Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rita - Guest Post by The Junkenstein.

I am really proud to feature this week, a scribe who I think is an amazing writing talent. 

Andrea Costanzo resides currently in Northern Italy and he is one of those rare individuals whose ability to communicate beyond boundaries is something quite exceptional. Andrea and I have enjoyed many conversations over the past couple years. We have discussed writing, life, depression and happiness, music and madness and all points in between.

Writing as The Junkenstein, Andrea is the persona behind the blog "Making Angels Cry" and, more recently, the weekly music podcast "The Junk's Trunk" in which he show cases some wonderfully eclectic music from around the world. He is this kind of explorer, if you will, of life as we know it.

Late last year, Andrea produced a piece for Making Angels Cry that, quite literally, blew my mind. Entitled "Rita", the piece was an emotion charged vignette of a woman whose life was marked by tragedy, struggle, torment and pure love. It's power lay in the unpolished beauty of it's voice, the rawness of it's style and the impact of it's protagonist's presence.

After talking with Andrea, I asked him if I could feature this piece here and he has kindly given his blessing.


by Andrea Costanzo.

There was this girl. I dont know what her dreams were. She never told me, really. But when she was a kid, she was raised in a loving family; her, her sister, her father and her mother.

They were dirt poor, and not in the way people use the word today. They were seriously fighting each day to survive. The mother worked in the rice planations. It was a nasty job. You were stuck in swampish water all day, surrounded by water snakes and it slowly destroyed your back. But it got her money to raise her kids. Her sister was a "special" kid. No clear defnition of what she had, she was normal, but she had a mind developed slightly slower than the rest.

The father - who the girl loved more than anyone else in the world - was a worker in the train station and tried to make ends meet with other work as a handyman.

They loved each other. One day a form of illness, maybe meningitis - no one was sure of anything back then - it took the younger of the girls. She fell asleep. And she died.

After a while, the mother, broken down by grief, got hit by leukemia. She died too.

The girl, whose name was Rita, and her father were each other's world - the beginning and the end. The man did everything he could to full his daughter's life with love, to be enough of a family for her, to be her strength and to protect her from the pain of all that loss.

Rita had grown strong, intelligent and witty. She was a brilliant student, although she never went to University cause she couldnt afford it. She found a job quickly though and was great at it. The father was proud.

She also had started dating the son of a rich family. He wasn't a bad guy. Weak perhaps. A bit spineless - broken by a family who raised him with a steely disdain for him, his fists and his anger. But he loved her, it seemed, and he could've made her ... maybe ... happy?

Yet her father drank too much. Pain is a bad beast to cage. And that took his toll. He died eventually, of liver failure.

Rita was left alone in the world. All she had was this man she was dating. He seemed to love her, and she loved him back with all his flaws. Maybe his family could have been a family for her too. One that gave her love ... security.

It didn't happen. The two married. But the man's family always hated Rita and did everything they could to humiliate her ... hurt her ... and make her life miserable.

It hurt. Because this man wasn't on her side. He was a slave to his family, too scared to protect her. 

Too weak to react.

And then they had a baby. And Rita loved the baby the moment their eyes met. That baby was all she lived for. If only her family was there to see him, they would've been so happy.

Her husband's family kinda rejected the baby too. But she would defend him at any cost. Even if she was completely alone in this.

And the year passed. And the solitude and pain became stronger. She started drinking more and more. Her husband became meaner with age, he never understood how to be a husband or a father. All he could do was yell or say cruel things. Or simply say nothing at all. He would disappear when he was needed. Left her to do everything.

And the more difficult her life became, the more she drank.

And when the baby grew, he drank too. And he disappointed her as much as a son could. He went into drugs, failures, and all the mistakes a son can do.

And she just broke...

Rita became a wreck. Drinking all day and night. Embarassing herself. Becoming a problem and a reason for her husband and son to point their greasy fingers at her.

She was a good mother but with every drunken moment of hate, those memories of love got erased.

She did things that slowly destroyed the love that her son and her shared.

And it turned, maybe to hate.

But when she visited him one day, barely walking, unkempt hair, aged beyond her years, crushed by alcohol, pills and cigaretetes and so many attempts at suicide... 

She asked him about his coughing. His flu. She gave him a homemade remedy.

And while he hated all the hurt that she brought to her life via the bottle, he could not stop his heart from shattering, seeing her like that. He would ask her to get checked, but she refused.

All she wants now is to die. And maybe join her family, somewhere. What is left on this earth has hurt her so much.

And when they parted, his heart ached so hard.


Copright © 2011 Andrea Costanzo. Reproduced with permission by Hambledown Road Imprints.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Apartment C3 - There Need Be No Other Title.

I can remember my grandfather being an avid reader of the broad sheet newspaper. 

Long before sunrise, Pa would be out on his morning walk, doing a few laps of the local race track in those pre-dawn hours where your breath is visible in the cold morning air, swinging by my father's barber shop for a coffee and a few minutes of conversation before collecting the daily newspaper on his way home to read with his breakfast. 

Along with the cross word puzzle, one of Pa's greatest joys was the daily cartoon. The cartoon, usually a single panel, captured the mood of the day or the week perfectly with some sort of tongue in cheek observation about life or politics or society. Anything that took the piss really. And you could almost be guaranteed that Pa would let out one of his patented chuckles that sounded like Mutley the Dog from the Wacky Races cartoon back in the day.

20 years after his death, I still remember his love of the daily cartoon and I like to think that I've kinda continued the tradition, in a sense. However, my version of the daily cartoon comes to me via the web and is enjoyed on my Samsung Tablet - usually with a cup of coffee on the patio.

A weekly web series entitled "Apartment C3" has now firmly captured the mantle of my 'daily cartoon' and it makes me laugh my pants off (not literally)...

Apartment C3 follows the travails, the trials and the and tribulations (is that even coherent???) of four New Yorkers - comedian and Spanish/American orator Carmen Lynch, photographer and filmmaker Chris Vongsawat, comedian and self confessed sweet tooth tragic Liz Miele and finally, quite possibly the most gentrified cat with 'tude I've ever come across Pasta.

Each Monday, the Apartment C3 gang present a short video vignette in which the minutiae of apartment C3 life is presented in all it's unabashed quirkiness. The four performers innate sense of timing and comedy are joyful to watch. They are a HILARIOUS combination! Each Wednesday, under the exquisite eye of Vongsawat, the gang put up a comedic photo which is invariably topical and centers around their lives in the Apartment. Directed and shot by Vongsawat, the guy and girls serve up something fresh and funny every week and I am always guaranteed of a laugh. 

It's like the modern day equivalent of a newspaper cartoon, except that Apartment C3 lives and breathes. I have become a self confessed tragic...in much the same way that I was a Footrot Flats tragic as a kid. Here is just one example of their genius for you to enjoy...

The team behind Apartment C3 are a razor sharp unit who bring to the comedy a wealth of experience and talent.  

Carmen Lynch is a stand-up comic who has appeared on Last Comic Standing, Comedy Central and ComedyTV. She’s freelanced for Mad Magazine and was a writer for TuNite Con Lorenzo Parro on Telemundo. She speaks fluent Spanish - which I can attest to, having seen this video of her performing on stage in Spain itself very recently. Her performance is nigh on flawless - at least, I think it's flawless...because I don't speak Spanish...I only speak Australian. Lynch is a master of expression and physicality which she invariably puts to use in the Apartment C3 vignettes.

Chris Vongsawat is a photographer/filmmaker whose pictures have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Crain’s New York Business and Photo District News. He has produced work for Louis Vuitton, Banana Republic and SHAPE Magazine. I have viewed Chris' portfolio at his website and, I have got to say - it is ah-mazing! Chris has produced a series of wonderful 'moving headshots' for various models and actors which not only show case the subjects themselves but also Chris' brilliant eye, his innate sense of lighting, texture and movement. They are quite lovely to behold. With his Apartment C3 work, Chris imbues his moving images and stills with wit and humour. If he was ever to produce a coffee table book based on his Apartment C3 material alone, I'd be first in line to secure a copy.   

Liz Miele is also a Brooklyn based stand-up comic who’s been on the circuit in her home country at - now get this - aged 16! Liz has been profiled in The New Yorker, New York Times, New York Times magazine and New Jersey Monthly. Her stand-up - which combines a cooky and high watt energy with astute and whimsical observation - has also been featured at Live at Gotham and Comedy Central no less. In Apartment C3, Liz shines as the kind of glue that holds it all together - the eternal optimist, although there are occasions where she can unleash a Jekyll and Hyde slap down when it's called for. When she's not performing on stage, Liz likes running - a lot - and she regularly competes in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC with her Dad. According to Liz, she speaks three phrases in French.

And of course, I would be remiss if I were not to profile Pasta Miele - the self confessed lynch pin of the whole Apartment C3 operation. Pasta is described as a professional cat model whos pictures have been seen by anyone that has talked to Liz in the last 6 years. She’s vocal, loves kitty treats, has abandonment issues and loves to cuddle. Pasta wears the pants in the Apartment. 

As a document for the modern age, Apartment C3 is resoundingly fresh and fearless, presenting comedic minutiae that is guaranteed to make you smile. Like the daily cartoon that my Pa used to look forward to when I was a kid, its RSS feed is one I proudly display at the top of my Pulse aggregator on my Tablet and, come Tuesday (Australian time) and Thrusday (Australian time), I get a more than a little buzzed when I see a new alert from the Apartment C3 gang.  


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Be In Love - There Need Be No Other Title.

I've had quite musical banquet in the past couple of weeks and it has led me to some new aural discoveries which are always welcome to my ears. 

I took my serioso to see Feist for her birthday at the 'Thebby' in Adelaide back on the 9th and I made the comment at the time that I would renounce my Australian citizenship tomorrow, just to become a Canadian and have the opportunity to see Feist live a lot more. She was, in a word, sumptuous. 

But in all of my gushing about Feist and Canadians being the most beautiful people on Earth, I received a new Twitter follower who instantly caught my attention and had me eagerly checking out her website and her music. As such, I just had to add her to my growing list of "There Need Be No Other Title" entries.

Amanda Abizaid, though not immediately recognizable to me, is a songstress and composer of formidable talent and one who has amassed a seriously impressive portfolio since she first emerged onto the scene in the late 90's.

Born in Beirut, Lebanon and migrating to the U.S. in the middle 90's, Amanda has worked as both a model and actress garnering critical success for her work but it is to her music I am drawn and her vocal talent in particular which is truly something to behold.

Her body of work as a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist (piano, guitar, and flute) Amanda is best known as the captivating vocalist on the theme song “A Place In Time” from Paramount’s The 4400, the featured song “Dreams in Ashes” from Lifetime Television’s Odd Girl Out, as well as other lead vocal appearances in songs appearing in Smallville, Ed, One Tree Hill, Felicity, and Charmed. Amanda has also contributed compositions for feature films such as 3 Below, 13th Alley, and an independent short film, Facing the Lion, by writer director, Joe Plonsky, and executive producer, Scott Spiegel, in which she has a starring role.

"Be In Love" is Amanda Abizaid's latest solo release, an eight track EP that show cases Abizaid's wide ranging vocal talent, her skill across a number of instruments and her ambitious fusion of a number of musical styles.

Abizaid's voice has a smoky, sensual and passionate sensibility which is incredibly attractive and she has quite a range too, which allows her to vary her ability effortlessly across the six vocal tracks. Her Middle Eastern roots shine through which adds a earthy texture to her voice and I have to say that I am a sucker for these influences. I have been listening to a number of artists who have drawn from Middle Eastern musical styles - both Chemda Khalili and Lisa Gerrard come to mind instantly - and I'm happy say Amanda Abizaid is a beautiful addition to my catalog.

Her music fuses those Middle Eastern rhythms and instruments with an urban flavor that floats from jazz to world music to even a little bit of hip-hop. It has the potential to get a bit messy but here, on each track of the EP, it totally works. It sounds effortless and well polished. You will be bouncing your head after a while, I guarantee it. 

Thematically "Be In Love" speaks of love and life and personal growth from Amanda's perspective and it has been influenced largely from her life thus far, growing up in Lebanon and migrating to America. It feel is positive and reflective and it's a refreshingly individual work, created with a lot of care and constructed meticulously. 

At $5.99 "Be In Love" is a worthy addition to your library and one that connects you directly with the artist - avoiding the various middle men/women along the way. As with previous entries to my "There Need Be No Other Title" series, I am pleased knowing that 100% of my hard earned goes directly to artist. 

Amanda Abizaid is one of those gems that you find when you least expect it. And they are truly the best ones. 


Monday, February 13, 2012

Sketching The Gift - Part Three.

Yesterday, I achieved a small-ish milestone when, having used Scrivener for about a month now, I was able to compile a huge mess of documents, disparate notes, random passages of text and completed Chapters into one entire, coherent document. The process took me the better part of about 6 hours but it was totally worth it.

I now have a manuscript comprising a total of 19 chapters, with some additional material that I hope to compile this week which will add another 3 completed chapters to the manuscript. I've set a target of 30 chapters for the final manuscript so, you can understand that I'm a little excited that the finish line on this phase of the project at least, is in view. 

Looking at the overall project in it's current state, I can identify a number of additions I need to make which aren't huge additions, but they will give additional flesh to both the characters and the story. And I've gotta say, Scrivener is one of the coolest tools I've ever used to put together a project. Even though my user level is pretty basic, I've been able to learn a great deal about the project and I'm able to see things much more clearly.

My output has increased exponentially over the past couple of weeks and I am certainly feeling a whole lot better than I was a month ago. 

Anyway, I couldn't resist taking a screen shot of where I am at. Apparently, having pictures on your blog is a good thing.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sketching "The Gift" - Part Two.

It's often the case that inspiration will come at you from out of no where.

As I continue to work on my latest writing project, I remain a "bower bird" - a collector of minutiae. It may be the most esoteric 'thing' - like a lollie wrapper or a flower from a particular place, a shard of an old house brick that has a certain smell. I collect these things because they fire off something in my imagination. Sometimes that "something" is completely unknown to me but I take and I add to my collection basket because I know that it will come in handy at some point. Sometimes, the 'thing' that I am looking for is a lot more obvious to me and it carries much more significance. When I do happen upon it, it opens the flood gates.

A couple of weekends ago, I helped my brother in law move some furniture to his new home just outside of a little town in South Australia's mid north called Orooroo. He's just been employed by a resources board up there working with water management and the environment and was able to rent a farm house on a sprawling thousand acres of grazing country - not quite the true outback of Australia, but pretty damned close to it. 

Anyway, he and I and my other brother in law convoyed it up there, with three cars and two trailers on a fairly balmy Saturday afternoon. The journey took around three and a half hours. Now, once you hit the outskirts of Adelaide's north, you pretty quickly enter into a rural heartland that is as far removed from the city as you can get. The architecture changes too, and at various points along the way, you pass farming country that is dotted with examples of stone construction from a seriously bygone era. Home steads, cottages, stables, sheds - all in various states of disrepair. Some of them are crumbling to the earth, while others standing silent in remarkably good condition. 

As I'm driving along, I'm thinking about the novel that I am writing and in particular, I'm thinking about the portion of the novel that takes place in the rural Australia of the 1950's. This is the farm where my young protagonist, Virginia Crammond is taken after having been forcibly removed from her mother by the Aborigines Protectorate Officers. I'm starting to see comparisons to the image I've built up in my head of the farm that features in the story but as I pass by these random places, nothing is jumping out at me that is particularly inspiring.

Then, after several hours, we arrive at the farm where my brother in law will be living and I am quite literally floored. There is a farm house there that stands derelict but still intact, old stone buildings and sheds that are in various states of disrepair. The surrounding country side is vast, barren and totally isolating but beautiful at the same time. 

This isn't just a farm. It is the farm. It is My farm. 

This is the place I have pictured in my mind's eye for so long and I could not believe that I was actually in this place, a place I have written so vividly about for so many months now. 

Suffice to say, I got my cell phone camera out and began snapping in earnest. 

Now, I know that these images will be a little difficult for you to get your mind around in terms of how they fit into the story. But they speak to a place that - in my story at least - is harsh, unforgiving and, for an 8 year old Aboriginal girl who has been removed from everything she knows and placed here, crushingly isolating. I should add a disclaimer here too and say that the setting for the farm as depicted in the novel is not actually specific to a particular place. The farm's location will remain ambiguous in the novel and be described only as being somewhere in the rural regions of South Australia. 

To give you an idea of the tone and the story of my new work, do check out my work in progress preview pieces here at my site.

It's a visual epiphany that has totally fired my imagination.


It is at once a harsh and unforgiving landscape and yet incredibly beautiful.

The summer storm hung around for several hours and put on a magnificent show. 

This farmhouse, long since deserted is in surprisingly good shape and is now the focal point for many of the critical scenes in my new work "Gifts Of The Peramangk"

Close up of the stone construction employed in these beautiful buildings.

The old homestead that has now become "The Penschey Homestead" (Note - there is a beautiful old cast iron wood burning stove in the kitchen that I would give my left kidney for).

An old Bedford truck that I'd like to use in the novel - if I can confirm it's circa 1950's. (My brother in law is seeing if he can pop the hood).

Movement from the past.

A stone building that I have claimed as "Virginia's Outhouse". It's a rather cosy little dwelling inside, which at one time had power to it. (My brother in law Dan stands in the foreground).

"Gifts of the Peramangk" is Copyright © 2011 Dean Mayes & Hambledown Road Imprints.