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PHOTO BY JOHN BEDICS Alonzo Gross, Wendy Smale, 7 p.m. Jan. 30, Allentown Public Library PHOTO BY JOHN BEDICS Alonzo Gross, Wendy Smale, 7 p.m. Jan. 30, Allentown Public Library

A book made in heaven for artist, author

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 by DEB BOYLAN Special to The Press in Focus

The visual and the written word are powerful forms of expression individually. "Inspiration, Harmony and the World Within" successfully combines the two artistic mediums with breath taking results. The new book, co-authored by Bethlehem residents, Wendy Smale and Alonzo "Zo" Gross, achieves a spiritual and enlightening one-two punch that leaves one captivated by its message and beauty.

Smale and Gross will be discussing and signing copies of their new book, 7 p.m. Jan. 30, Allentown Public Library 1210 W Hamilton St., Allentown. Gross will read selections from book and Smale will talk about the paintings and the meaning behind them. Original paintings featured in the work will be available for purchase at the event.

Smale is a successful independent visual artist who has had her work displayed in private collections and juried art exhibits and galleries throughout the region. She has created original art for the Lehigh Valley Music Awards and gives freely of her time as a volunteer for Women in Art in PA and the Greater Lehigh Valley Music Association. She is also a certified forensic peer specialist assisting individuals using artistic expression to deal with and recover from mental illness.

Gross is a songwriter, writer, novelist, poet, rapper, dancer and music producer. He has been recognized with multiple nominations at the Lehigh Valley Music Awards and took home the award in 2012 for Best Spoken Word performance. Gross, who began writing and performing at an early age, received a degree in English Literature with a minor in dance, graduating Cum Laude from Temple University. He went on to teach English Literature but found his passion was in the arts. This fall, Gross plans to release his debut hip-hop CD. His artistic output is rooted in his Christianity and the spirituality that is its end result.

Wendy and Gross share a belief that they can better the world through their art and profound spiritual connection. The book, which is their new collaboration, is the result of that shared vision and belief in something deeper than themselves.

"We met in 2011 at the music awards [Lehigh Valley Music Awards] when he [Gross] performed," says Smale.

"We became facebook friends. I don't think we talked at the music awards. We kind of introduced ourselves. I've been a volunteer with the music awards and Women in Art in PA for five years and we started talking. We started hanging out and he would come over and write on the computer doing his poetry and writing and I would sit and do my art. He actually had the idea of 'Why don't we do a book?'"

Smale's artwork became the muse for Gross's writings as the project began to hatch. He composed poetry inspired by some of Smale's completed pieces. The poetry in turn motivated continued artistic output from Smale. It was a true collaborative experience for the pair.

"When he started writing some things he wanted to go into the book, I would read the poetry and you know I'd have these visions of what I saw in the poems and what came to mind for me and I ran with that. Certain words and images that stuck out in my mind and how the poem affected me and what I got out of it. Basically, they were kind of the same visions," she says.

Smale and Gross believe their inspiration comes from a higher plane. "I really think it's a real spiritual thing. Our spirits connect with our poetry and the art," Gross says.

Smale adds, "When we put it [the book] together and he [Gross] chaptered it, the way it chaptered out in the beginning, when I looked at the artwork and then we went through it I went, 'Oh my God look at this.' The poem [and visual art] that begins the book is 'Embryo' and the last poem in the book has two old people, a couple sitting on a park bench. So, it came together from the beginning of life to the end of life. It was just astounding to us. That's just the way it happened and it wasn't planned. We really believe that was God's plan for the book."

From conception to completion, the process of publishing the completed work went relatively swiftly. "We were maybe four or five pieces into the book and then we put something on facebook," says Gross. "Wendy did a piece of an angel and I did a poetic piece to that, 'Ur Angel Dances,' and we just showed it to Ken [Cowle of Soul Asylum Poetry and Publishing, Inc.], who is our publisher now just to get feedback to see what we could do to break in and he said, 'I'll take you on.' It was as simple as that," says Gross. "It was very spontaneous. It happened very fast. That was a blessing, too.

"It's been a long road to get it published and to get it out there." says Smale.

Smale and Gross's contract with Soul Asylum Publishing is for three books, so readers can look forward to more output from this talented twosome. The book is available for purchase from the publisher, on the Amazon website and will soon be sold online and in Barnes and Noble stores.

"We're just very blessed and very fortunate," says Gross. "We realize that there are a lot of people that go around for years and years bringing their manuscripts to publishers and they get the door slammed in their face. It was just so easy for us. I don't mean to say that in a bragging way that it was so easy. That can only be from God that it happened that quickly. The very person that we asked for direction was the person that helped us, that was an extreme blessing."

"I think I can speak for Alonzo and I both that we appreciate our gifts," adds Smale. "For many years, both of us maybe didn't appreciate it like we should. Now we really know what God gave us. Our creativity comes from a power so much greater than ourselves."