Monday, January 31, 2011
Last week, Detective Jon Burge was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for perjury and obstruction of justice. As nearly every Chicagoan knows, Detective Burge, while reputed to be a very good police officer in many respects, also brutally tortured suspects at Area 2 on a regular basis. But by the time Burge’s tactics were revealed and confirmed, the statute of limitations for bringing torture charges against him had passed. A civil case against him resulted in a hung jury. Detective Burge was finally fired, and he retired to Florida on his city pension.
However, many in Chicago continued to demand that justice be served, not the least of who were the victims of Detective Burge’s tactics. Yet the only thing he could be brought to court on was obstruction of justice and perjury. In essence, the allegations against Burge were that he lied about torture in earlier cases. Detective Burge was found guilty, and Judge Lefkow (whose husband and mother were tragically killed by a former litigant) sentenced him to 4 1/2 years, saying, “…the jury did not believe you, and I must agree. I did not either.”
After the verdict, Mark Clements, someone who was tortured by Burge as a teenager, said of the sentence, “It’s outrageous,” and “It's not justice.” I know Mark personally and respect him immensely, but I have to disagree. The recommended sentence for Burge, via federal guidelines, was roughly 2 years. By giving him 4 ½ years, Judge Lefkow more than doubled that sentence. If she had given him, say, 10 years, 15 years or 30, as many suggested, she would likely have been overturned. And then Detective Burge would have once again escaped any ramifications for his actions.
The fact of the matter is, in our society, we must pay attention to the established rules and procedures. If Jon Burge had done that, he would not have caused all the pain he did. So if we insist that Jon Burge should have followed the law, we must still follow the law too. And that law says if you’re convicted of perjury, the suggested sentence is 2 years. Sentences must be commensurate with the crime. By more than doubling Burge’s sentence, Judge Lefkow went as far as she could. We cannot allow Judge Lefkow to go above and beyond the law, any more than we should have let Detective Burge do that.
Marvin Reeves, a good friend of mine and a client of Life After Innocence, was tortured by Burge and his men, and subsequently served 21 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Marvin has been completely exonerated, but he spent many days at the courthouse watching the Burge trial and sentencing. He told me, “Judge Lefkow had to be fair and impartial. That’s her job. If being fair and impartial allowed her to give Burge a thousand years, I think she would have done it, but she had to sentence him according to the guidelines. She did her job. In fact, I think she did a fantastic job.”
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Thursday, January 20, 2011
My editor died recently. Ruth Cavin was an extraordinary person and a standout in her field. Mike Shatzkin, who knew her well, described her as a "great editor and world’s nicest person." Julia Spencer-Fleming, one of Ruth's authors, eloquently expressed how many of us felt about her.
I remember getting Ruth's call, informing me I'd won the Malice Domestic contest. She sounded too young to be an editor, and I'd have thought she was putting me on if I'd told anyone else that I entered the contest. I was too naive, then, to understand what that call meant, but my agent's response was a clue. "Oh. Oh! That's wonderful!" When I finally met Ruth in person, I was amazed—she'd sounded so young!—and reassured that I was in good hands. As an editor, she was very wise and reasonable. When she questioned how I could have a character drown herself in a toilet, I explained how it could happen, and Ruth dropped her objection. She did not, however, relent on matters of good writing.
Ruth didn't start her career as an editor until age 60, after raising three children and having a successful career in public relations. She went to work for Thomas Dunne Books/St Martins Press when she was 70. She was still working at the time of her death; she was 92.
In a sense, her legacy will go on as long as there's a Library of Congress, in the hundreds of books she guided from manuscript to bookshelf. And in the children and grandchildren she was so proud of.
A second legacy was featured, recently, on WTTW's Chicago Tonight. Vivian Maier was a professional nanny and an amateur photographer of extraordinary skill. Her story is amazing—her legacy would have been lost if John Maloof hadn't discovered some of her photos and negatives at an auction of unclaimed storage items. Maloof was so taken with the materials he'd purchased, that he tracked down others who'd bought some of her stuff and bought all of it—over 100,000 negatives as well as prints, cameras, books, hats, and rolls of undeveloped film. Prints of eighty of Maier's amazing photos—mostly of people who caught her interest—are on exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center until April 3. After viewing them, I found myself studying the faces of people I passed on the street, even snapping a few photos.
Finally, The New York Times Magazine recently ran a relevant piece by Rob Walker: GHOSTS IN THE MACHINE: IT'S POSSIBLE TO LIVE FOREVER ON THE INTERNET, WHETHER YOU WANT TO OR NOT.
Monday, January 17, 2011
by Barbara D'Amato
Marcus Sakey is my new role model. When he posted the first few pages of his new book [Outfit May 19, 2010] I thought what a good idea it was. I would really like to read everybody's first chapter. I'd buy the book anyway, but I like an appetizer. So here is mine--
OTHER EYES [Forge, Jan. 18, 2011]
Interstate 90 rises in Seattle, less than ten blocks from Puget Sound, skirts the Seahawks Stadium, and heads east. It ends in Boston, throwing a tail across Boston Harbor to Logan International Airport. Between Seattle and Boston, it snakes across three thousand and eighty-eight miles, the width of the continent. When it passes through Chicago, it makes a shallow sidestep around the base of Lake Michigan.
In Chicago, Interstate 90 fattens to eight lanes, ten in some places, and frequent heavy-traffic entrances and exits are needed. The speed limit is fifty-five, which few people heed. Three hundred and twenty thousand cars go through The Loop on I90 every day.
Just north of the Loop, the road is eight lanes wide with a median of metal posts supporting wide metal guard rails. The right-of-way is fenced with chain link wire.
The baby had found one of the many breaks in the chain link fence. Attracted by the activity of the cars going past, he pushed through the gap. He was a vigorous little boy who had loved model cars even before he was able to sit up and play with them, and now, at the age of eleven months, had his own fleet of plastic cars and trucks. These real ones were even more exciting.
He wore a small pair of waist-hung jeans, which didn’t stay up very well, since he had no waist. The top of his diaper bulged out on the left side. In the back, the jeans had slipped halfway down his rump. Now he sat up on chubby haunches to watch the cars.
It was just past noon, late May, and quite warm. The grass near the fence had been mowed recently and was comfortable to settle down on. A duo of early white butterflies danced over the baby. However, he thought the cars ahead of him were more interesting than the butterflies. He got back up on hands and knees and trundled toward the highway. His chubby starfish hands made soft plops on the concrete as he crossed the shoulder into the traffic lane.
An eighteen-wheeler roared by, trailing a slipstream of dust and detritus.
The baby sat back, alarmed, then decided that the big truck, as big as a house from his vantage point, was thrilling, not scary. He giggled and chortled as the dust and papers from the roadside danced in the diminishing slipstream.
The baby patted his hands together. Two or three other cars passed. There was a gap, and then a yellow bus went by. The baby laughed again.
The high sun struck a new section of the metal median divider in the middle of the highway, four lanes away from the baby. He cocked his head at the sudden brightness. Then he smiled toothlessly. The bright strip beckoned.
With great decisiveness, the baby started crawling across the highway to the median, right hand-left knee, left hand-right knee, his little jeans riding farther down as he turtled forward.
Brad Oliver had slipped out of New Trier High School after lunch period, even though he was supposed to finish out the day. He thought hanging around just for gym and then study hall was a stupid idea. Brad had wanted his friend Jay to cut with him, but Jay was such a goody-goody he was staying to the end of the school day. Being fair to Jay, Brad admitted that since Jay had European History last hour, his absence would be noted more than Brad’s would.
These last two days were stupid, anyway, in his opinion, with exams Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Why not have a whole week of reading period?
However, Brad’s absence would be noticed. He didn’t fool himself about that.
Brad figured if he could get to Wrigley Field before one p.m. he could get in line for bleacher seat tickets to the Cubs. Otherwise, there wasn’t a chance. Used to be easy, but not since the Cubs went so far last year.
Some things were more important than school.
Jay was going to take the El down to Wrigleyville, but he’d better not get there too late to meet Brad outside. Plus, Jay was bringing Aaron, a senior who was eighteen and could buy beer. Brad would be eighteen next week, but that wasn’t good enough if they got carded. They had it all worked out. Aaron buys a large beer. Jay and Brad buy small Cokes, and they spread the wealth.
His parents were way too strict. A little beer never hurt anybody.
Brad got onto Interstate 94 at the Willow Road interchange. It was about twenty miles from New Trier in Winnetka, north of Chicago, to Wrigley Field. I94 merged into Interstate 90 a few miles north of downtown. His old Chevy wasn’t running as well as he’d like. He pictured the oil as being the consistency and color of hot fudge by now; he really needed to change it this weekend. The brakes had gotten funny lately, too. The pedal went yay far down before hitting pay dirt. The air conditioner hadn’t worked in a year. Brad had all the windows open. He complained about the air conditioner to his friends, but the truth was he loved driving fast with the air rushing in.
But the old tub, which had belonged to his mother, still had a fair amount of go, Brad was pleased to see. He kicked it up to sixty-five in the fifty-five zone. The cop father of a friend of his often said, “We’ll give you five and you can take five,” which meant they didn’t get pissy about ten miles over.
And he’d better push it, he thought, passing a Volvo determined to drive fifty in the middle lane. Arrive at Wrigley after people started lining up and no more cheap seats.
The baby padded determinedly across the rightmost lane of Interstate 90. A Toyota with a Wisconsin license plate sped past in the second lane. The driver briefly had a sense of something pinkish in the road, but it wasn’t in his lane and by the time he was aware of its existence he was past it, without knowing what it was.
As the baby started into the second lane, his jeans worked their way fully off his hips. As he achieved the middle of lane two, the pants slid the rest of the way down and he crawled out of them, padding along now on dusty hands and clean knees.
Unaware of leaving the jeans behind, the baby crossed the second lane to the third.
A carpenter in an S10 pickup, with two hundred one by sixes in the back, intended for a hardwood floor, was doing seventy in the farthest left lane. He saw the baby one lane over and was so shocked that he swerved when he didn’t need to.
A woman driving a Jeep Cherokee in the third lane saw the pickup swerve, saw the baby in her lane, grabbed for her cell phone to call 911 at the same time as she swerved sharply right to avoid him and braked. A semi, following her, noticed both cars swerve, and without seeing the baby, stood on his brakes.
Farther back, in the second lane, a taxi coming in from O’Hare with a passenger noticed there was trouble ahead and started evasive action, slowing and pulling right from lane two. A terrified driver of a panel truck behind him braked frantically.
The shriek of brakes startled the baby. He was not quite frightened yet, but his single-minded advance toward the shiny median divider had been interrupted, his train of thought broken. He paused and sat down on the white line dividing the third and fourth lanes. His face contracted into furrows of worry.
Brad was behind the panel truck and following too closely. He braked hard, but seeing the cars ahead of him swerving right, stayed in lane. He saw the pickup hit the Cherokee on its right rear. The Cherokee spun out of control sideways, rolling across the two lanes on the right as the pickup sideswiped the metal median dividers and crashed into a guardrail around a median light stanchion, coming to an abrupt halt, while the lumber in its back kept going, shooting across the roadway ahead.
Brad saw the panel truck crank to the right, where it was hit by the taxi. The truck tumbled end over end into the lumber.
At that instant, Brad saw the baby.
The infant was sitting up on the white line, puzzled.
There was just a glimpse of the baby before Brad slammed on his brakes. The pedal went way down, then grabbed. Brad swung the wheel of his car, slewing the old Chevy onto the right shoulder. It hit the ditch and rolled onto its side. Brad shoved himself through the open driver’s side window, which was now a sun roof.
He popped out like a cork and sprinted fifty yards back up the roadway, sure he would see a mangled child.
The baby still sat on the white line. A small yellow school bus had just missed him. Its driver had his mouth open as if screaming and the bus fishtailed as it tried to stop before hitting the Jeep Cherokee. A semi and two other cars were bearing down on the baby.
Brad scooped up the baby like a football player snagging a fumble, vaulted to the median and tumbled onto it, cracking his shoulder hard. Crawling over the metal barrier, holding the baby under his arm, he crouched on the far side, just out of the lanes where the northbound traffic was speeding past.
He huddled there as several more vehicles plunged into the back of the wrecks, as one ran into the ditch and struck his car, as northbound traffic began to slow down and gape at the pile-up.
A quarter of a mile back in the southbound lanes was a gondola truck carrying tons of ledge stone from a quarry in Montana to a site in Oak Park where a Frank Lloyd Wright lookalike house was being built. The driver was doing seventy.
As Brad held him, the baby screamed, the first time he had showed fear. Brad cuddled the infant into his shoulder.
At seventy, the truck full of stone covered the quarter-mile in just over ten seconds. The driver saw the pile-up and hit his brakes, putting his full body weight onto his foot, but it was too late. Laying rubber, the screeching juggernaut plowed into the mass of cars and trucks, corrugating metal and pancaking flesh.
Brad leaned against the median divider, holding the baby close. They were both crying.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Friday, January 14, 2011
I think it's a fabulous idea, and I was honored to be Friend #9. (Watch out Elliot Spitzer-- I'm right behind you). The conversation was about writing, but we were in a dive bar in Chicago -- are there any others worth going to?-- and it kinda sorta got off track.
Here it is.
Scroll down a post or two.
Have a great weekend.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
I felt sorry for the man with the stroke, and cheered the person on the phone who was suspicious. I thought the speaker was telling it straight, but I wondered if the man with the stroke had underplayed to her any problems with the vehicle. Maybe, maybe not. Hard to tell with this one.
One of my writer friends comments that I don't have my characters swear. To her, it seems "off," because, and she feels, and rightly so, that so many people use profanity today that its absence is noticeable.
This is one part of dialogue that I avoid. While an occasional bit of blue language is appropriate, I'm always concerned that once I start writing it, I'll lapse into a complacent place where I'll be writing profanity for impact, but it will have lost any it ever had because it's littering the page.
The other day I made a point to listen to every conversation I could while moving through the city. While on the subway, walking to my appointments, or sitting in the coffee shop. To my surprise, there wasn't a lot of profanity. Neither the people on the train, the cops in the coffee shop, nor the man speaking to the newspaper seller were swearing.
The only place where I heard it was from a group of tough looking young men hanging in front of the McDonald's at the Chicago and State Street red line stop. This McDonalds seems to be a gathering place for people on the margins of society. There are street vendors hawking counterfeit bags, homeless people peddling for some spare change, and groups of teenagers that should be in school but are truant. Here the F- bombs were flying and the testosterone levels high. The corner feels dangerous to me. I always remain alert there, expecting violence at any moment. It's a visible stop, though, with very high traffic, so perhaps actual violence is minimal. I wasn't surprised that this location rang with profanity.
Teenagers do have a unique way of speaking, but not as "valley"girl, or "surfer dude" as many would think. That's a stereotype. Granted, the teenagers I deal with on a daily basis are attending school and not hanging on street corners, but while they'll sometimes say,
"Dude, I don't get why I have to learn physics,"
they more often will say,
"This is really a myth based on the Egyptian story of Horus" (whispered during Christmas Eve mass) "and I might decide to be atheist."
Provocative? Yes. Defying stereotype? Yes and no, because to be a teenager is to question what you've accepted without a doubt before. Anything different would be suspect. I haven't yet written a teenage character, but if I do, you can bet you'll know their age not based on the "dude" dialogue, but on the fresh take on life that they bring to the table.
It's easier for me to write dialogue than scenery, and I think this is because it's active. When two people are firing words back and forth at each other, ideas are conveyed. It propels the story forward. Getting each character's personal voice down is a challenge, but worth the time spent making each sound the way they should.
I'm currently writing a manuscript that contains a lot of characters--most intelligent and some quite evil. Their dialogue is bouncing around the pages, and I'm really enjoying it. And, no, none have yet used any profanity.
Monday, January 10, 2011
I'm preparing to give a three hour course at the Off Campus Writers Workshops on how to prepare and sell a manuscript. I've never really done this before, and honestly, I had to think about my own path to publication. While I'm still relatively new to the industry--just 18 months out there--looking back gave me a real chance to review what worked and what didn't. All this from the benefit of hindsight, you undertand. I've amassed a lot of tips over the past 18 months, below are just a couple, because room doesn't permit listing all the others:
Write The Manuscript, Then Write Another If You Must:
When I go through my (relatively) short period of marketing to publication, it helps to have friends who remind me of the years I spent writing prior to even attempting to market. On a recent vacation over the holidays a friend commented that she was always surprised that I'd disappear once during each day to write. I'd forgotten this, but she's correct. Even with the sun and sea beckoning, I'd find time that day to do what I loved.
When I finally sat down and mapped out an actual timeline, here's a bit of it:
I had one manuscript completed, three others 60,000 words in, one (thriller) screenplay submitted to a contest, and three short stories written before I even took my first step to marketing. Interestingly enough, the screenplay contest was the only instance of marketing-if submitting it to a contest counts--that I had actually attempted before sending out my manuscript. (I still love the screenplay, and I intend to send it to my West Coast agent for submission, but first I want to turn it into another manuscript. It's a good story, and I really think those characters deserve a whole novel before they get sold as 95 pages of dialogue).
Meet Other Writers in The Chicago Literary World:
I've been helped along by other writers who came before, many listed on the sidebar of this blog. Laura Caldwell was the first writer who graciously invited me to a post signing dinner with her friends. I was unpublished--everyone else was well published. She made me feel welcome and gave me a glimpse into the world that I wanted to join. Marcus Sakey and I were in an early writing group I'd been invited to join. He was navigating through his first novel's publication at the time and I learned by watching him and still call him for advice. Libby Hellman was always gracious when we met at conferences and invited me to join her writing group (I couldn't at the time due to a standing aikido class). That writing group included Michael Dymmoch. I didn't know Barbara, Sean, Bryan, David H, or Kevin, but I'd met David Ellis and he once gave me tips at a conference.
Julie Hyzy critiqued my first attempt to actually show anyone something I'd written. This is a funny story. I was attending my first Love is Murder conference and I'd signed up for a manuscript critique by one of the published authors. Somehow my name fell through the cracks and I found myself standing at the registration table trying to correct the situation when Julie walked up and announced that she'd not been given someone to critique. We both laughed, I handed her my manuscript, and off she went. Thirty minutes later she came running back to me and said, "I love this! You can write! Don't worry!"
Need I say that Julie made my year? After that I felt stronger and more confident, though the book I sold was a second manuscript written after the one she'd read. Yes, like many writers that I know, I have a manuscript on the shelf.
Another early friend was Tasha Alexander. Tasha moved to Chicago a few years ago, and she would drag me into groups of industry folks at the pre conference cocktail parties for the former Midwest Literary Festival. I usually try not to insert myself into an industry group unless I'm invited, and Tasha was always the one waving me over. A note: my hesitance to insert myself meant that I met industry professionals a lot later on in my marketing attempts. Probably not the best way to market oneself, but it all worked out in the end.
Join A Writing Organization.
One of the first organizations I joined was Sisters in Crime http://www.sistersincrime.org where I met Luisa Buehler and Gail Lukasik, both of whom gave me advice in the early going. I'm told that there is a "guppies" group at SisInCr that is a great forum for new writers, though I haven't used the group myself.
There are many other writers both published and unpublished that have helped lend their support, assistance, and advice over the past years and still do. I couldn't begin to list them all here, but I do my best to acknowledge them in my books. The Chicago literary community is thriving, and if you're lucky enough to live here and you want to join it, your best bet is to begin attending the conferences in the area and adding to the fun. You won't regret it.
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
Anyway, for those of you who missed it the first time, here's the trailer.