Saturday, 27 November 2010

A Christmas Tail...


“I’m so glad you agreed to come!” Sincere gratitude warmed Nancy’s huge brown eyes. “I know this isn’t the most desirable place for an interview.” She glanced around the snow-covered surroundings, then lent me an apologetic smile. “But it’s the only place I could meet you.”

“On the contrary. It’s perfect,” I assured, my gaze following hers in a tour of the Central Park Zoo.

Snow, white and sparkling in the meager sun that struggled through thick gray clouds, turned every inch of the zoo into the proverbial winter wonderland. Gentle flurries swirled silent in the cold, damp wind.

Nancy blinked at delicate snowflakes dropping onto her long lashes. “Where would you like to start?”

“When did you first meet him?”

Far-away dreaminess softened her eyes, and she looked away, her mind obviously lighting on a wonderful memory. “I remember it like it was yesterday!”

“Tell me.” I flipped open my tablet to a blank page, uncapped my pen and stood ready to write. I’d wanted to meet her, to hear her story, for such a long time. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I had to make the most of it. Excitement sent my pulse racing.

“Oh, my dear.” Pausing with a deep sigh. “When he came strutting into that room, you could have heard a pin drop! All eyes were on him!”

“So it is true. He was handsome!”

“Handsome! What an insignificant word to describe him! Beautiful! The most gorgeous creature any of us ever laid eyes on!”

“What did he look like?”

Again the brown gaze wandered. “Darker than the other men. Of course, being Italian and all. Deep, mysterious eyes. Lips that were invented for kissing! And, my dear. Dare I say it?”

“Yes!  Please!” My writing stopped, pen poised above the tablet with anticipation.

“He had the narrowest hips and the nicest ass I’d ever seen! When he ambled into that room, that handsome head held high, those exotic eyes searching the area. My, my! To this day, the thought of it still makes me shiver!”

“How did you meet him? I mean, if he was drawing so much attention, I would imagine all the girls set their sights on him.”

“Of course they did!”

“What did you do to get his attention?”

“It took a few days for him to notice me. He was surrounded by girls on a regular basis.” Pausing, her eyes narrowed with what seemed to be a delicious thought. “One night, at one of the holiday get-togethers, he approached me to dance.”


“Of course, by then word had already spread through town what a marvelous dancer he was. And the gossip was true! Like a professional, smooth on his feet. Romantic! Attentive! Why, he put the rest of the men to shame! They couldn’t hold a candle to him! He simply swept us girls off our feet!”

“Is that why the trouble started? Did the other fellows get jealous?”

“It certainly didn’t help! But, to tell you the truth, he was a trouble maker anyway.”

“How is that?”

“The other fellows went to the nightly events at town hall, expecting all the gals to show up as we always did.”


“But the new guy had other plans!”

“Such as?”

“He began to teach tango lessons while the activities went on in the town hall.”

Tango lessons?”

“Yes! And what a teacher! The line was long with girls waiting for lessons! They simply forgot about the other guys and stopped going to the town hall altogether. They wanted to go to his bungalow to take lessons.”

“So that was how he got his bad reputation?”

“That wasn’t all. His secret…” her eyes danced with mystery. “Was the main reason!”

“The secret that ended up making him so famous?”


Shaking with excitement, I begged, “Tell me!”

“It was my turn to take tango lessons. Oh, what a romantic experience! Those muscles, those dreamy eyes, those luscious lips! He began to get pretty amorous. Although I enjoyed it, I didn’t want to succumb to the charms of this Romeo. I told him I really shouldn’t be there, that I should leave. He pulled me closer, and those luscious muscles of his sent shivers through me! He murmured that I didn’t need to go to those events at town hall. He could show me much more excitement in his little bungalow.”


“Well …” A rosy blush crept to her cheeks, her eyes closing with embarrassment. “Then we started making out.”


“And that’s when I saw it!” Her lashes fluttered. “And then I knew why all the girls were so anxious to be with him.”

“Oh! Was it ..?”

“As much as you’ve heard.” She blushed again. “Probably much more so.”

“Oh, my goodness!”

“I’d never seen anything like it in my life! And never have since!”

“Why did he let you … see it?”

“He couldn’t control it. He was embarrassed and apologized.” She kicked her toe in the snow. “But I liked it! I wanted to see more!”

“So you ..?”

“Kissed him even more. That excited him. And it just got...well…you know.”

“How did it come to be, then, that your boss discovered it, too? Did someone snitch?”

“That, dear, was why I wanted to tell you the story. For you to tell the truth to the world.”

“Tell me.”

“The ridiculous story that everyone knows is simply not true. It wasn’t at all how it happened.”

My excitement rose to unspeakable levels. The familiar story that had been accepted for years and years was about to come crashing to smithereens. The truth was going to be revealed.

And now I must share the true account with you, as it was told to me by Nancy. So pay attention.  Are you listening? 

You recall that famous Christmas Eve so very long ago? The Christmas Eve when Santa Clause was fog-bound and his yearly toy delivery was nearly cancelled? And do you remember how you’ve been told the trip was saved by a reindeer with a shiny red nose?

You do? 

Well, what you don’t know is how Santa Clause came to discover that red nose. It wasn’t at all like you’ve been told. Oh, no.

Most of the story is true, mind you. But listen while I tell you the part of the story you DON’T know.

* * *

On that famous Christmas Eve, Santa turned from the window and, burying his face in his hands, slumped onto his gigantic velvet chair. He refused to cry in front of the elves or the reindeer. But crying was just what he wanted to do. 

Never had he seen fog the likes of this night. The trip was impossible. Not even an experienced team of reindeer such as his could pull off such a feat. It was unthinkable.

“Santa?” With nervous, choppy steps, Nancy approached him.

Looking up, a brave smile touched Santa’s lips. “Yes, Nancy?” He wanted to be left alone, but smiled anyway.

“Santa, I think I have an idea that will save your trip.”

“Oh, thank you, Nancy, dear, but there is simply no way. This fog is monstrous. I can’t risk my team.”

“But I think it can be done. In fact, I’m sure of it.”

“Yes?” Heaving a huge sigh, he cast a another patient smile.

Nancy leaned closer, whispered in his ear.

His eyes widened like giant lollipops. He beamed and said, “This I’ve got to see!”

* * *

Well, friends, this is what happened. Oh, yes, Rudolph, the famous red-nosed reindeer, did indeed have a bright red light for a nose, and it was indeed the very thing that saved that historic Christmas Eve.  

But the fact historians have not told you, is that his nose would only shine so brightly when he was aroused. Then, oh then, it shone so bright it would put a lighthouse to shame. Needless to say, with a steady stream of love-struck does knocking on his bungalow door, the pretty red light glowed every night.

And the true reason all the other male reindeer laughed and called him names? Because they were jealous, plain and simple!

Oh, the girls called him names all right, too—Rudolph, the Valentino of reindeer! Which of course drove the other fellow reindeer even wilder with envy! 

So. Imagine the main reindeer team’s embarrassment when, instead of Dasher and Prancer and the rest of the usual names, Santa had to yell out:

“On Nancy, on Suzie, now Donna and Mitzi ..!” 

Because? Yes. This was the only way to keep our furry lothario Rudolph’s nose so bright all night. To be surrounded by the women, to keep his romantic fires burning. So, as long as a team of cute girl tails wriggles behind the red-nosed Sachem of Reindeer, toy deliveries will always be delivered on time, and the Christmas Eve sky will always be lit with that famous light.

And this, my friends, is the true story as told to me by Mrs. Rudolph.

So the next time you see that sleigh with the NINE tiny reindeer—think about what you’ve just heard.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

...To Make Sure the Ink Has Not Faded

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.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid...

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.

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!

I cringed.

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.

More cringing.

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.’

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Just Daddy...

It is a wise child that knows its own father, and an unusual one that unreservedly approves of him. ---Mark Twain, More Maxims of Mark, Johnson, 1927

This has been the hardest thing for me to write--ever. No, no. Not because grief consumed me and I couldn’t bring myself to think about it. Oh, sure. I’ve grieved. I still grieve. But the obstacles in the path of my thought process haven’t been emotional. Really.

My problem with writing about my Daddy? I just couldn’t think what to say. That’s all. In the big scheme of things, he was just…Daddy. My Daddy. Just because he was the leading man at the house I grew up in wouldn’t really make him a figure of interest to anybody who didn’t know him.

We buried my father on February 2, 2009. When the lid to the casket closed, panic swooped over me. I would never, ever see him again on this earth. Never. And with the closing of that lid, everything I could have, would have, should have asked him about himself was sealed forever. No more chances to “get to know him better.” I had my chance and all I could do was hope I had learned enough.

I grew up in an era when so many dads were---well---just dads. They married our mothers which made them husbands and then they became fathers. Simple. Having kids was just part of being married for so many men in this era. Part of the job---just went with the territory. Well, that’s how it seemed to me. So, to me as a kid growing up, he was just plain ol’ Daddy. Nothing special. Just a guy doing his job.

Oh, sure. There were the other fathers, the exceptions. And sometimes, as a little girl, I seethed with jealousy toward my friends whose fathers were the exceptions. The dads who called their daughters “Princess”. I honestly convinced myself that my dad would have been a better dad if he would have only called me “Princess.” But my father, plain ol’ Daddy, didn’t anoint me with that coveted name. Oh, well, I survived the beastly abuse of not being the little princess of my daddy’s eye. I somehow managed to shoot to adulthood as a fully functional, well adjusted woman in spite of this atrocity.

The beauty of it all? I learned he couldn’t have been a better father. Even considering the fact that he never had a pet name for me, that he didn’t take me fishing, that he didn’t play games with me---he still couldn’t have been a better father.

He supported his family on $2.15 an hour with his Post Office job (before it was union and before it was called Postal Union) and pushed a broom at a junior high school (in the days before they were called ‘middle school’) after work to make extra money.
Times were hard, money was short. Suppers consisted often of pinto beans and cornbread or, on Sundays we ate scrambled eggs (never knew the Sunday egg connection---have made a mental note to find out from my mother). But we ate. We didn’t want. We were happy. We were a family and our house was a warm sanctuary.

I thought I knew my daddy as well as I needed to. He wasn’t my best friend. He was my father. The man who raised me. In the world I lived in (this is the world before time-outs replaced spankings), your daddy was just your daddy, and that was all he was supposed to be. What more did you need to know?

Well, I had a startling revelation that he might be a little more than that when I got married. The morning I was scheduled to leave my girlhood home to move to Alabama as a married woman, I got up early to say ‘good-bye’ to my daddy before he left for work. He hugged me so tight that I couldn’t break his hold. When he finally let go, he’d been crying. Tears were in his eyes. How dare he? This man who was supposed to be as indifferent as I was? Crying? Yes.

From then on I realized he was more than just my father, but was a man with feelings and a personality I hadn’t gotten to know. He was a man who had a whole life before I came along, a man I never knew.

Thank God for revealing this to me while he was still alive. For letting me learn about my father---the man who served his country in World War II in the Eleventh Airborne and earned a Purple Heart. The man who did double duty and served in the Navy on The U.S.S. Wasp. The man who sort of looked like a combination of William Holden and Paul Newman when he was young. The good looking man who married my mother and conceived me and my siblings.

The man who, as it turns out, actually had a fascinating life, but who to me was still just Daddy.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Adios, Mi Querido...

I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers done. ---Steven Wright

Boy, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear the comedian who penned that phrase sat beside me last weekend while I stared at the blank document on my computer screen. I’d bet he watched as I set the formatting to Page One, Chapter One for my new book which was to be a prequel to the story I just completed.

No, the title of my new book isn’t Page One, Chapter One. The page and chapter number were just as far as I’d gotten in the writing of it.

I was stuck. Those first words, that first scene for the new venture wouldn’t materialize. And I didn’t like that. Here I was, with this imagination which usually runs rampant, and I stared at an empty horizon. Nothing for miles. Blank.

I think my muse—or whatever you want to call it—still hung out with the characters of my recently finished book. My muse really loves those guys. I love those guys. Separation anxiety? Had I become too attached to them? Hey, don’t laugh. To a certain extent, I think that’s what it was.

Nicholas Sparks said, Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It's one of the most enjoyable moments in life, period.

But Truman Capote said, Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it.

For me, it was somewhere in between—giddy excitement, but a painful grip of the gut, saying goodbye to my heroes. Not only did I shoot my ‘children’, but dared to think about walking away from them to embrace other children. Who knew I would get so personally involved with the damn story?

Are you laughing at me again? What? You mean YOUR characters do NOT ride to work with you and discuss their plight with you? YOUR characters don’t dictate which CD to play in the car, jealously making sure your mind stays on them and their story? Mine do.

I think the whole purpose of doing a prequel was to keep these characters front and center, to hold them close by creating a new story around them. And I suppose, to do so, I just wanted to go on writing them forever. This way, they would never fade from my heart. I’d never really be abandoning them.

My character, Candelario, smiled smugly at me, sure he’d convinced me to stick around and make a new adventure for him. He even crooked a finger and winked, beckoning me back to his world, to dance to El Mexico de Rocio with him while I dreamed up more romance for him. He’d won. No new characters for me. You know you can’t resist me, mi linda senorita, he cooed.

But it happened. No sooner had I succumbed to his Latino charm—turning my back on the possibility of new heroes, new adventures—two new characters appeared on the scene. Out of the blue, stumbling into my brain, beautiful and strong, too potent to resist.

And who knew? They’re not even Latino.

So, my beloved Candelario, your spell has been broken. For now. I’m going to leave you for a bit and attend to these new guys.

But, Candy, you’ll always hold the distinction of being the hero in my first completed novel. And, yes, I’ll be back for a prequel. Hell, I may even do a sequel. IF you prove yourself and sell. You can’t get something for nothing, mi amigo, so you’ve got to prove you’re worthy of more of my time.

So, for now, Candelario: Adios, mi querido. De dejo pero regreso por ti. (Goodbye, my dear. I will leave you, but I will return for you).