The Joseph Boyden Affair and the San Miguel Writers Conference.

The Joseph Boyden Affair and the San Miguel Writers Conference


I just came back from the San Miguel de Allende writers conference in Mexico that the local writers group organized for the thirteenth year. As I was deeply affected by events, I want to write about it and let others have a peek into this experience.
The first time I attended—last year—I carefully dipped one toe in the water of this ocean of creative talent and their admirers in this balmy enclave of predominantly Anglo attendants, and only picked a small number of events to attend. This year, I selected all the workshops, forums, readings, and presentations I was interested in, and also spoke with two literary agents to test their interest in my latest novel.

I had purchased books by the authors of my interest in advance, Joseph Boyden and Emma Donoghue—both Canadians—who were scheduled, among others, to give evening keynote addresses—generally the highlight of the day. Unfortunately, Emma Donoghue cancelled due to a death in the family.

Prior to the conference week, the locals of San Miguel were offered a special event: a reading and discussion group on Joseph Boyden’s novel Through Black Spruce, with a reception and the opportunity to meet the author. I contacted the organizer of the event and inquired if there was any chance to participate on line, but that was not offered. I only planned for the conference week (costs being the main reason) and did not attend this event.
In tandem with this readers’ event, a second discussion about cultural appropriation and a movie presentation open to the general public took place. Angry Inuk by Canadian filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s would be shown, to bring awareness about another group of indigenous people to the local community and to aid in a discussion about how to survive & maintain cultural integrity within an encroaching western culture. I was alerted by my Twitter feed that the filmmaker Arnaquq-Baril was not informed of the showing and was not invited to be present at the discussion—a prime example of actual cultural appropriation: using a product of another culture for your own purpose, and not involving the maker.

Once arrived in SMA, I attended the multicultural forum, titled Co-Cultural panel: Our Cultures, Ourselves, with authors John Valliant, Rita Dove, Jorge Volpi, and Joseph Boyden on the panel. The questions asked by the moderator were to the point, but in my view rather superficial. In the Q&A minutes the public’s questions were gentle, except one Mexican reader, who charged that Volpe, as a Mexican author, did not write about Mexicans and the troubles in his country. On the question from a reader how the authors felt about writing about a culture that is different than their own, each author’s answered that they felt not part of one particular culture, but of at least two, or more, and that they could write about the various cultures they had experienced by living for a number of years submerged in it, even if not born into it. Boyden literally addressed the elephant in the room and mentioned he would talk about that later in more detail.

Joseph Boyden gave his keynote presentation on the second-last night of the conference, titled: “Creation Myth: One Writer’s Life in Three Simple Steps”. He moved me to tears with his eloquence and his vulnerability. He had selected an excerpt of a story about his suicide attempt as a 16-year old for his readings—tearfully himself—and explained how he uses this story in his work with Indigenous youth, to encourage them to live. His explanations of his family of origin and his multi-ethnic background with predominantly Irish and Scottish heritage and some great-grandmotherly First Nation heritage, was the same he always has provided. He talked about his relationships with Indigenous people in his life and the honorary titles given to him, such as nephew.
He talked about the struggles he has faced in the literary world lately, without going into details what exactly that was about, assuming he was before an informed audience. His defiance was clear to his listeners, as well as his obvious pain, and how unexpected the attacks on him had been to him. It was clear to me that this wounding has led him into a crisis of faith in himself and in the literary world, which is already so very small in Canada; a writer needs every possible supporter.
Boyden obviously is strongly identifying with our Indigenous population, whether sanctioned by the literary community or not. He expressed great compassion for the members of First Nations. He wanted to show his audience the troubles Canada faces—to our shame—and has allowed to linger on, such as the suicide rates among the Indigenous youth, and the murders on women and girls.
He talked about his friend Gord Downie and what his collaboration on the Charlie Wenjack story meant to him. For those who followed Gord’s “Three Day Road” in his last year before the brain tumor got him, the images of Gord and “The Hip” on their goodbye tour as televised by CBC flashed before our eyes. I imagined that, like me, by the end of his address most Canadians in the ballroom were moved to tears, and many others as well.

I am a beginning writer and have reflected on how I must deal with the issue of Boyden’s fall from grace in the Canadian world of writers. I am conflicted and would like to restore my faith in the literary world, for my own sake. To say you need a thick skin is an understatement. As a writer one would need a blindfold and a mask, as well as a clip on your nose against the bad smells, and tiptoe through the world of appropriateness. One mistake and you crash in the fiery pit of condemnation.

Cultural appropriation is an ugly concept and projects a picture of colonialism and exploitation. On the other hand, the development of what is appropriate to write about changes as society changes. What was allowed a century ago, is not anymore. To be an Indian was not a desired status. Nobody wanted to write about Indigenous characters. First Nations’ writers were considered niche writers and didn’t reach the mainstream readers. They were not interesting, not relevant, and white Anglo-Saxon culture was king. Thirty years ago when I lived in northern Alberta, it broke my heart to hear my fellow student say he was ashamed of being an Indian. My classmates showed me they had an uphill battle being taken seriously by mainstream Canadians on all fronts.

Boyden touched on the sore spot in Canadian society by talking about First Nations—Canada’s true founding fathers. I want to give Boyden credit for taking on the subject and for exposing the underbelly of our society: Canada’s treatment of our First Nations. I can forgive him for over-identifying with the subject. Unfortunately, the cultural appropriation issue came alive and it overshadowed the material issues he wrote about.
“I feel like I am standing at the precipice,” he joked, standing on the steps of a sunken living room, prior to facing the discussion group. He is indeed. How is he going to pick up the pieces, and will Canada let him?
Does Boyden even need the approval of the Canadian literary world? I don’t blame him for seeking support for his writing wherever he can find it, even at this weird and unique conference of (mostly) retired “gringos” in Mexico. His books are marvellous and his intentions are good. What more do we want from a writer? I am looking forward to his next novel.

Posted in Agents, Author circles, book review, Canadian publishers, Children and child protection, Diversity issues, latest news items, Mexican life, Pubic Relations, Publishing, Retirement, Uncategorized, victims, woemn and murder, women's issues; torture of women, Writing life | Tagged | 6 Comments


The White House Press Room


As a person who had to learn several languages (among which English)—and still learning Spanish—I am amazed by Sara Huckabee’s language dexterity. She speaks an English that is completely new to me. I understand what she says, in actual words, but the meaning as I have come to understand this of the words she uses in English seems completely different, and I am utterly confused after having listened for a while to her replies to questions from the press at the White House briefing room. I am unable to listen longer than ten minutes to her. She is very bad for my belief in languages as a means for communication.


Often she seems to turn words and makes sentences to mean the opposite of what I think they should mean. She is scolding people for not understanding what she is saying, but seldom asks for feedback whether what she said is understood by the receivers.


She deflects questions and then blames people for being stupid that she has to repeat the answers to their questions so may times.


She turns questions about things the president is supposed to have said completely against the questioner, and cold-faced says he didn’t say such a thing, while people know that is a lie, and she then admonishes the questioners—media professionals—“you people get your mind out of the gutter” (or whatever else it was alleged) and defers to the president’s agenda stating that all is going as he wished.


She looks down when somebody asks a question, as if he is concentrating on what lie she will tell next in response. Her all-around body language is atrocious. She looks as if she rather be at a funeral than in the press room.


She turns the world in two camps: you people, and The President.


She pretends that what she says should unconditionally be believed, and that what she says is the godforsaken truth, while I have seen—like so many others—that she often lies and distorts meaning.

For example: The President wants a merit based immigration law that eliminates the colour and race bar, she says, ignoring the shit-storm going on around her in the world about the demeaning terms the president used for countries with predominantly Black citizens.


(Trump may have picked up that term, merit-based, after talking to Justin Trudeau, because Canada has, among other parts to the immigration system, a merit system that also allows refugees and asylum-seekers from nations in peril, and family reunion and temporary workers without any restrictions from what nations they are. (At this time, Canada immigration is considering that the USA should be added to nations from where refugees can make legitimate refugee claims: currently thousands of Haitians come across the border afraid for their safety).  Furthermore, a merit system does have a reasonable process to citizenship. Any immigrant can become a citizen after 3 years of law-abiding living (if accepted for refugee status, or as a regular immigrant.)

All Ms. Huckabee does is—as far as I can see—is deflect, lie, deflect, and lie. Aware of the job she allows the media to fulfill in the White House Press Room, she patronized and misused that power on a regular base by engaging in stupid, immature games: such as lets’ all say what we are thankful for, while it is clear she hates the people she faces in the press room.

Any real information is not expected to come out of that press room. Huckabee-Sanders  is doing a good enough job for the president in that respect—deflect and deny—but any real revelations will not be forthcoming. I don’t like her at all. She speaks and acts with little respect for the people she is talking to. She looks as if she suffers permanently from lack of sleep en is grouchy, although somebody must have warned her to be “nicer”, and at times a fake smile appears on her face, although her eyes stay dead.

Please, how long do we have to suffer her? I guess there would be a slim chance that we get somebody else on that spot that can speak the truth and likes people who ask questions.


Posted in Babyboomer, Diversity issues, Global immigration, Hitler, Immigration, International politics, latest news items, Mexican life, Pubic Relations, Relocation to mexico, The truth, Trump, Uncategorized, victims, war and resistance | 6 Comments





To all readers, I wish you a Happy 2018.

Another year has started. For me, it is the last year before I’ll hit the septuagenarian age. Right now I am sitting on my second-floor balcony with a misty view of the lake that stretches before me from east to west, a ten-minute walk downhill.

The haze over Lake Chapala may be moisture, or more likely, smoke, since the community has spent several nights this week celebrating Christmas Eve and New Years Eve by joining their neighbours, friends, and children, sitting around small warming wood fires during these still-cool nights, talking, snacking, and listening to the romantic Mexican music with a strong beat coming from the speakers extended to the street.

And the farmers are burning off the dead grass before planting, contributing to the cloud hanging between the hills, waiting for a breeze.


I am living the dream, they say because I am spending my time doing what I want, not worrying about how I shall provide for my daily basic needs. Of course, not all of what I want and need is met here. Life is just a collection of needs and wants and the balance is sometimes precarious, and hard to detect which is which. In this adopted country I see that many needs of the locals may not be met, and wants often have to take a backseat due to poverty. It doesn’t seem to me that the autochthones live any less happy, or less fulfilled lives than the rich gringos. I admire their way of mixing fun with the realities of life and taking everything out of it: working hard and celebrate at certain times.


I admire the abandon with which the locals undertook these past days of celebration in this small Mexican village of hundreds of years old (established around 1500 as it now is). With small luxuries—a bottle of tequila, or a crate of beer, a few pieces of fireworks, and a few bags of chips, and sometimes fried stuff—they create a twelve-hour-plus marathon of leisure that apparently fulfills the need so they can carry on everyday life for a while afterward.

The fiestas are happening frequently enough that this routine is repeated many times, each time for a different purpose and with different details and rituals. Most of it is centered around the Catholic calendar and became a mix of old customs, from before the missionaries hit Mexico, with the Catholic symbolism.


If the setting would be anywhere else, say in my Canadian neighbourhood, fights would break out between drunk celebrants and the police called by grumbling neighbours to intervene and to break up the party. Not here in Mexico.  Quietly, at the end of it all at eight in the morning, after the last song blared through the speaker box, the group gathers all the garbage, kicks apart the embers of the fire, and take the plastic chairs and the speaker box home. Only a charred spot on the cobblestones remains to witness that something took place here.


The foreign visitors and expatriate-residents know what to expect. If we don’t like it, we’d better leave town, and many do indeed go to the coast when the longest fiesta—the ten-day celebration of the village’s patron saint, San Andres—is in progress. I don’t mind it and participated some of it with a group of friends.

It so happens that one of the traditional party locations is located on the corner in front of my house, where the members of a whole neighbourhood behind me in a privada (private road) meet the residents of the street.

To get some sleep, I plug my only working ear with silicone, close the windows and doors and go to sleep when I am tired.  I intend to join them soon on my own when my confidence is up and I know enough Spanish to have somewhat of a conversation beyond how are you and what’s your name.  I am a bit hesitant about it and probably will only join when there are other women around the fire, just to preserve my reputation, LOL.


In two weeks my days here have pretty much fallen into a routine; I created a structure, which most of us need in our lives. I break it whenever something else and more interesting comes along.

After I get up—my cat wakes me up—I get my coffee, make some toast and have fruit, often taking it up to my second-floor balcony in the emerging sunshine. I am writing in the mornings. From my study, I can observe the neighbourhood routines of delivery trucks stopping by, and people popping into the convenience store, and the daily trip of the basura (garbage) truck picking up the bags by the roadside.

Yes, the Mexicans do recycle, although I heard gringos saying they do not. But I think the visitors didn’t see the basura workers in action inside the truck. Every day they come by with their trucks, so the streets are cleaned up daily. (It used to be that the women swept their street daily as well.) I have been told there are others who comb through the refuse at the dumpsite too, but these people are likely the very poor that aren’t paid to do that.

The men on the truck (4) take the small and large garbage bags, pull them apart right on the truck and sort the materials, then tuck each category of refuse in large, separate bags hanging from the truck. So if you want to help them, you could sort your own garbage in separate bags: glassware and cans; bathroom paper and diapers/sanitary refuse; paper and cardboard; clothes and linen; food; garden refuse; plastic bags and containers. It is custom to give the basura men a Christmas tip, for which they stick a small envelope on your door. It is a lousy job, but somebody has to do it.


It takes time to get settled again after a long absence—since April–and now after two weeks, I feel at home again. The house was cleaned by a daughter-in-law of a friend’s cousin who lives just around the corner and whom I paid to stop into my place once in a while. To my delight, the potted plants were all still alive. Being able to leave plants outside year-round is one of the surprising (to me) benefits of this moderate climate in the mountains.

The utility services continued during my absence, but now needed to be paid, and topped up (gas) and some repairs paid. With persistence I got my Canadian service provider to unlock my iPhone for free, and here it works great with a local SIM card and a TelMec plan for only $14 per month.

I was on the look-out for cockroaches but found only a few dead ones in locked rooms. Hurray. My biological methods worked: bay leaves spread around the house as a repellant of the smell-sensitive creatures, and plastic lids with some baking soda on it, shoved underneath the appliances and in cabinets. They get a belly-ache after dinner and die. With a cat and me in the house, I don’t want any poisons in mi casa.

We have a fluctuating electricity system and my sensitive water pump didn’t like it, so that still needs to be fixed. I also discovered little wood-loving creates in the wooden ceiling of my study. It can be treated.


Now that I am alone here without the distraction of company, I noticed for the first time the difference in altitude and its effects. When I get up in the morning, I have to slowly get up and let my circulation adjust if I don’t want to feel dizzy. Eggs take longer to boil too. My breathing is harder; the low-grade hill I take from town to my casa is noticeable. Walking down the hill on the other hand—well you get the idea.


Without a car, I notice everything, and others notice me. There are merchants that recognize me, or just maybe they’re friendly to every lone gringa. The neighbourhood store owner is Rosa and she is very nice; her staff is a very young lady without any English, so I practice my Spanish. I buy my daily things there: bread, eggs, milk, beer, etc.


My neighbours going downhill are all locals and I am the first one to say hello ((h)ola, buenas dias/tardes/noches) and they always reply, often with smiles.  My typical Mexican neighbourhood, barrio Tio Domingo, (although the realtor likes to locate my casa in Las Salvias), north of the carretera (highway), runs west from Juarez to the La Salvias barrio, and across from the San Sebastian barrio, which is east from Juarez. There are no tourist shops. Horses and dogs live here too, LOL. The Rojas bakery (and friend, Chelis) is located on Juarez.


My neighbours going uphill—except a couple of houses close to me—are gringos and Mexicans in large homes, rented out, or owned.  You never see them outside in the streets. That posh area is called La Salvias after the spiked, purplish-blue plant.


This year I arrived late, in mid December, as I couldn’t get a ticket for my cat (only 2 pets on board per Westjet flight). Before December, a lot of fiestas already took place. The following is a citation from the site and its member k2tog, who appears not so fond of some of the local customs.

“Actually, the Virgin who resides in the little chapel on the Northwest side of the Plaza in Ajijic goes on a walkabout around Sept 29/30th to visit her namesake chapel near Six Corners for mass, she spends the night there and then she is walked from there to the Parroquia on Marcos Castellanos and she stays there for the entire month of October. Barrios share the responsibility of shooting off cohetes and neighbors walk together in the wee hours of each morning to say the Rosary. At the end of October she will go on another walkabout (parade) to return to her permanent home, and sometimes she is joined by The Virgin of Zapopan, or other Virgins who are visiting the area. She doesn’t have a parade every day just at the beginning of October and at the end. If you live in the village of Ajijic you probably live in one of the barrios who will participate…so depending on where you are in the “hood” you may be startled awake like Valerie described or you may not hear much of anything. I always look forward to the weeks when they are not in my barrio.”

So far the lady k2tog.

Those who read my blog already know that the Virgin of Guadalupe has an altar across from my house, so in her week I do get the celebrations and the bombs (cohetes, pronunciation sounds like coitus, pun intended) going off in the early mornings to wake us up for mass, and the band playing in front of each corner and, of course, in front of the Virgin, and volunteers handing out hot tea, with something stronger, if you wish. Then off to mass, where musicians serenade the Virgin and the church is overfull with real flowers. To me, it’s a joyous and respectful celebration and I love it. I suspect this mix of the secular and the sacred is why the Mexicans stay with the church and the religion.


For my life here, I need to make more connections yet, beyond the few people I have known from before, as life can get lonely without automatic access to friends. I miss my Mah Jong club. Luckily some of my Canadian friends are also in Mexico and I hope to see them at some point.

To get more contacts and, possibly, like-minded friends I will join de Chapala writers club. For developing my writing skills, I plan to attend two conferences, one in February in San Miguel de Allende, and one in March in Ajijic.

I hope to take Spanish lessons and have made an effort to locate teachers.

There is a large Chapala association for foreigners, but I am hesitant to be swallowed up by that group. Who knows, I might join. I hear that recently many more people settle in the area from the USA, eager to escape the current state of affairs there with a less than popular president. The local service people have been kept busy all year round now. A happy migration for both sides of the future wall, in this case at least, I suppose.


My early mornings usually are quiet, unless there is a market— the tenguis on Wednesdays, the biological market on Tuesdays, both full of anything you ever wanted, food not the least of it.

My late mornings or early afternoons are some/most times spent with a siesta first and/or reading. I have lots of time to read and am currently reading books by 2 key presenters at the SMA writers conference, hoping to have a chat with them.

Later some shopping, or visiting, and walking. The lakeside boulevard (malecon) is a nice spot to do that and to get there I walk downhill for ten minutes. I cook most of my meals, from all fresh, unprocessed foods, delicious! My evenings are quiet most days, just like my life in Canada. Occasionally, I go out for supper, or a margarita, or a michelada, although I drink those at home too.


In late January the UBC course online Polishing and Editing Your Manuscript will start up and I will use the instructors and materials to edit my manuscript. I am working hard on a Dutch translation of my third book—the war story—and am waiting for the rejections from Canadian publishers to come in before I will send it to the American and UK publishers.


Now, this is the quiet life of this writer so far. The next time I will post some new photos.


I am looking forward to your comments or questions. Please rate the post on the blog’s top.


If you read any of my 2 books (On Thin Ice and Guardians’ Betrayal) please, would you add a few lines as a review to its Amazon site (ca or com or UK)? Thank you for helping my ratings.








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My siblings on our memorial trip to Ommen — the place of my sister’s birth — and where MY family survived the war years (before I was born).

The locals hold memorials at the stone to honour the fallen on the Dutch memorial day: May 4, which is the day before the official liberation day: May 5.

On Canadian Remembrance day, the eleventh day of the eleventh month, I remember World War II. My eldest brother is thirteen years older than me. He has some memories of war times, as well as his contemporaries – my cousins. I heard about those memories just recently. My parents did not talk about the war. Born after the war, I have no memory of it, although the war ruled my childhood and my parents, underneath it all, like ill-fitting and scratchy wool underwear: you get used to wearing it and it saves you from the cold.


The memorial for the victims killed at the prison camp ERIKA, at the edge of the territory of the former camp, now a camping for summer and winter guests. This is the only sign of what is left of the camp, with a few boards that were salvaged from the heap of debris by members of the Ommen historical society.


I heard about the war in grade school; my teachers focused beyond the three Rs on the perils of discrimination and intolerance. We saw photos and films with survivors from German concentration and labor camps and from the other occupied territories, shipped into cattle railcars and brought to near-extinction in camps. The pictures showed live skeletons, people that had survived the concentration camps—people that were Jewish, homosexual, developmentally delayed, or otherwise disabled, punishable by death in the eyes of the Nazis.

We as children saw piles of items collected from the victims by the staff of the German industrial-style extermination camps: millions of bones of the exterminated, piles as high as a house. We saw piles of suitcases, and boots, and hair to be used for pillow fill, and large dugouts with the emaciated dead, ready to be set on fire. We heard all of the atrocious facts of that war.  It was a scary mystery to us children; how could this have existed?

We were shown these unimaginable things, so we would never let this ever happen again when we’d grow up and rule the world instead of our parents. We were educated, no, indoctrinated, to become tolerant and to appreciate differences in others, and learn to recognize the slightest signs of discrimination and racism. We children embodied the hope of our parents for a better future for the nation, for the world. No wonder we were the love children and despised war as adults – make love-not war!


The entrance gate of the prison camp ERIKA, model at the Ommen regional museum.


A couple of years ago my eldest cousin, over 80 years old, gave me his research into the family history; it contained a piece written by my dad on the wind-up of collaborators, after his town’s liberation by the Canadian allied soldiers. This piece of history started my questioning. He must have had a hell of a time protecting the citizens from the German army officials and the prison camp boss, and do his resistance work at the same time.  The Nazis frequently shot non-compliant citizens for any small offense against the depraved Nazi regulations, or even for no offense at all, or just shoot them as hostages in retribution for resistance actions. Sometimes a person was shot in the street by way of an instant execution, just to set an example; thus the Nazis succeeded their occupation by instilling terror.  It may have been a point of consideration with the Nazi occupiers that my dad was married to a German-born woman. In any case, he stayed on duty during this stressful time and remained the police chief until the Canadian Allies liberated my country.


The Concert Hall in Amsterdam where the Jewish citizens were collected after razzias in the city, to be transported to Poland’s extermination camps.


The appearance of collaboration with the Nazi occupiers served my dad well – up to a point. My Oma was friendly to the German soldiers during the occupation and identified with the Germans; most of her adult life she had been German.  She was a staunch supporter of Hitler and openly adored him; Hitler gave pride back to the defeated and orphaned German nation after World War I. Hitler to her was finally someone who dared say the things many Germans were thinking already in a depressed and devastated country: It’s all those foreigners’ fault, those Jews. Never mind that these citizens were born German (or Dutch) and had been citizens for many generations; that was conveniently forgotten.

Not only she: it turned out the whole of Europe had been at the very least covertly, and often overtly anti-Semitic; nobody stopped Hitler’s fury to kill all Jews until it was too late. “I didn’t know” was a popular phrase.

My Oma gave the war effort collectors her metals, including the antique copper wares. My dad was pissed, but what could he do? The deed was done. His wife was her daughter. He didn’t want to alienate his mother-in-law, nor his wife.


The Sten gun used by the Illegality, dropped by the thousands by British planes. This specimen in the Ommen regional museum.


The last two years, I have researched the history of the occupation and found out that three years after the liberation it had become clear to the new Dutch government (from extensive investigations and trials of the most severe cases) that a good number of top civil servants had been criminally involved with the Nazis to an advanced level.

Although the cabinet and Queen had escaped to England at the time of the German invasion, the remaining deputy ministers remained in power and most willingly did what the Nazi governors told them to do. For the police, the deputy minister/state secretary of justice was the highest authority. He had instructed all policemen down the line to comply with all Nazi orders, especially those of the German head of police, SS boss Hanns Rauter. It left my dad scrambling for ways to subterfuge and avoid his superiors’ directions.



My dad in full uniform before the war. His horse was requisitioned by the Nazis, as were all other horses.


The Ommen Marechaussee brigade building, now converted to civilian homes.


The horse stables, now converted to garages.



The (former) hayloft over the stables.



So this building is almost a century old, but renovated a few times, of course. It is the side entrance to the former stables.


After the liberation, the civil service top brass was severely judged by the Extraordinary Court, which was instated for determining the conduct of the civil service during the occupation. The death penalty (abandoned before the war) was reinstated. For my father, it was significant that his top boss, the deputy/secretary of state of the Justice Ministry, Mr. Schrieke, was sentenced to death. My father’s direct superior in his region, Commissioner Feenstra, was sentenced to death and was executed the following year.

For judging the conduct of lower ranking individual policemen, the Extraordinary Courts did not consider the commands from the leadership enough justification. As policemen they should have known better and they were sentenced for overstepping the bounds of decency. In law, no crime existed in collaboration with the enemy, so the prosecution of war criminals broke new ground with describing the new crime of collaboration with the enemy.

It was noted that immediately after the war, rather extreme court judgments were followed by quick executions (=within a year). As time went on, the Queen pardoned many convicted civil servants that had not been executed yet, and the executions stopped. Mr. Schrieke escaped his death sentence, which was commuted to life in prison.


The Canadians are here liberating the town of Ommen! The bridge over the river Vecht was demolished, blown up by the German OT engineers, but quickly restored to functionality by the Canadian engineers.


Summerhouse in the Ommen forest (De wolfskuil) where during the war illegals hid crashed allied pilots.


I dove into my dad’s personal history and researched seventy-year old criminal files, hidden away in the National Archives. I found out what had happened. During the last two years of the occupation, my dad was assigned the role of informant/spy for the Illegality (resistance) and was told to establish relationships with the Nazis and the crew of the prison camp. He pretended to like the Germans and acted with calculated duplicity on instruction of the commander of his local resistance group. He played his role very well and appeared to be a collaborator, fooling everybody in town, including his reporters.



A group of Illegals in the woods.

He collected information from the local Wehrmacht commander about German troop movements and from the prison camp superintendent, a German SS boss, called Werner Schwier, and from his crew of men-hunting commandos. The prison was operated by the German Nazi police: Ordnungspolizei. In his role as police chief and trusted by the camp leadership, he was able to divert some arrested to freedom or intervene on their behalf with the camp boss, and he assisted with the illegal British weapon drops for the benefit of the area’s resistance.


Towards the end of the war, Dutch Nazis occupied a third of all positions in the civil service. The police force in general and the justice system was judged and found lacking. Many Dutch had actively caused the deportation of Jewish Dutch. Like so many others, my parents never wanted to tell us what happened in those years. Bury it, move on, don’t think about it was the thought of the day. That’s why Queen Wilhelmina handed down many pardons. There was no honor in survival those war years; too much had happened that nobody would understand who hadn’t been there. The words failed.


My dad’s brother-in-law was a Dutch Nazi, while another brother-in-law was the regional commander of the resistance group. My dad’s life must have been a balancing act, putting his whole family at even greater risk with a potential traitor in his extended family, and a wife he was not sure he could trust either.

War likely had a great impact on my parents.  It might have contributed to my dad becoming such an intolerable straight shooter after regaining his freedom to speak and act according to his true beliefs. I have never given my parents enough credit for surviving and for staying on the right side during those years. I just had no idea.


What we call a knijpkat — sqeeze cat — a manual dynamo for a tiny flashlight (in the Ommen regional museum).


I am unable to push back tears when I see on TV expressions of gratitude on the faces of Dutch citizens and their children, even after 70 years. The Canadian, British, Polish and American soldiers became mythical heroes in my homeland.  Although they were never in a war themselves, these Dutch celebrate the Allied soldiers, making a point of letting their liberators know – while they are still alive – that they are very appreciated. The Dutch remember the sacrifices of those that didn’t survive. I cry for the wonderment on the faces of the very few Allied veterans left attending the Dutch tributes. I am an immigrant. I remember my Dutch trauma on the eleventh of the eleventh month.

Only after it is too late and our parents have gone do we, children, become adult enough to really see our parents, and give them due credit.


War did not stop after WWII. Atrocities continue and the promise of Never Again was broken. We see refugees on TV by the millions seeking a place of peace – more are now afoot than after World War II. Discrimination of people that are different, look different, believe something different, and live differently continues, and in some nations became policy.

We are all guilty when we do not stop others in their exploitation of the vulnerable, not protest loudly enough, and of thinking it is not up to us to shelter the displaced or relocate refugees. Our parents’ promise “never again” we didn’t keep. I cry for that fact, and for the imperfect world we are living in, our environment so damaged, with so many damaged people without a peaceful place to live.

The world has become a country with many survivors of wars. If we do not stand for democracy and learn from our own traumas, if we don’t become a force for good, for inclusion and neighbourly support, we face another world disaster. Non-action is not an option; bystanders become a force for bad.

On Remembrance Day and every day of the year, let’s not forget!









Posted in Babyboomer, Diversity issues, elections, Global immigration, Hitler, Immigration, International politics, Kelowna event, latest news items, memoir writing, righteousness, the Netherlands, The truth, Uncategorized, victims, war and resistance, war crimes, world issues | 2 Comments



Just this week I received my author copies of the new book about a fictitious family in crisis. The story is about an adoptive family and starts seven years after the adoption of the two eldest children when Shayla hits 17 and  she gets an email from a long-forgotten half-sister with the promise of connecting her to her biological father. The book is an easy read and people who read it tell me they cannot stop reading until they know how it ends.


2017-10-26 12.07.47The day the box arrived I almost didn’t answer my doorbell, as I wasn’t expecting the delivery yet. Luckily, I answered the door and received the box. The next day my friend Lisa (who took the photos) helped me unravel the packaging and we saw the book for the first time LIVE.


2017-10-26 12.08.27The cover looked just like I had imagined it. The Bookbaby designers did a good job.

I first had destined a photograph of my daughter for the cover, but the photo I submitted was not large enough–not enough pixels–so I had to find another. Unfortunately, the photographer had passed away and I was unable to ask for a larger size.

I found the new photo on Shutterstock’s website and I bought it, after having screened many photos on line. The  girl is looking forward, symbolic for the main character, 17 year-old-Shayla, who experiences  a crisis; with help of her adoptive mother and her biological father she addresses her issues. I won’t add any more spoliers here. You will have to read the book yourself.

The book is available on the website of and that is for me the best option, as the share of the sale price is largest for me with that option.

It is suitable for mature young adults and adults with an interest in adoption. One reviewer called the story “gritty” and I think she was referring to the fact that some self-harming scenes and the circumstances of  parental neglect are described in the book. The language of the novel is gentle and no profanities occur in the characters’ language.

The printed book  can be ordered on the websites and it gets printed (POD=print on order) by Bookbaby and sent off to the customer. It can be that the delivery time is a bit slow, as the print job will be initiated when a minum number of orders has been received.

The book site on Amazon might then indicate “temporarily out of stock”, but that is basically a lie, as they do not keep a large stock anywhere anyway. Just order it and you will get it at the latest within 30 days.

It is available as eBook also, on:


Barnes & Noble





Baker & Taylor



You can click on the link ORDER HERE below this sentence and it will take you to the Bookbaby site, where you can order a copy.

Order here 

I hope you like the book and if you feel up to it, I would really, really appreciate your review on any of the book’s websites that will allow you to ADD A REVIEW.

A one-line sentence is great. Not everybody is a literary critic (although I might be wrong about that).  I am looking for readers’ honest feedback, whether they liked it, or wanted to see a different ending, or found a specific character appealing, or not, or whatever comment you are willing to share with other readers.

It addition, if you could share and click on  a “like” button somewhere, on Facebook, or on this blog post, I would be very happy.


This blog post also has a rating on the top of the post and if you rate it high out of five stars, the WordPress algoritms might press it into the readers’ best category–all strategies to get the word out about this new novel.


I am grateful to my readers, and my friends who are readers, and everybody else who has been supportive, including instructors and fellow students.

Unfortunately, my main editor, Dona Sturmanis, has passed away since. She has been a force to get me to continue writing, was the ditor on my first short story collection (ON THIN ICE),  and taught me not to be shy about it. Dona, I will never forget you.



I will have an action in November  through READERS FAVORITE with a blog tour and am in the process of setting something up with Story Cartel as well.

Amazon will have some free copies to give away during the special introductory offer period from Nonember 15 – 20.  Order your copy now!

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Posted in adolescents, Agents, Author circles, Babyboomer, Blog Hop, book give-away, book review, Canadian publishers, Children, Children and child protection, Creative fiction, eBook, elections, Hitler, Kelowna event, latest news items, Mental health, Parenting, Publishing, shoplifting, Uncategorized, Young Adult books | Leave a comment



Do you have a writer in your circle of friends? Very likely!

How you can assist your writer-friend with selling books?

The Amazon “predator” (the seller with the monopoly for selling anything online) has the power to make or break a writer’s new novel. As I understand it with my limited knowledge of it, the algorithms systems of the world wide web hunt for the most clicked-on titles. Amazon then suggest readers to click on my book (with their comment in searches: ‘if you like this—you also might like this), based on how many people already clicked on it and searched for it. For your writer-friend’s book to succeed, it is important for you:

  1. As soon as the book it out: Search for the book on line (Amazon or other book sites) and if your friend sent you the link already, click on the book, and order it soon after publication.


  1. When your friend sent you the link and asked you to forward it, you could help send the book into the big wide world and generate more interest: click on the link, copy it, past it into an email or i-message, and forward the news to your friends and family, so that your friends can click on it, and forward it to a friend….. well, you get the picture.


  1. When your friend asked you to write a review on Amazon, write a review. The first reviews in turn generate more clicks and possibly more orders. To do that, go to the Amazon site and search for the book in the search window with the name of the writer and the title of the book. When it appears, click on the novel. At the bottom of the novel’s Amazon page is a product content section with a box: add a review. Click on it and add a review. Save it.

You may have to register with Amazon as an Amazon user to be able to do this.


So, now you can do your writer-friend a favour and assist with the sale of her new novel. I thank you very much. You are the one to send the new novel off. You are the one that makes sales possible. You are the link in the chain that makes a novel a success.


Does your writer-friend really need your help?


You bet!

A lot of work and money goes into writing a novel. To rise above the terrible quality of many on-line self-published novels, a writer has to invest time and money:

  • On learning the craft, taking courses, and re-writing many drafts, while their work is being professionally edited, for a fee of course.
  • After many re-writes and edits, the wallet must open again for the cover designer and interior designer of the book. We are now already two or three years further after the start of it all.
  • If the book is not advertised, the book will just sit there and do nothing at all. Advertising is expensive. The minimal support with low costs on-line advertising by requesting reviews from readers for the costs of a free book through the publisher is also costing money by missed revenues. The writer generally has a website and/or a blog which cost money to operate and maintain on an ongoing basis.


So far, money goes in and not coming out. Most writers do not make money on books, only the most successful writers do. Writing is a calling, a passion, not a money-maker.

With the publisher I used, of a price point of US $9.90 for a digital novel, 50% goes to the writer. Many writers reduce their prices to generate more sales, as some writers offer their digital books on line for free—but don’t ask about the novel’s quality. For a printed book @ US $12.08 per book, I get a lot less than that percentage, more like $2 per book. I easily spent already more than $6000 in addition to the website costs, so it’s not likely I will ever break even.


Posted in Agents, Author circles, Blog Hop, book give-away, book review, Canadian publishers, Short story, Uncategorized, Writing life, Young Adult books | Leave a comment



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My new novel GUARDIANS’ BETRAYAL deals with the issue of self-harm, among others.  This post delves into this issue a bit deeper, as many children nowadays deal with emotional injuries that may lead them to self-harming.

The character Shayla – one of the three protagonists – at 17 years old, is somewhat older than the group of teen girls that is most at risk for self-harming. Her general delay in maturity is explained in the novel as a result from deprivation and isolation during the first ten years of her life.

In a recent article from The Guardian (link below) self-harm is described as rising among teenage girls under the age of 17, and increased by 68% over just three years, research from the UK revealed. The study also found that self-harm among young people aged 10-19 was three times more common among girls than boys, with those who self-harmed at much greater risk of suicide than those who did not. Repeat episodes of self-harm were more common among girls.

Nav Kapur, professor of psychiatry and population health at the University of Manchester, and a co-author of the study states: “One of the big messages here is that self-harm is complex – it is about schools, it is about families, it is about health professionals and teachers all working together trying to tackle the problem.”

The study also found self-harming to be more common among children and teenagers living in deprived areas. Such youngsters were less likely to be referred to mental health services within 12 months of their first incident than those in more affluent areas. Youngsters who self-harmed were about nine times more likely to die an unnatural death than those who did not, 17 times more likely to die from suicide, and 34 times more likely to die from acute alcohol or drug poisoning.

Through scenes on TV news specials, we are very familiar in British Columbia (and throughout Canada) with the struggles of indigenous youth with self-harming and drug use, death from suicide a real risk. Yes, they are often living in deprived areas, or are deprived in other ways, possibly experienced intergenerational abuse of some kind, as many parents have a history from abuse at residential schools. The promise of our government to ensure that our First Nations will have the funds and services that are equivalent to those in the southern urban areas, is lacking grossly and is, as of yet, unfulfilled.

Children in foster care of any enthnic background are likely to have experienced deprivation in various forms. They are many more times at risk for problems with their self image and are less resilient than children living with their biological families.

Shayla is insecure about her looks, her smarts, and her friends, wondering if they even like her, and she is obsessed about her prospects with her crush, Eric. Her world collapses when her dad leaves the family and her adopted mother won’t allow her access to her biological family when her half-sister gets in touch via Facebook.

It takes some time for Bernice to realize that Shayla has mental health issues; Shayla has learned to hide it well from her mother, and mom has many other cases in her work life to deal with. Add to that the problems she has with her husband, who is straying under the pressures of a family with four children and the economic down-turn.

The article mentions that previous research has suggested a growing number of young women are experiencing mental health problems, with contributing factors including worries about appearance. The rise of social media, and online content around self-harming could also play a role, noted the team.

Shayla shoplifts to make herself feel better and to boost her appearance, and she wants to look good for Eric. She is preparing for an adult relationship and wants to discover sex. She needs to break the (over?)-protective hold of her mother over her comings and goings. She is eager to catch up to her friends, who already had sex. She becomes secretive to reach that goal.

“That is the early period of adolescence where young people are changing most rapidly [and it is] perhaps the most stressful,” said Kapur, pointing out that only half of people who present to health services as a result of self-harm get a proper assessment from a mental health professional. “The inequalities in access to specialist treatment uncovered by this research and the poor prognosis for these young people highlights the need for greater resources to help support young people and improve access to treatment,” she said.

Luckily, Shayla has a mother who is knowledgeable and who eventually discovers in a dramatic scene that her daughter does have some emotional difficulties that she needs help with. Also luckily, the family lives in an urban centre, where mental health children’s services are available, although the existing wait lists are a problem. Shayla is expected to catch up over time as she is dealing with her emotional issues with the help of a mental health professional and the support of her family, especially her adoptive mother, a social worker, and her recovered biological dad.


Posted in adolescents, alcohol abuse, book review, Children and child protection, Diversity issues, drug use., Mental health, Parenting, sexual politics, shoplifting, Uncategorized, war on drugs, Young Adult books | Leave a comment


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Kelowna, British Columbia

Local author writes book about teens and adoption.

Kelowna resident Johanna Van Zanten released GUARDIANS’ BETRAYAL, a novel for adults and teens about a fictional family with adopted children whose difficulties threaten to tear them apart.

Johanna started writing later in life. “I’ve always wanted to write a book,” Ms. Van Zanten said. As a social worker in various areas of the human services field throughout her career, she just started writing short stories first, and published On Thin Ice in 2012 (a short story collection) with help from a local business, The Word Is Out Writing Services: with Dona Sturmanis – deceased – and editing partner Rand Zacharias, who both were also involved in the new novel GUARDIANS’ BETRAYAL.

She took courses in the UBC creative writing programs with local author Laisha Rosnau, and on line with UBC professors Annabel Lyon and Nancy Lee.

Johanna had some success with her short stories: Fort Good Hope about her first trip to Canada was published in the MTLS (2011), short-listed for the Okanagan Short Story contest. Another story, Without A Home, made honorary mention in the contest for new writers in Glimmer Train (2012), a story made the short list in a CBC contest, and Birth of a Book was published journal Sage-ing (Okanagan Institute) and included in the anthology Creative Aging 2015.

Her blog is


GUARDIANS’ BETRAYAL – a fictional story – starts seven years after adoption, when the biological dad of the two adopted girls tries to get in touch and seventeen-year-old Shayla hits a wall.  KIRKUS Reviews writes about the book: “An often emotionally insightful portrait of family life.”

The Kirkus full review can be read on the Kirkus book page Kirkus page  (


GUARDIANS’ BETRAYAL is available as a printed book with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, with a delivery time of 7 – 11 days and is available as an eBook with Amazon Kindle Select, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, GB, Scribd, Copia, Sentra.

The price for an eBook is CAD $9.99 and US $4.99, which is no fair exchange rate, and seems to me disproportionately expensive for Canadians. The price of CAD 6.50 would be closer to equivalent value.    I wonder if Trump also slapped a 300% tariff on intellectual goods from Canada…

I am trying to set up a three-week special for people to download on line the book for a reduced rate of US $1.99 or for a review with Readers Review and Story Cartel and Goodreads. Let me know if you are interested and if it worked through these sites.

You can download a book at the Amazon link below.

Amazon site of Guardians’ Betrayal




Posted in adolescents, Author circles, Blog Hop, book give-away, book review, Canadian publishers, Creative fiction, E Books, eBook, Mental health, Parenting, shoplifting, Uncategorized, women's issues; torture of women, Young Adult books | 2 Comments

There Be Monsters



I am posting an article (with her permission from another site,,  of a writer whose grandparents were residents of Lithuania during World War II. Like me, she became curious about her family’s past and their conduct during this difficult time and started digging. She came up with facts that turned out not at all what she had been told, and the details of the stories of her grandparents were kept a secret from her, until she had the courage to go there and find out for herself.



There Be Monsters by Julija Šukys

—“The story of this trip begins with a map, which is to say the story of this trip begins with a need.”  W. Scott Olsen

Posted in Babyboomer, Children, Diversity issues, EU, Global immigration, Hitler, Immigration, International politics, memoir writing, The truth, Uncategorized, victims, war and resistance, war crimes, world issues | Leave a comment



Photo credit: Vladimir Velociraptor Vukmirovich


My next book is about ready for publishing and in the next month Bookbaby will produce, design it, and publish digital and printed versions. It is generally recommended to put a manuscript aside and forget about the novel, so when going back to it with fresh eyes, the last draft might become a better product. I put it aside for a year and a half, to write my third novel, which is now waiting for a professional editor.

It’s generally recommended to put a manuscript aside and forget about the novel when you think it is finished, so when going back to it with fresh eyes, another draft might lead to a better product. I put it aside for a year and a half, to write my third novel, which is now waiting for a professional editor will work on soon. In the meantime, I reviewed and re-wrote my second novel: Guardians’ Betrayal. This novel is meant as an addition to the scant material available for prospective adoptive parents.  The novel is written from the point of view of the three main protagonists in the story, the so-called Roshomon Perspective. No one character has the truth in this story, and the reader decides what version of the events are closest to the truth, as they read it.

GUARDIANS’ BETRAYAL  is meant as an addition to the scant materials available to prospective adoptive parents beyond the often-dry, scientific excerpts of books on the attachment theory that social workers in the adoption field provide to prospective adoptive families.

GUARDIANS’ BETRAYAL is written from the point of view of the three main protagonists in the story, the so-called Roshomon Perspective. No one of these three characters holds the truth. The readers decide what version of the events depicted in this novel is closest to the truth, as they interpret it. An individual reader brings their own life experiences to the act of reading and takes away – from any novel – that what fits into their perspective.

Inspiration. I was inspired by foster parents that I observed in real life who opened their homes and hearts to someone else’s abandoned children and carried on as if this was the completely normal thing to do. Their hard work deserves attention and the joy of the children that were allowed to be kids, and then become whole, should be an inspiration to other parents.

Some time ago, I answered questions about GUARDIANS’ BETRAYAL for a blog-hop event. Knowing what the story is about may generate more interest, so I am repeating the information here.

  • Genre: The genre is literary fiction, but it could fit the genres of contemporary fiction, romance, and perhaps even Young Adult. I have some hesitation calling it YA, as the sex scenes might not pass the official category YA. I am including it anyway, as I believe that kids over 18 have already a lot of sex and this novel could help to mature YA readers. Developmentally, it is appropriate to be interested in sex at that age. I would not mind getting readers’ feedback on my ideas of the classification YA.
  • Goal. I wrote the novel to raise awareness of the difficulties that adolescents might experience. Don’t be fooled by what on the outside looks like a completely normal family, and don’t assume normal is all that’s going on behind closed doors. The novel might wake up parents, who assume the kids are alright. While making money and pursuing our own goals as parents, we are all too busy to pay attention to our children. The teen in your home might experience tremendous alienation from her parent growing up in isolation, in emotional pain, and see no other way out than turning against herself. In the novel, that led to Shayla’s cutting, shoplifting, drug and alcohol use, and seeking peer approval through sex.
  • Actors I envision for the characters. As actors for the main roles I would select the following: For sensitive and troubled 17-year-old Shayla, I would select Saoirse Ronan, who played Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones. I could see Ellen Pompeo in the role of Shayla’s mother, Bernice – the hard working social worker who adopted Shayla and her sister. Bernice is nice and easy going; her unfaithful husband, Tom, is perfect for actor John Cusack, while the part of his love interest, the young and charming Marla, should be given to Amanda Seyfried. Shaya’s long lost biological father, the mysterious and handsome Gabriel, should be played by Johnny Depp. These are the four main characters in the novel.


  • One sentence synopsis of GUARDIAN’S BETRAYAL: Shayla’s birth-dad shows up around graduation time – seven years after her adoption – which happens to coincide with her adoptive father starting an extramarital affair and his abandonment of the family, and marriage breakdown, which leads, in turn, to Shayla’s breakdown.


  • Publisher. This novel will be self-published as an E book and in print, using Bookbaby.


  • How long it took to write: about a year and a half from when the idea first came to me (writing on Sundays mainly) to submitting the first draft to my editor, and another year to work through edits. Then, I took it up this April this year again and rewrote the draft, now completed.


  • Other books compare to my new novel only to some extent, as each has their own story beyond the subtext of neglect and how a child heals as she becomes an adult: The Glass Castle (Jeanette Walls), The Girl in the Mirror (Cathy Glass), Little Women (Louisa May Alcott).
  • Reviews: If you are interested in reading this novel and providing your review, please, respond on this WordPress website or on my Goodreads page so I can send you a free copy.

I would like you to rate this post at the top of the page. Thank you.

If you found this interesting, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, or recommend on your own site.

Your comments are very welcome.


Posted in adolescents, Agents, Author circles, Blog Hop, book review, Canadian publishers, Children and child protection, Creative fiction, drug use., latest news items, Mental health, Parenting, Publishing, shoplifting, The truth, Uncategorized, Young Adult books | Leave a comment