Thursday, December 30, 2004

How to donate to Asian disaster relief

I’ve been quiet the past few days, thinking about the tragedy in Asia. 114,000 dead, death toll sure to rise. Trying to avoid the news and getting depressed, and at the same time, I can’t. In a situation like this, I feel as helpless and yet I want to do something to help.

So I’ve decided to devote this blog entry to encourage anyone reading it to donate and how to donate carefully and wisely. Working for a large international relief organization for 11 years, I know a little about giving. My organization doesn’t help Asia, but many worthy charities do. So how do you pick one to donate to?

I recommend visiting this web site to check out charities:

http://www.charitynavigator.org

Charity Navigator investigates non-profits and their finances and rates them. The highest rating, which my charity has, is four stars. Here’s some tips on giving from Charity Navigator:

1) Give to an established charity.
2) Designate your gift to go towards the cause you want to help (i.e. mark on the check and the envelope – Asian tsunami relief)
3) Avoid telemarketers.
4) Research the charity.

My own advice? I like to give to organizations that can quickly mobilize and have resources in place to help the most urgent needs. The most urgent needs are medical assistance, food, water, blankets, tents for housing, vaccinations against diseases like cholera and hepatitis (which I should get and never did after 11 years of traveling the Third World), and medical supplies. Doctors without Borders is a wonderful organization that sends medicine and trained medical personnel to disaster areas. http://www.msf.org/about/index.cfm

The Red Cross is good, BUT be SURE to mark your gift (Asian Tsunami relief!) Otherwise it could go into the general fund and help here in America. Or you can give to the INTERNATIONAL Red Cross, a separate organization. Here’s their web site: http://www.ifrc.org/


I personally like Oxfam, http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
although their charity navigator rating is only a 3 out of 4 stars. I like them because I’ve seen their teams on the ground in disasters, such as the Gonaives flooding in Haiti. (And their driver had the sense NOT to fall off the road and tip the vehicle, lol) And UNICEF is wonderful. The United Nations Children’s Fund is a fantastic organization.
http://www.unicefusa.org/site/pp.asp?c=duLRI8O0H&b=25933


Another favorite of mine is World Vision. http://www.wvi.org/wvi/home.htm
They’re a Christian charity that help everywhere, regardless of denominations. Wonderful programs that teach job skills to indigent mothers, etc. A friend worked for them for a year in Afghanistan and our organization worked with them in Jamaica after the flooding there. We helped them store supplies and worked with them to get bottled water, food, etc. to the hurricane victims. In a crisis like this, charities all pitch in together.

So no matter who you chose to send your gift to, it counts. You may think whatever you can give won’t be more than a drop in the bucket compared to the need of 5 million survivors, but consider that your drop, combined with other drops, creates an ocean. Every dollar counts. You’d be amazed at how charities can get the most bang for your buck. My organization can feed a starving family of four for more than two months with a gift of only $20. Other charities are equally resourceful.

Think of it this way: if your gift could help save just one life of someone who survived the horror of this tragedy, wouldn’t that make a difference to you?

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Why I live in Florida

I think I've finally got the Christmas spirits.... I mean, spirit...

Christmas day was balmy, sticky, 76 degrees with me wishing for cooler temps, although sympathizing with those in the Midwest. Had a peaceful, good day with family.

Today? 58 degrees and I indulged. The hot tub was a blissful 103, the skies clear, the wind blowing 25 mph and I sat in the hot tub soaking for a wonderful, tension free 30 minutes, parboiling myself whilst sipping a cocktail. Admiring the way the palms are growing along the private back fence, relishing my greenery, the blue skies, and living in a state where I can slip into my hot tub and wriggle my toes above the water and know once I get out, my body will not turn into a giant popsicle. Each time I felt a little warm, I sat above the water line, chilled, and then sank beneath the warm water again. Ummmmm... Now it's time to try to write a little with my new Christmas gift, the wireless mouse Dh bought me.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Friday, December 24, 2004

Ho ho ho

Feeling more perky and cheerful. Last night DH took me to see a holiday festival of lights display and it put me more into the Christmas mood. Just a little last minute grocery shopping and I'm done, but for wrapping. My best Christmas gift? DH cleaned most of the house and did the laundry. woo hoo!

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Christmas blues

Been fighting it all week, the usual Christmas melancholy that I get. Seems like many of the tragedies in my life occurred around the holidays. So I'm opening the Christmas cards and see the one from my cousin. I read the letter.

She has cancer.

She sounds very upbeat, which is wonderful, but the news kinda socked me. She's only two years older than me. And then I realized how long it's been since I've seen my dad's side of the family. Too long. Next year. I promise, next year I'm going to take a trip and visit.

It's not that we were particularly close, like sisters, but hell, I loved visiting with my hip, sassy NY cousins. They were funny, witty and made me crack up. They grew up in the small house in Queens where my dad was born. My uncle still lives in it today.

Sigh... I wish I could get into the Christmas spirit, the cheerfulness and the general feeling of good will. I want to. But not this year. Maybe next...

Haiti airport warning today

Rum balls went over quite well yesterday at work.

News reports today say security at Haiti’s airport is lax. The Department of Homeland Security is telling airlines that fly into Haiti to warn travelers Haiti’s airport does not meet international security standards. One official called the PAP airport a “lawless outpost."

Hmmm. I’m wondering what prompted this. Having just flown back and forth to Haiti, in one day last week, I am analyzing the security now. At MIA, went through xray machines (once) before we hit the gates. I left my Alpha Smart in my backpack, which I usually take out (since it’s like a laptop). I just wanted to see if anyone noticed. No one noticed at MIA. Took my shoes off, as usual. Got through just fine.

Flying from Haiti back to MIA? You go through TWO xray machines. First when you enter the departure area, and have to screen all your bags, including your luggage. Again, left my Alpha Smart in the backpack. No one said anything. Took off my shoes. Then, after immigration, before you head to the (ONE) gate, you go through another xray screening process.

So what DID the Department of Homeland Security find? Or did they find anything at all to prompt this ominous warning? Maybe it isn’t the security passengers go through, but the access to the tarmac?

Having traveled to Haiti for 10 years, I know how much the airport itself has improved. That government official who called it a “lawless outpost” should have traveled there five years ago. Oy! What a zoo! You would disembark and head into this crowded, airless room for immigration, where paint flaked off the walls. The bathroom right after immigration was this ghastly nightmare with a bucket for flushing. Then the fun really started when you tried to get your bags. Porters would be swarming like bees over the sagging, broken luggage belt, grabbing your suitcase off before you could. It was mass chaos. I got used to it.

Last week? Quiet, organized and efficient. The room where you wait to be cleared by immigration is air conditioned, gleaming with new tile and colorful Haitian murals. The bathrooms are spotless and modern. They’ve cleared out all the madmen trying to grab your bags and only official porters are allowed now.

So, what did they find? I’m focused on this sentence, “One knowledgeable source described the problem as lax screening of passengers and bags and generally poor security around the airport perimeter.”

There you go. “around the airport perimeter.” I have a hunch the problem with security isn’t screening passengers. It’s the airport perimeter. A row of shacks ring the perimeter. There's a slum near the airport that the poor simply call "airport" when you ask them where they live. Last week as we were flying out, there was this guy on a tractor mowing the fields adjacent to the runway. I was idly watching him, wondering if he were hired by the government for groundskeeping. Or if he just happened to be there, tooling along on his tractor. I don’t know.

But it makes you wonder.


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Bonnie's balls

turn on kitchen overhead lights. Dress in comfy baking clothing. Crank up stereo with tape of "The Messiah" to get self into Christmas baking mode.

Pound vanilla wafers with fist. Feels good to get out frustrations, keep doing it. Mix with crushed nuts and then realize need cocoa mix. Have none. Melt Ghirardelli chocolate chips instead. First shut off all appliances and overhead lights so ancient microwave doesn't trip circuit breaker...AGAIN. Watch chips melt by flashlight. Dog is confused. Take gooey mess of chips, say "Uk" and add a bit of milk to get them to melt better. Nuke again. Turn back all appliances. Take mess and dump into bowl. Add 1/3 cup Barbancourt rum. Add 1/3 cup corn syrup. Stir. Sip bit of Barbancourt. Add more rum to mix. Stire fastuh. Realize gooey mess will not sthick together. Add powdahed sugah. Add more rhume. Stire more, draink more.

Realize mess will not roll into little balls. Think about the idea of serving little ballz to male coworkers. Laugh. Ha ha! Put mess of rum stuffz in freezea to get to sthick. Drink morea baranb...barn...barban? aw hell, rhum. Eat store bought Christmas cookie with drink. Good. Dog shakes head.

mailto:bonnie@bonnievanak.com
http://www.bonnievanak.com

Victory!

Yipee! Small victory. Made my goal of getting to 200 pages on Rashid's story. Just pounded away last night on the laptop. Wrote 8 pages. They flowed. The more I write, the more I like his character and Jillian's. Figured out a scene where they begin to bond emotionally and her innver strength comes out. She steps in and helps him at a critical time. I love how he encourages her to be the person she's meant to be. Jillian thinks she's weak and she's been invisible most of her life, but he pushes her into stepping out of the shadows.

Decided to make chocolate rum balls tonight to celebrate. Oh dear. Bonnie baking. But since it doesn't involve turning on the oven, I think the household is safe. No blown circuit breakers, no fire extinguisher needed on stand-by. Using Barbancourt Five Star. Whoa boy. Merry, HIC, Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2004

Rude bird

It's cold today in sunny Florida. Only 55! The poor doggies are shivering. Had to bring the parrot inside to keep him warm. He's in a temporary cage in the kitchen. His food is over the floor. It's my lunch hour and I'm cleaning up parrot food. I told him, "You're a slob." He replied, "Yeah. F*** you."

Sigh... I feel like Rodney Dangerfield. Can't get no respect.

mailto:bonnie@bonnievanak.com
http://www.bonnievanak.com


uhhhhhhhhhhh

Note to self: Consume less Bailey's at Christmas parties. Buy more Advil.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

My mom

Nine years ago today, my mom died of colon cancer. Oddly enough, today I found an essay I wrote 5 years ago about finding the grace of acceptance amid loss. I'm posting it here. It's a tearjerker.

Finding grace in loss
copyright 2000 by Bonnie Vanak

“What is it you can’t live without?” My friend’s question forced the forkful of scrambled eggs to stop halfway to my lips. Such a deep, probing question for Sunday morning. I didn’t know how to answer.

She continued talking, not noticing my silence. I never did respond. But the question dogged my thoughts like a determined bloodhound. No easy answers exist, for every day I process loss of control and find within myself an ability to give up everything I thought I could never live without. My list includes motherhood, climbing to the top of the corporate ladder, family members, even the innocent love of my first marriage. These precious items I once held so tightly in my fists in fear that they would slip through the cracks of my fingers - I now unclench my fist and let them spill out like golden grains of sand. I let them go back to the Earth, back to God.

Slowly, oh how slowly, I have learned that even without what I consider life’s most precious items, the ultimate reality is that my being, my soul survives no matter what the loss. I survive, I thrive, I learn and grow. With loss comes the grace of acceptance.

The journey toward grace hasn’t been easy, but it began with someone I thought I could never live without - my mother. Dear Lord, how I still miss her! Five years after her death I can see her face with its mischeavous smile and her green eyes dancing with amusement. I hear her laughter echoing through the valleys of my mind like wind chimes in a gentle breeze. I was so blessed to have her even for one day of my life, but God granted her to me for 35 precious years.

No one ever thought she was ill, even the day of my wedding when she walked proudly down the aisle on my brother’s arm, beaming as if she herself were the bride. If she leaned on him a little hard, as if for strength, no one noticed. We, her family, believed her statement, “It’s the flu. I’m just a little tired,” when she excused herself to retire early from the pre-wedding fesitivities. The giant tumor crunching away her insides and causing so much agony was as hidden as her bravery.
I knew she would die even before I knew she had cancer. While honeymooning in Maine, I heard a song that I’ve always associated with death. As my husband and I dug into our prime rib and chattered about whale watching, instinct warned me that hundreds of miles away my mother’s soul was preparing her - and me - for flight.

I didn’t tell my friend that Sunday morning that there are many things I can now live without. For I know about loss of control, that helpless, frustrating pain of watching someone you love dearly slip through your fingers like delicate grains of sand. I know about how deep a mother’s love runs, an endless pure stream of water that never stops flowing. My mother’s love for me gave her strength to hide her pain so that I would be blissfully unware of her impending death as I exchanged vows with my husband.

Letting go gave me a grace to accept my own powerlessness and an odd sense of power within that loss of control. When you lose what means most to you in life, and find yourself still standing on two feet, walking and talking, you realize your soul will survive. There is strength that comes from loss, from letting go of things you once held so tightly clenched in your fists.

I discovered this as I sat besides my mother one week before Christmas, only eight weeks after she had walked down the aisle with such dignity. She lay in a semi-coma, her breathing strained despite the oxygen canula forcing her to live. I stroked her claw-like hand and pressed my lips to the shriveled flesh. That hand had diapered and bathed me, wiped away tears when my first marriage failed and proudly arranged my headpiece for my second wedding. As I looked at the skeletal body that had labored to give me life, I whispered to her, “It’s okay Mom. I can let you go now. I don’t want you to suffer anymore. Go back to God. Grandma and Pops are waiting for you.”

Then I gave her frail body a final hug and let her go gentle into that good night. For love is the greatest force of all and when you give it the freedom it desperately needs to soar higher and higher until it flies directly into the waiting arms of a loving Creator, it never truly leaves you. The spirit of my mother lives on. I know this to be true. My mother is besides me every step I take and on those days of darkness when it seems like the clouds will never lift, I hear her laugh - gentle and cheerful as wind chimes in a summer breeze. I smile, because I know I can go on.

This is the true secret to the things you think you can never live without. Life’s most important gifts, such as the neverending love of a mother, are with us but for a few precious heartbeats of time. When we are forced to let them go, they return back to us in the grace and strength to carry on.

As long as we carry their love in our hearts, we can and will survive.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Welcome to Haiti, now go home

Yesterday we arrived in Haiti. Disembarked the airplane, walked on the tarmac as the little trio of musicians played welcoming Haitian music, flanked by two grim-faced sentries. The airport was calm and clean, organized.

Got outside, the typical crowd was there. Taxi drivers accosted us in their usual friendly manner. "Hey, you need ride?" UN vehicles, their glass windows shrouded in wire mesh screens to protect them from flying rocks, lined the street. Then we saw C & P in the Montero, coming to pick us up. We climbed in and they said, "Welcome to Haiti! Now go home."

P drove 50 yards to the departure area. They were putting us on the next flight out.

It was too dangerous to stay and they didn't want us to get stuck there. Rumors and facts peppered the air like bullets. Fact: UN troops exchanged gunfire with armed gunmen yesterday in Cite Soleil in a door-to-door search for weapons. Gunfire was exchanged. The gunmen spread the violence out of the slum to downtown PAP. Four
people were killed, many more wounded by stray bullets. Rumor or fact: A huge demonstration (including lots of burning tires, gunfire, etc.) is planned for Friday in the area where we were scheduled to work. Rumor: The US embassy is closing?

Fact: It's too dangerous, too hot, too violent right now, we can't protect you. Go home.

I hurriedly gave C & P their Christmas gifts, and romance novels for them to give my friend. C told me she was driving to the grocery right after we left to stockpile on food. She sounded like a soldier mobilizing for a siege. I felt horrible watching them drive off. I was leaving friends behind in a war zone.

The violence isn't confined to the hellish life in the slums, like Dante's inferno containing the damned. It oozes out onto the streets, escaping into the mountains where the wealthy live, into the hotels where the foreigners stay, spilling out onto the streets. There was shooting in a section of Delmas we always drive through. How many times have I passed that area, idly looking out the window at the paintings hanging on the chain link fence, the broken glass sprinkled atop the high concrete walls protecting the homes there?

Putting it into perspective, imagine if it happened in the USA. Total anarchy but for a few thousand UN troops trying to control a few million people. Where do you go? The wealthy enclaves that were always safe? No longer. Take Petionville, Haiti. If Petionville had a sister city, it would be Boca Raton. Home to the rich and the richer. P said yesterday they found a severed hand in Petitionville. Wealthy merchants are kidnapped in their own offices. UN tanks roll through Petionville, shouldering aside the Mercedes and the BMW's.

Imagine Boca with its parade of very wealthy people, little sidewalk cafes where one can sip exotic teas and fragrant coffees, and an armored UN tank grumbling its way through Mizner Park. Imagine living in Boca, walking your Bichon Frisé with its jeweled collar on the scrubbed sidewalks, and seeing a severed hand in the gutter.

That is Haiti today.

What will it take for Haiti to turn from a state of anarchy into one where we can go about freely into the slums and do our jobs? I don't know. Maybe Sister Mary Bazooka is the answer. But the armed rebels have 50 caliber machine guns capable of blowing holes in overhead aircraft. So what do we give our fearless, feisty Irish nun who just wants to help the poor? Maybe an armored tank. I can see her now, rolling through the muddy streets, tossing out bags of rice to the hungry, her rosary dangling from the gun turret as she steers through the slum, warbling "Danny Boy."

An armored tank won't help her cross Rt. 9 in Cite Soleil, where gangs battle each other. There's a ditch across the roadway leading to one section, where armed gang members stand guard. Upon their leader's orders, a makeshift wood bridge is brought across, allowing a vehicle's entry. You have to call the leader by cell phone and get permission. There are many such checkpoints throughout the city controlled by armed rebels.

News reports say a bright, talented grad student at Notre Dame didn't get permission. Jean Joseph Dorvil is presumed dead after being shot Saturday when he failed to stop at one of these notorious checkpoints. He was administering a program to research and eradicate lymphatic filariasis, a disease that causes elephantiasis. Like many diseases of the past, LF is more common in Haiti than the U.S.

Jean Joseph was only 29. There are countless others who are nameless in the media, children, women, teenagers, men, all mourned only by their families. There is no functioning hospital in Cite Soleil. No aid agencies working. Only bullets and barricades. And still, the poverty goes on. The hunger continues. Imagine walking through the slum, trying to find food for your kids, dodging bullets and then one hits. Your life ends on a blood-soaked mattress in a cramped, airless hovel, your only crime being you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. And you were born a poor Haitian.

I can't imagine what it must be like for my friends in Haiti, living in constant fear. Always wondering if your drive through the city will turn into a minefield, with gunmen firing randomly, rocks being thrown or the famous Haitian roadblocks of burning tires. I can't imagine being C, running to the grocery store for food because she worries she'll be barricaded inside her home.

I remember what this hurricane season was like, four hurricanes marching in a conga line to Florida. Being so weary and fraught with tension from living in a state of constant uncertainty. Stockpiling water, food, batteries. And not knowing if my house, my neighborhood, my work place, will survive or the landscape of everything familiar to me will drastically change or be destroyed.

I remember the tension, the awful stress that gripped me, and the relief as hurricane season finally ended.

In Haiti, the hurricane season is not ending. Not when there are UN armored tanks patrolling the streets of wealthy neighborhoods. Not when armed gunmen rampage through downtown. Not when we arrive in the city to do our work, and are forced to turn around for our own safety.

In Haiti, hurricane season will be with them for a long, long time.

http://www.bonnievanak.com
mailto:bonnie@bonnievanak.com

Monday, December 13, 2004

Velcro heroes

I'm determined to finish 25 pages by year's end, reaching my goal on Rashid's story. I need to do it for me. I feel like a wounded runner hobbling along to finish a race. No rewards, no recognition, nothing but a quiet feeling of satisfaction. Rashid's story deserves to be told. There's something about his character that grips me. He's Velcro. He will not, as much as I plead him to, let go. He grabs onto me with his sticky Velcro fingers and pleads, "Please, please, write my story."

Yesterday morning I employed an old, but true tactic for me. I came up with an idea and jotted it down. Just kept writing and writing. Did four pages in about 20 minutes. Not too bad. The scene? At the book's end. Wrote out of sequence. But I didn't want to lose the idea, so I wrote. It's not the best way to write. I'd love to be a writer who can write in sequence, but it doesn't always work that way.

So soon it's good-bye US, hello Haiti. I keep thinking of that old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." Hopefully this week won't prove too interesting.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Friday, December 10, 2004

Haiti back on

Guess I'd better learn to run very fast...

Leaving Tuesday. Maybe between all the Christmas stuff this weekend I'll practice dodging bullets. Hey, maybe I can mimic that scene in "Dodgeball" where Rip Torn tosses wrenches at the team. He says, "If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball."

Rip Torn, where are you when I need you? "If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a bullet." Sigh...

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

How fast can you dodge a bullet?

Not going to Haiti next week. Why? More violence, bloodshed, death and gunshots. Had to change our plans, but flights directly to where we are headed aren’t available. We are scheduled to go early January instead.

Plus we were advised, “Hey, if something happens while you’re there, you can always run.”

Translation: You can always outrun a bullet.

What am I, Superman? No it’s SUPERMISSIONARY! Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than an angry mob. Able to leap tall shacks in a single bound. Look, jumping up in the air! It’s a bird! It’s a plane. NO, it’s SUPERMISSIONARY!

Yes, it’s SUPERMISSIONARY, strange visitor from the United States, who came to Haiti with powers and abilities beyond that of mortal aid workers. SUPERMISSIONARY! Who can change the course of absolutely nothing, write notes with her bare hands! And who, disguised as Bonnie Vanak, mild-mannered and confused writer for a major international charity, fights the neverending battle against tyranny, injustice and the ever present dysentery!

Whoa boy…

Friday, December 03, 2004

Polishing the mailbox

Some very good news…woman who was kidnapped is free! Bad news is the ransom amount required. Very scary.

Ok, so I’m driving back to work after a frantic lunch hour of trying to accomplish a few measly things on my list and what do I see? My neighborhood, which is very pretty and polished and already boasts many decorated houses… and a neighbor is outside…

POLISHING the mailbox!

I nearly drove off the road.

Can you imagine what the inside of her house looks like? This woman probably scrubs her toaster until it gleams. My toaster, forget it. It looks like a survivor of 10 garage sales. My house resembles something a hurricane swept through. I STILL have the Emergency Carton of NECESSARY papers in a waterproof plastic bin sitting in the living room. My superstitious Irish soul refused to put it away until hurricane season ended. Ok, well, hurricane season officially did end last month, but hey you never know.

My list of Things to Do before I leave for Haiti in 9 short days is growing exponentially. Christmas cards to send out…and suddenly I realize people moved. I have to update my address list. Add that to the list. Shopping? Ha ha! Put up decorations. Hmmm, let’s see. Make separate list for that. If we managed to do it this weekend…

1) Go to garage and shuffle through maze of stuff to get to ladder
2) Get rickety wood ladder, position beneath attic crawl space
3) Watch DH climb ladder
4) Release small scream as he announces “Hey there’s a dead rat up here.”
5) Shoot him Very Annoyed Look as he looks down and says, “Just kidding.”
6) Think about tickling back of DH’s knee in revenge. Change mind when I realize I’ll have to take him to the hospital when he falls and breaks leg.
7) Start grabbing the myriad of boxes we stuffed up there only in February when we had enough energy to put away Christmas decorations
8) Assemble boxes in a semi-hazardous stack. Start to comb through them.
9) Realize I can’t put on the Christmas tablecloth on the dining room table because the trains he is fixing clutters that table
10) Realize I can’t put up the Christmas tree because the living room needs to be cleaned
11) Realize half the outside lights have dead bulbs
12) Mail arrives. Rush to mailbox and see Christmas card arrived from relatives haven’t heard from. Sit down and read through cards.
13) Get back to trying to decorate. First must stop Tiger from sniffing contents of boxes and Tia from chewing on faded Santa she thinks is her toy.
14) Realize half the Nativity set is gone. Must be in box still in attic. I’m missing Jesus
15) Hunt through the rest of the boxes for Jesus. Mary and Joseph also MIA. May have run off with the three Wise Men.
16) Abandon search for Jesus, decide to put poinsettias in vases and realize I need to find space to store flowers that were in vases.
17) Jesus is in the box with the melted Santa candle. Sound like a revival meeting as I scream out loud, “I found Jesus!”
18) Look at clock and realize I still have 10 billion Christmas cards to mail out.
19) Sit down to try to write ONE Christmas card
20) DH announces he’s hungry and it’s time to grab dinner
21) After dinner, look at pile of cartons, think of how tired I am, and decide our Christmas decorations this year will consist of baby Jesus and a lone red poinsettia stuck into a jelly jar on the kitchen counter, the only space I have managed to clear of clutter.
22) Think about going outside to polish mailbox. Inside of house is a wreck, but hey, at least my mailbox will look clean.


Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Me, the Wal-Mart greeter?

There is hope on the horizon for writing Rashid's story. Finally took a hard look at it and realized what was wrong. Switched some scenes, added some tension and voila! Also changed the breakfast scene with Jillian and her father. Showed his cruelty very overtly. The first three chapters stand crisp and sorta polished. End with a high tension hook. Need to add more emotional internal conflict. Rashid doesn't think he deserves love. He's afraid to love after all he's suffered. He's a haunted, tormented man.

Posted a love scene from COBRA on my web site today. It's the part where Kenneth feeds Badra a date and then ties her up naked between two pillars and starts kissing her. He does this because her greatest fear is being tied up and being helpless. So he replaces the memory of pain with intense pleasure.

My greatest fear? Lately it's finances. I looked at my retirement plan and cringed, realizing I'll probably be working in a full time job until I'm 90 years old. Of course at age 90 I won't have any teeth, let alone the physical energy to do the travel for the day job I do now, climb mountains, take long hikes in steamy tropical climates, stand in funky floodwaters when our vehicle gets trapped. A plan must be shaped for the future. I don't believe I have a real "career" in romance writing. I'm not good enough. Maybe that's the old neurosis talking. Or maybe not.

So I think I'll aspire to be the octogenarian Wal-Mart greeter while leaning on my walker. But I want to be a feisty octogenarian. Maybe I'll pinch young, studly men's butts as they pass, grinning madly at them as they whip around in startled confusion. Then I chortle, "Boxers or briefs? I think boxers. Men's wear on your right." Then laugh in silent amusement as they scurry away like frightened baby rabbits. Hmmm. Definitely something to look forward to in my golden years.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Monday, November 29, 2004

Christmas?

Correction: further info reveals the person kidnapped was NOT from our office. She is someone I know, however. And unfortunately, she’s still being held. Lawlessness is the order of the day in Haiti. No police force. This is the reality.

Hope everyone’s Thanksgiving was good. I actually had time, between burning dinner and trying to catch up on chores, to read. Marilyn Pappano’s “A season of miracles.” Wonderful, heartwarming book. I tried writing this weekend. Managed to edit some pages. Read over the chapters I had written for Rashid’s story and realized I needed some light humor in the second, so rewrote it. I like the results. He loses his virginity in the first chapter. Sex in the first chapter! I never do this, yet he told me “Ok, I must have sex now. Right now.” So I wrote it that way. And I love how it turned out.

I’m slowly wigging out because I have two weeks to prepare for Christmas as I’ll be in Haiti the whole week before the holiday. Our house is not decorated, and I have no shopping done, no gifts sent. Every year I try to bake cookies. (Note to self: Alert fire department when the baking mood strikes.) Every time I try to bake cookies, they burn. I’m surprised Santa hasn’t sued me for all those years I gave him gas from the lumpy, burnt cookies I left trying to bribe him for a Barbie doll.

And there’s something I must admit. I harbor a secret desire to roast the Pillsbury Dough Boy. He irritates the heck out of me. He’s too perky. I want to take the fat little nancy dough boy, stuff him into the oven, turn it up to 800 degrees and watch him explode. I never feel this way about the Keebler elf. It’s just Dough Boy’s asinine giggle that irks me. Or maybe it’s merely the Christmas stress.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Sister Mary Bazooka

My stomach is in knots. Someone from our Haiti office got kidnapped. She is negotiating for her life. We are still going there next month, but now they are talking of armed guards accompanying us. We work with missionaries. What armed guards? Nuns with guns? Sister Mary Bazooka?

I know Haiti is dangerous, but hells bells, as Mom would put it, something like this hammers it home. I have a friend who got kidnapped a couple of years ago. They blindfolded her and held a gun to her temple and threatened to blow her head off. To this day, she still cannot sleep at night. Each time I visit, I bring her stacks and stacks of books. Romances. She reads English books, which are hard to find. For her, romance truly is an escape into another world.

And some people scoff at romance and call it “crap.”

I can't rejoice in anyone's good news right now. I'm too worried that this person from our office will end up like Margaret Hassan, dead in some street with a bullet to her head. Worried about my safety when I travel to Haiti next month. Worried about this horrid depression sliding over me. It's crippling me. What’s the point of trying to write or sell another romance? How can I even talk about this with my “ordinary friends” who don’t understand the kind of work I do and the circumstances I sometimes face?

WHY does this work have to be so hard? Maybe we should recruit nuns with guns. Sister Mary Bazooka, equipped with an M-16, cheerfully wending her way through slums, doling out food to the hungry, and poking the gun’s muzzle into the faces of thugs who try to kidnap her.

In her thick Irish brogue Sister Mary Bazooka warbles to the startled gunmen, “Saints and begora, ye be trying any of your funny stuff on me and I’ll send yee fer a talking to with the Father right away. And I’m NOT talking of Father O’Hara, either. The Big Guy Upstairs. The one that’s gonna kick yer arse to the ‘down’ escalator and toast your nuts like they was Girl Scout marshmallows. Yee feeling lucky today, boyo? Huh? Huh?”

http://www.bonnievanak.com
mailto:bonnie@bonnievanak.com

Monday, November 22, 2004

Holiday cooking anxiety

Spent all day Saturday with DH and FIL on board a gambling cruise. I read every word on the page proofs for THE COBRA & THE CONCUBINE. And I realized how very much I do like this book and the characters. It is a fun read and has emotional scenes in it. I snickered still over the “banana scene.” It’s a more angsty book than my previous two. And as I’m reading over Rashid’s character, I realized how much I am called to do his story.

But is it worth it for a book that probably will not be bought?

No answers here. My brain is too tired. Instead, I am ruminating over the turkey hotline. And the 9-11 calls they receive. One guy who used a chainsaw to cut the turkey in half. I am fretful now in my Holiday Preparation Anxiety that I lack the necessary power tools to prepare a proper Thanksgiving meal.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Odd couple sex

So I’m trying not to think about Margaret Hassan’s death. I’m trying not to think about a lot of things, such as my trip to Haiti next month. Or the state department warning how dangerous Haiti is because of increased violence, carjackings and kidnappings.

Instead, I’m diverting my mind by thinking about sex.

Sex and pairing up odd couples in bed. Famous characters/celebrities, past and present. How would they react to each other? Kind of like that reality show, Wife Swap, only they’re in bed, not just doing the housework. So far I’ve come up with these:

Mr. Spock & Samantha from “Sex & the City”: Samantha is fascinated by his pointed ears, and wonders if they are an indication of something equally odd and kinky on other body parts. Mr. Spock, being a Vulcan, and only experiencing the mating urge once every seven years, does not think Samantha’s inclination to “lick his nipple like a chocolate-covered cherry” is logical.

Robert DeNiro & Laura Ingalls from "Little House on the Prairie": Laura is totally confused as to why DeNiro wants her to wear Victoria’s Secret crotchless panties instead of her nice white lawn nightgown.

Yoda & Miss Piggy: Yoda tells her “There is no try. Only do.” She replies, “Yada Yada Yada, then DO it instead of trying” and decides to relinquish her penchant for little green creatures, even Kermit the Frog.

Mrs. Cleaver & Howard Stern: She insists on clean white sheets and doing it under the covers and worries the Beaver might accidentally walk in looking for Wally. When he leers at her and tells her what he would love to do to her Beaver, she hits him over the head with her iron.

Adrian Paul in “Highlander” & Roseanne Barr: She grabs her crotch and starts braying “America the Beautiful” as she undresses. Adrian wishes he were time traveling back to Yee Old Scotland and seriously contemplates the joys of living as a monk.

Gandalf from “Lord of the Rings” & the Wicked Witch from “The Wizard of Oz”: She insists on being on top and wearing ruby spike heels. She sneers and says her broomstick is bigger than his staff. Disgusted, Gandalf hoses her down with a bucket of water and trots off to seek a little action with Glinda the Good Witch because he secretly loves the way she wiggles her magic wand.

Judge Judy & Donald Trump from “The Apprentice.” Battle between the bedsheets. He does the “cobra” and tells her she’s fired after she proclaims sentencing on his technique. AND criticizes his hair.

Cartman from “South Park” & “Sponge Bob”: Let’s not even go there…

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Margaret Hassan

Oh dear God. She’s dead.

Margaret Hassan, the director of CARE in Iraq, who was taken hostage, has been killed. Apparently the mutilated body of a Western woman found on the streets of Fallujah a few days ago was her. There’s a video that may show her death. She cried and pleaded for her life, but they killed her anyway.

How could they do this? A woman who was in Iraq for 30 years, helping the people? An aid worker who married an Iraqi? A woman who reached out to those whom the world ignored, and helped the poor and the vulnerable? A woman who cradled the sick and dying children of Iraq in her arms, fighting to save them with medicine they desperately needed?

She was a Muslim. Born in Ireland, she converted to Islam when she married her husband, an Iraqi.

I told myself I wasn’t going to talk politics on this blog. I’m not. But I’m heartbroken for her, for her family, for all the Iraqi people who will suffer from this tremendous loss.

I’ve traveled to many Third World countries. I know people who lived and worked in dangerous places as aid workers. One woman I know saw a man shot and killed in front of her. It’s not an easy job. The suffering and misery you see each day, can wear you down. But the forlorn faces of the people, the quiet despair of the children, tugs at you. You realize the enormous need and the good you can do, and you find the strength to go on.

Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of my job working as a writer for an international aid organization. In 11 years, I’ve traveled to Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Guatemala…and many other countries. I’ve lost count of all the trips. But even when walking through streets harbored by Jamaican gunmen, where people were killed only the day before, I’ve never felt threatened. The first time I worried about being in danger was my trip to Gonaives after the floods. I can’t imagine living and working in a volatile country, seeing the suffering and faced with danger yourself, and yet you cannot leave because you are fully committed to the people.

She didn’t leave. It was her home. Her people. And now she’s dead.

May her legacy of working tirelessly for the poor not die with her.

Galleys and first moments

So last night I’m reading over my galleys for THE COBRA & THE CONCUBINE and I’m laughing at the humor, blushing at the love scenes. One of the most significant scenes is where Kenneth and Badra share a moment of passion in his library. Quite symbolic, because she was illiterate in THE FALCON & THE DOVE and longed to learn to read. In COBRA, she’s literate and is very proud of it.

Kenneth says to her, “Give me back my desert, Badra. One kiss, one small memory of the home I left behind. Kiss me, Badra and let me taste Egypt once more.”

As I’m reading, DH (dear hubby) is beside me on the couch watching TV. I get to a funny section, read a line aloud to him, and he just grins and shakes his head.

Then he looks at me and says, “So how does it feel?”

I ask, “What feel?”

He points to the book. “That. Finally seeing it typeset. Knowing it will be published, in print and not just on your computer.”

And I’m staring at the pages and I smile and say, “It feels good. But you know what? Nothing can ever feel as good as the first book.”

It’s true. The first book, the first set of galleys, the first time you see your cover with your name on it and know, “This is my book. My name’s on it!”

The rush of excitement is incredible, especially if you’ve struggled for years to get published. Especially if you have a few yellowing manuscripts tucked beneath the bed that are battle scars. Or judges’ comments from entering contests that pinch, but ultimately can be helpful.

All those wonderful first moments which come with a first book. My first booksigning took place at the 2002 RT convention. I’ll never forget walking into the auditorium and seeing my author name placard… and a stack of THE FALCON & THE DOVE beside it. I didn’t think Dorchester could get the books there on time. They did. I stood there and cried. And Leah Vale and Nancy Warren, who were flanking me, asked what was wrong. I just pointed to the books and blubbered, “My book! It’s my first one!”

And they immediately understood.

Having a third book in print is wonderful, but the first one is like making love for the first time. You never forget it. And if you’re very fortunate, it will be an experience you’ll cherish for years to come.
http://www.bonnievanak.com

Friday, November 12, 2004

The FALCON has flown the coop

Here I am, waxing poetic about writing, returning to the craft of writing and guess what? I ran into one of those author problems. I found out that my first book, released in Nov. 2002, is out of stock with the publisher.

Yup, THE FALCON & THE DOVE is listed on their web site as being out of stock. Gosh, I'm hoping it's a mistake. Because my second book released Dec. 2003, THE TIGER & THE TOMB, is out of stock as well.

I feel like a mom whose chicks have flown the nest. And now I'm worrying about if they'll go back to press. Because it's a reader thing. COBRA, my May release, is a continuation of the adventure. The heroine is Badra, a secondary character from FALCON. I know how frustrating it is to want to read a book that is either out of print or difficult to find. This happened a few years ago with Judith Ivory's first book, BLACK SILK. My friend and CP, Julie, raved about this book, which Judy wrote under her real name, Judy Cuevas. I hunted and hunted for that book. In used bookstores. Online. No luck. It became like a treasure quest.

Then finally, Avon re-released it. But it took YEARS. It was worth the wait.

I have my little cache of both FALCON and TIGER under my bed. I'm keeping them in reserve should they never go back to press. Like the buried treasure Badra and Kenneth seek in Cobra. They're in the pyramid, digging and suddenly...

Badra, shrieking with joy: There's something down here. Do you think it's the jewels of Princess Meret?

Kenneth: Let me fetch the light. Let's see...

They both tunnel with their hands, eager to find the long-buried treasure of the Pharaoh's daughter. Suddenly they hit upon the outline of a box. They brush the dirt away...open the carton with great excitement.

Badra, staring and reading aloud. THE FALCON & THE DOVE. THE TIGER & THE TOMB. Books?

Kenneth, grumbling in English and Arabic: I sailed thousands of miles, risked getting assasinated in my bed, braved the scorching sun for a box of lousy romance novels?

Jabari, suddenly appearing out of the shadows and snatching a copy of FALCON: It is not a lousy romance novel. It is my story. Pay your sheikh more respect.

Kenneth, glaring: Hey, listen I got NO lines in that book and just a couple of name mentions.

Jabari: So you have no wish to keep it. Very well, since I am now out of stock, I will just take this copy with me...

Badra, smiling sweetly: I think not, Jabari. It's our treasure. We found it.

Jabari stares in outrage.

Kenneth: Fork over $5.99, bud. Plus tax.

http://www.bonnievanak.com







The writing beast

A friend's email today was like a beacon shedding light on a dark horizon. She noted that we romance writers are pressuring ourselves to get published, publish more and keep publishing more more more more. Whatever happened to the craft of writing? She noted, “The only thing we can control as writers is the writing.”

Excellent point. Whatever did happen to the craft of writing? Are we romance writers these days too concerned about what’s selling, how to get published, pitch your work to an editor/line, how to network, how to sell MORE books, how to market yourself, that we’ve neglected the basics? What about quality over quantity? As writers, shouldn’t we strive to challenge ourselves, to draw from deep inside the well? If the market pushes us, always the market, the market like that nursery rhyme, then are we neglecting what really counts?

What drew us originally to write? If you had to give up writing, could you? Forget the quest to become published, or publish again, the money (what money, lol!!!), the drive to move up into a lead slot or make the LISTS. Just think of never, ever writing another scene, another paragraph, another word again.

Could you do it?

There’s a quote I have on my computer. It’s by George Orwell and reads, “"Writing... is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand."

Cynical? Oh yes. True? Oh yes. Writing IS a horrible, exhausting struggle. It’s a beast that lays its claws into you, a demanding monster riding on your shoulder like a grim vulture. And yet, I could never relinquish my beast. Even amid the horrible torrents of self-doubt. Even when the nagging critic whispers into my brain and says, “Hey? You know that paragraph you wrote? A monkey sitting at a computer could have written better. No, a one-armed monkey could have written better.”

The only thing we can control as writers is the writing. We are driven by the mad monster endlessly lashing us onward, the grinning demon that will not release its powerful grip. And amid the madness, pain and struggles, we find kernels of joy, like secret, buried treasure winking at us in the sun.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Monday, November 08, 2004

Warriors & turkeys

Wow, so long since I’ve written in here. Truth is, I’ve been “blogged down.” Okay, bad pun!

So much going on, and today I glanced at the calendar. Ever have one of those, “AAAKKK” moments? The kind you get when you realize Thanksgiving is only 2 weeks away. That little fluttery feeling of panic that says, “Hello! Guess what, the HOLIDAYS are almost here.”

Thanksgiving, which means cooking A Big Family Meal. Even though we don’t have a Big Family Gathering. This year, friends invited us over. I’d love to go. Honestly, I can’t cook. I burn water. But DH loves turkey leftovers. He insists on doing the bird each year, otherwise, our turkey would resemble something tossed into a nuclear reactor. Heck, it would probably even glow green.

I wonder about Big Family Gatherings during Thanksgiving. I mean, are all the Hallmark and grocery store commercials true? Does everyone smile and bill and coo at each other? And what if you took a family totally unaccustomed to the Thanksgiving tradition and put them into a similar setting?

I envision forcing Egyptian Khamsin warriors to cook Thanksgiving dinner. They’ve invaded my kitchen and in total silent amusement, I sit back to watch.

Jabari: This bird, one calls a turkey, it is taking a long time to roast. I think Ramses should have bought a smaller fowl.

Ramses: You are the real turkey, Jabari. Perhaps we should roast you.

Jabari: Shut up and boil these small round white objects, Ramses. Or do you not know how to boil water?

Kenneth: They’re called potatoes, Jabari. Will someone tell me when the oven is free so I can bake the rolls?

Rashid, reading package back of corn: Microwave ten minutes. This looks simple enough.

Jabari, frowning at jar of gravy: Who is this Mr. Heinz? And why should we put his sauce on our food?

Dinging sound. Rashid opens microwave and eyes soggy, heated box of corn. Mutters: This does not look appetizing at all.

Kenneth, snapping at Rashid: You bloody fool! You’re supposed to take the corn OUT OF THE BOX before you microwave!

Rashid, bristling, removing scimitar: Call me a bloody fool? Prepare to defend yourself!

Kenneth, taking electric carving knife and assuming dueling position: Go ahead if you are man enough!

Jabari, snapping: ENOUGH! Stop this foolishness and help me determine if this bird is done.

Ramses: Check the red button. Has it popped out yet? That is how I know Katherine was done when she was pregnant with the twins. Her belly button popped out.

Jabari takes turkey out of oven. Foul smell hits the air. Men look down silently at burnt bird:

Kenneth to Jabari
: You were supposed to move the innards.

Jabari (defensively): I am sheikh of the mighty Khamsin warriors. Not CHEF of the mighty Khamsin warriors!

Kenneth, sighing: Let’s go to Cracker Barrel.

Rashid, nodding: We can take my camel.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Love scenes

I hate writing them. I love writing them.

I must be neurotic.

They are so difficult to write, and yet, when I do it, it's like ... ha ha ha... riding a bicycle. Suddenly I remember how to do it. It all comes back to me. It helps to listen to romantic music. Writing a love scene to "Who let the dogs out" is NOT advisable, at least for me.

But ohhhh, when it's done right... ohhhhhhh. I read over the ones from COBRA and sighed. But not so much over the actual lovemaking. It's the dialogue and emotions and, as Dr. Frank-N-Furter from THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW would put it, Antic... Anticipation... that makes me melt. This is one of my favorite scenes from COBRA & THE CONCUBINE, right before Kenneth makes love to Badra the first time after he's purchased her as his concubine... He teaches her how to eat a date, pressing it against her lips...

"The symbolism of the act became apparent with each tiny thrust, each gentle, but determined push against her mouth. Kenneth bent his head and murmured reassuring words, crooning to her in Arabic all the while pressing the date against her lips. Her tongue wanted the sweetness inside, tasting wet juiciness. She reached out with her tongue to taste it and parted her lips just barely and at that precise moment he gave one last firm, determined push and slipped inside her mouth.

Startled, she chewed slowly, let the fruit explode in her mouth and swallowed. Her huge eyes met his.

“That is how you eat a date, my love,” he said softly and covered her mouth with his. The kiss was deep and drugging and he pressed her body close to his, devouring her mouth as she had done with the date. He tore his mouth away, and framed her face in warm, strong hands. His deep voice flowed over her, seductive and filled with dark promise.

“Let me fall again, Badra. Let me fall into you and drown in the full moon. I am Khepri, god of the sunrise and I want to die into you, the moon. Let the sun and the moon collide in passion and love and eclipse all else. I promise I will be there to catch you and I will not, ever, let your feet touch the ground. Come and dance in my light as I will dance in yours. Let me hold you in my arms and never let go.”

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Denver and reflections on Rashid

Wonderful anniversary trip last weekend. Frank and I drove to the Rocky Mountains and visited Estes Park. Threw snowballs at each other. Trail Ridge Road was closed, due to bad weather, already in October. Since it’s still about 88 degrees in Florida, we forget it’s autumn, approaching winter elsewhere. It began snowing as we left the park, much to our delight. Snow!

Met up with fellow Leisure author Pamela Clare for dinner. Oh, Pamela is sooo much fun! She's incredibly humorous, charming, down to earth and just a lovely person. She gave me a cover flat to her hot hot hot next book, RIDE THE FIRE. Wowzer! Nice John DeSalvo cover, very hot, very compelling. I can't wait to read this book. It's going to be incredible!

This week, playing catch up. We returned home from our delightful trip (having arisen at a not so delightful 3:30 a.m.) to find our living room and kitchen flooded. The fridge leaked. Sigh…

The workshop on Story Magic last weekend, most excellent, dude! My right brain needs a framework for plotting. I’m a seat of the pants writer and sometimes scribble scenes as they come to me, which is fine, but I need a disciplined method for framing a story. I’m quite excited about trying to use it to write Rashid’s story.

Finished revisions for Cobra and read over the m.s. Sigh… I truly like this book. It’s darker than anything I’ve written, but the romance, ah, the romance… I didn’t think I was going to like it as much as I do. I kept getting that wonderful gut-wrenching twist which means I’m emotionally drawn into the book. And saying aloud, “Oh!” Tia, lying at my feet near the computer, kept glancing up as though to say, “Oh what? What’s wrong? You have that funny look on your face. Are you well? Can you stop making those noises and fetch me a doggy biscuit now?”

Rashid keeps invading my thoughts. I can’t push him away. He’s so complex, he fascinates me. I have NO idea where this character came from. He just sort of popped up while I wrote COBRA. And he keeps shifting, like Egypt’s sands, eluding me, teasing me with his actions. It’s amazing how this happens. I suddenly decided to make him fascinated by steam trains. A little of this comes from my own fascination with them, but his interest is far different. Rashid is drawn to their mechanical fuctions. They are impersonal, and efficient but cold iron monsters. They operate. They are logical and consistent and predictable. Unlike real life, or human beings which can inflict cruelty at random. He’s suffered so much in the past, agonized over why he was ill-treated as a child, and he finds comfort in the orderly, logical operation of indifferent machines. He grew up fascinated by them in Egypt, watching the locomotive speed across the sandy plain, fixating on its mechanical compulsions. It seemed to him, a helpless boy, powerful and invincible. Nothing would stop it. He imagined himself as the machine, chugging along, blowing steam, threatening to blast over all who dared to step in his way and hurt him.

Oh, and a very nice surprise. I teased Frank last weekend that he didn't get me flowers for our anniversary. He said what was the point when we would have to leave them? After we got home, got the water up from the flood, etc., and he went to the store, guess what he brought home? Yup. Flowers. Sigh... he's such a romantic.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Mouthy heroes

Okay, I think I’m nailing down Rashid’s character. His internal conflict, goals, personality. Rashid is dark, complex. A bit violent inside. He’s tormented and brooding because he longs to…

Deep male voice from the side, clearing throat: Ah, excuse me.

Me, startled: Whatthe…

Rashid: Did I hear you crow about creating me? Something about internal conflict, goals.

Me: Uh, yeah, and I think…

Rashid: YOU think. Always you you you you. What about ME? Have you once considered MY feelings? My needs? Who I really am?

Me: I thought that’s what I was doing…

Rashid: Oh fine, fine. Tormented. Brooding. Violent inside? I think not. Do you really know the real me? What about my hobbies? My hopes and dreams?

Me: Uh, okay, your hobbies? What about sharpening your scimitar? Is that a hobby?

Rashid, sarcastically: Very amusing. You’re not listening to me. You never listen!

Me, sighing, rolling eyes: All right, all right. Go on, tell me.

Rashid: Perhaps I would enjoy picking wildflowers. Conducting a session on centering your chakras. Why not bring out my tender, gentle side? The woman inside of me? Did you know I bake a mean vegetarian casserole?

Me: Whatthe…

Rashid: I don’t eat meat.

Me: You’re a WARRIOR. You HUNT.

Rashid: I want a vegetable garden. And a cute, floppy straw hat. My skin is very sensitive to the sun, you know.
Me: Oh sheesh! Where the hell did YOU come from? Listen here, buddy. You’re a MAN. An alpha hero. Women readers don’t want you to bake or warble about chakras or lisp Zen poetry OR wear prissy hats!

Rashid, indignant: And how would you know?

Me: Go away. Just git. Go, shoo! You’re morphing into some lame, wussy hero. Next thing I know you’ll be demanding I put you in a scene holding hands around the campfire and singing “Kumbaya.”

Rashid: Oh the humanity! You’re limiting me according to your demands. I want to be ballet dancer, not a warrior. Ah, to leap and take flight across stage, to express my inner self through dance…

Me, pressing DELETE key: Buh bye! Muttering: Damn, knew I shouldn’t have watched that Sex & the City episode on gender swapping last night!


http://www.bonnievanak.com

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Brooding heroes & research

Feel more optimistic tonight because I researched some of Rashid's story. Found the perfect setting, background, and tie-in. Crocs. Sobek, the ancient Egyptian croc god. Croc of something, if you ask me.

Rashid's story, oooohhh, so dark. So very very dark, brooding and sexy. Kept thinking about him, how he's missed out on childhood, how isolated and alone he is, vulnerable inside but never shows it. I am beginning to feel sparks of hope for this book. It's so very different from anything I've ever written. Writing about an emotionally scarred, abused hero challenges me. I glance over my notes from my talks with Dr. Cassell, a therapist who gave me pointers on the behavioral traits of abused children. Rashid is not humorous, though he does joke at times. He is so very complex and fierce and changes, shifts like the wind. I sketched out a scene in which he does a very proper, gentleman-like fencing exercise with foils. This sharply contrasts to the brutal fight he engages in much later in the desert, a fight to the death.

Speaking of violence...sigh...saw today that more are being killed in Haiti. More beheadings. More aid groups withdrawing from Gonaives... sigh... will it ever end?

http://www.bonnievanak.com

A word about reading

I know I must be drained, because everything I pick up to read is blah. Everything but one book. Claudia Dain's THE FALL. Brilliant, lyrical writing, clever witty dialogue that reminds me of Shakespearean plays, and a strong-willed hero and heroine. It's the only book holding my interest. Normally I devour books when I have time, but not right now. Even books that look interesting I'm reading a few pages and putting them down with a sigh. A chick lit that makes me want to sleep, an historical that's rather dark and supposed to be sexy, but I'm finding it boring. It must be me. Only Claudia's book holds my interest right now. How could I go wrong with writing like that? Some people are truly, truly gifted. She's one of them. I read her books and I aspire to be a better writer. I know I'll never get to her caliber. All I can do is try to be the best writer I'm meant to be.

Just be. How utterly Zen. I should go contemplate my belly button now and life. Instead, must write again about sad sad sad orphans. sigh...

Orphans and whining characters

Writing about orphans all day yesterday at work depressed me. An orphan who went blind when his mother left him in the sun by a riverbank, pinning a note to him, explaining she couldn't feed him and hoped someone would care for him. An orphan who was physically abused by her father. An orphan whose mother died and she was eating garbage from the dump to survive. No wonder I write romance. I control the characters. The setting. The outcome. My characters may suffer to find love, but they find it and resolve their conflict and all ends well.

Not everything ends well in real life. Some of the children I write about die. They just die. Last year I wrote about a baby suffering from starvation, cared for by nuns at a clinic. He died. The mother I met this year who got a new house who kept her bible tucked under her pillow and read from it for strength died as well, weeks after I met her and her children. She was such a quiet, gentle soul. I know the little girl I met who had AIDS is dead by now. She was dying when I met her. She was only seven years old and cried because her parents never visited her in the hospital. They dumped her there like a sack of potatoes. On visiting days, the other children all had parents visiting them, combing their hair, bringing them food. She was alone and cried. No one wanted to visit her, the little girl with the disease everyone feared.

That's why I write romance. Because some days, just plain and simple, real life makes you cry.

I'm still emotionally and physically wiped out from post-hurricane stress and the Haiti trip. Too exhausted to write my stories. I hear Rashid and Jason and Jillian and Darcy in my mind, complaining loudly. "Yes, but what about US? When will you devote time to US? We need to get out. We're stuck here in your head, milling about and we're rather bored and impatient. We want to get out on paper. On your computer. Pay attention to us!"

Characters. They're so demanding.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Monday, October 11, 2004

Too early

It's too early to write, but here I am, anyway. Stopped by friend's house to catch Dolphin game. Even a beer couldn't help. Ouch! Talk about a lousy game... we spent yesterday cleaning the house. Post-hurricane clean-up. Now it's more organized and looks much better. Dogs just lay about, watching us lazily, moving when the vacuum came their way.

Tia snored so loud last night, got little sleep. Feel like telling her she has to go to work this a.m. in my place.

Now just have to write. Have to find time to write. I feel like a ping pong ball.

http://www.bonnievanak.com



Sunday, October 10, 2004

Appliances & bye bye hurricane stuff?

Went to my RWA chapter meeting yesterday and came home to a very nice surprise. Frank had bought a dishwasher! Yup, the ugly gaping hole where the water leaked through from the roof during Hurricane Frances & Hurricane Jeanne is now covered up with a shiny black dishwasher! Only $98 from BrandsMart. We grilled steaks last night and tested out our new toy by washing dishes in it. My kitchen is finally beginning to look a little normal again! Now to get rid of the case of water and coolers sitting there since Jeanne. It's like taking down the shutters. Will doing so invite another storm? I hope not...

Did send off autographed copies of FALCON & TIGER, along with an autographed roof shingle, to the Trish Jensen fund to be sold on eBay. Karen Fox & co. are coordinating it. I hope they raise lots and lots of money with all the books and critiques they are offering.

News: I'll be in DENVER next weekend attending the Story Magic workshop. Woo hoo! I've heard so much about this workshop. It's been a while since I attended an educational workshop and I'm thrilled about going, plus Frank will be with me. We're doing a little anniversary r&r in Colorado next week. Nine years! I'm also meeting up with fellow Leisure author Pamela Clare. Now this should be fun! Pamela is a real hoot, very very talented author and a fellow journalist. I can't wait to meet her.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Agents and turbo charged toothbrushes

News to share. I have an agent! Woo hoo! I'm excited, nervous and happy.

Must share my other news as well which makes me almost as excited. I now have a turbo-charged toothbrush.

Yesssirreee, Frank bought me a new electric scrubbing utensil for my pearly (so so) whites. The old one gasped for breath. He tried fixing it. It spun sadly for a few revolutions then went to the great Toothbrush Heaven in the wastebasket.

My turbo charged toothbrush swirls. It spins. It revolves like a waxing machine gone wild. My teeth are not merely cleaned. They're scrubbed as madly as a maid on cocaine doing the bathtub. This little baby could revolutionize the modern mouth as we know it. I am happy. I am Content. I have clean teeth.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Tears

Late this afternoon, I was at the office looking over some photos Ben took in Gonaives. This little boy, eyes filled with sorrow as he stared at the camera from the confines of his mud-filled home. Ken, our production guy, was there and studying them. I pointed out the little boy and started talking about Rosemarie, the woman who watched her children drown, minutes after the 4-year-old asked her, "Mommy, are you going to leave us here to die? Are you going to save us?"

I couldn't go on. I got choked up. Ran to my office and knew the damn would burst. So I left the office. Drove to publix, sat in the parking lot.

And I cried. And cried.

I guess it was some time in coming, those tears. I kept seeing Rosemarie's haunted face, that blank look of shock. In my mind, I saw her children, crying and so very scared, sitting on the wall, waiting for Mommy to come save them. Then the wall collapses and they drown.

And I wonder, does anyone really care? Yes, some people do, but hell, sometimes I feel like the world shakes its head and passes by in oblivious disregard. Yes, maybe something I write will raise money to feed this woman, and what is left of her family. But it will never replace her kids. Never.

Years ago, a newspaper editor where I worked told me he feared I wouldn't last at my current job. He said I was too sensitive. Doing this kind of work, seeing nothing but heartache and misery and suffering, he predicted, "You'll burn out in a year."

Next month, I'll be here 11 years. Haven't burnt out. Yet. But oh, sometimes, it hurts. It really hurts. So I leave, cry and then go on. Just like they do. Just like Rosemarie must do.

Hairy chests

Decided this a.m. must do something to yank self out of spiraling descent into the Pit of Despair. So I'm thinking hairy chests. Should I do a hairy chest poll? Always was curious about that. Which do readers prefer, the smooth, muscled waxed surfboard chest of a hero? Or the furred, rug mat? Does the amount of hair count? Color? Texture?

I sound like I'm shopping. I envision a mall featuring a hip, chic store in which a reader can wander, shop amongst the male chests she prefers, and match with other physical assets of equal interest. Like accessorizing. This chest to go with that mop of windblown hair. Those bulging biceps to compliment strong, long-boned thighs. And those big hands to go along with his very large...

Never mind. That's a myth, anyway. Then again...

Working on Rashid's story, just for the fun of it, though it's not a fun story. This man is very, very complex. He fascinates me. He's the darkest character I've ever created. I wrote a battle scene for him in the desert. He kills a man in a fight to claim the heroine. Very cave man, primitive. The desert brings out his raw, wild side, the baser underbelly of this man. Survival of the fittest.

Then of course, he gets to have great sex with Jillian, the heroine. Equally raw, wild and heated. I think there's going to be a lot of sex in this book. Hell, it starts off with a sex scene in the first chapter. It's NOT a love scene, because he doesn't love her. But it is very tender and passionate. I've never written a book like this before. I like my characters to be in love before they had sex. But I couldn't write this one that way. It just fell into place. I used my gut feelings about Rashid and just wrote. And really liked that first chapter. This is where following your gut comes in handy. Where you must chuck the rules, the formulas and just write write write as it comes to you. I know my writing SHOULD be more structured, my plotting, which stinks at times, needs work. But when I get strong feelings about a character, I go with it. I don't want rules or formulas or "thou shalt nots" that some writers insist on following, to hedge in my characters.

This is where dreaming comes in handy. If I dream of a character and get ideas for a scene, usually I jot down the ideas, write and see where it goes. I can always change it later. I'm a firm believer in the power of the subconcious. This is a level where pure creativity exists. Dreams are powerful. I often get interesting ideas from dreams. Once I dreamt an idea for a cool paranormal. Never did write the whole book, but what I did write was fun. And speaking of dreams, what do dogs dream of? When Tia, my Shih Tzu, sleeps on the chair, does she dream of chasing Tiger? Of exploring in the back yard? Does she dream of a giant bone and a lovely doggie fantasyland where she sits eating a large sirloin and her owners sit on the floor, whining and begging? ;-)





Saturday, October 02, 2004

Crashing

Look at these two orphans. Lost their parents in the May floods. So sad. Oh yeah, here we go. I'm crashing. Knew this would happen. After two hurricanes, hurrying to finish revisions, rushing off to Haiti, seeing everything, I'm crashing into depression. Inevitable. It's like a car racing racing racing and suddenly, stopping. Everything grinds to a halt. And I'm left with images haunting me. Faces I left behind. Tears I didn't shed. I sit there in dull numbness, wondering if anything I did, anything I will write, will do any good. I know I must put up a shield, a protective covering, like an emotional flak jacket. But still the bullets pierce me, the faces, the memories.

Tomorrow we're going to the Keys for the day for a little r&r. Told Frank I am in sore need of r&r. Today I want to work on my silly erotica. Something to take my mind off everything. Something different to push back the edges of depression, the faces that keep tugging at my memory.






Friday, October 01, 2004

Haiti recap

Back from Haiti. I wrote entries on the Alpha Smart and downloaded. Posting them here. I'm still a little dazed. Soooo glad revisions are done and mailed. Thank God for author friends like Jennifer Ashley, who pitched in during the hurricane last Saturday when I frantically emailed her COBRA during the middle of Jeanne. I asked her to print COBRA and mail it to my editor if my power went out. (I would still have the laptop battery and a phone line). Hopefully, please, NO MORE HURRICANES. Want to have fun this weekend, something relaxing. I need relaxing. Boy, do I need it!

Haiti, Sept 28, 5:25 a.m.

In the lobby of the hotel Montana, waiting for Ben and Catherine to show up. Hotel is playing zesty muzac. Very bizarre to listen to at this hour and considering where we are going. The Montana with its polished marble floors, gleaming wood furniture, greenery in large clay pots and mirrored pillars is such a stark contrast the suffering and misery I know we’ll see. Dawn is just starting to break, a kind of grayish hue. Must remember duct tape to patch bullet hole in Montero so the water doesn’t come through.

6 am: On the road. Yesterday afternoon was, um, interesting. Found out Wyclef Jean from the Fugees is staying at the Montana. We were at the bar, having a drink and hanging out with a photographer. He gave us a lot of good information about what’s going on. He told us the name of the guide he hired. There are guides standing at the entrance of the “lake” the flooded road just outside Gonaives. If you don’t drive in the right place, you fall off the road. He told us there are about 200-300 people living at the bishop’s house, which is where we are headed first.

Ben brought electrical tape and taped up the bullet hole in the Montero b/c this photographer told us that the water is up to the headlights. It will surely gush in if we don’t tape up the hole. Couldn’t get duct tape at the hotel, no one around at 5:30. The road to St. Marc is fairly good. Gets bad after that. National Road Number One. Dusty. Dry. As you drive along, I remember the old saying’ the road is their living room. People built their homes close to the road and some of them sit and watch the traffic go by. Entertainment. Instead of the Disney channel, they have National Road Number One channel.

They have these speed bumps on this national road in the oddest places. I can understand them in congested areas, but you’ll be hurling along, going 60-70 mph to try to make up time, and suddenly come upon a speed bump. Go figure.

The tap taps and buses are fascinating both in their human cargo and appearance. Blue, red, yellow, some with American flags painted on them, with sayings in Creole like “God is good” or “You woz.” You woz what? Some tap taps are crammed so full they become low riders and the back nearly hits the road. They’re called tap taps because you pound on the roof when you want to get off.

The photographer told us that the UN compound, which is the only real medical facility open, will not let patients remain for the night. They are doing amputations and letting the people go. Many are getting gangrene from washing their injuries in the water contaminated from decaying corpses of people and animals and sewage. Imagine having your foot cut off and then having to immediately leave. The mass burials are also facing problems. Dump trucks of bodies turned away by people tossing rocks b/c they believe if you don’t properly bury a person, their spirit will roam free. The photographer told us they saw a mass grave, a pit the size of house. Also problems with looters hijacking trucks of food.


Tuesday Sept 28 2004

11:00 p.m.

Thinking about our fall into the drink. Sitting on the wet seat for the 5 hour ride back to the hotel that turned into a 6 hour ride because it got dark. The Montero stunk. I joked that we could bottle the smell and sell it to armchair field workers. The NEW Essence of Disaster. When you want to be in the thick of it, and can’t, live the experience through Essence of Disaster.

It’s dangerous to drive in Haiti at night because you can’t see…but hell after driving through that water, I’ll take the dark. I wasn’t even worried, just concerned when it was Catherine’s turn to drive because she got shot at night and surely it must be a little harrowing for her.

My feet are swollen. They were standing in icky water for nearly an hour. I think I’m going to read a little and hope I don’t have nightmares. Every time I close my eyes, I see the Montero tipping, and imagine it falling all the way over, the brown funky water gushing in, flooding us as we sit there, trapped.


Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2004

6:55 a.m. I was very lucky. No nightmares. I slept very deeply. And woke up a couple of times during the night but it wasn’t too bad.

Yesterday we met a woman who lost both her kids. She’s staying at the bishop’s house. Actually, there were three women who lost their children. They were all staying together. Rosemarie’s five-month-old and four-year-old, and two other children under the age of six. The women struggled to make it outside with the kids and these tall men helped them. Rosemarie swallowed water, as it was nearly over her head. They got to the kids to safety, a high wall where they put them so they’d be safe, the poor kids crying and so scared the whole time. And the men helped the women onto the roof. Then they returned for the children. The wall collapsed and the children were swept away.

The last words her four-year-old said to Rosemarie were, “Mommy, are you going to let me die? Are you going to save me?” Rosemarie is still in shock. Her eyes are glazed over, dull and blank.

God, I can’t even write about this. It’s too horrid. I have to dredge it up later when I write the story. I can’t think about this now. Just can’t.


7 p.m.

Oh man! That Montero stunk today, oh it smells soooo bad. Stink of death and sewage. It was horrible and then when we got to the office, we took the pick-up while they did a deep cleaning of the Montero. We returned from the orphanage we visited and had to wait wait wait for them to fetch the Montero. Finally got it back and climbed in and I wanted to retch. They did a “deep cleaning,” which did nothing to rid the truck of the smell and then amor all-ed it. So they sealed in the stink. I gagged.

Went to a great orphanage with lovely kids and a nice pastor and his wife, who is also a pastor and a doctor. Our tip into the drink was nothing compared to the pastor’s story of horror. He drove from flooded Port au Paix to Gonaives, through flood waters, got stuck twice and trapped in the water in Gonaives from 3 p.m. to 8 a.m. the next morning. They were driving under water, water sloshing over the hood, couldn’t see and praying the whole time. They were one of the first ones to make it out of Gonaives.

The kids are clean and well kept but poor. Saw two little ones whose parents died in the earlier flooding on the border. They were brought in naked. A lot of children were saved, as in Gonaives because it was easier for adults to pluck the children out of the water. The one-year-old made me melt. I held him on my lap and his little fingers curled around my index finger. He has these huge, sad brown eyes. They have to dress him in girls’ clothing because they have no boys’ clothing. His sister is three and has aged eyes. Did she watch her parents drown? Who knows? But she does not smile. I tried to coax a smile from her. Nothing. And then she curled against me on the bench, rested her head against me. I had to choke back a sob. These kids, they’ve endured so much. They need so much love.

http://www.bonnievanak.com



Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Drink

Funny how two glasses of "vin rouge" at the hotel montana helps a little to take the edge off a stressful day. I tried cleaning my insides with alcohol after cleaning my outsides by scrubbing down with hot hot hot water and plenty of soap.

You see, on the way back from Gonaives today, we fell into "the drink."

The "drink" as I call it, is the lake of water you hit just before entering the city. It's an endless sea of murky, dark, eerie water about thigh high in some points, created by the recent floods that killed more than 1,500 (the numbers rise, depending upon whom you ask). There's a lovely smell to the water, an interesting fragrance of Eau de Rotting Corpse of both human and animal, and Eau de Sewage. Everything nasty is in this water, plus once in a while you see a few cacti fragments in it.

To cross this "drink," you have to hire a guide. You see, you cannot see the road and if you fall off, you fall deep. There's a channel that cuts alongside the road. Along the way you see the stranded carcasses of dead buses, etc. that didn't make it.

We made it there okay, after Ben patched the bullet hole in the driver's side that was still there when C got shot earlier this year. (Don't ask me WHY the staff couldn't have patched it by now). He taped it with electrical tape so the water wouldn't gush through. And there we were, driving very very slowly, water sloshing up to the doors, past the door, up to the headlights... a bit nerve wracking, but we made it okay.

Did our stuff, which I will mention in a later blog when I'm not counting internet hours at a Haitian hotel, and then got back to the "drink" for the return home crossing.

Hired two guides. And we drove off the road.

Years ago, I tipped over in a canoe and got trapped beneath it in a flood for just a few seconds. But those few seconds were enough.

This experience rivaled it. Our trusty Montero tipped and sagged sideways. I felt that gush of panic that we were going to tip over and fall on the side.

And drown in water that many people already drowned in. Not a nice image.

We didn't tip. But we had to get out to try to figure out how to right the vehicle.

We were wearing boots, but it didn't matter. The water seeped in past our boots, up to our knees. The smell was oh so lovely. Standing in water consisting of raw sewage and decaying corpses. Not a nice way to spend an afternoon.

And we waited, helplessly, for SOMEONE with a winch, a rope, something, to help tow us out.

The UN passed by. They made a peace sign. Several trucks passed. They ignored us and gave us the international peace sign. After the fifth truck passed, I gave them MY international sign. Middle finger, screaming at them in English to do something. I think I shocked myself, lol.

So here we are, standing in the water for 45 minutes and who rescues us poor blancs, the whites from America? The Haitians in a dumptruck. They had a rope, it broke the first time, and then they set to it with dermination, wading waist deep into the water to attach it to the Montero, and pulled us free. Poor C, she was standing there so long and she's not supposed to be on her feet that much and here she was, stranded.

Anyway, we got going again, started to cross the lake and in the middle, hit a traffic jam. It's 4 p.m. I'm thinking, "Okay, it's going to get dark in 1.5 hours." We've hit a deep part of the lake and water is pouring in through the bullet hole. It's sloshing around our ankles. A bit nerve wracking, sitting in the middle of this. Finally the traffic jam gets going and we pass....

A UN tank that ran off the road! Stuck.

I gave them the international peace symbol, ha ha ha!!! You must understand part of my frustration...it's not just because they ignored us. We passed a food line in Gonaives where, when we asked, the people had been waiting for SIX hours in the hot sun. At least 500, hungry, desperate people, some of whom had not eaten in 10 days. Since the floods. And we saw a truck of UN guys with guns, just sitting there. Taking photos. Like they took photos of us, stranded in that awful water.

Now I know what it feels like to be a poor haitian, ignored, begging for help, passed by an oblivious world. In a really stinky, awful situation. And who helped us out of the drink? The poor Haitians.

Of course when we hit dry land and I'm singing "Thank you God!" we see that the UN has directed men to pound in these markers to mark the road's edge. They are only doing this AFTER one of their own has driven off the road and gotten stuck. And then we passed these huge container trucks with food, guarded by a convey of armed UN guys. And I thought, NOW you come with the food? These people are ready to riot! Why didn't you mark the road before?

Because as bad as it was for us to go into "the drink," I would hate ten times if one of those container trucks to do it. You see, I returned to my hotel. I showered, scrubbed and got the nasty water off me. But those people are hungry. They're starving. They have no clean water, no food, nothing.

In the end, better for us to have gone into the drink, nasty as it was, then a UN truck loaded with food. If they managed to get there without being hijacked. But that's another story.

I think I need a real drink now. The kind that will numb me to sleep.


Monday, September 27, 2004

Report from Haiti

In Haiti. Plane got in this a.m. at 11 a.m. Or was it noon? All screwed up on time, they're an hour behind us and I have no sense of time b/c of the hurricane. Blown off course, you might say.

Tomorrow heading for Gonaives. We're going to try to make it up there. There's a huge mess b/c it rained Saturday and all the flooding that receded has now returned. You have to hire guides to walk you through the road or you might drive into a crater and submerge and get into real trouble. The road, they say, is littered with relief trucks that got stuck.

Bad news... more bodies emerging. Ones that were swept out to sea last week now are returning to the city. It's pretty bad, we are told, and the gangs are still looting relief trucks, preventing real aid from getting to the hungry. Some people haven't eaten in 5 days. It looks like there may be a food crisis lurking on the horizon.

Staying at the Montana. Beautiful hotel, stayed here many times, lots of polished mahogany, unique rooms, and modern conveniences like the internet here. And we're going to a town where they have no food, water, electricity (Catherine said they have one generator running in the whole town, it must look like a beacon at night, a lighthouse amid chaos) and people are going hungry.

As mom used to say, we'll see. This is kinda weird. Going from wiping off my forehead that we survived yet another hurricane, and now being in Haiti where the very same hurricane, when it was a tropical storm, has killed so many and caused so much suffering and misery.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Sunday, September 26, 2004

My dog is stoned

Tia is looking at me woozily, like, "Oh wow, I see colors, dude." Gave her a doggie prozac last night. No choice. Winds from Hurricane Jeanne were kicking butt at the front door. Each time the wind moaned and howled, Tia lifted her canine voice in a chorus of song. She barked. She howled back. Spooked the heck out of me, esp. since it was me, the dogs and the bird. Frank had to work at the hospital.

Very, very lucky. No real damage, again!!! But for MORE roof shingles. Bit by bit, our roof is peeling apart. BUT we still have power! Hooray!!!! It flicked at 8 p.m. then sputtered and died. And I thought, "Thar she blows." But came back on again.

So I sat through Hurricane Jeanne's 71-mph winds we got here in Deerfield Beach, and I edited COBRA. No time to get to post office yesterday before hurricane hit, and it was closed anyway. During the worst of the winds last night, I'm sitting there, editing a love scene.

ME, typing: "His naked flesh felt torturously hot..."

Hurricane Jeanne outside: OOOOOOOOOOOOO
Tia dog: GRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!! RUFF!!!

ME, typing: "Kenneth curled a rock solid arm around her waist, as if to brace her for what was to come"

Hurricane Jeanne, outside: HOWL, OOOOOOOOO, MOANNNNNNN
Tia dog: RUFF, RUFF, RUFF!!

Me, typing: "So hot, oh, she was fire, burning, needing him"

Hurricane Jeanne, outside: OOOOOOOOOOO
Tia dog: OOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Sigh. FOURTH hurricane to hit Florida in six weeks. THIS IS RIDICULOUS!! My heart goes out to the people of the treasure coast. Still debris from Frances around and they had to suffer a direct hit! Is it over yet? Frank and I boarded the condo yesterday, well, he did it, I held the plywood, and he shuttered the house and I filled up the tub (again!!) and dumped out the icemaker and ...etc., etc., etc.

Tomorrow I leave for Haiti, where this storm killed more than 1,500 people. Haiti is a living hell right now, they say. I'm kinda dreading this trip. I know what I will see there. And that makes today a little more special. To sit here in my solid home, with POWER, with insurance (crappy as it is) and no losses, I feel blessed. Truly, I do. To have missed a direct hit from FOUR hurricanes in six weeks...

Next time, I may not be so lucky.
http://bonnievanak.com

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Post hurricane stress & editing

Got little work on revisions done last night due to post-traumatic hurricane stress problems at home. Frank kept asking, “What’s that smell? It’s coming from beneath the cabinets.” He pulled out the dishwasher and found water! Came from the freezer after it defrosted during Hurricane Frances. He had to chip out all the rotted wood and remove the cabinet bottoms to get at the water to dry it out.

I never even thought of the freezer pan overflowing. So there we are last night. Me on the laptop, trying to get revisions done. Him chipping and pounding at the rotting wood. Like this:

Me, writing: “Mesmerized by the tenderness on his face, she leaned close.”

Him: WHAM, BAM!!!

Me, writing: “Badra reached up and for the first time since she had been enslaved, willingly touched a man.”

Him: WHAM BAM, "&#@&*# cabinets!"

Me, writing: “Khepri groaned deeply and pulled away.”

Him: WHAP WHAP, BAM BAM, “Hey Bonnie, will homeowners insurance pay for this?”

Me, closing the laptop, laughing hysterically for five minutes: “Ha ha ha! Ah, no. Our homeowners insurance will cover catastrophic damage, like a cow falling through the roof or the whole house being sucked up into a tornado like Dorothy’s but not the cabinets being replaced. And I think we have a $1.5 million deductible, so forget it.”

Sigh…

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Crisis mode

Ok, now we ARE going to Gonaives, the place in Haiti where 600 people died. Oh wow, I'm not looking forward to this, but it's my job. I feel like I've been operating in crisis mode for the past month. One hurricane after another here, at home, and then at work the disasters piling up. Talked to our director in Haiti and she told me the people have NO food and NO water. Heard they are mobbing relief trucks as soon as they arrive. I remember the famine in Nicaragua and how everyone mobbed the priest's truck we were with, desperate for food. This will not be an easy trip. They're still pulling the dead out of their houses.

So now I feel a bit panicked to finish revisions before I leave. My editor was gracious enough to give me time, but it doesn't matter. Because I'll be an emotional wreck when I return. I doubt I can change gears so easily to work on romance. I mean, when I visit a town that's had a three story wall of mud slam into it, bodies of dead women and children lying about, people starving and pleading for help, and so much suffering, how can I return and write about how tormented Khepri is because he's so deeply in love with Badra? If I must, I will. I can do it. But I'd rather not test the idea. Not now.

http://bonnievanak.com

Monday, September 20, 2004

Conversations with characters

Reuters saying more than 300 dead in Haiti due to Tropical Storm Jeanne’s flood waters. No trees, nothing to hold the mudslides back. Sigh… more distressing news. Going there Sunday, but not to Gonaives. Haiti’s been slammed this year, between the earlier violence, the floods in May that killed thousands and now this.

Worked on revisions all day yesterday, felt like a hermit so we went to a friend’s house for Dolphin’s game. Felt a little normal again. Sometimes when I get into writing, especially when on deadline, I get totally absorbed into the setting and my characters. I walk outside and blink, wondering where the pyramids are. I can’t stop thinking about my characters. They’re little gremlins following me around. It sounds odd, but they suck me in like quicksand.

Yesterday I had an imaginary conversation with Rashid. He asked me, “So Bonnie, you have me cutting off my abuser’s balls. Don’t you think that’s violent?” I told him, “Of course it is. How better to illustrate the rage you kept hidden as a child and finally let surface?” Then he said, “But people will think I’m a vicious, violent man.” And I answered, “Not really. Your actions were justified. You killed him in a fair fight and then cut off his balls. Very symbolic. They’ll see that vulnerable loneliness in your eyes Badra sees and know how haunted you are. How much you suffered. And I think they’ll cheer because your tormentor certainly deserved it.”

He seemed satisfied. Now must wait and see if my editor is.

http://bonnievanak.com

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Neurotic rants

Okay, I've decided I don't like the new chapter I wrote for COBRA. Then I liked it. Now I don't know. Maybe the one brain cell left after this hurricane business is gasping for air. I should leave it, and move on. You know, like a lost relationship.The chapter, not the brain cell.

Chris, the other writer from work, stopped by to drop off his tape of the Jamaica trips. OMG, it's so sad. He told me how he talked to the family who lost their two kids in Ivan. The mother held the baby in her arms as they tried to escape the rising flood waters. The waters reached past her head and she was grasping onto her husband, the baby still in her arms. The baby drowned, as did another child the husband held. OMG, it's horrible... so horrible.

Must continue with revisions. Romance is better than sad stories of drowning children. This book DOES have a happy ending. Even my neurotic I HATE IT I LOVE IT I HATE IT ramblings will not change that.
http://bonnievanak.com

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Writing

Looks like we are out of the CONE OF DOOM for Jeanne. Hooray. I'm turning off all weather related media and concentrating on revisions for THE COBRA & THE CONCUBINE. Researching camel racing. Bedouin coffee ceremonies. Stuff you wouldn't find in the tropics. Had a few moments of panic last night when the computer ate a whole chapter of revisions. That ungodly scream heard up to New York was me. Fortunately, the floppy disk worked on the dinosaur of a laptop I still have. Sometimes the old computers are better than the new technology. Trying to get revisions done before I leave for Haiti next Sunday. Liking the changes I'm seeing. Khepri, my hero, is shown drastically different in his role as a Khamsin warrior than later when he becomes duke. What a change. Great conflict. He's torn up about leaving the only family he's ever really known, the culture and traditions that are not of his blood, but his upbringing. But in the end, he leaves gladly, not looking back after the only woman he's ever wanted rejects him. Sniff, sniff. I felt so sorry for him and went "awwww" when I read that last sentence. That's a good sign, when I feel that little jerk of emotion while reading.