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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Launched! THE SOUL CHANGER'S CONFESSION Short Story

My short story, The Soul Changer's Confession, is included in a wonderful anthology published in Running Wild Anthology of Stories, Volume 4 Book 1 by Running Wild Press.

This collection is built on inclusion of diverse voices but does so organically and with ease. Culled from submissions from around the world, authors from Kuwait, Ireland, France, Saudi Arabia, and more offer slices of perspective and life in delicious bites. A joyful and provocative mix of genres and styles made this anthology one of my favorites.

The Soul Changer's Confession is a bit out of the norm for me. Swapping souls among the living to create eternal soul mates sounds wonderful, but havoc erupts at a nursing home when the soul changer sees too much. Yes, I put a smidgen of crime in there too!

The Amazon listing describes Book 1 as, "[a] cornucopia of stories that span genres and styles. Our editor spanned the globe to find every style and type of story to keep you engaged and make sure that we never, ever fit neatly in a box." Available in Kindle and paperback, this book is perfectly calibrated to our times and for summer beach reading. 

Running Wild Press is woman owned and lead. They describe themselves like this: "We’re a tameless mix of creatives who find each other through books, workshops, conferences, blogs, and word of mouth. We share a love of reading and a flair for the unusual."

As an added bonus, the editors found so many great writers from around the world, they decided to create TWO anthologies. Running Wild Anthology of Stories Book 2 continues the exploration and fun. Enjoy both! 

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Uncomfortable Complicity of Silence

We are encouraged to say something if we see something. I did and found my voice.

Elder abuse is a hidden epidemic, one that will spread as the stress of financial hardships resulting from widespread unemployment and economic turmoil grows. It has no cure and the only known preventative is in the actions society takes. I learned it was essential not only to understand what I was seeing, but to have the courage to speak up.

National Council on Aging, NCOA, (www.ncoa.org) reports that approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse, with estimates as high as 5 million elders abused each year. Elder abuse is broadly defined to include all types–such as neglect, physical, emotional, and verbal abuse–one study estimates that only .07% of cases are reported to authorities.

When narrowed down to financial abuse and exploitation, the statistics are even more grim with the American Association of Retired Persons (www.aarp.org) stating that 1 in 44 cases are reported. Of those, few were prosecuted and even fewer resulted in conviction.

I held a natural reticence toward silence when I considered something was a private matter or a family affair. Husbands and wives quarrel. Parents reprimand children. Without physical harm, I did not understand my duty to report.

In elder financial exploitation, a bias exists to blame the victim. Granny should have read the fine print better or she freely chose that her child should have a new car or fancy vacation. It’s none of our business to question her decisions or to question the sudden apparent wealth of her child. By blaming the victim, we absolve ourselves of taking action.

I politely demurred and kept my silence until I realized the perpetrator banked on that, making me complicit in the crimes.

There is a price to the elder for our silence. NCOA stated elder victims have a 300% higher risk of death when compared to those who have not been mistreated. Then there is the price of the concerned person who breaks the silence and dares to question the bonds of trust within a family. I know this because I am paying the price of breaking my silence. By honoring the trust of a beloved elder, I betrayed the trust of a family member by seeking help.

At its core, trust is a slippery weapon when used against the elder. Age or illness may have diminished their abilities, but trust and judgment remain as their tools for retaining independence and relevance. The World Health Organization recognizes an “expectation of trust” exists between the older person and their abuser. The elder writes checks or signs documents with trust, even as their eyesight may fail them or their ability to decipher terms wanes. Two-thirds of abusers are those who the elder naturally trust the most.

The New England Journal of Medicine reports, "Perpetrators are most likely to be adult children or spouses, and they are more likely to be male, to have a history of past or current substance abuse, to have mental or physical health problems, to have a history of trouble with the police, to be socially isolated, to be unemployed or have financial problems, and to be experiencing major stress . . . Most studies indicate that older women are more likely than older men to be victims of abuse.” (emphasis added)

The urge to protect the abuser is my beloved elder’s greatest hurdle. Like other elder victims, she is embarrassed and will not admit to harm in fear of the consequences the perpetrator may face. Age has made her increasingly dependent on others and often the abuser is the person she most relies upon for her support. By taking action against the abuser, she risks increased isolation.

Laws, created to protect, necessitate the elder to bear witness against the perpetrator, leading to few Orders of Protection and abysmally low conviction rates. Legal standards to prove duress or fear are not calibrated to the frail.

I did not challenge my own silence when learning of a single instance of misappropriation. Yet, repeated instances exposed her inner turmoil and caused my concern. The family did not want to see abuse and challenged my intrusion. The authorities supported me and encouraged her to break her own silence, even while acknowledging the devilish difficultly in prosecution.

With the weakening of our economy, incidences of elder financial exploitation will inevitably rise. As employment weakens, it may be the elder with the only secure source of income through their Social Security, investments, or retirement plan. They are ripe for harm. We need to help elders by recognizing the patterns of abuse that evidence financial exploitation.

There is a time in life when the child becomes the caregiver, the overseer and the protector. As a parent or guardian, we would never let a child be bullied, abused, or hurt. As the tables turn, we must offer that same code of protection to our aging population. It is our time to speak up and ensure our elders are safe and protected.

 


Saturday, June 6, 2020

The Writer's Community - Video Interview

Writers are always wondering how to reach readers. Take a look at this brief interview to learn how writing and author organizations can help you connect with readers, too!


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Writing Prompt

One prompt. Four authors. We all gelled around one word. Venice. And on the wings of one word, four worlds took flight in the five minutes we gave ourselves to create. 

+++++++++++++++++

From Maggie:
[Winner of the Mom's Choice Award of Excellence for her children's book.]

I was walking down a street in Venice taking in the ambiance when...

... a fish jumped right out of the water!

"I haven't seen fish in the canals for over 30 years," Victor said to his grandson.

The fish smiled, dove back in, swam in a circle just below the surface and then said, "Every dark cloud brings a spring rain of freshness."

And then he was gone.

"What does that mean," asked the child through his mask?

The grandfather led the child to a nearby bench and pulled him in close.

"The fish is telling us to always look for the silver lining...even in the darkest of times."

+++++++++++++++++++++

From Cyd:

I was walking down a street in Venice taking in the ambiance when...

I smelled incense. So late in the evening the streets were quiet enough for me to enjoy the canal, watching flecks of lights dancing on the ripples and hear a gentle lap, lap lap splash the stone wall.

I followed the aroma around a corner and came upon a queue of people filing out of a doorway and following a man who carried high an antique lantern. I intended to drop back, wondering about the purpose of the procession when from the doorway I hear a man speak to me in Italian, "After you, I apologize," gesturing for me to follow the line ahead of him.

For some reason, I did.

+++++++++++++++

From Donna:
[First Place winner for the Indie Book Awards 2020, Best Children’s Picture Book, illustrated, for children 6 and up.]

I was walking down a street in Venice taking in the ambiance when...

... I suddenly realized I was lost—hopelessly lost. 

How many bridges had I crossed, two, three, four? I tried not to panic, I picked up my cell phone to hit the tour director’s number. Dead, no service. I checked my watch, what time was it? We were all supposed to meet at St. Mark’s Cathedral at noon for a tour. I watched groups of tourist’s pass me by, laughing and calling out to each other. 

I felt trapped like a mouse in a maze.Then I spotted a pigeon flying over my head. I followed his direction, but I couldn’t keep up. I had hoped he would lead me to the famous St. Mark’s Square... And then I saw more pigeons coming in waves...





+++++++++++++++

From Connie:
[Two time winner of EQUUS Film Festival Best English Fiction.]


I was walking down a street in Venice taking in the ambiance when...

I turned the corner toward the canal. the streets were empty. Buildings sighed their loneliness. the virus had taken the people from its streets, but not Venice's soul.

I felt heavy. My feet did not to touch the ground, but hovered somewhere above the cobbled street.

A gondolier floated by, pushing on his long pole, his face in a mask of sadness.Behind him, a dolphin arced from the water.

In death and illness, a healing had begun.

"You're here," said the dolphin.

"I'm everywhere now," I replied.

"Was it hard?" The soft grey eyes implored me into its truth.

Time had changed. I had changed. I had died and now was here, in this beautiful and timeless city, wondering at its healing energy.

"No. It was not hard. I lived. I died from the virus, but it somehow healed me."

The dolphin turned. Others waited. "It healed us as well."

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Battles of Isolation

My daughter and I had a battle. She barely spoke to me for three weeks afterward.

Like many other Boston-area college students, she came home for Spring Break and never left. Lockdown happened. At first, her biggest crisis was having only packed clothes for a week, not the month-long stretch we thought we were in for. 

The discussion started with reviewing ways to see friends and family and still stay safe. She and her girlfriends had met in a parking lot, staying in their cars or sitting on top of them. I was happy to know gloves and masks were worn and hear other ways they had practiced social distancing. Like for many of us, the first weeks were almost fun. We hadn't gotten bored yet. Social distancing challenges were still novel and creative. Longing hadn't set in.

My husband and I are extremely careful and follow all the protocols. We hadn't counted on our daughter being a potential weak point in our defensive wall against the virus.

Then tension filled our discussion. She said her boyfriend was going to visit, and she assured us they would follow every safe distancing guideline.

As much as I love and trust my daughter and her boyfriend, my maternal instincts were hard-pressed to accept he would drive five-plus hours to sit in a chair on our front lawn for a two-hour visit and then drive home. Somehow, I couldn't see how that was better than hours on Facetime or Zoom. He lives with his parents and younger brother. Seeing him meant expanding our defensive wall to include four points of contact. I said no because we needed to put our "want to" list aside and do only the actions on our "have to" list. There were too many unknowns. We needed to give the scientific world, and us, time to catch up on all the virus had changed. 

The battle continued. She assured me everyone in his home was extra cautious, following each and every precaution. We were over reacting and being ridiculous. I didn't doubt the precautions the boyfriend and his family were following, I just didn't want the risk of that one momentary lapse. What about touching his face after filling the car with gas? What about stopping at a rest stop? My concerns were for him as much as her.

My reasoning failed to resonate with her. Finally, I said that if she was truly hell-bent on seeing him, then she could go to him, but plan on staying there for the foreseeable future. She is an adult. We could not stop her, but we would not take the risk to have her return to us. Was it worth the risk of a two-week quarantine in our garage?

Then I got the semi-silent treatment for three weeks.

This morning, she looked at me in that way that said she had something to say. My stomach dropped. I thought she was going to tell me she was taking me up on my solution, that she was packing and leaving.

Instead, she told me everyone in her boyfriend's home tested positive for COVID-19. His mother is sick, but managing at home. His brother and father are not showing symptoms. Yet.

I hugged my daughter and she hugged me back. We sat around the kitchen, laughing at the antics of her kitten and planning the night's meal. I didn't say, "I told you so," as I think she may have expected I had a right to. 

Despite their best efforts, four members of one family tested positive and are now officially quarantined. Her boyfriend was shocked. He still feels fine. 

I do feel better knowing that I wasn't being over reactive. I watch the news, I question the right approach.

For this battle, the combination of maternal instinct and science won. I wonder what it will take to win the war.


Saturday, April 18, 2020

SISTERS IN CRIME NEW ENGLAND AT NEWBURYPORT LITERARY FESTIVAL



April 25, 2020, 3:00 pm via ZOOM
Mystery Making with Sisters in Crime New England
Newburyport Literary Festival, Newburyport, MA
Give a panel of talented authors names, setting, motives, weapon and more, then sit back and enjoy the fun as they create a brand new murder mystery on the spot! Join authors Joanna Schaffhausen, Bruce Robert Coffin, Carolyn Wilkins and Connie Johnson Hambley as they build a story while pulling back the curtain on the writing process! Special Note: This will be the first time our popular Mystery Making panel will be presented via video, no doubt adding to the fun for all!


Friday, April 10, 2020

Navigating Life in the World of The Other


I have at times been The Other and other times been The Tribe.

My past careers have been in law, investments, and banking. I have been that “pretty blonde” in a sea of suits before the dawn being seen as a novelty was wrong. Even as early as high school, I felt the sting of exclusion because I strove for something outside of a lane some believed my gender defined. The fight to be considered equal and worthy continues, but it’s different now.

Our public discourse is acquiring language for The Other to engage with The Tribe. In tandem with this growth, our society is developing a platform to discuss exclusion. Sometimes that discussion happens in the safe space among friends and like-minded people, other times it happens in the Wild West of public forums. By definition, inclusion means stepping outside of our comfort zone to see more, hear more, and experience more. The conversations can be heated, but are an essential part of a society’s growth. We must have these conversations and controversies to educate one another and ourselves, and to find the stepping stones upon which we can move forward.

At times, I still feel the cold shoulder of being The Other. I also must acknowledge that I am The Tribe.

I am the chapter president of an organization founded on the concept of merit and ability over habit and ignorance. Thirty years ago, Sisters in Crime was founded by women crime and mystery authors to garner the fair share of reviewers and publishers’ attention in a field dominated by men. Hallmarks of exclusion were noted and the mission statement was recently amended to articulate a vision that further erased the lines of gender and color. A code of conduct was added for its members.

In discussions about chapter membership, I realized I was The Tribe. I was on the inside. Conversations included words like “inclusion,” “diversity,” “outreach,” “ageism,” and “gender identity.”

Our chapter co-sponsors an annual regional writers’ conference. I was heartened when a suggestion to include a choice of pronoun ribbons upon registration was enthusiastically supported by other committee members. Attendees could self-identify. They could choose to be addressed in forms of “he,” “she,” or “they.” This was part of our organizations’ efforts to create an environment of inclusion, acceptance, and safety.

Some people were baffled by the ribbons but donned them anyway. Others shrugged and didn’t wear them, but engaged in conversations with those who did. Igniting conversations was exactly the point. I welcomed the chance to talk about and learn from the experiences of others. Conversations included examples of being the only one of color in a room, of being the only white when traveling, of being the only one celebrating, or not, a religious holiday. The list goes on. The Other.

It is gratifying that more circumstances of exclusion are being identified and discussed. The many facets of exclusion, tribalism, and “other-ism” are being recognized as pervasive, insidious, and destructive. Exclusion is one form of harassment and ignorance another. Neither gets a pass when the goal is to include and respect an individual.

One attendee wrote this: “I am exploring my gender identity . . . I was very happy when I came to [the conference] this year and saw the pronoun badges. Thank you! With some trepidation I wore the ‘they/them’ badge -- my first small step to some public expression, but in a place where I felt safe.”

Isn’t that what we all want? To feel safe among a crowd of strangers?

In one of the moments that marks growth as well as pain, two incidents required public statements be made by the conference committee to condemn harassment. With our acquired language and awareness, we were able to identify, understand, and condemn the equating of sexual orientation with criminality, and be at the forefront of the discussion of this issue. Sadly, the other incident only served to highlight that attitudinal change is difficult and slow. A presentation allowed certain statements to go unaddressed. Some said the comments were sexist, other claimed them to be misogynistic, others heard nothing wrong, others shrugged that such comments have always been made, so what’s the big deal?

I’ve struggled with how to conclude this opinion piece. I write this as me, and not in any official capacity. I can only observe that harsh public discourse is an inevitable symptom of growth, as is an individual’s discomfort for being called out on behavior once considered acceptable. Private statements can also be caustic, but more often than not, those who may be reticent to express support publicly are relieved to do so privately.

We are learning whether our education comes informally in private or public conversations or formally in workshops and educational forums with a curriculum designed to help us hear and see our way to inclusion.

A reality none of us can evade is that at one time or another, you, too, will be The Other.