Sunday, 19 December 2010
Posted by C. Zampa at 13:32
Friday, 10 December 2010
A man cannot cast aside his childhood, though he run from it as he would the devil. He may make of it a burden under which to stumble and fall, or a shield to hide behind, or he may make of it a tool. ----Ann Fairbairn (pseudonym Dorothy Tait), FIVE SMOOTH STONES
When trying to compose my thoughts about the tiny hero in Mykola Dementiuk’s novel, Holy Communion, the above quote seemed to be hand-crafted for him. And the power of Tait’s words nearly made me cry, bringing the initial impact of the book back to me.
Holy Communion is not a book you grab in the airport gift shop and breeze through between Houston and Atlanta. For me, the novel had to be read in increments and—to be truthful—took me quite a while to finish. Not because it wasn’t that good, but because it WAS that good. It was powerful. A gritty, sweet, heart-wrenching, poignant dose of, as the blurb says, the human condition.
I’ve tried to think of an adequate description for the narrative voice in this novel, and the only thing that comes to my mind—and I hope you’ll understand what I mean when I say it—is that Mykola Dementiuk writes in Technicolor with Michelangelo brushstrokes tossed in for pure artistry. For this Texas gal who swears she was a New Yorker in another life, the imagery of the New York streets, the shops, the traffic, the people, the smells, the crummy apartments and stoops, the whole scene, was painted so vividly by the author that I saw the bustling city as clearly as he lived it.
But the hero. The little fellow I fell for. The diminutive kid I wanted to take home with me, to hug, to shelter. Let me tell you about him.
I don’t know his name. He is only called ‘the boy’. He’s seven years old, and it’s the week of his Holy Communion with the Catholic Church. The tyke is abused, both physically and emotionally, by his alcoholic father, his bullying baby-sitters, and a pedophile comic book shop owner. The boy is a bed wetter and often ‘makes in his pants’ during the day, much to his own mortification and the harsh disapproval of the nuns at school.
Dementiuk somehow takes the reader’s hand and guides them into the head of this child in a way I can’t say I’ve ever seen an author do with main character this young.
And that was what endeared me to ‘the boy’. Dementiuk dragged me into this child’s mind so close, so personal, that I WAS the boy. I lived in constant terror of the upcoming Holy Communion, convinced my sins were sending me straight to hell. I was tiny and at the mercy of tired, cross, cruel nuns. I was molested by the pedophile in the comic book store. I was teased mercilessly by my godmother’s daughters who figured a child was nothing more than a doll to play with and torture.
The shocking part of this deep insight into the boy’s psyche was that, in a rare but crystal clear revelation—because I lived the horror through HIS intensely personal and baby-like vision, not my own adult eyes—I saw with great sadness but understanding, how even sick and misguided attention was just that to this little victim—attention.
One of the most important facets of this book, to me, was the fact that we can and indeed DO experience physical and emotional sensations at a young age, long before society has had a chance to hand out the checklist of what’s right and what’s wrong.
In a technique that impressed me—which I thought was genius—Dementiuk chose to assign no names to any of the characters. They were merely the nuns, the priests, the mother, the father, the old bald man in the comic book store. That anonymity somehow put me in the story as the character, right in the middle of the child’s world. And, oddly, gave it a touch bit of a make-believe aura, in which I could pretend—if the reality of it all was too harsh—that it was not real.
Dementiuk said of Holy Communion: The reality of Holy Communion tormented me for many, many years even before I became a writer. I was just too young to have experienced those religious questions, I thought, and forebodings in my mind but truth to tell I certainly wasn't. I've always been tormented by Christianity forcing me to look upon the good and bad aspects of my daily life and in this way I always went against the norm. I became a rebel pretty early, after all, I had confronted God and found that God to be lacking…or at least that’s what I imagined. After a lifetime of screwing and drinking, with all sorts of drug taking, I found myself defeated with no place left to turn except inwards, into myself. I began, “Screams stirred him. He listened and drifted.” And wrote and wrote. I was ready to look at my past and the world opened up and I never looked back.
Holy Communion was the Lambda Literary Awards Winner 2009/Bisexual Fiction.
Purchase links are, the publisher: http://www.holycommunionanovel.com/purchase-the-book.htm
And from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Holy-Communion-Mykola Dementiuk/dp/0975858149/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1292039557&sr=1-1
His website is: http://www.MykolaDementiuk.com
As I said, this is no breezy read. But it is a commanding read, in a voice which combines eloquence and urban grit to perfection. It is a most unusual look into the deepest, most private thoughts of a child in such detail and soul that could only have been penned by the man who lived it.
And I WILL tell you this. The ending made me smile. The tyke’s quite a little fighter.
Posted by C. Zampa at 20:32
Wednesday, 8 December 2010
There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~Anaïs Nin
Note: The decision I've written about in the following post was my own personal conclusion to a battle of issues that I've dealt with in regards to my writing journey. Such decisions cannot not made lightly, by any of us, because we all have such different lives and circumstances. Unfortunately, many writers have many more obstacles to overcome than I do, and simply cannot make the same decision I have.
Yeah, yeah. You already know. I’ve babbled enough about it. My first novel is scheduled to be released in March, 2011.
During the beginning stages of my novel—its conception through the actual writing process—I kept the story’s truth pretty much closeted except to very close friends and relatives. The secret? The book is a love story between two men.
So? What’s the big deal?
To most, it would be no big deal at all. But to a woman raised within miles of the long-time headquarters of Southeast Texas’ ‘White Sheet Bigot Brigade’, it seemed a big deal; in fact, it seemed a VERY huge deal. I cannot honestly say if my hesitation to be forthright about my story was generated by this long-standing community fear or just my own angst about what people—any people—would think.
I WILL quickly assure you that my parents raised me with blinders where prejudice was concerned. By blinders, I mean that even in this tension-filled community, my mother and father only taught their children one vision for color, race, sexuality: HUMAN. That was all. For that, I will always be grateful to my parents.
Even so, I still had concerns about writing this story. The work place and others in the writing community who might not approve. I’m ashamed to say I decided to keep the nature of my story ‘under my hat’. After all, I had a pen name. Just my little secret.
So why are you writing a story about gay men in the fist place? The answer to that? I don’t know. It just happened. I’d been writing a hetero romance which had a sub-plot involving two gay men. For some reason, the homosexuals in the story endeared themselves to me, and the more I wrote them, the more they seemed to control the story. Something about their love—both physical and emotional—was so pure to me, so beautiful, so logical, so compelling—I decided to expand them into different characters. Before I knew it, I’d written other stories with such relationships, all dear to me.
Okay, so why ‘come out’ about it now? No, it’s not a gay rights championing thing. Or is it? I’m not really sure.
I know many gay men. Many are close friends. They're not 'gay' friends. Just friends. No labels.
During this year, though, events in my life have brought some of these men into the forefront, made me see them. Really see them. And cherish them.
My friend Patric is a writer. He is my mentor. My hard-nosed maestro who stands behind me as I write, looking over my shoulder and tapping his baton, urging me to write my best. Patric has endured a critical illness for the whole time I’ve known him. Yet, in spite of his pain, his fatigue, this beautiful man has been a Rock of Gibraltar for me during my son-in-law’s illness and for my writing. Patric called to congratulate me the night I announced that I’d finished my first book, and we cheered together. My first book will be dedicated to him. I love this man. Patric is gay.
Then there’s Rick, who was a close friend to my son-in-laws’ late mother. Rick has looked after my son-in-law, and has been an Angel—halo, wings, the works—during my son-in-laws’ illness. Rick has cooked for my kids, come to clean their house, taken my son-in-law for chemo and radiation treatments, watched the dogs while the kids were going back and forth to the hospital. Rick bought my kids a beautiful, giant aluminum Christmas tree, complete with decorations, because my son-in-law remembered his late mother’s aluminum tree as a child. That's Rick. I love him, too. Rick is also gay.
So do you see why it is completely impossible—utterly out of the question—for me to consider hiding the fact that my story is about gay lovers? Can you see why I SHOULD be ashamed to have ever been afraid of community opinion?
If I’m ashamed of my story and its content, then I am ashamed of these beautiful men who I call friends. There was absolutely no choice for me but to ‘come out’ of my own self-imposed closet. And to seal the door permanently closed.
‘Coming out of the closet’ for me meant I was honest with everyone who knew I was writing a book about its genre. My office now knows and have been supportive. All my family knows. I told my oldest and dearest writing mentor, Dominic, a beautiful Italian man (who is the whole reason I fell for all things Italian and Mafia). Maybe some disapprove, but won’t voice it to my face, but I doubt it. Either way, they know.
I know many people who will surely read this post and very well trade me down the river. I know that going in, and I'm fine with it.
During this year, too, I’ve come to know some pioneers in the gay rights battle, and have been humbled by their experiences, by their endurance. And, for that reason, I didn’t feel I deserved the right to commune with them if I couldn’t be forthright to everyone I knew about my book—if I could tell only those who it seemed SAFE to tell, but not everyone else.
I am not making light by using the term ‘coming out’ for myself. Shedding years of ignorance is much, much harder and scarier than it seems. But I’m hoping that to have shed them at all, even at this stage in my life, is better than nothing.
Last but not least, Friedrich Nietzsche, I think, sums up what is behind my blog today: The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
Posted by C. Zampa at 09:35
Sunday, 5 December 2010
Heroes may not be braver than anyone else. They're just braver five minutes longer. ----Ronald Reagan
(Warning: Snippet included contains language)
The other day, during a discussion on alpha males, a dear writer friend chided me—quite good-naturedly—and said I was a ‘true beta lover’. Why? Because I simply love a man who has that trace of something in him that lets him cry, lets him be in touch with—and, damn, does this ever sound cliché—his sensitive side. I was going to say ‘his feminine’ side, but who says crying was strictly a girl thing? Bushwa to that.
Busted. She’s right. I accept my crown graciously and wear it with pride.
But, wait. The truth of the matter is, I decided to research alpha and beta males.
After studying, I will admit my perception of what constitutes an alpha male was pretty much off target. For some reason, I believed alphas had to be perfect in every way—strength, confidence, looks, charm, the whole checklist of qualities to make him…well, a hero. Turns out, like I said, I was slightly wrong. The distinction between alphas and betas is really nothing more than a matter of leadership, a take-charge, protector persona as opposed to a more secondary male role.
The role a beta male was, however, more clearly defined. And it was as follows: An unremarkable, careful man who avoids risk and confrontation. Beta males lack the physical presence, charisma and confidence of the Alpha male.
Aha! Turns out, according to that description, I may have to relinquish my Queen of the Beta Lovers crown because that does NOT personify the male characters I love.
Here’s the question, then, if the above is truly a portrait of a beta male. Who the hell IS the character I love? So he cries, sure. But he does not avoid risk or confrontation, he certainly does not lack physical presence, and most assuredly DOES have charisma and confidence.
So. Is he an alpha or not? I don’t know. You tell me.
My novella is scheduled for release in March. In this book, my hero is physically and courageously about as macho as macho can be. He carries all the alpha trademarks: good looks, good body, charisma, power. But, alas, he is sentimental, he is emotional. He cries. He’s jealous where his lover is concerned. He plays La Paloma while making love. His boyhood teddy bear shares the glove compartment with his glock.
Here’s an unedited snippet of a scene where the hero’s lover, Carlos, worries over being the care-taker of this man’s heart:
“That’s just it.” Carlos slunk back in the chair, wrapping his arms around himself. “That heart of his. This man, this powerful man, so fucking fearless.” A tiny chuckle. “Sorry for the language.”
She nodded gravely, absolving his stronger-than-usual cursing.
He continued, “And yet nobody would guess what a delicate heart he has.” Sitting forward, he cupped his hands. “And he’s put that heart, that beautiful, fragile heart in my hands. My hands.” He twined his fingers together and pressed them to his mouth. “It scares me fucking shitless.” Her disapproving glare stabbed him, and he added, “Sorry.”
Aunt Dahlia closed her eyes and tapped a finger to her lips, clearly weighing her words. Finally, she squared her shoulders. “You are right that Candelario is a strong man. He is. And you are right that he has a tender heart. The community knows this, he is loved."
"But, I’m not talking about his kindness to the community. I’m talking about his love for me. That’s—”
“Do not interrupt me.” She pursed her lips, and her hand shot up. “His gentle heart and his power are separate. So far, the two have never fought in his soul, but they will if you throw his heart back at him, damaged.” Drawing a finger over the stitches on the mitt, she added, “He has put his heart for safekeeping in your hands. So, rather than falter under the responsibility, should you not stand as strong as he does? He will give his life to protect what he loves. Can you not at least protect his heart while he protects you?”
So there. I think my hero is no less an alpha for having a fragile heart.
Although many writers and readers feel that an alpha male indeed CAN be vulnerable, can cry and that, in fact, they love them more when they DO exhibit these tendencies, others argue that it emasculates them to some degree, strips them of the alpha status. Many see this in the case of real-life relationships as well. Let a man cry at something, and he is out the door on his bum faster than you can say Jack Be Nimble.
Does crying, being easily affected by emotion, make a man less masculine? Personally, I don’t think so. If anything, I think it makes him more masculine, simply for the fact that he is strong enough, confident enough to not feel the need to hide behind a macho persona.
Jose Saramago said this: I never appreciated 'positive heroes' in literature. They are almost always clichés, copies of copies, until the model is exhausted. I prefer perplexity, doubt, uncertainty, not just because it provides a more 'productive' literary raw material, but because that is the way we humans really are.
An example who comes to my mind is King David. Powerful King of Jerusalem, fearless leader of legions in his army. Wise. Yet one of the most romantic, poetic souls in history. The Psalms contain some of the most agonizing, tearful, poignant prose ever written. Yet his constant inner angst personified the beauty of his character without negating his power.
I think I shall not choose to categorize my heroes into alpha, beta, or any other Greek alphabet. They just are who they are. How about if I just call them the heroes of the story?
But for those who might feel there should be that distinction—alpha as opposed to beta— what is your opinion? Does a hero lose critical points for being sensitive and possibly vulnerable? As long as these softer sides of his persona do not thwart his ability to take control, can he still be an alpha male?
Posted by C. Zampa at 10:17
Saturday, 27 November 2010
Posted by C. Zampa at 16:56
Sunday, 21 November 2010
For several days after my first book was published, I carried it about in my pocket and took surreptitious peeps at it to make sure the ink had not faded. ---James M. Barrie
Notice my trend in Christmas themes this month? Wondering what The Polar Express and Santa Claus have to do with my writing blog? Well, I'll tell you.
I have received a contract offer for my first novel.
James M. Barrie’s comment perfectly sums up the gigantic thrill of an author’s first book. Even more, in my case at least, it expresses the giddy surrealism of the experience—the disbelief, the dizzy, hazy, wonderful fog of am I only dreaming and, if I close my eyes and open them, will the contract still be there? Like Barrie, I check the contract to, as it were, make sure the ink has not faded.
It’s a child-like wonder. It’s like the kid in Polar Express who meets and shakes the hand of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, his heart swelling clean out of his chest with awe. It’s his knowing, at that moment, there really IS a Santa Claus, and he’s looking right at him. The kid could come face-to-face with Santa Claus every night for the rest of his life, but he can discover the jolly old man is real only once.
And a writer can have that first book contract experience only once. Sure, they can have subsequent books published, hopefully many more. But there will be only one first time.
And I know I’ll never forget the experience.
Every author I’ve spoken to confirms that the feeling is the same for all writers. And they add that the feeling cannot be duplicated, no matter how many contracts follow. Oh, sure, there will always be a thrill to have a book accepted by a publisher, but nothing will ever compare to that first huge rush of adrenaline that comes from looking at that FIRST contract that says YOUR name is AUTHOR.
I mean, you know you’re an author. You write stuff, don’t you? Sure. But there’s just something about seeing your own name and the title author in the same sentence on an official document.
My signed contract is on its way to Dreamspinner Press, and I’m so happy and honored to be among their authors.
The book is titled Candy G. It’s the first contemporary story I’ve ever written, and it’s set in San Antonio in a community much like the area in which this Texas girl grew up.
Another wonderful side effect of the contract is that it’s fanned the creative spark in me, fueled me with a renewed drive to keep writing. I’ve begun a prequel to Candy G., and the acceptance of my first novel has helped me to wriggle out of the procrastination cobwebs and get busy on this new WIP.
And, honestly, childishly honestly—oh, I’m so ashamed of this confession—I enjoyed that confusing blend of ‘high’ and lowly dread of waiting to hear if my story would be rejected or accepted. In some odd way, that angst has become addictive. I want to write and write and write. I want to finish another book. I want to experience the exhilaration of finishing, submitting, waiting again. Who knows? The next work may meet with rejection. But I don’t care. I still want to write. I still want to run the race again.
The contract offer was many things to me, but—most importantly and most purely—it was simply the validation that being published offers to a writer. The assurance that maybe, just maybe, this writing dream really can come true.
Maybe, just maybe, like the kid in Polar Express, you really can meet the dream face to face.
Posted by C. Zampa at 13:52
Thursday, 18 November 2010
Water can support a boat or overturn it.--William Shakespeare
Actually, Shakespeare was referring to leaders being overturned by people in this passage. But, on its own, this part of the verse is profound, and it applies to the thought on my mind today. Powerfully so.
Support. Mentoring. Sharing wisdom. Teaching the ropes. Paying it forward.
I have to start by saying that I’ve been blessed with exposure to some of the most supportive people imaginable in the writing community. A list of who they are and what they’ve done would is too long to ever itemize.
The list includes some who’ve been unselfish enough to beta read for me, to offer valuable feedback—some of this feedback in the form of detailed critiques and edits.
I’ve been blessed with the offerings of others and their artistic skills.
A talented woman with a beautiful, artistic soul designed my blog and my website. Somehow, without any particulars from me, she homed in on ME and crafted these gorgeous sites. She GOT me, and managed to create ME in these designs. I didn’t ask her to do this. She just gave of herself. To support me. She believes in me.
Once, when I needed motivation, another fellow writer who is a cover artist designed a mock cover for the book I was writing. To this day, I swell with pride when I look at that cover, and I still show it off. To this person, that cover was probably easy as pie, no biggie. But, to ME, it was equal to honoring me with a gold medal, a trophy—a symbol that said someone BELIEVED in me and my talent. A medallion to carry with me at all times so that I would believe in myself as well. A carrot dangled in front of me to push me to finish the damn book.
As I said, I’ve been uncommonly blessed with support.
So what’s with the you’ll shoot your eye out, kid? I’ll tell you what.
I came across that picture of Ralphie from A Christmas Story—that scene where he struggled, clawed his way back up the slide to tell Santa that he wanted a Red Ryder BB gun. And the caustic Santa nudged a boot toe to Ralphie’s forehead and sent him spiraling back to the bottom, smirking to the dazed child, You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.
Well, it hit me that if I offer support, even if it’s just a cheer or a congratulations on finishing a chapter, of a pat on the shoulder, a moment to read a manuscript for someone, anything—I’m helping a beginning fellow writer who’s just like myself to realize THEIR dream. I have that in my power, no matter how far along in the writing experience I am.
On the other hand, I could use that power to do just the opposite. To say one word—one carefully crafted word—of discouragement, to be the pin that pricks a hopeful writer’s bubble. It only takes one word. One word can put hope in a heart or be the boot—the you’ll shoot your eye out, kid—that sends the writer zooming to the bottom in a big pile of discouragement.
I have the power to be the water that supports the boat or the water that overturns it. And the beauty of that is that it takes no time at all, doesn’t interrupt me from anything. I’d be willing to bet every successful writer can remember back to their beginnings and recall some other writer who reached out to them, offered support, an encouraging word, a kind gesture. And, like me, grinned from ear to ear that somebody who was so successful took a moment to remember their own past.
My dream? Sure, to be a successful writer. But, oh, I can just see myself in some mountain cabin, surrounded by art and pottery and glass wind chimes, with my cute little straw hat on. And young writers would come to have tea with me and we could talk about writing, and I could encourage them and lift them up. And those kids could tell other kids, Hey, that C. Zampa is cool. She’s just a regular guy.
Posted by C. Zampa at 06:46
Saturday, 13 November 2010
The one good thing about repeating your mistakes is that you know when to cringe.---Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Remember in school when you suffered through a test, fought with everything in your brain, and still couldn’t come up with some of the answers?
And then the bell rang. Time was up. You cringed.
You cursed yourself because THEN—once the bell rang—the answers came to you. You wanted to beg the teacher to let you take the test again, you knew you could get the answers correct this time. But it was too late. Your chances for a score of 100 vanished with the bell, gone down the tubes.
Recently I experienced that same feeling after I clicked ‘send’ and shot my WIP off into cyberspace and into the email box of a publisher. I submitted my story. My first submission ever.
At first, the moment my ‘masterpiece’ rocketed from my computer to the publisher’s computer, I felt pure, adrenaline-driven exhilaration. I’ll never again experience such a rush. And I’ll certainly never forget it. It was my lunch hour. A supportive co-worker stood over my shoulder, chanting, Hit send, hit send, hit send. And, when I DID hit send, we cheered.
Later, I opened my manuscript and looked over it. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t suddenly see the work through an editor’s eyes, sans my rose-colored glasses. Now it didn’t seem so perfect. Doubts flooded my mind—should the character have done that? Should I have explained this more? Will the reader know what I meant by this? Was that duplicate word in there before? His name is spelled wrong! The damn name is spelled wrong! But this document was perfect when I subbed it!
All of the sudden I saw holes, huge gaping holes in the story. Oh, no. This character’s feelings are not validated! I should have expanded more on this line or that line. Why didn’t I explain certain things better? Why? Why? Why not? All those things I should have changed, would have changed if…well, you know. The old shoulda-woulda-coulda.
Could I unsub? Could I take the manuscript back and re-do it? Add a thing or two here, a tidbit there? No. Too late.
After a spell of heartsick doubt, the next—and quite unexpected—wave of emotion swept over me.
Elation. Yes, elation.
Why? Because I SAW the flaws. I saw them and I DID cringe.
The fact that I spotted these gaps on my own was proof that somehow, someway, those lovely seeds had sprouted in my mind and I’d begun to understand some of the dynamics of writing.
Don’t you see the beauty in that? Think about it. That ability to see my work through another’s eyes was another beautiful step in learning. A revelation, a new grain of knowledge that could be used in my next work, and my next, and my next. I'd love to have had this 'through-the-editor-looking-glass' vision sooner, before I submitted. But I didn't. Maybe for beginning writers, that's just meant to be. Part of the growing process.
Wonderful fellow writers have generously helped me with so many issues in my work and have provided priceless knowledge in my writing journey; and I’ve absorbed every morsel that came my way, corrected many mistakes with their guidance. Repeated mistakes, yes. And, when these are pointed out to me, I cringe—over and over, seeming to make the same errors regularly. But when a writer actually SEES their own mistakes and they finally begin to ‘get’ it—sure, sometimes AFTER the work has been submitted—it’s a glorious thing.
We all make mistakes in our writing. And don't think I don't know that we're ALWAYS going to make them. But when WE can see the mistakes, when we can learn from them, then maybe we can then manage to do most of our cringing BEFORE we hit ‘send.’
Posted by C. Zampa at 14:36