Monday, June 6, 2016

Remembering David Gilkey

David Gilkey, photojournalist at NPR, was killed yesterday in Afghanistan, along with translator Zabihullah Tamanna. Those words cause my guts to churn and my chest to tighten. My friend was one of the most decent people I ever met.

Even though his job sent him to capture images of people in dramatic or tragic circumstances, he never lost sight of the fundamental dignity of every human being he photographed. And because he turned his lens on so much pain, I think he cultivated a crusty exterior in a futile effort to keep us from knowing just how much he cared. 
Photojournalists at work

We met because his passion for sharing the stories of America's veterans brought him to the nonprofit agency I raised money for. My most vivid memory of him from that visit is his spluttering indignation at seeing a party of reveling young people wearing army costumes and waving toy weapons in downtown San Diego to celebrate the release of a war-based video game. 

“They wouldn’t think the game was so much fun if they spent a little time in a tent city full of actual veterans, with broken bodies and messed up minds, who feel used up and tossed aside.” 

Another time, we talked about his repeated trips to Afghanistan and Iraq after other media had turned to Egypt, Libya, and Syria. He felt it was critical for him, and his network, to keep attention on the people most impacted by America’s recent wars, even when commercial media bounced journalists from one trouble spot to the next.

That’s why I wasn’t surprised by his most recent assignment, even if I worried about how many times he could be in the middle of the shit without paying a price. He was aware of the risks associated with his work. When we talked about a colleague who’d been killed in a war zone, he acknowledged the possibility something could happen to him. But he didn’t think it would.

Claire O'Neill, David Gilkey, Rick Ochocki, and Quil Lawrence
He was wrong. And we’ve all lost someone special.

David told me about struggling to write an assigned blog post once and coming up hundreds of words short. When questioned, he pointed out that he’d attached photos with his submission, and “a picture’s worth a thousand words.” 

His photos were worth so much more. Some of his best pictures can be seen here

Though our friendship was recent and all-too-short, I’m going to miss him more than words can express. Because I don’t have his talent with a camera, words are all I’ve got. 

May Light Perpetual Shine Upon Him. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Men in Romance

Since we were in Los Angeles for the L.A. Times Festival of Books, my Best Friend suggested a visit to The Ripped Bodice, the new romance-specific bookstore in Culver City.

In addition to meeting proprietors Bea and Leah, I got a kick out of seeing a friend from the Festival already at work in the store.

This guy gets how sweet it is to be a man in romance, even without the refresher read of Beyond Heaving Bosoms:  The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance. 

Even as a pre-published writer, I can't imagine more rewarding work. I'm pleased that my stories not only entertain, but promise readers that despite the challenges my characters face, in the end Love Wins!

In a world that can be as cold, cruel, and dangerous as ours, I think this sort of joyful hope appeals to both women and men.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Star for Mrs. Blake

A Star for Mrs. Blake, by April Smith, is a heart-breaking, poignant and hopeful novel of American women traveling overseas to visit the graves of sons killed in World War I and learning about themselves and each other in the process. Set during a Gold Star Mothers pilgrimage in 1931, six women of different social classes and races discover, despite common loss and a shared goal, much still separates them in President Hoover’s America and post-war France.

The title character, Mrs. Cora Blake, is a librarian in coastal Maine who takes the U. S. government-sponsored and paid trip to the grave of her son Samuel, who died in the final month of World War I. Smith uses an early episode of mistaken identity to call attention to the distinctly separate and not-equal treatment of African-American women whose sons and husbands equally made the supreme sacrifice for a country that wrestles with racial injustice to this day.

For most of the book, Mrs. Blake’s primary companions are a wealthy Boston socialite widow, a Jewish woman making the journey over the objections of her husband, a woman whose philandering husband has repeatedly institutionalized her, and an Irish working-class woman who lost two sons in battle. This small band grows as close together as a unit in combat, led by an idealistic recent West Point graduate and accompanied by a nurse contemplating her own future.

The horrific costs of the world’s first industrial-scale exercise in man-made carnage are demonstrated not only by the anguish of the mothers for their long-dead sons, but also through Mrs. Blake’s encounter with an expatriate American reporter grievously wounded during a gas attack years earlier. In enthralling prose and vibrant description, Smith ably builds sympathy for her characters while also offering a fitting memorial to all those who suffered during the World War and afterward.  
Smith’s book shines a sweet light on a little-known part of our nation’s history. It also subtly compels the reader to reflect more soberly on the meaning of country, honor, and sacrifice.  In this anniversary year of the start of the “War to End All Wars”, this book is sure to enlighten curious readers while challenging all of us to consider what support the troops means - before as well as after - the final shot is fired.   

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

First Draft In a Month

My best friend started the countdown last night – four hours and some minutes.  Unfortunately she was only off by a day.  But now, in a little less than four hours, I’ll start writing the first draft of my next novel as part of the National Novel Writing Month extravaganza. 

NaNoWriMo is a project from the Office of Letters and Light, a San Francisco bay-area nonprofit organization.  The point of NaNoWriMo is to write long fiction at a fast and furious pace.  The goal is to produce 50,000 new words between November 1 and November 30. 

For many struggling novelists, finding time to write is the biggest challenge.  During NaNoWriMo, a writer is encouraged to spew words on the page, always moving forward without editing or censoring.   This actually leads to impressive output as long as one isn’t daunted by the daily goal of 1,667 words.  I find it helps to use resources like A Writer's Book of Days by Judy Reeves to avoid writer's block and unlock creativity in surprising ways.  I sometimes create a fortress of inspiration just to keep failure at bay.  

This will be the sixth year I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo; after sputtering starts in 2005 and 2007, I’ve come up with three straight winner years in 2009, 2010, and 2011.  I pitched a revised version of the novel written in 2009 at this year's Romance Writers of America National Conference and had an editor at a major publishing house request the full manuscript!

If you’ve ever thought to yourself, ‘maybe I should write a book’, I suggest you give this NaNoWriMo a try.  As an added benefit, friends and family who wouldn’t tolerate a loved-one disappearing for months at a time more easily accommodate a single month of writing madness -- as long as the writer promises to pick up chores or childcare again come December 1.  Hope to see you in the Winner’s Circle this year!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tagged ... I'm It

I’m not a person susceptible to peer pressure.  I dress up for Comic-Con no matter which day I attend.  I drive the speed limit, even on the freeways in California and no matter how fast the other traffic is going.  I used public transportation to commute to work daily when I lived in the Central Valley even after another passenger told me that only ex-cons and homeless people rode the bus.  And while it took me ten years to get my undergraduate college degree, I never smoked pot.  Not even once.   

So I would seem unlikely to fall for a facebook-posted challenge from a friend.  Except for the fact that the friend is Gayle Carline and the challenge is writerly.  In an electronic twist to the old-fashioned chain letter, she included me in something called the Lucky 7 Challenge which basically goes like this: 

1. Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript (fiction or non-fiction)
2. Go to line 7
3. Post on your blog the next 7 lines, or sentences, as they are – no cheating
4. Tag 7 other authors to do the same.

In the spirit of the game, here are the seven lines from the romantic suspense novel I entered into this year’s Golden Heart contest from the Romance Writers of America (and currently undergoing revision):

“Thanks.  I want each of you guys writing up your own statements.  Nothing fancy, just how you remember things from the time we got separated from the rest of the task force until the chopper found us.”

“We’ll put our heads together,” Jake said, “and give them an ironclad textbook example of good old-fashioned American firefighter heroism in the heat of battle.”

Danny laughed.  “I’m not looking for a Nobel prize winner for literary fiction.  Both of you grab a pen, a piece of paper, and a separate table.  This isn’t a group project.”

Now let’s see what we get from my seven writer friends:

Friday, March 23, 2012

Mad Endeavor Books launches Garbageland today!

Mad Endeavor Books launches Garbageland today!  This debut novel from Todd Wheeler heralds the arrival of a new creative star in the long-fiction universe.  This e-published work of speculative fiction offers readers a delightful full-course banquet from a writer who previously whetted appetites with contest-winning short fiction in Writer's Digest and contributions to several topical anthologies.  Wheeler is an alumnus of the Southern California Writers' Conference in Los Angeles.

Garbageland presents the imaginative story of main character Esteban (Steve) Quiroga in a future America staggering through a "long economic plateau."  As a result of his involuntary civil service assignment to the world's largest waste recovery facility, Steve learns first-hand the consequences of being an indifferent individual detached from larger society.  He also uncovers a stunning confluence of personal greed, corporate malfeasance, and government corruption.

The devolution of a democratic society where government is undermined by nakedly profit-motivated commercial interests would seem less likely to the modern reader if only the impacts of the "too big to fail" world banking crisis were not still echoing.  The frequent mainstream media reports on SuperPac influence in the current presidential campaign might actually be seen as a precursor to Wheeler's dystopia.  Springing organically from a tradition including Orwell, Bradbury, and Vonnegut, Wheeler skillfully deploys satiric humor around the issue of trash versus recycling to critique contemporary consumer consumption culture while still entertaining with a delightfully well-paced story.

It is most appropriate that this work be released exclusively in digital format today.  When a major story question is just how much waste materials can be captured and repurposed on a planet daily carrying more inhabitants, a reader can feel a certain justifiable ecologic smugness in toting an entire novel that didn't destroy a single tree in making the electronic journey from virtual bookstore to e-reader.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I readily acknowledge that the writer of this novel and I have been friends since high school!  On my honor, my unreserved recommendation of Garbageland is based on the compelling characters and excellent story-delivered by a true craftsman.  Please buy this book today, it is available now for the bargain price of $1.99.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Black and White by Wes Albers

Black and White, the debut novel by Wes Albers officially released today by ZOVA Books, is such a gripping story that I wanted to put on a uniform and ride patrol with John Hatch.  In this story, veteran San Diego cop Hatch struggles with breaking in both a wonder-boy new supervisor and a freshly minted rookie partner while keeping a lid on crime in the rough Mid-City area of America's Finest City. Albers leavens his story setting with authentic details drawn from more than two decades in law enforcement.

In John Hatch, Albers presents a complex protagonist with whom the reader heartily identifies.  In a grim story world short on positive role models, Hatch is one of the good guys.  His motives are noble even when his methods are questioned.

When Hatch and partner Stevie are the first arriving officers at the scene of a homicide, Hatch can't shake the feeling there's more to the crime than meets the eye.  Unwilling to settle for the easy answer to the question of whodunit, his investigating on patrol takes his partner and the reader deeper into the case.  Albers uses the followup after the crime to weave in true-to-life elements about street-level policing and challenges facing the thinning blue line of San Diego's finest in a way that deepens story tension.

The reader who signs up to ride along with Hatch gets a fascinating companion on an intense journey of suspense and action.  This novel rewards the reader looking for a thinking person's adrenaline rush.  Albers, who also serves as Director of the Southern California Writers' Conference, is a gifted story teller.  Without giving away the ending to the book, I can honestly say that when I go to sleep in San Diego tonight, I hope there's a cop like John Hatch keeping watch over my neighborhood.

This must-read work of contemporary fiction is now available in print and eBook format.