The next voice you hear . . .

Poets & Writers magazine has mentioned Smile at Strangers in their Page One feature (“Where New and Noteworthy Books Begin”) this month! Head over to their site and you can listen to a short podcast of me reading the first chapter.

You may also notice that this blog has shifted to a new page on my website, so we can feature the book on the front page. We are now just one month away from publication! Take a look at the book trailer, if you haven’t already.

Volunteer or be drafted

As I write this, the AP, CNN, NBC, and the Boston Globe are all issuing conflicting reports about whether a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing has been arrested, identified, or taken into custody.

Family members of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre are in Washington D.C., where they were enlisted to lobby Congress for universal background checks for firearms purchasers, which the Senate has just voted down.

Carlos Arredondo, who became a peace activist after losing both his sons, one to war and the other to grief, is a sudden international hero. Having gone to Boston to pay tribute to his son and other fallen service members, he found himself in the middle of a war zone, helping the wounded and dying.

The family of 8-year-old bombing victim Martin Richard received a note from Trayvon Martin’s parents, saying, “From our family to yours, we are praying for you, thinking about you and will remember your son for the rest of our lives.”

God bless the people who turn tragedy into meaningful action, and bless the reporters who write inspirational stories about that kind of resilience. But damn it to hell, I am tired of reading inspiring stories.

Is it inspiring when people whose lives have been shattered by violence dedicate themselves to preventing more violence? Yes. Is it a functional plan for making the world a better place? No. In fact it’s one of the most exploitative, hypocritical approaches to violence reduction imaginable–making the victims do the heavy lifting for us, as if they need another job in addition to grieving.

Folks, if we don’t want to see more people suffer from violence, it behooves us to get off our asses now and advocate for change. That shouldn’t be the responsibility of someone who has already lost a loved one or suffered a grievous injury. Many of the Sandy Hook families buried their youngest family members, and now we expect them to endure the smarmy self-righteousness of officials who take millions in campaign donations from the NRA? Who in their right mind wants to do that, even on a good day? Why are we making these shattered families clean up the cesspool of our political fundraising and lobbying system? That is our job, not theirs.

What should we be doing? Anything is better than nothing, which is what most of us do. There are so many pieces to the problem of violence in America; you can chip away at one or pick a few: Contact your elected officials and demand better gun control laws, and keep doing so. Vote accordingly. Donate to a battered women’s shelter or a non-profit that works to reduce domestic violence. Advocate for better policies and funding for programs that tackle child abuse and neglect. Agitate for prison sentencing reform; demand an end to for-profit detention facilities. Every one of those things will help make you and the people around you safer every single day.

And if none of those issues appeal to you, consider tackling racism, sexism, or poverty in any of their myriad forms. They’re all the same problem, in the end.

The longer we wait to volunteer, the more likely we are to be drafted.


Book clubs, get on your marks!

I’ve set up a whole bunch of discussion questions and activities for book clubs who will be reading Smile at Strangers (only 48 days until publication)! These are interactive and fun, NOT the tiresome “How old was the author when she discovered karate?” kinds of questions you might remember from high school reading comprehension quizzes. Just click on the “Book Clubs” link in the nav bar above, and have a look. Then visit the links on the right to pre-order your copy, if you haven’t already!