“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

This poem, from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, pretty well describes my status, as I approach my seventh decade.
So I thought I’d start a blog to promote my book, get in touch with the roughly 2 billion people on the internet, and save me the trouble of explaining individually to those 2 billion why I don’t eat sugar. Mostly. Of course that leaves another 4 billion or so, but that’s life.

My book is Get on Board Little Children, by Victoria Randall, and it’s a futuristic thriller that begins in Seattle.

The title comes from the African-American spiritual of the same name celebrating the Underground Railway, which in the nineteenth century helped slaves escape from slavery to freedom in the northern states. I’m proud to say that my alma mater, Oberlin College, was a way station on the underground railway.

I got the idea from reading our local newspaper, and noticing that every time an article appeared about child abuse or neglect, many people posted “We should have to get a license to reproduce!” A lot of people seem to feel that would be a good thing, and indeed, it does seem reasonable. After all we need a license to marry, to drive a car, a motorcycle, or an airplane, to practice as a physician or dentist, even to sell hotdogs at the stadium. If a license were required to have a child, it seems reasonable that only dedicated parent-types would apply for it, and the amount of child neglect would decrease.

Of course the state would be involved, since the license would have a price, and the state could set any price it deemed fit, in fact even a price so high that only wealthy or really devoted would-be parents would apply for it. And a psychological exam of course would be included, to make sure only stable people were licensed.

You would of course ensure that accidental pregnancy was very rare, by implanting a mandatory birth control device in every teenage girl. Although such devices are not 100 % foolproof.

Then you would have to figure out what to do in case people flouted the law and went ahead to get pregnant without a license. Would there be fines? Jail terms? Confiscation of the child?

All this led, not through a rational process mind you, but sort of one-thing-after-another, to my dystopia. I only later realized I had created a dystopia.

I wondered what would happen if an average middle class young woman and her husband found themselves in that situation. What kind of lifestyles might evolve in such a state- would there be an underground group raising their children in secret, without social security numbers or public schooling? If the state confiscated illegally born children, what would become of them? And would organizations develop to help pregnant women escape the consequences of their criminal status?

We don’t think it can happen here in America. But then who would have thought 24 ounce sodas would be banned in New York? (I hate soda – they’re terribly bad for your health. But still . . .)

I only touch on some of these questions lightly. But they are there, as Sophie and Josh try to deal with their problems in a world characterized by a high living standard, high-tech surveillance, full surround virtual reality entertainment, but shadowed by the dark underbelly of loss and despair on which it is founded.

Available on Amazon in both paperback and ebook format.

Come on Home, Children, the second book in the trilogy Children in Hiding, is now available on Amazon. It treats of the same dystopian society as the first one, in which women are required to purchase a license to have a baby. If they don’t have a license, the child is subject to confiscation by the state, to be raised in a state- run Children’s Center.

There are certainly many excellent orphanages throughout the world, but as in any human endeavor, both bad and good people will engage in it. And the not-so-good people may try to take advantage of the situation for their own pleasure and profit.

Miss Amberton is one of my favorite villains. Here is a snippet of her conversation with four-year-old Katy, the heroine’s daughter, who has been taken by the Population Management police to the Children’s Center where Miss Amberton is the director. Mrs. Baker, her assistant, is trying to help her snap a photo of Katy.

“Smile, Katherine,” said the woman with high black hair combed back. She stood pointing a camera at Katy, who she had placed in front of a white wall.
“Don’t want to,” said Katy, tightening her lips. “My name’s not Katherine.”
“Of course it is, you’re just not used to it. Now smile for the camera. Don’t you want your picture taken?”
“No. Are you a witch, like in Hansel and Gretel?”
“There are no such things as witches, Katherine. That is rude.”
Mrs. Baker hovered in the background, rubbing her hands nervously together. She did not seem to like what the other woman – Miss Amberton – was doing. “Maybe she will smile for me,” she said in her soft voice.
“She’s a stubborn child.” Miss Amberton handed the camera to Mrs. Baker. “See what you can do.”
“Are you going to put me in an oven and turn me to a cookie and eat me?” asked Katy. “That’s what witches do.”
“No one is going to eat you,” Miss Amberton said through her teeth. “Give us a smile.”
“Please,” Mrs. Baker coaxed. “Then you can go and play.”
Katy grimaced, showing her teeth for a split second. “Okay, can I go?”
“No, sweetheart, we need to take a picture,” said Mrs. Baker.
Miss Amberton stood tapping her foot and breathing heavily through her nose.
“You know,” Katy said to her, “you aren’t supposed to steal kids. When I see a policeman, I’ll tell him what you did. Policemen are our friends, except for the ones with green shirts.”
“We didn’t steal you, we rescued you,” said Miss Amberton. “Someday you will appreciate the difference.”
“And when I tell the policeman, you will be toast.” Katy giggled. “That’s funny. I won’t be a cookie, but you will be toast.”
“My, aren’t we precocious.”
“What’s precoshus?”
“Too smart for your own good.” Miss Amberton’s lips were tightly compressed. Katy did not think she would make a good picture either.
The thought made her smile a tiny bit. Mrs. Baker snapped the picture as she did. She straightened up with a sigh. “I think that’s as good as we’re going to get.” She showed the camera to Miss Amberton.
“It’s fine. She looks a little pathetic. We’ll use that one.”

You hear complaints on occasion in reviews of books or films, that the writer ruined the project by forcing a “Hollywood ending” on an otherwise compelling adult tale. Happy endings, it is implied, are what the unsophisticated common man insists on. But real life is grim and tragic, and we should man up and accept it.

My books for the most part end happily. That is because I am aware of enough grief and loss every day. I see it in the media and I hear it from my clients. My profession as a nurse puts me in touch every day with people who are dealing with diagnoses of terminal illnesses, accidental deaths of children and grandchildren, loss of their limbs or their eyesight, and other traumatic difficulties. I am continually astonished at how most people rise to meet these challenges with grace and courage.

But when I watch a movie or read a book, I don’t want to be taken through the wringer again. I want solace, the assurance that things may look bad but through the cloud-wrack a white star is still shining, giving us hope, as Samwise saw. And those are also the kind of books I write.

I also do so because I believe that the foundation of reality is a primordial eucatastrophe. This is a term that J.R.R. Tolkien invented to mean an ending involving an abrupt and unexpected change, in which evil is thwarted and good triumphs. The ending of his book The Lord of the Rings is a eucatastrophe. “Tolkien calls the Incarnation “the eucatastrophe of human history” and the Resurrection the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation.”(Tolkien, J.R.R. (1990). The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays. p.156)

I love the good news of the gospels, and consider it the basis for almost all works of literature. Elements of this tale are found in every best seller from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities to the latest Dean Koontz thriller. These include, among other things, the hero in disguise, the toilsome journey, the imprisoned or mistreated bride, a conniving enemy, a heroic sacrifice, redemption, and final triumph.

Every best seller, every fairy tale, every good movie contains at least some elements of this tale, and the more it does so, the more closely it corresponds to reality. Because this is the tale told from before the foundation of the world.

Of course, not all happy endings are immediately evident. I just finished reading “The Doomsday Book,” by Connie Willis, [ Spoilers] one of the best books I have read this year, which ends with a great deal of grief and death. But it is redeemed by the vindication of faith of the main characters. It is made clear through this book, as through my experience with my patients, that death is not the ultimate tragedy.
I will stand by my happy endings, because they are the stuff of real life, despite all that seems to argue against it.

One of my relatives said my book, Get on Board Little Children, is Propaganda. An interesting comment, which made me think. Is it?

What is propaganda? Google says: “information, esp. of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.“ Merriam Webster Online says: “ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated, . . .spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.”

An article titled “Propaganda” by The United States Memorial Holocaust Museum has these comments:
• “[Propaganda] simplifies complicated issues or ideology for popular consumption, is always biased, and is geared to achieving a particular end. . . .In contrast to the ideal of an educator, who aims to foster independent judgment and thinking, the practitioner of propaganda does not aim to encourage deliberation by presenting a variety of viewpoints and leaving it up to the audience to determine which perspective is correct. The propagandist transmits only information geared to strengthen his or her case, and consciously omits detrimental information.
• Not all propaganda is bad. Propaganda is used to shape opinion and behavior. Public health campaigns, for example, can utilize propaganda. . . . The real danger of propaganda lies when competing voices are silenced – and unchecked, propaganda can have negative consequences. . . .”

A book written for the express purpose of pushing a political or other agenda is clearly propaganda. But every author is biased; is all writing therefore propaganda? Is The Lord of the Rings propaganda because Tolkien espoused a Christian worldview? Is Little House on the Prairie propaganda because Wilder held up the blessings of a united family and community? Is Romeo and Juliet biased because Shakespeare indicates that suicide is a bad idea with tragic consequences?
I think we would say not, because these writers presented their ideas merely as an outgrowth of their own point of view, and the main point was the story, the exploration of a created world or community.

We live in a culture that, to a large extent, acts as if we believe that unborn children are expendable commodities, whose worth depends on whether they are wanted by the mother or not. Kind of like lean hog futures, a commodity whose worth depends on their trading value. I say “acts as if we believe” because we do not give support to pregnant women, instead in many cases we push abortion on them as their only solution. Many people don’t believe this is right, but we still act as if we do, we still put up with it in our culture.

My book presents another point of view, the view that an unborn child is valuable in his or her own right, and deserves the same chance at life that all of us enjoy. It’s also fiction, set in the future, and attempts to present the point of view through the behavior of a variety of characters who respond in different ways. Is this propaganda?
It does present a biased point of view, with the goal first, of presenting an entertaining story, and second, of encouraging people to think about the subject, rather than accepting our culture’s viewpoint blindly. In that respect, it seems to me to be in line with the goal of the educator rather than the propagandist; the educator “aims to foster independent judgment and thinking.”

Like Wilder and Tolkien, I attempt to explore a fictional world. I don’t think it is propaganda, as I went where my characters led me. My next book in the Children in Hiding series, Come on Home Children, explores the subject from the point of view of one of the unlicensed children. I will see where that takes us.

We are constantly being given advice on all the urgent activities we must do each day, mostly from well meaning experts in their fields.

My dentist says to brush my teeth twice a day while singing Twinkle twinkle little star, to make sure I brush for the requisite number of minutes.

“If you’re a serious writer, you will block out [so many] hours each day to practice your craft.”

We are advised to exercise, cook from scratch, get enough sleep, pray daily, spend quality time with friends and family, keep up to date on advances and publications in our field, walk the dog, feed the ferret, entertain the cat, not to mention the pesky detail of several hours at work, commuting if that’s necessary, or doing the housework that never comes to an end.

Follow all these well meant directives, throw in a little housework if you haven’t already, and you’ve got about 25 hours in each day.
So unless you want to live like a robot, maybe creating a spreadsheet and checking items off as you race from one to another, something will have to go.

What is really essential? I asked a few people, and the answers I got depended on their ages. My son says the essential thing for him is to check his phone for messages first thing.
My husband says family is most important. Also sleeping and eating. He would say that.

I have decided to make a list of what’s essential to live the best life possible, so here it is. What qualifies me to weigh in on this is that I’ve been a registered nurse for a quarter century, and have seen the results of all kinds of lifestyles.

1. Get enough sleep. Seriously. Your life will spiral down into the toilet if you try to get by on less than you need. Sleeplessness sucks all the enjoyment out of a day.

2. Exercise. It’s essential to keep blood moving and keep the brain functioning. Ideally, walk half an hour a day outside or even in a mall, or if you can’t go out, walk on a treadmill or up and down stairs. If you are stuck in a wheelchair or in bed, you can use stretchy cords or isometric exercises.

3. Touch base with nature. Trees or plants are good to commune with. We evolved outside, and it still soothes, calms, excites, enchants, heals and gives us hope. Take your walk outside, or talk to your dog or guppie. I’m fond of my ferret, who never complains or tells me to quit wasting my time on the computer.

4. Talk to your family or friends. We are social creatures, and need to bounce our emotions off other people to stay sane. You can use books, I suppose, if real people aren’t available. But TV doesn’t work for this; that’s like trying to get nourishment from the pictures in a cookbook.

5. Eat right. Most Americans eat a lot of junk, a lot of high fructose corn syrup, a lot of white flour and sugar. That tears our bodies down instead of building strength, so by middle age we need medicine just to keep going, and within a few years we start to disintegrate, need more meds, and can’t function well, so we find ourselves stuck in front of the TV all day. Eat vegetables.

6. Pray or meditate. We wake up on this planet hurtling through space, and have to figure out what’s up with that as we go through life. It’s kind of like regaining consciousness as the roller coaster groans its way to the top of the high curve, and you look down at the track dwindling into the distance, and you have no idea how you got there. So it’s helpful to try to plug into the ground of our being. My belief is that if we are searching for Him, He will be looking for us, and we will be found.

7. Do something enjoyable, creative if possible, every day. Read to your kids, write a story or work on your novel, practice drawing or painting. Strive to achieve the state of flow, in which time ceases to exist and we become fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus.

You may have other essential activities. Whatever they are, try to focus on what you regard as essential, because otherwise the non-essential but urgent will overwhelm us.

My book is available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and other online bookstores now! It will also be available in book form soon. My son Brandon Graham is the cover artist, with some help from his lovely wife Marian.
They just got back from a trip to the Oslo Comics Expo in Norway, and a gallery show in Amsterdam. For a thoroughly illustrated view of his trip, check out his blog.
I really like the cover he did for Get on Board Little Children. I think the color and artwork capture my heroine’s feeling of terror as she realizes there is no place to hide. It’s not slick and sexy like many covers, but his work usually is not slick, which is part of its charm.
My favorite graphic novel of his is King City, a wildly imaginative tour de force involving a laid-back pickpocket who is a Catmaster, his weaponized cat, his best buddy who wears a ski mask, the buddy’s girlfriend who is an alien water-breather, and assorted other oddities which combine to make a strangely touching novel of danger and lost love. He says he draws “as if everything is made out of bubblegum,” but in reality, his style is a combination of graffiti, Japanese manga, and his own inimitable lunacy. I feel fortunate that he did my cover.

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