Bad Done Right

Feminist. There, I wrote it. Did you flinch in opposition? Did you throw your fist up in support? Or, did you just sit there, utterly neutral? Whenever one hears the word feminist, there seems to be one of those three sentiments that follow. No matter what opinion you hold, sit tight and enjoy the ride as author, Roxane Gay attempts to define what it means to be a bad feminist — bad to the matriarchal bone.

Photo courtesy of, 2014.

Photo courtesy of Harper Perennial, 2014.

In Gay’s clever essay collection, Bad Feminist, she demonstrates resolve in admitting our flaws as feminists and seeing how the movement can progress from misrepresentation to empowerment. While Gay has a lot to say, she is far from neutral. Instead, Gay is fearless in her opinion as to why both radical feminists and anti-feminists are missing the point. Readers find that in order to be a feminist, it is important to admit that we are not perfect and still working to find solutions. Some of those solutions can be found in Gay’s essays: “Feel Me. See Me. Hear Me. Reach Me.,” “How We All Lose,” “Dear Young Ladies Who Love Chris Brown,” “When Less Is More,” and “Holding Out for a Hero”.

The collection analyzes everything from feminist stereotypes to female protagonists in literature and film. Gay even cites strong examples as to why aspects of feminism have failed. In particular, Gay argues that while the movement is continually changing and growing, it has not always been diverse in their ideologies of women. It should not be one feminist decreeing that another cannot be considered as such if they also choose to wear pink underwear and shave their underarms. It is a choice, and those are details, not the overall picture. As Gay seems to skillfully express, Feminists come in all varieties, and the movement is meant for something bigger — to empower men and women as equals — not to place one homogeneous group on a pedestal.

Though the collection does not evaluate feminist history, Gay remains candid throughout, often admitting that since the beginning and even now, there exist many limitations but there is hope for understanding and harmony. Still, Gay continues to try and make a difference — holding true to her introduction — “I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m trying not to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying — trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself.”

Gay may not intend to be a leader, but among the negative diatribe regarding feminism, her collection is an awe-inspiring and positive example of bringing about some good while being a little bad.

[Published: 13 August 2014, The Weekender]

“The Vastness is Only Bearable Through Love”

Throughout my life, I have known many people who were hurting and would, whether openly or not, express their sadness to friends or family. At one point, I was one of those people–attempting to navigate through what seemed to be a never-ending purgatory of darkness.

As a writer and a teacher, I have always believed that words have the power for good. The power to change. But words can also seem insincere and generic, especially to someone experiencing such darkness.

Smile, it gets better.

But, what if it never does?

While counseling and medication management work for some, it is not a cure-all. Mental illness is a disease, not a series of bad days. In my darkest times, it was not a pill or an inner voice telling me to live—it was the compassion of people who were or had experienced similar situations that helped me through. Someone who could love me, even when I could not.

Photo courtesy of Google Images, 2014.

Photo courtesy of Google Images, 2014.

I write about all of this to shine some light on the recent passing of actor, comedian, and family man, Robin Williams. While I have never known the man, I remain stunned by his death.

The man that made so many laugh, had stopped laughing.

There is a pervasive stigma that suicide—both ideation and the act—are demonstrative of weakness. That if we, as an individual, fail to seek out some inner light or shred of humanity to live for, we are weak. This is not the case.

If you have ever thought of suicide or have attempted (but are luckily with us today), you know it is not an easy task. Contrary to Manic Street Preachers, suicide is not painless.

We are still here. Still feeling. Still attempting to do some good in a world where bad seems to be winning. But, we won’t let it.

Social media plays a large role in many our lives. We are sometimes too quick to click the like button for the good things that happen in others’ lives and only post the good news. We are less inclined to touch base with someone who chooses instead, to share their truth with us: That life can be messy, and dark, and seem totally worthless.

Sometimes it takes one person to acknowledge our existence, to reach out to us and express that they know we are hurting, but are here to remind us that we are not alone. That, as Carl Sagan perfectly summarized: “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love”.

Love on the N from Manhattan to Brooklyn

We reach out distantly—
our arms spreading,
extending over Atlantic-Pacific.

You, Uptown.
Me, Downtown.

We hold the position—
children spinning
in circles, this world is more beautiful blurred.

You, Uptown.
Me, Downtown.

Growing dizzy, arms numb—
falling, it comes
upon us, the heaviness that seemed so light.

Survival of the Wittiest

In 1990, at only 4-years-old, I met my first fear. Short enough to fit under the kitchen table, I was found tightly gripping onto a wooden leg as I screamed: “The tomato is coming! The tomato is coming!” I loved vegetables, but I had no idea they could be this angry. Crazed winds opened windows as our old house moaned, its strength now seemingly diminished by an uncontrollable force. In only a matter of minutes it was gone, and I realized I had not survived a tomato fury, but instead, a tornado.

Photo courtesy of, 2014.

Photo courtesy of Three Rivers Press, 2014.

Life has always coexisted with these types of occurrences — natural disasters, virus outbreaks, and flesh-eating bacterium. Yet, sometimes there is only one way to improve our situation. Author, Andrew Shaffer, has done just that. In Shaffer’s latest fictional survival guide, How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Unnatural Disasters: Fight Back When Monsters and Mother Nature Attack, he manages to, in vivid detail, inform and entertain.

Shaffer, under the pseudonym of Fanny Merkin, first received success with his parody, “Fifty Shames of Earl Grey,” which focused on the pervasive concerns that plagued E. L. James’s series, Fifty Shades of Grey. Shaffer’s new work, while certainly a parody and ode to many of the ridiculous Syfy films viewers have seen throughout the years, is all about outsmarting the unrealistic.

Just in case you have yet to prepare your own sinking ship manifesto, but find yourself in the middle of a “Sharknado” or “Stonehenge Apocalypse,” Shaffer comes to the rescue. The guide illustrates complex catastrophes and monsters while seeking to enlighten and most of all, prepare readers to turn into the most worthy of opponents. In other words, we learn how to become monster-slaying, disaster-eradicating heroes.

As you might imagine, most of the work is tongue-in-cheek. Still, Shaffer manages to take tales of absurdity and spin them in such a way that the fiction remains sharp. The breakdown of the book includes two parts: Unnatural Disasters and Monsters. The sections are then broken down into further subsections: Fighting Mother Nature and When Earth Attacks (Part I) and Death If by Land and Destruction If by Sea (Part II). Particular favorites from the work include: “Arachnoquake,” “Polar Storm,” “Mongolian Death Worm,” and “Sharktopus”.

While the guide ranges from outlandish to witty, Shaffer’s introduction continues to echo to the conclusion of the work. As Shaffer puts so delicately: “No matter what we do, it’s too late to stop unnatural disasters and monsters. All we can do is survive them.”

[Published: 6 August 2014, The Weekender]

From Riffs to Words

Joni Mitchell, Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, Etta James, and Bruce Springsteen — all musicians who in their creative genius, also managed to dig deep into our souls by the power of their words. Swaying us in synchronous motion to their melodies, these artists, whether in the past or present, wrote about life and wrote it well. Wilkes-Barre, Pa. native, Tony Mazzarella, musician and now, novelist, is no exception.

Photo courtesy of Tony Mazzarella, 2014.

Photo courtesy of Tony Mazzarella, 2014.

Mazzarella is a man of many talents. An alumnus of Wilkes University, Mazzarella spent the last 25 years working in transportation, sales, and operations and technology industries. During that time, he also managed a family and heavy metal band, Six Guns Loaded as the lead guitarist and backup vocalist. Still, busy schedule aside, there lingered a creative endeavor waiting to be discovered. From his short story beginnings in elementary school to his début science fiction series, Destiny Earth, Mazzarella is finally seeing those dreams come to life.

In 2008, Mazzarella began writing the series, Destiny Earth. Less than a year later, the heart of his first novel was completed. It was not until 2009, that Mazzarella decided to seek representation for a book contract and soon was in the process of publishing the series. Due to unforeseen financial circumstances with the publisher, the contract was no longer a viable option. Mazzarella was devastated, but soon, he would use the setback to his advantage. “I had to put the book to the back of my mind, but I never stopped writing.”

Mazzarella said that while his music ventures were fulfilling, there remained a pull within him. That pull was his series, which he felt would only come to fruition if he channeled all of his creativity into writing while attempting to establish himself. In 2013, after making the difficult decision to leave music behind, Mazzarella sought professional editing for his work. Within a year, his destiny, the novel, was born.

The series was inspired from an article about the Mars Rover Program. In the work, the event occurs on a larger scale, only reversed — scientists on Mars observing Earth. The work goes on to explain the discovery of Earth’s origin while employing themes of politics, examination, and conservation. The plot attempts to showcase two sides to every story and alike to George Orwell’s 1984, Mazzarella’s series demonstrates a society under the authority of a looming and elite government.

Photo courtesy of Tony Mazzarella, 2014.

Photo courtesy of Tony Mazzarella, 2014.

While Mazzarella has always been an avid science fiction watcher, particularly of Battlestar Galactica, he expresses his love for fantasy authors J.R.R. Tolkien and James Blish. When discussing inspiration for his writing, it is life and not fiction that inspires him. “My writing is not about ego. It is terrifying to put myself out there. I do it for my family. My wife is a breast cancer survivor and I want to do so much for her and all of my children.” Mazzarella’s family has provided him with great support, even lending their own expertise. The work even extends to Mazzarella’s niece, Jacqueline Nowakowski who designed the cover art for the book.

Mazzarella said songwriting and creative storytelling are similar. He said some of the songs he has written may one day prompt a full-length novel. While much has changed in the realm of fantasy and science fiction, Mazzarella believes the genre still has room for improvement. “Some stories have gotten cold and robotic. You have to care about the characters.” Indeed, the aspect of relating to and caring about what happens to Mazzarella’s characters becomes one of the integral connections readers have to the work.

Currently, Mazzarella is writing the second part to the Destiny Earth series while working on a standalone novel, The Awakening. Mazzarella is set to begin his book signing tour on September 28. The first event will be held at the Moravian Bookstore in Bethlehem from 2 to 4 p.m.

Review of Mazzarella’s science fiction novel, Destiny Earth, can be found here.

[Published: 6 August 2014, The Weekender]

Finding ‘Destiny’

While examining the stars at night, we connect the visible constellations. We form our own notions as to what might exist on that interplanetary superhighway and who might be waiting for us. Not unlike the probing of Mars with NASA’s Exploration Rover Mission, in Tony Mazzarella’s debut science fiction novel, Destiny Earth, he imagines existence — viewing the “Pale Blue Dot” as it was 66 million years ago only this time — from Mars.

Photo courtesy of Tony Mazzarella, 2014.

Photo courtesy of Tony Mazzarella, 2014.

The novel begins with a conversation between protagonist and scientist, Dr. Will O’Neil, and colleague, Jonas Crouse. From the beginning, the tone demonstrates both humor and sarcasm, but their life’s mission is a serious one. As a result of their planet’s diminishing resources and increased population, O’Neil and his crew spend their days researching Earth for activity and habitability with the assistance of their Telos probe.

Of course, Will has not always been altruistic in his intentions. After a private scandal becomes public, Will realizes that his errors have proved more damaging to those around him. Only through Will’s vigilance to improve can he find his own humanity, and in turn, the impetus to save the rest of humankind. Will’s objective becomes that much more inspiring when Space Quorum scientist, Dr. Ileana Karkovich, is assigned to his project. Here, Mazzarella departs from the common damsel in distress trope and instead, makes Ileana one of the boldest in the group. Even after losing most of her family to intergalactic wars, Ileana holds out hope that her brother may have survived. Ileana continues ahead with unwavering power in the name of justice and allegiance to family.

Unfortunately for the group, competitor and Victory Space Commander, James Devon, has some bad news. In his profession, James is tasked to locate and disseminate news of asteroid activity. It is not until it is almost too late that James discovers a sizable asteroid headed toward one of the known colonies — Will’s. Even after a falling out, James ignores his pride and contacts Will to warn him of the impending doom. However, as the two men attempt to save humankind, there exists an elite and sinister group who only intend to save themselves by colonizing Earth while leaving the masses to die.

As the novel nears its conclusion, the mission grows more dangerous and readers come to the realization that there may only be few survivors. There, we observe Will aboard a spacecraft in distress, finding the life he knew and loved, seemingly gone in an instant. The closing pages of the novel may leave readers worried for those aboard, but one thing remains: “[Will] would make it there and build a life for himself […]. To do so he knew what had to be done. He had to overcome the grief and challenges that lay ahead and meet his destiny on a new world. His destiny was Earth.”

Destiny Earth is available for purchase online in print and in Kindle format. The gripping continuation to the saga is expected for release in July 2015.

[Published: 30 July 2014, The Weekender]