Wednesday, December 2, 2015

My Mother the Architect

This article is reposted from the HBI Blog of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute 

by Cynthia Kaplan Shamash
author of The Strangers We Became: Lessons in Exile from One of Iraq's Last Jews

On October 18th, I spoke at the Iraqi Synagogue in Queens to celebrate the publication of my book, The Strangers We Became: Lessons in Exile from One of Iraq’s Last Jews. There were at least 70 people in attendance, and after reading a passage from the book in which I describe being interrogated by prison officers when I was nine years old—looking for a recording device with which to accuse me of espionage, they tore apart a doll my father had given me—I pulled the broken doll out of a plastic bag and showed her to them.

When I’d finished speaking, I asked if anyone had questions. A hand went up in the front row; it belonged to my mother, who is 81 years old. “Don’t just bring out your doll,” she said. “Tell them what we didn’t take with us. Tell them what we had to leave behind.”

Shamash's mother, on a Baghdady rooftop
You see, we did not leave Iraq because we wanted to. We left Iraq because we had been persecuted there, for our Judaism, and when we left we were not allowed to take anything except for a few suitcases packed as though we were only going on vacation. Who takes photo albums on vacation? Who takes rugs, or heirloom furniture acquired over generations, or—in my mother’s case—her most precious jewelry? No one. So we left ours behind in Baghdad, because if the authorities had come across any evidence of our intending to flee forever, they would have arrested us again.

My mother got married when she was eighteen. It was an arranged marriage, to a man 24 years older. She had been coloring in a notebook with Iraq’s young King Ghazi on the cover when she was called downstairs to be introduced to her groom. The detour in life lasted much longer than she’d anticipated.

She still talks about the dormant architect in her, the unfulfilled desire to pursue a desire. It wasn’t just her marriage that derailed her: it was also our exile, which threw her dreams an even greater distance away.

Mehandeesa, she will occasionally still say, with a sigh. I wanted to be an architect. Only two years after we fled Baghdad and had settled as refugees in Amsterdam, my father died of a heart attack. Now my mother was widowed, in a strange country, with four children in tow. How would it ever be possible now to fulfill her dreams of designing the arc of liberty?

How I wonder what her style might have been, what bridge she might have built! But then, who would have told me all those bedtime stories, and analyzed my dreams? In Amsterdam, we lived largely in a vacuum. For Mama, the focus was on survival, on providing for her family. Her role as a mother was intensified, in a sense. There was no room for being what the Westerners call a Supermom. Even though she was. She is. She decorated my spirit. She built bridges no one can see.

Shamash and her mother upon arrival in Holland
I remember when she came home from the first day of a potential job that our Dutch social worker had arranged for her. It was as if someone had died. This was shortly after my father had passed away. The social worker had told her that it would be good for her to get out for a few hours a day, to have a purpose, but it wasn’t clear to Mama until she arrived that the job was as a cleaning woman. When she got home, her mood was as if Papa had passed away all over again. She could never even mention that dusty day again. It was if she were in mourning—mourning for her potential.

Today, Mama lives near me, in Queens, where I have a husband, a dentistry practice, and five children of my own. I see clearly now that my having a family and a profession (two professions, if you count writing) is a well-rounded existence that was robbed from her. It was robbed from her like our life in Iraq was robbed from us, like our rugs and furniture and baby pictures and menorah and jewelry were all robbed from us, by anti-Semitism. It was difficult for me, being a child in a strange country, going to a school full of children who looked nothing like me and spoke a different language. But still, compared to my mother, I have enjoyed the express lane in life. When you are derailed as she was—when life is not architecture school but instead learning a new language at 40, familiarizing yourself with new soil, new hurdles, digging deep for courage and chutzpah you didn’t know you had, as though you’d arrived ex nihilo—suddenly it’s too late for your turn, your chance to celebrate your own G-d-given potential.

Or maybe she fulfilled her potential in a different way, building intangible things, through her inspiring nature and her children.

The anatomy my mother was sketching the day she met my father was left unfinished, but she did have time to color in the heart. And the handwriting in that notebook is beautiful, the envy of every high school girl today. She was on her way to liberation and choices. But that was only in the beginning. The beginning is always like this, my mother often says. Hopeful. Still now, when she visits my home, she makes little suggestions as to where I should position my furniture, or she comments on a window’s aspect, its light, the house’s location on the block. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. “Min el sharq illah el gharb,” my mother says with a sigh. They used to tell me I was good with design.

Cynthia Kaplan Shamash is the author of The Strangers We Became: Lessons in Exile from One of Iraq’s Last Jews, the most recent book in the HBI Series on Jewish Women. She serves on the board of the World Organization of Jews from Iraq and owns her own dental practice in New York City where she resides with her husband and five children.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

HOLIDAY SALE! 30% Off Select Titles

The season of giving and—let's face it—getting is upon us again, and UPNE is perfectly delighted to be offering a special deal on a dozen of our most popular books from the past year and beyond. Treat yourself and those you love who love reading, why don't you, and pick up these books at 30% off, only at Use promo code WWH30E at checkout. (Sale goes through January 15, 2016.)

Meeting Tom Brady: One Man's Quest for Truth, Enlightenment, and a Simple Game of Catch with the Patriots Quarterback 
by Richard J. King

"Meeting Tom Brady should occupy a spot next to Fred Exley's A Fan's Notes on every thinking sports fan's bookshelf."—Sean Glennon, author of Tom Brady vs. the NFL

A History of the World in Sixteen Shipwrecks 
by Stewart Gordon

"From dugout canoes dating to 6000 BC down to 2013, when a modern cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Italy, Gordon lucidly shows how maritime activities reflect the ever-increasing pace of globalization."—Richard M. Eaton, University of Arizona

Baby You're a Rich Man: Suing the Beatles for Fun and Profit
by Stan Soocher

"Soocher's cast of mobbed-up producers, cut-out shilling managers, and opera-composing judges reads like Elmore Leonard in the Sky with Diamonds."—Steven Lee Beeber, author of The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's" A Secret History of Jewish Punk
Dirt: A Love Story 
edited by Barbara Richardson

36 artists, scientists, and renowned writers go wild about the virtues, pleasure, and importance of dirt. Essayists include Vandana Shiva, Peter Heller, Janisse Ray, Bernd Heinrich, Linda Hogan, Wes Jackson, BK Loren, and others. With a foreword by Pam Houston.

The Whistleblower: Rooting for the Ref in the High-Stakes World of College Basketball 
by Bob Katz

"Katz is a talented writer who provides a vivid account of a world not seen by college basketballs fan. He show the referees' complete dedication to the art of working a game.—Chicago Tribune

Malevolent Muse: The Life of Alma Mahler 
 by Oliver Hilmes

"Alma's incredible life, the contrasting aspects of her powerful nature, her burning passions, the fierce jealousies and dislikes she aroused in others, make for a fascinating tale that is very well told by Hilmes."
—Henry-Louis de la Grange, biographer of Gustav Mahler
Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food 
by Laura Silver

"A whimsical, mouthwatering, and edifying odyssey through New York neighborhoods and beyond."—Sam Roberts, New York Times

And check out 6 Reasons a Knish is Better than a Bagel!

The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy
by Paula Shoyer

"Amaretto cookies, challah beer bread pudding with caramel sauce, and chocolate babka are among the delectable desserts featured in this beautifully illustrated cookbook."—Jewish Book World

Ice Ship: The Epic Voyage of the Polar Adventurer Fram
by Charles W. Johnson

"As splendidly composed a biography of the magnificent vessel Fram as it is a portrait of the courageous men who sailed her into the daunting arctic."—Howard Norman, author of Next Life Might Be Kinder

Victura: The Kennedys, a Sailboat, and the Sea 
by James W. Graham

"This wonderfully written book takes a well-worn subject—the Kennedys—and gives it as fresh a gust as the sailors on the sturdy, little Victura must have felt a thousand times off the Nantucket shore."—Richard D. Mahoney, author of Sons & Brothers

The Court-Martial of Paul Revere: A Son of Liberty and America's Forgotten Military Disaster 
by Michael M. Greenburg

"The most fascinating book that I have read in a long while. This is not the Paul Revere that you thought you knew. This Revere is pugnacious, snarky, maybe underhanded, and despite the verdict in his court-martial a poor military officer."—John Ferling, author of Jefferson & Hamilton
The Strangers We Became: Lessons in Exile from One of Iraq's Last Jews
by Cynthia Kaplan Shamash

"Shamash's writing beautifully communicates the confusion, imagination, and resilience that she experienced as a child from the trauma, displacement, and possibility of immigration, all caused by anti-Semitism. She weaves her story so well that the reader truly feels what the author has lived."—Jewish Book World

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Afterlife of a Fictional Town

Ernest Hebert, award-winning author of the Darby Chronicles, a classic and enduring series of novels about a fictional town in New Hampshire and its hardscrabble cast of characters—both lovable and hard-to-love—published the final book in the series last year with UPNE. But Howard Elman’s Farewell shouldn’t have to be the end of Darby as we know it. Hebert explains the motivation behind his new web project (created in collaboration with the DALI Lab at Dartmouth College) and how Darby and its townsfolk will go on, well beyond the page, guiding new readers into that world for generations to come. 

by Ernest Hebert
author of the Darby Chronicles

Ernest Hebert's Guide to the Darby Chronicles began with the idea of imagery when I was writing the fiction. Every time I would write a scene I would run a little slide show in my head. Of course those mental images came out in words. Here's an example from page 30 of the UPNE edition of Live Free or Die: "Cooty's main chore was gathering firewood to stoke the small stove in his cabin."

Details about the stove and the cabin would bog down the story line. Same goes for just about every scene. When I write, my goal is to give readers just enough information to follow the action and let them use their own powers of visualization to fill in. Some of my mental images of Darby are clear and in great detail; others are murky; a few are abstract; and sometimes there's no picture at all. For example, I did not know what Cooty's wood-burning stove looked like when I wrote the lines I quoted above.

I always wanted to get these images out of my head onto paper, but I could never draw well enough. Then about fifteen years ago I discovered that I had a knack for drawing on the computer. Yippee! Around 2012 I came up with the idea of recreating Darby visually. I wanted not only to show the imagery that appears in the novels, but to go beyond into details that are not in the books.

Around the same time period that I was mulling over the idea of drawing images of Darby I looked at the John Milton Reading Room, a fabulous website conceived by Thomas Luxon, a colleague of mine at Dartmouth College. Inspired, I set out to create an everything-anybody-wants-to-know-about-Darby-and-then-some website. I began by drawing a map on Adobe Illustrator of the town of Darby. (By the way, a version of that map appears at the beginning of all seven of the Darby books, but only in the UPNE editions.)

I wrote an essay about every place name that appears on the map. Somehow in the alchemy way of creativity the essays led me to write poems, so that Ernest Hebert's Guide to the Darby Chronicles includes a collection of poems by yours truly, though often in the voice of Darby Characters. I never expected to write new fiction, but I felt moved to write a short story, "The Bulletin Board", which appears in the Blog category of my website.

In my drawing of Cooty Patterson's wood stove (see top of this post) the challenge was to create an object that would be original and in the context of Cooty's character. The stove would be aesthetic, somewhat practical, but a little dangerous and crazy, too. The stove would have to have a stew pot on a grill, because in the Darby Chronicles Cooty is famous for his stew, which he stocks with road kill and veggies from compost piles and dumpsters. Cooty also collects sticks which he hangs on the wall as art objects. Note the clock. Instead of XXII, I wrote "DOOM," which is a reference to Darby Doomsday, a video game that plays a role in Howard Elman's Farewell. I drew the enclosed image with my finger in the Procreate app on the iPad.

My aim for the future of Ernest Hebert’s Guide to the Darby Chronicles is to give my readers information about Darby, both visual and verbal, that is not in the books. And the characters? What they look like is best left to the imagination.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Watching the Debates? Here's How to Game the Presidential Election

It's like BINGO, but fundamentally better for the 21st century.

Now less than a year from the 2016 presidential election, the GOP candidates vying for the office still number more than a dozen, the Democrats have narrowed to three, and we've only scratched the surface on the calendar of debates—though there's been plenty of excitement so far.

Depending on your political bent, or even your level of tolerance for other candidates within your party of choice, sitting through a three-hour debate can be any combination of exasperating, inspiring, dispiriting, hilarious, at times educational.

Between all the competition to get a word in edgewise and the ding-dinging time limits on the candidates' statements and rebuttals, these performances too easily devolve into canned polemics, nifty soundbites, and the kind of political doublespeak that lets a politician say as much as possible without really saying a thing.

Authors David Mark and Chuck McCutcheon wrote the book on this very phenomenon. Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes collects dozens of examples of the jargon and blather of the players, both elected and those behind the news desk, who make a living out of  misguiding the electorate. (Check out our coverage last year on "How to Talk Like a Politician.")

So, there's no reason why you and your friends can't have a little fun at the expense of these smooth talkers.

In honor of the forthcoming release of the eBook, Doubletalk (on-sale February 2016), Mark and McCutcheon's election season supplement to their first book, we created BINGO cards (like the one you see at the top of this post)—six of them—which you should totally print out and put to good use, abiding by whatever house rules you invent (ahem), when the next debate is on.

(By the date of this post, the next one is the Democrats' turn: Sat., November 14, 9 pm EST, on CBS.)

Click on the following link to download PDFs of all 6 BINGO cards, and have fun. It's gonna be yuge:

Presidential LINGO Game (PDF)

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Inside Story of How Marc Solomon's WINNING MARRIAGE Won Big

by Tom Haushalter
UPNE Marketing Manager

“If I can sell gay marriage, I think I can sell a book.”

That was one of the first things Marc Solomon, author of Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits—and Won, said to the UPNE sales and marketing team when we gathered for lunch in Boston several months before his book's November 2014 publication in our ForeEdge imprint. Although a debut author—of a chronicle of his life's work waging the then-unfinished legal battle for marriage equality in America—Marc came to lunch with questions about book promotion that seemed to be searching for parallels to the grueling public relations campaign he'd been directing (with Freedom to Marry) for years. In other words, this wasn't Marc's first time to the rodeo.

We were all keenly aware of the possibilities surrounding his book, as marriage equality had ascended to being the most important social movement of its time. The end of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), struck down the year prior, made way for several states to begin allowing same-sex unions, and there was an air of inevitability that the Supreme Court would soon hear a case to decide, once and for all, if all Americans, in any state, were free to marry whomever they choose. We weren't worried about establishing a news hook.

But the many uncertainties baked into our plans for Winning Marriage—how soon will SCOTUS take action? And what if they make the wrong decision?—lent elements of surprise that don't accompany every book you get to publish. From that first lunch date through the hardcover's November release, through reviews and a sprawling national tour, through an historic decision and an uncannily timed paperback edition, this book and its tireless, magnificent author found ways to blow away everyone at UPNE. Here are the highlights of our continuous surprise:

They all approve this message

Authors can be fond of loading their blurb/endorsement wish lists with A-listers they’re not sure how to contact, any of whom would be great to have. Marc Solomon furnished us with a list of endorsers that included legendary journalist Bob Woodward, former U.S. congressman Barney Frank, Senator Tammy Baldwin, Wicked author Gregory Maguire, Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes, former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti—to name a few! Our success rate on those blurbs was 100 percent. (Oh, and Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick wrote the foreword.)

A deluge of media

Marc takes his seat on NBC's Meet the Press.
Here’s another embarrassment of riches. The media coverage for Winning Marriage was like turning on a fire hose. From reviews and stories in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, U.S. News & World Report, Slate, and Politico, to excerpts in the Advocate and New Republic, and a sit-down with Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press—the sheer volume of exposure wasn’t just a boon for the book. Given the timing of its release, the book became the media’s most reliable source for illustrating how far the marriage equality movement had come—and how far it had still to go.

Where in the world isn't Marc Solomon?

As the national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, Marc was never one to sit back and watch the returns come in. True to his word, he sold his book like he sold gay marriage—not that the two weren’t one and the same! At some point, I’ll admit, I lost track of where in America Marc was on a given day, or where he’d be the next. From bookstore readings in Boston to house parties in Los Angeles to college classroom visits in Chicago and St. Louis, he spanned the country over the course of several months.

Countless people, from all walks of life, shared their own stories as part of this movement. Reflecting on the warm reception of his book, Marc says, “I especially loved hearing from younger people, in their 20s and early 30s, who weren’t necessarily paying attention to the early marriage battle in Massachusetts [in 2003], who didn’t realize how intense and focused the fight was even then.”

The Decision and the Revision

By now we all know how the story ends. On June 26, 2015, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ended the nationwide ban on same-sex marriages. Victory celebrations ensued. There was only one problem. The story, as told in Marc Solomon’s book, was incomplete. It needed the final chapter!

We were preparing for this, though. And Marc was probably the most adamant that the paperback edition of Winning Marriage, due out in early fall of 2015, be revised to include an afterword on the historic SCOTUS decision. I do not exaggerate when I say that on the day the decision was handed down, Marc began writing that last chapter. And he turned it in for editing a few days later—the deadline loomed that closely.

Now we can confidently say that the Winning Marriage paperback is the whole story.

“The playbook for progressive causes”

Marc Solomon with the amazing Freedom to Marry team
Perhaps the most pleasantly surprising aspect to the publication of Winning Marriage is its value to other ascendant social justice causes. Publishers Weekly, for one, saw it all along, in its review calling the book “a manual for how to craft a successful political movement in the future.” Later, it was U.S. News & World Report deeming it “the playbook for progressive causes.” Consequently, in recent weeks, Marc has been sought-after as a speaker for a range of organizations, including the Rockefeller Family Fund working on women’s workplace equality, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the Nature Conservancy combatting climate change, as well as litigators for reproductive freedom and organizers for criminal justice reform, hunger alleviation, and economic inequality.

As Winning Marriage becomes enshrined as not only the definitive story of the marriage equality movement in America, but as a guide for any movement to come (see these applicable lessons that Marc learned), Marc Solomon has himself moved on to the next chapter in his career, recently joining the team at Civitas Public Affairs Group, a firm that consults with an array of advocacy campaigns. I believe they know full well the indomitable force for good they’ve gained in Marc.


This post goes up in honor of University Press Week 2015 (Nov. 8-14), and today other fine UPs are sharing their favorite "surprises" from the past year. So follow the links to the press blogs below and keep reading!

University Press of Florida
University of Michigan Press
University Press of Mississippi
University Press of Kansas
University Press of Kentucky
University of Nebraska Press
University of California Press

#ReadUP #UPWeek

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Truth About Trafficking and Sex Work

by Alison Bass
author of Getting Screwed: Sex Workers and the Law

Charla Hathaway, who has a PhD in sexology and looks like a very sexy grandma (think Susan Sarandon in the movie Tammy), helps couples re-ignite the sexual spark in their marriages through erotic exercises and massage. But a number of weeks ago, PayPal froze Hathaway’s account, locking up thousands of dollars of her earnings and forcing her to find alternative ways to accept client payments.

Hathaway’s experience is far from an isolated case, civil rights lawyers say. At a recent conference in Washington, D.C. a First Amendment attorney said that PayPal’s actions are part of a broader effort by government and law enforcement officials to crack down on companies that provide financial services for sex workers and others in the adult industry. Earlier this year, an Illinois prosecutor pressured MasterCard and Visa into refusing to process transactions for Backpage, an online website that posts ads for sex workers. At a time when much of the developed world has decriminalized sex work—with Amnesty International recently calling for decriminalization as the answer to much of the violence and abuse that surrounds commercial sex—the United States appears to be lurching in the opposite direction toward harsher criminal and civil penalties for sex workers and those such as Hathaway who operate in the gray area between sex work and therapy.

This crackdown, advocates say, stems from the current hysteria around sex trafficking, which has been whipped up by grossly inaccurate statistics and media accounts of young girls forced into the sex trade by evil traffickers (once known as evil pimps). While the truth about trafficking is far more nuanced and complex than this (as I discovered in researching my book, Getting Screwed: Sex Workers and the Law), a coalition of conservative religious groups and feminists have used the hysteria to successfully push for a slew of anti-trafficking laws. But these measures appear to be hurting the very people they are supposed to protect. Not only are police in many states using trafficking laws to arrest adults engaged in consensual sex, but the laws are making things worse for teenagers selling survival sex on the streets of American cities.

Cases in point:

  • Since the original trafficking protection law was passed in 2000, the total number of arrests for underage prostitutes has actually increased. Under this law, juveniles, many of whom have run away from homes where they were being molested or abused, are supposed to be treated as victims. Yet many end up being arrested, and social workers who work with these youth say they are often re-traumatized by the criminal justice system.
  • Instead of targeting traffickers and exploitative pimps, police in some cities are harassing the most marginalized people in the sex trade: minority and transgender sex workers. Washington, DC, police recently raided several local brothels and arrested 16 alleged trafficking victims. In actuality, they were all African-American or Latino sex workers, age 19 to 26, who were not being trafficked, according to Cyndee Clay, executive director of Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS), a nonprofit outreach organization in Washington.
  • In Alaska, Karen Carpenter, the owner of an Anchorage massage parlor (where she worked with two other women) was charged in 2013 with sex trafficking and managing a place of prostitution. According to the Alaska News, she was found guilty of sex trafficking in the third degree (a felony), even though the women who worked with her were doing sex work by choice.
  • In Virginia, one of the sex workers whom I profile in my book, a beautiful bi-racial woman whose professional name is Joi Love, was arrested and accused of trafficking another woman. The other woman, who had been arrested in a prostitution sting by police, turned Joi and her boyfriend in to avoid being charged herself. Richmond police pressured Joi to testify against her boyfriend in order to have her own trafficking charge dismissed, but she refused. Joi ultimately pled guilty to a misdemeanor prostitution charge in order to have the more serious charges against her dropped.
  •  Illegal immigrants who are arrested and charged with prostitution are often deported regardless of whether they are doing sex work by choice. A 2010 study of 1,515 municipal police departments in the U.S. found that even immigrants who said they were trafficked were more likely to get deported than be designated as victims deserving of a special visa and support services.
  • The way state and federal anti-trafficking laws are written, most of the funding goes to law enforcement and not into services that can help underage and adult sex workers with housing, education, counseling and support so they can stop doing sex work if they so choose. 

The problem with our current approach to sex work is that it is both counterproductive and ineffective from a public health and safety standpoint. As I’ve blogged about here and here, laws that criminalize the sale and purchase of sex only make working conditions more dangerous for sex workers (and other women) and contribute to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV. A 2015 study confirms this cause and effect. It is no coincidence that the Netherlands, which decriminalized sex work in the 1970s and legalized it in 2000, has the lowest rate of HIV in the world. Sex workers experience much less violence in that country as well.

As the experience in the Netherlands and other countries shows, when prostitution is not criminalized, sex workers are better able to negotiate safe sex (i.e. sex with condoms) and more comfortable reporting violent clients and abusive pimps to the police. By contrast, after Sweden criminalized the purchase of sex in 1999, sex workers were forced into more dangerous, isolated spaces and were less able to negotiate safe sex with clients who feared being arrested. While the Swedish law has reduced the number of street walkers in that country, the overall numbers of sex workers there has not declined nor has the incidence of sex trafficking, according to reports prepared for the Swedish government.

Similarly, while anti-trafficking advocates argue that closing down Backpage would help fight trafficking, in reality, denying sex workers the ability to advertise on Backpage and other online sites only make their lives more dangerous. As I blogged about here, having the ability to advertise online allows sex workers to more carefully screen potential customers and work indoors. Research shows that when sex workers can’t advertise online, they are often forced onto the street, where it is more difficult to screen out violent clients and negotiate safe sex. They are also more likely to have to depend on exploitative pimps to find customers for them.

Just as with legalizing marijuana, decriminalizing sex work would go a long way toward alleviating many of the problems associated with commercial sex today. So why are U.S. officials so intent on ignoring this simple truth?

Visit Alison Bass' website to find out more about her book, Getting Screwed, to read more of her writings on the sex trade, and to see where she'll appear on her book tour this fall.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Six Books for Helen

Main Street in Colebrook, New Hampshire

by Richard Adams Carey
author of In the Evil Day: Violence Comes to One Small Town

The first spooky moment was meeting Steve Brooks in the parking lot outside the Tillotson Arts Center in Colebrook, NH, as he arrived early for my talk and book signing there.

Now retired from his work as a Border Patrol agent, Brooks is as brave a man as you could hope to meet. On August 19, 1997, he was one of three—along with state trooper Chuck West and Fish & Game conservation officer Sam Sprague—who put themselves directly in Carl Drega’s line of fire in order to rescue wounded BP agent John Pfeifer.

Drega, a 62-year-old carpenter and millwright, had carried on a 25-year property dispute with selectmen in the town of Columbia, next door to Colebrook. On that day in August, at a traffic stop at a supermarket in Colebrook, Drega had gotten out his pickup with an assault rifle and murdered troopers Scott Phillips and Les Lord. Then he drove to downtown Colebrook, where he murdered lawyer and former Columbia selectman Vickie Bunnell, and also newspaper editor Dennis Joos, who tried to save Vickie.

Richard Adams Carey
After several more incidents, Drega disappeared into the Vermont woods. There he set up an ambush in which Pfeifer and two NH state troopers were wounded. Brooks also proved himself a cool marksman. A bullet from his M16 was one of the two rounds that hit Drega at once, killing him instantly. Chuck West fired the other.

That‘s only a sliver of all that happened that day. There was also all that led up to it, and then the aftermath of a rampage that ran up and down the Upper Connecticut Valley and caught up hundreds of people as bystanders, witnesses, potential victims.

Grief and anger still run like a subterranean river beneath Colebrook, which is the primary reason that my book In the Evil Day took 13 years to research and write. Well, there were so many people to talk to, and I never did get to them all. But mostly I was delayed by how difficult it was for anyone to talk about what happened, to go over that bloody ground again.

Some just couldn’t, and politely refused my interview requests. Some of those—politely—objected to anyone writing a book about the incident. It would only stir up the grief, rub salt in the wounds, they said.

Most, however, did agree to talk. In many of those interviews a whole lot of grief was stirred up, and tears shed again by people of both genders. I found through those interviews a story that had the breadth and twists of a novel and that needed to be told—not on behalf of the grief, but rather the extraordinary grace and courage that so many ordinary people displayed that day. Some, like Steve Brooks, had been trained to confront mortal peril. Most were not, but did so anyway.

In the Evil Day was published on September 1, and eight days later it was introduced to the town in an event sponsored by the Colebrook Area Historical Society. The CAHS wasn’t sure how the book would be received, but they decided to take a chance on it. Nor was I at all confident.

I had interviewed Steve Brooks in 2009 and not seen him since then. But I had also spent every day of the last six years with him, weaving the man and his experiences into the fabric of my story. He had become like a fictional character to me, and that was why—seeing him again in flesh-and-blood outside the Tillotson Center—I had that spooky sensation. I felt like Thornton Wilder suddenly confronted by, say, Dr. Gibbs from Our Town. were many more “characters” from my story present that night. Two of the most important were John Harrigan and Charlie Jordan. Harrigan was the owner of the News and Sentinel newspaper, where Vickie and Dennis were killed. He had been called out of town, and then came back to find the woman he loved lying dead in the parking lot. Finally he mustered the survivors of his staff and put out an issue of the Sentinel that would earn a Pulitzer nomination.

Jordan was a fellow journalist who happened to have his camera handy and was first on the scene at the newspaper building, taking photos even as he feared the killer’s possible return. He stayed to help get the paper out that night, and then took Dennis’s place as its editor.

They took the podium before I did—first Charlie, then John. They both had read drafts of the manuscript and praised the book not just as a work of history, but as a salve, not salt, to these wounds. I followed them, talking about my research and reading from chapter one. I could feel myself being taken in, my book being welcomed.

More spooky moments ensued as people from my story appeared in the line for signed copies. Most excruciating was my encounter with Helen Lord, the mother of Les Lord. She had copies for herself, her three daughters, and for Les’s son and grandson. My heart clenched to think of this radiant, loving woman reading a description of the murder of her only son.

That son had been a kindhearted prankster with a legendary laugh, beloved throughout the North Country, a place where the line between trooper and the guy next door is indiscernible. As I signed books for Helen, though, I remembered that this story is less about how Les Lord died, more about how he lived and who he was—the written historical record of why people thought so much of him, and why their grief endures.

Of course we wouldn’t grieve so hard if we didn’t love so well. It’s only in memory, in honoring and preserving it, that the love outlasts the grief—and that the courage outlasts it as well.

Helen Lord, a very brave woman herself, gave me a hug before she gathered up her books and went outside. By then it was dark, but the stars were out.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

9 Things You Didn't Know Were Paid For by a Lottery

by Kevin Flynn
author of American Sweepstakes: How One Small State Bucked the Church, the Feds, and the Mob to Usher in the Lottery Age

Most of us think of lotteries—with their cornucopia of scratch tickets and nine-figure jackpots—as creations of modern America. As I explore in my new book, American Sweepstakes (October 2015), after being severely curtailed by federal laws in the 1890s, New Hampshire launched the first state-run lottery in 1964. Since then, 42 other states have followed, with most dedicating proceeds to education.

But lotteries themselves—some legal, some not—have been around for centuries and have served as a popular method for raising funds for various causes and public works projects. Here is a list of things that likely would never have been built or accomplished without lotteries—the original crowdsourcing campaign:

1. The Great Wall of China


Around 200 BC, the Western Han Dynasty used a lottery to pay for repairs to and expansion of the Great Wall. They created an early form of Keno called the “white pigeon game,” named for the birds that carried results from village to village.

2. The roads to Rome


All roads may lead to Rome, but not all roads could be maintained without spare change from the plebeians. Booty from military conquests was raffled off, the proceeds going toward Imperial infrastructure.

3. Voltaire’s academic career


In the 1700s, a French national lottery was created after the bond market collapsed. To encourage bond purchases, lottery tickets were awarded against a fractional percentage of the purchase. Voltaire and his friend, mathematician Charles Marie de la Condamine, discovered a mathematical flaw in the program that allowed them to purchase large qualities of tickets with cheap bonds. Before the government caught on, Voltaire made enough on his winnings to live comfortably while pursuing philosophy.

4. Jamestown colony


In order to finance the privately held Virginia Company of London, King James I granted the company the authority to hold a lottery to raise funds for a grand exposition. Proceeds were used to create Jamestown, the first English colony in the New World. You can say that America itself is the offspring of a lottery.

5. The Ivy League


How did these frontier colleges become the elite learning institutions of America? During the 1700s, many of them raised money for new buildings or dormitories through lotteries (some running them multiple times). Among the schools that relied on games of chance to build their campuses include Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, and the forerunners to Columbia and UPenn (whose motto was “Laws without morals are useless”).

6. The Continental Army


Running out of money to continue its revolution against the Crown, the Continental Congress authorized a national lottery to raise cash for the fight. General Washington bought the first ticket. It fell far short of its $10 million goal, but individual colonies did well financing their militias with lotteries. Massachusetts earned $750,000 to provide bonus for new volunteers.

7. Boston's Faneuil Hall


Because the early states had trouble collecting taxes and the bonds they issued were weak, many communities relied on legal gambling to pay for public needs. Proceeds paid for canals in Pennsylvania, aquafers in Kentucky, bridges in Connecticut, and fire-fighting equipment in St. Louis and Detroit. When Faneuil Hall, one of Boston’s most iconic landmarks, was leveled by fire in 1761, John Hancock helped organize a lottery for its reconstruction.

8. The estate of Thomas Jefferson


Deeply in debt at the end of his life, Jefferson petitioned the Virginia legislature to allow him to run a personal lottery with his effects and landholding as prizes. Jefferson had always been a supporter of lotteries, describing them as a tax “laid only on the willing.” However, before he could run his lottery, Jefferson died and these items were instead sold at an estate sale.

9. Washington, DC


Congress approved a $100,000 jackpot in the 1823 Grand National Lottery, profits of which were to be put toward restoring and expanding Washington, DC. After the winners were drawn, the broker contracted to conduct the lottery absconded with all of the proceeds—never to be seen again. The grand prize winner sued and the US Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had to pay up.

For more info about author Kevin Flynn and his new book, American Sweepstakes, visit his website at, and follow him on Twitter @kevinpflynn.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

How to Win the Fight: 10 Lessons Learned from the Marriage Equality Movement

by Marc Solomon
National campaign director for Freedom to Marry 
and author of Winning Marriage

As the whole country knows by now, back in June the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples now have the freedom to marry and equal respect for their marriages across America. This ruling has brought immense joy to families and rings out a final victory to the decades-long marriage movement.

Last fall, my book, Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits—And Won, came out in the wake of the Supreme Court's overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act, helping set the stage for this year's ultimate historic ruling. And now, as we reflect on this win, I'm thrilled that my book's upcoming release in paperback will include a new afterword—a final chapter, if you will—on the battle we waged to secure the right for all Americans to marry the person they want.

After more than a decade on the front lines of the marriage movement, what’s now most important to me is ensuring that the most crucial lessons we learned from the battle are available to and understood by other social movements. Every movement offers its own opportunities and challenges and I don’t pretend that the marriage playbook provides all the answers. But I do know that whether we’re talking non-discrimination protections for LGBT people, criminal justice reform, gun violence prevention, remedies to economic inequality, or measures to address climate change, there are important lessons to be learned from our fight.

1. Convey a bold, inspirational vision.

Identify a vision of what you really want to accomplish and communicate it early and often. The aspirational possibility of being able to marry spurred hundreds of thousands of regular people to become champions—something a watered-down goal like civil unions wouldn't have accomplished. While half-measures along the way are part and parcel of our political system, accepting increments must not preclude reaching the true goal, reminding people and politicians why it matters, and not ultimately settling for anything less.

Marc Solomon, author of Winning Marriage

2. Have an overarching strategy.

A strategy keeps focus, provides structure, and is crucial when the going gets tough. When Evan Wolfson embarked on winning marriage nationwide, he had a pathway to victory that envisioned a national ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, to get the Court to act, he knew—based on the lessons of history—that we needed to rack up victories in a critical mass of states and grow public support beyond a majority. That big-picture strategy for marriage was called the "Roadmap to Victory," and it provided a simple (but not easy!) approach that served us well when the going got tough and people questioned whether we were on the right path.

3. Focus on values and emotions.

With a cause that is as fundamentally important to so many as marriage, tapping into people's fundamental values in making the case is essential. We showed straight America why same-sex couples want to marry: out of profound love and commitment, which are the same reasons they want to! We thus helped them see that supporting marriage for same-sex couples syncs up with their own deep-seated values: the Golden Rule—treating others the way you'd want to be treated—and freedom—the right to live the way you want as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. Tapping into those values was a powerful antidote to the fear mongering that our opponents employed (e.g., that the freedom to marry would harm children). One of the mistakes some of our campaigns made along the way was in focusing on messages that polled well but that didn't have emotional resonance.

4. Meet people where they are.

To make lasting change in America, it's crucial to make the case to people who are conflicted about your cause and give them time to really think it through. On marriage, we knew that pretty much everyone grew up in a society where they were taught that marriage was between a man and a woman, and in a faith tradition where they were taught that homosexuality was wrong. Many good people were conflicted, so we were asking them to take a journey that challenged some of their deepest understandings about marriage, family, and religion. That required engaging with them, leaving no question unanswered, and tackling their concerns head on. To get people to yes, we had to encourage them to open their minds and hearts, listen, question, and reconsider. That meant starting early and staying with it, and making the case in multiple ways. A shift like that is much less likely to happen if you write someone off or call those who aren't with you yet a bigot or bad person.

Marching through Greenwich Village in an ecstatic NYC Pride celebration after victory in Albany.


5. Find the right messengers.

Who delivers the message and how it is delivered matter as much as what the message is. The target audience—conflicted Americans—must identify with and trust the messenger. It was crucial that same-sex couples made the case in person to family members, neighbors, and friends about why marriage mattered so much. Over the airwaves, however, it was parents who were most effective. They could speak to their own struggle of accepting their child's sexuality and about their journey overcoming that struggle and ultimately wanting their gay kid to have all that they had, including the right to marry. Straight people could identify and empathize with that story. Also, unexpected champions like Republicans, first responders, service members, and clergy were especially effective in explaining and modeling how their own deeply held values of freedom, faith, and service to the country were squarely in line with the freedom to marry.

6. Build state campaigns designed to win.

Winning at the state level requires an experienced campaign manager running a professional campaign, with field organizers, communications professionals, and lobbyists reporting to the manager and a tight board managing the campaign and helping raise sufficient resources to carry out the plan. The campaign must also be designed to meet the challenge. For example, when we needed to fight against the repeal of a freedom to marry law in New Hampshire, where the Legislature was 80 percent Republican, we built a campaign heavy on GOP operatives and business leaders.

7. Invest heavily in local organizing.

Inspiring and mobilizing supporters and then enlisting them to persuade undecided elected officials and voters takes a robust organizing campaign. On challenging issues, too often advocates think they can win in a legislature with top-notch lobbyists or at the ballot exclusively with good television ads. That's simply not the case. Lawmakers and citizens are most often persuaded because they hear from people locally—regular citizens, same-sex couples, and influential leaders living in their own communities. On marriage, it's especially crucial to show that we're talking about same-sex couples and families who are active participants in their communities, not "those people out there in the big city."

Available in paperback, Sept. 15, 2015

8. Accept this political reality: Politicians care about re-election above almost everything else.

The most important priority for the vast majority of elected officials is continuing to be an elected official. That means that if elected officials think they're going to lose their seat by supporting your cause, you're going to lose. So you need to be relentless about engaging electorally. First and foremost, that means helping ensure that those who vote with you win re-election. In the first marriage state of Massachusetts, we re-elected every incumbent who voted our way on marriage—195 out of 195 in 2004 and 2006—in spite of a concerted effort by Gov. Mitt Romney and social conservatives to defeat some of them. And there's simply no better way to show lawmakers you're serious than by defeating a small number who vote against you. That means figuring out who is vulnerable, finding quality candidates to run against them, and using tried-and-true campaign techniques to defeat them. Fight Back New York, a PAC that marriage equality advocates set up in 2010, did just that. They took out three incumbents who voted against us on marriage and completely changed the political calculus in New York state.

9. Be serious about reaching across the aisle.

In today's terribly divided political climate, in order to get an issue to break through, it's extremely helpful—and in many cases essential—for the cause to be bipartisan. For causes that begin as liberal or progressive causes, it's so important to have Republican voices making the case. Doing so effectively means years of dedicated and serious work, demonstrating to sympathetic Republicans that you're serious about enlisting them, sensitive to their political concerns, and committed to helping them make the case in a way that serves both your needs and theirs. Having a Sen. Rob Portman, a Laura Bush, or a Dick Cheney speaking out on marriage was worth its weight in gold in shifting the center of gravity politically on the cause.

Launch of the Maine Yes on One campaign in front of Portland City Hall. Photo by Meagan Dobson.


 10. Build momentum every day.

A cause is either moving forward or backward. At the heart of my job as the national campaign director for Freedom to Marry has been figuring out how to grow momentum every single day. That meant being consistently creative and nimble in identifying opportunities to move the ball forward, and building a narrative in the media that your campaign is succeeding. So whether it's enlisting an unexpected Fortune 500 company or a new Republican member of Congress, amplifying a new public opinion poll that demonstrates growth in support, focusing attention on a winning streak in court, or going on television with a TV spot, making real accomplishments and connecting them to a compelling and cohesive narrative demonstrates that you're continuing to progress toward your goal. An especially crucial element of building momentum is conveying optimism—even in the face of defeats. You have to remind the base and the media that you can do this by highlighting the wins, large and small, that the campaign has already secured.

A similar version of this article appeared on Huffington Post. For more about Marc Solomon and his upcoming events, visit