It happens every spring*

Every spring, my schedule gets too busy to maintain my typical blog schedule. The tasks that occupy my time are, not surprisingly, more important than my self-aggrandizing blog. This is the time of year I shamelessly beg for two of my favorite causes.

On April 6, 2018, I’ll be hosting a fundraiser to benefit an organization called Servants for Haiti, which is doing the right kind of work in the impoverished nation. All money will go to Biznis Pam, a small business training program for Haitian entrepreneurs, funded by SFH but administered entirely by Haitian nationals.

More information about Trivia Night can be found here.

On a recent trip to Haiti, I bought some supplies at this small store begun by a graduate of the Biznis Pam program. SFH is making a difference!

The other worthwhile event is a cycling fundraiser to fight Multiple Sclerosis. The idea is simple: I ride my bike 30 miles or so and you donate money to the National MS Society to help people suffering from the effects of MS. Simple, huh? But powerful, too.

To support my ride, visit my support page here. Or you can support my whole team, the Vineyard Square Wheelers by clicking on the team name.

Thank you for considering supporting these events. Please feel free to ask me anything you want about either one.


* Rabid movie and baseball and especially baseball movie fans will recognize this post shares a title with a classic, if rather cheesy but still great, movie about baseball starring Ray Milland. Watch it on opening day!

A Slippery S***hole

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that I, as the author of a book about Haiti, am disgusted (but hardly surprised) at America’s racist-in-chief’s reference to Haiti as a “shithole”. In fact, the opening of my book implies a lack of knowledge that non-Haitians (“blans” as they call us) have about what in my eyes is a beautiful, if slippery, land.

I’ve reproduced the opening paragraphs of the book here, where we are introduced to the protagonist, Fania, and her country:

Fania lived in Hell.

Not that she was aware of it any more than the fish in nearby Baie de Port-au-Prince knew they lived in water. It was only to outside observers, none of whom Fania had ever met, that Haiti resembled a place of unending suffering and torment. They saw only crime, poverty, hunger, and homelessness in a recurring cycle of tumult. To them, it was an abyss of despair where nothing changed except the players in a tragic theater of misery.

To Fania, it was home.

And isn’t that the point? No matter how we view a nation from the outside, be it Kenya, Rwanda, El Salvador, Haiti, or any impoverished country, it is home to people, real people. Human beings no different than us. Like us, they try to live their lives, help their families, and contribute to their communities. This simple truth is beyond some people, but few miss the point with the profound ignorance and flagrant hate of the POTUS poser.

I’ve already written about this atrocity in my other blog. If you are so inclined you can read my diatribe here. Better yet, read the words of one who is infinitely more eloquent, the brilliant Haitian author Edwidge Danticat. You can read her assessment here. The intellectual, moral, and overall character gap between Ms. Danticat and the simple-minded bigot who runs this country is too wide to measure. The voice you and I listen to tells a great deal about our characters.

Haiti seven years after

Does the seventh anniversary of the earthquake that ravaged Haiti mean so much to me because I wrote a book about it? Or did I write a book about the Haiti earthquake because it meant so much to me? One can never be 100% sure of one’s own motives but I’d be dreadfully disappointed in myself if there were even a hint of truth in the former.

Rather, I hope I wrote a book about Haiti because of my love for the nation and its people. Exposing others to the truth about a place so badly misunderstood is one of my missions in life. Thus, it’s appropriate to keep the nation and its plight in the forefront of peoples’ consciousnesses, whether through a blog or a photo or a book.

Never forget.

proudhaitian

[This is important enough that I wrote a much longer post in my other blog. You can read it here.]

Hurricane Matthew fundraising

This is a one-off emergency post to announce the following:

From 10/31/16 until 12/31/16, I will donate 50% of all gross sales (not just profits) of “A Slippery Land” to a reputable organization doing Hurricane Matthew relief efforts. (I can’t say which one, but you’ll get a clue on this page.) That’s $6.00 for every paperback and $2.00 for every Kindle sale through the end of 2016 or until the amount reaches $2,000.00, whichever comes first. (I’m betting on the former, though I’d be perfectly happy with the latter.)

The Shoeshine (Part 3)

[The conclusion of a Haitian shoeshine’s story, begun here and continued in the previous post. Based on a minor character introduced in my book, A Slippery Land.]

The long line of customers at the mission was a mixed blessing. He was running so late, he decided to skip his usual next stop, Toussaint L’Ouverture Airport. No one would miss him there, where mobs swarmed the arriving passengers, grabbing luggage and asking for payment in return, offering rides on tap-taps, or simply begging for American dollars from any blans emerging from the sweltering terminal. Having been at this most of their lives, they knew the blans were probably charity workers already in a giving spirit. The shoeshine usually had to battle those beggars for position. He didn’t hold them a grudge knowing he was only one shoeshine box away from joining them. He didn’t need the reminder.

Cité Soleil

Cité Soleil

Proceeding to his next stop, he made sure to cut a wide swath around his old neighborhood of Cité Soleil. Although he’d arrived at an uneasy peace in his own heart regarding his old life there, he knew of others in that slum who would not be inclined to extend the same grace to him. He wasn’t proud of the life he’d led there or the things he’d done, some of which would follow him to his grave. While he was embroiled in those transgressions, he’d rationalized away his misdeeds, telling himself that he only did what he needed to do to survive and get out of the slum. He did get out of the slum, to be sure, but Cité Soleil was never completely out of him.

His next stop was part of his penance. A home had been established for a group of elderly men and women who had somehow survived the ravages of life in Haiti—the storms, the violence, and the final insult: the earthquake. His own actions had prevented some young men from ever having the chance to reach that age. Any of the residents who brought shoes to him would have them shined at no charge.

The old men whose shoes he shined knew that what he did was not free. A price had already been paid. They sensed in him the same turmoil they recognized in themselves. They had been young, too. A few had served as enforcers for the Duvaliers. Some younger residents were former activists in Fanmi Lavalas. On the streets years ago, they might have battled one another to the death. Age had allayed the differences weapons could not. The ideals of youth died long before their own bodies did.

The shoeshine had no political affiliations or inclinations. With the disappearance of his family, he’d become a one-man party with no representation in government he was aware of. He’d seen enough elections to prevent him putting any faith in that process.

The last shoe buffed to a sheen rarely seen on any other object in Haiti, he bade ovwa to the old men.

His last hope for customers was outside the church. A few harried congregants always neglected to shine their shoes. Seeing the gleam of other’s footwear would drive them to the shoeshine in a desperate attempt to prepare their outfits for an appearance before God, even if their souls still harbored pain and guilt. Something could be done about the shoes, at least.

The man wasn’t comfortable around the church. He kept as great a distance from the building as possible without endangering his business. He still believed in God, but his regard for His servants crumbled when his wife fell under the seductive power of the pastor. Other than tending the shoes of the people entering the building, he’d had nothing to do with the church since then.

A cemetery in the Haitian countryside.

          A cemetery in the Haitian countryside.

A stop at the church was always emotionally draining for him. He needed to rest before he returned home. On the way was a cemetery where he knew he could find quiet. He settled on a stone, hoping it didn’t mark the finally resting place of some poor soul. In his box he found the little treats the kids at the mission house had left him. He took one out and examined it. The colors on the packaging alone mesmerized him. What kind of country had these colorful goods in such quantity that mere children were giving them away? America was a dream. He knew distant relatives who had moved there. He tried to imagine their lives in a place where food was so abundant and opportunity lurked everywhere. How much better his life might be in such an environment, he couldn’t even begin to imagine.

To distract himself from such dreams, which tended to induce more despair than hope, he scanned the area where he sat. Each time he encountered the large, impressive monuments in the cemetery, he was amazed. Ornate wrought iron designs adorned intricately poured concrete structures. Many dwarfed his own home. It made him laugh to himself to think he might have to die to improve his living conditions.

Nothing was new under the Haitian sun. After consuming half the gritty, bland American bar, he wrapped the rest up and stuffed it back into his box. He rose and turned his back on the cemetery, ready to make his way home. In his imagination, his wife and son awaited him.

The author in Cité Soleil.

The author in Cité Soleil.

The Shoeshine (Part 2)

[A Haitian shoeshines story, continued from the previous post.]

shoes

His first stop after roaming along his own street was the orphanage, not because it was a likely spot to find customers, but simply because it was the nearest large building. Occasionally, the people who owned the orphanage would be there. Clean shoes lent them an air of credibility, or so they felt.

The shoeshine had come to know many of the children in the orphanage over the years. He’d even met some of their parents, whose inability to feed and house them had forced them to turn their little ones over to the care of this institution. The children were fed and housed, but whether they were truly cared for was another question, the answer to which saddened him.

He wondered how he would have handled the situation if his son had survived the quake but the boy’s mother had still perished. Could he have given up the only child he would ever have? Against his will, he had anyway. The memory of the little boy was so vivid, he swore he felt the child’s breath whenever a stealth breeze caught him by surprise. The man had never shed a tear for the boy since he died, although he remembered crying over him constantly while he was still with him. He cried as the boy slept, when he played, and when he sat on the roof of their home staring over the city, never knowing what thoughts passed through the child’s mind. Were they the same as his own? Where were those thoughts now?

No customers emerged from the orphanage so the shoeshine moved on.

His hopes for a good return from the mission house were high. He’d seen evidence of a team of young people from the US staying there. The Americans always carried plenty of cash. While he only charged his fellow Haitians a few gourdes, he could easily ask an American dollar for each pair of shoes from the blans. It was rare that their shoes actually needed cleaning, packed away as they had been in luggage few Haitians could afford. It was an unspoken agreement of a metaphysical transaction. They would give up what to them was worthless to clean not their footwear but their consciences.

His English was limited to the few expressions required to accomplish the deal. “One dollar.” “Two shoes.” “Thank you.” Few of the team members made an effort to expand communications, so he appreciated all that much more the ones who did. They would approach him with smiles and ask in their American accents, “Konben?” A few would actually try to bargain with him. While he went along with the game and didn’t begrudge them their amusement, it annoyed him all the same.

The teens had come to help build a school. He appreciated the Americans’ misguided attempts at assistance, but he’d known more than one construction worker who had lost their jobs to visiting American kids. Despite the fact that one Haitian worker could accomplish as much in an hour as a team of American youths could do in a day, they kept coming like some invading force, taking opportunity captive.

The house was alive with activity. Through the screened windows, the shoeshine saw the teens scurrying back and forth, exhibiting the same degree of purpose as that shown by the ants that crisscrossed the walls of the building with no apparent goal.

One white face glanced out from a hole in a wall and saw him. A young girl who couldn’t have been more than fifteen approached him. She held out a bag in her hand. With a shining smile, she told him, “Kado.” A conflict of fear and gratitude contorted his face as he took the gift. Looking inside, he saw a brand new tin of black polish. His smile of more gaps than teeth was sincere, but he couldn’t help thinking of the man he usually bought his polish from. This was one less bit of income his friend would receive. He felt bad, but wasn’t about to turn down this meager windfall.

Most of the kids just left their shoes on the steps with a dollar in one of them. A couple had bits of food, strange, colorfully wrapped bars of nuts and grains flecked with bits of chocolate. He would make the most of those scraps. One bar could be made to last for two meals if money or food were scarce, as they often were. There was no telling when the next team might arrive carrying more free goods.

To be continued…

The Shoeshine (Part 1)

[Two events brought about the timing and content of this week’s post. First, I missed last week’s deadline for this blog. This is a Limping in the Light week but the next LITL post will have to slip out a week. Second, someone (a fan?!?) was expressing an opinion about my book, A Slippery Land. She said she wanted to hear the stories behind some of the minor characters in the book. Luckily, I’ve already started one such story, so I present it here. I hope you enjoy this first part of the shoeshine’s story.]

shoeshine

The Shoeshine

Dawn announced its arrival on the concrete walls long before the shoeshine ever saw the sun. The light bounded between the decrepit structures that surrounded his decrepit house, crept up the alleys, and drew long vectors of light that gradually linked the tumbledown buildings as if his neighborhood were a giant connect-the-dots puzzle.

His eyes opened as slowly as the sun rose. Not even the slightest breeze had infiltrated the room all night. The air he woke up in was the same air in which he’d fallen asleep. The heavy, dust-filled air enveloped him like a vaporous cocoon. His face was drenched with sweat, as it always was, his eyes were bloodshot, and his nose runny. He reached over and picked up a shirt balled up on the floor at the side of his mattress and wiped his face clean. He had another shirt he could wear.

Instinctively, he swung his eyes around the room. It was unchanged from the day before and in fact unchanged from the day he moved in the week after the 2010 earthquake. The day after his home was destroyed by one of the many tremors following the initial shock, he’d found this abandoned tiny concrete box. He’d slept outside it for several days before he felt it was safe from collapse. He found a mattress, dragged it in, and his new house was furnished. After a year, he correctly assumed no one would return to it to claim ownership.

As quickly as his arthritic knees would allow—not quickly by any means—he gathered the tools of his trade along with his will. If he didn’t catch people before church, there would be few customers. Sunday was no day of rest for him. Most everything he needed was still in the mildewed wooden box sitting by the door where he’d left it the day before. He took stock of its contents: A brush, most of its bristles worn down to the wooden base. He’d need a new one soon, but had no idea where it would come from. Two rags, vestiges of shirts he’d picked up here and there, one still stained with the blood of the man he’d ripped it off after the quake. Black polish, a new can he’d bought with last Sunday’s earnings. White polish. He didn’t often use the white polish. White shoes, the style little girls only wore to weddings, became so scuffed up in the rugged streets of Port-au-Prince, shining them was a futile exercise. A couple of badly tarnished gourde coins rattled around at the bottom of the box.

An enormous dump truck, one that towered over most of the dwellings on the street, rumbled by carrying a load of charcoal, carcasses of felled trees that would never be replaced. As the truck shook the ground, his heart raced. He was immediately transported to the moment his life changed forever. The resilience that had carried him this far calmed him by the time the truck passed.

The outlook for breakfast was not good. Perhaps, he thought, a customer would offer him a piece of toast or a sample of Sunday’s squash soup. Hunger had long since ceased to be an impediment to his schedule. It was as much a part of his routine as breathing.

He picked up his little bell, the one that announced his presence with its feeble, tinny sound. He glanced around his home as if there were more to see. All that remained was a trip around the back to relieve himself before he began his rounds. The stain he made on the cement wall didn’t last long in the sun and heat, but the streaks of red drawn by the blood in his urine worried him. He had no idea what it portended but, having never seen it before last month, he assumed it was a bad sign.

To be continued…

Local Authors presentation

Shameless self-(and-town-library-)promotion:

FLYER Local Authors 2016

That’s me in the upper left hand corner (in Cité Soleil, Port-au-Prince, Haiti). I’ll be hanging out with my fellow local authors talking about our books. My book, A Slippery Land, will be available for sale. As part of my presentation, I’ll be showing photos of some of the settings in the book. Click on the poster above for more details about the event.

Come on out if you have a chance. Support local authors! (Such as me. :-))

“A Slippery Land”

It’s finally done. My first book, a novel about Haiti, is available for sale in paperback or Kindle edition. Here’s the cover:

ASLcoverFor the sake of completeness, here’s the back cover:

ASLback

I’ve been working on this book in one form or another for more than four years. It started out as a screenplay, one that finished in the top 5% in the world’s most prestigious screenplay competition. Some of the judges’ comments included: “Strongly, clearly, confidently, and dramatically written… Settings are vividly brought to life… There is a heartbreaking authenticity to this.”

The story follows the life of a Haitian girl over six years, beginning with the nightmare of the 2010 earthquake. Her life becomes a series of trials common to many Haitians. How she faces those difficulties reflects on the resilience and strength of the Haitian people.

The book’s title comes from a painfully appropriate Haitian Creole proverb: “Lavi se tè glise“, which translates to the English: “Life is a slippery land.”

While a fictional tale, “A Slippery Land” carries a lot of truth. It incorporates many actual events I’ve seen or experienced and observations I’ve made while visiting the country and getting to know its people over the last 15 years.

Please consider buying a copy and letting me know what you think. The book is suitable for a wide audience, including Young Adult – even though it has no vampires, zombies, or mean girls, though Haiti could qualify as a dystopian society – or anyone who enjoys reading and learning about other cultures. It should be particularly good for book clubs because there’s plenty to discuss about our perceptions of Haiti and the third world.

You can see and purchase the paperback or Kindle edition through my Amazon author page here.

Thank you for reading.

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Coming soon!

My first novel is on the verge of being self-published. Sorry. That’s a misleading statement. The book isn’t publishing itself. My self is publishing it.

The good news is, it’s absurdly easy to publish one’s own book today.

The bad news is, it’s absurdly easy to publish one’s own book today.

Thus, my book will be out there soon, fighting for attention amidst an overwhelming onslaught of similarly hopeful creations by similarly hopeful creators. My hope is that its quality rises above that of the average tome available. But who am I to judge?

I’ve already given a teaser in a previous post. Since then I’ve finished the book, changed the title (twice), and had a terrific designer create some fantastic cover art.  Come back in a month or so and I’ll shamelessly and relentlessly plug it.

One agent told me that it’s a hard sell because it’s about Haiti and no one is interested in reading about Haiti. I hope that’s not true for many reasons, not just because it means no one will buy my book. More importantly, it saddens me to think that people might no longer have any concern for that sad and beautiful nation.

Six years ago this week Haiti was all anyone was talking about. This past Tuesday (January 12) marks the sixth anniversary of the horrific earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people, injured countless more – no one will ever know exactly how many of each – and put millions out of their homes.

Now, they tell me, no one cares.

I hope you do.