Friday, February 09, 2007

Fawzy Zablah: Ciao! Miami

I have been unable to find out much about Fawzy Zablah's background. But one version of his blog discloses that he was born in El Salvador and raised in Miami. He has been a contributing writer for D'vox magazine in South Florida, and his short stories can be found at LitVision and Gorilla magazine, among others.

Ciao! Miami is published by Little Havana Press, via Lulu, where it is described succinctly as 'an uncompromising look at lower class Miami in the late 90s.' It carries a warning that it contains 'mature sexual themes, drug use and strong language'. Well, it isn't as shocking as some -- or maybe I'm just case-hardened.

The book consists of nine stories, varying in length but amounting to just under a hundred pages in all. Each story contains pen portraits of characters whom it is difficult to describe without appearing rude or condescending. Certainly they are mostly working class; some might be called low-lifes, and others are junkies, prostitutes, and transsexuals. Some have AIDS; some are in prison.

What we have here, in my view, is a series of thoroughly convincing portraits of people who haven't so far had much luck in life, and don't look like getting any soon. They are doing their best in difficult circumstances; often with little money and intelligence to help them along the way.

I found myself wondering if English is Fawzy Zablah's first language: not because the prose is bad -- far from it -- but there is something about the writing which suggests an outsider looking on with some bemusement.

Whether that is so or not, Fawzy Zablah is certainly a keen observer and he is a capable writer. As far as the book goes, it is good of its kind; but I'm not at all surprised to find that it's published by Lulu. Commercial publishers would doubt whether there is a viable market for it.

Ciao! Miami constitutes, in my view, a pretty good calling-card script, so to speak. It's a showpiece: it says, Here I am, and this is what I can do; and I do it pretty well.

The question which occurred to me, however, several times during the course of this book, is this: Why are young writers so afraid of plot?

Is it considered seriously uncool? Is it because the avoidance of 'contrivance' is what the MFA degrees preach (actually it probably is -- see Rockslinga). Or is it because the writers in question find plotting impossibly difficult?

I ask those questions because Miami is a fertile ground for thriller material. Florida is, after all, the state which has given us Carl Hiaasen (new one just out in the UK) and Michael Gruber. And Fawzy Zablah seems to me to be eminently well equipped to put together a real zinger of a thriller. He has an eye for characters, and he knows how to make them live on the page; all he needs is a good plot.

Here's a hint, Fawzy: steal one. Shakespeare did.

Noah Cicero reviews this book in the 3:AM magazine.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Florida means James W Hall!

Anonymous said...

Instead of plot, younger writers yearn to write about "real-life people, people the media don't want to admit exist." Problem is, everyone already has heard about them and the media love to admit they exist. It's been said that most general plots that come to mind have probably been written among a trillion writers--and that's ok. The key is not necessarily finding a "new" one. It's writing it in a new way.

Miami Hotels said...

I read this book, very interesting. I'm planning to come to Miami next year via last minute travel. It will be very exciting to see all the places I read about by myself.

herocious said...

would love to comment. i'm also a florida writer, born in miami. never go an MFA, but have a BA in economics. my natural instinct was to shy away from plot in my first book. there's a loose one though. it gives it a sense of doom. my book is called 'austin nights'. i'm going to read fawzy zablah. he sounds like a miami writer i need to read.

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