Remembering

As I set out to photograph the flowers around my apartment complex, I couldn’t help remembering my grandmothers: Lela (paternal) and Marie (maternal). Both are dead now, one as recent as 2011. Seems fitting to think of them on Memorial Day. Though neither fought in a war—Memorial Day being a day to pay honor to military service people—they were soldiers nevertheless. Just not in the military.

    

In keeping with my habit of not posting family photos (I’m writing this blog under a pen name after all), I will not post photos of my grandmothers. (Sorry to disappoint.) Instead, think of the flowers I photographed as representing my grandmothers. 🙂

Now, what do I mean by soldiers? Imagine being dirt poor and having kids to raise. You fight a battle against despair every day. But you have to win this battle for the sake of your kids. Both of my grandmothers had large families—my paternal grandmother having nine children, and my maternal grandmother having fifteen. You read that right. Two of my mother’s siblings did not live to adulthood.

My grandmothers didn’t go to college. One grandmother didn’t even go to high school. But all of her children did. College too. Both grandmothers wanted their children to have a better life than they did.

    

When I was a kid, my family spent many a weekend traveling to Pontiac, Michigan, to visit my paternal grandparents, and many a summer’s day driving to see my maternal grandmother in Lake Providence, Louisiana. We never thought about the fact that my grandparents were poor. They loved us, and we loved being with them.

My paternal grandmother taught me to crochet. My maternal grandmother taught me to be generous even if I have next to nothing to give. That was how she lived.

Some people talk about antiques or trust funds passed on to them by grandparents. Neither of my grandmothers had much to leave anyone. But they left something money couldn’t buy—a legacy of resilience, faith, and unselfishness. Not to mention precious memories of time spent with them. Their personalities imprint just about every story I write (and even one that I ghostwrote under a different name).

   

This Memorial Day, I also remember the people of Manchester and the victims of the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert on May 22. My blogger friend Laura said it best in this post. She provided excerpts from a post and comments by another blogger friend, Andy, who lives in Manchester. Many of you follow his City Jackdaw blog.

Memorial Day also is a day for me to remember that I’m giving away two books.

    

Thanks to the random number generator, the winner of The World’s Greatest Detective is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nancy Hatch!

The winner of Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L. M. Montgomery is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Jill Weatherholt!

Nancy and Jill, please comment below to confirm. If either of you would prefer an eBook to a physical copy of the book, please let me know.

Rosie Bloom is shocked to discover that the flowers she planted came up crocheted. She plans to contact the seed company to demand answers.

Photos by L. Marie. Rosie Bloom by Moose Toys.

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Guest Post by Phillippe Diederich: Writing from the Heart without Flinching

Today it is my privilege to present this guest post by by Phillippe Diederich, author of Playing for the Devil’s Fire, a young adult novel published by Cinco Puntos Press. This is part of an ongoing blog tour celebrating the release of Playing for the Devil’s Fire. Stayed tuned afterward for the giveaway news.

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I write from the heart. I fall in love with my characters and try and help them navigate the conflicts they encounter. I do not shy away from subject matter, whether it’s poverty, drugs, war or crime because this is reality. And I have something to say about it. That’s why I write.

The U.S. has been at war in Afghanistan for more than 14 years, but we don’t experience it the way Afghans do. Imagine having attacks like 9/11 happening every day in different parts of our country, year after year after year. That’s the reality of war.

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It’s the same with crime and drugs and poverty. In Mexico, the drug war has killed more than 100 thousand people in a little more than a decade. Most of the weapons used in this so-called war come from the U.S. And the market for the drugs is the U.S. Whether we like it or not, we are complicit in this war. And yet what we see and hear in the news is statistics, glorified prison escapes, arrests, and major drug busts. We never hear about the individuals who are suffering the consequences of government policies. We never hear about the mothers and fathers and sons and daughters who fight and suffer just to survive another day.

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In my novel, Playing for the Devil’s Fire, I wanted to address the problems in Mexico, more specifically, the violence and impunity that happens every day. When I wrote the story, I had to make it as real as I could without going overboard. I did not want to place the narcos as simple bad guys, but as individuals who have families just like their victims. I also didn’t want to glorify them or the violence or create unrealistic scenarios, because I would be doing a disservice to the victims of the violence many Mexicans are living every day.

I don’t believe writers should self-censor, and I don’t think we should hold back when trying to write for teens. I think teens are much smarter than we give them credit for. We shouldn’t sanitize the stories we want to tell.

When I was in the seventh grade I read an incredibly powerful memoir by and African-American. I want to say it was Nigger by Dick Gregory, but I’m not sure. It was a shocking book that dealt with a lot of tough issues. But it showed me a world I knew nothing about. It also showed me the power of the written word. I won’t say that book changed my life, but it did open my eyes to reality in a way no other media did.

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But I must make it clear that I don’t write to shock. I don’t think Playing for the Devil’s Fire is shocking in a gratuitous way. But I do think the reality that Boli, the main character, is living through is as real as what many Mexicans are experiencing. As a matter of fact, I think the horror of the victims of the drug war are going through—especially the people on the sidelines—is much worse.

When I first set out to write Playing for the Devil’s Fire, I had been reading a lot about the drug war and what was happening in Mexico. I love Mexico. I grew up there. So I was truly heartbroken as I lay down that first draft. I wanted to put a face to the statistics. I didn’t think of my audience for the book. Instead, I left it all to Boli. He guided me. Everything I wrote, I got from him—I saw it through his eyes. I was just hitting the keys on the typewriter.

If you read the book, you will find something to like in many of the characters, even in Zopilote and Ximena and Chato and Pepino. They’re only trying to survive as best they can. People are generally good, but greed and the glorification of violence on TV and popular culture can seduce even the best people.

Everything that happens in Playing for the Devil’s Fire, especially the end, it is not easy. But life is not easy.

I can only write about the reality that I know, the one that tugs at my heart. It’s not that I want people to feel the pain I feel, or about being sentimental. I just want people to join me in condemning the horror that is taking place all around us. If this is not the task of a writer, then what is?

Phillippe Diederich was born in the Dominican Republic and grew up in Mexico City and Miami. He is the author of Sofrito and Playing for the Devil’s Fire. He lives in Florida with his wife and three teenage children and their neurotic dog, Toby. Whenever he’s not writing, Diederich is helping with homework, cooking dinner, or fixing the plumbing in the house.

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One of you will win a copy of Playing for the Devil’s Fire simply by commenting below. Winner to be announced on September 19.

Next up on the Blog Tour: Check out an excerpt, review, and guest post at Mom Read It—https://momreadit.wordpress.com on September 13.

Author photo by Selina Roman. Book covers from Goodreads. Mexico map from ezilon.com. Dick Gregory photo from Wikipedia. War quote from geckandfly.com.