Saturday, March 26, 2005

Update on the release of my book

D'Amour Road has entered the final stages of production. My graphic artist is working on the cover right now and I plan to proofread the book one last time, although I have already read it about 18 times by now! But I'm a Type A personality, so I have to make sure that everything is absolutely perfect.

I've really enjoyed writing this book. Previously, I had only written nonfiction. For many years, I was a member of the National Organization for Women in New Jersey. I was the head of their Political Action Task Force and their Legislative Task Force. As such, I would write letters to the Editor of the local newspaper, pleas to Congressional Representatives, and short pieces for the NOW newsletter.

Since I moved to Ontario in 1988, my articles have been published by the Globe and Mail newspaper, the American magazine, Justice Denied, and the Women's Freedom Network Newsletter in Washington, DC. Women's Freedom is a dissident organization, meaning that they don't embrace the traditional feminist notions that women are still grievously oppressed. Right now, I'm not associated with any organizations. I consider myself to be an independent anarchist ;-)

I've written extensively about health issues such as thyroid disease, low blood sugar, panic disorder, menopause, arthritis, and joint replacement. D'Amour Road is my first venture into the world of fantasy and fiction, but I seem to have dragged my social work and social activist background with me on the journey.

There were so many issues that I wanted to address in this book, starting with the devastating problem of women who go missing. I also wanted to examine female friendships and the unique kind of intimacy that one friend can have with another. Cultural biases around aging and our collective fear of getting older is another topic that fascinates me. Lastly, I'm interested in the exquisitely painful phenomenon of unrequited love.

D'Amour Road gets into all of these things and more. I was inspired to write this book by the disappearance of an acquaintance of mine in 1996. The story is based in Ottawa, Ontario and I've done my best to portray the downtown core of the city, as well as the surrounding metropolitan areas like Nepean and Kanata. Although the central theme is serious, I've made my main character slightly neurotic and quirky, and I've added humor wherever possible. That's not because I think there's anything funny about missing women! But I believe that laughter is a great coping mechanism and I could never survive without it.

Just last night, I was reading about the school shooting on the Indian Reservation in Minnesota. 16-year-old Jeff Weise from Red Lake killed his grandparents, seven other students, and then himself. His father had committed suicide and his mother was in a coma. Tragic. Jeff must have been in a serious state of grief when he was put on Prozac, which has been known to increase aggression and suicidal tendencies in certain teenagers. He had just had his antidepressant dose increased.

Tears rolled down my cheeks reading that story. Sometimes, we need to distance ourselves from current events or to search for the irony and comedy in even the darkest situations.

I'm very excited about D'Amour Road and hope that you are, too! I expect to publish it within the next three to four weeks. You'll be the first to know :-)

Sigrid Macdonald

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Jessica Lunsford

Convicted sex offender, John Evander Couey, confessed to police on Friday that he killed nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford from Homosassa, Florida. Apparently, Couey entered the Lunsford home through an unlocked door, took the girl from her bedroom, and sexually assaulted her. Because of the drugs in Couey's system, medical examiners cannot determine exactly how long he held Jessica captive; the third grader disappeared in February.

"Lord, we don't always understand your ways," the Rev. William LaVerle Coats said to almost 200 mourners during services at Faith Baptist Church. "We accept what has taken place here, and ask that you would give us some peace." Rev. Coats asked the congregation to forgive Couey.

It was painful to watch Mark Lunsford, Jessica's father, as he spoke to reporters on CNN. Lunsford requested the death penalty for the perpetrator. Personally, I don't believe in the death penalty, but if I were ever to support it, the rape and murder of a child would warrant such a punishment.

I shuddered when I read the words "convicted sex offender," but I was unable to discover further details about Couey's previous offenses. Some people can never be rehabilitated. Pedophiles are notorious recidivists. They should be kept on a very short leash - inside prison.

Parents -- lock your doors!

Jessica, sweetheart - RIP.

Sigrid Macdonald

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Joyce Carol Oates

Although D'Amour Road is about a missing woman, at heart it is simply a story, which I hope that you will enjoy as much as I enjoy reading good fiction. I'm addicted to reading and usually devour about 50 books a year. I listen to many of these on CD but my favorite way to read is the old-fashioned way -- in print.

If I were stuck on a desert island and could only bring five books with me, one of them would be by Joyce Carol Oates. My ex-boyfriend introduced me to Oates back in 1979. At that time, I read her magnificent tale about migrant farm workers called A Garden of Earthly Delights. It was every bit as good as The Grapes of Wrath. From Wonderland to What I Lived For to Blonde to We Were the Mulvaneys, Oates never ceases to amaze me with the depth and complexity of her characterizations and plots. She is a brilliant and versatile writer with an astonishing ability to bring unique characters to life -- and frequently to death.

Currently, I am reading The Falls. Whenever I take one of Oates' books out of the library, I say to myself "Oh, no!" when I see how long it is because I'm not the fastest reader in the world. However, invariably, I am drawn into her world and am loath to finish her novels. The Falls combines history, geography, politics and the socially taboo topic of suicide along with a marvelous depiction of the way in which families hold us together, or tear us apart. She explores the concept of fatalism, or history repeating itself when people consider themselves to be doomed to follow a certain path.

Oates tackles the tragic beginning of Love Canal and the irresponsibility of the massive chemical plants, as well as the magical power that Niagara Falls exerts over tourists and residents alike. Niagara Falls beckons, seduces, taunts, exhilarates, and terrifies. It is a character all of its own, always rolling and rushing along in the background of the story of the cursed Burnaby family.

If you have not yet discovered Joyce Carol Oates, I would highly recommend this prolific, multitalented Professor of Humanities at Princeton. The main criticism that I have about this book is that the writing was quite sloppy at times. No one knows grammar, style and punctuation better than Oates, but she deliberately breaks the standard rules all the time. Many of her novels contain incredibly long run-on sentences or even run-on paragraphs! I think that she wants to create a breathless, stream of consciousness style, but she doesn't always succeed. In The Falls, the structure of some of her sentences is atrocious; that makes certain passages dense and difficult to read.

Secondly, although I'm drawn to drama and love bleak stories, I found this book slightly more depressing than some of her other works. I'm not exactly sure why. Perhaps it had to do with the constant repetition of the death theme, and one too many doomed relationships.

Since I'm often reading books that I don't like for my book club, I'm always thrilled to be able to close my door, and snuggle up with a great book of my own choosing.

Sigrid Macdonald

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Scott Peterson Sentenced to Death

The long, emotionally draining wait for justice for Laci and Conner Peterson has come to an end with the decision of Judge Alfred A. Delucchi to sentence Scott Peterson to death. As much as I mourn the loss of a beautiful young woman and her unborn child, I cannot condone the penalty.

I have always been opposed to the death penalty under all circumstances. It is disproportionately applied to blacks in the United States and to poor people. Former Governor George Ryan of Illinois wrote a long diatribe about the number of people on death row that were later proven to be innocent upon appeal. You can read that story on my Milgaard Inquiry blog at . While he was the Governor, Ryan declared a moratorium on the death penalty and I support his stance.

I know that many people may disagree with my beliefs and I respect their right to do so. Debate is healthy. I am happy to respectfully disagree with others. If you want to express your opinion on the Peterson trial, please sign my guestbook.

Ultimately, I hope that this unfortunate but final decision will bring some peace to the Rocha family.

Although Canada no longer has the death penalty, public sentiment towards prisoners is rife with antipathy. There is always the chance that capital punishment could be reinstated. Poor Stephen Truscott was just a teenager when he was sentenced to death by hanging, and most of us in AIDWYC believe Truscott to be innocent.

There is a chance of executing an innocent man, or someone who committed an offense as a juvenile, or the most appalling circumstance of all: administering a lethal injection to the mentally retarded. One such inmate in Texas was given his last supper and told the guard that he was going to save his dessert for later. Death penalty horror stories abound.

The evidence against Scott Peterson was entirely circumstantial. Many people think that he may be innocent (read ). This penalty is far too harsh.

Sigrid Macdonald

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Has Canada become less safe?

I remember when I first moved to Toronto in 1977. I had grown up in the suburbs of New Jersey and had always felt perfectly safe there. Despite the jokes about Jersey being a toxic waste dump or a hotbed of racial strife after the riots in Newark in 1967, I was cloistered in the affluent town of Wyckoff, NJ. Wyckoff had a population of approximately 15,000 people and was located about 20 miles outside of Manhattan.

I loved Manhattan! New York City is one of the most thrilling, culturally stimulating places in the world. However, it was a dangerous place before Rudy Giuliani brought his heavy handed law and order tactics to town. As much as I adored visiting Manhattan -- eating in Chinatown, watching the Ice Capades at Madison Square Garden, spending endless hours in the museum of Natural History or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, hanging out in Greenwich Village and going to concerts at the Fillmore East -- I never wanted to live there. The city was too large, too overwhelming, and too scary for me.

That's when I became enamored with Toronto. I went to grad school there. I'll never forget the first day that I walked down University Avenue with its wide boulevards and beautiful flowers. Toronto was so clean compared to Manhattan! When I would stroll down Bloor Street on my way to class, I would watch someone ahead of me drop something like a soda can or an empty pack of cigarettes. Within seconds, the person behind them would walk over, pick the discarded item up and place it in a trash can. Boy, was I impressed with the Canadians.

At the age of 25, I liked to work hard and I liked to play hard. I was often up until two or three in the morning, and I thought nothing of walking home alone from a bar or a friend's house after hours. I would ride the subway, hop the streetcar or use my own two legs to traverse the wonderful, exciting city of TO. I never felt afraid.

A shoeshine boy by the name of Jacques was killed that year on Yonge Street. His death received an inordinate amount of publicity because the murder of a child was so unusual at that time. You would never catch me riding the subways with such ease now in the middle of the night!

I was watching an old Michael Moore movie a few weeks ago -- can't remember if it was Bowling for Columbine or Roger and Me -- but Moore was talking about how safe Canada is. Apparently, he interviewed a handful of people from Canada who said that they don't even lock their doors at night. Who are these people? Good grief, I just read an article in the Ottawa Citizen the other day that said that an 82-year-old woman was tied up by two young guys while they robbed her house. The men had pretended to be city workers or with the Hydro Company.

Canada isn't that safe anymore. Cities like Ottawa, Toronto or Vancouver don't compare to Chicago, Detroit, or Houston, but the freedom that we had as women to stroll our streets any time of night or day is long gone. Of course, safety issues don't only apply to females. Men may be the greatest perpetrators of crime but they are also the greatest victims.

We used to think of violence as something that might happen to us when we were alone late at night. Stranger crime. Someone we didn't know might harm us. But the fact is that we are much more likely to be injured, killed, molested or betrayed by someone we know.

In D'Amour Road, I have portrayed the fear, frustration, and helplessness of 39-year-old Tara Richards when her best friend Lisa Campana goes missing. Throughout the search for her friend, Tara continually tells herself that bad things don't happen in Ottawa: they happen in Atlanta or Los Angeles -- not here. But that's not so. Canada is not the utopia that Michael Moore would have us believe in his spoof called Canadian Bacon.

Sigrid Macdonald

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Missing

According to the Globe and Mail, about 40,000 people are reported missing in Canada every year, yet only a slim minority are the victims of foul play. Most are runaway kids, adults leaving their partners, or older people who have gone wandering.

In recent years, much media attention has been focused on the devastating disappearance of 69 women from Vancouver's East Side. Most of those unfortunates were members of the sex trade. They were poor, drug addicted, and homeless. Many had been sexually abused as children and had grown up in foster homes. 17 of the missing women were Native Americans and two were mixed racial heritage.

The Native Women's Association of Canada estimates that approximately 500 native women have gone missing in the last 20 years. Those numbers have been disputed by other sources, but the consensus is that a disproportionate number of native women have disappeared. Needless to say, these women have not received the kind of publicity that has been showered on well-to-do, white women across North America such as Laci Peterson or Chandra Levy.

The tragic murder of little Cecilia Zhang from Toronto did get a lot of press. However, the disappearance of five-year-old Tamra Keepness from Regina did not. Tamra, who was poor and Native, went missing in July of 2004 and still has not surfaced.

For several years in a row, we were inundated with television news about missing women and children. Laci. Chandra. Lori Hacking. Elizabeth Smart - stolen right out of her bedroom like Cecilia. Samantha Runnion. Danielle Van Dam. It was almost as though there was a Bermuda triangle that was just waiting to swallow up unsuspecting women and kids. Of course, most women -- and men for that matter -- who disappear do resurface again. Only a small percent are victims of murder but that is little consolation to the families of these women and children.

Back in 1996, an acquaintance of mine disappeared. Her name was Louise Ellis. I was the co-coordinator of the David Milgaard Support Group and Louise was an advocate for David. She fell in love with a jailhouse snitch by the name of Brett Morgan, who testified at the Milgaard Supreme Court trial. Morgan shared a cell with Larry Fisher, who was finally convicted of the crime with which Milgaard was erroneously charged. Morgan claimed that Fisher had bragged that he had killed a woman but someone else was doing the time for it.

Louise admired Brett for testifying on David's behalf. Although Brett was a self-avowed murderer, who had strangled a prostitute by the name of Gwen Telford in Edmonton, Louise believed that Brett had reformed. She fell in love with him and worked tirelessly to get him out of prison early. She took him into her home. She gave him a chance at a new life. Nine months later, Louise disappeared. I joined a search team to look for Louise with her good friends, Ron Pouillot and Brenda Wagman, and my closest friend, Cathie Soubliere. We worked together with the Carleton University Womyn's Centre and the Ottawa Police.

Louise's remains were found on the forest floor of Wakefield, Quebec three months later. I never fully recovered from Louise's death even though she and I were not close friends. We were simply acquaintances but we talked on the phone regularly for two years. When she died, I was shocked, deeply saddened and outraged. The whole time that Louise was missing, Brett Morgan was active in the search for her. I met Brett and it was difficult to know how to treat him.

Since I was working in the field of wrongful convictions with my Milgaard group, I didn't want to assume that Morgan was guilty without any proof. However, he had already killed one woman, and male partners are also the first ones that we suspect when a woman disappears out of the blue.

I've been a social activist and a freelance writer for many years. Up until recently, I've always written non-fiction but my lingering preoccupation with the passing of Louise Ellis, and my rage and sorrow at the loss of every single woman and child that I have previously mentioned, prompted me to write a novel called D'Amour Road.

D'Amour Road is NOT the story of Louise Ellis. It is entirely fictional although I did think of Louise frequently when I was writing it. But my character, Lisa Campana, is nothing like Louise Ellis.

Lisa is a sober alcoholic, who has just experienced a major slip. Lisa and her best friend Tara are about to turn 40. The thought fills Tara with dread. She is unhappy with her job as a rehabilitation nurse and disenchanted with her marriage, but lacks the courage to make a major life change.

When Lisa disappears, Tara's life is thrown into turmoil. She's not sure if Lisa has jeopardized her sobriety again by going on a drinking binge, or if she has been harmed by her partner, who has a history of battering. Tara joins a massive search for her friend in conjunction with the police, her colourful women's collective, and a 24-year-old man, whom she finds particularly captivating.

D'Amour Road explores themes as diverse as women's friendships, male violence, wrongful convictions, addictions, cultural biases against aging, unrequited love and infidelity. I have tried to make Tara quirky and funny to relieve some of the darkness of the story. The book is in its final stages of editing and should be available from Lulu Inc. sometime within the next 4 -- 8 weeks. I hope that you will enjoy my tale and find it provocative.

Although the book takes place in April of 2004, I do allude to the disappearance of Tamra, which did not actually occur until a few months later. But the racist bias against Natives is so disturbing that I felt compelled to include Tamra in my novel. When I did a quick search on Yahoo for Elizabeth Smart, 2,340,000 entries popped up, whereas when I searched for Tamra only 1,700 results emerged. What a sad commentary.

Please check out my links and sign my guestbook. I'd love to hear from you. Don't hesitate to suggest web sites with good fiction. So far, I've only linked to social issue sites, but I do plan to expand my "Herizons."

Thanks. Sigrid