Sunday, September 25, 2011

Read Banned Books - It's Your Civic Duty!

Today kicks off BANNED BOOK WEEK! I love this annual event. It reminds me of two things: 1) of all the great books I haven't yet read; 2) how stupid people can be.

Let's address #2 first because in the great tradition of #2, it shits.  Books should not be banned. What is vulgar or inflammatory to some,  might be the perfect cup of tea to others.  While I do understand that parents have a right to monitor what their child reads, to place a book on the challenged or banned list simply because it affronts your personal tastes does not mean everyone should be deprived of the wonder found between its pages.

When I read through the list of challenged and banned books, I am stunned. Most of them are books that teach great lessons about life, especially about tolerance. I am proud to say I have read a large number of them over the years, most during my school years. From an early age, I was allowed to read most anything I could get my hands on and could understand. And I am the better for it.

If you don't want your child to read a particular book, tell the teacher and together find an alternative, but don't try to deprive everyone of a wonderful and mind expanding experience because of your narrow view of the world.  That's simply selfish. And, frankly, you're not the boss of me and everyone else.

Every year on Banned Book Week, I check the lists for a book I haven't yet read. This year's pick is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. I'm actually ashamed I haven't read this book. But this week that error will be corrected.

Won't you join me by picking and reading a banned book this week, and maybe even several others during the next year?  I consider it my civic duty.

To help you along, here are some links to books that have been banned or challenged.


Banned Books in the US

ABFFE's List of Banned Books

Happy Reading!

Monday, September 12, 2011


WIN a signed copy of the unedited manuscript of GEM OF A GHOST, the 3rd Granny Apples mystery. This book is not due out until February 2012, but one lucky winner will receive this prize the first week in October!

This contest is only open to members of the Facebook Sue Ann Jaffarian Fan Club. If you're not a member, there's time to join.

Contest details can be found on the Special Events Page of my web site.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Stars In The Eyes Causes Blindness

Yesterday, a friend who has written for years but has never been published announced she and another friend were going to write something and self-publish it. She didn’t even have a strong idea of what they were going to write, just that they were going to go full steam ahead. When I cautioned her about understanding all the cons, as well as the pros, of self-publishing, she accused me of trying to knock the stars out of her eyes and steal away her hope.

That was partially true. Being a big fan of hope, I’d never dash anyone’s hope, but I was trying to knock the stars out of her eyes. At least just enough for her to see the reality of self-publishing more clearly.

This stars-in-the-eyes attitude is typical of a lot of people who think self-publishing is the road to instant success. While it is a viable path, for every Amanda Hocking there are thousands of broken dreams and bodies strewn along the roadside.  That's the reality. That doesn't mean my friend will become one of those dead bodies, just that the odds are against her becoming the next Amanda Hocking. It takes a shit load of work just to fall somewhere in between.  Even seasoned, traditionally published authors who are now doing the self-publishing route will tell you that.

My friend accused me of trying to discourage her.

Not so. I strongly encouraged her to go for it, but not before she did some homework on the process and the costs involved such as editing, cover art, formatting, ISBNs, pricing structure, marketing, etc.

“What’s an ISBN?” she asked.

My point exactly.

This gets said somewhere on the web at least a thousand times a day, but it bears repeating:

If you are thinking about self-publishing your work, be it a novel, short story, or non-fiction, do it with hope, but don't do it blindly.  Know what it's going to take, in addition to the actual writing, to get the job done professionally.  Learn the business. Learn the process. Understand you're bucking the odds.  Then go forth, knowing that with that knowledge you're at least wearing a mouth guard and jock strap.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Hilly Holbrook Syndrome

This weekend I finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Well, actually, I didn’t “read’ the book. I listened to it on audio book. I sometimes find certain books are even more enjoyable to listen to than read. Take On Writing by Stephen King. I started reading this book years ago and a friend told me to listen to it instead. While the book was very enjoyable, it was no match for the audio format, which Mr. King reads himself. It was like sitting at the feet of the master while he imparted his personal story and writing words of wisdom.

The Help was like that. The chapters of the three main characters – Aibileen, Skeeter and Minny – were read by wonderfully talented actresses. In fact, the Minny chapters were read by Octavia Spencer, the actress who plays Minny in the movie. For hours I was transported into their lives as if I were a fly on the wall.

I loved this book. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me angry. I was around 11-12 years old during the timeline of the story and I remember most of the historical events woven into the novel. At the time and given my age, I’m sure I didn’t realize the importance of the news stories, but I do remember police turning fire hoses and dogs on civil rights protesters, and the integration of schools, the church bombings, and certainly the assassinations of both Medgar Evers and JFK.

When I was in the 3rd grade my family travelled to South Carolina from Massachusetts. We were actually en route to California but stopped in South Carolina where one of my aunts lived. For a short while my parents considered settling there. I don’t remember how long we lived there, but it was long enough for my mother to enroll us kids in school and for both my father and mother to seek work.

My mother had to fight to get my brother and me into the all-white schools. My father was 100% Armenian and we had olive skin. It was the first time I’d ever heard the word “passing” and realized what it meant. School was miserable. In spite of good school records, I was dumped into the slow class where many of the students were older because they had been held back, some several times. No one would speak to me or play with me at recess. I was picked on by both students and teachers. I wasn’t just dark skinned. I was also a “Yankee.” A double whammy of horror.  My brother and father had their problems, too, and it wasn’t long before we packed the station wagon and headed for California, where I finished out the school year.

But something else about The Help also struck a chord in me. I call it the Hilly Holbrook syndrome.

It doesn’t matter where you’re from or the color of your skin or what your generation, we have all known Hilly Holbrooks throughout our lives. These are the girls who exercised power and control over other girls at a very early age right into adulthood. They decided if your time on the playground or between classes would be fun or hell on earth. Other girls worshipped them, some out of blind wannabe devotion and need for acceptance. Others out of fear. One kind word from “Hilly” and your life among your peers could be tolerable, even happy. One nasty word, and a school year could be a sentence to hell. They wielded their power with capricious irresponsibility. Sometimes wearing an old dress or having the wrong shoes could trigger the attack. Other times it stemmed from jealousy over a boy or attention received from others. Or simply because the target is deemed different.

We read all the time about kids snapping over bullying. Some lash out, as with Columbine. Others get dragged into bad decisions. And some even take their own lives. Yet, the Hilly Holbrooks of the world survive to terrorize the next kid unfortunate enough to fall within their path.

Years later these same warped people (men and women) hold court within clubs, charities, churches, associations and the workplace. Even Congress. People seldom outgrow a bullying nature developed and reinforced at a young age. Over the years, they learn to develop it, becoming more astute and stealthy at wielding their power and poison.

The Hilly Holbrook character in The Help was as real and disturbing as the central topic of prejudice. While most readers might have found her ridiculous and laughable, and entertaining, she could and did ruin lives because no one stepped in to defy her early on. She did it because she could. Just as real life bullies continue because they can. Bullies only stop when no one gives them a platform and a spotlight.

The tag line for the movie The Help is:  Change begins with a whisper.

Personally, I think there's been enough whispering. I think it's time for shouting.