Sunday, October 11, 2015

How Americans Contribute to the Culture of Gun Violence

Last night, I took my ten-year-old son to see the PG-13 rated movie The Martian. We had just been reading the book, and were thrilled to see something so full of science and math and innovation come to the big screen. We put on our 3D glasses, snuggled into our plush recliner seats with popcorn and got ready for a fun ride. Instead, I was horrified as my child was subjected to the blood-soaked previews of three movies that were nothing but guns, guns, guns—and all of them to be released on Christmas Day. And why is it that the studios will release these bloody films on Christmas Day? Because they’ve done the research. They know that even though we scream and yell at Congress with outrage after every mass shooting, school shooting and theater shooting, moviegoers will still pay big bucks to sit in a theater and accept this gory violence as holiday entertainment, right after having slipped “Call of Duty” and “Grand Theft Auto” into their kids’ stockings.

Hollywood gets no pass here, either. While major studios have weighed in on war and politics and racism and every other societal ill, they continually perpetuate and glorify gun violence and vigilantism, even while their fans are gunned down in theaters. But are we boycotting? No. They dish it out and we keep on buying it.

I am an activist. I have had four incidences of gun violence affect my life. My little brother, at seven years old, was shot in the head by a troubled teenager down the street, and has had to live with the fallout of traumatic brain injury and PTSD. My best friend was shot five times by the father of her children, and lives with a body full of shrapnel. At fourteen years old, I witnessed my neighbor commit suicide by gun right in front of my house. Two years ago, my husband’s childhood best friend, a police officer, was shot and killed in the line of duty, along with his partner, by a maniac wielding an assault rifle. I do not live in a third world country. I didn’t grow up in Afghanistan or Somalia. I grew up in the very suburban San Fernando Valley in California. But I am not sheltered. I don’t have the luxury of thinking that gun violence is something that happens to other people. I know it can happen to any one at any time, and I don’t want it to happen to you.

After every shooting, I watch the news, the talking heads, the politicians who make their media appearances and send their “thoughts and prayers” tweets out, and still nothing gets done because we all sit comfy in our homes, pointing the finger of blame at them. But while we are pointing our fingers at Congress, there are three fingers pointing back at ourselves. If we were so upset about Sandy Hook, why didn’t we show up at the polls to vote out those NRA-backed politicians? Last year our voter turnout for midterm elections was the lowest in seventy years, and most of those who showed up to vote were conservatives who favor gun rights. As a result, we got more NRA-backed politicians voted in to office.

Every week, my friends post articles and memes decrying the horrors of American gun violence. In response, I post simple things they can do to prevent gun violence,  like signing a petition or making a 1-minute call to Congress. But these action posts get little to no comments, very few clicks, and almost no shares. The truth is that as 33,000 people are dying every year from gun violence, very few Americans take any action at all.

We’ve gotten lazy, America. If Martin Luther King were alive during this generation, and the civil rights movement were happening right now, would you show up to march, or would you just “like” his facebook call to action, repost a few memes, express your outrage about racism in a tweet or facebook post, and call it activism? Congress didn’t make change happen during the Civil Rights Movement. The people did. Where are the people today?

For far too long, the work of gun violence prevention has been on the shoulders of the grieving parents of murdered children, and those who have survived being shot. This is not their issue alone. This is not an inner city issue. It’s not a racial issue or a gang-related issue. Gun violence is an American issue, and if it hasn’t touched you directly yet, unless we do something about it, it soon will.

Brave New Films recently did a PSA pointing out that between 2001 and 2013, over 400,000 people have been killed due to gun violence. That’s equivalent to ten terrorist attacks EVERY YEAR. It’s more than one hundred thirty-five 9/11’s. We are at war with ourselves, and we are far more deadly than any terrorist. See video here:

Are we okay with this? Are we going to accept this as “just the price we pay for our 2nd amendment rights”?

Albert Einstein said it himself: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who refuse to do anything about it.”

Here are three simple actions you can take right now to help prevent gun violence. You can click on one, or just keep scrolling. It’s up to you.
Sign up here for a weekly email of three things you can do to prevent gun violence:

Join a gun violence prevention group in your state. Find one here:

Make sure your House Rep supports Universal Background Checks on all gun sales! HR 3411 expands background checks on all gun sales and stops criminals from getting guns online or at gun shows. The list of co-sponsors for HR 3411 is here: . If your Representative is on the list, thank them. If not, remind them that 90% of Americans support expanding background checks – and if they don’t represent the people by supporting this bill, they don’t get your vote.
Thank you for doing your part to change the culture of gun violence.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Why I Turned to Planned Parenthood

I am pro-family and pro-choice, and I stand with Planned Parenthood. It’s reprehensible for the men of the Republican party to attempt to cut health care funding for women. Many times throughout my life, when I was unable to obtain health insurance, I have relied on Planned Parenthood for my medical care.

I'll never forget the day Planned Parenthood gave me the
happy news that I was preggers with this beauty.
When I was young and newly married, my ex-husband and I had our own business. (Isn’t that the American dream, Republicans?) And while we were building our dream, struggling financially and without healthcare, I turned to Planned Parenthood for care. Planned Parenthood was where I went for my first pregnancy test, and where I got the happy news that I was carrying my daughter Cristen.

Planned parenthood is where I had my annual exams, where I got my birth control, and where I went when I had medical problems.

In my late thirties, I would once again find myself without health insurance, due to a pre-existing condition. (My pre-existing condition? I had seen a therapist for depression and anxiety after my house burned down.) Every insurance company denied me, even after I appealed annually and wrote numerous letters.

I turned to Planned Parenthood for my annual checkups and breast exams during those six long years that no one would insure me.

And now, in a shrewd political move leading up to the Presidential campaigns, the House Republicans voted to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, claiming that tax-payers are funding abortions. Abortions are only 3% of the care that Planned Parenthood provides, and taxpayer funds do not pay for them. But yes, Planned Parenthood does provide abortions- and unless you are a woman who has been in the excruciating situation of having to choose, you have no right to judge. (A very close friend of mine was raped at gun point and got pregnant with the rapist's child. Should she have been forced to be further violated by carrying the rapist's baby? Or should she have gone to court to prove the rape, so she could have had permission to have an abortion?)

Republicans: How is cutting life-saving screenings for women all over this country "pro-life"?

If you are going to call yourself Pro-life, you ought to walk your talk.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I'm Hitting The Road- and Might Be In Your Town!

Counting my blessings today for the wonderful readers and book clubs who have been supporting Fire Season since its launch in April. It's been a fun whirlwind- from events in Arizona and L.A. to radio events, a Huffington Post Live interview and a great night speaking at the American Red Cross Gala about fire safety ...whew!

Changing Hands Bookstore, Phoenix AZ

Barnes and Noble, The Grove, Los Angeles

This Sunday I'll be at BookStar in Studio City from 2 to 3pm, thanks to my good friend, the awesome bookmistress Lindy Michaels. I'll do a reading from Fire Season, then I'm open for Q and A, to talk about memoir, writing the scary truth, to alternatives in publishing...Meet me there and let's talk books!

After that I'm packing up my car, and heading up the beautiful Pacific Coast toward San Francisco. Troy and Evan are coming with me because they love San Francisco, and we have a #BucketList wish to ride our bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Here are the latest book tour dates :
June 28, Studio City, CA Book Star
July 1, San Francisco, CA: Book Passage, She Writes Tour
July 14, Northern New Jersey: Reigniting Your Creative Spirit: Workshop
July 16, Dingman's Ferry, PA
July 18, Woodstock, NY: The Golden Notebook, reading and Q and A with Hollye Dexter and Amy Ferris
September 9, Canada: Book Club
October 15, Emeryville, CA: Barnes and Noble
October 17-18 Berkeley, Magic of Memoir Conference

New events are being added all the time. I've got a tentative date in Vegas in September...stay tuned. I'd love to come to your town to visit with your book club, do a workshop or a bookstore reading- invite me!  See my website for all details:


Sunday, May 17, 2015

What To Do With a Rejection Letter

In Stephen Bishop’s guest bathroom, there is a framed rejection letter from Apple Records, saying that they found his compositions “unsuitable” for their catalog.

When you exit the bathroom and walk down the hall, however, you’ll see this -- walls lined with gold records that followed in the years after that rejection letter, as well as Grammy nominations, and an Oscar nomination for his song Separate Lives (performed by Phil Collins). Stephen has performed on Saturday Night Live, the Midnight Special, and in concerts around the world. In addition to his own top hits with “On and On” and “Save it For A Rainy Day” (with Chaka Kahn) his songs have been performed by Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Barbra Streisand, Art Garfunkel, Steve Perry, Stephanie Mills, Kenny Loggins, Johnny Mathis, Phoebe Snow, David Crosby, The Four Tops, and Pavarotti. Apparently, his music was more than suitable.

I love that he framed this rejection letter for all his guests to see. It made me want to do the same. Last week my book Fire Season received an ugly, negative review on Amazon. Inspired by Stephen,  I posted it on facebook for all to see. (Maybe I'll frame it, too.) Having just been in Bish's bathroom, I  decided to laugh these negative words off. Just because someone doesn’t understand your art, your music, your writing -- doesn’t mean your work has no value.

When I first started sending Fire Season out, my own agent, at that time, passed on it. “It’s not a universal story. People won’t relate to it,” she said.
Another agent said, “No one reads memoir. Memoir doesn’t sell.”
A publisher said, “You’re not a celebrity, we can’t take a risk on it. Good luck, though.”

Just think, if every artist, writer, painter, poet, musician, inventor, comic, etc. listened to the voices of the “critics,” there would be no art in the world. No music. No books.

I believe every one of us should do our art, whatever form it takes. Write. Paint. Act. Invent. Brainstorm. Build. People will tell you it’s impractical, and a waste of money. People might think you are crazy, lazy, or irresponsible. You might even say these things to yourself (the inner critic is the worst). Do your art anyway. Do it, because it’s in you and no one else can do it like you can. Do it for no other reason than the joy of doing it. Do it, because in spite of the critics (who are most likely frustrated artists lashing out at others), the world needs your unique fingerprint.

Frame your rejections, and put them on the wall. I agree with Stephen, a bathroom is the most suitable place to hang it.

For Fun: Here are some rejection letters received by very famous, very successful artists:

Stephen Bishop is still writing amazing songs. Find them here: 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Love and Miracles

March was the month from hell. It really was. I started to backslide into old negative belief patterns that I was unlucky, that this was my fate – had always been my fate, that bad things just randomly happen to me, etc…But then I stopped myself and said, “No, that is an old story. The new story is that I am open to love and miracles.” Even though I did not really believe this, I wrote it out, and posted it on my bathroom mirror. I looked at it and recited it to myself every day, until I started to feel it. All I can say is that if you make a commitment like this to yourself, buckle up.

April has been my month of dreams coming true. My book release events, both in Phoenix and at Barnes and Noble in L.A., were beautiful and meaningful. That same week I got to sing in a concert for my friend Jeff Jones, standing behind rock legends. I attended/spoke at four fancy gala events including Women Against Gun Violence  and The American Red Cross. My friend Amy said to me yesterday, “I’m exhausted from following you on facebook this month.” I laughed and said, “How do you think I feel? I’ve been in Spanx and heels for a month!”

Recently a facebook friend posted that she wouldn’t post any more pictures from her trip to paradise because she didn’t want to be obnoxious, and I said- PLEASE KEEP POSTING. Yes, there are people suffering terrible losses, losing jobs, reeling from depression. But for me, when I am down and I see people posting about wonderful times, it reminds me what is possible, for all of us. I find it so encouraging.

I posted a lot about my shitty month in March -- the funerals, the flood, the bugs, the ER trip --but I also wanted to post about all the good things, and hopefully it isn’t annoying or obnoxious to anyone, because my intent is to remind myself, and hopefully remind my friends who are suffering, that good times lie ahead, even when you can’t possibly imagine them.

I have lived through my Fire Season. I have walked through my dark night of the soul, and I know when you are there, how hard it is to find even the tiniest spark of light. If you are in a dark valley of your life, I ask you to open yourself to LOVE and MIRACLES. Repeat it to yourself even when you don’t believe it. Look for it every day, and notice the tiniest gifts…a bird on your windowsill, a rainbow, a meaningful song on the radio. Those are your stepping stones out of darkness. Open your heart to love and all the goodness life has to offer. Receive it with open arms when it comes…

Love and miracles beyond your wildest imaginings are in your future. Believe it. 

Here is something I never could have imagined years ago, when I was depressed and suicidal and wondering why I even existed.

Dreams Come True...singing backgrounds with Howard Jones, while raising money for my sick friend Jeff:

Saturday, April 18, 2015

That's What Friends Are For

As most of you know, I have a new book out about how we lost everything in a fire. One of my favorite chapters in the book is called “The Harvest.” It’s about how, when we were broke and homeless, our community of musician friends rallied around us and put together a benefit concert to lift us back on our feet. Hundreds of people showed up. When music and love intersect, it is an unbeatable force. It lifted us up financially, yes, but more importantly, it lifted us spiritually. In what was the ultimate “trust-fall,” we were caught, and held up by hundreds of hands. We swore then that once we were stronger, we would return that kindness, with every opportunity we got.

This is why my husband Troy and I are so happy to be part of the Jammin’ for Jones band, raising money to lift our good friend Jeff back onto his feet. Jeff is an incredible singer/songwriter/musician. His songs have been covered by Stephen Bishop, Art Garfunkel, and the band Alabama, to name a few. Jeff is now suffering terribly with both MS and Parkinson’s. Jeff can no longer sing, which crushes my heart. I melt for his singing voice. Listen here:

Just before our house burned down in 1994, Troy and Jeff were part of Stephen Bishop’s band, and had just toured Japan together. All Jeff and Troy did on the road, aside from making great music, was laugh. At home after the tour, the good times continued. Jeff can tell a story like nobody’s business, and had us laughing in our living room until the wee hours of the morning. Jeff is a good man with a huge heart, and so is Stephen. (Stephen has shown up and donated performances for me on countless occasions- to support my work with foster kids.) Stephen and Jeff have shared a close friendship for over 40 years, and were even roommates for 16 years back in the day. It has deeply touched my heart to watch Stephen work so hard to put this benefit concert together to lift his best friend. He has also helped Jeff to release his first and only CD of his own. This is what true friendship looks like.
Stephen Bishop and Jeff Jones on the Midnight Special. I love the shots of their faces singing together. Jeff looks about 16 years old.

This benefit concert for Jeff is one of the greatest labors of love I’ve ever experienced. I so hope you will buy tickets to witness this special evening, and tribute to Jeff. Bring some Kleenex. If you’re sentimental like me, you’ll cry, in a good way.
Tickets start at $50 and all funds go to help Jeff with his medical expenses. Buy your tickets here fast - its going to sell out:
If you can't attend but would like to contribute to Jeff's medical fund, please click here:

A few of the people who will be there on April 28 to pay tribute to Jeff: Kevin Nealon, Penny Marshall, Piers Morgan, LL Cool J.

Some of our show sponsors: Eric Clapton, Linda Rondstadt, Bette Midler, Art Garfunkel, Penny Marshall and more.

Video Tributes will be shown from: Michael Mc Donald, Jackson Browne, One Direction, and more…

The All-Star Band: 
Troy Dexter - Guitar
Robin DiMaggio - Drums
Debra Dobkin - Percussion
Jon Gilutin - Keyboards
Mark Goldenberg - Lead Guitar
Rob Shirakbari - Keyboards
Lee Sklar - Bass
Jim Wilson - Keyboards

Background Singers:
Leah Kunkel
Robbie Wyckoff
Hollye Dexter
Billy Trudell