Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Effect of the Bystander

On March 13, 1964, thirty-eight people witnessed Kitty Genovese brutally stabbed to death in front of her New York City apartment building. The stabbing took place over thirty-two minutes, began in front of the building, and ended in a hallway. The papers reported that although she screamed throughout the entire attack, witnesses did nothing.

This incident coined the famous “bystander effect” and spurred many social-psychological experiments that seemed to suggest the more people present, the less help offered. Many of these studies painted a bleak picture of people turning away en masse from what appeared to be a person in need.

I watched Kitty Genovese’s story last year on ID Channel’s A Crime to Remember, and it got me thinking about the bystander effect in the halls of the local high school. There has been a surge in the number of fights we’ve had in the last few years. Some of them take place in the hallways, some outside the schools, and some in the bathrooms. Loosening of disciplinary measures and lack of consequences may account for the increase (and let's face it, there have always been fights in high school), but I am continually shocked by the students gathering, excited to watch, most of them filming the action with their cell phones. No one ever intervenes. Often there are so many bystanders that it creates a barrier to the security guards trying to break it up. Within minutes, the film is on YouTube with hundreds if not thousands of views. Because voyeurism is fun to kids, and it makes for a good download.

What really disturbs me about this is the learned passivity. Kids are learning not to get involved—worry about yourself, just look the other way. That may be acceptable in a school environment, but what about out in the world when someone needs help? Should you step over them? Walk on by? Pretend you don’t hear or see them? Will this next generation be too selfish and desensitized that they’ll be immune to the suffering of others?

Because of this, I was very encouraged when I heard that in the recent Stanford sexual assault, two Stanford students from Sweden (Peter Jonsson and Carl-Fredrik Arndt) were riding by on bicycles when they witnessed the attack. They chased down and tackled Brock Turner, holding him down until police arrived. 

Hearing this (and other stories like it) gives me hope that there are still people out there courageous enough to jump into a situation, even risking their own lives, to do what is right.

And in fact, over the years, more information has come forth showing that in the studies on the bystander effect, some people in the experiments were instructed to appear passive, thus creating doubt in the minds of the others. Was the person really in trouble? Did they truly need help? But if one person actively helped, more people were willing to jump in and offer assistance.

Recent updates on the Kitty Genovese case prove that the papers had it wrong (anyone surprised?). People from the apartment building did call the police; people did call out their window or shout at the attacker. So the witnesses were not quite as heartless as originally portrayed by the media.

It’s hard to know what you would do until you’re in a specific situation. I’d like to think I’d intervene if I saw someone being attacked, but when your adrenaline is pumping and fear takes over, sometimes flight overtakes fight.

In case you’re interested in watching the full story on Kitty Genovese, here is a link to A Crime to Remember.

What do you think? If you saw someone being attacked, would you jump in and help?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Cover Reveal and My Place in the Wall

On May 12, 2017, my newest novel Suburban Dangers will be released through Pelican Book Group. It will be published under their Watershed imprint, which is YA—a slight departure from my usual women’s contemporary genre. Originally the novel had too many POVs, one of which was a sixteen-year-old girl. She was only meant to be a backstory, but she became the main story. Steven James says to write what the story needs not necessarily what was written in your original plans (or something like that; I’m paraphrasing).

Suburban Dangers carries the same theme as Captives—sex trafficking. Here is the cover (I really, really love this cover!)

Back in May, I attended the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference in Black Mountain, North Carolina. I attended for the first time in 2015, and it was life changing. It was no different this time. But this year Captives was a finalist in the women’s contemporary category for the Selah Award—an incredible honor and such a surprise.

It was Tuesday, the third day of the conference, and I was having a low spell. No particular reason, I just began to doubt what I was doing. Should I write Christian fiction? Or maybe I should just write for a secular audience. Maybe my subject matter was just too gritty. Or maybe I should write love stories and forget it. Frankly, I felt a little depressed about it. I skipped a class and sat out in the gorgeous mountain sunshine on the backside of one of the buildings, and I prayed. And I listened. And I didn’t hear anything. OK, no problem. Moving on to listen to the key note speech for the evening.

Eva Marie Everson gave the keynote speech that night. The message was that every writer has their “place in the wall,” and she used Nehemiah as her biblical illustration. When Nehemiah, the king’s cupbearer, began to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem, he was ridiculed. Bystanders told him his wall was useless and that he should come down and give it up. Nehemiah’s words: “I am not coming down from the wall. I’m doing God’s work.” Eva Marie asked all of the conference attendees (some 450 of us), to line the walls of the conference room in an illustration that each of us, no matter what sort of writing we were doing, all had a place in the wall in which we did God’s work.

The illustration was powerful. It was what I needed to hear. But the message didn’t stop there.

Later that night during book signings, I asked a well-known writer to sign a book for me (I won’t divulge her name as I do not know if she wishes this to be public knowledge). As I held up my name tag so she could write my name in the book, she suddenly said, “You’re the one that wrote the sex trafficking novel, right?”

Completely floored, I assented that I was.

“Well, thank you for writing that because my daughter is being trafficked.”

If the walls of the building had tumbled down around me at that moment, I wouldn't have been more surprised. She went on to say, “I couldn’t have written that story. I haven’t seen her in five years, have no idea where she is, and the only way I can deal with the pain is not to allow myself to have any feelings about it.”

Right then, I knew God was speaking to me. I have asked you to write this particular subject matter for a reason. It was one of the most powerful moments of my life. It may not be a pretty or fun topic, but it’s real and it’s happening and the stories need to be written.

The next night was awards night and the final evening of the conference, I did not win the Selah Award. That was fine with me. Cynthia Ruchti (a Christy Award finalist for the same book) won for As Waters Gone By, and I was very happy for her.

Near the end of the evening Edie Melson, director of the BRMCW Conference gave out the Director’s Choice Award. I wasn’t even paying attention; I was fiddling with something on the table or with my phone, so when my name and the title of Captives was read out as the winner in the fiction category, I nearly fainted. I fought tears all the way to the stage to accept this most unexpected award. When I stood on the stage with Edie, she whispered to me, “I could not get this book out of my mind, and that’s why you won.”


God hugged me. I felt it. It was truly as though God reached down and grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “Do not come down from this wall. You’re doing My work.”

So when Suburban Dangers turned into a YA novel, I figured that was God’s work too. He alone knows who needs to read it.

Have you ever felt like you received confirmation that you were on the right track?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Nashville Nosh and Other Reasons to Visit

Last week, my husband and I took a trip to Nashville, Tennessee. I've wanted to go for years, but something always came up. I was born in the Volunteer state but on the opposite end in the Tri-Cities area, so it was exciting to finally see Music City!

Many of the places we visited were ones you would expect, starting with the Country Music Hall of Fame.

As part of the ticket package we purchased, we toured Studio B at RCA Victor Studios. This is where Elvis, the Everly Brothers, Dottie West, and many other greats recorded some of their biggest hits.

We did backstage tours at both the Ryman Theater and Grand Ole Opry. I was especially excited to see the dressing rooms where many scenes from the ABC show Nashville were  filmed. (Yes, I know. I'm a bit of a groupie in that way).

At the Ryman I recorded a song (move over Carrie Underwood! Ha! No, not even close)...

And at the Grand Ole Opry we saw a show, which included Pam Tillis, Tommy Emmanuel, Cam, and Justin Moore. Great show! Great crowd of people.

For American Pickers fans, we walked the 1.4 miles from our hotel to Antique Archaeology on a scorching hot day. (You too can own that shrunken Peruvian guy for a cool $2,200!)

Afterwards, we Ubered over to the Hatch Show Print center, where we learned about letterpresses, and the Hatch Show print business which was established in 1879 and is still thriving today.

Did I mention the food yet? No? Well, here are just a few recommendations in case you're traveling to Nashville anytime soon.

Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant in downtown Nashville has fantastic downhome cooking. We also got to hear great live music there. If you have a chance, check out Liz Moriondo. She rocks!

Urban Grub in the 12th South area is outstanding (but make rezzies before you go). We had to wait about an hour, but it was totally worth it.

A little tapas bar called Americano was right near our hotel.  I ate deep-fried Brussel sprouts (and I don't like Brussel sprouts) and cauliflower that was about the best stuff I've ever had.

Midtown Café was having a Julia Child celebration during the month of July. Of course, I had to have boeuf Bourguignon.

And this little place was a treat. Pinewood Social is not only a wonderful eating spot, it also boasts a 1950s-type bowling alley and a swimming pool.

We loved Nashville. It's a big city that still has a hometown feel (but I'm not sure how much longer they can keep that up as people are pouring into the area daily).  Everyone we met was friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. A lot of the folks had lived in Nashville their whole lives.

We're already looking forward to our next trip back.

Have you done any traveling this summer? If so, where?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Set Free

Recently, a lot of people are getting involved in the fight against sex trafficking. Jaida Pinkett Smith, Natalie Grant, Ricky Martin, and Ashton Kutcher are just some celebrities who have lent their name and clout to the cause. Many other artists are joining in the battle against sexual exploitation. There is a position in the war for all of us.

Singer/Songwriter Joy Lippard is an inspirational artist and worship leader. After learning about the magnitude of global and domestic sex trafficking, Joy recorded an album called Set Free, with songs like "Let the Truth be Heard" and "I See a Light"--songs to educate and encourage. The music on this album is designed to help shed light on the hopelessness of the sex industry and offer a balm of understanding for trafficked victims. You can listen to the songs on her website and purchase the album here.

Joy is actively involved in the fight in other ways. She visits at-risk girls in detention centers and continues to minister to those in need of hope. She also has several other albums out and available for purchase on Amazon. I'm excited to see where and how God uses this young and talented musician.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Guest Blogger Elizabeth Rose on Being an Autistic Christian

Today I have the pleasure of hosting Elizabeth Rose, author of The Once Upon a Reality series. On Tuesday's blog, I reviewed the second in the series,  To Dwell in Dreams, and now the third in the series, The Thing About Apples is available!


Being an Autistic Christian

In The Thing About Apples, the main character, Ann White, is a teenaged girl with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome, an older name for a specific subset of the autism spectrum. While attempting to deal with the many pitfalls of puberty compounded by a mental disorder, she often finds refuge in her local church, St. Dorothy’s. Though she is being raised in a family that has little respect for faith or faith communities, Ann draws her strength through attending services, participating in youth group, and prayer.

As an autistic Catholic myself, I have had a very Ann-like response to my faith. This surprised a lot of people. Other autistics often would berate me for ‘not being logical’, or aligning myself with communities who had historically marginalized, ignored or patronized people like us. People who had only ever had experiences with autistic stereotypes would wonder why I wasn’t more dedicated to science instead (as if the two are incompatible). Some of those who were closest to me were confused on an emotional level. They had seen the toll that being autistic in a world not meant for autistics had taken on my body, my mind and my well-being. They’d seen the scars of automatic self-harm, seen how people had taken advantage of and abused me for my peculiarities, and witnessed the pain I suffered through doing seemingly mundane tasks. “If God loved you,” they asked me, “Why would He make you this way?”

I won’t pretend to understand the answer to that. And I won’t lie to you and say that I haven’t had moments of deep, real anger about that exact question. But that’s the great thing about my relationship with God—I get angry, I get honest about it, and we hash it out in prayer. Because, above it all—God made me this way. He “knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:14). God gave me, in this body and in this mind, to this world. And everything from God is a gift.

There’s a lot of people in this world who don’t think that people like me, or like Ann, should exist. Taking a utilitarian viewpoint on human dignity, those with special needs are often pushed off as either burdens to bear or ‘blessings’ to accept with a martyr’s heart. We are grouped together in light of our disabilities, and categorized according to our ability to pass or behave as neurotypicals do.
But my God, and my faith, says otherwise. As a Child of God I am invited to see myself as a daughter of God—purposefully, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:15). I am called into a deep relationship with an all-powerful Creator-in-Love who chose to make me exactly as I am right here and now. That even I am a member of the Body of Christ, in which the “parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:22). I may struggle often with what being a disabled Christian means for how I see and accept God and his Church in my life, but He has gifted me with a dignity that no man or institution can take away. And that makes all the difference. 

Author Bio:

Elizabeth Rose is the fiction alias of a twenty-something Colorado native with a double major in Religious Studies and English.  Till the Last Petal Falls, her first full-length novel, was published in 2013. It is the beginning of the Once Upon a Reality series. She has also had several short works published through eLectio publishing, Hirschworth magazine and Crack the Spine. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Book Review: To Dwell in Dreams

Not all women relish the idea of being mothers. In fact, some fear it outright. Women who have always desired to have children may struggle with this concept, but the fact of the matter is that some women grow up with a strong sense of what motherhood means--and not necessarily the good parts of it.

This theme is just one of the elements that makes this novel so good. To Dwell in Dreams (#2 in the Once Upon a Reality series) is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a realistic look at the fears and heartbreak of one young woman who makes a dramatic choice and spends the next decade of her life not dealing with it.

Ashlyn Bellissa is a thirty-four-year-old woman trapped in the partying lifestyle of her twenty-something counterpart. Stuck in a sort of arrested development, Lyn buries her disappointment with life in various nameless, faceless men, sleeping pills, and a hardened heart. Her seemingly selfish decisions have left an ex-husband and triplets in her wake, but she feels nothing for them. Or doesn’t she? That’s a question she must finally answer when she meets them—quite unexpectedly.

Told in a sort of reverse chronology, the story retraces how Lyn came to make these hard choices, and as her dreams begin to haunt and weigh down her real life, she arrives at new and more difficult decisions about how her life will look in the future.  

Elizabeth Rose is a promising and talented young writer who brings a dreamlike quality to her prose. Her writing shows a blunt understanding of human emotion that recalls a bit of Hemingway, and an ability to relay an empathy for women that compares with Virginia Woolf. Beautiful. Elizabeth will be a guest blogger here on Friday for her new novel (the third in this series), The Thing About Apples. Check back in then. She's got an amazing word on what it's like to be an autistic Christian.