I am very excited to have Z.B. Heller as my guest today for my monthly feature, A Piece of Me. As you know this is a feature on Diverse Reader where an artist of some sort writes up a post. This post literally is what the title says, a piece of themselves. Sometimes they are serious moments, sometimes they are a funny tale. Either way, it's an honor to have them here and sharing a part of their soul with us.
So, ZB. She's an incredible author, and funny funny funny. If you've had the privilege of speaking with her than you know.
Okay, so, get comfy and enjoy ZB's piece...
I AM A LOSER
Great way to start this isn’t it? You’re sitting there, drinking your cup of coffee, or vodka and think “Hey, I get to read about this author who’s a total self proclaimed loser!” Don’t worry, there is a reason it starts that way, so sit down, get comfy and turn off Maury, because he’s NOT the father.
It begins that way because I started my life that way. There I was an eighteen-year-old with stars in her eyes of wanting to become a famous chef. I used to sit in front of the television for hours watching the Frugal Gourmet. This was before he turned out to be a creepy douche, but I was dreaming of the days I would make gastronomic masterpieces that would make your mouth orgasm in delight. I wasn’t much of anything in high school, shocking I know, and honestly no one, except for my parents, expected me to make anything great out of my life. I was a loser remember?
I made it through six months of culinary school before I was told by one of the asshole chefs that I sucked and had no business being there. He didn’t even say it in some cool French accents that you see in cartoons. I went home, tail tucked between my legs and had no clue as to what to do next because cooking was my dream. I was an encrusted lamb roast of a loser.
I spent some time at a community college, where I made some really great friends and became involved with the school newspaper. (Foreshadowing?) It was called The Chronicle. I wrote a few stories here and there, and over time became interested in the graphic design aspect of how everything was assembled for publishing. There were late nights spent in the newspaper office, making out with my then boyfriend, running throughout the empty school and belting out Evita from the second story balcony, all the while trying to make our deadlines. I was a musical loving loser.
I eventually transferred schools to study graphic design. Art was my original passion and this was a chance to make it flourish, but something wasn’t right. Imagine a kind of blind date as an adult and he calls his mom while at the table to tell her he’ll be home late. I remember doing a presentation and nailing the project perfectly. The teacher pulled me aside and said, “Zolie, I don’t know if you’re cut out for graphic design, but have you ever thought about a career in teaching?” Apparently, I was a great presenter, but sucky graphic designer. That same semester I left that school. I was a photoshopped loser.
Eventually I did find my calling. After eight years, yes eight, I graduated with a teaching degree with a minor in art education. After some time searching, I found what I will still say was the best job I had up to that time teaching art to kindergarten through eighth grade. The good news is that none of my students sought out therapy because of me. My husband and had been married for two years by that point and wanted to start a family. It was then I found out I wouldn’t be able to carry a child and experience pregnancy. I was an un-fertile Myrtle loser.
After extensive discussion and reflection my husband and I opted to use a surrogate to carry our child for us. We were lucky in that we were matched with a true angel. I have paperwork in with the Vatican to name her a saint, a knight or have a country named after her. She helped bring our beautiful boy into the world. I always tease that it was her labor of love, except no labor. But it was after that that I had to make the choice not to work full time and raise our son during early childhood.
But needing something intelligent to do between the feedings, naps and diapers, I went back for a master’s degree in art therapy. Three years of endless work and papers my poor husband helped to edit proved to be the wrong direction. It was 2009, the Great Recession and my husband had lost his job. He was unemployed for nine months, while I struggled through the end of grad school, it was time to make some very hard choices. Our lives were abruptly turned upside down when he got a job in a different state and for six months we lived in two states while I finished school and he worked. I was in the middle of doing my art therapy practicum when my son fell ill with a mysterious fever every twenty-eight days. I failed my practicum. I was a graduate degree loser.
We finally reunited and moved, and I finished my schooling, but because of the poor job market teaching jobs and art therapy positions were nowhere to be found. While it was tempting to work at Baskin Robins for free ice cream cones, I decided to combine my two loves of art and teaching. BEHOLD! I opened a business of teaching art as an after school activity. At first it was great, but market circumstances changed and I lost a lot most of my business. After some stress, drinking, anger, drinking, and over-consuming of cheesy poofs, I decided to close the business down. I was cheesy sticky fingered loser.
It was during this stressful time I decided to write down some ideas. I started writing a story, similar but not entirely based on myself. I used the one tool I knew I had in my arsenal and that was humor. The character of Moxie was a size sixteen redhead with a crass attitude and took shit from no one, but inside she felt like she was…are you ready for it? A fat loser.
I hit the “Publish” button in May 2014 with no expectations whatsoever, and to my astonishment, people became quite fond of my loud mouth heroine along with all of her insecurities. I wrote a follow up to that book and then along the way found my passion in the M/M genre. Writing Tied Together meant a great deal to me. Even though it was about two men, they both have pieces of me buried deep within. I didn’t know how it would go when I hit that “Publish” button, but again to my amazement Tied Together took off and I planted my foot into the M/M community, and have come to love the characters as much as my readers.
I look back at all I have just written and come to a very important conclusion. I’ve had so many experiences in different places, different career fields, different geographies, different relationships (good and bad) and all of these things are what make the heart beat in my characters. So, for all of those times I thought I was a loser, I was in fact the biggest winner.
About the Author