We need to talk about this, just maybe not so much

img_3163I’ve started working out at a gym (again) and this time around I’m facing a challenge I haven’t seen before, and it involves breast cancer. No, I don’t have it and let me go on record as being against cancer of all types and firmly in favor of a disease free life for everyone. However ….

Someone in the gym has decided to put cute little pink sticky notes with hand-written statistics about breast cancer at eye level on the machines. I suppose if these had been in place for a week or so I might have ignored them, but it’s been almost a month now and I’m getting tired of averting my eyes. img_3161Nothing written on a sticky note is going to change my health care practices. However, I have emotional attachments to women who have died from this awful disease and to others who have bravely fought a battle that they are losing. These notes put me in a funk every time I see them. I’m fine with educating people. I’m not fine with badgering them.

trump-assult-scandalEnter sexual assault. Most women I know have experienced it in some mild form, including me, and too many of those I love have had experiences that were disturbing enough to continue to haunt and challenge them. I wish healing for them, and safety for all women. I recognize that to ignore the problem is not to solve it. I welcome honest dialog and a world striving to be better. However ….

It’s hard for these brave souls to move on, or to even have a good day, when almost every newscast addresses the topic, and half of the available entertainment feels compelled to have a scene, episode or back story about the same. When is comes to the news, a lot of this is tied to the presidential election and the way that events are unfolding. We all can’t wait for the election to be over, and for me this is just one more reason.

27-15As far as the entertainment industry goes, if I want to be positive then I think that they are striving to be relevant and, at their best, helpful. After all, I wrote a book about human trafficking with the best of intentions. When I am in a less charitable mood, I am sure that some others are only capitalizing on what they think will sell, and I understand with some sorrow how I could be accused of the same.

So I get to write a book about human trafficking but you don’t? Who decides when enough about a subject is enough, or whether the handling of a difficult topic is sensitive or exploitative?

I can’t answer that question. I do know that I never want to see ugly topics like disease and assault (and poverty, racism, domestic violence, homophobia, child neglect, human trafficking, war, and gun violence) swept under a giant collective carpet. Awareness can lead to solutions. But I also think it is fair to consider how toxic the atmosphere can become once we are fixated on a difficult subject, especially for those struggling to recover from emotional wounds that get strained a little every time the subject arises.

There are no easy answers here; just the age old need to step back from what we are doing every once in awhile, and to look honestly at our own motives and to consider the feelings of all others.

I do know that when difficult topics are handled with warmth, compassion and even a little humor, it helps. That can be a hard thing to do, and successful examples are rare.  This video, put out by the Thames Valley Police about a year ago relating the issue of consenting sex to having a cup of tea, handles a difficult subject as well as anything I have ever seen.

 

(For other oblique election commentary see my posts Everything is Going to Be Alright,  Our brand is crisis?, and Is it over yet?)

Antidote to current events: Truckers Against Trafficking

Who couldn’t use a story to balance out the anger and violence that has filled so much of the news lately? I’m normally a news junkie and for the past week even I can’t get myself to turn the channel to a news station.

Enter this blurb about Kevin Kimmel, a father, grandfather, and truck driver who saw a gaunt young woman being jerked away from the window of a recreational vehicle parked at truck stop, and made a phone call that resulted in the rescue of a twenty-year-old who was being tortured into having sex with strangers.

heroesEven more impressive is that Mr. Kimmel is associated with a group called TAT (Truckers Against Trafficking) that is working to educate those affiliated with the trucking industry to notice and report signs of sex slavery. Using the slogan “Everyday heroes needed” this group is fighting domestic human trafficking and so far has identified 425 likely trafficking cases involving 744 victims and 249 minors.

This tears at my heartstrings in a particularly strong way. My research for c3, a science fiction book about sex trafficking, sent me researching dark corners of the internet into which I would never have ventured otherwise. I was appalled, and I would described myself as someone who does not shock easily.

We still have a long way to go. According to the Daily Kos, there are an estimated 1.5 million victims of human trafficking in North America, and here on our continent it is a $150 billion dollar industry. As TED talk speaker Tony Talbott said while speaking on the subject “It’s all about the money. Human trafficking is insanely profitable. If you really think about it; You can sell a kilo of heroin once; You can sell a 13-year-old girl 20 times a night, 365 days a year.”

Watch his amazing TED talk, and join me in cheering for the Kevin Kimmel’s of the world.

 

 

My Secret Life

I know that when I arrive at the office in the morning, I look more or less normal. I’m a few minutes late, car keys still in my hand as I give the receptionist a half-apologetic wave and head back to the small cubicle that is my home for about nine hours a day, four days a week. I fire up my computer, get some coffee, and start to do the things I am paid to do. It’s not so bad. The work is mildly entertaining, the pay is good, the coffee acceptable. I do hate the windowless cube, but I’m luckier that most. I have a secret life.

I’m late because when I woke up this morning, a young man from Romania took time out of his own busy life to post a review of my novel z2. It was a very short review, with five stars at the top and the remark that my book was now “officially among” his favorite SF books. His favorites? Do you how many are out there? How many great ones? My whole life I’ve wanted to write science fiction and now somebody says this? I think they could put me in a cement box for the next nine hours and I’d survive on the joy alone, and I am really claustrophobic.

Green 1Yes, I know that reviews are meant for fellow readers, not for the authors. I do get it, and so I will keep the joy deep inside myself. Seriously, though, how can I not care at all?

I’m also late because a young woman in Indonesia won my novel c3 in a giveaway and took the time to write an almost 1000 word review and posted it this morning. She gave me five stars as well, and used my novel about young women who triumph over human traffickers as a spring board to look into the problem in her own country. Her research fills most of the review and it is impressive.I hear a possible advocate for better education and enforcement in her voice, and I am proud to have written something that has moved her to feel so passionately. I have tears in my eyes and I want to thank her for listening, for caring, for getting it, but of course I cannot do that.

Writers are not supposed to respond to reviews. It makes perfect sense. Reviews are to alert other readers about what is good and bad about a novel. Who in the world is going to write one if they risk getting in an online argument with the author for doing so? I certainly wouldn’t. So, no response.

Instead, I sit in my cube and sip my coffee. I check my office email then I move on to the project at hand. Few people here even know that I write books. Today, I’m smiling inside, thinking of two random people across the globe who I have managed to touch against all odds. It’s a secret life, but it keeps me very happy.

 

handling the difficult delicately

Think Real 2c3 is a book about an important topic  It describes a typical sixteen year old American girl who is confronted by the sale of girls and women when she studies abroad for a semester in India. To all appearances, Teddie and her friends are helpless. They have no way to aid each other, much less any resources with which to stop the larger horrors that they see.

I had a few unusual challenges in writing this book. The first was the age of my main characters and the difficult subject matter. I intended this story to be aimed at adult fantasy lovers of all ages. I didn’t want to gloss over truths, and yet I wanted this book to be appropriate for those as young as sixteen. As a result, the book contains oblique references to sex, both consenting and not, but no direct descriptions. I’ve cleaned up the language from my previous books, although I have included an occasional crude word to convey a sense of reality. Others helped me work this problem to the point where I would be okay with my own sixteen year old daughter reading this book.

The subject matter presented another challenge. Stories need bad guys, but this stuff can get really ugly quickly. I had to be careful not to make this tale so distressing that those of any age would not want to keep reading it. It was important to interject a little humor and some good times and hope early on, both for the girls in direct danger and for Teddie as she begins to discover her powers to help them.

One of my favorite parts of this novel is not in the story at all. It is a mere two sentences in the front matter where I explain the title.

“This book is not just about sex crimes. It is also about the people who find ways to light a solitary candle in the darkness, and it is about how the resulting light they produce makes its way outward in every direction.”

I ended up with a story about how even the most vulnerable can be courageous and can hold the power to cause great change. I’m very proud of my theme and of the way it is handled. This is a book born of love.

 

 

Inspiration in the worst of places

raising 4When I first outlined the stories for 46. Ascending, I knew that c3 would be about a group of young women who would thwart a sex trafficking ring, because I wanted a venue to explore the extreme edges of the way we as a society pretend not to see the many ways in which young women are exploited. I fully expected that my research would take me to some horrifying places, and it did. An internet connection is all one needs to visit ping pong shows in Bangkok and to peruse ads for “sexy and willing” Russian women. I still get them. I need to wash out my browser with soap.

SomalyWhat I did not expect, however, were how many inspirational stories and websites I would encounter as well. I stared my research with Somaly Mam’s book The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine and I highly recommend it.

My browsing then took me to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, a group of Catholic Nun’s who have spent the last couple of centuries reaching out to women in unfortunate circumstances. I liked what I read so much that an imaginary nun worked herself into my story even though she wasn’t even in the outline. I hope that members of the order would not be offended by my spunky Sister Teresa-Marie, as she turned out to be one of my favorite characters in the book. Please read about this fine group and their efforts to help victims of human trafficking at goodshepherdsisters.org/trafficking.htm.

word porn 4Next I found several non-profit organizations dedicated to stopping human trafficking, each one with an inspiring story. I will likely blog about them all individually here over time. One of the first that I encountered was an organization called Shared Hope International, founded by U.S. Congresswoman Linda Smith after she traveled into the heart of the brothel district in Mumbai, India where “she witnessed the brutal exploitation and sexual slavery of women and children.”  She has been trying to do something about it ever since.This group also has a Facebook page well worth visiting and liking.

I expected to be disgusted at some of what I found, and I was. I expected to believe that this was a problem with no solution. Instead, I found brave women and men of all nations, ages, and belief systems working for positive change. I did not expect to walk away from my research marveling at those who fight every day to shine a bright light into the darkest of corners. But I did, and I am marveling at them still.

(Please drop by and like the Facebook pages of Raising Ecstasy and Word Porn for the great images shown above.)