Thursday, January 16, 2014

Monday, March 18, 2013

...Ain't No One-Person Job...

“Every success I have ever had or will have in the future comes not solely from my own ambition and hard work, but also from those that have encouraged, supported and challenged me. Success is never, ever a one person job.”  - T.S. Tate

Last night I had a strange dream, and it's been with me all morning.

What's funny about the dream is that---as much as you know I love the 1940's, as much as I live and breathe it---this was oddly the first dream I can ever recall that took place in the era.

Right, smack in the middle of World War II. If the dream hadn't been so damn scary, I could have relished that beautiful feeling of 'living' so very vividly during this period.

The scene was---and I recall this with such clarity, the aura, the smells, the touch, the grit of it all---a huge, monstrously huge military airplane hangar which was being used as an impromptu shelter of sorts after some sort of attack. The surreal part of this was that wounded, dazed, mud-caked soldiers wandered among us civilians. Everyone was grimy, sweaty, including me. And everyone was confused and either numb or hysterical.

I remember walking and walking through this humongous hangar, lost and terrified. I didn't know where to go. I couldn't tell where I belonged. Oh, hell, I didn't belong and that scared me. I cried and I cried and I cried.

Each time stopped someone to ask for help, I met with nothing but blank stares. One soldier offered to direct me to the place I needed to go but he simply wandered off and left me.

The fear in this dream was so palpable. When I woke, I couldn't shake the feeling of loss and terror. Alone in that cavernous, strange place even though I was surrounded by thousands of people.

And then, like sun parting thunderous clouds, a woman appeared. Bright, sunny, blonde. She wore a white shirt, white pants and pretty blue espadrilles. She knew me, she'd been looking for me, she said, and was going to accompany me to the wartime stenographer pool where I was supposed to be.

I breathed deep, relaxed, and stopped at a coffee shop within the complex for donuts and java. Everything was all right. I was still afraid---horribly so---but I wasn't lost. I had direction now, I no longer had to wander in the same daze as the rest of the crowd.

On my way to the office this morning, the dream still haunted me. And, strangely---out of the blue---I began to think about writing. About my beginnings in writing. How, at first, I knew no one and I knew nothing about the business. All I brought to the author table was a little talent and a bunch of desire.

Like the dream, my initial entry into the world of writing was scary. And, like the dream, I wandered around in a huge space filled with people----SO many people---but I had no friends among them. No direction, just bumbling along, hoping to connect with someone to direct me.

Like many, I joined a handful of writing groups.

And that beautiful, shiny lady in my dream, the gal with the pretty blue espadrilles, I made some friends. People who had already made their way around the big ol' hangar of all things aurhor-ly. The people who took my hand and led me to the places I was supposed to be. Who helped guide me through the processes, hooked me up with even more friends.

These people are dear to me, have become bright icons of goodwill in my journey. When I think of them, I'm overcome with this swelling sense of happy gratitude, just as I was in the dream to finally find a beacon in the dark.

A friend of mine often commented how 'it must be good to have connections.' To me, hearts who pay it forward to help other authors find their way aren't 'connections'. They're wonderful souls, guiding lights like the beautiful woman in my dream. They're sighs of relief in the dark, hands to hold, handkerchiefs to dry tears when something goes wrong, cheerleaders to root for you and to holler when things go right.

They are, as James Arthur Baldwin says, the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return.

So...thank you, light lady from my dream, and all those in my real life who've taken my hand and helped to lead the way.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Purse...

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for. 
-- Epicurus 

I'd like to say I was just a tiny tyke, not old enough to know better, when The Great Purse affair happened. But that would be a lie. 

It was a lean Christmas for my family. At the time, my father worked two jobs. By day, he was a mailman (pre-government postal service) bringing in a whopping $2.15 an hour. Nights, he pushed a broom as a janitor at Jackson Intermediate School.

In my kid mind, my daddy's long hours meant nothing to me. It was just what fathers were supposed to do. 

Even though I had no allowance like some children, even though my only spending money came from scouting for empty coke bottles and cashing in the deposits for pennies and nickels, I still had no concept of all that income-to-debt ratio crap. My family kept me fed, kept clothes on my back, and life was as is should have been.

One year my coat was a fabulous red leather number that had been an item getting ready to be disposed of from the school's lost and found. The jacket was magnificent, and it didn't dawn on me to be embarrassed of its origin. Nobody else knew where it came from. It was pretty. It looked cool on me. No worries.

But, like with everything else in my young-and-oblivious-to-financial-things life, I still had no clue of how difficult it must have been for my parents to have so much trouble supplying some of the simple basics of their children's needs. They DID supply them, one way or another, and that seemed to be all that mattered.

Never did it occur to me to wonder what must have been going through their minds. That it might have bothered them that they couldn't afford toys like our friends were going to get. That, while our pals would wake up to a living room full of goodies, we would wake up to one gift each. 

If only I had been able to see into their parental minds. If only. 

This particular Christmas morning, my sister, brother and I woke up to find one gift each under the tree. 

I can't even remember what my little brother received from 'Santa', I only remember what my sister and I received. 


And, you know, those pretty handbags were actually very nice. Looking back, I realize they hadn't been cheap, not with my father's income. Even though only one gift each, the purses still had been a sacrifice for my parents.

Through the years, I've agonized over that morning and the way it went down. I've---more times than I can count---tortured myself over the fact that I SAW the happiness, the pride in my parent's eyes when we spotted our purses under the tree. I SAW the expectant smile on their faces when we discovered the gifts waiting for us. I SAW all this. 

I SAW it and yet...

My sister's purse was bigger than mine. Much bigger. 

She was older than me, she had already started high school. Girls her age carried big bags. It was the style. The handbag was suitable for her.

I, who was still in middle school, was given a much smaller purse. Much more suitable for a girl my age. A lovely purse it was. Brown leather. 

But it was smaller than my sister's. It was a kid sized purse, and hers was so sophisticated, elegant. Mature. Bigger. 

Now here is where I'm ashamed to tell more. But, to say it all out loud after all these years, I find some sort of reconciling for my heart. 

What did I do? I cried. Oh, damn. How many times have I prayed for a time machine to return me to those moments between my mother's happy smile and my ugly tears? To let me do it again? 

Yes, I actually pitched a pure-d hissy fit. If I remember, I even said I hated my purse. I was so overcome with jealousy. I wanted a purse just like my sister's.

I ruined that beautiful moment---the pride that came with my parent's sacrifice---by being jealous. 

As big as I was, I threw such a tantrum that my mother promised to take me to the store after Christmas to exchange my kiddy bag for a more mature, giant bag like my sister's. 

And she did.

How stupid I looked, dragging that monster bag around the halls of San Jacinto Intermediate School! Of course, I didn't realize that until later, only seeing the vision of the little girl with the enormous purse. Oh, hell, it was probably about one hundred times too big for the junk I had to carry around. 

The funny thing? My mother recalls that incident with humor now. And I do, too. Sort of. Another part of me aches every time I see that shocked look on her face when I turned on the waterworks. 

So why am I telling this now? Is there a point to this?

I guess. I don't know. It's just that, this holiday, our family is going t be minus a child---my son-in-law Mike. And, on top of that, I think of those parents who,just this month, have lost their babies to the gunman's crazed rampage. And I see how very little the gift part of the holidays really is. I'd happily forfeit any gifts to have my son back. For those Newtontown parents to have their children back.

And our family is doing very little of the gift-giving thing this year. We're focusing on our love, on giving to those less fortunate, and just being together. 

The Great Purse Affair has tormented me all these years. That longing to re-do that morning, to have known what I know now---being a parent myself---about love and sacrifice and appreciation. 

I can't undo the horrible reaction to the purse. 

And maybe I don't really want to. As long as, through my own parental heart, I FEEL that moment and feel the big wrongness of my reaction, I'll mentally tag myself to always be grateful for those who love me. 

Wishing you all a wonderful, safe, loving holiday.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


“Don't classify me, read me. I'm a writer, not a genre.”  -- Carlos Fuentes

I'm fairly new at this writing thing. But, even so---in such a short time---I've got a past. What I call fondly the good ol' days.

With a smile in my heart, I cling to memories of my beginnings as a writer. Everybody starts out differently. For me, it began as fantasy stories shared with a friend, all involving Rudolph Valentino. My friend and I were hopeless Valentino fans and we blissfully lost ourselves in writing scenarios in which we, of course, were his lovers. We'd write installments and trade them.

The one night I dreamed of Russell Crowe and Valentino got tossed to the side of the road in favor of swarthy Maximus in my new Gladiator fantasy.

Then...then...I had this relentless drive to actually...write. A real story, as in submitting it. It was going to be shocking, it was going to be a best seller. I was going to be famous.

So I took off on a new journey with a new destination...fame.

A Mafia story, it was. Funny thing, though, as illustrious and famed as I planned to be, I still wrote for fun. What more could there BE to this writing gig, after all? One simply wrote a story, thumbed through a list of agents then simply plunked the manuscript into the mail. I'd like this to be published, please. The lucky agent, all a-flutter at the most magnificent manuscript they'd ever received, would hasten to find me a publishing house and there it would be. In like Flynn. I would soon be famous.

Please. Are you going to make me humiliate myself by telling you the outcome to THAT dream?

The thing was, it was so much fun. I was so new, so green. So full of hope. I was doing something I loved, and----joy of joys---it would make me money and make me famous. But, bottom line. God, how I loved it.

My first serious stab at writing was a Mafia story. It was, at first glance, what is known in the publishing world as a 'hetero' romance or a male/female romance, a story between a man and a woman.

I tossed in a gay couple as secondary characters. The genre bible said, this still falls into male/female romance. Whew. So I know still had that genre thing on track, that gave me a good insight into where I could publish. Which publishers accepted what.

Oh, but one thing. It is still male/female romance UNLESS the gay couple have on-screen sex.

Uh-oh. Okay, so they DO have sex on the page. So, does that mean...?

Oh, that's different. You've now ventured over into mainstream. It can no longer be a hetero romance if there is an other-than-heterosexual sex scene or scenes in the story.

Very well, so I'll start looking for a publisher who...

Now you COULD take the gay characters out of the story.

Nah, I really like these guys, couldn't I just...?

Not in this story, and still call it a hetero romance. Now, you could perhaps put them in their own story? THEN that would be classified as male/male romance. Another division.

But they belong in the story.

Then no sex from them, and everything will fine. Unless, of course, you go mainstream.

So, that story was shelved for a while. I did try to extract the gay characters and give them their own vehicle. But you know how characters are. The boys had none of that. So, hell. Nobody gets a story. Right?

Mainstream, remember?

No, this is too much of a headache. I'll just come back to them later.

On to another story. My first published story (under my C. Zampa pen name), CANDY G. Piece of cake. Two men in a two-man romance. Male/male romance. That was easy! Gender-ising, that is.

But here I am again. My current story is just the opposite. A story of two gay men with a woman in the mix, a woman who has a huge point of view in the story. She's the soon-to-be ex-wife of one of the characters.

This time, it's the woman's presence raising the flags.

She is allowed, but no sex scenes including her.

Yes, very well. I can manage that. The sex between her and her husband isn't crucial to the story anyway. Or is it? I must decide IF it's important, based on genre guidelines, not by on how important the sexual changes are in the relationship.

So it is still a male/male romance.

At this point, I'm torn.

The bottom line? Life is not compartmentalized by genres. Real life drama is a big mix of everything. Straight people and gay people interact in real life. Gay men are parts of the lives of straight couples, and they all have sex lives.
But, to keep in perfect genre-fication, we have to pretend that one of the genders does not really have sex. Well, I take that back. They can have it, just don't tell about it. It'll just be their little secret.

And I understand, before you say it. Readers are selective. They don't want the two mixed.

Silly as it is, I have friends who write male/male fiction who act like they'll get cooties if they look at pictures of straight couples kissing. And, vice versa,  author  who do the same if male/male pictures are posted. Genre, baby, genre. (In truth, it's bias and prejudice, but that's another, much bigger issue). Never the twain shall meet. So I DO know about reader selectiveness.

For me, personally, sex is just sex. If it fits a character---any character---in the book, it belongs. It doesn't turn me off, doesn't offend me. But others might not feel the same, and they are completely right in their own feelings. That's the beautiful part of human nature. We are all different, and it should be okay that way.

And I'm not complaining about the fact that it IS what it is. These guidelines are for specific reasons, and I understand them completely, and I adhere to them.


I just DO miss the early days when I was just writing my heart away, beautiful, no-genre writing, everybody all in the same story---gay, straight. Everybody had their place in my book. It was so simple, so pure. And fun.

And I miss that. I don't resent the way it is. I just miss the absence of inhibition in my writing from those good old days. When I could just write without having to aim my writing to a genre, but to the heart of the story, whatever that heart might be.

“My favorite genre is Beautifully Written Books of Any Genre. Could we make that a genre?”  - Kristin Cashore

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

For This Knowing and Flowing...

Sometimes you just know... And then it doesn't even seem scary. Just certain and joyful. Like a deep stream, flowing steady and strong, jumping and splashing and churning as it passes around and over the land in which it is grounded. And for this knowing, and flowing, I am grateful. ― Vashti Lsc

Enlightenment. That's what it's called. That moment when you just...know.
I had one of those moments this morning when I stumbled on the above quote on an online site.
Lately, to tread through my brain has been like Dorothy and the gang in The Wizard of Oz---scary, dark, doubtful, angry, confusing.
Insecure about my writing (what else is new?)---I can't write as fast as that person---I'm not well known---why can't I write as well that person?---oh, this book is so horrible, and I had loved it so when I started writing---these characters suck!---the plot? what plot? you know I can't plot! My story is boring!---I need more angst---but, wait, you can't do angst, remember, you suck at that, too! OMG, what CAN I do?---oh, why don't you just give up!---you just ain't got it.
Oh, dear, and then there's the daily swimming in the stream of the writing social world. I just can't fit in---do I NEED to fit in order to be a successful writer?---will I ever be as popular as THAT author?---hell, no, you won't be as popular!---that person doesn't like me!---what can I do to make them like me?---wait a minute, why don't they like me?.
Hell's bells, it almost makes me dizzy just thinking about it. All that doubt. Angst. Insecurity. Comparing myself to other authors. Stressing about my social status. Stressing about everything. Negativity.
All that energy spent on everything except...writing.
Something about the above quote hit me. An Ahhhhh moment. Something about this knowing, and flowing.
Knowing what? Knowing me. Not just looking AT me, but looking IN me. Just..knowing. Knowing is peace. Acceptance. A sigh. A smile. A heart about to explode because it suddenly just got it...I'm just fine, just like I am.
With the knowing DOES come the flowing. This beautiful, natural, just-as-it-is-meant-to-be flowing.
Suddenly, when allowing yourself to just BE, the freedom to write, to love YOUR writing, descends on you and your thoughts flow.
With all this enlightenment also comes a certain peace, making the need to fit in with the crowd seem unimportant. A wonderful calm, realizing I am fine just as I am, and those who want to know me will know me. Those who don't...won't. And I'll be fine with that.
That realization, too, somehow opens the floodgates of the creative process. Funny how worrying about belonging to this group or that group can impede one's artistic growth. But it does.
Oh, I'm not saying I don't want to socialize, that I don't want and need friends. Of course I do. But there's a beauty, a lovely freedom, in embracing yourself and allowing yourself some solitude. Like that flowing brook, all right and happy and serene.
Tomorrow, who knows? I may be back on the banks of Angst River. But for now, for this moment, I am swimming in that happy, restful stream.

Friday, October 19, 2012

I'll Take Life, Please...

Lane Goodwin

Life is a fight, but not everyone’s a fighter. Otherwise, bullies would be an endangered species. ---  Andrew Vachss, Terminal

All day I've been frustrated, my internal pressure cooker building up steam by the hour because I felt helpless to let out that anger, could not express my feelings, had no outlet. 

Oddly enough, I read my horoscope just before settling in to write this blog, and it said, You need to defend your beliefs today---maybe quite a few times! It's not that hard, but it can get tiring, so make sure that you have resources you can draw on to recharge your energy.

I believe in signs, so I took that as a sign that I'd find that resource to face my feelings enough to speak of them. And I did.

What I want to talk about is BULLYING.

And today, of all days, as I wrestled with this need to say something about bullying, I came across an article about a thirteen-year old boy, Lane Goodwin, who lost his battle with cancer today. 

His photo ripped my heart. That smile. Who would guess the young fellow battled a vicious battle with a deadly disease? 


All I could think of was that this beautiful child was someone's son. All young lives who are lost are someone's child. God, how that hurts my heart, the losing of a child---from illness, accident or suicide, anything.

What does this have to do with bullying? 

Something so simple and pure and painful. This boy, this lovely young Lane, just wanted to live. He apparently made headlines with his brave battle with this monster called cancer, had over 300,000 Facebook followers, I believe he was known as the Thumbs Up Kid. 

He, like any other kid, just wanted to go to school, go shopping, play video games, hang out with his friends, play with his pet, love his mother and father, have Christmas, ride his bike. He just wanted to live.

Then this desire for life hit me in the gut, thinking about the young people who are bullied, who finally just give up and take their own lives. What the hell could possibly be so unbearable that they would just forfeit that very basic desire...the desire to live? 

These kids who turn in the towel of their lives and end it all aren't---this much I can say, without even having to have known them---exceptions to the rule of wanting to live. They wanted to live. All they wanted was just to BE.

But you know what? Someone out there, somebody or somebodies, didn't care about that and---by tormenting and terrifying relentlessly---the bullies' actions took away even the basic, desperate-for-most-of-us desire to just be in existence. 

That's all kids want to do. Live. Some have bigger dreams than others, some are sporty, some dreamy, some mischevious, some computer geeks, some rockers, some Goth, some like the opposite sex, some like the same sex, some are flirty, some are shy, some are small, some are big, some have jobs, some don't, some like school, some don't, some love homework, some loathe it...and so on and so on. 

Different and individual as the proverbial snowflake. All beautiful. But all alike in one way, one universal way. They just want to live. They just want to be here on this planet, just like the bullies do.

And to YOU, bullies---who gave you the right to decide if another kid could enjoy his/her life or not? Who the hell put you in charge of that? Nobody. What does it matter to you if another young person is fat, has pimples, is slow, is gay, is lesbian, is a different color than you, is a different religion? 

While you torment and humiliate those who are different, if you could only see yourselves. Because you want to know something funny? Hilarious? 

I bet every time you watch A Christmas Story, you laugh your guts out at how ridiculous Scut Farkas is. Well, guess what, you coward. That is YOU. Yes, you are that stupid. You are that disgusting. He's just a comic figure, you are the real sickening thing. And to the world, that is exactly how you look. You are not cool, you are sad and small and----just like pitiful Scut when he got the crap knocked out of him---you are, beneath that tough, cool exterior, a fraidy cat is too chicken to stand on your own two feet and NOT bully someone else. 

Bottom line, though, and back to my original thought. 

I, for one, am building steam in this Irish pressure cooker, getting angrier and angrier at the bullying situation.

The victims of bullying---ALL victims, whatever they're being targeted for---just want to live. That is all they ask. 

Lane Goodwin lost his fight with cancer. 

But this disease called bullying? It's not inoperable. It's in our power to do something about it, and it CAN be won. 

Every kid has the right to I, for one, want to see that isn't taken away from them.