Meet Writer/Editor Ben Wolf

I am so excited to write about this year’s Write Stuff Writers Conference that I attended on March 21-23. The Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group (https://greaterlehighvalleywritersgroup.wildapricot.org/) organizes it every year and this was my fifth year going. As always, I learned a lot and enjoyed it immensely. Everyone was so warm and welcoming that I felt I was reuniting with life-long friends.

Author/Editor Ben Wolf was this year’s keynote speaker. He has written and edited over 100 published works. Ben is the founder of Splickety Publishing Group, a magazine that publishes flash fiction. He has written novels and a children’s book. In 2015 he won the Cascade Award (https://oregonchristianwriters.org/2015-cascade-contest-winners/) for his novel, Blood for Blood, and his children’s book, I’d Punch a Lion in His Eye for You, was a Cascade Award winner in 2016 (https://oregonchristianwriters.org/cascade-award-winners-2016/). His concentration is primarily in speculative fiction.

Ben is 33 years old. When I arrived at the conference to find him as the keynote speaker, my first thought was, “How could someone so young teach the attendees, most older than he is, about writing?”

But it turned out he could. He actually taught us quite a lot.

The following are a few pieces of advice from his talk on “The Three Pillars of Storytelling: Your Novel’s High Concept.” He referenced his information from the book Fiction Writing for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson.  In some of the bulleted points, I will be quoting directly from a few of Ben Wolf’s PowerPoint slides.

  • The Goal of Every Story is to deliver a powerful emotional experience.
  • Every story must do at least one of the following: educate, entertain, or persuade.
  1. ) Entertain-writers are required to do research to make sure they are meeting their readers’ expectations, particularly in that genre (e.g. In romance: some combination of love, lust, and conflict).
  2. ) Educate-writers must think of what they want their readers to learn along the way.

3.) Persuade-in the case of “issue” fiction, they must decide what topics they want to change or influence readers’ minds about.

  • There are 5 pillars of writing fiction

1.) Construct a believable setting

2.) Create interesting character

3.) Create a strong plot

4.) Develop a meaningful theme

5.) Do all of it with style

In this blog post, I am going to concentrate on the second pillar-interesting characters.  Ben used examples from the movie Star Wars. For those unfamiliar with the plot, Trance (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076759/plotsummary), a plot author, summed it up as follows: “Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a Wookiee and two droids to save the galaxy from the Empire’s world-destroying battle station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the mysterious Darth Vader.”

  • The best way to hook a reader is with a compelling character. How does a writer achieve this? By knowing their character’s backstory.

1.) Who are they?

2.) Where did they come from?

3.) What happened that shaped who they are today?

4.) What does the character want?

5.) What is their motivation?

The writer must know the following about each character in their story

  1. ) Values-Those things a character holds most strongly to be true. Nothing is more important than. . .  Writers must convey values through action and behavior and make sure their character’s values have potential for conflict.

As an example, Darth Vader’s values were that nothing is more important than power and his son, Luke Skywalker.

2.) Ambition-The one abstract thing your character wants the most in life.  Give each character one ambition per story. What does your character want to gain? Some examples are wealth, power, peace, destruction, healing, and success.

Luke Skywalker’s ambition was to be a hero.

Story Goals-The one concrete thing your character wants in the story. The character must believe this will help him/her achieve or get closer to achieving their ambition. The more specific the writer can be about the character’s story goals, the better. It is essential the reader believes the story goal matters, the character has a chance to achieve their goal, and there is a chance the character may fail.

3.) Han Solo’s story goal was to obtain the money he needed to pay off the bounty on his life from Jabba the Hutt, a powerful gangster in the galaxy who had great influence in both the criminal and political underworld.

Finally, as demonstrated from Trance’s plot summary stated earlier, the author must formulate

  • A simple, one-sentence idea that describes the main conflict of the book.

Ben has spoken at over 40 writers’ conferences to date. I highly recommend any writer striving to improve their craft sign up and listen to his advice. He may be a youngster, but he gives many valuable pointers to writers of all genres.

Authors interested in getting help with their stories can reach out to Ben through his website, www.benwolf.com/editing-services. He offers coaching and editing services and has helped many authors bring their works to publication.

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy, a thriller designed to bring awareness to two issues: families coping with a loved one with autism and the human trafficking crisis. True Mercy is for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IngramSpark, and Smashwords.

Need help with blog content? Please contact me through my website, www.idellekursman.com.

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Human Trafficking Crisis in India

I spent an evening at my local Dining for Women, a global organization of women dedicated to empowering women in the developing world.  I socialized with some delightful, like-minded women and then we watched a video about the human trafficking crisis in India and the inspiring work Her Future Coalition is doing for rescued women and girls.

Prostitution is legal in India but human trafficking is not. Government statistics show that every eight minutes, a child goes missing in India.  A human trafficking report in 2016 by the U.S. State Department wrote that India serves as a source, destination, and transit country for men, women and children victimized by slave labor and sex trafficking. Another study completed in 2018 wrote that the number of victims brought to India from Nepal rose by a staggering 500% between 2013 and 2017.

Why is human trafficking so prevalent in this region? There are a number of factors:

  • Men come to the region to work in the commercial cities, so girls and women are kidnapped from poor families to satisfy the demand for commercial sex.
  • The poorer the family, the greater the chance one of their daughters will be sold, particularly in the Northeastern region of India. Sadly, some families are so desperate they are even willing to sell their own daughters.
  • Believing their children will receive education and jobs, parents are tricked into sending their children to these agents.
  • Girls and women are trafficked for forced marriages because there is a shortage of available females due to female infanticide.
  • An estimated 11.7 million people work for debt labor. When families are short on cash, they sell their sons and daughters to obtain money. Often these children don’t get paid for years.

Unfortunately, many times after girls are rescued, they are rejected by their families and treated as outcasts once they find out they were forced into prostitution.

The situation is bleak but there are people willing to donate time and money to help them.  Organizations in India like Her Future Coalition work hard to rescue these women and girls, providing them shelter and job training so they have the tools to lead lives of independence and freedom. Her Future Coalition works with local agencies to construct shelters for rescued girls, where they are can stay for a long term and be safe and supported.  The shelters provide food, clothing, medical attention, and counseling. Since the majority of those rescued have very little education, Her Future Coalition sponsors educational programs leading to job placement.  The film showed examples of the most popular fields: nursing, jewelry-making, bee-keeping, and accounting. To date, over 700 survivors have benefitted from their educational programs. Human trafficking is a horrendous crime, but there are dedicated individuals working to combat it. The more the better.

Readers interested in finding out more information or donating to the Her Future can go to https://www.herfuturecoalition.org.

Women who want to find out about their local Dining for Women can go to https://diningforwomen.org.

References

Giri, Avinash, (2019, January 3). What’s wrong with India’s Efforts to Check Human Trafficking? [Blog post], Retrieved from https://thediplomat.com/2019/whats-wrong -with-indias-efforts-to-check-human-trafficking/

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Book Review: Not of This Fold—A Mystery that also takes a Critical Look at the Mormon Church

A Mormon Mystery

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.

                Gwen 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.

                Since 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 investigation.  

                I could 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.

                I felt 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.

                Overall, 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.

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Book Review of Walking Prey: Sex Trafficking of America’s Youth

Author Shares Her Child Sex Trafficking Nightmare

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.

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