Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ginger's Sunday Sampler

I've been given a wonderful opportunity to review a Band of Sisters by award-winning author, Cathy Gohlke, but health and life keep getting in my way.  While she waits for my review, I offered her the opportunity to share a little about her wonderful story with us.
  I hope you enjoy the interview and will check out her book.  I know, reading her answers has motivated me to dig in.  :)

So, without further ado, here's the scoop:  (Or as I prefer to in Dishin' It Out. :)

1. What motivated you to write Band of Sisters?
I’ve always been fascinated by the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement.  But I was horrified to learn that there are more than twice as many men, women and children enslaved today than at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  This book was born of a passion to end modern-day slavery, and most of all, to ask, “What can I do to help in a need so desperate?”

2. Why did you choose NYC 1910-1911 to tell this story?  And how does human trafficking in that era compare to human trafficking today?
I was inspired by an article I’d read about Alma Mathews.  Alma was a small but determined woman who, armed with her umbrella and a hefty douse of fury, stood against dangerous men bent on exploiting immigrant women as they entered the U.S. through Castle Gardens, in old New York City.  Alma ushered young women to her home, prepared them for employment, and helped them begin a safe new life in the city.  It became a full time ministry involving many—all in the early days of the settlement house movement. 
But my editor suggested that I set the story later, when immigrants entered the U.S. through Ellis Island.  As I researched that possibility, I found that the problem of exploitation and human trafficking had not only grown during those years, but that the strikes of NYC shirtwaist factory workers had made public the desperate need for women to make a living wage in safe circumstances.  Necessary elements for the story and high drama were all a matter of public record—everything from the passing of the Mann Act to address the fear of white slavery to the Triangle Waist Factory fire.
            Even though our technology, transportation, communication, etc., is different from the story’s era, many countries today are no further in providing rights and safeguards for women than the U.S. was in 1910.  Some are further behind.
            Many of the same ruses are used by traffickers to lure women into their snare now as they were then:  better paying jobs for themselves and/or money for their families, flirtation, pretense of emotional caring and support, marriage, offers specifically for modeling jobs, offers for education, appeals for help of various kinds, plays on sympathies, etc. 
In some cases, after having sex with someone they trusted, or after being drugged and forced into having sex, women or children are/were blackmailed.  Fearful that their families will not believe them or will accuse them of promiscuity and reject them, they are afraid and feel compelled to sneak out and “service” men when called.  Some are sold to traffickers or users by members of their own family, or by someone they trust.
            Once trapped—sometimes after being unwittingly drugged and/or blackmailed—women are often transported far from their home (crossing borders to other states or                        countries).  Held against their will through abuse, enforced poverty, lack of ID, lack of language skills, lack of visas or passports, they may simply not know who to trust or where to go for help in the country in which they find themselves.  Isolation, threats to their person or their family, repeated brain washing that they are dirty, worthless, unwanted, unloved, and good for nothing but sex with paying customers are all tools that traffickers use to intimidate and control their victims.
            Fear of what will happen if they try to escape, fear that they have ruined their lives and will have no other way to live, fear for themselves and loved ones, resulting health problems, feelings of hopelessness and a constantly reinforced sense of self-worthlessness all form formidable prisons for victims of trafficking.  Even if it seems they can physically escape, they may not be able to break the emotional or mental chains that bind them.
All those things happened then, and they continue to happen to victims today.

3. What research did you do?
            My research began with human trafficking today and the fight to abolish modern-day slavery through books, the internet, and through organizations and individuals that are helping in various ways—raising awareness, rescuing, restoring and healing victims, tracking down and prosecuting predators, education of men and boys re. the human rights and intrinsic worth of women, safe houses, etc., and those who fundraise to assist organizations or individuals who are already doing these things. 
For historical background I watched documentaries and read (books, old newspapers, archives) about the growth of old New York, the social conditions and desperation of the poor and of immigrants in particular, the disadvantages to those who did not speak English, the unique problems of women and children—the opportunities for and difficulties of making a living wage outside of prostitution, the threats made to women and their families to coerce them into sexual service, of their economic desperation without a male provider, of their few legal rights, and of the unfair treatment women received in court.  Those studies led me to the development of the sweatshops, the growth, expansion and revisions of the settlement house movement, the work of Jacob Riis in making the abject poverty of thousands known to the public. 
Learning of those conditions led to a special interest in Irish immigrants—their cultural and social strengths and weaknesses, their views of family, their aptitude for and reception in different types of employment in America.
            My husband and I made two trips to NYC.  From there we conducted research at Ellis Island, took several tours in the Tenement Museum, and bought more research books and maps, including more on the Triangle Waist Factory fire.
 Once I knew my storyline, I mapped out locations of the story and trekked through Manhattan, exploring old sites, especially between Mid-town Manhattan, through Washington Square and the surrounding NYU area (including the site of the Triangle fire), the Bowery and the Lower East Side.  As I walked, photographed the city, explored, and talked with residents, the voices of my characters erupted.  I gladly followed their lead.

4. Your characters are strongly influenced by the question asked in Charles Sheldon’s classic, “In His Steps”—“what would Jesus do?” Why did you choose that book to help tell your story?
After all my research I knew I had the historical elements needed.  What I didn’t know was the inner conflict of each character, or the answer to the all-important question:  “what can I do to help in a need so desperate?” 
I found my answer by confronting the question Sheldon posed in his very popular  book of the time, “what would Jesus do?”
If we all truly do what Jesus would do, slavery will end.  Jesus never exploited men or women—He uplifted them and showed them a path of hope, a new way of thinking and living.  He never used children, or child labor for ease or gain—He blessed little ones, demonstrating their great worth.  He never bought or sold babies to fulfill the bride “needs” of a one-child culture.  He never bought or sold human organs, or fetuses, or body parts.  He never lied to immigrants, never enslaved them, never threatened their families or loved ones or lives if they did not comply with His demands, never coerced or forced, never shamed or punished a single person into submission to His will.  But in every way He set a moral compass, employed Divine compassion to the broken hearted and broken bodied, and held to account any and all who victimized others.

5. In Band of Sisters your characters maintain that the answer to human trafficking is found in the question, “What would Jesus do?”  What do you mean by that and how does that question impact this modern-day crisis?
In recounting the things Jesus taught, and in thinking about the life He modeled, I realized that He has already given us the answers.  It is only for us to employ them.
Jesus would:
·                    Open His hand and His heart to those society spurns—not only to receive those who come to Him, but He would go out and search for and engage them, as when He ate with publicans and sinners, as when He called Zacchaeus from the tree.
·                    He would provide medical help, as when He healed the woman with the issue of blood, the man born blind, the paraplegic let down through a roof, and countless others.
·                    He would not hesitate to confront the darkest of the dark in order to free victims—the things and people and forces we’d rather not see or deal with, as when He drove demons from the young man, and from Mary Magdalene.
·                    He would open His purse strings, even His home to the needy as when He commanded us to provide for widows and orphans, as when hounded by Herod, he personally demonstrated the helpless plight and needed solutions for refugees.
·                    He would expect that those who could provide financially for this ministry and need would do so, just as He accepted gifts from those able to finance His ministry. 
·                    He would protect lives and argue for victims legally—even those who’d made mistakes society deems unforgivable, as He did for the woman taken in adultery—the woman in danger of being stoned.
·                    He would accept the thanks of and stand for those who looked to Him for answers.  He would maintain relationship with them, even when they were misunderstood by society, as He did for the woman who anointed His feet.
·                    He would hold to account those who victimize others, as He did when He declared that for anyone who makes one of His little ones to stumble it would be better if a millstone were hung around their neck and they were drowned in the depths of the sea.
·                    He would raise awareness and educate society to be on guard against this evil as much as any evil, to be vigilant, to accept responsibility to change, to train children to love God and care for and respect one another, just as He taught them everyday of His life.
·                    He would advocate for the human dignity and worth of all people, women included, as He did when He breached society’s laws by allowing the unclean woman, desperately hoping for healing, to touch Him, when He reached out to the Samaritan woman, who lived with a man not her husband, and when He died on a cross in our place.

6. Band of Sisters takes place in NYC.  Do you think human trafficking is limited to large cities?
No.  That is why raising awareness of the crime and education re. the methods used by traffickers is so important.  Small, rural, isolated or poor communities are targets just as vulnerable as big cities.  Traffickers often enter such communities with bogus offers of better jobs, modeling opportunities for young people, and offers for education.  But those dreams are crushed when willing applicants are unwittingly sold as sex slaves or used for pornography, with no way to get back to their homes and families.  In some cultures, once a girl has been so abused, she is no longer welcome to return to her family, thereby compounding the problem and sense of hopelessness.  Education and understanding is desperately needed on all parts.

7. Issues of sex slavery and human trafficking are foreign to most of us and uncomfortable to discuss.  How can Christians respond? 
            By speaking for those who have no voice.  These are among the poor and needy of our day, in many cases the orphans that Jesus commanded us to care for. 
We must remember that the discomfort is ours, and the desperate need is theirs.  Being a Christian, a Christ follower, isn’t easy in a fallen world.  Doing what Jesus did wasn’t easy or comfortable.  He confronted demons and hypocrites.  He stood against people who cared more about the monetary value of their livestock than they did about freeing one human being from demonic possession. 
Jesus ate with “publicans and sinners” to the ruin of His reputation.  Just as He is our example in loving one another and in protecting innocent young children, so He is our example in setting captives free, in loosening cords that bind, in rescuing women and children from prostitution, men from slavery.
            In many countries of the world Christians pay with their lives for standing up for their faith and/or for protecting others.  I’ve heard it said that only in America do we expect it to be easy to be a Christian.  Talking about things that are uncomfortable to our sensibilities don’t seem so hard in comparison to the challenges our brothers and sisters in Christ face the world over.

8. Human trafficking and the abolition of slavery is such a huge problem, let alone rescuing and restoring its victims.  What can I do to help?
*First, learn all you can through reading and talking with individuals and organizations who have already joined the fight:
-- Google “human trafficking” to learn what is happening in the world.
--Contact your local library, social services, churches or police force and ask what is being done in your community to raise awareness and prevent human trafficking.  They can help you find books, organizations, and on-line information to educate yourself about:
The crime (what is human trafficking and where in the world it occurs—you will be astonished)
                         The people at risk
                        The methods traffickers use to capture and enslave
The tracking down, arrest and prosecution of predators
The rescue, restoration, and healing of victims
The fight to abolish slavery through legal means
The education of men and boys re. the dignity and worth of women and girls
Organizations and/or Individuals that are already working to do the above-**See my website at for a growing list of these sites.  If you find more, please let me know so I can add them. 
*Once you understand what organizations and opportunities are already in place, determine what you are able and equipped to do.  That might include:
Work directly with one of these organizations, either in this country or in a foreign country
Validate, affirm, encourage and engage girls or women who are at risk or in the process of healing
            Welcome strangers into your church as part of the church family
            Take a rescued victim into your home or provide housing
            Mentor a victim, or a girl or woman at risk
            Help a woman find safe and gainful employment and/or child care
            Help a woman applying for a job find appropriate clothing
            Provide childcare and/or transportation when needed
            Tutor a student, young or not so young and encourage hopeful options
Invite women or girls for a meal in your home or take them out for a meal or event, using the opportunity to reaffirm their worth
Provide assistance for medical care—practical or financial
Speak up when others make slurring or disrespectful comments re. women, immigrants, homeless, etc.—attitudes must change to make change last
Do not patronize stores, hotels, sporting events or other venues where you believe women or children are trafficked
Provide legal counsel, assistance or finances for same for victims
Write or speak out against trafficking

Hold public figures and men within your circle of acquaintance accountable for their actions toward women and children
Be vocal and proactive about the need to raise a generation of men who will not exploit women and children
Be vocal that the only way trafficking will stop is to eliminate the demand for supply
Support legislation to stop trafficking, to prosecute and to re-educate predators
            Write letters of support and concern to elected officials re. human trafficking
Contribute financial support to one of the organizations that is already in place and helping
Create and/or support films, documentaries, plays, or various art forms that raise awareness or needed funds
Fundraise for organizations that are helping
            Help to educate publicly or privately those you know re. all of the above
            Work with others to create new possibilities
*Most importantly, realize that while you can’t do everything, we can each do something.  Together we will raise a symphony that must be heard.

9. If Band of Sisters was turned into a movie, which actors do you think would best portray what you imagined for your main characters? Can you describe a few main physical features that they have?
            Maureen is striking—tall, slim, with thick, flaming red hair (tendrils escaping), and green eyes in a thin face.  Victoria Smurfit, who played Hannah Randall in “Berkeley Square” could play Maureen’s role perfectly.
Joshua is also tall, broad shouldered, with black, thick curls, dark blue eyes, and the ruddy complexion of a man who’s worked outdoors all his life.  Perhaps Hugh Dancy could play his role.
            Olivia is lovely with dark upswept hair and brown eyes.  She’s intelligent, with a quiet and cultured but determined air about her.  I think Jessica Brown Findlay, who played Lady Sybil Crawley in Downton Abby, would be perfect.
            Curtis is tall, slim, with dark brown eyes, curling dark hair, and alabaster skin.  Perhaps Jamie Bamber could fill his role.
10. How does your faith impact your writing?
            My faith is part and parcel of all I do.  While writing my first novel I learned that I cannot divide the heart God knit inside me, cannot separate what I write from how I live in response to Him.
That’s when I began praying, not just that the Lord would lay on my heart a “story,” but that He would lay on my heart His “purpose,” and a story to illuminate that purpose.  Later I understood that “purpose” is what is known in writing circles as a “strong moral premise.”
All the characters must respond to that premise in some way or other.  It is what ties the story together.  Faith weaves the moral premise in my life, and as I live out that faith—as I respond to my Savior—my own life story is written.

11. Are you a plotter or a seat of the pants writer?
That’s a great question!  My wonderful agent, Natasha Kern, is convinced I’m a “pantser.”  I’ve thought of myself as a “plotter by force.”  Over time, I’ve learned to plot enough to write a synopsis—but it’s like ripping teeth from their roots.  I fear losing the passion for and organic nature of my story so am hesitant to commit or share details before writing a first draft.  I’d much rather write a story and then severely revise and edit.  But I’ve come to see that that is not always an efficient process—not for me and not for my agent or editors.  The thing that’s helped me most is Michael Hague’s Six Point Plot Structure as he describes it in the DVD, The Hero’s Two Journeys, as well as The Moral Premise, by Dr. Stanley Williams.
Now I write a long and detailed—sometimes rambling—synopsis, then put it away, and only take it out if I find myself wandering off track.  The finished product is often quite different from my original notes.

12. What spurs your writing?
Writing has become my way of making sense of the world, of putting into perspective the struggles of humanity and of my own—past and present—of trying to see the world as God sees it, as He redeems it by pursuing and claiming one heart at a time. I want to know what gives Him joy, what breaks His heart—those are the stories that matter, the stories that bring me continually closer to Him.
Frederick Buechner expressed it best, “The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Finding that place spurs me on.

 Cathy's book is published by Tyndale House Publishing and can also be found on Amazon.

I'd like to thank Cathy for being so patient with me, and for sharing her inspirational historical novel with us today.



Mirella Patzer said...

What a fascinating interview. I had no idea sex slavery was so prominent during the height of immigration through Ellis Island. Bless you for writing such an inspirational novel and making people aware. I'll definitely check out the book. My mother came through Ellis Island alone in the 1950s.

Jannine said...

Cathy and Ginger, what a wonderful interview. I had no idea that slavery has been so prevalent past the 19th century. I am aware of the sex slave trade that goes on today, but I never thought the extent of all slavery stretched so far into the 20th and 21st centuries.

Both sets of my grandparents came through Ellis Island in the 1920s, I believe. Can't recall where my father came into the U.S.

Great interview!

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Cathy and Ginger,
What an inspiring blog.To think that those involved in the sex slave can still operate today is truly shocking.



Lisabet Sarai said...

Dear Cathy,

Thank you for writing this book and for sharing your inspiration. To be honest, I've never really thought about what I personally could do to help people who are trafficked. Your list is sobering - but also fills me with a sense of hope and purpose.

Cathy Gohlke said...

How interesting that your mother came through Ellis Island, Mirella. As time went by, and as regulations and visibility increased, immigrants coming through Ellis Island were better protected--so I'm hoping and imagining your mother had a much better experience than those in the early part of the century. It was all a fascinating study for me, and astonishing to learn how much our sisters in history endured. I no longer take such things for granted. I hope you enjoy the book!

Cathy Gohlke said...

The extent of human trafficking and slavery in the 20th and 21st centuries astonished me, too, Jannine. It reminded me that there is truly nothing new under the sun, and cast a new light on modern-day slavery.

You'd find Ellis Island fascinating--especially since your grandparents came through at that location. My husband's grandfather entered the U.S. through Ellis Island. I was touched by how much the tour meant to him, and all the family questions and stories it sparked.

Blessings to you!

Cathy Gohlke said...

You're so right, Margaret--it is truly shocking and disturbing. Raising awareness is the first step in enlisting the help of those able to abolish the slave trade.

Blessings for you!

Cathy Gohlke said...

I know just what you mean, Lisabet. In the last several months I've gone from not knowing much about the slave trade, to being overwhelmed by the enormity and pervasiveness of it, to wondering what I could do to make any difference at all, to finally realizing I can do something. Not everything, but something. I'm so glad that you are finding hope and purpose in this, too. God bless you!

Cathy Gohlke said...

Thank you so much for this interview, Ginger, and for spreading the word about human trafficking. I surely hope you feel better soon! God bless!

Rosemary Morris said...


I admire your Christian values which led you on the journey to writing your novel. Thank you for sharing your journey with us and for your practical suggestions as to how each and every one of us can help unfortunate victims of slavery.

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