THE KIRKUS “STAR”

Kirkus gave the novel, American Heart, by Laura Moriarty, a starred review.  Then, because of criticism, Kirkus revoked it.  I have not read the novel, and am not arguing whether it should have been given a star–or even a good review–based on its merits.  Perhaps it is a badly written effort and should not have been given a star at all.  I leave that to others.  (Moriarty may or may not have done a decent or bad job of presenting Muslim characters, and I’d be fine with someone who read the book attacking it on the basis of how Muslims were presented.)

What concerns me is the reasons Kirkus has stated for revoking the star.  Apparently, when asked if the book’s star was revoked explicitly and exclusively because it features a Muslim character seen from the perspective of a white teenager, Kirkus’s editor-in-chief Claiborne Smith stated, “Yes.”  (See Kirkus Editor-in-Chief Explains Why They Altered That American Heart Review)  This, after commenters’ attacks that the novel was promoting a “white savior” narrative.

Noting that she’s being attacked for having a “white savior” protagonist, Moriarty states that if she’d written it from the Muslim woman’s point of view, she would have been attacked as “appropriating another’s culture,” and that what’s really being said is don’t even dare to write about anyone’s culture but your own.

This narrowing of fiction and who is “allowed” to write what has been going on for a long time, and frankly, for a large part, I have felt that American writers in particular bow to this restriction, and so we end up with mediocre “write what you know” literature rather than, “know what you write” literature.

As a writer, that leaves me in despair.  If this is where we are in the writing of fiction–certainly in what is favored in the publishing of fiction–perhaps writing science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction with no connection to any ethnic group existing on earth may now be the only way to go for a writer’s freedom.  It’s that, or just stop writing.  

MY WEEKEND AT THE WRITERS POLICE ACADEMY

The Writers Police Academy (WPA) is an annual 4-day conference held for mystery writers (though anyone may attend) at a policy training facility, with classes that enable writers to gain knowledge that will help them write more authentically when presenting crime and law enforcement in their fiction.  This year, it was held at the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, International Public Safety Training Academy in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

While there, I gained some knowledge of ballistics; the profiling of serial killers; defense and arrest tactics; and the mindset of cops from their point of view. I also got hands-on experience in how handcuffs work, found that I could drag a 150-pound body-dummy out of harm’s way, and got to fire a Glock on an indoor firing range (for this last, of course, one had to have a background check in advance).  [Although, thus far, my venture into the mystery genre has been in writing international thrillers, not police procedurals, the information and hands-on experience is valuable for writing in the mystery genre as a whole.]

The instructors who conducted classes for us generally train police officers, so their instruction gave us the flavor of what they attempt to impart to actual recruits.  What one comes away with is the sense that, whatever policemen may do once they are on the job, the instruction–at this facility in any case–emphasizes prudence and very specific procedures, for safety of both the police officer and the victim or suspect.

At the same time, the various instructors attempted to impress upon us how split-second the timing is for a policeman to assess a situation and react [eg., the heaviness of the gun belt; the difficulty of getting a hand gun out of its holster; demonstration of how quickly someone with a knife can get to an officer before a hand gun can be drawn; and class participation in a shoot-don’t shoot scenario (no real guns or bullets) in which one would have to distinguish threat from non-threat in a real-time scenario].

The two instructors who impressed me the most were not so much teaching us practical tactics but talking about police mindset.  The first, teaching a class called cop mindset, noted that the police feel like they are being attacked by the media and activist groups when they just want, like anyone else, to go home alive to their loved ones at the end of their day.  (He emphasized that he was not saying this sense of being attacked was necessarily his own viewpoint but that he was just telling us how many in the police feel.)  This instructor gave a hypothetical example of being put between a rock and a hard place:  a call comes in that a woman is committing suicide.  A policeman answers the call.  The woman is slitting her wrists, but when she sees him, she comes at him with the knife, and he shoots her to prevent being stabbed.  He is criticized for not having waited for back-up. But if he had waited for back-up, and she had died, he would have been criticized for waiting.

I very much took his point and sympathized.  Still, what went through my mind was, what about the woman who calls 911 and the police answering the call shoot her? (And of course, what about all the unarmed black people being killed b policemen?) I felt that he should be addressing that side of the situation too, and felt resentful about it.  But because this was at a police training facility and because we were there to learn their techniques and their thinking for our fiction, it did not seem the place to raise questions about the recent rash of police killings of unarmed people.  In addition, in the moment, I did not feel I could find a way to raise it without sounding hostile or combative, which would not be constructive.  Still, it would be good–perhaps not at a police training facility, but in some setting–to have police and community discuss these things openly and frankly.

Given that it was a police training facility, I think it was certainly fair game for them to set out their side of things.  The problem is that, by only addressing that side rather than acknowledging the other side of the problem, the defense comes off sounding a bit like public relations propaganda and so tends to detract from the credibility of what they’re saying.

The second instructor whose class impressed me taught Defense and Arrest tactics.  Noting that an officer must approach everyone he or she deals with as a potential threat, he talked about the need to observe not only what people say but their tone, their body language, etc. (It was also noted, though I’m not sure it occurred in his class, that if someone is on the ground with their hands beneath them, an officer’s knee on his or her back may appear unnecessary because the person is on the ground but, until the person’s hands are visible, the officer can’t know whether he or she may have a weapon, turn over, and use it.)

The story this instructor told, that I found impressive, was that when he was a young officer, he and two other officers had to arrest a man.  The man was responding very belligerently to the other two officers.  This officer came up from behind, tackled the man, and handcuffed him.  But when he got the man to his feet, without giving it any thought, he brushed snow off the man’s trousers and jacket.  The man, who was still angry with the other two officers, turned to him and said, “thank you for not treating me like a dog.”  The important part of this story is the effect it had on this young officer.  He said it made him think consciously about the need to treat suspects and criminals with respect, giving them their human dignity regardless of their behavior towards him, and that he felt that doing so makes the police safer.  It is the expression of that kind of thinking in an instructor that impressed me most about this training facility.

One thing did disturb me about the training.  On the first morning, the trainers performed a car-stop vignette for us in which the driver shoots at the police, and runs, and the police must first get their injured officer out of harms way and then approach the car.  The scenario was fine except that the recruit/officer playing the shooter was black–which reinforces the idea conscious and/or unconscious of what a shooter looks like–something that the police ought to be making an effort to change, especially now.  It is one thing, in caution, to approach everyone as a potential threat and another thing to feed into a perception that a particular color or ethnic group is a potential threat.  And after all, they could have had any recruit/officer play the shooter’s role.

One other thing struck me quite oddly about this weekend.  This is not about the conference, instruction, or instructors, but rather, about the other attendees.  They were all very pleasant and very enthusiastic.  But, this was the weekend that the Nazis marched in Charlottesville, injuring and murdering counter-protesters.  I would not necessarily have expected people to get into deep discussion about it, but not one attendee even mentioned it.  (I mentioned it to two people, only to note how odd it was that no-one referenced it.  Their reactions were that perhaps people wanted to stay away from politics. But I have never been at any other writers’ conference where some huge world or national event occurred and no-one mentioned it at all–not even to say, “Did you see that on the news?  Isn’t it terrible?”  And frankly, in class room situations discussing law and law enforcement, it seems more normal to me to raise it, even if an instructor were, quite naturally, to say that they don’t know enough details to comment on it.  A deliberate disconnection from the world. Very odd.  Very odd, indeed.)

Note:  for those who might like to check out information on the Writers Police Academy or attend in August 2018, its website is: http://www.writerspoliceacademy.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m BAAAAACCCKKKK….!!!

For anyone out there who is actually reading this blog, please forgive me.  I see that I have not posted since May.  It’s been a tough year and a strange summer.  I’ve been having eye problems since March (excuses, excuses), and other medical concerns that turned out, after much worry, to be nothing to worry about (excuses, excuses).–But, when your eye bothers you, it can be a little hard to spend lots of time on the computer.  (Excuses, excuses?)

In any case, catching up here….  In terms of the strange–I first was told that I had not received an Individual Artist’s Fellowship from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities (boo), only to be told a few months later that I had received an Individual Artist’s Fellowship from the Commission after all.  (Yay.)  I was not a finalist or winner for the Claymore contest put on by the Killer Nashville contest (boo), but a month or two later, one of the coordinators wrote, offering to introduce me to her agent.  (Yay.)  And I was not a finalist or winner of a grant from the Speculative Literature Foundation, but again, a month or more later, its coordinator wrote, pushing me to submit again (emphasizing there is no fee) and stating, “I want you to get this grant.” (Yay?)  (And the news that I got the fellowship came only five days after my then current agent had written that she did not feel she could represent my latest novel.  Depression–buoyancy–depression–buoyancy–depression–buoyancy…talk about ups and downs and ups.  It makes one feel like they are on a see-saw.)  Somebody up there likes me–or somebody up there is playing with me.  Constantly feeling on the verge is frustrating, but the “close though no cigars” of the year do also help to keep one going.

So, now that I’m back, here we will go…

happy-jessie

 

Some Writers Organizations and What They Do

Some Writers’ Organizations and What They Do:

The Authors Guild:  Traditionally, the Authors Guild represents the interests of book authors.  Amongst member services are:  staff attorneys to review contracts; negotiating tips (about what is realistic); disputes (eg. piracy issues); media liability insurance; free website building; and an author site (for a nominal fee per month).  There are three tiers of membership:  (1) those with an agent contract or a book deal; (2) those who are self-published or freelance; and (3) an emerging writer membership (these are not eligible for contract review).  Currently, the Authors Guild is trying to expand, to look at ways in which it can better serve freelance writers as well as book authors.

The News Guild Formerly the Newspaper Guild, the News Guild represents journalists and other media workers in digital and traditional news organizations in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Canada. This includes reporters, columnists, copy editors, photojournalists, graphic designers, editorial cartoonists and workers in advertising, circulation, business offices and other departments related to print and online publications.

The Writers Guild of America East and The Writers Guild of America West:  The Writers Guild of America represents screenwriters for T.V. and the movies. This is an industry based largely on projects rather than continuing staff where, when a project is completed, the workers must look for the next project.  Thus, the workers in this industry have somewhat in common with freelancers.  The guild has traditionally been a very strong union, providing strong contracts and high minimum pay that has provided a decent living, pensions and health care for is members.  The current challenge is organizing writers for so-called reality shows, which have been hiring non-union writers.

The National Writers Union:  Last but not least is the National Writers Union, which fights the fight for all freelance writers, including academic writers, app content writers,
copywriters, ghostwriters, bloggers, business/technical writers, editors, web content writers, and work-for-hire and contract writers, as well as the kinds of freelancers one usually thinks of (eg. book authors, journalists, etc.).

In addition to providing advice on agency contracts, publication contracts, and disputes with employers, the union defends the writers’ right to control the use and payment for electronic uses of their work.  NWU President Jonathan Tahini, along with other journalists brought the groundbreaking lawsuit against the New York Times, Lexis/Nexis, Time Inc., and other distribution services, for reissuing freelancers’ articles on the Internet without permission or additional compensation.  And NWU’s Publication Clearing House is a way for writers to set payment terms for republication of their work.

Unionism for Freelancers

On Saturday, I attended a panel hosted by the National Writers Union held on the campus of George Washington University.  Representatives of the Author’s Guild, the News Guild, the National Writers Union, and the Writers Guild of America, as well as other union activists, spoke. Amongst the matters discussed were the ways in which employers take advantage of freelance writers, and the difficulty of organizing them to better their situation.

Under existing conditions, freelancers work individually, and in isolation from each other. Major news organizations are getting them to work for next to nothing–in many cases, simply for “exposure.” The writer is expected to be grateful for this “exposure.”  Never mind the rent that needs to be paid. Or putting food on the table.  Or any of the other expenses of living.

Some major newspapers are cutting their staff and relying largely on freelance writers to provide their news coverage.  As an example, one major newspaper apparently puts out a call for an article on a subject.  As many as 800 freelancers submit articles–of which the newspaper will only pick and publish one–and pay as little as $50 for it.  In this way, news coverage is being turned into another version of American Idol.  This is not only bad for the freelancers.  It is bad for news staff who eventually will be entirely eviscerated.  And ultimately, it is bad for the quality of news coverage.

What is the answer? In part, getting freelancers–even those who are new to it and need the “exposure”–to refuse to work for nothing.  This will be easier for them to do if they have the support and advice of a union.  Another component is getting staff who are unionized to include standards protecting freelancers in their contracts. (To refuse to do so because freelancers are seen as competition would be penny wise, pound foolish. Raising the standards for freelancers will make it less likely that media corporations can gain a financial advantage by laying off staff and using freelancers in their place.)  Finally, recognizing that “freelance” no longer refers only to writers.  All individual contract workers are freelance workers.  And if this is corporate America’s current strategy for eliminating fair pay and benefits for those who work for them, we need a new broad model for how to combat that manipulation.

Copyright for Unpublished Work? Yes! And Here’s Why…

When I was in the Johns Hopkins masters program for writing, we were told that one doesn’t need to register a copyright for unpublished work because the author automatically holds the copyright for his or her work upon its creation.  This is true.  But if a question of authorship or rights arises, how doe one prove when and by whom the work was created?

The consensus seemed to be that adding a copyright mark was unnecessary for books since agents and editors for books know copyright exists upon creation, are not in business to appropriate a writer’s work but to represent and publish it, and would consider the copyright mark an indication of the writer being an “amateur” who did not know this.

On the other hand, in a play-writing class, I was warned that one should always put a copyright mark on movie scripts because those on the west coast to whom one sends such work might steal it and claim that they didn’t know anyone had rights because there was no copyright mark.

Whether or not one places the copyright mark and year of creation on the work when sending it out, I believe that, in order to have evidentiary proof of when the work was created, registration with the United States Copyright Office is indispensable.  And so, I generally register a copyright for my unpublished work before sharing it too broadly or sending it forth into the world.

(The Copyright Office provides for registration of unpublished as well published works, and I expect it would not be a complicated matter to transfer the copyright as necessary when a work is published.)

The price of registration is $35.00, and one may now register work through the Copyright Office’s website.  One fills out the application, makes payment on-line, and then uploads the work.  The work may also be submitted by mail.

The tutorials on the website (one for standard registration and one for single registration) are easy to understand and follow.  (The only possibly difficult parts are the need temporarily to disable one’s browser’s pop-up blocker and any third-party toolbars. But, for the technologically backwards–like myself–this is still not too difficult.  I easily searched for and found information about how to do this on the web.  The copyright website also states that its eCo system has been confirmed to work with the Firefox browser and Microsoft Windows Operating System 7, and that use of Safari, Googlechrome or Outlook  may potentially “show less than optimal behavior.”  However, I have used Safari and had no problems at all.)

When the process is complete (application, payment and uploading of the work), one receives e-mails confirming that the application, payment, and work have been received.  The registration is considered to exist from the date these items are received, though one may not receive the copyright certificate for as many as eight months.  (The Copyright Office admonishes not to enquire until eight months have passed.)  When the copyright registration is meant to be for a published work, the site notes that one does not have to wait for arrival of the certificate before publishing.

Note:  The process I’ve noted above applies to books.  But the copyright site’s tutorial also addresses the processes for registering copyright for paintings, plays, periodicals, etc.–some of which may be a bit different from what I’ve described here.

 

 

 

Catching up: 3 Weeks at the New School’s Summer Writers Colony in NYC

 

View of New York from 10th  floor of the New School's Stuyvesant Dormitory opposite Stuyvesant Square.

A view of Stuyvesant Square and midtown New York from 10th floor of the New School’s Stuyvesant Dormitory.

I’ve missed a couple of months–have a lot of catching up to do, right?  Today–a little on June.  I spent the first three weeks, participating in the New School’s Summer Writers Colony (and the last week, catching up on sleep.)  In New York, it was crazy-busy with work to do from morning to night, with only a little time for exploring the city.  The fiction workshop, which I attended, was okay, as were the craft talks, but the two most interesting talks were given by a publicist, Lauren Cerand, and by Josh Getzler, a straight talking agent.  (Personally, although a publicist’s job is to come up with ideas to promote a book once it is sold to a publisher and on its path to publication, I wonder if it would be helpful to one could hire a publicist to help figure out where a book fits in the market before approaching publishers.  I wonder if, for a fee, a good one would take something like that on….)

More catch-up tomorrow.