Monday, October 5, 2015

Rant – Against The Law: You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

The U.S. Supreme Court – the law of the land – has just begun a new term. This is scary because the court is made up of the same judges who brought us the Citizens United decision, which legalizes bribes to politicians.  Looking at the Supremes is also timely because we have also begun the race for the presidency, the winner of which will likely appoint new justices for a lifetime on the court of the last resort. And finally, it will soon be Halloween and at night, before I sleep, I see the terrifying masks of Justice Antonin Scalia everywhere.

The great failure of Scalia is that the premise on which he hangs his understanding of the U.S. Constitution is wrong — backward, really. Unfortunately he has followers on and off the Court who make the same mistake. As a self-proclaimed “originalist,” or ‘strict constructionist” as he is sometimes called, Justice Scalia and his allies miss the original purpose of the document and therefore pervert the document’s enduring meaning.

I apologize for stating what is or should be obvious. The Declaration of Independence was written to make it clear that the inhabitants of colonial America were about to set up their own government because, in short, they sought economic freedom from the Royals and their trade allies, and religious freedom from a shameless and cruel theocracy.  The new country’s founders wanted individual legal protections the Crown withheld. They tossed the rules and those who enforced them overboard.

The writing of the U.S. Constitution followed to set the rules of governance for this new, sovereign country.

The writers almost immediately added the Bill of Rights, fearful that some of their comrades might suggest that the constitution would be interpreted as the limitation of rights rather than the extension of rights, which was what the revolutionary war was about.  And thus began a dreadful confusion.  And it is the fossilized Scalia and his minions – slow-witted Alito, taciturn Thomas and a caught-in-the-middle Roberts who have a bizarre and muddled understanding of freedom and who have deserted original intent.

Getting it right is important. It boils down to this: Are you entitled to all rights not specifically prohibited by the document or are you entitled to only those rights explicitly granted by it?  This question pits the literal or fundamentalist against the conceptualist or liberal. Is this profound document, conceived by the finest minds of the time, a living and adaptable philosophy that accommodates the evolution of our culture or is it an ironclad set of rules frozen in the time of muskets and quill pens?

The battle is familiar. Christians have long debated the literal meaning of the Bible with those who urge folks to view the words more broadly and find meaning that relates to our times. It is a battle, involving various faiths and governments throughout the world. Most enlightened Christians do not worry about wearing clothing made of two different fabrics or eating scallops.

But back to the U.S.A.  and our Constitution.  Below is the text from Section 1 of the 14th Amendment:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Justice Scalia cannot find in that last clause that discrimination against women because they are women, is forbidden by our constitution. To deny women equal treatment is either in defiance of the Constitution or women aren’t people.

“Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it.  It doesn’t,” Scalia said in an interview with the magazine California Lawyer.

The word, “person” baffles Justice Antonin Scalia
When people remind us that justice should be blind, it didn’t mean it should be without vision.  And, of course, this same, logic-free Scalia interpretation of equal protection sets a precedent on other equal protection issues based on ethnicity, religion, height, disability, vocation – you name it. Chances are this affects you.  The Fourteenth amendment clearly states, “equal protection.” What Scalia seems to say is we have a right to equal victimization.

To me, this kind of restrictive interpretation of freedom comes from a petty mind, not to mention a stingy heart. This conclusion is not exactly in the spirit of American freedom, nor, for the unsentimental, can it be found in the actual words of our governing document.

And this is the man who somehow construed the Constitution to recognize corporations as people and money as speech.  He can find that in the Constitution, but not that women are entitled to equal rights?

He has also told us we have no right to privacy. The Fourth Amendment states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

 This is pretty straightforward, a simple, direct statement that even a strict constructionist should understand.

What’s more frightening is that most of the current Republican Party presidential nominees name Scalia as the kind of Supreme Court justice they would appoint if they became president.  

If Yogi Berra were still around, maybe he’d ask what the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments mean if they don’t mean what they mean?

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Film Pairings — The Quiet American Times Two

The Book

Is there ever a time when there’s not a war somewhere? Is there ever a time when we – the U.S.A. – are not involved at least covertly? Two films were made based on Graham Greene’s powerful novel, The Quiet American.  Romance and suspense mix with a look at history as all unfolds in a literarily parallel construction.

I was in my early teens when the French failed to hold onto their colonial interests in Vietnam. We didn’t know that the ongoing fear of the Communists and a misguided belief in what was called the domino theory’ of increasing Red dominance would lead us into an unwinnable and perhaps unethical war – a lesson we failed to grasp then and now.

The Quiet American (1958) – Because of 50’s political fall out in the U.S. (the commie scare”) the film written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz diluted Greene’s anti-war message and the U.S. complicity in atrocities. World War II hero-turned actor Audie Murphy played the innocent – or is he? – American, and Michael Redgrave portrayed the older, cynical journalist. The story of Vietnam’s dependence on their colonial ruler is a parallel to the young and lovely Vietnamese woman’s dependence on the British journalist. Is it love? This version was shot in black and white, which may account for its grittier appeal.  We don’t get to see much of Michael Redgrave (father of Lynn and Vanessa) in film. He does a fine job here.

The Quiet American (2002) – Time is supposed to provide perspective. Though it didn’t in the case of U.S. foreign policy with regard to Indochina, it did with the two films about the French and ultimate American failures there. With the benefit of hindsight, the2002 filmmakers wisely held closer to Greene’s book.  Phillip Noyce directed the remake. One of the major differences between the two films is that number two is shot in color, giving us a deeply sensuous look at an extraordinarily beautiful country. The difference is that this version realizes Greene’s dark vision of human behavior as it applies to the actions of nations and individuals, and the very sad fact that most of us do not know whom to trust. Brendan Fraser plays the seemingly idealistic American in French occupied Vietnam and Michael Caine the cynical British journalist.  Caine won an Academy Award for his role. Do Thi Hai Yen was just right as the young Vietnamese woman, the object of love or desire by Fraser and Caine.

To accompany the double feature, it should probably be something French. Pernod, maybe? A white wine?  Perrier? You decide.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Book Launch – Promotion Part II: The Novella And Me – Recent Work In The Shorter Form

I’ve been working on mystery novellas for a while now.  The Blue Dragon has just been released and there are plans for the sequel, The Black Tortoise, in 2017. The last two books in the Carly Paladino/Noah Lang series are also novellas — both easily read on a flight, say, from Boston to L.A.  Novellas are longer than short stories and shorter than novels

The Blue Dragon Peter Strand is a Chinese American private eye who “follows the money.”  As a forensic accountant, he’s especially qualified to solve crimes.  In this short tale, Strand, who speaks not a word of Chinese, is sent to Chinatown to calm tenants of a small apartment house in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where his P.R. assignment turns into a murder investigation. But it appears that at least one one of the tenants is the problem. It’s up to Strand to find out which one.

              Series: Rapid Reads
            Paperback: 168 pages ($9.95)
            Publisher: Raven Books, Orca
            ISBN-10: 1459809041
            ISBN-13: 978-1459809048

Death In The Haight  When Michael Vanderveer goes missing in San Francisco, Private Investigator Noah Lang assumes it’s just another runaway escaping to the Haight, San Francisco’s home to the displaced… until the homicide cops pays the P.I. a visit. Fifteen-year-old Michael has been implicated in the murder of a prostitute, and the police don’t want Lang’ search mucking up their investigation — especially Inspector Stern, who has strong opinions about Lang’s questionable past. But Lang becomes inextricably involved when he is hired by Michael’s parents: Their son is being ransomed, and they want Lang to ensure the exchange goes smoothly. As everyone waits for the kidnappers to make their next move, Lang struggles with the moral implications of rescuing Michael only to have to turn him in for murder. Then there is Stern, whose increasingly volatile behavior may just put Lang’s life in as grave danger as Michael’s. The Guilt Edge Mystery from Dutton is available in e-book form for $2.99.

            E-Book: $2.99
            Print Length: 93 pages
            Publisher: Dutton, Penguin Group (USA) LLC
            Language: English
            ASIN: B008ON3XLI

Mascara, Death in the Tenderloin — From the very beginning, things just aren’t what they seem. On a late, lonely night, San Francisco private investigator Noah Lang’s eyes deceive him. He makes a mistake. But what should have been simply an embarrassing moment becomes a deadly walk on the wild side. Unfortunately for Lang, before this nightmare is over, he puts his life on the line a second time for a new client who may or may not have a missing husband, who might or might not live on a boat in Tiburon and who seems to have an odd way to settle the bill for services rendered. This novella, a lively, tougher precursor to the San Francisco series, is available as an e-book and in paperback.

            E-Book: $3.99
            Publisher: Life, Death and Fog Books
            Publication Date: June 22, 2011
            Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
            Language: English
            ASIN: B0057P2D5S

            Paperback: 150 pages ($12.57)
            Publisher: Life, Death and Fog Books
            Language: English
            ISBN-10: 0615493564
            ISBN-13: 978-0615493565

These books were satisfying undertakings. I was especially pleased to find Rapid Reads from Orca. Because I admire the publisher’s mission to provide quality fiction and become a catalyst for new readership I was thrilled that my interest in this form of short fiction and the very direct way I write is a natural fit with this exciting and pioneering imprint.

If you find a story you want to read, find the book icon on the left column and click.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Book Covers And Other News

Occasionally I make the mistake of complimenting authors on the covers of their books.  I mean no harm.  It’s usually done with a feeling of kindly envy.  I love looking at book covers.  However the author usually had nothing to do with the cover.  He or she wrote the book, so the compliment is somewhat misplaced and could be seen as a slight to authors who see their own work judged by work they had nothing to do with.

Unfortunately in terms of time, the mind’s eye can take in cover art at a thousand to one ratio over its wordy content. And sadly the two (cover art and story) are not necessarily related – though they should be. In my next life, should I have the choice, I’ll be a visual artist. Meanwhile, I’ll try to hold my tongue unless I’ve read the book or I’m talking to the artist.

I like the idea that the book cover reflects the content of the book in mood and subject, but that is not the designer’s only concern. The designer, employed by the publisher, must also look to sales. What, in the sea of images will get potential readers’ attention and what will hook them into buying?

This is a challenge.  If you think about the tables and shelves in the bookstores and all the competing art and type and color, what stands out? They are all screaming, “look at me, look at me!” You pick one, and look closer.  Still interesting?  Can the cover art get you to the inside cover (flap) copy?  Beyond the cover design is the interior design. Does it invite you to read a couple of sentences? Does it make for a comfortable read? Typeface and leading (spacing) are important. Some readers and writers are unaware of all of this.  But a book is an object of art — in its totality, which is why many of us consider books more than just a good read, but also sacred keepsakes. 

As much as we like to deny it, a book is also a product. As a commercial enterprise, the design of a book has requirements similar to other products – a box of detergent, the label on a wine bottle (the bottle itself), or as Warhol knew, a can of soup. For best selling authors, their names are brands. Stephen King is Wheaties. And because of that, the cover design is secondary to the author’s name, which is likely to be the dominant graphic component.

Of the 18 books of mine that have been published, I have my favorite covers, as well as my favorite books. They are not necessarily the same.  One of my favorite covers appeared on an Italian translation. A couple of times I was allowed to pick the cover art.

But I’ve pushed my own books enough lately.  I’d like to show some of the many book covers that have made me kindly envious. A sampling of those covers are scattered about in this post.

For more, the blog “Rap Sheet” annually highlights the best in mystery covers in an on-line competition. I look forward to their 2015 posts. Also, Rap Sheet founder and editor J. Kingston Pierce hosts a separateblog featuring many older pulp covers as well – a comprehensive graphic history definitely worth checking out

Other News:
Severn House will release Killing Frost in trade paperback November 1. I hope bookstores will take notice.  Audible Books has just released Death in Pacific Heights on Audio. And finally, The Blue Dragon novella is now available as an E-book for 4.99. Not about me:  Two great mystery conferences happen this fall.  I’ve attended both in the past and highly recommend them.

October 30-November 1, 2015
The Columbia Club - Indianapolis, Indiana

This is a wonderful, intimate gathering of writers and readers.  Attendees are able to interact with authors, publishers and agents in this low-key, high-quality event.  Among the talented mystery writers in attendance are this year’s special guests, William Kent Krueger and Simon Brett.

October 8-11, 2015
Raleigh, North Carolina

This is big – the biggest crime fiction convention of the year.  Thousands show up for hundreds of events and panel discussions in a spirit of celebration. Many of the most popular crime writers as well as the most exciting emerging talents are on hand.