When I first met Johnny Diaz he was at the Boston Globe booth during the National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention in Ft. Lauderdale. A mutual friend introduced us and I became a fan there. He’s fun to talk to and being Cuban, there was an instant connection. I knew then that I would keep in touch with him and that he would have a career to watch.
Years later, I was proven right. My friend Johnny sold his first book, Miami Man hunt and hasn’t stopped since. Now with book three, it’s my overwhelming pleasure to introduce him to the readers of this blog.
Here’s the info on Beantown Cubans:
At twenty-seven, Carlos is a cute, but slightly awkward Cuban-born and
Miami-raised high school teacher who is looking to escape the bittersweet
reminders of his recently departed mother. He figures that Boston is about as
far away from the crazy South Beach social scene as he can get, but life in
“Beantown” turns out to be quite the culture shock. Luckily, Carlos meets Tommy
Perez, who also escaped to Boston from Miami to take a job as a reporter at The
Boston Daily. Tommy quickly shows Carlos the ropes in Boston, from where to find
good Cuban food to the best way to break into the city’s clannish and lily-white
gay scene. Over the course of a wildly unpredictable year, Carlos learns to
embrace his newfound independence, as well as his individuality.
Without further ado, heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny (couldn’t help it):
1.) I love the story about how you started writing fiction. For those readers who don’t know you yet, could you briefly share with us how you got started?
It was wintery New England Friday night. I wrote a short story about something I knew, something that provided much inspiration here in Boston as well as Miami. Looking for an outlet from my city articles at The Boston Globe, I sat down and began writing about a fictional night out with three different guys. I took on the voice of one of the guys. The words just came to me, flowing onto the screen. I wrote it for me, as a creative exercise, not thinking this could be something more. When I was done, I filed the 3,000 word story away. But as the weekend passed and I began my work week again, the story kept calling me. I felt I could continue, telling the story from the point of view of one of the other guys. Later that week, I plopped myself in front of the computer again and I channeled that other character, how he would see the night. The words sprung onto the screen and the scenes came to life. Inspired, I followed up with another story from the point of a view of the third character. After three stories, it hit me: these stories are chapters. This could be a book. Could I really do this? Six months later, Boston Boys Club was born and I’ve been writing books ever since.
2) Tell us a bit about Beantown Cubans.
Beantown Cubans follows the adventures of two good gay Cuban friends in Boston. (Hey, it can happen!) The main narrator is Carlos Martin, a school teacher from Miami who moves to Cambridge after his mom dies. He’s starting fresh in Boston and trying to adjust as a newcomer. Luckily, he gets some help from a new amigo, Tommy Perez, a Boston newspaper writer and fellow Cubanit o from Miami who has successfully made Boston his home. Tommy supports Carlos as he tries to move on with his mother and Carlos supports Tommy as he begin dating his ex-boyfriend, a recovering alcoholic. Tommy and Carlos meet up every Friday at El Oriental de Cuba restaurant in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood. The book is about friendship and good Cuban food! 🙂
3) Beantown Cubans brings back a familiar character from a former book, Tommy Perez. How was it like revisiting a character and how did you go about “updating” him?
I knew that I wanted to write a sequel to Boston Boys Club and the only way to do that was to bring back the main character Tommy Perez, who has served as a thread in all the books. But since BBC was all about Tommy, I had to make this book about a new character, Carlos. It was fun revisiting Tommy and all his OCD quirks. It felt familiar and comfortable but I had to advance his story to make it different from the first book.
4) How have you grown as a writer from the first novel?
I feel I have grown leaps and bounds as an author. With each book, I find new ways to describe emotions and some of my favorite settings in Miami and Boston. I feel that I can better layer and texture the writing. I take more care with the writing.
5) You’re from the journalism world. What lessons did you learn or have to relearn to write fiction?
The good thing about being a journalist is that we learn to write fast. Our writing muscles are well toned because we write on deadline and regardless of whether we want to or not. Writing fiction is liberating. I feel that my journalistic handcuffs come off because I can write in first person and infuse the writing with my personality, my voice. I can’t do that in journalism, where the story is about someone else. Also, my stories in the Globe now as a Business writer often lack color and style that I often used in my profiles and trend stories when I was a features writer. Now more than ever, I rely on my fiction writing to get my real voice out. It’s my creative outlet.
6) Tell us about your process, from conception to final draft. Are you the type of writer who thrives with procrastination or lives for the deadline?
I write when I’m bored. I write when a scene pops into my head. I regularly write. If I find myself procrastinating, that means I’m not really wanting to write so I let it go and work out or go hiking. But I end up coming back to the writing another time.
7) Which one of your characters is your favorite and why?
Ted Williams from Miami Manhunt is my favorite. He’s the Miami TV reporter who is overexposed like Britney or Paris Hilton. He’s got the fame, the job, the money and yet, he’s not fulfilled. He has the biggest transformation in Miami Manhunt and he’s such a character, always talking about his TV stories. He’s one of the people at a bar surrounded by people. He’s the life of the party but when he goes home, it’s just him and his dog Max. Party of one. I think a lot of people can relate to that.
8) A misconception is that novelists write their novels fulltime. Talk about the pressures of having a day job as well as being a novelist.
The pressure can seriously lead to insanity (and gray hairs.) Seriously though, writing for a newspaper and writing books are two kinds of writing and require different sensibilities and skills. When I write for The Globe, I feel that I am more left brain, more cerebral. The fiction writing feels more right-brain, creative. One form of writing complements the other. It can be hard sometimes switching from one type to the other. At the end of my work day, the last thing I want to do is write some more. But I find the fiction writing relaxes me and I make time on the weekends. I disappear into this creative zone and build an imaginary world using real settings. It’s tough to juggle both but well worth the effort. I’m still surprised that I’ve written three novels.
9) As far as we can tell you’re the first person to write Latino gay fiction. Have you seen other authors emerge since Miami Manhunt, your first novel?
There’s another gay Latino writer named Alex Sanchez who writes gay teen novels. Right now, I’m the only one writing novels about gay Hispanic men. I think part of the reason for the dearth of gay Latino writers in the US is the topic itself. In many Hispanic households, being gay remains a taboo. So to be openly gay and then write books about=2 0it means that you have to have a very accepting family. I believe it’s more about puttting yourself out there and perhaps, that’s why there aren’t many of us being published. I bet many other writers are still struggling with acceptance in their own families. I write my books to start a dialogue about being gay and Hispanic. We need more voices.
10) One surprising thing I know about you has nothing to do with writing or journalism. You were on the Real World-Miami as Dan’s boyfriend. That shocked me to no end. Do you still get recognized for that?
The Real World, huh? You had to go there! When I have my crew cut, people immediately remember me, which is very flattering since the Miami season was many moons ago. It happens more in Miami or if I am at a gay bar in Boston or New York. But again, the crew cut triggers people’s memories and my own.
11) So far your books have taken place in Boston and Miami, two cities you’ve lived in. Any plans to move the setting to other cities?
Boston and Miami continue to be my muses. My fourth book will take place in Boston again but the main character will live in the town of Quincy (next to Boston.) Also, I am using Fort Lauderdale as his hometown. Providence is another city that I love so I may use that as a background in the future. You have to write what you know and I’ve only lived in Boston and Miami so expect more stories from my favorite cities.