The Survivor’s Side of Suicide

Jeff2bSuicide is one ugly word. It’s the kind of word that swings heavy from lips. The kind that is whispered, and stilted, never sung.

As an author, I build my life around words. Every word has worth. Even those words we are not supposed to say.

But suicide is the one word I do not like. I wish there was no need for such a word in our world. Especially since 1997, when my teen brother ended his own life two months before his high school graduation.

It is one thing to be on the other side of suicide, where you may offer prayer or casseroles or even a hug. It is another thing entirely to be on the side of the survivor, after a loved one puts a gun to the head or a rope to the neck or a blade to the vein.

That dark depth of despair is no easy channel to navigate because unlike every other form of death, this one was intentional. This one could have been prevented. This one carries immeasurable sting.

The what-ifs and but whys and I wonders never cease. They haunt all hours, whether moonlit or shine.

And the stares don’t stop either, the constant conversation that hangs silently between friends — at the grocery store, or in the church pews, or at the birthday party. No one says it, but they are thinking… That poor mother, how does she stand it? Or – That poor child, knowing his father took his own life.

What people on that side of suicide don’t understand is that we, the survivors left in the wake, are barely keeping our heads above water. We don’t want pity, or sympathy, or stares. We don’t want whispers, or questions, or help. We want one thing only. We want our loved ones back.

And there’s one simple way you can give this to us.

Talk about the people we loved and lost. Don’t dance around us as if their ghost is in the way. Acknowledge the lives they lived. Recognize the light they once shined. Laugh about the fun you once had together.

There’s nothing you can tell us — no detail too small, no memory too harsh — that will hurt us. We crave it all. We are hungry for any piece of time travel you offer. Bring us back, to that space, when the one we loved was in the here and now.

Suicide is something most of us struggle to understand. It is difficult to rationalize the selfish part of such an act. How could someone not care about the pain they would throw on their loved ones? How could someone not be strong enough to stay alive?

But here’s the truth: suicide was not the cause of my brother’s death. Depression was the cause of his death. And depression is a beast unlike any other. It is an illness we still struggle to cure, despite all the therapeutic and pharmaceutical intervention available today.

Sometimes, even with all the help in the world, a person cannot see through the pain. They cannot imagine a better day ahead. They see only more hurt. And when I say hurt, I mean suffering. Blood-zapping, brain-numbing, soul-bursting agony.

Imagine this: you wake every day as a prisoner. You are trapped in a cell with no freedom in your future. You are tortured — physically, emotionally, psychologically. The anguish never stops. Just when you think you cannot survive another blow, it comes again. More pain.

You try to ignore the ache. You cannot. You try to numb the hurt. You cannot. You try to rise above the pain. You cannot. The brutality persists. And you see no end to it.

If you knew you had to endure only one more round of abuse, or one more month, or even a year, or longer — If there was an end in view, you could be strong enough to handle it. You could take whatever is thrown at you because you want, more than anything else, to live.

You are a sensitive soul and you have so much left in you to give. You want only to love and be loved. But the cell has you trapped. You have tried everything. There is no end to the insufferable situation.

A person with depression becomes suicidal when they finally give up all hope. When they accept that nothing they do, no matter how long they survive, no matter how many medications or prayers or therapists they turn to, the pain will never end.

Can you imagine the pain you would have to be in to take your own life? Can you imagine the fear of a suicidal person (regardless of faith), daring to face the unknown because even the possibility of eternal hellfire or permanent purgatory or absolute absence seems less scary than another day in this world?

When Robin Williams passed away, the world was abuzz weighing the controversial issues of mental illness, depression, and suicide.

While some people were unable to extend kindness or understanding, proving we have a long way to go in our culture’s recognition of chemical imbalances, the international conversation gave me hope. It proved that people are finally willing to say the word SUICIDE out loud, without the hushed whispers and back corner gossip.

Putting this word on equal footing with all the other words in our vernacular is important. It lessens the sting.

I consider this progress, and I am optimistic the forward momentum will continue.

It is time.

I write this blog today for several reasons:

  • One, I am proud to have been the sister to an amazingly bright spirit who left this world too soon and whose memory I want to keep alive.
  • Two, I want to increase understanding and support for the millions of people struggling with chemical imbalances.
  • Three, I want to offer support and empathy to all who have lost a loved one to suicide and encourage you to speak out loud to honor their spirit and to educate those on the other side.
  • Four, and most importantly, I have a very important message for anyone struggling with depression.

One week after my brother died, we received notice that he had landed the career opportunity he wanted with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. That job may have been enough to offer him the key to that cell, the something to cling to, the reason for reason. Maybe, if he could have stuck it out one more week, he would still be alive today. Seven days, and he may have had hope again.

Today, when I see someone struggling for hope, looking for a signal, a reason, proof that their life matters and that the pain will indeed end, I think of my brother and that phone call that came one week too late.

If you are struggling with depression, please remember... you are in this world for a reason. You have a very important journey you must complete. You were born to accomplish something, something only you know. You will suffer, you will hurt, you will feel hopeless and alone at times. But you are not in that space forever. Keep walking, keep moving forward, and you will find your way through in time.

When you hit bottom, please remember this: You are loved. You are never alone. You were born with everything you need to survive this journey. You matter.

And once you are on the other side, as you will soon be, then, you will look back with wiser eyes, the eyes of a survivor. You will know your soul survived the stretching season. And you will move through the world with greater empathy and understanding, a gift like none other. For you, sensitive one, are the blessed. And we need you here. In this life.

Be brave. Wage war. Hold fast to the light inside of you.

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

This post will be shared across multiple platforms for National Suicide Prevention Week. Learn more about suicide prevention by visiting: http://www.suicidology.org/

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Julie Cantrell is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of Into the Free and When Mountains Move. She works to promote suicide awareness and prevention in memory of her brother, Jeff Perkins. Learn more: www.juliecantrell.com

Duck Dynasty: Is This the Face of Christianity?

love one anotherIt has happened again. A celebrity has made a controversial statement and the world has reacted. This time, the loose tongue belongs to Phil Robertson, whose conservative Louisiana lifestyle has drawn millions of fans through his A&E reality series, Duck Dynasty.

As Christians, we should examine this situation and ask: What does this say about Christianity today?

First, let’s examine the facts.

  1. Phil Robertson was interviewed by GQ. During the interview, Robertson said (brace yourself): “It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
  2. When asked to elaborate on what he considers to be sinful behavior, Robertson replied: “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there.”
  3. Robertson continued to make inconsiderate comments throughout the interview including his opinion about race relations and other controversial topics.
  4. In reaction to Robertson’s quotes, sponsors reacted and A&E made a public announcement distancing themselves from Robertson’s beliefs.
  5. Robertson issued the following statement to E! News: “I myself am a product of the ’60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior. My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together. However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”

Now, let’s consider how Robertson’s quotes may have impacted the Christian faith, for both believers and non-believers across the world.

  1. CNN reports that A&E aired the Duck Dynasty show’s fourth season premiere in August, drawing nearly 12 million viewers to become the No. 1 nonfiction series telecast in cable history.
  2. It is logical to assume that at least some of these 12 million viewers look to the Robertson clan as examples of how Christians believe and behave.
  3. Some commenters online have posted: “He is just saying what every Christian believes.”

Is that true? Has Robertson simply voiced what “EVERY” Christian believes?

I do not aim to crucify Robertson for his comments. But because of his platform, many assume he represents the Christian faith as a whole, and as a Christian, that worries me.

Robertson says he strives to bring people to Christ. Unfortunately, I do not believe his current behavior will encourage anyone to discover the power of Christ’s love.

Some may call me a crazed, left-wing liberal who has lost all sight of what is right and wrong. A radical New Age spiritualist who has no understanding of Biblical truths.

Well, to them I say, don’t take it from me. Take it from Jesus of Nazareth, a radical, liberal, Jewish extremist who challenged the hypocrites of His day by reaching out to those the rest of the world had deemed unworthy of kindness and love.

It was this madman, this healer, this teacher, this giver, this Jesus who said: 34A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. — John 13:34-35 (NIV)

This holy season, I pray for the world to know a more compassionate Christianity and for everyone to find comfort and peace in God’s love.

Julie Cantrell is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Into the Free, the Christy Award winning Book of the Year 2013 and recipient of the 2013 Mississippi Library Association’s Fiction Award. Her second novel, When Mountains Move, released in September and was chosen as one of LifeWay Christian Stores Best of 2013.

Website: www.juliecantrell.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/juliecantrellauthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JulieCantrell

My Response to Steve McSwain’s Six Things

Last week, I read an article in the Huffington Post, Six Things Christians Should Just Stop Saying, by Steve McSwain (Feb. 28, 2013). It had been written by a Christian who challenged the beliefs of many of his fellow believers. I found the article interesting, and while it expressed nothing new, it may have been the first time a Christian voiced those opinions in such a mainstream, and perhaps defiant, way.

I thought others might be interested in reading the piece, so I shared the link on facebook. I share things all the time, things I find inspiring, interesting, or informative, as do many of the people who “friend” me on facebook. I shared the link and then I hit the road, thinking nothing of it.

With our windows down, our radio up, and the sun in sight, our family headed for the hills. We spent most of Spring Break unplugged, hiking remote mountain trails, and feeling incredibly close to God. But when I returned to the world of wifi and facebook, I realized I had left many of you with an article that surged your emotions.

I appreciated reading your reactions to the article, and I can tell many of you put much thought, time, and energy into your responses. For each of you who responded publically, there were many others reading quietly in their living rooms either agreeing or disagreeing with your viewpoints (some of whom contacted me privately to express those views).

I intentionally have not shared my personal beliefs about McSwain’s article. Why? Because they are irrelevant. I was not trying to point out a right way or a wrong way to interpret Christianity, and I certainly wasn’t trying to offend anyone. I was simply sharing another person’s point of view…because I enjoy hearing other opinions, stretching my mind, and exploring different angles. And because many of my friends do, too.

While the author’s tone may have been a bit crass, I honestly don’t think he wrote the article to stir emotions or cause anyone strife. Instead, as Cherise Olson pointed out in her poignant facebook comment…he was highlighting the fact that Christianity encases a large range of beliefs. And that it’s all okay.

Yet, we continue to argue among ourselves.

What happens to a group whose members argue? They eventually split, which is exactly why we have so many different denominations within our Christian faith…and even within those denominations, teachings vary greatly from pulpit to pulpit.

I have been blessed to travel a little in my life. I have lived in many places, attended many churches, and observed many different interpretations of the Bible. Some Christians view their personal interpretation as the only right way, but many of us listen to other viewpoints respectfully, acknowledging we are all trying our best to live a life of faith and to engage actively in spiritual growth.

Like everyone else on this lovely planet, I am flawed beyond description. I have human moods, physical and emotional limitations, and I make mistakes. But I try, every moment of every day, to live in a way that exhibits a deep faith in something larger than myself, a belief that we are each here for a reason, and a trust that this earthly trek is only a small part of our eternal journey.

I don’t seek out reasons to judge others, or to criticize others, or to convince myself I’m better than anyone because of X, Y, or Z. How awful would that be?

It seems that sometimes, people are inclined to find all sorts of reasons why they are better Christians, why they are more worthy of God’s acceptance, why so many people are worse than them. But I have to ask…who are we to judge? When those in the Bible wanted to stone a woman who had committed adultery, Jesus spoke up. He said: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7 NIV).

Honestly, I believe every single soul on this planet is worthy of God’s love. My job, as a Christian, and as a human being with a heart, is simply to love everyone. EVERYONE.

It is not my job to rate sin, to determine one mistake is worse than another, to categorize human souls in a ranking order of good to bad, or to wage war against those who believe differently than I do. I honestly do not believe that is why any of us are on this rotating globe. I believe we are here to learn. To listen. To love. Without exception.

I have spent thirteen years as a Christian writer. I learned a LONG time ago that writing anything in this arena was likely to cause offense to someone along the way. It’s in our nature to criticize others…which is one of our human flaws we should try to overcome. As Jesus tried to teach during his time on earth, “You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one” (John 8:15 NIV).

One of my earliest assignments, as contributing editor to a Christian magazine, was to write a monthly activities calendar for moms with young children. One of my suggestions was to engage in mother/child yoga. My editors supported me, but boy did the hate mail stream in.

I was told in every manner of “Christian” expression that I was evil, sinful, and encouraging people to stray from their Christian faith.

I refer to this as one example of how differently people interpret teachings of faith. I happen to believe God is BIGGER than yoga. He’s bigger than whether I cut my hair, wear dresses, or cover my skin. He’s bigger than anything any of us can mentally process, and that is where I place my faith.

If we believe we were created for a purpose, and that we were given the ability to make choices on our own, then nothing…nothing we do as human beings can be shocking to God. He understands more about the human condition than any of us will ever understand, and he loves us anyway. That’s the beauty of God’s grace. That, my friends, is the miracle.

I don’t write this response to argue for or against any interpretations of your faith. I write only with the hope that we can all find a way to acknowledge that we are commanded to love one another. Jesus tells us clearly: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13 34-35 (NIV).

Maybe it really is as simple as that.

Peace to all.

Adoption: What Do Adopted Children Really Think of It?

My friend, Catherine West, has recently published an emotional and personal novel titled Hidden in the Heart. In it, she taps into the complexities of the adoption journey, giving us a new perspective on those most affected by the experience — the children.
I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know Cathy, one of the many talented authors working within the Christian realm of the publishing industry today.
Fill in the blank: If you like to read ______, then you’ll like my book, Hidden in the Heart.
Karen Kingsbury, Deborah Raney, Susan Meissner – I love to write romantic family/saga type stories filled with angst and humor and most of all, a healthy dose of healing and restoration.
Cathy, you were adopted as a child. What do you most want people to know about adoption?
I believe adoption is a wonderful thing, however, I don’t believe it’s the fairytale a lot of people think it is. You bring home a relinquished baby from the hospital or from halfway around the world, and don’t get me wrong, this is a GOOD thing. That child is going to have many advantages they might not have had growing up, and most of all, get to be raised in a loving home with parents who can provide for their needs.
BUT…the growing trend within the Christian church of international adoption is something I’m watching with interest. Not that I don’t agree with it or applaud those families who are following the call they believe God has given them, I’m just fearful that many of these kids may grow up with a ton of unanswered questions and not know how to handle it.
The side to adoption that is often not explored is the long-term effect on the adopted child. Not knowing where you came from or who your birth parents are can have, and most likely will have, a profound impact on that child. If this is not dealt with sensitively, being adopted can turn into something negative.
When I was younger, I always felt guilty for wanting to know where I came from. I didn’t feel like I could ask questions. I was afraid of hurting my parents. In the end, I hurt myself for pretending I really didn’t care, didn’t want to know. When I eventually gave in and decided to search, I opened a Pandora’s Box and was blindsided by feelings so soul-deep I barely knew what to do with them, and hadn’t been aware they existed.
All this to say, I am all for adoption, but it is a sensitive subject and needs to be treated as such.
What do you want people to know about Christianity and your understanding of real faith?
Um, well of course I want people to know that all Christians are perfect, we never make mistakes, ever. We’re too holy for that.
Not. Seriously – Real faith is a journey. Real faith is understanding this, knowing we’re not perfect, accepting that we’re never going to be, and quit trying to pretend we are. Real faith to me, in one word, is this – authenticity. Be the real deal. We don’t have time for anything less.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned from your publishing journey?
I’m not sure I’ve really been surprised by anything thus far – maybe a few reader reactions to some of the things in my last novel, Yesterday’s Tomorrow. I don’t exactly write sweet romance, so there were a few raised eyebrows. Too early to say whether I might shock anyone with Hidden in the Heart. I hope not. Or maybe I hope I do. I don’t know.
Sometimes I think it’s too easy to sanitize our writing, to ignore the hard stuff, step around the mud puddles instead of jumping through them. I guess I like to think of it this way – if I never get dirty, I’ll never experience the joy of getting cleaned up by God. It surprises me that some people are still offended by this train of thought.
Do you have more works planned for the future?
New works – yep, I’m always working on something new! My agent currently has two books that she’s shopping, so hopefully they will land on the right desk at some point. If that happens then I’m guessing I’ll be in edit mode again, but for now I’m taking a bit of a break and doing some research on the next book I want to write, which takes place on a winery in Sonoma, CA. Yes, I do think I need to do first hand research for that.
Catherine West is an award-winning author who writes stories of hope and
healing from her island home in Bermuda. Learn more about Catherine by visiting her website and following her blog: Http://www.catherinejwest.com

What Can Be Gained By Silence

“We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls.” Mother Teresa of Calcutta

There’s nothing I love more than a rainy weekend morning. As Sloth tells Millie, in Into the Free, the rain is God’s way of telling us to slow down and pay attention. Or, as Mother Teresa understood, it’s an opportunity for us to find God in the silence.

We not only learn the most in these quiet moments, we may say the most at these times too. This is something St. Francis of Assissi pointed out many moons before us: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

When do you feel most connected with God?

When do you feel you are most able to share the work of God with others?

How does your family take advantage of rainy days?

Peace,

Julie

The Christian Left: Yes, We Do Exist

More than 700 attendees enjoyed the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference 2012

I just returned from the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Dallas, TX. I admit, I was a little worried about what I might find at my very first ACFW event. Would everyone be eating a certain franchise’s chicken sandwiches with or without a pickle? Would I be expected to donate stacks of cash to some gilded offering plate? Would I have to walk to a stage and let some shiny man in a purple suit touch my head and bless me?

In a world of spray-tanned, bleached-teeth televangelists selling credit-card salvation, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Not to mention the onslaught of angry Facebook missives and vicious talk-radio chatter that sadly shines a hateful spotlight on the Christian worldview.

So…after boarding a plane and bulleting myself through the atmosphere (in what amounts to not much more than a metal sleeve with pretty wings and a drink cart)…I am happy to report…all the Christians I met at ACFW were wonderful, compassionate, fun folks! Better yet, I was reminded that liberal-minded Christians aren’t such a slim minority after all.

I’m VERY lucky to have the most wonderful literary agent, Greg Johnson (Left) and the most amazing acquisitions editor, John Blase (Right) who dared to take a chance on Into the Free. I can’t imagine two better guys to have at my side for this journey.

I’m grateful I published Into the Free with a fabulous Christian publishing house, David C Cook. I’m thankful I got to know many wonderfully talented writers who choose to write work that inspires people. I’m excited to return home to use the skills I’ve learned, and I’m humbled by the many people who approached me about the impact Millie’s story has had on them.

I’m so impressed by the people I met this week, I’m eager to introduce them to you. So…watch for tons of fun interviews. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek.

Meet: Lisa Wingate, my friend and ACFW roommate whose brilliant novel, Dandelion Summer, earned the very first PERFECT SCORE and sent Lisa home with a Carol Award.

You’ll LOVE these two brilliant debut authors, Nicole Quigley (Left) whose YA novel Like Moonlight at Low Tide is a must read, and Jordyn Redwood (Mid) whose suspense novel Proof is one you won’t be able to put down until the end. Plus, they are absolutely the sweetest most amazing people you will ever meet. I’m very, very lucky to call them my friends.

And just in case you thought Christian parties weren’t any fun…Meet the werewolf and the robot, two speculative fiction authors who brought the Gala up a notch. (And yes…they’re both super nice guys. I promise!)

Interview with a Romany Insider

JC: I’m fascinated to learn you have direct ties to the Romany Travelers. You and I grew up together in the same town, and you’re now one of several people from home who have contacted me to tell me about family connections with the Travelers (others have confessed a Romany identity). Tell us how you came to know the travelers. Did you always know they were there? How did you become friends with them, and when did you begin to spend time in their Louisiana “camp?”

RT: I did always know they were there as my family became friends with them before I was born. I visited their camp in Covington as a small child, though I don’t personally remember this. When my parents separated, my father actually moved to their Slidell camp and I visited there a couple times a year after that. That would have been around 1980 or so.

JC: Describe the camp for us. What are some of your best memories from those visits?

RT: Their camp looks very much like a trailer park. They have several double wide mobile homes, as well as single wides and travel trailers. There’s a circular drive with the trailers set up around the perimeter. What I remember most about my visits is that I always felt like I was visiting family. They have always felt like aunts, uncles, and cousins to me. It’s virtually impossible to visit one family without visiting two or three or more. I have “snuck in” just to see my dad (he lives at the back of the property), but when someone found out later I had been there, they let me know I should have come to see them too.

JC: What did these Roma do for work? Did they travel, or was their “camp” a permanent one? Tell us about their lifestyle.

RT: This particular family owns carnival concessions and that is how my family came to know them as my family is third generation showmen. They travel from late spring to mid fall and the camp is considered their “winter quarters.” So, in essence, they have two “camps” if you will. The winter quarters are permanent and they all have travel trailers they use during the fair season and move week to week.

JC: We often think of our grandmothers without considering who they were as young women. Your grandmother led an interesting life, running away to marry a carnival man who traveled with the Gypsies, but you weren’t aware of her secrets until her sister spilled the beans. Tell us about her unique adventures and how that confession affected the way you view your grandmother?

RT: My grandmother was a very private person. She rarely talked about her life at all, married or before. I knew she grew up on a farm in North Dakota, but had no idea her parents had actually immigrated from Russia until the same sister mentioned that to us. We knew she was of German descent, but had no idea the family had lived in Russia prior to establishing their homestead in North Dakota. I wish I knew more about her family, but other than meeting a couple of her sisters, one of whom I’m named after, and a brother, we didn’t have contact with her family. If anything, the confession of her sister made me see my grandmother as a bit more rebellious than I ever gave her credit for being. She was always such a proper lady, I couldn’t imagine her running away to marry a carnival/circus man.

JC: Your brother, whom I also grew up with, married a Rom. Was this considered unusual? How did the two families react?

RT: It was considered unusual, but also not surprising since my brother truly grew up with his bride. He was maybe 3 at the time my father moved to the camp, so he literally was around them almost since birth in a way that I was not. He also worked more with them after he graduated from high school. I grew up on the midway as a child, then gravitated to a more “normal” life after my parents’ separation. My brother did not grow up on the midway, but gravitated to that life after school.

JC: Tell us about your brother’s life now that he is in the Romany circle.

RT: They have completely adopted him into their ranks. He looks like them physically. And you’d never be able to tell he isn’t one of them. He now owns his own carnival and makes his living in that way. He and his family travel up north in the Minnesota area during the summer and early fall.

JC: Another Romany Traveler I interviewed admitted the Roma prefer to stay a bit separated from outsiders. Have you ever felt judged or ostracized by the Travelers you know? Has your brother ever experienced such treatment?

RT: No, I’ve never felt that at all. While I personally have not been as absorbed into their inner circles as my brother for obvious reasons, I’ve never felt judgment from them. I have always known I was not “one” of them, but never felt uncomfortable because of it. I did have a huge crush when I was about 13 or so on one of their young men and that was quickly squashed, but that would be about the extent of it.

JC: What do you most admire about the Romany culture? What do you want others to know and understand about this minority group?

RT: What I admire most about them is their sense of family. They are so family oriented. Everyone is a “cousin.” They take care of their own. I also admire their joy of life. They are always ready to have a good time. Everything can turn into a party.

JC: One of my greatest fears in publishing this novel was offending the Travelers (and other subcultures mentioned in the book). I went to great extremes to capture these characters authentically. What do you think of River and the travelers who are portrayed in Into the Free?

RT: I saw nothing in your book that would offend the Travelers I know. I enjoyed the character of River, but honestly know no Romany man who was as well read as he was. The ones I know, while intelligent, are street smart, not book smart. And other than my preteen crush, I have had no romantic interludes with their men, so I cannot concur on how one truly would show his interest in a woman of his choosing. To be honest, I’ve never seen courtship among them. I would see people my age one season and the next time I saw them, they’d be married. Arranged marriages do still happen, but I have no idea the manner in which they happen. Even my brother’s marriage was a surprise to me. I got a call one day saying they would be married two days later. It seemed that quick to me. I later learned they had been “seeing” each other for nearly a year, but it wasn’t what you or I would traditionally call dating.

JC: Is there any significant difference in the way the younger generation is growing up? Have the cultures melded together now to the point we all live similar lifestyles?

RT: I don’t have any children. I have two nieces and a nephew and they are half Gypsy. They are growing up totally immersed in that lifestyle. Their grandmother, my sister in law’s mother, takes care of them often. She moved in with them when the oldest was maybe a year old. They attend school, but I don’t think they are encouraged to develop close ties with their schoolmates. Their cousins are their friends and playmates. JC: On a side note, Millie notes in church that the preacher believes many people are going to Hell. He includes “Mormons” in this list. What is your reaction to that passage and what would you like people to know about The Church of Latter Day Saints

RT: I have to say I agree with Millie’s response. I have many friends who are Mormon and attended their church when I was younger. Though I now consider myself non-denominational, I have great respect for their culture. Sadly, I sat in a Sunday service in a Mormon church when I was 15 and heard a very similar sermon. The bishop basically said anyone not sitting in that room that morning would be going to hell. That was the last time I attended church there. My faith is great, but I often find myself having issues with organized religion.

JC: Thanks so very much, RT. I really appreciate you helping improve cross-cultural relations and helping readers learn to offer more compassion and kindness to those on the fringes of our society.

RT: You are more than welcome Julie!