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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thoughts on Censorship from a Sheltered Kid: Banned Books Week

In case you were unaware we are in the middle of Banned Books Week.

We live in a culture that is so full of ire that there is a week where we pay tribute to expensive pieces of time-sucking entertainment that people hate so much that they don't want anyone else - specifically children - to experience it.

I was loathe to write this post because I don't feel like I'm imparting any new or useful information to you, dear reader. I know that if you're reading this then I'm most likely preaching to the choir, or at the very least to the converted.

Alas, I saw THIS today. THIS yesterday. And Many More things in days and weeks prior.

So instead of being a silent, disapproving observer I'm telling you what censorship and everything it entails means to me.

I was a sheltered kid.

My mom was a Momma Bear. I didn't go play in the front yard unsupervised. I didn't walk down the street to play with the neighbor kids. I didn't stay home alone until I was twelve - and even then it was for only two or three hours. I didn't cross the street. I didn't...well, you get the idea.

Indoors. No after school friends. Adult within speaking distance if not within reach at all times.

Mom worked nights, and remember she was a Momma Bear so even my grandparents (who watched me in the evenings/mom's working weekends) abided my Mom's rules Or Else. Everyone in my family obeyed Mom's rules for me. Because...Mom.

Naturally, television and books became my best friends during my formative years.

Strangely enough - considering my career of choice and favorite pastime - no one in my family is a reader. My Nanna (grandmother) reads only on occasion; so maybe one to two books per year. Weird, right?

I can thank R.L. Stine for my nearly religious fervor when it came to reading. At seven years old (second grade) I began devouring GOOSEBUMPS books.

Gore. Dead people trying to kill kids. Monsters chasing kids. Executioners stalking kids with an axe. Kids becoming monsters. Cameras that predict how you die when they take your picture. Ghosts looking for revenge.

Those were all Goosebump books, and by the time I was 9 I had read them all.

Later I started reading the Animorphs books, and the original 14 L. Frank Baum Oz books. But those are easy...those (to my knowledge) are unobjectionable.

When I was 11 I was at the local Books-A-Million and saw THE STAND by Stephen King.

It's a beast of a book. A little over 1100 pages. It was the beginning of the summer, and I was with Mamaw (my great grandmother) and the paperback was $7.99 - fifteen minutes later I walked out with what I didn't know would be one of the greatest books I ever read.

Let's backtrack.

My mother was very young when she had me. I watched all the typical cartoons a kid watched in the late 80's early 90's, and I had a broad selection of Disney films to watch to be sure. But my earliest years while my mom put herself through nursing school we were nearly inseparable. Which meant that oftentimes I watched what she watched because my mother was an adult, and she loved me...and I was almost always within arms reach.

I do remember walking out of my room playing with my toys and Mom leaping in front of the television to block what I now know to be "The Color Purple" from my view.

But I also remember sitting on her lap in our tiny apartment watching what I now know to be "Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors".

My mom shielded me from racism, but not from gore.

While watching "NIghtmare On Elm Street 3" on my mother's lap anytime something spectacularly disgusting was about to happen she would nudge me with her knee and I would turn my head and look at the unicorn picture hanging on the wall next to our front door. It was a tiny 5x7 of a white unicorn up on its hind legs against a dark blue starry background. I would hear screaming then she would nudge me again, and I continued playing with my toys and watching the movie.

I never suffered from nightmares - at all. And to this day I LOVE a good scary movie.

Now I was not allowed to watch "Child's Play" (you may know it as "those Chucky movies") during those early years. I had a My Buddy doll who slept with me...Mom knew where to draw the line. Though what she doesn't know (until she reads this post) is that when we went over to her friend's house to watch the first Child's Play I saw the opening sequence from the hallway. (I have a hint of Sneaky in me.)

I saw John Carpenter's "Halloween" on Halloween night when I was 9. It was the first scary movie that actually scared me. Occasionally I still have a bad dream about being stalked by Michael Myers, but they occur as frequently now as they did then; which is to say once every couple of years.

I was the fourth grader raving about the awesomeness of "Scream" to my friends at school. I had the entire movie memorized by the fifth grade.

Basically I saw every good (and bad) horror movie before I hit junior high.

I remember my mother taking care before letting me watch "Amistad", though.

I didn't see "The Color Purple" until I was 21.

My mother was Excellent at conveying the difference between fantasy and reality. Freddy Krueger, Jason, Michael Myers, Chucky - those classic, bloodthirsty movie monsters were Not Real. Mom said so. They couldn't get me because they weren't real, and Mom said so. I was scared of the dark, of course, but not from the monsters in my closet.

Once I was in bed (with all the lights on - as usual) and on my comforter not eight inches from my face was a cricket.

I let out the shrillest scream.

While I was mid-scream Mom appeared - she didn't "run in", "burst into", or "erupt" she fucking Appeared - in my room wielding a metal baseball bat with a crazy look in her eye.

Then she was furious with me for screaming about a cricket.

But I never worried about a monster in my closet, and Mom was more than a match for anything under the bed.

But racism, hateful violence...those things were real. Those were the things she didn't let me see. I couldn't watch the cartoon G.I. Joe, but I could watch scary movies.

As viscerally as people react to movies like "Insidious" or "The Strangers" that's how I react to "The Help". The courtroom in "Amistad" is a much more harrowing scene for me than Michael Myers stalkng Jamie Lee Curtis through a dark house.

When I read about Ferguson, Missouri I'm more scared of being pulled over by my local police officers than any James Wan film.

We are taught what to fear, and what to hate.

Which brings me to Banned Books Week.

(I hope you enjoyed that tangent.)

We all know Harry Potter turns kids into witches. I mean, duh. It's the most famous and also one of the most challenged so let's get this out of the way...

Church-people hate Harry Potter. I won't call them Christians because I call myself one, and...just No. We'll call them Church-people.

Church-people believe that Harry Potter promotes witchcraft. Plain and simple. Had they a modicum of knowledge of a pagan belief system they would see that it does not. Alas, I don't think anyone who has ever sought to ban Harry Potter has ever read the book. Thus, true to form Church-people perpetuate the stereotype of being biased, unaware, and unreasonable.

Hunger Games. Challenged for its violence. Kids killing kids for sport. Nevermind that these people aren't challenging MMA, Professional Wrestling, or most blockbuster films.

I've noticed Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series challenged because it: "Offends religious sensibilities" - because once an eleven year old - a READING (most likely somewhat intelligent and self-possessed) eleven year old - gets her/his hands on a Percy Jackson book they're going to start....praying to Zeus?

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - written for teenagers and it has sex/masturbating in it. Your teen already knows about sex. You had sex to have your teen. If you have a teenager who does not know about sex or masturbating then your teen is lying to you, or you can expect to be faced with some very interesting/expensive challenges in the next couple of years.

There are many comprehensive lists of books that are banned for one reason or another. Some I guarantee you won't even understand what they could possibly think is wrong...but, hey, 'Merica.

I was a sheltered physically, but my reading was never censored.

I finished THE STAND, IT, THE SHINING, and was about to start reading THE TOMMYKNOCKERS when I saw the film "Interview With the Vampire". I liked the movie so much as soon as I knew it was a book I started reading it. I was 12.

The homoerotic tone of the novel is clear and almost ever-present. As a kid just coming to understand his sexuality, and being the only homosexual in my social sphere, I was very uncomfortable. These characters were saying/doing/feeling things that I was struggling to hide at that time in my life. I was a zealous Church-Person Christian, and I couldn't reconcile my feelings within myself, and within those pages were characters who had sexual feelings similar to mine, and I couldn't get behind them (Ha! Crass pun).
I put the book down.

Animorphs ended, and I picked up K.A. Applegates next series, EVERWORLD. Again, I was 12, or almost thirteen. The first book came with a CD that had one song that sort of represented each of the five main characters. It was all punk/alternative rock to my recollection. I don't remember the songs exactly, but I do remember thinking that if Mom heard me listening to this music she would wonder WTF was going on.

The kids in Everworld cussed, drank, and had sex. NOTHING like my beloved Jake, Rachel, Cassie, Marco and Tobias from Animorphs.

Their behavior made young, Britney/N'Sync/Top 40 hits me uncomfortable.

I stopped reading them.

I expected that behavior when I picked up a Stephen King book. Not when I picked a book out of the colorful, brightly lit, kid's section of a bookstore.

An ugly fact of our world is that not every kid loves to read. I only like to read books that I enjoy! (That is my sideways confession of not reading more than ten pages of GREAT EXPECTATIONS my freshman year of High School. Just. Awful.)

My point is that kids who do read for pleasure are masters at governing themselves. They are already aware of Fiction and Non-Fiction. They know their own limits and what they expect of the characters and stories in the books they choose.

Two years after I put down INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE I picked up QUEEN OF THE DAMNED on Valentine's Day (the movie was coming out, and I thought - 'eh, let's give it a chance'). QUEEN OF THE DAMNED is the best of the Vampire Chronicles (and one of the worst films ever made). It got me to read the rest of that series of books. By then I was almost two years older I was more at peace with myself and had come to certain decisions as to how to handle my life and situation. Thus, reading Anne Rice's immortal man-on-man pseudo-sexual but very romantic love stories between creatures of the night didn't bother me in the slightest.

I loved the world of Everworld. Mythology has been my jam since I was ten. I went back a year later (because then there were kids at my school rumored to have sexual relationships and sneaking drinks from their parent's liquor cabinets) thus the lives of the teenagers in the Everworld books wasn't so deviant from the people I went to school with every day. (Also yes, sex and alcohol was common knowledge - commonplace for some - when I was 13).

I read those things that bothered me when I knew I was old enough to accept and handle them. I was subconsciously aware of my own immaturity, and it wasn't the book or author's fault.

Censoring books doesn't protect your children. Censorship doesn't protect your children. Being alongside them, Fighting for them, Teaching them - Those things protect your children. You raising your kids well protects your children.

If you judge something your child is reading (and they like it) you're judging them. You're saying that part of them, this thing they love, is dirty and unsatisfactory - they need to change.

You could learn why they love it (or hate it). You'll learn things about them that way - trust me, no matter how much you think you know your child - you don't. (How well did your parents know you?)

A reading child is something to be lauded and guided. When you fear the unknown, something different, and you take no care to understand it you pass that willful ignorance on to your child. This world has enough hatred and fear.

If you really feel such passionate hatred for a book (a BOOK of all things!) instead of trying to hide what cannot be hidden, know it, read it, and point out to your child the why and the wherefore you believe what you believe and why they should to.

God help me if that creates another bigot, but at least it'll be a critically thinking one. At least it'll be a somewhat intelligent mind that eventually may open to the world around them.

Perhaps I'm too optimistic.

My theory is that if a proponent of censorship truly tried to understand what book they're so fervently arguing against then we wouldn't have a Banned Books Week. Everyone would shut the hell up and at least say, "hey, we'll agree to disagree".

But limiting a child's freedom - the freedom to read whatever they wish - you're teaching them that it's okay to limit the freedom of others. And worse, you're teaching them that even the most unsound, unreasonable arguments can be legitimized under the umbrella of "for your protection".

As we can see on the news every single day the "for your protection" argument has far-reaching and damning consequences.

So read a Banned Book, especially if you're trying to ban one. One of the best ways to win an argument is to advocate your opponent's point of view first. So do that - if you have a problem with a book read it. Understand why people have an overwhelmingly positive reaction to it, and formulate your opposing position accordingly.....but I sincerely believe that if people did that I wouldn't be up here teetering on a soapbox.

Shut up and read a book.

Until we meet again...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How I became a writer...

I’ve always had a flair for the dramatic.


For those of you who even casually know me this should come as no surprise.

I got my very first role when I was five years old.

To be fair every kid in my kindergarten class got a role in the Christmas play, but I was very excited nonetheless.

I was a Wise Man (Ha!). Specifically I was the Wise Man who brought gold to baby Jesus.

I remember very little of the big night aside from grinning at my friend Taylor, who was playing the Virgin Mary backstage just before she took her place.

Minutes later it was my turn.

I had a Styrofoam container painted with gold glitter paint with three little faux pearls hot glued to the top (made by Mrs. Lane’s teaching assistant).

We knelt before the baby doll in the manger, and I grinned at Taylor because EVERYONE WAS WATCHING US. Then on cue I stood up and walked off the stage….with my gift for baby Jesus still in my hands.

I don’t think anyone noticed except my Nanna (grandmother).

Years later we laughed about it; she called me “the selfish Wise Man”.


My technique improved rapidly over the years. I was in every single play at school and at church.

In fourth grade Mrs. May convinced me that I was going to be a famous actor someday.

Me! A movie star!

I had my whole life mapped out by the time I was eleven.  My penchant for writing stories had developed by then. Stephen King and his body of work convinced me that I could give life to my somewhat dark imagination. So I was going to be a movie star, but when I wasn’t “on set” I would be writing my next best-selling horror novel.

By high school I had thoroughly established myself as a theatre kid.

That’s also when I started to notice that I was…different.


Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always known I was different (pertaining to one circumstance or another).

I went to school in a town of 6,000 people. My graduating class was 128 kids.

I was one of three kids in my high school who was – or was some variation of – black.

My freshman year there was a girl who was a junior that was half-black.

When I was a senior there was a freshman kid who was black.

That’s all.

We did have a small Mexican population, but I was certainly the only person of color in theatre in all my scholastic years.

I was sixteen when I noticed it.

Then I began to see it in movies, and on television.

The roles I got in school and church would never be The Son, The Father, The Brother…all of my cast-mates were white. I knew that should I embark on a career performing that the situation would not be any different. There are, of course, familial roles for black characters or people of color, but not any of the shows/venues within reach of me.

At sixteen years old, my junior year in high school, as all of my senior friends were preparing for their college adventures I realized that my life/dream as an actor – a “movie star” – would never be what I wanted it to be. I would be the Best Friend, the voice-over (I sound relatively Caucasian – depending on the circumstance). I would Never be a leading man. Pursuing a career that seemed so self-defeating for someone with brown skin I instantly decided was silly and pointless.

 I remember that day in my theatre class very distinctly.

In an hour and a half my life goals changed.

I asked myself, “What is something where you can be great, and what you look like doesn’t matter? What is something that you can do that is creative and freeing?”

My mind instantly turned to the story that I had been daydreaming about, and in that very moment I knew I was going to be an author…a novelist…a writer.

I was so excited in that moment because a whole new life stretched out before me. One where no one would care that I was brown, and it wouldn’t inhibit anything I said. There would be no constantly unattainable role, or dynamic that I didn’t fit.

Truly, writing plays to all my strengths – external influences pushed me into performing, but writing stories was something totally, entirely me.


You might say “But Colten, how silly! Look at Mindy Kaling now – blazing trails as a minority lead in her very own successful show! Look at Will Smith! Look at Denzel! Look at Tyler Perry!”

My retort would be to ask you to continue naming names.

Because I could.

I could go on for DAYS naming at least 10 white names for every minority actor/actress you name. That’s fine though (no it isn’t, but in this instance it is).

I realized at 16 that I wanted to be worthwhile, I wanted to be remembered, I wanted my life and whatever I did with it to mean something. For me acting would be a completely selfish thing that might have paid the bills for as long as I had work, and I could retire someday with a small stack of films/shows/roles under my belt and happy memories.

But after I was gone no one would really know Me.

I know that not every author is remembered, touted, or celebrated. And trust me I have no delusions of grandeur. Hell, most casual readers can’t even remember the name of the author of the book they read last week.

The stories though. The stories live on. The soul of the author; the blood, sweat, and tears live on even if their name fades into the background.

I don’t care if my name is remembered, but I want my stories to be. If one person – fifty years after I’m gone reads one of my stories then I win.

As an actor My imagination, My daydreams, My Self would have been at the mercy of someone else and shared with no one.

At sixteen years old I deemed this unacceptable.


So here I am (a smidge over a decade later) on the road to publication. Just starting out, and for the life I’ve chosen it’s a road that never ends, it only stretches longer with each step taken. My life is an adventure now, and my goal is to share all my weird, crazy, wild dreamscapes with you.


What got me thinking about how I got to where I am now is something so idle and ridiculous that I loathe to mention it.

The cast of “Mad Max” - coming to theaters near us in 2015.

I went to IMDB after everyone on Twitter was abuzz with the awesome.

I’m definitely going to see it, but there’s one thing I noticed in a fraction of a second about the cast…

Tom Hardy ...
Charlize Theron ...
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley ...
Zoë Kravitz ...
Nicholas Hoult ...
Riley Keough ...
Nathan Jones ...
Rictus Erectus
Josh Helman ...
Hugh Keays-Byrne ...
Immortan Joe
Debra Ades ...
Desperate Women
Abbey Lee ...
The Dag
Angus Sampson
Megan Gale
Courtney Eaton ...
Melissa Jaffer

If I were auditioning/acting today…I wouldn’t be cast in “Mad Max”.

I hope that in thirty years when they re-make “Mad Max” again…because we know they will…I’ll see more variety. But I can walk into a bookstore now and find the variety I long so long for.

We have excellent champions of diversity in the literary community. People that I’m proud to spend my money and time on reading their work.
By opening my eyes to reality I found my dream.

The publishing community is hungry for diversity in all aspects. It is a world that calls me to be my best self, and most importantly my complete self. At the end of all things, though I write fantastical worlds into existence, I will have hopefully broadened the horizon of this world, and made it richer for everyone who comes after.

That’s how I became a writer. That’s what writing means to me.