Friday, July 31, 2009

Profoundly stupid

And incredibly depressing. Via The Peking Duck come this news from Evan Osnos of the New Yorker:
Imagine, for a moment, how it might sound to turn on the news one day and hear that the head of the A.C.L.U. had vanished from his home in the predawn hours. Or, think how America might be different today if a pesky young Thurgood Marshall had been silenced using an obscure tax rule and kept out of the courts.

At around 5 A.M. on Wednesday, Chinese authorities visited the home of Xu Zhiyong, a prominent legal scholar and elected legislator in Beijing, and led him away. He has not been heard from again. Unless something changes, he is likely to stay away for a long time, with or without formal charges. Anyone with an interest in China, its economy, its place in the world, or the kind of future it will fashion, please take note: This is a big deal.

Xu might not have reached Marshall status yet, but he is as close as China gets to a public-interest icon. He teaches law at the Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications. He has also run the Open Constitution Initiative, a legal aid and research organization that worked on many of China’s path-breaking cases. He and his colleagues had investigated the Sanlu milk scandal, in which dangerous baby formula harmed children’s health, and assisted people who had been locked up by local officials in secret undeclared jails. All of those activities are emphatically consistent with the goals of the Chinese government, even if they angered the local bureaucrats who were caught in the act.
I hardly know what to add to this, beyond the usual, "go read the whole thing."

I remember the first time I was in China learning about what the risks of dissent were, how omnipresent the surveillance, how easy it was to cross the line (I will never forget one of of my students, who was sent to a reform camp for "riding in a car with a foreigner without a hat"). Things are very different in China today. The bargain has been, you can do what you want, as long as you don't organize and pose a political threat to the established order. But when things like this happen, when people like this are detained for following the Chinese Constitution's own laws, I wonder what the future holds for China. If there is a monopoly of political power, if a press is not allowed to serve as a watchdog, if public interest groups are not allowed to serve the public's interest...are Chinese people simply supposed to trust that the government will do the right thing? Particularly when many Chinese regard their local authorities as hopelessly corrupt? What's the remedy here?

Of course I'm in a pretty bleak mood about government in general these days, when our own "democracy" has reached such a state of paralysis that the media devotes endless bandwidth to "beer summits" while the President and Congress are unable to craft a decent health care bill — unless your definition of "decent" is a bailout to the insurance industry, which seems to be where this is heading.

But I digress.

Back to work.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

NOW I get Palin...

...Thanks to William Shatner!

(H/T to BillyB!)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Year of the Lurkers, baby!

For a number of years I've been involved with a small online writing group. Like many of the more profound aspects of my life, this came about in a nearly random way. I'd gotten an invitation to join an online "writer's workshop" which turned out to be a huge, unmoderated group that I suspect was used as a source for the group owner's paid seminars and publications. I found it frustrating and fairly useless. At one point I posted, "Is anyone lurking here working on novels?"

Thus began the Lurking Novelists.

I'm the only original member, but the core of the group has been the same for such a long time that as far as I'm concerned, the group didn't really exist before it. We're a small, tight group these days. We critique each other's work, but we also spend a lot of time sharing and bitching about the stuff of our everyday lives.

Which lately has included a helluva lot of success!

I'm overdue posting on some of this news, so let me bring you up to date:

Dana Fredsti, with one published mystery novel under her belt, has been writing for new ePub Ravenous Romance under the name Inara LaVey (she'll have to explain the derivation of that nom de plume for you). Her debut novel for RR, Ripping the Bodice, has been one of Ravenous' top-sellers. It's also very funny, with dead-on parodies of the old "bodice-rippers" of yore. I don't laugh easily, and this book made me laugh out-loud.

Bryn Greenwood recently signed with agent Robert Brown of the Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency, on the strength of her fabulous urban fantasy, Ugly. Bryn knows how much I love her book; I can't wait till it's sold and published so the rest of you can read it too. won't have too long to wait to discover Elizabeth Loupas' wonderful historical mystery/romance, The Second Duchess—because it's just been sold to Penguin/NAL!!! Here's where I get to indulge in a little "I Told You So" — I bet "Duchess" would sell before the end of July. Neener!

Lurkers RAWK!!! Just sayin'...and I wouldn't be surprised if I have more news from this talented group to post in the months to come...

(P.S. And no, my Wombats, I have not forgotten you! A subject for its own post!)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It's not procrastinating when...

I take a quick break from line edits for a belated personal plug — if you haven't seen it already, check out this lovely post about yours truly from my favorite agent, Nathan Bransford.

No, procrastinating would be, oh, taking the time to reorder my links on the right because I've met all these cool writers lately and discovered hilarious, informative blogs like The Intern and need to separate "writers" from "writing" because it's sloppy and unwieldy the way it is now.

That would be procrastinating. So I'm not going to do it. Right now.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mystic Yeast

This is how my life is.

I somehow ended up in China thirty years ago. I can't really explain right now how profound an impact that nearly accidental choice had on my life, in part because I am both jet-lagged and buzzed. Jet-lagged because I just returned from Beijing today. Buzzed because, well, because. It's still hard to get decent wine in China, and I crave it when I get home.

My Chinese isn't that great, but when I'm in Beijing, people comment on my Beijing accent, and I assume the status of an old Beijinger, because I was there before the profound changes that transformed the city nearly beyond the recognition of anyone older than, say, 35 or 40. I often have great conversations with taxi drivers, and this trip I had pretty much the Ur conversation; a man a few years older than I, who asked me what I thought about the changes in Beijing. Some aspects were good, I replied diplomatically, others, not so good.

What did I think was good about Beijing, he asked?

Beijing culture and Beijing people, I said.

This launched a torrent of opinion. Beijing people, real Beijing people, are the best, but these Waidiren, these outsiders, they have no culture, they don't understand. And this modern market society, it's not fair. Bugongping. The old days, in the 70s and 80s, when we were in this all together, when the competition was not so extreme, that was a good time. There. Do you see, over there? Those big buildings? That's where I grew up, in my childhood, for seven years. There was a river there, before. Do you remember? Do you remember the old traditional businesses (there's no good way to translate this expression; I had to hunt it up in my dictionary)? There weren't many businesses in the Beijing of 1979. Most had been destroyed by the Cultural Revolution.

Quanjude, the original Peking duck restaurant. The Foreign Languages Bookstore. The Number One Department Store. They survived, among others.

We exchanged memories.

Anyway, I'm not exactly sure what that has to do with my latest news, but it somehow feels relevant to me, in my buzzed, jet-lagged state.

When my plane landed at LAX today, the moment I turned on my phone, I had an email from my agent, the amazing Nathan Bransford. The ink on the contract is dry, and I can now announce that my novel, Rock Paper Tiger, in part inspired by some of my surreal experiences over the years in China, will be published by Soho Press in Spring/Summer 2010.

To say I'm happy about this is a huge understatement. I've had a great time working with the people at Soho, especially my editor, Katie Herman. I'm thrilled that they've taken a chance on me and my book. I'll do my best to reward their faith in me, and I hope I've written a book that you'll enjoy, and maybe you'll even learn a little about a country that isn't mine but that I still love, despite its flaws.

That goes for my own country too.

(POST EDITED 7/19 due to a sentence that was really misleading when I reread it and not what I'd meant. I blame the aforementioned jet-lag)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Greetings from behind the Great Firewall

Howdy all. Tunneling in via proxy to send greetings from Beijing. Richard aka The Peking Duck and I are about to head to Qingdao, Home of Beer. What more reason do I need to go?

It's been a packed trip, and I'll put up a more substantial post when I have some time.