1/11/2014 2 Comments
Recently, my friend spent some time abroad, volunteering with orphaned children in one of the Balkan countries, as she does every summer. While there, she’d arranged to meet a local friend for lunch. The two reunited in a small, bustling restaurant in the center of town, out of the searing noon-day heat. While they were chatting, my friend looked around and saw a young girl, maybe five or six, sitting at a table with her father. He was reading, eating, doing whatever it is a man does while sitting at a crowded restaurant at noon. She was staring at the table quietly. Strange, my friend thought. Most little kids would be yammering on, fidgeting in their seats. My friend chalked it up to cultural differences or a tired kid. But it bothered her, and she continued to gaze their way during the meal. She noticed no interaction between parent and child and wondered how a father could ignore his daughter for so long.
On the way out of the restaurant, she pointed out the pair to her friend.
“Don’t look,” her friend said, alarmed. “That’s not her father. That’s her pimp.”
If you’re like me, you want to stop reading now. My friend had a hard time sharing this story, and I, the mother of three, had a damn hard time hearing it. But stories like these have to be told, and the victims of trafficking, many of whom are children, deserve faces and voices . . . and a chance.
But what can you or I do to help stop human slavery? The answers may surprise you.
Today, in honor of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, I’m sharing thoughts from Donna Sabella, PhD, RN. Donna is the Founder and Director of Project Phoenix, an agency that provides support and services to women and girls in need, including those who have been exploited and trafficked. She is also the Director of Global Studies and the Director of the Office of Human Trafficking at Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professionals, as well as a frequent presenter on the topic of human trafficking. Donna was an incredible resource for me while I was writing THE SEDUCTION OF MIRIAM CROSS. I had the honor of interviewing Donna yesterday in commemoration of today. Below is a recap of our discussion.
What are the prime factors contributing to human trafficking?
Before we talk about the root causes of trafficking, we should make sure we understand what trafficking is. There are two general types of trafficking: sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Labor trafficking can happen in a number of settings: domestic (homes), factories, plantations/farms, etc. Sex trafficking is the more commonly known type of trafficking, especially here in the United States.
Donna points out that when it comes to sex trafficking, the lines can blur. Whenever the victim is under 18, it’s considered a severe form of human trafficking and is a crime. “That’s a hard line,” Donna says. “Under 18 is always human trafficking. There is no ‘voluntary.’” But what about adults? Here, she admits, the line can be fuzzier. In order for something to be considered trafficking, there must be force, fraud or coercion. When it comes to adult prostitution or exploitation, especially when a pimp or handler is involved, it’s not always clear when these indicators are triggered. Nevertheless, she points out, many sex workers have been exploited and need help.
So what are the root causes of human trafficking? Donna points to four. “But they’re interconnected,” she warns. You can’t view them in a vacuum.
Poverty. “Trafficking is really an economically-driven crime,” Donna says. “You can’t get away from that.” For both the victims and the victimizers, trafficking often goes hand-in-hand with poverty. “Victims of trafficking often lack the skills or education needed to get a job. Even if they do have skills, they may live in an area that has no jobs, so they lack opportunity. Often, they have limited resources.” This makes them vulnerable to traffickers. And often the traffickers themselves were once trafficked – or they, too, have limited resources and opportunities, and so turn to trafficking as a way to make money. It’s a vicious circle, with poverty and economics at its core.
Societal views on the role of women. In many cultures, Donna says, women are not viewed as equal to men. They’re not given the same rights and opportunities or protections under the law. In some instances, girls and women are not urged to see themselves as humans at all, deserving of rights or dignity. This makes them especially vulnerable to trafficking, and may make the traffickers feel justified in exploiting them.
Societal views on prostitution – and lack of legal consistency. “We could debate this topic for hours,” Donna admits. Many feel adult women (and men) should have the right to offer sex for money. But you can’t escape the fact that the demand for paid sex fuels human trafficking. It’s a slippery slope. “And it’s legal in one place, illegal in others;” acceptable in some cultures, not in others, Donna says, which also exacerbates the problem.
Demand for cheap goods. “From consumers to companies, we all want a good deal. But on whose backs do these savings come?” The requirement for cheap goods drives labor trafficking, especially abroad. And children are often the victims. It’s a tough truth, but “here in the U.S., we outsource our labor trafficking by buying cheap goods made abroad," Donna says. This is an especially tough one to combat, Donna points out, because as consumers we don’t always have a way of knowing the source of our goods.
So what can we do?
"Move beyond watching movies [about the problem],” Donna says. “Educate yourself, but then get involved with agencies that are doing something.”
Easier said than done? Not really. I asked Donna to provide concrete examples of things we can all do to help. Her list surprised me.
1. Recognize the signs of trafficking. Trafficking can occur anywhere, including in normal, suburban neighborhoods, Donna says. “Do you see people coming and going at all hours of the night, cars pulling in and out at odd hours . . . children who are seen taking out the trash one day and then disappear for weeks?” These could be indicators. But what do you do if you suspect something illicit is going on? “Call the trafficking hotline, local police department or crime victims unit. And many counties have an anti-trafficking coalition. You can call that as well.” And if you are in law enforcement, medicine, education or another field in which it’s even more likely that you’ll be in contact with victims, take steps to educate yourself. Some airlines and hotels have taken a pledge to train their workers, which is a positive step, Donna says. But there are courses others can take. Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professionals has courses available, and they have proposed a post-bachelor certification program that would be open to anyone, Drexel student or not, once it’s approved.
2. Support legitimate agencies that are working with trafficking victims or going after the traffickers. This can mean financial support, Donna says – money is always needed. (For a list of agencies that could use your financial support, click here.) But it can also mean volunteering your time or skills. Here are a few creative ideas Donna offered:
* Donate goods to local agencies. Many local agencies can use anything from toiletries to groceries to clothes. When trafficked victims are taken off the streets, one of the first things they need are decent clothes. Scour your wardrobe and make a donation.
* Have a specific skill? Anti-trafficking agencies can use people with specific skillsets. Are you a lawyer, doctor, counselor? Considering volunteering and offer services specific to your field.
* Speak another language? Polaris Project is always looking for bilingual volunteers who can talk to victims in their native language.
* Become a mentor. Kids who have been trafficked need a support system. “You can’t let someone go back out into the streets if nothing has changed,” Donna says. You need to help victims, especially kids, replace old behaviors and attitudes with new ones. That’s where mentors and foster parents come in.
* Volunteer for a hotline. Do you have the skills needed to talk people through a crisis? If so, consider offering your time to be a hotline volunteer.
* Lobby for alternatives. Not all states rank high when it comes to human trafficking laws. And often in the U.S. trafficked victims are sex workers. Especially for adult sex workers, jail may be the only alternative if they’re arrested, even if they were coerced or forced into the life. If you have political connections, consider lobbying for alternatives, Donna says, such as counseling and life skills programs.
* Help the homeless. Donna points out that many of the homeless are kids, and some of these kids turn to “survival sex” to stay alive. “No matter what you do for a child, you’re helping,” Donna says. So volunteer at a soup kitchen, give out blankets. Make life for them a little easier.
* Help pay for someone’s education. Donna shared the story of a woman who was helped off the streets by Project Phoenix. A trafficking victim, the woman was provided with the means to support herself through training, financial support and other services. She’s now enrolled in a doctoral program. But it doesn’t have to be college tuition, Donna points out. “It can be as simple as paying someone’s GED application fee.”
3. Become an educated consumer. As mentioned earlier, it’s not always possible to follow the supply chain of our foods and goods. But do your research. More and more companies are getting on the “Fair Trade” bandwagon or are pledging to monitor their own supply chains. Consumer activism works. The more we demand humanely-made goods, the more things will change.
4. Become a foster parent. When I asked Donna what her number one wish was when it came to the fight against human trafficking, she said she ‘d like to see foster parents who were vetted and trained to take in kids who have been trafficked until a permanent home can be found. “A kid is picked up at two in the morning. She or he is hungry, scared, abused. Being able to call a family that has been trained to care for such kids can make all the difference.”
In sum? Donna underscores the need for prevention. “This is difficult to change,” Donna says. “It’s a complex problem. We need to chip away at the roots of the issues that make human trafficking possible.” And that’s where we–the community–come in.
So, I urge you. Find one thing you can do to help–and do it.
Thanks to Donna Sabella for joining is. If you want to learn more about her agency, Project Phoenix, or if you want to contact Donna directly, visit her website here.
And remember that 50% of my net proceeds for the sale of THE SEDUCTION OF MIRIAM CROSS between 12/1/13 and 1/31/14 (e-books and print) will go to agencies fighting human trafficking.
Delilah and team have begun their tour with TLC Book Tours. Today, I have the good fortune of being the featured author with Book-alicious Mama, an engaging blogger and thoughtful book reviewer. Book-alicious Mama had this to say about TSOMC:
"Looking for a dark mystery that showcases a strong female lead? Then look no further than Wendy Tyson. She’s the debut author who brought us Killer Image in October. The Seduction of Miriam Cross solidifies, in my opinion, that Tyson is a force to be reckoned with. She’s quickly becoming the queen of dark and imaginative mysteries. Tired of reading formulaic stories? Then Tyson is the gal for you!" (Read the review here.)
But Book-alicious Mama went a step further. As many of you know by now, THE SEDUCTION OF MIRIAM CROSS touches on human trafficking, a horrible and widespread issue both abroad and in the US. Jennifer, the brains behind Book-alicious Mama, took the time to research some statistics about the prevalence of human trafficking and added them to her blog. (Read them here.) But she didn't stop there. One of the reasons so many of us have a hard time hearing about human trafficking is that we feel helpless to do anything about the problem. But in today's review, Jennifer also added a video about the charity Wellspring Living. Organizations like Wellspring Living, Free the Slaves, Polaris Project, Shared Hope International and International Justice Mission and others are doing something about human trafficking. And we can help them. Whether it's understanding the signs of victimization, avoiding the purchase of certain goods, giving needed money and supplies to reputable organizations or simply increasing awareness, we can all have a role in ending human slavery. Because that's exactly what it is: slavery.
According to International Justice Mission (emphasis added), "Trafficking in humans generates profits in excess of 32 billion dollars a year for those who, by force and deception, sell human lives into slavery and sexual bondage. Nearly 2 million children are exploited in the commercial sex industry."
But human trafficking is not just about the sex trade. It can include forced labor, including domestic labor, farm labor and even factory or small-shop labor. For an overview of the issue, see this article posted by Polaris Project.
January has been designated Human Trafficking Awareness Month. In honor of the victims of human trafficking, I challenge each of you to think about ways you can help bring an end to human trafficking. Click on the organization links, above, for ideas. For my part, I pledge that 50% of my net royalties earned between now and January 31 from the sales of THE SEDUCTION OF MIRIAM CROSS will be donated to organizations that fight to end human slavery or help the victims of trafficking.
Together, we can make a difference.
"I dress for the image. Not for myself, not for the public, not for fashion, not for men." - Marlene Dietrich
"Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
You can’t see me (which is probably good because I’m still in my jammies), but I’m grinning madly, as happy as my Labrador when he gets to go swimming. In fact, if I had a tail, it’d be swinging wildly. This is the week I’ve been waiting for, when my cover -- the very real proof that Killer Image will be introduced to the world -- will be revealed.
As a writer, you labor over a book, revision after revision, stepping back on occasion (constantly?) to
consider whether the product on the page conforms to the vision in your head. Sometimes it hits the mark, and other times it’s more like me at a shooting range. When I read my own work and my internal critic finally shuts up, I know I’m there. But that’s the prose. What about the lovely picture on the front used to help
readers inundated with choice make a decision about what to buy? That’s a whole other beast.
So when Henery Press told me my cover was ready (and gave me a sneak peek), it struck me that for Allison -- and for me -- the cover has special meaning. It will be the face of Killer Image, the bit of the book visible to the outside world. Fitting for Allison Campbell.
See, Allison is an image consultant. She works and lives on the wealthy, image-conscious Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia, and is paid to help people improve their looks, speech and overall persona in a sharply competitive (and sometimes dangerous) world. But she's not a Main Line native - and neither is her friend and office manager, Christopher Vaughn (Vaughn), a thirty-year-old black man from the unforgiving streets of West Philly. Allison and Vaughn are good at what they do. Despite haunting secrets from their respective pasts.
From an author's standpoint, these protagonists are rich with potential. Talk about a cover -- Allison gets the importance of what’s on the outside. While I lack fashion sense (I much prefer flip-flops to pumps, Patagonia to designer labels), Allison is one Jimmy Choo shy of a fashion diva. But her gift goes so much deeper than that. In fact, the original title of the book was Underneath It All. Because what Allison understands, and what makes her so successful, is that for image to really resonate, there needs to be something underneath. Flash, façade, gloss . . . not enough. That would be like a stunning necklace without a clasp -- nothing to hold it up. But because of a tragic past, and the fact that she never quite fits in on the Main Line, Allison has an outsider’s perspective. She's able to see underneath the mask. And she uses that ability to help each client create the best possible version of him or herself.
In other words, Allison Campbell is a master at reinvention.
Except when it comes to Maggie McBride. Maggie, the teenage Goth daughter of a White House hopeful, has no desire to be made over. Free-spirited. Oppositional. Spoiled. Fashion-challenged. And a self-proclaimed witch. Kind of a nightmare client -- and a tough kid to love. Maggie pushes every one of Allison's buttons, but Allison perseveres, and finally she’s able to see under even Maggie's tough shell. When Maggie is accused of a ritualistic murder, her story entwines with Allison's past until Allison gets her tough girl on and is driven to solve the crime. That's as much as I'll tell you here (don't want any spoilers), but the tension between surface and what's buried beneath permeates the book.
Which is why I think the cover for Killer Image is . . . killer. The creative team at Henery Press captured the essence of the novel -- a little fun and fashion flirting with psychological intrigue and a dark undercurrent of
menace. But there’s more than just a pretty face underneath that fabulous cover -- take the time to peek
beneath come this October when Killer Image is released.
And stay tuned for more Allison Campbell mysteries. The second in the series, Murderous Looks, is well underway. A reclusive Italian heiress from the Finger Lakes and a reality television star from Scranton disappear. Their only connection? Allison. Can’t wait to see that cover!
Thanks for visiting!
And don’t forget to check out the cover later today on Facebook.
I've been a little . . . stuck. That dang, elusive thing called plot. Starting a new book can be a daunting process - all that blank monitor space, so many paralyzing choices. At some point you just have to take a leap of faith and start writing, make yourself believe that the various plot lines will come together and weave an entertaining story. But I wasn't just beginning the book . . . I was almost 15,000 words into a novel when I realized that something wasn't quite right. So I started to quibble over words and characters and sentence structure the way you'd pick at an annoying scab. Only I was using tweezers when I needed a knife.
What's the old saying about editing? "Kill your darlings." I realized that of the 15,000 words, probably a third required a hit man. Ouch. But which darlings had to go? And why hadn't I noticed the problem earlier?
My crazy life - kids, work, writing, husband, house - got in the way of clarity. Maybe you can relate. Now, I wouldn't trade my crazy life for anything, but what I needed was some time and space to get away - literally and figuratively. On impulse, I booked an inexpensive house in Maine for four nights and told my mother that I wouldn't be home for Easter (gasp!). She was surprisingly cool with it. So after convincing the kids that the Easter Bunny could indeed find them in Maine, off to Camden we went. Two kids, one Labrador and two adults in a small Prius. Nine+ hours. (Did I mention the dog? Note to self: a wet dog in a tiny vehicle is not delicious.)
The house was on the small side, but what it lacked in interior room it more than made up for in warm decor and location. Right on Hosmer Pond, a few miles from the Maine coast, it provided what I (and my wounded plot) needed most . . . perspective.
Typically I write in my home office in the wee hours of the morning. One of my dogs likes to curl himself into a ball under my desk, on top of my feet, and the two of us spend the early morning hours together. Once the sun comes up, I can turn my head and, from the right angle, see the front flower beds and my husband's grapes. That's as much nature as I typically get (besides the two half-dead house plants on the bookcase).
But Hosmer Pond - rural Maine, really - downright enveloped us in nature. I could hear myself think. And while sitting out by the pond on what came to be my favorite rock while the boys were hiking, something magical happened. I relaxed. And as the stress started to melt, I could begin to see where my plot had gone awry. And like that, after a few hours of staring into icy water and listening to the sounds trees make in the wind, I had a new plot outlined. I understood exactly how to make the story work.
I like the outdoors, but this was different. I hadn't realized how cluttered my life and my brain had become. Confronted daily with the demands of others - usually legitimate demands, but demands nonetheless - I couldn't see the forest for the trees (if you'll forgive the pun). It took hours of solitude, an old-fashioned notebook and pen, some biting breezes and the sun shining on my face to help me clear my head. Sure, we ate fried fish and lobster (yum!), watched movies together and played on the beach, but it was those long, lazy mornings on the pond that lent a new lens to my book.
Moral? I guess we could all use a bit of perspective once in a while. Sometimes even vacations can add to the pressure - so much planning and organizing, they begin to feel like a chore. This was an unstructured trip. Besides a destination, we had few expectations and even fewer demands. How often do we do that for ourselves? In our over-scheduled, over-achieving, over-stimulated society, there's still something to be said for spending some quiet time alone, outside. It doesn't have to be in a distant location. A nearby park, your own backyard when no one is home, the beach at dawn . . . any of these could work. I think the important thing is recognizing when we need to refuel on mojo - and not making apologies for finding a way to make it happen.
(And for any of you wondering, the Easter Bunny did find the boys in Maine. That rabbit is amazing.)
I recently attended a fundraising event benefitting an organization that helps at-risk girls develop leadership skills. In an award acceptance speech, one of the speakers shared a great story about her own 10-year-old daughter. One night, the mother noticed marker on her daughter's thighs. She asked her what, exactly, she was doing writing on her legs. The daughter's response? She had been playing lacrosse with her older brothers. Tired of losing, she'd gone inside and written "Unstoppable!" and "Fearless!" on her thighs in magic marker. Then she went back outside to play. Every time her brothers were beating her or she felt discouraged, she'd slap her legs, allowing those secret messages to buoy her confidence.
How absolutely FANTASTIC!
So, I ask you, what's written on YOUR thighs?
Some days, I think I have "unworthy" and "crazy" written there. My husband keeps telling me (in his own gentle way) that maybe, just maybe, I'm biting off more than I can chew. I worry about that. But you know what? I'm about to re-write what's written on my own flesh, trading my insecurities for the ballsy determination of that 10-year-old. No more "tired" and "frustrated" - my new mantras will be "fearless" and "unstoppable."
Like characters in our favorite novels and movies.
When I craft female protagonists, I want them to be strong and gutsy and able to make all the decisions I'd like to think I'd make in life. They beat up the bad guys, look out for the underdog, solve the seemingly unsolvable, and do it all with tight abs, great hair and nary an ounce of regret. But that's not real life.
In real life, our hosiery runs when we have an important meeting. Our dog throws up on the carpet, our children fail in school, babies contort our abdominal muscles in ways we thought only possible in the movie Alien. And sometimes the only bad guy we come in contact with is the asshole on the turnpike who cuts us off (but wow, do I give him the finger - he never sees it coming).
But that doesn't mean we can't tap our inner warrior.
There is an old Chinese proverb that says "When sleeping women wake, mountains move." Wow. Think about that.
The mother of the fearless and unstoppable little girl is herself quite accomplished. Business woman, philanthropist, member of multiple boards -- and mother of five children. And she's out there making a difference with other people's kids. Moving mountains. And teaching her own child that she, too, can topple obstacles. Because in the end, isn't that what it's all about? Having a vision -- whether it's as big as running a business or cleaning up the environment or ending hunger in your community or as small (but impactful) as helping your own kid -- and pursuing that vision with a loud rallying cry, obstacles (including our own demons) be damned.
I'm reminded of an old re-run of The Facts of Life. (Remember that show? I'm giving away my age.) In it, Blair's boyfriend asks her to marry him and Blair wants to take a day to think about it (she is, after all, only in high school). That night she has a dream in which all of her friends meet at some designated time and place in the future. Mrs. Garrett's bakery is now a futuristic hub of international peacekeeping - and she's not only a great baker, but the prime political negotiator. Tootie is a famous actress, Natalie a mother and author. And in the ultimate face-slap, Jo runs Blair's family business. And Blair? She's "happy." Married with kids, she's the wife of a successful husband. But as everyone else is busy talking about their accomplishments, Blair simply repeats "but I'm happy." Predicatably, she wakes up and ultimately turns down the marriage proposal.
It was funny to see that episode thirty years later. Although hokey, the message on its face was clear: women should want more for themselves than a quiet domestic life. Is that true? I don't necessarily think so. But I do think another meaning is more Carol Gilligan in nature. Women should define for themselves what it is they want. They should not accept other people's visions of what they can accomplish, who they should be. What dreams they pursue.
And in pursuit of those dreams - whatever they may be - they should let go of their own preconceived notions of what they can and cannot accomplish.
They should be fearless and unstoppable.
In mid-January I got the phone call I'd always dreamed of receiving. It was my agent delivering the THE BIG NEWS. I'd been keeping my fingers and toes crossed for THE BIG NEWS since Fran started pitching KILLER IMAGE in the fall. In fact, my digits had been in knots for longer than that because KILLER IMAGE was not my first book (but that's a blog for another day). Nevertheless, THE BIG NEWS came while I was on a plane en route from Houston to Philadelphia. The plane landed and, phone now turned back on, I noticed multiple missed calls from my wonderful agents and a few emails explaining what was happening. Bottom line: Henery Press wanted to acquire my book.
Since then, Allison Campbell and her crew have found a warm and inviting home with Henery - and I've met a boatload of talented authors. I couldn't be more grateful and excited. One of those HP authors, LynDee Walker, tagged me in The Next Big Thing blog game. LynDee has written a mystery titled FRONT PAGE FATALITY that debuted recently. You can read more about LynDee Walker and her Nichelle Clarke mystery series by clicking on her name and checking out her website.
The blog game is a great opportunity to explain a bit about Allison Campbell and KILLER IMAGE. No spoilers below!
WHAT IS THE WORKING TITLE OF YOUR BOOK?
This book was originally called Underneath It All, but a very savvy industry professional suggested I find a more fitting (and exciting) name. I took her good advice and went back to the drawing board.
WHAT GENRE DOES YOUR BOOK FALL UNDER?
WHICH ACTORS WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO PLAY YOUR CHARACTERS IN A MOVIE RENDITION?
Tough to answer! Allison's character is complex. Although she's an image consultant on the Philadelphia Main Line, she comes from a pretty poor family and has dealt with a fair amount of tragedy in her life. She's reinvented herself, but although the new Allison is confident and polished, the old Allison is still under there - which is what makes her so good at bringing out the best in other people. And she has a sense of humor - about situations and, most importantly, about herself.
I guess if I had to choose, I'd pick someone who can master a dramatic role but who can also play comedy, a Sandra Bullock or even Elizabeth Banks type of actress. Jason would be played by Bradley Cooper, and Vaughn, maybe Hill Harper or Morris Chestnut. Mia? Annette Bening.
PROVIDE A ONE-SENTENCE SYNOPSIS OF YOUR BOOK
When the satanic murder of a controversial divorce attorney is pinned on her young client, Philadelphia image consultant Allison Campbell hits the pavement in her three-inch Manolos to unravel the mystery of who killed Arnie Feldman – and why.
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE THE FIRST DRAFT OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT?
Hmmm - hard to say. Maybe six or seven months. I work full-time (and have three kids), so editing it took much longer than that. KILLER IMAGE went through ten (at least!) rounds of intensive revision.
WHAT OTHER BOOKS WOULD YOU COMPARE YOUR STORY TO WITHIN YOUR GENRE?
I love mysteries and thrillers. From Agatha Christie to Elizabeth George to Tess Gerrittsen to Jonathan Kellerman, I can't get enough. Readers have compared KILLER IMAGE to the works of Lisa Scottoline and Harlan Coben. I'll take that!
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE THIS BOOK?
Long ago, during graduate school, I worked with at-risk teenagers, primarily girls, at a few treatment facilities. These kids came from rough backgrounds. Some had committed crimes, many had serious behavioral problems, a few were chronic runaways, but nearly all of them had suffered abuse at some point in their lives. Despite what those kids had been through, they still showed an incredible sense of humanity. They loved animals, babies, music, art. They cared about each other. KILLER IMAGE was inspired by what I learned working with those girls and by my belief that if given even half a chance (and a tiny little push), people can change.
WHAT ELSE ABOUT THIS BOOK MIGHT PIQUE A READER'S INTEREST?
Oh, wow, let's see . . . fashion, intrigue, a Boxer with a face only a mother could love, a few sexy men, women who kick butt . . . what more could you want? Oh, and it's going to be the first in a series. The next Allison Campbell book, MURDEROUS LOOKS, should be out in the spring of 2014.
WHEN AND HOW WILL IT BE PUBLISHED?
KILLER IMAGE will be available from Henery Press electronically and in print wherever you can buy books. Look for its release in October 2013!
Tag! Check out the website for fellow author Deborah Cloyed and her novel WHAT TEARS US APART!
My dad passed away on November 28, 2010, after a nearly two-year battle with an extremely rare cancer. Nothing went the way we'd envisioned. The effects of his illness - and the attendant "treatments" - were devastating to him. His death was devastating to my family. One definition of "devastate," according to the World English Dictionary, is " to confound or overwhelm, as with grief or shock." So true.
On a personal level, one of the toughest after-effects of losing my father has been this deep-seated need for control. I'm sure the explanatory psychobabble goes something like: I couldn't help my father then and I can't lessen my mother's pain now, but maybe if I cling to everything I hold dear with all of my might, I can prevent further loss.
But none of us has that kind of control.
My father fell ill the year he officially retired. After working for almost 50 years, he'd finally felt comfortable reducing his hours as an accountant to spend more time doing the things he loved - fishing in Martha's Vineyard and traveling and spending time with my mom. And then wham! The universe has a cruel sense of humor.
The thing is, I don't think he would have done a damn thing differently. He loved his family and spending time with us had always been important to him. He knew what his priorities were. And he took the time to do the things he loved to do. He'd spent a month in Martha's Vineyard with my mom and friends every year since he'd discovered the fishing nirvana in the 80s. He drank beer with the neighbors, relished eating with friends and family, celebrated milestones with class and enthusiasm and retired each night with the love of his life. He'd lived the way he wanted to live.
The period right before my dad's death was brutal. Pain medication and system failure kept him out of it and he had been unresponsive for several days. My mom and brother and I sat vigil by his hospital bed, taking turns holding his hands. He was never alone. At the very moment of his death, my mom had one hand and I had the other. Suddenly, we each felt a gentle squeeze -- and then he was gone.
I know the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I think I am finally coming out of stage four and entering stage five, but it's been a painful process. This need for control, this desire to hold on tightly and suffocatingly to everyone I hold dear lest I lose them, too, in one way or another has finally become too much. It's a Hurculean task anyway. Perhaps that final stage of grief - acceptance - is really the understanding that nothing we do, say or feel will change the very fact of our loss just like it won't change the position of the sun or what tomorrow brings. As we tell children, you can't control what happens, only how you react to what happens.
I've recently had the good fortune to spend some time in eastern France. What a heart-wrenchingly beautiful country. Nevertheless, the Europeans seem much less concerned with the illusion of safety - of control - than we are in the U.S. Along every great mountain pass in France and Switzerland, narrow, winding roads hug the sheer, majestic cliffs with barely a nod to conventional guard rails. An invitation to disaster . . . or an acknowledgment that ultiimately we can't prevent every tragedy? After driving over enough of these passes with my ever-patient husband at the wheel, I eventually learned to open my eyes - and then to even enjoy the view.
Control is often an illusion. I can no more control the actions and decisions of others than I could have controlled the course of my father's illness. Devastation lurks. But as with Kubler-Ross's stages of grief, out of devastation can come acceptance. And hope. And maybe even a new beginning, an understanding that what will be, will be and despite the lack of guarantees, the ride is still worth taking.
Last night while I sat contemplating all of this and nursing a hurt born of yet something else I can't control, I thought about my dad. I thought about his love for us, his ultimate brave acceptance of his own lot (and his never-failing sense of humor), of how much I miss him. A funny thing happened while I sat thinking about him - a shutter that I have never seen move began to swing back and forth gently, despite a lack of breeze. Coincidence? Perhaps. But I'm going to accept it as a sign. It's time to let go.
I'm in awe of some of the bloggers out there. They seem to have fresh idea after fresh idea, many publishing several blog posts a week. There's a definite difference in how bloggers approach the Bloggersphere, however. Some are spontaneous and free form, others a bit more focused in their posts.
That got me thinking. Blogging is hard for me. I feel like I should have a point, but sometimes I just want to say what's on my mind. Logic versus creativity. Rational versus emotional. A blogger split personality.
Maybe it's the two sides of my brain dueling it out.
Have you ever wondered whether you predominately use the right side of your brain or the left side?
And what the bleep does that mean, anyway?
According to information I gleaned from the almighty and infallible Internet, the two hemispheres of the brain support different types of thinking, with very different characteristics present in an individual depending upon which hemisphere she or he favors.
So-called left-brain individuals think in a manner characterized by logic. These folks tend to be seen as rational, objective, analytical. They process things sequentially -- and prefer to focus on the parts rather than the whole.
Right brain folks, on the other hand, are more intuitive, emotional and creative. They synthesize rather than analyze, and prefer to look at the whole rather than the parts.
Often you hear this boiled down to creative vs. logical. But you can be both – a whole brainer – someone who relies on both sides equally. Interesting concept.
Lots of tests for determining your own brain hemisphere dominance are available on the Web - just do a Google search. I can't attest to the accuracy of any of them - but it's a fun distraction nonetheless. The one I used can be found here:
For me, an ERISA lawyer (ERISA who?) by day and a writer by early morning and late night, I’ve always seen myself as using both sides of the brain. How else could I switch from writing romantic love scenes (okay, not so romantic) to analyzing pages of tiny, rambling text embedded in the Internal Revenue Code or the securities laws?
But guess what? According to the nifty little test, I am predominantly right brained. And my score wasn’t even close.
Perhaps that makes sense.
Writing takes a huge dose of creativity (there’s that dang plot that must be developed), intuition (have to understand how your characters would behave), and a holistic viewpoint. And, of course, comfort with words. These are all right brain characteristics.
BUT, as a mystery writer, there’s also a good dose of logic required . . . and sequencing is important. It wouldn’t do to dole out clues in the wrong order. And the lawyerly part? I guess in the end, we all adapt.
Maybe that's the point.
So what does the test say about you? Do the results make sense given your interests and career choices?
I’ll end this particular meandering blog post (I am right brained, after all) with a shameless plug for my books. I added another mystery to the line-up, Killer Image, which has been revised and sent to my agents at Literary Counsel. You can check out a summary of that as well as the first few chapters of The Seduction of Miriam Cross by clicking on the BOOKS page, above.
Thanks for visiting my site -- and happy reading!
Recently I’ve received some requests (okay, one request) to blog about my favorite soapbox topic . . . organic gardening/food. I’ll save the gardening for another day, though. My significant other has decided to plant wine and table grapes in our yard and, if you have ever seen a real grape operation, you’d know that they are planted on high, industrial-looking trellises. Not so pretty when you live on 1/3 of an acre in a sidewalk neighborhood. I’m still trying to pretend the monstrosities are not in my front yard. Amazing what denial can do. So I can’t talk about the gardening right now
So, instead I thought I’d write about bagels.
Yes, those little cousins to the sweeter, smoother bakery treat, the donut. Who in the U.S. has not had a bagel? If you’re lucky, you’ve had a true, wait-in-line-and-get-confused-by-all-the-options NYC bagel. But if not, if all you’ve been privy to are the somewhat bland renditions available at supermarket chains and certain coffee shops, that’s okay – once you’ve piled them with cream cheese, lox, butter, pick your poison, they’re pretty decent, too.
So why am I writing about bagels?
Because that same significant other and I recently realized we could make our own bagels. And guess what? They’re so much better. And organic. And, unlike many of their purchased counterparts, low in sodium and free of preservatives. And the whole family can join in the fun. Seriously, who knew?
I’d love to take credit for the discovery but, alas, it’s all Ben. To me, bagels may as well have grown on trees. Those yummy South Beach-unfriendly balls of carbs seemed as difficult to make from scratch as say, a toaster. But with his typical dogged cat-ness, Ben tried a few recipes until he mastered one that produced something with just the right amount of flavor, internal softness and chewy crust. Lovely.
That’s not to say he makes them alone. Bagel-making has become a rainy Sunday afternoon (East Coast anyone?) family adventure. This past Sunday, we made sesame, oat and cinnamon raisin bagels.
During this process, I'm given three jobs:
1. Come up with flavor ideas.
2. Help to make the rings of dough.
3. Brush the boiled bagels with egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds or oats.
Ben is a bit of a micromanager when it comes to bagel making, but he’s learning to let go. Sometimes I’m told that my rings of dough are too flat, skinny, have too much hole, not enough hole, etc. But that’s okay – after 20 years of marriage, I have become as adept at tuning him out as he is at not listening to me (learned from the best!). (Did I mention the marital therapy aspects of bagel making?) The kids help, too – though taste testing is their favorite part of the process. We shoot for about two dozen at a time. After they cool, they can be sliced and frozen. They’re just as good (okay, almost as good) defrosted and toasted.
It was an awakening to realize we could make something so basic ourselves. We, as members of a busy, fast-paced society, are obsessed with the end result. Spend $12 at Whole Foods and we’d have ourselves a dozen decent bagels with no mess or hassle. But, as with many things, we’ve come to see that the process is just as important as the end result. Bagel-making slowed things down. As a family, we get to enjoy something that we made. The bagels taste better, the kids think it’s cool, and, frankly, the time spent together in the kitchen is worth it (nit-picky husband and all).
But it’s that process – that focus on the present – that is the real lesson for me. As a writer, there is always the push to get something done, see the finished product. Something as simple as bagel making is a reminder, though, that the brainstorming and kneading and rolling and boiling are just as important – and enjoyable.
So for those of you who are intrigued enough to try your hand at this, below is the recipe and some pictures of the process.
RECIPE (for about 10-15 basic bagels)
4 cups white, all purpose flour (we like Bob's Red Mill or Arrowhead Mills organic)
1 cup stone ground whole wheat flour (Arrowhead Mills organic)
1/4 cup sugar (we use organic turbinado)
1 tsp salt
water (90-115 degrees)
1 egg white
1 packet yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water (between 90-115 degrees)
Ahead of time: Mix the yeast, water and 1 tsp sugar. Stir with fork to dissolve and let sit for about 5 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl (we use a stand mixer), combine flour, sugar, salt. After combined, add the yeast water solution. You will need to add additional water (between 90-115 degrees) to get the dough to the right consistency (the amount of water will vary based on humidity, etc. -- you'll need to eyeball this, so add water slowly -- should be softer than Playdough, but if the dough gets sticky, there is too much water -- and if it looks like pancake batter, throw it away).
Cover the dough with a wet towel inside the bowl. Let it rise until it's doubled in size. Take the dough out, knead it on a floured surface, When smooth, slice off chunks (about the size of your palm for large bagels). Roll these between your palms (like you're making a Playdough snake! - see picture below) and attach the ends with a little bit of brushed-on water. Place on a cookie sheet (a little semolina flour will keep the bagels from sticking). When all of the dough has been rolled and shaped, let the bagels rise for 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add about 1/3 cup of sugar to the water,
When the bagels are ready to be boiled, add them a few at a time, top-side down. Let them boil 1-1 1/2 minutes per side (you'll need to flip them). They will rise significantly in the water! Place the boiled bagels on a cookie rack. When cooled slightly, brush lightly with egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired.
Transfer bagels to a cookie sheet (with a bit of semolina sprinkled on) and place in a pre-heated 440 degree oven (oven temps may vary). Cook until slightly brown, about 10-15 minutes (time may vary also -- watch the bagels closely so they don't burn).
Have you seen the clever Cat Diary/Dog Diary post that’s made its way around Facebook? The dog’s diary is basically a laundry list of things he enjoys (“Dinner! My favorite thing!”). I love the depiction of dogs as fun-seeking, good-natured optimists who look at the world through firmly affixed rose-colored glasses. The cat’s diary, on the other hand, is one long (and very funny) entry about the cat’s 963rd day of captivity. It paints cats as misanthropic beings whose outlook on life is a bit more . . . pragmatic.
My friend and I have long had a theory that people can be divided into these two categories – cats and dogs. As our theory goes, cats are self-reliant, generally not people pleasers, aloof. Dogs, on the other hand, are more social and eager to please, less content to be alone.
It’s not as simple as extrovert and introvert – because even the most extroverted cat is still, at her or his core, a cat. No matter how outgoing she is, a cat has a self-contained quality that those of us who are dogs don’t quite get. And dogs wear their hearts on their sleeves. Like the fictional dog in the post, dogs tend to see things in a positive light. They are more idealist than realist and prefer to live in the moment rather than wait and plan.
Consider the people in your life. I bet if you think about it, you’ll be able to categorize nearly everyone you know. For me, my mom is a dog, my dad was a cat. My husband is a true, could-survive-on-the-mean-streets-with-only-one-eye cat, my twins are dog’s dogs – some big, goofy breed that greets the world with a madly wagging tail and a slobbery tongue.
In fact, if you really want to have fun with it, the “dogs” can be broken down into breeds – think Golden Retriever (friendly, good-natured, a little needy) versus Bassett Hound (stubborn, loyal, slow-moving) versus Poodle (proud, intelligent, dignified). Personality differences, certainly . . . but still dogs. You can do the same with cats.
I’d go so far as to propose that most couples are made up of a dog and a cat. Because there are gradations, you could have a social cat and a reserved dog together – or, like my husband and me, a cat’s cat and a dog’s dog. But as with many things in life, balance is required in relationships and the two species together provide that balance.
Of course, there’s a shadow side to dogs and cats.
Recently someone accused me of being too much of an idealist. When things don’t go the way you envision, he said, you flail at the world instead accepting the reality of the situation.
For those of us who are dogs, the risk of wearing your heart on your sleeve is having it crushed. And the risk of being an idealist can be difficulty accepting reality. For cats, perhaps the risk of being careful, of holding the world at bay with a pragmatic attitude and calculating demeanor, is that you may be too careful or close-minded – and miss out on some of the good stuff in the process.
So what does that mean when it comes to writing? One element of fiction writing is characterization, and while I don’t necessarily think about cats and dogs while I’m writing fresh manuscript, when I look back at a finished draft it does help to categorize my characters to make sure I have created balance.
Despite my dog-nature, most of my main female characters are cats. I respect their independence. It makes them good heroines in thrillers and mysteries – and their shadow selves are ripe for development as the novel progresses. But dogs are needed, too. As in the real world, dogs provide emotional openness and nurturing that can help bring life to a novel.
Neither is better. They’re just different. That’s why in fiction, as in life, there needs to be yin and yang, Mars and Venus . . . dog and cat.
As anyone who knows me will attest, I have a love-hate relationship (at best) with structure. Because of that, I won't promise specific blog entries on specific days. Instead, I'll try to share thoughts and ideas on some of my favorite topics (writing, parenting, food, organic gardening, inspirational stories and food (did I say that already? it bears repeating)) as the mood strikes. Catch me here three or four days a week, though. And I would love to hear from you!