Friday, May 20, 2011

Interview with Daphna Ziman - Author of The Gray Zone


1. Q: Daphna, can you tell readers what provoked and continues to feed your passion for the cause of foster children and child abuse? What do you want readers to do with the awareness created by reading this novel?
A: I wrote this novel to create awareness of the resilience of foster kids who will either turn to crime or be reeducated and receive therapy to become useful, productive, whole members of society. I also want the readers to become aware of the problem of trafficking of children for abusive reasons that is still occurring through America. Money fuels the mistreatment, neglect, and abuse of children. Money, on the other hand, can fuel legislation, therapy, treatment, and mentoring to turn these children’s worlds around in many ways, with so many positive results. That is why all of the proceeds from this novel are going to the organization of Children Uniting Nations. (
This organization creates group and mentoring centers for foster children. It begins with providing backpacks, school supplies, and clothing for foster children. One thing that happens with neglected foster children is the fact that they are looked down on by other kids. When they receive these supplies that other children may take for granted, these foster children begin to have a sense that they are on the same playing field as other children, which begins to create a sense of self-esteem with peers. The next and most important work of this organization is education. I helped to push forward legislation that school must be a constant for foster children. Concerned adults and college students can become mentors – academic or otherwise. A university student could serve in this role while in college, after being trained in neurobiology. Change in thinking changes how the brain acts and reacts of life’s ups and downs. This training teaches how neglect and abuse creates cognitive issues and causes emotional, problematic issues; but it also teaches mentors how their therapeutic work retrains the brain. After consistent mentoring, these children begin to feel supported – someone is now there, a protective shield against more mistreatment and a forceful space to explore different opportunities that are life-giving in the sense of emotional, mental, and physical wholeness. Second, these children learn they can communicate with mentors and teachers, moving through fear of failure to ask questions and share their worlds so that they don’t eventually drop out of school for the wrong reasons.

2. Q: While we admire the intelligence and steeliness of Kelly, there is also a criminal element in the working out of her payback plan. Can you talk about how you see those skills Kelly portrays, which could be turned either way, to survival or crime?
A: Kelly’s character is the personification of many peoples’ characteristics. The lack of education, as well as the physical and emotional abuse, causes trauma to the vortex of the brain which actually suppresses cognitive abilities. Unknown to teachers, such children learn by auditory means – they listen for signals – and are initially unable to process visual learning. Without educational skills, they cannot excel in the world, so they develop street smarts for survival. If you think they have alternatives, they really don’t. Yet they do have a sense of morality, so bringing down the perpetrators doesn’t strike them as wrong due to the horrific wrong that has been done to them in the midst of a supposedly moral society that denies them a moral justice, the right of every single child. That is why Kelly, representative of single mothers who have evolved from an abusive world, uses her innate, incredible brain abilities in the “gray zone,” the foster child’s sense of true morality and justice.

3. Q: You talk about how a young mother can fight the entire justice system for the sake of her children? What kind of reform do you see happening which is mandatory in the American justice system to guarantee the safeguarding of our young children and teens?
A: 126 legislations have so far been passed for these children and issues, initiated, supported and followed by well-known politicians who share my passion for practically addressing these problems. They include Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Congresswoman Karen Bass of Los Angeles, Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Congressman Joseph Crowley of NY, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Diane Feinstein of California. An example of this legislation includes serving breakfast to these children in the first period of a school day because foster children frequently come late to school. If they don’t eat, they don’t learn well. Legislation has also been passed lowering the emancipation age so these children can be removed or leave these potentially devastating situations earlier. Legislation has also involved forgiving academic tuition for students who agree to mentor abused children. On July 28, 2011 a panel entitled “Keeping the Promise to our Children,” will address the issues in this novel about human trafficking and rape.
The public needs to support this legislation - call your local, state, and national politicians. Don’t wait for someone else to do it; be proactive and know you have made a substantial difference to specific children living in this world on a day-to-day basis. These issues are important to our country because 78.8% of criminals come out of the child welfare system; we need to change this statistic. Crime is committed on us. Make people aware of legislation so people can actively take part – get others to buy this book. This money will fund an educational therapist in one school; we are presently in 13 schools and going into 21 schools in the fall of this year. 99% of most American students stay in school; only 5% of those who don’t get help will go to college. Education, therapy and other significant help give these precious children a chance.

4. Q Can private foster-mentoring programs like Children Uniting Nations affect typical foster children agencies and institutions?
A: Yes, absolutely. We have created a coalition – ICAN – to create best practices guidelines. This is a policy committee where the head of every foster and orphanage institution has contact with ICAN. Every child has the right to a family – we also promote adoption and will shortly be holding an Adoption Day in LA.
I recently was speaking with an 8 year old foster child who had been returned to an orphanage. After a while, she asked me, “Will you always be my caregiver?” As my heart broke while listening, I responded, “I’m not your caregiver. I’m your friend.” She responded, “They’re not paying you to be with me?” What child should have to speak such words?

5. Q: Tell the readers, please, more about your mentoring foster children work.
A: Mentoring occurs on so many levels. It may involve academic tutoring, taking a child out to do something pleasurable. I once asked a group of foster children, “Who has never had a birthday party?” Every hand in the room went up. Hard to believe, isn’t it? It is for me, yet this is reality. So we might get some birthday gifts and have some celebrities give them to the children at a party. This isn’t public pandering; this is a “special” moment for these children, changing patterns of neglect and diminished sense of identity with one small but oh so special day. It might be chatting about nothing or upon establishment of trust sharing painful realities in each child’s world. The possibilities are limitless.

6. Q: What are Kelly and Jake’s weakest and strongest personality characteristics? Which are pivotal to you in portraying the “real life” aspects of their situation that would help a reader’s awareness of the issues depicted in this novel?
A: The question first must be addressed by considering situations, not personality characteristics. For example: What are the most important five aspects of life you treasure?
Q: Family, health, education, faith, and shelter.
A: Okay, give up one.
Q: All right. Education.
A: Well, a foster child who has no education must live by street smarts, and so it goes with the other four. They have to give up all five they day they are given as foster children to a family. The cumulative result is impulsive anger without training – we give them emotional training, teaching, and treatment, so they don’t do horrific things. That’s why we hired Dr. Vicky Stevens, a renowned expert in neurobiology, who has worked with 60 former foster kids who are now interns because of this program. Solid, real results!

7. Q: Since 1940s stars are part of the protagonist’s performances, disguises, and methods of being what she needs to be, how can we educate our children about the difference between fact and fiction – acting versus reality, admiring sexiness while realizing the appropriate and inappropriate use of such skills - after all, these actors and actresses are whom our children look to as models. The average reader may not have a problem with sex at all, but this is a problem that leads to so much abuse of children and teens. Could you please share your thoughts and feelings regarding this subject?
A: I recognized that if I used modern-day stars, I was actually condoning some of the things that are right now impacting our children. Romantic impact back then lacked today’s sensationalism causing present problems. We don’t really fully understand the development of the brain, and so what shapes our children’s minds should be in the forefront of our awareness. The Gray Zone is the world behind closed doors. We get kids adrenaline shot up, stimulate them, and then say their reactions are wrong. Consciousness here needs to transfer to parental responsibility out of this awareness.

8. Q: Since your protagonist lives a plot where all turns out well, what do you know about the all too many situations of abuse that remain undetected? And what is being done in a preventative way? I mean no offense here, but Social Services Agencies in most cities and suburban towns really are only partially effective for far too many of our young children and teens? How can the public be more proactive in this area?
A: The confidentiality part of the law, FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, protects and yet harms all our kids in protective custody. This is why abuse is not exposed; but now after fighting for seven years, Assemblyman Mike Feuer of California, may see this law changed so that those files will be open and we will be able to check on these kids in protective custody. Congresswoman Karen Bass (CA), as well as Former California Governor Grey Davis and First Lady Davis, have been instrumental in support for this necessary change.

Q: You've hit a home run with this debut novel. Anything else in the works we can look forward to reading or seeing?
A: I am writing my next book right now. It’s called The Final Punch.

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