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