Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A New Look at Teen Shelters

In the Niki Alexander mystery series, Niki is a counselor for a teen shelter. In Houston we have Covenant House.  As part of my research in 2007 when I was writing the first of the series, Less Dead, I visited the shelter and was taken on a tour by one of the counselors. I also knew some kids who spent a few days there. Covenant House became the model for Open Palms, the fictional shelter. More more information, I spent one evening interviewing kids at the street church across from the shelter. That evening was the inspiration for Lost Witness and much that I witnessed is included in the book.

Recently, Covenant House had open house with an invitation to take a tour. Naturally, I wanted to see if it had changed since my research in 2007. It had. I was amazed at the change.

The biggest change was the age group. Back 2007, young teens were allowed to stay there. Now the accepted age is 18-21. The reason for this, I was told, was to protect the younger kids from possible preditors who might sell them drugs or pimp them or use them sexually. 

Young kids who find their way off the street to Covenant House are not turned away, however. They can be visited by a staff nurse, can take a shower, get some clothes, some food, and talk to a counselor. They are encouraged to call their parents and work out a solution so they can return home.  Sometimes this isn't possible because of severe abuse or neglect at home. In that case, CPA is called in and they are taken to another shelter for children. 

Covenant House has counselors trained in drug abuse, anger management, sexual abuse. They have a nursing staff. The older teens can attend school, get their GED, learn a trade, write a resume and get recommended for jobs. Before they can do this, however, they will have to stay at the shelter for six months to get clean of drugs and go through counseling before they can go through the Rite of Passage and attend their college.

They don't have a 100% success rate. Who does? These young people have had to struggle with abuse and/or neglect, have nowhere else to go. They are offered a chance. Some will succeed. Others will fail. But it offers hope and a life beyond what they had before.

Open Palms will continue in my Niki Alexander books that started with Less Dead and Lost Witness. I'm in the process of writing the third in the series. Open Palms will still open its arms to teens regardless of age and Niki will continue the fight to protect them, teach them skills and see that no harm comes to them.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sleuthfest -A New Experience

I'd heard about Sleuthfest, the Florida chapter of MWA's annual conference, for years - how wonderful it was, how generous and kind to other writers. So this year I decided to go, and you know what? It was wonderful. Everything everyone said about it was right. But the best part was connecting with dear friends and meeting new ones.

Yes, the panels were informative, funny, entertaining and educational. My own panel on publicizing ebooks drew a good crowd, which emphasized how popular ebooks were these days in an ever evolving world of publishing. My own books, Less Dead and Lost Witness, were published by a small press who simultaneously put them both in print and in ebook format. How do I publicize ebooks? Social network and word of mouth, much the same as the print edition.

Sleuthfest wouldn't have been the same if my friend Anita wasn't there. She always makes me feel included and her vibrant laugh is infectious. We're Reed's Rowdy Redheads - that would be Reed Farrel Coleman, who is unfailingly engaging, warm, encouraging, and funny, even when he is under deadline and in pain from a shoulder injury.

We met new friends, too. Micki and Dave Browning, retired cops from California now living the good life, traveling and enjoying each other. Micky is a very talented writer who will soon be discovered. Of that I have no doubt. Deborah was another new friend. We met her at the Saturday luncheon and her bubbly personality won us over.

The panels I attended were great, and I've ordered ten others that I missed.

Elaine Viets, moderator (one of the best for being funny and keeping everyone on track), Charlaine Harris, Brendan Dubois, Toni LP Kelner, Chris Grabenstein and Dana Cameron.

Fun for all Saturday night at Agents and Editors Cocktail Party. That's Jeffrey Deaver on the end Chris
Grabenstein at the microphone.

Don Bruns, Reed Farrel Coleman and Michael Haskins.  And the winner is...

These are only a few of the highlights.The live auction with Chris Grabenstein, Donna Andrews and Hank Phillippi Ryan was a tremendous success. Two winners pledged $1000 for a chance to meet Nicole Resciniti, agent with The Seymour Agency in New York. The auctioneers did a terrific job - kept us laughing and never let up until they squeezed every bit of money out of the audience.

To top off the conference, Heather Graham's The Slushpile entertained us at The House of Blues with her wacky band of misfits.

I didn't sell any books at the conference, but I met a lovely lady on the plane on the way, Jan Yates, who loves cat mysteries. I emailed her the name of Leann Sweeney and Dean James (writing under Miranda James) for their wonderful cat books.

At the airport coming home, I sold two books. One each to two gentlemen who sat with Anita and me for lunch. When they found out we were writers, they wanted to see our books. I happened to have ten copies of Lost Witness with me. They each bought one. One man worked for Chevron in Louisiana and the other was an ex-cop from Oakland, CA. That made the conference complete.