Thursday, April 11, 2013


Literary agent Ethan Vaughan is hosting a query contest for his client Roger White. Below is the query I've written based on the plot points of Mr. White's novel:

In the summer of 1967, thirteen year-old Gary Tolliver trains for the top spot on the track team, hoping to beat out the new kid, Andy “one armed” Reyes. Now the teens are in a higher stakes race when a local tow truck driver is found murdered, his mouth sewn shut and his brain removed.

Horrified yet morbidly curious, the boys start snooping into the small Texas town’s history and find that similar murders, in which each victim had his mouth sewn shut and a body part removed, have occurred in spurts since at least the 1920s. After a false start into the investigation, a local teen is murdered and castrated. Gary and his friends must use their fledgling detective skills to hurdle over the increasing body count and stop the murders before another victim is silenced forever.
WEST OF SIENNA is a horror novel set in West Sienna, Texas.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hannah's Voice

All great art should have three essential qualities: It should either entertain or be aesthetic in some way. It should be provocative. And it should be relevant to the culture and preferably with timeless themes. Robb Grindstaff’s HANNAH’S VOICE has all three of these qualities.

Hannah Cross is an honest but precocious six-year-old girl who wants to be believed when she tells the truth, and she doesn’t want to be in the spotlight. She doesn’t get either wish, and over the course of a week she stops talking. If she doesn’t talk, no one will accuse her of lying. If she doesn’t talk, she can’t cause problems. But quickly her church becomes divided over her silence and problems come to her door. One faction believes she has visions and is a prophet of God. The other is convinced she’s possessed with a demon, and a exorcism gets interrupted when the police and Child Protective Services steps in and whisks her away to foster care, separating little Hannah from her momma.

Ten years later, Hannah still doesn’t talk, but every night she prays to be reunited with her momma. Through a series of events, the controversy surrounding her suddenly resurges and gains national attention. Now with the impending Presidential election, two factions wanting control of Hannah-- and her voice-- as their icon start to divide the nation. All she wants is to be left alone, find her momma, and have some pancakes.

The theme of truth is explicit and richly woven into Grindstaff’s prose. Hannah brushes her teeth vigorously when she’s a young child so no lie will stick to her teeth. And she stops talking because answering the same question three or four times doesn’t make the truth any truer. However, she’s exploited for other people’s agendas, and for them the truth is subjective and can be subverted for the “greater good” of their end goals. Since this novel has a political component to it, in addition to the obvious religious one, the theme of truth and the twisting of such for ideology expose the ugliness of placing agenda ahead of virtue. This contrasts beautifully with the people in Hannah’s life, who live for truth and simple righteousness and love Hannah as the girl she really is.

Robb Grindstaff’s writing is pure, and free of the hyperbole and love for one’s own words that often get in the way of a good story. His deft handling of the character and personality of Hannah at two distinct stages in her life showcases his mastery of language and characterization. He carefully chose each word to show the ten year difference in Hannah’s life while staying true to who she really is. That is no small feat.

I only had one issue, which I hesitate to bring up. As with some of the characters in the novel, I am offended by the use of the Lord’s name in vain. The usage is rare, and in one spot is both ironic and necessary. With the exception of that one caveat, HANNAH’S VOICE is breathtaking and a rare treat. And I can’t help but wonder, with religion being a major element of the novel and with Hannah’s selective mutism, if the author chose her name because of the Biblical Hannah, who had a son by the name of Samuel, meaning “God has heard”.

To learn more about the novel and how to buy it, please go here.

Friday, July 20, 2012

American Gypsies

I write Women’s Fiction, so it’s important for me to connect with other women in the blogosphere by writing on topics that are of interest to us, particularly in the realm of relationships. I wrote a blog post about friendships and the ultimate value of them, and I also mentioned my good friend, Shannon. I’ve written about husbands (all in a positive light, of course). Eventually, I’ll get to one of my favorite topics, which is about mothering and how not to murder your teenagers.

Today I really don’t want to write about relationships or even women’s issues. I love relationships in all of its forms. The nuances in the way humans interact is a fascinating psychological study, plus they’re fun. But lately, for the purpose of the novel I’m writing, my focus has been on researching Roma traditions and the unique ways they live their lives.

There’s a short-run show that just started called “American Gypsies”. Admittedly, I haven’t seen it yet because I’ve been travelling, but I look forward to catching some of the future episodes. From what I’ve read, the show follows one Roma family that lives in New York City. As I’ve said, I haven’t watched it, but my mother has, and this is what she reported:

“The senior male of the family has most of the control even in the lives of his adult children and their children. The children are home schooled and not allowed to mix with non-gypsies. Girls are expected to marry by age 16 and go to live with her husbands’ parents so she can be properly trained by her mother-in-law to be a good wife to her son. One of the sons wanted to allow his daughters to take acting lessons, and that caused friction but he did it anyway. If a woman works she is to become a fortune teller.

“The wife of the senior male has some control but of course everyone is subject to the senior male. One of the teenage sons (grandsons) is dating a non-gypsy which is completely taboo. One can only marry another gypsy. The laws governing the gypsies aren't just the local laws. They have their own laws and courts.”

The reason I mentioned my mom’s review of the show is to point out the fact that not all Roma and not all tribes are the same. While I understand the fascination with cultures that are not our own, it’s very easy for us as outsiders to only see one segmented view. For example, in Hungary, many (not all) Roma children attend school. Some schools are integrated with other Hungarian children while others are segregated. Also, many of the articles I’ve read pointed out that the segregated schools do not offer the same high standards of education Hungary seeks to achieve; however, the fact remains that not all Roma children are homeschooled.

When I visited Pécs, Hungary recently, I interviewed a tour guide who told me that the esteemed University of Pécs had Roma professors. The most vocal advocate for Roma equality, Ian Hancock, holds two PhDs and is a professor in my home state.

Education is only one, but an important one, of the differences among the tribes and localities of these fascinating people. While I plan to watch the show and encourage others to as well, please keep in mind that no culture or sub-culture can fit so narrowly into pre-conceived stereotypes.

They are a people with long-held traditions, and most do not wish to be assimilated, but a right understanding of who they are and what they believe is something us gadje (non-Roma) can give them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Roma Women and Rights

There has been a lot done in our nation to further women’s rights. Some of which has produced great benefits; others, not so much, and I’ll talk about the negatives in future posts. While not everything is perfect, I believe in embracing the positives and not throwing the baby out with the bath water, to use an old cliché. However, this post isn’t about the good of women’s rights in America. We have that already. I want to talk about women who don’t know they’re supposed to have rights and an organization that is benefitting them.

Roma, better known as Gypsies, are a minority group who primarily live in Central and Eastern Europe. In many countries, neither the men nor the women have much in the way of rights. Because their traditions and laws are so different from their host countries', they’ve been persecuted, enslaved, and ignored for centuries. Admittedly, some of it has been deserved while much of it hasn’t. Other than in America and England, one of the better countries for them to reside in is Hungary. Hungary recognizes them as citizens and has laws in place to educate and protect them. While their education system has some flaws, it’s a good start even though many Roma haven’t taken full advantage because of their traditions.

This is where the women come in. There is an organization in the beautiful city of Pécs called "Colorful Pearls" (Szines Gyöngyök). Its purpose is to empower Romani women, and they provide assistance with social, legal, and mental health issues. The president and founder, Anna Kelemen stated in this interview that the women tend to be more flexible than the men in bettering their standards of living and promoting cultural acceptance.

Naturally, there was some opposition, particularly at first, among the Roma men because they believed the hierarchy of their families would be in jeopardy. Anna had her work cut out for her in convincing the Roma community that her work in educating the women and empowering them to find jobs and to work for the betterment of themselves and their families was for the benefit of the women and not in opposition to the men. The family structure is not infringed upon; rather their statuses within the Hungarian community have improved.

What Anna Kelemen has done is not just for the improvement of Roma women, but she has also furthered the work in minority rights.

To find out more about "Colorful Pearls" or to contribute to this important cause, please visit their site (assuming you can read Hungarian).

Friday, June 29, 2012

Scary Writing Trip

Today I'm deviating from writing about relationships to say that I'll be going on a two week hiatus in order to take the trip of a lifetime. This is the scariest and most exciting thing I've ever done. I am going to Hungary alone to research the culture, people, and setting for the novel I'm currently writing.

I'm not a planner or an organizer, but I've been having to do both so that when I land, I don't go into full panic mode trying to figure out where I'm staying, where's the train station, and what in the heck does a repuloteri mean? (Hint: it means airport.) So, I've had to do the unthinkable. I planned my trip. After doing heavy research, I made online reservations to hostels. The one in Budapest is across the street from the train station I'll need to get to Pecs the next day. I arranged for a shuttle from the airport to the hostel. I've been making a list of all the places I want to go when I get to Pecs.

As unusual as all that is for me, I feel a lot more comfortable and confident about my upcoming trip.

It's usually a good thing for people to step out of their comfort zones and try something new. It will open up new worlds and possibilities that may not have seen possible. It will expose people to new ways of thinking and will show us what we are capable of and that we are stronger than we realize.

What sorts of things have you done that may have seen impossible at first? How did you accomplish it, and what did you learn? Experiences and stories like these are inspirational, and I'm eager to hear about yours.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mothers and Daughters

Yesterday I saw Pixar's "Brave" with my son. I took him instead of my daughter because she's a teen, and my son is just the right age. That was before I really knew what kind of a movie it was.

I knew it wasn't the typical Disney princess movie, and I had heard in a review that unlike in other princess movies, Merida did not ride off into the sunset with her prince charming. What I didn't know until I saw the movie yesterday is that it's a mother/daughter film. A traditional queen and her selfish, free-spirited daughter are at odds as to what Merida's destiny should be, and they both have wonderful character arcs as they change and learn together about what's important.

This reminded me of the occasional mother/daughter movies I used to see with my mom and sister, the last being the Susan Sarandon/Natalie Portman team in "Anywhere But Here".

Mother/daughter movies are important. They provide bonding to the vital relationship. Such films provide topics of discussion and how it relates on a practical level to the mother/daughter duos watching the film. Such discussions lead to learning how to work together to find solutions to issues similar to what the characters in the film faced. This is where art meets the needs of society and reflects who and where we are and benefits us as individuals. Relationships strengthen through the philosophies shared in whatever medium the artist chooses. This is not to say all art and all movies are equal or that all philosophies are equal because they’re not. However, art, including movies, can provoke thinking and discussion and can even change some small part of our lives.

Even though I didn’t see “Brave” with my daughter, it’s still a good parent/child movie no matter the gender, and it just may speak to the heart of what someone is facing right now. After all, isn’t that what good art does?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Women Rule

I came across an old NY Times article on the biases against women rulers and why they are more effective in monarchies than in democratic societies.

Many things went through my mind as I read the article. One of which was the biblical account of Deborah in the book of Judges. She ruled with wisdom and peace. The Bible hailed her as the greatest of the ruling judges of Israel. Another thought was on Queen Hatshepsut, which the writer of the article gave a nod to.

Hatshepsut was the daughter of Tuthmosis I (note the suffix 'mosis') and married to her half-brother, Tuthmosis II and ruled for twenty years after her husband died and before her son could take the throne. When she was a child, she 'mothered' the son of a peasant, Senenmut. According to the statues and drawings of the two of them together, they were very close. As an adult, he was Queen Hatshepsut's most powerful officer and closest advisor, but he abruptly disappeared when he was forty.

I realize it seems I have gotten off subject, and perhaps I have, but during Queen Hatshepsut's rein, Egypty experienced peace and prosperity, which is the point of my mention of her and her rule. Immediately after her death, God pronounced judgment on Egypt through the return of Senenmut, you know him as Moses.

Another thought that went through my mind as I read the article has to do with my own personal experience with women managers. In most cases, their dealings with male subordinates were just, fair, and very effective, but they changed tactics when dealing with female subordinates. Women bosses have been typically harsher, more erratic, and more condescending with other women than with men in the same position. The article mentioned that women are harsher with other women in authority than men are, and in my experience, the flip-side of petty jealousies and prejudices are equally true. If women are to lead, then we need to change the prejudices, and we aren't going to change the prejudices unless we learn to respect and support each other first.