Playlist for Invertebrates


In a past blog, I mentioned that generating a playlist for a book that I am writing is one of the keys to completing a novel. Each time I write a novel, I make a separate play list on my MP3 player, and I tend to listen to it in the car or as I plan my ideas. Sometimes I will add songs from itunes if I need one for ideas or delete a song if I don’t think it’s helpful. But generally, music is the bridge that helps me bring the story from the beginning to the end.

Invertebrates is no different. I used a mix of surfer music (from both the US and Mexico) along with Hello Seahorse!, a Mexican band I discovered as I began writing. Of course, there are other songs I used. But if you are interested in what music I used to write Invertebrates, here is a list of what I used and the scenes they helped me write. If you want, you can click on the artist and song to hear the song for yourself.

Mum: Green Grass of Tunnel: Used for the first chapter.

Dick Dale: Miserlou: Used in the moments between the first and second chapter.

Hello Seahorse!: Square Head: Used during the dinner between Ernesto and Roberta at the “Cajun Chef”.

Ventures: Walk Don’t Run: Used during the meetings between Ernesto and Eduardo in Chapters 7-10.

Hello Seahorse!: Oso polar: Used during the evening of first night Eduardo stays over night at Ernesto’s apartment in Chapter 10.

Thievery Corporation: A Gentle Dissolve: Used in Chapter 12 as Paco and the children meet Enrique, the jellyfish.

Yo La Tengo: Season of the Shark: Used in Chapter 13 as Ernesto begins to teach Paco how to write.

Hello Seahorse!: Despues: Used in Chapter 13 after Eduardo rejects Ernesto’s offer to move in.

Hello Seahorse!: Del cielo se caen: Used as Paco shoves the jellyfish’s tank to the ground in Chapter 15.

Lost Acupulco: Por un tubo: Used in the first scene we meet Chuy in Chapter 18.

Dick Dale: The Wedge: Used in Chapter 19 as Ernesto takes his grandmother to her medical appointments.

Hello Seahorse!: Criminal: Used in Chapter 19 as Chuy and Ernesto confront Eduardo.

Lost Acapulco: Luna luau: Used in Chapter 19 as Chuy and Ernesto talk at the beach in the evening.

Lost Acapulco: Calaveras de justicia: Used at the very end of Chapter 19.

Hello Seahorse!: Esperando a que llegue: Used in Chapters 23 and 24 as each seminarian leaves the seminary in Binghamton.

Hello Seahorse!: Giniebra dulce: Used in Chapter 25 as Ernesto spends the night with Juan Maria.

Hello Seahorse!: Oro y plata: Used in Chapter 25, early in the morning as Ernesto leaves Juan Maria’s hotel room.

Massive Attack: Paradise Circus: Used in Chapter 29 as Ernesto learns about Arnold’s behavior with the parish children and as Father Sam offers Ernesto a change in diocese in exchange for his obedience.

Hello Seahorse!: Un ano quebrado: Used in Chapters 30 and 31 as Ernesto becomes involved in his new parish.

Hello Seahorse!: Velo de novia: Used in Chapter 32 when Ernesto learns the news about his cousin Chuy.

Hello Seahorse!: Lejos. No tan lejos: Used in Chapter 33 during Chuy’s funeral and the new information sister Gloria tells Ernesto about why they moved to La Pesca.

Hello Seahorse!: Ok! … Lobster: Used in Chapter 34 as the parish children go to the beach.

Hello Seahorse!: Atardecer en Parapent: Again, used in Chapter 34 as the children go to the beach.

Hello Seahorse!: Bestia: Used in Chapter 36 as Ernesto learns about what happened to Denise.

Hello Seahorse!: Universo 2: Used in Chapter 37, when Dr. Carlos and Ernesto talk about how they feel about each other.

U2: When I Look at the World: Used in Chapter 37 as Ernesto thinks about his dream.

Lost Acapulco: Roqueta to the moon: Used at the end of Chapter 38.

I hope you like at least some of these songs as much as I do. They were very helpful in writing.


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Invertebrates is Finally Here!

My new novel Invertebrates is now available for 99 cents on the Kindle and Nook!

It follows the story of a minor character from my first novel, Ernesto Sandoval. After a near-death experience and a dangerous brush with a child abuser, Ernesto realizes he has a call to help the less fortunate. A vocation to serve. In order to follow his call, he decides to leave his position at a top university in Mexico City to become a Roman Catholic priest. When he finally makes it to the seminary, he believes that the supposed holiness and celibacy of his instructors and fellow seminarians will make it easier to follow his call. However, he is mistaken. Once in the seminary, the challenges to his vocation have only just begun. The more successful he becomes within the Church, the greater the temptation Ernesto feels in abandoning his call. This is because sometimes those with the greatest responsibilities to do what is right must first overcome the their greatest weaknesses. Sometimes, the most difficult thing we could ever hope to accomplish in our lives is to simply do the right thing.

Invertebrates tackles the challenging theme of child abuse within the Church through the eyes of a witness caught up in the politics of the hierarchy. It examines why a priest might not be able to see the signs of a predator in action, even in his own parish, and why he might hesitate to bring the perpetrator to justice once he sees the truth for himself. The novel does not excuse these silent witnesses. Instead, it honestly examines how a culture of silence is cultivated within organizations like the Roman Catholic Church and how that culture affects the reactions of its members toward such abuse. It illustrates that the predator is not the only guilty party within the act of abuse. Ultimately, Invertebrates shows that those who cover up abuse, along with those who have witnessed it and said nothing, are also guilty because of their criminal silence.

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New In Paperback!!

It took about a month of work with new proofs and new drafts, but I now have my three books available in paperback format. Click on the cover to go to the book’s page.





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February Flash Fiction Month: The Profession of Faith in Future Tense

Vigil Mass of St John the Baptist's Nativity
Vigil Mass of St John the Baptist’s Nativity (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

Here is the second flash fiction story I wrote for my book of short stories, Destined for Greatness and Other Stories. I thought this would be appropriate for this time of year (given that it’s Valentines’s day on Tuesday).

The Profession of Faith in Future Tense

I believe in the future we’ll still be in love, and it’ll be official. Weekday mornings, we’ll say goodbye with a kiss outside our home. By lunch, I’ll send you the joke of the day from a child at the parish school. And you’ll send me the menu for dinner. I’ll get groceries but, as always, leave the cooking to you.

We’ll still read side by side in our home on Saturday mornings. You’ll read  Nietzsche. I’ll read poetry. Later, I’ll write a homily, and you’ll make lunch. In the afternoon, we’ll attend a parish soccer game or conduct a Pre-Cana meeting. Perhaps we’ll use our relationship as an example.

We’ll still keep our responsibilities. You’ll say daily Mass in the mornings because you’re an early riser. And I’ll work with the children at the parish school and say Mass for them. Or if we have children, I’ll stay at home part-time. You know I love kids.

We’ll save money by sharing clericals and collars. Unless one of us gains weight. This sometimes happens.

We’ll still volunteer at hospitals and prepare the dying for the next life. Sometimes they’ll call us late at night. Perhaps one night I’ll leave our bed and drive alone to the hospital. The road will be empty. And the hospital will be quiet. With full concentration I’ll listen to the final confession of a dedicated parishioner. For the patient, I’ll recite the Lord’s Prayer. My fingers will break off a small piece of the Host for the one dying. After the life expires, I’ll comfort the family and friends. Then I’ll leave alone in the dark for home. After I arrive, I’ll pause. Like I do now. To pray for the departed. To pray for their souls. That they’ll find love and peace in heaven like we have on earth.

Then I’ll exit the car as the sky becomes lighter. When I open the front door, you’ll be in the kitchen making breakfast. Waiting for me to return. Such a comfort, a soul for a soul.

You’ll say, “We can eat breakfast and watch the sun rise,” as you flip the pancake with the spatula in your hand.

That hand that I’ll take and would take again and again. That hand with that finger that’ll wear my ring. I’ll take it with mine with that finger that’ll wear yours. Yes, someday it’ll happen, and even the pope won’t mind. I have faith in love.

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February Flash Fiction: Gloria to God in the Highest

This month, I’ve decided to share some of my flash fiction with you from my book Destined for Greatness and Other Stories. Enjoy!

Gloria to God in the Highest

For the first time, Gloria felt free to wear a dress to Easter Mass. She purchased it at a store for tall women. The dress was made of lavender silk with short sleeves and scalloped edges. Luckily, the top covered her chest. She needed breast implants before she could wear anything low-cut.

With her mother almost out the door, Gloria leaned on a bookcase and carefully put on lavender heels. Such a lucky find. It wasn’t easy to find size eleven stilettos that matched her dress.

Although her mother drove, Gloria had a driver’s license. It became hers two days before. She took the card from her wallet and looked at it in the car.  Her new full name and a picture just after she had gotten her hair done, just for the occasion. She smiled. It looked good. Finally official.

They parked the car in the back of the church lot. Rows and rows of cars promised a full church. So many people might help her blend in better. Gloria clutched her purse in one hand and took her mother’s arm.

“You were always tall. With those heels, you could touch heaven and shake hands with God,” her mother said.

Gloria smiled and nodded.

In the back pew, they found space for two women to sit together. Before Mass, Gloria knelt and silently prayed. As the first hymn of the service began, she stood up and sang. Yes, she was tall. Elevated. Lifted high in stilettos. And when it was time, she recited:

‘Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth.’

Yes, peace. Hallelujah.

After Mass, they waited in line to greet the priest.

“Father, this is Gloria,” her mother said.

“Happy Easter, Gloria. Wow, you are tall,” he said, shaking her hand. “Marta, don’t you have a son? I remember he was very tall when he was young. Played basketball one season for our school. What was his name? Godfrey? No. Gary?”

Gloria’s mother smiled. “Father, this is Gloria.”

“Aren’t resurrections wonderful?” said Gloria.

He paused, but Gloria didn’t. Instead she took her mother’s arm and ascended the path to an Easter party in the park. The priest didn’t follow them. After all, it was only for the women of the parish. He wasn’t invited.

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From Zero to First Draft


Image by jjpacres via Flickr

I have almost finished the first draft to my most current novel. It has taken me roughly six months to arrive at this point in the process. This is how long it usually takes me to write a first draft for a novel. I know that once I finish the first draft, I will not be done. I will have many, many edits to do. But, even though I don’t like to edit my own work, I know it will be helpful. After all, it’s part of my process of writing. It is part of the basic plan I like to use when I write.

Most writers who have published more than novel or book have a particular process they use when they write. Some prefer to write on paper (I used to prefer this method when I was in college and wrote research papers. Others prefer writing at a particular time of day or evening (I prefer to write at night, if I can). But whatever method used, most writers have their own ways of writing.

For those who are interested, here is the process I use when I write a first draft.


I am nothing if not an English teacher. And as an English teacher, I believe in pre-writing. I find it an important part of writing. This is because even though I may have not written a word at this point, I am thinking about what I want to write. It’s when I plan out the basic plot, protagonist, first chapter, and ending. Here’s what I do during pre-writing:

1. I let the muse find me. There are those who say “write what you know”. This makes sense; after all, it’s easier to write about New York, for example, if you live in New York. I know of other writers who have said “write what you can imagine”. Doing this, assuming the writer has a good imagination, gives license to people who don’t normally have the background in something to write about it anyway. Sometimes this works. For example, I have written many stories about Catholic seminarians and other religious, even though I have never been a seminarian or religious. But for me, the expression “let the muse find me” seems to work. What does this mean? It means a couple of things. First, it means that there is an inspiration, or muse out there for your book. You don’t necessarily need to have experience with it. That muse can come from many, many places. Second, it means that, when you’ve found your inspiration or muse, you’ll know. Most of the time, the inspiration is active. It won’t leave you alone. It will follow you just about anywhere. And when that happens, you’ll know it’s the one.

2. I plan a protagonist from people you know. I cannot write about a person without a template, which is to say, a real example. Almost all of my characters in novels are based on real, actual people. Of course, I change each character to fit the novel or story. In this way, the character and real life person on which the character is based are different. But I usually have to know a type of person before I can write about him/her.

3. I plan the opening chapter. For me, this is very important. The first chapter needs to capture the attention of your readers and sustain it. To do this, I like my first chapters to be active and brief. This doesn’t always happen, of course. But I try to include action, suspense, surprise, and most of all, conflict. After all, the first chapter needs to draw  readers into the story. Also, if I can, I like to have the first chapter reflect the larger conflict in the novel. This means that the opening chapter will offer a challenge to the protagonist (and to the readers) that will be similar or metaphorically the same as the larger challenge in the novel. In that first chapter, the protagonist might think that s/he has solved the issue, but what s/he doesn’t know is that it’s only the beginning.

4. I find a song that will help write the first chapter. Like I said in one of my entries not too long ago, I like to work with playlists that I make from music from my iPod. It helps me think zero in on details, themes, moods, and other elements that I could not find without music.

5. I plan what will happen at the end of the novel. Will the protagonist solve the problem? Will the story come to a conclusion? What is the real conflict in the novel? These are questions that I think of as I think about a conclusion. At this point, of course, I don’t write that last chapter, although I may write a sentence or two about what I want to cover or what I want a character to say. But I need to have a basic idea about what I want to happen at the end.

6. I find a song for the ending. Sometimes this does not happen. That’s okay, it doesn’t have to at that point. But the key is to start looking. That way, I have something to use to help me write the conclusion by the time I am ready.

7. I research key information to help write the story. The Internet has become an extremely valuable tool for me when I want to do research for a novel. Let me give you some examples. For Fragile Creatures, I had to find out the main parts of the Roman Catholic mass in order to structure the novel. For Evening Prayer, I had to find out how people prepare heroin just before an intravenous shot. And for the novel that I’m writing now, I had to learn about jellyfish. Of course, this is also an ongoing process, and throughout writing, I will look up information I need on the Internet.

You may notice that I have not done some of the key things many successful writers do during pre-writing. Those things usually include brainstorming, outlining, and other ways to organize one’s writing. This is because, honestly, I don’t know how I’ll get from the intro chapter to the end. I mean, I have certain things I want to include. I may have some ideas about what the characters might say or do. But the only way I will find out what happens is if I write the novel. And many times, I don’t know what will happen from one scene to the next until I begin to write it.


I. I write the first chapter when I feel the inspiration to do so. This usually happens in the evening, and I can usually polish off the first chapter pretty quickly since I’ve already thought about it during the pre-writing stage. Often, I will have just experienced a muse-like situation earlier in that day or week. Also, keep in mind that I try to write a short first chapter anyway. So, I can usually write it within one evening.

8. Unless I won’t have time, I try to write the best scenes at night. I write best late at night. Sometimes I won’t go to bed until almost two am if I feel particularly inspired. I will often pay for it in the morning, but it’s usually still worth it.

9. I continue to plan the story as I go through my day. I think about a scene or character in the car or while doing the laundry. I will sometimes get a great idea while driving, which can be frustrating since I have to wait until I get to my destination before I record it on my phone or on a piece of paper.

10. I try to write during the day to the best of my ability, but it is usually inferior work, especially in the beginning. It’s unfortunate but true. However, once I get past the second half of the novel or if I’m writing a scene I’ve already thought about and planned, I can usually write something adequate during the day.

11. I write to cure writer’s block. Writer’s block happens to me often, especially at the beginning of a novel. The cure is to write. Only after I write can I find the next part of the novel.

12. I continue to research when I don’t know for sure. Like I said above, I research as I write and as I need information. Thank goodness for the Internet.

13. When I finish the first draft, I set it aside to write another first chapter for a different book. Surprisingly, I usually have two or three novels in my head at any given time. I don’t know why. It just happens. And it’s very helpful. When I finish and write a first draft for a new novel, it’s a chance to separate myself from the first draft I’ve just written. And when I return to it for edits, it’s like it’s brand new. I can read it with a fresh set of eyes.

Anyway, that’s what I do for a first draft. As you can see, I don’t do that much planning. Instead, I mostly plan as I go. And the most important pieces of the story I already have I store in my brain until it’s time to write it.

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By Any Other Name, Would The Character Be The Same?

A close-up of a red rose flower.

A rose by any other name would still smell sweet, but would a character?

I’ve never really liked my name. When I was really young, I couldn’t pronounce it. Later, in elementary school, I had  a heck of a time spelling it. In secondary school, I got teased because of it. At that point, I made tentative plans to something much more ordinary. But by the time I got to the age where I could change it, I decided not to. It seemed like a hassle. And I had more important things on my mind, anyway.

Anyway, I’m not sure what the logic was to my parents choosing a name that is essentially a man’s name (especially in the U.K.), but I’m not convinced they actually thought it through. As for myself, when I choose a name for a character, I try to make it somehow reflect a certain aspect of their personality (whether in an ironic way or not). Other times, I name a character after a famous or semi-famous person. That way, I can attribute certain characteristics to that character quickly and easily, without having to show them all through a vast array of scenes and dialogues. Here are some of the names I’ve used in my books and why I chose them:

In Fragile Creatures:

I started doing this with my first novel, Fragile Creatures. The name Juan Maria Echevarria, the protagonist in the novel, came from a mix of the founder of Opus Dei and the current Prelate of the organization. The reason for this is that the protagonist is, in many ways, very secretive and very conservative. I chose the name Juan as opposed to Jose because I wanted that name to go to another character in the novel and I did not want to cause confusion between the two.

The nickname Pepe (from Jose Antonio) was important for me because it added to the ridiculousness and clown-like personality of the character that we see in the beginning of the novel. Later on, as we see that he’s much more than a clown, Juan Maria chooses to use Jose Antonio, mostly to show respect and to show how his attitude changed toward the character.

I chose the nickname Lorca for Federico partly because he was supposedly a writer and seemed to have a sense of charm that the famous poet also had. But the other reason was that, in some ways, Federico did not seem to want to play the full role of who he really is. For example, when friends ask him his opinion of things, he wavers and never really answers directly. He’ll commit sins he knows he should not commit, but will not truly confess them to an authority. And when he does finally become shockingly honest in a letter, he does not sign his name. He uses a different one. The pseudonym or nickname “Lorca” is a personality he can hide behind so that he does not have to be himself. Of course, his good friend Carlos is, in many ways, the opposite of Lorca. You might have noticed that Lorca spelled backwards is Carlo, which further highlights their opposite natures (this is something a reader identified and something I did not notice until he told me. I guess the issue of names is also sometimes subconscious for me.).

In Destined for Greatness and Other Stories:

In the story “Gloria to God in the Highest,” I chose the name “Gloria” because of the reference to Luke 2:14, and to the fact that the character felt lifted by the change to such a name.

In the story “Creating Family,” I chose Pa Juanito and Pa Riquito to refer to the two protagonists, Juan Maria and Federico, from my first novel. Meanwhile, the daughter, Paquita is a reference to Jose Antonio, whom she was named after. It was a way to quickly find out what happened to the two characters from the first novel without having to write an entire novel about it.

In Evening Prayer:

I originally named the protagonist “Gabriel” because of the person who inspired me to write the novel in the first place. However, once it occurred to me that the name is that of one of the main angels in Christianity, I decided to name his sidekick Michael and his priest-friend Rafael. That way, these characters would be seen as angels, and not like devils like so many authors and other religious leaders have portrayed gay characters in the past (the name Andrew Greeley immediately comes to mind, but I know that there are many others).

Of course, the protagonist comes up with offensive, clever nicknames for people he encounters but does not know well, like Sister Queer, and Brother Asskiss. The reason for this was to illustrate what happens when one hears bits and pieces of a person but does not know the whole story. And this referred to the larger theme of the dangers of keeping situations hidden from the public and possible embarrassment.

The name Phil, the lover of the protagonist, was also intentional. His name referred to what Gabriel thought he did for him, which was to fill or complete him. Especially at the beginning, Gabriel believed he could not be complete or could not survive without another person. He was dependent on Phil.

Would these characters have been the same had I used different names for them? Honestly, I don’t know. A few years ago, when I changed my last name to match my child’s, I did notice that people started to take me a little more seriously. Was it because of my new last name? Maybe it was all in my mind. But I imagine that if I had used different names for these characters, I might not have inclined to give them the personalities they had in the stories. They might have been different by any other name.


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