Saturday, December 31, 2016

Sometimes the End is the Best Part...

Okay so...

Just before Christmas, my mother told my grandfather I was gay.

But let's back up for those of you who don't know me well...

Settle in. My stories are like unruly rivers that wander far and wide before they see the sea.

Let me begin by saying I am not a fan of the holidays.
Now, I love the lights, the carols, the movies, and so on. But the stress of it all almost makes it not worth it. There's travel plans to be made, who can bring what where, who can see who when, this is how long we have to spend here, this is how much we can spend, and so on.
It's daunting to say the least (for me, anyway).

Lance wasn't able to visit my hometown with me for Christmas Eve because he had to work, which meant that in order to spend Christmas Day with him I had to drive 4 hours there and 4 hours back (after an abbreviated shift at the clinic) all in one day - and somehow spend meaningful time with family for 2 to 3 hours without appearing totally exhausted. Challenge accepted.

When faced with a certain amount of stress I tend to put blinders on and plow forward. Phone calls and texts from everyone the week of Christmas went unanswered. I was conserving my (extremely limited) patience, energy, and goodwill for the big day.
The one text I did answer was on December 23rd, and it was from my grandfather:
"Colten let me know if you're bringing your friend for Christmas. Love Pa."
I was so closed off that though I understood the implications of the message, I didn't dare begin to wind down and process it. Christmas Eve was going to be an amazing day, dammit. "Think happy thoughts. Think happy thoughts."

You see, my mother asked me at Thanksgiving, "So when are you going to tell your Pa about you and Lance?"
"I have no plans to do so at anytime in the near future," I replied.

My family has officially known my sexual orientation since I was nineteen. My entire family, in fact...except for Pa.
I say "officially" because to anyone with eyes, ears, and a modicum of social awareness I am a homosexual. Not only that, but there is VHS footage of a kindergarten-aged Colten singing "Poor Unfortunate Souls" from The Little Mermaid in a powder blue onesie - with choreography. ("Don't underestimate the importance of BODY LANGUAGE, HAAA!")
There is elementary age Colten who adored all things Lisa Frank, and idolized Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman. There is fourth/fifth grade Colten who wanted to wanted to design outfits for the Spicegirls, and made up choreography to their songs which he proudly displayed to his Nanna on the back porch...  What I'm saying is...I've always noticeably been a particular sort of person.

Growing up, from Kindergarten through fifth grade it was "Colten's a girl!" there was much taunting. The taunting never really bothered me. Mom was a girl (and she's badass!) Nanna's a girl (she's so awesome!) all my friends are girls. I was never interested in things boys are typically interested in, and I had friends so the jeers and whatnot never really bothered me. (I was very fortunate - some are not so lucky, precocious, or self-assured.)
Then in fifth grade everyone learned the word "gay".
I'll never forget who said it to me (his name was Matt, and we were really good friends the previous school year), and we were in line to come in for recess, and he was standing with his new classmates/friends. It was the first time I'd heard it, but I knew what it meant...and I also knew it to be true.
Despite being the only black person (half-black) in my graduating class (and really for most of my scholastic life I was one of two in the entire school system) in a 6,000 person town in North Texas I only had two racially motivated negative encounters. There were a helluva lot more "fag" and "queer" epithets whizzing past my head growing up.
Again, being very fortunate, I had a lot of good friends. Those words didn't phase me like the people hurling them expected them to. By my sophomore year of High School it had all pretty much gone by the wayside. By my junior year, I was friends with pretty much everyone in some capacity or another, and the people who weren't my friends didn't speak to me, nor I to them.
By then it was my friends, my inner-circle, willing me to "just admit it".
If you're a gay guy who doesn't pass for straight, and you grew up when Will & Grace was on television you had these friends who wanted a gay best friend. We were the hottest accessory of the late 90's early 2000's.
But there was no admitting it for me.
A) because I was hyper-religious, and trying to reconcile who I was with what church told me I should be.
B) because there was No Reason to admit it.

I eschew labels.

If you read back on my early blog posts you'll see how my perspective on race and diversity has evolved over the last few years. But labeling is still something I'm staunchly against (personally).
In my experience when labels have been attached to me people tend to see IT rather than see me, and there's too much of me (or anyone, in my opinion) to be reduced to an adjective. Because when you say "I'm Gay" or "I'm _____" (in my experience) that's the primary thing people associate you with, and - more often than not - that's how they'll describe you to others.

But then I was nineteen, and my best friend turned into something more than a best friend, and suddenly...I had a reason.

I told my Nanna in a moment of complete joy and excitement: "You know how ____ and I are really good friends?...Well, we're really, really, really good friends."

I told Mom when ____ and I were no longer "really good friends" because you need your mom after your first true heart-break. Though, I admit, it was shitty of me to not share at the beginning of things.

Anyway, the question of "when are you going to tell Pa" has been on the table since.

I grew up with a single mom who worked at the same time she was putting herself through nursing school, and once she graduated she worked nights. I spent a significant amount of time with Nanna and Pa (my grandparents). So I have a closer relationship with them than most of my peers have with their grandparents.

Pa who taught me how to shoot, hunt, and fish (I shoot better than Annie Oakley, and I was an accomplished hunter back in the day...have always been and will always be a terrible fisherman).
Pa who encouraged my art, and taught me when he could (and was never afraid to be my toughest critic).
Pa who made excuses to take me to Wal-Mart at least once a week to buy a toy, then cd's from pre-school age until I was a teenager.
Pa who would sneak whatever food I didn't like off my plate so I didn't have to eat it.
Pa who never spanked, or raised his voice to me.
Pa who took me everywhere and was so openly proud of me despite his *cough* racially exclusive past.
Pa had already overcome one prejudicial hurdle - could I expect more of him? Should I?
"Well", I rationalized, "it's not like I live there. It's not like we have deep heart to hearts about relationships and whathaveyou. Until I have a reason to tell him specifically then there's no need to say anything at all."

And so it was from 19 to 29.

Then last week I learned that he had called Mom a few days before the holiday.
"Is Colten bringing a girlfriend or anybody home for Christmas?"
"Nope," Mom replied. "Lance has to work."
*lengthy pause*
"You got a minute to talk?" Mom asked.

And so it went.

Now, Nanna and Pa are no longer "Nanna & Pa" there is Pa, and there is Nanna and her husband. Christmas Eve is spent doing crafts with the Maternal side of the family. These last few years Mom and I go visit Pa before the festivities at my great-grandmother's (Mamaw's) house with Nanna & her husband, etc, and he celebrates with his brothers, and friends earlier in the day.

The text I received from Pa on the 23rd ("Colten let me know if you are bringing your friend for Christmas. Love Pa") opened up a tiny pit in my stomach. I replied with "Nope! It'll just be me. Love you!"
Then I had four hours to think about it on the drive to my home town.
I wasn't going to stop by at first. Maybe see him on my way out of town for a quick, drop-off-his-gift-and-run kindof thing. I wanted to avoid what I felt would be an awkward interaction with a cousin who I hadn't visited with in ten years. I wanted to avoid any possible uncomfortable situations.
Mom prodded "When are you gonna see your Pa?...They're waiting for you."
I was an ass.
Then the closer I got to town I really realized how much of an ass I was being.
I was so set on Christmas being a pleasant, carefree, all-smiles experience for myself that I was hurting people who love me - and who I love.
Even if it was awkward or unpleasant, I am an adult and can extricate myself from a bad situation in a flash.
So I went. Seeing the estranged cousin wasn't awkward - it was actually really great. I got to meet his wife, and stepchildren. Pa was entertaining the kids while my cousin and I reconnected.
After half an hour I was overdue at Mamaw's, and it came time to leave. I gave Pa a hug (I am not a hugger except when it comes to family. We are a hugging people when it comes to each other). But with Pa hugs you pop in and you pop out.
Pa's hug lingered. I made to pull away, and he held on for just the briefest moment, and he said.....

 "You tell your friend I said hello."

I nodded, "Will do! Merry Christmas, love you!"

I get to Mamaw's and Mom tells me the story of how she told him about me and about my relationship with Lance. "They're relationships better than any one I've ever had. They're just like two grumpy old men."
She apologized and told me this last little tidbit from earlier in the day with Pa and his younger brother...
She had taken them a Christmas craft to do. Mom felt bad that we did fun stuff like that with the rest of our family but not with Pa. His brother was there, and he asked (speaking of Lance) "Well is that the boy in his facebook pictures?"
"Yep," Mom said.
"Well, he's handsome enough," he replied. "It's funny because you like the black ones, and he likes the white ones."

An astute observation, indeed.

I love my family. And my family loves me. And despite all the wonderful things in my life this year, this is by far the greatest.
I never feared losing a member of my family. I've never feared disrespect or shame. Not a single member of my tribe has ever made me feel less-than, strange, different, or un-loved. I am so very fortunate in that. I know not many people can say the same thing.

I am ashamed because I assumed what his reaction would be. I was certain it would be awkward and uncomfortable at best. But never once has that man ever made me feel like less than a rock star, and it was wrong of me to think he would start now.

Well... that's the story of my awesome Christmas, and what I'm most thankful for this year.

But I hope that there was one moment like that this year for you, too. I hope there's one moment you can hold on to where your worst thoughts were proven wrong. I hope there's a moment you can recall where your world was changed - even in the tiniest way - for the better.
Hold onto that moment, keep it in your heart at midnight, and kiss the one you love if they're with you.

Happy New Year, y'all

Until next time...

Saturday, September 5, 2015

You Don't Speak For Me

This post was almost titled "Cutting Off Your Nose to Spite Your Face", but that's lengthy and though it summarizes a portion of what I want to talk about it doesn't quite hit the center of the target.

Frankly, that's what I see a lot of fellow PoC (Person of Color) authors on Twitter doing recently.
By recently I mean Today, because next week the twittersphere will be aflame with righteous indignation over a whole other thing and this post will be irrelevant.
But I've been quiet, and withheld my opinions for some time on several major issues, and later in this post I'll share why...

For now --- The Outrage of the Day

It started with this:

ok. Maggie, i'm just going to say it. I don't think you're the right person to speak on a panel about writing the other. You're not exactly Other, nor are most of your characters. There are lots of people from marginalized groups devoted to doing this education, and their voices should be the ones talking about this. Pls think about how that erases those voices in favor of maintaining the status quo--straight white voice talking. I hope you'll reconsider doing this particular panel.

Dear fancyflowercrown,
I get your concerns. This sort of panel is not the first of its kind: here’s Jim Hines’ talking about when he moderated a Writing the Other panel. When NerdCon asked me to be on it, I had the same thought that Hines notes in the comments of that post:
When I mention “Writing the Other” as a panel idea or discussion topic, most of the younger writers immediately went to race/gender/orientation. Whereas when this has come up in discussion with more established writers, they went to “You mean like writing aliens, right?” 
I assumed I was asked to be on the panel because I’m write about magic and mental illness, and magic that sometimes is a metaphor for mental illness. As someone who is tired of seeing OCD and suicide treated flippantly in novels, I’m looking forward to talking about how I’d like to see writers who don’t have personal experience with those things tackle them respectfully without making the story an Issues story.
But I also assumed I was asked to be on the panel because I, like every writer, write about things that I don’t know firsthand. Yes, the Other can mean race. It can also mean gender. It can mean sexuality. It can also mean writing about someone in a profession that is not yours, from any economic background that is not yours, living an age you have yet to be, possessing a skill that you know nothing about, dwelling in a city or country you’ve never visited. I wrote about horses and Irish music because I knew horses and Irish music, but I remember being a reader who ripped authors a new one because they got either of those complicated elements wrong in a novel — they clearly hadn’t lived it or researched it well enough and yet they tackled it anyway. Now I’m the writer who cautiously steps into lives that I myself have not lived. Fear of getting it wrong stops every writer from going literary places they can’t say they’ve put their hands on. That fear means that a lot of writers choose the safest option: only writing stories about people who are just like them.
This panel is about that.
Which means it’s related to your concern. Because yes, we need racially diverse voices talking about writing racially diverse experiences — the We Need Diverse Books movement is doing some amazing things on this front. But we also need to get people like me — white bestsellers — to write racially diverse novels. As I’ve noted before, I’ve done a shitty job with it, for a lot of reasons, some my fault, some from the establishment telling me not to write about “unpopular” races. I’ve also occasionally done a shitty job talking about how I’ve done a shitty job, because it’s easy for the first reaction to be going on the defensive. I’d like to talk about that.
This panel is also about that.

For those of you only casually familiar (or completely unfamiliar - HOW DARE YOU) with Maggie Stiefvater she's a popular young adult author with a large following/readership.
The things that were said in response to this on Twitter were brought to my attention via retweet from an industry professional that I follow. In essence it encouraged me go check out the timelines of two prominent women of color in the Twitter writing community because they were saying important stuff about "things going on",

These women were beside themselves with disappointment, outrage, anger - basically all the negative emotions. And they were quite vocal about how "the author" should have stepped down and allowed someone marginalized to take her place on the panel. Because a white author had no business telling a story about a person of color.
I rolled my eyes, and kept scrolling (because no one really turns away from a train wreck).
But as I scrolled I found that more and more people were adding fuel to the hate-fire, and it was spreading. Other black authors started wagging their finger and shaking their head at "the author" (they didn't want to mention Stiefvater directly) and at the publishing industry in general.

To be clear - I am keenly aware that there is racism in the publishing industry. I'm not here to defend the traditional publishing industry on that front.
I'm speaking to those people who insist on bitching rather than doing.
I'm speaking to defend (someone who probably needs no defense) Maggie Stiefvater.
I am speaking because I am very scared that someone will see me and (for whatever reason) associate me with those who are being so damn ridiculous.

First, The Traditional Publishing Industry...
It should come as no surprise to any of you that money makes the world go 'round. We should all be able to agree that it's not right, but that's not the point. Okay.
To be honest - I have no idea what convention or festival Ms. Stiefvater is speaking at. What I do know is that the people who organize this convention didn't do it for free. I can safely assume that Ms. Stiefvater isn't doing it for free either.
Here in little ol' Amarillo Texas we have AmaCon. It's us trying to reach out and entertain our community of die hard fans, and loveable geeks. I'm guessing you've never heard of it. I've never been. You know why? The organizers can't afford to pay anyone of note to come (I think this year we hosted the original Green Ranger - Tommy - from Power Rangers). Yeah. That was our big special guest.
You see to get people like me out of bed, spend money, and wade through the masses in a public place I better get to see someone I admire, respect, read, or enjoy watching on television. Which means that the people organizing the event have to spend money on Big Names so that their event is worth seeing. Well done events bring attention to new or exciting things coming up in the entertainment world, an economical benefit to the hosting community, and allow fans to interact (however briefly) with the creators or stars of the things they love.
I would think it strange or a bit unfair if there were a PoC author of equal sales/fandom status as Ms. Stiefvater who was overlooked for the diversity panel. That would be an oversight. That would be cause to investigate claims of erasure or racism. But frankly, there's not. And the conference/festival organizers know that her name will bring people ($$$) in.
And Ms. Stiefvater gets paid for this appearance, I'm sure. So those asserting that she should have stepped down and promoted someone else to her position are not only taking food out of her mouth, but they also forget that SHE isn't the one who organized the diversity panel. She can refer and suggest someone better suited all day long, but if the conference/festival organizer doesn't think her recommendation is of equal or more financial value then they don't have to listen. She's a successful artist doing her job.
While we're on the subject of the publishing industry and money. Let's talk about how the publishing industry makes money.
Now, one of the things that REALLY irks me about Twitter-Outrage is that people will kick and scream all damn day long, but no one follows through with steps to fix the problem. I'm not going to do that today. This isn't just me telling those people that they're jackasses. I'll go the extra mile and offer a solution to the perceived problems at hand.
As for racism in the publishing industry - BUY BOOKS WITH DIVERSITY BY DIVERSE AUTHORS.
It's really that simple.
As for events/panels/spreading the word: Have you/your agent/your publisher made it known that you are willing to travel to _____ event? Have you/your agent/your publisher reached out to events you'd like to attend and offered your expertise?
Do we know who else is on the diversity panel with Ms. Stiefvater? Is she the only white, straight woman on it?
Do we know if anyone else was asked, but wasn't available so Ms. Stiefvater took their place? Was she really first choice?
Have you written and sold so many great books that your point of view isn't ignored? Are you someone the literary community and readers enjoy watching?
Have you clicked the "Contact" tab on the convention/festivals webpage and written to the organizers expressing displeasure with _____? Have your friends? Have your publishing constituents?
Have you boycotted support for _____ until they correct ______?
Basically have you tried anything other than pissing in the wind and encouraged others to do the same?
If the answer is Yes then the rest of this doesn't necessarily apply to you, and please reach out to me personally and share your experience.
So many people - Allies, the oppressed, those who just like to be mad about something - shine a spotlight and give some egregious headline, blogpost, book, or author 15 minutes of hate-fame. But it is so. very. rare. to see "I read _____ by _____, and it's quality (LGBQT, PoC) fiction!" or "_____ wrote about _____, and it's going to be so amazing, you guys!" or "This (NYT bestseller) is _______ done right! GO BUY IT NOW!"
And on the occasion that those affirmations of positive change are spoken into the twitterverse I have NEVER seen it take up a person's entire timeline. People don't do 20-tweet dissertations on all the things the author/book/agent/publisher did right. It's a mention. It's a rec in someone's direct message's not enough. There's not enough joy when we get what we want. Like spoiled brats at Christmas (or holiday of your choice) we open the next present and SCREAM for HOURS AND DAYS about how it isn't what we wanted.
Tired. It makes me real tired.

As for Ms. Stiefvater...
I have seen thousands of instances where authors have been criticized for erasing PoC from their books/worlds. It's literally happening right now. RIGHT NOW on twitter.
So a bestselling author DOESN'T erase PoC from his/her work, and then they get dragged through the shit because they didn't do it "right". Or they don't have the right because they're not _____. When their books receive attention and praise the bitter voices in the marginalized community say "it's not fair", "that's not my experience", "they're just doing it for ___"
Her response even hints that she might not speak up about racial diversity at all. Her area of expertise is mental illness. And there are those that cried out that "neurodiversity isn't the same!" - Do you understand how you sound? It's a DIVERSITY panel. It damn well better not be people talking about the same kind of diversity - THEN IT'S NOT DIVERSE!
She listened to the questioners concerns. But frankly, she's already obligated herself. There is no stepping down - probably not without financial consequences which aren't any of our business. So though she hears the questioner her name's on the ticket and it's set in stone. But what she did do was thoughtfully highlight how she intends to interact on this panel: speaking from her experience and how she is learning to write within and outside of it, encouraging others to take chances and write outside of themselves, and be a small part of a voice for people who aren't at her professional level who aren't there to speak.
Which brings me to those people accusing her of perpetuating the "White Savior" complex.
Not once did she indicate that she would be speaking about Racism, specifically, on the diversity panel. She's been harshly criticized in the past for NOT including PoC in her early work. She has mentioned taking steps to correct it. She now has PoC in some of her stories, and now people are screaming "it's not her place".
You don't want a successful voice who listens to you, who allies themselves with you, and speaks truth and honesty when you cannot be heard?
You'd rather go it alone (or as alone as you can be in publishing) and wag your finger at people you've reprimanded for (or for not) writing the other and become successful enough to speak at conventions and festivals?
Fine - then here's where I offer you a solution: DO IT.
All that wind, all that energy you waste whining about something that is completely outside of your control. Being nasty, negative, and destructive when you could be creating, building, refining a book that your agent can sell; a book that tens of thousands will read, and will garner the success that you know you deserve.
When that day comes people can drag your name into childish online attacks, and when you defend yourself they'll call you a thoughtless monster who's just a cog in the machine. But I think you'll find (should you achieve that level of success) that you'll know how you came to be that successful. You'll remember how hard you worked. You will know the sleepless nights, the blood, sweat, and tears you shed and when they come for you demanding more blood (for an unintentional slight) I hope you react with as much tact and poise as Ms. Stiefvater has.
People also mentioned her comment about "unpopular" races. She didn't say it. She was quoting someone (presumably an acquiring editor) who did. She's not the villain there. And on twitter I have seen an editor namelessly chastise another for passing on a project because it had an unbelievable amount of diversity (a black homosexual protagonist - Hey that sounds like me!) in it.
The racism/sexism/homophobia within the publishing industry is alive and well. And when someone is in a position of power to change it NO MATTER their race, gender, or orientation I think we all agree they should take the steps to try.
Stop nailing the wrong people to the cross, we need the wood to build something better for ourselves.

Finally...the nerve of you to make me a victim.
Ms. Stiefvater and her response was the match that lit the dumpster fire of a conversation about racism in publishing. It always circles back to PoC authors saying-without-saying that white people are basically the enemy, and their close (usually white - but marginalized in some other way) friends petting their heads and say "don't I know it!"

Charlie Pride, Oprah Winfrey, RuPaul, Will Smith, Don Cheadle, Toni Morrison, Morgan Freeman, Samuel L. Jackson, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Caitlyn Jenner, Sean Hayes, Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O'Donnell, Whoopi Goldberg, N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, Soman Chainani, Sabaa Tahir, Halle Berry, Marie Lu, Malinda Lo, Lupita Nyongo, Idris Elba, Chris Colfer, Clive Barker.....

My fingers are getting tired.
Those people (and many more) made it in their respective fields. Some of them are singers, some are actors, some are performers, and some are authors. ALL of them represent a marginalized community.
It's a stupidly short list, and not by any stretch of the imagination comprehensive. When compared to white people in the same professions it's comically short. I get that. It's not okay. Not okay at all.
None of them claim to be a victim. They address obstacles that their race or sexual orientation presented to them as they followed their career paths, but NONE of them were stopped or were broken as a result.
So you can go on about racism in publishing all day long. How it passes over authors of color, and maintains the status quo. You're not wrong. But if you pick up your toys and go home (or even threaten such a thing) you are contributing to the problem.
None of these people kicked, screamed, and pissed their pants when they were starting out. They forged ahead. They played the game because that's how you win.
And yes, right now, as PoC in the entertainment business (because authors are basically entertainers) the deck is stacked against us. It's not fair, but there is AMPLE evidence that we can still win.
It goes back to what I suggested earlier. Shut up for a minute, and focus that rage, that indignation, into being the Best. Be undeniable. Be so great that even in a subjective business like publishing you cannot be overlooked. That's what the bestselling PoC/marginalized folk you know did.
The trouble comes with once you're there. Once you've do you HELP the person who is you from 10 years ago? Got a PoC friend who can't write a book, but is a great CP or beta reader? Encourage them to become an agent. Encourage them to pursue a career in the business side of publishing.
Be the change you wish to see blah-blah-blah...
But to sit there and say "we're all just pushed to the side", "how dare they not take us seriously".
They can't take you seriously if you have nothing but your ideas to offer. Put pen to paper and write that book. Then when you're done make it better. Play the game, Win the game, Change the game. That's the only way change happens.
I don't want victory handed to me because people shouted "that's not fair". Do I want it to be fair? Yes. But I also know that millions of people complain about things they can't change every day. The one thing I have control of - the one thing YOU have control of - is how great you are.
So I (normally) don't RSVP to the Pity Party of the Week. I close Twitter and get to work because when someone gives me the chance to show them what I've got I want to be proud of what I've made - not worrying about how much vitriol (regardless if it was well-meaning or accurate) I can spew into the void.
I am not going to fall on the "I'm black and oppressed" sword. In my previous post you'll see that I've grown up culturally white. So when my characters are out there for all of you to see I'm scared that PoC twitter will say I didn't do it right. That I didn't capture the black experience in my YA fantasy novel.
I brought MY experience to the table. I've said this before in yet another previous post - but race IS NOT culture. So when white authors write people of color I don't get mad. Because the character is a person more than they are a black/Asian/native/deaf/blind/gay/lesbian/trans person. And each and every human experience is different. You want to read your experience then WRITE your experience - and make it good enough to sell. That's what I'm trying to do.
To be clear - I'm not denying (and will never deny) that PoC people are marginalized or oppressed. I will say that it's not an excuse. Others made it - you can too. It's harder and it's not fair, but until you start dealing the cards you have to play the hand your dealt - in the entertainment business (The justice system is a whole other ball of wax, but that still requires your active participation.)
Don't push away the people that can help us. Don't draw a line in the sand. Don't fight so hard against unity because you want so badly to be different. We are all different. It takes all of us to be great, and in the publishing world, no one goes on this journey alone. Diversity should be inclusive of Everyone. People of all races are trying the best ways they know how to change it. Don't spit in their face because it isn't the way you would do it, or the way you want it done. Don't like it then do it yourself.
But DO SOMETHING because all this whining makes my head hurt.

One last thing...
You aren't going to win by fighting. Not that way. Not in the entertainment business. Oprah isn't Oprah because she ruffled feathers and pissed people off.
It goes back to being undeniable. It goes back to being charming. To listening instead of speaking, to leading by example, to being someone we want to root for - To win you have to be your own hero. You have to be so charming, so charismatic that people WANT to listen to you.
I can't think of a single successful entertainer (in any medium) that aggressively complained their way onto a bookshelf or television screen.
I'm not saying the system isn't broken. I'm not saying your opinion is wrong. I am saying that there is a better way to fight this fight. And if you're not fighting and just complaining I am telling you to shut up and get out of the way. The rest of us have things to do.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Black Guy's White Privilege

I was twelve or thirteen when I first heard my grandfather use the word "nigger".

I was raised by my mother. When I speak of anyone in my family I'm refering to my maternal origins - my white family. I was born with my mother's maiden name, not my father's. My first memory of my paternal (black) family was when I was nine years old, and a few cousins and uncles came to visit (along with my father) during the Christmas holidays.

So my grandfather...the man who bought me my first Batman action figure when I was four. The man who took me hunting every year from ages ten to seventeen. The man who helped me make my first knife when I was in third grade. The man who taught me to shoot, taught me the value of silence, and who instilled in me the values that only old, white, bumpkin-turned-blue-collar men can...was hanging out, drinking beers with his buddies at the gun range, and casually used the word "nigger" right in front of me.

I've always had a knack for non-verbal communication despite all the "talks too much" notes on every single report card (right next to the ones that said "pleasure to have in class").

Radiating emotion while remaining completely silent is a skill that I have only perfected over the years. I like to think it started that day when Pa said that word.

I didn't say anything else to anyone the rest of the afternoon.

On our drive home my Pa was visibly uncomfortable.

"What's the matter?"


"You wanna say something, say it."

"You already said it."

"Said what?"

*pointed silence* then..."You know what you said."

Pa sighed, "Now there are things you gotta understand. Nigger just ain't a word. There are black niggers and there are white niggers. Nigger isn't all black people. You're not a nigger. Ol' boy I worked with out at the state - he ain't a nigger. A nigger's one o'them that goes 'round with his pants around is ass talkin' like he don't know goddamn English. White niggers are just the same. Not workin', lazy, ain't doin any good in the world...."

I love my Pa, and right then thirteen year old me sitting in the passenger's seat of the truck believed him. I believed that justification. I still thought the word was ugly. I still thought he was wrong to use it, but even then I understood that he was "from a different time".

I never told Nanna what Pa said. I never told Mom. I never told anyone because in his own non-apologizing apologetic way he had explained himself to me, and I was the only person he owed an explanation to. I nodded my understanding which in the parlance of Pa I knew equated forgiveness, and by the time we were home all was right with the world.

I haven't heard him use the word since. I'm sure he has, but never in my presence; which I think is another way of him apologizing without actually doing so. He's my Pa, and I love him.

But unfortunately his words stuck with me.

Not because I ascribed to his reasoning - it's funny how even something you don't take to heart still makes its mark on you - but because I love him, because I sought to understand him and his heart I looked around and I saw the differences between myself and other black people.

I often joke because of my feminine demeanor, penchant for Celtic music, mood-swings, and overall moralistic worldview that I'm a menopausal, red-headed, Baptist woman trapped in a young, black guy's body.

"You're not black" is something so many of my friends, co-workers, and family say. I even say it sometimes. Less often now, because over the past year I've come to own and appreciate that part of myself. I've made (am making) a very personal journey to celebrate my own diversity, and reveling in it instead of joking about it. Though I still joke because...I'm me.

In light of the murder of Mike Brown-

Do not doubt for one instant that it was anything other than murder

I've started to cringe at the thought of who I am once again. Like my very being, namely my skin, is a raw open wound and every shot fired by a policeman that kills an innocent black man is like a jab at that wound.

I walk out of the house, and in the very back of my mind. Way back behind the stage where I'm performing showtunes, behind the veil where I create my stories, beyond the clouds of my daydreams; nearest to my soul is the fear that I'll be pulled over on my way to or from work and somehow I'll be killed.

Writing it down, and seeing it in front of me gives it a body that makes it bigger and perhaps more dramatic than the flea-sized fear that has latched onto my heart. But it's there.

What I mean when I say that a part of my grandfather's reasoning stuck with me is how I wear fashionable clothes, and wear them appropriately. My diction is perfect. I'm articulate...intelligent...calm...relatively quiet...

I'm not black.

I used to shy away from talking about race for a million different reasons.

I used to roll my eyes and shake my head when I saw black people crying about about the plight of the black American on whatever talk show.

"If you paint a target on your back don't think someone isn't going to take a shot."

I used to say that. Those words actually came out of my mouth.

I used to think that if black people just shut up, wore their clothes right, and spoke appropriately that it would all go away. All their problems would be solved. If they would just "quit making the rest of us look bad" they'd be amazed how their perceived persecution vanished.

There's truth in that.

But you know what else is in there? Cultural genocide.

In my mind I expected an entire race and culture to abdicate their own values and way of life in favor of what I believed to be superior. My otherness was so ingrained in me that I couldn't look in the mirror and see what a stranger - what a police officer - sees. I am black, my intelligence, enunciated  and extensive vocabulary, my fashion's black because I'm black. I know that now, but I didn't then. I need to make sure you know it, too. There are no "white niggers and black niggers". A person's differing culture doesn't make them any less valuable. I always knew that, but it was only recently that I truly began to believe it. I was born brown, and into a family of immense white privilege.

It has taken the murder of Mike Brown, and talking about it with my mother, and talking about it with my spouse, and talking about it with my best friend, Kim, to understand what I expected of black people in terms of behavior was racism.

Not only was I a menopausal, redheaded, Baptist woman, I was a menopausal, redheaded, Baptist woman from the 1940's. "Let them be, but let them be this way"


I was raised to believe, and in my soul still believe that race does not matter.

To me it does not matter...
In a sense of "can we be friends", "would I work with you/sit next to you/share a meal with you". I, personally, live a colorblind life. I've shared my thoughts on that in terms of writing and storytelling before.

I think a lot of you, my friends and peers, feel that way as well. The color of a person's skin doesn't matter (in the most well-meaning way possible) to you.

I naively championed that method of thinking, and way of life.

But the murder of Mike Brown taught me that way will never work. Not in our lifetime at least.

We need to see color.

Because in being colorblind we have become simply blind.

I was shocked in August when Mike Brown was murdered. Shocked, but foolishly certain that justice would prevail and that there would be one more dirty police officer off the streets.

Then things started to get ugly.

I started following Shaun King on Twitter.

I was tempted to stop following him; he was saying some things that made me uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable in the hitting-too-close-to-home way, but in the ugh-another-black-guy-making-us-all-victims way.

But the wheat was greater than what I then thought was chaff. He was the most reliable and convenient source of news on what was happening in Ferguson, Missouri (for me).

As things escalated and became so amazing, ground-breaking, and horrifying I was sincerely shocked at what I wasn't seeing.

As a writer who hopes one day to be an author I follow a number of literary agents on Twitter. All of them are champions of diversity with hundreds (if not thousands) of followers, almost all of them represent what I write, all of them are funny, intelligent people that I would love to have a drink with; all but three of them are white.

I follow authors who have written amazing stories that I thoroughly enjoy. I'm even actual internet-friends with some! All of them are white.

I follow my peers who are in the query/drafting trenches just like me, and we support/read for/encourage one another...all but a handful of them are white.

No one was talking about Ferguson.

Not until tonight.

The outrage nearly broke the twitterverse. Which made me happy-sad.

Happy-sad why?

Happy-sad (we need a better word for this emotion in English) because though I realize that having nothing original or of value to contribute to the conversation often means it's best to not say anything...but these people who I genuinely respect, love, or admire had no problems articulately conveying disgust tonight when we learned Darren Wilson would receive no punishment for his crime.

Where were the retweets, the alerts, the support for Ferguson before tonight? I feel like so many advocates for diversity were waiting in the wings when all of our voices combined might have been heard.

I feel like the white people who take other white people to task for white privilege were waiting for the (obviously inevitable) injustice to cry out instead of crying out for justice.

Feminism, We Need Diverse Books - both causes near and dear to my heart, and those are battlegrounds that we're still fighting on, but we forgot the history that went down in Missouri until tonight. We ignored the monster even after it killed one who we claim to advocate for, we didn't join in the hunt for the creature, we didn't rally and make our voices heard to warn others. We watched as so very few others did it for us.

I'm guilty, too.

I retweeted links about falsified police reports, crime scene analyses, witness reports. I tried to get it out there. I re-blogged, and tweeted begging for everyone to remember Ferguson. To keep up with Shaun King and his quest for knowledge about the murder of Mike Brown.

But I know I didn't do enough.

The decision not to indict Darren Wilson was proof that none of us did enough. Our President's admonition for the people - NOT the police - to refrain from violence proves that we weren't talking enough. We weren't engaging enough. We were not heard. Even the President only hears what he wants to hear. Those who cared enough to mention anything about Mike Brown called for peace. They politely and peacefully called for justice.

But black people begging for justice is a tune America has been hearing for 400 years.

I ignored it for a long time.

I think we all have been ignoring it because I think our white privelege has led us to believe that this is a battle that we've already fought and won.

After all, I can walk into your same restaurant, own a home, drive a car, vote; we are not separate but equal, but we're all thrown together in this diverse little quagmire where "race doesn't matter".

Then we give the side-eye to black people who cry out for justice.

"What more do you want?" We wonder.

"What color your skin is doesn't matter to me!" We say encouragingly.

So we turned our heads away from Ferguson. Kept it in our periphery because our white privelege allowed us to take for granted that in this day and age such a thing couldn't happen. Wouldn't happen. Not in our America.

I'm a black guy talking about racism. One of many. I'm now one of those people that used to make me roll my eyes and shake my head.

You're my friend. You're not racist, but statistically speaking you're probably white. This is a taboo thing for a black person to say, I think, but...I need your help. I need you to shout with me. Shout for me. I am not too proud to say that I need a white person's help, or that I need your voice.

But I'm singing a centuries-old song. It's time to add your voice, and write a new verse.

Racism isn't a Black, Asian, Indian, Native American issue. It is Our issue. It is a human issue. One group speaking out isn't enough. I need you. We need you.

Everyone needs to speak out against the oldest crime in America's history. It'll take all of us to seek out and destroy the monster that has killed too many already.

I was pulled over once when I was in college.

There are two roads leading out of Amarillo. I-27 branches off at the city limits. One way takes you to Dallas (near my hometown) and the other takes you to Oklahoma City. Watch carefully because if you blink you'll be in the wrong lane and headed in vastly different directions.
I was eighteen and it was my second semester in college. I wasn't paying attention, and I ended up on my way to Oklahoma City instead of home. I had no idea where I was; I'd only made the trip four times before that.
I had just gotten off work and jumped in the car after running home to grab a bite to eat. I was still wearing my work slacks, and a button-up, short-sleeve, garishly printed shirt (I know, gross. Don't judge). No one needs to look pretty when they're driving for more than four hours.

Anyway - trying to figure out how to get back on the road home I changed lanes a little erratically and was pulled over by a highway patrolman.
He approached my car and asked for my license and insurance like normal.
A few minutes later he returned to my window and asked me to step out of my vehicle.
I complied.

He asked me to follow him to his car.

He opened the passenger door of the police car and I got in.

I sat there while he ran my license with my heart pounding in my chest. It was a four lane highway in the early evening, in the middle of near nowhere. I had NEVER heard of a police officer inviting someone into the passenger's seat of their police car.

He asked me where I was headed, and I told him.

He asked me what I was doing in Amarillo. I explained that I was going to school at the University in the next town.

He asked me what my major was. I told him.

He asked me where I worked. I told him.

There was a brief moment of uncomfortable silence then he handed me my license and gave me directions on how to get back to the road home.

I was so shaken that it was literally months before I thought about the oddness of it.

Even now as I recall the incident my hands get a little shaky, and it's hard to type.

I think if I hadn't been so young. If I hadn't been so obviously wide-eyed and reeking of goody-two-shoes...that officer might have pushed the situation further into a very dark direction.

I think when we go on our roadtrip next summer that I'll be terrified when a cop pulls me over.

I think our justice system isn't safe for the innocent, or for people of color. I sincerely think that officer contemplated sexually assaulting me. Now I think that an officer will kill me (I'm older now and my looks are starting to go - Starting to go? HA! They're at home and in bed.)

What if I wasn't there to tweet the banal to ridiculous things that happen during my day?

What if I wasn't there to share silly Harry Potter links, and squeal and scream at you when amazing, or crazy things happen?

What if I am not able to share my worlds and stories?

What if I'm not able to come home to the man I love?

What if I'm not there for Thanksgiving or Christmas?

What if....

Because of a corrupt and despicable justice system so many stories aren't being told by people of color. Too many people of color aren't coming home to their loved ones. So many young black kids aren't going to be there this Thanksgiving and Christmas...or the next.

Raise your voices. All of you. Make them listen, make the truth the only the thing they can possibly hear.
We've been too silent for too long. We don't want there to be a problem so badly that we're ignoring its existence instead of conquering it. I'm done with my white privilege. Are you?

I'm embracing my diversity and yours, and from now on I'm fighting for both of us.

I love you.

Until we meet again...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Day-Job Magic

I love my job. Legitimately.

I've not always been able to say that, and yes getting up and going to work in the morning isn't nearly as enjoyable or fulfilling as writing. I mean, let's be real.
I work at a Veterinary Clinic, and each and every day is truly amazing. I've never had any other job where I could sit back and say "I could do this for the rest of my life" until now.

The main reasons why my job is so wonderful are the Doctors I work for. There are seven doctors at our clinic and each is a special brand of excellent

I'm told Dr. B actually continued operating on a dog as her own appendix ruptured. She came back to work in the following days carrying her IV pole around with her. True story.

Just last night, Dr. M missed the main event of her son's 16th birthday party because she was draining fluid out of the abdomen of a dog with cancer.

But this post is about Dr. H.

I love her. She's Dodger and Tesla's (my dogs) doctor. She neutered and spayed them both, and when Tesla had horrible gastro-intestinal issues after we adopted her Dr. H did everything to help her.

Okay so...THE STORY....

Texas Panhandle Pet Savers (TPPS) is one of several No-Kill animal shelters in Amarillo. For those of you who might think "No-KIll" has an ambiguous meaning let me clarify - No-Kill shelters do not euthanize the animals they receive.

By contrast, our local Human Society gives animals 3 days to be adopted. If an animal is not adopted in 3 days it is euthanized. If the animal is not healthy when it is brought into the Humane Society it is euthanized.

No-Kill shelters feed, walk, bathe, and even give medical attention to all dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens that they take in until they are adopted - even if the pets are never adopted they are still cared for.

15 days ago an approximately one year old little boxer girl was brought to our clinic by a representative of TPPS.

"You know," TPPS-lady sighed, "We don't really know her name. She was an owner surrender [her owners no longer wanted/could care for her], and when we asked him her name you know what he said? He said 'It doesn't matter, y'all are gonna put her down anyway'. So we've just been calling her Mia."

My face: ----->

Mia was sick. Real sick. Vomiting, gastro-intestinal issues, she wasn't able to gain weight because there would be days when she wouldn't eat; the whole nine yards. Given the symptoms we could observe at first glance, everyone in the clinic assumed Parvo, and so we tested her.

No Parvo...well not absolutely Parvo. The details are a little hairy, but suffice it to say given her symptoms, and the absence of any other disease that could be confirmed by blood/fecal tests we could only treat Mia for Parvo.

Mia did good some days, some days not so good, but then this last Sunday Mia took a terrible turn.

She'd been in our hospital's isolation room for almost 2 weeks by this time. Four of our seven doctors had examined her, ran tests, and monitored her treatment/progress.

Then Dr. H came back from vacation.

After observing Mia and reviewing her chart Dr. H thought she may have an idea of what could be wrong with Mia.

The answer couldn't be found (conclusively) by any ultrasounds, or x-rays. It would require exploratory surgery.

Now since Mia had no official owner that means TPPS would be footing the bill. Exploratory surgery is not cheap, and animal rescue organizations run soley on donations and the kindness of strangers. That's money spent that will never be recovered. The adoption fee for our local rescues ranges from $70 to $100.

BEFORE Mia's surgery her bill was thousands of dollars. If all went well she would recover with us and go back to Texas Panhandle Pet Savers with a foster family, and eventually be adopted for around $100.

Understand that when organizations spend money saving sick or injured animals that prevents them from rescuing/taking in other animals that are in just as dire need. They can only afford to take care of so many, and there are ALWAYS more animals in need than can be immediately helped.

Heaven forbid Mia didn't survive the surgery - that doesn't nullify all the care given to her, or all the time and skill of the doctors - they would still have a very large bill.

Thankfully, the woman who helps run TPPS is a longtime client of our clinic. She knows all of our doctors are some of the best in the state. She trusted Dr. H to perform the surgery knowing the risk and the cost.

I got to sneak glances in the operating room yesterday while performing my own duties at work as Dr. H found exactly what she thought/hoped she would find....

Your word for the day is "Intussusception".

Part of Mia's intestine had slid INSIDE another part of her intestine creating a blockage. This explained her small appetite, vomiting, gastro-intestinal distress, lethargy, and rapid weight loss.

Dr. H started surgery around 4:15 yesterday (we recheduled her late afternoon appointments with other doctors so she could operate). I got to watch as she removed a damaged part of the bowel and sew it back together. I left at just after 6pm as Dr. H finished the last stitch sewing Mia's abdomen closed.

Today when I walked into work for our monthly clinic meeting Mia was up and around in our treatment area eating a bowl of food. She is doing just fine, and in true boxer fashion is loathe to take orders.

Best part - Mia has a home.

Dr. H decided that if she could save Mia then she wanted to keep her, and help pay the medical bills for her.

Mia might not be her name forever - she doesn't really know it, or respond to it. She's only about a year old and thanks to Dr. H she'll have many more years to get acquainted with whatever name she's eventually given.

This is only Dr. H's most recent accomplishment. I've seen her extend and improve the quality of life for a terminally ill dog for over a year. She's quick and efficient, and always has an answer for the millions of questions that I ask her on a regular basis.

Working even tangentially alongside Dr. H, Dr. B, Dr. R, Dr. C, Dr. S, Dr. M, and Dr. N is humbling; I'm proud to be in the same building with them on a daily basis. They are why I love my job.

I hope that if you have a veterinarian that they are as fantastic as the doctors I work with every day. I hope you tell them how much you appreciate everything they do. Mostly, I want you to be as much in awe of them as I am.

So do something with yourself today. Recognize the love in the world around you. Know that there are people out there who are doing good things because they just can't help it...and share their story.

Until we meet again...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

On Criticism and Bad Reviews

Well it should come as no surprise that not everyone is going to love you.

The same goes for your work.

This morning I was treated to this article posted in the Guardian. If you are unwilling or incapable of clicking the link then I'll summarize: A young author's book was given a bad review on GoodReads and despite all admonitions against pursuing the issue the author stalked the reviewer.

There are some telling things in that article. We are introduced to a author who is young and insecure. Even after being handed a bound and finished copy of her book she tries to make corrections. There's a red flag if ever there was one.

But this isn't about (further) criticizing that author.

This is a story about how I received a review/criticism/judgment that quite literally changed the course of my life.

Senior year of high school. Isn't that when all truly momentous things happen? ;-)

I've related before how I was a theatre kid. I was so involved in theatre that I actually competed in theatrical events.
Texas has UIL (University Interscholastic League) other states have similar (if not the same) organizations dedicated to academic rather than athletic competition.

My favorite UIL event (to this day) is One Act Play.
"One Act" is where a play of traditional length that usually has had a successful run professionally is cut down to forty minutes long (2 hours cut to 40 minutes) if the play runs even 40:01 minutes the school/cast/team is disqualified from the competition. So really your goal is to get down to 37 - 38 minutes and perform a complicated, in-depth story on stage to maximum effect.
It is exhilarating and challenging to say the least. I get all twitchy and goosebumpy thinking about it.

My first One Act competition was in eighth grade (the last year of Junior high is the first year for One Act). I was "Oliver Slime" the titular character in "The Villain of Rose Gulch Hollow". I had a handlebar mustache (of faux hair and spirit gum, of course), a fedora, and a cape. It was a melo-comedy; all over-the-top exaggeration, cape flinging, and mustache twirling. Truly, it was the most fun I have ever had doing a show (as it should be for kids).
We competed against 5 other schools with only one round of competition, and our lead actor - Ben (who went on to be in every show alongside me through high school) - as "Hector Trumuscle" won Best Actor. I was one of the eight All-Star Cast award winners. Life was grand.

Real One Act - cutthroat, work-your-ass off One Act started in High school.
Freshman year I was Civilian #3 - I got shot in the head in the first ten minutes of our cutting of "Tall Tales".
In High School there are four rounds of One Act competition. District (with relatively nearby schools - our furthest competing team came from 2 hours away), Area (further away schools), Regionals, and State (need I explain?).
Freshman year we didn't advance out of District - which at the time was par for the course.

My sophomore year we upped our game. All of my friends were/are really very talented. We did "The Shadow Box". Characters dying of terminal illnesses living in the same place where friends and family come to visit. The story is framed by The Voice (that was me!). I stood in the audience of the theater, and without amplification (it's against competition rules) I spoke to the characters on stage. My theatre voice (which has since become my phone-voice; I call it my man-voice) proved to be effective. At District I won an All-Star Cast award, and we advanced to Area. From Area we advanced to Regionals (the first time in MANY years for our school). Even though we didn't make it to State we felt so accomplished and were all super-ready to bring it next Spring as juniors.

My junior year I was cast as the best friend in "What I Did Last Summer". I made the grievous error in talking back to my mother one evening and she pulled me from the show two weeks before District competition. (We'd been rehearsing the show for almost 8 weeks at the time.)
The show wasn't terribly strong (with or without me) and we didn't advance at all.

Then came senior year.
"The Boys Next Door" - a drama about mentally disabled men living in a group home under the supervision of their caretaker. Tony Goldwyn (Fitz from "Scandal") played in the film version from the late 80's.
I played Lucien P. Smith.
We spent weeks not only rehearsing but also volunteering at a local nursing home for the mentally disabled in order to prevent our performances from being cartoonish or offensive.
My character was what people stereotypically think of when the words "mentally disabled" are used. If he spoke more than a few lines at a time, became stressed or upset Lucien would begin singing the ABC's (though he cannot read). He is a grown man that only wants to wear his Spider-Man pajamas. (These are all things written in the script - not my choices as an actor).
There is a moment in the script where Lucien is on trial. When he is asked a hard question he begins singing the ABC's but then the "disabled" portion of him melts away (for the audience) and he has a long, intelligent monologue detailing his exact feelings regarding his situation and how he's viewed as a person. Then the show resumes and the disabled aspect of his character returns.
We advanced out of District. I won Best Actor.
We advanced out of Area. I won Best Actor.
We advanced out of Regionals for the first time in 27 years. I won Best Actor.

For the first time in almost three decades our school is performing against 6 other schools of similar size (3A) from all over the state.

Two schools advance out of each competition. One alternate is selected.
Our competition that came with us out of regionals performed "Sweet Nothings In My Ear". It is a drama surrounding a family where a hearing father, deaf mother, and deaf son are going through a divorce. Truly, the details are sketchy in my memory. What blew me away was that the cast in the light on stage spoke in only sign language. The hearing father spoke, but the mother's lines and the lines of all the deaf characters (mom, son, grandparents) were spoken from other performers dressed in all black standing in a line along the back of the stage out of the light.
You don't understand the amount of talent that takes. To perform/emote physically without being melodramatic and unable to speak. To speak with vehement (divorce-drama level) emotion without being able to move any part of your body.
They were amazing.

We have up to seven minutes to build and decorate our entire set. Competition regulations.
In full costume and make-up, Ben and I are waiting just offstage behind our entrance point just as the giant orange curtain rises, and we hug each other. I've never had a hug full of more mutual hope and excitement before or since. We had been performing together since junior high (grade school if you count those tedious-yet-adorable "programs" little kids do in school). Every show, every theatre class (and most academic ones since junior high) we were in them together. We were never best friends, he was really the closest thing I had to a co-worker before I became an adult. This is our biggest moment.

The Best Actress and Actor winners from the State One Act Play UIL competition are granted huge scholarships and automatic entrance into the theatre program at the University of Texas (one of the top schools in the nation for theatre education). If I won Best Actor yet again. I wouldn't have to apply for schools (which I had been putting off for months), I wouldn't have to worry about academic future would have been set. And, given my history, I was the one to beat.

One judge.
One judge at each competition judges six to seven 40 minute shows. They are all experienced theatre professionals. Most of them are/were professors. Some of them have even worked professionally on stage or screen in their prime.
This judge...we'll call him "Geoff" was a notorious hard-ass in the academic theatre community.
Geoff was hard because he was good. He was damn good. He knew theatre like nobody knew theatre in Texas. His name carried (and still carries to some degree) a great deal of respect.

After each competition when all is said and done; after all the awards are handed out the judge then meets individually with each theatre team. Advancing or winning teams meet the judge last.

We'd all changed out of our costumes and removed our make-up. We'd all bought or brought our best outfits for the awards ceremony. For the record, I wore a black, pinstriped blazer, an audaciously colorful shirt, cute jeans, and black dress shoes.

The Awards:
Honorary All-Star cast is announced first. Eight individuals.
Then All-Star cast. Eight individuals.
Then Best Actress.
Finally, Best Actor.

They didn't call my name for Honorary All-Star cast.
They didn't call my name for All-Star cast.
Best Actress - I honestly can't remember. I was too breathless with anxiety.
Then it was the moment we'd all been waiting for.

But I noticed another name hadn't been called.
The boy, Sergio, the father/husband from "Sweet Nothings In My Ear.
I knew in those hour-long-seconds before they announced his name, and I almost vomited all over my specially chosen outfit.
I clapped when they announced Sergio's name.
He totally earned it.

Then we had our meeting with the judge, Geoff.

"Lucien," his eyes take a minute to find me in our group of sixteen kids though I am the only brown one with enormous hair. "Your energy and rhythm seemed to mimic Norman's. In the future I'd suggest really defining your own sense of character. The monologue toward the end was good..."

Our director/teacher/part-time parent (for as much time as we spent with her) had taught us well.
Never under any circumstances speak to the judge unless you are asked a question. You are to smile when appropriate and nod. You agree. No matter what is said. YOU AGREE. Because whatever you think, whatever I think, changes NOTHING.
Those were the rules. Period. The end. Dot com. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
When we did "The Shadow Box" my sophomore year a cast member attempted to argue with the judge....things did not go well for him when we got on the bus home.
I said nothing to Geoff. I kept my face politely even, and nodded when he finally glanced up at me from his notepad.

"Norman" played by my friend, Josh, really was excellent. I can disagree and ask "how can I mimic someone who comes on stage three minutes after me? Wouldn't their 'energy and rhythm' match mine?"
But it's neither here nor there.
I was not ruined, or even devastated after the judge's critique.
Our theatre teacher's best friend (the director for our the school who competed against us for District, Area, and Regionals) cried, hugged me, and told me I was robbed. She bought me lunch.
Life went on.
I was offered scholarships based on my awards and auditions for several schools, and I chose the one that suited me best (it was far enough away, but close enough to home). And to this day I'm glad things went the way they did.

In fact...

My freshman year in college my university hosted the 2A (smaller school division) Area One Act Play competition in our theatre.
I was chosen to be the Judge's Assistant.
The Judge? None other than "Geoff".

I was in charge of escorting him to and from the theatre, getting his coffee, timing the plays...assistant things.

It was less than a year since my high school experience. He didn't remember me, and - of course - I said NOTHING about our previous encounter the year before.
He was nothing but polite, and friendly. He intimated to my theatre professor at the time that this would be the last competition he judged because he just wasn't feeling it anymore.
My professor joked (with me) that it was because other people are beginning to notice how senile he's becoming.

When you submit yourself for consideration, for review...for put yourself at the mercy of those you aim to please.
It can sting.
I say "It" can sting because the word isn't "failure". It is in English, but that's not the right word for it.
You cannot fail at Art. No matter the format. Someone Somewhere will love you. Someone Somewhere will think you're amazing. And so too (perhaps more often than not) Someone Somewhere will always have something negative to say.
Attacking, stalking, even casually reaching out to someone whose opinion of your work is negative when it comes to something so deeply spiritual/personal as art is wrong. Period. The End. Dot com.
Nothing you say can or will change their mind, because when it comes to art it isn't logic or the mind that speaks but the heart.

The author who repeatedly made poor judgment calls when dealing with an online reviewer seems to be unaware of the artistic experience. At the very least she is unwilling to accept dissenting opinions. The premise of her book relayed in the article seemed casually interesting though divergent from my typical tastes, but I will not support the career of a person who does not have the sense to listen to peers and friends when faced with adversity.
I won't be buying her books.
I hope this experience has helped her grow (though the closing lines of the article hint otherwise).
I hope you learn to accept criticism no matter how possibly invalid you may feel it to be, or how  negatively you may feel after hearing it.
I hope we all hold one another accountable for being better people.

That's how I like to end things - with hope :-)

Until we meet again...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

777 Blog Hop! I've Been Tagged!

I've been tagged by the incomparable Melanie Conklin in the 777 Blog Hop.
Those who have been tagged have to open their current work-in-progress (WIP), and go to the 7th pages, 7 lines down, and post the next 7 lines.
I'm loathe to share unedited, first-draft work (it's like seeing an unfinished painting *clutches pearls*), but not only am I really excited (and burdened) by this project, I love Melanie dearly so here goes...

This is my first venture into the Science Fiction realm. I'm a fantasy kid at heart, but this story has been nagging at me for quite a long time.

Christopher "Kit" Song, and his best friends, twins, Hannelore & Liam Hamilton build an unidentifiable machine based on schematics that were uploaded to Kit's laptop.
This device teleports them to what quickly becomes the scene of a murder, and from there they're taken to the bottom of the ocean where a highly advanced - and dangerous - society is in desperate need of its long lost hero.

“But…” Liam’s eyes widened.

“How?” Hannelore finished her brother’s thought.

Kit turned around to see their point of entry. A much more sophisticated version of the device that was attached the doorframe of Kit's closet was built into the top of the closed door in front of him. This version of the machine made theirs look like a crazy person's trash sculpture, but nevertheless, the device they constructed had worked.

“I knew it,” Kit grinned. "We built a real teleporter!"

I cringe when I see unpolished words, but there you have them!
Now I need to find other people to tag!

Hope you're having an excellent week.

Until we meet again...

Friday, September 26, 2014

Cover Reveal & Author Interview: RUNNING AWAY by Julie Hutchings

Today is a very special day.

Approximately six years ago Julie Hutchings started writing what would become her debut novel, Running Home.

Pictured: Fantastic, Unique Achievement
Julie is a phenomenal human being, exemplary mother, and to say she is a talented author is a gross understatement.
Pictured above: My gorgeous friend, Julie
Julie’s debut novel, Running Home, giving you vampires with a Japanese mythology pants kicking is available through Books of the Dead Press. Julie revels in all things Buffy, has a sick need for exotic reptiles, and drinks more coffee than Juan Valdez and his donkey combined, if that donkey is allowed to drink coffee. Julie’s a black belt with an almost inappropriate love for martial arts. And pizza. And Rob Zombie. Julie lives in Plymouth, MA, constantly awaiting thunderstorms with her wildly supportive husband and two magnificent boys.

So imagine how honored I am to have her as a guest on the blog today.

We're here to celebrate the release of the sequel to Julie's first novel Running Home which is entitled Running Away, and reveal the cover!!!

Unfamiliar with Running Home? Here. Educate yourself.

I was (am) one of the first to be critical of "vampire books". Julie didn't write a vampire book. She wrote what those books aspire to be. Rooted in Japanese mythology the Shinigami series is the most original take I've seen on the creature-of-the-night mythos. The woman's words and creativity are treasures.

I asked Julie if she would be amenable to doing an author interview for the cover reveal for Running Away and she was gracious enough to clear out a piece of her schedule for little ol' me.

Without further adieu please welcome Mrs. Julie Hutchings:
Let's just dive right in! Okay so, Running Away is the second part of a trilogy. In the first book you rose above the traditional and trendy vampire formula to create this fantastic mythology and these breathtaking characters - what do you hope the second book accomplishes aside from driving the story forward?

Gah, thank you! I was determined to one up the first book. I really wanted to give you the same level of unexpected, how the hell is she going to get out of this moments but make sure the characters grew powerfully. I didn't want to give more of the same. I wanted to give deeper. Hehehehe

Ah, I don't think anyone here as an objection to giving deeper ;-) What is the most surprising thing you learned while writing Running Away?

That I could make up a man that made me turn my head from Nicholas!
Blasphemy! If I recall, Nicholas looks something like this:

There's no turning your head away from that, but I'll take your word for it.
Being as spoiler-free as possible, what are you most excited about the audience seeing/discovering/experiencing in Running Away?

Ooooooh, I can't wait for everyone to see Eliza change. *zips mouth*
You terrible tease (don't stop!)
From the beginning you knew Ellie's story was going to be a trilogy. How did Running Away evolve from what you initially thought it would be to what it is now?

Oh lord, so much more than I ever thought possible. I had no idea how strong a vampire she was going to become. She's a powerful person, and it makes her a kickass vampire. I also had no idea I was going to wind so much more mythology throughout. I had no idea Kieran was going to EXIST.

Rumor has it that a portion of Running Away takes place in Japan, what did you do to research that aspect of the story? What is the most unexpected or fascinating thing you learned?

The whoooooole thing is there. Oh lord, you name it, I researched it. People thought I was nuts for looking up seasonal fruits of Japan. The train stations and stops. How to behave when you enter a temple. The language, the differences between the trees on different sides of the mountains, I stopped at nothing. I have a notebook full. I loved learning about what a person in mourning is viewed like in a ceremonial temple! I won't tell you, but wow.

The tone of Running Home shifts at the end more toward the Dark and Twisty. How would you describe the overall feel of Running Away? And as a writer, where did this story take you emotionally?

Dangerous. Grim. Unsettling and sexy. This story was important to me because Eliza really takes control and questions her life, seeking answers instead of being at the receiving end of them. It was really difficult to watch Eliza cut her losses and leave New Hampshire, to never fully win, but I'm so proud of her for becoming who she has that it still chokes me up.

What is the one thing you think readers will enjoy most about Running Away? What is something you hope they'll notice?

I really think readers are going to enjoy Kieran as much as I do, and the way he interacts with the other vampires. And I hope people notice the possibility of one or more side stories that might become something more.  

Now THAT makes me sit up and take notice. All eyes are going to be on this mysterious Kieran.
I love the author's personal connection to their characters. Truly these people who exist only in pages and words become every bit as real as each of us. When Eliza looks in the mirror who does she see?

Grim though it may be, death. She sees someone that carries death with her before she sees the person Nicholas fell in love with and the person who will change a race of vampires. But I will say that before the end of this book, the first word that pops into her head when she looks in the mirror is Shinigami.

What is a question you've wanted to answer that hasn't been asked?

"How much money can I give you and will you please take all these reptiles and keep them forever?" My answer is you can give me all your money and I'll take care of you and I'll take all the reptiles to keep forever.

Ha! Keep writing books like this, and you can have all of my money. I'll gladly hand over all the reptiles. *shudders*
The fun question: A Genie appears and offers to grant you three wishes...what do you wish for?

I'm such a jerk, I totally would wish for immortality for me and everybody I love, including you. (This clearly comes with a huge amount of money because of all the years between us and all, so I don't have to eat up a wish on THAT. And YES I would absolutely feed the world and build all the homeless homes and take care of everyone.) I'd wish to be able to fly. And I'd wish for everyone to have one day with a person they never thought they'd meet or never thought they'd see again.
That last wish gives you a perfect insight into this woman's incredible heart. Thank you Julie. There aren't enough superlatives to convey how truly tremendous you are.

Now for the thing you all came to see...

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the COVER for Running Away by Julie Hutchings:

"Eliza Morgan is desperate to escape the horrors of her mortal life and understand why death follows her, leaving only one man, Nicholas French, in its wake. He’s the one she loves, the one she resents, and the one fated to make her legendary among the Shinigami– an ancient order of vampires with a “heroic” duty to kill. He’s also decaying before her eyes, and it’s her fault.

On the ghostlike mountaintop in Japan that the vampires consider home, Eliza will be guided by the all-powerful Master for her transition to Shinigami death god. When Eliza discovers that sacrificing her destiny will save Nicholas, she’s not afraid to defy fate and make it so—even when Nicholas’s salvation kills her slowly with torturous, puzzle-piece visions that beg her to solve them. Both Nicholas and his beloved Master fight her on veering from the path to immortality, but Eliza won’t be talked out of her plan, even if it drives the wedge between Nicholas and her deeper.

Allying with the fiery rebel, Kieran, who does what he wants and encourages her to do the same, and a mysterious deity that only she can see, Eliza must forge her own path through a maze of ancient traditions and rivalries, shameful secrets and dark betrayals to take back the choices denied her and the Shinigami who see her as their savior. To uncover the truth and save her loved ones, Eliza will stop at nothing, including war with fate itself."

At this very moment you can buy both Running Home and the sequel Running Away. You're most likely reading this on your phone or tablet and whaddya know - you can be reading the e-book version of these babies less than 30 seconds from now.

Go ahead and get your read on. I'll wait here.

Until we meet again get to know Julie better:

Julie on Goodreads:


Don’t forget to join in on the book buzz using hashtag #RunningAway