Thursday, October 12, 2017

Blake Lee of Miami stars on CBS crime drama

Miami native Blake Lee plays a computer programmer on the new CBS crime drama "Wisdom of the Crowd." On the show, he helps Jeremy Piven's character, who developed a crowd sourcing app called Sophe, solve crimes in San Francisco. The show is kind of like everyone using Facebook and their smartphone to find suspects or missing people.

Folks might remember Blake from the 2015 James Franco movie "I Am Michael'' where Blake played Boston journalist and author Benoit Denizet-Lewis who wrote the New York Times Magazine article that was the basis for the film. (I wrote a story about Benoit and his Good Men Project online magazine for men when I was a Business reporter at The Boston Globe a few years ago.)

This week, I wrote a short profile about Blake, how he discovered his acting chops at Miami Palmetto Senior High and how he enjoys spending time with his husband Ben Lewis and their adorable Jack Russell terrier named Todd when he's not shooting the CBS show in Los Angeles.

(Photo of Blake Lee from CBS)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Dog Sketcher

I used to sketch and paint in high school. It was something freeing, fun and relaxing. But as writing and college demanded more of my time, I gradually let go of drawing and moved on.

That changed in the last few months. After writing a profile on a South Florida artist named Magda Love and her lush colorful murals and after watching my partner's niece Lu sketch whenever she visited Miami, my curiosity called to me. Could I still draw? Is the skill still there?  I was determined to find out.

So last April, I headed to an art store that sits across from the University of Miami in Coral Gables. I bought a new sketch pad, a pencil and eraser. I sat on my blue sofa on that Friday night. I took a deep breath and just let my right hand do its own thing for a few hours.

I sketched a photo of my partner and his dog and then my bestfriend and then the dog again. And in the following weeks, I found pure joy in drawing dogs especially ones that I know (including my partner's fox terrier Luna who loves to pose for the camera. That's her posing for me in the top left sketch on this blog.)

These dog sketches have become a fun escape from all the writing that I do for work and my fiction. I usually produce the sketches on Saturday mornings because I'm an early riser and the drawing is a peaceful way to start the weekend.

Look, I know I'm no Picasso or Romero Britto. Perhaps I should be using #baddrawer whenever I post these on Instagram. But I feel that I am learning and improving with each sketch. I'm still trying to work on accurately sketching the dogs' bodies which can be challenging depending on their position (looking up, laying down on their sides, etc.)

Someone asked me the other day to explain my drawing process and that's been difficult to describe.

My eyes dart back and forth, becoming mini copy machines that help my right hand transplant the image or photo onto paper. I usually start with drawing the eyes, then the nose and I work in a circle from there, going round and round to fill out the face (and fur if it's a dog.)

As I draw, I fall into a Zen-like zone and time disappears, similar to when I run my two to three miles a few times a week.  It's r-e-l-a-x-i-n-g.

And I am always surprised by how the sketch turns out when I am done because I never know where the sketch will take me.

The sketches simply put a smile on my face and it seems to do the same for the dogs' owners. I framed one of Joey, my 93-year-old godfather's York Terrier, and gave him the sketch because art should be shared especially if it brightens one's spirits.

 I recently drew Chuby, a cute maltese (pictured to the left).

Here are some of my sketches and photos of their real life counterparts from the last six months.

Lucrecia, an English Bulldog. She passed away recently. RIP

Joey the Cuban york terrier

Patch, my cousin's  Boston terrier from... Boston!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Merci beaucoup Mrs. Muskat

A huge thank you to Bev Cohen Muskat and the Friends of the Stirling Road Library for inviting me to their Hollywood library to talk about journalism and writing Tuesday night.

I haven't seen Mrs. Muskat since she taught me French for two years at Nautilus Junior High in Miami Beach exactly 30 years ago. 

It was my favorite class and she was my favorite teacher there. She introduced this shy, curly-haired kid who always wore a T-shirt with corduroy pants (that was my look then) to the French language and culture. I remember Mrs. Muskat walking around the classroom, waving her hands in the air and asking each of us questions in French.

I immediately fell in love with French's beautiful rhythms and vocabulary. 

Words like quelquechose (something); coquillage (seashell) and appartements (apartments.) I enjoyed introducing myself, Je m'appelle Jean. J'ai 13 ans. 

Seventh grade yearbook photo
I remember going home after school, sitting in my chambre in Miami Beach and enthusiastically reviewing my subjects and verbs and filling out the pages of my Mon Amis workbooks.  

I was a mostly "A1A" student in her classes. I was also able to practice French with my childhood best friend Kellyn Maillard and her mom, Patricia, both French. Quand j'allais faire du velo  (When I'd go bike riding), I'd recite that day's new lesson.

One of my proudest French moments was in the seventh grade. I was a first period office-aide and a new student from Haiti had arrived. The attendance officer asked me if I could give him a tour of the school and show him where the cafeteria and his classes were.  I had learned enough basic French in a few months that I was able to talk to him in French since he knew very little English. The words just flowed out of me and I was glad I could put my bits of French to good use. 

Many of her lessons have stayed with me.

Bev will always be Madame Muskat in my heart. I am so happy that she remembered me after all these years and invited me to the bibliotheque  Merci beaucoup! :)

From the Nautilus Junior High yearbook

Friday, September 22, 2017

Yoga for inmates

As someone who enjoys meditating (while running), I enjoyed reporting this story on a weekly yoga class for inmates at the Metro West Detention Center just outside Miami.

On Fridays, substitute teacher Lawrence Huff, 70, spends more than 2 hours teaching yoga, one class for men and one for women. His aim is to help the inmates stay centered and calm despite their criminal issues and current environment.  And from what I saw by observing the class, the students seemed to look forward to the sessions.
(I snapped these photos while I was there.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Catching up with La Bloga

Thank you Lisa Alvarado and La Bloga for this lovely write up and interview the other day about my new novel Six Neckties. She asked me about the writers I enjoy reading,  the process behind my character development and other things I hadn't thought of before.

As a journalist, I am better asking the questions than answering them. Lisa had some challenging questions that made me really think about my process. I hope my responses make sense to the reader.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Longtime Miami anchor team mark 14 years together

WSVN-Ch. 7 anchors Craig Stevens and Belkys Nerey marked their 14th anchor-versary in August as the station's lead anchor team.

They are the longest-running anchor team in South Florida and their on-air partnership is rare these days in the local TV news industry. I recently wrote a story about the anchors and talked to them about their chemistry and some of the stories they've covered over the years.

(photo from

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Thank you Edge Media Network

A huge thank you to Edge Media Network's Kilian Melloy who recently interviewed me about sixth novel Six Neckties and the inspiration behind that book and gay marriage.

Kilian asked me some thoughtful questions which I took the time to answer. These were some tough questions.

Here's an example:

EDGE: "Six Neckties" addresses the issue of marriage equality head on - not from a political vantage, but from the point of view of Tommy, who feels like he's missing out. He's always a best man, never a bride! Why make marriage such a touchstone for this book? 

Johnny Diaz: I was living in Boston when same-sex marriage was legalized in 2004 and I remember the celebrations and outpouring of love and support. That always stayed with me. But when I moved to Miami, same-sex marriage wasn't legal in Florida. There were several news articles about couples from Key West and Miami fighting for their right to marry. Their stories also stayed with me. And once gay marriage was legalized nationally, I kept seeing couples posting their engagements and wedding celebrations on Facebook. And I thought, how would it feel to be that guy who goes to all his friends' weddings but hasn't found his groom? I also found myself attending a lot of weddings in the past three years and they inspired me to write the book too. I took a lot of notes on napkins. 

The interview was like coming full circle with the books because I remember in April 2007, Kilian interviewed me at The Border Cafe in Cambridge to discuss my first novel Boston Boys Club.  Thanks again Kilian for then and now.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thank you MDC

A big thank you to Miami Dade College for the shout out in The Miami Herald July 27.  In 2010, the college awarded me an alumnus award for literary arts.