Thursday, December 18, 2008

Suburban Sex - Part 3 of 7

Every suburban doctor, psychologist, therapist, or clergyman I spoke to said that sex is—or should be—a good, healthy activity. Sex and related activities can also be the theme of some good, clean fun, too.

The Loft, a unique dance and fitness space in Yonkers, NY, offers not only classes in hip-hop, salsa, and the tango, but in belly dancing and strip tease as well. The strip tease class draws about twenty women aged 19 to 68 every week, according to owner Jacqueline Bouet.

“It’s a sexy, feminine dance class,” she explains. “The dancing occurs in the dark, so it creates an atmosphere with fewer inhibitions. With the mirrors and everything, we stress dancing for yourself. It’s about self-esteem and self-acceptance.”
Dancers don’t actually take their clothes off, she says, although they practice the moves. Every three or four months, you’ll also get a light supper with a sex toy demonstration thrown in for your edification and amusement. That night, Bouet says, usually draws about 40 women.

You can also bring the sex toy demonstrations right into your home. Marion DiPippo, a work-at-home mother of three in Mahopac, NY, is a Passion Party hostess, which is kind of like selling Tupperware only a whole lot more exciting. She offers a huge selection of lotions, potions, ticklers, lingerie, vibrators, fantasy games, passion edibles, and toys for boys and girls like you’ll never find at FAO Schwartz. The usual crowd is a dozen or so women (although there are parties for groups of couples, too) who often provide theme-appropriate refreshments (anatomically correct cakes are a big hit) and come ready for a good time.
“My customers love the games we play at the beginning of a party,” DiPippo explains.
To break the ice, she starts with games like Erotic Bingo where the winner doesn’t shout "Bingo", but whatever they say when they reach orgasm. Another is the Alphabet game, where she holds up letters and the players shout out whatever sex-related word comes to mind. “A tricky one is ‘Z’,” she says, “There is one answer—but I am NOT giving that away.”

Partygoers occasionally go a little too far, DePippo admits, but it’s usually just a case of irrational exuberance.
“I instructed a woman at a party in Westchester to reach down her top and put a product on her nipple,” she says. “Instead, she just lifted up her shirt and exposed her breasts to everyone in the room!”
Read more about Suburban Sex in this seven-part series.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Suburban Sex - Part 2 of 7

Think the suburbs are too straight-laced to breathe? The next time you and your significant other dine out with another couple, consider this: odds are close that one of the four people at your table may have had an affair with someone other than their dinner partner. A national survey by The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) reported that 15 percent of wives and 25 percent of husbands have experienced extramarital intercourse. When emotional affairs or sexual intimacies without intercourse are included, the numbers rise to 18 and 30 percent respectively.

“The amount of extramarital affairs has increased in Westchester—as it has across the nation—because men aren’t the only ones doing it,” Dr. Robert Filewich, director of The Center for Behavior Therapy in White Plains, reports.
He has been treating sexual problems as a cognitive behavior therapist for 27 years and estimates that the ratio of men to women having affairs in the county is close to one-to-one.

Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus couldn’t agree more.
“More women are having affairs--and it’s not with their tennis instructor or personal trainer. It’s the guy working on their house! The contractor, the sprinkler guy, the plumber, the painter, the gardener.”
It’s not just the professionals who notice the up-tick, either:
“I’d say two out of five married people are fooling around,” says M, a hairdresser in mid-Westchester who insists on anonymity (as did several others interviewed for this article for obvious reasons). She adds, “I had one married guy proposition me—very seriously—while I was doing his hair!”
Read more about Suburban Sex in this seven-part series.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Heart of Diamonds Brings Congo To Connecticut

"...this enticing tale of suspense and romance sounds like a great premise for a fictional thriller," says the Litchfield County Times. "...the book finds itself jumping between literary invention, reality and that opaque area in between the two."

I'll be reading from Heart of Diamonds, displaying photos from my trips to Central Africa, and discussing the current situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo at 6:30 PM, Tuesday, December 9, at Gunn Memorial Library in Washington, CT.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, December 5, 2008

Heart of Diamonds "Action Packed Thriller"

Book Reviewer Debra Gaynor had this to say about Heart of Diamonds:

Heart of Diamonds has something for almost every reader: a touch of romance, suspense, and intrigue; this is an action-packed thriller. Donelson captured my attention early in this tale, and he held my attention to the very last page.
You can read the full review on

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Suburban Sex - Part 1 of 7

“This is a pretty buttoned-up county,” declares Dr. Wayne Gersh. “We’re not known as a hot bed of sexuality.” Then he thinks for a minute and adds with a smile:

“But if we could have a dominatrix in Pound Ridge, anything is possible in Westchester.”
Gersh is clinical director of the Westchester Center for Behavior Therapy in White Plains. The dominatrix, arrested last year, lived Westchester-style in a stately century-old white clapboard house with black shutters on four acres in Bedford Hills, NY.

Let’s face it, anything must be possible in an age when New York’s governor, otherwise known as Client #9, is run out of office for playing hide the subpoena with $5,000 call girls—and his successor holds a press conference the day after he takes office just to make sure everybody is okay with the fact that he and his wife were serial adulterers.

Or how about a place where three teenage girls recite a poem about vaginas at John Jay High School and are widely hailed for having thereby secured their tickets to Harvard? Looking for some exercise? Enroll in a Yonkers striptease class. Planning a party? Order up a genital-shaped cake and call the Passion Party hostess. Westchester may appear buttoned-up, but beneath our Donna Karan frocks and Armani suits, we’re wearing edible underwear.

Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus, Clinical Director of the Medical Center for Female Sexuality in Purchase, says the obvious:
“There is a very wide range of sexual activities in Westchester. It goes from people who’ve been married for thirty years and have only had sex with one person to couples who swing.”
Read more about Suburban Sex in this seven-part series.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, December 1, 2008

Congo On World AIDS Day

Bloggers UniteThe spread of HIV/AIDS is among the many deplorable effects of the continuous violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While the country as a whole has an estimated adult HIV prevalence of 3.2%, UNAIDS reports that prevalence of the infection among women who have suffered sexual violence in areas of armed conflict may be as high as 20%.

The eastern provinces have seen an astounding number of terror rapes--one every half hour, 24 hours every day--with a corresponding rise in HIV/AIDS.

Children are affected, too, both by infections through mother-to-child transmission and the loss of a parent to the disease. According to UNAIDS, 120,000 children under the age of 15 are infected with HIV.

While Congolese government efforts to fight the epidemic are not inconsiderable and the US provided $10.6 million specifically for essential HIV/AIDS programs to the DRC through USAID in fiscal 2008, getting assistance to the war zones is all but impossible. Over 1,000,000 people are homeless as a direct result of the fighting in the region, further complicating the delivery of essential medical services of all types.

While there is little we as individuals can do to stop the violence in the DRC, we can help its victims. One organization I support is Women For Women International, a leading force in helping women and their families re-establish their lives.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, November 24, 2008

More From Heart of Diamonds Virtual Tour

Interviews and reviews highlighted this week's Heart of Diamonds virtual book tour.

The Printed Page
Review Your Book
The Plot - An Interview with Valerie Grey
The Plot - An Excerpt from Heart of Diamonds
The Book Connection
Fiction Scribe

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Successful Search for Library Director

I was pleased to participate this summer in the successful search for a new Executive Director for the Westchester (NY) Library System, a consortium of 38 public libraries where I serve as a trustee.

Appointed was Dr. Terry Kirchner, whose experience spans more than 15 years in various management positions at public and academic libraries. For the last three years, he served as Director for Access Services at Columbia University Libraries. There, he led and coordinated system-wide interaction between activities across 22 campus libraries, launched effective assessment and marketing programs, conducted ongoing strategic planning and implementation, and expanded the campus-wide
interlibrary loan operations.

In his prior position at The New York Public Library, Dr. Kirchner managed numerous public service operations, coordinated interlibrary loan operations across its major research centers and directed the inventory and relocation of over 2 million volumes to an offsite, high-density storage facility.

Skilled in fostering collaborative and cooperative team-based work groups, Dr. Kirchner earned his doctorate in Human and Organizational Systems from Fielding Graduate University. He holds an MBA in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Baruch College and an MLS degree from Rutgers University.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Heart of Diamonds Virtual Book Tour Proceeds

My virtual book tour is proceeding apace, with more stops logged this week:

Book Publishing Secrets
If Books Could Talk
The Writer's Life
Divine Caroline

You'll find posts such as an account of how Heart of Diamonds made it from my scribblings to the bookstore shelves, an examination of my work habits (good and bad), and the inside details on the creative process that produced Heart of Diamonds.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Thursday, November 13, 2008

An Open Letter To NY Governor Paterson

Dear Governor Paterson,

The fiscal abuse of libraries in the state of New York has gone on long enough. I urge you to rescind your proposed 20% cut in library aid for the good of your constituents and the health of our state's economy.

Please remember that New York's libraries don't just have shelves full of books, but provide help with job searches, coach people through career changes, assist new Americans to navigate through our society, help older citizens manage their health care, and provide many, many other essential services to people who need them most. Library usage is skyrocketing right now, putting greater pressure than ever on our facilities. A funding cut as large as you propose will cripple us.

I serve as a trustee of the Westchester Library System, a cooperative that depends heavily on state support to provide the services so necessary to our citizens. As you are working on your budget revisions, I hope you'll keep in mind that there are 523,000 library card holders in Westchester--arguably the largest single group of voters in the county. The sheer number of library users should give you some idea of how important libraries are to the people of New York.

Your proposed cut will take over $400,000 out of the Westchester Library System budget alone. That will have a devastating impact on our ability to provide services to the patrons of the 38 public libraries in Westchester. You might be interested to know that we were planning on a very tight budget year but intended to dip into our meager reserves in order to maintain critical services. A cut of this magnitude would essentially wipe out those reserves, necessitating deep cuts in services.

As a citizen and a library trustee, I can assure you we are prepared to tighten our belt. I plead with you to help us avoid cinching it around the necks of the library users in the county.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Story Of One Refugee

Bloggers UniteThe refugee count keeps climbing in the Democratic Republic of Congo as fighting between the Congolese army and rebel warlord Laurent Nkunda drives more and more people from their homes. Recent tallies by the United Nations add more than 250,000 people to the rolls of displaced persons, bringing the total to over a million.

Numbers are only part of the story, of course. It's highly likely that a huge percentage of these people will eventually become casualties, killed by starvation and disease, dying of despair. I wrote about the plight of refugees in the Congo in this passage from Heart of Diamonds:

"That is Ogastine," Frannie explained quietly. "She was raped by seven men in front of her husband and children. One of them used a plantain to humiliate her even more." Bobby turned the camera on Frannie, who ignored it and kept on talking. "She had to take her children and go live in the hills when her husband kicked her out."

"Why did he do that?" Valierie asked.

"He was sure she had contracted a disease from the men who raped her, so he didn't want anything to do with her anymore. Her children all died in the bush. There were three of them."

As Frannie told Ogastine's story, Valerie felt the anguish draw around her like a dark curtain. She mentally pushed it back so she could focus on Frannie and the story. "How did her children die?" she asked gently.

"I don't know for sure, but probably from what you and I would consider a minor disease. It could have been just a simple infection. Like most of these kids, they were probably under-fed to start with. Weak. That means just about any medical problem becomes life threatening. The massacres and battle get press coverage, but nobody ever reports on how many people die from the real effects of civil war. Disruption of the food supply and lack of medical care kill a lot more people than bullets. More than five million have died in the Congo since 1998. The shame is, almost all of them die from treatable diseases like malaria and diarrhea, aggravated by living in a permanent war zone."
Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, November 7, 2008

Five Stops On The Heart Of Diamonds Tour

Here are five places to read more about Heart of Diamonds, including author interviews, reviews, and selections from my romantic thriller about love, scandal, and death in the Congo.

Beyond The Books
Book Reviews and Author Interviews
The Dark Phantom
The Story Behind The Book
The Library At The End Of The Universe

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Good Morning, America

I woke up proud to be an American today. The election of Barack Obama was a confirmation that we are a good country with good people looking for the right way, not the easy way, to advance our society. I think the choice of Obama was not just the election of the best man but the repudiation of the snarky, snarling, snake-handling, self-dealing bullies who have run this country for the last eight years. It's so nice to look to the White House and see not the glare of hate but a glimmer of hope.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Virtual Book Tour Begins

I'm going around the web this month to talk about Heart of Diamonds and the situation in the Congo. Three of the early stops tell the story behind the story and how I came to write a romantic thriller about blood diamonds. You can read more at Beyond The Books, The 1st Page, and The Story Behind The Book.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, October 31, 2008

African Traveler Reviews Heart of Diamonds

I love the Amazon reviewer who said Heart of Diamonds is "...all story - story - story."

She also said

"The story takes place against the background of the mess that is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In HofD, the Congo itself is the thread that runs throughout the book, brings the characters together, develops and changes their relationships. In this book, the DRC is not just a prop to the characters, it makes the characters (or destroys them)."
That comment pleased me greatly since the reviewer has traveled in Africa and knows whereof she speaks.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Heart of Diamonds: Fast, Modern Adventure

Reviewer Harvey Karp of the Bronx says on Amazon that Heart of Diamonds will make a great screenplay. Among his comments was this observation:

Even with all the fights, raids, battles, chase scenes along crocodile-infested rivers and over refugee-clogged roads, the story is fast-paced with the romance allowing the reader to breathe as it unfolds.
As you might imagine, I'm hoping Harvey knows somebody in Hollywood.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Friday, October 24, 2008

The Rape Of A Mother

Rape is an act of terrorism, not personal violation. In the Congo conflict, it is committed by an armed group, usually in public in front of parents, husbands, children or neighbors, and followed by mutilations and other corporal torture. In many cases, it turns into sexual slavery that continues for months. In others, it results in horrible death. Here is a short passage on the subject from Heart of Diamonds.

I hope you will consider a small donation to help the victims of rape, terror, and violence in the Congo. Women for Women International is one organization doing great work there Any bit you can send them will be appreciated and do a world of good for some people who really need it.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Making A Child Soldier

There have been child warriors ever since adults figured out they were cheap, expendable, and made good human shields. With modern weaponry, a four-year-old with an AK-47 is a deadly tool. In the Congo, children are recruited, kidnapped, and forced to serve as soldiers, sex slaves, and cannon fodder. Here is a short passage on the subject from Heart of Diamonds.

Please consider a small donation to help the victims of rape, terror, and violence in the Congo. Women for Women International is one organization doing great work. Anything you can send them will be appreciated and will do a world of good for some people who really need it.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Machete

Armed militias and criminal gangs control their territories by intimidating the civilian population. Exploitation of the Congo’s natural resources is their true goal, which they achieve by using brutal violence to enforce their demands for money and supplies. Here is a short passage on the subject from Heart of Diamonds.

I hope you will consider a small donation to Women for Women Internationalto help the victims of rape, terror, and violence in the Congo. Your gift will be greatly appreciated and do a world of good for some people who really need it.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Refugee Children

More than a million people have been driven from their homes by the endless violence in the Congo. Many of them will die, but not from bullets or blades; they’re victims instead of silent killers like malaria, pneumonia, malnutrition, and diarrhea. But they are casualties of war just as surely as if they had been hacked to death by machetes. Here is a short passage on the subject from Heart of Diamonds.

Women for Women International is one organization doing great work in this area of the Congo and elsewhere, so please consider a donation. Any bit you can send them will be appreciated and do a world of good for some people who really need it.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Anguish of Rape

Terror rape is an act that humiliates the woman, destroying her self-worth and interest in living. These effects are compounded when women are rejected by their husbands. Families are destroyed, women and children turned into refugees with no resources. Here is a short passage on the subject from Heart of Diamonds.

Your donation to Women for Women International will help the victims of rape, terror, and violence in the Congo. Large or small, anything you can send them will be appreciated and do a world of good for some people who really need it.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A People Destroyed

Blood continues to flow despite the signing of a peace agreement intended to stop the horrendous violence in the eastern provinces of the Congo. The agreement has been largely ignored by the alphabet soup of militias, army factions, guerilla bands, and outright criminal enterprises terrorizing the region. It is a humanitarian nightmare that may never end. Here is a short passage on the subject from Heart of Diamonds.

I hope you will make a donation to help the victims of rape, terror, and violence in the Congo. Women for Women International is one organization doing great work there Any bit you can send them will be appreciated and do a world of good for some people who really need it.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, October 17, 2008

Good Music, Good Cause

Women singers, songwriters, and poets are banding together to raise awareness about violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Grammy winner Irma Thomas, Americana singer Neko Case, and pop icon Susan Cowsill are among those donating tracks to a CD that will benefit rape victims in the DRC. The CD is titled Congo's Angels.

The effort is part of Congo Week, a worldwide outpouring of support for the many victims of the seemingly endless war in the Congo, where nearly six million people have died since 1998. As part of my contribution to the effort, I'll be holding readings from Heart of Diamonds at several venues that week.

Other contributors include Eliza Gilkyson, Caroline Aiken, Karen Protti-Bailey, Claire Holley, Kim Carson, Theresa Davis, Mary LaSang, Ruby Rendrag, Gospel Gossip, Sonia Tetlow, Herman Put Down the Gun, Karen Garrabrant, Dede Vogt, Caroline Herring, Janet Bean, and Leilani Rivera Bond. Earthshaking Records donated studio and production time for the mastering of Congo's Angels. A group of emergency room doctors in Brainerd, Minnesota donated toward the environmentally friendly packaging of Congo's Angels. CDBABY has waived their percentage of sales from Congo's Angels as a gesture of solidarity with Congo Week. The CD manufacturer, Oasis, has given a deep discount for the production of Congo's Angels.

You can purchase the CD at CDBaby. Carrie Crawford, Chairperson of Friends of the Congo pledges, "All proceeds from Congo's Angels will raise awareness, fund independent media, and support women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo."

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Reviewer Cites Heart of Diamonds Adventure and Romance

NoraG, an Amazon reviewer, says Heart of Diamonds crosses between two genres, thrillers and romance.

Between the high-concept suspense, steamy love triangle, and action-packed portrayal of the Congo, Heart of Diamonds makes a great read.
Just like it's readers, Heart of Diamonds can't be stereotyped!

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On The Road During Congo Week

It is time to break the silence about the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, which is why I will be reading from Heart of Diamonds and discussing the current situation in the Congo at numerous venues as part of Congo Week, a slate of events October 19 – 25 held on over 1,000 campuses and other venues in 100 countries worldwide.

Nearly six million people have died in this war so far and the violence is increasing as we speak. The media ignores the devastation, which is why I am speaking out.

I will be appearing at the Harrison, NY, Public Library at 7:30 PM, Monday, October 20, and the Multicultural Living Learning Unit of Clara Dickson Hall at Cornell University, Ithaca, at 7 PM, Wednesday, October 22. I will also appear at Borders in the Pyramid Mall in Ithaca at 3 PM that day. I will make a presentation at Barnes & Noble, White Plains, NY, at 7 PM, Thursday, October 23.

Heart of Diamonds is a work of fiction, but it is based on actual events in the most deadly conflict since World War II. I drew heavily on news accounts of rape as a weapon of terror, child soldiers, widespread corruption at all levels of government, and the very sad plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees from the violence that continues to wrack the nation.

In addition to these live events, I'll be blogging heavily during Congo Week. I have some special posts planned that will really dramatize the situation in the DRC.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Friday, October 10, 2008

Reviewer Says Action Fills Heart of Diamonds

"Action Action Action!" fills Heart of Diamonds, according to Amazon reviewer Dan Berger:

If you want action, this thriller is for you. From the beginning when a doctor is confronted by an AK-47-wielding rebel soldier to the wild ride in an assault helicopter at the end, Heart of Diamonds is one heart-stopper after another.
It's gratifying that this reviewer enjoyed the book.
Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Podiomediachat Interviews Me

Podcasts are a sort of parallel universe for writers seeking audiences for their work, and I lived there for a time with my first novel, Hunting Elf. One of the leading pundits in that field, Chris Moody, interviewed me for his program, Podiomediachat. Thanks, Chris, for the chance to talk about Heart of Diamonds, too!

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Heart of Diamonds Team Raises Funds For Congo Women

We had a great day at Roosevelt Island in New York on October 4, where hundreds of people gathered to run, walk, and otherwise offer support for women in the Congo who have been victimized by the endless war that forms the setting for Heart of Diamonds. It was the NY Run for Congo Women, a fundraiser for Women For Women International.

This four-star charity helps women provide for their families by teaching them skills they need to end the cycle of poverty and suffering, providing funds to help them start businesses, and teaching them to protect themselves against the terror around them.

(from left: me, my son Jeremy, my wife Nora, and our friends Sacha, Art, and Connie)

I'd like to thank everyone who joined the Heart of Diamonds team and showed your solidarity with the women of the Congo. Six of us were able to appear, but dozens others supported us with generous donations and heart-felt good wishes. When all was said and done, we raised nearly $1,000 -- a nice portion of the $15,000 raised by the event.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Lisa Jackson, whose documentary film, The Greatest Silence: Rape In The Congo aired on HBO earlier this year and won a special prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. We chatted before the run, then in a nice bit of serendipity, the Outreach Coordinator for Jackson Films, Joseph Mbangu, won a copy of Heart of Diamonds in the raffle afterward!

Thanks again to all the donors and well-wishers who supported this great cause.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Reviewer Likes Heart of Diamonds Heroine

Valerie Grey, the protagonist in my novel Heart of Diamonds, scored some big points in a recent Amazon review by Betty Crumpton of Kansas City, Mo.

Among other things, Betty says,

"Valerie Grey, the heroine of Heart of Diamonds, is one of the more nuanced characters in a popular novel. She's brave and not afraid to confront forces bigger than her, but still has plenty of internal doubts about what she's doing and why she does it."
I am happy to say Betty captured the essence of the Valerie Grey I was trying to portray.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Whale Song For Diamonds Event

My friend and fellow Kunati author Cheryl Kaye Tardif is contributing 125 copies of her enchanting novel, Whale Song, to Dallas Rocks 2008. The November 7 event is being staged by hip-hop impressario and jewelry entrepreneur Russell Simmons to raise money for the Diamond Empowerment Fund, which supports educational initiatives in African nations where diamonds are a natural resource.

Whale Song is sure to add sparkle to the other bling in the VIP gift bags to be handed to celebrities at the event. Cheryl's novel is a haunting tale of sacrifice and transformation from a socially-conscious author.

The Diamond Empowerment Fund was founded in 2006 by Simmons after a trip to Botswana and South Africa to investigate the diamond industry. Its initial beneficiary is the CIDA (Community and Individual Development Association) City Campus in Johannesburg, which provides higher education to 3400 students--all on scholarship--from a financially disadvantaged background.

When reading of the event, I couldn't help but think that there couldn't be a starker contrast between this school and the one in Heart of Diamonds, which is at the center of the diamond-smuggling scheme that drives the novel. The two represent opposite sides of the diamond industry in Africa.
Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Appreciate Our Freedom To Read

This is Banned Books Week, observed since 1982 by the American Library Association as a time to remember we shouldn't take our precious democratic freedoms for granted. If you want to see what it's like for people who live without the freedom to speak their minds, publish their thoughts, and gather as equals in an open society, read some of my accounts of life in Africa in Heart of Diamonds.

The theme this year is "Celebrating the Freedom to Read." That right is particularly precious to me as a writer, a reader, and a library trustee. We have a marvelous collection of free libraries in America for which we should all be very grateful. the very existence of places where you can browse the stacks without someone looking over your shoulder, meet friends to discuss the issues of the day without interference, even explore the online world in all its wild glory helps to keep America free.

True freedom can only exist when people can express their opinions not matter how unpopular they may be. Libraries make sure those viewpoints are available to all.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Ban The Books - Did Sarah Mean It?

Here's a topic for Banned Books Week: Did she mean it?

That's the central question about Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's pointed questions about banning books from the Wasilla city library in 1996. No one knows for sure--you have to look into those perfectly-painted eyes and ask yourself if you trust her when she says her challenge to then-Library Director Mary Ellen Emmons was "rhetorical."

The Frontiersman, the newspaper in Wasilla who broke the story on December 18, 1996, said this at the time:

Library Director Mary Ellen Emmons last week said Palin broached the subject with her on two occasions in October - once Palin was elected mayor Oct. 1 but before she took office on Oct. 14, and again in more detail on Monday, Oct. 28. Besides heading the Wasilla City Library, Emmons is also president of the Alaska Library Association. The issue became public last Wednesday, when Palin brought it up during an interview about the now-defunct Liquor Task Force. Palin used the library topic as an example of discussions with her department heads about understanding and following administration agendas. Palin said she asked Emmons how she would respond to censorship.
The question apparently came up the first time before Palin was sworn in as mayor. On Monday, October 28, 1996, during a week when Palin was requesting resignations from all the city's department heads as a way to test their loyalty, she asked the librarian outright if she could live with censorship of library books. According to the Frontiersman, Palin later issued a statement saying she was only trying to get acquainted with her staff that week. The paper quotes her as saying, "Many issues were discussed, both rhetorical and realistic in nature."

It could be argued, of course, that rhetorical questions asked while you're firing someone carry a little extra impact, but who's to say what was really going on in Sarah's mind at the time? Or now?

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Money, Money, Money

It's always about the money when it comes to the question of war and peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That's the conclusion drawn by Global Witness, who says attempts to keep the fragile peace program alive are being fractured by armed groups' involvement in tin and gold mining. Just as I wrote in Heart of Diamonds, greed drives war in the Congo.

Global Witness research this summer uncovered substantial evidence of exploitation and trade of minerals in North and South Kivu, scenes of renewed fighting in recent weeks. Armed militias and rebel groups are involved, as are units and commanders of the FARDC, the Congolese national army, according to the human rights group.

The FDLR, a Rwandan Hutu force under the command of leaders who allegedly participated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, is scrabbling for control of mines in the region as well. The FDLR controls swathes of territory where gold and cassiterite (tin ore) mines are located in the territories of Shabunda, Mwenga, Walungu, Uvira and Fizi.

According to Patrick Alley, director of Global Witness, "Our researchers saw FDLR members openly selling cassiterite in South Kivu. The FDLR then use the profits to obtain other supplies and keep their movement alive. They have set up such efficient and lucrative business networks that they have little incentive to leave."
Even though Congolese army brigades (FARDC) have been sent to the region to counter the FDLR, they are apparently just participating in the systematic pillage.
"Local residents told us that the FARDC are doing exactly the same thing as the FDLR: taking over the mines, forcing civilians to work for them or to hand over their mineral production and extorting taxes," says Alley.
There have also been frequent reports that members of the FARDC supply the FDLR with arms, ammunition, and even uniforms.

FARDC units control the largeset cassiterite mine in North Kivu at Bisie, as well as gold and cassiterite mines in Mushinga and Tubimbi. Some of these army units were formerly rebels who were supposedly trained and integrated into the official Congolese army through the brassage program designed to give them an incentive to protect and participate in civil society. Apparently, they prefer the money.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Video Trailer Captures Heart of Diamonds

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Congo Rape Fighter Recognized

The prestigious Human Rights Defender Award by Human Right Watch has been awarded to Mathilde Muhindo of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Her award was one of five announced by the international organization that polices human rights violations around the world.

Muhindo, once a member of Congo's parliament, was honored for her work supporting rape victims in South Kivu in eastern DRC, where a woman is raped every thirty minutes. The area has been ravaged by armed conflict for over ten years and sexual violence is used by government forces and rebel militias to terrorize the civilian population and control territory. Sexual slavery, gang rape, and mutilation are endemic, much as I described in Heart of Diamonds.

Muhindo now works as director of the Olame Centre, a nongovernmental women's rights organization that provided psychological and practical assistance to victimes of abuse. Its programs empower women to fight against pervasive discrimination and sexual violence. She also founded a parliamentary committee to investigate rape as a weapon of war.

“Women and children are paying dearly for the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Muhindo said when told of the award. “Sexual violence in eastern provinces should be seen in its proper contexts – a war within a war. A war against women.”
In partnership with Human Rights Watch and other groups, Muhindo has brought the issue to the European Union, the United States, and others. She led a coalition of local women's organziations that advocated for a comprehensive law on sexual violence in the DRC.

Muhindo faced death threats for her work, but refuses to be silenced.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Readers Ask About Heart of Diamonds

Readers often ask, Why did I choose the Congo as the setting for Heart of Diamonds? The answer is really pretty simple: there are few places on earth where such action and adventure are daily events.

War is a horrible thing—and the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the worst the world has ever seen—but it has always served writers well as a setting that draws out the essence of their characters. I write about fictional characters in real situations because that heightens the excitement for the reader and sweeps them into the plot.

Heart of Diamonds is a work of fiction, but it is based on actual events in the most deadly conflict since World War II. I drew heavily on news accounts of rape as a weapon of terror, child soldiers, widespread corruption at all levels of government, and the very sad plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees from the violence that continues to wrack the nation.

I also wanted to write something that captures the vibrancy and complexity of Africa, and a suspenseful adventure framed against the endless war in the DRC seemed like the perfect approach.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Heart of Diamonds Reviewed in Rumania

An in-depth interview with me and a review of Heart of Diamonds was posted this week by Vlad Jecan, editor of Astigan Press.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reporter Connects Library to Heart of Diamonds

Barbara Livingston Nackman, a municipal reporter for Westchester's biggest newspaper, the Journal News, has been a fan of libraries since he began her journalism career writing for book-selling and library publications. She drew an immediate connection between my position as a trustee for the Westchester Library System and my novel, Heart of Diamonds, in a recent post on her blog at, Book by Book.

That connection, of course, mirrors a line in my acknowledgments to Heart of Diamonds, where I say,

"I’d also like to thank the Westchester Library System and its 38 member libraries, whose collections gave me a world of background information on everything from the Congo’s history and politics to its flora and fauna."

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Monday, September 15, 2008

These Presidential Candidates Are Dogs

The front window at Shampooch, a dog salon and spa in Mamaroneck, NY.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Heart of Diamonds Radio Debut

I had quite a bit of fun during a recent appearance on the Clubhouse Report hosted by Brian Crowell and Mark Jeffers, which airs Wednesday nights live on WFAS AM 1230 in New York. We talked about my novel Heart of Diamonds in an interview you can hear at

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Heart Of Diamonds Team At NY Run For Congo Women

The horrible abuse of women in the ongoing war in the Congo is one of the themes in my novel Heart of Diamonds. Rape as a weapon of terror has reached epic proportions. Despite the Goma peace accords, literally thousands of women are still being victimized by the military and criminal gangs operating in many regions. The women of the DRC desperately need our help.

That's why I'm sponsoring a team to run or walk in the NY Run for Congo Women at Roosevelt Island on October 4. Proceeds from the event will go to support Women for Women International's program in Congo. This four-star charity helps women provide for their families by teaching them skills they need to end the cycle of poverty and suffering, providing funds to help them start businesses, and teaching them to protect themselves against the terror around them.

I urge you to show your solidarity with the women of the Congo by joining this event or even just making a small contribution. Registration is only $20. When you register, please join the Heart of Diamonds group to get a free team shirt at Roosevelt Island. And bring along your copy of Heart of Diamonds, so I can autograph it!

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Friday, September 5, 2008

Heart of Diamonds Named Cool Book

Heart of Diamonds is now officially cool.

It's actually the Cool Book Of The Day, an honor bestowed by PR guru Dan Janal. You can read Dan's scintillating interview with me at

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Another Presidential Candidate

Amid all the hilarity of the Presidential election campaign, a real viable candidate has finally come forth. He's my friend and compatriot, Dr. Arnie Witchel, an educator, highly-competent executive, and all around good guy. Click to learn more about his exciting candidacy. He's got my vote!

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Public Library Magazine Book Talk

I was delighted to be interviewed recently for Book Talk, a feature of Public Library Magazine, the publication of the Public Library Association (a division of the American Library Association). The interviewer was one of America's leading librarians, Siobhan Reardon, who just accepted an appointment as President and Director of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

You can listen to the mp3 audio version of the interview at

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Heart of Diamonds Now Available

My new novel, Heart of Diamonds, is in stock and ready for shipment by It's an exciting romantic thriller about scandal, love, and death in the Congo. As the book cover copy reads, "Amid the bloody violence of the Congo's civil war, TV reporter Valerie Grey uncovers a deadly diamond-smuggling scheme that reaches from Africa to the White House"

You can see more details at It will be in bookstores September 1 as well. Just ask your favorite bookseller for ISBN 978-1601641571. Heart of Diamonds was published by Kunati Books, named Independent Publisher of the Year at the 2008 BEA.

The first Amazon reviewer wrote:

This book offers both intricate, exciting action and compelling, well-drawn characters. The plot includes diamond smuggling, civil war in the Congo, intrigue that involves the White House, and a magnificent chase along crocodile-infested rivers, through raging gun battles, and into the sky in armed helicopters. There's enough sometimes-bloody action and intense suspense to please the most demanding thriller addict.

But there are also great characters who make Heart of Diamonds a good read for those who want to know why the bullets are flying and the diamond smuggling scheme must be revealed. The heroine, Valerie Grey, is a star TV reporter whose career hits a dead end just about the same time as her boyfriend and mentor, David Powell, decides they should get married. The problem is, Valerie isn't really sure she wants to marry David. Those internal conflicts run throughout the book, giving Valerie's character something to think about when she isn't dodging bullets and facing down bad guys.

The situation become more complicated when Valerie encounters Jaime Talon, a cynically altruistic doctor who runs a money-starved clinic near the diamond mine in the Congo village of Mai-Munene. Dr. Talon is actually the first character you meet in the book and his treatment of a child soldier, showdown with a guerrilla fighter, and run-in with the book's main bad guy, missionary Thomas Alben, give you fine insights into his life and character.

The two of them discover a diamond smuggling scheme that involves an American televangelist with ties to the White House. When the Congo civil war reaches fever pitch, Valerie Grey races to expose the scheme as American troops start pouring into the country. The Congolese army, the televangelist's minions, and even CIA-like assassins sent by the White House try to stop her while the countryside erupts in war around them.

Between the high-concept suspense, steamy love triangle, and action-packed portrayal of the Congo, Heart of Diamonds makes a great read.

I hope you enjoy.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Home Improvement Horrors - Part Seven

Here’s a tip from the Westchester (NY) Department of Consumer Protection that’s sure to drive your contractor crazy, but, what the heck, it’s your house, isn’t it? “Take pictures of the job while it’s in progress,” Consumer Protection Director Gary Powers advises. “If you need to file a complaint later on, you’ll want to show the conditions at various stages and the timing of certain things that might be in dispute.” Tell the contractor the pictures are for one of your kid’s school project.

What if, in spite of all your homework, open communication, sound business judgment, and everyone’s best intentions, a “situation” arises? The first place to talk to the contractor. You don’t have to kiss him on the lips, but, as contractor Eric Messer says, “Every job is like a marriage; every job hits some barriers and you have to be willing to compromise. There’s always middle ground.”

But, if you can’t come to an acceptable understanding, don’t just give up and write another check to the guy with the nail gun in his hand. Call your local department of consumer protection. “If we get a complaint, we will immediately contact the contractor and try to mediate the dispute,” Powers promises. “We find that in many cases intervention by our office in the form of telephone calls, letters, or even job-site visits by one of our inspectors can resolve the matter.”

If that doesn’t do it, they’re ready to go further, even calling in the District Attorney’s office when necessary. “If the contractor committed violations of law, we can issue an appearance ticket, impose fines, and even suspend their license. That gives us leverage in resolving consumer complaints,” he says. Powers’ office handled 375 complaints last year. He has four inspectors on staff dedicated purely to handing home improvement issues, since they are the largest single source of complaints the office receives.

If you’re considering a project to improve your home, take heart; the vast majority of home-improvement jobs get completed to everyone’s satisfaction—or at least to their relief. Some folks even have fond memories of the process. A Briarcliff, NY, homeowner hired Messer’s Sunrise Building to tear the back off of her family’s home, build a new kitchen, add a mudroom, another bay to the garage, and a deck—all done during nine months with the family still in the house. “Once we got used to living like that, it was an adventure,” she says. “Now, when I hear that backing-up truck noise, it’s almost nostalgic.”

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Home Improvement Horrors - Part Six

Once the contract is signed, the next step should be a very detailed meeting between the homeowner, the contractor, and the subcontractors, even if lining them all up is akin to scheduling a White House Cabinet meeting. “There are so many intangibles; we have to establish the ground rules up front,” contractor Eric Messer explains. “Do you expect me to put site protection down? Can I use your driveway or do I have to park somewhere else? Will I be able to use your phone? Will you provide heat?” All these things need to be discussed prior to start, lest you find your refrigerator raided because a contractor thought lunch was on the menu of what you’ll provide.

As with so many other things in life, good communication is imperative. That’s because stuff happens. As Ken Kroog, chairman of the Mid-Hudson chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, points out, “Not every job goes the way it’s supposed to. You open up a wall and there’s a four-inch drainpipe you didn’t expect. You dig the footings and run into a graveyard. You never know.”

It's a real good idea to monitor the work daily so course corrections could be made along the way and problems handled in the nascent stages. Messer says, “Most items can be corrected quickly and at no charge if they’re caught early enough. If you don’t tell me you don’t want the electrical outlet there until after we’ve hung the sheetrock and painted, though, it’s a big deal.”

Mishaps and problems aren’t the only reason you should closely monitor the work, according to Thomas Ralph, a Realtor in Pelham who recently hired a contractor to add a dining room to his home, among other projects. “Whenever he would get to a situation where he could go one way or the other, like where you want a lighting fixture, he’d come and ask us,” Ralph says “You have to have a rapport. It’s not something where you hire the guy, disappear, and not come back until the work is done.”

In fact, another homeowner in Hartsdale, NY, had to be far more hands-on than they expected. “Our contractor would never miss an opportunity to cut corners. He installed a sink off-center to avoid moving some plumbing, placed a recessed medicine cabinet outside the wall because he had already sheet-rocked. Every day was an adventure in incompetence.”

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Muppets Meet The Sopranos

The world of comics isn’t all muscle-bound heroes in capes, samurai-sword-wielding Asian adolescents with hyperthyroid eyeballs, and toilet-tongued teenagers spouting fart jokes. Division 18: Union of Novelty Costumed Performers is something very, very different—a super-cynical, tartly-written and tautly-drawn graphic work (novel? compendium? album?) that defies both convention and classification, providing thought-provoking entertainment and more than a few belly laughs along the way.

What’s it about? It’s the Sopranos version of The Muppets Take Manhattan. Imagine what would happen if Tony and his goombahs hijacked trucks and shook down deli owners while dressed like something you might see parading through Greenwich Village on Halloween. The concept came from Matt Bergin and my son, Jeremy Donelson, two thirty-somethings with respectable day jobs and cracked creative imaginations perfectly suited for creating comics.

In Division 18, the characters are criminals who hide their nefarious undertakings behind day jobs as novelty costumed entertainers, the psuedo drag queens, Elvis impersonators, and six-foot frankfurters you might hire for a demented six-year-old’s birthday party or the grand opening of a Laundromat in the Twilight Zone. In the comic, these guys have an imaginary union, complete with a crooked boss of course, that allows the creators to mix them together in unlikely union meetings and send them on bizarre assignments. There’s sort of a satire of a satire in every panel.

Advance reviews are good and there’s a wealth of preview material online. The 96-page trade paperback ($9.99) will be published by Silent Devil Productions. You can pre-order now (July Previews catalog, page 326, order code: JUL08-4207) at your favorite comic store for the fall release.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

Friday, July 25, 2008

Home Improvement Horrors - Part Five

Once you’ve done all your homework, drawn up your plans, checked out your contractor, etc., it’s time to go to contract. You may not need an attorney to vet your agreement (although it never hurts), but make sure you have it all in writing. In fact, NY state law requires that any home improvement project valued at more than $500 have a written contract behind it. Other states have similar requirements. The law also allows you to cancel the agreement in three days if you change your mind. If your contractor says a handshake is good enough, run like the devil is after you.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) contract is pretty much the gold standard in the industry. It clarifies things like who’s responsible for paying subcontractors (read: not you) and what procedures will be followed if problems arise (go to mediation). Other items to look for, whether you’re signing the AIA form or something else, are provisions for things such as debris removal and post-project cleanup. And another word of advice: “No matter how specific your contract is, you have to have room for change orders,” kitchen designer Leona Hess says.

Written contracts are all well and good, but they can’t cover the vagaries of human nature and work habits that might seem foreign to those of us who weren’t born with a drill-driver in our hand. “These guys were crazy,” says a Waccabuc, NY, homeowner who laughs about it now but was flabbergasted when she hired a crew to put an addition on her house. “There were nails everywhere, but one guy ran around barefoot all the time. Every morning, we would be awakened by someone shouting ‘Morning, Misses,’ and opening the bedroom window to plug in an extension cord so they could have power outside.”

The worst came when the guys were working on the roof and pulled the garden hose up there so they would having drinking water during the day. “But they just left it running non-stop! All of a sudden, I found water running down into the bedroom. I ripped down a shower curtain to protect my computer, then went running outside to yell at them.”

Friday, July 18, 2008

Home Improvement Horrors - Part Four

Westchester, NY, has 6,700 licensed home-improvement contractors, but there are plenty of operators out there who aren’t. Why does a county license matter? Before the county issues one, they do a background check on the applicant for a criminal record, make sure the contractor is insured, and see there are no outstanding judgments against them. “We also look at the contractor’s complaint record,” Consumer Protection Director Gary Powers says. “If there is a pattern of unresolved complaints, that could be a reason for us to deny a license.”

Leona Hess, founder of the Westchester Chapter of the National Kitchen and Bath Association, recommends questioning the contractor closely and specifically. “There are customers who have expectations that are too high; things just can’t physically be done. But some contractors will say anything to get the job, so both sides have to be fair and open.”

You should find out not only how long the contractor has been in business, but how much experience he has with jobs like yours. “It doesn’t make sense to hire a contractor to do a kitchen, for example, if he specializes in doing additions. It’s not the same” Ken Kroog says. Kroog is chairman of the Mid-Hudson chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Another item to look for are professional credentials that mean something. A county home improvement license doesn’t guarantee the contractor can drive a nail straight. Organizations like Kroog’s NARI and Hess’ NKBA provide technical coursework and certification programs for their members that help insure they know what they’re doing.

Even the biggest and best don’t always deliver, though. One homeowner's renovation included extensive heating and cooling work, for which she hired a company that was like an octopus where none of the tentacles knew what the others were doing. “We walked into our dining room one day to find a man drilling a hole into the wall to install a thermostat that had already been in place in another room for a number of weeks,” she relates. “He was unaware that there even was another system in the house.”

They had four separate “start up” visits from the contractor, but workmen frequently showed up without the right tools or parts for the job they were supposed to do on a given day. “ The final straw came when one of the workmen put the wrong thermostat in the wrong place,” she says. “He just installed the one he happened to have in his truck and told me not worry about it—-it was the same thing.” It wasn’t, of course. “To him it didn’t matter, but I’m going to have to use that thermostat for the next ten years or whatever. It’s the nitty-gritty details that raise your stress level.”

Comment on Corporation for Public Media

One big reason Sesame Street is so successful in nearly every medium is that it invests a tremendous amount of money ($9.5 million in 2007) in research--not the kind of research directed toward measuring the audience or telling them what features or characters will draw more eyeballs, but research into the effectiveness of the program in carrying out its mission to educate. In other words, the Sesame Workshop constantly tests its product with an eye toward making it better, not more popular.

In interviews I did with Gary Knell, Joan Ganz Cooney, and others for a recent magazine article and series of blog posts, the prevalent theme wasn't how big their audience was (I had to dig that info up myself), but rather how effectively the various programs have made a difference in children's lives. Their focus is on doing good, not being large. Funny how success rewards that philosophy.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Friday, July 11, 2008

Home Improvement Horrors - Part Three

You would assume that choosing the right contractor is the first step to a horror-free home improvement project, but it’s not. Before you start calling contractors, you need a set of detailed plans and specifications, says Ken Kroog, chairman of the Mid-Hudson chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. “Without that,” he points out, “contractor A might look at a job one way and contractor B will look at it another way. It’s not just the plans—it’s the details.”

Depending on the type of project, you may need to start with an architect or an interior designer to draw up the specs so you can secure apples-to-apples bids. It’s also a lot cheaper to work out your ideas on paper beforehand than with lumber, tile, and imported marble as you go.

Then get your bids, preferably from contractors your friends and neighbors recommend, and, even if you were the kind of kid to pay your big sister to do your homework, do it now. “People get three bids,” contractor Eric Messer observes, “but then all they look at are the numbers. You wouldn’t just get car prices from three dealers, then pick one without driving it. Remodels can cost a lot more than a car and last a lot longer, yet people seem to be not nearly as thorough.” That due diligence can ensure that you don’t wind up living in your car.

“The single most important question you can ask is, ‘would you hire that contractor again?’” says Westchester (NY) Director of Consumer Protection Gary Powers. “Don’t just get references on completed jobs; get some on jobs in progress,” he advises. “And don’t just get on the phone, get in your car and go look.”

Friday, July 4, 2008

Home Improvement Horrors - Part Two

Home improvement is expensive, which just adds to the excitement. You should expect to spend 10 to 15 percent of your home’s value on a totally new kitchen, according to Leona Hess, founding president of the Westchester (NY) Chapter of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. For a $685,000 home (2007’s median single-family home price in Westchester), that’s $68,000 to $103,000. For a $1 million home (not unusual in the county), your kitchen remodeling can run $150,000. It might be cheaper to buy a small restaurant in Arkansas and have your meals flown in.

Numbers like those are enough to give every potential home improver the heebie-jeebies, especially when you add in some of the horror stories from your neighbors. According to Eric Messer, a contractor since 1986 who owns Sunrise Building in Briarcliff, NY, and serves on the board of the Westchester Building and Realty Institute, it doesn’t have to be that way. “If you just do your homework,” he advises, “you can avoid most of the problems from the start.”

And Edgemont, NY, homeowner hired a guy named Sheldon to rip out a first floor bathroom and expand the family room as well as to remodel an upstairs bath. She says she can’t remember his last name because she blocked it out—-like the pain of childbirth. She also admits to committing three errors right at the beginning. For one, “We didn’t really do much due diligence because we trusted the guy who gave us the referral,” she explains.

Secondly, Sheldon was the low bidder on the job—-by a lot—-which is not necessarily a good thing. Finally, the contractor apparently carried the plans for their job in his head. “He said he had done this project and that project and it wouldn’t be a problem,” she says. Unfortunately, Sheldon spent a lot of time in Miami while the project was underway, which made it difficult for his crew to consult the plans in his head, not to mention for the homeowner and her husband to talk to him.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Something More From Your Library

You know you can find a book at your public library, but did you know you might also find a job there?

The Westchester (NY) Library System (where I am a trustee) has been a pioneer in offering career and educational counseling through our WEBS program. Literally thousands of Westchester library patrons have gone through the eight-week programs and various other programs and received individual counseling on everything from career management to job search techniques.

Help with your career is just one more way your public library contributes to the quality of your life. In a study released earlier this year by the American Library Association, 73 percent of public libraries reported that they were the only source of free public access to computers and the Internet in their communities. Why does this matter? Aside from the public’s never-sated need to update their MySpace pages, thousands of job hang in the balance, too. Seventy of the top 100 U.S. retailers accept online applications for hourly positions, and 16 accept only online applications, according to a 2006 study from Taleo Research. If you want to apply for a job, but don’t have a computer or Internet access in your home, you’re at a distinct disadvantage. Your public library levels the playing field.

But the library can do even more than help you file an online job application. It’s also the place to go for technology training, workshops on writing résumés and cover letters and on filling out online job applications, not to mention tips on establishing email accounts to receive the responses to your applications.

This is just one of many services provided to America’s communities by their public libraries. The cost to the average taxpayer? About $31 per year—or about the price of one hardcover book.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Home Improvement Horrors - Part One

Mention home-improvement contractors, and most homeowners roll their eyes and groan. Not everyone who’s lived through a home remodeling project reacts that way, of course. Some just chuckle sadly, shaking their heads with weary resign. Others run screaming from the room, ripping at their hair.

Maybe they’ve had an experience like the White Plains, NY, homeowner whose upstairs bathroom remodeler flooded the living room. Oops! Or the Scarsdale, NY, couple whose painters polished off pretty much everything in their liquor cabinets—-including a bottle of Perrier-Jouet—-and very kindly hid the empties in the heating ducts around the house. Heh, heh, heh. Or the Hartsdale, NY, woman who had to eat $1,000 worth of one-of-a-kind designer tiles because her contractor mismeasured a bathtub frame. “You should have measured yourself before you ordered the tiles,” was his response. Huh?

Even homeowners who don’t have horror stories readily admit that these projects are invariably an adventure. The White Plains homeowner with the swimming pool in her living room, took it all in stride. “That wasn’t fun,” she says. “On the other hand, it wasn’t the contractor’s fault. The house was built in 1923; and when you start messing with pipes that old, things happen.”

She and her husband are serial home improvers, having remodeled four bathrooms, the kitchen, the family room, and the entire third floor of their home in the 14 years they’ve lived there. “Nothing has gone perfectly,” she observes with Zen-like equanimity. “You just have to assume that the unexpected happens and that you will go over budget.”

Another woman, who spent three months renovating her family’s home in Katonah, NY, tells about the carpenter who sent them a bill a year after the job was completed. “He just forgot, but it was a punch in the gut,” she says.

Still, it’s hard to be calm when you turn over the house keys to a gang of muscular strangers with implements of destruction hanging from their belts. Beefy guys who are going to occupy your family’s private space for months, do violent things that you don’t understand to the most valuable asset you own, and then collect a huge check when the job is done—if it ever is. Home improvement is a trip when you’re watching it on HGTV, but can be a terrifying journey when the makeover is happening under your own roof.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Muppets Changing the World - Part 3

Sesame Street is on a global mission led by CEO Gary Knell. The program has always had some international distribution (a Mexican version, Plaza Sésamo premiered in 1972), but Knell has spread those shaggy puppet teachers into more than 120 countries and sees more on the horizon. “There are 150 million pre-school kids in India. It would be the fourth largest country in the world—made up entirely of five year olds,” he says, savoring the prospects. The opportunity is huge, but the mission is serious, according to Knell. “We take our model using research, content, and plot lines that deal with literacy, girls education, tolerance and respect, HIV/AIDS, global health and other issues.”

Knell is an inveterate globe-trotter himself, constantly on the move setting up partnerships with educators and production companies around the world. He got a good grounding for that early in his career, when he served as Managing Director of Manager Media International, a print and multimedia business based in Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

Of course, his conversations today are with a different group of movers and shakers than the advertisers in Asia Times. When I visited his office recently, I noticed a framed handwritten note from Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Fein and spokesman for the Provisional Irish Republican Army. It says “PS: Thanks for the Cookie Monster!” The Workshop is working right now in another hotspot, Kosovo.

Sesame Street reaches about 8 million kids a week on TV in the U.S. and 70 million kids around the globe, according to Knell. “But there are 700,000,000 kids under 9 around the world with access to TV, so we’ve still got plenty of room to grow.”

It all melds together to make Sesame Street a significant influence on children everywhere. As founder Joan Ganz Cooney points out, “The domestic show is affected by work we’re doing abroad, just as the American versions affect the international versions. Sesame Street wants to make children aware of the world they live in, that it is bigger than where they live in the U.S.” Watch Sesame Street these days and you’re as likely to see Elmo wearing an Egyptian galabya and drinking mint tea as chomping on chocolate chip wafers with his blue googley-eyed friend, Cookie Monster.

Knell isn’t afraid to encourage his staff to take on unpleasant current issues, either, especially when they affect the lives of children. He’s very proud of the 400,000 Sesame Street DVD’s he got Wal-Mart to pay for to help families of U.S. soldiers serving overseas. The program helps them deal with issues of deployment, re-deployment, and homecoming, sometimes by fathers in wheelchairs.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds