever-loving crap out of our own lives.  Oh, and let's not talk about that wonderful feeling we get when we log onto our outlets and see a big fat zero under the copies sold label.  
   So why do we do it?
   I can't speak for everyone, but as for me, there's no amount of money that can buy that high I get when someone posts a review on Amazon and gushes about something I wrote.  That validation is what sits me back before the screen after a long day at work, when everyone has gone to bed, when most of the bills are paid, when my dog keeps my side of the bed warm.  It's what I live for.
   And I know I'm not the only one who feels this way.  
  To read that tears were shed, that they genuinely care for the characters we created; to read that they absolutely hated the bad guy, enough to push him into a fire; to read that they connected and related to a person with a soul and feelings, who only exists in the pages of what you wrote, that validation is everything.  Everything.
   That is the person I love to write for, and I owe it to that one person to write something even better in order to be worthy of his or her praise.
   Yes, there is that dream of making money by doing something we love so much, and if that comes to pass, great.  But for now, to know that what I wrote is worth reading to someone, is all the validation I may ever need.

   Javier A. Robayo

Friday, October 26, 2012


   Life can get pretty dark sometimes.  We trip and fall or we fail to duck from some incoming roundhouse punch that flattens us to within an inch of our lives.  And then, with the right inspiration, we surge.
   One of the most difficult things to do is letting go.  We find comfort in habits, even in bad ones.  It takes a lot of courage and strength to shed one life and go into another one, veiled by a fog of uncertainty. 
   Transitions can be painful and filled with unexpected twists and turns that threaten to send us flying back to what we knew, but if we push through... When we push through, we find the reins of our own life in our hands.  Suddenly it's up to us where we go from there.
   I left what I once knew as comfort and home, initially feeling like I was losing everything, but everything is such a relative term.
  The transition has concluded.  I wake up to a new life each morning, surrounded by those who matter to me the most, my support and inspiration, my strength and motivation.
   I ultimately gained so much more than I ever thought possible.  It's made me realize in life, the goal ought to be the journey and not the destination.  We don't know what life is about to throw at us at any given time.  We have nothing but today and what we do, what we feel, is all under our control.
   Now, it's somewhat difficult to remember what was so bad and stressful.  It won't be a forgotten lesson, but that feeling of utter failure, desolation, desperation, along with an urge to give up entirely has left me. 
   I've never truly believed that things happen for a reason until today.  Although it may prove to be little comfort in most situations, life changing events take place when we need that change despite the fact that we're the last ones to realize it.
   There's only one thing to do when you hit a wall: turn around and find another way.  There's only one thing to do when you hit the rock bottom of a hole: get up and climb out of it, back to the light.
   There's only one thing to do when a sea of regret crushes over us: we surge.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


   This blog is all about the writing process and the evolution of an author.  As many of you know, it's not always a step forward.  There are several setbacks, and one of them is the reason for this post.
   Some time ago, another author asked to read THE GAZE.  When the author was through, I received an email like no other. 
   Thankfully (I think), I was given a lot of credit for my writing mechanics and other elements that may have softened the blow.  GAZE is not a story that will connect with everyone brave enough to read it, after all.  
   One of the things the author brought to my attention was my reference to certain song lyrics.  After consulting with my friends and supporters, I decided to stop publication of GAZE and NEXT CHAPTER in order to take the necessary steps to lower any risk of copyright issues. 
   I credited the song lyrics to their respective musicians, thinking that it was more than enough.  After all, I'm not trying to sell the music.  I was merely trying to give the story a musical aspect.
   I take full responsibility for my ignorance in copyright matters, and therefore I will do what I have to do.  
   The timing could not have been worse.  My closest friends know what a trying period my family and I are getting through, but that's no excuse.
   GAZE and NEXT CHAPTER will be re-published once I have the blessing from my incomparable copy editor.  
   Speaking of blessings, I'm grateful for the support of so many readers who found a connection to my characters, my stories, and I owe everyone who invested the time in reading my long novel.  
   There are no hard feelings towards my fellow author, who spent quite a bit of time on that email, and as difficult as it was to get through it, I'm glad I have the chance to fix a few issues.  I'm grateful for the input, the evaluation, and the advice.  I'm just sorry she hated the story so much and it's beyond me why she even finished reading it.
   I apologize to each and every person out there who has an interest in reading my novels, for this interruption in publication.  Please know that I'm working as hard as I can to make this only a blip in time and nothing more.

   Javier A. Robayo

Monday, September 10, 2012

9/11 Tribute from THE GAZE

Writing a novel pulls many things out of your heart and mind, even your soul.  THE GAZE happens to be one of those novels and I took the opportunity to add things that touched my life.  I remember exactly where I was on that Tuesday morning.  I remember the fear and anger that dominated my thoughts that entire day.  Perhaps as a writer, I wanted to remind a reader about those events in the spirit of never forgetting 9/11.  
Here's that tribute, in the words of Samantha Reddick during a conversation with Tony Amaya...

“Tuesday, September 11th,” Tony said slowly, looking up from his notes.
“September 11th.”  I echoed, vividly remembering entering the appointment into my planner.  I even drew a smiley face next to the date.  A lump formed in my throat.
“I’m sorry, Sam.” 
His hand closed over mine and I was grateful for the contact.  “Do you believe in destiny?”
He mulled over the question for a moment.  “More than a few things in my life seem to confirm we all have a destiny.  There may be a plan we are supposed to follow, though we may not always see why things happen the way they do until we reach that destiny, and everything becomes clear.”
An image of Gwen floated in my mind.  “Okay, but do you think we can change that destiny?”
“I’m not sure,” he said, his brow furrowed in thought. 
I moved the empty glass aside and leaned forward on the table.  “There have been times that made me think perhaps I cheated my destiny and that’s why certain things happened to me.”
“Like what?”
I said nothing, but the name Brooks Waldenberg came to mind.
“I don’t think so, Sam.  I mean, I’d hate to think that my life has been somehow written as a list of instructions I simply follow until I reach the end.  But I don’t think there are consequences for making a decision that alters a certain pattern.  I don’t believe in the existence of fates.  I don’t believe they’re up there ready to punish us when we cheat them out of the destiny they had in store for us.”  His gaze bore into my eyes.  “But I know if you didn’t make that appointment on that day, it was for a good reason.  I’d take it as you’re supposed to do something else with your life and that wasn’t your time to go.  I mean, I can’t think of anything else I would like at this very moment than to sit here with you.”
I squeezed his hand in return, warmed by his words.  There was no secondary intent in anything he said, but I wanted to find one anyway.  I couldn’t remember ever feeling the things he made me feel.  “Thanks.”
“Would you like to tell me more?  You don’t have to.”
I sighed.  “I want to.”


On Monday, the 10th, I received a phone call from one of the deans of the Columbia University English Department.  Dr. John Miller was my 18th Century Literature professor, a very bright individual who demanded the very best out of his students.  I congratulated him on making Dean and accepted his request to speak at a career orientation presentation for underclassmen.  The presentation was scheduled for the next day. 
I called Dupree’s office and got his daughter Josette.  I explained my predicament and she laughed it off, telling me it was no problem at all and that if anything, her father would be adamant about my speaking to the students.  I thanked her and changed my appointment for that Friday.
The next morning I got up early, laced my running shoes and battered the cobblestones of the Esplanade, marveling at the sun dappled waters of the harbor during a three mile run.  The sun was bright, the sky a clear endless blue and the air fresh with just a hint of autumn.  I remember thinking what an incredible day it was. 
Once I was back in my apartment, I called my boyfriend and asked him to meet me for lunch later in the day.  I changed and quickly composed an outline for my presentation.  I would have thirty minutes to speak and thirty minutes for questions and answers.
All I had to do was to describe my career as a junior editor for Tennenby and credit my education at Columbia.  Easy as pie.
It was just past eight and I didn’t have to be at the university until nine-thirty.  I figured about a twenty minute walk to Park Place to take the number 2 subway for a twenty minute ride up to Roosevelt Park, so I had time for a long bath and for doing some work reviewing a new manuscript before I had to leave.  With only twenty minutes to go on the hour, I grabbed my bag, my folder, my keys, and I set out for Park Place.
I was walking east on Murray Street just past Saint John’s University when I heard something that sounded like thunder.  Knowing there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, I looked around like everyone else on the street that had suddenly stopped when the ominous blast hit.  I saw a man standing on the corner of Greenwich Street, pointing at something high up in the distance.  When I looked up I saw a column of dark smoke marring the sky.  I wanted to run to the corner but I ran the risk of breaking a heel, so I shuffled along and joined a growing group of people with shocked faces, looking in the direction of the World Trade Center.  The high rises on Greenwich Street prevented us from getting a clear picture of what was happening and our collective first impulse was to run down for a better look, but most of us stood frozen in horror. 
Must be one hell of a fire, I thought, as the morning exploded with sirens, seemingly coming from everywhere at once.  There were people running down the street towards the Twin Towers and others running in the opposite direction.  A man behind me shouted questions and one woman stopped, looked around uncertainly, eyes wide with fear.  “A plane crashed into the towers!”
Ice cold fear coursed through me at the terror in her voice.  Police cruisers sped by along with officers on motorcycles.  One officer parked near us, dismounted and began ordering us to leave the area.  The radio clipped at the shoulder strap on his jacket chattered nonstop.  The stone face cop commanded us to clear the street only meeting a wall of shouted questions.  The officer requested back up, yelling into his radio, his voice taut with anger.
I heeded his command and navigated through the growing crowd of onlookers.  People flooded out of buildings and ran down Greenwich towards Park Place for a better view.  I didn’t know where to go since my apartment lay to the South where all the police barricades were going up. 
What kind of idiot pilot lost control of a plane and crashed into the towers?  The question was on other minds when I started hearing words like “hijacking” and “terrorists”. 
The smoke grew thicker and more sirens echoed in the air.  I couldn’t think of a time when I had seen so many firemen and police officers in one place.  Just then, I heard screams and then another massive explosion.  I whipped my head up, but all I could see was smoke billowing over the tall buildings to the south. 
A second plane hit the towers.
Panic took hold of the city after that.  There were less gawkers and more runners.  I sidled along the buildings, fearing getting trampled if I stayed on the street or sidewalks.  Fear curdled my blood as everywhere I looked I saw another tall building that could be hit by another plane.  I was caught between wanting to put as much distance as possible and wanting to stay.  As the shock slowly wore off, I suddenly remembered where I would’ve been if Columbia hadn’t called.
I could hear Josette’s cheerful voice over the phone when I had last spoken to her to change my appointment.  I could see Rupert Dupree sitting on his comfortable leather chair with his thick glasses perched on the edge of his nose as he intently read a manuscript.  I could hear his voice in my head, boisterous and animated.  It just couldn’t be.
A daze fell upon my senses but I forced myself to take two steps before standing and looking back at the cloud of smoke darkening the horizon.  All around me people that normally would never give one another a second look stopped to speculate and offer another piece to the puzzle.  There was an impassable gridlock to the north as police turned traffic around and prevented it from entering Lower Manhattan. 
I could see open windows where more shocked faces stared at the ominous dark cloud growing over the city.  Time seemed to slow to a crawl and sound came to me as though I was at the end of a long tunnel.  More police and firemen arrived and some stayed behind to push the crowd further north.  It seemed no one wanted to move.
I saw a woman run barefoot to an officer and almost knock him over as she called out a name, James.  Her screams were pointed by a heart wrenching pain that reduced me to bitter tears of my own.
“What’s going to happen to those people trapped up there?” A woman asked a tall man standing next to her.  “Those buildings are on fire.”
The man said nothing and I didn’t want to imagine such inferno. 
“I talked to my girlfriend on the phone.  She said people are jumping out of the windows,” said a shocked male voice from somewhere behind me.
“Oh, dear Lord…” an older woman moaned.
I tried desperately to tune out the ongoing comments.   I held onto the hope that firemen were going into the buildings to help those people, and I prayed for the safety of Rupert Dupree and his daughter Josette. 
I managed to look around me and saw a group of people kneeling on the sidewalk.  They held hands and bowed their heads in prayer.  I stepped up to the group and went down on one knee, but I couldn’t pray, I could only cry.  The only reason I joined them was to feel some sort of comfort.  It felt like time stood still.
Time hadn’t stopped, however, only my perception of it.  In fact, more than an hour had gone by.  The fear of more airplanes hitting buildings dissipated as word got around that air traffic had been halted.  Our thoughts were on the people trapped in the towers.  It seemed everyone became a news outlet, shouting out details and filling in the blanks adding to the collective shock.  Before anyone could speculate on how to save those people, the North Tower collapsed, raining fire, death, and fear into the very heart of the nation. 

Much has changed over the past 11 years, and that Tuesday morning was a turning point that may have left us scarred, but it also gave us perspective as to what is truly important in our lives.  Don't take anyone for granted, particularly those people who dedicate their lives to the service of others, our police force, firemen, emergency medics, and our armed forces.  Live for today the best way you can, and love our nation, flaws and all.  America is still the best place to live.  
PS.  These chapters in the novel were inspired by true events in the life of a very dear friend, who still mourns her losses from that day.

Javier A. Robayo

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Gwen (an Interview)

  Western Pennsylvania offers a serene setting in the fall.  Mild temperatures and brisk winds bring with them shorter, but cooler days.  The small town of New Engburgh is picturesque enough to bespeak of the Pennsylvania of old, yet sprinkled with enough modern touches thanks to the evolution of the local college. 
   I'm on my way to talk to the one and only Gwen Amaya, one of the memorable characters from my two novels, THE GAZE and THE NEXT CHAPTER.
   The house at the end of the cul-de-sac is inviting, charming in its small town elegance.  As soon as I pull up  into the drive, I hear the gruff bark of the Amaya's dog, a chocolate Lab named Bailey.
   The door opens and Bailey bounds up to me, tail wagging.  I offer my hand to her snout and after a moment of careful consideration, I see approval in the furry face.
   "You're punctual," Gwen Amaya observes from the front porch.
   "Tony mentioned you appreciate punctuality."
   She smiles, producing two deep dimples that crease her right cheek.  Her eyes are a pale blue, the icy hue is at odds with the warmth her bright smile exudes.
   "Have a seat," she offers me one of the rocking chairs."
   We exchange small talk to work off the nerves.  I've been looking forward to this interview for quite some time.  Gwen is a busy mom and homemaker and summer has demanded her every waking second.  With her two little girls at school, she's finally agreed to this interview.
   "Well, I guess you'd like to get started," she says after placing a mug of coffee before me.
   "Thanks.  You ready?"
   She tucks a strand of brown hair behind her ear and nods after taking a deep breath.

JR: Despite only a short time in circulation, you have become a fan favorite.  How does it feel knowing people are speaking your name with a smile on their faces?

Gwen:  I can't really believe that.  I mean, the competition would be pretty fierce.  Samantha is practically Ms. Center of the Universe, and there's Lewis, who easily upstages the rest of us.  It's definitely nice to know I made an impression.

JR: You most certainly did, especially as a person of integrity.  Most notably, a lot of readers wonder what makes you so forgiving or accepting of someone like Samantha.

Gwen: Oh, it wasn't easy at first, but through it all I did get to know her and really care for her.  Samantha is the definition of hot mess, but she's also a terrific friend.  She can be funny, pushy, and who wouldn't get drawn to her drama.  It totally gives you a better perspective on life as an adult.  I think I started seeing her as a kid who refused to grow up.  She sort of drew me into the same role and there was a lot of self-discovery as our friendship progressed.  I got to love her like a sister, and whatever wrongs on her part... Well, she just has a way of getting into your heart.  I'll say one thing without spoiling it for anyone.  We all have histories, and sometimes they need a certain closure.  I don't want to go into specific details, okay?

JR: Understandable, thank you.  So, readers get to know you as Tony Amaya's wife and mother of Brooke and Emily, and although we get glimpses of Gwen, the woman, who would you say she is?

Gwen: She started out as a girl without direction.  That aimless path led to more than a few mistakes until I found Tony.  We had a rocky, but intense start and suddenly life seemed pretty clear.  Gwen is an everyday woman who wants to live the best way she can by providing for her family.  She is an honest friend, someone solid, dependable even.  But don't let all that fool you.  She does have a wild, and even minxy side. (laughs)

JR: I've gotten more than a few comments from readers who wish to have a friend like you.

Gwen: That's really sweet.

JR: After everything that happened in The Gaze, you return, this time as not only Samantha's Matron of Honor, but also as a compass for Lewis.  How did your friendships evolve with them during The Next Chapter?

Gwen: There was a lot of soul searching done before I agreed to go.  I love Samantha like a sister, and our bond became more relaxed, even more meaningful.  I had my fun putting in my little digs although she expected much worse, and I had my chances, don't get me wrong, but... (shrugs)

JR: Yes, she did say you gave her plenty of frights.  Something to do with a black eye?

Gwen: (laughs) You know Samantha.  She's a total drama queen.

JR: How about Lewis?

Gwen: Oh, Lewis... (sighs)  I love that man.  He's just everything anyone would want in a friend.  He most definitely helped me through my hard times, so when things got to him, I was determined to be there for him. I'm glad he trusted me enough to let me in.  It was amazing to get to know him like I did and we've become very close. I really can't say enough about him.  I'm kind of jealous that Samantha saw him first, and that she's had him by her side for so long.  I met him as some kind of a lovable flirt, but when I was in London, he  uncovered so many layers until I got to know the real Lewis.  It's something I will never forget, and he and Samantha will be forever a part of my life. 

JR: What's next for Gwen Amaya?

Gwen: Hmm, you tell me.  I still have a home to keep, two girls to raise, and a husband to put up with, who's always giving me something to read.  Ah! The man can write! Sometimes the fragile ego of a writer is more than I can take, but I'm glad to give him the encouragement to keep going.  

JR: Behind every good man, there's a great woman?

Gwen: Samantha did say you have a way with words.  So, same question for you.  What's next?

JR: As Tony could very well tell you, more writing.  I've a few more ideas to flesh out, along with two manuscripts that need revised.  I'm glad you had the time to share a few things with us about your role in the lives of Samantha and Lewis.

Gwen: Happy to do it.  Now, do I get the books?

JR: Absolutely.  

   Gwen stares at the cover of The Gaze for a long moment.  
   "Before you leave, tell me.  Who's this supposed to be, Samantha or Gwen?"
   I grin in reply.  "Some mysteries should remain mysteries.  Don't you think?"
   Gwen actually pouts.  "Will we see each other again, Mr. Author?"
   The breeze pushes her hair over her face, forcing her to sweep it back.  That Tony is a lucky man indeed.  "The best thing I can tell you, Gwen, is that those pages haven't been written yet.  Say hi to Tony and your girls."
   I pull out of the drive looking through the rear view mirror at Gwen, crouching down to scratch a grinning Bailey behind the ears.  I have the image of a blank page in my mind, and as I leave New Engburgh behind, I know just what to write.
   If you want to get to know this wonderful woman, I recommend you read The Gaze and The Next Chapter.  Maybe you can find out what she meant by "minxy side".

Javier A. Robayo


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My Two Flags (an excerpt)

Summer sun...
This alone is a new experience for me.  The heat is intense, the humidity oppressive and there is no getting away from it unless you roam the malls to mooch off their A/C.  I must be out of my mind to be riding a bicycle today.  The heat makes me miss Quito’s mild weather more than the infinite stream of memories playing in my mind.
I make my way to the Derby-Welkerton Bridge before the blues get the best of me.  I have the nighttime for that, and I’ve been a loyal victim of nostalgia every single time I’m alone in my little bedroom.  I’m sure my pillow will deteriorate soon from all the tears I’ve been leaving upon it.
After riding back to the house, I change out of my sweaty shirt and leave the bike to walk around the block then back down on Main.  Before I realize how far I’ve walked, I find myself crossing Pershing drive into the commercial area of Ansonia.  It’s strange that you can walk through three or four towns in less than an hour, just one more of the many differences I was finding.  A few feet away from me, I spot the golden arches and remembering my money, I decide to face my fear and buy myself some lunch.
I use the bottom of my shirt to wipe at the streams of sweat, growing self-conscious of my presentation.  I wish I would’ve brought the bike.  Maybe I wouldn’t be so sweaty.
"One cheeseburger, one Coke", I practice the line my aunt taught me, out loud.  "One cheeseburger, one Coke."  
The R's are tricky but I hope to get by.  Rolling my tongue feels uncomfortable and the sound feels phony.  "One cheeseburger, one coke"
I step inside, soaking in the cool air and the cooking scents while I stand at the end of the line.  I burn with envy as the woman in front of me lets out a litany of words that the girl behind the counter transforms into an array of burgers, fries, and drinks. She says something with a smile and receives one in return. The woman takes the tray and saunters away, another satisfied customer.
"How may I help you?"
I'm sure she said something prompting me to order, so I mutter the mantra from under a heavy boulder of trepidation that seems stuck in my throat, "One cheeseburger, one Coke... please," I say in an almost inaudible voice.
I am so proud of myself. "Please" wasn’t part of the line I practiced. I see this as a major improvement, a step in the right direction, a small but significant triumph.  I square my shoulders and lift my chin.  I’ve got money and by God, I’m about to have my first productive English conversation with a total stranger.
"Would you like to make it a value meal and get fries?"
The blood drains from my face and her voice sounds like the echoed warble you hear from teachers on any Charlie Brown cartoon. 
I freeze
"You know, French fries?"
Oh the horror...
She might as well be speaking Mandarin.  I can’t tell where one word ends and another begins.
I simply stare at the girl, a false smile plastered on my lips, my five dollar bill shaking in my hand as new rivers of sweat trail down my temples.  My heart is hammering a painful beat in my chest.
The girl looks at me uncertainly and repeats her question.  Whatever courage I had, flees along with my dignity.  My feet spin me in the direction of the door out of their own accord and I take off like a shot without looking back or heeding the girl's calls.
I pump my legs up Division Street and don’t stop until I find my way back to Main Street in Welkerton.
I sit in defeat on a stone pier that decorates the bank's parking lot.  Bitter tears threaten to spill but I hold fast, conjuring an image of my Mom, smiling as she goes to work; Dad looking tired and a bit haggard, doing factory work instead of dressing up to go to his posh office on Avenida Amazonas in Quito; my little sister following my cousin around like a lost puppy in the name of companionship.
Damned if I’m going to cry.
The only things that spills for now are the rivulets of sweat that drench my brow and soak my shirt.  
I come close to despair as I realize how long this road is going to be for us.
As I make my way back to the safety of the house, worn out by the stifling heat,  my stomach growls in mockery. 
It’s not fair.
It was just one cheeseburger and one Coke.

Author's Note:  This is the most difficult novel I'll ever write, for it's so challenging to open up these vaults, but as a writer, I simply have no choice.  This story must be told.

Javier A. Robayo

Thursday, August 9, 2012


"When you opt to change everything, always remember to breathe, and embrace it all with eyes wide open".- T.L. Tate

   For the past three days, my life has consisted of furnishing two bedrooms in my parent's home where my girls and my Sheri will be until I rejoin them in October.
   After a long, slow drive pulling a trailerful of belongings, and fighting a major bout of uncertainty and utter self-recrimination, reorganizing and living the days side by side with my parents slowly made me realize I had not taken a deep enough breath.  I hadn't even allowed their unconditional love and support to allay my fears. 
   No transition is easy.  It was all I could think of, but I didn't count on the closest people in my life to make it an experience so filled with laughter and hope.  No one knows how to make you feel more welcome than my mom, and no one, I mean no one, can elicit a laugh like my dad.
   I've missed being around them far more than I thought. 
   Once I finished putting the new furniture together for the girls, I left Sheri to organize the girls' clothes.  It's not that I didn't want to help.  I'm just a man.  No good when it comes to girlie world and its many aspects.  If I had tried to help, Sheri would've undoubtedly kicked me out anyway.
   I finished sanding the last coat of polycrylic on the new workstations, where I'll hopefully be editing or writing the last of a fourth novel.  Once I was somewhat pleased with the shine and smoothness of the desktops, I went out and came across four ornaments that my mom has set up in her never ending efforts to decorate every space over which she's given domain.
   The first one said "Welcome".  I smiled at the sea shells above the letters.  Mom loves the ocean and its limitless secrets.  She often pointed out that one drop of ocean would eventually touch every coast in the world, given enough time.  We could all learn a lot of patience from the blue seas.
   I climbed the steps to the back yard and on the railing there were three stone planters, each sprouting a posy.  One had the word "Hope" inscribed upon it.  Hope, I thought to myself.  The same reason my parents took me out of my adolescent world in Ecuador and brought my sister and me to America. 
   Next to Hope, another stone planter had the word "Believe".  I've never fully believed in myself or what I could do, but I've had some incredible people infuse me with a confidence I've never had. 
   Jo VonBargen, who has to be one of the most amazingly unique human beings on this planet, stuffed me full of belief by writing a review of The Gaze that shook me the very core.  To hear that you've done well from someone so talented is priceless.  I allowed myself to believe, for others have been believing in me all along.
   Heading to the yard, the last stone planter gave me a glimpse of what my new life in Connecticut will be with one word: "Happiness".
   It seemed as though some higher power, along with my mom, set those signs before me, doing away with the dark, cold shadows of regret I've fought day in and day out for the last two years.
   As I stood there, choking back tears at the signs before me, my best friend from high school, 25 years in the making, sent me a text with the familiar words we've written, spoken, and texted to each other every time we faced a transition, everything's going to be all right.
   Even my dog, Her Highness Bailey, looked over at me with her eerily expressive eyes and I could almost hear a voice in my head saying, "Quit worrying so damn much."
   Her Chocolate Furry Highness just chuffed and plopped down on the grass, staring at the treetops blanketing Ansonia.  I followed her gaze and soaked in the sounds of the Connecticut traffic, the screams of seagulls announcing our proximity to the Atlantic, and the singularity of the moment. 
   "Yeah, Bay," I said, crouching down to scratch Her Highness behind the ears.  "Everything's going to be all right.  We've been welcomed here, a place of hope where belief will lead us to happiness."
   In reply to my flash of half-baked poetry, Her Highness simply rolled her large brown eyes at me, giving me an I-knew-it-all-along-you-hopeless-human snort.
   Old Tate's words flashed in my mind as I ran a collage of the past two years, the lows, the desperation, the constant fretting, and the avalanche of what-ifs that stole entire nights of sleep... and I finally exhaled.

   Javier A. Robayo


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

You Called Me 'Home'

   I was a two story cape whose family was moving away when you came.  You brought your bride and a small dog, a weiner dog as I recall.  My landscaping was lacking, my bushes overgrown.  You somehow saw beyond the cracks in the driveway sprouting weeds.  I noticed you grinning when you claimed the single detached garage.
   Your eyes found my skin tired and chalky, and my windows were drafty.  My doors had never seen a coat of paint, but I opened them wide for you.
   You walked through my rooms and saw beyond the dim fixtures, the blemished walls, the small kitchen, and the closet size second bath.  You saw beyond the musty cave of my basement.  I liked your smile at the challenge before you.  I nearly recoiled at the thought of the transformation to come, but it was your right for taking a chance on me, and after a time of formalities I'll never presume to understand, I became a house you called home.
   Your bride lovingly brought my counters to shine, and she went to great lengths to make every space welcoming with her unique touch.  I watched you replace every fixture, and their light chased shadows away.
   Each of my rooms was smoothed and painted in hues that brightened the once present gloom and soon I felt the vitality of your young age infused into my tired frame.
   The painted brick of my fireplace was dressed up in stone.  I looked forward to warming your hands in the winter cold.  You gave me a new mantle and a matching bookcase made with your own hands.  Perhaps you don't know this, but I knew then what you thought.  I saw that dream of one day filling those shelves with your books.
   For five years I enjoyed the sound of your laughter.  Your two mutts trampled my grounds left and right, and always found the sun coming through my new windows to warm their backs.  I apologized for every old part of me that made the new basement such a task, but you did it and did it well, and the cavern was gone, in its place more space where laughter and joy reigned supreme.
   My fires burned bright and I watched you two dance to soft music into the early hours of the morning.  I sighed at the messes you made as you hurried your way out to work.  I felt your motivation and determination to keep me, and keep me well, updating every part of me.
   The once empty room facing the street, transformed to welcome your first little girl.  How I adored the little voice, each coo, cry, and giggle.  I smiled each time a pencil was used to mark where that little head reached on the trim of the closet, month after month.
   Soon there were two little voices, my every room held one of you and soon your daughters called this old house their home.  I watched in awe as each one grew, one willowy and tall, one elfin and fair.  They ran through my rooms, they splashed my bathroom floor, they crayoned my walls, and they looked out my window, celebrating each snowfall before curling around the fireplace, looking up at the Christmas Tree eagerly awaiting that precious day.
   I stood proud, my siding in a rich brown, my trim a darker shade.  I even had a full head of hair, every shingle brand new.  On rainy days, I liked watching the water flow down the new smooth driveway, dancing around the new contention wall and the walkway.
   I watched you laugh.  I watched you cry.
   I felt alive when company came and you worked so hard to make me look my best.  I felt special, for you brought two new lives for me to shelter, to inwardly laugh when their riding my stairways tickled my frame.  I was now a better house and you called me home.
   I knew when times got tough, for the discussions were serious in my little kitchen.  I heard the promises you made as you held your bride in your arms, hurting with the impotence to do more than you did.  I know some decisions were made that you didn't want to make.  I missed you while you were gone for so many hours out of the day.  Your girls ran into each of my rooms trying to find you.  You worked so hard and it wasn't enough.  Little did I know you had something else in mind.
   I watched as you sat in front of a glowing screen.  Night after night you were down in my basement, hammering at the keyboard even when you started to look at me sadly, knowing our parting was imminent.
   I remember it well, when you revised that last page.  You ran out to the backyard, past the pool where the summer laughter and splashing echoed even in the dead of winter, and you ended up on your knees behind the garage.  You did what you set out to do, and my shelves by the fireplace held one book, then another, both bore your name on the spine, just as you dreamed that day when you set that last nail into that oak board.
   Wherever you go from here, whatever you do, started right here within my walls.  I'll think of you fondly, I'll miss being yours, but through sixty-six years, I've learned that people come and people go.  But you and your bride, along with your little girls, have been a joy to shelter.  I'll take eternal credit in the fact that your family started here.  Your first books decorated my shelves, along with your portraits, and I know you won't forget me, the way I won't forget everything you did to this old two story cape.
   I'll forever remember, with more love than you'll know, that for thirteen happy years, you called me home.

   Javier A. Robayo