Day After #BlackOutTuesday: Dedicating Time to Reading Black Fiction Authors

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Well, here we are, a day after #BlackOutTuesday. I feel like America went through one giant self-awareness “aha” moment during a difficult therapy session. And now we’re all trying to figure out how to change things for the better. It’s hopeful.

I am certainly no one to lecture, and hell, this fight is nothing new. People of color have been screaming about it for generations. All I’m doing now is trying to join as a support and ally. I’m learning what it means to be anti-racist (admittedly, a new term I learned yesterday).

#BlackOutTuesday gave me a lot to think about. I’m Jewish, so I understand on a certain level what dealing with prejudice is like, because yes, I’ve dealt with anti-Semitism. I also know what it feels like to have my non-Jewish friends stand up for me and show solidarity, and it feels pretty damn good. 

But I’m also ridiculously white, like “spend five minutes in the sun and turn into a tomato” white. Which means I benefit from white privilege, because when I walk into a store, or get pulled over by the cops, or go for an evening walk in my neighborhood, people don’t see a “Jewish woman.” They see a “white woman.” For this reason, my friends who are people of color live a different experience than me.

Yesterday, I learned just how different.

And it made me cry. My heart bled for some of the experiences my friends shared with me. I have not found it in myself to watch the video of George Floyd’s death, because the images alone are traumatizing to me. I know his last word. His poor mother.

I realized that because I have the luxury of turning off the news and tuning out the injustice for a bit means that I benefit from white privilege. Because those who don’t benefit cannot just turn off the news. This is their reality.

So now, what will I do about this new realization?

Read. That’s what I’ve decided to do. Read. And LISTEN. And LEARN. I know some stuff, but not nearly enough.

I’ve made a personal commitment to begin choosing fiction books to read by black American authors about the authentic black experience in America. Usually, I choose books to read based on the plot or writing. This time, I’m making a conscious decision to choose based on the author, because nothing transports me into another pair of shoes like reading a strong fiction novel.

And on my blog here, I’ll be reviewing these books. I’ll promote their authors. I’ll talk about what I learned, and will simply share my journey.

I’m currently reading an ARC of a new book releasing in early July, so after I finish that, I’ll begin this new path. I invite you to follow my blog if you want to learn with me, and together, we can work toward creating a more empathetic world, a more just world, a more inclusive world, and a safer world for EVERYONE.

White People, Reach Out to Your Black Friends Right Now

Me in California this summer

This picture above, this is me: a white woman in America. And this post is to other white people in the country we all call home. Because, white people, we have a responsibility to our neighbors of color in this very moment, and we cannot let that responsibility fall away.

White people, I urge you to reach out to your black friends right now and ask them if they are doing OK. Ask them how you can support them. And then be ready to listen. REALLY LISTEN.

You might hear things that challenge you. That’s OK. You might hear things that make you uncomfortable. That’s OK. You might hear things that make you cry. That’s OK.

I just had a deep conversation with a dear friend who is black this morning, and she challenged me. She helped me understand context in a more profound way, and how her daily experience differs so drastically from mine. My privilege is real, and our conversation of love reflected it back to me. I could not hide from it. I needed to hear these things, because only then can I acknowledge how concrete racism still is in our country.

What we’re seeing in the news today—the riots and protests and calls for justice for George Floyd—this goes far beyond the justified anger against and fear of today’s police (some of whom support the calls for justice, too, and some of them are my friends).

This goes back generations.

And while we ALL need breaks from the news and the world and life, we cannot keep burying our heads in the sand if we want to come out of this a changed nation for the better. I believe we can unite as one again, but that will only start if we listen, truly listen.

White people, reach out to your black friends right now. They need to hear from us.

To Those Who Mourn in Silence (100,000)

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© To Those Who Mourn in Silence, Shari Lopatin, 2020

(written 5-28-2020)

 

I see your pain in

Silence.

As you curl

Away

Into your private world,

Lost, never found,

And missing your

100,000.

I sink with you

Alone.

And scoff at the smiles

That mock

Your loss.

If silence is your

Cry,

I will join you.

And together we

Will mourn

In darkness,

In darkness …

Does Atwood’s ‘The Testaments’ Measure Up to ‘Handmaid’s Tale’?

The Testaments cover

Book: The Testaments: The Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/Testaments-Novel-Margaret-Atwood/dp/0385543786

Stars: 3/5

A solid sequel to Atwood’s famous “Handmaid’s Tale” and worth the read for any true “Handmaid” fan

Three stars. I know. THREE STARS. Perhaps I gave Margaret Atwood’s long-awaited sequel to my favorite novel of hers only three stars because my expectations were so freaking high. And Atwood, despite how much I love her, didn’t QUITE meet them this time around. Nevertheless, I still recommend any true fan of “The Handmaid’s Tale” read “The Testaments.” Yes, you will find out what happened to Offred.

Perhaps what I loved most about “The Testaments” was how it dove into the backstory of one of my favorite villains of all time. I won’t say who, although you might have guessed. But the character development is phenomenal, in fact, perhaps Atwood’s strongest point in her novel.

What I found lacking was the plot. It was good–don’t get me wrong–but more predictable than I would have liked for an Atwood novel. Like all of her works, “The Testaments” was smart and strategic, and even a bit sly. Then again, doesn’t everyone require a hint of cunningness to survive within the borders of Gilead?

I felt satisfied at the end, like receiving closure from the end of a dear friendship after years of wondering what happened. If you loved “The Handmaid’s Tale” as much as I did, then read “The Testaments.” The book is worth your time and you will enjoy it. Just know it doesn’t move as consistently with the same urgency as “Handmaid,” but that’s OK. The closure is totally worth it.

4 Ways to Tell if Information is Real or Fake: Advice from a Former Journalist

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Photo by Aditya Doshi,, https://www.flickr.com/photos/avdoshi/8612921803

When I was a daily newspaper reporter, I always had to navigate through multiple versions of a story before I learned what really happened.

We have a saying in journalism. It goes, “There are three sides to every story: side one, side two, and the Truth.”

The Truth usually falls somewhere between the first two sides, and when I reported the Truth, both sides frequently accused me of bias. That’s how I knew I’d done my job.

In today’s age of information overflow, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are reading multiple stories and don’t know what to believe. This is causing rampant fear, confusion, and possibly poor decision-making.

When I shared some of the truth-finding strategies I used as a journalist with a dear friend after we discussed the Plandemic movie, she encouraged me to share my tips with the world. “Not many people know this stuff, Shari,” she told me. “Not everyone has a journalism degree, and I think these tips could really help a lot of people in today’s environment.”

So here I am, in hopes that I can help YOU navigate through the waves of information (and misinformation), thus landing on the Truth for yourself. Here are some of the basic building blocks that journalists use when investigating a story and getting down to the bottom of it:

1) Cross-Validation with Multiple Sources

Information should always be validated with a minimum of three independent sources to confirm its validity. As a journalist, you can never go with just one person’s story or perspective, no matter how viable it seems. You need to follow up and interview at least two more sources, check records or documents, and see if everything else backs up the story from your first source.

2) Attribution from Reputable, Primary Sources

Today, the moment I read an article, column, or blog post–or watch a video–where information is stated without citing a reputable and primary source, my radar goes off. THIS MIGHT BE FAKE!

In order to avoid slander and libel lawsuits, reporters must cite their sources. Otherwise, anyone can make any claim and it would be considered truth. Additionally, the sources must be:

  • Reputable. This means you cannot cite a psychic when making claims about a medical condition or the state of the economy. Instead, you would cite a doctor or an economist.
  • Primary. This means you cannot cite another article as your source, or a friend of the cousin who experienced the wrongdoing; the information needs to come directly from the person or entity.

3) Libel — The Accused are Given a Chance to Comment

How often have you read an article from Reuters or the Associated Press where it says, “_____ could not be reached for comment”? Reporters do this to avoid a libel lawsuit. They give the person or entity being accused of wrongdoing the opportunity to comment publicly before running the story. This is a common practice to remain within the bounds of law and avoid defamation, and any reputable news organization will follow it.

4) An Ulterior Motive or Agenda

People will try and use the media to push an agenda. Gee, ya don’t say?! But by this, I mean sometimes, a person has a beef with another person or entity, and his/her motivation for contacting the media is to “get back” at someone or something else (this is different than a legitimate whistleblower). Other times, a public relations representative is trying to sway public opinion in favor of his/her company, or a public policy that would benefit the company (lobbyists, anyone?).

As a reporter, I always had to be wary of someone’s motivation for contacting me with a potential story. This is also why cross-validation with multiple sources is so important in a balanced and well-researched news article.

The Bottom Line

I hope these basic journalism tips help you determine what’s correct and incorrect from all the information floating around the Internet and social media these days.

Remember: the intentional spread of misinformation can be just as dangerous as censorship.

(Shameless plug here: that’s a theme in my book!)

Don’t let yourself become a victim of misinformation. Keep your head on straight. I always tell people that facts drive journalism, while emotions drive propaganda.

If you found this helpful, I urge you to please share it with your friends and family!

Shari Lopatin headshot

 

*Shari Lopatin is a former award-winning journalist, mass communications professional, and author of “The Apollo Illusion,” a science fiction dystopia about a future society’s frightening overdependence on technology. 

 

I Have a Right to Protect Myself and My Loved Ones, Too

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To all those angry protestors out there, yelling at people for wearing masks, refusing to respect reporters’ requests to stay six feet back, and screaming in the faces of police officers, I have a message for you:

I HAVE A RIGHT TO PROTECT MYSELF AND MY FAMILY, TOO. 

If I want to wear a mask in public, let me wear a mask. If I want you to stay six feet back, stay six feet back. After all, as of May 5, 2020, the CDC reports that COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has killed 68,279 people in the United States, and has infected more than 1 million. Protestors, you’re not the only ones with rights in this country.

I’m angry, and I’m sick and tired of these people getting the limelight. I’m not in the streets counter-protesting because I believe in the importance of staying home right now. I WANT my governor to keep the re-opening of my home state, Arizona, slow and steady, because it protects my rights as a worker. It also protects my senior parents.

And yes, protestors: I have every right to wear a mask and tell you to stay six feet back. I have a right to my safety, health, and life as well. If you don’t listen after I tell you to stay back, and you approach me in a rage against my will, don’t be surprised if you get an elbow to the chin.

I’m a 5-foot-3 woman in her late 30s, and I will not put up with people threatening me because they believe I’m somehow part of the problem for wearing a mask and adhering to social distancing guidelines. People are growing increasingly bold, like the story of this Texas park ranger who was pushed into the water for reminding people to stay six feet apart, or this Family Dollar Store security guard and father of six who was murdered for asking a store patron to wear a mask.

I’m also sick of the brazen gun displays at protest rallies. Spare me the “second amendment” argument. I support the second amendment and my right to own a gun to protect myself, too. Those guns at the protests are meant for one thing, and one thing only: to intimidate others.

If people want to believe in conspiracy theories, or that the request to wear masks is somehow about government control, that’s fine. But the moment those beliefs turn into threatening actions against me, my family, and my loved ones, the gloves come off.

For anyone thinking this piece lacks supporting evidence, I’m venting without attribution for a reason. Conspiracy theories, and anti-science/anti-fact sentiment, have seemed to grip our American society lately. Those who believe the virus is a fake cover for the government trying to control the masses cannot be reasoned with. And I refuse to try.

I think the lunacy deserves an equally loud counter voice. That’s this blog post. If you agree with me, amplify it. SHARE NOW.

Why I’m Cutting Back on Social Media as an Indie Author

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This is me on a hike with my boyfriend months after getting sick.

A week before Christmas in 2018, a virus attacked my brain stem.

Technically, it was my vestibular nerve, which is responsible for communication between the eyes, inner ears, and brain. The condition is called vestibular neuritis (yes, you can Google it).

The result of this random, weird sickness was the world wouldn’t stop spinning and the horizon constantly quivered like riding a Shake Shack. I couldn’t drive, walk, read, cook, sit in a chair at a table, look at a phone or computer screen–and worst of all, I couldn’t write or work.

I took family medical leave for two months before I could return to my full-time job. And when I started coming back to life, I realized something:

Social media was giving me anxiety.

Which is kinda a conundrum, since I’ve worked as a social media manager. And I’m an indie author, and we rely on social media to help sell books. Nonetheless, every time I jumped onto Facebook, I no longer saw my friends having a fun hike or taking a family trip to Northern Arizona.

I saw activities I could no longer do and feared I would never be able to do again.

So I Decided to Quit Facebook for a Month

I also cut back on Instagram; same with Twitter (to be fair, I stopped using Twitter regularly a year ago).

Slowly, I found myself concentrating inwardly again: on my emotions, on my relationships with close friends, family, and my boyfriend. Life became a constant state of meditation, reflection, and observation as I worked to reduce the immense anxiety that consumed me during the recovery stages of this awful sickness.

And I found myself living in the moment more.

The Science Backs Up My Feelings, Too

Today, I’m slowly working some social media back into my life, but I like the way I feel when it’s not a dominant factor. I also realized that I value my privacy. I don’t mind sharing certain personal stories (like this one), but I want to control how much of my life is discussed publicly.

Maybe my subconscious knew these things years ago, when I wrote the first draft of my debut novel, The Apollo Illusionabout a future society’s frightening overdependence on technology.

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Either way, even though I might need social media to help promote my book, I’ll be more conscious of how much I’m using it in the future. I like feeling better. Don’t you?

Why Indie Authors Have to Stick Together

I’ve heard self-publishing “experts” say time and time again that no big difference exists between an author going the traditional route or the indie route.

Ahem — I beg to differ.

Therefore, here are the reasons why us indie authors have to stick together:

1) We have to pay for EVERYTHING.

Editors, designers, copyright filing, advertising, and yes, book tours.

2) And let’s just admit it. Major traditional publishers have one gargantuan advantage over us: connections.

Connections to major media outlets (like the New York Times and Entertainment Weekly), to librarians, to book store owners, to distributors, and to online influencers.

3) No one takes us seriously when we’re starting out.

4) Those dang literary pirates want to steal and sell our stuff!

5) We’re a bunch of anti-establishment rebels.

Of course, we take on this load because we have SO MUCH MORE CONTROL. Over everything.

  • Creativity
  • Legal rights
  • Marketing
  • Design
  • Presentation
  • Pricing

But man, for an indie author trying to make it, you guys know this is an uphill battle! I don’t care what anyone says, going indie is a tougher climb. And this, my friends, is why we all gotta stick together.

While you’re here, did you know I published my debut novel six months ago? “The Apollo Illusion” is a science fiction dystopia about a future society’s frightening overdependence on technology. Learn more by clicking here!

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Screaming is What We Do Best (As Writers Writing for Nothingness)

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Photo by Aditya Doshi,, https://www.flickr.com/photos/avdoshi/8612921803

DO YOU EVER FEEL like writing nothing for the sake of nothingness, in a black hole of a vacuum of ideas, pandering and rambling about rambling in pure space and time, because the blank page mocks you into a fury?

BECAUSE RIGHT NOW, I just want to write, and type, and stumble over words, words that I collect and hoard like a dog with bones, words that make no sense of the senseless as they fumble together on this post, and I spit them out in neither passion or indifference, but rather—confinement.

CONFINEMENT OF MY MIND, or of my heart, or of my life, or of my time. Maybe of madness, or genius, or whatever word they throw at us who dream but can find no outlet to scream.

SCREAM. YES, SCREAM.

For screaming is what we do best, in silence, when no one will listen; but quiet now—do you hear?

The voices of a million years …

Journalists Just Want to Tell Stories. Today, Some Died for It

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I used to be a reporter at a small daily, community newspaper like the Capital Gazette. We had maybe 14 reporters, and we were like family.

I couldn’t imagine living through a shooting with that family, watching some of them die. Today, I cry with the reporters and staff at the Capital Gazette.

We don’t know the motive behind the crime yet. We don’t know if the alleged shooter was a disgruntled worker, a terrorist (foreign or domestic), or the crazed spouse of an employee. The police did say the suspect mutilated his fingertips to avoid identification, as reported in this article from the Baltimore Sunso that leads me to believe this was planned and malicious (versus a potentially angry worker).

Regardless, I know one thing for sure: journalists just want to tell stories, and today, some died for it.

*** When I was a full-time reporter, this was never a fear of mine. ***

But things have changed, and it breaks my heart. For those who don’t know any reporters personally, let me explain a few things:

  • Most reporters are completely non-violent people and just want to find the truth.
  • Most reporters are empathetic storytellers who want to give a voice to the voiceless.
  • Most reporters believe in nothing more than freedom of speech and the press–more than politics and more than religion.
  • Most reporters are “crusaders” who believe in the mission of holding those in power accountable, and protecting the innocent.

I once thanked an active-duty Soldier for his service to our country, and he said to me, “Shari, thank YOU for your service. Not enough people say it, but as a journalist, you’re serving too. Thank you.”

I cried.