Anita's Haven

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Parents’ Alert

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Not so long ago, a friend of mine found her son in front of his laptop, in bitter tears and literally afraid for his life. An older boy from his school was sending him threatening and hurtful messages over a social network, on behalf of himself and a bunch of his bullying buddies. Her son was not only afraid to leave the house, but sat there as if paralysed in front of the screen, his fists clenched so firmly that his knuckles were white. No amount of consoling, coaxing or even threatening helped my friend – her son would simply not reveal the real name of his abuser, masked behind a clipart avatar and a fashionably misspelled username. But most mothers whose children are attacked don’t just back out, and very few obstacles manage to slow them down. Single mothers even more so, and my friend is one.

Like a proper lioness, she gave her son a chocolate bar, some cocoa and a pep talk, gently stroked his hair and put him in bed, playing his favourite music really low till he fell asleep. She acted calm before the storm. Then she sat at the desk and opened her son’s profile. A couple of hours later, having done some online detective work she had never deemed herself capable of, she had the bully’s full name and surname, his home address and his private cellphone number. And she hadn’t even broken any laws. The problem with bullies and all criminals is their ego; they are never really ashamed of their actions and always secretly want the whole world to know them for their deeds. So they leave a trail of breadcrumbs one only has to follow. She did exactly that. Looking at her son twitch and sweat in sleep, mumble defensive phrases in his nightmare, and unconsciously cry despite his early teenage years and strong body, she grabbed her cellphone and typed in the bully’s number. Before tapping the call button, she left her son’s room and closed the door behind her.

She phoned the bully. He answered. She introduced herself and then, with all the raging storm she had in her, she spoke her mind, letting the bully know she knew who he was and where he lived, ordering him to stop contacting her son, and threatening what she would do if he didn’t stop. I don’t know exactly what she said, and I guess neither does she any more. Protecting loved ones, especially children, brings out the best and worst in us, and controlling that is usually impossible. The point is – she succeeded. She never spoke to the boy’s parents about this. It turns out she knows from the neighbourhood; they are exactly the behavioural matrix their son so loyally copies. She never told her son what she did. But he is not bullied any more, sleeps well and goes out with his friends, like all happy children should. She is not happy. She is alert.

What would you do? There are so many options for parents in this case, some depending on the laws of your country, some on the culture and tradition you come from, but what it all comes down to is your definitive parental decision. You are the one who chooses to act and faces the results.

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Would you tell your son to ‘take it like a man’ and fight back? Battle a group of bullies, bigger and older than him, all alone and empty-handed? Would you resort to violence yourself, get a gang of thugs and beat the boys’ senseless and their parents as well? Would you go to the press or the Internet and make the story go viral, dragging you and your son through the merciless scrutiny of the public eye, which only seems to feed on the negative and rarely offers any real help or solution? Would you tell your child to talk to friends or call a helpline, washing your hands of the responsibility?

You could choose not to act. Just sit tight, waiting for the whole thing to pass on its own. It seems easier to do anyway. But it isn’t easy, and it won’t pass. Dirt piled up under a rug doesn’t go away, it doesn’t dissolve, and nobody else comes to clean house. Sooner or later, you or your loved ones stumble over it and fall flat on your face. Unresolved bullying only gets worse, spreads to more people, leaves your child out there like an open target, a sitting duck, with an invisible ‘open season’ sign hanging over his head. And your child remains a victim. Or, for better or worse(which do you think?), becomes a bully himself, vindicating his own suffering by tormenting others.

You could do exactly what my friend did – go directly to the source and deal with the bully. You could get lucky, exactly like she did, the word ‘lucky’ used very loosely here, because there is no win-win situation where violence is concerned. She could have been in trouble though. The bully could have told his parents, they could have attacked her, they could have sewed her for contacting their underage son without their knowledge and threatening him. They could even have won in court, depending on who had the money for a slicker lawyer. Her son could have been badly hurt by the bullies for having his mummy come to the rescue. But if you weigh all those options before your parental instinct kicks in, you are probably late already.

You could contact the school authorities. It is their duty, after all, to handle such issues on school premises. They have trained professionals for such situations. It would take time, you would drag your son and his friends through questioning, the bully’s parents would be contacted, and then it would be just like a trial all over again. Or maybe not. Maybe the whole team of adults involved int he problem really would work together in the best interest of all the children, and the bully would get help and stop being a bully, whereas the bullied would relax and heal, and future similar situations would be prevented or, at least, reduced. Well, you never know until you try, right?

What would you do? What do you do?

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Common misconceptions about (indie) authors

Pondered for a while whether I should publish this. So before you begin reading know this – it is not complaining. It is explaining.

Being an independent author has its advantages, as well as disadvantages, just like any other job, I suppose. To be honest, I am not sure if I would have wanted to know about some of the disadvantages before venturing into (self-) publishing. For instance, if I had known how much financing it requires to be able to properly package and promote your work, I would probably have nevet dared to go into it. That would have been a shame, because I would never have met tons of wonderful authors and book supporters, or proven to myself that my books can actually be real books, no matter how many people like them.

As a reader and an author, I have discovered how seriously misguided many people are about authors, especially self-published, independent authors. Let me just share a few I have encountered, and do share your views in the comments, whether you are a reader or writer yourself.

1. People think all authors have a team of people who work with them on fixing errors and making perfect covers. (They don’t, unless they employ them and pay them. Otherwise, it’s all diy. Which doesn’t mean an independent author is like a quack doctor or a shoddy repairman. A self-made entrepreneur cares a lot about how he or she displays their work.)

2. People think authors get every single cent of the money readers pay to buy the book from a bookstore, online or not. (They don’t. Percentages of royalties vary, but you’d probably be sadly disappointed, if not shocked, if you knew the numbers. Not disclosing them here, because of contracts we have with printers and distributors.)

3. People think authors only write. (We don’t. See point no.2. Most of us have day jobs which pay the bills, hopefully also fill our hearts, and help sustain our writing dreams.)

4. People think authors are vastly supported by their families who read their books, buy them by the dozens and walk around promoting our work. (They don’t. If we are lucky, they understand us and support us as best they can – giving us some free time to write, understanding our insomnia and remaining by our side:). If we are lucky, we are able to repay them this kindness.)

5. People think publishing is what it used to be and everyone has an agent and a team to promote their books, lining up interviews and TV appearances for us, as libraries and bookshops fight over who gets more copies of our books. (Hahaha, she grinned with bitterness. I talked to a renowned author a couple of years ago and he admitted that he was lucky to have broken anonimity and gained a good publisher over 20 years ago. He says if he had to fight for it today, he’d probably stick to a day job. My ‘support team’ consists of kindhearted authors and readers who repost my shameless book plugs on social media. I am grateful for any one of my supporters.)

6. People think vanity publishing is just a myth, invented as an excuse for independent authors. (It is not. Vanity publishers are just as much a part of this business as any marketing scheme out there. They prey on your dreams, take your money to publish your book and then leave you to do the promoting yourself. If you need a cover, formatting or editing, it costs extra. I once read a testimony from an author who said it was not true because his vanity publisher was very polite, and he’d actually made £1000 from his books in 5 years through them. When asked how much he’d invested with them, he said £5000 in the first year, and about a £1000 the subsequent years. I may be a creative non-maths kind of person, but I think the numbers speak for themselves.)

7. People think authors are tedious and obsessed when we ask for reviews and promote our books. (We are, and some of us are moderate about it, whereas some are tiring. But see points above to know why. Most of us trust in our stories. Most of us really make an effort to bring out the best we possibly can under the circumstances. The readers have a choice.)

8. People think authors should give their books away for free, especially when they launch, since they get boxes of their books from the publishers, including promo T-shirts, bookmarks, bags etc. (We don’t get anything free except ideas. We work for everything else. We do research for our books, buy our own author copies, we pay for our promo stuff, we pay for packaging and shipment. So if you do get a freebie from an independent author, know that it is not free. Nothing is. We may write fantasy, but we don’t live in it. But also know it means a lot to the authir who has sent it to you. PS: applying for most awards costs a fee too. No guarantee of winning and no money back.)

9. People think authors are only good if they are famous. (Fame and quality may go hand in hand, but not always. Just like everything else. Plus, quality is a matter of personal opinion anyway. You may like a famous book, someone else will hate it. It’s that simple.)

10. People think authors write to make money. (Well then people in pharmacy would be writers too. Bankers as well. Not to mention politicians. Authors write to write. It is not even a matter of choice for most of us.)

Although I am sure there are plenty more misconceptions such as these, I have decided to list the ones I have come into contact with. Questions such as: “You’re an author? Are you famous?” and “So how rich are you?” used to be shocking; now they are just funny and slightly annoying. Especially when they are asked before even inquiring about what I write and where one might read a sample of my book.

Lines such as “You should put your books in bookshops, libraries, schools and give them away.” … well, they make me sad. Why? Apart from all the points above, it takes time to write a book. It takes heart. It takes time to draw illustrations. It takes effort and resources to create a cover.

But most of all, it takes gutts to put your thoughts out there, open for all comments. It takes a dream. You don’t just give that away. Or give it all up.

Would you?

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Have you learned to love your spikes?

We are all born with some part of ourselves we don’t especially like. In fact, sometimes we hate it and wish we were different.

But with time, and a little help from our friends and family, we all discover we are as we are for a reason, and each of us is special and unique in our own way.

Sometimes, quite often in fact, what we thought our weakness turns out to be our most prized possession. Would it not be a dull world if we were all the same?

From the Foreword to Spikes for Hank, #childrensbook

#ebook https://tinyurl.com/y8np4as5

#paperback https://tinyurl.com/y86wkq56

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The Power of Words

The power of words has always fascinated me. There are limitless possibilities in the use of only one of them, because its power stems not only from its lexical meaning but its historical connotations and changes, its previous contexts, media and user, its audience, location and timing. And, as is always the case with a superpower, it can be used for good or evil, and alas, misunderstood or misused as well. But whatever the effect may be, the desired one or its complete opposite, effect takes place, and it makes a change or a difference, or both. 

It never ceases to amaze me how many emotions and ideas can stem from just one word. When you see it, hear it or say it, regardless of whether its effect is immediate or delayed, it is simply unbeatable and irresistible. It’s like magic, and I do like magic, just like any other child trapped in an ageing body.  

One such word, hidden within a bundle of other wonderful and horrible, yet all impressive words, as I read it in one of my all-time favourite stories, grabbed my attention instantly. It was ‘threshold’. Mind you, in the story I was reading, it was completely unimportant, and simply denoted the entrance to a house in a description. But to me, it was that word which stopped me from reading and forced me to pick up a pen and write this story. 

As soon as I started writing it, a new world opened up before my eyes, like in those science-fiction TV-series, when a starship goes into warp and everything changes at light speed. The world becomes different and bigger, and you are transported into a place so far away from home that it seems you will never go back. Till the story is finished and you warp your way back, with the merciless blow of disappointment at your story being over, and still, quickly psyched up again over another new word and another adventure, beyond our world, yet so much part of our world. 

The Threshold is about change, which is different for everyone, no more or less than we deserve. The change is eventually always consistent with our decision on how we choose to react to that change. The threshold is always open, but what we choose to do with the door is our choice, and ours alone. 

(From the foreword of The Threshold)

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​There’s no magic trick quite like reading

When you are a bookworm, like me, and reading for you constitutes pleasure, relaxation and escape, then it is only logical that reading in the summertime is somewhat synonymous with a holiday.

Even my early childhood memories of the beach and the summer break always involve some sort of reading, be that of magazines, comic books or adventure books. As life moved onwards, and the days of vacation and free time grew shorter, I found it fascinating how my favourite summer reads had become longer, more detailed books, even series of books. From Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear to binge reading Harry Potter and several recently discovered indie authors, reading has become my magical vacation within a vacation, adding a new, extradimensional journey beyond commonplace time and place, free of travelling expenses, packing or congested roads. And I relish it.

It was always unclear to me how some people say summer reading is difficult for them, they can’t concentrate on the beach and it only unnerves them. But, as always, it may simply be a matter of making the wrong choice. Let me explain.

Last summer I started observing people’s reading habits on a family-oriented beach where we spent our holidays. I had picked up a collection of indie short stories and, to my joy, discovered that reading great short stories on the beach was a special treat; it became my ritual – a story a day, and several novels before bedtime and at early sunrise (because who needs sleep on holidays, right?). Short stories are a charming way to get a tan without counting the tanning minutes; you mentally disappear into worlds and situations, and yet finish just in time to go for a swim, have a cocktail or build a sandcastle with your kid. Furthermore, I enjoyed recommending the stories to my friends, who took interest in reading something that was a quality read, and yet short enough not to be time or attention consuming.

Giddy about discovering that ‘no-strings attached’ short-story beach thrill, I was somewhat disappointed to see other people reading long novels on the beach; they were mostly battling with thrillers or romance novels. Battling, I say, because they would either read without even getting into the story (shame, shame, shame), mostly holding their books or devices as sunshade, or truly did get into the story but were then agitated at every interruption from friends, children, other tourists… Nobody shared my short-story fad!? Apparently not. But hey – here is my chance to educate, right?

As this year’s holidays approach, be it on a beach, garden deck chair or just our home terrace, I am already looking forward to choosing a short story collection for the brief moments of lounging between active relaxing or social interactions, and also extensive novels for the blissful alone-time when everyone falls asleep or just before they wake up. Mind you, some of those extensive novels will be by authors I discovered through their short stories – by ‘sampling the dish’ in a way. Like the Extension Charm to my holiday, short stories will add one dimension, novels another, and a week’s vacation will suddenly seem like an amazing fortnight at least.

My suggestion to you? Find your favourite read, whichever length or genre it may be. Add dimension to your holiday. And by all means, share the joy with other people, be they people you’ve already met or those you’d like to. Books do offer excellent conversation starters, you know? And who knows to which dimension that can lead.

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Why authors♡ their characters

This has truly turned out to be an interesting series, with some more authors still to come by the 28th of February. I am grateful to all my guests and their readers fans who are quirky enough, just like I am, to love (and hate) book characters as if they were real. Well, they are, right;)?

Why I love…

There is a work in progress which has been lying in my writing cupboard for a while now. It only needs the final edits, but it is has taken such a large chunk of my life while writing it, and when it was finished, and read by several beta readers, I realized it is such a highly unusual blend of a children’s fairytale and adult horror that it might not be publishable. So I set it aside. 

However, the more it waits, the more convinced I am that it is meant to be what it is, just as it is. What is more, several beta readers have asked me about it, my loved and hated characters from it visit me from time to time, and too many things in all areas of my activity pop out unexpectedly to remind me of this novel. 

Therefore, this spring might finally bring The Forest of Trees to light. It has been the most intense book I have worked on so far and I live so many characters in there, even the trees. Especially the trees. And the children, each bearing the burden of their upbringing and character. Their parents – oh boy, how I love some of them. And all the people in that little town of Tillsworth. Well, not the Jacksons, at least not all of them. And the…

Yes. It is time to enter the Forest again. Absolutely.

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Geoff Nelder on Creativity & Writing

​This post touches on so many things that I often wonder about, quotes some of my favourite instances, and has an overall insightful and slightly humourous appeal I found irresistible! Thank you, Geoff Nelder!

http://geoffnelder.com/writing-is-bad-for-you/

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WHAT BUGS YOU? – by Elizabeth

Elizabeth Moore, one of my favourite authors, has agreed to be my guest in the What Bugs Me series. She has recently published her new novel, Incurable (see more below). In her own words, when she’s not writing feverishly, you will find her out walking or sightseeing. She’s crazy about coffee, books, good wine, cairn terriers, miniature ponies, historical houses, tapas, and witty people. Sometimes, things do bug her. Here is one of them.

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What Bugs Me

When Anita presented the “What Bugs Me” premise for her blog series, and I agreed to participate, I first came up with some obvious buggy choices: cockroaches, ants, houseflies—the usual suspects of the insect kingdom, those that drive us most crazy and seem to plague us wherever we go. Such pests can be a nuisance to be sure. But, as I pondered the underlying metaphor and considered what truly bugged me, I realized what belonged at the heart of the matter and chose the butterfly.

Of course, butterflies start out as caterpillars. Caterpillars are eating machines. They not only ruin that used-to-be-awesome wool suit in the hall closet, but they also ruin crops and wreak havoc in forests all over the world. I was shocked to learn they aren’t just homely and destructive, they often cause harm to humans.

From Wiki: Caterpillar hairs sometimes have venoms in them and species from approximately 12 families of moths or butterflies worldwide can inflict serious human injuries ranging from urticarial dermatitis and atopic asthma to osteochondritis, consumption coagulopathy, renal failure, and intracerebral hemorrhage. Skin rashes are the most common, but there have been fatalities. Lonomia is a frequent cause of envenomation in Brazil, with 354 cases reported between 1989 and 2005. Lethality ranging up to 20% with death caused most often by intracranial hemorrhage.
Caterpillar hair has also been known to cause kerato-conjunctivitis. The sharp barbs on the end of caterpillar hairs can get lodged in soft tissues and mucous membranes such as the eyes. Once they enter such tissues, they can be difficult to extract, often exacerbating the problem as they migrate across the membrane.

How scary! I remember my little sister’s odd fascination with caterpillars. Once we spent the day at the lake, and she brought two furry black specimens into the car because she wanted to keep them as pets. A few minutes into our drive she broke out in a rash on her hands and arms. Mom screamed for Dad stop the car and out they went! Mom placed her daughter in a warm bath as soon as we got home. But that wasn’t the last time my sister played with caterpillars; she thought they were so cute. I didn’t share her fondness for the furry buggers. I did love butterflies. We had a field in our neighborhood in Eastern Washington State, and I remember how colorful and abundant the butterflies were there.

Some of us recognize elegance in lowly creatures, places, and people. I’m afraid most are attracted to a more obvious beauty. The irony is: without the humble caterpillar there would be no butterfly to admire. So, as I consider the life cycle of the caterpillar/butterfly I reflect on how humans begin life as adorable babies and progress through childhood and adolescence and onto into early adulthood—which in our modern society is considered the prime of life. And, if you believe the proliferation of ads and current sentiment regarding any sign of aging, it can only go downhill from there.

I must admit, aging bugs me. Given the choice, I’d prefer to remain a lovely butterfly forever. I’m not so shallow I don’t see beauty in older faces. I just can’t tolerate an aging face staring back from my mirror.

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Thank you for your time, Elizabeth! Happy writing!

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WISHFUL THINKING

If we are lucky, summer vacation arrives just as we are at the end of our ropes. After all the worry, creative mess, paperwork, all the could-haves and should-haves, it’s time to relax. Quite a challenge for a workaholic teacher to really let go, but you muddle through somehow, knowing your body and mind need refuelling.

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Everyone always says teachers are lucky, with the entire summer to devote only to themselves, and to completely forget about  work. But for most teachers around the world, it’s the same – you simply can’t let go of everything. True, you don’t miss the endless paperwork or the sleepless nights. But all your students, their parents and your colleagues, are an intricate part of you, much like your friends and family. As you travel, take up hobbies, do all those delayed odd jobs around the house, read or listen to music, every now and then, something or someone reminds you of a student or a colleague, makes you smile imagining their reactions, or inspires you into saying ‘I have to tell my students about this.’

And then, suddenly, your vacation finishes and you find yourself itching. You still haven’t fulfilled so many private plans, yet your mind is already settling into its teacher’s mode, subconsciously making plans about the new school year. All those resolutions, all those going-tos and not-going-tos … they wash over your desire to extend the vacation like an ocean wave deleting a message in the sand.

And you start wishing.

You wish for your job to be less stressful that year, more effective and appreciated. You wish your school has been redecorated, your classrooms are abundant in teaching materials, and all the lesson planning can somehow be printed out by a telepathic mindprinter. You hope your colleagues are rested and happy, and your principal more supportive than ever.

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As for your students, you wish for them all to be kind, respectful and inquisitive to the point of a challenge. You keep your fingers crossed that their family situations have improved. You even look forward to the new students you will meet, the potential artists, scientists and humanists. You hope their parents have managed to blow off some stress, found a new hobby or rewarding job, and maybe even had time to talk to each other, so you won’t have to face sadness in their children’s eyes.

You look at yourself in the mirror and make some promises. You will keep an open mind and  you won’t bring work home. You promise things will not get to you. You will go through with your ideas, regardless of those who might not share your enthusiasm. You will sleep well, laugh, sing and devote time to yourself! And you mean it, too. Every syllable.

The new school year is already knocking on your door. Are you silly to hope? Is it just daydreaming? Honestly, I hope it’s contagious. I hope we all make our wishful thinking count. Children are worth it.

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WHAT BUGS YOU? – by Mark

Mark Fine is another one of amazing authors I met through BGS, one whose life story could be a book in itself. Apart from many issues that bug him, here is a very important one.

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WHAT BUGS ME? MOSQUITO

By Mark Fine

Why Oh why the infernal mosquito? What constructive purpose does this cursed pest play in the checks-and-balances of our fragile ecosystem? I look at its blood-swollen abdomen (my blood!) and its pile-driver proboscis plunged into my flesh (already, I feel the onrush of relentless itches) as I shake my head with frustration (the memory of the mozzie’s incessant buzz, as it closed in on me)—and all I’m left with is questioning the futility of it all.  What is it in the mosquitos’ nature that makes it so compulsively nihilistic? The answer is simple. Blood!

It has no choice but to nourish itself on bloodstream of other living creatures. It has been programmed that way. And in recompense for the generous feeding it receives from an unwilling host, well the mosquito’s generosity knows no bounds; leaving in gratitude a welt, an itch, and a cruel dose of Malaria or West Nile virus.

But the mosquito has an excuse. It is not, by my reckoning, a sentient being.  However, a human has no such excuse.

Alas, there are humans that are equally nihilistic, and significantly more destructive. And they truly bug me. Especially as they should know better, being raised themselves upon the bounty of mother earth.  Their elders in story and song, from the cradle, expressed with great passion the necessity to respect and preserve the fragile balance of our natural world. Yet, like the selfish mosquito these pesky (too kind a word, but the pejoratives I had in mind are not for the civilized) poachers have mooched and preyed upon rhino, and elephant, and zebra, and lion et al.

This rant isn’t intended to be a rationale argument. I’m not interested in debates about medicinal demand from Asia, or the poor pecuniary lot of the poachers. It’s simply wrong!

Now, I feel I must explain myself. I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, with the dust of Africa flowing through my veins. This happy fact has blessed me with an abiding passion—and compassion—for all living creatures. This innate love for nature has remained with me all these years that I’ve been fortunate to live in the United States.

But despite the great geographic distance from the continent of Africa, my soul aches, because I sense the cry of the voiceless. Especially those large mammals: the elephant and the rhino. Triage demands we focus on the rhino immediately as their very survival is in imminent danger. In part due to the economic might of Asia, so the appetite of superstition and libido must be satisfied in an ever growing demand. Also, the needs of terror groups to finance their deadly attacks have grown. But it’s the deadly efficacy of modern instruments of death that have accelerated the rapacious escalation of poaching in the early 21st century; whether it be mass poisoning at a drinking well or hail of fire from a helicopter gunship.

Simply stated, demand is slaughtering supply! And the stream of blood left in its wake is more than enough to satisfy a googolplex of thirsty mosquitos. So, for me the extinction of the rhino and elephant are not an option. Instead, I’d gladly volunteer the bloody mosquito as fair trade—there are certainly enough of those miserable blighters to go around. 

Mark Fine, author of THE ZEBRA AFFAIRE: An Apartheid Love Story. And #RhinoProtector.

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Thank you, Mark, for taking the time to write this post. So many things bug us, but it is important to speak up and act!

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