Monday, July 29, 2013

When your inspiration dies... Literally

From time to time, someone will ask me who the inspiring characters of Bimini, The Romance were. A lot of people have assumed that Laurel, the main character in the first Bimini book was patterned after myself, something I explained in my introduction blog Caribbean Dreams as being untrue. I also said in that first blog that John was patterned after someone as well who's name I'd promised never to give up. While it's true that the major parts of John's physical features and some of his character traits as well were taken from one person, other aspects of John and those that mostly comprised Rick, Laurel's elderly friend, were inspiration taken from another close friend; probably one of the best friends I've ever had.
Charlie "Hollywood" Hackney and I met 15 years ago. He was 50 and I was 22. Sometimes, in life, you're lucky enough to meet someone and in those first few moments, you know that this person is going to have a gigantic impact on you. That was what meeting Charlie was like for me. I was a lowly kennel tech at the county animal shelter back then and he had just "retired" from law enforcement after receiving nearly fatal wounds during a drug raid, only to take a job as an animal control officer two months after making a full recovery. There were a lot of things that Charlie was tolerant of; but doing nothing wasn't one of them as I later learned. The very idea of being retired was deplorable to him.
If you know me personally, you know I had a rough adolescence. Not only was I a punk in the true sense of the word, but around the time I was 17 and already had my feet firmly on a clear path to a life of crime, my brother, who was also my best friend, died from a terminal illness. This loss left me broken, full of anger and with a total lack of regard for my own life that I still maintained full possession of on the day that Charlie walked through the back door of the shelter and into my world.
I was standing at the front desk on the phone with the mayor of our little town, whom I'd have several confrontations with in the past, yelling through the handset about bullshit city ordinances when I looked up and there he was.
To some of you, this may sound like the start of a love story and maybe in some ways it was, because Charlie and I did come to love each other very much, just not in that "hey, I want your body" manner that most people associate with that emotion.
He was about 6'1, his grey hair was cut in the military high and tight way and he had a thin strip of a beard that ran up both sides of his jaw. He was in great shape for his age, which seemed really old from my perspective back then, though as I continue to stare down the barrel of 40, I realize how young he was in reality. For his age, he was nice looking man in a rugged kind of way. They called him "Hollywood" because Charlie was the kind of man movies were made about. He had charisma.
This man, dressed in an animal control officer's uniform, leaned against the wall between the door to the kennels and the front office where I stood, with his arms and legs crossed, a sort of half-smile on his face, while he waited for me to slam down the phone.
When I finally finished my berating of our city leader, I took a deep breath, smiled at him and sighed, trying to shake off my bad mood. I walked forward, held out my hand and introduced myself. He knocked my hand away and hugged me.
"You looked like you needed a hug instead," he told me.
A little shocked and more than a little weirded out, I mumbled something and went back around the counter trying to put space between us, while he continued to watch me with that half-smile. We spent a few minutes in awkward, mostly one sided conversation before his training officer came up from the back and the two left on another assignment.
After a while, as I got to know Charlie, I learned that he had a unique way of dealing with people. He could be a total hard ass when it was called for, but for the most part, he had a gentleness about him that not only worked to endear him to many, but was accompanied with a special kind of intuition that allowed him to recognize the lost and broken; it was also in his nature to try and fix those people. He fixed me.
I resisted Charlie's charm for a while, but it seemed like every time I turned around, he was in my face. If I went outside to take a break, magically, there he'd be, asking me how my day was, if there was anything he could do to make me smile. He poked and he prodded until he could get the smiles he asked for, and I didn't smile a lot back in those days. Somewhere in the next few months that followed, Charlie Hackney became the one person I could confide in. The one person I could really talk to. He became my best friend.
He was a hard guy not to love. He spent the majority of his youth in the Vietnam war, where he was a sniper and after that, he went straight into law enforcement. He worked his way up from road patrol to later doing undercover work with the DEA. His face and neck were crisscrossed with deep lines where he'd gotten on the wrong side of a knife a time or two; a wicked looking scar ran from collar bone to jugular vein while another ran the length of his forehead from a night when the king pin of a local drug dealing operation resisted arrest. He had scars from bullet holes and also from four operations that resulted from four different types of cancers associated with agent orange exposure.  He'd beaten every odd he came up against. He'd been married to the love of his life since he was 18, had raised two boys, was a farmer as well as a business man in his spare time.
People looked at Charlie and I's relationship with suspicious eyes quite frequently because we were always around each other. Most of them believed that there was only one reason a man and a woman would be that closely knitted together. But they were wrong.
Charlie saw how shut-off and shut down I was. He saw that I lived every day on auto-pilot and where most everyone in my life at the time was content to let me drift away, Charlie dug in and forced me to hang on and open up. He made me talk until I was hoarse at times, knowing in the way he always seemed to, that there was this dam of anger and pain that I needed to let go of.  He always listened. He never judged.
When my anger got the better of me, as it sometimes did, and I ended up in a dangerous confrontation with a large group of angry Hispanics over a goat, Charlie charged in, literally threw me over his shoulder and physically carried me out of a situation that was way over my head, all the while giving me the longest, and probably the most hard nosed lecture of my life about controlling my temper. It was the most angry I'd ever seen him.
Over time, he told me stories of the lives he'd taken in Vietnam and how the guilt of that had stayed with him over the years and what he'd done to make peace with it. He told me about the fears he'd had when he was diagnosed with cancer and how each time he worried that he would have to leave his wife and his sons on their own if he lost those battles.
Charlie gave me his friendship unconditionally but the most important thing he gave me was courage.
For two years, we were inseparable. We worked together, we fished together, we refinished furniture together, we talked about everything. I listened to his stories and he listened to mine. There was a wealth of wisdom passed down in those days; from him to me. He taught me not only how to handle life, but how to be present in it and to appreciate it.
Once, I'd stepped on some broken glass that I'd thrown when I was pissed about something and had let it go so long that wounds on the bottom of my feet had gotten infected. When he could take no more of my hobbling around, he demanded that I sit on the counter in the treatment room of the shelter where he systematically stripped off my dirty work boot and sock. For about an hour, he picked out pieces of embedded glass, reminding me every time I hollered not to be a baby and that someday I'd learn that losing my temper didn't hurt anyone except for myself. He also reminded me that while I believed I had nothing to live for, I had a daughter that needed me. He pushed me to take better care of myself.
Not long after that, I found out I had inverted cyst on my spine. It had wrapped around my spinal column and was penetrating the nerve sac. It was a complicated surgery that I almost didn't survive. For a month, I was bed bound and kept pretty drugged up to restrict my movement while the incisions healed. Charlie came to see me. Sometimes, while in that drug induced haze, I would hear his voice and even though I couldn't wake up enough to talk to him, I knew he was there and that was enough.
When I decided that I was going to leave North Carolina and move to Georgia to pursue a career in Journalism, everyone thought I was crazy and no one thought I'd be able to do it. There were bets on how long it would take before I'd be back begging for my job.
"Go," he said, when I'd explained that I'd been offered a position at a small weekly newspaper. "You'll regret it for the rest of your life if you don't. You were meant to write, not to chase dogs and get mauled by cats."
Leaving Charlie was the hardest thing about leaving North Carolina. Every day for five years after I left, we talked. When I became so homesick and wanted to quit and move back, he'd remind me why I needed to keep going. He'd remind me that giving in and quitting was giving in to every person who said I'd fail. So I stayed and when I won the state award for Best Investigative Reporting, I thanked him for never letting me give up.
I'd come up for visits when my scheduled allowed and spend them chasing dogs on his beat with him. Eventually, he left animal control and went into his wife's family business in the funeral industry and still, whenever I could, I'd go visit him there too.
But, as it happens sometimes, even with the closest of friends, we fell out of touch. The last time I talked to Charlie was about five years ago when I told him I was starting on Bimini.
"If you can't get there, at least you can write about it," he laughed. He knew about my obsession with the small island.
I told him I was using him as the inspiration for one of the characters and as part of the inspiration behind the lead male character.
I apologized that I was going to have to make him old and ugly, but he just laughed at that too.
"I am old." he said.
"You'll never be old," I said, "But I can't have a supporting character as handsome as the love interest and while you'd make an excellent leading man, I can't write about you in that way. It'd be weird. So I'm going to make you really old and sorta craggy."
"Not only do I understand, but I agree." he responded. "Do me a favor and leave out the war stuff. No one needs a rehashing of history."
He'd been undergoing his fifth battle with cancer, which had spread into his lymph nodes, when that conversation took place. Because of his request, I focused Rick's character around Charlie's love of fishing and the sea.
When Bimini was finally released last year, I kept meaning to call him and tell him, but I never did.
Charlie died in April of this year but I just found out about his passing on Friday. He'd been on my mind the last few weeks almost constantly so I decided to look him up. His obituary was the top search result on Google. I'd lost his number when I'd switched phones a while back and life got in the way so that I never seemed to find the time to track him down. I could have called his work. I could have showed up at this house; but I didn't.  I knew Charlie well enough to know that he'd be pissed at me for giving into guilt so I'm trying hard not to.
I talked to a family member of his this morning when I could finally get the breath back that I'd lost when I saw that obit.
"He was proud of you. Proud of everything you'd done. Your friendship always meant a lot to him and he never forgot you."
I never forgot him either. Charlie believed in me in a way that no one ever has. I haven't felt such a profound sense of loss since my brother died. Though I'd lost touch with him, I liked knowing that he was out there doing his thing and just being Charlie. The world feels a little emptier with the knowledge that he's not in it, anymore; but there's also a sense of relief too.
Charlie, for all his toughness, had suffered a multitude of sickness these last ten years. He'd been sick more than he'd been well. He was a strong, capable man who didn't take being an invalid gracefully. He was a doer. Always into something, always on the go. I'm grateful that his struggle is over and unlike when my brother died, I can accept Charlie's passing with an understanding of death. I understand that not only is it necessary but sometimes, it is merciful as well.
No matter how bad it hurts to know he's gone, I'm forever grateful that the Universe saw fit to put us together during a time in my life when I needed someone to believe in me and I'll always be grateful for  the man that he was; for all the experiences he'd had that enabled him to shake me from my place of apathy and make me live again. For the never ending patience he had in befriending a militant, mad-at-the-world female bent on self-destruction and for the fact that his friendship never wavered once in all the years we knew each other. He was always my strongest supporter.
Our relationship was unique. Not one of lovers or family, but deeper than friendship. We understood each other in a rare and mysterious way.
Finishing this second Bimini book is going to be a little bitter sweet now, as Rick, the character most inspired by Charlie, still plays a role but I think it's the best way to honor a man who gave me so much and who believed in me unfailingly.
Rest well, my friend.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Bigger Picture

Before I'm a writer, an artist, a mother, a friend or anything else, my spirituality comes first. I found that when I'm practicing my path to the fullest, I become better at being what I need to be for others. That said, this blog isn't about art; it isn't about writing- it's about the bigger picture of all of that.

I've had a few dreams over the last few months that were wholly spiritual in nature. Dreams of beautiful people covered in stars that give messages of love and wisdom. The first message of these dreams was, "Fear is a house unworthy of living in".
That message came during a time when I felt I was suffocating in fear. Fear of the jagged edge of poverty I constantly teeter on; fear of my daughter's impending separation as she approaches the end of her childhood and moves on toward adulthood; fear of not being good enough at anything I do or good enough for anyone in my life.
We all go through these cycles but I've been luckier than most. I normally have about five second rebound rate from those kinds of fears until this last time. Whatever negative energy I'd moved into, surrounded and engulfed me until I just wanted to hide from the world. It lasted weeks this time, rather than the usual few minutes. And then, one night, I laid down and went to sleep and I had the most beautiful dream. Like any dream, it morphed from one scene of a house and some friends into me standing in the darkness looking at the other half of myself; that spiritual twin that few realize they have. From that, it moved to me laying on my back in the ocean at night, staring up at the stars as they began to rearrange themselves into patterns that resembled human shape. The shapes took on definition and character until seven or eight of these star-made beings were looking down at me in that dark ocean from high above. The only thing that was said; and it was said in a collective voice rather than the voice of just one of those star people was the message that fear was a house unworthy of living in. That message stayed with me all the following day, echoing in my head. The next evening, I dreamed that I was being chased through the darkness by something I couldn't see. When finally, I'd run enough, I turned into that darkness, toward that unseen pursuer and repeated the message from the dream of the previous night. I woke up as soon as I said it; those fears I'd been experiencing completely gone.
Last night/ this morning, I had another dream about those same star-people. I can't remember any specific conversation or messages, I just know that where ever I was in that dream was beautiful and there was a profound sense of love and peace that came from spending time with those beings. I didn't want to wake up, but when I did, I carried that sense of peace; of love back with me into the waking world.
I get asked a lot what exactly my spirituality is and some people confuse the fact that I'm pagan in my practice with my actual spiritual beliefs. For me, they're two separate things that come together once in a while to make a better whole.
I "practice" witchcraft; specifically, the ancient celtic versions of it. You know, herbalism, charms to help a plant grow where normally it wouldn't, spells for clarity or vision, spells for healing and love for those that ask for it; etc. I do rituals to honor the God and Goddess, rituals for healing the earth, rituals to honor my ancestors...
Though belief in these things are important, it's not the very fabric of what I'd consider my "religion". My religion is Love, Tolerance and Compassion. Love to all things that are conscious, living beings; Tolerance for those living beings I don't understand and Compassion for those that I don't understand, don't agree with and can't seem to get my mind around. The platform that these three things stand on is a desire to see a unified race of humans who aren't concerned with color, orientation, or social status but rather the giving and the receiving of love from their fellow man that is ours by Divine right. It blends a little with my pagan practice when it comes to the "Harm None" law but even that is more of a universal law rather than a specific commandment of belief.
I sincerely believe we all came here with a Divine purpose and a Divine assignment; especially now in this day and time when the energies of the earth are changing along with the people in it. We are waking from a very long, very ignorant sleep in which we lived a nightmare of separatism and materialism. Where we allowed our jobs and our material needs to keep us from our families and work ourselves into an early grave so that we couldn't enjoy the very things we worked those 12 hour days for. We're waking up and systematically jumping off that hamster wheel of slavery to a broken system and paying more attention to the things that matter; those we love and even more, extending that love to those we don't even know, which is what we were put here to do all along.
We are not separate unless that is reality the masses wish to live. We are one race. Before color, before sexual orientation, before social status, we are human. This is where our focus needs to be and where it belongs. Bit by slow bit, we're waking up. It's a slow progress, but progress is being made everyday.
I learned a long time ago that love doesn't have to be a two way street and that I can love someone with all of my heart without them loving me back. It wasn't that I needed their love... it was that they needed mine.
I don't worry or get upset when I express my love to people and they don't reciprocate. I understand that maybe I'm not here to be the one that is loved but rather, perhaps I'm here to do the loving. To love someone enough that their acceptance of that love isn't mandatory on a physically conscious level. After all, their higher self and their soul knows what I'm about, so I don't need to try and wade through the ego and the indoctrinated belief systems in order to make them see why I love them and why I'd continue to love them even though they don't love me back.
Sometimes, people interpret my expressions of love in the wrong way; sometimes, they don't try interpret them at all but rather run from the idea that love on a soul level is a viable, sane expression and sometimes, they "get it" and the connections that form as a result are beautiful and long lasting.
I've learned to accept that whatever the reaction, it's THEIR reaction. My job is to just keep loving, no matter what. So I do, because THIS is my religion and your hearts (collectively) are my place of worship and I recognize the Divinity in you as surely as I would hope I would recognize any Divinity should it materialize in front of me. I worship humanity unapologetically. I revere it in all its complexities, beauty and militance.
I open my home and my heart to it regularly. I keep the door of my friendship wide open so that any human who wants to walk through it finds warmth and welcome waiting there.
I would gladly give my life for my species because in the end again, this body, its perfection and imperfection is just a dying bag of protein that has an expiration date, while the spirit that lives inside of it doesn't and will keep the scars of sitting idly by and doing nothing on it, forever.

So, this is what I believe. Specifically and without shame.

I honor myself by honoring you and for me, that's the best religion.

anyone could have.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

We are "Indestructible"....

A few months ago, when I started this blog, I did it with the intention of keeping up with it. Time gets away from us and life takes hold and I've not written as much as I'd have liked to. I apologize for that. 

This blog post isn't about me, though. It's about Indestructible, a soon to be released Indie book about the world of self publishing. Indestructible is a series of complied essays by Indie publishers like myself who were lucky enough to be a part of the project headed by Indie publishing guru, Jessica Bell. Jessica had the idea to put Indestructible together to inspire, educate and motivate writers who may be holding out from taking the Indie plunge out of fear, or even writers like me, who might be a little lazy and need a fire lit under them. 

Indestructible has some formidable names attached to it. Up and coming YA author, Jadie Jones, whose debut novel, Moonlit knocked the socks of the YA genre; Jessica Bell, whose own works of creation are fun and interesting. I didn't know Jessica before the Indestructible project began but because of it, became a fan of not only her personal blog but her professional writing as well. 

Other authors like Leigh Talbert Moore, Alex J. Cavanaugh, Ciara Knight, just to name a few, were also a part of this project. Indestructible is sorta the who's who of Indie authors and I don't really include myself in that. Bimini the Romance does okay in sales. It's a good book. I not only wrote it, but I've read it; but like I said, I'm lazy and haven't marketed it nearly the way that I should have and in comparison to books like Moonlit and some of the other authors who were involved in Indestructible, I sorta feel like the swine among the pearls. Before I'd even worked on this project, I'd actually heard of and read a few of their novels and stories; some I've been following on Twitter for over a year. I can honestly say, I'm humbled to have my name show up along side theirs. 

I'd like to say to say that my ego loves the idea of this but that would be partially untrue. The real reason that I loved this project from the beginning was that one woman decided she would dispel the myths and the fears that other potential writers might have about the Indie avenue of publishing and encourage them to take the leap by sharing her own experiences with independent publishing, as well as the experiences of others like myself. 

Indie publishing has brought a lot of good writers to the forefront of the creative writing industry. In the old days, many writers, good writers at that, were turned down by publishing companies not because the story wasn't great but because it was possible that their sentence structure/grammar wasn't, or they didn't know how to properly sell themselves to a group of editors and publishers who had 500 other query letters and manuscripts to wade through and those editors and publishers couldn't afford the time, or didn't want to take the time to see the diamond in the rough, much less do the polishing necessary to make it shine. Indie publishing has made it possible for those authors to get their work not only read by the public but has given them an opportunity to really profit from it as well. Indie publishing has opened a lot of slammed doors for a lot of fantastic writers and for that, I'm grateful. Some of my favorite authors are independent writers.

So when I was asked if I wanted to participate, my answer was yes. Not just to have my name alongside those other authors, but because Indie publishing has given me back as much as I've put in it (for better or worse) and I wanted to take part in maybe inspiring another writer out there who might be intimidated and daunted by the idea of publishing their work, to simply go for it. 

I hope you'll read Indestructible when it releases on Sept. 16 and I hope that you'll find it useful. If not as a writer than as a reader and patron of Indie books so that you can fully understand the blood, sweat and tears that goes into our work in order for us to bring, you, our readers, a good quality story that entertains and enchants. 

To Jessica; Congratulations. It always makes me happy to see someone's hard work come to fruition. You worked your ass off on this and I'm proud to be a part of it. Thanks for putting up with my laziness with grace and kindness. I hope this is more successful than you could have ever dreamed.