The Whole Story Behind my book, Vanished

Last night, I was reading over some of the newer reviews and comments of my novel Vanished. I noticed some understandable trepidation among a few of those who hadn’t read the book. In response, I’ve decided to write this post, explaining the origins of the book, and why I wrote it.

First, though, I wish to thank all of those who took a chance on me, readers who cracked the pages, in spite of the subject matter. I really appreciate you, and I know it couldn’t have been easy to start.

I want to clarify what is NOT in this book; rape, gore, excessive violence (yes, there is violence, but no more than any other action/thriller), injury or death to animals, pedophilia. You only need to ask someone who’s read the book, I’m confident they will attest to this.

If you asked me, ten years ago, to write a book about human trafficking, I would have declared you insane. Times, and people, change.

The truth is, initially, there was no intention of broaching the subject. I wanted to write about Haiti.

You see, my father, upon whom one of the main characters, John Webster, is loosely based, would volunteer to help build homes, churches, and other projects. I remember well, the photos showing the difficult living conditions. There were also the stories, none of which included human trafficking. There are bits and pieces in the novel that were gleaned from his experiences.

The second main character, Tyler Montgomery,  is loosely based on my brother-in-law. The pair actually did make a trip to post-earthquake Haiti, back in October of 2010. I asked if they’d be willing to make a journal of their experiences.

So, here we come to the reasons behind Vanished. Over the years, I’ve been understandably and justifiably questioned as to my choice of topic. In the early days, I always delivered a simple and pat answer about a desire promote awareness. If a problem is ignored, what hope is there to solve it?  At the time, I truly believed my answer to be complete. Cut and dried, no further explanation needed.  

I often mention that 50% of the proceeds are donated to help victims of human trafficking, which they are, and I hope I don’t sound like I’m touting my own horn. That is not my intent.

Yes, all of this is true. However, and this may sound strange, I’ve only recently come to realize it’s not the whole truth. Please let me explain.

Those who are familiar with me, know that I’ve spent the last twenty plus years working as a Correctional Officer in maximum and medium, security prisons.

The last max. was Kingston Penitentiary which opened in 1835 and closed in 2013. It’s now a tourist attraction. I was one of the last to work there. Shortly afterwards, I was transferred to a medium level prison.  

This blog is not evolving into a prison tale. My career was mentioned  because I want to help you understand where I’m coming from.  I also want to emphasize, that Hollywood, and the news, are entities that thrive on sensationalism, because it sells.  

I’ve encountered many traumatic experiences and looked into the midnight eyes of those who looked through, rather than at you. We called them dead eyes.

Fortunately, these are not the majority of inmates. There are some who’ve lead normal lives until something triggered them to act in uncharacteristic ways. What you also had, were many cases of psychological and drug addiction issues.  Oh, and yes, plenty of the inhabitants  had committed unspeakable acts of evil. I’ll spare you the details.

Of course, it wasn’t all bad. I’ve worked with some great staff and have had my share of laughs. I appreciated the strong bonds that developed between my peers. It’s inevitable when you place your life in someone’s hands, and they put theirs in yours.

I apologize if I’m rambling, but it was necessary to give some background into what made my brain tick, when I wrote this book.

It took a diagnosis of PTSD, months of treatment, support, and deep reflection, to unravel the ‘other’ reasons for the birth of Vanished.

I have come to grasp the fact that it was also a product of a mind that sought to survive and heal. To find a state of homeostasis and make sense of the tragic and unfathomable.

The famous line from the movie, Saving Private Ryan, often comes to mind. Captain Millar and the Sergeant are discussing the personal cost of getting Ryan home. One of them says: “Someday, we might look back on this, and decide that saving Private Ryan was the once decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole Godawful, shitty mess.”

I’m not comparing myself to these brave warriors, but these are my sentiments, exactly.

The brain is extremely powerful, and I believe that it sensed something was wrong all those years ago, though my conscious mind was oblivious. It’s the frog in a boiling pot analogy. I was being cooked alive, and I didn’t even realize.               

The characters do represent, superficially, my family members. At a deeper level, they are avatars of my hope. Hope for something better, for this world, myself, and my loved ones.

Spoiler alert, Tyler struggles with mental health issues. The issue was  approached from a Stephen King angle because I grew up reading his work.

At the time, I thought it was just a nod to the famous writer, but it’s become clear that my subconscious had put out a 911 call for help. In some ways, I’m Tyler.

Right now, more than ever, the world is hurting. I don’t know your personal stories, but I can sense from many of the comments, that anxiety and a sense of hopelessness rule the day.

Let me tell, there is always hope. I want to assure you that you are not alone. I, along with many others, have been where you are. I’m on the mend, and my family is getting there, too. I cannot reiterate this enough: there is always hope.

Whenever a crisis arises, there are always those who step up and perform selfless acts. I refer to those as helpers, look around, you’ll find them, everywhere. You know what? Look in the mirror and you’ll see one up close.          

Don’t believe me? Listen, if you’ve ever retweeted a post, shared a kind word on a blog, shared a blog, hosted, bought a book, read, and reviewed, made someone laugh or provided information, beta read . . . you get the picture, then you are a helper.  

Yes, those dedicated people who work in the healthcare industry certainly fall into this category. There are so many others, unsung, and unnoticed. They go about the business of helping.

John and Tyler are much more than characters in a book, and the plot is deeper and broader than human trafficking. There is an ugly side to it, just as there is in life, but there is also a positive message. It’s about becoming a helper, doing whatever is within your capacity to  make a positive impact, even if it’s just one person.

This is the true spirit of Vanished.

At the bottom of this post, you will find two links to interviews I conducted with a couple of wonderful helpers, who stood with victims of human trafficking.

On a side note:

I am not downplaying the recent events with law enforcement that have occurred, nor am I saying that problems with racism do not exist, as they do in every environment.

I wish to point out that there are a few rotten apples among the ranks; you’ll find them in every profession; and they should be dealt with accordingly. However, it is very distressing, unfair, and illogical to paint an entire profession based on the actions of a few. Most people involved in law enforcement are decent and ordinary people. They have families and emotions, too.

I was saddened and angered, when I discovered that a certain retailer was selling tee-shirts with the detestable slogan, Blue Lives Murder. Ouch!!  

This is not only disrespectful and generally untrue, but downright inflammatory. These are the things that contribute to PTSD and suicides.

I give my readers the benefit of the doubt, as I am sure that most of you realize this. I still feel compelled to say the following: Amidst all the cries for defunding the police, please try to imagine a world where the dead eyed roam free and amok.

Sends shivers up my spine.

More about me:

Born and raised on a farm near Brockville, Ontario, Mark Bierman’s childhood consisted of chores, riding horses, snowmobile races across open fields, fishing trips to a local lake, and many other outdoor adventures. He was also an avid reader of both fiction and non.

Transitioning towards adulthood also meant moving from the farm and into large urban areas that introduced this “country boy” to life in the big cities.

Drawing on his many experiences as a private investigator and later a Correctional Officer, Mark combines his unique experiences and imagination to create his stories and characters.

Purchase:

Amazon.ca Amazon.com LuLu.com iBooks

I’d love to connect with you:

Website Twitter Facebook Instagram Goodreads

Interview Links:

A Call To Mission Work. An Interview With Madison Wicklam.

They Fight For Freedom

‘Fiction In A Flash Challenge 2021.’ Week #37. Entry Part 8) by Mark Bierman @mbiermanauthor #IARTG #WritingCommunity #WritingPrompts #FlashFiction

HELLO EVERYONE AND WELCOME TO AUTHOR SUZANNE BURKE’S “FICTION IN A FLASH CHALLENGE!” EACH WEEK SHE FEATURES AN IMAGE AND INVITES EVERYONE TO WRITE A FLASH FICTION, OR NON-FICTION, PIECE INSPIRED BY THAT IMAGE IN ANY FORMAT AND GENRE OF THEIR CHOOSING.  MAXIMUM WORD COUNT: 750 WORDS. IN ADDITION TO RUNNING A WONDERFUL BLOG, SUZANNE HAS WRITTEN MANY EXCITING BOOKS. PLEASE A HAVE A LOOK AT HER SITE: WECOME TO THE WORLD OF SUZANNE BURKE

Here is my contribution to this week’s prompt. Enjoy!

“You hear that?” Mandy twisted her red locks into coils. Her wide-eyed expression moved her freckles, like dozens of islands shifted by an earthquake.

Dan put his ear against the door.

“Careful! What do you hear?”

“Chewing.” An icicle lodged in his spine.

“What? Dan Beamish! I can’t take it any longer! I’m calling Mom and Dad! I want to go home! George Binks was right, this place is haunted!”

“My gosh!” Dan jumped back. His jaw became a flag in the wind.

“Stop blubbering, out with it! You’re scaring me!”

“You should be.”

“Stop it!” Mandy’s eyes were red. It reminded Dan of the time he’d drew mustaches on her Barbies, with permanent marker. “Tell Uncle Bill! He’ll know what to do. He’ll call Mom and Dad to pick us up!”

“Don’t be such a wimp. Don’t you want to see what it is? Maybe it’s a Snog, just like in one of your silly books. Besides, Uncle Bill is away this afternoon. Mom and Dad are in the Bahamas.”

“I’m NOT a wimp, you’re just stupid! My books are NOT silly. Snogs are NOT real. Whatever’s in there, is! We should wait until Uncle Bill returns.”

“Get me something to defend myself.”

Mandy crossed her arms and scowled at her older brother. He was stubborn, just like his father, that’s what Mom said. Mom’s always right about Dan. She sighed. “Fine, there’s a croquette mallet in the hall closest.” She stomped down the ancient steps. Stupid, old, haunted house. Why couldn’t they’ve gone to Aunt Rita’s cottage on the beach? Oh, because Danny the Pansy was allergic to the sand. Whoever heard of such a thing?

She returned with the mallet to find Dan testing the doorknob.

Mandy performed a fake curtsy and handed the mallet over. “You’re lance, noble knight.”

Dan rolled his eyes. He counted to three, via the scenic route. “Two and a quarter, two and a half, two and three quarters, three!” He charged in screaming, mallet raised overhead, Brave Heart style.

Something large ran through what could only be described as a trash bin. Dan looked around, shocked by the mess. Uncle was a neat freak, but this was an episode of Hoarders.

Wind gusted through an open window. Papers blew across a desk and onto a floor that could have been hardwood. A huge lump moved underneath the pile, heading straight for him! A terrible hissing and growling came from the thing.

Dan’s arms lost feeling and the mallet struck his knee as it dropped. He was nailed to the floor.

“Dan! Get out!”

He tried to back away, but tripped on a power cord, that brought him and a desk computer, crashing to the floor.  

A yellowed New York Times paper, a foot from his face, burst off the floor, to reveal a hideous nightmare of bloody teeth and fur.

The eyes were blacker than the pavement, velociraptor sharp claws, and a hiss like a thousand water snakes. It stood on it’s hind legs, belly fur covered in blood. The thing was about to rip him apart! His mind flashed back to all those nature shows he’d watched. What to do? Run . . . seriously? Play dead? No, he’d be dead. Act submissive, lower your eyes and bow your head . . . quick! He raised himself to a kneel and bowed, face to the floor. It was terrifying, exposing the back of his neck.

“Dan! What are you doing! Have you lost your mind?”

“Showing respect. Being submissive.”

It didn’t work. The thing hissed and moved towards him. Dan could feel and smell its hot and stinky breath . This was it, his life for hers. “Go, Mandy! Run! It wants me and you can still get away!”

The beast moved closer, coming in for the kill bite, just like a lion. It would be a less painful way to die.

Dan was ready too.

Something swept past his head. The creature let out a squeal and then began to whimper, as it fled.

“You rascal!” Uncle Bill yelled.

His new favorite uncle held a broom, as he chased the thing out the window. He shut the window, turned towards them and said, “Blasted racoon. Should have closed the window. Got into my bowl of ravioli again!” He held up an empty can of Chef Boyardee’s “finest” pasta. He looked embarrassed.

Dan smacked his head when he noticed the “blood”’ matched the color of the pasta sauce.  

HIIT your writing and watch it improve!

The story line isn’t written on the wall. Unlike the Biblical account, no matter how hard I stare, no hand appears to write Dan out of the tar pit he’s gotten himself trapped in, again. Sheesh!

This is for those of you, if you’re like me, who struggle, at times, to get collect the right words from that pile of scrabble tiles tumbling inside your cranium.

You type, think, type, backspace, type, stare at the wall; time slips past and the hands of the clock have suddenly moved alarmingly close to quitting time. For me, that’s when the rest of the household gets up. It’s that dreadful wormhole again! Sucking time and productivity into an eternal vacuum. There’s no fix for it, no way to simply remove a filter and shake it out. It’s lost, forever.

Those who know me, are aware that physical fitness is a huge part of my life. I devote a great deal of time to developing the three key physical fitness elements: strength, cardio, and flexibility.

Recently, an idea came to me, as I waited for that magic hand to reveal the ‘golden nugget’.

I decided to incorporate a technique I’ve often used in my workouts, into my writing. Some of you may be familiar with HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). Simply put, the idea is to go hard for a brief period of time, and then continue exercising, but at a slower pace. This has proven, and I’ve benefited personally, to be a more effective and time efficient way of exercising than traditional forms. The ratio of time spent going hard to slowing down, are dependent upon fitness levels and goals.

I thought you were talking about writing, not running, Bierman. I am, well now I am.  I’ve discovered, for me, at least, that the same principles can be used in writing life.

No more staring at walls or scratching my head, trying to squeeze out the next sentence. These days, I write and read, in intervals. I’ll work on my WIP for fifteen minutes to half an hour, and then switch to reading blogs for about ten to fifteen minutes, before writing again.

I find reading the excellent work of others, and their different approaches to wordsmithing, very stimulating. It gives me a chance to ‘let someone else take the wheel.’  

No matter how much you love to write, and I do, creating something out of nothing can be mentally draining. This method allows for a break, while keeping your creative side working in the background.

I read blogs because they are short, and I can finish them within the allotted time frame. Blogs also give you the chance to read material from different authors, thus stimulating your brain to a greater extent.

You may have your own preference, such as Twitter, Facebook, or some other social media platform.  I would advise against reading a book, as it can get intertwined with your work, and it should be something you can finish within the timeframe.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful. If you have any techniques that you use, please share them here.

Happy writing!  

Photos with Captions, To Make You Smile and Think

Time for another round of captioned photos. I hope some will make you chuckle, while others encourage you. Take care of yourselves!

Then I realize that I wasted the morning shopping . . . wait, do I hate shopping? Um . . . yes, I think. Now I’m sad again. 🙂

Review of Born In A Treacherous Time (Book 1 Of 3), by Jacqui Murray

Well, it’s Valentines’ Day weekend, and also one of the coldest months of the year up here, in Canada. It’s as though Mother Nature is either thumbing her nose, enacting vengeance for a serious jilting, or attempting to fire the flames of romance by freezing the body.

If you ask two, ten, a dozen, or hundreds of Canucks, you’ll get as many opinions, or maybe a shrug, followed by, “Dunno,’ sorry.”    

The story for todays’ review takes place where breath doesn’t freeze scarves rigid, nor are toques a staple, even in winter. We’re traveling to pre-historic Africa.

What Amazon says:

Born in the harsh world of East Africa 1.8 million years ago, where hunger, death, and predation are a normal part of daily life, Lucy and her band of early humans struggle to survive. It is a time in history when they are relentlessly annihilated by predators, nature, their own people, and the next iteration of man. To make it worse, Lucy’s band hates her. She is their leader’s new mate and they don’t understand her odd actions, don’t like her strange looks, and don’t trust her past. To survive, she cobbles together an unusual alliance with an orphaned child, a beleaguered protodog who’s lost his pack, and a man who was supposed to be dead.

My Turn:

Jacqui does a great job of instilling a vivid picture of what most certainly was the red in tooth and claw existence, quite literally, of early humans.

The first in a trilogy, a solid foundation is built for the next two books in this series. There is plenty of action, yet I found there were parts that grew too repetitive, and perhaps could have been left out.

I must be honest about the fact some of my personal beliefs about the ‘coming into existence’ of humanity are in conflict with certain views expressed. I’ll not argue them here, nor anywhere, as they are mine. No amount of debate will sway me, nor will I convince those who disagree. I think it’s best to agree to disagree and leave it at that.

Overall, the information presented in this book has been well-researched and conforms to the mainstream view. The main characters are well constructed and there is growth based on experience.

 I believe this novel achieves what it sets out to do. As part of a trilogy, the entire series will need to be taken into account. As of this moment, I’ll give it Four Stars.  

Meet Jacqui:

Bio

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years both in a traditional classroom and online. She is the editor of a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and author of over a hundred books to integrate technology into education. She is adjunct professor on tech ed topics for the University of California San Diego, Colorado State University, and others. She is a Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics.  She is the author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days as well as the prehistoric fiction, Man vs. Nature.

She’s best known as Ask a Tech Teacher, curator of the popular blog used by teachers, administrators and homeschoolers around the world. It is the go-to resource for advice, pedagogy, tips and tricks, freebies, help, reviews, and classroom materials in tech ed. She has been quoted in national newspapers such as the Washington Post and appeared in local education-oriented radio programs such as BAM Radio and CoolCat Teacher. Her blog has received many awards from organizations such as Common Sense Media and Ed Anywhere.

Jacqui is the voice behind Structured Learning webinars, providing training to teachers and administrators on tech ed topics like flipped classrooms, digital citizenship, Common Core Standards and tech, how to organize the classroom for tech, and age-appropriate tech to support curriculum and standards.

Her teaching philosophy can be summed up in two words: critical thinking. Start with organic conversations. Make technology authentic and encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning. Instruction is self-paced, differentiated and responsive to student needs. Lessons include Essential Questions, Big Ideas and self-reflection.

Jacqui works with teachers and school districts to integrate technology into their school curriculum and standards, running seminars on using tech tools in the classroom, introducing educators to popular ideas like the flipped classroom, differentiation, setting up the digital classroom, using tech in Common Core and more. She also writes articles and white papers for Districts to be shared on blogs, newsletters, and parent information guides.

Jacqui Murray has a BA in Economics, a BA in Russian, an MBA, and a California teaching credential. Before teaching, she worked in the business world for twenty years. She has a daughter who attended the United States Naval Academy and now serves as an Officer in the Navy doing cybersecurity, and a son who attended UC Irvine and serves as an Army SGT in the Signal Corps. She also has a brilliant Labrador Retriever named Casey—what a character. She spends most of her time teaching, reading, geeking, and writing.

Connect with her and purchase your copy:

My Amazon author page

My Goodreads author page

My LinkedIn profile

My Ask a Tech Teacher Twitter page

My Writer Twitter Page

askatechteacher@gmail.com