Friday, March 28, 2014

Happy Birthday My Two Flags


   When an athlete reaches the home stretch, the blood pumps harder, the heart beats faster, and every fiber pushes to the limit in order to cross that goal line. 

   In writing, you are barely aware of how fast the word count adds up. Your characters fight to be included in each chapter as the manuscript reaches its completion. Your blood pumps faster, your heart beats faster, and your mind will grant you no peace until that last line is written. That's where I am with My Two Flags Vol. 2 All men are created equal...
   
   In one of the chapters, the first line reads "What a difference a year makes." Glancing at the clock on the lower right corner of my screen, I caught sight of the date. 

   One year has passed since publishing a novel that took me over two decades to write. My Two Flags officially turns 1, and based on 19 wonderful reviews and a plethora of private messages, these series has enjoyed a warm reception thus far.

   My Two Flags follows the life of Antonio Amaya, a thirteen year old Ecuadorian kid whose lifelong dream of living in America turns into a nightmare as the stark reality of immigrant life crashes down on him and his family. 

   Through struggles with prejudice, ostracism, and bullying, Tony (Antonio) holds onto principles instilled in him by his parents, and ultimately finds the determination to belong and embrace his new life.

   Several 100 page composition notebooks filled with Spanish and English chronicles from high school life are involved in weaving this series. Virtually every experience of adolescence is explored through the eyes of the cast and each point of view is sure to make you look back on your own.

   I never sat down to map out a novel with a point to make or a lesson to teach. I just felt there was a story to be told. 

   Regardless of our path, we are each destined to go through something that's bound to not only touch someone else's life, but also change it, and change us along the way. 
   
   Life as an immigrant looking for acceptance is one aspect of the story. In truth, we all wish to be part of something. Especially when we are faced with obstacles and challenges that put our determination to the test as we fight for our dreams.

   You don't have to be an immigrant to have been ridiculed by your peers at one time or another. We've all been aggressors and victims. We've made fun or been afraid of people different than us, and we've all been at the receiving end of some cruel joke based on our origin, race, sex or age.

   But, there is always someone else wanting to be a part of your life. No matter how high you build your walls, someone will find a breach to touch your heart. No self-imposed isolation can keep you from falling victim to the feelings inspired by someone special, and we all inevitably meet that someone.

   I eagerly envision the next volume in the saga. I don't see the pages as much as I see the faces of those who carved their niche in my heart and mind to become the muse that drives me to the keyboard. 
   
 Reviews for My Two Flags
Click to see what people are saying about Flags
   So, happy birthday to Flags as some of my readers refer to the series. I know if you give it a try, you will find someone who reminds you of someone you knew; of something you lived; perhaps you'll find a reflection of you.

   As many of my readers have said, you will gain an understanding of what it's like to be The Other, and how crucial family values and good friendships are in shaping a young mind.

   I invite you to read it. Let me know what you think. I dare you to prove me wrong. Whether your high school experience was good or bad, it's sometimes irresistible to wonder back to those years through someone else's eyes.

   No author truly expects their writing to come to life and evoke an emotional response. It's the unspoken goal of every manuscript, but anything written from the heart has a chance to do just that. If I have a writing goal, it's to forge a connection with you that you'll keep for the rest of your life. And finally, it's my sincere hope you find something healing about Flags the way I have.

   Javier A. Robayo

My Two Flags Vol. 1 I pledge allegiance... is geared for ages 14 and up and weighs in at 320 pages. It contains some strong language. Published in March of 2013, My Two Flags has struck a chord among educators and anyone who are or know of someone close to them who's lived under the Star Spangled Banner, and their motherland's flag.
You can find it on Amazon at My Two Flags Vol. 1 and Javier's Website 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

About Writing and Self-Publishing

   Back in 2001 (Unreal how quickly times goes by...) I wrote a manuscript, a crime story based on conversations I held with college students. The story was okay, sub par in all honesty in every aspect. I wasn't vain enough to see it as a masterpiece at all. Still, I logged to my AOL account and browsed for publishing firms. I was surprised to find four responses and I chose one firm out of Pittsburgh.

   The woman I spoke to on the phone asked for the entire manuscript. I was at the Post Office bright and early the next morning with my package and sent it off. I don't think I slept much those three weeks until I received another letter. (note how we are not talking email yet. This was a time when people still wrote real letters.) This one hinted at a lucrative contract once the story went through the editorial phase. What's that involve? I asked. Then the woman pulled the rug from under my feet.

   "The editor will not be very nice and you are looking at about $3,500.00," she said. 

   When I didn't reply, she added "We can work out a payment plan."

   NO! That is NOT how a real publishing house works. Don't fall for it. Do what you can to curve your enthusiasm and keep your money in your wallet. As soon as some entity is eager to publish your book and make you into the next Suzanne Collins after you pay them fees after fees after fees, you're dealing with a Vanity publisher.

   Vanity publishers are quite common and you'll know it just by getting solicitations from perfect strangers who are head over heels with your writing. Why are they something you should watch out for? Because they'll create the illusion of establishing your writing career but once you dole out the dough, you end up with a box full of books and arrivederci you'll know what you'll do with them.

   
   Real publishing houses are so tough to break into because they have to be selective on the works they invest in. But before you sign that check and send it out to a vanity publishing firm, consider self publishing through a platform like Lighting Source or Create Space.

   The costs are low and the biggest advantage is that you, the author, own all the rights to your artwork, your title, your story. No one behind a desk will demand you add a vampire and several scenes of bondage and domination because that's what's selling in the present market.

   The disadvantage is that you are on your own as far as promoting your work and your brand. THAT is where the real work starts for a self-published author.

   If you're new to writing and you suddenly heard an angel choir at the mention of self-publishing at low cost, hold your horses. 

   Unfortunately, Indies carry a damaged reputation, the product of thousands of would-be-authors who spent little time honing their craft and offering a poor product. The book market is flooded with under-developed plots, thousands of pages full of typos, copycats bent on rewriting Twilight or 50 Shades, and countless other atrocities that pass themselves as book these days.

   Now, don't be discouraged. Nothing worth doing comes without a struggle. It's not a question of talent or promotional skills. It's a matter of gaining one reader's trust, then another, and then another. And that takes quite a bit of time.

   If you have your draft finished, congratulations. Now read it and be brutally honest with yourself. Have you made a good product? 

   Can the story be better? As my professor was so fond of saying "There's no such thing as good writing. There's only good rewriting."

   Is it presented in its best possible light? This is where you let your creative juices flow like the Mississippi. You have full control of what goes into making your book: the cover, the format, the font you use on the page numbers at the bottom, the title (yes, that's a big one, considering publishing houses are very fond of changing titles. Just ask Dean Koontz).

   Once you reach the stage where you're satisfied with your final proof, I'm sorry to tell you, but you've only rounded a bend, and the long road ahead of you disappears into a distant horizon. But you don't have to go it alone. This is where Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and others come into play. Forge connections. You'll be shocked at the reception you'll get from your "competition". I've never come across an Indie author who thought he or she were too good to give you a good word, advice, a LIKE.

   A word about competition: Unless a reader decides he or she will read only the same novel from author X forevermore, you have not lost. Books are limited affairs and remember, all it takes is one. One person to fall in love with your characters and gush about the plot with their friends. It goes from there. It takes time.

   You've written a piece of you. Don't just hand it out to anyone offering you the top best-selling spot on the New York Times. Be careful with your work and explore every option, and I mean every option. Don't discount traditional models like the painful submission and rejection process literary agencies impose on upcoming authors. Hey, Stephen King's Carrie was rejected HUNDREDS of times before making his career.


   
   Before you become overwhelmed keep this in mind if nothing else: It all starts and ends with how good of a story you bring to the readers. That demands more than the proverbial pound of flesh. Don't try to write like someone else. Write like you, and listen to those voices telling you that you can do better because you can. And if you want to reverse the perception trend of the Indie author, you must first make a commitment to giving a reader a story worth remembering.


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Monday, March 3, 2014

Job Scams

If you've been actively searching for a job online like I have then surely you've come across employment sites where you post your resume in the hopes of finding much needed work.

It seems most companies are content with letting a computer program sort out the good applicants from the bad. There is no such thing as personal interaction with anyone interested in hiring another person. You're at the mercy of a thirty minute questionnaire and you'll get acquainted with standard emails. 

You will also get a number of phone calls from College Guides who want to quickly place you in the halls of higher learning. Why? At most of those employment websites you're forced to register in order to apply for a listed job. 

I've gotten phone calls from schools in Arizona (I live in Connecticut) and even from some Hair Institute somewhere near Hartford. I've even gotten calls from some computer whose job is to dial up your number and tie up the line until the next college placement expert is free to beg for "ten" minutes of your time.

Frustrated by the fruitless job quest, I've talked to one of these people. I expressed a desire to do something with writing. After twenty minutes of stating the obvious time and again, I had no choice but to let the poor devil on the line go. The initial effusive optimism was quickly replaced by a dose of real life and a lack of careers in writing.

Looking for work can wear down your very soul, and you're prone to falling for anyone offering you a glimpse of hope.

Enter the incredible job offers.

Recently, someone identifying themselves as a hiring manager for the Swiss Life Group texted me and offered me a position with their 150 year old institution based in Zurich. The officious bloke came across my promising resume and decided to contact me from Minnesota. 

Like a desert wanderer staring at a mirage of life giving water, I jumped at the chance and eagerly replied with an interest to take the job.

The man granted me an interview. 

Cool!

He asked me to obtain a Yahoo email address so we can talk via Instant Messenger.

Okay...

Just as I was signing up for a Yahoo account, I realized one obvious little detail. 

If some long standing company came across my resume, and decided to interview me, why not contact me through an email that sounded like it came from the company itself? You know, something like mark.franke@swisslifegroup.com or something to that effect? 

Why Yahoo? 

And furthermore, if it was so urgent that I interview with a hiring manager, why wouldn't he just call me or ask me to call?

I then Googled Swiss Life Group and added the word scam to the search bar. Sure enough, it was.

Of course, why would any company want to hire someone at $21.00 per hour ($18 during two weeks of training and complete benefit package after a month of service) based on a poorly prepared resume that has no promise of landing a Business Administration job?

But I was curious. Very curious.

I signed on to Yahoo and altered most of my information, realizing how easy it is to create a false identity online.

Good Old Mark wrote long passages of information at the speed of copy and paste. I answered a question with a question that was never answered as though nothing I typed bore consideration.

Right...

The "Hiring Manager" then told me to hold online while he passed my answers along to the Head Department, whatever that was.

A few minutes later, (surprise surprise) Good Old Mark typed a warm welcome to the company. Wow, I thought, just like that, I'm in the money!

Not so fast.

Good Old Mark then asked me to provide him with a list of personal information for verification so his secretary could put me on register to which I replied, "That information is on my resume that should be on your desk."

His reply was "We didn't save it?"

What?

Elaborate ruse, but laughable at best. It took me only a minute to decide to provide the basics. They're public record after all, and I wanted to see where this guy was going.

He asked me how often I'd like to be paid and asked who was my Bank.

As if...

When I did not reply, he quickly outlined the benefit package, probably copied from some company's website, and pasted it on the message. He indicated I'll have two weeks of training and gave me a list of software I would need.

I asked if I should expect the software and an information packet in the mail and he quickly asked if I would buy the software today.

Um...nope.

He told me he had the in-house vendor ready to take the order and I replied with a question, "Will I be reimbursed?"

"Of course!" He quickly added.

By then I already knew about the counterfeit checks and the useless software. At that point, laughing and wondering just how many people fall for this, I thanked the "Hiring Manager" and told him I was not comfortable making purchases of giving any more information. I told him I researched these "opportunities" and most were reported as scams.

"How do you mean?"

When I asked for solid proof, he immediately offered to get his supervisor on the phone. I was suddenly so important, the boss was going to talk to me right then and there!

I told him I would have my accounts carefully monitored and indirectly let him know I was onto him. I asked for a phone number then told him I would surely find him in the directory of his company and to expect my call.

Good Old Mark went from professionally courteous to downright rude when he ignored my last messages.

A search of Swiss Life Group for a Hiring Manager named Mark Franke was utterly unsuccessful. 

No shocker there.

The moral of the story, boys and girls, is that if something sounds too good and too easy to be true online then it's most certainly a scam.  

Be smart. Be aware. And I hope you all enjoy solid employment that allows you to live your lives worry free, at least for the most part. As to those of us on the search, don't fall prey to the refuse of the online world. Scammers are  everywhere and they go to great lengths to take advantage of you. 

Be very careful with employment sites and never trust any form of communication that does not bare a company logo with a brick and mortar address and contact information. 

For a quick and easy way to find out if you are about to get taken for a ride, Google is a great tool for gathering information. Use it, and be smart. Be aware. Be careful.

 Job Scams. Beware!
Check out this article on Job Scams