Tuesday, February 24, 2009

First flower of the season


Recently the Seattle Police Department has implemented a training program to address allegations and perceptions of racial profiling. That's where police take action only because or partly because of a person's race. It's a hot political issue and there there isn't even agreement on the definition, "partly because" or "only because." As a narcotics agent in the 1970s I did racial profiling based on "partly because" definition handed down to me by my superiors. The profiles were written down. But that was then.

The training chosen by the department is called Perspectives on Profiling an interactive computer program funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and produced by Tools for Tolerance, part of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. All SPD employees will take the training which uses actors in scenarios designed by police officers. The action stops so that officers can discuss and critique the action and then make a decision using a remote control. That decision leads to another set of circumstances which then require another decision.

A great idea, right? Not so fast. The Muslim community in Seattle is outraged. Last night I attended a community meeting sponsored by SPD and I learned why.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is building a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem on the site of an 800-year-old Muslim cemetery called Mamila. Fifty years ago the Israelis built a parking lot on part of the cemetery and this will become the site of the museum. Two points of view about this project are expressed at Haaretz. com and at Wiesenthal.com

The dilemma for Seattle is whether to offend (perhaps too mild a word) the Muslim community by going forward with a training program with ties to the desecration of a cemetery, or to abandon the expenditure of time and money invested in Perspectives. No one has questioned the quality or efficacy of the program which, from my brief viewing, is excellent. Muslim advocates state that there are equivalent products available not connected with the Wiesenthal Center.

What occurs to me is that should Seattle pull the program and go with another, the controversy will end. The Muslim community will have made its point, but the construction of the museum will go forward and the story of Mamila will then be lost along with other accounts of injustices against Palestinians. No one seeing the new program will have a clue about this issue.

What if the program went forward to include an explanation of what the Wiesenthal Center has done in Jerusalem; to show that Tools for Tolerance is connected with an act of intolerance? Why not include information for the trainees showing how they, in Seattle, are still connected with that most tragic of world conflicts?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The News

In this case the news is of the family variety. My son Matt and his wife Tiffany announced to the family a couple weeks ago that she is expecting a baby next September. Yesterday they got her first sonogram.

The funny thing is that if it's a boy they might name him after his grandfathers David and Richard.

The little boy could be Dick Wilma.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Networking is Here

The whole idea of online networking has gotten coverage lately. Sites like Facebook and Twitter have created networks of friends, colleagues, classmates, clients, and service providers that people are still trying to get their heads around. I am still comprehending these resources and I'm a pretty savvy user of email and the World Wide Web.

I was first introduced to LinkedIn by colleague Charlie Hamilton, but let the whole idea just sit there. I picked up a few friends and relatives to form a miniscule network. Just recently though I decided to really explore LinkedIn and see if its features might benefit me, a freelance writer and wannabe novelist between gigs. I went to the trouble of completing a profile with my employment history and education and I was able to add this blog and my web site. Then I started surfing around and inviting people. Some people I haven't seen or heard from in fifteen years. You can cross check old jobs and schools to see who else listed them. I found a high school classmate from Sacramento who has worked here in town for 35 years and an attorney I worked with in the 1980s.

Charlie recommended I check out Facebook. I figured this was for middle and high school students. Since I didn't like high school the first time I never even looked at it. I was surprised that it was really quite tame and perhaps another good way to get my name out there. After all, it's not who you know, it's who knows you.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Solitary Writer - Not!

Writing is an individual sport, but the writer is not always alone, certainly not this one. I started taking writing classes in 1995. After every quarter, the students usually spun off into critique groups to continue our momentum at the craft. A good part of the classes was critiquing other students' work, not just for the feedback received, but to put each writer to work analyzing other work.

Every group evaporated after about a year, if one started at all. In 1998, I enrolled in a mystery writing class through the UW Extension taught by Northwest mystery writers G.M. "Gerry" Ford and Jo Dereske. (I don't think the mystery classes are offered any longer). I signed up for the mystery series because I had a background in law enforcement. It was natural that I give that genre a try. Jerry and Jo are excellent teachers and I learned a great deal. One product of Wednesday evenings for three quarters was an early draft of my mystery novel Tiny Details. The other was a reliable and long-lasting group of colleagues.

We started with about ten, lost a few writers over the years and picked up one. We are now seven. Everyone has completed one mystery novel and Bob has finished three or four. I finished one mystery and one historical novel, then started a sequel to the first mystery, a new mystery, and a sequel to the historical piece.

Bob's protagonist is a private eye. Brad's is a cashiered research biologist roped into murder over a timber theft scheme. Janet has a freelance writer investigating murder and fraud in the diet industry. Kathy takes us to the world of international wildlife trafficking. Rick's main character is a young, obscenely wealthy retired software entrepreneur investigating a suspicious death and environmental terrorism in the Cascades. Maurice has finished a couple of police procedurals set in the fictional Seattle suburb of Lakeview. Ted's story started with a sumo wrestler stung to death by bees in a porta potty at a local golf course, but Ted is on hiatus with us.

We rotate meeting locations and take turns submitting. The host makes a pot of decaf and serves sweets (Janet's fudge brownies appear in her mystery). We circulate the submissions by email so that we show up with marked up copies and written critiques. Our December meetings are something of a holiday celebration at a local restaurant, combined with critiques.

The process has been immensely helpful in my work and they helped head me off from potentially disastrous turns of plot. And knowing you have to periodically perform keeps us all writing. The comments are all carefully drawn and we have come to trust one another's sense of style. I am still "pre-published", but I am a much better writer because of them.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Publishing Front

This blog started as a way to report progress in my efforts to publish my two novels, Down The River, an historical novel, and Tiny Details, a mystery. River has been at a publisher since last spring and the early reports were that the readers liked the book. The acquisitions manager reported back to me that in its present form, they will decline to publish the manuscript.

But, were I to make revisions, she writes, they would like to reconsider it. They enjoyed the characters and they think it is a good story, particularly the way it was set up. This is the only publisher that read the entire manuscript and the comments she made were not unlike those from a literary agent who also read it. The publisher is a university press and they offered to have a class of students read and critique the work. How could I pass up the opportunity to have real readers give real feedback to my story?

I got in touch with the professor and he agreed to show it to his class. But the term has already started and it will have to wait until next quarter. That means that their comments won't be in until June. That will give me a chance to revise it some more before the students get it.

I have mailed out over 100 query letters and sample chapters for Tiny Details and received back everything from nothing, to preprinted regrets cards, to my own letter with a note, to one or two carefully crafted letters. All passed on the work. I did undertake to enter Details in the Amazon.com Breakthrough Novel Contest. The winner gets a $25,000 publishing contract. I entered River last year and it was actually selected as a semi-finalist. Alas, the version I submitted was before I had an editor go over it and help me with typos, etc., so it was pretty raw. Let's see if Details gets as far.

The news from the publishing industry is not good. Some major houses in New York have laid off staff and stopped taking new submissions at all. And all the money that is spent on advances for celebrity books by Laura Bush, et al., comes out of the pot available for fiction writers like me. It just ain't fair.

So I keep plugging away. I started a sequel to River and a new mystery with another protagonist, but have put these aside to revise 455 pages of plot and scene and dialogue.