In honor of today’s opening ceremonies for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, here’s a limerick from 5th-grade Matt Warner of White Oaks Elementary School, in honor of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. I hope this year’s athletes stay in better health than this guy.
This has been a thin summer for me news-wise as I’ve been loading the metaphorical gun with more stuff to fire at you down the road. Another novel is in the can and with beta readers, and I’ll soon begin work on a long short story that’s been commissioned by a specialty publisher. Mark your calendars for Oct. 1, when I’ll be a guest at Con of the Mountain in Clifton Forge, VA.
Here’s the newest stuff in print. Do yourself a favor, and check it out, eh?
On the personal front, family life keeps me busy. Here are some pictures. Enjoy!
Let me paint a what-if scenario.
Let’s say you’re the parent of one of those fifty people killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Today is your son or daughter’s funeral. You look to the edge of the graveyard to see a carnival being set up. Merchants lay out their usual wares of artwork, rugs, and chotchkes. Several new products display your child’s face: hastily designed T-shirts and mugs decry this senseless death. A billboard announces all sales proceeds will benefit your family.
How do you feel about that? Are you flattered and grateful? Or is it too soon?
It’s only been three days, and this is already happening in the publishing world. Except it’s not as a carnival next to freshly dug graves. I’ve seen several announcements for new anthologies of short stories and poetry where the sales proceeds will benefit an organized charity or the victims directly. This repeats a well-established pattern: something bad happens, and immediately there’s a new charity anthology.
I hope these are just good people who want to help — who want to do something, anything, to relieve the suffering. Most writers are good people. If wanting to help is their sole motive, then more power to them.
My worry, however, is every time a charity anthology pops up in the wake of disaster, writers risk engaging in opportunism and self-glorification. Every tragedy isn’t a sales opportunity. And charity should never call attention to the giver. I’m not alone in saying so.
I realize this isn’t a black-and-white issue. A commemorative product, aside from raising money for the victims, might raise awareness of the tragedy’s causes, or help process the black tar of grief. And I confess to being a hyprocrite about my qualms; once I organized and participated in a book signing benefiting a charity. Was I being totally selfless? No.
So, I have to wonder: wouldn’t it be more effective to pay a direct donation to the charity instead of making that donation contingent on commercial success? Wouldn’t it be better to quietly give support without publicly exhibiting oneself as a good person or advancing a political agenda or career? This isn’t about me, after all. This is about them.
I’m not going to tell writers and publishers not to create these products. I only caution them not to be vultures. If your motives are pure and your timing is right, then sally forth.
Next, he’s working on memorizing how they all died.
As a coda to my trip to New Mexico, where I met Ready Player One author Ernest Cline, here is my collection of Earth Defense Alliance patches, in promotion of his new book, Armada.
The blue patch at the bottom is the one Cline handed out to everyone at the signing. Penguin Random House sent me the top three for participating in the Phaeton video game promotion for Armada.
Just in case it’s not obvious, I am not Matthew Warner, the apparently well-known Catholic writer. Nor am I Matt Warner, the Old West bank robber whose colleague was Jack Ketchum, although it would have been cool if I were. I’m about as far as you can get from Catholic without being Satanic, and I keep a fastidiously balanced on-shore bank account. That is all.
Here are pictures from Deena’s and my whirlwind weekend trip to Santa Fe, NM, where we did some client development for Deena Warner Design and generally geeked out with our favorite bestselling novelists. Read the captions for more detail:
For my birthday a year ago, my wife gave me a boxing speed bag platform after I got hooked on the art of it at my martial arts school (Valley Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Staunton, VA). She also gave me the demonstration video to The Speed Bag Bible by Alan Kahn (1996). The man’s a badass! This is what my progress looks like so far. I have a long way to go.
Buried amid yesterday’s Super Tuesday coverage was this gem from USA Today about the importance of clear writing:
Justices OK child porn sentence in war of words
WASHINGTON — A divided Supreme Court upheld a child pornography defendant’s 10-year mandatory minimum sentence Tuesday in a case that had both sides debating the meaning of Star Wars and sour lemons.
Six justices ruled that a federal law’s key phrase — “a prior conviction … under the laws of any state relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward” — means only that the last charge must involve children. The first two charges, they reasoned, could apply to adults as well.
Not so, Justice Elena Kagan said in a dissent joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, triggering a colorful debate over what she called the “ordinary understanding of how English works.”
“Imagine a friend told you that she hoped to meet ‘an actor, director or producer involved with the new Star Wars movie,'” she said. “You would know immediately that she wanted to meet an actor from the Star Wars cast — not an actor in, for example, the latest Zoolander.”
Kagan added two more examples and then concluded: “Everyone understands that the modifying phrase — ‘involved with the new Star Wars movie’ … — applies to each term in the preceding list, not just the last.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote the 6-2 opinion, countered with an example of her own.
“It would be as if a friend asked you to get her tart lemons, sour lemons, or sour fruit from Mexico,” she wrote. “If you brought back lemons from California, but your friend insisted that she was using customary speech and obviously asked for Mexican fruit only, you would be forgiven for disagreeing on both counts.”
Sotomayor’s interpretation prevailed, which was bad news for Avondale Lockhart, whose enhanced sentence for child pornography was based on a prior conviction of sexual abuse involving his 53-year-old girlfriend. He argued that the tougher sentence was intended only for those whose prior conviction involved children.
During oral argument in November, the dispute was close enough to convince Justice Antonin Scalia that the verdict should tilt in Lockhart’s favor. “When the government sends somebody to jail for 10 years, it has to turn sharp corners,” he said. “It has to dot every I and cross every T. It has to be clear.”
Scalia’s death last month left only eight justices to decide the case, but his influence lived on in the opinion and dissent. Each side cited his influential book, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts, written with Bryan Garner, to bolster its case.
So, there you go. Proof that copyediting saves lives, my friends, and the pen is mightier than the sword, and so on.
Seriously, though, this is an example of how critical it can be to write clearly. In the case of Avondale Lockhart, it sent him to prison for an additional ten years. For what it’s worth, I agree with Justice Kagan. But this is the U.S. Supreme Court, and their word is final. In light of that, and assuming the statute was not actually intended to send someone like Lockhart to the clink for an additional ten years, how should the statute have been written? Here is an alternative. Incidentally, it uses the Oxford comma, which I think also adds clarity:
a prior conviction … under the laws of any state relating to sexual abuse or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward, aggravated sexual abuse, or sexual abuse
All I did was reorder the list items so that the crime related to minors comes first. The problem, though, is that it’s clunky as hell. Perhaps it should have been like this:
a prior conviction … under the laws of any state relating to: (a) aggravated sexual abuse, (b) sexual abuse or (c) abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward
The Supreme Court should have remanded the case to a fact-finding court for further testimony about the statute, if it hadn’t been done already. An expert witness in English grammar could have shed some light on this. Or how about (gasp!) calling in the actual legislator who wrote the law to testify about what he/she intended?
Matthew Robertson of the Epoch Times sent me his thorough investigative report on the current state of the organ trade in the People’s Republic of China. It seems the practice of harvesting human organs for transplant from questionable sources shows no signs of letting up.
The practice of harvesting organs from executed prisoners for transplant, in contravention of human rights and medicolegal ethics, inspired my first novel, The Organ Donor. In particular, my research was into the conditions in Tianjin, which Mr. Robertson’s article is about.
Being able to grow kidneys in petri dishes can’t get here soon enough. . . .