Crazy cool news: Filming of SOLD starts in Nepal today

When I met Jeffrey Brown, I thought he was a little crazy. He told me his high-school aged daughter had brought home a copy of SOLD, that he’d stayed up all night reading it, and that he was going to make it into a movie. Years have passed since then, years and a hundred doors that were shut in his face as he tried to secure funding. Eventually, he and his partner, Jane Charles, met a dozen women in Seattle, women who were interested in fighting trafficking, but who didn’t want to fund another program or another shelter. They wanted to spread the word about trafficking all over the world. Largely through the generosity of the “SOLD Sisters” and Jeffrey’s undying persistence, the film starts shooting today. I consider this a miracle – a miracle of generosity, tenacity and hope. Here is a proof of that miracle: a photo of the location he and Jane found for Lakshmi’s house.



Dead White Men Rise Again

In this weekend’s New York Times, Joyce Carol Oates, when asked about her favorite young adult novels, described a “radically extended sense of what ‘young adult’ literature can be.” She then went on to list  “Huckleberry Finn,” (published in 1884) “The Call of the Wild,”(1903) “The Member of the Wedding,” (1946) “To Kill a Mockingbird, “(1960) “The Catcher in the Rye” (1951), and “Lord of the Flies.” (1963)

All wonderful books. But all written before the existence of the personal computer, the video game, the ATM, or Ritalin.

Before the widespread use of the birth control pill.

Before the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan.

Before the voting age was lowered to 18.

Before Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Before AIDS, Facebook, or the Stonewall riots.

Surely it’s not too radical to suggest that Ms. Oates read a few books written in the past 50 years.

For one of this country’s leading writers and intellectuals, it was a shockingly obvious and lazy choice of books. And for someone of her stature, it was a missed opportunity to be generous to her fellow (contemporary) young adult writers.

It’s been a while since Joyce Carol Oates was a young adult. Cherry Ames was still a student nurse and Nancy Drew was driving her Roadster. But surely, since then she’s heard of Markus Zusak, Carolyn Coman, and John Green.

Then again, maybe not. After all, she’s the one who said that young  adult fiction “is just stripped-down adult fiction with more dialogue and less description.”

BYO Sunscreen

We were all strangers to each other last summer when we first tentatively took our seats around a table in a classroom at the Stonybook Southampton College Summer Writers Conference. Everyone was nervous. The students all had submitted manuscripts waiting for critique. And I had signed on to direct the workshop for the next five days. Would the work be strong? Would the level of critique be high but not harsh? Would I, as the teacher, have enough to say to fill the time?

Flash forward to next Friday. Almost a year later, that same group is meeting for a reunion. To celebrate the pending publication of one student’s book. To celebrate one student whose book was selected for the prestigious Blue Bonnet award in Texas. To congratulate another student whose book has topped an contest for new writers. To celebrate one student’s decision to pursue an MFA. And to catch up on each other – and try to recreate the magic that we shared for those five days.

Somehow, I was lucky enough to draw a dozen talented, thoughtful, smart, well-read, funny, kind and just delightful students. Their work was consistently good, deep, and rich. And their feedback for each other was generous and consistently thoughtful. And not only did I have enough to say, we all agreed to squeeze in an extra session – and skip a trip to the beach – to discuss the ins and outs of publishing and to tackle all those questions aspiring writers are dying to ask. I also met with each student privately. It was a whirlwind schedule but a very rich and rewarding experience.

It was a very special week. We went deep in each session – because of the trust we had for each other. I knew I could count on the students to give positive, useful feedback to each other and they knew they could count on me to have enough publishing war stories to suit any occasion. We all came away inspired by each other and ready to run back to our computers to write more.

I was lucky enough to be invited back to the conference this summer. This time, the conference will last for a few extra days, giving students time to write in between workshop meetings and giving all of us more time for private meetings, for casual lunches, evening readings.

I’ve already heard a whoop of excitement via Facebook from one student who was accepted into the program and am hoping that this summer, with its more expansive schedule, will bring me into contact with another batch of talented and inspiring writers. I’ll put next year’s reunion in my date book now!

Spring Awakening in the US: April 20

Mark your calendar now if you want to be part of a civilian uprising that will take place all over the United States.  But first, watch this video:

It’s about a group of people using social media – as well as old-fashioned yard signs and bumper stickers – to catch one of the world’s biggest criminals.

Joseph Kony, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, has been kidnapping children from Uganda and other parts of Central Africa and killing them.  He kills some outright – shooting them or beheading them right in front of their friends – to show them what will happen if they don’t join his army. He kills the rest by sending them into battle with submachine guns. He robs all of them of a normal childhood.

He’s been wanted by international courts for 20 years – but has managed to evade justice. But 2012 should be his downfall. Because of a viral campaign to make Kony famous in 2012. Or rather infamous. It’s a brilliant twist on the way we use social media. Rather than using Facebook, YouTube and Twitter Snookie-style, these activists are using it to make sure that Kony becomes just as big a household name. And, therefore, bring pressure on US and international leaders to commit to his capture and trial.

Their efforts will culminate on April 20th (watch the video to find out how).

When I heard that, it occurred to me that April is also the month during which Pol Pot came to power in Cambodia in 1975. His regime, the Khmer Rouge, rounded up the entire population, sent them to work camps in the country and eventually killed one out of every four Cambodians. Like the boys in the Lord’s Resistance Army, my friend, Arn Chorn Pond, was forced participate in those atrocities when he was only 11 years old.  Pol Pot was able to succeed as the mastermind of that genocide because the world did nothing.

Now, we have all have a chance to do something about a war criminal in our midst.

When I saw this video, I finally understood what’s so great about social media. I got it. Now we can all change the world – without even leaving home.

From inner-city Rochester to the Himalayas

Students at an inner city school in Rochester, NY, took action after reading SOLD – and raised nearly $125 to help trafficking victims. Inspired by their compassion for others, their teachers and I matched that gift and now $500 is on its way to a shelter that rescues and treats girls who were sold into the brothels of India.  As their teacher, Peg Vadala says, ‘you wouldn’t expect kids from Rochester to connect with the situation of a girl in a mud hut’ thousands of miles away but you will be touched by the generosity and compassion of these kids.

Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times is right: this is a generation of activists, kids with a moral compass and a belief that they can – and must – change the world.

Here is the link to the story:

Why do so many girls self-injure?

One in 12 teenagers, mostly girls, self-injure. They cut, burn or take life-threatening risks, according to a recent study.

This means that if you look at any group of a dozen teenagers one of them is probably self-injuring – probably in secret. And certainly in pain.

My book, CUT, came out 10 years ago and librarians tell me it’s still one of the most requested – and also most stolen – books in the library. And while that’s good for sales, it’s very sad news for me as author.

Because I don’t understand why, after 10 years, we as a society haven’t figured out a way to stop this epidemic.

Researchers say that brain development may be a factor – that the area of the brain associated with impulse control and the ability to modify behavior may hold an answer. They also say many kids will go on self-injuring into adulthood if they don’t get treatment. They say this is not ‘just a phase’ that young people will grow out of.

So why haven’t we been able to stem this tide of violence?

Maybe it’s because it’s not the same kind of violence boys tend to engage in – violence directed at others. It’s violence directed at one of our most vulnerable and marginalized groups: teenage girls.


Hiding in Plain Sight

Students at Mercer College in Macon, GA noticed something we all see from time to time: billboards for ‘massage parlors’ and escort services. But those students saw them for what they are: fronts for sex trafficking. More importantly, they did something about it.

First, they took aim at the billboard companies – putting pressure on them to refuse to post these ads. Then they went to taxi services that drive trafficking victims from one motel to the other, from one ‘massage parlor’ to another – and take half their earnings. Then they targeted the landlords at these establishments asking them to refuse to rent to businesses that are merely fronts for the exploitation of young women.

This is courageous, sometimes dangerous work. And it needs to be done on an ongoing basis since traffickers change their routes and locations all the time. And it is work we could any of us can do with a phone call.

This week in New York, a survivor of trafficking will testify in favor of a plan to fine taxi drivers who knowingly transport trafficking victims.

Great strides have been made in fighting trafficking. But full justice will not be done unless we choke a part of the supply chain – which is right there in plain sight.