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I am proud to announce that one of my chapters for FRANKY BENÍTEZ was published in the book 100 STORIES FOR QUEENSLAND, a charity anthology of flash fiction from authors across the globe. Proceeds from all book sales are donated to The Queensland Premier’s Flood Appeal. The book is available as an eBook or trade paperback.

The chapter, called “Power’s Sunday Slam,” is a tribute to the Puerto Rican Winter League and one of Major League Baseball’s first Black Latino stars, Víctor Pellot (or Vic Power). Today, all 100 authors in the anthology are holding an AMAZON CHART RUSH to celebrate the launch of the anthology. So far, the results have been outstanding, as reported by the editors of the book. Help me make some Amazon history in the U.S. by buying a book today?

Here is the current report about 100 STORIES FOR QUEENSLAND as of this morning:

Hello everyone,
It is a little after midnight here in Australia and I have lots of amazingly good news.

First, 100 Stories for Queensland is one top of the UK movers and shakers list… up a ridiculous up 76,471% from 183,006 to 239 in just six hours.

100 Stories is currently sitting at 239 on the UK best seller list… we’re aiming to get it into the top 100.

In its categories… it is #3 in the short stories and general fiction anthology sections.

With the US just waking… we’re seeing some more amazing movement.

Currently sitting at 1313 on the bestseller list (up from 446,000 yesterday!) and just cracked the top 20 in the General Fiction Anthology category at #20.

Thank you all of you who have book books, or added books to your wish list. We’re only a quarter of the way through the 24 hour period, but I have a great feeling about where we will end up.

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The latest installment from FRANKY BENÍTEZ: A Story of Love, Pain, and Hope from San Juan to Boston:

All rights reserved by ARCHIVO HISTORICO Y FOTOGRAFICO DE PUERTO RICO

 

The torrent of clouds raced over the rays of the Caribbean sun, blackening the colonial port of San Juan within seconds. Holding his only possessions in a leather satchel made by a fat Moroccan from Seville, Octavio Antonio Benítez Aragón, the great-grandfather of Franky Benítez, sprinted past africano porters dragging steamer trunks in the Puerto Rican mud and Spanish nobles opening black umbrellas to find cover from the impending downpour.

Octavio Antonio, seventeen years old, his dark curly hair dangling over his green eyes and olive skin, opened the wooden door of a café at the very moment thousands of tropical rain drops splattered onto the port.

He looked around. The café’s scents of crusty bread and espresso steam held the criollo merchants heading back home from Spain to the island, new arrivals with labor papers in hand, two sugar speculators from New Orleans, three crying babies with their mothers, and two priests reading from a Bible and crossing themselves every time they whispered Jesus from their lips.

“What would you like, young man?” Octavio Antonio heard the voice of an elderly man from behind the café’s glass display of guava pastries, caramel flan, and cheese turnovers.

“Nothing, sir. Just trying to get out of the rain,” Octavio Antonio said as he took his handkerchief from the breast pocket of his only ditto suit, whose sack coat was starting to wear from the long voyage across the Atlantic, and wiped the sweat beads from his brow,

“If you are not buying anything, please leave my café,” the man said.

Octavio Antonio nodded. “Yes, sir.”

He walked back out onto the cobblestone streets of the capital city, the rain soaking his clothes and drenching his boater, which he bought in Huelva the day before his trip with the last reales his father Don Antonio Octavio had given him. The city, if he could call it that, had narrow, winding roads that made walking slippery in the middle of a downpour. Octavio Antonio, not knowing where he was, kept walking, and at times stopped for cover under the bottom of a pastel-colored balcony that formed part of the city’s colonial structures modeled after the houses of Andalusia.

After thirty minutes, the drops vanished from the sky and the sun crept through the remaining clouds, imparting a late afternoon light onto the soaked city. Octavio Antonio noticed he was not far from the city’s central plaza, the Plaza de Armas on San José Street. His meeting place. He took out his handkerchief to dry his eyes and cheeks, as he strolled to the plaza’s main area. Before he reached the plaza’s pigeon-filled fountain, a voice shouted behind him.

“The American ship exploded in Havana! U.S.S Maine destroyed! Read all about it in this afternoon’s edition! El Mundo has the story! American ship exploded! Hundreds dead!”

It was a boy with skin as dark as molasses. He wore no shoes, yet he was able to hold a stack of newspapers under his left arm as he shouted the headlines from the afternoon edition. Octavio Antonio watched as the boy started to run past him and heard towards the plaza. Soon, the island’s merchants would saunter out before their late afternoon coffees with steamed milk and buy a newspaper from the boy.

Octavio Antonio knew this voyage had its risks, but when he had received the letter from his uncle Rogelio six months before to help with Benítez & González Sugar & Rum Company, S.A., all Octavio Antonio could think of was how quickly could he escape his town of Lora del Río in southern Spain and book a steamer ticket from Cádiz to San Juan. His father urged his son to stay, but Octavio Antonio had adventure in his soul. Among the olive trees and frisky bulls that others in his town raised and trained, Octavio Antonio would spend days dreaming about his fortune, his destiny, his freedom. His father was born to cultivate olives. Octavio Antonio was born to lead men, like the Moors who had owned his land centuries ago.

So, convinced that Puerto Rico was his future and ambition, he wrote back to his uncle Rogelio to inform him that he would indeed go to Puerto Rico once he had enough money for the voyage. Octavio Antonio then worked any task he could muster from his fellow neighbors, picking olives until dusk and cleaning stables until dawn. By November of 1897, Octavio Antonio had enough money to purchase his one-way ticket. He celebrated his last Christmas in Spain drinking sherry and confessing his sins.

In late January, just a few weeks before his departure from Cádiz, Octavio Antonio received a letter from his uncle that only confirmed his decision:

15 December 1897 A.D., Juncos, Puerto Rico

To my dearest nephew:

May the Lord grant you blessings, prosperity, and happiness in the blessed new year of our Christ. My joy of your potential arrival was recently overshadow by a even more momentous occurrence: several of my fellow partners have heard through their contacts in Madrid that the Spaniards have granted this island of Puerto Rico autonomous rule! Puerto Ricans will now be able to govern themselves and begin to free their chains from their Spanish brothers. There is talk that a government will be formed on the island before the summer solstice of 1898.

This is indeed wondrous news, since it will allow Benítez & González Sugar & Rum Company, S.A. the opportunity to export its rum without the impositions of the Spanish government. The years of struggle for our independence and freedom have begun to dissipate. When you arrive to this beloved island, it will be active with anticipation. I cannot think of a better place for an industrious young man to earn his fortune. I long to be your age again and not the old man that I am, the one who had first through that the original scream for revolution in Lares over twenty years ago was mere childish folly. Yet when I did finally decide to emigrate to this lush, green island, I discovered quickly that Puerto Rico could become the commercial pearl of the Caribbean and eventually all of Latin American. Like Rodó’s Ariel, it would swirl into a world of profits. And when I began to read the accounts of Betances and others who had committed to a free Puerto Rico, my heart became more attached to my new home each and every day.

Can you imagine it, my nephew? This former Royalist and lover of the Crown joining hands with fellow Puerto Ricans last year as we heard of the news in Yauco, where the first Puerto Rican flag had be flown by patriots, although to Spain, they were dangerous rebels? That day, I grabbed a hammer to one of my finest barrels and let the drink overflow into the mouths of my fellow friends! It was a celebration that had taken decades to occur, and to some whose families lived on the island since the early Spanish governors, the wait has lasted centuries. When the authorities stopped the Yauco liberation, hope still lingered in our souls, since we had already devoured the taste of freedom and of money. We were determined, and our brave leaders ensured everyone that the Spanish Primer Minister, the very enlightened Práxedes Mateo Sagasta, would indeed be granting autonomy to the island.

We did achieve it, and as I take time to pause between another Christmas celebration, I felt the urge to write this to you and inform you that yes, my nephew, you are indeed wise for your desire to live on this island as a free man. Of course, we will not change much in terms of who we are, we still speak Spanish and my accounts on the continent will not vanish once Puerto Rico meets its destiny. Once we are free, we will all be rewarded with riches never seen on this island before!

You are like the island, my dear nephew, you are as bright as the sun that shines on Puerto Rico each and every God-given day. If the Lord is willing, I see a future that will propel you to be able to not only live on the island, but also bring you back to Spain on regular holidays to enjoy the family you will leave behind as well as the country that was your first home. Now, your home will be with me in Juncos, and eventually you will grow to be prosperous, powerful, and mighty.

With this I must leave you to attend to the guests who will soon be arriving. Remember, my nephew, Puerto Rico will be yours and yours will be Puerto Rico. I urge you to come to this island with a mind to challenge our colonial mentality, which has kept us shackled like the africano slaves of Loíza. You represent the island’s progress and what it will become: a country that the whole of Latin America will exhibit as a model testament to the free enterprise markets, political stability, and human dignity.

I wish that our Lord protect you on your journey and bring you to me prepared and at the ready to form our own empire of sugar and rum, not unlike the Crown I used to defend when I was young and thick-headed like you.

May the Lord bestow you blessings. Your loving uncle,
Rogelio

PS Please write to me with the final details of your itinerary so I can make sure to arrange one of my laborers to meet you at the Plaza de Armas near the end of day when you arrive. He will ensure that a private carriage will be made available for your long journey into the mountains of Juncos, where I will be waiting for you at our company with open arms of anticipation and love.

PPS Please share my affection to my brother and sister-in-law. I long for the day when I can return to Spain and visit them. I can assure you that the recent developments will allow me to achieve this goal successfully before we enter the next century. Can you fathom how close we are to a new age? The Pearl of the Caribbean, the Isle of Enchanment, will soon be real!

As he waited for the carriage to arrive in the plaza, Octavio Antonio could still recall the words his father shared with him upon listening to the details of his brother’s letter.

“Fortunes are for dreamers, Octavio,” his father said. “Rogelio has always claimed that such fortune will be found in Puerto Rico. He has been writing the same letters ever since he left us. That is why he had never returned. He cannot pay back his debts.”

Near the plaza’s fountain, another voice began to snuff out Octavio’s memories. He look up and saw a younger man, with skin as mixed as his own, signaling to him.

“Don Octavio? Don Octavio Benítez Aragón?” the voice said.

“Yes, that is I,” Octavio said to the man.

“Your uncle has sent me to find you. My name is Rafael, Rafael Castro of Juncos. I am one of your uncle’s supervisors. The carriage will arrive shortly. It will be a long ride, but you will be provided with all the comforts merited to a young man who has traveled so far to get here.”

Octavio Antonio smiled. Rafael appeared to be a few years older than him, and his mustache smelled of rum. The same rum that Octavio Antonio had battled a bout of seasickness and stale bread so that he could learn from his uncle and become a master merchant.

“I am ready, Rafael. I am ready to go to Juncos and see my uncle. I have never met him since he had left my family before I was born.”

“He will welcome you with an embrace only family can recognize, even those who have never had the pleasure of meeting before. Let us go.”

“Yes, Rafael. Let us go to find my life.”

Three months later, in the very same place where Octavio Antonio Benítez Aragón had arrived on a steamer from Cádiz, a dozen American ships led by Rear Admiral William T. Sampson bombarded San Juan. The city’s residents were in a panic. A month later, the Americans blockaded of San Juan harbor. The month after that, General Nelson A. Miles landed in Guánica, on the southern part of the island, along with over 3,000 American soldiers. The resistance to Nelson’s landing was sparse and weak. By the end of August, Puerto Rico was a colony again, this time under a different master, and Octavio Antonio Benítez Aragón was mourning the death of his uncle and the loss of Benítez & González Sugar & Rum Company, S.A., due to a bankruptcy ruling.

Each night, it was told many years later that the residents of Juncos would hear the wailings Octavio Antonio Benítez Aragón every night at around three in the morning, when the local tavern had closed and he had nowhere else to go.

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January, 1954: Caguas, Puerto Rico

The wrinkled baseball card of Victor Pellot rested in the back pocket of Francisco Antonio Benítez’s Levis like a sacred relic in the Vatican. As he walked to the first row of Yldefonso Solá Morales Stadium with his father Don Octavio Benítez, Francisco Antonio’s heart pumped. Today, with 6,500 winter baseball fans drinking shots of local rum and munching on crispy plantain chips, he would meet the great Pellot, the flashy first baseman for the hometown Caguas Criollos and the future bonus baby of the Philadelphia Athletics.

To the Caguas locals, Pellot was their god, even though he had begun to use the name Vic Power on the mainland and some of the more radical nationalists started to call him Tío Tom. According to Pellot, he began to use Power (a variation of Pove, his mother’s maiden name) because when he played in the minor leagues of Quebec, the French-speaking fans would laugh at him. He first thought it was because of his black skin, but Pellot soon found out that his last name sounded a lot like plotte, French Canadian slang for vagina. So, on the mainland, he became Vic Power. In Caguas, he was still Victor Pellot. And every Caguas resident, from the whitest Spaniard to the darkest Africano, would cheer every time Pellot would slowly stroll to home plate, a 34-ounce Louisville Slugger slathered with pine tar and dirt in his Powerful hands.

“Did you know Pellot almost made the Yankees in 1951?” Don Octavio told his son, as they sat right behind the mesh net near home plate. “He would have been the first Negro Puerto Rican in the American League. They took Elston Howeard instead.”

Francisco Antonio loved when his father talked to him about baseball. Don Octavio, whose fortune had begun to grow once he sold his pool halls to a Caguas syndicate and had built a materials store in the city’s center, was frequently flying to New York to buy cloth in the Garment District. In between his negotiations with crusty Jews who made fun of his broken English and baggy suits, Don Octavio would take the subway to Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds, and Ebbets Field. In one week, he saw Mays, Robinson, Mantle, Snider, Ford, Irvin, and Berra. The white corporate Yankees were methodical, cold, passionless. The Giants and Dodgers reminded Don Octavio of the island’s winter league: aggressive, fancy, players jawing at each other in both Spanish and English. The Giants and Dodgers had more Negroes, and those Negroes played in the winter league.

“If you ever saw Mays, Francisco, you could die the next moment a happy man,” Don Octavio told his son. “Pellot is as black as Mays. But the difference between Pellot and Mays is that Pellot is Puerto Rican, Mays is a Negro. Did you ever hear the story of Pellot when he was in the South and walked into a restaurant in Missisippi after a game? The waitress said that they didn’t serve Negroes. Pellot told her not to worry, he didn’t eat Negroes, he just wanted rice and beans.”

Francisco Antonio laughed at his father’s stories, even the ones he told over and over again. Baseball, the game that came to Puerto Rico when American soldiers arrived in 1898 and never left, was what every island boy talked about with his island father.

“Do you think he will hit a grand slam, Papi?” Francisco Antonio asked. “That would be a lot of money.”

For the entire winter league, Don Octavio had been advertising a contest in the newspaper for his store: The first Criollo to hit a grand slam would win a $1,000 check, personally signed by Don Octavio. After 20 games, no one had even come close, not even Pellot. But when the slugger saw Don Octavio at mass earlier in the day, after asking for blessings from the older businessman, Pellot said he had prayed to God for the chance to hit a grand slam later in the game.

“The money would help me, Don Octavio,” Pellot told him.

“I can just give it to you know,” Don Ocatvio said.

“No, Don Octavio,” Pellot said. “I am a baseball player. I will earn that check today. Blessings to you and your family.”

The first three innings of the game against Ponce sped through. Caguas could only manage a hit, while Ponce didn’t even hit the ball out of the infield. After the Ponce shortstop missed a Chichi Olivo fastball for a third strike, Francisco Antonio cheered along with his neighbors. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Caguas loaded the bases. Up came Pellot, and instead of walking towards home plate, he headed over to where Don Octavio was sitting.

“Sign the check, Don Octavio,” he told Francisco Antonio’s father and then looked at the younger Benítez. “And get a camera ready to take a picture with your son.”

Don Octavio smiled as Pellot picked up his bat and walked to the batter’s box. As the Ponce pitcher released a curve ball from his fingers, Pellot crouched his stance, winked and began to swing.

The sound of the wood ricocheted through the crowd, Pellot’s bat smacking the ball and stopping it for a second. The ball’s path sailed up high, towards the mountains of Caguas, past the stadium’s lights, over a two-lane road, and landed 500 feet away in a stable of lazy paso fino horses. Pellot watched the ball like an artist studies his models. He trotted around each base, soaking in applause and chants. When he stepped on home, his three teammates shook his hand and then headed back to the Caguas dugout. Pellot didn’t follow them.

He walked to Don Octavio, who had a check in hand and a photographer with his camera and a flash bulb.

“Viva Pellot!” Francico Antonio said.

Pellot picked up the younger Benítez and stood him up on the field. Together, they smiled for the camera.

“Dreams can come true, son,” Pellot said. “Don’t ever forget that.”

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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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So it has been a crazy week for me. Back to work, still churning a manuscript for FRANKY BENÍTEZ, and now my blog is being read in Hollywood (that one is surreal). In the meantime, we spent tonight reading a lot of #FridayFlash pieces and here is our FAVE 5 for the week:

@RachCarter: A powerful tale of a runner who is “Detached.” Read it here: A Creative Writing Journey.

@McDonellWrite: The title says it all and it’s pretty funny: “Do Aliens Facebook?”

@Wiswell: One of my FAVORITE writers right now. This kid has talent. So unique. Read: “He Has to Wonder at 130.”

@lil_monmon: Burt Reynolds as the Devil? And a deal a husband can’t say no too? Too funny. Read: “Joe Milgarve and the Devil.”

@melissalwebb: God shows up and asks for a couple of fanatical favors. Read: “Pink Tutus and Blue Cheese.”

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I decided to combine my favorite #FridayFlash pieces from Christmas and New Year’s into one list. Here are my favorite pieces:

Aspirations” by @TonyNoland: By far, my favorite of the bunch these past two weeks. Just a clever way to tell a life story.

The Journey” by @tgabrukiewicz: A great descriptive tale with very cool pacing. How’s that for a review?

The Archangel of Downward Spiral” by @mkelly317: An endearing, spiritual tale that offers redemption for all of us.

A Fresh Start” by @CliveM: My favorite opening line of the bunch: His fat belly rose and fell slowly with each whining snore.

I Heard the Bells” by @ramslyons: A church holds a horrible surprise for a town.

Christmas Past” by @SimplyOlivia: Quick and funny. This one just made me laugh.

Christmas Peril” by @melissalwebb: A twisted take on a Christmas Carol.

Winter’s Bride” by @icypop: I just love how Icy writes and how she weaves such charming passages each week.

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Another installment of Franky Benítez. For a full list of chapters, click here: Table of Contents

I have lost the power to love. I choose to love, but I cannot actively love any longer.

My son Mateo still sleeps as I let go of him and creak my way out of his room. I turn to my left and stop in front of Sofia’s room, the door closed, her name pasted in the magnetic letters we received as a gift when she turned two. I touch the knob with my hand and twist it. The darkness of the dawn still penetrates the room, covering the wrinkled posters of The Jonas Brothers, Taylor Swift, and Selena Gomez. My left shoulders glances against her bed’s metal post, causing a ping to run through my veins and all the way to the tip of my brain.

The quilt of her bed is filled with green, red, and blue butterflies flying about freely over the stitching. On the bed are some Build-a-Bear Workshop figures propped against the bedroom’s wall. Next to them is a Wally the Green Monster that sings “Sweet Caroline” when you press its chubby green index finger. Another bear wears a t-shirt congratulating Sofia on her performance in Annie a year ago. A few books (Roald Dahl, JK Rowling, Lois Lowry) are spread on the bed.

The rest of the bed is empty, motionless, no breath, no life. I place my hand on a Scooby Doo pillow and run it across the fabric, over Scooby’s face and Shaggy’s hair. I then uncover the butterfly quilt and get into the bed. There is no warmth anywhere I turn to, I press my head against the wall up against the bed and begin to bang it on the icy plaster. Seconds pass. My head throbs. A drop of red trickles down the wall towards the floor below.

Whatever love I had is now drifting away like a butterfly being tossed in a hurricane. I forge ahead? I keep my tiny wings fluttering? The gusts blow me aside, tumbling me down into a pit of black water. I heave for air as waves keep gushing into my mouth. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. I breathe again and settle my head onto the my daughter’s favorite pillow, which still smells like the mango shampoo she would use every night.

She is no longer here, no longer with us.

And it is all my fault.

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