Friday, November 27, 2015

Lights, camera, CUBA!

Conan O'Brien, Shark Week, Discovery's Cuban Chrome, and now a new Starz drama. US TV networks and shows have been descending on Cuba lately to shoot episodes and specials.

I wrote a story about the trend and why there's more interest among the networks as well as news outlets to shoot in Cuba.  CNN was down there for an episode of Anthony Bourdain's travel show Parts Unknown.

And South Florida ABC affiliate WPLG Channel 10 had a crew spend 15 days in the island nation to shoot a special series called Historic Access: Cuba Coast to Coast' which aired this month. (The photo above is of Ch. 10 reporter Hatzel Vela interviewing a fisherman in the province of Sancti Spiritus.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hitting new notes

Gay men's choruses have always been safe and supportive places for gays to foster friendships and sing together.

There are a couple of groups in South Florida but there's one that has grown to 150-plus members in five years. I wrote a story about the Gay Men's Chorus of South Florida and how it's entering a turning point, one without it's founding artistic director.  It's a new direction for the group, which has members from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.  Photos by Mike Stocker from

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Top 100 sitcoms via math

What are your top sitcoms of all time? Everyone will have a different list but what if there was a way to create a ranking using math?  I wrote a story on a new book The Top 100 American Situation Comedies: An Objective Ranking by former Sun Sentinel TV critic Tom Jicha and University of Miami communications professor Mitchell Shapiro that ranks the top comedies using a math formula.  Check out the top five in the story and see if you agree with the authors.

As for my personal list, I was never a big fan of sitcoms. I was more partial to light-hearted dramas such as the Hallmark Channel's Cedar Cove series, former NBC series Providence, ABC's Brothers and Sisters and Charlie's Angels and CBS' Touched By Angel (which I still watch in reruns on The Up Network and on DVDs from Netflix.)  The above choices may explain why I tend to watch these shows alone so much.

Monday, November 2, 2015

An app for potheads

There's just about an app for everything these days (car services, pizza deliveries, sex.) Now there's one that hooks up pot users with another other. That's the High There! app and I wrote a news feature about it and how it's lighting up social media. 

The South Florida connection is that the app was co-founded by Boca Raton businessman who saw an apportunity for a place for cannabis users to interact online.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Reel nostalgia

Classic and cult movies are now playing at several South Florida theaters.  Whether it's The Princess Bride, Psycho or Revenge of The Nerds or Dracula, these vintage films are being featured on the big screen again, giving fans a chance to relive them while allowing new audiences to experience them for the first time.

"For a lot of people, going to watch an old movie is seeing something old in a  new way on the big screen, when in fact that was the original way it was seen," Robert Thompson, pop culture professor at Syracuse University.

I wrote a story about this reel trend for my paper, the Sun Sentinel.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Writers' quirks, how some writers write

This past weekend, I took part in the Writer's Pavilion for the annual Orgullo Festival, which celebrates gay Hispanics in South Florida. It was a great bonding experience and it felt like we were all hanging out, sharing tips and experiences about our journeys in writing. Some of us have never met but after Saturday, I now feel a literary kinship with them.

After reading selections from our works, our organizer and interviewer Pablo Cartaya each asked us what was one of our quirks as a writer, what do we do in order to write. Everyone had a different answer and they were all entertaining as well as enlightening.

For writer and English teacher Cardidad Moro-Gronlier who read her short story Cuban Girls Don't Wear Tampons, she must take off her bra to write. She said it's about "comfort, not debauchery."

Speaking of getting comfortable...poet Carlos Pintado who read his poem Rome from his upcoming book Nine Coins, said he needs to take off his clothes to clear his whole space to write.  "I also drink a lot of coffee as well,'' he added.

For young adult writer and our host Pablo Cartaya, it's about music. His go to is Pitbull, Mr. Worldwide, Mr. 305 to get into the writing groove. Dale!

Also music driven is author E.E. Charlton-Trujillo who said she builds soundtracks for all her novels. "If I need to drop back into a scene, I have a song for that chapter or perhaps a particular character. That way, I can return to the mood and character regardless of where I am." She also has a habit of writing on anything from napkins to toilet paper.  (By the way, here's a trailer on her road tour to empower kids through writing.)

For Telemundo telenovela writer and author Jose Ignacio Valenzuela also known as Chascas who read a chapter from his upcoming novel La Posibilidad de Una Sonrisa (Possibility of A Smile), he likes to write in his pajamas with his shaggy hair all messed up. But he also mentioned that he loves pop music from the 1980s, 90s (Erasure, The Police), and that helps him set the scenes and build the character.  "Music is pure emotion,'' he said.

And for me (I read from from the first chapter of Looking for Providence,)  I wasn't sure how to answer the question. I find that writing anything, just a bit of dialogue, a few sentences or a small scene turns on the writing faucet. I could be jotting notes by hand in my notepad or on a laptop and it just pours out. I just need to write something and it builds from there.

Pablo Cartaya on the left, Mr. Giggles on the right.
I also find myself calling myself at work and leaving voicemail messages when I think of an idea or some dialogue for a scene so that I don't forget the detail.  I do this to the point that at times when I come to work Mondays, the red light on my phone alert me of new messages. When I listen to them, they usually start out with "Hey Johnny, it's you. Remember this line..."  Hey, we're all quirky, we're writers after all.

I also mentioned that having my traditional drink, a vodka with Diet Coke usually helps unleash some creativity. Not that I WUI (write under the influence) often but the times when I'm about to rewrite or revisit a chapter and I happen to have a glass, it adds a little something something to the writing. This may explain why most of my main characters drink some type of vodka variation.

One thing that was echoed by most of the writers was "to be fearless in your writing."  Because if you don't take a chance and put it on paper (or on screen), it can't be read and shared.

For you writers out there in cyberspace, what's your quirk, something you must do that helps you get your write on?

Friday, September 25, 2015


September is Hispanic Pride Month but it's also time for ORGULLO, the annual Hispanic gay pride festival in Miami. This year marks the fifth annual ORGULLO Festival which features a mix of musicians, artists, writers, dancers (and drag queens) Oct. 3 at Museum Park in downtown Miami. I'll be one of the writers talking about the craft that Saturday in the Writer's Pavilion, which also features writers Carlos Pintado, Charlton-Trujillo, Cardidad Moro-Gronlier and Jose Ignacio Valenzuela. The Writers Pavilion runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (I'm at noon.) At 6 p.m., there's a panel discussion with all the authors. The event is produced by Unity Coalition with partnerships with the city of Miami and The Betsy South Beach Hotel, which hosts weekly residencies for writers. So if you're in the area Oct. 3, come out and stop by for the festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. I'll be reading at noon Saturday at the Writer's Pavilion. For more details, visit Celebrate Orgullo.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Emilio Estefan's We're All Mexican

Miami music producer Emilio Estefan has produced a song and video called We're All Mexican to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. The fast-paced song, a mix of reggaeton, rap with some thunderous trumpets, features an all-star cast of Latino and non-Latino celebrities and entertainers (Gloria Estefan naturally, Carlos Ponce, Santana and even Whoopi Goldberg.) I wrote an article about the video and talked to Emilio Estefan about the meaning of the song which is aimed at highlighting the accomplishments of Latinos and immigrants.