Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Memorial Day”

Reflections of Heroes – Joshua P. Smith

Alon’s Introduction: I met Joshua P. Smith through the epic fantasy network. Joshua is the author of the upcoming Aelathia Chronicles.  He is currently completing the first novel, Weaving and Musings of Essencers.  You can follow him at www.aelathianovels.com and at https://twitter.com/AelathiaNovels or contact him at aelathiajpsmith@gmail.com.

He wrote the following article last week. I had planed for it to follow my own 9/11 tribute. Reading Joshua’s post, I can’t help feeling the greatest way we can honor the heroes of 9/11 is to emulate their bravery and sense of honor, and apply it to our own lives. Thank you, Joshua.

 Reflections of Heroes – Joshua P. Smith

Heroes aren’t just found in books. We learned that lesson twelve years ago after terrorists struck the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, hijacking airplanes to cause mass casualties and creating a day that none of us will ever forget.

It was the heroes as well as the victims who stood out to us, like the emergency responders who rushed into crumbling towers to guide survivors out. Or the men and women on Flight 93 that realized the terrorist’s intent for their airplane, and fought back — a horrific sacrifice that saved untold lives and helped change the fate of America and other countries.

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Heroes. Every day we can see them, police officers, firemen, doctors and nurses, EMTS, our military men and women. It seems in a time of tragedy that we really focus on the people who stand out, who sacrifice to make a difference. Why?

I believe there’s something inherent in human nature that drives us to look for the remarkable, for people to be our role models. Heroes are people we long to emulate but sometimes are afraid to. Though we identify with the person “standing in the gap” to help those who cannot help themselves, we often throw up barriers to our ability to step up. We give excuses thinking that someone else will do the job, why should we step forward? Passivity can be worse than manacles connected to an iron ball at our feet. So, when we see someone doing something remarkable, out-of-the-ordinary, we cheer for them. We applaud and laud their work—because they broke a cycle of passivity, they remained cool under pressure, they sacrificed something so utterly dear to themselves that they earned the right to be heroes.

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What if more of us were to emulate them? What if we faced our fears, whether in the office or in church, in the factory or classroom as they face them on the field of action every day? What if we consistently decided to make not just the right decisions, but the good and just ones? What if we stood up to corruption, to evil, to injustice?  What if we deterred the bully? What if we helped someone in need? What if we sacrificed an hour or two of our time to help someone with a problem, or cook dinner for a sick neighbor? What if we learned to control our anger and seek peaceful resolutions to our familial strife, marital discord, and disagreements between friends? What if we decided to put others’ needs ahead of our own?

Wouldn’t that make us, in some small way, a hero too? We don’t need the lights, the cameras. We don’t need a parade. Sometimes we’ll never know if what we did had lasting impact on those we helped, but we can only hope. We can hope in some small way that we were a hero, and that someone else may want to emulate something from us, some small piece of good, so they can become a hero too. Consider how the world would change if each one of us decided, that for the good of humanity, we decided to make the right decisions, the good decisions, the self-sacrificing decisions. The type of action or situation where risk is high, where obstacles are threatening, where victory isn’t wholly certain, and fear is great.

If you’re in a situation like that, and it may be nothing like 9/11 or Iraq or Afghanistan, consider your options. Consider your decisions. The whole world may not be watching you, but someone is, even if it’s one single child.

Today, I’m thinking about heroes. Let’s join their ranks. 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More athttp://www.alonshalev.com and onTwitter (@elfwriter).

9/11 Lest We Forget

They say that time heals. It doesn’t. It simply numbs.  Along with time, the killing of bin Laden, the winding down of the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq (at least from an American perspective), the rituals that we all recognize by now, there seems to be a certain nonchalance creeping in.  

But it is not, and will never, become just another memorial day:  not for the thousands of people who lost someone dear to then, not to the 9/11 responders who ran into the fire to try to rescue the people trapped inside.

As we remember those who died at the hands of people who would deny us our freedom and reaffirm our fight against terrorism, we need to ensure that we provide comfort and aid to those left behind. I doubt there is anything substantial that we can offer a spouse, parent or child who will miss their family member for the rest of their lives, but at a minimum, we must ensure that they do not lack financially for their loss. This is something concrete that we can offer.

The terrible treatment of 9/11 responders who had to wait to receive the help they needed, is a shame on all of us, a national disgrace. I know that since last year, steps have been taken, but until every responder is receiving the help they need, physically, psychologically, and financially, we should not rest. It is no different from the war veterans who are waiting for their country to stand good on its promises.

There was something very poignant in the togetherness that we all felt after the attack. In the smoldering ashes were the potential for a society to bind together. We did for a few days, but like the smoke, it dissipated. I mourn this as well.

Once again, I will leave it to Bruce offer a fitting tribute.

Time doesn’t heal. It only numbs. If you were a victim in any way, tell those around you. If you were not a victim, you still have role to play – to listen, to hug, to be there – for those who will relive that terrible day for the rest of their lives. 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Interview at Author Spotlight

I recently interviewed with James Moushon at Author’s Spotlight.

First things first. Do you have another book on the horizon? Can you tell us the timeline for its release and give us a little tease.

I do. I actually wrote three Young Adult epic fantasy novels in consecutive years, so the second, The First Decree, is due out in March. The first – At The Walls Of Galbrieth – came out in 2012. They are stand-alones, but follow on from each other. The third has yet to be edited and begin all the publishing process.

The First Decree-hi resolutionI have also completed a manuscript that follows on from my latest social justice-themed novel, Unwanted Heroes, but I think my publisher has a few more authors in line before they get to me. My writer’s group is critiquing it now.

You have a great following on Twitter. (Over 20K followers) How important are the social media relationships that you’ve formed to your writing success?

I actually have 20K followers on @elfwriter and just less than 20K on a second twitter account – @alonshalevsf – that focuses on my social justice-themed novels. Writing in two genres really needs separate social media platforms, so there is also a blog for each – leftcoastvoices.com and elfwriter.com

There is an absolute connection between the relationships created from the blogs and twitter and my readership. My whole marketing strategy is based upon offering a genuine value and connection between author and reader. Hopefully, people become regularly engaged with me through the blog and twitter and therefore are already invested when each book comes out. 

Not only that, but the cover designer, editor and interior formatter for the epic fantasy novels all came from either referrals or directly as followers of my blog and twitter. They are amazing people and I am so grateful to have such a supportive team. The physical beauty and quality of the books, exterior and interior, are all due to them and I am in awe of their commitment.

Do you do book signing, interviews, speaking and personal appearances? If so, when is your next place where your readers can see you?

I do, but a knee operation has held me back the last few months. I did a virtual book tour in November 2011 and a series of reading this past spring when Unwanted Heroes was originally coming out. I am putting together several in Northern California now for this spring and will put the details on my website

While this isn’t a marketing priority I do cherish the interactions with readers and fellow writers. There is something richer in the face-to-face conversations.

You have real good book covers. How does your cover development process work? Do you hand over the basic theme or do you have more of a hands-on approach? Do you get your readers involved in its development?

The artist, William Kenney, designs my epic fantasy covers. I send him a couple of paragraphs about the plot and what I envisage on the cover. He produces some sketches and solicits my feedback. The end result is always far better than anything I imagine.

Wycaan Master 1 Just Front CoverIronically, with my social justice-themed novels, my publisher Lloyd Lofthouse, encourages me to be involved. In fact, the cover for Unwanted Heroes is from a photograph I took in San Francisco’s Marina District, overlooking Alcatraz. This is based on a scene in the book.

Have you create a book trailer for any of your books to promote your books online?

No, but I am excited by the medium. I do think that the book trailers I see are either excellent or bad – there is little middle ground. I would need to outsource and it is a question of finance. I also think that given my market for fantasy is Young Adult, it becomes an even more compelling marketing tool.

You run a non-profit organization that provides education and support for Jewish students in San Francisco. Now rewarding is that? Do the students give inspiration in your writing? 

The students definitely inspire me for the social justice-themed novels. The SF Hillel Jewish Student Center is very social justice-orientated and we volunteer with different organizations in San Francisco. I was very impacted by all that happened around Hurricane Katrina (I had just arrived in the US) and have organized and taken groups to New Orleans ever since. 

All these experiences produce interesting and fascinating people and conversations – in the writing business, we call this novel fodder.

Has the advent of ebooks changed anything in your writing, getting the book to your readers and the relationship with your readers and fans?

It hasn’t changed how and what I write. An author has a responsibility to write the best book possible. There should be no compromise on quality. As you might read between the lines, as e-book production has become cheaper and more accessible, there are people who are churning out books and not investing in an outside editor or formatter. Even if someone is paying $0.99, they should not be reading a book littered with spelling and grammar mistakes. It is a question of pride in the craft of writing. 

Having said all that, the opportunity to sell books cheaply (book price, delivery, production) means that books can be sold for under $5. This gives the new or struggling author a great opportunity. Who isn’t willing to spend the price of a cappuccino and take a chance on the book by a new author? 

Finally, it puts pressure on the more established authors. John Grisham writes social justice-themed novels. His e-books cost x4 the price of mine. He now has to offer x4 the experience to satisfy our shared target audience. By the way – I love John Grisham’s novels and have all of them on my bookshelf.

Does being from Israel present any unique selling and marketing situation? Do you publish your books in other languages?

Actually I was born and bred in England and my first two novels (A Gardener’s Tale and The Accidental Activist) are situated there. Since a lot of my stories come from personal experiences this has a bigger influence – in fact the protagonist from Unwanted Heroes and the subsequent novels is also British. 

There are scenes that happened to me in Israel. For example, there is a scene in Unwanted Heroes in which a war veteran tells of the time he was in Israel for Soldier’s Remembrance Day and compares it to how we recognize Memorial and Veteran’s Day in the US. 

I have a small following in the UK but I am not aware of other countries. I would love for my books to be translated into Hebrew, for my own satisfaction rather than financial potential. Israel is a very small country and my target audience is probably reading in English anyhow. 

There are apparently two people in Scandinavia who buy all my books. I don’t know them, but definitely appreciate their loyalty!

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Do you belong to any author support groups? Do they help with writing, marketing and the publishing process?

Absolutely. I have facilitated the Berkeley Writer’s Group, a weekly critique group, since 2006 and we learn so much from each other. I have no doubt that my novels are considerably better for the feedback that I receive. 

I am also a member of the California Writer’s Club and attend their monthly meetings. Again, I have the opportunity to network with other writers and accomplished authors. At this club, a small group meets an hour before the regular meetings to discuss marketing. We teach each other different forms and techniques and help each other when people get stuck.

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

 

Peace vs. Patriotism – Grudge Match? Tom Rossi

I was on the road a lot for this year’s Memorial Day holiday. While I was driving along paying close attention, as I do, to the bumper stickers that people put on their cars, I started to notice something. Between all the “I’m cool because I like this or that brand of shoes, clothing, or whatever” stickers, there are cars proudly making one of two political statements. What’s interesting is the clear division between the two: Patriotism…

or Peace.

These two statements of character are represented by one of two stickers: an American flag or a peace symbol. It’s very rare to see both of these on the same car, and this sort of agrees with what I see on the sidewalk as well. People are either, “pro America” or “pro-peace”. And, if you are pro-America, you are anti-peace, or pro-peace and anti-America – at least that’s what some people would have you think.

What a weird thing this is. How the heck did we get to this? What tweaks me the most is that these concepts, patriotism and peace, would appear to be not only mutually exclusive, but in opposition to each other.

The people who wave the flag think that the people who want peace would roll over and play dead if the Red Army stormed across the Pacific, while the people who want peace think that the flag-wavers will support a president (at least a republican president) who decides we should bomb Canada.


The flag sticker asks, “Why can’t you be a patriot? Why can’t you support our country and our wars?” The peace sticker asks, “Why is war patriotic? Defending yourself is one thing, but why do we have to go and look for asses to kick and people to kill?

Flag-wavers often seem to think that peace-mongers live in a dream-world where they can dance around, dropping daisies on the ground and Russia, China, Israel, Palestine, Iran, and everybody else will just join the love-in. That there is just never any justification for war or military action at all. Peace-lovers seem to think patriots just want all of our enemies bombed until they are dead, and our enemy is anybody who doesn’t serve our empirical aspirations.

Although closer to the peace side, I’m kind of stuck between these two groups. I think the U.S. has (especially recently) taken war to the business level in order for war-based corporations (that have a lot of influence on our government) to profit big. However, some wars MUST be fought. Iraq and World War II could not be more different, for example. Just looking at the European “theater”, as it was called, in WWII. Hitler had unleashed a massive killing machine on that part of the world, with no sign of stopping there. Diplomacy wasn’t going to get us anywhere. We had to fight and fight hard.

It’s probably true that, once we got going, we might have gone a little too far – in fire-bombing Dresden at a VERY late stage, for example. But our heavy, military involvement in WWII was clearly necessary.

But even I must admit I feel a sort of tension in my gut when I see a flag on someone’s car. I pre-judge on an emotional level, of which I am somewhat ashamed. I sometimes think, “There goes a dumb redneck who will vote us into more wars, more killing, more military spending, and then blame the resulting financial ruin on public employee’s unions or something.” I’m certainly not the only one who is so judgmental, but all that just from a flag sticker? Wow.

OK, so I’ve proven to myself and to all of you that I can be as much of a judgmental jerk as the next guy. But what I really want to ask is: Why is it unpatriotic to want peace? Why can’t peace and patriotism go together? Patriots often argue that peace or freedom “isn’t free.” But why do people, the people who love to chant: “Freedom isn’t free,” assume that the cost of freedom or peace is war? As I’ve said, sometimes war is inevitable and necessary. But can anyone think that the only way, or even the best way, is to strong-arm our so-called enemies and scare everyone else?

I have some ideas, but I’m interested in what people think. Can you come up with some ideas that, except in the extreme cases, might promote peace, prevent war, or make for sustainable, good relationships with our neighbors on this planet? Can we find reasons to be proud of our country other than its hegemony? Please tell us what you think!

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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Memorial Day – Another Perspective

When I first came to the US, I asked a colleague how one behaves on Memorial Day. She looked at me in surprise. “Fire up the barbecue and chill the beer.” Allowing for the disturbing thought of chilling beer (I am a Brit and newly arrived in the US), I was surprised at her response. “What about the memories of soldiers?” I asked. “Yeah,” she said, creasing her brow. “There’s some of that on army bases and at cemeteries, I guess.”

Today, I would like to share how Memorial Day is observed in Israel, where everyone serves in the army and so everyone knows someone who lost their life in uniform. This is an excerpt form my next novel, Unwanted Heroes.

At 11am, a siren is sounded and the whole country comes to a stop.

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James sighs. “I served in the marines in Vietnam. Jane knows I was an officer, a decorated officer. There are five medals in a case in my den. My unit was honored by President Johnson and he spent some time visiting us.”

He pauses, staring into a distant past. “Jane knows that while her friends’ families organize barbeques on Memorial Day, her father disappears. She knows that in the days leading up to Memorial Day, he secludes himself in his den when he’s not at the office, and that he doesn’t share jokes or listen very well to his little girl’s stories.

“Maybe she sees him drinking more during this time, though I hope not. Perhaps she sees that her mother is uncharacteristically understanding and supportive, stealing worried glances at her husband, knowing she is powerless to help.”

James stops for a moment and takes a long, contemplative drink and a deep breath before continuing with unconcealed venom.

“I hate Memorial Day. I hate that it’s a national excuse to party. You know, I went on a business trip once to Israel and the middle of the trip coincided with their Memorial Day. Every man serves in the army there and many women too. Everyone has lost somebody. I was being driven from Tel Aviv to Haifa on their equivalent of Highway 5. At exactly eleven in the morning the driver pulled over. My host had forewarned me that this would happen, but I was still astonished at what I saw. We all got out of our cars, I mean everyone. The whole highway stopped; six lanes of traffic. People stood in silence by their cars, heads bowed, as sirens wailed from car radios.”

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Now I enjoy a barbecue just like the next non-meat eater, and I have even learned to drink my beer chilled. But can we not find 60 seconds in the day and bring the whole country to a stop: to remember, to reflect, to honor?

Just 60 seconds.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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