I am pleased to announce that the first book of my trilogy, Get on Board Little Children, has been awarded the Awesome Indies gold Seal of Excellence in fiction.

I actually began writing my trilogy as a kind of antidote to Fifty Shades of Gray, the pornographic best seller that became popular a couple of years ago and is in movie theaters now.

An acquaintance declined to finish my book, saying it wasn’t smutty enough. I take that as a compliment, since smut was not my goal. It was instead to reveal, through an exciting and interesting plot, the intrinsic value of the human being.

For Valentine’s Day, here is a page from the book. I confess to a weakness for my hero, Josh, who I offer as a more admirable example of manhood than the misogynistic sadist in Fifty Shades.

Josh, my heroine’s husband, has stumbled into the toils of a woman who wants him as a sperm donor. She tells him: “I’ve been looking for a suitable partner for my project for some time, but it’s been disappointing. The smart men I know are ugly as river rats, while the healthy handsome ones are scarcely able to string a sentence together. I can afford the reproductive permit, of course. That’s not a problem, since I work for the state. . . . But I do need a little help. And you are clearly both intelligent and good looking.”

“I’m flattered,” he said. “But I’m married, you know.”

“Yes. And I think that’s so quaint. It’s charming. Why did you do it?”

“Why? Well, we . . .” He fell silent. How could he explain the bond that held Sophie and him together, woven of a thousand moments: the first moment he had seen her, their first kiss, the confidences they shared with no one else. Her angry defense of him when someone made a racist comment, her care for him when he was sick, the tender moments of lovemaking, down to their wild dash into the unknown, risking everything together. ”It’s a commitment.”

“That is so sweet. She’s a lucky girl. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help me out, does it? Why would she care?”

He frowned at her. To gain time he drank more tea. “Uh, no. She would. Just like I would if it were reversed. We don’t do that.”

She brushed his knee with her foot, a light touch. “She wouldn’t need to know, then. No reason to upset her.”

He finished the tea and put the cup down. “I’m sorry, it’s not possible.”

In a smooth motion she slid from the table edge into his lap, her arms around his neck, the scented curtain of her hair falling around him. “Are you quite sure? Why don’t you think it over for a moment. What would that hurt?”

He tried to pull away without hurting her. She drew closer, clinging, soft as cotton candy, sweet smelling, all smooth flesh and tender lips. She brushed his lips with hers, then kissed him, her tongue flicking to touch his.

He felt as if he were strangling, though part of him swayed to her temptation, desired nothing more than to succumb, seize her in both arms and crush her closer.

He felt dizzy. Of their own volition, his arms went around her and he returned her kiss, crushing his mouth to hers, running his hands up her back, feeling the supple musculature under her blouse. He felt fire burn through him. Before he lost his senses entirely, for a moment he balanced on the cusp of wondering, just wondering what harm it would do, a few moments pleasure, no one need know. Then he thought of Sophie, of the babies she carried, of his promise to her. And that bond that he did not want to break.

With a mighty effort he pulled away from her, lifted her from his lap and stood up. The effort caused a stabbing pain in his arm, and left him gasping. “I’m very sorry. I can’t do what you want. And it wouldn’t be fair to the child – I want to be a father to any child I have. Not just litter the landscape with them and walk off.”

A dystopia is the opposite of a utopia. It is the story of a culture or a world in which something wrong has been extrapolated to an extreme. It’s an imaginary society that in some important way is undesirable or frightening. The novel 1984 is dystopian, as is The Giver.

Dystopias are popular in part because we can rejoice that at least our world has not gotten that bad. We aren’t forced to fight against our friends as in The Hunger Games, we don’t have a government inculcating us with propaganda day and night as in 1984, we aren’t living in a world in which no more children are born as in Children of Men.

But how do we continue writing dystopian fiction once we know that in reality our world has descended to that madness predicted in much of science fiction? When children are torn from their parents in the name of economic progress as in China? When millions of people are displaced from their homes; when governments appear to be watching us and compiling records of all we do? When racial tensions send hundreds of citizens protesting into the streets?

Paranoid much? you ask. Well, perhaps.

But given that assumption, how can we write it, if It is only rehashing reality which is grim enough, if not for us, for many others.

I submit that the difference between real and fictional dystopias is that fiction gives us structure; it provides meaning to a world that may seem to have lost it.
We can frame our dystopian fiction to reveal a theme, sometimes even a hope. We can’t see this in reality, because reality is chaotic. There is no clear theme. We see only the back of the web being woven, only the tangled mass of knotted strings that reveals nothing.

Sometimes we get a glimpse of meaning in reality, as in the true story The Chicken Runs at Midnight. I love that story; it’s a glimpse of the reality behind the knots and tangles.

Dystopian fiction can untangle a small section of reality for us and show us that there is meaning, even if it’s not often clear. It can give us hope even in the dystopic reality we live in.

I am so sorry to hear about Brittany’s ending her life. I am reminded of Robin Williams, who recently made a similar yet very different decision.

What is the difference? Robin apparently suffered from depression, a mood disorder. He had been suffering for years and it seems that one night it became too much for him. Ideally he would have taken a different road: contacted his friends, asked for help, and received therapy and medication for relief. If he had known how much pain he inflicted on all his friends, relatives, and the whole country, he might have stopped and thought again.

Brittany’s choice has also affected all of us, although we don’t feel that we knew her as well. We only knew she was a beautiful young mother with a terrible burden to bear. Many of us have admired her courage. Others can only pray for her, that she may rest in peace and that her family may find comfort.

We would have interceded with Robin and stopped him if we could have. Almost any of us, because we know that depression can be alleviated if not cured. Some of us would have stopped Brittany if we could have, even knowing there was allegedly no cure for her – although doctors have been mistaken before, often, in fact. We would have tried to intercede because we know that we are not the owners of our own lives, we belong to God our creator, and he alone has the right to choose the hour of our death. We do not know what tasks God has for us in the last days and moments of our lives, or who we might influence.

My greatest fear though is that Brittany’s choice will help pave the way for more laws favoring assisted suicide. And when I am eighty-five, and perhaps feeling depressed, will my grandchildren come to me and ask, “Why are you being so selfish? When are you going to take the easy way out, so we no longer have to shoulder the burden of caring for you, paying for your medicines, wasting time talking to you?”

Of course I hope they will have been raised better than that. But that question may still resonate in their minds, and in the minds of the elderly who feel they are a burden. It is an honor and privilege to care for the sick and the elderly, a sign of a civilized and humane society, and we should not make laws that guilt people into choices that lessen our humanity.

I appreciate Terry Wilson’s invitation to follow him on his blog hop. Here is Terry’s website.
The blog hop, titled My Writing Process, covers the following four questions:

1. What am I working on?
2. How does my work differ from others in my genre?
3. Why do I write?
4. How does my writing process work?

1. What am I working on?

Currently it’s the third book in my dystopian thriller trilogy, titled City of Hidden Children. All three books focus on a future America (specifically Washington state) in which an unlicensed pregnancy is a felony. The first, Get on Board Little Children, is about a woman who discovers she’s expecting, and she and her husband can’t yet afford the license although they’ve been saving up for it. It’s about the trials she goes through to protect her unborn child from the Population Management police.
The second, Come on Home, Children, is about a young woman who was one of the kids raised in the Children’s Center, which is where the unlicensed kids are taken when the state “rescues” them. She escapes, and has a child, and the focus is on her efforts to protect her daughter when her little girl is confiscated by the state.
The third, City of Hidden Children, is about that little girl when she is older, and begins to learn what happened in her past. It looks at the older teenagers, who are farmed out to factories to work for slave wages. I keep thinking my scenarios are too far out, and then read another news story about the corruption in corporations and government and the widespread trafficking in human beings, and realize anything is possible.

2. How does my work differ from others in my genre?

I’ve avoided reading others in my genre lately, since I don’t want to steal anyone else’s ideas. However the future is so full of possibilities, both for good and evil, that there is room for infinite speculation.
I like to make my future reasonable, to have solid rationale for what happens, so I postulate that it all started with a book written by a woman, Deirdre McCallum Moran, titled The Unwanted. Just as Uncle Tom’s Cabin is said to have sparked the Civil War, Mrs. Moran’s book was influential in the passage of legislation making it illegal to have a baby unless you could afford to buy an expensive license. And of course, in typical fashion, legislators didn’t consider all the ramifications and consequences of the law.
I like to think that my books are different in that they focus on the individuals who are affected, rather than a panoramic sweep of society. I like to include pertinent details but not too many. I prefer minimalist literature, haiku rather than epic poems.

3. Why do I write?

Because I enjoy it.
Because I have something to say, Actually when I wrote my previous book, The Ring of the Dark Elves, several years ago, I thought I had said everything I had to say and stopped writing for awhile. Not to mention that we had just adopted two children and were a bit preoccupied for some time.
The Ring of the Dark Elves is the story of Sigurd Fafnirsbane, the Dragonslayer, set in the land of Norse legend. What I had to say in that book was simple, summed up in the words of Brynhild: ”To live well and die bravely is all; it does not matter how long or short our lives may be.”
But some years later I realized maybe I had something else to say, since I don’t care much for some of the directions our society is going. And there is a dearth of fiction from a Catholic worldview. I don’t care for “religious” books, and I love science fiction, but I like it to be grounded in the Catholic view of the universe, because other philosophies seem so barren. My favorite books are ones like C.S.Lewis’ space trilogy and Charles Williams’ supernatural thrillers. I hate didacticism, so entertainment comes first.

4. How does my writing process work?

I write when I should be doing housework or sleeping. I work full time as a nurse so it’s hard to fit it in. Sometimes I break down and hire a lovely person to mop my floors every other week. More often I just ignore the floors. I have to stop writing a novel every so often and write a couple of flash fiction stories, because they’re relaxing.
I work on the plot first, because that’s the most important part. If it doesn’t make sense, the book won’t work. And I concentrate on the motivations of my characters, because they are crucial.
Scenes start coming together in my mind, and I’ll take notes on them – on scraps of paper, when I’m falling asleep, at all kinds of inconvenient times. Then I’ll pull it all into one place and start working on it, on one small part at a time, while trying to keep the big picture in mind simultaneously. It’s kind of like trying to juggle while walking though a very noisy and crowded train station.

I’m excited to introduce two other dedicated authors who will participate in this Blog Hop next Monday August 18th. Susan Spieth and Amy Bennett. They will answer the same four questions on their websites. Information for these authors follows:
Susan Spieth speaks from experience. She graduated from West Point in 1985 and served five years in the Army as a Missile Maintenance Officer. After completing her military service, she attended Seminary where she earned a Master of Divinity degree. She is an ordained clergywoman in the United Methodist Church, having served five churches as Pastor/Associate Pastor for seventeen years. Susan and her husband have two children and live in Seattle, WA.
Gray Girl is her first novel, a fictionalized account of her first year at West Point. She blogs on Goodreads here.

Amy Bennett is the author of the Black Horse Campground murder mystery series. She admits shamelessly that she is addicted to books. “I have a lot of books I can’t wait to read. They sit on my desk, like the little next-door-neighbor kid who hangs around on the front porch while you’re inside having dinner with your family. Going for a day without reading leaves me feeling like I haven’t eaten and my refrigerator is empty.”
Amy has worked as a cake decorator, a clerk for a medical supply company, and retail sales clerk for her in-laws’ religious gift shop. She began writing in earnest in 2004. Currently she works at Wal-Mart of Ruidoso Downs (not too far from her fictional Bonney County) as a cake decorator and at Noisy Water Winery (where you can find some of the best wines in the state of New Mexico). Her blog is here.

Children in Hiding is a dystopian trilogy, consisting of Get on Board Little Children, Come on Home Children, and City of Hidden Children. They are available on Amazon. They are set in the Pacific Northwest some 30 years from now, in a future in which an unlicensed pregnancy is a felony.

When writing, especially science fiction and fantasy, we create another world. J.R.R. Tolkien called this process sub-creation. My question is that since Christians already believe in another world all around us, inhabited by denizens both good and evil, are we handicapped in world creation?

It’s hard to write fantasy when the world we live in is so fantastic already, so far from the mundane world of shopping malls, fast food, and monthly paychecks. If I believe that an angel stands at my shoulder, how can I write about elves with a straight face? Unless you are Tolkien, writing about elves as a symbol of something more magnificent and amazing, who really cares about elves anyway?

If I believe in a hierarchical universe filled with saints, angels, thrones, principalities and powers, full of light and shadowed by darkness, it may be hard to get excited about unicorns. Creatures of myth and legend may find themselves crowded out.

I read a fantastic tale once, in which the “what if?” was what if miracles really happened. The miracle in question was something about an apple tree that bloomed in winter. My response to that question can only be: “Duh?” Knowing about the miracle of Lanciano, the tilma bearing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the undecayed bodies of the incorruptibles, and various miraculous “coincidences “ in my own life, I can only assume that writer had little life experience.

Having an angel possibly reading over one’s shoulder does limit an author’s ability to write about supernatural entities. I’d be embarrassed to write some of those sexy angel novels, and I want nothing to do with the inhabitants of the dark side. My only comfort is that I’m sure my angel has better things to read than my scribblings.

Are we handicapped? Maybe. But our world is richer and deeper than the one we can see with our eyes, and we can take it as a starting point, a springboard to something beyond.

Come on Home, Children, the second book in the trilogy Children in Hiding, is now available on Amazon. It treats of the same dystopian society as the first one, in which women are required to purchase a license to have a baby. If they don’t have a license, the child is subject to confiscation by the state, to be raised in a state- run Children’s Center.

There are certainly many excellent orphanages throughout the world, but as in any human endeavor, both bad and good people will engage in it. And the not-so-good people may try to take advantage of the situation for their own pleasure and profit.

Miss Amberton is one of my favorite villains. Here is a snippet of her conversation with four-year-old Katy, the heroine’s daughter, who has been taken by the Population Management police to the Children’s Center where Miss Amberton is the director. Mrs. Baker, her assistant, is trying to help her snap a photo of Katy.

“Smile, Katherine,” said the woman with high black hair combed back. She stood pointing a camera at Katy, who she had placed in front of a white wall.
“Don’t want to,” said Katy, tightening her lips. “My name’s not Katherine.”
“Of course it is, you’re just not used to it. Now smile for the camera. Don’t you want your picture taken?”
“No. Are you a witch, like in Hansel and Gretel?”
“There are no such things as witches, Katherine. That is rude.”
Mrs. Baker hovered in the background, rubbing her hands nervously together. She did not seem to like what the other woman – Miss Amberton – was doing. “Maybe she will smile for me,” she said in her soft voice.
“She’s a stubborn child.” Miss Amberton handed the camera to Mrs. Baker. “See what you can do.”
“Are you going to put me in an oven and turn me to a cookie and eat me?” asked Katy. “That’s what witches do.”
“No one is going to eat you,” Miss Amberton said through her teeth. “Give us a smile.”
“Please,” Mrs. Baker coaxed. “Then you can go and play.”
Katy grimaced, showing her teeth for a split second. “Okay, can I go?”
“No, sweetheart, we need to take a picture,” said Mrs. Baker.
Miss Amberton stood tapping her foot and breathing heavily through her nose.
“You know,” Katy said to her, “you aren’t supposed to steal kids. When I see a policeman, I’ll tell him what you did. Policemen are our friends, except for the ones with green shirts.”
“We didn’t steal you, we rescued you,” said Miss Amberton. “Someday you will appreciate the difference.”
“And when I tell the policeman, you will be toast.” Katy giggled. “That’s funny. I won’t be a cookie, but you will be toast.”
“My, aren’t we precocious.”
“What’s precoshus?”
“Too smart for your own good.” Miss Amberton’s lips were tightly compressed. Katy did not think she would make a good picture either.
The thought made her smile a tiny bit. Mrs. Baker snapped the picture as she did. She straightened up with a sigh. “I think that’s as good as we’re going to get.” She showed the camera to Miss Amberton.
“It’s fine. She looks a little pathetic. We’ll use that one.”

You hear complaints on occasion in reviews of books or films, that the writer ruined the project by forcing a “Hollywood ending” on an otherwise compelling adult tale. Happy endings, it is implied, are what the unsophisticated common man insists on. But real life is grim and tragic, and we should man up and accept it.

My books for the most part end happily. That is because I am aware of enough grief and loss every day. I see it in the media and I hear it from my clients. My profession as a nurse puts me in touch every day with people who are dealing with diagnoses of terminal illnesses, accidental deaths of children and grandchildren, loss of their limbs or their eyesight, and other traumatic difficulties. I am continually astonished at how most people rise to meet these challenges with grace and courage.

But when I watch a movie or read a book, I don’t want to be taken through the wringer again. I want solace, the assurance that things may look bad but through the cloud-wrack a white star is still shining, giving us hope, as Samwise saw. And those are also the kind of books I write.

I also do so because I believe that the foundation of reality is a primordial eucatastrophe. This is a term that J.R.R. Tolkien invented to mean an ending involving an abrupt and unexpected change, in which evil is thwarted and good triumphs. The ending of his book The Lord of the Rings is a eucatastrophe. “Tolkien calls the Incarnation “the eucatastrophe of human history” and the Resurrection the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation.”(Tolkien, J.R.R. (1990). The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays. p.156)

I love the good news of the gospels, and consider it the basis for almost all works of literature. Elements of this tale are found in every best seller from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities to the latest Dean Koontz thriller. These include, among other things, the hero in disguise, the toilsome journey, the imprisoned or mistreated bride, a conniving enemy, a heroic sacrifice, redemption, and final triumph.

Every best seller, every fairy tale, every good movie contains at least some elements of this tale, and the more it does so, the more closely it corresponds to reality. Because this is the tale told from before the foundation of the world.

Of course, not all happy endings are immediately evident. I just finished reading “The Doomsday Book,” by Connie Willis, [ Spoilers] one of the best books I have read this year, which ends with a great deal of grief and death. But it is redeemed by the vindication of faith of the main characters. It is made clear through this book, as through my experience with my patients, that death is not the ultimate tragedy.
I will stand by my happy endings, because they are the stuff of real life, despite all that seems to argue against it.

One of my relatives said my book, Get on Board Little Children, is Propaganda. An interesting comment, which made me think. Is it?

What is propaganda? Google says: “information, esp. of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.“ Merriam Webster Online says: “ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated, . . .spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.”

An article titled “Propaganda” by The United States Memorial Holocaust Museum has these comments:
• “[Propaganda] simplifies complicated issues or ideology for popular consumption, is always biased, and is geared to achieving a particular end. . . .In contrast to the ideal of an educator, who aims to foster independent judgment and thinking, the practitioner of propaganda does not aim to encourage deliberation by presenting a variety of viewpoints and leaving it up to the audience to determine which perspective is correct. The propagandist transmits only information geared to strengthen his or her case, and consciously omits detrimental information.
• Not all propaganda is bad. Propaganda is used to shape opinion and behavior. Public health campaigns, for example, can utilize propaganda. . . . The real danger of propaganda lies when competing voices are silenced – and unchecked, propaganda can have negative consequences. . . .”

A book written for the express purpose of pushing a political or other agenda is clearly propaganda. But every author is biased; is all writing therefore propaganda? Is The Lord of the Rings propaganda because Tolkien espoused a Christian worldview? Is Little House on the Prairie propaganda because Wilder held up the blessings of a united family and community? Is Romeo and Juliet biased because Shakespeare indicates that suicide is a bad idea with tragic consequences?
I think we would say not, because these writers presented their ideas merely as an outgrowth of their own point of view, and the main point was the story, the exploration of a created world or community.

We live in a culture that, to a large extent, acts as if we believe that unborn children are expendable commodities, whose worth depends on whether they are wanted by the mother or not. Kind of like lean hog futures, a commodity whose worth depends on their trading value. I say “acts as if we believe” because we do not give support to pregnant women, instead in many cases we push abortion on them as their only solution. Many people don’t believe this is right, but we still act as if we do, we still put up with it in our culture.

My book presents another point of view, the view that an unborn child is valuable in his or her own right, and deserves the same chance at life that all of us enjoy. It’s also fiction, set in the future, and attempts to present the point of view through the behavior of a variety of characters who respond in different ways. Is this propaganda?
It does present a biased point of view, with the goal first, of presenting an entertaining story, and second, of encouraging people to think about the subject, rather than accepting our culture’s viewpoint blindly. In that respect, it seems to me to be in line with the goal of the educator rather than the propagandist; the educator “aims to foster independent judgment and thinking.”

Like Wilder and Tolkien, I attempt to explore a fictional world. I don’t think it is propaganda, as I went where my characters led me. My next book in the Children in Hiding series, Come on Home Children, explores the subject from the point of view of one of the unlicensed children. I will see where that takes us.

We are constantly being given advice on all the urgent activities we must do each day, mostly from well meaning experts in their fields.

My dentist says to brush my teeth twice a day while singing Twinkle twinkle little star, to make sure I brush for the requisite number of minutes.

“If you’re a serious writer, you will block out [so many] hours each day to practice your craft.”

We are advised to exercise, cook from scratch, get enough sleep, pray daily, spend quality time with friends and family, keep up to date on advances and publications in our field, walk the dog, feed the ferret, entertain the cat, not to mention the pesky detail of several hours at work, commuting if that’s necessary, or doing the housework that never comes to an end.

Follow all these well meant directives, throw in a little housework if you haven’t already, and you’ve got about 25 hours in each day.
So unless you want to live like a robot, maybe creating a spreadsheet and checking items off as you race from one to another, something will have to go.

What is really essential? I asked a few people, and the answers I got depended on their ages. My son says the essential thing for him is to check his phone for messages first thing.
My husband says family is most important. Also sleeping and eating. He would say that.

I have decided to make a list of what’s essential to live the best life possible, so here it is. What qualifies me to weigh in on this is that I’ve been a registered nurse for a quarter century, and have seen the results of all kinds of lifestyles.

1. Get enough sleep. Seriously. Your life will spiral down into the toilet if you try to get by on less than you need. Sleeplessness sucks all the enjoyment out of a day.

2. Exercise. It’s essential to keep blood moving and keep the brain functioning. Ideally, walk half an hour a day outside or even in a mall, or if you can’t go out, walk on a treadmill or up and down stairs. If you are stuck in a wheelchair or in bed, you can use stretchy cords or isometric exercises.

3. Touch base with nature. Trees or plants are good to commune with. We evolved outside, and it still soothes, calms, excites, enchants, heals and gives us hope. Take your walk outside, or talk to your dog or guppie. I’m fond of my ferret, who never complains or tells me to quit wasting my time on the computer.

4. Talk to your family or friends. We are social creatures, and need to bounce our emotions off other people to stay sane. You can use books, I suppose, if real people aren’t available. But TV doesn’t work for this; that’s like trying to get nourishment from the pictures in a cookbook.

5. Eat right. Most Americans eat a lot of junk, a lot of high fructose corn syrup, a lot of white flour and sugar. That tears our bodies down instead of building strength, so by middle age we need medicine just to keep going, and within a few years we start to disintegrate, need more meds, and can’t function well, so we find ourselves stuck in front of the TV all day. Eat vegetables.

6. Pray or meditate. We wake up on this planet hurtling through space, and have to figure out what’s up with that as we go through life. It’s kind of like regaining consciousness as the roller coaster groans its way to the top of the high curve, and you look down at the track dwindling into the distance, and you have no idea how you got there. So it’s helpful to try to plug into the ground of our being. My belief is that if we are searching for Him, He will be looking for us, and we will be found.

7. Do something enjoyable, creative if possible, every day. Read to your kids, write a story or work on your novel, practice drawing or painting. Strive to achieve the state of flow, in which time ceases to exist and we become fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus.

You may have other essential activities. Whatever they are, try to focus on what you regard as essential, because otherwise the non-essential but urgent will overwhelm us.

Get On Board Little Children by Victoria Randall
Come on Home, Children by Victoria Randall
City of Hidden Children by Victoria Randall
Future Dreaming Tales of SciFi and Fantasy

In the future, who will make your choices?

Difficult Run

Beautifully struggle every day

One Thousand Words a Week

Either this, or another ten bucks for Lisa.

Alisa Jordan

Young Adult Novelist with a dark work in progress.

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