Go Forward with Courage

Sometimes book titles can literally be the hardest part of writing an entire novel. You can spend months or years thoughtfully creating characters, putting them into situations that create drama or suspense for your readers, and crafting dialogue that feels natural and realistic. But once the book is finished, finding the perfect title that feels worthy of the story can be elusive–nothing seems quite right. If you’re lucky, you’ll come across something that strikes like lightning, and you’ll know you’ve landed the perfect title.

That was the case for my latest novel, Go Forward with Courage. A central part of the novel deals with Michi and her family, who are forced to relocate to an internment camp in Arkansas after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. For the thousands of families impacted by the Executive Order to remove all citizens of Japanese ancestry from the west coast, every step of their journeys to these camps took courage. But it didn’t end there. When they were finally allowed to leave at the war’s end to return home, what were they returning to? It varied of course, but for many of these displaced persons, they had nothing tangible to return to.

The title, Go Forward with Courage comes from a quote by a Native American Chief after his realization that he had no other choice but accompany his people to a reservation.

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“When you are in doubt, be still, and wait; when doubt no longer exists for you, then go forward with courage. So long as mists envelope you, be still; be still until the sunlight pours through and dispels the mists — as it surely will. Then act with courage”.

Pocono Chief White Eagle

When I came across this quote while writing the novel, the similarity of the plight of the Japanese-American citizens displaced from their homes to the Native Americans generations earlier seemed incredibly relevant. My character Michi, and the thousands of others like her, would need courage to face the unknown waiting for them when they returned “home” after the war. Some of the images captured from that time period, express more than my own words ever could.

I have so much admiration for the people who rebuilt lives after having them interrupted during the war. The courage it took is inspiring, and I hope that my story does them justice.

What I Love about R.J. Palacio’s “Wonder”

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Penguin Random House Books

I finished reading Wonder in March, but I can’t stop thinking about this book. I’ve recommended it to more people than I can keep track of. The ones who’ve read it get back to me and thank me for recommending it. The book is just that good. This book resonated with me for several reasons. First, I grew up in a family with a sister who had special needs. I also have a son with special needs. I’m a pediatric nurse who’s cared for children with the same kind of anomalies that the main character was born with. Finally, I taught elementary school for 4 years and high school for 1, and Ms. Palacio nails school dynamics beautifully.

If you haven’t read this wonderful book yet, here is a brief introduction: August Pullman has never been able to attend school due to his extensive medical needs. He was born with severe craniofacial anomalies, and has had many surgeries. At the opening of the story, his parents have decided to enroll him in a private school. Auggie is nervous about how the other kids are going to respond to him. The principal picks three kids that he thinks will help ease the transition for Auggie, but it doesn’t work out so well. (It’s more complicated than that, but I don’t want to give spoilers!) However, there is another student named Summer who befriends Auggie without prompting from anyone. Through the narrative, the reader becomes a part of the Pullman family as well as their extended family and friends.

  1. The story unfolds through multiple perspectives. Even though Auggie is an extremely observant kid, there is no way he could know the motivations and back story for every other character in the book. Palacio beautifully puts us inside the head of each character, and this is one of the reasons this book has such a huge heart. No one is a cliché, but a fully developed character with motivations guiding their behaviors.
  2. The book is written with humor. Even though I cried in many places, this book is not in the least bit depressing. The Pullman family relies on humor to get them through the tough times. I came to love this family so much. They made mistakes and they didn’t always agree. But they loved each other and it comes across so beautifully in the writing.
  3. The beautiful writing itself makes the book a pleasure to read. In the very beginning of the book, Auggie tells us, “the only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one else sees me that way.” He is perceptive and notices the way others react to him. He also shares at one point that if he had a magic lamp, he’d wish for an ordinary face. Being inside of Auggie’s head doesn’t feel like a pity party. But the frustration he feels that even his own family doesn’t seem to be able to allow him to be “normal” comes across beautifully. It’s gut wrenching, but at the same time it’s hopeful.
  4. Via’s experiences were the ones that resonated the strongest for me because this teenage character is able to put her family’s existence into words better than I’ve ever been able to. When it’s Via’s turn to tell the story, she compares her family to a solar system. “August is the Sun. Me and Mom and Dad are planets orbiting the Sun. The rest of our family and friends are asteroids and comets floating around the planets orbiting the Sun.” Wow.
  5. Another beautiful part of Wonder that was especially meaningful for me was the relationship between Via and her grandmother. In her early years, having her grandmother’s unconditional love and adoration helped to offset the dynamics of her nuclear family. My grandmother was exactly this for me. And just like Via, she died unexpectedly when I needed her support the most. Via’s grandmother shares a secret with her about why she feels the way she does. “I love Auggie very, very much,…but he has many angels looking out for him already, Via. And I want you to know that you have me looking out for you.”
  6. This book is “real” in every since. Palacio doesn’t sugar coat anything. She allows Auggie to be resentful of “normal” kids at times. Via feels betrayed by her mom at times when she focuses so much attention on Auggie and his needs. The parents have arguments. Some kids are just plain mean, because let’s be honest, some kids just are. Perhaps the best part of the authenticity of Wonder is that is shows how acts of kindness that might seem small at the time, can have an enormous impact on someone who needed the kindness. In fact, this book started the Choose Kind movement through American schools.

To say that I recommend this book is an understatement. If you haven’t read it, you can go here for more information from the book’s publisher. If you have read it, please share your comments. I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

Dragon Con 2016

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I was fortunate enough to attend my first Dragon Con last weekend in Atlanta with my family. This was the 30th anniversary of the pop culture, fantasy, and sci-fi convention, and I was joined by more than 77,000 others on this adventure. According the the post- convention press release, “Fans came from around the world and all 50 states, with this year’s convention attracting people from as far away as Japan, New Zealand, and Fiji.” In other words, I was in good company.

What I knew about Dragon Con is that people engaged in cosplay–dressing up as their favorite characters from movies, comics, television programs, video games, and just about anything that reflects their interests. I knew this because I’ve assisted my young adult kids in making these costumes and/or purchasing items to make them look authentic. I vaguely knew that they held panels for people interested in writing because my daughter, who volunteered this year in media relations at the con, had told me about them last year.

What I didn’t know about Dragon Con could fill Lake Michigan. Here’s just a few facts that I found impressive.

  1. The con has it own awards/recognition program called Dragon Awards. These recognize the creators of science fiction and fantasy in books, comic books, games and filmed entertainment.
  2. The con raises money for charity. According to the press release, $98,000 was raised this year for its 2016 official charity, the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency, which helps put homeless individuals on a pathway to achieving a healthy independence.
  3. The con attracts famous actors, writers, producers, etc. There was some serious talent in that place. There are far too many to name, but a few of the individuals that I’ve watched in television during my lifetime were in attendance such as Alex Kingston, William Shatner, Gillian Anderson, and Jason Isaacs and Adam Baldwin. There was a pool of talent at the con that would appeal to people of all ages and interests.
  4. The sheer size of the con! I mentioned the numbers above, but nothing would prepare you for how many individuals (costumed or not) were crowded into a huge area of Atlanta. Event organizers added more than 215,000 square feet to the venues, including the AmericasMart Building 2. The con consumed meeting space in the Sheraton, Marriott Marquis, Westin, Hyatt and the AmericasMart buildings.
  5. The con is quite civic minded. In addition to the fundraising efforts, there was a blood drive held in which over 6,000 units of blood and blood products were donated to an Atlanta blood bank. Also, disability services were visible everywhere and provided assistance to individuals with special mobility/seating needs.
  6. The diversity of the people attracted by Dragon Con was one of my biggest surprises. There were people there who were less than half my age as well as people (almost!) twice my age. There were people there of every race, gender and socioeconomic level. Some costumes were Captain America shirts from Walmart and some looked professionally made to the cost of thousands. The attendees for the most part were gracious with posing for pictures, and seemingly unflustered by the long (and I mean long!) lines, wait times and sheer crowds you had to part to just move anywhere. I loved seeing families there with their kids, all in costume having a great time. 14317415_1242873745744756_2617542351912526429_n
  7. I’m saving the best for last. 🙂 I was stunned at the writing community that was in attendance. There were some terrific panels at the con on the writing craft as well as specific elements of publishing. Brandon Sanderson, who is probably best known for finishing Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series, The Wheel of Time, was on a panel that I attended. I ran into him outside of one of the hotels and he was warm and gracious in answering a question and then chatting for several minutes. The authors who attended seemed very willing to interact and share insights with attendees. I was impressed with the breadth of options of panels to attend that focused on writing.

    My takeaway from Dragon Con 2016 is that there is truly something for everyone there. If you’ve ever read or watched anything related to science fiction or fantasy, if you’ve ever watched superhero movies or read comics, if you enjoy art or especially if you like people watching–this is the place to be during Labor Day weekend in Atlanta. 14195279_1059995960781223_8651517751153972000_o

     

    Have you been to Dragon Con or think you might be interested? If so, I’d love to hear your comments! For more information on Dragon Con 2017, please visit the website www.dragoncon.org for more information. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Photo Credits: Sarah Maney

 

Anywhere Doors?

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Writing Prompt:

Pick Your Gadget-Your local electronics store has just started selling time machines, anywhere doors, and invisibility helmets. You can only afford one. Which of these do you buy, and why?

This prompt immediately reminded me of the last Harry Potter novel when Harry, Ron and Hermione are discussing the Deathly Hallows, and each one picks the hallow that they perceive to be “the obvious” choice only to realize that they’d each chosen a different one. And they had good reasons for the choice based on their own lifetime experiences, as well as their strengths and weaknesses.

I imagine the same will hold true for this writing prompt. Each one of us who respond will be bringing our own unique background and experiences into our choice regarding which gadget we would choose. For me, it took only a moment to weigh each option and decide on the one that I would choose. It would definitely be the “anywhere doors” over the other two choices. My choice has to do as much with why I’d love to have a set of these doors as it does with why I wouldn’t want to own the invisibility helmet or the time machine.

I’m sure that I’ve said, “I’d love to be a fly on the wall” as much as anyone else. It is so tempting to want to observe situations that we can’t due to being a solid hunk of visible flesh. 🙂 However, as much as I’d love to be able to disappear at times, it does have major privacy and ethical issues. Just as I don’t particularly want the NSA listening to my phone calls, I don’t want anyone, friend or foe, to have the ability to spy on me without my knowledge. It’s just creepy. So I have to rule out the helmet and hope that anyone who knows me does the same!

Next, the time machine. This one was tougher, because who hasn’t wanted to time travel? To this day I love a good time travel story. But inevitably, toying around with the complexities of time travel is going to lead to trouble. Your current self will see your past self and think it’s insane. Or you will tinker with one small thing that will have tremendous ramifications for every future generation to come. It makes great novel fodder, but I think I’ll stick to my current time no matter how screwed up the world seems at the moment!

So, that leaves us with those doors. Now that is the gadget that truly tempts me, and seems to have the lowest probability to land me in serious hot water. Let’s say that in order for these doors to work, someone on “the other end” also has to have a set. I have family and friends all over the world. Many of my dear friends that we met while living in Germany are now scattered to the four corners of the world–literally. Also, my cousins live everywhere from New Hampshire to Washington State and many states scattered in between. What keeps us from visiting each other? The $2,000 in airline tickets we’d have to purchase for the family to visit! To be honest, our family would have extended our tour and stayed in Germany longer if maintaining family relationships back in the states had been as easy as walking through some doors. For me, this is the best choice of the three gadgets.

This was a great prompt, but seriously…can someone get onto the invention of these doors ASAP? I’ve posted a prototype of them in the picture I chose to go with this post. I’ll be in line for your first working set!

Pick Your Gadget

Japanese Interment: Not Only Important for Historical Perspective

When my high school history teacher first taught us about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War 2, I was shocked that something like that had happened. But it was “ancient” history to a teenager. I honestly didn’t see the relevance of the topic to my life in the 1980’s.

As I began researching to write my novel, Go Forward with Courage, the relevance to modern times became increasingly clear to me. While the novel was being edited, my husband drew my attention to an interview given by a retired US Army general who suggested the solution to Islamic terrorism was to lock up young Muslim men in camps. (Watch interview here)

Who gets to decide which Americans are “disloyal”? You might want to believe that the FBI had compiled credible evidence against these Japanese American citizens who were placed in camps, but that was not the case. Their ancestry alone was the sole deciding factor in their internment.

Someone shared this article on my Facebook page this morning, and I thought it was a wonderful example of how little most Americans understand about this topic. A middle school class researched their ancestry and one young man discovered that his grandmother was born in a horse stall during internment.

George Takei’s new Broadway musical Allegiance also tackles this painful period in history. The show is earning rave reviews and features one of my favorites–the beautiful and talented Lea Solonga. I can’t wait to see it myself, and I hope that it continues to shed light on this important subject. Especially since the subject is even more relevant today than it has been since the war.

November Writing Madness!

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It’s entirely possible that I have bitten off more than I can chew this November, but I’m going to give it my best effort! As many people familiar with the writing world know, November is the time that many writers attempt to create a 50K word novel during the 30 days of the month. I’m attempting to write my first novel for Middle Grade readers during the next 30 days. In addition, I have decided to participate in the Picture Book version of National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) as well.

As a former elementary school teacher, I have wanted to write children’s books for a very long time. So, wish me luck! 🙂 In the next 30 days I will be working on a new novel, coming up with 30 ideas for picture books, promoting my newly released novel Go Forward with Courage, and working 3 days a week outside the home. Whew! Should be fun!

A picture is worth a thousand words? Yep, I can buy that!

The balcony on the back of the house.
The balcony on the back of the house.

One of my favorite things to hear as an author is, “I could picture the story as I was reading it.” I get chill bumps when I hear someone say that, because that is literally my main goal as a writer of fiction. If my readers don’t come away from This She’ll Defend with a clear image of Carmen and Ed’s life in Germany, then I’ve failed them. 

So just for fun, I thought I’d put up some pictures of the actual places around Darmstadt and Erfelden where the majority of the novel is set. I’d love for people who’ve read the book to comment on the pictures. Is that how you pictured Carmen and Ed’s house? 

One picture depicts the balcony off the living room and master bedroom which was the inspiration for a dramatic moment Carmen shares with Ethan in the novel (no spoilers!). 

Namur, Belgium was a hidden treasure that Carmen’s family discovered on a trip. Can you see why she was so enamored with this lovely place?

Chime, in and let me know what you think. Pictures are wonderful, but hopefully you’d formed your own pictures as you read. 

Signed my first book!

So, today I signed my very first book! Even though it was for my mom (ha, what a dork I am!) it was a thrill! I have to say that I’m pleased with CreateSpace so far. The whole process of publishing a book has been fairly easy if you have some computer know how. The only tricky part was getting the formatting exactly right. But it was worth the effort. The final product looks great! Now, I’m looking forward to many more book signings in my future. But there will never be another first one.