Cuban-American author Johnny Diaz writes books about young gay Hispanic men as they balance family and love life issues in South Florida and Boston. Now Diaz has published his first Spanish-language novel, "Tomar La Iniciativa"
The e-book, a translation of Diaz's fourth novel, tells the story of Gabriel, a writing professor from Fort Lauderdale who tries to help his Cuban father in Miami Lakes manage his Parkinson's disease. When Gabriel discovers a special dance class for people with Parkinson's, he thinks he's found a way to help his dad. Meanwhile, Gabriel struggles romantically with a younger college student.
Diaz, a Sun Sentinel staff writer, answered questions about the Spanish-language e-book, which is $6.99 at Amazon.com and Dreamspinnerpress.com. The English version, "Take the Lead," is available as an e-book and in paperback for $14.99.
Q: What inspired you to write this novel?
A: I was living in Boston at the time and I had just written a news article about a special dance class for people with Parkinson's. The class really inspired me, the way these older students came to life when they heard music. They felt they have some control over their disease by dancing. My father also suffers from Parkinson's, and I thought the class might be a way to tell a fictional story of an adult son in Boston trying to care for his elderly father in Miami Lakes. The story also explores the theme of aging in the gay community.
Q: What message is the book trying to send gay people, all people?
A: My message in this book and in my other books is that gay people have the same issues as everyone else. We have issues with our family, we sometimes have trouble finding that special person, and we have good friends who support us in good times and bad. In all my books, the main characters are Cuban and out of the closet. I try to show that Latino parents can be loving and accepting of their gay adult children. My readers see themselves reflected in my characters and stories.
Q: When was it first published in English, and what's been the feedback?
A: The book was first published in English in the summer of 2011, and it's been very well-received. This book seems to have resonated with a broad range of readers, from Latinas who have to care for an elderly parent to gay men who appreciate reading a story about a positive father-and-son relationship. Of all my novels, this one has received the most positive reviews ... I think we can all relate to Gabriel in some way.
Q: When and why did you decide to have it translated and published in Spanish?
A: My publisher launched a Spanish-language division for its gay novels last year and they thought this book was a natural for Spanish translation since Gabriel is Cuban-American and some of the book takes place in Fort Lauderdale and Miami. My editors also know that the majority of my readers are Hispanic gay men.
Q: Do you think the Hispanic community has made progress dealing with the gay issue?
A: We've come a long way in the Hispanic community. It's more openly discussed, and part of that has to do with having more examples in the public eye, such as Ricky Martin who came out a few years ago and published his memoir, and more recently, Cuban poet Richard Blanco who wrote and read a poem for President Barack Obama this year. But I still think more work needs to be done. As long as gay celebrities hide in the closet, it only hurts young people struggling to come out because they don't see a lot of examples from their own community. They may think that being gay and Latino is something to be ashamed of, a taboo.
Q: What's still the challenge, in your opinion?
A: It's the machismo culture. Growing up in a Cuban family, I had relatives [including my parents] who made fun of effeminate gay men. That still happens in a lot of families. In the Latino culture, we are raised to be masculine and tough men. When people find out that you're gay, they think you may be weak or less than a man or just weird. I think we need more examples of openly gay men and women in the public eye.Copyright © 2015, South Florida