Wednesday, November 26, 2014

RENT the musical heads to Cuba


RENT, the long-running American rock musical, is heading to Cuba. Miami native and FIU theater grad Andy Señor Jr. is directing the production in Havana with 15 Cuban actors.

Andy played the role of Angel, the sweet crossing-dressing HIV positive street performer, on Broadway as well as in national and international productions. He also staged a Toyko production of the show.

The arrival of the musical in Cuba marks the first time that a Broadway production will be staged there in more than 50 years. I wrote an article about Andy and RENT for the Sun Sentinel. Here is a photo gallery from some of the rehearsals in Cuba.

Andy is also assisting with the Gloria and Emilio Estefan musical On Your Feet that will debut next fall in New York.

To the left are some photos of the RENT rehearsals with Andy and the cast in Havana.




Friday, November 14, 2014

SS Nostalgia

I remember seeing the SS Norway in all its royal-blue glory docked at the port of Miami in the 1980s and 90s. I also recall watching Carnival's Mardi Gras and Festivale ships churn the waters off Government Cut as they embarked on another weekly cruise.

But what happened to some of the classic ships that used to silhouette against the South Florida skyline?

Some were retired and shipped (sorry) to the coast of India to be stripped down for parts. But their spirit remains afloat online where former passengers swap stories and history about these vintage ships.

 I wrote an article about these websites and where some of these ships are now.

(Below, that's me aboard the SS Emerald Seas, my first cruise ship adventure. It was a weekend cruise to the Bahamas - my first time out of the country. I was giddy - as you can probably tell -  that I got the top bunk here. I also remembered that I kept thinking I would bump into the cast of The Love Boat but to no avail.)






Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Love Boat Reunion


Love....exciting and new....
The cast of the popular 1970s-80s show The Love Boat (you know you know it) reunited Wednesday to christen the new Princess Cruises ship the Regal Princess in Fort Lauderdale.

The gathering also celebrated the cruise line's 50th anniversary. To mark the golden occasion, the company invited more than 24 of the show's well-known guest stars from Mrs. Cuchi Cuchi Charo to the Bradys (Christopher Knight and Florence Henderson. It was my childhood sitcoms on parade.)

They were part of a gold carpet event on Deck 17 aboard the colossal ship. (I say BIG because I was lost for about 20 minutes trying to get off the ship after filing my story of the event.)


Here's a Sun Sentinel photo gallery of all the celebrities. And below are some photos I snapped of the event with my handy dandy smartphone. One thing I didn't capture was that the ship's horn blows to the beat of the show's theme song.




To my right, that's Chris Knight, aka Peter Brady. I couldn't resist a photo in the Green Room.

















The pool area looked like a modern version of the one shown on the classic TV series. This was the media swarm.


















The whole Love Boat cast was aboard. They were introduced on a jumbo screen with their before and now photo. That's Lauren Tewes, aka Julie the cruise director.


















The gold carpet with Jamie Farr of MASH and Charo behind him being interviewed. Both were guest stars on the show.


















And that's me with my wind-blown curly hair on Deck 17 overlooking Fort Lauderdale.
















Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What I Learned from Oprah's Life You Want Weekend

Oprah Winfrey came to Miami and brought her Life You Want Weekend, a touring event that serves as a giant inspirational retreat for folks looking to figure out what they want from their own lives, a journey of self-transformation. And she brought along some of her friends - Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, spiritual guru Deepak Chopra, OWN host Iyanla Vanzant and pastor Rob Bell to the AmericanAirlines Arena Oct. 24-25.

After writing a preview about the event for my paper, I was curious to experience it myself. What will Lady O say that we don't know already from her magazine, former talk show and OWN network? How many women (and some men) could pack the arena for something other than a Miami Heat game or an Enrique Iglesias concert?  A LOT, as it turns out.

Whether we strolled the downtown streets of Miami or rode the centipede-like Metro Mover to the event, we all recognized one another thanks to our rubbery white bracelets, which later glowed like bright fireflies during each speaker's session. On my way to the arena, I couldn't help but eavesdrop on some ladies as they talked about how they traveled from New York and Canada just to see Oprah. I nodded and smiled and they flashed a knowing grin when they spotted my bracelet. It confirmed that I was one of them, one of the gals that weekend, looking for a dose of spirituality and some personal growth.

So what did I get out of the weekend? Here are some things that I jotted down in my notepad (I quickly ran out of paper) from my O-weekend along with some photos I snapped with my smartphone.

Friday night, Oprah donning a sunny yellow gown, strutted back and forth on stage where she spoke for about 90 minutes about her journey from a young girl in Mississippi to Chicago where she launched her long-time syndicated daytime show.

With slide shows of her early days in broadcasting, her home, landscapes and nature, it felt like she was taking us on a personal life tour.

"We are all energy. All life is energy.  What will you do with the energy that is you?'' Oprah asked the audience.

"There is no life without the connection to the spiritual self,'' she continued.

She referenced Maya Angelou who told her, "Your legacy is every life you've ever touched."

Oprah also read from "Invictus", poem that she learned at age 8: "I am the master of my fate I am the captain of my soul.''

She said her show took off when she started using television as a service to help other people. She urged us to do that in our own lives. "Use what you have and begin to share that in service" and how we can all do that in our own jobs whether we're clerks, lawyers or teachers.  If we haven't found a job that we are passionate about, find an outlet or something that you enjoy, something that pays you in its own way.

What really caught my attention was when she explained that "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction...The energy you put out there, BAM!, it's all coming back.. Haters, BAM! Jealously, BAM! Envy, BAM! Love is the same thing."  She was BAM! this and BAM! that so much that you could feel it as if she was pointing at YOU!...BAM! My seat mates uh-huhed along with me.
from Harpo

"You cocreate your life with the energy of your intention...You are responsible for your intentions...Be responsible for the energy you bring into a room.''  (I also liked this one because how you enter a room or a situation, sets the stage, so to speak.)

"Everything that happened to you has happened for you, to lift you higher, to make you better."

"You begin the life you want by embracing the life you have."  Be grateful for the smaller things even the shower pressure or clean crisp bed sheets. One of the smaller things I'm grateful for daily is that my VW starts each morning to get me to work in Fort Lauderdale from Miami.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

'You are a gift'

You never know what may inspire you to write. It could be a song, a photograph, a memory, something someone said. Recently, some writing came to me and I really don't know where it came from exactly but I may have a clue.

Let me begin. Two weeks ago, I was standing at the post office in Fort Lauderdale. I was feeling frustrated and helpless about a family issue. I wasn't feeling like my typical giddy self. My energy was dim.

And then I looked over to my right and a greeting card stared back at me.  It read You are a gift  with a big heart in the middle.

When I saw it, calmness enveloped me. It was as if a soothing light had come down on me, encircling me with a comforting positive energy. My frustration and helplessness faded away.

I looked down and smiled to myself.

As I left the post office with the new found energy, the following words popped into my head as if someone or some greater power planted them there. A mantra, if you will.

You are a gift,
You bring joy to other people's lives.
You are light,
You are loved,
You are well-loved.

The words replayed in my mind, almost like a verse in a song. Sometimes, it had a beat.

You are a gift (clap-clap!) You bring joy to other people's lives...You are light (quick clap). You are loved (fast clap). You are well-loved. (clap-clap!)  

And for some reason, I heard a Gospel-flavored version in my head:

You are a GIFT (mmm hmm) ....You bring joooooy to other people's LIVES....You are light (that's right)...You are loved, you are wellll-loooooooved (d-e-e-p bass voice in this part. I don't know why but it felt good)

No matter which way I recited or mentally heard the words while driving, clapping, mmm hmming in my Volkswagen despite the quizzical stares from other drivers at stop lights and pedestrians, the words have stayed with me since that afternoon.

Again, I don't know where they came from.  I shared this with an old friend of mine, a classy sage of a lady who knows a little something about intuition and advice. In her soothing voice, she smiled, leaned forward and told me  "Johnny, I think God and your mother were speaking to you, reminding you of something."

Since these words were a gift to me, I am posting them here. A regift.






Monday, October 27, 2014

Richard Blanco's Miami

"A Cuban 'Wonder Years' or like a 'Running with Mangoes,'' a la Augusten Burroughs. That's how Richard Blanco describes his new memoir The Prince of Los Cocuyos that he just published.

It's the latest from the gay, Cuban-American, Miami-raised writer who presented his "One Today'' poem for President Obama's inauguration in Jan. 2013.

The new book chronicles his coming of age (and coming out) while living in Miami's Westchester neighborhood in the 1970s and 80s. (Cocuyos means fireflies in Spanish, in case you were wondering.)


I interviewed Richard for my paper the Sun Sentinel. Here's my story on his book, why he chose to write in more long form than his traditional poetry such as Looking for the Gulf Motel collection and how he hopes his stories may help gay youth know that they're not alone in their struggles. The book is warm and sweet like a Cuban cafecito.

Richard Blanco at his reading in Coral Gables





Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Latino List in Boston

Each year, the Boston Public Library creates a guide, a list of book titles that reflect the Hispanic experience for Hispanic Heritage Month.

I'm happy to report that my new novel, Looking for Providence, made the list under fiction this year (page 5 in the guide).  Thank you BPL!

To scroll through the guide, check out the digital version here.

Actually, this is just an excuse to post some photos from my recent readings at the Providence Public Library and the South End branch of the Boston Public library. A big thank you to the folks who came out on both nights.














Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The other Jonny Diaz


"I wish I could read all night - seriously one of the best books ever!!" Tweeted one young girl.

"Great show tonight!'' wrote another fan on Facebook.

I wish I could take credit for the compliments but it's not me they're talking about. It's the other Jonny Diaz. Over the years as his star has risen (and mine maybe just a little itty bit), people have confused us.

One commenter on Youtube for one of my readings wrote, "Is this jonny diaz the christian singer? Did he write a gay book? Is he gay?"  

I laughed when I saw that because the mix-ups keep happening. Jonny is my digital doppelganger. So much so that Wikipedia emphasizes that he's the American singer and I'm the American writer.  I remember one time while leaving the airport in Atlanta after a book reading, the security guy looked at my license, then looked at me and said "You're Jonny Diaz! My girlfriend loves your music." I grinned and responded, "Um, thanks but..."

Yet despite our differences (Jonny is a Christian country music singer who is married and I'm none of those things. He plays the guitar and I play with my curly hair), we do have some similarities if you take a closer look.

We're both from Florida. He of Lakeland. Me of Miami.

We went to college in the Sunshine State. Him, Florida State University. Me, Florida International University.

We both share a love of writing (him music, me gay romance novels and news feature stories.)

Most of all, we both enjoy connecting with others. We use our words to uplift people and to get closer to a universal truth.

Jonny broke out with an inspirational song called More Beautiful You which urges people, particularly young girls, that God made us beautiful just as we are and not to give into societal pressures. He also co-wrote a book based on that song.

I broke out with the song More Bootyful You. (Just kidding but that would make a good name for a song). Actually, I came out in the literary world with my debut novel Boston Boys Club, a fun, light-hearted book about three guys looking for love as newcomers to Boston. And I've since written four more books that focus on the power of friendship and love among 20, and 30something guys in Boston, Miami and Providence as they navigate their everyday lives.

Whenever someone has confused me for Jonny, I've smiled and responded to them, "Thank you for reaching out but you might be looking for Jonny Diaz. I'm a writer."   I'd like to think that Jonny has done the same for me over the years. Jonny, if you come across this post, I'd love to send you one of my books, maybe Looking for Providence. (The title alone is spiritual beyond the city.) And much continued success with your music!

By the way, heeere's Jonny in his own words!