Category: vodnik

Police Brutality Against Roma in Slovakia

Some days you hear stories about things in the world, and you’re filled with hope for humanity. Maybe we’re finally getting it. Learning to get along and accept one another.

This isn’t one of those days.

I asked my brother in law yesterday about what would happen if a Roma teen in Slovakia were accused of a crime. How people would treat him. (You can read into the question what you will, as long as it isn’t “book deal for Vodnik sequel.” Because it’s definitely not that, or anything like unto it.) He got back to me fairly quickly after he asked around with some of his connections. (I was wondering specifically if the kid would get arrested right away, or go to trial, etc.)

He sent me a link to this story. Judging by my web analytics, hardly any of you will click through to read that. Let me sum it up for you.

Around five years ago, an elderly woman in Eastern Slovakia was mugged and injured. Police picked up a group of 6 Roma teens (age 10-16) and were convinced they were the perpetrators. In Slovak law, children younger than 14 can’t be prosecuted for a crime. (Note–I’m not a Slovak lawyer. I could be wrong on this, but it’s my understanding at the moment.) So the police knew at least three of these teens weren’t going to be punished, even if they could prove they did the mugging.

So the police decided to get creative and inventive, all on their own. They also decided it would be fun to film their creativity. I don’t believe many stories that start out with this premise end well, and it didn’t end well here, either.

They brought the teens to the police station, sent a police dog at them, intimidated them into beating each other up, forced them to strip naked, and then beat some of them up personally for good measure. Among other things. 9 Slovak police officers (8 men, 1 woman) participated in this. All of them lost their jobs. (That’s something.) This week, all of them were also acquitted of any legal wrongdoing. Why? Because the video the police had shot of the act was the main piece of evidence, and it was thrown out. Deemed inadmissible because of how it had been obtained.

(Another note: comments in Slovak are just as bad–if not worse–than comments in English.)

I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me–not when in America, you still have cases like Ferguson or Eric Garner’s choking going on. But here’s an example where there’s extensive video coverage of the crimes. Faces are visible. The acts are despicable–and still nothing happens. I’d really hoped Vodnik could make more a ripple in Slovakia itself. Every now and then a Slovak blogger will come across it, and it’s been well received when that happens. (Here’s a review that was published a month ago online. It’s a good one, though Google translate doesn’t work too well for it.) But good luck getting a Slovak or Czech publisher to commit to it.

I know people sometimes roll their eyes at me a bit when I start speaking up for Roma rights, but the vast majority of Americans don’t realize Roma even exist. Would the problem be solved if Americans did? I’m not sure what the immediate impact would be, but I know bringing attention to it could help, and America could certainly do that.

Then again, when we can’t even figure out our own problems, what hope do we have of helping to solve other nations’ difficulties?

Sorry. Just a bit down and depressed about this today . . .

We Need Diverse Books Because

Some of you following my Facebook or Twitter feeds probably saw me post about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign yesterday. I’ve been really pleased to see so many people retweeting the topic and spreading the word. As an author of a book published by Tu Books (an imprint of Lee and Low, one of the publishing leaders in diversity), I’ve watched the conversation about diverse books with no small amount of interest over the last few years. I’m not particularly good at coming up with pithy statements that can summed up in a photograph–lengthy blog posts are more my cuppa. So going on the “a picture is worth a thousand words” maxim, here’s my picture’s worth of words for the campaign.

I’m continually surprised and disappointed that campaigns like #WeNeedDiverseBooks need to exist in this day and age, though I suppose I shouldn’t be. It’s just too easy to sit back and let the status quo stay right where it is.

When Vodnik was published, I’ll admit I had high hopes. Not that it would smash records in the US (though what author wouldn’t like to give JK a run for her money?) but that it would get published where it needed to be: Europe. Americans read the story of a part-Roma boy who moves to Slovakia and encounters racism first hand, and they have an easier time dismissing it. The sad truth is that for many Americans “Gypsies” are characters in fantasy books, not people in real life, and “Roma” might possibly be people from Romania? Maybe? (Then they go looking for a map.)

Why do we need diverse books? Because there are still plenty of people out there who are unable or unwilling to realize that we’re all the same at heart. That we’ve got the same desires and aspirations. The same dreams and the same nightmares. It’s ironic that we need diversity in literature to prove to people that we’re the same–and I recognize that we’re not all the same. But this was an issue as far back as you can go. I’m continually reminded of Shakespeare when Shylock says:

He hath disgraced me

and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses,

mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my

bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies—

and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew

eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions,

senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same

food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the

same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed

and cooled by the same winter and summer as a

Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If

you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do

we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not

revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will

resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what

is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a

Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian

example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I

will execute—and it shall go hard but I will better

the instruction.

It’s the same thing, played out again and again over the course of history. The Other is less. The Other is wrong. The Other is Other. But one of the wonderful things about literature–something that sets it apart from other arts like film or music or painting–is that it can throw us into the point of view of someone other than us. You can try to get the same effect in other ways, but books help us see the world through someone else’s eyes.

If books let down diversity, then what else do we have?

I was disappointed by the response to Vodnik. Not disappointed by readers. You’ve all be genuinely lovely. The book has garnered great reviews from established institutions, book bloggers, and Goodreads alike. It’s won awards, and many people have written me to tell me how much they enjoyed it. Kids have sought me out at signings, coming just to see me and to talk to me about writing the book. I couldn’t possibly be disappointed by that.

But my agent’s taken Vodnik overseas. He’s gone to publishers in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Spain, France, England–and he’s been told the same thing. They see the reviews, they see the awards, and they get interested. Right up until they find out it’s about a Roma. Then the interest switches off, and that’s that.

“People won’t read a book about Roma,” is what they’re told. To which I say, “They won’t if no one will publish it.” That’s the only 100% foolproof way to make sure no one reads a book. Smother it. Stifle it. Never let it get out. Could I self-publish in Slovakia or Spain? Sure, if I could find someone to translate the book well. Publishing abroad is a fair bit more difficult than publishing here in America.

Vodnik might be a more extreme example than what you typically encounter in America, but I think that by going to that extreme, it illustrates the point more quickly and more effectively than it would by using some of the American examples. Because the same thing is certainly still happening in America. It might not be so blatant at times (or at times it is), but it’s still here. And that’s why campaigns like this are so important.

But do you know what’s even more important? Your pocketbook. I don’t mean to be crass, but it’s true. The publishing business is just that: a business. You vote with your wallet. Before JK came out with Harry Potter, common consensus was that school books were dead dead dead. People didn’t read them. And then came the Boy Who Lived, and suddenly you couldn’t print enough of them.

There are a ton of great books with diverse characters out there. A ton of fantastic authors from diverse backgrounds. But until we as a people start buying those books and sharing them with our friends, they’ll never be heard. Literature might have the power to equalize things, but it can’t do it if it isn’t read.

I’m not saying we all should read things just because it’s diverse or supports a cause. These books are awesome books. If you put one of them into a cage match with a “non-diverse” book, they’d totally go the full number of rounds. I’m a librarian. I don’t have time for bad books. But I also can’t afford to ignore good ones. Neither can you.

I’ve already gone above and beyond my thousand words, but I wanted to end on a positive note. A few months ago, I got a review on Goodreads that I really loved. It’s in Slovak, written by a Slovak, so I’ll just quote a snippet:

No jedna vec bola možno trochu moc. A možno to tak vnímam len ja. Rómska problematika bola podaná dosť drsne. Ja viem, že to je drsné, a viem, že ako našinec to inak vnímam, ale dve či tri scény boli fakt trošku moc. Otázka je, či by sa to tak mohlo stať aj naozaj. A najhoršie je, že by to nemuselo byť také neuveriteľné. A to ma dosť desí. A pre cudzincov to musí byť ešte horšie, keď netušia ako to tu je naozaj. (read the whole thing)

TRANSLATION: (Thanks to Google Translate. It’ll give you the general idea) But one thing was maybe a little too much. And maybe this is just me, I see. The Roma issue was made pretty rough. I know it’s rough, and I know how our people perceive it differently, but two or three scenes were really a bit much. The question is whether it could happen so i really. And the worst part is that it might not be so incredible. And it scares me enough. And for foreigners it must be even worse when they have no idea how it really is here.

Don’t get me wrong: my main goal isn’t to change the world. It’s to write a great book. One that entertains and captivates. But a review like that, by a Slovak, about a book like Vodnik?

It made the disappointment about the book not coming out in Europe a little easier to bear.

I’m Bryce Moore, and I believe #WeNeedDiverseBooks

An Underground Railroad in Trencin in World War II

Today’s post is going to have to be a short one, alas. I got a migraine yesterday evening, soon after posting about how “It could always be worse” on my blog. *Coincidence?*

I think not. (For a laugh, check out the comments on Facebook for that post. They’ve started to reflect the Monty Python sketch quite well . . .)

In any case, looking at a computer screen and thinking aren’t exactly high on my list of “Things that Make Bryce Feel Good” today, so thankfully there’s a link I’ve been wanting to share with you since I came across it yesterday. I was reading Cracked, as I am wont to do from time to time on my iPad, and imagine my surprise when one of the articles was about Slovakia in World War II. (Slovakia doesn’t get many articles written about it. Period.) So of course I had to read it, and then I discovered that not only was it about Slovakia–it was about Trencin! (The city where VODNIK takes place, also the city where my wife is from.)

Being in the Underground was stressful (surprisingly few water slides and ping pong tables in “the Underground”), and betrayal was always a worry. While small towns like Katarina’s were relatively safe since everyone knew everyone else, in the bigger cities paranoia was rampant. Katarina went to college at the University in the city of Trencin, less than half an hour away. That meant she got to know some people well outside of her comfort zone. Rich, powerful folks — who weren’t always the ’80s-style movie villains you might expect.

Going to school, this girl, Tanya, was there. Her dad was a mayor of a big town, so she was wealthy. We always wondered, though: Why would she come from 100 miles away just for school? She was even friends with this girl who was the girlfriend to a member of the Hlinka Guard. She, despite being rich, would go to the poor areas at night. We always wondered why she went there. It wasn’t until after the war we found out why.

Check the rest of it out.

It never says exactly what village the girl lived in, but there’s really only one road to the Czech Republic from Trencin, and it’s right where my mother in law lives and where we go to stay each time we visit. It was fascinating reading the article and seeing what the region was going through then–a side of the city’s history I hadn’t seen yet. (Also interesting that so few Roma were killed in the country in World War II, judging from the book that’s cited in the article. Of course, just after the part that notes that in the book, it goes on to say how Roma were treated after the war, but I’m focusing on the positive here . . .)

Anyway–just thought you might find that all interesting, too. Now I’m off to find a cold cloth and a dark room. Catch you all on Monday!

On the Power of Great Reviews

I got another super review for VODNIK today–nothing quite captures the feeling you get as an author when someone reads your work and sincerely likes it. Especially if that someone is a stranger who has no real incentive to like your work more than any other. (Not saying I don’t appreciate reviews from friends and relations–I do! But how can I be sure you people are actually telling me what you think, and not what you think I want to hear?)

In any case, this one had some great blurbs. The final statement is probably the best: “Need something light and Steelheart-y? Vodník is your go to book!”

(And coincidentally, VODNIK is still on sale for the Kindle until the end of the month. Only $1.99)

But really, I just wanted to reiterate how important word of mouth reviews are these days to the success of novels–particularly books that don’t get put out by the big presses with a huge advertising budget. The only way people are going to notice a book like VODNIK is if people who read it and liked it mention it to others and encourage them to read it.

This isn’t a plea for you to go out and review my book. At this point in time, two years after the book’s release, I assume that the faithful blog readers of mine who wanted to review the book on Goodreads or Amazon have already gone and done that. (To you who have, a very deep sincere thank you. I’ve read them all and really appreciated them.) No–I just wanted to encourage all of you to be active proponents of reading. If you read a book you like, tell other people about it. Review it on Goodreads. Post about it on Facebook. For one thing, you’ll look like a cool, suave, sophisticated person, and who doesn’t want that?

But you’ll also help boost the signal for books that other people might not otherwise come across?

If you didn’t enjoy the book, feel free to review it anyway. Be honest about what you thought about it–not vindictive. Someone else might read why you didn’t like the book and think it sounds really intriguing to them. Some folks like chocolate, and some like vanilla.

(I know some authors refuse to read reviews. I’m not one of those authors. I can’t stay away from them. Maybe after I read enough, I’ll stop caring as much. But I really do like hearing what worked in a book and what didn’t. I review other books, and I review movies. It’s all part of the process to me.)

Anyway. That’s all I’ve got for you today. Go out there and review something–now!

Vodnik March Madness

Imagine my surprise the other day when, in the middle of perusing a Kindle sale in search of a new book to read, I came across my own book on sale. For the rest of the month, Amazon has decided to knock VODNIK down to $1.99 on Kindle, and promote it as part of their big sale effort for the month. Pretty cool, I say. It’s the sort of thing that could really feed on itself–as more people buy the book, it could (theoretically) rise up the ranks of the sale until it pops up near the top of its categories. (Strangely, it’s listed in the “Children’s Fiction” section, not the “YA Fiction” section, which probably doesn’t help matters . . . It’s also not listed in “Fantasy”. Anyone smarter than I have suggestions on how to rectify that?)

But in any case, feel free to pass information on that sale to anyone you think might be interested.

In the meantime, it’s also high time for a little March Madness. As always, I’m doing a blog group for fans of me, my family, my blog, my writing–anybody who wants to join. I have no idea what I’ll do for a prize this year. Perhaps I’ll leave it up to the winner. Some potential ideas I’ve had:

  • Blog entry on a topic of their choice, written by yours truly. (I’ve done this in the past, lauding the winner and detailing how much better they are than I.)
  • The opportunity to write a guest post, plugging anything they’d like to
  • I’ll read and critique a chapter or short story for them
  • Or anything else within reason.

I do reserve the right to veto some proposals, but I’m open to just about anything. Writing a post about how awesome the Red Sox are, or how great the Utes are? Sure–I’d do that. It’s a win-win folks! And if I win? You don’t risk a thing. I’ll just write a post about how awesome I was to win. 🙂

So anyway–to join the fun, go here, fill out your bracket, and join my group.

Group: Bryce’s Ramblings
Password: vodnik

Come one, come all! The more the merrier. Let the madness commence! (Fill out and join by Thursday morning, or it’ll be too late!)

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