slavery

Trafficking Happens Here, Too

slaveryI stumbled across this article from the Associated Press about a pair of trafficking cases that have been dismissed.

Human trafficking — a fancy term for slavery — is alive and well in America. It isn’t legal, but it is extremely hard to prosecute.

A chunk of Sisterhood deals with human trafficking, because this is a subject that is dear to my heart. I was very young when my mother came back from talking with the neighbor. She was confused. “She said she is sending to her home country for a girl to watch her kids. What an odd custom.”

The neighbor had asked a relative to buy a nanny for her children. When Cita showed up next door, I was delighted to find a girl not much older than myself. Cita spoke no English, so at first we just waved over the fense. I’m certain her owners did not know this was going on. They went to work, leaving her with the children and the television all day.

Cita was not a stupid girl. She watched the TV and she learned English. When the boys napped, she’d slip out into the garden and if I was home, she would practice her English. Over time, I learned her story, how she’d been bought from her family so that they could have food to eat. At first, she had been okay with the arrangement, but then her owner had become mean to her. The children were brats and she was not allowed to correct them. Years went by, and Cita realized that she would spend her days caring for this family. When their children grew up, she would be sold.

She would never fall in love.

Only Cita was a rebel, and this was America, and she’d had her head filled with those Disney fairytales.

One day her owner brought a young co-worker home for dinner. He noticed Cita.

Cita told me that he saw her in the kitchen and immediately fell in love with her. Over a couple of months, he came for dinner and slipped away, searching her out. He came over when her owners were at work. He told her that slavery was illegal in the US and that he would rescue her. She whispered this to me over the fence just before she disappeared. A new nanny came a few weeks later. She did not speak English. She also did not come into the garden.

I’d slipped City my phone number. A few weeks later, I received a phone call asking me to come and see her. She wanted me to know how happy she was.

Cita’s directions led me to a penthouse apartment, very nice. Her boyfriend did not live with her, but had set her up in this beautiful residence and bought her many clothes. She showed me the lovely silks and satins, skimpy lacy things that no one would wear outside of their apartment — maybe not even outside of the bedroom. When I asked where her street clothes were, she said he hadn’t bought her any yet. She couldn’t go outside anyway, because she had no passport. If she was caught, she would be deported, so she would stay hidden.

I was so young, and Cita’s situation was beyond my experience. If I’d known about trafficking visas, I would have explained them. But I didn’t know, then, that victims of trafficking can apply for a visa that will give them legal status. If the trafficking is proven, they can not be deported.

I did have enough experience to know that she wasn’t living a fairytale. I begged her to leave, to let me take her somewhere safe. Cita told me not to worry.

I never saw her again.

Cita’s story is not unique. A 2004 UC Berkley study shows that slavery is alive and well in the US.

Americans read a story about foreign slaves, and think what a tragedy, but there is more to trafficking. American children are kidnapped and sold. Americans in general are considered rare and prized as collectibles. Slavery happens in America, to Americans.

Sadly, we don’t have a specialized team of psionics to infiltrate the trafficking rings and sort out the victims from the abusers. Our modern law enforcement is often thwarted when they try to investigate these cases because the slaves are afraid to seek help.

A young woman sat at my desk the other day and explained to me that she reads the labels on every piece of clothing she buys, for fear of supporting slavery.

Shyima Hall was freed because a neighbor called CPS. (I’m not a big fan of CPS, but I wish my parents had called for Cita.)

Slavery is not just a page from a history book.

What are we going to do about it?

Scam Alert

Updated Scam Alert!

Scam AlertIt’s time for my semi-annual scam alert post. Each year a company sends me a physical bill for renewing my domain name — in the mail. But this year, they’ve improved on their scheme.

The problem is, my domain name isn’t registered through that company. They send me an envelope to make paying the bill easier. This year they’ve modified the front verbiage a bit — it now says that it is not a bill, even though the entire sheet is set up like a bill and has “Expiration Notice” on the top.

Normally, they offer to renew my domain name for 1 year for $35. They “recommend” that I renew for 2 years at $60 and save $10. The “Best Value” is to renew the domain for 5 years for only $105 — saving me $70! This would be great, except that the average domain name costs $12 per year. Yes, if you are paying more than that, you may want to do a little checking on your registrar.

In the past, it was easy to dismiss these notices because through BlueHost my domain was free. Not anymore. That is going to cause a lot of confusion for my customers.

But it gets worse.

One of my clients just got a very real looking bill by email. Among the verbiage was this line:

Failure to complete your search engine registration by Jun 18, 2012 may result in the cancellation of this order (making it difficult for your customers to locate you using search engines on the web).

I submit all of my clients to search engines for free. It takes about 5 minutes for an average user to do it. I often add an auto-submit add-on into their websites, so it takes…oh, one click for 3. I’m certain the company that sent out the notice to my client, if they do any submission at all, will do very little more. For this submission and a renewal of her domain name for a year, they are only asking $75. That doesn’t include hosting. IF they keep their promise, they’ve paid around $12 for the domain name and done 5 minutes of work…on the outside.

Turning over the page of the paper version reveals a page of VERY FINE PRINT which I must admit I can no longer read even with my bifocals. Yes, it is that fine. I did read it once a few years ago, because I was curious why anyone would have that much fine print — and discovered that once you are their customer, if you do not renew with them, they own your domain. Admittedly, I don’t know if that clause is still there or not. Imagine being stuck with those inflated prices. I don’t know if this new company is affiliated with them or not. I’m certainly not clicking on links in that email to see! But my guess is they are running the same scam. If you get caught up in it, you are stuck with them, you’ve given them a hold on your domain name.

Oh, but you could always get a new domain name, right?

I describe a domain name is the sign on the outside of your building, but it is much harder to change the domain name than it is a physical sign. First, you’ll need all new business cards, stationary, and marketing materials. If you’ve put your domain name in the back of your book, it will be wrong. If you are using your domain name as your email address — a good thing to do — guess what happens to your email if you lose your domain name?

I hear often of folks who lose their domain name because they forgot to renew it. Questionable registrars will sell newly abandoned domain names to pirates within a few minutes of the deadline passing. That pirate will happily sell a domain name backĀ  — at a tidy profit. Much more than most can afford.

Your domain name is nothing to play around with. You worked to pick a good one. You have made improvements to it. But remember, you’re just leasing it. Protect it! Know who your registrar is (if you’ve registered via BlueHost, your registrar is BlueHost via FastDomain). Know when it expires. Make sure you renew well before the expiration. And if you ARE with BlueHost — check in with them and see when your domain name expires. They are no longer doing free domain names with hosting. Sad. Since their rates have beein going up as well, I’m looking into alternatives.

I’ve been so happy with BlueHost that I’m still hesitant to switch…but I’m getting close.

Remember: knowledge is the best defense against scammers.

Sugru package

Better than Duct Tape!

Each day, I spend a few minutes or more studying marketing, new products and trends in the writing industry. I study trends in technology, too, because that influences writing directly these days. If a product or company has learned something new about marketing and reaching people, I want to know.Sugru package

Today’s browsing exposed me to an awesome product that I can’t wait to get my hands on.

One of my pet peeves with our modern world is the planned obsolescence built into almost everything. Things break. Then you have to buy a new thing. Companies have actually done research on how long a widget needs to last for a consumer to be satisfied with their purchase. Then they engineer the widget to break just after that point. Seriously. Like many others I know, I think these designers and developers are starting to err on the side of annoying their customers. Personally, I read the reviews for any major purchase before making it. I’m choosing my next car based on customer reviews. It won’t be a new car. I want one with a proven track record.

It was only a matter of time before someone realized that consumer annoyance created a huge demand for a product that fixes widgets.

May I have the great pleasure of introducing you to sugru.

Sugru is a moldable, silicon based rubber putty that bonds to almost everything and cures over-night. Go ahead — search Youtube for the videos on how people are using this stuff. Be prepared to want some. I have three gadgets that I’ve been nursing along that I bet I can fix with this stuff. I’m also thinking about all of those high-priced accessories that have cheap knock-off imitations with a weak-point. What if I Sugru’d (y’know – like MacGyver’d!) some of those?

The stuff is heat-resistant, insulating, water-proof. That means dishwasher safe. You open the tiny package, mold it into whatever you want, let it cure for 24 hours and it is set. You can scrape it off later if you need to. The most common use seems to be fixing power cords that are breaking. People are also using it to make custom mounts for gadgets. (Wrap the gadget in plastic wrap first.) Something wobbling because you lost the little rubber foot? Make a new one out of sugru. Or, decide you like the bright color of sugru better and replace all of the feet.

Right now it is only available in limited places in the US. I want to talk to my local hardware store about ordering it. BUT — you can mail order it at: sugru.com .

So, what did I learn from sugru? Fill a need. Let happy customers do your marketing for you. Read Jane’s story. One of my favorite quotes is this: Stop listening to other peoples advice. Go with my gut.

Sugru isn’t brand new, but it was new to me. Her story fits so well with the inspiration and drive and patience that it takes to succeed as an independent author, I just had to share. Now I’m off to buy some!

Happy fixing!

Innocent Cat

Lies and Assumptions

Innocent CatI’ve been reviewing my novel for consistency, reading through the story, checking that each character is behaving in line with their character arc. I found a scene where Marie turned to Dana and lied. Now, she had a good reason to lie, but that isn’t the point. Because these characters had a basis of trust, I’d let the lie go unchallenged and affect the rest of the scene. Problem: Dana has a natural truth sense and Marie was lying to her blatantly. The scene was too inconsistent with the rest of the novel. I had to go back and re-work the scene so that Marie could find a way to mask the truth without out-right lying.

Ah, how close is this to reality?

I recently walked into a situation where I knew a person was likely to lie to me. Somehow, I managed to convince myself that this time would be different. Why is it that I am always so shocked when people lie? I grew up with a father who told everyone I was his only child. (I was his 6th.) Even when this person lied to me, I somehow convinced myself that this time was different. This time, maybe she was telling the truth.

And maybe she was.

Maybe she was telling me what she believed to be the truth. When I pointed out the (rather glaring) lie, the resulting back-lash was everything I should have expected. Why? Because people don’t like to be confronted, especially when caught in a lie.

I am so envious of my psionic characters and their ability to see truth. Envious and annoyed. Annoyed enough that I enjoy putting Dana in situations where she is deceived. How? Because sometimes she just assumes that someone is telling her the truth. When the patterns of life fit into a “normal” framework, she doesn’t assume that she might be lied to. She assumes that she’s being told the truth.

I’m envious of my friends with law enforcement training, too. I watched a recent episode of Amazing Race where two teams with this wonderful lie-detector training came face to face over a lie. What a great example of body language! Knowing the truth, it is easy for those of us watching to see the signs of a lie. What do your characters do when they see those signs in your story? If you’re a reader and not a writer, do you notice writers playing with truth, lies and assumptions in the stories you read? What do you do in real life?

A follow on question: I have heard it said that there is no “truth” in our modern world. Anyone who reads this blog knows I believe in absolute truth, but what about the minor truths in inter-personal relations? Do you think it is possible to know where truth lies?

What do you do when someone lies to your face? Worse: what do you do when two people you trust tell you diametrically opposed versions of an event? In real life, I find these situations devastating. In fiction, I find that they enhance the believability of the story…because, it is so true: sometimes people lie. Or is that just an assumption I’m making?

airplane seats

Delayed in Dallas

airplane seats

Warning: this is likely to be one of those religious posts.

I’m not real fond of airplanes.

During a recent trip, I’d been away from home for a lot longer than I wanted to be. I was eager to get home. As is usual, I was praying a lot during my flights. I had to change planes in Dallas. As I walked to the new gate, I prayed, “Please let me make my transfer!”

“Not this flight.”

Being the obedient soul I am, I whined, “But I want to get home!”

“Not this flight.”

Hm. I walked up to the gate counter to see if there was something I should be aware of. Just as I stepped up, the agent motioned for me to wait and picked up the microphone. “We are over-booked. If anyone will be so kind as to accept a guaranteed seat on a later plane, we’ll give you a $500 voucher toward a future flight.”

Now, I’d also been complaining that due to the emergency flight I had just taken, my husband and I wouldn’t get the vacation we’d been hoping for. Already prepped, I smiled and said, “I’ll take you up on that.” It helped that I was first in line.

I surrendered my ticket. Everyone who didn’t get on the flight was transferred to the same flight leaving in about 4 hours. Everyone except me, that is. For some reason, they transferred me to a different flight also leaving in 4 hours. I stared at the notice board and then went and checked flight numbers. Sure enough — two planes leaving at the same time for the same destination. They were on one, I was on the other.

Hmm. Okay. But I’d asked for a window seat, and I’d been given an aisle. I like the window seat. I can stare out the window and get lost…and there is nothing so beautiful as flying into Seattle at night.

“Whatever you’ve got in mind, you got my seat wrong,” I thought.

“You’re in the seat I want you in.”

Again, being so obedient, I tried to change seats 3 times — at 3 different ticket counters. One was suddenly over-burdened by a flight issue. The next counter couldn’t handle my flight because I was too early. The third couldn’t handle my flight until 15 minutes later. However, 15 minutes later we had a sudden gate change to a gate across the terminal, so they couldn’t handle my change at all. When I got to the new gate, they explained that it was now too late to change seats for this flight. Apparently, there would be no seat switching for me, even though I had been 4 hours early for my flight.

I had entirely too much fun in the Dallas airport. I recommend a Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy Milkshake if you can find one! I took pictures of the planes and the sunset, road the tram around and around (just like Disney Land!), and did a lot of walking so my legs wouldn’t hurt during the flight.

When I was tired, I sat down to work on the final revisions for “Sisterhood.” The point of this round of edits is to question everything: do the time frames work? Seasons consistent? Descriptions consistent?

I was stuck on the descriptions of the grigori. Would people “get” them? Were they believable? How do you describe something like an angel, something so outside our three dimensional world? Could I get away with saying they were mostly shapeless, or only an outline?

This was the thought running through my head as I sat down in the aisle seat and waited to see who my seatmate would be.

I am of the opinion that we should always be ready to give an answer for our faith (I Peter 3:15) and I take the “with gentleness and respect” to mean that we should not take advantage of some poor helpless airline traveller stuck in the seat next to us! Hey, you read my blog, you’re fair game. I do *warn* you! But I’m not going to hijack some stranger who can not escape.

My seatmate — let’s call him Fred — was 20 hours into a 24 hour trip. He was tired, and one of the most congenial people I’ve ever been blessed to sit next to.

I hadn’t gotten my laptop out — we were still on the ground — when he struck up a conversation.

As this would make the flight pass faster for both of us, I relaxed and enjoyed talking with him, quickly realizing that he was why I’d been placed on this plane in this seat. You see, Fred wanted to talk about God and angels.

We’d only been in the air a few minutes when he explained that it was the anniversary of his mother’s death. He’d been with her when she died, and been shocked to see spiritual beings in the room with her. (Fred later explained his belief system as Christian Agnostic.) “There were shapeless beings in the room — really just outlines.” He paused. “You probably think I’m crazy.”

“Um…no. I would think you’d been reading my book, if it was published!” And so we proceeded to spend the next few hours talking about angels and God and prayer.

Remember: Fred considers himself an Agnostic. The problem with believing in creatures that extend beyond our dimension is that he found himself on the verge of believing in God. Since I’d seen the same creatures at my mother’s death, this left him — I hope — feeling a little less insane. Of course, the point of the conversation was not the existence of angels, but what their existence said about God.

Fred wasn’t sure what he thought about those spirits. Fred wanted answers — answers to questions about life and death and healing. Why are some people healed and others not? Where is God when we pray? I was returning from the bedside of a 14-year-old girl who had been very ill with a mysterious illness the doctors never identified. A friend was returning from a similar bedside. Both of us had prayed fervently for these girls. My precious girl survived. My friend’s did not. So Fred’s question was: why? Where is God in that?

And I think my answer startled him. My answer was: I don’t know. I don’t know why one person lives and another dies, why one person is healed and another is not. I don’t think we’re supposed to know. I think that we want everything to make sense to us — seeing only our own three dimensions. I think that God sees in four — and probably more than that! — dimensions.

I think that to God, life is like watching someone play a video game. When they finish the game, they turn around and laugh and chat about the experience. For us, trapped in the game world, death seems like the end, like the person has suddenly ceased to exist, a tragedy. But what if there is much more beyond these three dimensions? Then, so much of the petty bickering and worries of life become as meaningless as Ecclesiastes suggests.

He ended the conversation with: “I hope my questions haven’t shaken your faith.” I encouraged him to keep seeking God.

We both knew our meeting on that plane was no accident. I gave him someone to talk to about his questions, and he helped me put into focus the purpose of my novel.

Turned out I was in the right seat after all.