back to school

A couple of week ago I had the huge pleasure of visiting a fifth year, pre-exam class at Berlage Lyceum here in Amsterdam. I was invited my friend and fiction critique group colleague, Peter Crowe, who teaches English there.

I was the inaugural guest in a series of podcasts in which, for school audiences, Peter plans to invite different individuals working creatively with the English language in Amsterdam – of which there are surprisingly many, I should add.

(click the photo for entire interview)

I didn’t think I would enjoy talking to an audience of 16 year-olds about writing as much as I did. They seemed well prepared. That morning they had read parts of the book, and after Peter conducted his interview, hands went up all over the place with good questions that could only have come from genuine interest. A couple of his students revealed ambitions toward writing fiction themselves even, and I suspect there were more aspiring novelists in the class.

I sold three books too – and not even at a student discount!

I sure hope to do this more often.

Loved it.

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July 12, 2013 · 12:35 pm

Bully

It doesn’t happen very often that my writing gets cut to shit in public. I assume that this is because most people are too polite and can appreciate the effort, regardless. But it does happen and it happened to me, the other day, by a known bully, however – at his house.

At a well chosen moment in a conversation getting underway with enough likeminded admirers around him – obviously – the bully said,

It could be that my English isn’t so good, but I didn’t understand what your book is about. There were words in there I didn’t know and your sentences are too complicated for me.

I thanked him for his candor. I told him that I too thought his English wasn’t that great, but that he had been brave to try.

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Genre

Pin up

Courtesy: The Pin-up Parade

I’m not sure how it is in the rest of the world, but in Holland, women’s thrillers are immensely popular; as a rule, written by women and read massively by the same mostly during the summer months. This genre has been my own cup of tea on occasion, and out of the ones that have been, some I enjoyed more than others, of course.

One of these female Dutch authors is the former lawyer living in Miami Beach, named Tess Franke – http://www.tessfranke.nl/ – delving from her own experiences in the world of courts and crime with four successful titles to her name so far.

Interesting thing about Tess is not only that she constantly seems to get short-listed for this prize or that and that she thus could be consider one of the top ladies of Dutch crime fiction, but Tess is also a buddy of mine. That is –

When it comes to Tess Franke, some explaining is always helpful. A couple of years ago, during the height of (I believe) her second title, Tess revealed that next to her talents as a lawyer and a writer, she was also a marketing genius. She had supposedly never given interviews with the Dutch press other than in writing. Clearly, her busy schedule balancing a law and writing career and the inconvenient fact that she resides in the United States, was always an acceptable reason for not appearing on any talkshows or Live radio and whatnot.

One day, however – or, so the story of Tesss goes – her Dutch publisher appeared in the media to announced to her adoring fans that Tess Franke is indeed a fictional character herself, by the hand of a friendly giant named Gert-Jan de Vries – a man!

Gert-Jan and I are friends, though I consistently call him Tess. I refuse to do otherwise. What I can say about Tess is that he will never hesitate to support and encourage a fellow scribe with a mix of childlike enthusiasm and the energy of a space-bound rocket, especially when it comes to new ideas regarding the changing world of writing and publishing. This enlightened soul in my life is also the founder of a new platform called Boenda – http://www.boenda.nl/ – a platform for authors to maximize their earnings by selling directly to their readers. And as a writer he is the most prolific one I know.

I am sorry I missed Tess at my book launch last month, but living in Miami, balancing a career as a lawyer and novelist, boss of his own publishing house Gibbon – http://gibbonuitgeefagentschap.nl/ – writing and ghost-writing all over the place and managing Boenda, I was at peace with his considerate e-mail he sent me explaining why he couldn’t come, but with the promise that he would read my book and that he would say something about it.

Well, she did; Gert-Jan did – Tess:

Claudio, you wrote a women’s book. And to do that one definitely needs balls!

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Book Launch – The Hand of Yemanjá / 26 May, 2013

an impression…

DSC_7084

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpnPWsT6EEU

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How I became King

My mother is abdicating, as you may have heard.

Oracion a San Expedito

And now it’s only days before I crash face first into a wall. I have been on a collision course with it my entire life, this wall; preparing for it, if you will. And on this path I have dragged myself for 46 years.

Lessons, there have been plenty, too; one of them being that love doesn’t come from symbols but from the act of giving – that wealth isn’t a blessing at all but a mere consequence of it.

The job itself isn’t exactly clean, either. Or, let me put it this way: just thinking about it overwhelms me every time with the urge to wash my hands. Often I have cringed with migraines too and fought back the feeling of wanting to empty my stomach at the thought that my place in history is in the role of an opinion-less puppet, a knight without a horse, a conquered lord.

However, opportunity has presented itself and I have decided to step up, right into the surge of destiny.

A politically flavored commission put out the call to let my subjects collectively compose a song in my honor – good idea were it not for the fact that a song sprouts from the heart of one poet and rarely as the product of a collective effort. But the sentiment was pure, I’m sure.

Had they asked me what I thought of the idea, though, I would have told them that it is too cerebral this way. I would have said that the project was doomed to be shredded by compromise from the very start. And that besides, these just aren’t the times for this sort of things. The epoch of collective sentiment and song just isn’t upon us, I would have said.  I would have told them that from a technical standpoint, writing an opera in this fashion might have been easier.

However,

–              Friday, April 19 (morning) – The royal bard presents his hastily quilted masterpiece.

–              Friday April 19 (mid-afternoon) – disappointment and rejection of the song collects itself on social media like a ripple that could well become a tidal wave by the time it reaches the shore.

–              Friday April 19 (evening) – Outrage has gone viral. The nation seems united in one voice: Kill the song.

–              Saturday April 20 (morning) – The land awakes to the call to hang the bard. For a moment, I feel it is me the subjects are rejecting by rejecting the song and its maker. I feel I have come upon my inevitable defeat – the wall up close, the second before my face explodes against it.

–              Saturday April 20 (afternoon) – I feel ashamed, though I am not sure about what exactly – or if the failure is entirely mine.

–              Saturday April 20 (evening) – The bard gets taken to the central square and is hung by his feet. The throng stones and mutilate the dying bard with sticks and fists. With sickles and knifes he gets gutted, his insides staining the ground over which I will soon be forced to reign.

–              Sunday April 21 (that entire day) – I do not get out of bed. What has kicked me off my feet isn’t the migraines this time, which have become more frequent as my mother’s retirement nears, but something all together darker: hatred.

–              Monday April 22 (morning) – The princess gets the girls off to school, locks the door and returns to the bedroom. She merely glances at the sheets on the bed, a bitter heap of inability and defeat. She retreats into the bathroom. From the closet labeled ‘private’ she removes her finest and softest night garment, slips into it, fixes her hair, returns to the foot of the bed and declares:

“My darling, today is the day I make you King.”

She throws back the covers and does to me the thing only Catholic girls can do.

–                      Tuesday April 23 (morning) – I inform the press that on Wednesday I will direct myself to the people I was put on this planet to unite.

PAXI 2I will simply let them know that it isn’t they who are called to like or dislike a song, but me, their King. I – and only I have the right to hang bards – and as far as there being a song fit to capture my spirit and honor my reign, it is I and I alone who can will it to be so.

I will decree that all my subjects compose a song of their own, in which they express how they plan to take me into their hearts for as long as I see fit to call myself their King.

Every subject will be called to present his and her composition to me personally. Next to the hanging corpse of the last bard my kingdom will ever have, a stage will be erected and the show will last until every song is heard – until I have heard the one song fit to serenade a King’s heart.

And when this chapter in my kingdom’s history can at last be written, only then will I assume the rest of my responsibilities.

I command armies, as have my forefathers, and when every song has been heard, only then, together, we will attack England – again.

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Monsters (too) deserve a peaceful Death

margaret_thatcherChile, the 1940-s; Italians. Most, first generation emigrants. Catholics; the right wing engraved into their DNA….

A young woman and her three children enter the home of her dying mother-in-law. The two women have not spoken for years; ever since their last falling out, in which both said things that would never be unsaid and which would mark them until death –  as it turned out.

Records are sketchy as to what was said exactly, and by whom. But on this day the three small children will learn that it had involved a curse their mother put onto the ‘old witch’ in payment for her disrespect.

Later, when the children are old enough to ask their mother for details of that day, and what had lead to it, their mother openly replies – as if somehow putting curses on family members were still a common thing. Well, it would seem that with emigrants from the Old World – even in 1940-s – it still was.

The curse had been clearly formulated, without frazzle, as curses need to be:

“Old witch, you will not die until I forgive you ….” – hatred put to words and given a place in the everyday of things.

It has been years since that fateful day. A month ago, grandmother suffered a massive stroke. The extensive bleeding in her brain killed her right away, speaking in terms of human dignity that is. Though, technically, for almost a month, in a coma, she can still be considered to be a collection of somewhat ‘functioning’ organs and can thus not yet be boxed. She hangs on, amazing family, friends and the medical professionals alike with her heroic inability to find peace. Stoic – the emigrant has always seen worse….

There isn’t a prayer in the community that can prompt the Lord to wing this gentle soul and take it into His kingdom. The suffering – for all – is exasperating, for no-one knows that it isn’t God’s cruelty at all prolonging it, but a thing as human and clear as a duty that was forced upon the old woman by the wife of her only son.

And on this day, with her young children by her side, the young woman decides it is time to end it; to release the old bat into the arms of God at last.

Standing by the side of their grandmother’s bed, the children observe their mother cross herself with short and deliberate stabs to her own chest and lips. They watch her lower her hand to the old woman’s forehead and then strike it swiftly down the pale face that now feels nothing but still will not disobey the power of the oath.

Years later, the children will recall – though, this has yet to be confirmed – hearing their mother word inside a stifled sigh, as her hand touches the grandmother’s face, “Enough. Go.” – a whisper powerful enough to wing souls indeed and open the gates to kingdoms only God (and Italians, apparently) have the might to open.

The children’s grandmother was buried at the Parque del Recuerdo in Santiago the next day.

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welcome!

May 26 - Gelerie Weesperzijde, Amsterdam

May 26 – Gelerie Weesperzijde, Amsterdam

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March 28, 2013 · 10:46 am