Sunday, April 5, 2015

Scary Easter Bunny Circa 1974

I was 4 years old and I was terrified.

Poem Featured in Sonic Boom

I'm proud and honored to have my poem 'Mirror Ball' featured in the new issue of the literary journal Sonic Boom (published in India). Many thanks to the editors Shloka Shankar and Shobhana Kumar.

Read the issue of Sonic Boom here.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Limited Autographed Copies of Fifty Yards and Holding

For a limited time only, readers can order an autographed copy of my new young adult novel Fifty Yards and Holding. There are only 25 copies available - and they will go fast. Order yours today. Free shipping is included. All orders will ship on March 3rd.

Thank you for your support!

About the Book: Victor Alvarez is in serious trouble. Now seventeen and flunking out of high school, he’s been chosen as the leader of the violent street gang he’s been a member of since he was thirteen. Riley Brewer has just broken a state record as the star of their high school baseball team. When Riley and Victor meet by chance, a connection begins to grow. When friendship turns to love, both young men realize their reputations contradict who they really are. Once their secret relationship is discovered, Victor realizes their lives are at risk. Refusing to hide in order to survive, Riley vows that only death can keep him apart from Victor.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saying Good Bye to Granny

In my Granny's arms when I was just three days old.
Earlier this week, I lost my last living grandparent. My sweet grandmother, Tina, has passed away. One of the hardest working women I've ever known, Granny filled many of my young summers with music, card games, fried chicken, bowling, and laughter. She was a survivor in every sense of the word. She will be deeply missed.

Granny with my great-aunt Sandie in Alabama.
Strong Southern women is where I come from.
She Remembers Love 

They say her mind has started to slip,
she’s let herself go. She’s old now,
in her seventies. Hair has grayed,
photographs have yellowed. Son
and daughters have moved to places
like Hayward, Honolulu, Vegas. She stays
in the South but they say she’s too much
to handle. Gave up her crocheting,
crosswords puzzles and cups of
sugary coffee. Each bittersweet day after
day after day, she stares at the screen,
comforted by murder mysteries
and memories of men she once
loved and loved her back. Her stories
are compilations of many, a blurred
mixture of truth and dreams, the dead
relatives. Orphanages in Louisiana.
Bad marriages in California.
True love in Tellico Plains.
Over a clumsy game of solitaire,
she shuffles the cards and recalls
a day trip to Knoxville when she knew
her second husband had fallen
in love with her for the first time. His left
hand on the steering wheel. His right,
careening around the edges of her
Southern heart. As they cross a bridge,
the swaying hips of the Tennessee River,
reminds him of their first kiss. Words tumble
from his mouth and she drinks them up,
allows them to melt inside of her, cooling
the simmering regrets that have begun
to plague her like the sorrow she felt
in her Cherokee blood on The Cherohala
Skyway, when he took her to Stratton
Meadows and she feared the ghosts. Their trail
of tears haunt her, later, in his hospital
room when his heart gives way and she
suddenly becomes a widow, a nuisance,
a door that won’t shut all the way. She lays
down the king of hearts, winning
the game. She doesn’t always remember
his name. But the bridge, the river, the allure
of the city, strike a familiar chord
in the nostalgic belfry of her beautiful heart.

Me. Granny. Bunnies.
The Departure

My parents lied to the airline, said I was five. Rules
were made to be broken when convenient, when
getting rid of me, when I needed to be old enough
to fly alone. The stewardess gave me wings. The pilot
showed me the cockpit, my first view of cerulean sky.

I was four. I flew south. For the summer, I was sent
to Carson, California where I ate cinnamon
toast, drank chocolate milkshakes for breakfast made
each morning by my stoned and seventeen Aunt Lawana,
who embodied the fearlessness I would always crave.

First rule: Granny refused to let Jolene be played
in her house. Said it was about a cheatin’ woman
and no good would ever come of that filthy song.
One night, after a bucket of fried chicken, I caught
her singing a verse or two. Bad memories got stuck

down deep in her throat, ‘til she nearly choked
to death and Pa had to save her. He gave her
a can of Fresca, bought her endless bags of yarn
to knit dresses for her toilet paper dolls, living
like banished woman in the bathroom, breathing.

Granny rubbed tobacco into my skin so I would know
how to always soothe a sting. Pa filled the Doughboy
pool so I could float on my back beneath the pomegranate
trees. So I could throw my dreams up to the sun, hoping
in September the truthful sky would carry me home.

In loving memory of Tina Elsie Axley (née Womack).

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Not All Teenagers Are White and Straight

Reactions from readers and critics alike never cease to surprise me. While I always welcome responses from anyone and everyone who reads my work, every so often I’m caught off guard by the unexpected: a book you think had no hope in hell sells like mad, a seemingly unlikable character becomes the object of immense literary love, moments that don’t ring true in a book are the subject of a stream of emails. By far, the element from my novel Wonderland (published in 2013 by Bold Strokes Books) generating the most feedback and discussion (not all polite) has nothing to do with my protagonist, the plot, or the supernatural and paranormal themes I built into the book. Rather, four of the supporting characters seem to have stolen the spotlight and are receiving an outpouring of fondness, but are also receiving considerable scrutiny and scorn.

The majority of the young adult novels I write are for and about LGBTQ teenagers. Call it a personal mission, but young people who are coming to terms with their identity and sexuality need literature that contains a reflection of their experiences. Some have said what I and other YA authors are doing is necessary. Others have deemed it controversial and immoral. After reading Wonderland, a 13-year-old boy wrote to me to tell me how much he identifies with the character of Topher, detailing the daily rounds of bullying he is also forced to endure. On the other hand, a mother Facebooked me to let me know I was corrupting the youth of America with every word I write. Yes, it’s true: you can’t please everyone. And a writer should never create with that objective in mind.

The main character in Wonderland is a straight girl. She’s fifteen, clever, strong willed, and dealing with the grief of losing her mother to cancer. When she moves to an island in South Carolina, she begins a new life that includes living with her two gay uncles (one is a relative, the other is his partner) who have been in a loving, committed relationship for well over a decade. Immediately, Destiny is befriended by Tasha – a self-proclaimed bisexual African-American girl who tells her, “I like comic books and I love anime. I’m not into hip hop. Or rap. Or Beyoncé. I’m a diehard vegan and I hate people who refuse to recycle. I don’t hang out at parties and I refuse to go to school dances. Guys avoid me like the plague, which is perfectly fine with me, since I’m bi and I think girls are way hotter than boys.” In other words, Tasha refuses to conform. Given her somewhat rebellious nature, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by the numerous messages and emails I receive in regards to Tasha and her commitment to staying true to herself. While I live for the words from young people who find a connection with Tasha and thank me for bringing her to the page, there are other messages I get shaming me for Tasha’s outspokenness – and for her skin color. What kind of example are you setting for young people?! A very good question, indeed. Of course those words only add more fuel to my fire when I sit down at the computer to start writing a new novel.

Similarly, the character of Topher has stolen the hearts of many readers who feel empathy for his plight (although one reader referred to him as “a sissy who needed to toughen up"). Jennifer Lavoie, a fellow young adult author who also writes for a diverse audience, liked Topher so much she suggested he should have his own novel – and, because of the affinity for him that readers have shown, this may very well happen.

Perhaps the strongest reactions have been caused by my choice to have my young female protagonist be raised by two gay men. Believe it or not, this is still a foreign concept to many – even in 2014. While many of my readers who live in a similar family structure share with me how cool it is to read about a girl who has two fathers like I do, there are some (mostly parents, mind you) who are quick to tell me they feel this creative choice is a poor one, suggesting I’m “propagating perversion.”

I received similar responses to my 2011 novel Swimming to Chicago, a young adult novel about a gay Armenian-American teenager growing up in a small Southern town. I was prepared for the parental backlash regarding a subplot involving the affair between a young girl in high school and her English teacher. Yet, that story line generated only half a dozen (mostly misspelled) Facebook messages. What struck the chord was the fact that I presented two male characters from two different cultural backgrounds who fall in love and - like many gay teenage boys do - have an intimate relationship. One concerned reader (a high school librarian), took it upon herself to send me the page and paragraph numbers in which immorality was taking place. I was tempted to respond with a note that read: Do you date in high school? But, I refrained.

On the flip side, because Swimming to Chicago was the first YA novel to feature a gay Armenian as the protagonist, I can't begin to tell you how many messages I received (and still do, even though the book has been out for over three years) from young Armenian people. After the novel was featured in an article in an Armenian news magazine - and the many more messages and emails I received because of it - I had a complete understanding of the importance of representation, especially when writing from young people who rarely see a reflection of their life on page.

Of course, my main goal when writing is to tell the best story possible. Once the work is done and released to the world, you hope it connects with a reader – even if just one. When it does, then you know you’ve done the job you were supposed to. And...if it pisses off a few people...I'm fine with that, too.

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