Sunday, 19 December 2010

Lola Dances...

The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.  ~Mother Teresa

Have you ever read a story that, as you progressed into it, you grew deeply attached to a character because your recognized yourself in them? The character could not surprise you because you knew them so intimately that you could predict every move, every tear, every smile, every pain. Some kinetic connection endeared the character to you, making it impossible to separate the fictional soul from reality.

I’m struggling to describe the impact made by my newest—and by far most unconventional—favorite hero. Little Terry Murphy from Victor J. Banis’ Lola Dances. Or, as readers will also come to know and love him—his other persona, dancer Lola Valdez.

I first met Terry Murphy in an area that’s iconic in American history—the brawling, sprawling, gritty bowels of early New York’s Bowery.

He’s a small, feminine, timid, spectacles-wearing aspiring dancer. And he’s beautiful with a dancer’s figure, longer than fashionable dark curls, big does’ eyes.

Young Terry attracts a good deal of unwelcome attention from other men with his dark, fragile appearance, and his commute by foot from his dwelling to the dance studio where he practices is much like Red Riding Hood traversing through a forest of leering wolves.

Terry befriends a charismatic red-headed, emerald-eyed young Irishman named Tom Finnegan. An ‘almost’ encounter with Finnegan stirs mixed feelings in Terry’s gut. Attraction—or is it simply the warmth and beauty of his new friend’s protectiveness? Is it merely the craving of a gentle touch, someone who truly SEES the little hero as a human, as a friend? Terry senses there is an attraction from Tom as well, but doesn’t act on the bewildering feelings—both emotional and physical—that stir inside him.

Terry’s delicate beauty does prove irresistible to a rich admirer who forms an obsession with young dancer and who rapes the shy boy. As always, I won’t go into the story much, only enough to say that this atrocity against our hero causes his brother Brian to pick up roots and move out west with Terry to a mining settlement—to seek anonymity as well as a fortune in gold dust.

Here, in Alder Gulch, little Terry Murphy’s life takes an interesting turn—a turn that brings him full circle, right into the big fat middle of himself.

First of all—and I would not dare to spoil the story by divulging the character’s identity—Terry finds himself, snowed in during the bitter winter snows—giving himself sexually to an extremely unlikely bed partner. The partner, a virile, rugged, extreme homophobic, rationalizes that the unavoidable circumstances—and the fact that women are a scarcity in Alder Gulch—
naturally make it necessary to use little Terry sexually to satisfy a very lusty libido.

The shocker, though? All right, I already identified with Terry Murphy from the beginning of the book. Shy. Outsider. Dreamer. Wanting something unattainable, but never really knowing WHAT that something was.

But what touched me was Terry’s willingness—his almost pitiful willingness—to succumb to his unusual bed partner, somehow finding in bits and pieces through this arrangement that the ‘missing’ thing was nothing more than to be needed.

Beautiful little Terry even began to convince himself that this odd sexual situation was a sort of love. If he gave himself unselfishly to this person who needed him so, somehow this was love in one of its forms. He was content with this, and—even at this point in the story—he began to draw confidence from this, from this illusion of intimacy that came with this partnering.

During this most unusual relationship, Terry meets a young miner, Josh Simmons, who is the most handsome man our hero has ever seen. Terry is immediately in love. Head over heels. Infatuated. Obsessed?

Driven by this powerful attraction, by some overwhelming need, Terry stalks Simmons and one night, in the privacy of the dark, surprises the gorgeous miner with a sexual offering.

Again, during this encounter, we get a deep glimpse into Terry’s eagerness to show love the only way he knows how—with his body. And the odd beauty of it all is that we SEE this sacrifice through Terry’s affection-starved vision. We UNDERSTAND his hunger for love and it seems so very logical.

And we, or this reader anyway, saw with raw clarity that Terry is not so different from most of us. It’s a painful revelation to recognize the neediness, but it’s also liberating to realize that this craving for affection is normal.

Through a set of circumstances, Terry is thrown into a situation which ultimately turns out to be his human, emotional breakthrough. He replaces a female dancer in saloon—makeup, dress, the whole nine yards—and is transformed into the stunning, sensual, spicy dancer Lola Valdez. He is an instant success.

And this, his transformation, is where I fall hopelessly, madly in love with—oh, damn, yes, I have to admit it—the woman, Lola, right along with every miner in Alder Gulch.

That’s all I’ll tell you about the story details.

The story IS Lola. It IS Terry Murphy. I love them both equally. I’m attracted to them both equally. I relate to them both equally. They are me. They are every man, every woman.

My heart soared, my heart ached—but in a delirious, happy way—when Lola danced on the stage, when love-drunk miners threw money at her feet. My gut wrenched with beautiful spasms when Lola Valdez—or Terry Murphy?—realized how it felt to be loved, to be wanted, to be needed.

If you’re one who’s never felt, even for a moment, the need to be accepted, to be loved, you will not ‘get’ this story. If you ARE, you will close its pages at ‘the end’ and you’ll sigh, and you’ll cry, and you’ll feel comfort knowing that it is all right to WANT to be needed. That it’s not selfish to want that attention, that it’s just a basic part of our human make-up and is, in fact, essential.

If you ever thought there was no such thing at love at first sight, you’ll know through Terry Murphy’s eyes that you are wrong. Whether that love lasts is another matter, but you will believe it does happen.

The most important BEAUTY that I gleaned from this book was that—and it’s admitting what most think is a human frailty, but I wonder now—that maybe it’s not so wrong to offer ourselves emotionally and sexually without asking anything in return. In this modern age, the philosophy for our own empowerment seems to be that we must NOT submit ourselves so, that it is demeaning, that sex must always be equal. Sometimes, in that need to fulfill our own emptiness, we do just that—we do NOT ask for reciprocation. We just take what we are offered and make do. While it may not be the best for our self-esteem, it may not be the best at all…it still doesn’t make us WRONG to do so. I learned that from Terry Murphy.

I learned a lot from Terry and Lola. But one thing, for sure, was that what our hearts dictate can’t really be compartmentalized into right or wrong. It just is what it is.

Victor Banis said: Yes, I've always loved little Terry. When I wrote the transformation scene, when he first danced for the miners, I was bawling like a baby, and I still can't read it without tearing up. That longing for love - don't we all know how that feels?

His beautiful words conveyed his emotions vividly, maybe almost too vividly. Because what he felt, the power of the feelings HE felt while creating these memorable characters were universal. The sadness, joy, love and beauty he felt are the core of life that we all have in common…as he said, the longing for love.

While a painful though intriguing journey Terry endured, I still closed the book with a smile. Because his pain was NOT in vain. He found love.

The book can be purchased through MLR Press:

Or through Amazon:

Friday, 10 December 2010

Holy Communion...

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:

And from Amazon: Dementiuk/dp/0975858149/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1292039557&sr=1-1

His website is:

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.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The Privilege of Owning Yourself…

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.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Alpha Shmalfa...!

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?