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Drums for a Lost Song by Jorge Velasco Mackenzie

Drums for a Lost Song

Drums for a Lost Song by Jorge Velasco Mackenzie

Drums for a Lost Song by Jorge Velasco Mackenzie

Check out my latest project: a translation of Drums for a Lost Song by Jorge Velasco Mackenzie of Ecuador

Drums for a Lost Song by Jorge Velasco Mackenzie

I spent the past three years translating this work from Spanish, and it’s now available from Hanging Loose Press. The book is a magical realistic historical fiction, about a runaway slave from Ecuador’s colonial period.

From the Hanging Loose web site:

Drums for a Lost Song (Tambores para una canción perdida), Jorge Velasco Mackenzie’s tale of José Margarito,”the Singer,” escaping from slavery in nineteenth-century Ecuador, combines elements of Ecuadorean history, magic realism, and the African Yoru pursued through the landscape and the towns of coastal Ecuador by his master, Captain Manda, with an entourage of servants and slaves that includes Margarito’s lover, Pan de los Pobres; Lupina, a witch; Ochumare, the deity of the rainbow, god and goddess in one, whom Manda has also enslaved; and a notorious criminal from nineteenth century Ecuadorean history.

The narrative ranges through an array of adventures historical and otherwise: from the 16th century shipwreck that established a settlement of runaway slaves, to an escape via submarine, Ecuador’s civil wars, the tale of the goddess Iris-female manifestation of the rainbow deity (who may or may not be the Singer’s mother); meetings with the gods; a great banquet of Indians, soldiers, gentlemen and beggars; and the return of Halley’s Comet. In Drums for a Lost Song we encounter the cruelty of slavery, the exhilaration of adventure, dialogue that makes characters come to life, and the possibility that Margarito’s song—embodied in his story—may not be lost forever.

Get your copy anywhere online, but I recommend supporting Small Press Distribution and buying it here. Thank you for your continued support!


10 Ways to Be a Better Person in 2016

It’s a whole new year. And while everyone’s out making lofty, unsustainable resolutions, forget the grand pledges and get back to basics. Try focusing on a few small areas of your life where key changes will reap big results. If you’re willing to give it a shot, you can be a better person in 2016. You can totally be a better person.

  1. Start cooking for yourself

Don’t you get tired of eating takeout every day? Isn’t it boring shoveling the same three or four menu items down your throat meal after meal? Sure, getting in the habit of cooking your own meals can seem a daunting task, but start with one meal, with just a few simple ingredients. After you eat, wash your dishes and think about three or four ingredients you might use to make your next plate. Once you’ve got a routine established, which won’t take as long as you think, you can think about ditching the delivery altogether. Also, you can stop taking my food out of the fridge. Because yes, I was absolutely planning on eating those leftover meatballs, and no, it wasn’t cool of you to just help yourself.

  1. Get a gym membership

It’s kind of a cliché resolution, but there’s no better way to kick off the New Year than by joining a gym. You’ll look better, you’ll feel better, and you’ll have a lot more energy and confidence. Also, my gym said that I can’t sign you in as a guest anymore.

  1. Put your phone away

Too often we’re glued to our phones. And even trying to resist the constant pull of the Internet makes time spent away from a device feel like an exercise in frustration. So do yourself a favor in 2016 and stop using your phone. Also, stop using my phone. Yeah, I understand that your carrier throttles your data after a while, so maybe you should take it easy on whatever it is you’re constantly downloading. And I don’t care if you’re out of battery, just because mine has sixty-five percent left doesn’t mean I have to share the wealth.

  1. Get better about doing your laundry more regularly

It’s one of those chores that, if you can just stay on top of it week-to-week, you can avoid having all of your clothes stacked up in two, giant, unfolded piles. Just take care of a load here and there, and you’ll have your wardrobe back, and you won’t have to borrow my socks. Which, by the way, it’s not borrowing, it’s just taking. Because I’m not wearing socks that you’ve borrowed, you might as well just keep them. And I think you know this, which is why you keep doing it. I’m sick of having to constantly buy new socks. Just don’t touch my socks.

  1. Stop biting your nails

It’s a bad habit. It’s bad for your teeth. It’s bad for your nails. You’re nails are constantly bleeding. It’s gross. Could you like, do it somewhere else at least? We’re watching TV and you’re just biting and biting, and then you’re playing with a big chunk of fingernail in your mouth, and then you do this thing where you casually try to just spit out the piece of fingernail like I’m not noticing, but I’m totally noticing, and then there are little pieces of fingernail stuck in the carpet. Dude, gross.

  1. Pay your rent

I’m serious man, the rent was due a week ago. And that’s great that you’re able to maintain such a nonchalant attitude about your credit score, but my parents cosigned the lease on this apartment, so I’d appreciate it if you could make your monthly payments on time. Your “money’s really tight” excuse is a little hard to swallow, by the way, especially since you had enough cash to buy that extra gamepad controller for your stupid special edition Zelda Wii U. Right, it’s painted gold, I see, great. I just don’t get why you had to sell your old Wii U to buy a gold one.

  1. How’s that job search coming along?

No, I hear you, it’s a tough market. It’s just a suggestion. That’s all I’m saying, is that maybe you’d have more money if you found a job. Yeah, I get it, I don’t love my job either, but you’ve got to pay the bills, right? Seriously, you have to pay your bills. My mom just got a call from our landlord.

  1. Get your shoes off the couch

Come on man, that’s my couch. I bought it. It’s fine that you eat on it, and sleep on it, whatever. But the shoes, do you have to keep them on when you’re laying down? And while I’m on it, just, if I walk in the living room, and you’re lying on the couch, it might be nice if you sat up so I could sit on the couch too. This isn’t your bedroom.

  1. Try to wear pants around the house

Or at least some pajamas, or shorts. I can see your balls right now. Dude.

  1. Don’t spoil Star Wars

No, I get it, it’s over and done with. But I still can’t believe you spoiled Star Wars for me. That’s nice that you had time to catch the midnight showing on opening night, but you really didn’t have to come home and tell me all about it. Especially when I was like, “Dude, stop … please, don’t say anything,” and you were like, “No, I’m not going to spoil anything, but …” and then you told me like three huge spoilers. That was not cool. And yeah, so just going forward, in 2016, whenever, just don’t talk to me about Star Wars, about any movie really. Just don’t talk to me at all, about anything.

The Secret can work for you too

One of my friends is a writer. We’ve always talked about wanting to make it, not necessarily together, not that it wouldn’t be cool to both make it together, but writing can be a pretty solitary exercise, and so while neither one of us would object to the idea of both of us making it, together, the both of us making it as writers, it’s just that, realistically, it’s probably more than likely than neither of us will make it, that’s just odds, and so, rather than talk of any potential shared success, there’s just always been talk, about some success, any success. I’d obviously like that success to be for me, but if he were to find that success for him, I wouldn’t be upset. Of course, it’s easy to say something like that, something like, “I wouldn’t be upset at my friend’s success,” when there’s no real success to speak of.

But a while back, my friend, like I said, we’d always talk, about writing, about what we’re writing, about other stuff having to do with writing, one day he says to me, “Hey Rob, did you hear about The Secret?”

And you’re reading this, you see it in italics and capital letters, but when he said it to me, I couldn’t pick that out, and so I said, “What secret?” and he said, “You know, that book, The Secret?”

And I was like, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of it.”

And then I thought about what I was going to say, because of course I had something to say. Everybody’s heard of The Secret. It came out like ten years ago, and it’s already made its way through the various layers of pop culture. I didn’t think there was anybody left who hadn’t heard of The Secret, just like I didn’t think there was anybody left who still took The Secret seriously.

Still, something told me to hold back from saying what I was about to say, which would have been something sarcastic, something dismissive.

“Rob, you should really check out The Secret,” my friend said, and I said, “Oh really? I don’t know. That’s something to do with like a vision board or something?”

OK, so maybe I was a little sarcastic and dismissive, but only a little bit, it was only the leakage of a vast pool of the sarcasm and dismissiveness that I thought I was doing a pretty good job of holding back.

But it was enough sarcasm that he got it, he said, “OK, OK, I know what you’re thinking, but just, you know, if you ever want to try it out, just keep an open mind, that’s all I’m saying.”

And I said, “OK,” and then he dropped it, like he said he would, and I didn’t make any more sarcastic comments, not even a subtle dig, even though I wanted to, even though for the rest of the time we were talking, I kept wanting to wave my hands in the air, I kept wanting to say stuff about the vision board, more stuff about the vision board. I tried to think of other The Secret jokes I could come up with in my head (and then commend myself later for having held back) that didn’t have anything to do with vision boards, and that’s when I realized that I guess I didn’t really know anything about The Secret, except for vision boards, and for maybe a moment or two I thought, wow, I’m really judgmental, maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge things I don’t know anything about.

But then the conversation changed, I eventually stopped thinking about The Secret, and that was the last I thought about it for a while.

But here’s the thing: it totally worked. The Secret, it totally worked for my friend.

“It worked! Everything I wished for came true!” my friend told me the next time we caught up.

“Everything?” I couldn’t believe it.

“Yes! Everything!” he was so happy.

Everything he wanted became reality:

First he got a regular column on a really high-trafficked web site. His column attracted millions of followers overnight, and within a week, one of the leading print magazines offered him an even more popular column, in addition to his already successful Internet column. From there, someone set him up with a famous YouTube celebrity, and my friend started his own YouTube channel, and all of his videos started raking in hits, again, hits by the million, and he made sure that everyone had to watch a fifteen second commercial before each view, which didn’t even stop anybody from clicking away, and so he made a ton of money on advertising. Almost immediately after that, he started getting bombarded by calls from agents: book agents, movie agents, comedy agents, all-purpose agents that did everything. He wound up going with one of the all-purpose agents, and his new agent got him this ridiculous book/TV/sketch comedy/spoken word contract.

“Wow, everything …” I said. I couldn’t believe it.

It’s true, The Secret works. It worked for my friend. He’s proof that it works. And I’m going to do it too. I’m going to do The Secret also. Now that I know it works, there’s no reason for me not to do it. I haven’t done it yet though. I keep meaning to order it on Amazon, but I recently boycotted Amazon, ever since that article came out about how everyone at Amazon is miserable because Jeff Bezos makes everyone work until they drop, and then he fires them. Also, there was that story about the people working at the Amazon fulfillment center, and about how it was so hot inside the warehouse, but there were no ACs, and instead of installing ACs, Jeff Bezos hired a bunch of ambulances to wait outside until workers collapsed from heat exhaustion, and then he fired them.

So I was going to just go to the bookstore and pick up a copy, but it’s just one of those things that I keep putting off. It’s not like I’m deliberately putting it off. I just need to get around to actually doing it. I say I’m going to do it, and then I don’t do it, and then I think about why I haven’t done it yet. I should probably just make it a point to do it, to leave the house, to go to the bookstore. The way I have it in my head right now, it’s more like, well, whenever I happen to find myself out, and whenever I happen to come across a bookstore, maybe I’ll just find myself by chance walking down the self-help aisle, then I’ll do it, that’s when I’ll get myself a copy.

I haven’t done it yet, but I’m going to. Because it works. The Secret works. It worked for my friend. It’ll work for me. And it can work for you too.

A lot

It just would have been a lot. So when I heard that they were on their way, I made the decision to just get back on the road, fast. It was the only way that we were going to make it home at a reasonable time. The check engine light wasn’t on. The car wasn’t overheating. We weren’t in any sort of immediate danger. There was a vibrating, a low rumble that I noticed wasn’t usually there. I later realized that it was the sound of the broken belt whipping around and around whatever it is that belts are wrapped around on the underside of the hood. But it did give me a pretty nice amount of anxiety, not so much on the highway, but definitely in the Lincoln Tunnel. Right before we entered the tunnel, we had passed through the toll booth, and I don’t know if it was in my head, or if something really happened, or if it’s a problem that’s related to or not related to whatever it was that was going on underneath the hood that was causing that rumbling sound, whatever it was that caused the AC to stop cooling the inside of the car, but there was this moment when I slowed down to let the toll get collected, and then I floored it again, but the car didn’t seem to want to change gears, it just kind of revved up without really picking up any acceleration. And so that’s when I got the anxiety about the car. Driving through the Lincoln Tunnel, it’s one lane each way, with absolutely no space to go around or anything like that, and I thought, if this car breaks down in this tunnel, what would I do? We were sitting there in the heat, the windows were open in the tunnel, which is disgusting, because it’s basically this subterranean tube where the atmosphere has to be mostly comprised of exhaust gasses. We had our baby in the backseat just being directly exposed to this stuff. It smelled awful, just disgusting, and that was after having cruised through the New Jersey Turnpike with our windows down, so it’s not like we weren’t used to disgusting industrial smells.

Anyway, we didn’t break down. The car made it through the Lincoln Tunnel. It made it through Manhattan, onto the Queensboro Bridge. We made it back home and were even able to squeeze into a really tiny spot on the good side of the street right outside of our house. Even though it was still over ninety degrees, I got out of the car with the engine still running, I popped the hood and I took a look inside, looking for this belt, this mysterious piece of equipment that I’d never actually seen in real life. I mean, maybe I’ve seen one in real life before. But if I did, it was totally by accident, just in my line of sight, without any sort of explanation, no, “Look Rob, this is a car belt.” No. But I had an image in my head. I still do. I still really only have that mental imaginary image to go by, because when I opened the hood, one, it was so hot that I couldn’t stand really close for more than a second or two without feeling as if my face were about to be just exhausted right off of my head, and two, I have no idea what the underside of a car hood is supposed to look like. There’s the spot where you pour in the windshield wiper fluid, OK, I got that, and there’s the dipstick, again, that’s not really something that I’d classify as automotive knowledge. I didn’t see any belts. At least, nothing that looked like the belts I’d conjured in my head. The engine itself wasn’t even visible. It was covered with this big black piece of plastic. And yeah, everything was just really hot. I couldn’t even hold the hood up, well, I could, and I did, enough to use that stick that’s used to prop the hood up. But it was hot. And I probably wouldn’t have been able to prop it up for much longer than I did.

Now there’s this lingering question of: when am I going to get this fixed? How am I going to do it? Where am I going to take it? Am I going to have to take the baby with me? Should I maybe try to figure out some day when I can do it where someone will be around to watch the baby? Would that be possible? What about the logistics of dealing with the repairmen? I guess I could just tell them that the AC isn’t working. Should I mention the buzzing? Because yeah, I already have this belt theory pretty much established as what’s going on. But when I take a step back, I don’t see why I’m so confident as to why I think that this is the answer. It’s all based off a five second conversation with my dad, followed by a mostly unsuccessful way too cursory a glance underneath the hood of a machine that I know all but nothing about. Am I really going to walk into a mechanic shop armed with these thoughts? Are they even worth sharing? These guys are professionals. But how professional? Are they going to really look everything over? If I come in and start talking about belts, are they going to assume that I have an idea as to what I’m talking about? Will they take this fake knowledge for granted, and thus zero in on just the belt? What if there’s a real problem with the car, one that has nothing to do with belts, but because I’ve convinced them that I’m a serious guy with a working knowledge of cars, what if they ignore all other issues? What if they execute a targeted belt change, without even bothering to take a look outside of the immediate vicinity of the belt? And what if I wind up having to take the baby? Am I going to be doing all of this negotiating and convincing while I’m holding a baby? And what if the baby poops? What if it’s like a big, blowout poop, all down his legs, and I’m struggling to put him down somewhere, and the mechanic is like, “What did you say? A belt? What belt?” And I’ll be exposed, as a fraud, like I have no idea what I’m doing. And the guy will be like, “This is no belt problem. You’ve got catastrophic engine failure. It’s a good thing you made it here without breaking down.” And I’ll nod while he stands there and speaks to me in a language that I don’t understand, all about parts and operations, complex procedures I’ve never heard of. And I’ll have to stand there and nod and at least pretend to understand what he’s saying to me, but all the while I’ll be thinking, how much? How much is this going to cost? And he’ll keep talking and talking, so much so that by the time he finally does come around to naming his price, his endless dialogue about the things he’s going to have to do to even begin thinking of fixing this car, it’ll all have been a metaphor, a long justification, like, you think it took a long time and a lot of work to explain what I’m going to have to do to fix this car? That’s nothing compared to what I’m actually going to have to do. It’s going to take forever. You might not ever even see this car again. Just be thankful you didn’t break down in the Lincoln Tunnel. And here’s your answer: it’s going to cost a lot. It’s going to cost a lot of money to fix this car.

Harper Lee’s Latest Bombshell: Atticus Finch is a Robot

Why is nobody talking about this second, shocking revelation?

Contemporary American literature enthusiasts are nearing the peak of their months long wait, to a climax that’s been steadily building since a new Harper Lee manuscript was discovered to exist back in February. But in anticipation of Go Set a Watchman’s looming publication, advance reviews and an early sample chapter have cast a new light on once-beloved characters.


The shocker generating the most controversy has to do with the fact that Atticus Finch is now an old, cranky, run-of-the-mill racist. He brags about having attended KKK meetings, and admits that he’s not too keen on racial integration. Once the living embodiment of social justice and moral fortitude, legions of die-hard Mockingbird devotees have expressed grave dissatisfaction with their hero’s demotion in character.

But while Watchman has caused much sensation regarding this unfortunate change in attitude, readers and critics have been all but silent about the book’s most shocking revelation: that Atticus Finch is actually a robot.

“But Atticus’s speech and behavior becomes increasingly deranged, and by the end of the novel, it’s clear that Finch isn’t a human being at all. He’s a robot, and he’s malfunctioning.”

Early in the novel, readers are given hints that something doesn’t quite connect. Atticus complains, “My gears are all rusted,” and at first we’re led to believe he’s alluding to the difficulties of old age. But as the story progresses, his speech takes on a style uncharacteristic of the character we’ve been taught to know and love.

“My positronic core is havin’ trouble quantifyin’ my sensory input,” he tells his daughter Jean Louise late in Chapter Seven. A perplexed Scout asks her father, “Dad, what are you talking about?” but Atticus quickly changes the subject, going off on a nonsensical rant about the perils of integrated busing, leaving readers to scratch their heads in confusion.

But Atticus’s speech and behavior become increasingly deranged, and by the end of the novel, it’s clear that Finch isn’t a human being at all. He’s a robot, and he’s malfunctioning. The Finchs spend the rest of the novel in a race against time, searching hopelessly for Atticus’s enigmatic creator, an unnamed scientist known only through whispered rumors as Dr. Mekanix.

Atticus is ultimately unable to find a cure to the techno-virus ravaging his neural net, and the book closes as the robot collapses in a heap of bolts and sparks, all while a dazed Scout looks on in apparent calm, wondering if her lack of appropriate emotion at her father’s demise might not be a sign that she, too, is a robot.

And yet despite Ms. Lee’s abrupt departure into a realm of artificial intelligence and science fiction, much of the reaction to Go Set a Watchman remains fixed on the controversies of race, of Atticus Finch’s blatant distaste of civil rights issues prominently at the forefront of both novels. Yes, it’s disturbing, certainly unlike the Atticus Finch who championed Tom Robinson’s innocence in Mockingbird. But why aren’t audiences reacting as strongly to the even more surprising news that Atticus is a robot?

Maybe it’s because at some level it makes sense. Maybe it’s easier to accept that the Atticus we knew and loved from Mockingbird was the same moral champion that he’s always been, that his new bigoted disposition is nothing more than a sentient machine’s infection with a mysterious computer virus.

Because what’s the alternative? Are we as readers really supposed to assume that even our greatest white fictionalized heroes are complicit in the biases and privileges of institutionalized racism? Are we supposed to reevaluate the longstanding legacy of white goodness and racial progress?

No, it’s clear that Atticus Finch was a robot, and he was sick. His primary programming had been compromised. That’s why he was talking and acting like that. And while it’s hard to get past the mental image of Atticus Finch berating an entire people, just remember: you can’t judge an entire literary history based off of the unfortunate new revelations of one robot’s descent into madness.