MONTEREY — Glodean Champion has known her protagonist for as long as she can remember. While they are not one in the same person, she and “Zayla” share a certain kind of character developed along parallel paths. Although she realized she had a story worth sharing, it took years to put it into print. Frankly, she says, it was Zayla who wouldn’t leave her alone until she thrust her out in front of an audience.
Champion titled the book “Salmon Croquettes,” after the recipe her momma made almost every Saturday night, because she could taste the culture in her cooking, and because she still carries a fond memory of the moment in her mother’s kitchen.
The story of transformation from tomboy to young woman during one defining year, is presented as a young-adult novel. Champion’s vivid descriptions and language attract a millennial audience. Yet her nuanced writing and the messages that lurk just beneath the surface reach a more seasoned reader, as well.
The book is written in the first person, making it seem as if the main character is speaking to her reader, sharing her story over more than one cup of coffee. Trying to tell who she is would never do. It’s in the stories, where she shows herself, that her truth sounds a little softer, like adding just enough milk to turn that coffee a light caramel brown.
Like this. “There was something fundamentally wrong with being on punishment on a Saturday,” she wrote. “That morning, even the sun hung lazily in the sky. The breeze slowed down and caught its breath a little bit. . .Somehow, the world just felt bigger on Saturday — especially when you viewed it through a plate-glass window.”
Ways and means of writing
Champion, who is a personal growth and leadership development coach in Monterey, enrolled in Mills College at 36, an unfinished yet more mature adult than the 18-year-olds unable to ignore Twitter during class. She had fallen in love with writing in Mrs. Jones’ creative writing class at Laney College in Oakland, partially because her teacher was as “sassy and sharp-tongued” in class as Champion wanted to be in her writing. Also because Mrs. Jones told her she was a natural storyteller with a special gift she would be “best served not to waste.”
But when Mrs. Jones died during the weekend in the middle of the semester Champion, robbed of her mentor, stopped writing. Until she found her voice and a reason to not let Zayla’s story go to waste, at Mills.
“I met a lot of young women on campus who were out and proud,” she said, “but they had to tame it down when they went out or went home. I wondered why there would be all this concern around what a woman does behind closed doors as opposed to taking an interest in who she is.”
Champion challenged herself. What if she told a tale about a Black girl, in a non-stereotypical setting — a girl whose family wasn’t fractured, wasn’t struggling, wasn’t living in the ‘hood’ — who wouldn’t have a foundation as a victim of society. A tale about a Black girl struggling with her gender identity and sexuality. And maybe Champion would give her a parent who supported her, and another who terrified her. Plus peers who both confused her, and had her back.
Whether she’s met her characters in life or just in her head, Champion knows them — their quirks and motivations — well enough to present them authentically and consistently in their development throughout the story. The novel, presented in two parts, plays out from February to June 1965, when Zayla and her readers reach the crest and the trough of the roller coaster ride in one paragraph. This is followed by a year that brings Zayla almost to her 16th birthday, and a moment that makes her “truth hard to ignore and impossible to hide.”
Fortunately, Champion is working on a sequel — a love story.
Raising a writer
Champion also is working on a memoir, “Tough Love: Sh*t My Momma Used to Say,” in recognition of her mom, the late Frances Champion, and “the amazing intentionality,” she says, her mother put into raising her.
Born July 28, 1967 to a 16-year-old mother she would never know, Champion became a ward of the state of California. On Sept. 9, 1967, Frances Champion reportedly became the first Black woman in California to adopt a child, as a single parent. She named her Glodean Champion, after her own mother, giving her stature and lineage.
By fourth grade, Champion had learned to play the cello. By the time she reached high school, she also played the upright bass, bass guitar, xylophone, bells, and cymbals. Yet her mentor in music and in maturing into herself was Prince, starting with his album, “Controversy.” He taught her that being true to one’s self is the most important thing we can do.
A year after she graduated from high school, Champion and her best friend, Lynetta Stonewall, joined the Navy Reserves.
“Like Goldie Hawn in the movie, ‘Private Benjamin,’ we were the only two,” she said, “who had gone shopping to go to boot camp. They sent all of our stuff home. Ultimately, I discovered my natural leadership skills and became a Recruit Chief Petty Officer.”
After spending years developing her skills and her resume in corporate America, Champion returned to school, graduating in 2006 from Mills College. Two years later, she commenced with an MFA from California College of the Arts.
“In 2010,” she said, “I walked into my first classroom as a student-teacher at City Arts & Tech Charter School, and discovered my love of educating children. I followed this love to Ghana, where I was a volunteer English teacher for an orphanage in the village of Bawjiasi.”
Champion, a certified Six Sigma Black Belt, is trained in the business philosophies and principles that support quality assurance and team leadership. She has addressed various leadership forums, including a keynote speech at the Extreme Leadership Experience2020, and now serves as a personal growth and leadership development coach in Monterey.
During a recent reading of “Salmon Croquettes,” Champion paused during a particularly compelling passage and said, “Should I keep reading?” No one said yes, but nobody said no. Feeling the empathy in the audience, she continued.
She also said, “My mother’s recipe for salmon croquettes is in the back of the book. If for no other reason to buy the book, the recipe is killer.”
P.S. The salmon croquettes go best with coleslaw.
“Salmon Croquettes,” published by Champion’s own house, Black Muse Publishing, is available at River House Books in Carmel and online at barnesandnoble.com, and Amazon.