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Monday, June 26, 2017

So, You Want to Write a Trilogy? Never Say Never

I didn’t start out being an author by declaring I was going to write a trilogy. I wrote one novel and thought my next was going to be related only by genre. No shared characters. No continuing story lines. No recurring settings.

Boy, was I wrong.

Write a sequel? Or a series? Nope, not me! Yet, this summer marks the launch of my final installment in The Jessica Trilogy. Just goes to show that sometimes writing takes you to places you never dreamed.

So, what happened?

Simple. Readers wanted more.

I write mainstream thrillers with a strong emotional pull. I love a fast-paced plot and lots of action, but I also like to create three-dimensional characters that resonate with readers. My main character is Jessica Wyeth, a world-class equestrian with a good share of grit and a longing for a simple life in a home of her own. Events propel Jessica into a world of organized crime. Oh, and she might have fallen in love with the wrong guy.

The Charity: Witness to a gang-style slaying, a young woman is hunted to stop her from exposing the money and the people behind a Boston-based terrorist cell .

Speaking with fans of the first book, they consistently asked what happened to Jessica after The Charity ended? They wanted to know what happened next.

I realized I had the answer. I also realized I needed a lot more than knowing where Jessica went or what her next adventure was. Unlike a mystery or detective series where the sleuth solves a different crime in each series installment, I knew my story was going to evolve and deepen like Stieg Larsson’s Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, Girl Who Played with Fire, and Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. I also knew I didn’t want a story series that could go on forever, so I decided a trilogy structure was most suited to the world and characters I was creating.

I had seeded the first book with many turning points. [Mini spoiler alert here!] The most compelling was Jessica had been raised by her aunt who turned out to be her biological mother. The question that rattled around my head was, how could a woman live with her daughter for years and never say the words, “I’m your mother.” What happened in that mother’s life to have her keep a secret like that? From that question, more flowed. My second book formed.

The Troubles: Deceived by her family, a rebellious woman seeks to unearth how Northern Ireland’s Troubles are buried in her mother’s secret past.

I must have done something right, because fans loved the direction of the story. Think sweeping, multi-generational tale ala Colleen McCullough meets the world of John Grisham’s tightly knit thrillers. The Troubles won Best Fiction at the EQUUS Film Festival in New York City. Why is the EQUUS award a big deal? Horses play a large part in Jessica’s life and each book features an equestrian discipline. When concocting the plot for The Wake, I knew the discipline I was going to focus on was Hippotherapy, horse-based therapy for physical, occupational, and behavioral needs.

As Jessica’s backstory deepened, so did the complexity of her life. The stickiest question was the trilogy’s secondary main character, Michael. Michael is a tortured soul. He loves Jessica, but forces beyond his control test his loyalties. Going back to the first book, I had opened questions about him I needed to close. A recurring theme in each book was the struggle of a strong moral code in the face of extreme pressure. The main question I needed to answer was, is a terrorist born or made? From that question flowed, what does that look like? How far will someone go for love?

The Wake: A shattered heiress’ family secret is exploited by her spurned lover to 
blackmail her into engaging in international terrorism.

Hmm. I guess from the log line above you can see how Jessica and Michael’s relationship is going. The Wake is already gathering great reviews. I’m excited about each one, but receiving praise from the CEO of the Professional Association of TherapeuticHorsemanship International is wonderful. Not only did I write another suspense-filled tale, but highlighting horses’ therapeutic value gave my story and my characters another dimension.

I realized I could have written ten thrillers with the world I created for this trilogy, but I’m glad I decided to keep with the trilogy structure.

With The Wake's launch a little over a month away, you still have time to catch up on the story! Follow the links above and get your copy today!

Connie Johnson Hambley's newest book, THE WAKE, is coming this summer!

THE WAKE: Is a terrorist born or made?

World-class equestrian, Jessica Wyeth, is thrust into the middle of a game of geopolitical warfare. Reeling from revelations of her connection to the violent struggles to expunge Britain from Northern Ireland, she’s blocked by unseen forces from returning to the United States. 

The facts of Jessica’s birth become her deepest secret. Her late mother was considered by Northern Ireland to be a terrorist and her father is a key negotiator between violent Irish Republican Army (IRA) factions in Belfast and the British Government.
Jessica vows to keep her father’s identity hidden at all costs.

Only one man knows Jessica’s truth. Michael Connaught, heir to an international crime family who profits from political uprisings, struggles with his own legacy. He is torn between protecting the woman he loves or using her secrets as a catalyst for inciting global unrest.

When a terrorist bomb rips through the crowd at the Atlanta-based Summer Olympic Games, Jessica is forced to fight for her life in ways she never dreamed.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Countdown to Launch: THE WAKE has early fans!

I've been very excited and pleased with the early response to The Wake and want to share a few reviews with you.

“What a wonderful read. Connie Johnson Hambley does a masterful job of weaving the incredible healing power and positive impact of the horse into an edge of your seat story. It’s very clear that Jessica’s healing–both emotional and physical–is intertwined with horses. But that is just one of the facets to this multi-layered story that keeps you riveted throughout the tale.”

“In The Wake, Connie Johnson Hambley delivers a fast-paced, emotional conclusion to The Jessica Triology, a series that focuses on competitive steeplechase rider Jessica Wyeth and her search for answers to long-held family secrets. The political background of a divided Ireland and acts of terrorism on behalf of nationalism make this an especially timely book, and horse lovers will fall in love with Hambley's powerful portrayal of the deep, healing bond between horses and humans.” 


“For fans of high speed suspense, international political intrigue, and strong female characters, Connie Johnson Hambley delivers on all fronts in The Wake. This third book in the Jessica Trilogy is as exciting as Hambley's first two titles, and Jessica Wyeth is a compelling heroine that lives on in the reader's imagination. A terrific read!”


It's not too late to begin the trilogy from the beginning. Click through for more information.

Thursday, June 1, 2017


What makes for a great mystery? 

An author who knows his stuff, sees the world through a slightly warped frame, and seduces the reader with great story telling.

I met Ray at a writers' conference several years ago and was immediately taken with his quick wit and sharp insights. He had just won the coveted Derringer Award for a short story and he had released the first in his Tucker mystery series. On June 8, his fourth book, Hacked, will be launched. With summer coming, you'll have time to binge read to learn what makes Aloysius Tucker a compelling character. 

What is #Tuckergate? Follow the hashtag on Twitter to find out.

HACKED by Ray Daniel

Someone is murdering hackers and the Internet thinks Tucker is doing it. 
Hacked is the fourth book in the Tucker series of first-person, wise-cracking, Boston-based, mysteries featuring hacker/sleuth Tucker.

Aloysius Tucker vows vengeance when a hacker terrorizes his ten-year-old cousin online. But the situation goes sideways fast, threatening to take Tucker off-line for good. #TuckerGate

Promising his cousin that he’ll get an apology from an Internet bully, Tucker finds himself in a flame war that goes nuclear after a hacker is murdered. Now more hackers, the whole Twitterverse, and a relentless bounty hunter agree on one thing—Tucker is the killer and he must be stopped.
With death threats filling his inbox, Tucker battles Anonymous, Chinese spies, and his own self-destructive rage while chasing a murderer the online community has named the HackMaster. Can Tucker clear his name and build a case against the killer before the death threats come true?

Publishers Weekly says in a starred review that Hacked is "outstanding" and "supremely readable".

"This outing, despite some nasty revelations about cyberbullying, is the most upbeat of the [Tucker Mysteries]."—Kirkus Reviews
"Lock down your social media accounts, put some tape across your webcam, and close your blinds before you settle in to read this, because Ray Daniel—like his wry, world-weary hacker protagonist, Aloysius Tucker—is damn good at what he does. Hacked is more than just a thrilling story—it's also a timely takedown of internet outrage culture, and a harrowing exploration of the very consequences of online bullying."—Chris Holm, Anthony Award-winning author of The Killing Kind


Ray Daniel is the award-winning author of Boston-based crime fiction. His short stories “Give Me a Dollar” won a 2014 Derringer Award for short fiction and “Driving Miss Rachel” was chosen as a 2013 distinguished short story by Otto Penzler, editor of The Best American Mystery Stories 2013. 

Daniel’s work has been published in the Level Best Books anthologies Thin Ice, Blood Moon, and Stone Cold.

For more information, visit him online at and follow him on twitter @raydanielmystry.

TERMINATED: Uber-geek Tucker and his beautiful wife, Carol, developed controversial security software together until the day he was fired and she was murdered. Now, six months later, another software engineer is dead, bringing new clues to light in Carol's cold case.

CORRUPTED MEMORY: Tucker didn't know he had a brother until the guy was found murdered in front of Tucker's house.

CHILD NOT FOUND: Tucker takes Cousin Sal's daughter sledding on Boston Common and loses her. Now Tucker must survive a gang war to get her back.  

Friday, May 26, 2017

Writing Prompts: News from a Writers' Group

Writing prompts helped empty the junk drawer that is this writer's brain.

I belong to three groups. Two are active and focus on writing support and one is on an as-needed basis for the business of writing questions. 

The group that focuses on the craft starts with five minutes dedicated to a writing prompt. One author chooses a prompt either from a list or creates one and reads it to rest of the group. We have five minutes to write whatever comes to mind. Not only is it fun, but the exercise helps empty and organize that grey-matter mess we call the writer's brain.

I was emptying out my junk drawer - the exterior physical one - and came across responses to prompts from past meetings. For fun, I decided to share them with you so I can toss out the papers from one junk drawer while preserving the fruits of the other.

The prompts are in bold and are set apart from responses which follow. 

So, an hour after prohibition ends... daddy drove up in his brand spanking new Packard -- chrome all shining and seats smelling like a tack shop.

"Where'd you get the money for that?" I asked.

He grinned in his way which was more slanting eyes than full tooth smile.

"Where'd ya think?" he said, looking at my uniform. My badge reflection glinted off his eyeglasses.

I didn't want to answer, but heaved a sigh of relief.

"No more," I said.

"No more what?"

"You know."

Yeah, I sure as scat knew! No more 2 AM sounds of engines in my barn. No more women in beaded gowns hanging 'round the shed.

Yep. One hour after prohibition ended I got my daddy back.


I looked around the room. Nothing seemed unusual, but then... feet left the ground. Not all at once as if I had jumped, but slowly, heels first, then toes as if I was trying to hang on to the earth like a chimpanzee to a tree.The chairs slid to one side, then a table crashed into the armoire.

"Mom! What the Fah..."

My son, all 6'2" of him rippled in front of me as an image in a funhouse mirror.

"Oh! Ry! So sorry," I murmured, trying to sound like this was nothing new. "Just a little housekeeping."

"No. You said no more witchcraft."

Damn him. A promise not to do spells is meant to be broken. Can a horse not neigh? Can an elephant not trumpet?

All at once, the room righted itself and the dust, motes, and webs settled into one ball in the center of the sideboard.

"See? All done!"


There is a knock on the door. When *you* open the door, there is a man standing there with an envelope...

...Kathy eyed it suspiciously. A long tail emerges from the fold. The man doesn't seem to notice.

"So, um, seen anything interesting lately?" She winces. What the hell is she thinking.

"Nyah. Just some kids next door making a racket," he replies.

Almost on cue, they hear a loud crash from upstairs. The man turns his head.

"Your son is one of their friends, right?"


"I have this more him." With that, the man gives Kathy a silver ball. "Just toss it in his room. Go ahead. I'll wait."

Kathy goes and returns. All is quiet.

They talk for a few minutes. The man leaves, envelope in hand.

"Let me know if you see anything interesting," he says over his shoulder.

Kathy goes to her son's room. Inside the room she finds only a silver ball and a snake.


(Hey, I know these suck, but for five minutes worth of writing, it's fun to see where your mind goes!)

Are you part of a writer's group? Do you do writing exercised like these? 

Friday, April 28, 2017


Gabriel Valjan and I connected because our short stories share the pages of the WINDWARD: Best New England Crime Stories anthology. His take on Lizzie Borden's life after giving her father forty-one whacks is a marvel of great story telling as well as terrific research. When we finally met at an author event (and via multiple tweets), I learned we shared many interests as well as a love of great writing. When the conversation turned to making great characters, I knew I had to share his insights with you. Enjoy! -cjh


In 1997, eight-year old Alice Newton stayed up all night to finish reading a manuscript after her father had teased her with the first chapter. The next morning she insisted — no, she demanded — that her father Nigel, the chairman of Bloomsbury Publishing, publish the book twelve publishers had considered either too long or demanding for children. The book? Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. A Muggle had intervened and saved Kathleen Rowling, the writer on welfare and single parent, from obscurity. J.K. Rowling is now the world’s most lucrative author.

In 1929, Virginia Woolf asserted the barest of necessities a woman writer needed for success: “A room of her own and five hundred a year.” Chance once again interceded. The death of an aunt provided her with the £500 [about $45,000 today] per year for life. Though she self-published most of her work, she experienced success. Virginia Woolf is considered both a great stylist and an innovator of the English novel.
Talented as they were, success had come to them through luck. Let me introduce you to the world’s first successful women writer. Another strong woman. Born in Venice, Italy in 1364, Christine de Pizan would live most of her life in France, where her father served Charles V as physician and astrologer. Her father believed that she should have an education. Christine married at the age of fifteen. Girls in her day married at twelve, boys at fourteen. Ten years later, with three children, she is a widow. Worse yet, Charles V and her father and another child died, so Christine lost her standing in court and became the sole means of support for her children, her mother, and a niece. She turned to writing to support her family.

Christine wrote whatever would fill the money purse. She started with poetry, moved onto biographies, moral treatises, and military theory. Gunpowder was new and artillery fascinated her. The Hundred Years War was raging and she had patrons in England and France, on both sides of the conflict. Her last work was a poem in honor of Joan of Arc. Christine supervised the production of all her books, oversaw their translations from Middle French into Middle English, and hired women scribes and an illustrator named Anastasia. She controlled every aspect of publication. She believed in quality artwork and design. The printing press would not exist until 1450 and an illuminated manuscript was a work of art.

Not only did she live off her quill, she defended women in print. Women were then thought of as morally and intellectually inferior to men, and they were portrayed as such in the works of Boccaccio and especially in Jean de Meun’s Romance of the Rose. She tackled misogyny by accusing male authors of ingratitude and slander against all women. Christine used sophisticated rhetorical strategies to point out the ironic contradictions that men would create the genre of courtly love to seduce women only to mock and devalue them in society. Christine advocated for the education of women and for greater roles in society. Though prolific, she is best known for The Book of the City of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies, which provide insights into the daily lives of women, autobiographical details, and chronicle the lives of famous women throughout history. Both works speak directly to women readers. Christine de Pizan died in 1430. Almost forgotten, even by medievalists until the mid-twentieth century, these two works were translated into modern English in 1982 and 1985, respectively.

At a time when books by women are reviewed less, awarded fewer literary prizes, the risk for disappearance is greater. The underlying, less obvious, theme here is strength, of women helping women. A girl, Alice Newton, helped J.K. Rowling, who in turn created Harry Potter, a worldwide social phenomenon. Had Virginia Woolf not received an inheritance, had she not written her novels, Hogarth Press, which she founded with her husband Leonard in 1917, would have nonetheless secured her place in letters. She and Leonard would go on to publish Vanessa Bell, T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Sigmund Freud, and Katherine Mansfield. In the long interlude of centuries between Christine de Pizan and us, we glimpse a strong independent woman who created art and commerce for women and by women.


Gabriel Valjan is the author of the Roma Series from Winter Goose Publishing as well as numerous short stories. He lives in Boston’s South End, where he enjoys the local restaurants, and his two cats, Squeak and Squawk, keep him honest to the story on the screen.

The first book in his historical fiction series will be out in fall 2017.

Twitter: @GValjan
Amazon Author page:


Wednesday, April 26, 2017


I met Laura last year while moderating an author panel about writing good fiction, and, believe me, Laura writes terrific fiction. Her characters breathe and love and cry. Her stories are imbued with a refreshing morality that makes you realize you're not so crazy after all. I'm thrilled to tell you about her newest release. Do yourself a favor and download it now.

MAKING WAVES by Laura Moore 

A successful woman with a sweet life discovers even the best laid plans are no match for unexpected passion—as award-winning author Laura Moore kicks off a captivating new series set in New York’s hottest seaside paradise.

As the overly responsible daughter of an irresponsible socialite, Dakota Hale practically raised herself. Now she’s turned her talent for placating the whims of the rich and spoiled into a lucrative concierge business in the swanky Hamptons. Meticulous and determined, Dakota has her life mapped out with one goal uppermost in mind: never, ever be like her mother. Surfing the waves of the Atlantic keeps Dakota steady when the drama on land gets too outrageous. But when sexy mogul Max Carr hires her, it rocks her balance in a big way. When Max makes it clear that he’s interested in more than just her organizational skills, Dakota is flattered – and attracted - but she refuses to allow an avowed playboy to interfere with her life plans.

Max works hard, but he’s never had to put any effort into winning over a woman—until now. With her stunning beauty and keen intelligence, Dakota is worth the effort. But it’s plain she has no interest in a casual fling, and that’s all Max with his grief-stricken heart can offer.

An emotionally charged night changes everything, with consequences neither Dakota nor Max anticipated. Now they must navigate the rough waters of society gossip and devastating secrets that threaten their fragile relationship. If they can trust in the strength of their growing feelings, they’ll find the dreams they’ve been chasing are close enough to embrace . . . together.

Laura Moore 

Bestselling contemporary romance author Laura Moore's writing career began in a graduate school class that was, to put it kindly, a bit dry. After filling the pages of a coffee-stained notebook, she realized she’d written a love story that others might enjoy. Ride A Dark Horse was published the following year. Eleven books later, Laura thanks her lucky stars she enrolled in that graduate course.

When she isn’t writing, Laura enjoys riding, swimming, cooking, pulling weeds in her garden, and reading late into the night. An incurable romantic, Laura loves a happily-ever-after and has been known to cry at TV commercials, especially ones with puppies or Clydesdales. She lives in Rhode Island with her husband, two children, their black Lab, and their cat, Zevon, who keeps them all in line.

Learn more about Laura at:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Meredith Public Library Promotes Sisters in Crime 30th Anniversary

The following post is reprinted with permission from Matthew Gunby, Head of Circulation at the Meredith Public Library, in Meredith, New Hampshire.

Authors visit Meredith Public Library to Promote Sisters in Crime 30th Anniversary
by Matthew Gunby

On Thursday April 20th, authors Connie Johnson Hambley and Jessica Estevao visited the Meredith Public Library. They discussed their works, their writing process and how their membership in Sisters in Crime had helped them as writers. One of the great things about having authors for these events is the personal stories they share about their individual journey towards becoming an author. Also, it is interesting to learn how each author approaches their craft.

Sister’s in Crime is an international organization of authors and writing enthusiasts. All experience levels are welcome, and it provides great networking opportunities as well as assistance from experienced authors on all stages of the writing process. The organization is nurturing and supportive, but also realistic about how the publishing industry and writing process work. Jessica Estevao mentioned one activity promoted by the organization, Shameless Self-Promotion for Hussies, to help authors gain the confidence they need to market their materials. One section known as the Guppies is for great unpublished authors. New England’s Sisters in Crime chapter is the second largest in the nation.

Connie Johnson Hambley had many careers before she published her first novel. Some of her previous jobs included being a lawyer, banker, instructor, and journalist. She has been a member of Sisters in Crime for four years and this is her first year on its Board of Directors.

Connie is completing a trilogy of books that consists of the published works of The Charity and The Troubles. Many series, particularly in the mystery genre, tend to have the same investigator or sleuth with each book consisting of a different mystery. Characters will often develop over time, but the world remains relatively compact. This is not the case with Hambley's thriller trilogy. Each book expands the world and scope of the overarching story. In her first book, the protagonist witnesses a gang murder and is framed for the crime. Each subsequent book explores the whys and hows of the powerful network behind the murder.

Hambley wrote the book seventeen years before it was published, and discussed the idea of publishing it while on a long flight to China while still working in marketing. She was sitting next to a co-owner of a small publishing company and the idea of actually publishing it began to take form. Ultimately, she decided to publish the first novel on her own, because she knew what would be required to successfully market a product even though she was new to writing. Yet, this serendipitous event helped to spur along the process. She has had books both traditionally published and independently-published since then.

Jessica Estevao joined Sisters in Crime a short while before her first novel was published. She was at a talk by Lorna Barrett, and the author suggested Jessica join the organization. She does not believe she would be a published if not for the support of Sisters in Crime. She started to truly work on her first novel when her youngest son began kindergarten. She noted that she finally had 2 hours and 20 minutes every day when all of her children were at school. A friend mentioned to Jessica that there was a publishing opportunity that did not require an agent, just a manuscript of 70,000 words. Unfortunately, hers was originally closer to 85,000 words. She noted that she became very grateful for contractions in the critiquing process.

Jessica Estevao writes under several names, and she shared with the group her reasons for doing this and why it is a fairly common practice for authors. One reason is reader expectations. While readers are often omnivorous in their tastes, it can be shocking to pick up a book anticipating a cozy read and finding something far grittier.

As Jessica Estevao she writes historic mysteries set in Old Orchard, they also tend to have some supernatural elements, for instance the first book involves a pyschic. As Jessie Crockett, she tends to write contemporary, cozy mysteries. She is about to start a new series set in 1920s England under a new pseudonym, Jessica Ellicott. All of her novels have an amateur sleuth as the protagonist.

Some publishers also require authors previously published by a different publisher to use a different nom de plume. It is also a way for authors to bypass certain publishing contract limitations. She compared the experience to that of a custody battle for one’s own name.

Both authors were drawn to the mystery genre because of its structure. Jessica spoke about the desire to have the reader be one or two steps behind the sleuth in solving the case. Not so far behind that they cannot relate, but definitely not a dozen steps ahead of the protagonist. Connie said that she used her background as a lawyer when designing her story. She considers how it translates to the audience and how best to transport them into the world she has created. Pacing and usage of the reader’s bias can also be incredibly helpful in the crafting process. One example of this, is in trying to understand the antagonist’s motivation. She sometimes tries to make her reader a little uncomfortable, a technique that makes the reader want to keep reading. Connie also volunteers at a therapeutic riding stable and this work provided a great deal of insight into a short story she wrote and is now developing into a longer work. At one time, she worked with victims of human trafficking and learned a great deal about what they had gone through, and how their backgrounds were often far different than most would imagine.

The authors both discussed how realism and real events play into their fiction. Jessica owns a coffee mug saying “ignore my browser history I am a mystery writer.” Connie noted that her first novel was included in a counter-terrorism organization’s collection because its depiction was so realistic. She also said that realism in her novels was similar to having the reader walk across a plank, eventually they do not realize that there is nothing beneath them and they are totally immersed in the fiction. All of the pieces are real, it is how they are cobbled together that is the fiction. One reader wrote to Connie informing her she knew she was actually talking about a real gang, the Clover Club, in her novel The Charity. In this case, Connie had not intended to have this connection, but in researching the Clover Club--a Boston-Irish businessmen's association rumored to be affiliated with Whitey Bulger and organized crime-- Hambley saw how accurate the connection was. In other instances, both authors have used real historic events as building blocks for their fiction. Jessica noted there was an actual instance of the pier on Old Orchard having sufficient weight on it that it started to sway. This caused a panic and Jessica thought that this provided an excellent backdrop for a fictional event to occur in.

Both authors noted that real murders tended to be domestic and did not provide them with much in the way of ideas, but local police logs could be treasure troves of interesting tidbits through which fiction could be weaved. They also both do research for their books, though this can vary significantly from book to book. Jessica noted that even just holding an object she might use as a potential bludgeon in a novel is a form of research. Every trip to the grocery store or post office can give a glimpse into a new character. Other times the author needs to physically travel to the location their story is set in, to get an authentic sense of the sights, smells and sounds of a location. If the setting is in the past the setting may only be accessible through reading. Jessica noted she learned a great deal about the social implications of pigeon racing in the research for her newest novel set in 1920s England.

What truly made this event special was the interplay of the two authors and the great anecdotes they had to share. As well as being successful authors they are both very capable presenters and we are grateful they shared their time with us on Thursday. We wish them and the Sisters in Crime organization continued success and hope to host another similar event in the future.

Friday, April 21, 2017

STRONG WOMEN: In the Shadows of Human Trafficking

I didn't know I helped human traffickers. You do, too.

Human trafficking is not a third world problem.

It happens under our noses and our ignorance perpetuates the crime. 

We know the crime under names such as prostitution or sex trade. What we don't realize is the hidden blame embedded in those concepts.

Somewhere in our understanding of prostitution, we see a woman voluntarily giving herself over for a payment. We believe she has made a choice to be with a different man every thirty minutes. We believe she can "just decide" to stop. We also believe that the "prostitute" is, in fact, an adult woman capable of assessing choices. Darned if she just didn't make the right ones.

If we blame the victim, it's easy to dismiss the crime.

I'm embarrassed to admit I held these assumptions. I didn't realize how I perceived the crime helped to perpetuate it. Being unaware made me blind. I couldn't see the dynamics that support it.

My eyes were opened in a way you wouldn't expect. I volunteer at a therapeutic riding center. My "This-Horse-Can't-Do-Anything-To-Rattle-Me" attitude made me a perfect choice to be invited to become a horse handler for a unique group of women. I could handle the horses, but was surprised when I needed to be trained to handle the women.

The training centered on a core concept: Acknowledge the woman's power over her own choices. Does she want to pet the horse's neck? Yes? Great. Wait to see if she tries on her own, if not, demonstrate. Then step back to allow her space to try. 

If she says no, accept her answer. Period. My natural inclination would be to encourage her to try. "Oh, come on. Really. It's okay. Trust me. Just once."

I had no idea in what context she may have heard those words before. 

Human trafficking is a crime of powerlessness. Girls, some as young as eleven and even younger, are broken down by circumstance and presented a choice which is really no choice at all. In a process that is all too simple and common, a girl leaves one indescribable hell for another that comes wrapped in a meal, a warm place to sleep, a new outfit, or simply the promise of escape.

I began to see how broken social and familial structures contribute to creating hopelessness and fear.

I began to see how the cloud of desperation combined with the will to survive created the perfect storm for trafficking.

I've been fortunate to hear the stories of these women and have seen how the power they thought they had lost come flowing back to them in a series of small victories. I no longer harbor blame for them in making a choice to survive.

I have seen the strength of a woman in the eyes of a young girl when she strokes a horse's neck.