Friday, July 24, 2015

Vanni is HERE!! (I'm so excited. Are you excited??)

Back before Andy and before Dreaming in Blue, Vanni was just a regular Joe with a dream much bigger than anyone close to him (aside from his beloved aunt) thought he could actually manifest. A lot of women came through his revolving door, some angels, some lil devils, but the one who started him on the road to his beloved Andy was actually a simple barkeep named Pam.

A lil teaser, and one of the many reasons I love this man...


When I get back to the neighborhood, I can’t even go home. I head to my local haunt, Fritz’s, for a beer. The cute black waitress is there, as is a heavier girl with a shock of red hair and tattoos along her chest and arms. She wears black-framed glasses, and when she smiles it makes me smile too. As different as she is from her bartender, I find this other girl just as cute. Of course, that’s usually how it is with me. Call me a romantic, but I’ve always found women fascinating, like mysterious puzzles that are so much fun to unlock. I’m an Italian, for fuck’s sake. This is what we do. We appreciate the finer things in life, those beautiful things that make life worth living. For me that has always been wine, women and song.

Like ol’ George Thorogood, I like ‘em all. Tall girls. Skinny girls. Curvy girls. Blondes, brunettes and redheads, and girls of every race. They can be tattooed or plain, serious or silly, but every single one of them shines like a diamond when they smile, or their eyes flash, or they walk by in a perfume-scented breeze. Their curves invite to be held. Their voices invite to be heard. Their skin begs to be touched. Far too many guys don’t get this. They see women as paper dolls to collect, pretty or perfect little badges of honor they wear with pride.

The way I see it, every single woman is pretty if you know where to look, and I don’t mind looking. Nothing has ever meant more to me than finding that treasure everyone else forgot. I was the kid who would send anonymous valentine’s cards to the girls in my class I knew wouldn’t get any otherwise. Their smile was often reward enough. A girl is always prettiest when she knows she’s appreciated.

This new girl takes my order as I perch on one of the barstools. I get the feeling she hasn’t been appreciated for a long, long time. “You’re new here,” I say, still wearing my smile from before.

I can tell from the sparkle in her eye that she likes what she sees. “Not so new. It’s my dad’s bar. He’s finally decided I’m old enough to work in it. Happy thirtieth birthday to me.”

I laugh as I reach across the bar. “Nice to meet you. I’m Giovanni. Friends call me Vanni.”

“Pam,” she says. I like the way that sounds. Sweet and simple, like swinging on a hammock on a perfect summer afternoon. “What can I get you?”

I lean forward, my arms crossed over each other. “Let’s test your muster behind the bar. Guess.”

She laughs. It’s a hearty, robust sound. Like music. “Challenge accepted.” She turns her back for a moment and then returns with my favorite beer on tap. I take a sip. It’s right on the money. “Okay, I was kidding. How did you do that?”

She shrugs with another smile. “No big deal. That’s our most popular beer with the regulars. Local brewery and all that.”

“And here I thought you were psychic,” I say as I bestow a cocky smirk. “I was going to ask you what to do with my future and everything.”

“Oh yeah?” she says as she leans across the bar to face me. “Life got you down, gorgeous?”

I shrug. “Torn by what I want to do and what I need to do.”

She laughs. “I know what that’s like,” she says.

“Oh yeah?” I echo. She nods. I rest my chin on my hand. “So what did little Pam want to be when she grew up?”

She laughs more. I love the sound. It makes me happier just to hear it. “First of all, I’ve never been little. Secondly, I’m not telling you because it’s silly.”

“Well, now I gotta hear it.” She shakes her head, giggling to herself. “Tell me.”

She leans towards me, to whisper as loud as she can over the jukebox in the corner. “Fine. But if you laugh, I’ll charge you double.” I lock my lips with an imaginary key and toss it over my shoulder. She glances both ways before she leans even closer. She smells like peonies. “I wanted to be a Rockette.”

I immediately purse my lips so that I don’t laugh. She reaches for her water nozzle and sprays me. I laugh as I reach for a stack of napkins to dry myself.

“Okay, hot shot. What did you want to be?”

I smile. I’m having a good time. The best time I’ve had in quite a while, in fact. “Guess.”

Her big green eyes travel over me. “Well, lemme see. You’re dressed like a corporate flunkie, but you have hair straight out of the 1980s. Those soulful brown eyes tell me you’re generally up to no good.” I can’t help but chuckle. “And that mouth is pure sex. I can so see it just behind a microphone.”

My eyes widen. “Okay, you’re kind of freaking me out a little, Pam.”

“Come on, dude. Look at you. Who would you be if it wasn’t a rock star?”

I sigh and take another swig of beer. “That’s what I keep asking myself.”

“So what’s stopping you?”

I shake my head. I can’t even remember anymore. I open my mouth to talk about my aunt, but I can’t yet. The pain is too fresh. “I’m twenty-six. I have a house. I have two jobs. I have a girlfriend.”

She nods. She gets it now. “Let me guess. Your girl doesn’t want to share you with the world.”

“My girl doesn’t think I’ll get that far.”

“Well, that’s kind of shitty.”

My eyes dart to hers. I’m surprised by her reaction. “She just wants us to be practical. It’s really hard to make it. I mean, when did you give up on your dream to be a dancer?”

She shrugs. “I’m not sure that I ever gave it up entirely. It’d be a sad existence if we give up hope in our dreams.” I continue to stare at her, waiting for her answer. “I don’t know,” she finally says. “It just ceased being a priority, I guess. It just fell further and further down the list until it slipped off of it entirely. I don’t think I even noticed. In fact, I kind of forgot about it until you asked.”

That instantly depresses me to hear it. “So what are you going to do about it?”

“Depends. What are you going to do about it?”

I smile. She reminds me a lot of my aunt, but for once it doesn’t hurt. I hold up a finger, indicating I need a minute. I reach into my pocket and pull out some money for the jukebox. She watches as I peruse the selection, and then Queen’s ode to fat, luscious bottoms blasts from the speakers. She laughs as she realizes what I pick. I wear a smile as I walk back to the bar, my hand outstretched. “I’m going to ask you to dance.”

She only thinks about it for a moment before she wads up her towel and tosses it on the bar. She takes my hand and I lead her to the small, deserted dance floor. I grab her by the waist and lead her through some sexy moves to the pulsating beat. Her hips undulate under my palms to the music with natural grace. How could she ever think her dream was silly? I lean forward to tell her in her ear, “You really can dance.”

Her eyebrow cocks. “Can you really sing?”

I hold her close and pick up on the next verse. I can feel her practically swoon against me, which makes me feel like the most powerful man on the planet. That’s not a rush I get delivering mail to scowling businessmen in stuffy suits. It emboldens me. She reaches up to say in my ear, “You should never give that up. You have a gift.”

God, I hadn’t heard that in so long. I realize now it’s all I’ve ever wanted to hear, ever since my aunt passed. “And you shouldn’t give up dancing,” I tell her. “You can really move.”

“For a fat girl,” she fills in but I shake my head.

“For anyone.” I hold her closer, unafraid of those full curves. They’re sensual. Womanly. “You don’t see me complaining, do you?”

She shakes her head and laughs, as if I’ve told her a funny joke. “You are a shameless flirt, Giovanni Carnevale. Maybe you should take some of that charm home for your girlfriend.”

I pout. I’m not ready to leave. For the first time in months, I feel like someone actually gets me. But she has a point. The dance and flirting have been fun up till now, but it can’t go anywhere.

I’m a lot of things but I’m not a cheat.

After the dance is over, we return to the bar where she tends to more customers. I fish my pen out of my jacket and grab some extra napkins from the tray. I jot down all the lyrics I had memorized on the ride home.

I come up with a solid chorus, which I copy onto another napkin. I take ten dollars out of my wallet and place it on top of the folded napkin. On the top I write, “See you at Rockefeller Center.”


VANNI is LIVE now. So what are you waiting for?? Go get him!




Tuesday, July 14, 2015

It's the time of the season...for Vanni. The countdown begins NOW.

In just ten days, you will get to know the man behind the music, the romantic behind the manwhore. Find out all Vanni's dirty little secrets with VANNI: A PREQUEL, the fourth book in the beloved GROUPIE SAGA!!

Here's a lil' taste to whet the appetite.


By the time I make it back to Brooklyn, I’m ready to celebrate. I head straight to Fritz’s, which is abuzz courtesy of a new karaoke machine to turn up the volume on 80s night. The bar is so full I can barely squeeze between the bodies. I hold up a finger to Pam, who knows already what I order. She nods and gives me a wink. I turn around to face the happy folks crowded around the tiny stage erected on the limited dance floor. Some woman nearing her 40s is massacring “Open Arms” by Journey. I grimace through it, while everyone else claps and encourages her on. They’re all happily under the influence, which I presume makes it easier to enjoy the show.

Pam appears like an angel beside me, offering me a frosty mug of beer. I lean down so she can hear me. “When did you decide to go karaoke?”

She laughs. “This is the first weekend. It’s sort of a trial run.” We glance around the crowded bar, which is more business than this neighborhood haunt has seen in quite a while.

“Looks like it was a successful experiment,” I say.

She shrugs. Her lovely apple cheeks flush with a faint hint of pink I can still detect under the colorful lights. “It was my idea,” she says. “Confession, you kind of inspired it.”

“Oh, yeah?”

She nods. “Yeah.” Her bright eyes sparkle up at me. “You should totally go up there. Show them how it’s done.”

“You think?”

“I know,” she says. “You’ll have them eating out of the palm of your hand, Vanni.”

With a shrug, I figure what the hell? I get in line and set up my song. I dig back in time a little deeper and pick “Time of the Season” by the Zombies, because I’ve always thought it was a sexy song. A sexy song deserves a sexy delivery, and I’m more than ready to shed that rat race idiot who used to work at McKinley, Donnelly and Roth. I toss my hair with my fingers, and I untuck my dress shirt, which I unbutton halfway down my chest. I almost wish I could shed it completely, but that seems too much.

Maybe one day…

As soon as I hit the stage, it’s as natural as breathing. I look out at the expectant faces in the crowd, like a lion surveys a pack of juicy wildebeests. The girls in particular are ripe for the picking. They brazenly scope me up and down, sending me suggestive smiles as they stare up at me. Well, what do you know? The girls I love actually love me back. They’re not looking down their noses at me like Stu. They’re not rolling their eyes at me like Lori. They look at me like I’m interesting, fascinating, appealing, and all I had to do was step on this stage. How fucking wonderful is that? The minute the song starts, I’m somebody else. Only this somebody isn’t some pathetic little automaton punching a time card. I wield power like a magician, and the microphone is my wand. I hear my voice through the speakers. It doesn’t even sound like me. It sounds better than me.

It’s him, the New Vanni who has finally given his last fuck.

Watch Giovanni Carnelvale claw his way out of obscurity in VANNI: THE PREQUEL, available now for pre-order on Amazon, coming very soon to iTunes and B&N!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A #TBT post ten years in the making; or, how @HalSparks changed my life.

Way back in 2002, life was pretty mundane. I was a wife and a mother. I worked hard, supported the family, retained a few close friendships, including one with my ex that no one could understand.

And like all periods of life that are marked with perspective-changing events, the way I look at pre-2002 life has changed pretty significantly because of the way my life has gone post-2002. I don't even know if I'd recognize that Ginger anymore. A LOT has changed. You know how it is. Something monumental happens and it changes your world so much that you can't even really remember what life was truly like before that event. You're a different version of yourself, changed and altered forever, unable (and unwilling) to go back to the way you were.

My life could be marked in many significant ways, with pivotal relationships that could be used as mile markers along the journey. Things before my dad died versus after my dad died. Things before I met my best friend Jeff, and things after. Things before my worst mistakes or biggest blessings, and those things afterwards.

These relationships and events refined me, whittled me down to where I'm supposed to be, whether they burn long like a fuse, or explode like dynamite.

This month marks the ten-year mark anniversary of one such fortuitous meeting, and I am humbled to honor it today.

Like I said, life in 2002 was about as normal as normal gets for me. I was working from home, my kids were in elementary and middle schools. Steven worked varying jobs and my ex, Dan, lived right down the street, spending a great deal of time at the house so he could bond with the kids.

It was one of those rare times where I actually lived in the same town as my best friend, so we'd occasionally hang out or do stuff, like go to the bar or maybe a joint shopping spree at the local Walmart at two o'clock in the morning. (Hey. If it was good enough for Oprah... it was good enough for us.) Mostly we chatted online like we had since 1996, through instant messages that are an ever present corner at the top corner of my computer screen.

Despite my rather ordinary existence, I still harbored extraordinary dreams. I knew something was missing. I knew what I wanted, of course, but I wasn't entirely convinced that someone like me could get it. Like I said, things were a lot different back then. There were ten times as many gatekeepers as there were cheerleaders. Jeff thought I could get it. Steven thought I could get it. But there was that hidden part of me that wondered if they weren't just telling me what I wanted to hear just to make me happy, since agents, production companies and publishers remained unconvinced.

I mean, I wanted some pretty crazy stuff, and I began to think all those gatekeepers were in place to show me I was in no way prepared to make those things happen.

Still, thanks to Steven's influence, I was writing a lot back in those days. From January of 2002, I tinkered quite a bit with screenwriting. I joined online groups, I shared my work with a lot of other writers who helped me hone the craft. Back then the conventional wisdom was that you had to live in Los Angeles to make it as a working screenwriter, and I had just moved the year before. I wasn't in any mood to return. I still held onto my dream though, working diligently on producing the best content I could as I toiled at my craft, waiting for the Great Until to make all my lofty dreams reality.

If you've read FIERCE, then you already know about The Great Until. It's where most of us scaredy cats loiter, waiting for permission to chase after our dreams. The more stuff you put in between you and your dream, the longer get to entertain the fantasies of it coming true. It's like Schrodinger's Cat. The longer you keep your dream in the box, the longer you get to believe there's a chance it's still alive and well. Sure the hard reality and grim statistics suggest that your dream has suffocated and died a horrible death, but as long as you don't open that box, you'll never know which is which. "They" say never to ask questions that you don't want to know the answer to. Well, something on the "To Do" list is a lot shinier than something painful and disappointing listed in the "Fail" column, which was where most of my aspirations were destined to fall.

Let's face it. I was chasing an industry that says no way wore than it says yes. To stand out, I'd have to be special, and I was wholly unconvinced that I was. Nothing in my life supported the idea that I was one of the scant percent who could make a career out of writing. Everything "realistic" scoffed that I could beat the odds.

I had accepted the limits and was "realistic" about my journey; which is to say I downplayed and normalized the dream as some happy accident that might happen someday, rather than a plan with a purpose I could control if I put my mind to it. The way I was raised, however, believing in anything fantastic or extraordinary seemed stupid or arrogant. I mean, who did I think I was for cryin' out loud? I'd need some kind of proof that I wasn't just some average, ordinary girl, entertaining foolish dreams before I could really let myself commit to following them. Otherwise I'd just get my hopes up, and standard human logic advises against that.

I believed, like so many believe, that big things like that can't happen to someone like me. It would take a significant event, or at the very least, an objective observer, to convince me otherwise.

Funny thing about those events. You can never really predict in what kind of package they come. You think you know what it will look like (in my case, getting any traction from anyone in the industry on anything I've written,) but that's the thing about serendipity... it's supposed to surprise you. It happens by chance, and, in my case, from a completely unexpected source.

In 2002, I happened stumble across a 10-episode special called I Love the 80s on VH1, where various celebrities waxed nostalgic about a decade I knew all too well. I was in my early 30s then, so the nostalgia didn't quite hurt yet. It wasn't as long of a reach as say, my 40s, so it was fun to look back and reminisce.

Seeing as how I love comedy, it helped that the show was funny. Most of the talking heads were comedians of some sort, which I think was the bigger draw of the series. Yes, I could remember Trapper Keepers, who shot J.R., Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear or a variety of movies and songs I enjoyed throughout the decade, but to have all that funneled through the brilliant mind of a talented comedian was just icing on the proverbial cake.

One such comedian stood out among the rest almost from the beginning. It didn't take very long at all (about ten minutes into Episode 1, 1980, in fact, when he was talking about Strawberry Shortcake dolls,) before I found myself looking forward to what he would have to say about a topic. And I'd be disappointed if they didn't include anything from him at all. He was like Steven and Jeff all rolled into one. He was smart. He was funny. He was quick-witted. And he always said things about these topics that I could hear me or my friends saying. (Just probably not as funny.)

His name was Hal Sparks... and I knew instantly that he was a-freakin-dorable and double-dipped in awesomesauce.

I enjoyed those first 10 episodes of nostalgia mostly because of him. I was pleased when they decided to come back with even more 80s hilarity in I Love the 80s Strikes Back. Eventually they covered the 70s, the 90s and even the 2000s, and I watched every single one of them, both brand new and in reruns. I didn't pursue anything beyond that, really. There was no need. I didn't have premium channels, so I didn't get Queer as Folk, the Showtime series in which he starred from 2000-2005. After a cursory perusal through information online, I was pretty content to just enjoy him whenever he happened to pop up. This included a surprise appearance in Spider-man 2, where I may or may not have squealed in the theater like a complete dork of a fangirl. (Steven is currently under a gag order and not allowed to answer should you ask him about it. :-X)

What little I did learn about him over the next two years made me like him even more. It was really rather ridiculous how many new ways I found to admire him. He had a band, so that meant he was a rock star on TOP of being a comedian (which are two of my very favoritest things.)

He was even an accomplished martial artist, which... hot damn.

It was clear from the get-go that this was an exceptional human being. He cared about the world and the people in it, and was prepared and eager to do the hard work to change what needed to be changed.

Hal Sparks Talks Peace Semantics from nobody on Myspace.

What impressed me most, however, was the kindness that he showed to his fans. I was no stranger to fan clubs, especially online fan clubs. My experiences with such places were usually mixed. I'd usually find a few solid friends and then leave the group entirely thanks to some of the nastier, crazier members of the group.

And there were always nastier, crazier members of the group. Where do you think GROUPIE came from?

I didn't really see much of that when I did any initial research on Hal. (The crazies came later.) By 2004, when I would poke around Hal's message boards, I found that most of his most vocal fans were people like him; outspoken and driven and socially minded. This was a QAF audience, mostly. With QAF being such a progressive, fearless show, it would only stand to reason that the fans it attracted would be likewise.

So many of these folks had amazing stories to share. They would meet him and he'd be wonderful, which was important to me. I had already met one celebrity idol, only to watch him plummet off of the pedestal he had enjoyed for nineteen years. He dismissed me in one glance-over, simply because of how I looked. As groupies go, I'm not usually on the short list of folks who get handpicked for special treatment. Had my thinner, prettier friend not been with me, I'm fairly certain my toppled idol would have blown me off altogether, simply because he had the power to choose and plenty of options to choose from.

I knew I never wanted to go through that again. I get enough of that shit from "regular" people.

So I was perfectly content managing my growing fangirliness from afar. Things are just safer that way and, frankly, I'm used to it.

That all changed in November of 2004. I opened my email inbox and found a letter to me from the Hal Sparks website address. I thought maybe it was confirming my email address for the mailing list. I opened it and read, "A little birdie, and by little birdie I mean big birdie you're married to, told me it was your birthday!"

Unbeknownst to me, Steven had written Hal and asked him to wish me a happy birthday... which he did... cuz he's just that guy.

After that, I made the first timid steps to make contact myself. Hal was in the industry I aspired to enter myself, so I knew that I could learn a lot from him. What better teacher? He's smart and funny and fearless and accomplished... and I wanted to learn how to become a couple of those things. Like I said, I had big dreams. I wanted to write both books and movies, in whatever genre that tickled my fancy. I kept bumping up against walls that said I had to pick and choose, but I didn't want to do that. Hal could teach a master class about accepting no limits. And since he started his standup career at the tender age of 15, I knew damn well he certainly wasn't waiting around till the Great Until to get shit done.

How did he get so dadgum awesome? I had to know.

Thanks to a forum post he had written to tell folks about a brand new website called Myspace, I joined the burgeoning social media in its infancy. I was still insecure and self-conscious as hell. One of my Great Untils was when I'd look okay, more like everyone else, so that I could integrate myself into society. If any of you are old enough to remember early Myspace, it was like the land of Hotness over there. I knew I'd never fit in. So I created a profile and opted for good ol Opus as my avatar.

With my heart in my throat and trembling hands, I sent Hal that first "friend" request. I assumed he'd say no. I mean, why on Earth would he say yes? It seemed like such a pompous thing to do at the time. He didn't really know me from Eve and here I was, asking this famous guy I'd seen in movies and TV to be my friend? Even with his broad invitation issued on the fan forum, it seemed a little far-fetched, nay stupid and arrogant, to think someone like that could willfully accept me into his circle, even if it was in the hyper-reality of cyberspace.

Little did I know, this was Lesson #1. I now had the opportunity to chip away at my tiny, limited comfort zone. What I wanted was placed on the other side of what I thought I deserved or had earned. Asking for something just because I wanted it, and thinking I could get it just because I was little ol' me? Unthinkable!

It was because I really, really, wanted to be worthy of that circle that I sent that first request. Then I sat back... and I waited. And I waited. I waited some more. He never responded. I figured, well that's that. I reached for something I knew I didn't deserve and I got shot down. Score one for pessimism. I was ready to shrink back into my safe little comfort zone until I read one of his Myspace blogs about owning how ridiculously oddball unique we all are, even if we're wearing the Internet as a mask.

A mask, huh?

With all the bravery someone like me can muster, I replaced Opus for a picture of me at last. This time when I sent the request, it was approved.

This first lesson was absolutely circumstantial, granted. With as many people trying to contact him or friend him, it was entirely possible that he had never even seen the first request. Still, I took it as a sign from the universe that we get rewarded in this life when we're brave enough to be ourselves. And from then on, I was a little bolder as I interacted on his page. If I had a thought, particularly one that might make him smile or laugh, I'd put it in his comments section. No real reply needed. That helped stave off the fear of rejection, which allowed me to be more myself. My comfort zone expanded just as my margin of error shrank. Because of this, I found a lot of new friends, and readers, through those comments. They'd read my comments on his profile or blog, then check out my profile or blog - which I had already begun to use as an outlet for the writing, making my work public at last.

Little by little, I was being pointed in the direction of my dreams, forced to turn them into a plan of action to make those dreams come true.

I don't think I would have done that (as smoothly, wisely and as quickly) without Hal's influence leading the way. As usual, Hal was on the forefront of something amazing that was about to happen, in this case utilizing social media to build a brand for a creative artist. It was the dawn of the indies, which would eventually give way to YouTube and Facebook and Twitter. Everything I've done online to build my public brand started with that Myspace account, where I fearlessly posted my thoughts, my feelings and my creative endeavors for the masses, with all the stupid arrogance it took to assume I had a voice that demanded to be heard every bit as much as, well, Hal Sparks.

It was a great little playground. I felt my way around to figure out my voice, and what I wanted to say. I posted chapters from books for free, particularly during Nanowrimo season, and found myself with a following of my own. It was all the validation I needed from somewhere I never could have predicted way back in 2002, or 1996 or 1990, or even way back in 1981 when I figured out I had a talent wif dah wordz.

Just that one little change - coming out from behind the shadows - opened up a whole new world for me. Later I would write about that phenomenon in LOVE PLUS ONE, where my insecure heroine had to make some bold choices to claim what belonged rightfully to her. Her lesson... my lesson... was that inadequacy is a self-defeating perception. We both needed our eyes opened to another way.

(One guess who showed me that motivational vid.)

The lessons were there in so many places. I just had to be ready for them. I began to seriously contemplate going to see a show for Hal, but also to meet the friends I was making within the Hal World. I'm an antisocial girl, mostly. I have social anxiety and all kinds of fun little phobias. But within this safe, sheltering group, I was allowed to make a lot of real connections with folks, connections I'm proud to say have lasted to this day as well.

I was so empowered by these new friendships that I felt ready for my next lesson, pass or fail. I finally decided to go to see a Hal show in San Francisco in July of 2005. This allowed for a holiday vacation with Steven's family as well. I'd fly up to San Francisco while Steven and the boys got to visit his family. It was a win for everyone.

The trip getting there (we drove both ways,) was eventful in and of itself, where we drove through tornadic storms through Lubbock, Texas and Clovis, NM. I was selected for additional security in Vegas, where my companion and I flew to San Francisco while my guys headed south to Orange County. I missed my flight and got bumped for a later one, which spelled trouble for my plans to get to the city early and settle in before rushing to the show.

It felt like yet another obstacle course, wedging me even further out of my comfort zone. In the end, it didn't matter. Once Hal hit that stage, he was every bit as fantastic as all the evidence had suggested he'd be. He was and is, by far, the funniest stand-up comedian I've ever seen, well-worth the ticket price the instant he walked out onto the stage. The show was so great that I convinced myself I didn't even have to meet him in order to feel like I had gotten the most I could out of the experience.

I was still paranoid, so I was ready to bolt right back to my safe comfort zone if there was even a glimmer of rejection to be found. And I'm used to rejection, so the odds were definitely not in my favor to go well. I thought he'd look me over once and then his eyes would glass over with this unspoken and subtle disgust that I have seen in a LOT of men's eyes just passing them on the street. Such a thing would be devastating. Not only would it hurt my feelings in the moment, it'd make me question my judgment forever that he was just some pompous jerk and not the decent guy I thought he was. With all my experiences, I needed to know I could still spot a decent guy.

I think mostly I was looking for the cracks in the veneer. I mean, there had to be, right? With everything I had been through in my life, surely I couldn't get lucky enough that this would go well. Frankly, Hal was too good to be true.

It was during that second show of the night, where I watched him perform some of the same bits and laughed just as hard as if I had never seen them before, when I finally mustered the courage to meet him afterwards. (The twofour-drink minimum helped.) See, Hal usually does a Meet and Greet after every show, where he'll pose for pictures with the audience, taking time to say hello to every single person who wants to meet him. By the end of the second set, I knew I had some choices to make. I could either walk right out of that lobby, around the large group waiting to speak to Hal, and just be content that I got my money's worth with the show.

OR... I could take a chance, say hello, be myself and be okay whether he was a jerk or not, and just hope beyond hope that this time someone actually was what he appeared to be.

Despite the fact that I had developed an online relationship with him *avoiding* rejection to keep that damn cat in that damn box as long as possible, I opted for the latter.

I'm sure my knees clattered the entire time I stood in line, waiting my turn. The closer we got, the more nervous I got. I laughed a little too loud (and my laugh is obnoxious anyway,) which drew his attention to me. Our eyes met and there was this incredible moment when I knew I was looking at someone who didn't see me as inferior just because of how I looked. I can usually tell those things immediately - whether I'm looking for them or not. I knew it in that instant that he saw me as a person, which isn't always common with the men I meet - particularly the good-looking ones.

Hal wasn't like that at all. In fact, he kept looking over the gal's shoulder, almost as if he was including me in the conversation. Because he's that guy. He is a warm and open person who envelops the people around him. Back in 2004, when they organized a fan event for him around his birthday, he walked out of the venue and down the street to find someone who was too intimidated to meet him, just so he could say hi. He makes people feel welcome and important. He's completely and totally present in the moment in a way that you really can't predict from his machine-gun comic delivery and smartass persona. There's something genuine underneath, something undeniably attractive - but not necessarily in the sexual sense. You find yourself wanting to talk more, spend more time, linger in the conversation, because these are never light conversations. Even when he's making you laugh, he's making you think. And he is as generous with his time as we could ever hope someone in his position could be. I've been in lines that lasted for hours, simply because he won't rush anyone off or cheat anyone out of a 100% focused experienced, no matter how long it takes or how tired he might have been, or pressed for time.

When I finally got my chance to talk to him at last, I know I was a ridiculous doofus about the whole thing, stammering like an idiot and shaking like a leaf on a tree. I was right at that line of what I wanted vs. what I thought I deserved. Why should he be nice to me? Why should he care about me at all? I'm just some nobody, a face in the crowd. Still, I mustered all my courage and introduced myself as Ginger from Myspace. As many comments as I had left, I was sure he'd know who I was from that alone, and of course he did, because he's that guy. He might have even recognized my face from the photo, which would explain his instant and unconditional hospitality. He remembers things like names and faces and all those little details others might forget. He's genuinely happy to interact with those people who have come to see him. Thanks to this welcoming vibe, I blabbered immediately about the tornadoes (word vomit) and said that I needed a hug, which he promptly gave without any hesitation. He leaned in immediately for a picture.

As you can see, that's a genuine smile. There's nothing faked about about it. He didn't grab some random passerby to insert in between us so he didn't have to touch me like SOME celebrities who shall remain nameless (*cough*Neal Schon*cough*.) Instead, Hal gave me another hug as we parted, one for the road I guess, and I didn't even have to ask. Cuz he's that guy. I asked him before I left if my messages on his page bothered him and he said not at all, and that was that.

I was allowed - and welcomed - to be myself. Someone as smart, funny, fearless and accomplished as that didn't find it arrogant or stupid at all for someone like me to be, well, me. What a revelation. Walls around my comfort zone were demolished in the space of a hug.

Needless to say, I became a complete Hal Sparks comedy groupie.

In the past ten years, I've seen him perform more times than I can count, in cities all around the country, traveling to places I've never been, meeting people I never would have met otherwise. I've done a lot of promotional work for him, which trained me how to do stuff for myself when the time came. And thanks to these last ten years, and the most important lesson he's ever taught me, that time finally came. Thanks to him, I was actually trained for it and ready to work just as hard for it as he does.

That was yet another course taught at Hal Sparks U. Excellence doesn't come easy.

The greatest gift he ever could have given me was the ability to see myself as he saw me: a valuable human being whose worth was not conditional and whose dreams and ambitions were not silly. He basically erased that line between what I wanted and what I thought I deserved, changing the meme to: If you want it, go and get it. Not only was I empowered to believe in my crazy dreams, I was challenged, repeatedly, on what the hell I was waiting for to make them come true. It wasn't just that he believed I could amazing things, he never considered for one moment that I couldn't. What makes it even more special is that he doesn't just do it for me. He wants to get that message across to everyone, because he's that guy. When he meets someone, he doesn't put that person in a box. He allows you to be who you are and encourages you towards your own personal excellence.

He believes that everyone has the capacity to be awesome, so much so he will resist a lot of the credit folks like me try to give him when we say he's been an integral part of our growth. When I saw him in August of 2014, right after my agent told me she had sold my first book to a publisher, he reminded me that it was me who did that, and it is perfectly okay, even necessary, for me to own it. For someone who was raised to believe you needed to be humble and meek to be "good," it has been life-changing to meet someone who suggests that polite humility is a big fat waste of time.

(Okay, so that's a playful exaggeration. The song does remind me of Hal, though, who has a healthy self-esteem and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, and if you've ever seen him as Donald Davenport on Lab Rats, you'll get a chuckle out of it.)

In the end, his directives to live your best life are pretty simple. Own your accomplishments. Dare to be amazing. Fuck average.

For many, this kind of cocky arrogance can be off-putting. There's a fine line between awesome and asshole. The thing about Hal is that he doesn't think he's better than everyone else. He thinks everyone has the ability to be awesome. It's not a race. It's not a competition. He values the potential of people. Even if someone is an asshole to him, I've seen him spend time to explain a point of view or get to the root of a misunderstanding. He sometimes even gives people more respect than others think they deserve. But his patience is endless, even if it takes ten years to get all the lessons he's been subtly teaching.


Hal Sparks helped changed my world because he added a strong, sure voice to the chorus of people around me telling me I could change it; if I didn't like where I was then it was up to me to do something about it. Where I was worried endlessly I didn't quite make the cut to make my dreams come true, he's been a constant voice saying I have everything I need to do anything I want. Unlike so many, who blow off crazy ambition, he gets excited about it. He wants to see ordinary people learn how extraordinary they are, by doing things they can only dream of doing. He was a larger than life teacher for my larger than life ambitions, guiding me even when he didn't realize he was doing so.

There have been times I've learned more in the silence than I have in face-to-face conversations. He's on his own path, and he's striding confidently where he wants to go, with the assumption that we'll all keep up in pursuit of our own path. He doesn't have time to lag behind to wait for someone to "get it." He kinda marches ten steps ahead and says, "Hey, you should totally see what it's like up here!" You either join him or don't. (Basically, I run to keep up.)

He's always kinda known what I needed when I needed it, even if I didn't know what I needed at the time. When there have been misunderstandings or unintentional offenses, he's been gracious and forgiving of me if I messed up, or apologetic if he felt he had. We've finally reached a place where there are no expectations. We give what we want when we want to, and we both appreciate each and every kindness like the gift it is.

It's all very zen, part of how completely he accepts the people around him. This is mind-blowing for someone like me, who had lived my whole life thinking I had to work extra hard to be considered half as worthy. With Hal, and all the amazing, like-minded people I've met through him, I'm always accepted. I'm always welcomed. I'm always valued.

I can honestly say I never saw this coming when I was watching VH1 in 2002. But then... that's what makes life so freaking cool, isn't it?

And this month, I have the privilege of saying that I've known this amazing person ten incredible, life-changing years. So cheers to a remarkable man, an unexpected friend and an endless source of inspiration. There were things I would never have seen and done without him, and stories that I could have never told if I never met him. He's changed my perspective, and that is a priceless gift.

It's been quite a ride, Hal. And you know? I wouldn't change a thing.