Yes, In My Town

We all say Not in My Town, but it happened in My Town early Sunday morning. A murder happened. Seventeen year-old Nabra Hassannen was walking back to her mosque after eating at the local IHOP Sunday morning with a small group of her friends when a motorist confronted them for some reason. The teens ran back to the mosque, but Nabra was left behind.

Her mother said she wasn’t used to wearing the abaya. She only wore it for religious holidays, and she may have tripped over the long dress. Whatever the reason, she didn’t make it. Facts are a little sketchy still, but twenty two-year-old Darwin Martinez Torres was arrested yesterday and charged with her death. Her mother told the news that he beat Nabra with a metal bat and dumped her body in a pond. I drive by that pond virtually every time I go anywhere.

It’s Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims and one where they fast from sunrise to sundown. The teens had been to midnight prayer at the ADAMS Center, home to the largest Muslim congregation in Northern Virginia, located  here in Sterling. They walked to the local IHOP to eat after prayers so they could face another day of fasting.

For some reason when I read about Nabra’s murder last night, I fell apart. I didn’t know the girl. I didn’t know the family. I’ve never been to the ADAMS Center although I have been invited. My husband asked me if it was because it was so close to us and I was home alone when it happened. Maybe, but I’ve heard of murders and assaults close to me before. Somehow though, when I read the news last night, I cried and cried hard. A 17-year-old girl who had just finished praying and indulging in some innocent fun with her friends was brutally murdered on Father’s Day.

I haven’t written much on this blog since the election. I’ve struggled with how to talk to people I know are supporting the Trump administration. If we are to get anywhere we must not stop talking to one another, but it’s been hard to talk civilly to people that are supporting the hate-mongering coming from the right-wing often in the name of some Christianity that Christ wouldn’t recognize if he walked among us today.

When we rant about Sharia law or refuse to allow mosques to be built in our neighborhoods or support bans targeted at keeping a particular religion out of this country, we are supporting oppression and hatred and taking a stance fundamentally opposite to the freedom of religion this country was founded on. Good people can make poor choices and support hatred for seemingly rational reasons, but it is still a support of  hatred, no matter the spin. It doesn’t necessarily follow that this murder is a result of the climate of fear and hatred that is ongoing, but we will certainly never know that it’s not connected and it’s really hard not to believe that we as a nation failed this family.

I’m not naive enough to believe that we will ever live in a society that is all pollyanna and non-violent sunshine, but I hope that we can pull back from the white supremacy and minority bashing that is roiling us and vote out anyone in power who is actively engaged in appealing to our lesser angels not our better ones.

Rest in Peace, Nabra.

 

Home and Energized

I’m home from my annual writer’s retreat and so energized to get writing. I let this blog go quiet in favor of other projects and lack of time so I’m renewing my commitment to posting on Story Currents in a timely fashion.

If you are interested in Cons, ConCarolinas is a wonderful convention in Charlotte. If you are a writer, I will post more later on founding a writing group. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Happy New Year and All That Jazz

Happy New Year, Everyone – Good riddance 2016! I can’t say that I’m all that hopeful that 2017 will be a great year, but January always provides an arbitrary shiny new slate and it’s here.

One of my goals for this year is to organize myself and create a time-management plan that I’ll stick to. The plan is in place, and I think I have a good chance of working within it. Unfortunately, I’m already a bit behind. Yes, I know it’s only the 6th!

My husband and I decided to have some long-overdue house maintenance performed, which aside from stress and some sore muscles from two weeks of moving furniture and loads of stuff hither and yon and yon and hither resulted in a “may you live in interesting times” moment two days ago when my house threatened to explode in a ball of flame, not the type of fireworks I want to see for the New Year.

The fix the electrician thought would hold our outside electrical box until the part he needed to order could come in didn’t see eye to eye with some high winds and driving rain that came through our area. While some folks may find it fun to listen to whoomphing sounds coming from your walls, even with the inside electricity turned off, and to smell burning char with zero idea how to stop it, I am afraid I’m not made of such stern stuff.

A panicked call to our electrician resulted in his arrival and installation of the part that had come in far faster than we all hoped. So my house is still standing and if my office is not yet ready for work in the New Year because I’m missing a desk that the supplier seems to be having great difficulty selling and getting to me, at least I’m not missing the house to wrap around it.

My goal this year is to post at least once a week on my personal blog, preferably more, now that the group blog I participate in – The Million Words – is up and running. If any of my writer friends or scientist friends want to guest post about what they’re working on, drop me a line.

The desk is supposed to arrive today. Wish me luck.

The Holidays are Coming – Everyone Hide

turkey-1299176__480I am a guest this week on Lillian Archer’s blog. “Down the Rabbit Hole” delves into historical accuracy in speculative fiction, detailing a few of the bumps in the road I’ve run into, over, or been derailed by.

Janet Walden-West obviously has the Holidays on her mind and is apparently a bit grumpy about pie in her most recent post Pie Isn’t Worth It.

In “A Journey of a Million Words,” Ken Schrader plays with asterisks and makes his introductory post at The Million Words.

Finally, a reminder to check out the posts on mental health of the Hold Onto The Light Campaign. The Holidays are here and depression runs rampant across the land.

“Seventy-One Important Questions for the Conservation of Marine Biodiversity”

thumb_humpback-fluke_1024

A few years ago, a group of multidisciplinary marine conservationists, including myself, met together and hashed out what we thought were the most important problems facing the field of marine conservation that were not being addressed. Our conclusions were published in “Seventy-One Important Questions for the Conservation of Marine Biodiversity”  in Conservation Biology. The questions comprise a broad array of disciplines, including fisheries, climate change, ecosystems, policy, marine citizenship, societal and cultural considerations, scientific enterprise, and other anthropogenic effects and will take years to address. Check out our methodology and conclusions at Parsons, E.C.M., Favaro, B., Aguirre, A.  et al. 2014. Seventy-one important questions for the conservation of marine biodiversity. Conservation Biology 28: 5, 1206–1214.

In Memoriam: Melanie Otto

Three years ago give or take, a good friend of mine wrote a blog post describing a writer’s group she had helped form and the weeklong retreat that ensued.

Struggling to learn how to write, the next time I saw Margaret I begged her to let me join the group. I learned later she took my name to the others in the group and convinced them to let me join.

As an introvert, I began to reconsider what I’d asked for as the weeklong retreat approached. Spending a week with ten other people only one of whom I really knew was a bit daunting, but I went, learned a ton, got myself going in the right direction on my writing, and realized I had fallen in with a fantastic group.

All my fellow Roaring Writers were strong writers but more important to me they were kind, funny, caring people, each and every one willing to help answer any writing questions I threw their way.

We wrote. We talked about writing and about life. And we laughed. We laughed a great deal.

The next year, I was comfortable with everyone and the same thing happened. We wrote and we laughed and laughed and laughed.

We’re not laughing this week.

One of us is gone forever.

Melanie Otto
Photo by Judy Bienvenu

Melanie Otto was a fellow Roaring Writer with a heart of sunshine. She laughed and smiled. She encouraged me. Discussed my writing. We both loved cats and spent some time giggling over our furry pets, the way you do when you meet someone you know you can be silly with.

Melanie was recovering from a bad cold or flu that first year and had to miss some of our writing workshops, which upset her, but she still smiled and laughed her way through the week. She had an infectious enthusiasm that I envied.

A list of interests is always so much less than the sum of the person, but sometimes it’s what we have. An avid photographer, Melanie taught classes and always seemed to have a camera nearby. I met her through our mutual love of writing, and she was an excellent storyteller. She loved anime and cats, but most of all she loved Judy, her partner of twenty years.

This past Friday, Melanie succumbed to a brain hemorrhage that occurred the previous week. At dawn on Friday, she passed away, as Judy noted, “always a photographer, she went to chase the light.”

The Roaring Writers have lost a spark, a woman who was calm and happy and above all enthusiastic about life. We will miss her. I will miss her. Rest in peace, Melanie.


Melanie had an AVM, a congenital condition, that made it impossible to get affordable life insurance and which resulted in the brain hemorrhage. Donations to help Judy and Melanie’s brother, Craig, defray funeral expenses can be made at the Melanie Otto Memorial Fund by Craig Otto.

New Writer’s Blog – The Million Words

I am a member of a writer’s group with some amazing people. We are all at different points in our careers, with a few having published books and short stories, and others still striving for that first acceptance.

The publishing industry is in a state of complete flux, with authors scrambling to publish and make a living in a crowded industry, with overworked agents and editors, low pay, and vanishing brick and mortar bookstores.

My colleagues and I have been lucky. The science fiction/fantasy convention circuit has a number of authors willing to act as mentors to aspiring authors, and we have been privileged to learn from them. Many of those established authors have spent significant portions of their time helping other writers.

In that spirit of sharing knowledge, we decided to start a group blog to share our experiences with other authors and anyone else interested in the vagaries of the current publishing world. Our blog will discuss our personal journeys as we strive to get published and share some of the advice that we have received.

Check out The Million Words and the first post, “The Promise,” by my colleague, Alexander Gideon.

Driving Through Panic: A #HoldOntoTheLight Post

holdontothelight

I drove around the curve of a two-lane road only to find a car crossing the centerline, headed straight at me. Panicked, I swerved the few feet I could on a road that had no shoulder, a small dirt bank, and a stone wall to my right. The other car returned to its lane and drove on, but not before my panic blossomed into a full-scale meltdown.

I gasped for breath on the verge of hyperventilating. Tears in my eyes, I couldn’t see. I faced a half-hour commute home in DC rush hour traffic, and I was a mess.

I stopped in a parking lot to pull myself back together. No damage to my car, and I was unhurt. A few months before, I’d hydroplaned a 360 on Rock Creek Parkway driving too fast on rain and wet leaves. No such emotional distress then. I struggled to explain why I had such an over the top reaction to that small incident.

That was the start of a period of time where I would freak for no reason, with no warning. Walking into a grocery store. Going to work. Sitting at home, doing absolutely nothing.

I finally mentioned what was happening to my Mom, who without missing a beat informed me that my panic attacks had begun. Women in my family are prone to panic attacks that appear in our twenties, gradually waning as we get older. Mom didn’t warn me earlier, because she didn’t want me to talk myself into having them.

When I was invited to join the #Hold the Light campaign and write a post on mental health issues, I didn’t know what to write.  I considered describing my sporadic depressive fits where I stare at the walls for a day before I pull myself out of the funk and move on, but compared with the deep depression others live with that seemed trivial. I ran through the list of other mental health issues, deciding that while I could write on some of them, I could always think of someone who had a worse experience. Mine were so mild in comparison. Finally, it hit me that I was thinking of mental issues as a contest. Who had the worst PTSD? Who had been hurt worst by a suicide? Whose depression was deepest?

So I shook off my misgivings about whether my experiences had value. I happened to run into someone recently having a panic attack and that decided me on talking about mine.

As an introvert, one of the most difficult things for me to do is the “first” of anything. The first meeting, the first day of a job, the first time I visit someone’s home. To a certain degree it doesn’t matter how much  I think I will enjoy myself. What matters is the newness, the unknown. When a depressive fit slams me, doing something for the first time is daunting.

The cynic in me wondered how much good this campaign will do because one of the things we repeatedly call for is for people, who are struggling to reach out, to contact their friends, to contact help centers, to know they are not alone.

I know when I am depressed that reaching out is difficult.  Calling a stranger on a help line would seem comically impossible.

But maybe if people become more aware of how common mental health issues are, they will seek help coping before they are overwhelmed. Perhaps introverts will not face the double struggle of coping with the newness of a problem and the requirement to dial a telephone and ask a stranger for help, if they’ve seen others discussing the same issue. Maybe that’s wishful thinking, but we should at least try.

A great deal of time has passed since my twenties, and I had to search my memory to remember the fear and the emotional whiplash of those days. In the end the panic attacks disappeared, just a freak of biochemistry that played havoc with my life for a short time period and then faded away.


 

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on our new Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

The Kraken in the Aquarium

The Kraken has been released! A new paper I am co-author on looks at questions that need to be addressed that are  being ignored for any number of reasons and that will require shifts in current thinking to solve. This article stemmed from a series of workshops where a diverse group of marine conservationists met to determine important questions in marine conservation that we thought were being inadequately addressed. “Seventy-Important Questions for the Conservation of Marine Biodiversity” by Parsons et al. discusses the more straightforward questions. “The Kraken in the Aquarium: Questions that Urgently Need to be Addressed in Order to Advance Marine Conservation” tackles some of the more daunting questions such as research funding cycles not being aligned with ecological cycles and entrenched special interests. Check it out!

 

Cigliano, J. A., A. Bauer, M. M. Draheim, M. M. Foley, C. J. Lundquist, J. B. McCarthy, K.W. Patterson, A. J. Wright, and E. C. M. Parsons (2016). The Kraken in the Aquarium: Questions that Urgently Need to be Addressed in Order to Advance Marine Conservation. Frontiers in Marine Science. 3: 174. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2016.00174

Parsons, E. C. M., B. Favaro, M. Draheim, J. B. McCarthy, A. Aguirre, A. L. Bauer et. al. (2014).  Seventy-one important questions for the conservation of marine biodiversity. Conservation Biology 28, 1206-1214. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12303.