Not of This Fold immediately
draws the reader in through the engaging personality of Linda Wallheim, a
Mormon bishop’s wife and an amateur sleuth. Since this is the fourth
installment of Linda Wallheim mysteries, readers know that she figures out who
the murderer is at about the same time as the police. In this book, she has a
sleuthing partner, Gwen Ferris. Gwen is also married to a Mormon bishop but is
having a spiritual crisis due to the Mormon stance on a variety of issues.
and her husband are unable to have children, which is a heartbreaking situation
for any couple. But it is compounded because, as Linda describes it, the church
tells women “We were told so often that raising children was the most important
thing we can do with our lives, that mothering was an eternal role, and even
when we were resurrected and living in the celestial kingdom, we’d be silently
serving our spirit children, . . . ” (p. 18). Gwen has other issues with
Mormonism: the church’s attitude toward immigrants from Hispanic countries, the
prohibition of same-sex marriages, and the male domination of church
leadership. Gwen has quit her high-paying job and plans to enter the police academy
to make a difference, but her complaints are leading to marital strife as she contemplates
leaving the church.
Linda is a grandmother and Gwen is in her twenties, Linda looks at her as the
daughter she never had and guides her while they investigate who killed
Gabriela Gonzalez, a Mexican immigrant with three young children. Gwen works in
the Spanish ward and had befriended Gabriela, so she wants to see justice done.
She and Linda do a lot of traveling and interviewing of potential suspects, which
draws the ire of the police, who insist they are interfering with the
relate to Linda because she is a real person and not a stereotypical Mormon
bishop’s wife with a perfect life. This is her second marriage, one of her five
sons left the church and another is gay, and she is also questioning the
church’s rulings and practices. The story leads me to believe that Mormon author
Mette Ivie Harrison is voicing her own inner conflicts with the church.
the character Gwen Ferris was too one-dimensional. She kept repeating the same
slogans throughout the story: Mormons look down on brown-skinned people,
Mormons refuse to give women leadership positions, and the church must change
with the times. It becomes obvious she is taking out her own unhappiness and
unfulfillment on religion.
Not of This Fold is a fast, enjoyable
read. It certainly makes the reader think about the Mormon’s traditional
positions when society is challenging traditional beliefs. In fact, I think the
social issues often put the mystery story itself in the background. I also noted
missing words in the text. This I do not blame on the author, but rather it is
the proofreader’s responsibility. Other than that, I find this story riveting
because it has such a unique twist. But those looking for a mystery that solely
concentrates on the whodunnit may not appreciate Harrison’s work.
After reading so many headlines about child sex trafficking, I decided to read and review Holly Austin Smith’s Walking Prey (2014). The author is an unusually brave sex trafficking survivor who travels across the country relating her experience when she was only 14 years old. Smith cites many statistics, provides reasons for the prevalence of child sex trafficking and gives practical advice on prevention and the rehabilitation of victims.
Smith recounts being an awkward teenager who felt disconnected from her family and alienated from her peers when she ran away with a man named Greg who turned out to be a pimp. She candidly recalls her weeks on the streets of Atlantic City, her rescue, and rehabilitation treatment. The following is a few reasons young girls may be vulnerable to manipulative older men seeking to lure them into prostitution:
According to a 2012 Ohio Human Trafficking Commission report, young people involved in sex trafficking in that state experienced neglect (41%), abuse (44%), sex abuse (40%), emotional abuse (37%), and physical abuse (37%).
In 2011, an FBI report stated that many gangs use prostitution, including child prostitution, as “a major source of income” by “luring or forcing at-risk, young females into prostitution and controlling them through violence and psychological abuse.” The report estimated that there are 1.4 million gangs in the United States.
There are many cases of girls and young women promised well-paying jobs and then smuggled across the Mexico-U.S. border to be trafficked for commercial sex. Smith believes that American teens may also be lured into going to Mexico for this purpose.
In our consumer-driven society, children are constantly viewing advertisements sending the message that in order to be popular and accepted, they must obtain certain products. Many cannot afford all these products and those that do purchase them inevitably find they do no fulfill expectations. Compared to the images in the ads, children come up short. They then seek other avenues where they feel desirable and accepted. Pimps are on the look-out for girls who appear lonely and vulnerable and entice them with a lot of attention.
Smith is emphatic that these teenagers should be treated as victims rather than criminals. Pimps lure the ones who suffer from difficult family lives, low self-esteem, and little or no support. And once these children are rescued, they require a great deal of help so they can enter back into society and live productive and stable lives. The author cites many cases, including her own experience, where survivors are treated like criminals. Some survivors actually end up becoming advocates and help put systems in place to facilitate the rehabilitation process for young survivors.
Surely, society must do better to prevent occurrences of sex trafficking in the first place by providing more support and resources for troubled youth.
Smith concludes that “Too many children and teens across the country, as well as their parents, have never heard about child sex trafficking in the United States, and this must change…Community members in general must be made aware of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children” (pp. 167-168).
I highly recommend Walking Prey to everyone, particularly parents of teenagers. It is an eye-opening experience that they cannot afford to ignore.
At the Greater Lehigh Writers Conference last year, I listened to Benjamin Sobieck introduce and explain Wattpad, a social storytelling platform for readers and writers. Writers post their stories, often a chapter at a time, and readers from all over the world read them, offer comments, and vote on them. Wattpad began in 2006 and in 2007, it became available through mobile devices. Today Wattpad has millions of readers and hundreds of millions of stories.
After the class, I took Ben’s business card and emailed him a few times with questions, but I didn’t feel ready to try it until six months later when I read his book The Writer’s Guide toWattpad: The Comprehensive Guide to Building and Sustaining a Successful Career. This time I wanted to put my current book project on Wattpad and I emailed Ben about enrolling as a writer. He graciously answered my questions and I was now ready to take the plunge.
Wattpad is a whole new writing world that has the potential to reach people all around the world. Many writers have begun successful careers and readers enjoy a vast selection of stories and the opportunity to offer feedback and become actively involved in story development.
I noted Ben’s enthusiasm and willingness to help from our first meeting. He is a crime and thriller writer and a member of Wattpad Stars. His website is crimefiction.com. Ben agreed to do an interview for my website.
1.) Q. Ben, please tell
me about yourself and your writing career.
First off, thank you for
hosting this interview. The short version is that I went to school for
journalism and creative writing, got a job as a reporter, moved over to
magazines and wound up working for a large publisher of print, digital and
broadcast content. That continues to pay the bills, but if you’re a writer, you
know you won’t stop there. I kept writing on the side, and eventually picked up
some fiction and non-fiction projects.
2.) Q. How did you first
come across Wattpad? It seems like a perfect match for you and the stories you
Thank you! I’d hit a
dead end outside of Wattpad with some stories that I thought had legs. I posted
them to Wattpad to see what would happen, and the rest is history. It wasn’t
overnight, and there were times I felt like quitting. But I knew I had
something good to share, and it worked out in the end.
As far as matching
content to Wattpad, I write, in general, thrillers. Horror, YA and romance all
do well on the platform, too, but that shouldn’t put off anyone not writing in
those genres. Wattpad is an enormous place, with 70 million monthly users. If
you can find even a tiny, tiny percentage to give your work a read, you’re on
the right track.
3.) Q. Wattpad is geared
toward millennials and Generation Z. Do you think there is room for older
Of course! The demos
certainly skew to those generations, but you’d be surprised at how open minded
and advanced those readers are. Remember, these are voracious readers. They
want compelling stories. I never intended to write for the 18-25 demo, but that
makes up a big chunk of my followers.
For adult readers,
there’s plenty of content, too. It takes a little more digging, but you’ll find
what you’re looking for. And, hey, even if you don’t, you didn’t spend a bunch
of money to find out!
4.) Q. I am a writer
that is older than the targeted audience. I am presently posting a chapter a
week of my new novel on Wattpad. The main characters are in their forties.
Would you say this novel would be a tough sell on Wattpad?
I wouldn’t mistake a
slow burn for a tough sell. All Wattpad stories are a slow burn, because it
takes time to build up momentum. Writers who frequent Wattpad will see a pay
off in reads, votes and comments. It’s just a matter of sticking with it.
As an example, Zandra,
the lead character in my “Confessions of a Fake Psychic Detective”
series, is in her 40s. She deals with adult issues, and there is zero romance.
On the surface, that doesn’t look like a Wattpad story. However, it won a Watty
Award in 2016.
5.) Q. It is mentioned
quite a few times in your book that there are currently 65 million users and
400 million stories. These statistics suggest it would be exceedingly difficult
for a writer to stand out. Yet the writers in your book are very encouraging
about joining Wattpad. Why do you think they believe new writers have the
potential to do well if they stick with it?
It’s up to 70 million
now! That sounds intimidating, yes, but remember that of those millions of
stories, most of them are one-offs, just for fun or not written by someone
interested in a full-fledged writing career. The dedicated writers there to
build an audience, and therefore a career, are smaller in number. I don’t know
what that number is, exactly, but the readers will always want new material.
They enjoy following writers putting out good work. If you’re doing that, the
readers will come. It just takes time.
6.) Q. Have any
plagiarism concerns come up? After all, many writers are sharing their works in
There are websites off of Wattpad that post work, and there are
“writers” who imitate or copy Wattpad successes. Issue a DMCA notice
or alert Wattpad directly. Piracy is always a risk. Hopefully, the benefits of
Wattpad outweigh the risk of plagiarism.
7.) Q. Most of the
chapters are written by women. Is that because there are more women writers and
readers than men? Do you see a closing of this gap anytime soon?
Wattpad users are
female, and I think that reflects readerships at large and Wattpad’s makeup
behind the scenes. Most workers at Wattpad HQ are women. That trickles through
to the user experience, too. So, no, I’m not sure that will change, but what
they’re doing is working.
8.) Q. Many writers
mention Watty Awards, the Wattpad Top 100 Hot List, and Wattpad Star. How do
writers achieve these benchmarks?
The Watty Awards are an
annual competition that anyone can enter. It’s as simple as tagging a story.
The Hot Lists are based on reads and votes, but not entirely on reads and
votes. The more active you are on Wattpad, the more likely it is you’ll wind up
with a ranked title. Wattpad runs a lot of algorithms, and I doubt they’d ever
disclose the specifics.
The Wattpad Stars
program is by invitation. It used to be that you could apply for it, but that’s
9.) Q. Would you mind
explaining the role of Wattpad Ambassador?
To put it simply, the
Ambassadors are there to ensure users have the best experience possible. That
can take on a number of forms, from addressing trolls to getting the word out
about contest, and they all do great work.
10.) Q. Some writers
have even captured the attention of television executives, movie studios, and
publishers! Do you have any statistics on how often this occurs?
They do! The exact
figures are kept close to the chest at Wattpad Studios, the division that
licenses content in that way. Should an opportunity come up, though, Wattpad
contacts the writer directly to gauge interest. Writers own all the rights to
their work. The only time Wattpad would sell those rights to a third party is
after having a conversation with the writer and signing a contract. No
11.) Q. Author Daryl
Jamison wrote the chapter, “Writing for Wattpad campaigns.” She
mentions ways writers can make money on Wattpad. Would you mind touching on
Wattpad Next, Wattpad
Futures, Wattpad Books and the branded campaigns are all ways for writers to
make money directly through Wattpad. These are invite-only programs at the moment.
12.) Q. Do you have
advice for writers on how to become successful on Wattpad?
Keep posting! Keep
writing! Build your audience! That’s the best way to do it.
13.) Q. What about story
length? Are most short stories, novellas, or full-length novels?
You’ll find work in a
variety of lengths, but complete novels seem to do the best.
14.) Q. Ben, thank you
for agreeing to this interview. Is there anything else you would like to
Give Wattpad a try! I
did and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for my
writing career. If you can build an audience that cares about your work, you
can port that into any other avenue in publishing. You can’t buy devoted
readers, but you can build them. All you need is a tool. Wattpad gives you an
entry ramp for readers to find you. For me, it’s home base.
Since January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, I am devoting all of this month’s posts to human trafficking information. For this one, I am writing about an important resource for victims. Covenant House is a privately funded agency that provides temporary housing, food, crisis care, and many other services for young people ages 18-21 who are homeless or victims of human trafficking.
Covenant House operates in many locations all over North and Central America, but I would like to focus on the Newark site, which is one of their seven locations in New Jersey. The crisis center allows young people to come in 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These youths are welcomed when they have nowhere else to go. The staff permits them to stay while they get help and work toward a stable life by setting constructive goals. They also protect victims of human trafficking and make every effort to stop the perpetrators.
Most human trafficking victims in the United States are forced to have relations with many partners against their will so traffickers can make money. Human trafficking is so prevalent for two reasons: traffickers can make large profits and the risk factor is low. Why? There are so many vulnerable young people who desperately need guidance from a concerned adult. With no one watching out for them, traffickers find them easy prey to manipulate. Another reason is the large number of homeless youth. I reached out to Covenant House in Newark to interview a representative. Unfortunately, no one responded in time for this post. If you would like more information, log onto their website https://www.covenanthouse.org
Human Trafficking and the Super Bowl
Next month is the annual Super Bowl. While legions of fans will gather for parties and cheer on their sports teams, please keep in mind that this is also the time when human traffickers are their busiest, forcing their victims to have sex with strangers so they can make money. People who work at airports, hotels, and other popular venues for football fans should be extra vigilant. Victims generally do not carry luggage, may have bruises, and pay in cash. Everyone should be aware of the signs to combat this growing crisis. Call 911 if you see anything suspicious.
In Idelle Kursman’s debut novel True Mercy, one of the main characters is an escapee from an international human trafficking ring. She wrote the story to spread awareness for the human trafficking crisis. True Mercy is for sale on Amazon, IngramSpark, Smashwords, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.
Since January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, this blog will examine the known statistics of the human trafficking crisis in the United States and abroad. Polaris, a prominent anti-trafficking organization, compiled these figures and presented them on their website, https://polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/facts. Unfortunately, this criminal activity is on the rise. When I launched my book True Mercy on January 11, 2017, human trafficking was the third largest criminal activity worldwide, but it is now the second, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that forced labor and human trafficking is a $150 billion business. The ILO accumulated some grim statistics on its prevalence. It is estimated that there are 40.3 million people being trafficked around the world. The following are the details they were able to gather in their report:
81% are in forced labor
25% are children
75% are women and girls
The average age of labor trafficking is 23 while the average age of sex trafficking is 19.
What’s more, the U.S. Department of Labor found that forced and child labor are responsible for making 148 products from 75 countries. Even more chilling, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that 1 out of 7 runaways in danger is likely child sex trafficking victims.
These cases may be right in front of us but we do not recognize them. Why? Sex trafficking can occur in escort services and residential neighborhoods; sex and labor trafficking are most prevalent in illegal massage businesses, bars, and strip clubs; and labor trafficking is most likely to occur in domestic work and agriculture.
Everybody has a duty to learn about human trafficking and recognize it when it happens around us. No one is immune—rich or poor, city or country dwellers, Latino, African-American, White, Asian, or Mixed.
If you see something suspicious, report it.
National Hotline: 1-888-373-3888
BeFree Textline: 233733
Governor Bill Haslam, outgoing Tennessee governor, pardoned Cyntoia Brown, the 30-year-old woman who was handed a life sentence for murder. Brown’s attorney argued that she was a sex trafficking victim and was afraid for her life when she murdered Johnny Allen when she was 16. Since she has been in prison, Brown finished her GED and is one course away from earning her Bachelor’s degree. Brown made the following statement:
“I am thankful to my lawyers and their staffs, and all the others who, for the last decade have freely given of their time and expertise to help me get to this day. With God’s help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people. My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been.”
Question: In his address from the Oval Office, President Trump said a border wall will help prevent human trafficking. What do you think?