Monday, 29 April 2013

C. Zampa's Not-A-Review: Let's Hear It For The Boy by T.A. Webb

I've missed gushing about my favorite books! So many wonderful stories out there, so many fabulous authors and so many delicious, unforgettable characters!

In trying to get back into the groove of sharing and bubbling over about the stories that have touched me, made me cry, made me laugh, made me mad, made me love, I'm sharing a short story with you today.

I just finished a beautiful, poignant, sticks-with-you-long-after-you-read-it book by author T. A. (Tom) Webb, LET'S HEAR IT FOR THE BOY.

Auntie Social is the biggest, baddest drag queen in Atlanta—she knows what she wants and she gets it. She’s tough, merciless, and top dog. That’s what Paul Stewart, reporter for the Journal, had heard, and all he expects when he’s assigned to interview the legend.. But nobody really knows the person behind the make-up.

What if…what if the person behind the sarcasm and music was more than just a man in a dress? What happened in his life that, thirty years later, made him a successful CEO, a philanthropist, and a legend in the gay community? Thirty years and almost a million dollars raised for people living with HIV/AIDs, yet still no one knows the real story.
Until one night, one man breaks through the shell, and Matthew Trammell—Auntie Social—opens the door he closed many years ago and lets his secrets spill out.
Pain is like rain, it covers your skin and soaks in bone-deep, but it eventually recedes and allows fresh things to grow.

(Click on Cover to Buy)

Where to start?

Auntie Social, that was his name. The blurb says it all. Drag Queen, but as he says, he's not your mama's drag queen. He's burly, big, sexy, virile, hairy legs and all, and I loved him. I just pure-d loved him.

The premise of the story (no plot does Zampa tell, remember) is an interview by journalist Paul Stewart of the legendary Atlanta drag queen, Matthew Trammell, aka Auntie Social.

Digging deeper, past the surface of Matthew's story, Paul presses for the heart of Auntie Social, for the soul of the man instead of the usual newsie type stories the public knows.

And Paul gets that story. And we get that story through Paul.

And if you had not already fallen for Matthew right from the start (I did), he will have owned your heart by the end of his story.

This is a story about AIDS. It's Matthew's story about the intrusion of AIDS into his own life, how the devastating disease touched him deeply and personally by way of infecting someone he loved dearly.

I'll admit I hesitate for a long time to read this. The author knew it, too, I was honest and told him I was afraid it would hurt my heart. Hey, how could it not? It was about AIDS, after all.

And it did hurt my heart. In a beautiful way, though. In a tender, gentle delivery that is trademark of Tom Webb. The trademark of a man who has worked in the community in many facets and knows the disease---it's statistics, its destruction but also the powerful love it can draw from those affected and those who love them.

Oddly, one of the elements of the story that hit me hardest was that sick-in-the-gut moment when Matthew recounts how the man he loved told him about a mistake he'd made in a bar. How he had sex with a man without protection. How he noticed, when it was too late, a lesion on the man's skin.

That blood-draining-from-your-head flash that I felt I was actually living through Webb's telling. That scene is still so strong in my mind. I still shiver thinking about it. None of us have NOT experienced some sort of horrific dread upon realizing we've made a terrible mistake. Or that ungodly awful meeting, face-to-face, with our own mortality.

Mr. Webb presented a powerful image with his prose of the fear, the regret, the resignation, the decisions. The losing of a loved one and what we as individuals do once that body---never the soul, though, and never the memory---is gone.

The beautiful, beautiful thing about this story is how Auntie Social used his inner strength, his love and his precious memories to stare AIDS down and campaign in his own special way to offer aid to those affected by the disease.

Tom Webb somehow, wonderfully, turned this into a story of triumph, not defeat. A tale of love and faithfulness, not loss. I cried, I knew I would. But I cried because I loved Auntie Social. I loved his strength, his tender heart.

And the urn on Matthew's dressing table. I cried about that. Again, not from sadness but just the beauty of it, the tender love.

Oh. And there's a nice surprise at the end. I cried about that, too. Then I smiled. And I'm still smiling.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

A Stone's Throw...

“Words... They're innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they're no good any more... I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you're dead.”  --  Tom Stoppard, “The Real Thing: A Play”

Whether you believe it's true or not, you've heard the story of David and Goliath. You're familiar with the story of the young man who---in a move of faith---managed to defeat the giant Goliath with nothing but a slingshot and a rock. A kid. A rock. A slingshot. A victory. One stone---just a stone a boy picked from a million others---was the center of a story that has lasted for centuries, a tale that is legend. A stone.

That Biblical account brought to my mind a very important thought: that everyone of us carries with us a bag of stones just like the boy David. Only our stones aren't physical ones. They are are voices. Our words. 

One toss of a rock onto a still pond is able to send ripples across the water's surface---from bank to bank. That rippling effect can be beautiful, serene, playful or frightening in its subtle powerBecause---just think about it. That one tiny fragment of hardened earth has the strength to disrupt the entire quiet of the pond's surface. 

The same stone, if tossed at a mirror's glass, has the ability to shatter that once-pristine surface and destroy the mirror. One striking blow can turn the reflective glass into a spiderweb of cracks or it can completely destroy it by rendering it into a heap of glistening shards. Either way, the mirror is destroyed. By one stone.

And it is so with our words. It's a little scary to think of the power contained in each and every one of us---not just authors, but anybody

Our voices. These stones we carry inside us. They may not seem like much, but they have the ability to hurt others, the power to destroy relationships. They can be the impetus to ruin others if they're thrown by those with influential voices. Words can soothe. They can arouse. They can make love. They can lead. They can follow. They can frighten. They can bully. Damn, they are powerful little things. And so versatile in their scope of uses.

I wonder about David and Goliath. Surely David had the experience with having used his slingshot to know just which size stone to use. His young mind must have, after enough use with this primitive weapon, known to calculate the stone's size to know it's projectile capability. And just how much momentum would be needed in order to---in just one shot, since that was all he would have---hit its target and fell it. 

And our words have to be weighed just so. Because they are extremely powerful. 

As an author, or anyone whose voice finds its way to this new technical marvel---cyberspace---I feel it's a responsibility to use this power within us...these stones inside us called words...wisely. 

I feel that people who have the fortune to be influential to others should take advantage of that wonderful privilege to use their words to build, not break down. To encourage, not to discourage. To make peace, not battle. To soothe, not to wound. To support, not to bully. To make changes for good. 

Voices may seem like nothing but little stones. Those like me who aren't in positions to influence in big ways can still use my words for good. Even if only one person hears a word of encouragement from me, hears a smile in my voice, then I've used my voice wisely. 

Maybe my voice alone can't stop hatred, bullying and bigotry. But my little stone, mixed with multitudes of other stones, CAN

Whether my own words will ever make wonderful changes in my universe is doubtful, as I'm a tiny stone among many. 

But one thing I do know. Sometimes I might use my words to make quiet ripples on a pond's surface. Because that stone merely makes its ripples, just to show it was there, then drifts to the pond's bottom without having done any harm. And sometimes I will use my voice in a bigger way---for whatever it's worth---to blend with other voices for equality. 

I hope, though, never to use my precious stones to break mirrors. 



Tuesday, 9 April 2013

A Descending Spiral...

Madame DeFarge, A Tale of Two Cities

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.” ― Martin Luther King, Jr.

Something's bothered me for a while and I've kept silent about it---well, if you don't count occasional spurts of frustration on Facebook and various forums. I remained silent because I just couldn't put my finger on what actually disturbed me. I couldn't, as hard as I tried, make a connection in my mind as to why I was disturbed or tack a name to the angst growing bigger and bigger inside me.

But this weekend I stumbled on photos from the Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities.

And then it became so clear. And when it did become clear, it became even more frustrating and...frightening.

This week, upon the death of Margaret Thatcher, I was shocked and dismayed over the giant uproar---the joyous uproar---of so many chanting all over Twitter and Facebook such things as "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead...' gleeful voices raised in celebration at the passing of a public official. By the degree of happy pandemonium, you would have thought a violent dictator had been executed. Oh, I don't know British politics but I do know hate when I see it.

And those merry cheers immediately brought to mind the roaring crowds I'd read of during the French Revolution. The crowds gathering to cheer on the beheadings of the aristocrats. Barbaric pleasure they took in these executions.

And, no, it wasn't just the reaction to the Thatcher's death that hit home with me. It was something that had been brewing inside me for some time and this event only seemed to bring it to the surface for me, to put a name on it.


The power of hatred among a group of people.

What may surprise you is that the hatred I speak of---the hatred that has upset me for a while now---is not among those bigots against who we fight for equality. Oh, they are filled to the brim with hate, that's for sure. But it's not them who have troubled me lately.

No. It's those who do fight for equality who are showing the hatred so blatantly.

Specifically, not a day goes by that I do not see on various forums the rants against Christians. Everything unfair thing that happens in the name of hatred is somehow lumped in with the name Christian. I see the word every day and it's rarely---if at all---in conjunction with anything good.

An us-against-the-Christians voice it seems.

And, upon seeing this so much, I was reminded of such violent events in history such as the executions in France during the revolts. The frenzied fury of those so full of revenge and hatred that they simply dragged every person who even hinted of having money and slaughtered them along with those who actually did deplore them.

The fight for justice and equality gone berserk. The furor seeping into sensibility and discoloring even the innocent; therefore sending them to death for having done nothing but been wealthy.

Unfortunately, such hatemongers as the Westboro Baptist Church have put a black spot on all religion as far as the fight for equality goes. Now it seems the very word Christian is the keyword for bigotry, along with the word Republican. Every day I read comments that---for every wrong done against the equal rights movement---it must be those Christians, those conservative religious zealots, etc., etc.

Do you want to know why this scares the hell out of me?

Because I am a Christian. Yes.

No, I do not attend church. I don't feel whether I sit in a brick building every Sunday has any bearing on what's in my heart.

But I do follow the teaching of Christ which---if anybody studied hard enough---would prove to be just the same philosophies as all teachers of peace since the beginning of time. He taught that we were all the same. Everybody sins.

And....I might add here that sin---the actual Hebrew translation---meant nothing more than missing the mark. An arrow shooting and falling short of the bullzeye. A human thing. Not a doomed-to-hell fault but just a very human part of life. We miss the mark, we get up and go again.

Love. He did teach love. He didn't hang out with the sanctimonious. They, in fact, were the ones who persecuted him because he was different. They were scared of him and his truth. He was a threat to their old ways, their ancient beliefs and holier-than-thou arrogance. He was the equality fighter of his day. He died for it.

If he walked among us today, he would be right there in the middle of the fight for equality. He would never have judged. Never.

Do you see what I mean? By using this coverall label of Christian, to lash out at anyone who does call themselves so, you're targeting me and you might accidentally be lumping me in with those who do hate. And I might get hit in the crossfire. Because the animosity is so strong toward the name, I fear it will only keep cooking until it boils over.

I do not know a remedy for it all. I only know it's unfortunate to find myself thrown into this mix, to have to defend myself and what I believe in when I am as big a believer in equal rights as the others who fight for it.

If anything, it breaks my heart for the Churchians (a term a minister used to define those who merely sat in a pew on Sundays but who did not practice what they preached) to call themselves Christians and then to display such bigotry and hate.

But, again, I don't know a way to fix it.

The only thing I can do is live what's really in my heart, to stand strong on my beliefs of equal rights for all. To let my life be a witness, to show that a Christian loves, a Christian loves everyone equally.

Just, please. When you do refer to bigotry and hatred, please be careful when using the word Christian. Because if you aim it at a true Christian---who really embraces what the man whose name it is derived taught---you've got the wrong guy.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

When the Beating of Your Heart...

When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums, there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes! -- Lyrics, 'Do You Hear the People Sing', Les Miserable

My last post was a lament, a tribute to fear. Fear of writing. Fear of other people's writing. Of being afraid because other authors' prose, their voices, were so damn good that it scared me. I shared thoughts on being boxed in by that self-imposed writing barricade of inadequacy. 

I was not talking about talent but something much bigger than talent. I was talking about passion, about being afraid to write what's in my heart and about shutting off this faucet that keeps my passion from flowing free. How frustrating it was to see others write these powerful stories. How it finally hit me what that magic element was in their writing was---fire, fearlessness, this beautiful kind of anger that even their greatest inhibitions can't smother.

I wanted that secret ingredient in my writing.

Well, to that post, I enjoyed so many supportive comments, so much wonderful advice. And, among those who offered words of understanding and support was a long-time, dear, dear friend. A gal who was pretty much my very first mentor and critique partner.

A beautiful author, Joylene Nowell Butler.

She told me something that hit home. She said to learn from others. And then she said something that rang bells in my head---oh, it clanged like the huge bells of Notre Dame---read the classics.

And so I did. Read the classics. 

Oh, I didn't scour through volumes and volumes of classic novels, although I would gladly have done it, I love them so. I did, however, grab up films---adaptations of classics as well as biographic movies of authors from times past.

And...holy shitsky. My friend, my dear friend Joylene! How could she have known?

First of all and coincidentally---I'd just bought it---I watched the newest musical film adaptation of Les Miserable. Yes, the one with Hugh Jackman and my idol Russell Crowe. It had been a long time since I cried so wonderfully, so broken up and emotional. And so inspired. 

Immediately after, I read about the author of Les Miserable, Victor Hugo. Ahead of his time. Daring. Blaring with a voice so bold and free that it's still shouting even today. 

But, during all this research, things much deeper than just beautiful prose spoke to me. 

First, it lit this fire inside me to let my own voice break free, to stop fretting about how it's going to be received. That very fear of reception was its own road block to my creativity. The story, the songs, the facts acted as mufflers to silence those internal whispers such as so-and-so says there is no such thing as love at first sight, this or that reviewer says they don't like love at first sight.
I loved Hugo's thoughts on this issue, The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only."

I wondered, after reading this, if he'd seen victims of the Goodreads of his day? Had he seen authors being intimidated by reviews from using their own voices, from just letting love be whatever their souls told them it should be?

As though some invisible force knocked my mental barricade down, I felt this wonderful freedom. I could not get some of the song's lyrics out of my mind, I played them over and over...Beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see? Then join in the fight that will give you the right to be free!

I'd never been so inspired. I'm still zinging. 

I can't explain the fury---a wonderful, wild freedom---that broke out in my heart when I watched this film, this production of the classic story. But I do know that the exhilaration was like another of Hugo's quotes, More powerful than the mighty armies is an idea whose time has come. 

That gives me chills.

There is a world I long to write beyond the barricade. And, by watching a film adaptation of a classic story and by reflecting on the other classics that have weathered time, I recognized all the things I crave to write---love at first sight, characters who were bad and ones who were good but who were painfully human, seedy life, the very grit of life, loneliness, despair, spirit, fires in the bellies, justice, injustice, anger, fear, poverty, wealth, beauty, ugliness, faith, sunshine, rain---every human condition imaginable. Without holding back, not giving the voices in my head any slack 

Hugo also had a quote for authors lifting others up, The delight we inspire in others has this enchanting peculiarity that, far from being diminished like every other reflection, it returns to us more radiant than ever.

Radiant. Yes. So thank you, all of you who understood. And thank you, Joylene Nowell Butler, for that one word. Classics.

I don't know the outcome of what I write. But it will be mine, it will be free of worry, it will be what is in my heart.

I think my time has come to really...write.