Monday, February 22, 2010

The silence

Sometimes Haiti is a quiet sweep of a dry, dusty breeze over barren hills. Patches of black scorched earth stand out starkly against the dry brush and piles of rubble. Just outside the city is a narrow dirt road where trucks have traversed, with their cargo from the remains of the earthquake.

This is where some mass graves are, where thousands of earthquake victims were buried.

You travel down the dusty dirt road, the parched mountains rising in the background observing the valley below like silent sentinels. Piles of garbage line the way, flanking the road like snowbanks of crushed plastic and broken green glass. The road winds and curves and dips behind the first hill seen from National Road number 1, and then the highway vanishes and you are overlooking the valley below. Dotting the ground are simple handmade white crosses. When you reach the bottom of the hill, you come to a small clearing where there are about four or five large mounds of rubble, each marked with a white cross made from what looks like white metal chair legs. Go further down and you arrive at the pauper’s graveyard. Here, two cows graze peacefully among the graves, each plot unmarked but for a white wood cross or a tin cross painted hospital green. Some green crosses have names scratched on them, rust staining the edges.

A man we picked up to escort us to where they dumped the bodies after the earthquake tells us that these are the individual graves of those too poor to be properly buried. They were dumped here by a city hospital. They now rest among the victims of the January 12 earthquake. He points to a small grave marked by a white cross, a grave that has rubble piled atop it. “These are earthquake victims,” he says of the rubble.

The larger mass graves are around the bend, where small mounds rise from the dirt, each marked by a white metal cross. Mothers, fathers and children are buried here, poured into deep pits like refuse when trucks dumped the bodies. No names. No records. No one mourns here. No one knows who they are, where they came from or who loved them and who misses them. No flowers or flags or little mementos such as a child’s truck or a sister’s favorite hairbrush.

Nothing but crude white crosses.

There is no closure here for the living because there are no names. I wonder if here is the final resting place of the husband of a woman I met on my last visit to Haiti. The woman, whose home was destroyed and who lives in a tent city with her three children, told me her husband was buried in a mass grave. He was a stone mason who was at work during the earthquake. “He would have found us by now,” she insisted. She had checked all the hospitals in a vain search to find him. “They threw him away.”

It’s so quiet here compared to Port-au-Prince with its blaring horns, people singing gospel in makeshift churches beneath blue tarps, determinedly cheerful radio music urging people to unite and rise up above the tragedy, and the chatter of street vendors trying to reassemble their shattered lives.

There is only the hush of a breeze sweeping down the mountains to the turquoise ocean below, and the dry whisper of dead leaves stirring in the air.

And the silence.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Report from Haiti

Internet is finally back up. Our trip got off to an auspicious start when the car in the DR broke down and we had to wait two hours for a new one. But we made it, and yesterday spent a good day in the field.

We went into the countryside and visited a couple of tent cities. The damage in the country, which I haven't seen until this trip, is extensive. There are lots of smaller tent cities along the roadside.

At our last stop, where we're feeding the residents of a tent city of about 1,000, things got a titch ugly when the crowd started growing restless. There's just so much need and people are living in conditions that no one should have to endure.

Today we're sticking to the city and tent cities we've visited before.

Our hotel yesterday had no water in the morning, but when they finally did, it felt great to wash my hair. I've discovered the trick to washing your hair in ice cold water in the a.m. It involves something like a yoga position and a glass to dump over your soapy head.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Leaving for Haiti

Leaving for Haiti tomorrow. Difficult trip, but I do what I must. I may blog from the road if I can. The hotel we are staying in is supposed to have wi-fi, though it's closing when we leave because they need to make repairs due to earthquake damage.

I'm really really going to miss my DH on this trip.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Darkness of the Wolf wins CataRomance Reviewers Choice

DARKNESS OF THE WOLF, my Nocturne Bite, has won a CataNetwork Reviewers' Choice Award for 2009.

This personally means a lot to me, as that story was set on a fictional island meant to resemble Haiti, and one of the hotels was modeled after the Hotel Montana, the hotel where I wrote part of the story while in Haiti.

The Montana was my "home" in Haiti for 16 years. That hotel collapsed during the earthquake and several people were killed.

I'll be back in Haiti next week, touring tent cities and areas where my organization is building about 300 houses a month. Another 100 homes will be built in northern Haiti to accomodate families with relatives who fled Port au Prince after the earthquake. We're also building pit latrines in camps.

In other news, Jennifer Ashley and I will be presenting a workshop at RWA National called "Putting on Your Shorts." Jennifer is the NY Times-best selling author of Pride Mates. WOOT! Congrats Jennifer! Pride Mates is one of the books I'm taking to Haiti to give to friends who asked me to bring them romance novels.

Here's an excerpt from Darkness of the Wolf.

They could kill him. Now. Or wait. He’d gone past caring.

No one would mourn his death. Guy Laurent was alone in the world. The thought made him ache. In his world of Draicon werewolves, anyone who used to know him thought he was already dead.

Huddled in a corner of his cage at the Savage Kingdom Zoo, he lay with his head between his paws. He stared at the steel bars prohibiting escape. Disguised as a real zoo, the facility was a prison for werecreatures who were forced into their animal forms during the day for unknowing human visitors.

A little girl licking an ice cream stopped before his exhibit as her mother sat on a bench feeding a toddler. The child looked upset. “Please don’t be sad, wolf.” She held out her cone. “You can have my ice cream.”

No one ever gave him anything without a price. But he still had a soft spot left for children. Guy loped toward the bars, wishing he could smile at her.

His keeper approached, knocked her hand away, sending her ice cream toppling.
“Hey, you stupid kid, don’t feed the animals!”

The girl started crying.

A low growl rumbled from Guy. He glared at the demon and charged the cage.
Electricity zapped his powerful body. Uncaring, he pawed through the bars, wanting to hurt the demon for upsetting the child.

The little girl screamed. “Mama, the wolf’s going to hurt me!” Guy watched in pained bewilderment as she ran off. I was only trying to help you.

When would he ever learn that nothing good came of helping others?

The demon pressed a box on his belt. The Ident chip buried beneath Guy’s skin sent painful pulses through him. He yipped, shaking his head, trying to get rid of the agony.

Later, they came for him. In human form now, he was naked. Using the Ident chips injected into each werecreature, their demon keepers restricted their magick and forced all the prisoners into their human forms long after the zoo had closed.

The garrote around his neck choked him as they paraded him off to the shed. The demons stretched him out as they tied him to the punishment posts. The leather whip cracked through the air. Guy tensed. Salt on the whip’s silver studs ensured his wounds would scar.

A cold night wind whistled over his body as they dumped him into the cage after his beating. The winter chill infiltrating central Florida felt like needles stinging his shivering flesh.

“Rough day?”

At the sound of that familiar, deep voice, Guy raised his head and snarled.

“Come to finish off what the demons didn’t, Phoenix?”

The tall, dark-haired man standing before him raised every hair on Guy’s nape. Tristan was a Phoenix, one of the immortal Justice Guardians who oversaw all werecreatures.

“If I were, I’d have given you to the Draicon executioner instead of confining you here.”

“Fine. Now get the hell out of here. You’re blocking my view,” Guy muttered.

“How would you like to be free?”

Agony flared on his back. “I’ve been tortured enough today. Save it for tomorrow, when the demons get bored.”

“I never torture. Not my style. This is legit,” Tristan sat cross-legged before him.

“They told me the only way I’m getting out of here is in a coffin.”

“I have final authority here. How does visiting Ile a Sanglier in the Caribbean sound?”

Wild boar island. “Why, they have a new zoo they want to display me?”

“You have a friend there. Bernard Belizaire. Bernard acts as sort of a resource coordinator for Draicon on the island and keeps tabs on everything that happens. He helped several Draicon packs settle on Ile a Sanglier years ago. Recently, the oldest pack vanished.” Tristan’s green gaze met his. “They were slaughtered by Morphs.”

Guy swore softly. Morphs, former Draicon who turned to evil for greater power by killing a close relative, were their race’s greatest threat.

“The Quartermaines left the States, but their alpha, Dell, kept tabs on them through Bernard. Dell wants Brianna, the youngest Draicon. She managed to escape, and make it to a Draicon safe house. Your job is to be bodyguard for Brianna and help Kayla Morris, the woman hired to find and bring Brianna back to Dell. We need a Draicon who is a good fighter and will keep Brianna safe until her return to the States.”

“Why can’t Bernard do it himself? Or this Kayla person?”

Tristan’s jaw tightened. “He admitted he can’t protect her from Morphs. He has a rare condition and his senses, especially hearing and smell, are failing. Kayla lacks Draicon powers. She’s been hired because Brianna only trusts females. If you do this, you can go free.”

“And you’re offering me this out the goodness of that black ice you call a heart?”

His windpipe compressed as Tristan squeezed a fist, clutching nothing more than air. “Watch it, wolf.”

Tristan released him. Guy rubbed his aching throat.

“And why should I trust you when you put me in here?” he demanded.

“You’re here because you killed your pack alpha.”

“I’m here because of Anne. I warned her Simon was turning evil and I was going to take him out. So she told Simon. He went after me, I killed him and then Carl, Simon’s beta, took over. Carl got leadership and I got prison.”

He’d foolishly warned Anne to keep her safe, failing to see her blind loyalty to their leader. He should have known better than to put a woman’s needs before his own.

Tristan stood, shadowing Guy with his tall body. “Because you saved the pack by killing Simon, you’re here instead of six feet under. You knew the rules. You should have told Carl, who would have alerted the Kallan to execute Simon. The Kallan is immortal and the pack would have respected his authority. Instead, you killed Simon and nearly involved your pack in a brutal war over who believed you and who didn’t. You’re a rogue who can’t follow orders.”

“And you think I can follow rules now?” he taunted. Damn, he still had freshly bleeding stripes on his back to prove otherwise.

“I’m giving you this chance to see if you can.” The Phoenix flashed him a dark smile.

Freedom. So close he could taste it. Guy squeezed his aching fists. “I’ll do it. What about the Ident?”

“It stays in until you deliver the girl to Dell. A little insurance in case you take a detour.” Tristan looked impassive. “I’m deactivating it, but in five days, starting it up again unless you deliver the girl.”

The thought of the chip still buried inside him rankled Guy. He took a deep breath.

“Just remember deliver Brianna to Dell or you’re back here. And you won’t leave until you’re in a coffin.” Tristan paused. “When she shows up tomorrow, go easy on Kayla. She usually avoids Draicon.”

“Sure, I’ll take it easy on the human.”

Tristan smiled. “I never said Kayla was human.”

“What the hell is she?”

“Your destiny.”

Fear and rage roared through Guy. “The hell with destiny, Phoenix. I’ve spent 30 years locked up because a woman betrayed me. You call that my destiny, too?”

“Kayla isn’t Trish, Guy. She has no pack loyalty.”

Guy shook his head. “Every wolf for himself.”

“We’ll see,” Tristan murmured as he vanished.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Courtney Hayes

The first of the Lynn University students missing from the Hotel Montana has been positively identified.

This sucks, and yet the family can finally have closure and grieve.


I'm so sorry, Hayes family, for your enormous loss.


I find myself sinking into a depression lately. I can't sleep, which is part of it, and when I do, wake exhausted. Sleeping pills aren't cutting it. The nightmares aren't scary, just very disturbing. I wake up at 3 a.m. shivering and not wanting to fall back asleep and when I do, the nightmares begin again.

Next Tuesday I'll be back in Haiti. The hotel we are staying at is closing the day we check out. It's too badly damaged to stay open. How weird is that, that we're staying at a hotel that has earthquake damage and must close?

I know what I'll see and I'm not looking forward to it. But it's my job and what I must do.

Friends tell me, "Did you see the news about how there are still dead bodies down there that haven't been buried? That there's still rubble on the streets?"

I want to tell them, "No s**t." Do they honestly think that a disaster of this magnitude, with a government that had little capacity to handle any KIND of crisis, would be totally cleaned up in one lousy month?

They're STILL recovering bodies from the Hotel Montana and will be for a long time.

Then there are the well-meaning, but clueless people who tell me, as if they are experts, "Oh it was all shoddy construction down there, that's why those buildings collapsed."

Ah, no.... The Hotel Montana was solidly built. So was the Cathedral. Those buildings became rubble. It was a freaking powerful earthquake, people. Why must you try to put blame somewhere?

I just walk away from those comments before I blow my cool. Then there are the people who don't ask, don't care, and act like everything is "normal" for me. Right.

The only encouraging thing I'm looking forward to seeing is that our NGO is building pit toilets at one of the camps. Sanitation is so important now.

Haiti cancelled Carnival. First time ever. I think of the mocking, scary masques at the Cap Lamandou hotel in Jacmel I saw last February while we were there. The hotel is destroyed now.

One day at a time. I keep telling myself, one day at a time.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

A normal day

I am so grateful for yesterday.

It was the most normal, relaxing day I've had since my return from Haiti. DH and I went to breakfast and talked about vacation, the house, relatives, everything but Haiti. Then while he was at his train store, I sat outside and actually WROTE a little of Gabriel's story. I'm still a long way off from my usual writing pace, but just writing a little was very encouraging.

In the afternoon, we went to The Home Depot and finally bought a new rug for our bedroom, one that is stain resistant. Take that doggies. Ha! Then it was off to my romance chapter's library event. Fourteen authors, most from Florida Romance Writers, had a discussion panel and then signed books. There was a raffle as well and I won a massage pillow. I bought books, all autographed! for my friends in Haiti who asked for romance novels as an escape.

Then we went to Rose's house for a little while.

DH and I went to dinner later, and made plans for our Super Bowl get together at his dad's house tonight.

It was a normal, relaxing weekend. I didn't realize how much I sorely needed it until last night when I finally fell asleep without the help of a sleeping pill.

I'm returning to Haiti in about another week. It's hard for me to talk about Haiti with anyone. I find myself trying to steer away from the conversation. I can write about it, but I just don't want to discuss it. I don't want to answer questions, try to explain some things that can't be explained, or tell people what I've seen.

I'd rather just leave it at, "It was very very bad and the people are in desperate need of help."

Today we may go to an antique fair or ride our bikes before the Super Bowl. I'm going to try to write a little more this morning while doing chores. Maybe I can finally get back to multi tasking again.