Our post today comes from Heather Huffman. I met her through the 31 day challenge and she kindly offered to write a guest post for me. She has such a heart for the people being exploited through human trafficking and I have no doubt that once you read what she has to say, you will agree. On top of all that, she is absolutely a fantastic writer.
Two million children are believed to be exploited through the commercial sex trade. That’s a stomach-turning statistic if there ever was one. But when I began to learn about the faces and atrocities behind the numbers, it became a number I couldn’t turn away from.
I was in my thirties, wondering how the heck the path of my life had ended up where it had, when I decided to pick up my pen and write again. After years of silence, I’d committed to honing my craft and finally realizing my dream to publish a novel.
I finished my first novel, Tumbleweed, over the course of the next year, but when I hit a wall with editing it, I set it aside and started work on what would become the book that changed my life: Throwaway. It was inspired by a dream I had about a prostitute and a police officer. The dream was just one conversation between these two star-crossed lovers, but I became obsessed with them. I thought about them constantly and how they got to where they were.
When I look back over that period in my life, it’s almost eerie how everything came together. Research I did for the novel Throwaway opened my eyes to an entire world I’d never known existed – modern day slavery. Once I knew it existed, I knew I somehow had to become involved in the fight. Something in the back of my mind kept repeating that my books should be a voice for the voiceless, but I had no idea how to accomplish that.
It just so happened that while I was trying to figure out what to do, I was invited to a symposium on human trafficking. It was a daylong event that armed me with facts and clarified how I could best use my talents to make a dent in this enormous problem. I decided that day to give away indie versions of my books to raise awareness.
Many of those around me thought I was nuts. But those books were downloaded more than 50,000 times over the next months, and I began to hear from readers around the world. One even asked if she could translate my work into Russian. From that one crazy act sprang a much larger movement. As people—former foster children, rescued slaves, survivors of abuse—reached out to me with their stories, I knew I’d made the right decision.
It was also through my readers that I first learned of the groups Project Liberty and The Covering House, and have since committed to helping them in the fight against human trafficking. Project Liberty is a group out of Lansing, Michigan that’s committed to rescuing children from trafficking. They’ve also been wonderful about educating me on the reality of this crime. The Covering House is a group out of Missouri that offers shelter and restoration to victims under the age of 18 after they’ve been rescued.
A funny thing happened because of the momentum the books had built up back in those indie days – I was contacted by a publisher out of Seattle called Booktrope. They were pioneering a new publishing model that could survive and thrive in the changing book market. Several talks and emails later, I’d signed a contract with them to republish the first four books, as well as my fifth book, which had yet to be released.
Not only are the first four now proudly sporting the Booktrope imprint, my seventh book, Devil in Disguise, was released this summer. In terms of shedding a light on human trafficking, this is the book the others were leading up to. In it, the main character’s younger sister is taken by human traffickers. Through the course of the novel, I’m able to show readers some of what I’ve learned over the past few years. The trafficking element is woven into the story, and it’s intentionally not heavy-handed. It’s a book with as much laughter as there are tears.
Though my publisher now charges for the books, my reach has grown exponentially. I recently learned that my books have been downloaded approximately 500,000 times. I can’t even wrap my brain around that number. In addition to a having a greater reach, I’ve also dedicated to give a portion of my book royalties to the organizations I work with.
My publisher also helped me line up Leave your Mark Graffiti Parties in Missouri and Georgia, with more to come in 2013. More than a book signing, graffiti parties also serve to raise awareness for human trafficking and help inform others how they can get involved. Often, these events are held in cooperation with one of the non-profits I partner with as fundraising opportunities. I now also speak in schools, churches and women’s groups, raising awareness for the fight against trafficking and the groups I work with.
Looking back, it’s surreal how far I’ve come on this journey. I know there’s a lot of work left to do, but it’s a start. If we all start somewhere, then we can change that number. Two million children can be children, not a statistic.
Keep up with author Heather Huffman on Heather Huffman’s Facebook Author Page. Visit her book website or contact her on Twitter .
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