Friday, January 30, 2015

What Lee Left Us

Hello all. I hope everyone has had at least marginally successful weeks (or at least been able to give failure a couple slaps in the face).

Well, in a break from my normal more jovial posts, this week I wish to honor a life lived truly in the service of others. Spokane, and the world at large, lost a man this past week who was dedicated to social justice, an ardent advocate for homeless rights and a truly wonderful soul: Lee Nelson.

Lee worked for many years as a homeless outreach worker, traveling under bridges, in train yards, through make-shift tent cities and wherever the homeless could be found to help connect them to vital supplies and services. I got the opportunity to work with him during my time as a homeless and at-risk youth outreach worker and then in the following years on various homeless advocacy projects.

Whether his name goes down in the history books or not is irrelevant, because he touched the lives of so many. Even the meanest, most hardened, train-hopping homeless man had respect and words of kindness for Lee.

This past week we had the Homeless Connect event here in Spokane (the pictures included in this post are from the event). In one day over 40 service providers came together for a one-stop-shop for homeless services, greatly diminishing one of the major barriers to receiving help: distance. This year the event, which helped 250 to 300 homeless in five hours time, was held in honor of Lee.

Lee saw my strange career from the beginning, he met me one month after I had graduated from college with a bachelor's degree in my hot little hands. So in honor of a man that I looked up to as a mentor and someone I saw as a friend, I want to impart some of the wisdom to you all that he imparted to me.

1. Treat everyone as fairly as you can.

Lee didn't care what your skin color was, what your sexual orientation was, how long your rap sheet took to print out, when you last shot up or what gang tattoo was on the back of your hand. He was going to treat you with the same amount of respect as the person sitting on the bench next to you. This meant that if he offered socks to one person, then even if the person sitting next to that person was a loud-mouthed jerk, he would offer them socks too.

Food Bank at the Spokane Homeless Connect

2. Call people out on their bullshit, but don't ever make them feel like bullshit.

I cannot count the number of times when I would be at the same homeless meal site when Lee was there and would watch as someone would be coming down from meth, or detoxing from an alcohol binge or suffering the side-effects that come from not taking their medication.

Over 40 Service Providers Gathered to Help the Homeless
 He would calmly sit there and talk to them, whether he'd known them for years or known them for minutes in the same jovial tone, "So you used again? Well, how's it feeling? Not great? You ready for treatment yet? No? Well, when you are, just let me know, we'll get someone down here to do an assessment. Here's some hand warmers your fingers look frozen man." 

It was never, "Go to treatment," or "I can't believe you used again!"

With Lee it was always, "You ready for treatment? No? Well, tell me when you want to stop feeling like crap and we'll make it happen."

That was it, no guilt trip, just a hard look at the facts. Your actions are hurting you, here's an out. You want it, it's yours. You don't, that's your choice.

3. Nothing changes without people willing to get their boots on the ground and their clothes a little dirty.

Providing Hope One Pair of Socks at a Time
Working street outreach meant that us workers had to go into some pretty decrepit places. I can remember one bridge in particular where we all knew to stay on the path provided, because everywhere outside of the path was fair game for toilet use.

While none of us found it pleasant, we didn't complain about it much either. After all, we didn't have to live there, we were just there temporarily to give out aid.

In social work you end up going to a lot of meetings (which is the true test of whether you'll make it in social work or not, can you stay awake and not kill anyone during endless meetings?).

In one such meeting there was a politician-administrator type who was pontificating about his plan to end homelessness (which was a load of absolute tripe). About halfway through his little speech, Lee put up a hand. The guy speaking ignored him. After a minute Lee calmly and quietly said, "Excuse me."

The speaker gave him an annoyed glance from behind his two-hundred dollar glasses and said, "What?"

Lee just shrugged and evenly asked, "You ever been homeless?"

"Well, no."

"How long you worked with homeless people?"

"Well I volunteer in a soup kitchen once a year..."

"So, you don't work with homeless people and you were never homeless."


Lee let out a laugh, "So what makes you think you know how to end homelessness? This is the same crap-plan we've been hearing for decades, and guess what, it doesn't work. You're in a room full of homelessness experts, why don't you sit down and listen to some ideas instead?"

Lee knew the value of going out and having the experience to make actual attainable progress with people and the homeless population at large, even if that meant ruining a few pairs of shoes. There was no other way to understand the population and no other way to find ways to actually help them.

It saddens me that the world has lost another great advocate and person of purpose. However, I do know that the lives he touched across the country will be forever changed by his sense of humor, compassion and immense patience.

As always I can be found Facebook, Twitter (@AllisonHawn) and Goodreads!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Things Grak Hates... But His Author Loves

Hello all! I hope you have all had more fabulous weeks than the thought of a saber tooth tiger performing Swan Lake.

A quick reminder, there is a nifty way to help support the efforts of Reading is Fundamental, which is focused on spreading literacy. Two of my short stories were recently published in a collection of paranormal fiction called "Gates of Erebus," all the proceeds of which will be going to Reading is Fundamental!

Well this week I have the great pleasure to have author Peter J. Story as a guest on the blog. Peter has written a rad little book called "Things Grak Hates."

"Things Grak Hates" is a wonderful trip into the mind of history's first ever possible sociopath. This wonderfully bizarre little piece of satire explores the dynamics of human personality in caveman form. And here Peter J. Story is to tell us all about it:  

How long have you been writing? 

I’ve been writing for nearly as long as I can remember, though I’d have to say it really became a passion around the age of ten. My uncle introduced me to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, and I was instantly captivated. My love affair with the written word has only grown since.

What inspired you to write this book? 

I’ve spent years as a student of human nature, so this book was inspired largely by my observations. By setting the story in a prehistoric landscape among a tribe of nomads, I was able to portray actions and their effects on a much more noticeable scale. Things rarely escalate at the pace they do in this story, of course; but I think you’ll spot a clear reflection of modern society.

 Where did the name Grak come from?

I was just looking for something “nomadic” sounding, that was easy to pronounce and easy to remember. Grak fit the bill.

When writing this book, did you hear one of the narrators from National Geographic in your head narrating this book from the bushes?

No, I imagined a voice with a bit more whimsy.

If you had to describe this book in exactly five words, what would those words be?

Human nature at its worst.

If Grak had a modern occupation, what would you surmise it would be?

Grak’s power-grubbing nature (and lack of real marketable skills) could put him squarely in some middle management position. Of course, he could also be a genocidal dictator, an overreaching HOA president, or your posturing co-worker. As some readers have pointed out, there’s a little Grak in each of us…

What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

There were two very challenging elements that I encountered in writing this book. The first was portraying everything through Grak’s eyes. The second was limiting the scope of the story. I tend to run away with a story and its characters; but in this story, I had to keep that tendency in check in order to maintain the slow pace and gradual build up.

Do you, the author, hate olives as much as your character Grak?

No. I love olives.

If you want to find out more about "Things Grak Hates" or the author check out Peter J. Story's Facebook Page!

As always, you can find me on Facebook, Twitter (@AllisonHawn) and Goodreads!  

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Nifty Hyde Out

Hello all! I hope your weeks have been going more fantastically than the thought of a thousand potbelly pigs cannonball diving into a pool!

This past week Life is a Pirate Ship Run by a Velociraptor got another fabulous five star review. Reader A. Reynolds writes, " It is so hard to find a book that makes you laugh out loud as you read the stories, but this book had me laughing non-stop!"

Well, Sunday I had the opportunity to once again have a book signing and reading at Hyde Park Books!

Hooked on Phonics Worked For Me
A mammoth thank you to everyone who came! It was an absolutely rad event.

Also a humongous thank you to Hyde Park Books owner Marti for allowing me to come in, rearrange furniture and yell in her shop (I get a little loud and animated when I read, particularly when the character I'm reading is a bit schnockered.)

If you missed me while I was in Boise, never fear, I will most likely be back during the summer! Of course, I will keep you all posted here.

In other news, I have recently had two short, fictional stories, that were published in a new anthology from Dream Weaver Anthologies called Gates of Erebus!

The proceeds from the book will go to Reading Is Fundamental to support global literacy! So if you're looking for some eerie fiction, check it out!

For more tour dates, information or just because inquisitive minds need to know come find me on Facebook, Twitter (@AllisonHawn) and Goodreads

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Government Cheese

Hello all! I hope you had a more fantastic week than the thought of a billion fireflies skywriting the lyrics to ZZ Top's 'Sharp Dressed Man!"

A quick reminder I will be at Hyde Park Books in Boise for a book signing and reading this Sunday, January 11th!

Doesn't This Place Just Look Nifty!
If you happen to be in town come on down for just a peachy-keen time!

For those of you who don't know, I have a very... shall we say interesting job. I am author by night, head of security for a large homeless shelter by day.

This means that, along with telling people not to try to stab others with yogurt, I also get to hear every conspiracy theory that our patrons might wish to impart upon me.

After my third day on the job I started a list, that list is now eight pages long with writing sideways in all the margins. So, just so you all know what is really happening in the world, here are a few things my clients have told me:

The head of the Spokane Police Department is in fact in league with aliens to take over the world.

Apparently the road to world domination goes mid-sized city police chief to sovereign world leader. Who knew?

If you close your eyes and see the color black then you probably have a demon infestation in your brain.

*Closes Eyes* Ah crud-muffins! I see black! You too!? Well, that's it, holy water and exorcisms all around then.

Bill Gates is planning on taking over the world using his X-Boxes to send subliminal messages to people playing video games to eat the wrong kind of yogurt.

This one kind of made sense until we hit yogurt. I mean, who doesn't think that Bill Gates is trying to take over the world at least once in their life? What kind of yogurt is the wrong kind of yogurt? (I actually asked what the 'wrong kind of yogurt' would be, but was told, "Oh, you know.")

Fluoride in the water will start the next zombie apocalypse.

What I found interesting is apparently there was a previous zombie apocalypse. Did I nap through that part of history class?

The police will only take me to jail if I stab the wrong people. 

You're right. If you stab imaginary people then the police will not take you in. If you stab a real person, you might be kind of hosed. 

The FBI and the CIA are creating a massive plan to strip Americans of their cheese rights.

I asked what 'cheese rights' were, and apparently Americans have the rights of life, liberty and cheese. That's right, who knew that Tillamook was actually just defending our basic human rights?

Have you guys heard any fun conspiracies lately?

As always you can find me on Facebook, Twitter (@AllisonHawn) and Goodreads.

Friday, January 2, 2015

This Past Year in (Book) Review!

Hello! I hope everyone's New Years was more splendid than the thought of a thousand aye-ayes bouncing on pogo sticks.

Thank you to everyone who bought copies of "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus" and "Life is a Pirate Ship Run by a Velociraptor" during November and December! You helped raise over one-hundred dollars for SpokAnimal! Thank you for helping keep animals safe this winter!

So as we look back over 2014 we think of all the new paths we forged, every friend we've made, the books we read...

What? I can't be the only one who enjoys taking a retrospective look at her bookshelf, right?

Well in case you are looking for some great reads to kick off your 2015, here were some of my favorites from 2014:

 Etiquette and Espionage

This delightful book by Gail Carriger takes one on a steampunk adventure through Victorian England's most exclusive boarding school for young, fashionable and deadly young women.

With fantastic names, like Lord Dingleproops, and the casual inclusion of vampires and werewolves, Carriger makes this an easy book to read in a single sitting. If you're looking for a fun, entertaining and easy read, I would highly suggest this book.

Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection

What can I say? I love strong female lead characters.

Rescuing Barbara Gordon from the previous Batgirl series' women in fridge trope was no easy feat, and writer Gail Simone does it with style.

As Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) recovers from a near fatal gunshot from the Joker and starts to fight crime again, we see a she-ro (heroine just sounds so druggy) that is having to prove to her mentors and herself that she is ready to help defend Gotham again.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint

This deep introspective look at one woman's journey from down-and-out rebel to opening one of the most inclusive modern churches in America is definitely worth the read.

Whether you consider yourself religious (of any kind of faith or religion) or not, Nadia Bolz-Weber makes some excellent points about our status on this planet as human beings.

Her own journey and insights she discusses provide us with a healthy reminder that we are all nothing more than human, and as such are all still in development. 

How the Scots Invented the Modern World

Anyone interested in Western world history should take a gander at this book.

Not only was Arthur Herman's writing interesting and engaging, but he draws a very clear map of how one of the poorest and most culturally backwards nations became one of the leaders in educated thought, religious theories, modern architecture and city planning.

This was a well researched and thoroughly fascinating read.

 The Wee Free Men

I have always been a fan of Terry Pratchett's writing, but "The Wee Free Men" may be my favorite work of his that I have read so far.

Young Tiffany Aching, armed only with her wits, her superior cheese-making skills and a frying pan, must go after the evil Queen of Elves who has kidnapped her brother and threatens to destroy her home. Luckily, she has help from the Nac Mac Feegle, a group of six-inch-tall crazy men.

This book was a fun adventure and downright hilarious. I haven't laughed so hard while reading a book in a long time. If you need something that is both fun and funny, snag this book.

So what did you all read during 2014? Any good recommendations? I would love to hear them!

As always, I can be found on Facebook, Twitter (@AllisonHawn) and Goodreads!