Diverse Literature Part 1

As a teacher, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to read and discuss with students some excellent books by incredible authors. Living in New Mexico and next to the Navajo Nation, I tried to find novels that would appeal to my Native students. Here are a few selections to get young people started on the path of reading and learning about the many cultures in the U.S.

Native American Novels

Code Talker

Written by Chester Nez of the Navajo/Diné Nation, this book goes into great detail about the discrimination he faced as a young Navajo boy attending a boarding school to his time as a U.S. Marine in the Pacific. If you’re at all unfamiliar with the story of code talkers, this book will enlighten you to the incredible journey Mr. Nez had and how the code created by these courageous Navajo men helped the U.S. win the war in the Pacific. I had the opportunity to hear Mr. Chester Nez, Samuel F. Sandoval, and Thomas H. Begay speak about their time in the Marines. Bravery, honor, and nobility only begin to describe these heroes. Several lied about their age so they could join the military and service this nation at a very desperate time. For more information please read the Navajo Times article, “Remaining Code Talkers Honored.”

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

My first exposure to Sherman Alexie, a Spokane-Coeur d’Alene-American, came in 2003 when I read his darkly humorous short story “Indian Education.” The piece is filled with nods to reservation life as well as Junior’s desire to assimilate but also hold onto his Native heritage. These themes are developed much deeper in his novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. “Indian Education” PDF is available online and can be found with a simple Google search. Give it a read and you will get the general premise of Alexie’s novel. For another of Mr. Alexie’s books, check out his The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. This contains other short stories relating to life on the Spokane Indian Reservation.

Hearts Unbroken

A more modern take on Native life and from a young woman’s perspective, Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith is a poignant look into young love and the unforeseen hurdles a person of color may face, especially in a school where the thread of prejudice has been woven through the community over generations. This novel is currently available on Kindle for only 99 cents. Ms. Smith is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation and has another novel Rain Is Not My Indian Name coming out in February 2021.

How I Became a Ghost

Tim Tingle, a member of the Oklahoma Choctaw Nation, takes a more historical look at the prejudice and racism Native Americans faced in the 1830s with Trail of Tears. Although only 160 pages, this novel is powerful and heartbreaking. How I Became a Ghost will be/is part of a series written by Mr. Tingle. Like the previous authors, he has other great contributions to Native American Literature for young people.

Monster of the Week

Just last week, I wrote that I would not get political on the website. I hold to that idea, however, times demand a reaction, a response, to the recent and tragic death of George Floyd. This is why I’ve chosen a real life monster this week.

It is cliche now to state that monsters are real and blend in with the rest of humanity. Sometimes, they are the one who should be protecting us from said monsters.

I have several friends in law enforcement. They are good people who work to serve and protect. As a teacher, I’ve had the pleasure of working with student resource officers who make an actual difference in a student’s life. Not because the SRO brought the hammer down and punished the kid, but because he/she took the time to understand the situation this child was in and acted compassionately.

With that said, reforms are desperately needed. Too many young people of color have died tragically and unnecessarily at the hands of police officers using their power to menace and intimidate. Perhaps one of the most impactful statements I’ve heard over the last few day has been “Good cops don’t let bad cops get away with it.”

Black lives do matter, and a fundamental systemic change is needed to make sure that these lives are not taken because of police brutality, gang violence, poverty, and a myriad of other systems put in place to minimize an entire segment of our population.

I don’t consider this post political for simple fact that this is about humanity, dignity, compassion, and justice. These should be traits that appeal to both sides of the aisle. In America–a democratic-republic, the land of the free, a beacon of liberty–we have to do better. We have to be intolerant of abuse and support the just cause.

The monster of the week is not just the man who helped murder George Floyd; it is all racism, prejudice, discrimination, and hate.

Monster of the Week

Japan has some of the most unique monsters in world mythology. The creativity and creepiness of these creature should provide fodder for many a horror writer. One of the more intriguing creatures, though not the one of focus today, is the Gashadokuro. This giant skeleton is made from the bones of those who starved to death. And guess what? If you are caught by the Gashadokuro, you get your head bitten off, blood drained, and skeleton added to its frame. Yay.

The monster I’d like to introduce today is the ushi-oni. Depending on the region of Japan, the creature can be human-shaped, sea creaturesque, or dragon-like. One of the weirder appearances has it compared to the size of an ox, with crab/spider-like legs, tusks, and has loose skin used for gliding. The ushi-oni can be a protection from evil spirit or terrorize fisherman and other innocents. In a lot of ways, these ushi-oni are like the trolls of Japan: often living in seclusion, terrorizing those who come near them, and defeated by a hero/warrior.

If you’d like more, Wikipedia has a great deal of information about the creature as well as some regional legend synopses.

Source Page
Source Page

To Go or Not to Go Political

I don’t need to write about how polarized this nation is when it comes to politics. Even in a pandemic and wearing masks has become a dividing point for left versus right. So, it has become very easy to choose a side, write all the rhetoric for that side, and let everyone know where I stand, but I will not do that on this website.

As a teacher in a conservative county within a state governed by a Democratic governor, I’ve learned to walk a line. As a result, I’ve also developed my own political views. I know exactly who I will vote for in the coming election, why I will vote for that candidate, and I will never tell a single student who I voted for. It’s not that I’m gutless or ashamed of my vote, it is that it is MY vote. I don’t want to have to argue with students or have them look at me as though I’m trying to sway them to my side of the aisle. They won’t have to think, “Is this lesson Mr. B has today going to have a liberal/conservative agenda?” I don’t want them questioning my motives for why I’m teaching something in history, and whether or not I’m telling them that their parents are wrong for having certain political views. If they question something based on what I’ve taught them based on the actual text of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, or some other American document, I’m okay with that.

With all this said, I have no desire to step into the political discussion. Maybe that decision will cost me some traffic. Yet, what I do know is that once I’ve taken a side, I will definitely make one side uncomfortable. I choose to remain quiet regarding my views with the hope that my writing will speaking for itself. That kindness, hard work, and education will be the emphasis. I hope that no matter what side you’re on, you can get behind those points.

Monster of the Week

Amarok

Image created by James Jacko and provided by https://cryptidz.fandom.com/wiki/Amarok

A source of weird creature lore often overlooked in the world is that which comes from Native American myths. This particular monster from the Inuit culture is the Amarok, which is a giant wolf creature perhaps, like many myths, based on actual animals that roamed ancient North America. It could be based on the dire wolves that once lived in the forests of Canada, or possibly the short-faced bear (talk about a monster). The creature often hunted humans, in particular those who wonder the wilderness alone.

For more info, please visit:

James Jacko

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amarok_(wolf)

The Wonders of Audible

First, I am not getting paid for this plug. I have been a member of Audible for over a decade and have enjoyed my membership a great deal. The site has grown tremendously over the years. Those who are already fond of the audiobook company know just how much they offer. One of the membership perks is being able to download free Audible Originals content, which is what this post is about.

I recently obtained two excellent short narrations: “Wally Roux, Quantum Mechanic” by Nick Carr and “The Minuteman” by Greg Donahue.

Wally Roux is the story of a brilliant African-American boy who learns he has a talent for fixing quantum “breakdowns” thereby earning him the title of Quantum Mechanic. It is a story about self discovery, alternate timelines, and the power of relationships. The story is expertly narrated by the talented William Jackson Harper.  Clocking in at only one hour and fifty-five minutes, “Wally Roux, Quantum Mechanic” has tremendous amount of emotion and fun. As a former English/Language Arts teacher, I would love to have had this story in print and audio for my students as it deals with many of the concerns that young people have.

Another short work at one hour and fifty-four minutes, the nonfiction Audible selection called “The Minuteman” is narrated by the brilliant Jonathan Davis. Set in the early 1930’s, the story takes place in Newark, New Jersey detailing the struggle between the Jewish community and the rise of the Nazi Party within the city. It centers on a young man named Sidney Abramowitz, aka Nat Arno. Part of the Jewish Newark Mob and an ex-prizefighter, Nat forms a pseudo-militia group to combat the growing fascist movement with his community. It is a powerful look into a part of American history that doesn’t get enough attention. Recently, HBO produced a series called “The Plot Against America,” which deals with very similar themes.

Again, as part of an Audible membership, a person can get two free novels/stories/dramas from the monthly selections. Plus, members receive a credit toward any book they want.

If you have a long commute and are tired of podcast, give Audible a look. You will find a vast amount of options.

audible.com

Wally Roux info

The Minuteman info

Enjoy.

Monster of the Week

In honor of my new series, Kids Investigating the Paranormal, check back every Friday for a monster of the week where I will provide information about strange monsters from around the world.

This first one hit a pop culture nerve starting with eerie photos of him in the background. Later, he became a hit game, movie, and sadly the inspiration for the attempted murder of a twelve-year-old girl.

In this video, Dr. Emily Zarka discusses the “history” of Slender Man.

Enjoy.

Thief of the Dead Synopsis

A blend of Supernatural meets Goosebumps with a little Scooby-Doo thrown in the mix.

For as long as twelve-year-old Braden Jacobs can remember, his hometown of Odland has had a supernatural creature problem. That’s why in third grade he and his best friend Daya Cortez formed Kids Investigating the Paranormal (KIP). They, along with the plucky Sumiko “Smooki” Hikari and the brilliant Bridgette Mandela, hunt the most dangerous ghosts and monsters.

When disturbing news comes that the souls of elderly citizens are being taken by an unknown creature, KIP investigates. Eyewitness accounts tell of a large, possibly feathered being (weird), perhaps riding a horse (not so bad), maybe headless (oh crap…), and sprays victims with blood (gross!).

It isn’t until the mysterious monster takes Braden’s ailing grandmother that the case turns personal. With no reliable clues followed by the recent death of a young police officer at the hands of the creature, KIP makes a decision against their better judgment—search the forest where it and other monsters roam. Armed with years of paranormal experiences and an alliance with a Japanese trickster fox named Yoshito—Daya, Smooki, Bridgette, and Braden may have found what threatens everyone in Odland, and it’s more terrible than they could’ve imagined.

Mixing horror and mystery, KIDS INVESTIGATING THE PARANORMAL: THIEF OF THE DEAD is a completed 51,000-word middle grade novel and the first in a series.

Damn, It’s Been a While

Life, work, family, laziness. It all contributed to my absence from this webpage. Excuses aplenty, but it is time to set those aside and focus on writing again.

Since I last posted, I’ve completed a second novel and am currently working on a third. My first one, Sideshow Summer, a.k.a. Freak Show Summer, has been sidelined for now. I attempted to find an agent for that novel, but I don’t feel it is up to what it should be. I love that story and the characters, but it needs revisions–tightening. Once those have been finished, I will look for a publisher rather than an agent, just to get my foot in the door. For synopsis you can visit here.

In doing so, I need to make a presence, and coming back to this site and blog I think is a logical step in that direction. I tried creating another webpage with another web building platform, but the steps to create said webpage were cumbersome and not to my liking or perhaps my skill. Nevertheless, I persisted but have since found that WordPress is a better platform for me.

With help from a Connie Gotsch Arts Foundation grant, my writing group–San Juan Writers–published a themed anthology called Into the West. I have two horror/paranormal stories in it, “A Spiritual Rebirth” and “La Marcha de los Muertos.” It is only $3.99 on Amazon Kindle.

The completed novel? It will be the first in a series called Kids Investigating the Paranormal. The working title for this new story is Thief of the Dead. I will have a follow up post about the story.

The novel in the works? Also the first in a series called Monster in a Box, which is in the very early stages with only eight chapters and roughly 50 pages completed. Perhaps in later posts, I can provide more information.

The earlier themes of this blog dealt with the themes found in Sideshow Summer. However, I plan on moving away from that to some degree into the realm of monsters, the paranormal, and horror. I wish to build an audience for not only my writing, but also for the content I’ve loved as a child, scary stuff.

Enjoy.

#TwitterFiction

Check out my twitter account @TonyinNM for some of my twitter fiction. Hope you enjoy it and follow. Here are a couple samples:

-When the geneticist cut his finger, the shark-human hybrids smiled, showing their great, white teeth.

-“What’s black & white & red all over?” rolled into her mind as she gazed upon the bloody newspaper & the hand lying beneath.

I do tweet out other things, but nothing polemical or divisive. Plus, I follow back.

Thanks!

Tony