Crossroads of Humanity

Dec 20, 2013

From the Abyss

Please welcome John Emil Augustine, author of From the Abyss.

I awaken with a start this morning in a cold sweat, feeling like a drowning victim resurfacing. I gasp and jump to my feet, my heart and mind racing; my body moving involuntarily. I’m having a panic attack. It doesn't always happen, but when it does, there is a black hole inside my chest that I can only describe as pure, hopeless terror. I struggle to quickly throw on my clothes.

It is a sunshiny Saturday morning, and I don't have to work today. My beautiful wife is in bed, and she tells me to stop and breathe. I ask about our kids, and she calmly says they are fine. I ask about money and our rent. “We have plenty of money right now,” my wife reassures me. “Our rent is paid, and it's the middle of the month.” We're about to have a slow Saturday morning with pancakes and coffee. Maybe some cartoons for the kids. I can sit in my chair with my laptop and relax. I stand in the bedroom doorway, half-dressed, and breathe to the sound of my wife's words. She is right of course. There is absolutely nothing to panic about.

I have come to understand that this panic attack is the result of something called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My first wife emotionally abused me, using our child against me. I spent more than ten years jumping through her hoops, believing she was putting him in danger or would steal him away from me. In order to keep her happy, I went into debt voluntarily to give her extra money beyond the child support, so she would agree to stay in the state. I did this to continue visitation with my son, though the court appointed me equal custody. The custody agreement was one thing, but it wouldn’t have stopped her. At least, not according to her threats. How long it would have taken me to get him back was a question not easily answered. What it would have cost was definitely beyond my means. My only choice was to keep on her good side in order to continue a stable relationship with my son.

Homelessness, alcoholism, job loss, fractured family relationships – once I began to struggle in my relationship with my ex, I began to struggle in everything. To keep her happy, I put every other relationship I had in jeopardy. I stayed strong in the face of each problem, but privately, I lived in constant, debilitating fear, knowing another crisis was just around the corner. Drugs and alcohol helped me cope, but eventually became detrimental. They were my way of hiding from reality, as was my increasingly antisocial behavior. I had been living through a traumatic and stressful situation for far too long. I had spiraled into a deep abyss.

PTSD is common in soldiers who have seen combat, in rape victims, in natural disaster victims, in attack victims; really in anyone who has lived through a situation which was traumatic. For those who have been traumatized by a marriage and a prolonged divorce in which a child is used as a tool of manipulation, PTSD is unfortunately a reality. As a man, it was the expectation of my family that I remain strong, get over my failed marriage, and work amicably with my ex-wife. In fact, my calls to my mom asking for help were stressing her out, so my dad eventually called me and told me to stop bothering her with my problems. That was my official cue to be a man, quit my whining, and tough it out.

Men are often expected to work alone. It's almost one of our American societal mores. However, isolationism or social withdrawal is a symptom of PTSD. Reaching out can be extremely difficult because someone with stress as the result of reaching out in the first place (as in a marriage) will be far less likely to jump at the opportunity of risking entering into or furthering an existing relationship. Simply put, PTSD sufferers have an excruciatingly hard time asking for help. And men in particular who do reach out are often scorned for being weak.

What’s to be done?

The first step is for us to change our perception of what happens to a person during and after a traumatic relationship. This is why I have written a book series about my experience. It’s hard to identify with someone in such a circumstance if you’ve had no prior experience with it. If you say, as my parents did, that a guy should be in control and tackle his problems by himself, you misunderstand what the problem is, and it is very easy to dismiss someone who is in a tailspin such as I was. It seemed most everyone I knew was telling me to pull myself up by my bootstraps. And, by golly, I did.

I did exactly that. I worked harder than I ever had to keep my family somewhat together, to continue to do exemplary work at my job, and even to help support my ex. I supported her financially by giving more than the court ordered me to. I supported her physically by helping fix up her house, even giving her the half I owned free and clear by signing a quit claim deed. I even supported her emotionally by listening to her rants and trying to help smooth things over with people she needed to keep in her life. I did more than I should have.

Still, in the end, having pulled myself up by my bootstraps was not the way to get rid of the detrimental effects of PTSD. That’s the problem: PTSD doesn’t just go away. It lingers and is re-triggered again and again. You fight it bravely, but it continues to resurface. Not only do you fight the PTSD, you fight the stigma it gives you as you watch people shake their heads at you, wishing you would just get over it.

If you know someone who has had a relationship derail and go up in flames, learn about PTSD and relationships. You can Google the two keywords and find some related articles and studies fairly quickly, though such articles are sparse, and that’s part of the problem. Awareness isn’t common in our society. That is my purpose, to raise awareness.

Become aware. Be a friend to someone in a bad relationship. You may be able to help at some point, and helping is not a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be a huge time or emotional commitment. It can simply mean awareness. I was lucky to have had a few people who were at least aware enough to not turn their backs on me despite how society generally feels about a guy in such a position. I am alive today because of those people.

The hopeless terror does not have to be a reality for those of us with PTSD. There is hope in this life. Help me pass it on.

 From the Abyss

Connect with John Emil Augustine:

Nov 24, 2013

Really, Pat? A War on Christmas?

In the latest school news, my last school district has taken on Christmas. And it's so last month! How did I miss that? Oh yeah, I've been dealing with my own hectic life.

A couple of days ago, I wrote to a past colleague with a question about a Roman arch project. He responded with some shocking news. My hometown has once again landed in the national spotlight. This time it has nothing to do with pubic workers taking a stand against a union busting governor. No, this time it was one of their own who caused the uproar.

Here's what I learned yesterday in an email from my friend:

"Though, if you've caught the news lately you know the WSD has made national news. You'll remember the annual email about respecting cultural diversity and finding some curricular relevance for holiday festivities and songs. But a music teacher at West felt like there wasn't enough Christ in the public school district's Christmas concerts, and he called Fox News. Wausau's "War on Christmas" went national. There was a crazy public hearing at a school board meeting; the superintendent received death threats; Sarah Palin came to town to save Christmas from us godless, liberal public school teachers. Crazy, crazy stuff. That is: I still envy you your exodus to saner climes."

What began as a request from a high school music teacher to include only religious based Christmas songs in this year's winter concert led to the announcement that he could perform a concert with no religious based songs. That resulted in conflict between the school board and the administration.

OMG! What have I missed?! Yes, I'm glad I moved away. I'm very glad I moved away. *Breathing a sigh of relief.*

So what was the problem? The district places an emphasis on cultural diversity. The public schools are entrusted with educating all of the students, no matter what their religious upbringing may be. The district has never banned inclusion of religious topics as long as they are educational in nature and respect the students and their families. I never saw a problem with that, and I still don't.

High school choir director, Phil Buch, apparently does have a problem with that. He started the fire by bringing his grievances to Fox News, and school board member, Pat McKee, fueled the flames when he told Fox News that it was "nothing short of a war on Christmas."

What was the decision that caused such an uproar? Ultimately, Buch was told he'd either have to include some secular winter songs in the program, or he'd have to change the theme of the winter program entirely. His response was to disband the choir. Excuse me, but how childish! Being a teacher myself, I can think of so many marvelous things he could have done with that. He could have put together a multicultural program including holiday songs in a variety of different languages. He could have taken a look at holiday music through the ages. In both cases, it would not be difficult to incorporate secular holiday songs. Instead, he canceled Christmas. Yes, Mr. Buch, it was not the Wausau School District that canceled this festive season. You are the one who started this "war".

UPDATE: Wausau School District limits religious music
Wisconsin school district cracks down on Christmas music
Wausau school district threatened with lawsuit over music policy

Nov 10, 2013

Under Pressure

Pressure, building up...
Pushing in from every angle.
Pressing out from within.
Waking in the dark, breaths constricted,
Knowing I've stopped breathing, in the night.

Help me!

Need to find an outlet.

Not silent. Not at all.
Crying out, again and again, "Help me!"

Telling exactly what I need, to feel:

Words misunderstood.
Meanings twisted and misread.

Standing strong.
Keeping it together.
For my sanity.
For us...
For her...

This can only last so long.
Before I reach a breaking point.

An argument, left to hibernate for the winter.
Supposed to revisit it the next fall.
Staying strong, I let it drop,
And wept silent tears.
But not forever.

Asking for help one more time.
Anger bursts the calm evening silence.
No help here.
This time I am ready,
Holding firm, standing strong.

Still standing strong.
Keeping it together.
For my sanity.
For me...
For her...
This too will only last so long.

If you enjoyed this piece, please visit my official author website at:

Oct 12, 2013

First Head Transplant Fraught with Dilemmas

In early July 2013, I read a disturbingly fascinating news article: Possibility of First Head Transplant Fraught with Ethical and Medical Dilemmas.

Ethical and medical dilemmas, the article said. Yes, I could see how that would be true. It really got me to thinking. And when I think deep thoughts, I get the urge to write. Thus Dante was created.

Dante is an Italian violinist who believes in the wonders of science. He also believes he is destined for greatness. When he reads about the very real possibility of human head transplants, he just knows he has found his calling:

“Okay, this is getting a little weird,” Natalia said. “I mean, here I am watching you two grin about the possibility of Dante’s death. What’s wrong with us?”

“Nothing, dear cousin. We are merely talking about medical research. Imagine how much we could learn!”

Dante jumped in as well. “Oh, I have wondered about it! I’ve wondered about it a lot actually. I mean, just think of some questions that have plagued humans since the beginning of time. Is there a soul?”

“And if there is,” continued Pietro, “where does it reside, in the heart or the brain?”

“Maybe the soul runs throughout every cell of our being,” Natalia chimed in. “Maybe it runs through our nervous system.”

“Another thing I’ve often wondered about,” Dante cut in, “is muscle memory.”

“What do you mean?” Natalia asked.

“I think I know where he’s going with this,” Pietro said. “May I try to clarify, see if I’m right?”

Dante nodded eagerly. From all the strange looks he’d gotten whenever he tried to discuss any of this, he was glad to finally have an agreeable audience.

“You’re talking about actions that have become so commonplace with an individual, that they’re almost instinctive.”

“Yes, exactly,” Dante said.

“We already know that nerve signals move at an extraordinary rate along synaptic pathways. Little things called dendrites actively pass messages from one to the next until the brain receives the information or until the muscle receiving direction from the brain, does as it’s instructed.”

But a character alone isn't enough. I needed to do a little more research. The article referred to animal experiments. Specifically, it stated that a successful head transplant had been done to a monkey as early as 1970. I went to YouTube and searched for video footage to give me an idea of what that may have been like. I typed in, "Robert White monkey head transplant video" and found this:

Then I wrote about it:

The head surgeon snipped the last thread and stepped back. “Well, that's it. Now we wait.”

For a moment, the only sound was the gentle beep of the heart monitor, the only motion, the rise and fall of the patient’s chest. A grueling 18 hours after they had begun, the surgery was complete, and the team had come farther than anyone ever had before. Beneath the excitement of accomplishment, an underlying current of exhaustion was present on every face: dark circles under eyes, slack expressions and slumped shoulders. Although the chalk marks on the floor that had kept everyone in the right place at the right time no longer mattered, most of the anesthesiologists, lab technicians and nurses remained in their last positions, anxious for the patient to awaken.

A nurse’s gasp drew their attention when the patient opened its eyes.

Sharp teeth snapped at one of the lab techs who quickly stepped back and bumped into a stainless steel tray. Medical instruments crashed to the floor as two other technicians rushed forward to tighten the restraints.

“Damn animal almost took off my finger.” He chuckled nervously.

“He nearly got you,” the surgeon confirmed.

The doctor shone a pen light above the Rhesus monkey's head. A pair of amber eyes followed the beam of light as it moved back and forth across its field of vision. “Optical nerves appear to be functioning correctly.”

He reached to the side and picked up a small dog training device. He pressed the clicker, and the monkey blinked at the sound.

“Hearing is in working order. Nurse?” The surgeon handed her the device, and in turn, she handed him a wooden skewer with a piece of cantaloupe on it. The doctor slowly inserted the sweet cube into the monkey's mouth. The animal sucked on it, chewed it, swallowed, and licked its lips. A comprehensive sigh filled the room.

To learn whether or not Dante really is destined for greatness, check out Dante's Day Off. It will be available for sale as of Thursday, October 17, everywhere ebooks are sold. I will be sure to post links as soon as this short story is available.

Information about S.L. Wallace's other books can be found at her official author website:

Sep 22, 2013

Grades or no grades, that is the question!

I bet when you think of school, you think of desks in straight rows, homework and grades, among other things. I am a teacher, and I do not believe that any of that makes for a high quality learning environment.

Oh, sometimes desks in straight rows fits the bill, as in a college level, lecture style environment or when a guest speaker is present. Straight rows work especially well for choir, orchestra and band too. However, they do not work well as a staple of any preschool or elementary level classroom. Come middle school, straight rows of desks work well more often, but still are not ideal for the majority of the students' day. It is my belief that the environment must be adaptable so that students can easily work in small groups, alone, or in a large group as is best suited to any particular lesson or follow-up work.

In my opinion, homework is rarely beneficial. In my Montessori class, students receive assignments that are based upon the lessons they receive. Throughout the day, they are called to small group lessons, and when not in a lesson, they have time to work on their follow-up assignments or to do any other work that interests them. Montessori classrooms have a lot of hands-on materials on the shelves for students to choose from during work time. At the end of each day, all of the students sit down and take a look at our large laminated class planner and make sure their individual planners are up to date. If they've been using work time appropriately, they will rarely have homework. If students misuse their work time, or if they have been absent and need to catch up, they may have work that will need to be finished outside of school.

Grades... I have had a problem with the idea of grades ever since my first year of teaching. No, wait. It really started before that, when I was in my upper level teaching classes during undergrad. That is when I realized that my grades actually went up when I stopped focusing on them and instead focused only on what I was learning. However, my first year of teaching, I quickly noticed something I will share with you now. Although a good grade, an A does not always mean the same thing on every report card. Nor does a C necessarily indicate a student's capabilities. Grades really have little to no meaning. Really...let me explain.

Lisa is a natural at math. She catches on quickly and retains new concepts with ease. She certainly deserves the A she receives on her report card. Tommy works his hardest trying to understand the concepts he is being taught. He keeps up with the work and gets outside help from a tutor. His skills improve tremendously, and when grading time rolls around, he is deserving of the A he receives on his report card. Two A's. It is my belief that they do not mean the same thing. Now let's look at Cecily. She could easily do the math. Like Lisa, she understands and retains the concepts with ease, but she has a hectic schedule outside of school and rarely completes her assignments. She squeaks by with a C. However, that does not represent her skills, and her 100% scores on her exams and in class work show her teacher how gifted she is. Still, the C stands.

When I switched from traditional education to Montessori, I was thrilled that there were no "grades," not in the typical sense anyway. Students still do work. In fact, they do a tremendous amount of work. The beauty of the system is because teachers call small groups of students at a time while the rest of the class has open work time (choices within boundaries and freedom with responsibility) those who need repetition receive it and those who can move ahead have the chance to soar as far as they are able. Are students assessed? You bet they are! Every time I meet with a small group, I assess the students quickly before we move ahead to the next lesson. Periodically, students receive more rigorous assessments, and they even have standardized tests three times per year. Their parents receive report cards too. The report cards give the parents a comprehensive list of what lessons and skills their child has been introduced to, is working on, and has mastered. That's much more helpful than a letter to represent an entire subject area. Finally, with no grades, students aren't allowed to slack. If they finish an assignment, and their work is of poor quality or inaccurate, they don't get a poor grade and move on, instead they do it again and again until it's done well.

So...grades or no grades? Which do you think is better?

What makes a Montessori education so special? And how do students in Montessori schools fair when compared with students in other school systems? I have not done the research, but others have.

Montessori Method vs. Traditional Education

Montessori Education Provides Better Outcomes Than Traditional Methods, Study Finds

Comparison of Academic Achievement Between Montessori and Traditional Education Programs

In addition to being a Montessori teacher, S.L. Wallace is the author of the Reliance on Citizens trilogy and Retrospection.

Sep 8, 2013

Personal Rant

When it happens, I want to scream. Instead, I smile and nod and respond as polite society expects. By it, I mean whenever I say something that is very important to me, a really big deal, and the person I'm talking with shrugs it off. It can also mean when someone else places their assumptions about the world on me. I hate when that happens. But what am I to do?

I've never been what most would consider conventional. I'm not a fan of clothing that boldly proclaims the latest trademark or logo. Even as a teenager, I never much cared for shopping at all, and the latest trend has always been the least of my concerns.

Go back even further...grade school. In 6th grade, as part of our P.E. curriculum, we had the opportunity to either go cross country skiing or downhill skiing. My mother told me years later that she'd been impressed with my decision, not because of the decision itself but because of how I made my decision.

She saw the permission form and asked me, "What are you going to do?"

I told her, "I think I'll go cross country skiing."

She asked, "Who else is signing up for that?"

I shrugged and said, "I don't know." And honestly, I didn't much care. I knew I'd have fun skiing with whoever made the same choice.

Unbeknownst to me, my mother checked around. Apparently, other kids in my class were on the phone for hours that night, trying to decide who was doing what so they could make the right choice.

Flash forward. My boyfriend and I had been together for years, ever since the end of high school. We both went on to college, so marriage wasn't a priority for either of us in those early days. Then I graduated and began my first job. I knew my boyfriend didn't believe in the convention of marriage, but I liked the idea of publicly sharing our commitment to each other for all the world to see. He was resistant to the idea, so I backed off, happy enough to just be with him, and I was as surprised as everyone who really knew us when he did eventually pop the big question. And then it started. Family members and felt like almost everyone who saw my ring wanted to know the same thing, "When are you going to start a family?" Just thinking about that question makes me want to scream. Why can't just two people together be "a family"?

I wanted to shout out, "That's not why everyone gets married!"

I'm unconventional, remember? So we waited 10 years to have our first child and enjoyed being a family of two. I love my daughter so much; we both do. But we don't know that we will have any more children. Still...not more than a few weeks ago, one of my friends talked to me as if we will someday soon have another baby. I wanted to shake her and say, "There's a big difference between when and if." But I didn't. Instead, I kept from rolling my eyes, smiled and let the conversation naturally move on.

It continues to happen in another, more serious aspect of my life. Just over a year ago, we moved away from our hometown, from family and friends, from a location where we were comfortable. We left behind our house that we now rent out. I left behind a job that was becoming ever more stressful but also co-workers I enjoyed knowing on a professional level as well as a personal friendship level, students I cared for, and parents who stood behind the school and teachers. Leaving was not an easy decision. That all must be made perfectly clear for my next point to be completely understood...

Sometimes I tell people, "In order to make a stand, we made a choice to move away from Wisconsin. Besides, I don't want my daughter going to school anywhere in that state for the foreseeable future."

There aren't words to adequately describe how it feels to hear the response, "Yes, we don't like what's going on in Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, (pick a location) either. It must be nice to have the option to move."

Really? Really! Moving was not a simple option! It was a choice, and it was one of the most difficult decisions I've ever made, yet I believe it was the right decision for us, and I'm happy to report that moving has led to an amazing job with wonderful coworkers and students, and some fabulous new friendships. Thank you to everyone who has been there for us.

I'll end with a plea. Please do not vote for Governor Scott Walker if he runs for president. If you don't know why I would say that, please refer to Congratulations, Scott Walker... You win! For now, I'll hold my fears in check, and will rely on the compassion I believe most U.S. citizens have for each other.

S.L. Wallace is the author of the Reliance on Citizens trilogy and Retrospection.

Aug 30, 2013

The Top Ten Reasons I’m Looking Forward to School this Year

The past few school years have been extremely stressful for me. During that time, I never considered leaving teaching, but I actively tried to leave my last school. Sadly, it had nothing to do with the school itself or the school district. It had everything to do with a tyrannical governor who I now fear is setting himself up to run for President in 2016 (Scott Walker's Stealth 2016 Strategy). I've posted about him before, and I'm sure I will again, but for now, I'll focus on the topic of school.

Teaching in Wisconsin became stressful even before I left. Although I was one of the first to leave, I wasn't one of the last. In a district that has always prided itself on teacher retention, a district where it was nearly impossible to get hired as a teacher because hundreds of applicants would apply to every open position, in a district that used to have between 4-20 teacher positions to fill each year, a record 61 new teachers were hired for the 2013-2014 school year. I guarantee, the district is not growing, and new positions are not being created. In fact, when I left, they didn't hire anyone to replace me. Instead, the principal of the school now wears two hats. I highly respect him, and I know he has the kids' best interests at heart, but it shows that educators in Wisconsin are being asked to do far too much.

June 5, 2012 - A recall election took place in the state of Wisconsin, and Governor Scott Walker retained his seat by a small margin. That night, I mailed out resumes to schools in other states as well as Canada. 20 days later, I was lucky enough to interview at the school where I now work.

Last school year was stressful for a completely different reason. I had a lot to learn! We'd moved to a new city with no friends or family nearby. I'm an experienced Montessori teacher, so at least what I was teaching and how I was to teach it was familiar. I had to find that line though. You know the one, the line between the old and the new, the traditions of past years and fresh ideas. On top of all that, the school where I now work was completing the authorization process of becoming an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program school. We were successful, yay! But that certainly meant a steep learning curve for me and an entire month of online training last October while I was still getting used to everything else. It was a crazy time.

Meanwhile, I continued to write and in July, I published my fourth book, a novella about a young woman who is finding spiritual awakening as her life spins out of control. Writing, my family, and the Montessori method were the three things that helped keep me grounded and focused. So without further ado, here are my top ten reasons for looking forward to school this year.

10. I am no longer in Wisconsin, and I have become familiar with and comfortable in my new surroundings.

9. I am comfortable wrapping the IB-MYP philosophy and lesson plan formats around the Montessori curriculum. The philosophies of the two programs are so similar.

In Montessori, we teach the "whole child" meaning we recognize each child for who he or she is as a unique individual. We meet students where they are (academically speaking) and help them proceed at their own pace. We teach multi-grade groups of students in small group lessons using hands on materials and impressionistic lessons. We teach the children to be stewards of this beautiful planet we call home.

Here is the IB mission statement directly from their website:

The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.
To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment.
These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.

8. I get to work with a wonderfully supportive staff every day. I am fortunate to be working with a team of people who are some of the most genuine, kind and supportive people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. They all have demonstrated a passion for teaching and honestly care for the children throughout the school and for each other. I kid you not.

7. I have the support of the administration. Again, I kid you not! My principal encourages us to come to him with questions or concerns. No, I do not always agree with his final decisions, but I respect him and know that he is making those decisions after listening to his staff. On top of that, he is a well respected Montessorian who has written numerous articles and even a book about the Montessori philosophy. He also travels extensively educating others about Montessori education.

6. I have planning time every day. This is a practice that is falling by the wayside in many schools. This year, just like last, I'll have anywhere from 1/2 hour to over an hour every day for prep and planning. Any teacher will tell you that prep time is just as important as having the time to teach.

5. Field trips! I love field trips! We go camping twice a year, once in the fall (focus on team building) and once in the spring (focus on celebration). The sixth graders go to New York City as part of the Montessori Model United Nations program every spring. There are other field trips that pop up as we learn about them, if they tie into our curriculum. And the students often plan their own small group field trips based on independent studies - Maria Montessori referred to these as "Going Outs." Our students also visit a local wetlands and volunteer at a local food bank throughout the year.

4. I have the option to teach after school clubs and summer school based upon my interests, and I get paid by the hour for those extra duties. Compare that to being paid a flat $18.00 per event, no matter the length of the event at my last school.

3. I work with a super diverse population and am looking forward to learning more about different cultures.

2. The parents are caring and supportive. They treat us as professionals and understand that we are all in this together. Our goal? To provide a nourishing educational environment for all of our students, recognizing them as the unique individuals they are.

1. The students! I love learning along with them as I guide students through their studies, and I'm really looking forward to seeing the new dynamics that will develop in my classroom this year.

This is exactly what teaching should be like.

S.L. Wallace is the author of the Reliance on Citizens trilogy and Retrospection.

Aug 15, 2013

Cabin in the Woods

The automobile rattled to a halt and two men climbed out. The third backed the trailor toward the water, until the boat bobbed on the waves. With their gear already packed tightly in the boat, the men climbed in as well and rowed across the lake to their destination, a forested piece of land, isolated and perfect for camping and hunting.

Eventually, the men decided to bring their wives and children along on vacation. And so a cabin was built on their isolated hunting grounds. Years later, a crude road was put in along the peninsula. As more people sought to build vacation homes in the once isolated wilderness, the family sold half of their property to my great grandparents. My great grandfather built a cabin on the hill overlooking the lake, and I have been visiting this place my entire life.

My grandfather is the man on the right.

We are lucky to be on a lake that is valued by so many. Although there are cabins dotting the shoreline, there are also long strips of undeveloped forest land, purchased by wealthy families during the logging era and meant to remain in their natural state.

I don’t really remember much about my young childhood, but I cherish a framed photo I have of me, as a three year-old, walking with my great grandmother, along a colorful autumn leaf covered driveway that led to the neighbor’s cabin. My great grandmother loved this place, and she enjoyed sharing it with family and friends.

So many memories...

In the summer, we swam in the lake, went tubing behind my uncle’s speedboat, and canoed to undeveloped islands with the neighbor girl in order to explore and build crude forts out of sticks. In the winter, I cross country skied on the barren and hilly road, ice skated on the lake, and went snowmobiling with my cousins.

We rarely ate doughnuts in my family, but I recall a tradition of stopping by a doughnut shop on our way up north. Even yesterday, when my parents drove up to visit us here, they brought doughnuts. And I remember driving into the nearest town just to visit the fudge shop where you could watch the fudge being made up front and eat ice cream in the back. That fudge shop is still there, but they no longer serve ice cream.

Traditions... As a teenager, I learned to drive on the road that some call the tiger tale because of its winding and hilly nature. I hope someday my daughter will learn to drive along the same road. Campfires were another summer tradition. Roasting marshmallows, making S’mores, and cooking pudgy pies over the fire was always so much fun. And there is the fireplace. If you don’t remember to open the damper, the whole cabin will fill with smoke in a matter of minutes.

Now this place belongs to my mother, but she makes sure it belongs to all of us. We visit as often as we can. One week during spring break, one week in June prior to starting summer school, and one week now. One week to rest, one week to play, in the deep north woods before I go back to work as a teacher.

I fully understand the gift this place is and will continue to be. And I cherish it.

S.L. Wallace is the author of the Reliance on Citizens trilogy and Retrospection.

Aug 2, 2013

AirVenture 2013

This past Tuesday, I attended AirVenture 2013 at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and it was truly amazing! If you've never been, you would not believe the number of people who show up for this week long event. Parking lots are filled, extra parking lots are created in grassy fields, and small aircraft are parked in more fields even as others fly in and out every day. Vendors, speakers and pilots show off their unique wares. Center stage is the daily airshow.

Jetman made his first U.S. appearance.

I love small planes. Yes, I've always dreamed of earning my pilot's license. The only thing holding me back was finances. I thought learning to fly planes must be expensive. But that isn't true. And for young people, it can cost nothing at all.

Tuesday was Teachers' Day! Teachers had a free pass to the grounds and the airshow if they attended a panel of speakers throughout the morning. That was no problem at all. In fact, it was exactly what I wanted to do! We each received a bag full of aviation teaching supplies, and one lady gave anyone who stopped by her table an online code to receive even more free books and lesson plans in the mail. I was thrilled to learn that most of what they had to offer and share ties into the national standards as well as being aligned with STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. One speaker joked that it's really STEAM, and the "a" stands for aviation.

Just take a look at what's available. There really is something for every age level:
  • The General Avaition Manufacturers Association (GAMA) teamed up with Build a Plane (BAP) this year. Two high school teams won the chance to build two airplanes that were flown at AirVenture 2013. I was thrilled to see what they'd done yet saddened that so few schools participated. In my opinion, high schools throughout every state should have entered at least one team. Please remain aware to see if they make this an annual event.

  • The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) kits are another way to get kids interested in aviation. It's easy to sign up for the AMA Flight School. If you'd rather just purchase integrated STEM kits, you can go to Whitebox Learning.
  • You can register your class for a fast-paced 1/2 day aviation program for kids ages 12-18 at Youth Aviation Adventure
  • Your class can go on a virtual field trip via interactive video conferencing at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.: Dressing for Space (gr. preK-3), Kites, Wings and Flying Things (gr. 3-5), Inventing the Airplane (gr. 5-7), Helicopters, Straight Up! (gr. 5-7), To the Moon or Mars (gr. 8+). Just do a Google search for the exact program you're interested in. 
  • At Fly to Learn, high school students design, build and fly virtual planes.
  • And don't forget about Space Camp. Did you know that they still have summer sessions for teachers? How cool is that!
  • Finally, here is a one stop clearinghouse for all your aviation and space related resources: Think Global Flight, fostering STEM education and Green technology.
One additional resource that I have used in the past is Dream Flight USA. If you're teaching in a school anywhere near central Wisconsin, you should check it out for sure!

This was not my first Teachers' Day at AirVenture, but this year had something extra special. My daughter was finally old enough to want to see the airshow with me. She had three firsts at AirVenture this year, each a really big deal for her:

1. Her first yellow school bus ride because the airfield is pretty far away from the museum so they continually shuttle visitors to the airshow throughout the week.

2. Her first airshow. Our favorite act was The 4ce. Even though only three of their planes performed for us, they were still AMAZING! Watch this video to see what I mean.

3. Her first A&W root beer float. Yummy!
I LOVE AirVenture, and I would like to publicly thank the Uhl-Chmiel family because they were the ones who first told me about Teachers' Day, a day for teachers to come together and learn about the many ways that we can introduce all of the careers associated with airplanes to our students.

S.L. Wallace is the author of the Reliance on Citizens trilogy and Retrospection.

Jul 8, 2013

Congratulations, Scott Walker... You Win!

On June 5, 2012, Scott Walker retained his seat as governor of Wisconsin, leading me to the conclusion that the majority of Wis. voters do not value public employees. And so a year ago today, we were in the midst of negotiating a rental agreement with friends because in the current market we cannot afford sell our home. We were also planning for a new job in another state where our values more closely align with those of public policy.

Clearly, Governor Walker has an agenda that does not include doing what's best for his constituents. Public employees are the foundation of a healthy, thriving society. Yet those are the exact people Governor Walker has been targeting. First, he illegally busted public unions. According to U.S. District Judge William Conley, “Walker’s anti-union legislation contains parts that are discriminatory and therefore, illegal.” All along, Walker has claimed that he's simply trying to balance the state budget. But is he really? After all, he rejected the Obamacare Medicaid Expansion that would have brought in a large sum of money in order to help Wisconsin citizens.

Let's take a moment to think about a strong and healthy society. In a healthy society, people's basic needs met are met with little difficulty. In addition, most people in a healthy society earn a little extra, so they can give back to their community, thereby keeping the whole strong. That is all made possible by ensuring a middle class filled with a mix of public and private employees who are typically not overworked or overstressed. In a strong society, public employees provide beneficial services such as police officers, firefighters, and public health officials, the type of people who keep communities safe. Furthermore, a Democracy relies on educated citizens which means putting a high priority on public schools. Finally, institutions such as public libraries and parks departments provide everyone with clean and beautiful places to go for recreation. What do all of these things have in common? They benefit everyone, rich or poor, old or young. And they should not be privatized.

When businesses become privatized, what usually happens is that only the healthy are cared for, only the strongest thrive, and only those who do not reduce the bottom line are valued. The flaw with the argument that it's better to privatize is that people aren't merchandise, people aren't things. People are, well, people. As a group, we are stronger with diversity, we are healthier overall because of our differences. If Governor Scott Walker and his supporters can learn to value everyone, they may be surprised to see that the bottom line will flourish.

Sadly, I don't believe that's going to happen. Here is some news you may or may not know coming from the state of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Signs Bill Requiring Ultrasounds for Women Seeking Abortions

Wisconsin Governor Signs Sick Leave Bill

Governor Walker Rejects Obamacare Medicaid Expansion in Wisconsin

Governor Signs Abstinence Sex Education Bill

Walker's Colossal Giveaway to Mining Co. in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Signs Three Anti-Abortion and Anti-Contraception Bills into Law

Scott Walker Proposes Expanding Voucher School Program

It's been over a year now since my family and I knew we would be moving away from our hometown, away from family and friends, away from a community we will always love. I'll be straightforward about this: the Wisconsin I knew is gone, and I greatly fear for the future of the state. Pulling taxpayer funding away from the public sector means that everyone will be supporting private interests. As much as I miss living in Wisconsin, at this time I can honestly say that I do not regret our decision to leave. And I know for a fact, that I am not alone.

S.L. Wallace is the author of the Reliance on Citizens trilogy and Retrospection.

Jul 4, 2013

Independence Day - What does it mean to you?

I haven't found any concrete evidence to support this tidbit of information, nor have I found concrete evidence to deny it. However, we can be certain that while many colonists favored Independence, some also remained loyal to King George and England. As Americans take the day to celebrate our independence, let's also try to separate fact from fiction. For intellect is truly what makes humans great!

So in honor of our Independence, today I am setting out on a scavenger hunt because I know that history is often recorded by the winners, not the losers. As a teacher and a parent, I also know without a doubt, that there can be as many sides to an issue as there are people who are concerned about that issue. So let's delve into the early years of United States history.

First, I revisited the song list and lyrics from the musical 1776. The song “But Mr. Adams” clearly demonstrates that no one wanted to write the Declaration of Independence. And why would they? Although those who wrote it felt strongly that the United States had outgrown its colonial status, they also knew writing such a document was an act of sedition. Furthermore, those who signed the Declaration of Independence knew they were committing an act of treason.

While I was watching the video clip, I reflected on a statistic I had been taught as an adult; more on that later. First though, my childhood history lessons taught children that the colonists wanted freedom from England. The teachers, textbooks and TV clips never told us that only some of the colonists wanted to be free from the motherland. In honor of childhood fantasies, let's take a moment to watch this Schoolhouse Rock video titled, “No More Kings.”

Wow! So much of what I was taught was biased and downright inaccurate. As an adult, I learned a much different statistic. I had taken my class to Nature's Classroom Institute for the week. Here they learned about environmentalism and nature every morning, had fun breakout sessions in a variety of topics in throughout the afternoons, and participated in large group simulations in the evenings. One of the simulations was about the U.S. Revolution. It wasn't a lot of fighting, but rather a trading sort of game in which some represented Loyalists, some represented Patriots, and many represented neither. The statistic they taught the children at the end of that simulation was that 1/3 of the colonists in the later half of the 18th century supported King George, another 1/3 wanted to be free from the crown, and the final 1/3 were undecided. Here is a newer statistic I found on my search. Only about 20% of colonists were Loyalists, a small but vocal minority were Patriots, and the majority of the colonists were undecided.

What is the absolute truth including accurate numbers regarding the reason we celebrate the 4th of July? We may never know, but we can be certain, without a doubt, that conflict always always ALWAYS has more than one side. What else can I be certain of? I would not be who I am today, if events had played out differently so long ago. Therefore, I want to take a moment to thank my ancestors for their contributions to our lives today. It's also important to note that I highly respect anyone who stands up for their beliefs and puts others first. Thank you if that applies to you, and happy 4th of July!

Addendum: One last thing I began to wonder while on my scavenger hunt was what about the first continental congress? Everyone hears about the second continental congress because it led to the Declaration of Independence. Well, the first was just as important, and in fact, led to the second. But I'll let you research that one on your own.

S.L. Wallace is the author of the Reliance on Citizens trilogy and Retrospection.

Jul 2, 2013

For the Love of the Game

The summer of 1869 was hot, in more ways than one. At 16 years of age, I had moved to Clearwater a little over a month ago, seeking employment as a farmhand. It was in the orchard where I was picking peaches when I first heard mention of a game by the name of base ball. Not even a week later, there I was in full uniform, ready to play.

I adjusted my tie and checked my cap. Johnny elbowed me. I grunted and turned to see what he wanted. He winked. “Something wrong?”

“Nah,” I said. “Why do you ask?”

He smirked and knocked off my black cap. “You keep fidgeting like that, and you'll set in on crooked. Wouldn't want the ladies to see that!”

Nervously, I scanned the crowd. Lance reached for my cap, dusted it off and handed it to me. “Go easy on the muffin,” he said to Johnny. “You keep at it, and the ump will fine you again.”

“Fines?” I gulped. “Nobody said anything about paying. I don't have much...”

“Don't worry about it,” Lance said. “We all stick to gentlemanly behavior, and there'll be no fines to pay.”

The umpire signaled for us to join him on the field. Before he left, Johnny tucked in his shirt, causing me to double check my own shirttails after replacing my cap.

Lance, my elder and a member of the team since it's inception patted my knee as he stood. “Don't worry, kid. Just listen to the man.” He nodded toward the umpire. The word in the peach orchard was that Lance had brought the game of base ball home from the war with him. Now, nearly everybody in town turned out to watch the matches.

We stood in two rows, 18 men facing each other with the umpire at the head.

“Good evening, gentlemen, and welcome. First, the rules. Fielders must hold their initial positions until the ball is struck. Hurlers must pitch with an underhand throw. Basemen may take one step off the sack. Any ball caught in the air or on the first bound puts the striker dead. A fair ball remains in play anywhere except in the trees or on top of the privy. A base runner is dead if he is forced at any base or tagged in a non force situation. Running more than three feet from the base path to avoid making an out is not allowed. There will be no bunting, no sliding, no leading off, no stealing bases, no betting, and no swearing. Remember, men, this is a gentlemen's game.”

We reached across the way and shook hands with the members of the opposing team and then took our places. As I jogged out to right field, I tugged my cap again.

The club nine we were playing tonight was the Cattle Runners. They'd come over from Little Ridge. Those who had family in Clearwater had picnicked with loved ones while the rest kept to themselves. Still fairly new to the area, I'd picnicked with a few other fellows from the orchard. Lard sandwiches and peaches all around with some iced tea to chase it down.

The match was about to begin. The first fellow up popped a sky ball, and Harvey, our third baseman caught it easily. He threw it to Lance who wound up and tossed it in to the next fellow. CRACK! That one sound, and my heart was taken. From that moment forward, base ball had me in its grasp. The ball flew at mighty speed past our short stop and into the outfield. It was a daisy cutter. Charlie, our mid fielder, caught it up and threw it to Johnny at second, but their runner was safe, safe at second with only one out. The next ball bounced to Flint at first.

“Out!” called the umpire.

Only one more to go. I readied myself by placing my hands on my knees. Lance pulled back and tossed in the ball. Another CRACK! filled the air, and when the dust had settled, there was a Cattle Runner at first base and... Their first striker rounded third and kept on running! Hurriedly, Lance tossed it to the behind, but it was too late. The striker slid in safe and sound. He smiled in good humor when the umpire fined him two bits, then he ran over to the scorer and rang the tally bell.

The next man up held still. He let a few balls sail by until finally, the umpire began calling strikes.

“Strike two!”

Even from the distance, I could see the striker's jaw clench. He barred he teeth at Lance, but uttered not a word.

Lance hurled the ball, the striker swung the bat, and CRACK! It was a high one. I lifted my eyes to the sky and felt my cap fall off. With no time to worry about that now, I turned and ran back toward the trees in the distance. In the nick of time, I turned and the ball landed in my bare hands with a thwack! O' that stung, but at the same time it drove the love of base ball into my soul, and the cheers of the throng embedded themselves into my everlasting memory.

* This fictional short story by S.L. Wallace follows the rules of base ball as adopted by the National Association of Base Ball Players in March 1860.

S.L. Wallace is the author of the Reliance on Citizens trilogy and Retrospection.

Jun 27, 2013

Cover Image Reveal Contest

This contest is also posted on my official author website - Latest News Page - where you can read short excerpts and help me decide upon a title for my latest novella. The giveaway is open to everyone 18 years and older, anywhere in the world.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Jun 24, 2013

Anamnesis? Remembrance? I just don't know!

Where do your story ideas come from?

Both my Reliance on Citizens trilogy and my latest unnamed novella came from dreams. Yes, dreams, as in the stories we get to enjoy at night. And they all centered around big questions.

For my latest story, I wondered what if strange occurrences such as possession, hauntings, out of body experiences, and certain mental illnesses such as multiple personality disorder, all had one common cause? And what if that common cause was sentient? You can read excerpts from this book on my website here: S.L. Wallace Official Website

When I wrote Price of a Bounty, I wondered what would happen if there were no middle class? What might society look and feel like? How would people react and survive in such a world? Some will play the system, many will give in and let the system play them, and some fight back with a vengeance.

Canvas Skies continues the drama that began in the first book. This time I wondered, what would it take to close the divide between the classes? The characters in the first book were already working toward that end, so it only made sense to see how it would all play out. Here is one of my favorite scenes from Canvas Skies:

He handed me a pencil. I stood and began to sketch. Hisoka did the same, working at the easel next to me.  I lost track of time and became fully in tune with my creation.

When my sketch was finished, I stood back in awe. Had I really created something so beautiful? It was perfect. The juxtaposition of the three crooked apple trees with people emerging from within, against a very realistic backdrop gave the drawing an otherworldly quality.

Hisoka moved behind me. “Wow! This can't be your first.”

“It's not,” I said. “I took a techniques class at the Art Institute, but this is the first time I'm not recreating someone else's work.”

“It's amazing. You're a natural.” He smiled and put a hand on my shoulder. “Who are the people in the trees? What do they represent?”

“I don't know,” I lied. “I think the one in the middle is me.”

They were us: me, Keira and Scott, but I couldn't tell Hisoka about them without revealing a whole lot more.

“What about him?” He pointed to a figure on the right. A man lurked in the shadows, facing the trees.

“Oh, that's you,” I lied again. I couldn't explain, not even to myself, why Brody had appeared in my vision.

Heart of Humanity takes place years later. This story is mostly told from a child's point of view. Noah Maddock is 11, nearly 12 years-old when he returns to Tkaron after living abroad, where there was no such divide between the classes. The adults in this series have been so focused on improving their world that at first all they can see are the problems, and later all they can see are the improvements. I wondered if the next generation would feel that it was enough of a change. Noah's perspective adds depth to an already deep story, and he also has to deal with another issue that is relevant to far too many students in our schools, bullying.

What is the most difficult part of writing?

For me, the most difficult part of the writing process is thinking up a good title (see above). The second most difficult task is thinking of a tagline. And the third most difficult part is writing the synopsis. I am astounded by people who are good at boiling ideas down to the bare bones while drawing readers in and somehow not giving everything away.

For my Reliance on Citizens trilogy, I finished the first book and started on the second, and I still didn't know what I was going to call it. To this day, it's the title I like the least. Meanwhile, Canvas Skies (book 2 in the series) was one of the titles I'd considered for book 1, and Heart of Humanity basically named itself.

Now, I'm stuck trying to name my new novella. Would you consider helping me out by taking the survey I've posted here? S.L. Wallace Official Website If you don't like any of the titles, can you think of a great one? If I end up using a title you suggest, I will send you free e-copies of all of my books, including this one when it's released. Thank you very much!

What is your favorite part of writing?

I love getting to know my characters. It takes me some time to get into their heads, but once I'm there, the writing flows naturally. It's one of the reasons I like writing from different points of view.

For my latest work, I absolutely loved doing research. I learned so many fascinating things about history. It was so much fun seeing how things just fell into place and finding gems under rocks. For example, when I was doing research on Connecticut colony, I stumbled across the story of the Wyllys Oak which was far more exciting than the story I had originally planned for that chapter of the book.

As part of my sweepstakes running through July 5, I now have a question for you...

If you could travel to any period in history, when would you go and why?
Posting a comment here will allow you to enter for +5 additional points toward the drawing. Images and details can be found here:

Where can your books be found?

All of my books can be found at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. My paperbacks can also be purchased directly from Create Space: Price of a Bounty, Canvas Skies, and Heart of Humanity.

Jun 8, 2013

Commentary on Public Education

Guest post by Matt Posner.

There are very few bad teachers, but their impact is considerably less than the impact of bad administrators. In contrast with the few bad teachers there are, there is a relentless pounding attack upon the teaching profession in the political arena, with constant call for our heads and our jobs, with constant accusations that we do not deserve the pay and benefits we have and the assertion that we should voluntarily accept impoverishment, ill-health, insecurity, and abuse for the benefit of children who in reality would be better off with teachers who had no such concerns and were able to focus their greater energies upon meeting the needs of those children.

On the one side we are battling for our careers against corporate smear campaigns and dunderheaded politicians, and on the other we are trying to unlock the mysteries of a generation of young people who are aggressively resistant to the educational process, who are frequently deficient in curiosity, responsibility, skills, and background knowledge, in a way my colleagues and I cannot recall prior generations being. Quantitatively, this generation reads more, but anecdotally, the evidence is not visible in our daily struggle to energize them for learning. It is the paradox of vast informational resources being combined with a vast lack of motivation to use them. And while we contend with this professional challenge, we are also compelled to battle for our careers as we are publicly characterized as self-serving leeches upon public funds.

This will continue until it stops. What will happen after that? I don't know. But I am over forty and can't really retrain for a new career. So I am in this one until I'm told that I'm not. But when public school teachers are pushed out of the arena, then who is actually left to take care of the kids? I don't know the answer to that.

You can read more about Matt Posner by visiting his official website.

If Matt's post made you think, you may enjoy this video on YouTube.

Jun 2, 2013

Equal High Quality Education is a Must for a Democratic Nation to Thrive

The following is a post written by Rep. Mandy Write from Wisconsin:

Should every child in Wisconsin, regardless of economic status or disability, have access to an excellent education? Do we still believe in the American Dream, that you can work hard and achieve your dream?

I am alarmed like never before about the future of our public schools and what it means for our kids, our communities, and Wisconsin as a whole. As a newly elected State Representative that is the only teacher who has been in a classroom within the past ten years and with three young children attending public schools in my hometown of Wausau, I have a different perspective on how the Wisconsin Legislature interacts with education policy.

The backroom deal developed last week that will be voted on by the Joint Finance Committee on Tuesday is disgusting. Within 2 years we will have 'a voucher in every backpack', which will dismantle our public education system. If you have never gotten involved in advocacy for our schools before, now is the time. Your voice matters. You care about our kids, and people in your community know that.

If you'd like more information on how to advocate for our kids, feel free to follow my Legislative Page, I keep it updated and there are many opportunities for you to be involved in big and small ways. And THANK YOU for all you do for our kids. Working together, we will make the future even better.
Mandy Wright Assembly Representative for the 85th District of Wisconsin Contact info: 608-266-0654;
My response to Rep. Wright's post:

This is exactly why we left Wisconsin and why we cannot go back. What has been done and is continuing to be done to the state school system there is disgusting. Our daughter will be entering school in a few short years. I refuse to subject her to state schools that are unequal and of low quality. The declining quality of the public schools in Wisconsin is not the fault of the teachers nor the administrators. Their hands are tied, just as mine were when I lived there. The schools are beginning to fail and will continue to decline unless drastic measures are taken to assure a high quality education for all children regardless of race, class or religion. Please, listen to what Rep. Mandy Wright has to say. She knows what she's talking about and as a past teacher with three children in the public schools, she has a vested interest in making sure the right policies are put into place.

S.L. Wallace is the author of the Reliance on Citizens trilogy and Retrospection.

May 31, 2013

Dear Daughter, I love you no matter what

Last night I stumbled across a blog post titled, "Dear Boys, we protect those who are smaller." When you're old enough, I suggest you read that letter as well as this one. I'll print a copy to place in the book I've been making for you since you were born. You know the one. It's small and purple with silver elephants on it, and it's filled with family stories and poems written just for you.

Right now, you're very young, and you've given me a challenge this year that I never expected. Your dad and I have been trying to teach you boundaries which means tempering a few of the qualities that I love about you. You're independent, strong-willed, friendly and you know how to stick up for yourself. You have no idea how much I want you to retain these qualities, and it pains me every time I have to discipline you for doing just that. But it's also important for you to learn that there are times to follow directions, there are times to stay within physical boundaries and there are people you should not approach even just to say, 'hello.' 

You probably won't remember this when you're older, but I hope you'll remember the lesson we were trying to teach. Just last week, Dada gave you a spanking (which is rare) because he wanted to impress upon you just how dangerous your actions were to yourself. You were in your room for some quiet time because you don't always take a nap anymore. You dad was tired too, and he fell asleep. A short time later, he woke and went to check on you. Your door was closed, but you were not in your room. He went downstairs to find the back door open and you and the dog both outside. You were across the way talking to some neighbors who were grilling out. Then you told him you had also taken his turtles (Russian tortoises) outside for a walk. He checked and saw that one was now back, but the other was indeed missing. He took you back outside to show him where you'd put the tortoise. You showed him the clump of grass under which you had buried Julius. He was relieved to see the animal was alive and well since the riding mower at our town home was being employed at that very moment. What you did that day was wrong on so many levels.

Daughter, you are so smart, and you know the rules. Yes, you really do. You know you're not allowed to leave your room during your short nap/quiet afternoon break. You know you're not ever allowed to leave the house without an adult. You know you're allowed to look at but not touch the tortoises. This last rule is more tricky. I've been trying to teach you which strangers are "safe" to talk to. The neighbors across the way probably are, and though I've spoken with them on occasion, I've never introduced you to them. Therefore, you should not have approached them on your own unless you were lost or hurt and could not find me or your dad. I know that's complicated!

Daughter, we want to see all the qualities that you displayed above. More than anything, we want you to be safe and happy. The other day, you did many things right. You let the dog out--she probably convinced you she needed to go. You put your shoes on before you went outside. You were courteous and friendly to the neighbors. You didn't cross the street. On a more gut level, you scared the crap out of us!

I hope, as we guide you through childhood and into adulthood that you will retain your fierce independence and that you will continue to be caring and kind, loving and giving. At the same time, I want you to learn that there are times when it is more than okay to be selfish which means to look out just for you. Eventually, you will date. Whoever you fall in love with, I want you to love yourself first, and no matter how much you love someone else, I want you to keep yourself safe: physically and emotionally. Don't ever let someone else touch you in ways that make you uncomfortable. If anyone ever does that, speak up right away, and if they persist, do whatever it takes to make them stop. Yes, that does include, hitting, kicking, screaming, gouging at their eyes, etc. And then tell someone else. Do not ever be ashamed if someone else does something to violate you, be angry and fight back. Speak out, don't hide. Take back control because you are precious, and you are worth it.

Why must I tell you these things? Because there are people in the world who are not kind and who are not going to look out for your best interests. There are some truly sick people such as the man who kidnapped three women. The only way I know to protect you from people like that is to make you aware of the dangers in this world and to teach you how to protect yourself.

I second what the mom who wrote the "Dear Boys" blog post said. If you ever find yourself in a tough situation or see that someone else needs help, even if it's because you broke some of the rules we set for you, please please PLEASE do not hesitate to call us. I will not ever mind coming to pick you up from anywhere at 2 in the morning if you're in trouble, no matter how you got to that point and no matter what happened as a result. I will be there if you call for me.

I hope you will continue to be loving and kind, friendly and accepting of others, fiercely independent and strong-willed, even if that means making decisions I disagree with. Stand up for what you know in your heart is right, stand up for others and stand up for yourself, always.

I say this to you often, and I'll say it again right here for the world to see. "I love you, Daughter. I always will. No matter what."

S.L. Wallace is the author of the Reliance on Citizens trilogy and Retrospection.

May 28, 2013

Is Unrequited a Romance Novel?

Please welcome author Jay Merin. This post was originally posted at

An Amazon review of Unrequited, by a user named Louise Shinko, reads as follows -

  • Due to the glowing reviews, I downloaded this book for free on my kindle. I was expecting action, romance, and a plot. It was a gentle letdown. The novel had little to no romance, constant thrashing action, a swirling, inconsistent plotline, and many grammatical errors. Unless you are very into fantasy and lengthy paragraphs that describe little to nothing, I recommend that you look elsewhere.

And that review has one comment -

  • “The novel had little to no romance”I see a lot of these freebies classified as ‘romance’ when really they are not even close, so I appreciate you pointing this one out!

This has stuck in my craw ever since I first read it.

For one, “Louise Shinko” has zero other reviews done.  What are the odds of someone only ever reviewing MY book and nothing else ever on Amazon?  It is possible, law of large numbers and all that, but it happened around the time that I was actively promoting on Amazon in their forums, and was witness to the hatred that is the anti-indie movement.  That’s a whole other thing, but it has always laid this review extremely suspect in my mind.

Not that it was negative – not everyone is going to like everything, and the potential that my novel is not as good as it could be is absolutely there.  Find a successful book that doesn’t have negative reviews, and lots of them.  Try.  It’s pretty hard, I can’t do it.

But, for the sake of argument, let us just accept, at face value, what the “one item ever critiqued” reviewer says as an honest opinion of someone who read it.

(And ignore all the other reviews that point out the romance in the novel.)

Is it wrong for me to have listed Unrequited under the “paranormal romance” category on Amazon?  What is a romance novel, after all?

Wikipedia has this to say -

  • Novels in this genre place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”

Hmmm.  Well, there are two couples being focused on (Mason and Cordelia, Shayla and Richard) as well as the feelings that Mason and Shayla have for each other, plus, well, the title of the story hints at MANY one-sided love relationships that I won’t spoil here.  The driving force of the story are those relationships.  It might be iffy to some expecting a harlequin romance, but I honestly believe that romance is a major element of the story.

I have joked in the past that Unrequited is the “anti-romance novel”, and I still stand by that.  If you want to know what I mean, read the book then talk to me.  You may understand the sentiment if you’ve read the novel and if you don’t, I’ll explain it to you.  But it’s a tad spoilery, so no explanations here.  Suffice to say, however, I don’t think that categorization denies the book the “paranormal romance” labeling anymore than Watchmen deconstructing superhero comics means it cannot be called a superhero comic.

The other part of above is the “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”  Well, not all the main characters are happy at the end.  But the epilogue of the story is… whoops, that would have been spoilery too.  I think, however, that the ending is happy and optimistic and that I’ve even gotten complaints (from non-romance readers) that they don’t like how happy the ending is.

More importantly, however, is that “paranormal romance” is above and beyond what the traditional romance novel is.  The Sookie Stackhouse novels, or the Anita Blake novels, or dozens like them – they can be put in fantasy or romance, and the balance is delicate.  I blame Anne Rice and especially Joss Whedon for this genre existing (especially with monsters as love interests.)  Let’s go to wikipedia again (emphasis mine) -

  • Paranormal romance is a sub-genre of the romance novel. A type of speculative fiction, paranormal romance focuses on romance and includes elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, blending together themes from the genres of traditional fantasy, science fiction, or horror. Paranormal romance may range from traditional category romances, such as those published by Harlequin Mills & Boon, with a paranormal setting to stories where the main emphasis is on a science fiction or fantasy based plot with a romantic subplot included.
  • As in the fantasy subgenre known as urban fantasy, many paranormal romances rely on the blend of contemporary life with the existence of supernatural or magically-empowered beings, human or otherwise; sometimes the larger culture is aware of the magical in its midst, sometimes it is not. Some paranormal romances focus less on the specifics of their alternative worlds than do traditional science fiction or fantasy novels, keeping the attention strongly on the underlying romance. Others develop the alternate reality meticulously, combining well-planned magical systems and inhuman cultures with contemporary reality.

I would definitely define Unrequited as “urban fantasy” so, yeah, if you look at all the above and have read my novel–well, I honestly believe that you can come to the conclusion that my story is fit to be called a paranormal romance.  But it certainly skates the edge, not solely because of the “anti-romance” concept but also because my writing is much more Neil Gaiman meets Joss Whedon than it is Laurell K. Hamilton and Charlaine Harris.  And it is easy for me to admit that I lean more towards the action and fantastic world than I do towards the describing of romantic encounters.

And, I’m sure to some romance readers’ dismay, (minor spoiler) there are no described sexual encounters.  None.

(One scene has been misinterpreted by some readers as having sexual undertones, but that wasn’t the intent.  It isn’t absent of sexuality, but that is tertiary to what the scene in question is about.)

In the end, my decision to categorize Unrequited as “paranormal romance” as well as “urban fantasy” boiled down to several factors -

  1. the major motivating forces for all the major characters is love, and for most romantic love
  2. one of, if not the, greatest source of tension in the story is the relationship between Shayla and Mason
  3. the cause of the bigger world conflict in the background plot of the story is directly the result of romantic love, or the title of the book if you will
  4. the first and last chapters (prologue and epilogue, if you will) are about relationships and romance
  5. I didn’t want someone looking for a dark, gritty urban fantasy novel to be surprised and turned off by how much love and romance is integral to the story

Are those enough reasons for some readers of romance novels?  Maybe not.  But they were enough reasons for me.

What do you think?  Was I right?  Am I being too broad in my definition?  I am absolutely dying of curiosity to know!

Jay Merin's book Unrequited can be purchased at Amazon and Create Space.