Posts Tagged ‘San Café’

CONFESSIONS OF A CULTURE CRIMINAL

Last September, I wrote about “cultural appropriation” in “Let the Book Burning Begin.” Some attendees at a literary festival in Australia excoriated the novelist Lionel Shriver for advocating that “white” writers should be free to create characters of other ethnicities. They can also excoriate me!

My novel Slick! (one of Kirkus Reviews’ 25 Best Indy Books of 2012) presents Arab characters. They revealed all kinds of traits, some culturally specific, others simply human. Some characters I like. Others I satirize—as I did white American diplomats.

In San Café, I created—gasp—Latino characters. Again, I satirized human nature across ethnicities.

I avoided crossing most ethnic bounds in The Boy Walker but cop a plea to “cultural speciesism.” Like me, all my major characters are Jewish, but the novel’s narrator is the shattered Greenbaum family’s 12-year-old English Bulldog Brute. However, the speciesism isn’t all that grievous. Brute’s also Jewish.

In Flight of the Spumonis I had the gall to write about an Italian circus family with Irish roots. Was it okay because Italians and Irish are white? People think Jews are white, but I know many Jews with other genetic backgrounds. Also, I don’t identify that way. Still, I got enough Jewish characters into the novel to cover my tracks—including a “black” character who’s equal parts African-American, Chinese, Native American and, yes, Jewish.

Which leads me to my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht. I’m not giving much away by saying that Adonis is not—gasp again—Greek (would that be a no-no?) but Jewish. Yet he undertakes a relationship with a woman named Emily, adopted from Korea by white parents. He works closely with a Mexican-American named Fred. Can it be that in the major art museum where Adonis works, his contemporaries include people with Korean and Mexican genetics? Or must Adonis, living in a large but unnamed city, encounter only other Jews?

In Adonis, I also created an African-American character. I can imagine cultural purists salivating then snarling that Hunter Kirk must be a semi-literate gangster representing every racist’s stereotype. Or a star entertainer or athlete with no depth. Wrong! He’s the museum’s executive director. True, he shows Adonis a football in his office, but the protectors of cultural purity may be surprised:

“People always seem so startled,” said Dr. Kirk. “Or they think, Well, sure. All black men play sports.” A second-string tight end during his senior year, he’d caught the winning touchdown against his school’s archrival with seventeen seconds left. “Division Three ball. No pro scouts in the stands. Well, maybe one or two but not to see me. It was my only touchdown of the season. If you must know, of my career. A broken play. Life’s all about timing.” And discipline, he pointed out. It took discipline to earn a Ph.D. and an MBA. “No easy task for your average street kid.” He chuckled. “Of course, my father was a corporate lawyer, and my mother was a pediatrician.”

How dare a Jewish writer believe that an African-American can be educated and skilled, can lead a major arts organization, can be (final gasp) like anyone else? Take me to literary court and accuse me of recognizing the humanity in all ethnicities. I’ll plead guilty.

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THERAPY TIMES FOUR

Self-reflection represents a blessing and a curse. The thinking, aware mind uncovers new possibilities. Yet seemingly intractable problems—a violent world, personal failings—stagger that mind. Four therapies guide me towards positive territory.

FRIENDS. My friend Jim and I do lunch every two or three weeks. We meet in Mill Valley. Revealing what’s on our minds, we share achievements and failures. Tomorrow, I’ll meet several friends at Torah Study as I do each Saturday morning. Then we’ll go for coffee. We’ll talk. We’ll bitch. We’ll laugh. We’ll laugh a lot. Other friends I’ll see for dinner and/or a movie. We’ll enjoy each other’s company and feel uplifted after. A therapist can charge $200 an hour or more. Friends listen for free. And they accept you as you are.

WALKING. As kids, my friends and I walked a lot because so much in our Queens neighborhood was in walking distance. To go to Manhattan, we’d take the subway. A token—this was before Metro cards—cost 15¢ as did a slice of pizza. Then we’d walk. In San Francisco, I walk from my house to the Pacific Ocean, Baker Beach, the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park and Mountain Lake, just two blocks away. I walk to my synagogue, Sherith Israel. That’s over two miles. Occasionally when I’m downtown, I walk home, covering as much as five miles (some up hills). Using your legs offers an opportunity to think, weigh challenges and, occasionally, find solutions. Walking with friends? Fabulous.

WRITING. Few authors make big money. The majority—publishing traditionally or independently—keeps their day jobs. Many target the commercial market. Most, I suspect, write novels or stories to work out what roils within them. I do. The only book on which I “made money” was my non-fiction work, Solo Success. A labor of love—I wanted to share what I’d learned about the business side of freelancing—it brought in less than a single ho-hum work month. (Disclosure: My ho-hum months were quite good.) Writing fiction helps me deal with the world. I observed the idiocy of America in Iraq and the ongoing dysfunction of the Arab world. Slick! I detest the hypocrisy both of right-wing hyper-capitalism and left-wing revolutionary movements. San Café. Fathers and sons spawned The Boy Walker. A range of issues produced Flight of the Spumonis. I just finished the first draft of a new novel. It deals with superficiality in American culture. I probably won’t make a dime. Still, I feel better exploring something that disturbs me.

SHABBAT. Shabbat arrives every Friday night. It serves as a focal point in time for considering what’s really important and connecting with what is greater than ourselves and ultimately unknowable—often translated as God. Observing Shabbat offers release from a world that’s always challenging, often painful. Each week, I get to call time out. For an introvert, that’s invaluable.

Who’d have thought therapy could be so cheap? Or that it might take so many forms? True, these four therapies don’t guarantee perfect results. But they nudge the scales towards a sense of balance. Often that’s the best we can expect. I’ll take it.

The blog will take a rest next week and return on September 18. To all who are observing and celebrating the Jewish New Year (5776), Shanah Tovah!

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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TRUMPING THE DONALD

I don’t support saying negative things about people. The Rabbis consider lashon hara—evil speech—one of humanity’s great sins. But let’s get real. Negativity can be part of a grand strategy to achieve something necessary. Something great. That’s why American political life revolves around attack ads. So I’m adding my own wisdom to the political scene: Donald Trump is a schmuck.

Before you condemn me for engaging in evil speech, let me offer sound reasons for such a statement. I’ll begin with evidence—something politicians tend to avoid.

The Donald slammed Mexicans as rapists and murderers. Mexican immigrants anyway. Well, illegal Mexican immigrants if you’re picky. Lots of people come here from Mexico illegally. That’s wrong. But they come to work—and they work hard. Yet a number of recent mass murders in this nation were perpetrated not by Mexicans but by white American citizens.

Then the Donald attacked John McCain’s war record. “He’s not a hero,” said the Donald. Why? McCain, a Navy fighter pilot, was shot down over Vietnam and held captive for 5-1/2 years. POWs, according to the Donald, can’t be heroes. As it happens, McCain’s father was Admiral John McCain, Jr. The North Vietnamese offered to release the current senator from Arizona during the war—without his captive brothers. McCain refused special treatment. Of course, capturing the Donald would have been impossible. In college, he received student deferments then a 4-F medical deferment before getting a high draft lottery number. In fairness though, he did spend his high school years at a military school.

Campaigning for all he’s worth (“I’m really rich,” he boasts proudly), the Donald flew to Laredo, Texas to speak about immigration. He claimed great personal risk. Bravely, he eschewed body armor and a helmet—if he could find one large enough to cover his comb-over. Still, no one else in attendance appeared worried. The Donald also attacked former Texas governor Rick Perry for wearing glasses, supposedly to make him look intelligent. (I might give him a pass there.) And The Des Moines Register claimed that the Donald denied their reporters press credentials for an event in Osklaoosa, Iowa because the paper urged him to drop out of the Republican primaries, calling him a “feckless blowhard.”

Now let’s move to a better reason for me to castigate the Donald. I’m hoping he gets so riled up that to spite me, he buys 100 copies each of my novels—Slick!, San Café, The Boy Walker and Flight of the Spumonis—and burns them publicly. Nothing spurs an author’s sales like a good-old-fashioned book burning. Those bright orange embers are dollar signs. Trust me, you can’t buy that kind of media exposure and excitement. In fact, I’ll cut the Donald in for one-third of my royalties. It’s the least I can do; we’re both from Queens.

But wait. Could the Donald be playing me? Has he been waiting for me to call him a schmuck so he can burn books so my sales can soar so he can direct yet another revenue stream towards his bottom line? Suddenly, I’m feeling anxious. Out of control. Maybe I should have titled this post “Trumping the David.”

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—July sale priced at $15 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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FACT FOLLOWS FICTION

Is Starbucks ripping me off? Is a giant corporation picking on—or more accurately, picking the brains of—a little guy? Is the announcement made by Starbucks last Tuesday—which turns fiction into fact—just a coincidence?

Fact: Starbucks will launch its first store in Colombia, the South American coffee-growing nation that gave us Juan Valdez. They’ll open in Bogotá in 2014.

Fact: My last novel, San Café, tells the satiric story of a retail coffee giant, Mobys. It’s pure fiction. But what does that mean? Fiction—even fantasy—reflects the world in which we live and particularly human nature. As it happens, Mobys enters its one-hundredth country by opening a store in the Republic of San Cristo, a coffee-dominated nation nicknamed San Café. Moreover, Mobys has major interests in San Cristo, just as Starbucks is involved in Colombia’s coffee industry.

Fact: I was first with the concept of a giant coffee company finally opening a store in a nation, which supplies many of its beans.

Fact: Starbucks’ marketing staff hasn’t thanked me for the inspiration—or even offered a token of its appreciation. Cash would be nice. A gift card would do. Of course, selling San Café in all its stores would really show good faith.

I’m not saying that I’ll sue. But the parallels are, shall we say, interesting. As of 2012, Starbucks had 18,000 locations worldwide with 200,000-plus employees. Revenues totaled $13.3 billion. Mobys? I quote San Café: “Mobys’ operations, even after a modest restructuring, included 15,000 owned or licensed stores, kiosks and in-home dispensaries. If [Chairman Whitman] Scharq was proud of anything, it was soccer moms, stay-home dads and stuck-in-the-job-search unemployed of all demographics hustling a little extra cash by selling coffee out of their garages and living rooms.”

Alas, I’m not at liberty to reveal Mobys’ number of employees, revenues or the status of its Yo Mobys! and ¡Mobys Aquí! handcarts promoting capitalism in the nation’s ghettos and barrios. Even fictional corporations have their secrets.

Fact: Starbucks sells a variety of products and owns Tazo Tea, Seattle’s Best Coffee and the La Boulange bakery chain. Mobys licenses logo-imprinted jewelry, school supplies, underwear, children’s toys and auto accessories. It also offers religious items to mega-church gift shops.

But wait. This Mobys information isn’t fact. It’s fiction. It just feels like fact. Because fact and fiction tend to merge—in either direction.

So maybe I’m being a little dramatic. Maybe Starbucks’ Chairman Howard Schultz bears no resemblance to Whitman “The Great Whit” Scharq. Maybe Starbucks doesn’t run the government of Colombia. Maybe no bodies will show up in and around Bogotá as a response to Starbucks’ looming presence.

But, if Starbucks sends a retired Special Forces officer to honcho the security of the new store… if a leftist revolutionary who loves gourmet cooking announces he’s seeking the nation’s presidency… if Starbucks is cooking up an alternative energy source based on coffee… and if Schultz announces that the Pope will cut the ribbon at the Bogotá grand opening… the graffiti is on the wall. That’s my story.

And I’m sticking to it.

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To all of you observing the Jewish High Holy Days, I wish you a New Year (5774) of health, fulfillment and peace.

Read the first three chapters of SAN CAFÉ and of SLICK!, named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 25 Best Indie Novels of 2012, at davidperlstein.com. Order at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com or bn.com. 

CHAVEZ, DETROIT AND ME

The late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, the city of Detroit and I all share a common link.

Chavez and me? In my novel San Café, the would-be socialist strongman of fictional San Cristo, Jesús Garcia-Vega, idolizes Chavez. Both reject the accumulation of private wealth. Chavez redistributed much wealth to the poor. In doing so, he virtually eliminated illiteracy and vastly improved healthcare. Yet he left Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy in a shambles. And no leader who embraces Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will ever play a constructive role on the world stage.

Detroit and me? My youngest son Aaron spent his first year as a professional dancer there—in the suburbs. I made three trips to Detroit, including downtown visits and a pilgrimage to the old Motown studios on West Grand.

The Chavez-Detroit connection? Government can and should play a role in improving the lives of people left out of a nation’s economic advances. But government control on the scale of Venezuela’s can warp an economy and stunt its growth. Venezuela now faces a choice. It can use Chavez’ positive accomplishments as a platform for establishing a responsible market economy or it can continue carrying its people on the government’s back—and sink under its bloated weight.

Detroit also faces a choice. America’s poster child for failed cities is witnessing impressive changes. True, most of the city remains poor and blighted. Yet three of its four major league sports teams play downtown. The opera house draws crowds. The Big Three automakers are thriving. And Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans, as well as ambitious entrepreneurs are buying run-down buildings, refurbishing them and filling them with businesses. They’re developing new living spaces, too. Enclave though it is, downtown is coming back even as Michigan governor Rick Snyder plans to appoint a manager over the city’s finances.

Critics decry the downtown surge. They say Detroit’s poor aren’t riding this economic wave. They’re right. But most productive jobs get created when companies and entrepreneurs identify markets, invest money and sweat then take on employees. In the process, they hire contractors and their subs, janitors, IT consultants and security personnel. More workers and residents boost sales at nearby restaurants, coffee houses, drugstores and dry cleaners.

Momentum builds. Enterprising individuals open new small businesses or seek work. The tax base expands. Optimism grows. Business, community and government organizations devote more resources to helping local residents acquire job skills. Give a man a fish and eats for a day, the saying goes. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.

Detroit won’t become an overnight success. But it can make progress—and ultimately spread it to neighborhoods—if citizens and politicians see downtown development not as a racial or class barrier but as a springboard to a better future. The marketplace is imperfect. But it offers more hope than a government-controlled economy that insists that “the people” all be equally poor.

Hugo Chavez would have been exactly the wrong mayor for the Motor City.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

THE BEYONCÉ FACTOR

Posted Feb 8 2013 by with 3 Comments

The superstar singer Beyoncé is popping up everywhere. She sang (okay, lip-synced) at President Obama’s inaugural. She starred in the halftime show at last Sunday’s Super Bowl. And she is mentioned and seen but not given thoughts or dialog—in Ben Fountain’s novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a National Book Award finalist. That’s something to think about.

In an interview, Beyoncé once stated that her sexy performance character (seasoned by girlfriend-sister smiles) isn’t her. She sells an image. Like an actress who plays Lady Macbeth but who may be a tenderhearted polar opposite. Or a raunchy comedian who may be good-natured and mild-mannered offstage.

As a novelist, I get it. My characters reflect diverse aspects of human nature, not necessarily me. I’m not as greedy as Sheik Yusuf and the Ambassador in Slick! Nor as egocentric as Jesús Garcia-Vega and Adella Rozen in San Café. (Not that that’s saying all that much for me.) The Beyoncé factor—the adoption of a persona to meet specific objectives—comes into play.

Alas, Americans—as the rest of the world, because this is a human phenomenon—tend to mash up reality and fantasy. Politicians, artists, CEOs, athletes—anyone in the spotlight—profess the highest ideals then mock them by word and deed.

Mass shootings take place with horrible regularity? Let’s arm ourselves to the teeth—no weapon left behind. Abortions kill the innocent? Let’s kill people who perform them and muzzle those who counsel women to make their own decisions. Democracy’s threatened overseas? Let’s send American military forces anywhere, anytime—multiple deployments are just a fact of life—and run the table on our national budget. Congress is deadlocked? Let’s keep poor and minority Americans away from the polls. They vote for the wrong candidates.

As to Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: The Army brings home from Iraq the survivors of a heroic squad. They engage in a two-week tour of the U.S. to be lauded and applauded. And raise support for the war. The tour concludes—and this constitutes the novel’s setting and time frame—at the Dallas Cowboys’ old Texas Stadium for a Thanksgiving Day game against the Chicago Bears.

Admiration drenches the squad like the sleet penetrating the opening in the stadium’s roof. Team officials, their guests and fans continually ask, “We’re winning, aren’t we?” But these young kids—their squad leader is twenty-two—have no strategic view. All they know is blood, death and lingering fear. They’re being sent back to Iraq.

Beyoncé’s appearance represents a cultural reference as do the Barbie Doll-style Cowboys cheerleaders—controlled sexual imagery in a repressed, evangelical milieu. Fountain peels away the Beyoncé factor from the big shots and ordinary folks surrounding his confused protagonists, unmasking the pretensions with which we seek to disguise ourselves.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is serious stuff. That’s why Pleasant utilizes satire loaded with humor. And doubtless why he includes references to Beyoncé—whoever she may be.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

SAHARA DRY

When it comes to humor, there’s dry and there’s Sahara dry. A writer can craft a piece so tongue-in-cheek it flies over readers’ heads. I plead—maybe—guilty.  Several readers thought “An Affront to Humanity” (November 23) concerned a real woman’s real experience on a San Francisco Muni bus. Nope. As I wrote in a postscript last week, it was all about Israel and Hamas.

True, dry humor can be rewarding. The novelist Claudia Long wrote about my first novel, a geopolitical satire set in the Persian Gulf: “SLICK! is filled with action and atmosphere so deftly drawn that we don’t realize until a moment later that David Perlstein is pulling our leg.” (No cash changed hands.) Claudia must be right. Kirkus Reviews gave SLICK! a star as a “book of remarkable merit” and featured me in a column in their April 15 issue. (More big news in two weeks.)

So will readers “get” my new novel, SAN CAFÉ? Set—except for two scenes in the Bay Area—in the fictional Central American nation of San Cristo, SAN CAFÉ is anything but dry. When the novel begins, it’s raining like hell. Moreover, SAN CAFÉ has lots of dark moments. Kirkus—bless ‘em—cites “a no-holds-barred willingness to examine some considerably dark terrain.” (Let’s also not forget Kirkus’ comment about the “whip-smart prose.”) Yet the satire often is broader than in SLICK! To be on the safe side, I offer an author’s guide to understanding several of the main characters.

Jesús Garcia-Vega is an ardent leftist. His name combines the obvious with that of a brand of cigars my father smoked when I was a kid—Garcia y Vega (four for a quarter). Silly? Heck no. Garcia-Vega admires Fidel Castro. Fidel’s nickname? The Big Cigar.

Capitán Enrique Hauptmann-Hall is a Cristano but doesn’t have a Spanish name. No, his grandparents weren’t Nazis who fled the Allies’ wrath. Like many of the wealthy in Latin America, his family descended from powerful European colonialists who, in their Christian-mercantilist fervor, took the natives to the cleaners. No wonder he has an attitude. He also flips out. See chapter one.
Whitman Scharq is founder, chairman and CEO of Mobys Inc., the world’s largest coffee retailer. And yes, he’s left a lot of blood in the water. But what can you expect from the head of a company pioneering Yo Mobys! And ¡Mobys Aquí¡ pushcarts to keep people in America’s ghettos and barrios alert while generating extra corporate revenue?

Maria Skavronsky is an exotic beauty, half Cristano (mom) and half Russian (dad). An alumna of Stanford and of Harvard Law, she’s also a former modern dancer and a devoted single mom. No wonder she’s so damned dangerous.

Easy, right? Although we haven’t even discussed the Italian media diva Adella Rozen (what’s wrong with purple hair?) and Bobby Gatling, my hero—kind of—with nerves of steel, a heart of gold and a right knee resembling papier maché.

As a former hockey-mom vice-residential candidate from the state with the nation’s largest landmass likes to say, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” Or am I being Sahara dry?

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Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available in soft cover and digital format at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

TWO HUNDRED PAGES

Nothing turns a writer’s thoughts to what constitutes a good novel than launching a new novel of his own. This weekend I’m launching San Café—about revolution, murder, betrayal and a great cup of coffee. As to how novels are judged—and misjudged—a recent conversation proved revealing.

A friend, who knows literature well, showed me a novel she was reading. It had achieved critical success and doubtless earned the author reasonable financial reward. So I was surprised when my friend revealed, “It took me two hundred pages to get into it. But that’s just me. I have a friend who only needed a hundred pages.”

How, I asked myself, can novelists and publishers succeed when they often dare their readers to become engaged? The literary marketplace seems continually to be flooded with critically acclaimed books that leave me wondering about an “emperor’s new clothes” syndrome. Over the last several months, three novels had me wondering indeed.

A woman long deemed one of America’s great contemporary writers authored the first. My wife liked it, although she said it took a long time to get into it. I failed to take the hint. I started reading. Great opening—for four or five pages. After that, nothing much happened. The story petered out. After slogging through fifty pages, I put it away.

I started another novel, this by a woman hailed as one of today’s great young American writers. The book was nominated for prestigious awards and made the New York Times bestseller list. I began with high hopes. I discovered a distinctive voice, clever language and quirky characters. But where was the conflict? After sixty pages waiting for something to actually happen, I abandoned ship. (My wife didn’t get as far as I did.)

So I started a novel by a man with a solid literary reputation built over more than three decades. Terrific opening. And then…

Aristotle wrote, “Plot is character revealed by action.” Scott Fitzgerald followed up with, “Character is plot, plot is character.” They got it. So, by the way, did Karl Marlantes, author of the justifiably acclaimed Vietnam War novel Matterhorn, which I mentioned last week in “Snake Eyes.”

I hope that with San Café I got it, too. I write satire—San Café is geopolitical satire set in Central America—because I love humor and puncturing pretentions. I also love quirky characters. But most of all, I love telling stories. So I filled San Café, like Slick! before it (same protagonist but set in the Persian Gulf) with interesting twists and turns and lots of surprises.

I invite you to read the first three chapters of San Café at davidperlstein.com. It’s free. Should you want your very own soft-cover or digital copy—this is my blog; I can flog my books all I want—just go to iUniverse.com, Amazon.com or bn.com. You can even see me.

This I promise. You won’t need two hundred pages to get into San Café. And you’ll only have to read 252 pages to get out.

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