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Watch Ken Burn’s Vietnam Documentary. Then read about refugees in post-war Laos. Chapter 1: Escaping The Tiger

September 15, 2017

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$3.99 on Amazon ~Vientiane, Laos April 1982

Vonlai’s father roused him in the middle of a moonless night.

“What? Stop it,” Vonlai mumbled.

“Shhh. Wake up,” Pah said, pulling Vonlai’s elbow. “We’re crossing tonight.”

Vonlai wobbled on weary legs. Pah strapped a bag of beef jerky and sticky rice around Vonlai’s shoulders. A shudder shot down his neck and his mind snapped awake.

Vonlai’s older sister, Dalah, was awake too, teetering as she sat upright on the mattress, grumbling at their mother. Meh pulled Dalah’s hair back, twisted two strands, and tied them into a knot.

“Ouch, Meh!” Dalah pulled her hair to readjust it. “It’s crooked.”

“Who will see you?” Vonlai asked.

Meh snapped her fingers to quiet them and grunted her disapproval. “Surely you don’t expect to be admired, girl? Now clear your mind and dress.” Meh’s voice cracked. “Without another word.”

Vonlai steadied his tired body against the wall. He wouldn’t add to Meh’s worry by complaining.

Pah looked out the window, his hand on the doorknob. “Walk like a tiger hunting a meal. Understand?”

Vonlai’s breath wavered as he nodded. He wanted to dive under his bed-covering, even though the night air was sticky and plenty warm. He held nothing but a pair of worn flip flops hooked through his fingers and a day’s worth of food—he needed to hold on to his nerve. Maybe his parents would see he was more grown up than other twelve-year-olds.

Pah turned the handle and walked out as confidently as if he were headed to the market. Meh stood in the doorway, knees locked. Vonlai pulled her hand. They all followed Pah out and slipped into the night. Most border patrol guards were teenagers accustomed to farming during daylight hours. They were likely to doze off under a black sky.

Read more…

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Stay Woke to Freedom of Expression… Before We All Lose It.

August 19, 2017

First, I am on your side. The side that rejects evil/hate. And if any #NAZI scum ever threaten you with physical harm, I stand at the ready to open up a can of Jerry Springer on their ass.

But what does freedom of speech in America mean?

Imagine if someone insisted that you have no right to do with your body what you will. Imagine if they said your body, but not your choice. Imagine if they said it doesn’t matter that you were raped, you will carry that baby to term. Imagine if they passed laws regarding this. Now imagine if someone insisted that you have no right, under law, to voice your grievances in public.

Imagine if someone told you that our country was founded on Christian principles. That we are one nation under God. Not once nation under Allah or Muhammad or Vishnu or Buddha or mountains and streams and rocks, but one nation under the Christian God and as such, you must proclaim your commitment to that God Almighty or face jail time. Or public stoning. Now imagine if someone insisted that you have no right, under law, to voice your grievances in public.

The ACLU says that freedom of speech, press, association, assembly, and petition are guarantees protected by the First Amendment. They comprise what we refer to as freedom of expression, the foundation of a vibrant democracy. That without that freedom of expression, other fundamental rights, like the right to vote, would wither away.

The point is that you don’t have to agree with what people express. You don’t have to agree with the vitriol that Nazis espouse. It simply means, that under law, you must simply allow them to have their voice, as long as it’s not coupled with violence. So when #Charlottesville first happened, I suggested these Nazis were merely loud-mouth skinhead punks who wanted to throw a public temper tantrum, and that we should have just let them have their tantrum, their Freedom Of Expression, so that they could return to their parents’ basements to play video games and smash beer cans on their heads.

Counter protesters could and SHOULD have stood peaceful guard in CASE some shit happened, the way that counter protesters do when Westboro Baptist asshats come out to spread their hate. The way that counter protesters form human chains when those idiots try to scream their vitriol at a fallen gay soldier’s funeral. But instead, counter protesters in Charlottesville came ready for a fight, screaming that Nazis have no freedom of expression (see the irony?). No right to wave a Confederate flag. No right to voice their grievances about removal of a statue. EVEN IF that stature was erected post war as a means to intimidate.

So because both sides came ready for a fight, a fight is what happened. Consider the It Takes Two theory. Had counter protesters stood peacefully back, stood peaceful guard, there would have been no violence, no death, no media there making those one hundred or so punks seem important by providing TV coverage which increases ratings, which leads to more money for media corporations, which leads to more coverage of Nazi punks slinking out of the basement to shout their pathetic tantrums, which brings out The Sky Is Falling crowd, and round and round the cycle goes.

So #Resist, #Persist, and #StayWoke to what #freedom of expression actually means, before it is taken away from all of us.

Charlottesville: Hate is hate. There are no shades of gray.

August 13, 2017
S L O W . . . D O W N . . . and process this: “When both sides show up equipped to bust heads, there ain’t no good guys, there ain’t no bad guys. There’s just angry, violent assholes.” Credit to Marc MacYoung.
Trump was right. <<< Three words I have never uttered.
When he said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” he was right in that hatred, and the ensuing violence it can create, IS on many sides. Hate does not see sexuality, gender, age, religion, ethnicity or color. Hate is evil. Period. But people are playing semantics now. “Trump didn’t use the right phrase to call out the hate. He should have said it this way or that way.” But hate is the only word necessary. When discussing specific policies of the left or right, I frequently argue that there are many shades of gray to consider. That extremists exist in every political party who can distort a simple concept. But with hate, THERE IS NO GRAY. Hate does not discriminate.
But if we insist on defining hate in different ways for different people of varying sexuality, gender, religion, age, ethnicity or color, are we not expanding the divide between us? When Liberals yell “I told you so…own it, you racists” or when Conservatives refuse to acknowledge the truth of someone’s struggle (BLM, WhitePrivilege), doesn’t that keep us divided? Aren’t we hating each other MORE, even though we agree on the most basic tenants of life? That slavery is evil. Child abuse is evil. Rape and murder are evil.
So when someone shares the truth of their struggle, can we all slow down and listen? Return love, not dismissal? No matter your color? For well-meaning folks who misinterpret #WhitePrivilege as a means to devalue their own struggle through poverty or abandonment or abuse, that’s not what the term means. For well-meaning folks who think #BLM is the opposite of #BlueLivesMatter, slow down and listen. Challenges exist for all of us, no matter our sexuality, gender, religion, age, ethnicity or color, that no law can mitigate. I will not separate evil into less distinct shades of gray. So please slow down and listen, and consider what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love.”
Thanks for listening to ME! I promise to return the courtesy.
Signed,
White mom to LGBT, half-Asian, lower middle class, first-generation American teenagers of a refugee, immigrant father.
P.S. What will I tell my kids about #Charlottesville? I will tell them that during the Perseid meteor shower the day after, I was alone and awake. And it was dark. And outside, a few stars were falling from the sky. And I watched them from afar and then stuck around to watch the sun rise and bathe the earth in light. And I will tell them that despite Charlottesville, there will always be falling stars whose light dies, but that there will also always be a sunrise. And I will tell them to stay the course. Empowerment through vigilance, not fear, my beautiful babies. And I will tell them to go light the world with love.

Wolves, anyone?

October 2, 2015

Screen shot 2016-02-09 at 11.53.36 AM

Chapter One 

Her headlights sliced through the night, a yellow blur of road lines flashing past. The desert air, warm as breath, wound her hair into spirals, circled her neck.

Malia hit the brakes. Dust rose in her high beams, lingering shapeless like fog. Her only company was the hum of the Jeep. Her breaths came fast, the seatbelt cutting across her chest. She killed the engine, killed the lights. Darkness knocked into her, and her eyes pushed against black hunting for even a speck of light.

She waved a hand in her face. Nothing. “Hello!” Her voice fell away fast. “I’m here!”

When she’d arrived earlier that day to check in with her supervisor, she marveled at the sunlit desert, its plain of dry grasslands surrounded by erupting mountains, so striking compared to the rolling hills of the Midwest. She’d never felt so weightless, moving under Arizona’s massive sky with no more significance than a snowflake on fire. But at night, Malia felt connected, rooted to the landscape the way the immovable hoodoos sprouted from hilltops.

As each minute passed, the sky covered Malia in more glitter. “Hello stars!” Faint currents swirled over her like butterfly kisses.

She unlatched herself and stood on the seat but she wanted to be higher, closer to the night sky that wrapped her in purpose. She stair-stepped her way from dash to doorframe to headrest until she balanced like a warrior, one foot on the windshield, one on the roll bar. A rumbling tickled her throat and she let her laugh spill out. Why bother stifling it? No one was listening. No one was watching. This moment belonged to Malia. Read more…

I Banned My Own Book

August 31, 2014

(Originally posted at Page Turner’s Blog on 10-22-10)

(E-book released August 2014 with new cover)

ARCs from HarperCollins!

New Cover for E-book Release, August 2014 New Cover for E-book Release, August 2014

When I received the advance reader’s copy of my novel, Escaping The Tiger, I told my daughter she couldn’t read it—yet. Perhaps in a year or so. She was only 8 ½  and I wasn’t sure she could appreciate or process the gritty realities my characters face, realities that are based, in part, on her father’s childhood escape from Communist Laos. But she sneaked the arc and read it anyway.

Of course she did. It was forbidden fruit.

I caught her about three chapters in and decided if she was willing to read it, I’d be there to guide her. We talked on the way home from school one day. I asked her how the book was going.

“Fine,” she said.

“Is it scaring…

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Escaping The Tiger now available as e-book!

August 19, 2014

EscapingtheTiger_Ebook_Small

Consider it a book rescue. I started writing it just before I found out I was pregnant with my first born, who is now in middle school. I got an amazing agent in 2006 whose reputation made me about faint. She sold Escaping The Tiger in 2007 to an amazing editor who also made me about faint. The book was born in 2010 during a book launch party at the best bookstore in the world…yes, I felt a bit faint. The reviews came in and were very nice. Very nice indeed. My hopes soared.

And then it dwindled. The hope. The sales. It all dwindled, culminating with the 2013 news that my novel was out of print. Sad face. But temporary sad face. I’m kind of stubborn, and rarely take no for an answer. So I hired a cover designer to create something new, hired a formatter to do all that tricky, techie e-book stuff that makes me cra-cra and weep, and now in 2014, the e-book is born.

Today is the perfect day to announce the book rescue, as it is World Humanitarian Day. Escaping The Tiger is on sale for $.99 on Amazon. A tale of refugees, oppression, hunger, survival, soccer, immigration, bullying, feisty older sisters, mentoring, respect, dignity, and hope. For kids, teachers, coaches, social justice advocates, literature lovers.

Thank you for celebrating this book birthday with me. http://tinyurl.com/o99h2qj

Will My Sorrow Count?

December 16, 2011

I lost two friends to suicide in the same week, 32 years after I lost my dad the same way. The first was a beloved coworker who lit up any room just by buzzing through, the second was my best friend from childhood, Tracy. She was fearless, imaginative, accepting, and showered her love on every living thing around her. But when my dad died all those years ago, I lost Tracy too, the circumstances of his death too painful for me to return to the strip of houses on Scherer Road where she lived near Dad, surrounded in front and back with open space. Time passed and Tracy’s family moved, and I spent years wondering and worrying what happened to her. Then came Facebook. After 30 years, I got to see Tracy again. I got to hug her and tell how much I loved her–finally. When you’re 12, you just don’t say those things to your best friend.

At her memorial service earlier this week, I learned something new. Or remembered something I’d forgotten. Tracy wanted to be writer. There is not a speck of doubt in my mind that she had the passion and talent to do it, but what she didn’t have was time. From what I gathered from the outpouring of love her family and friends shared with those of us who mourned her loss, she spent her short time here making sure her kids and grandkids  knew how much she loved them. When her big brother spoke, the first thing he mentioned was where Tracy grew up. Where Tracy and I grew up together. Longview Farm, an abandoned turn-of-the-century horse racing track, complete with barn, stables, mansion, workmen’s quarters, and that ritzy hotel  that is now underwater, a place where we could disappear and let our imaginations entertain us until our empty bellies finally drove us home. I learned that her love of exploration never left her, as it has never left me. It’s a gift our shared childhoods gave us both.

I tried to write this blog post a week ago, a couple days after she died. I’ve had bouts of depression throughout my life and turned to God a couple years ago to make sense of that undercurrent of sadness that just never goes all the way away. A friend told me that God never wastes a sorrow, and I’ve used that belief to make sense of so many things that I never understood before, but the sorrow I felt at my own father’s passing? I wished it had somehow saved my friends. I wanted tally marks for the number of lives that had directly benefited. It didn’t work that way, but I know God’s using my sorrow, and that of all those who loved my friends, in other ways. It’s impossible for me to accept that anything other than beauty will rise from these losses.

So this blog, instead of focusing on the sadness, is now about memories. I’m sharing something that I one day wanted to share with Tracy in book form.  It’s a section of the first novel I ever wrote, one that in many ways,  celebrated my childhood with Tracy and her brothers and sisters. Turns out she made her dream of  becoming a writer come true long before me…the photo above is her, as I remember her, spilling her love onto everything else before herself. She’s posing for her first published piece in The Kansas City Star, written when she was 10.

The excerpt below, from my unpublished novel, takes place at Longview Farm, that wonderland where Tracy and I felt no limits, a place we never dreamed time would touch. Maybe one day it’ll be a book after all, because my memories belong to Tracy too.

——————————————-

Out of the barn. Into the chill. Surrounded by towering oaks that warned us with their howling to turn back. Turn back now…

I’d followed Tracy like a slasher movie bimbo investigating a noise in the basement.

I smelled winter. A week after spring had come and it suddenly smelled like winter. Maybe it was the closed-up must in the barn, but down here in this little valley of existence that thrived a century ago, all the pushing and prodding of new growth was nonexistent. So many people had forgotten this place, and spring was ignoring it too.

Tracy rounded the corner of the barn and ducked under a splintered gate. The wind swirled her hair. I ran in a crouch behind her. She gestured to the old hotel and pressed her finger over her lips.

Like I could speak even if I wanted to.

“It’s in there,” she whispered through the wind.

She hunkered down, gave me a thumbs up and made a mad dash for a fallen tree at the end of the brick drive. She motioned me over. Who were we? Batman and Robin on the chase? I lunged for the nearest fence post and stalled. My heart was a time bomb.

I craned my neck to look up at that ancient two-story inn. It was a perfect habitat for cultured ghosts with sophisticated means of torment. Wrought-iron railings flecked with splinters of paint framed the balconies. Streaks of rust bled down the walls from flowerpots bracketed to chipped stucco. And a garden patio off to the side where Tracy was hiding behind that dead—

Where’d she go?

My trachea went postal. I gasped. The wind slapped my hair around.

I scanned the front of the hotel. Holy crap! She was right up there on the freaking porch. Ducked under a window. Getting all cozy with Casper.

Tattered screens flailed. Curtain remnants darted through broken panes. I didn’t want to be alone.

Tracy. Yes, Tracy. She’d rescued me at school, two times. Good things come in threes. I bolted past the fallen tree doing my best TV cop sprint when I heard it—

Organ music.

Creepy, foreboding, church balcony organ music. A prelude to the ghost’s arrival. I didn’t wait to hear the clanking chains or the maniacal laughter.

The path of my sprint instantaneously arced away from the hotel. Away from Tracy. Away from Elmwood Farm. My arms pumped like a thoroughbred’s legs. Head for the hill, my brain commanded. I ran past the cows and never once looked back.

I could only hope Tracy made it out of there. Hard to tell when you’re running like the very flames of hell are reaching out to char your legs into crusty chunks of human jerky.

I leaned panting against the fence we’d first climbed. The old wood creaked under my weight.

My house. My humble sky blue house with wind chimes and rainbow whirligigs. Home sweet home.

——————————————————-

Rest in peace, friends. And dear Tracy, learning that you spent your final years as a hospice nurse doesn’t surprise me a bit. Always taking care of others. But you’re home now, and you can finally relax in the arms of God. Thank you for the years we shared.

If you are thinking of hurting or killing yourself PLEASE call 1-800-SUICIDE.

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