Shattered Dreams

Posted by on Oct 29, 2016 in Life in General | 0 comments

Shattered Dreams

“9-1-1-: What’s your emergency?”

“There’s been a really big accident. Please help! My best friend’s not moving and there’s all this blood. Please send help!”

“Okay, what’s your location?”

“I’m outside of the school…”


Even though I know the above conversation is staged, my throat clenches as I listen to the mock emergency call broadcasting over my school’s loudspeaker. The student I’m hearing is one of my juniors, and the terror in her voice sounds real.

After the call ends, I shepherd my class outside, as instructed at that morning’s staff meeting. We sit on bleachers temporarily erected a safe but short distance away from the highway that parallels our campus. It’s a busy road, and I am surprised and impressed to see that authorities have all four lanes blocked. Average people who may not know what’s going on are stopped en route to wherever they were going, delayed without an alternative while we experience the simulation. Apparently, some of them posted about the big, seemingly fatal accident outside the private school on social media and expressed concern for the students involved.

It’s not hard to understand how onlookers could think the accident scene was real. A legitimate-looking two-car crash spills across two lanes of the highway, two totaled SUVs sprawled among automobile debris. Each one holds a student of mine, trapped, bleeding, and either unconscious or semi-conscious. A third student, injured but mobile, wanders along the edge of the scene in a shocked state of confusion and disbelief. A fourth sprawls across the shoulder of the road, dead the moment her head collided with and scraped across the rough asphalt. Her beautiful face, now embedded with shards of glass and scraped raw, reminds me of ground meat. Blood runs from her in three places, puddling in the grass on the side of the road.

I struggle to display the right balance of emotion. I know the scene is not real, but I want to model how my students should react to what they are seeing with the respect and reverence an actual accident of this magnitude deserves. At the same time, I am working hard to keep from crying. I am a writer, after all. I have a vivid imagination, and I love my students dearly. It’s too easy to envision the tragedy depicted a few yards in front of me as something very real, and I have to breathe deeply several times in order to ease the clenching of my lungs.

This entire scene is staged as part of the Shattered Dreams program, a two day accident and funeral simulation designed to increase awareness of the possible effects of distracted driving among teens. It is a powerful program, but I’m not going to outline it here because a lot of the impact is lost when everyone in the audience knows what is going to happen next. I will, however, share a few details about why this program is so important. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2015:

  • 35,092 people died in car crashes
  • 10,265 of those were alcohol-related fatalities
  • An estimated 2.44 million people were injured
  • 6.3 million police-reported crashes occurred

 

Distraction.gov, the official US Government website for Distracted Driving, reports:

  • In 2014, 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.
  • Ten percent of all drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crashes. This age group has the largest proportion of driv­ers who were distracted at the time of the crashes.
  • The percentage of drivers text-messaging or visibly manipu­lating handheld devices increased from 1.7 percent in 2013 to 2.2 percent in 2014. Since 2007, young drivers (age 16 to 24) have been observed manipulating electronic devices at higher rates than older drivers.

 

These statistics are sobering, which is why our school participated in the Shattered Dreams program. We care for our students and don’t want to see their lives ended before they have a chance to begin.

This year, as students participate in Red Ribbon Week activities across America, please take a moment to really let the magnitude of this situation sink in. It only takes five seconds to cross a football field at 55 miles per hour. Looking down for even a moment can potentially end a life. Please don’t let it be yours.

For more information, check out the following link:

 

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What is the Best Way to Find an Editor / Agent?

Posted by on Jun 30, 2016 in FAQ | 0 comments

What is the Best Way to Find an Editor / Agent?

You’ve done it. You’ve put in the grueling effort, the rear-end numbing hours, the family-alienating dedication. You’ve studied your craft, honed your technique, and parsed your rough draft until you have a final product worthy of public consumption. You have written a book / short story / poem / screenplay and have decided to publish traditionally, and you are looking for an agent and / or an editor to represent you.

There’s just one problem: most editors, and a lot of agents, are not accepting unsolicited manuscripts. So how do you get your finished product in front of someone who has the power and resources to publish and distribute your work?

There are two very good ways. The first is to get the most current copy of the Novel and Short Story Market (or whatever version of the Market fits your work–there are several), produced by Writer’s Digest (you can get it from the Writer’s Digest website, or from most bookstores). That book is a comprehensive list of which agents and editors are searching for clients, what they represent, and how to contact them. It also contains essays that discuss current publishing guidelines and  how to prepare your manuscript for submission, and a section listing contests for the current year. Everything I learned about how to submit my work for publication, I learned from these Manuals.

The second way is to go to writer’s conferences and make a pitch appointment with an agent / editor you want to represent you. You can also have a portion of your work critiqued by an industry professional at most of these conferences. The best thing about the whole conference experience, however, is the people you get to meet. If it’s truly not what you know but who, then conferences are the way to meet the whos. Conferences can be expensive, but they are well worth the cost. Consider them a well-made investment in your future.

A few miscellaneous details to make your efforts more successful:

  • Make sure you have a quality manuscript. Take the time and effort necessary to make your work as professional as possible. Have it critiqued and / or edited (critique groups are great for this) and make sure it’s formatted according to the proper guidelines before you submit anything. Rumor has it not taking this advice is what gets most manuscripts an express trip straight to the slush pile.
  • If you’re not part of a writing / critique group… WHY NOT?? Writers write alone, but quality feedback from like-minded artists is what makes manuscripts come alive. Seriously: get thee to a critique group.
  • Develop your on-line writer’s platform. A thriving, active presence on-line is quickly becoming a prerequisite for consideration by traditional publishers. You need to have one in place before you even start submitting. Seriously, start now. (If you need help, I have several pins on Pinterest that cover this topic.)
  • Speaking of Pinterest… more information than you’ll ever use, right there. I have 34 pages devoted to various aspects of writing how-to, writing fantasy, writing YA, writing romance… you get the idea. Check them out here.
  • If you are on Twitter (if not, see two points above) follow Writer’s Digest and Publisher’s Weekly. Both feeds frequently post tweets announcing new agents who are looking for authors to represent.

 

Now it’s your turn. What other questions do you have? Are there any pointers that I should add? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Happy writing!

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On Book Signings and Meeting Readers

Posted by on Jun 12, 2016 in My Writing Journey | 0 comments

On Book Signings and Meeting Readers

I met my second fan at a book signing yesterday (see the dedication in The Healer’s Rune to discover why second and not first). His first name is Phillip; his last name I withhold to maintain his privacy.

I was running late (my GPS had originally marked my destination as an empty field), and I was distracted by setting up my books while signing them (I have Lupus, and the exertion of carrying in and setting up my table and books left me winded). Fanning myself with a few of my bookmarks, I saw him standing off to the side, a copy of my book in his hands. Still a titch breathless, I politely remarked that he could purchase my book from me because it was not stocked by the bookstore. Phillip just as politely told me he had already bought the book and enjoyed it.

That’s when I realized he was not there to buy the book but to meet me. He had already read my story and enjoyed it so much that, when he learned I was coming to a bookstore near him, he was motivated to come and connect with me.

The moment suddenly became profound, and I did my best to honor it as such. Still fanning myself, still slightly breathless, I engaged Phillip in a conversation about the only common ground we had: my book. Imagining how I would feel to see Tad Williams or Neil Gaiman, or any of the other authors I admire (had I the access and the courage), I talked with Phillip unill I ran out of ideas and then asked if I could sign his copy of the book.

He said yes. With sweat beading down my neck, I wrote a personal note on the title page in purple Sharpie, signed it, and thanked Phillip for coming.

As I reflected upon this event last night, I realized that I should have asked him to take a picture with me, and I wished I had found a way to make the moment longer, to honor it more for what it was.

My debut novel is not quite six months old, yet it has touched someone deeply enough that he came to meet me. It is, for a writer, a moment of remarkable profundity. It is why I write–to give back to one of the most influential forces in my life by touching readers the way other authors have touched me.

Thank you, Phillip, for coming to see me yesterday. If you don’t mind, will you please send a picture of you with my book to my email address at Lauricia.Matuska@gmail.com? I’ll put it with this post.

To the rest of you who have enjoyed / are enjoying The Healer’s Rune, I hope to meet you someday, as well. Remind me to take a picture!

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Author Visits

Posted by on Jun 1, 2016 in Creativity and the Writing Process | 0 comments

Author Visits

I am currently in the process of learning how to be THAT author who visits local schools, but I have no idea how to do it. If you, like me, share this passion and if you, like me, also don’t know what you’re doing, then have I got a blog post for you! Check out my resources page for How to Host an Author Visit to find links to instructional websites that I found helpful. If you know of any other useful resources on this topic, please reply in the comments.

As a shameless plug, if you are a school librarian or administrator in the Houston area and would like to have me  present in your school, send an email to me at Lauricia.Matuska@gmail.com. I’m available to speak for Career Day, Library Day, Young Author Round Tables, and Creative Writing Skills workshops.

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An Award for The Healer’s Rune

Posted by on Apr 7, 2016 in My Books | 0 comments

An Award for The Healer’s Rune

“The world is well-built, complex, and intriguing. As usual, with a book of this quality, it was hard to leave and I’m really upset that books two and three (or whatever) are not available.” – David Bergsland

I am so honored and thrilled to announce that The Healer’s Rune has just been awarded the Christian Religious Fiction award of excellence from David Bergslan’s book review website Reality Calling. Read the entire review here.

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Review by Avily Jerome, Editor of Havok Magazine | Healer’s Rune

Posted by on Mar 26, 2016 in Book Reviews | 0 comments

Review by Avily Jerome, Editor of Havok Magazine | Healer’s Rune

“Every now and then I actually get to sit and read and when I do, I really appreciate it when the story I’m reading is worth the time I spend on it. Such was the case when I got to read The Healer’s Rune, by Lauricia Matuska.”

– Avily Jerome, Editor of Havok Magazine

Read the entire review on her webpage.

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Slavery in the 21st Century

Posted by on Mar 5, 2016 in Guest Posts, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Slavery in the 21st Century

Slavery in the 21st Century

Author: Will Woods

The Jungle, a novel written by Upton Sinclair, depicted the lives of immigrants in the early twentieth century. These immigrants worked in inhumane conditions at unsanitary workstations in the meatpacking industry in Chicago, Illinois. In the novel these places were fictional, but the truth is that they were real. In modern society they are known as sweatshops. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a sweatshop is “a shop or factory in which employees work for long hours at low wages and under unhealthy conditions.” In China, Europe, and even in our homeland, the United States of America, sweatshops thrive. Sweatshops are not just businesses that provide people with low-income pay- they are the heart of slavery in the twenty-first century.

The victims of sweatshops are people who have lost their civil rights and have become slaves. A slave is “a person entirely under the domination of some influence or person” (Dictionary.com). Just as the slaveholders in the American Civil War did 150 years ago, today’s sweatshop owners basically brainwash their “employees” into thinking that the only way of life is working in these horrific places. Sweatshop workers are also very limited in what they can and cannot do. “Sweatshops may also have policies that severely restrict workers’ freedoms, including limiting bathroom breaks and even conversations with fellow workers. At its worst, violence is used against sweatshop workers” (Encyclopedia.com). Verbal, physical, and sexual abuse are common in these facilities. Workers are not allowed to have thoughts of their own, to speak out of turn, to have bathroom breaks, or to eat and drink. According to an article in Businessweek, there are many cases, especially in Asia, where the bosses beat the workers if they are not working hard or fast enough. In these sweatshops, workers’ rights matter little to their overseers.

Workers in sweatshops are known to be fined on a daily basis. In some sweatshops, workers are fined for arriving late, for forgetting to turn lights on or off, or for taking too long in the bathroom or on breaks. A fine can cost up to two months’ pay. If workers cannot afford to pay fines, they are unable to quit their jobs, and become enslaved by their bosses. ”Workers there face a life of fines and beating,” says Liu Zhang, a former sweatshop worker who quit after several months (Businessweek). This is not new; this idea has been around for many decades. When America was settled, farmers told the people back home that America was a land of riches, with prairies as far as the eye can see. As a result, potential immigrants wanted to come to America, but they could never afford the trip on their own. The landowners told them that the trip would be paid for, but the immigrants would have to work until they paid off the debt incurred on the trip. This gave rise to the term “indentured servant.” These indentured servants had to work for many years before their debts were paid off. Some worked for the rest of their lives, as do many in sweatshops today. If a sweatshop worker gets fined, he is enslaved and is forced to work until the debt is paid off, no matter the length of time it takes. Fining is a very popular way for the sweatshops to enslave workers because it strips them of their civil rights and does not allow them to escape until the debt is paid off.

Sweatshops all over the world are also known to abuse women’s rights. As with men, women are paid wages not fit to support the basic costs of living, and they are subjected to unsafe working conditions. Women are very commonly sexually abused in sweatshops, sometimes for punishment, and other times for the boss’ pleasure. “Scores of young Sri Lankan women guest workers have been sexually abused and repeatedly raped, over the course of years, while sewing clothing for Wal-Mart, Hanes, Target, Macy’s, Lands’ End and other labels at the Classic Factory in Jordan” (Classic Fashion in Jordan). According to feminist.org, 90 percent of sweatshop laborers are women, a majority of them between the ages of 15 and 22 years of age. Along with 70-plus hour shifts per week and unjust pay, these women also have to come home and take care of their kids. This makes them more vulnerable to disease, exhaustion, ill health, and possible unwanted pregnancy from rape. In addition to these abuses, it is not uncommon for women to be forced into indentured servitude. Many women are lured by recruiters who promise wonderful opportunities in far-away lands. These women will often pay thousands of dollars in recruitment and contract “fees”, tying themselves to indentured slavery that can last for many years.

Most sweatshops pay workers based on what they produce instead of paying them by the hour, thereby forcing them to work non-stop. According to Global Exchange, the workers at a certain Mexican sweatshop are expected to meet a quota of 1,000 pieces per day. Depending on the product that the factory produces, that could mean producing 1,000 shirts or 1,000 shoes. For the workers to meet this quota, they need to craft more than one piece per minute. The quota is so high that the workers are unable to have a drink or use the bathroom all day. The workers would get fined by their boss if they tried to take a break. The system that most sweatshops use to pay their workers, which forces them to labor all day long, shows that the overseers don’t care about the workers’ well-being, and that they would rather suck the workers clean until there is no money, energy, or spirit left.

Sweatshops were nearly eradicated after World War II due to the unionizing of America’s apparel industries. Employees earned wages above the poverty level, so sweatshops became outdated. Unfortunately, due to a rise of undocumented immigrants and weakening unions, the sweatshops came back (De Jesus). For years people lived happy, comfortable lives because most workers could find jobs for a livable wage. Then sweatshops came back and dragged more and more people down into a living hell. Sweatshops were destroyed because there was no need for them, but now they are back in numbers greater than before.

Sweatshops rob workers of their rights, subjecting them to the greed of the owners. These workers are miserable, their lives wasting away while they are constantly cheated and abused. They are unable to support themselves, let alone their families. Many of them get injured and, in many cases, die on the job because their bosses refuse to pay for safe working conditions, such as guards on machines or face masks. The workers live in filthy, overpopulated dorms provided by their bosses. Workers are sucked in, trapped, and treated like slaves because they are desperate for the money needed to care for their families. These people are in need of rescue. No one deserves to lose his or her life to selfish, inconsiderate slaveholders. It is up to caring citizens like us to put a stop to sweatshops once and for all.

 

Works Cited

“Sweatshop.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, 2015. Web. 4 Feb. 2016.

“Slave.” Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, 2016. Web. 4 Feb. 2016.

“Sweatshops.” Encyclopedia.com. N.p., 2009. Web. 4 Feb. 2016.

Roberts, Dexter and Aaron Bernstein. “Inside a Chinese Sweatshop: ‘A Life of Fines and Beating.’” Bloomberg Business, 2005. Web. 4 Feb. 2016.

“Feminists Against Sweatshops.” Feminist Majority Foundation, 2014. Web. 4 Feb. 2016.

“’Free Trade’ and Sweatshops.” Global Exchange, 2011. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Feb. 2016.

“Classic Fashion in Jordan ─ Sweatshop Abuse, Sexual Predators.” Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, 2011. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Feb. 2016.

De Jesus, Jessica and Tabea Kay. “Ethical Style: There Are Still Sweatshops in America.” Good.is. GOOD, 2016. N.p., n.d. 21 Feb. 2016.

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