I’m Moving All Posting to Substack, Follow Me There!

I have a small, but kinda big, announcement to make. I am consolidating all of my e-newsletters, blogging, and book reviews into one monthly newsletter that I launched today called, “Rogue Writer, by Shari Lopatin.”

I’m using Substack for this change, but I’m still keeping my writer’s page here on WordPress. However, if you follow along on my blog for my book reviews, updates on my writing projects, or even the occasional social/political commentary, subscribe to “Rogue Writer” below to keep getting those posts.

And if the name, “Rogue Writer” sounds familiar to you, it should. When I first began my writer’s journey to blogging a decade ago, I named my original WordPress blog, “Rogue Writer.” So essentially, I’m going back to my blogging roots.

Why Substack?

You might have heard about Substack, especially in 2020, when many well-known writers began migrating to the platform to go independent and make more money. Essentially, Substack acts as an email management tool, a newsletter publisher, and a blogging platform, all in one. And here’s the biggie: it gives the option for its writers to offer paid subscriptions.

That might come down the road for me, and if it does, don’t worry! You won’t have to pay to keep getting my posts. But I do have some fun add-ons and special access that future paid subscribers might get. 🙂

Right now, however, consolidating everything into one publishing platform is easiest for me. And although Substack has taken some recent heat as other competitors start to catch up and offer better deals for writers, I decided this is the place to start this new journey.

Also, I am writing another book, so if you want to keep up with its progress, then subscribe to Rogue Writer! See you there.

For Holocaust Remembrance Day, I Watched a Friend Fall for QAnon and into Anti-Semitism

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of when Auschwitz was liberated and the horror of the Holocaust began to truly reveal itself to the world.

Instead of sharing the usual photos of emaciated bodies behind barbed wire and spouting #NeverForget hashtags, I want to offer a personal story—one that’s much more recent and might hit some nerves. However, I think this is a better way to truly honor the meaning of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The story is about a conspiracy theory that became an international superstar in 2020: QAnon. What does QAnon have to do with Holocaust Remembrance, you might wonder? I’ll tell you: I’m Jewish, and I watched an old high school friend get sucked into the spiral of QAnon until she began spouting anti-Semitic propaganda on Facebook, all in the name of Q.

QAnon and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Have you ever heard of Genocide Watch? It’s an international non-profit that seeks “to predict, prevent, stop, and punish genocide and other forms of mass murder.” Genocide Watch was founded in 1999 by Dr. Gregory H. Stanton, former research professor in genocide studies and prevention at George Mason University. He also served in the U.S. State Department and drafted the United Nations Security Council resolutions to prosecute genocide in Rwanda.

Dr. Stanton wrote an article on Genocide Watch called, “QAnon is a Nazi cult, rebranded.” In the article, he compares the conspiracy theories of QAnon—a secret, Satanic cabal is taking over the world that kidnaps and smuggles children, controls the media, and has infiltrated high governmental positions of power—to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The similarities are strikingly and eerily similar.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is the most notorious and widely distributed antisemitic publication of modern times. Its lies about Jews, which have been repeatedly discredited, continue to circulate today, especially on the internet.”

Essentially, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion postures (falsely, of course) that Jews “made plans to disrupt Christian civilization and erect a world state under their joint rule,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica. “Liberalism and socialism were to be the means of subverting Christendom; if subversion failed, all the capitals of Europe were to be sabotaged.”

The Protocols go on to explain, in detail, how Jews kidnap Christian children and use their blood to make Matzo that they eat during Passover. They claim that Jews forged a deep-state-like cabal to take over and control the world.

The Nazi regime revived and used many of the conspiracy theories purported by the Protocols to spread anti-Semitic propaganda throughout Germany, leading many Germans to believe they needed to rid their country of Jews to protect themselves and their way of life.

My Old High School Friend and QAnon

I first learned about QAnon by accident, around the time of the 2020 Superbowl. Do you remember that awesome halftime show performance by Jennifer Lopez and Shakira? I was dancing all over my living room watching them.

But soon after, I started seeing odd comments pop up on news threads about how disgusting their performance was, and how their dancing was Satanic. I even saw people calling them pedophiles.

Then, my former friend—let’s call her Jane (this is not her real name)—shared a similar sentiment on her Facebook page, followed by a cryptic acronym, “WWG1WWA.” Curious, I Googled this acronym and the QAnon conspiracy popped up, with the saying, “Where We Go One, We Go All.”

I later learned this was the saying of Q followers, and I began researching more about these weird conspiracy theories. I found them fantastical and wrote them off as fringe. “If someone wants to believe that, let them believe it,” I thought to myself.

Jane and I used to hang out with some of the same people in high school. She dated a close male friend of mine. When I was going to college in Flagstaff, my male friend and Jane would drive up to visit me, especially while I was going through a breakup.

I knew Jane had a rough childhood and struggled with some mental health issues, and so as I watched her begin posting more and more memes from QAnon, I passed them over without a thought. The Q-labeled memes talked about how Bill Gates was trying to control the world through vaccines, or how “sources” confirmed Tom Hanks and Oprah Winfrey were pedophiles trafficking children in secret, underground rings. Sometimes, she would post angry memes against the mainstream media, which bothered me because I used to be a journalist.

However, as the COVID pandemic spread and lockdowns became rampant, I watched her escalate. She began sharing QAnon memes about how COVID was a hoax, how it was an excuse for the socialist deep-state to seize control of its people, or how it was a cover led by then-President Donald Trump to rescue trafficked children from the Satan-worshipping cabal of Democrats and Hollywood elites.

And then one day, she shared a QAnon-labeled post from Instagram claiming that McDonalds collaborated with Jews who kidnap Christian children to drain their blood and use it in the Matzo of their Passover bread. She wrote how she was glad she no longer ate at the evil McDonalds.

My heart dropped, and then, the rage followed. Jane had known me since high school. I had offered to help her through some difficult times in life, and all the while, she’d always known I was Jewish. I immediately commented on her post and called out the anti-Semitism. I told her if she didn’t correct that action, we could no longer be friends.

I gave her a week, but Jane never responded to me. No comments. No apologies. No outreach. And the post remained up. I unfriended her and we have not spoken since.

The Fear of Losing Others to QAnon

A friend of mine is Muslim and a survivor of the Bosnian War. She told me that when the genocide happened, it was her childhood friends and their families who turned the guns on her.

For the first time in my life, I can understand the psychology of how hatred against Jews spread in Nazi Germany. People didn’t hate Jews from one day to the next. They slowly turned against them after years and years of hateful conspiracy theories that convinced the German people how Jews, communists, and other “enemies of the state” were plotting against them and their way of life. I now see how even old friends can be convinced to turn against me, by no fault of my own.

Replace “Jews” with any other scapegoated group: undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, Native Americans, black people, Muslims, the mainstream media—and you can see how the QAnon conspiracies stoke fear in any minority group.

I don’t want to see other friends or connections fall prey to this ideology. It leads to radicalization, as we can see from the insurrection at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

For International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I want to call out modern-day hatred when I see it. I want to label it plainly and directly, leaving no excuse to enable it. Yes, from my research, I do agree with Dr. Stanton and Genocide Watch that QAnon is Nazi ideology, revived and re-branded. I sternly denounce it. Will you join me?

On a final note, did you know that Genocide Watch listed the United States on its watch page for North America? Mexico is also listed, but not Canada. Yet the United States of America made it to Genocide Watch’s list.

Think about that.

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

woman looking at sunset
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.

Read My New Short Story About Mental Health for Free: ‘Pomegranates’

“They say Arizona is a place for folks to start over, and that’s what I had in mind when I landed in the high desert of Prescott. I remember, it was the year the sun rose red over the United Kingdom, and boilin’ wine flowed across the hills of Northern California.”

~ Pomegranates ~

Sometimes, a story reaches so close to your heart, you decide to publish it for free. A gift to the world.

That’s how I feel about my new short story, “Pomegranates.” I’m giving it to you for free–to read, to ponder, to share with your friends, or family, or book club.

Read “Pomegranates” now.

What is ‘Pomegranates’ About?

“Pomegranates” is very different than my debut novel, The Apollo Illusion, which was a science fiction dystopia. Rather, “Pomegranates” is contemporary realism, more akin to the styles of Where the Crawdads Sing or The Prince of Tides.

It’s about a young woman and her neighbor. It deals with themes of mental health, loneliness, and kindness. At the end of the story, in my “Note from the Author,” you’ll see why “Pomegranates” is so close to my heart.

I’ve published the story in PDF format so you can read it on your computer, download and print it out, or even save and email it to your Kindle. I hope you enjoy it, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the story in the comment section below.