Introducing my own Queen…. Ameera

Although this is a work of fiction, I admit it was driven by my own desire to dance—but was told I couldn’t, shouldn’t, or was forbidden. As I pull my main character into facing a long neglected dance zone, I’d ask the reader to be patient with her. hedo 054Her story focuses on the impact of chasing a glittery dance dream and lack of experience in a spotlight. In spite of many off the page life experiences, she’s suffered and victoriously overcome many obstacles—especially as a woman. But, Ameera’s pioneer spirit blazes a trail through the unknown land of Dance.

Palmetto Oasis Middle Eastern Dance Troupe is real. I was given permission to use many of the actual troupe members’ names. They’ve been patient and supportive as I labored to unveil Ameera. I’ve embraced their generosity to take creative license with the unbelievable glittery story. I hope to show the bonding power of resilience, humor, and passion among friends and strangers. The therapy of dance is real—not fiction.

I would not have accomplished this tale if I hadn’t been introduced to Shari Stauch. Her publishing experience and . . . let’s say it like is . . . puts your balls to the walls honesty required me to get mad and tell how unfair life can be. BQB Publishing enthusiastically polished the project with many talented artists. Terri Leidich, Heidi Grauel, and Julie Breedlove offered prompt answers and resources. My editor, Sharon Hecht, untangled my grammar and cut story interruptions without ripping off the band-aid. Even the book cover embodies many of the messages in the story. Kendra Haskins did an amazing job with my website—capturing the ‘pretty’ that makes women and little girls say “wow!” And, thanks to Leroy Mazyck (Pixel Studios) for always easing the stage fright in front of his camera. He did a fabulous job with my author’s headshot. When I doubted my ability to finish the project, it was my family, friends, and community that urged me on.

If you are reading this, I want to thank the readers! I hope you enjoy Ameera’s glittery release from her forbidden zone. From my own experience, once you’ve been bitten by the dance bug, it infects all the senses and perceptions. It reveals old tapes and fears and rewards you with unique memories and bonds.

But, most of all, I thank my soul mate, Steve. He made me his queen and supported my search for the little ballerina that got left behind in my childhood. It takes a special man to stand with his belly dancing wife. They can’t be afraid of a little glitter!

 

Ameera’s Due Date…

I’d never imagined that enrolling in my first dance class in 2007 would provide the concept for a story line. A tale of a woman’s coming of age… her journey to face forbidden zones. And I’d never dreamed it would be under the platform of belly dancing. Dancing_Cat

Something radical occurred when I was bitten by the Shimmy Bug. The glittery injection infected all my senses. My eyes were drawn to things that had jewels, tassels, fringe, glitter, chain mail and tattoos. My ears perked at anything that resonated of shaking coins, little cymbals, doums and teks on stretched hide drums. My nose followed the aroma of patchouli, incense and henna. My hands wanted to undulate and create new costumes. Would this affect my sense of taste? I found myself asking, Do I really want to spend money on eating out… or new costumes?

If there was a billboard that read “This is Your Brain on Bellydancing,” it might have warned me. Listening to the radio caused my brain to think, I bet that I can choreograph a dance to that Led Zepplin tune! If there was a book on “Belly Dancer Intervention 101” in the Self Help section in Barnes and Noble, I’m not sure I’d have wanted the intervention, but I couldn’t speak for my hubby and friends… Help! I see Sparkly People!

On July 25, 2013, please feel free to peek into my character Ameera’s world. The characters forge and sift through tough choices in relationships—past and present. But even through her angst and success the story is laced with a dose of humor.

 

Ameera’s Cover Unveiled

BEA New Title Showcase

Ameera Unveiled (for real!) at Book Expo America last week…

One of the supposed traits of a Virgo is an eye for detail… (Okay… being a perfectionist). I love having that Virgo’s eye for detail but look at a challenge with a safety net that allows me to fail. I’ve substituted “Achiever of Excellence” for perfectionist. When I hit detours or situations that require flexibility, it gives me a little damage control: Plan A was a bust, let’s start over. Or, in the case of my book project, there was a better cover than I originally envisioned.

I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by an incredible writing team. From conception to printing, there’s been guidance of short term and long term goals to tell Ameera’s story. One of my favorite phases was designing the cover. Being the achiever of excellence that I am, I dug in on the concept that when a reader finishes Ameera Unveiled, the cover will be even more significant.

Yes, I want to make someone look twice and ask, “What’s going on in that book?” But I also want the cover to embody the story from start to finish. As we searched the globe for the perfect image, my beautiful non-accommodating belly dancer hit my email box. (Teaser for the reader… and all the way from the UK).

Through my own journey towards embracing dance (specifically, belly dancing), it confirmed and reaffirmed my own little girl’s desire to feel pretty and wear costumes. As a product of the 60s and 70s in a traditional gender role, forbidden zones abounded in my life. Thanks to a wonderful cast of characters as I’ve journeyed through so many phases of my life (both supportive and adversarial) I found the stock and symbolic visual to represent the words to my story.

In summary, I’m thrilled with Ameera’s cover because it demonstrates the inner dancer my main character wants to become… perhaps that we all want to become…

How many of you have never been to a pig race….?

hog trailerWell, my hand went up to the emcee’s question… at Boone Hall Plantation’s Strawberry Festival. Little did I know when my feet hit the floor this morning that I would not only witness a pig race but could possibly be awarded the title, Pig Queen for a Day! Unknowingly, I’d claimed my video spot near the starting line of the circular race track and had an excellent view. There was a gator board roster with piggish NASCAR names— Rooter Martin, Hoggy Stewart, Piggy Gordon and Squilling Earnhardt, Jr.

Naturally, being new to pig racing, I had questions for the little swine. How were they trained for the event? I’d hate if one of the cute piglets would pull a hamstring. What if it came down to crossing the finish line by a snout? God forbid serious injury because I wasn’t sure if Charleston had a pig racing hambulance.

Suddenly, my attention returned to the hoof track as Hogway Speedway’s announcer entered the inside field, wearing a hands-free mic opening the competition with the racetrack bugle call from the loudspeakers.

The announcer educated us on the possibility of pig pile-ups that could delay them from pigging out on the coveted cheese doodle at the checkered finish line. He assigned a sponsor from the audience to root for the anxious pigs that had willingly loaded in the starting gate.

After the bell and gate opened, he gave a broadcaster’s view of the pig pack’s arrival for cheese doodle trophies. For the next fifteen minutes, he presented laps by goats, rookie piglets and ducks. The final race was to be run by pot belly pigs and he announced he was picking five women to be given the proud title of Pig Queen. I don’t think I’d put that on my slop-bucket list.

As he looked our way, my niece encouraged him to pick her Aunt Kat. Note to self: I need to dig deeper into her belief that I’d make a good candidate—or I needed to be sure I didn’t have hog breath from the cheap corndog. Yep, I was given #5, Rooter Martin. To top the hammy privileged title, we were advised the winner would kiss her pig. (For some reason I heard the words to a Katy Perry song: I kissed a pig and I liked it…)

After three more contestants were chosen, Squilling Earnhardt, Jr. hogged the spotlight. I’d lost my chance of the title and kiss by a snout.

Sadly, I realized I wanted to be a media hog! I turned to my husband and we settled for a local pulled pork sandwich.hogway

Let’s name it, Hollywood!

Melkey

On April Fool’s day, 1991, a teenage tuxedo cat invited himself into my home at 10:00 p.m. I was still mourning the loss of my bottle fed tuxedo cat, Daniel. For exactly three years, I’d resisted the pleas of my young daughter’s request to rescue another animal. How could I turn it away?

For several days I kept my house guest safe. I posted on local bulletin boards to make sure a frantic owner wasn’t looking for the lost big personality cat. Meanwhile, it bonded with my children. There was no way to say ‘no’ to the new family member. His formal name? Melchize-cat…. Melkey. He was the feline version of Melchizedek, the mysterious Hebrew high priest. No one knew where he came from or when he would leave…

For eighteen years, he weathered relocations, my children’s growth, a divorce, my re-entry into dating and the remarriage and blending of households. He greeted my house guests and could’ve cared less when we integrated my son’s dog, Chaz, into the family.

But in 2009, as his kidneys began to fail, I had to let him go in spite of his tenacity to hang on—for me. After his euthanasia, my husband and I agreed there would be no new furbbies due to the age of our surviving pets.

Six months after Melkey’s passing, my rescue school horse went three legged lame. No one knew why but she was showing symptoms of white line disease in one foot. I was chasing the fast erosion of her hoof. On Sunday morning, my husband and I drove to Hollywood, SC where she was boarded. I asked him to stop at the convenience store to grab a diet Coke.

We pulled up in my S-350 Mercedes convertible. As we parked, a tiny, yellow mixed-tabby kitten headed straight towards us, and then ran under my hot motor. Spied by a loiterer, we were advised this little scruffy kitten had been quite the annoyance of customers and employees. And, in harm’s way.

“Don’t you want to take it home?” he asked.

I’d at least three adoptees in mind so I scooped it up, added milk at the checkout, and continued on our way to the farm. Cradled on my shoulder that kitten mewed the entire ride to the barn. I dumped it safely in the farm’s bathroom, trying to lure it to drink the milk and maybe (please!) stop the incessant meowing.

As we pulled off the farm, I re-cradled the little one against me and my husband broke the unspoken stray kitty code… “I know– we’ll name it Hollywood!”

My head shot up like a fired gun to cry, “WTFudge are you saying… you don’t name it!” I had adoptive families and was prepared to pitch after I cleared it with my vet the next day.

All I could think of was our furbbie pact after Melkey’s demise. Hubbie must’ve read my mind. “But he matches Chaz!” he added.

Twenty-four hours later, my vet instructed me to hold the worm and parasite laden female kitten in quarantine for ten days. Before the end of the week, my hubbie bought new toys, food and kitten size litter box.

Five months later I scheduled and dropped off my crazy-ass “female” kitten to be spayed and declawed. Thirty minutes later, I was called. “Mrs. Varn, we just want to let you know that we’re not going to spay Hollywood… she’s a he.”

Well, Hollywood has developed a huge personality, like his predecessor. He’s a cat but thinks he’s a dog. He follows me around like a toddler. When the doorbell rings, he fluffs his tail and growls as he and Chaz assess the stranger on the other side of the door. And they match, chase, play and share the dog bed. Luckily, his name was gender-free.

But my favorite belly dance troupe member’s comment when little “Hollywood” ran under the Mercedes at that Johns Island convenience store?

Sucker!”Hollywood

 

 

 

 

Tolerance … Can’t We All Get Along?

Getting alongAs I walked through the bedroom, something caught my eye in the corner of the room. My dog’s bed had two bodies in it. I only own one dog– Chaz. Chaz had taken over my daughter’s hand-me-down Great Dane bed. His small 18 pound body was curled in one corner. My 16 pound kitty, Hollywood, was curled in the other one. They were color coordinated and separated by a red blanket.

As I paused, two sleepy heads opened their eyes as if they questioned my curiosity. It was obvious that a cat and a dog sharing a bed wasn’t a normal scenario to me. For them – no problem. This paled in comparison to the lion and lamb symbol of peace. But it did speak volumes to tolerating each other’s differences. Continue reading