Blogging, Family, Female Offenders, Mothers, Parenting, Parenting our Parents, Travel

Travels with Mom

 

Gingko tree in autumn-flickr
Gingko tree in autumn-flickr

I arrived back to Oxnard, California from Denver yesterday evening from a visit with my daughter. Rain fell the night before, puddling the deck with water. My mother and I stood outside in the cool morning breeze to smell rain and touch the droplets pooled on the banister. California is in a drought and it’s been several months since we’ve had any rain.

The trip provided a look into the fall season with the brilliant yellow Gingko tree leaves, golden hues of Aspen’s and the russet blazes on other trees. I have no idea what kind of trees they are since I was born and raised on the coast.

Traveling with my elderly mom (she would hate that I used that word for her) also provided a look into our coming season. The child is now the mom and the elderly mom is like a child. Before anyone feels miffed about this description, it was said by my mother.

Mom can no longer see, walk, hear or smell very well anymore. She uses a cane and needs a wheelchair at the airport. She hates that she burns tortillas on the stove and can’t see or hear the television unless she sits within a few inches of it and has it on 45 volume.

Her decline in abilities has been in the last three years and for the last two years she’s been saying “This is my last trip, I’m becoming a burden.” 

The inability to do everything for herself is foreign to her, being such an independent woman all her life, and something she struggles against. (I talk about this part of her life here.)

The two things she misses the most? Driving and reading. The freedom to travel anywhere she wants whenever she wants. She is keeping up with progress of the Google Self-Driving Car. I can’t bear to tell her that the commercial sale of these cars is still about five years out. 

Google Self Driving Car

But with the reading loss, Mom is still able to read large print, albeit slowly, with her thick glasses that hurt her nose if she reads more than 30 minutes.

Before we left to Denver, Mom implored me to give her my manuscript to read (Strong Women Grow Here which is about an immigrant teenaged girl in prison). Mom used that “I might not be around to see it published.” Sad, but true.

Given that Mom is legally blind, 12 font on paper is not an option. But, I did figure out how to place the manuscript on my Kindle Fire and enlarge the font so she could see the print.

She read every available minute. Hearing her laugh, or frown, or say, “Ay, that Jester,” (the antagonist) touched me to the heart. We had conversations about prison life for female offenders, effects of abuse, faith and people’s ability to change.

“You have to get this published. It’s important, people will really like the story,” she said.

I love that she is my cheerleader. 

The above led to Mom’s musings about technological changes and how these do not favor the elderly except for her Jitterbug, which she can operate half the time. “They should think about the old people, we want to know what’s going on.”

She’s still waiting to find a computer she can use, because “No one prints photos on paper anymore. They put everything on that ‘Facepage.'” (She calls FaceBook everything but it’s correct name).

“And I want to read your blogging thing. I hear you write poems, is that true?”

So, I’ll see what I can do to find her an easy to use computer with a large lettered keyboard, so she can visit ‘facepage’ and my ‘blogging thing,’ because now her travels will be through a computer screen and her memory.

Books, California Department of Corrections, Female Offenders, fiction, Latinas, Strong Women, Women in Prison

Meet My Characters: Orange is Not the New Black

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Piper, main character in Orange is the New Black, Netflix series

When people ask me “What’s your novel about,” I usually say it’s a teenaged Orange is the New Black –the Netflix version, not the book- featuring a naive 17 year old mother who’s an immigrant.

I’ve been asked, by YA author Evelyne Holingue, to talk about the characters in my YA novel. Her novel, TRAPPED IN PARIS, took me on an adventure through the streets of Paris.Evelyne continues to take me on an exciting jaunt  through her blog and now through the Meet My Character blog tour.

I’m so glad she asked me to join the tour.

In case anyone wonders, I began writing this novel in 2008 before OITNB was published. I wrote it based on my 28 years experience working within the California Department of Corrections.

Now, I’d like you to meet some of the characters in my novel:

1. What is the name of your character (s)? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

Juana Maria Ivanov is the fictional main character. She frequently has a look on her face just like Piper in the photo above. The similarities end there, but the description gives people a quick picture.

Juana is younger, Mexican, and without Piper’s resources or language skills. And, she is not like the Latinas featured in OITNB.

The antagonist in my story is Jester, who is one of the gang leaders. Juana’s friends are two outsiders, one an idealistic protestor and the other a pastor’s daughter.

2. When and where is the story set?

The story is set within the twelve foot chain link fences of a correctional facility in California in the late 1980’s. This was the time of “Lock ‘Em Up,” laws and when there was little recourse or rights for teenagers in the criminal justice system. Sentencing laws and due process were different for young men and women under the age of 18 years old.

3. What should we know about him/her?

Sweet, helpful and unintentionally funny, Juana is basically an optimist. Sometimes these qualities don’t serve her. She thought she was going to be part of the American dream when she married her first sweetheart, nineteen year old Alek Ivanov, a first generation Russian American that she met while working in a border town. When she has her baby, they move to Los Angeles  where  she learns that he is abusive, more so when he is under the influence of alcohol.

4. What is the main conflict? 

After a beating, Juana runs away and takes her baby to her sister. When she returns she is arrested for Alek’s death, convicted of manslaughter and given a six year sentence. She is heartbroken over his death and leaving her baby, who she is certain will forget her. She desperately wants correctional staff to believe that she didn’t leave her husband to die, but she has no evidence except her word that he was alive when she ran away.When she finds out that her sister can no longer care for her baby and her mother-in-law files for custody, she has to find a way to keep her child.

5. What is the personal goal of the character?

Figuring out how to survive prison, learning whom to trust, how to find help and how to stay strong are Juana’s goals.

6. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

STONG WOMEN GROW HERE is the working title of this fictional novel. To download a free 17 page excerpt you can use this link. SWGH is a quarterfinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Semifinals are in late June 2014.

7. When can we expect the book to be published?

There’s no definite answer on this one. If the story is picked up by Amazon it could be published within a year. If it’s not a finalist, I hope to find an agent to represent my novel.

 

Now I’m tagging Jennifer J. Chow, author of the award winning, The 228 Legacy, who is now typing away on her next novel.

Make sure you check out Jennifer’s post on June 16, 2014.

She has an adorable protagonist and I hope you will stop by to read about her story.

 

Books, Female Offenders, Memoir, Netflix series, Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman, Television shows on prison, Women in Prison, Writing

Orange is the New Black-Redux

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A couple of years ago a friend suggested I read the memoir, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, when she found out my novel in progress (STRONG WOMEN GROW HERE) is about a young woman in prison. 

Aside from the clever title, I didn’t find much to pay attention to when I read the first few chapters. Never finished the book. 

OITNB received an average rating of 3.5, on Amazon, by 189 reviewers. 

One reviewer put it this way:

“The book could have easily been condensed to nine pages:

Page 1 — I’m blonde.
Page 2 — I’m white.
Page 3 — I’m privileged.
Page 4 — I went to Smith.
Page 5 — I’m better than you.
Page 6 — I’m well liked.
Page 7 — I can’t believe I am in prison.
Page 8 — I need to mention again that I am white, blonde and went to Smith.
Page 9 — I deserve a movie option on my book.”

The protagonist in my novel has none of these privileges. She is seventeen, dark haired, an immigrant, uneducated, has a baby, was a wife, and innocent (well, almost).

My daughter is an OITNB devotee and described the Netflix series in much more favorable terms than the book reviewers on Amazon or what I recalled in the memoir. 

This peaked my interest as usually the book is better than the screen version.

So last night I decided to watch OITNB and find out how an  ‘average’ memoir ended up receiving the coveted movie option (Page 9).

I didn’t intend to watch past the first episode, but I was pulled into the story so quickly that I had to watch more. I spent six hours watching six episodes on my Kindle Fire and would have watched the seventh episode, but I had a neck ache.

So how is it that this memoir by Piper Kerman found its way to become a Netflix series?

Created by WEEDS writer Jenji Kohan, she and writer Marco Ramirez converted Kerman’s novel into dramedy, blending dramatic moments with comedy. The novel became a launching pad for television writers who took the characters and made us care about them enough to want to know what happens to them next. It is OISTNB redux.

The character’s backstories, intermingled throughout the episodes, show us their motivations, what drives them, their truths, and ultimately we care about them enough to watch an episode after episode. 

OITNB-the Netflix version, does what readers want from a great book. 

Writers have to make the reader care enough about the characters in the story to keep reading. 

Readers want to see how or if the character changes and what is the outcome. It doesn’t matter too much if they are in prison or in an English countryside. 

What matters is whether the writer can sweep the reader into the story to the end. There is no doubt that the Netflix series does just that. 

Christian D.Larson, Female Offenders, John O'Donohue, poems for the New Year, poetry, Writing, Writing Inside VT

Two Poems to Think About for the New Year

So many thought provoking articles appeared this last week about the new year, new beginnings, dreams to reach for, and things to think about. 

Two poems that captured my attention are shared here for you to turn over in your mind, maybe help you to pick up a pen, type some words, sketch, or sing. 
This first poem is listed as a writing prompt on the Writing Inside VT blog where writers Sarah W. Bartlett and Marybeth Redmond bring ” incarcerated women’s words from the inside-out.” They both volunteer at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility and facilitate weekly writing circles. 
For a New Beginning
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
~ John O’Donohue ~
Consider what you are leaving behind in 2012 and what you are bringing forward into 2013.

This poem reminded me of a cocoon breaking open, an unfurling of new untested wings, slow, hesitant, then steady. We may have been on this same route many times before, but this time it’s going to be different. Maybe not a giant step, maybe only a small leap. Whatever the size it’s a link from past to future.

This poem was on my Facebook.

Can you make this promise to yourself? Do you dare? Read it, say it, believe it.