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We all have stories, some stories more raw and brutal than others. In his new graphic novel based on his book From the Barrio to the Board Room, author Robert Rentería has a story of struggle and success that should be shared to anyone who believes in the principles of hard work, education, and determination. Mi Barrio, Rentería’s new graphic novel published by SmarterComics, achieves just that—a testament to Rentería’s life story—yet fails on its delivery to the younger readers Renetería is targeting.

Yet before Rentería’s story rambles into tedium (not the actual events, just how the story was told), the beginning of the graphic novel has promise. The first three pages set Rentería’s early childhood in East Los Angeles during the 60s. The prose and images are simple, yet powerful. The premise and scenery have been brilliantly introduced, and the reader has been prepared to dive into the rest of Rentería’s tale.

Unfortunately, the rest of the story’s arc misses the mark.

Author Robert Rentería

Almost immediately drug use tales appear and later stories of drunken behavior and sex begin to surface. The taboos are boundless, that most school districts in California—a key market for this type of book—couldn’t even stock the graphic novel in their libraries, let alone distribute to students. Rentería does have a curriculum for schools, yet we would think having a book being read in some schools would cause problems.

Telling real stories about struggle and success can be inspiring. However, the story’s impact loses it punch rather quickly with scenes that rambles, prose that tells and not shows, information that is lost in and limited the graphic novel, and black-and-white illustrations that lack edge and pizazz.

We feel that even though the graphic novel just doesn’t deliver (it feels to us like it needed about 20-30 pages edited for quicker pacing and storytelling), Rentería’s story is an amazing one. Maybe he should explore a video or performance art piece that could make his message—a rather important one—more alive.

Like a 30-second YouTube video, YA authors and graphic novelists need to grab their readers instantly. Rentería’s beginning indeed delivers, but that powerful and honest voice that starts the graphic novel gets muddled and muted throughout the rest of the story. The result is a flat didactic story that although true, will ring hollow due to lack of execution.

We hope that the schools that use this graphic novel are actually benefitting it and enjoying it. Perhaps they can tell us that we were wrong about Mi Barrio. We would be cool with that, knowing that one of the hardest things in the world to do in writing is to write for YA readers.

We wish Rentería all the luck in the world. His story is a MUST HEAR. Let’s hope his passion proves us wrong about Mi Barrio.

FTC Disclosure: We received this book free from the publisher as part of a Condor Book Tour. We were not required to write a positive review. The opinions we have expressed are our own. 

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We love our fellow Twitter writers. Absolutely love them. In the last two months, we have met so many amazing people who enjoy writing good stories. These are the new voices of publishing, and we are happy to be part of the community.

Last week, fellow #FridayFlash friend Trevor Belshaw shared some news about 100 Stories for Queensland, an unique writing anthology to benefit the recent floods in the Queensland region of Australia. We were so impressed by the single tweet that we wanted to interview Trevor to learn more about this admirable writing project that is accepting submissions until January 28.

JRV: Why reach out to the online writing community via social media?
TB: Social media networks have become such a big part of our writing communities that it is hard to differentiate between them. Social media is instantaneous, it is the fastest and hardest working grapevine in history. Nowadays if you don’t utilise these networks your project is almost certain to fail. Both Jodi Cleghorn and myself have large social media networks and it is now almost instinctive to go straight to Twitter/Facebook to share ideas, news and views.

Without social networking there wouldn’t be a project. The 100 Stories for Haiti and 50 Stories for Pakistan anthologies were born out of social media… beginning last year with Greg McQueen’s famous YouTube clip calling for writers worldwide to donate a story. Not much has changed this time round, (except the current project admin are a little more camera shy than Greg.)

JRV: Why do you want to pursue this?
TB: Queensland is, or has been, the home state of both our project administrators. Jodi Cleghorn resides there, and I lived there for six months a year between 1998 and 2005. To see the state in the grip of the worst disaster in its history compels us to do something. Normally, for those who live outside the country, the only way to offer help is by donating money. This project gives them another option.

100 Stories for Queensland provides an avenue for a group of people who are themselves often strapped for cash, to offer assistance to those in need. As one lady wrote on Twitter this week, “I am not in a position to donate money, but I can offer a story.”

The core management team of Maureen Vincent-Northam, David Robinson, Nick Daws, Jodi, and myself were all involved in at least one of the previous charity anthologies created by Greg McQueen, so it didn’t require too much consideration when the question was posed on Twitter: ‘100 Stories for Queensland?’ We all felt we had something to give. Everyone working on the project feels a strong bond with the people of Queensland and they are doing what they do best — sharing their creative talents to help raise money for those affected.

JRV: How many submissions do you expect to receive?
TB: We expect to receive between 300-400 submissions based on the current rate of lodgement.

JRV: How has the reaction been so far?
TB: The support has been overwhelming. From the people who originally signed up to read and edit (including a strong contingent from Brisbane) to our friends and friends of friends who have blogged, emailed and shared the links on Facebook and Twitter. Links to the project have turned up in the most amazing places. Every day we get emails, Tweets and Facebook messages from people who either want to pass the word on or know more about the project.
We have been approached by three high profile authors offering to donate stories and word is still spreading, we are sure there will be more yet.

There will always be detractors of any type of fundraising event, and we have had a few ourselves. We have found that those who have spoken out against this particular project are doing so from a preconceived personal agenda or a misconception regarding the scale of the disaster.

JRV: What sort of stories are you looking for?
TB: We’re looking for feel good stories, the kind that leaves a warm afterglow in the wake of finishing. Stories which provide hope, lift the reader, or give them a jolly good laugh.

Stories can be of any genre and for any age, but no poetry please. The submission should be between 500-1000 words and not previously(mainstream) published. (Blog publishing is fine.)

All entries should be submitted through the submissions page at 100 Stories for Queensland.

Anyone interested can view the Facebook page at 100 Stories for Queensland: Facebook.

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Another fun week of #FridayFlash has passed, and the Twitter stream was active over the weekend. We read some great flash pieces. Here were our favorite five:

Our Twitter Flash Five

@bukowskisbaseme: A screenwriter finds his mojo in “The Movie Mogul.”

@gracecrone: A quaint and elegant holiday tale: Read “The Snow Child.”

@mazzz_in_Leeds: A story of three mates spending their last night together: “Musketeers.”

@stephenbook: We have quickly become big fans of this Western series: “Heroes Wanted (Part 5).”

@Dannigrrl5: A tribute to Poe, and that is why we loved: ““For the Love of Wine.”

Go, #FridayFlash!

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While developing more chapters of Franky Benítez, I had the pleasure to read numerous pieces of fiction through Twitter and its incredibly vibrant Friday Flash community.

In the interest of helping to spread the word about fellow writers, each week I will be choosing my “Twitter Flash Five,” those writers whose pieces I truly enjoyed. It was a tough job to choose them this week, but here they are:

Our Twitter Flash Five

@TimVanSant: See what a gunslinger does at a cattle call audition in “Cattle Call.”

@icypop: This piece takes you back to a lonely and cold Christmas, long time ago: Read “The Visitor.”

@Wiswell: The title of this piece will make you think and so will the piece: “I Hate Gay.”

@virginiamoffatt: An icy relationship that just won’t melt away: “Waiting for the Thaw.”

@kjm: Writing one continuous dialogue is tough. Writing two is beyond tough. That is why I chose “What Separates Us.”

Honorable mentions go to:

@RBlackbirdsong, @yamnasus, and @ericjkrause.

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