September 28, 2016

A Conversation

"Baby, there's something I want to tell you about. You're probably going to hear about it in school tomorrow, and I'd rather be the one to tell you. Can you put your book down for a sec?"

"Sure, Mom. What's up?"

"There was a school shooting today, up near Greenville. Near Clemson."

"A school shooting? What's that?"

"Like...someone took a gun, and used it, at a school."

"Did anyone die?"

"No, baby. It looks like everyone is going to live this time."

"This time? What? It happened there already?"

"No. I mean, not there. Not right there. But it's happened before. School shootings, I mean. And it's always awful, and it's always sad."

"But no one died?"

"No, baby. No one died."

"That's good. I'm glad."

"Me, too. But it reminds me to tell you something. I know you and your friends like lockdown drills. I know it's a chance to get away from your work, and get to giggle with your friends. But that's something you should really take seriously, baby. I want you to take it seriously, especially since I bet they'll have one this week."

"Why do we have the lockdown drills, Mommy?"

"For something just like what happened in Greenville. In case a bad person comes into the school one day and wants to hurt someone. If that happens, baby...if anything like it ever happens, I want you to do everything your teacher says. If you're not near a teacher, I want you to run as fast as you can. As fast as you do when you're trying to score a goal in a soccer game. I want you to find a hiding spot and make yourself as small and as quiet as possible, and I want you to hide until a policeman or a fireman comes and finds you. Or until I come and find you."

"But what if I can stop the bad man?"

"No. No, baby. You're still just a little thing. If someone wants to hurt people, you can't try to stop him. You can only hide. You can't be a hero. Not yet. You have to save yourself."

"Percy Jackson was just a kid until he was a hero."

"Percy Jackson was also Poseidon's child. Alas, you're just a normal kid. Unless there's something you're not telling me."

"Mo-om. Be serious."

"I'm very serious. I mean it. Don't think about heroics. Think about hiding."

"But what if Callie's there, too. Can I save Callie if she needs to be saved?"

"I...yes...I mean, I don't know. Of course you can save Callie, but then both of you have to hide. Hide until we find you."

"Mommy, is the bad person going to come to my school tomorrow?"

"No. No, honey, no. They caught him. You'll be safe at school. He was just a sad kid..."

"A kid?"

"Crap, no. not really. Um, crap? An older kid, okay? A much older kid. But he's caught and he'll get help and the kids at the school are okay and..."

"He was a teenager? Why would a teenager do that?"

"Oh, honey, I wish I knew. Why would anyone do anything like that? Why do people hurt each other? They'll find out reasons, I'm sure, and maybe they'll be sad reasons. There are always reasons why people do terrible things, but that doesn't make the things any less terrible, does it?"

"No. Not really. What kind of reasons?"

"Oh, babe. I don't know. Just reasons. Maybe someone hurt him. Maybe someone called him a name. That's why I always want you to be nice to everyone you meet. You never know if someone's having a bad day, if maybe you say something nice....maybe it'll help? You never know."

"Mommy, what if someone else bad comes to my school tomorrow? Will they hurt us?"

"No. Remember all the locks on the doors? And remember the policemen in the hallways? Like Officer Steve last year."

"And Officer Chris this year. He's really nice. He scared my teacher the other day and made her squeal!"

"Yes. Like Officer Chris, then. They're there to stop any bad guys, to keep them from hurting you crazy kids."

"Mommy, I don't understand why anyone would want to hurt us crazy kids."

"Me, either, baby. Here. Here's a tissue. Stop crying if you can. This story has an okay ending, right? The kids he hurt are going to be okay, and maybe someday he'll be okay too. Right?"

"Maybe. I wish it didn't happen."

"Me, too, baby."

"I wish we didn't have to have lockdown drills."

"Me, too, baby. But it's the world we live in, and remember...I'm always going to do my very best to keep you safe."

"I love you."

"I love you, too, honey. More than anything. More than the world."


"Always and every day. I will always have a hug for you. Now smile, love, and go finish that book. Let Mommy worry about the bad guys. At least for today."

August 30, 2016

Suffering and Rage: the Controversy of a Children's Story

This is not what I want to be doing right now. Seriously.

I'd rather be relaxing, hanging out watching a show or reading a good book or doing something equally....quiet.

But while I was goofing around on the computer just now, I saw a tweet, which led to a web site, which wanted some rage from me, and I found that, on a subject on which I am rather well-educated (I know, right??), I actually had...none.

Here's the situation: a children's book came out in May to very modest reviews/rankings/etc. Called A Year of Borrowed Men, its author recounts her life during World War II in Germany, when she was but a tiny thing and her family lived on a robust farm in the German countryside. Since her father had been "borrowed" by the government (to go fight the war), three French prisoners of war were sent to the farm to work for her mother. 

But let's be honest here, and call it as it is. 

She lived on a farm with slaves that year. French slaves. Prisoners. Men who were unpaid, far from home, forced to work on her family's farm, reaping their crops, sowing their seeds.

So that's all clear, yes? They were slaves. She was a child, however, and certainly wouldn't have viewed them as such. Also, her mother went out of her way to act humanely to these prisoners, inviting them to eat with her at the family table, which (if we're being completely honest here, and I hope to be) could easily have resulted in imprisonment for the mom, and a huge loss for her family.

The author of the article that led me to this book, on (ha!), argues vehemently that the book, lacking the context of the atrocities of WWII and the true experience of prisoners of war (not to mention all the Jews) during that time, is overly simplified. White-washing history, if you will. The author expresses anger. Outrage. Fury, even, that this little children's book, about kindness against all odds and finding friendship even in the most uncomfortable situations, talks about the "suffering" of German families during the war in which so many of my own kinsman were viciously murdered. 

Clearly, I should be pissed off, too, right?

The thing is...and I'm not sure what's going to happen to me for saying this...and maybe this is going to end my writing career right here and now...

...but I'm not angered by this book. 

Not at all, actually.

Let's unpack for a moment, shall we?

First off, World War II was a heinous war, and regardless of fault or the side of the war on which your country fell, the suffering was real. You know that stupid meme, the struggle is real? Yeah. That was the war, no matter who you were or where you lived. If you were alive at that time, your life was damn near impossible, all thanks to a massive, uncontrollable war. 

Millions of Jews: starving, dying, hurting, crying.
Millions of Germans: starving, dying, hurting, crying.
Millions of Japanese (particularly in August, 1945, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but that's an issue for another day): starving, dying, hurting, crying.
Millions of Allies: starving, dying, hurting, crying. 

Now, I don't care whose side you were on. Clearly clearly CLEARLY I believe wholeheartedly that Germany and Japan were at fault for what went down during those terrible years, but pain is pain and death is death, and the fact is: so many people died, I don't feel like you or I can begin to declare who suffered worst.

After all, is a little Jewish girl who's lost her entire family hurting that much more than a little German girl who's lost her entire family in an Allied bombing raid, or even simply her father and older brothers to a call of duty to their country? Is a small Japanese girl who's lost her father and brother to Kamikaze flights, and then endured radiation poisoning, hurting less than a British tot who's lost her mum and home to the Blitz?

Pain is pain and death is death, and innocence lost is never regained. 

All children suffer in wars, don't you think? Didn't we all just lose our minds with grief (and rightfully so) at the image of a small Syrian boy, covered in dust and blood, in the wake of a terrible bombing? 

Everyone suffers in wars, and the suffering is real.

This is a lesson I learned several years ago. I am educated, particularly about World War II. I've made it my life's work to understand what happened in Germany particularly, so afraid am I that it'll ever be allowed to happen again. I was smug, for a long time, in the knowledge that I got it. That I knew the Jews had it the worst during the war, and that I, an Ashkenazi Jew with family ties to Eastern Europe, owned a part of that pain. That it was my story, too, and that mine was the worst story out there. I was Jew, hear me suffer.

Then, my sister-in-law's family hosted a German high school student for a year. 

The student (also named Lea(h), though without the exceptionally important silent H) and I were getting to know each other the first time we met. Somehow the war came up. She grew silent, not meeting my eye, and at first I thought it was guilt that kept her from looking at me. 

But no. Her head hung low, and her beautiful face was stormy. 

"My grandmother was raped in the war," she said. "By Allied soldiers, after they took over her village."

Pain is pain and death is death, and innocence lost is never regained.

It rankles me anytime a person demeans another's suffering.


No. It infuriates me.

Pain is pain and death is death, and who am I to judge whose pain is worse?

Look, friends. There's so much in the world to be angry about. So much pain. So much suffering. So much war right now. Let's all be mad about that, okay? Let's do what we can to stop that.

And let's not waste time arguing that a book isn't good enough simply because you don't think a little girl losing her father to war qualifies her to write a story of friendship in a time of darkness. 

I almost lost my dad to heart disease last week. I know firsthand right now the pain of a little girl missing her daddy. 

If anyone wants to reach out a hand to me, in friendship and love, I'll take that hand. And I'll let my child read a story of friendship, and the hell with historical context. Seven-year-olds don't always need historical context, and sometimes, history can take a backseat to love.

And that is what I believe about A Year of Borrowed Men.

July 12, 2016

Dear Lady Who Cursed At Me Outside Barnes & Noble Today

Dear lady who cursed at me outside Barnes & Noble today,

I feel as though I owe you an apology. I pissed you off. I stopped in front of the entrance to Barnes & Noble, blocking you from making a left into the parking lot. I know that. I do. I was ashamed of that fact before you drew close enough to yell. Perhaps you missed this, seeing as how you were the second of two blocked vehicles, and seeing as how I made you wait at least three extra minutes before you could make your turn, but I felt bad. So bad, in fact, I frantically mouthed "I'm sorry" to the driver of the car in front of you, who in turn waved and made a "no biggie" gesture. Perhaps, had you been first in line and seen my apology, I wouldn't have ruined your day.

You see, I feel bad. I stopped in a wonky way due to the big wreck at the intersection ahead of us. Maybe the flashing lights of the police car and firetruck got in my eyes and distracted me, or maybe the car in front of me simply didn't pull up as far as I expected him to. Either way, my blocking the entrance to the Barnes & Noble angered you deeply, and for that I am sorry.

I feel especially bad for the fact that your anger was so real. So visceral. I hate to think I could have made anyone feel that way. Plus, it appears you were late for something. Were you late for getting coffee from the Starbucks inside the bookstore? Or rather, based on your window being down on a 90 degree morning, was I making you late for the appointment to fix the air in your massive SUV? Either way, I'm guessing I was having a better morning than you. In fact, after you yelled at me, and after I comforted my eight-year-old daughter who was in the back seat with her best friend on their way to soccer camp, after her eyes filled with tears and she said, "Why did that lady yell at you, Mommy? What did you do?"my day got better. My next twenty-five minutes were filled with music and laughter as those same two little girls sang "Uptown Funk" at the tops of their lungs. We'll be okay, thanks for asking.

But back to you. You poor thing, bless your heart. Your air conditioner was possibly broken on a hot South Carolina morning. You were maybe late for an appointment. And there I was, blocking the entrance to Barnes & Noble, ruining your day.

One thing, though. You yelled, "You can't block the fucking intersection, you bitch." I take issue with one part of that. I wasn't, in fact, blocking an intersection. I was blocking the entrance to a shopping center. The intersection, as I mentioned earlier, was blocked by a fairly serious car wreck. Perhaps you didn't notice that. Maybe you were too stressed out.

Here's another thing, though. I'm not really a bitch. I didn't follow you into the parking lot to yell back at you (though I easily could have), and really, I wish you all the best. Like I said, it looked like you were having a rough day; I hope it improved after you vented to me. 

Oh. And here's the last thing you should know. You see, I'm a writer, and I can't always control the origins of my inspiration. Often, people and places in my life appear in my writing in all sorts of interesting ways. And let's be honest - you didn't make the best impression on me, in our three seconds of shared Earth. In fact, you hurt my feelings. I don't speak to people that way - ever - so it shocks me when people speak to me that way. You got under my skin enough that I'm still thinking of you, an hour later.

So it's likely you're going to appear somewhere, in something I write in the future. Based on our interaction, your portrayal is not likely to be a kind one. I write horror, and science fiction. I've recently watched a handful of interesting movies like Mad Max: Fury Road. I can already see a version of you, wanting to come out to play. In this version, you live in an arid, desert landscape. Your flesh, ample though it clearly was in real life, is drying out. Puckered. Scaly. Your hair falls out in sticky, stringy clumps. The beads of sweat collected on your lip in the comparatively balmy Charleston summer has taken on a milky tinge, and now that milky sweat coats your entire body. It creates sores where your skin folds over itself, sores so infected, so painful, they're like hot pokers digging into the flesh beneath your breasts. Your unshaven armpits. You smell of fish left too long in the sun, calling to the wake of vultures circling overhead. 

Or maybe you live in a world of the undead. Maybe it's time for me to revisit the zombies I love. Maybe, in this world, you and I? We're friends. Maybe we go way back to our idyllic childhoods in the northeast. Maybe we're on the run, together. But here's the thing with this picture: I'm smaller than you. I'm faster. I'm in such good shape it drives you crazy; you're jealous of my strong legs, my conditioned heart. 

Maybe, in this world, we're both starving. Maybe we're both tired from living on the run for so long. Maybe we're starting to fight.

Here's where things get ugly. Remember that I'm faster than you, okay? Maybe you drive us (our car still works in this scenario, our big, black, un-air-conditioned diesel-guzzling SUV) into a hotbed of zombie activity. Maybe you claim to have heard of a cache of food and weapons deep in the heart of the Charleston peninsula, and maybe things maybe won't end so well for you. Maybe the SUV finally runs out of gas, and we have to run for it, trying to escape the sagging-skin, torn-and-tattered, rotten-as-corpses zombies that are hot on our heels. Maybe you planned it this way, so you could finally leave me behind.

But as I said, I'm faster than you. I can run for hours if I need to. 

And all I'll hear, as I escape the zombie-horde, is the power of your lungs (so loud, they were, when they shouted at me this morning), as teeth bite into your ample, willing flesh, and you become a feast for the undead.

Again, I'm sorry about all this. I truly am. Bless your heart, you had no idea you were yelling at a writer this morning, did you? You had no idea you could be immortalized in my next story, an exaggerated, bastardized version of yourself that you may not recognize, but will exist in eternity nonetheless. I'm sorry for what I will do to you in the future, and again, I'm so sorry for blocking that silly entrance to Barnes & Noble. I'm sure I ruined your morning. I'll try not to do it again.

All the best, and lots of good wishes for a non-fictional future,


June 15, 2016

Definitely Not Heartless

My favorite refrain throughout my writing career has been: the best part of being a writer has been meeting such cool people!

It's still true! Nothing is changing! Despite the chaos of our world, there is still love and happiness, if only you know where to look. And there are cool people...everywhere. 

Here's one. 

My little friend Ari came down to see me on her birthday, when I had my signing at Blue Bicycle Books two weeks ago.

Her dad just emailed me these two pictures, drawn by sweet Ari and inspired by HEARTLESS (and by the incredible cover art by Magie Serpica). Let me say - this is by far the coolest fan art I've ever seen.

Thank you, Ari, for the amazing pictures!! I ADORE them! YOU are most certainly NOT HEARTLESS!! 

I think Magie would agree - this is a fabulous heart!

Look! It's Jolene Hall! I LOVE THIS!

May 26, 2016

On the kindness of friends

It's been a crazy few weeks, to say the least.

HEARTLESS launched, making it's tiny ripples in a VERY large pond. People bought it. Friends read it. Friends told me how much they loved it. Friends told me it made them cry.

I had my first Barnes & Noble event. Friends came out to support me. Some brought flowers; others brought wine.

Have I mentioned I have the best friends?

This week found me going to the coolest indie bookstore in the area, Blue Bicycle Books. I was nervous...again. Worried...again. Would anyone show up? Would my promises of cake and wine bring in some customers to buy books?

Why'd I ever worry? 

Have I mentioned I have the best friends?

It started with my friend Teri. "Who's doing your cake?" she asked. "Do you need help?"

Teri is a phenomenal cake artist. She makes gorgeous wedding and birthday cakes in the area. She can take a theme and run with it, molding beautiful details out of fondant or modeling chocolate, creating entire worlds out of a single cake. 

We talked for a bit, and she offered to make a 3-D heart to go on top of the cake I planned on purchasing (because the Publix near me makes incredibly delicious cakes, too!). I'd have been stupid to say no! I knew she'd create something amazing. 

What I didn't know was exactly how amazing it could be!

Look at this heart! Isn't it perfect?

It went atop a yummy cake, and was the centerpiece of the night!

Have I mentioned I have the most talented friends?

Here's Teri's info, if you ever need something...amazing. 

Then, the day of the event, Charles handed me a gift from a friend of ours. This is a guy who's been so incredibly supportive of my crazy writing dreams from day one, and this little keyring perfectly exemplifies him: sweet and lovely and wildly creative. Who'd have thunk? Thanks, Eddie - this started my day with such a huge smile, and such a warm hug!

 Have I mentioned I have the kindest, most caring friends? 

The event at Blue Bicycle Books turned cool! I drank wine and ate cake with friends and strangers alike. I chatted with people who'd never heard of me, with people who had and wanted my book, and I got to hug a little girl who loves my stories. Thank you so much to everyone who came out or who made my day so special. I could not do this crazy writing thing without you. And thank you to Jonathan Sanchez and his staff at Blue Bicycle. You guys made me feel so welcome and happy, especially with your window display! It was the COOLEST!

Here are some photos from the night. I hope you enjoy!

(P.S. I of course forgot to take my own pics. Thus I have none with my mom nor my husband.  Again. DORK!)

Coolest. Window. Display. EVER!

This sweet girl has read all my zombie books.
Her dad drove her to 2 hours the event because
it was her birthday and he thought she'd love it.
She did. I was blown away! What a night!

Photo bombers, plus a bestie who not only
came to the event, but took my kiddo
out to play so she wouldn't drive me nuts!

Stabby Zoe, plus HEARTLESS

Here I go with the faces again!
Stabby Leah

Always so great to meet internet friends in the wild!!