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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