Sunday, 28 August 2011

...A Right Guy

I looked it at like this way. To get folks to like you, as a screen player I mean, I figured you had to sort of be their ideal. I don't mean a handsome knight riding a white horse, but a fella who answered the description of a right guy.—Gary Cooper

One of the sexiest men in the world—in my humble opinion—is Russell Crowe. I hear that gravelly voice and my belly contracts with delicious spasms. No matter what role he plays, he reaches from the screen and grabs me by the hair, drags me with him into this dreamy, sexy world and kisses me senseless, makes love to me until the proverbial cows come home. He’s earthy, virile, sensitive, romantic, dripping with sensuality. 

Is he handsome? I think so, many don’t. To tell you the truth, I’ve never paused in my hero worship long enough to really focus on his looks. His aura, his charisma, is so strong it snaps my lovesick brain and libido straight from his face to his soul. And there—in that soul—lives the man. There lives the sex. 

As Crowe has aged, though, the press has had a field day with his added weight, his sometimes scraggly appearance. They’ve crucified him for doing what we ALL do, what none of us can avoid…getting older. 

It’s this celebrity’s grace and detachment from the tide of ridicule that has also made this woman take a deeper look at him. He just is who he is, he’s happy with that and the rest of the world can kiss his Aussie ass. 

That’s a hero to me.

The reason I’ve mentioned Russell Crowe today is because I recently introduced the hero of my WIP into the story. I wrote him as a big man. An entire football team in one body

What’s wrong with that? Nothing. Many sexy heroes in stories are very big men. How sexy is that? Very sexy. But…but…I knew I could get away with him being big. I knew I could still have him fit the traditional mold of big, bulky hero—as long as I could conventionalize him and make him muscular, make him ripped. Even sexier, eh? 

I could construct him carefully as a big guy and still make him marketable.
But, knowing I was eventually going to come face-to-face with this hero in a scene in which he would disrobe, the ripped image wasn’t what my mind truly saw. It never had been. 

My heart and soul held a very clear image of a big man who wasn’t perfectly built—a massive fellow who had love handles, thick waist, a belly instead of a six-pack—the whole big guy nine yards. 
But the inner light from this man, combined with his confidence and unquestionable power are his sex appeal. 
Some might say, Oh, cool, a character SHOULD be flawed.

Joyce Maynard says, The painter who feels obligated to depict his subjects as uniformly beautiful or handsome and without flaws will fall short of making art.
Hold on there, though, chicas and chicos. THERE is the rub. I don’t find my character’s extra weight, his abstinence from the gym, to be flaws. 

And I become livid with constant attention to these ‘flaws’ in men (and women) suggesting they cannot have sex appeal, they cannot be fabulous lovers or are less than perfect in some way because they aren’t svelte or ripped. 

As I’ve watched some of my favorite stars mature from beautiful youth into even more beautiful middle age and beyond, I’m enraged at tabloids that slap pictures of them with their new ‘love handles’ and softer bellies as though they ought to be put out to pasture now. As though those very cosmetic features were what made them sexy in the first place. Hogwash. No, forgive my language, but I’m mad—bullshit.

Anyone who knows me knows that another of my favorite heartthrobs is the Italian actor, Alessandro Gassman. Sure, when I first laid eyes on him, he was young, he was tall and lean, he was gorgeous. As he’s advanced into mid-life, the newspapers and magazines have been merciless in their critical attention to his physique. 

But, to me, he is one hundred times—no, one thousand times—more beautiful BECAUSE he’s maturing. He’s evolving into one of the most unbearably handsome men I’ve ever seen. 

For this reason—this fury over the preoccupation with physical perfection—I knew I could not, would not, betray my beautiful, big, beefy character by denying him his very identity. No way will I do it. 

I realize my character may not be a money-maker. By stripping him of any physical perfection he may have had, I could very well be also stripping myself of royalties. Hell, a publisher might not even accept him. 

And, again, I want to remind you that I’m not considering his less-than-pristine physique as a flaw. It is not a flaw. It is just who he is. 

In my mind and heart, I see a very sexy, charismatic man. A man I’d love to melt into, to be snug against every extra inch of his warm body. His soul is excruciatingly beautiful. 

The challenge? To, by the power of my writing, make the READER see the same man I see. To endear the reader to the PERSON, not his body, to drag them straight—like Russell Crowe does me—to his soul. 

Bottom line. Age, maturity, the beauty of experience that only life can produce and the evolution of bodies are not flaws. Wrinkles around a pair of eyes are character attributes—awards for having lived—not flaws. 

And, sugar, if anybody ever told you that sex comes only in one size, that it’s only offered in size thirty-two waist or less? They told you wrong.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

A Good Deed in a Naughty World...

How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.
~William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice

My blog today is dedicated to one of the most beautiful men I know. Tom Webb. 

And this day, by coincidence—as I’d already planned the post—is his birthday. So I not only am able to celebrate the work of this man I’m simply mad about but I can also celebrate his birthday.

Tom, it IS okay to tell everyone that today is your big 5-0? Fifty years old today! 

Tom is a hero. Not one whose name you’ll see in People Magazine, but one of those priceless souls who works behind the scenes for a huge cause—serving individuals and families living with HIV/AIDS.

He is the Director of Finance for Living Room, a non-profit agency in the metro Atlanta area. This agency provides emergency housing related services (utility support, rent/mortgage payments), housing referrals and subsidized housing support. Their goal is to help low income and/or homeless people and families find housing, and assist them in moving to some kind of permanent housing.

Living Room was founded in 1995 by a nun who worked with Trinity Community Missions. She worked with Grady Infectious Disease Program (IDP) and saw a need for people who came in to get hooked up with housing. Eventually, it was incorporated as an independent nonprofit organization. They have served more than 21,000 households since formed.

Tom says of himself, I am really just an average guy. I decided to take the talent I have for accounting and finance and use it to help those who need it most. I am VERY good at stretching a dollar and using it to get the most bang for the clients.  I am told by other staff I am good at learning program, and translating it to finance and explaining how we arrive at financial decisions. Also at learning how to streamline operations and utilizing staff and resources to get the most work done for the least amount of money, so we can use as many dollars as we can to get to kids, HIV positive individuals, or whoever needs to.

Let me tell you something. I know Tom, and he is no average guy. He’s a beautiful soul. He makes me smile. Every day. Not only because I’m aware of his magnanimous heart and his quiet but huge work in his field, but because he’s simply a lovely heart. 

Tom—close your ears, my friend—is truly one of those wonderful men who fit the classic female complaint, All the good ones are either married or gay. He IS gay; but, if he were not, I’d be knocking at his door because he’s strong but tender, fiercely protective of his friends and—well, hell, he calls me McCarol. How could a girl not love that? 

Okay, now that Tom is thoroughly blushed out by my shameless gushing, let me tell you how he got into this vein of work.

In his own words: I lost several very good friends—one especially—to HIV and AIDS. My best friend from the age of 12 contracted HIV, and he decided rather than to ask for support and love, went to the west coast, where he went to college at Stanford, and die unannounced and unmourned. I didn't even know what happened for three years until I finally found a cousin of his who I went to school with. She told me, and I just can't tell you how it made me feel to know he died alone because he was afraid to ask for help. He was too proud. So, I try to do what I can to make sure another Jim doesn't have to happen.

Much of Tom’s story is best told in his own words, as he told to me. To give you an example of some of the things my friend has seen up close and personal is this account from another agency, The Bridge, where he worked prior to Living Room: It broke my heart to hear some of the stories of these kids. One young boy had been forced to have sex with his mother and sister, and it was videotaped for his mom and her boyfriend to sell for money. He was also prostituted for money so they could buy drugs. When he came to The Bridge, he was about 13 years old, a tiny beautiful little boy who had already been in 20 out of home placements. We helped him learn to deal with his issues of trusting adults and knowing how to interact with people who didn't want to use him sexually. He was eventually able to move to another placement, either a group home or foster family, I can't remember which, and was doing very well last time I heard. 

I got to interact with these kids, learn to love some of them as very special to me. They called me Mr. Tom, and I always kept this huge bucket of candy in my office so they could come up to see me and get a treat when they were on good behavior and wanted to come talk. I became almost a mentor to some, and some of them would come just to talk to someone who didn't judge them or want to provide therapy.  We all learned to talk the same strength based, family focused way of dealing with the kids (identify their strengths and support them in those traits, and not buy in to their behaviors that didn't work well for them).  

We had a pet therapy program, and the kids would love and handle pets and even talk to them where they couldn't do it with an adult.  I would bring my new dog in to work, and they would be able to work with our Animal Assisted Therapist, with a pet, to learn trust, impulse control and empathy.  

Tough stuff, isn’t it? Hearing Tom’s account of such horrific treatment to such innocents made me grateful that—although we weren’t wealthy and there were many things I could not provide for my child—I knew my daughter had love in our home. Sometimes we take this free but priceless commodity for granted. But I’m betting Tom, after his eyewitness experience with kids and families less fortunate, would tell us to cherish our love-filled homes. 

Tom said this to me: I am really nothing special, McCarol, just someone who does the best he can to help somebody else with what meager talents I have. No shit. What I want people to know is, anything they have to offer agencies like the ones I have worked with is appreciated, whether it is time, money, or sometimes just mentioning it to a friend who may know someone who knows someone with deeper pockets. 

I disagree with Tom on his not being special. He IS something special. He’s an urban angel. He’s a wonderful friend. He’s…Tom!

Tom, my friend—and, I swear sometimes I think my guardian angel—I adore you, I admire you, I love you, you unselfish man. You inspire me, you make my heart smile with hope. The hope of knowing there are caring hands for those who need them most. 

So can you all see why this is such a special day? This wonderful, quiet hero turns fifty today! 

Wishes for a happy, happy birthday to you, Tom! Wish I could be there to give you a huge hug in person and to share some birthday cake with you, and to sing—at the top of my warbling lungs—For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow! A DAMN good fellow!

The willingness to share does not make one charitable; it makes one free.  ~Robert Brault

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Welcome, Erik Orrantia...

Hello, C. Zampa here. 

If you know me at all, you know I am enamored by all things Mexico. Of course, there is my infamous obsession with Hispanic men. But, beneath all the obvious—the dreamy perception Americans like myself have of the mysterious, wildly beautiful romance of the quintessential Latino male—there is a serious fascination with the country, its people, its culture, the very flavor of Mexico. 

But my blog today is not about me and my fascination for Mexico. I’m only reminding you about my love affair with Mexico so that you’ll understand why I’m ecstatic to have—as my VERY first blog guest ever—author Erik Orrantia.

I chose Erik because my radar immediately picked up his signal when I read about the release of his first book, Normal Miguel. I was intrigued by the 
premise of the story, the cover, everything. Orrantia had become a quiet, very interesting presence in the literary world. Then he announced his second book, The Equinox Convergence—which promises to be a compelling read—and I was excited. I knew this author was going to bloom into a powerhouse writing voice, and it thrills me to have front row tickets to witness his journey.

Erik lives in Tijuana, Baja California with his partner of seven years. He has traveled extensively throughout Mexico and hopes to share part of his experience through novels.

I’ve begun reading The Equinox Convergence, and I’m already hooked. Below Orrantia shares descriptions of this book and Normal Miguel
He has also included information and buy links below as well as a link to his blog. And I insist you visit his blog, as his latest post is about…sigh…Mexico. A beautiful essay about the contrast between the country’s infamous corruption and crime and its true, breathtaking and simple beauty. 

So, Erik, welcome to Casa de Zampa! The floor is yours….
Mexico, the Unreported Side (by Erik Orrantia)

Just short of 500 years ago, the great Aztec emperor, Moctemuza II, respectfully received Hernán Cortés and his entourage whose shiny armor protected pale skin and whose forged helmets offset their strange beards. The visitor might have been the god-king Queztalcóatl returning to reclaim his throne—the Aztecs couldn’t be too careful. Instead, the invaders executed the emperor, brought disease and slavery to his people, and set off Mexico’s modern history rank with revolutionary and civil war, corruption and pillage, oppression and classism, and economic and natural disaster.

Though today Mexico has enjoyed nearly a century absent of major political strife, its continued reputation as a third-world, Central American country has been further tarnished by its ongoing War on Drugs as it attempts to eradicate drug cartels from its premises. Because their combined income reaches as much as $50 billion per annum, they represent a formidable adversary to a country whose entire defense budget is barely $6 billion per year. As Mexico applies pressure to the cartels centered around urban and border centers like Acapulco and Tijuana, the entire trade is spreading into the rural areas the way clay squeezes between the fingers of a clenching fist. Gory photos on the front pages of daily newspapers announce the on-going presence of the cartels between the streets of everyday life…and their growing desperation—rival members tortured and beheaded, police and military personnel kidnapped and slaughtered, and politicians assassinated in front of the public eye. The War on Drugs has claimed over 40,000 people since its inception less than a decade ago.

There is another side of the story. Take it from a person who has lived in Mexico for the past fourteen years. Life continues to flourish, culture develops, and a new consciousness of conservation and humanity is not whispered but boldly spoken among the people, the vast majority of whom are honest, hard-working, amicable folks with strong ethical values and respect for others. For every Mexican laborer seeking work in distant lands, even more foreigners follow the 20,000 gray whales, and millions of monarch butterflies and tree swallows who enter Mexico to partake in its abundance of natural resources, cultural offerings, and serene beauty.

Though only a quarter the area of its northern neighbor, the length Mexico’s coastline equals that of the contiguous United States. Its peaks reach to heights of nearly 10,000 feet, its canyons boast depths greater than their Arizona counterpart, and its enviable latitudinal position provide ecosystems the gamut of ecosystems from expansive deserts in the north and lush rainforests south of the Tropic of Cancer. Though the ancient times of the Aztecs and Maya are over, Mexico still recognizes over 60 indigenous languages in a population of 10 million indigenous people, many of whose tribal ways of life have endured. Like the awesome sea turtle once hunted to near-extinction, the value of the indigenous cultures has been formally recognized, and legal protections have been instilled to protect them.

Let’s put away the statistics and the big picture for a moment and stand on a small town street corner, or walk inside a typical home, attend a quinceañera or a wedding, or chat with a señora or a muchacha. They will instantly disarm us—not literally, of course; we will quickly forget what our friends back home told us about keeping our wallets in our front pockets or hiding our necklaces beneath our blouses. They’ll offer us their humble homes and meticulously prepared food. They’ll practice the Golden Rule. They will remind us about the importance of education in both its formal, academic sense, and its second meaning—good old-fashioned manners. They will show respect for elderly and for teachers. They will make us wonder about, and maybe even embarrass us inside for, all the preconceived and largely incorrect notions we had about the country we were (hesitantly) about to visit. Hopefully, we’ll apply that same doubt to all the other preconceived notions we had about everything else in the world. Well, one step into foreign territory at a time. 

The point is that, despite the lingering distrust many commonly feel toward Mexicans or about Mexico in general, and despite the real and bloody war against the powerful drug mafia, the greater truth is that most of the world misjudges and, consequently, misses out. True, one has to be as vigilant in Mexico as in any unknown place, or even in the streets of many familiar but potentially dangerous places. And true, there are people out there, including Mexico, who take advantage of others, especially rich tourists. Also true, one’s life expectancy is automatically and seriously reduced when he decides to directly participate in either side of the War on Drugs. But life is full of risks, isn’t it? And we take risks that Bilbo Baggins via J.R.R. Tolkien summed up better than I ever could: “It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might be swept off to.” Take an adventure in Mexico. Its bad side is not nearly as bad as one might think, and its good side is probably far better than one might imagine.

Now, in case you haven’t read either of my books to date, and might prefer to take a virtual trip before you get your plane flight to Mexico, I have tried to capture many of the nuances, splendor, and reality of the culture that I have so far discovered. Normal Miguel, a Lambda Literary Award winner, tells the story of a gay student teacher as he completes his year of student teaching in the rural hills of Puebla. He discovers many tricks of his trade as he gets to know his students and those with whom he works, but he also confronts obstacles as he develops a relationship with the local candy store owner. The Equinox Convergence is another genre altogether.  This is the harrowing story of a young shaman girl in Guerrero who crosses paths with Bennie, a young drug runner. He aspires to quick wealth but finds himself stuck in the drug trade where his only choice is to follow directions, even when demanded to go beyond any moral limits. But like the equinox, light and darkness balance out. I hope you’ll consider them, or at least stop by my website,, to check out my posts and carry on the conversation. Thank you, C. Zampa, for the chance to share.