Thursday, September 28, 2006

Welcome to the Gulag

One of the cool things about America, as compared to a number of repressive governments, has been our legal system. You get arrested, you get tried within a reasonable period of time. Coerced testimony (torture) is not allowed as evidence and you get to hear all the evidence against you so your lawyer can offer an informed defense. Not so in other countries where you can be incarcerated for decades and never see the inside of a court room. And should you be 'lucky' enough to be tried, the evidence is what they beat out of you over the course of the preceeding years. Verdict: Guilty. No appeal and a bullet in the brain (if you're lucky).

Please note the 'has been' in the first sentence. America is about to jettison one of the strongest beacons of light in this dark world and take a step closer to becoming like our enemies. Our Congress is in the process of passing a bill that will allow the President to declare any American citizen an "illegal enemy combatant". You can be arrested and held WITHOUT A TRIAL for as long as the government wishes.

If that trial does roll around, they can use evidence even if they pulled it from you or others using torture. They have the right to withhold evidence from your lawyer if they deem it top secret. You'll just be guilty.

But surely I'll have the right to challenge these conditions, you think. No. You will lose your fundamental right to habeas corpus if you're imprisoned in a military prison.

Chillingly, the courts will have NO RIGHT to review this new system, except verdicts made by military tribunals.

So, you ask, what does this mean to you?

This means that some day a bunch of government folks can show up on your doorstep and you, your mother, your teenage son, daughter, whomever, can be handcuffed and thrown into prison because someone lied about you or gave false information under torture. The Feds can just get you confused with someone else (it's happened). You or your loved ones may never get a trial. Basic human rights do not apply. They can be 'coerced' into giving testiomony using techniques that Torquemada would envy. They will simply be GONE because the government has deemed them an 'illegal enemy combatant'. And if they ever get free, the law would prohibit them from "suing the US government for torture or mistreatment."

Am I being overly dramatic? No. This power is breathtaking in its scope. It was bad enough we deny the prisoners in Cuba (and elsewhere) their right to a fair trial.

Now they can come for you. And it's all legal.

Welcome to the New America.

For more information on the scope of this bill:
New York Times Editorial 9/28
(for the latest changes to the bill, which only grows worse by the hour)

First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left
to speak up for me.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I Be A Writer

As promised, my take on the writer's conference I recently attended. This event lasted for a week, was located in a very scenic area in North Carolina and was full of writers from all levels. Some had just started their quest for perfect prose and others were multi-published. I was in awe of the newbies. That takes some serious stones to bring your work in front of a group of august editors and a NY agent and say, "Help!" But they did and learned from the experience. My buddy and I had the joy of working with a new writer who, over the course of the week, made monumental leaps in his ability. It was great to watch. He took our comments with good humor and dished critiques back our way. The fellow has a vivid descriptive ability that I sincerely envy. I hope to see his name on the bookshelves in the coming years.

Ah, but what about my experience? It was mixed. Part of that was because I am so caught up in my current manuscript, which is due to my publisher next spring. I'm right in the middle of the manuscript's first draft and have no clear idea of what's supposed to be happening at this point. I know how the book ends, but the middle is a muddle. So a lot of my brain's disk space is being tied up with "What if..." queries. The manuscript I took to the conference was written a couple years ago and wasn't as sharp as my later works. Perfect work to savage, to be honest. Across the board, the editors complimented me on my writing ability. They also saw my lack of heavy-duty world-building and commented on that. I hadn't thought all the elements through and you can see it in the story (or not see, as the case may be.) They were right on. I'm better with dark paranormal mysteries than I am paranormal romance. So we were in agreement that I needed to go back and rework the manuscript from that aspect, deepen the plot, darken the characters and let the story take off.

Unfortunately, my time with the NY agent was also mixed. I was under the impression that he would read the entire 50 pages I'd submitted as the other editors only rec'd 5 to 10 pages for critique. I was wrong. The agent made it to about page 22 and stopped reading. This is where he'd stop if the work was submitted to his office. I understood that, but I paid some serious $$ to attend this workshop so I expected a full read and critique. It appears other attendees were also unamused and there will be changes to that in future. (In the past the agent did read the full submission.) I'm pleased the workshop organizers recognize the need for the change and are serious about making this as best an experience as possible.

What stopped the reading at page 22? "Low Tension". The fact that nothing dramatic occurs on every page. The agent spent an entire evening explaining exactly how to layer in more tension and I will try to do that in certain portions of the book. I disagree that it has to be on every page.

What I did come away with was a comprehensive toolbox of techniques to improve my prose and a solid sense of what I'm good at and what I need to improve. (Not many surprises there, actually, which means I'm pretty much in touch with my writing ability.)

Everyone at the workshop had something that plagued them: opening lines, too much backstory, boring dialog, confusing point-of-view shifts. No one was perfect. And that's the key. None of us are. When you start thinking you've reached that lofty heaven of pure prose, you're on the way out and the new fellow with the dynamite descriptions will be there to take your place.

In retrospect, I should have submitted my current work for critique if it had been further along. The brainstorming sessions would have been more useful. However, I have extensive notes on what changes need to be made to the workshopped manuscript and someday I'll get back to it.

Now I have to put that knowledge to use and figure out what the heck my heroine is doing in the back alleys of Rotherhithe besides stumbling over dead rats.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Working the Craft

Friends often lead you astray in curious ways. So it is with my friend Sharon who, with patient coaching, encouraged me to attend a week-long writer's intensive. This is the total immersion sort where they work your little gray cells (and typing fingers) into a fine powder. She's attended the workshop and loved it. Led by Donald Maas, one of the lead NY agents, and his editorial team, this isn't for the faint of heart.

So next week I'm going to cast my ego aside (or at least stuff it in my luggage for the time being) and learn how to do things even better. I'm workshopping a dark urban fantasy I wrote a couple years back. It's set in L.A., does have a wee bit of romance to it and sets the groundwork for a three-book series. Two years ago I thought it was brilliant. Now I think the prose is pretty decent. The story doesn't have the punch of my latest work. So that's my goal -- learn how to put even more ZING! into my stories so my readers will say, "that rocked!"

I'll give you an update at the end of the week (providing I still have enough brain cells to type a sentence). One thing can be said -- it ain't gonna be dull.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Dragon*Con 2006

Whew! (wipes brow) Dragon*Con is over. Talk about a heavy-duty weekend. Now for those of you who've never trekked to Atlanta over Labor Day Weekend and attended the "Mother of All Conventions" -- you're sensible, people. Just kiddin'. I'm sure those who came but didn't pre-reg and stood in the line for 3-1/2 HOURS to buy their bades won't soon forget how big Dragon has become. Or forget to pre-register again.

Dragon*Con's four-day cummulative attendance is usually in the 40K range. That means an average of 10,000 folks per day. Rumors said that it was closer to 20K per day (including guests & vendors) for 2006. Those 20K folks cluster between 3 hotels (Grand Hyatt, Marriott Marquis and Hilton). Usually the Hyatt lobby is a zoo in the evening. Let me give you an analogy -- if you've ever seen photos of the thousands of pilgrims slowing circling the holiest place in Mecca -- that's sorta like Dragon*Con at the Hyatt. Though the reason for the huge population is nowhere as holy, it's the same crush of humans. They swarm up the escalator, around the center tower and then back down another escalator, almost all in some sort of costume. Incredible. That usually happens in the evening. This time it was happening during the day. Which meant getting to one's panels on time involved a bit of creative genius.

Speaking of panels -- did three this year: Two in the SF Literature track and one in the podcasting track. Both of these programming tracks were new this year and they were really good. I got to sit in on a panel with Claire Eddy (Senior Tor editor) and Stephen Eley (editor of Escape Pod) and chat about the Business of Writing. Then I was on a Women in Podcasting panel (hint-- there's a lot of us!) And the final panel was about romance in SF&F and included with such fun folks as MaryJanice Davidson and Rosemary Laurey. We were in a feisty mood by 4 in the afternoon Sunday, so we had the audience howling their heads off.

Reconnecting with friends is always a blast and this year wasn't any different. I did my best to diminish the amount of my spouse's homemade wine selection and my single malt scotch collection. Neither gave me a hangover, but the lack of sleep does add a few years to my face (groan). Mage & I wore our full Victorian outfits Saturday and that was fun. The significant other looks quite tasty in tails, waistcoat and cravat.

Of the whole weekend, one moment stands out even more than all the others. I'm sitting at a dealer's room table and this fellow stops, stares at my book, points and says, "That's it!" Apparently, his wife had been hunting for Sojourn since last August. I verified that "my" Sojourn was the one she was looking for (there are others!) and he promptly bought her a copy. Boy, was he going to win lots of brownie points!!!

So Dragon has come and gone. It was my 9th Dragon*Con as an attendee and my 5th as a guest. As always, it was a combination of overwhelming and thrilling. And now the 'con 'lag' will set in.... need more chocolate...