Friday, August 5, 2011

Friday's Fare: Last Night I Cried

Last night I was watching a special news broadcast about the terrible famine in Africa. The most horrible part was the headline:  29,000 children under the age of 5 died of starvation in the last 3 months.

Twenty-nine thousand. That is an astounding number. All children, all under the age of 5 years old. That is 1/ quarter...of an entire generation, in terms of age.  It's not something I can completely comprehend. The number alone...what about the children over the age of many of them are dead, dying, starving to death?

I was mesmerized by the pictures on the TV in front of me. The faces of the women...almost all of the adult refugess are women...and the children of all ages clustered around them...the hopelessness, the fear, and the grief on the women's faces, the pleading in the eyes of the younger children, and the emptiness on the faces of the older children who already know there is no life for them. I cried for those children and for their mothers.

The longer I watched, the more astonished I became. The camera roved over literally thousands of make-shift tents and huts being used as homes, it lingered on women lining up for what little food and water was being handed out by rescue workers, and it played gently upon the children of all ages...some who sat silently, others who tried to play with whatever ball or piece of a toy was near-by. Why was I astonished?

Because in all of that despair, the only DIRT was on the ground.

The women were dressed in the long dresses of their culture, all of which were neat and in one piece, and their hair was perfectly braided; the children, even those playing around on the ground, had clean faces, arms, and hands, and no matter how ragged their clothes were, they were also clean. The camera swung by many different tents, some with the occupants sitting inside, some were empty. The tents were clean, what few possessions the people had were all placed neatly on chairs or boxes, and if the owners were so lucky as to have a cot for a bed, it was spread nicely with a thin blanket. NO dirt, NO clutter. Amid all that fear and defeat, amid all that hunger, the refugees of Somalia were intent upon making their temporary...or a reflection of the kind of life they had once had...even as they knew they might never have that life again. Or indeed, life of any kind.

The camera left the refugee camp, and went to the borders where the rescue efforts of many different countries, the US included, were being stymied by members of the African Al-Qaeda who want to keep food and supplies away from the refugees. The fighting was horrible, especially considering why it was occurring in the first place. Many times men who inform the rescue people they are "friendlies" who will help deliver the supplies to the camps, merely turn them over to the Al-Qaeda troops who eat and use what they want, then wantonly destroy the rest. It is a crime against humanity, and little seems able to be done.

The camera swings back to one of the camps, and rests upon the face of a young woman who delivered her newborn son in the dirt along the heavily traveled road to this camp. She traveled this road alone, with no one to help in her pain and subsequent delivery. Her husband had been killed in the fighting she had fled. Now, her face is streaked with tears, but she holds this tiny infant, clad only in a piece of a thin...but clean...blanket, in gentle arms. I looked at them, and wondered how long this boychild would survive. Would it be weeks or months...or only days?

How can human beings do this to one another? How can genocide and starvation and the constant random killing and destruction of whole tribes, whole villages, be allowed to continue? What do we, the rational people, have to do to stop this? Or will we continue to be helpless in the face of the demented masses?

Last night I watched TV...last night I cried.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wednesday's Wandering: Review of "As If Being 12 3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother's Running For President

Donna Gephart's debut novel, As If Being 12 3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother's Running For President, is a hilarously funny ( as in "snickersnort funny") story about an almost-teen who is having to deal with being the daughter of the Governor of state of Florida...her mother...and the fact that her mother is now campaigning for the nomination vote for President of the United States.

Vanessa Rothrock would like nothing more than to be just another ordinary student at Lawndale Academy. Instead, she is the only student there with a personal bodyguard, who won't even let her go to the Girls Restroom by herself. Not that he goes inside the restroom, of course, but he stands guard outside and refuses to let any other girl in until Vanessa comes out. That doesn't make for the greatest of popularity. As if that wasn't bad enough, she is followed through the day by news reporters and flash cameras, taking her picture at the most awkward and inopportune times.

Vanessa is also the County Spelling Bee Champ who will now go on to the Regionals...with or without her mother present. She wasn't present for the County Bee...she sent her Press Secretary to stand in for her. Is it so awful for her to want her mother to come to the spelling bees, or be home to play Scrabble with like she used to, or to be with her in the ER after she's broken her wrist in PE? Being the Govenor's daughter, particularly when said Govenor is campaigning, ranks very high in the Life Sucks department.

But Vanessa has more to worry about than the upcoming Regionals or even playing Scrabble. There is Reginald Trumbull, the handsomest boy at Lawndale, who Vanessa is in love with and hopes to someday bear his 2.3 children; there are her humongous feet, which automatically trip her whenever there is a news camera fixating on her...and of course will show her picture in all its gawky glory on the 6 o'clock news; there is the Boob Fairy who has not yet graced Vanessa with her presence, thereby making her practically the only 12 and 3/4 year old girl in all of Florida who does not need a bra; there is the fact that she has to make an appointment to see her mother, but her bodyguard is present 24/7; there are the secret love notes she's getting from an unknown admirer, whom she hopes and prays is actually Reginald; and there are those other notes she is getting...the ones that threaten Vanessa's mother with death if Vanessa doesn't talk her out of running for President.

This is a novel which deals with many teenage issues that most pre-teen girls will understand and identity with: mother/daughter relationships; first crushes; embarrassing moments; teenage insecurities and physical awkwardness; and the issue of a working mother who doesn't have time for her daughter, although she loves her very much. It is also a novel that deals with a daughter fearing for the life of her mother, and the sometimes unlikely things she does to "protect" her mother.

I really liked the story, but found some inconsistencies in it. I didn't see a lot of personal growth in Vanessa, until the very end. I think her character could have been developed a little more. One issue I felt was pretty much ignored was that Vanessa's father was killed in a plane crash, but that's all we know. How did she deal with such a tragic event? How did she get from that terrible happening to where her mother is Govenor and now campaigning for the Presidency? That was something I felt must have been a major issue in her life, and yet it was barely touched upon.

The other thing I got fairly bored with was that on practically every page, one of her spelling words, or any "big" word, was S P E L L E D  O U T. That got to be a little A N N O Y I N G !

One other thing is that the book is recommended for teens, and I'm not sure how many older teen-age girls would be interested. The awkwardness, the first love, the spelling bees, all seem more appropriate for 9 to 12 year olds. However, having said that, there are certain concepts, like the "Boob Fairy" for one, that even a 9 year old might not be too familiar with. Over all, though, it is a good read, humorous and sensitive at the same time, and one I can highly recommend.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tuesday's Teaser: Journey Into Writing: The Beginning

As writers, we are on a journey. It's a long trip, full of potholes, rough roads, traffic we often can't find an easy way through, signs saying "road closed," and most of all, frustration. The completion of that journey is publication, and is almost always worth that long and tiring trip. Where do we start the journey, and how did we get the impulse to put everything else aside, and...go for it? We all have different stories to tell, and this one is mine.

I was ten years old when I first published. It was a very long poem, not in rhyme, which told about the antics of my three kittens. I was living in a boarding house in Rock Creek, Maryland, with my parents while my father was stationed in Washington, D.C. ( It was during this time that I first saw Congress is action, but that is another story.) My mother thought the poem was great...of course! she sent it off to a long-since defunct magazine, The Children's Digest. It was published, I think I received a whole dollar, and I was an author!

The second time I published something, I was twelve years old, and living in Seattle, Washington, while my father was stationed there. We had just come back from Alaska, and before that, from the Philippines. ( yep, I was an Army brat.) I had a Quarter Horse mare, the first horse I'd owned since we left Texas and the ranch. I'd been training her to show, when suddenly she went blind. The vet had no idea why. I was heartbroken, but she was such a good mare, I refused to give up on her. So I continued her training with voice signals to indicate when she came to a jump, or when she needed to turn left or right to avoid running into the fences. I did show her about four months later, and she won several classes. After the show, I wrote an article about her, the training, and her success as a show horse. It was published in the local papers, the major Houston, Texas paper, and in a horse magazine. I guess in those days, "rights" were not a big issue like they are today.

Never in those childhood days did I ever think of writing as a profession. My dream was to become a Musical Theatre singer, which I did at the age of 13. In fact, it wasn't until I was in college that I ever wrote anything that could have been published. I took an Anthropology class, and one of our assignments was to do a project for one of the cultures we had been studying. I chose Japan, and wrote a 20 page book of Haiku poetry. I guess it was pretty good, because my professor had it published for the college library. That was the only other time I attempted poetry of any kind until later in life.

Writing was not even a hobby during the days I was raising my children, nor when I went back to college to finish my degrees. It wasn't until 1996 that I once again wrote something that could possibly be published...some day! I was sitting at the computer one evening in December, 1996, catching up on some horse-related work ( my husband and I had a ranch, and bred, raised and trained Appaloosas), when from out of the blue, an idea came to me about a cockatoo parrot and the North Star. Crazy, huh? But that idea turned in the first of a series of short stories about Great Father ( my name for God, Jehovah, Jesus, Allah, or whatever one wants to call their religious Supreme Being) and his Great Beasts...Lion, Elephant, and Cheetah. And of course, various other characters like Little Donkey, Keira the African Grey Parrot, Goofy the Goffin's Cockatoo, and so on.

There were stories like The Cockatoo and the North Star, my first one; Santa Claus and The Red Light Bird...where an African Grey Parrot with its red tail takes over for Rudolph who has a bad cold, and leads Santa and the reindeer on their Christmas Eve journey; Who Stole The Fourth of July?...where Goofy steals the July 4th day from the calendar, so the Beasts can't celebrate, therefore there won't be fireworks' noise to hurt Elephant's ears; The Search for The Rainbow...where the rain has disappeared from the Great Forest, taking with it the Rainbow, so all the flowers and grass and trees and birds are gone, and Great Father has to send Lion, Elephant, and Cheetah out to search for the Rainbow.  There were a couple of other stories, including one about Halloween and the three Great Beasts meeting up with a little dragon who had been banished from his home because he couldn't spit fire, and a would-be ghost who had also been banished because he couldn't become invisible.

These stories were written over a couple of years, passed around to friends with kids...who loved them, but then, ALL little kids love stories about talking animals....and then were put away and for the most part, forgotten about.

Christmas, daughter sent me a box of books for Christmas: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books and Get Them Published; The ABCs of Writing For Children; The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children; and Children's Writer's Word Book. In this awesome gift, she also included a note which said ( paraphrased to be polite) Mom, get off your butt and start writing again!

In July, 2006, I took her...and myself...seriously, and signed up for the first of three courses with the Institute of Children's Literature.

My journey continues...

Until next time,
That's a wrap.