Monday, February 25, 2008

Step Away From The Book!

I have noted that I've been a very political animal recently and since my blog does mention the word Writing in its description, I figured I'd best add a few electrons in that area.

This is the "Step Away From The Book!" week. Most folks recommend that once you have a workable first draft you get away from it for 4-6 weeks. That way when you return to the work the brilliant stuff is easily seen as well as the sections that really suck. There are always more of the latter than the former. I don't have 4-6 weeks. In fact, the book is technically due March 1, but my editor can't get to the actual chainsawing of my prose until the third week of April. This is very good.

Despite the fact that I wrote the first draft of MADMAN'S DANCE in Nov. 2006 just so I could tell where the story arc was headed, that was only about 75K words. My novels are usually 115-125K words long. So we were missing some bits. Lots of bits actually. After I finished VIRTUAL EVIL, lots of stuff changed that impacted the third book's draft. So I've been playing Victorian housewife with the manuscript. Victorians did not like to waste stuff so women would remove collars, cuffs and other edgings from their gowns and sew on different ones to fit the occasion. Voila! A new gown. So I'm ripping out the old stuff and sewing in new stuff. Not much fun, especially since I hadn't quite figured out the mechanism for the Everything Goes to Hell Moment in the book. Now I have a better idea. Hubby has been quite helpful with that.

So this week I'm stepping away from the work, telling the VIMH (voices in my head) to shut up and trying to work on a paranormal mystery/urban fantasy/romance that I wrote a few years back. It's had more reincarnations than Elizabeth Taylor. It needs to get cleaned up, darkened up and sent off to an agent. That won't happen this week, of course, but it will keep my mind off the other book.

Then there's the business finances. Last year we changed computer programs and some items just didn't cross over and changed banks. I've been lax about keeping up with the numbers. Then NetBank went under and we had to move our personal accounts as well. So this week is the tidy up the numbers so hubby can do the taxes thing. Whee.... As a friend put it this morning when e-mailing about her taxes, "Just shoot me now."

A week of tidying, getting things in order and living in contemporary L.A. instead of 1888 London. Next week I'll leap back in time to finish off the final book in Jacynda Lassiter's story arc. Even in rough draft stage, this thing has legs. That's reassuring, especially this late in the game.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Shredding of the First Amendment

Being a bit cynical, I was wondering when this was going to happen:

Judge Orders Website Taken Down Wikileaks

The government has been merrily altering reports so we citizens won't be worried about Black Water, illegal contracts, the environment, etc. Now we have the dubious claim of be no better than China's puppet masters as a judge orders Wikileaks to close because of their expose about money laundering. Wikileaks brings us the dirt that big boys want hidden under the carpet. It is the ultimate expression of free speech.

So what the hell happened our Constitution? It used to be a bright light to the rest of the word, the first bulwark against tyranny. Freedom of speech is being eroded day by day. If we don't fight that now, in time we won't have that option.

I highly recommend the Electronic Freedom Foundation, folks. They've been fighting the good fight all along. They were the ones who worked hard to ensure Congress we didn't give the telecom giants a pass on their violation of U.S. wiretapping laws. As Mike McConnell, Director National Intelligence, admitted in a recent NPR interview, it was all about giving those big companies a break, not keeping the country safe from the bad guys.

"The issue is liability protection for the private sector. We can't do this mission without their help."

Bush and his cronies lied again. Why are we surprised?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Firearms & The Common Citizen

It's been a week for shootings, the one on the Illinois campus just yesterday. I wince every time I see something like this happen. Those kids had no chance to defend themselves. None whatsoever.

I have not said too much about firearms on this blog for good reason. It's usually a very hot topic, especially to those who have lost family and friends in that way. I respect those who would prefer that no one owns a gun. Unfortunately, that's not realistic. Despite England's strong anti-gun laws, they still have gun crime. The bad guys don't worry about the rules. England has outlawed knives of a certain length and is now after samurai swords because of a few incidents involving those. Humans will always find way to kill each other, though a AR-15 assault rifle is infinitely more speedy than a knife or a sword.

For those of you who've read my blog for some time, you know I don't particularly trust our government, especially over the last few years. Still, I have submitted to a full FBI background check, been fingerprinted and been granted a concealed carry permit. I'm not tickled the government has all that data, but that's what it takes if I wish to carry a firearm in this manner. Given that I travel alone on occasion, it was a logical choice. (Note, I'm speaking of concealed carry, which means you won't know I have a weapon on me, as compared to open carry, which I won't do. That just spooks people.)

Now, lest you think that means I'm totin' my gun just about anywhere I please, you would be wrong. Not in Georgia.

Let's see -- go into my favorite restaurant? Nope, they serve booze. That takes care of my favorite pub and the coffee house (they serve wine). How about the mall? Nope, not if there's a special event going on like a book signing or Santa meeting the kiddies. Everywhere I go, I have to triple think if I can have my firearm on my person or not. So why not leave it in the car? Great. So if my car gets stolen, they score a really fine handgun in the process. As a wise person put it, the firearm is safest on your person.

State laws vary so much that when I drive across a state line, I have to be aware of what that state allows in terms of possession of a firearm. Can it be within reaching distance in the car or does it have to be moved to the trunk? Can I carry it into the rest area bathroom or not? What if I stop for gas and there's a school across the street? Am I one thousand feet from that school, that church, that Federal building?

The problem with these laws is that the crazies don't care. They don't spend time reading through the mound of Georgia statutes (some 20+ pages worth) I rec'd when I applied for my concealed carry permit. They do not care if they tote their gun into a school, a church or a college campus. All they know there is little risk of someone shooting back.

I don't know if having just one armed individual in a classroom or at a shopping mall might make a difference. I do know that if no one is armed, the slaughter is horrific. I think we should open up the campuses, the public locations to those who have passed the full background checks and are permitted concealed carry. The crazies will still try to kill. At least someone might be able to stop them.

Since I've put my foot in it -- here's my notion on how it all outta work:

1) In addition to the standard background check to purchase a firearm, the purchaser must show proof of having completed a firearms safety course that includes operation of a firearm, legal responsibility for firing that weapon and how to store the weapon safely and securely. The course does not need to be weapon-specific, meaning you don't have to go through these each time you purchase a new gun. Consider this a lot like driver's education. You gotta know the basics.

2) Assault weapons (AR-15, etc) are not for hunting anything but people. These should be confined to the military. I know this will cause a howl amongst those worried about the government seizing our weapons. That is a remote possibility. I think in the short term, assault weapons have no place in our society.

3) If someone has satisfied the requirements for concealed carry, then they should be allowed to carry that firearm anywhere in the the country, no matter the state or the location. Right now there is a jumble of laws that vary from state to state. These need to be ironed out.

4) All public places, malls, etc., should have armed and adequately trained security personnel. The mall in Omaha didn't allow their security staff to have firearms. Unreal. These folks should coordinate with their local law enforcement agencies in test drills to deal with these kinds of events rather than feeling their way through them and making mistakes that cost lives.

And finally, something that is just coming on the horizon: microstamping. I need to do more research into this, but at first blush it looks promising.

That's my firearms spiel. I'm hoping in years to come that we won't have to have this discussion, but knowing human behavior, I suspect we will.


Saturday, February 09, 2008

Of Burqas and Headscarves

I've been watching this issue for a very long time. First in France, now in the Netherlands. At issue is whether wearing a headscarf or a head-to-toe burqa should be banned. The theory is that this will make Muslims integrate into society. My guess it will do just the opposite.

I have a litmus test for this kind of emotionally sensitive issue. If I was an Orthodox Jewish male and someone told me I could not wear a kippah (skullcap) to work, to school, on public transportation, how would I feel? The kippah represents more than just a piece of cloth. It's a connection between me and The Eternal. It reminds me that G*d is above all mankind and is part of my acceptance of the 613 mitzvot (commandments).*

So back to the original question. If I feel compelled by my religious beliefs to wear a kippah and someone said, "Can't do that," how would I feel? I'd be angry. If the decision could not be reversed, I've got a nasty choice in front of me. Some may abandon their kippah, scarves, burqas. A good many won't. If I was truly committed, I'd go somewhere where I could wear my kippah, amongst other like-minded folks. Which means the "we'll make them integrate into our society one way or another" strategy won't work. As we've learned, isolation breeds fanaticism.

I admit that trying to see the face of a woman in a full burqa is very difficult and the full covering is rather unsettling. If I was around women wearing burqas more often, that unease would disappear over time. Is it possible that one of them is toting a belt of bombs on a bus? Sure. Is it possible the guy across the aisle on the bus with the REI backpack has a bomb? Sure. Welcome to the 21st century, folks. It's not much different than the 19th when the anarchists were Irish and suitcases and parcels were exploding across London.

Most of this phobia is push-back at the high Muslim immigration levels. It's hard to see the landscape change in ways you can't understand. Which is the root problem: going out of our way to understand the other folks. My rabbi in Iowa was a very wise fellow. He frequently talked to high school classes and other civic groups. His theory was that once they'd met a Jew it would be harder for them to hate one. Stereotypes only exist in a vacuum.

Let the ladies wear their religious garb, whether that be a cross, a kippah, a headscarf or a burqa. Let the men wear their particular garb, be they Jew, Sikh, Muslim or Christian. Bring them together in community groups to talk to one another. Learn why they want to wear that headscarf, that burqa, why Orthodox Jewish women always wear a wig when they're in public. Find out what's behind the external religious symbols. The answers may surprise you.

As the rabbi said, it's harder to hate once you've shared your story with other person.

*Source - Wikipedia

Friday, February 01, 2008

Love is Murder - Chicago Style

Gotta love Chicago -- they know how to welcome a gal. Lots of snow. It was pretty. It tied up traffic to the extent that some friends driving down from Wisconsin required 4 hours to get to the hotel. They live 60 miles away. We had a grand dinner, b.s.'d and then they headed home late last night. By then the traffic was gone and the roads were being cleared. Chicago knows how to handle a bit of snow (somewhere over 6" the last I heard).

My hotel overlooks a parking lot near a big Target store. Last night there were six or seven snowplows working on the lot closest to the hotel. For a time, they got into one big circle and just went round and round like Indians circling the settlers' wagon train. Looked like fun.

The flight cancellations, etc. have caused some guest arrival delays here at Love is Murder (a mystery conference). Hopefully everyone gets in eventually. It looks to be a grand weekend. I'll do updates as time permits.

FRIDAY -- Today went well. I attended a Master Class by author Lee Child that was more Q&A than class. Then I had lunch with Barbara Vey of Publishers Weekly's Beyond Her Book Blog. We met at Moonlight & Magnolias last year and have been emailing off and on ever since. Her blog featured a blurb about Sojourn just about a week ago and so we talked about the series, about what other authors are writing and such. It was a couple hours' worth of interesting conversation, which was good as the service was rather slow in the restaurant and it took a long time to get the food and the check.

In the evening I reconnected with Robert Walker & his lovely wife, Miranda. Rob writes historical mysteries set in 1893 Chicago during the time of the Columbian Exposition. I also met Stacey Klemstein (we're doing a panel together tomorrow) and Kelle Z. Riley. Lots of new faces.

I have three panels tomorrow and a signing, plus the SINGLE MALT SCOTCH TASTING. Yeah, I've got my priorities right. And now to get a few more lines on the book before bed....

Saturday -- Three panels, one book signing, banquet and the single malt scotch tasting. All the panels went very well. Even managed to catch a wee nap this afternoon in between all the stuff going on. Barry Eisler (and others) conducted a martial arts, personal safety one-hour workshop that was very educational. After the banquet (and the piper) we tasted 6 Scottish single malts (Glenkinchie 12 y/o, Singleton, Dalwhinnie, Oban, Talisker and Lagavulin. The first three were a little light for my taste. I drink Oban already. I quite enjoyed the Talisker and found the Lagavulin to be a milder version of Laphroaig. Learned a lot. Now I just have to make to Scotland and do a distillery tour (or three). Tomorrow starts early(9 a.m. panel!) so I'm off to bed once I get the luggage packed. Met lots of new folks and that's what counts.

Sunday -- the final panel of the con started at 9 a.m. Before that we had breakfast while J.A. Konrath interviewed Tess Gerritsen on stage. Tess does great anecdotes. The panel allowed me one last opportunity to chat with Rebecca Kohles who writes unique books blending the supernatural and all things equestrian. Into a thriller. She's had good success with her first two books and is moving steadily toward that day she receives a contract from a traditional publisher. I'm wishing her all sorts of good luck and fat contracts.

Once at the airport, I popped into the Delta Crown Room (nice one), set up my computer and got another ninety-minutes of work done on Madman's Dance. I usually wouldn't spend $$ for such "luxury" but being out of the ebb and flow of humanity allows me to get words on page. I'm traveling a LOT this year so the membership will prove worth it over the long run. Unfortunately, I remember when TWA's club was $150 year. That might explain why they're no longer in business.

Home without a hassle, nice dinner (courtesy of the spouse who is thrilled I can take over cat fawning duties) and I spiraled into bed by 8:15. Totally knackered (as the Brits would say). Tomorrow is the day I'll officially start fretting about the next book. The deadline loometh. Those icy fingers of doubt are starting to flex. Well, nothing that dramatic. It's just going to be a day filled with lots of work.