David Hewson: Mistakes to avoid when writing a series

The British mystery writer weighs in:

Like most series writers, you see, I never set out to go down this path. I wrote the first Costa book as a standalone and was then asked to turn it into a series by my publisher. After which I made it up as I went along, mistakenly sometimes though I’m pleased to report the errors I committed were by no means rare.

Here, when I set out to write the Amsterdam series, are some of the pitfalls I told myself to avoid.

One of the mistakes he cites: Failing to plan for how the series will deal with the passage of time, as the years go by between books in the real world.

Different series writers handle the passage of time in different ways. Spenser and the other characters in the Robert B. Parker series aged at a rate of 1:2 for the real world for a decade or so, then it appeared they just stopped aging. In the early books, written in the 70s, Spenser referenced being a Korean war vet and an ex-boxer who once fought Jersey Joe Walcott. In the last books by Parker, written in the 2000s, those references are left out.

In the Nero Wolfe books, the characters stay exactly the same age throughout 30 years, while the outside world progresses. In the first book, Nero is in his early 40s and Archie is about 30 and they’re toasting the end of Prohibition. As the series hit its prime, Archie is enlisted in the Army during World War II — fortunately assigned to stay home in Manhattan. In the last book, Nero is in his early 40s and obsessed with Watergate, and Archie is about 30.

By the way, both the Spenser and Nero Wolfe series were continued by other writers after the original author’s death. I read one of the Spenser novels by Ace Atkins; it was pretty good. Surprisingly, it was better and more true to the characters than the later Parker novels were.

I also read one of the Robert Goldsborough Nero Wolfe novels, and found it disappointing. He had the details right, but the voice was off. For example: The book was written and set in the 80s, and the mystery revolved around some detail of personal computing technology. Archie had become a PC expert by then, and provided a clue to solve the crime. Nero Wolfe was portrayed as an antiquarian who disdained PCs.

But I thought that was precisely the opposite of the spirit of the books. Archie, as a man of action, would have disdained PCs in the early years. He’d have learned to use one, because he did Wolfe’s office work, but he would have no particular affinity for them. However, the sedentary genius Wolfe might have taken to PCs, because they are logical like he is, and he can use one while moving nothing other than his fingers and eyes.

Marie Manning wanted to be a crime reporter. Instead, she invented the advice column.

Fresh out of finishing school, with a name that appeared on the social registry of Washington D.C.’s debutante parties, Marie Manning was fascinated by true crime stories. She got a job as a newspaper reporter in 1892, but was soon sidelined to the “Hen Coop” to work on the “women’s page.” There, they received letters from people looking for advice, and Manning cooked up the idea to run the letters and answers as a regular column.

Trump’s immigration speech was about bigotry, not economics. 

Josh Barro at Business Insider explains.

Reasonable people can argue for restricting immigration on economic grounds. But that’s not Trump’s primary argument. His primary argument is that brown skinned people — specifically Mexicans and Muslims — are violent and dangerous. In reality, immigrants commit violent crime at a lower rate than native born Americans.

Moreover, Trump’s comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel show that Trump’s bigotry isn’t limited to illegal immigrants.

Trump’s opposition to immigration isn’t about economics. It’s about ethnic purity. It’s about making America white again.

Silicon Valley’s most self-destructive founder

Ellen Huet, Bloomberg:

Gurbaksh Chahal wanted to be a role model for the sales team at his digital advertising startup and show them how to close a deal. But the co-founder and chief executive officer of Gravity4 Inc. knew he couldn’t be effective as the face of the business. In 2014, he had been removed from the last company he started following a fight with his girlfriend a year earlier, in which he hit and kicked her 117 times. The brutal ordeal, which had been caught on security-camera footage, resulted in probation for Chahal and shattered his reputation.

Last year, Chahal came up with a solution: He created an alter ego named Christian Gray, according to a half dozen people familiar with the situation. The character, who shares a very similar name with one from 50 Shades of Grey, has his own LinkedIn pagefeaturing a head shot of Josh Dallas, an actor who appears on the ABC fairytale drama Once Upon a Time. Chahal would e-mail marketing professionals as Gray, and when he hooked a potential customer, the CEO would berate staff for being outsold by a fake person, said the people, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. Two people said Chahal had at times used Gray’s sales leads as an excuse to fire workers.

But Gray’s career didn’t last long. While still on probation from his previous domestic-violence conviction, Chahal kicked another girlfriend in late 2014 and threatened to report her to immigration services, according to a police report that surfaced last year. While there wasn’t enough evidence to file criminal charges in that incident, it led to a judge revoking his probation last month, prompting Chahal to hand over the CEO role to his sister. Gravity4 and an attorney for Chahal didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. A California district judge sentenced Chahal on Friday to a year in a county jail for violating his probation, pending an appeal, which his attorney said he plans to do.

Chahal’s self-destruction—and the former colleagues, shareholders, customers, and women left in the rubble—is an extreme case, but it demonstrates a more common risk in Silicon Valley of entrepreneurs who amass too much power. Chahal’s earlier achievements enabled him to run his businesses unchecked and use vague promises of startup riches to recruit talent. “He has a brilliant mind and a very flawed personality,” said Sam Singer, a crisis communications consultant who worked for Chahal in 2014. “He has become a poster child for everything the public thinks is wrong with Silicon Valley: wealth that comes too fast and too easily, arrogant behavior, the belief that the rules don’t apply to them and they are somehow above the law.”

The photo just screams, “Asshole.”

Whose side was she on? ‘American Heiress’ revisits Patty Hearst’s kidnapping

Author Jeffrey Toobin describes the 1974 kidnapping and its aftermath in a new book, “American Heiress.” Terry Gross interviews Toobin on the Fresh Air podcast:

Hearst was eventually captured by the FBI, convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to seven years in federal prison. She served 22 months before President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence. Later, President Bill Clinton pardoned her.

Toobin calls the presidential actions on Hearst’s behalf an example of “wealth and privilege in action.”

“The fact that she got these two presidential gestures of forgiveness is the purest example of privilege on display that frankly I have ever seen in the criminal justice system,” Toobin says.

The Singularity is a white person’s problem

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Rich white folks worry about the Singularity, but AI is already making problems for the rest of us.

Kate Crawford, The New York Times:

According to some prominent voices in the tech world, artificial intelligence presents a looming existential threat to humanity: Warnings by luminaries like Elon Musk and Nick Bostrom about “the singularity” — when machines become smarter than humans — have attracted millions of dollars and spawned a multitude of conferences.

But this hand-wringing is a distraction from the very real problems with artificial intelligence today, which may already be exacerbating inequality in the workplace, at home and in our legal and judicial systems. Sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination are being built into the machine-learning algorithms that underlie the technology behind many “intelligent” systems that shape how we are categorized and advertised to.

Software used to assess the risk of recidivism in criminals is biased against blacks, as is software used by police departments across the US to identify hotspots for crime. Amazon’s same-day delivery service was initially unavailable for ZIP codes in predominantly black neighborhoods, “remarkably similar to those affected by mortgage redlining in the mid-20th century.” And women are less likely than men to be shown ads on Google for highly paid jobs.

Thanks, Cory!

Sandra Bland died one year ago and since then at least 810 people lost their lives in jail

Dana Liebelson and Ryan J. Reilly investigate jailhouse suicides and other deaths for the Huffington Post:

Suicide has been the leading cause of death in jails in every year since 2000, according to the latest Justice Department data. This is not the case in prisons, where inmates are more likely to die of cancer, heart and liver disease. There’s a reason for this difference. People land in jail right after they’ve been arrested. They’re often angry, desperate or afraid. They may be intoxicated or have psychiatric conditions that officers have no way of knowing about.

The experts we spoke with emphasized that entering jail is an instantly dehumanizing process. “You get clothes that don’t fit you, you get strip-searched, you lose any semblance of privacy, you don’t get to make many decisions that we all take for granted,” said Jeffrey Metzner, a psychiatrist at the University of Colorado in Denver who specializes in inmate mental health. “I don’t think most of us realize just how frightening that experience is,” added Steve J. Martin, a corrections expert who is monitoring reforms at Rikers Island Correctional Facility in New York City. “You have a total and absolute loss—immediate loss—of control over your being, over your physical being.”

Under these circumstances, people can deteriorate at an alarming speed. About two weeks after Bland’s death, 20-year-old Brissa Lopez was arrested for allegedly fighting with her boyfriend, and arrived at a Texas jail around 4:47 a.m. She was “very cooperative” and “chuckled as she removed her tongue and lip ring,” according to a sergeant who admitted her. Staff checked on her at 6:15 a.m. Some 40 minutes later, she was found hanging from a fire alarm cage by a bedsheet.

Federal Court Rules That Password Sharing Is Illegal Under Insane Ancient Law

There’s potential prison time for every millennial who shares his Netflix password and employee who asks a coworker to log in to his email. You can thank the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, passed before the Web was even a thing.

Brian Feldman reports for New York Magazine:

Punishment under the CFAA can be severe. Threatened with the prospect of years in jail for downloading millions of articles from JSTOR, the nonprofit digital library, cyberactivist Aaron Swartz committed suicide in 2013. This past spring, journalist Matthew Keys was sentenced to two years in prison for providing his Tribune Media log-in credentials to vandals who changed a Los Angeles Times headline for less than an hour.

Trump was refreshingly statesmanlike in his statements this morning

Greg Sargent at The Washington Post excerpts Trump’s statements:

We must restore law and order. We must restore the confidence of our people to be safe and secure in their homes and on the street.

The senseless, tragic deaths of two motorists in Louisiana and Minnesota reminds us how much more needs to be done….Our nation has become too divided. Too many Americans feel like they’ve lost hope. Crime is harming too many citizens. Racial tensions have gotten worse, not better. This isn’t the American Dream we all want for our children.

This is a time, perhaps more than ever, for strong leadership, love and compassion. We will pull through these tragedies.

 

White discrimination

White TV anchor fired after racial comments fights back with discrimination lawsuit

In March, a white award-winning broadcast news anchor in Pittsburgh posted on her professional Facebook page what she claimed was a heartfelt call to action on the perceived black-on-black crime epidemic in the United States, particularly in the city she’d covered for almost 20 years.

The post came two weeks after she covered a mass shooting at a backyard barbecue that left four people injured and six dead, including a pregnant woman, in Wilkinsburg, a majority black borough. The district attorney called the heinous crime calculated, planned and one of the “most brutal” he had seen in his 18-year tenure.

Police did not immediately release names or descriptions of the suspects. When WTAE-TV anchor Wendy Bell took to Facebook, there had been no arrests.

Yet the veteran journalist drew her own conclusions about the perpetrators anyway, comments that were decried as racist and demeaning — and that eventually cost her her job.

“You needn’t be a criminal profiler to draw a mental sketch of the killers who broke so many hearts two weeks ago Wednesday,” Bell wrote on Facebook, words that were later deleted. “… They are young black men, likely in their teens or in their early 20s. They have multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs. These boys have been in the system before. They’ve grown up there. They know the police. They’ve been arrested.”

She continued, claiming she found “HOPE” after watching a young, African American bus boy hustling at his restaurant job while Bell was out to eat with her husband and sons. She complimented the teen through his manager, who later passed the praise on to him.

“It will be some time before I forget the smile that beamed across that young worker’s face — or the look in his eyes as we caught each other’s gaze,” Bell wrote. “I wonder how long it had been since someone told him he was special.”

Almost immediately, critics called her words racist and accused Bell of having a white savior complex.

I’m not defending Bell’s statement. But crime reporting is emotionally hard. Was she reporting on the scene or was she reading on the air? How deeply into the story did she get? That matters.

And how the hell are we going to figure out the race problem in the US if we don’t discuss it, and occasionally even say wrongheaded things?

[Katie Mettler/The Washington Post]

Clean money

Because of loopholes in disclosure laws for large cash transactions, real estate is a great way to launder money. So if you’ve got a million dollars in illegally obtained cash lying around, a luxury Manhattan apartment is a good place for it.

How To Hide A Million Dollars In Plain Sight – Planet Money

There are apartments in cities around the world where the lights do not go on at night. The apartment is empty. And it’s hard to tell who owns it or where the money to buy the apartment came from.

And that’s because some of that money is from questionable origins. If you have a lot of money to hide, you can park that cash in real estate. You hide the money in plain sight. You turn a fancy apartment into a giant piggy bank or secret vault.

On today’s show, the international quest to try answer a simple question: Who owns Apartment 5B?

Evidence that Woody Allen molested his adoptive daughter is far from conclusive

The Woody Allen Allegations: Not So Fast – Robert B. Weide, The Daily Beast

One point that seems telling to me (not mentioned in this article): Where are the other victims? Somebody who does what Allen is alleged to have done doesn’t do it just once. We’ve seen that with Bill Cosby, Dennis Hastert, Jerry Sandusky, and Jimmy Savile. But with Allen, there has only been this one accusation and (as Weide notes) the accusation has a lot of problems with it.

Losing the war on the war on drugs

Why America Can't Quit the Drug War – Tim Dickinson, the Rolling Stone

Nixon's legacy keeps giving. The drug war began 45 years ago as a plan by Richard Nixon to undermine his enemies in the African-American community and anti-war left. The War on Drugs is still going strong, wasting lives and trillions of dollars.

Despite strides toward a more sane national drug policy, the deeper infrastructure of the War on Drugs remains fundamentally unaltered under Obama. Work focused on public health has not replaced paramilitary anti-trafficking efforts, known as interdiction, at home or abroad. Rather – much like an "all of the above" energy strategy that embraces solar while continuing to remove mountaintops in pursuit of coal – the new policies supplement the old.

As a result, the Drug War is costing taxpayers more than ever. Obama's 2017 drug budget seeks $31 billion, an increase of 25 percent from when he took office. This year, the federal government is spending more than $1,100 per person to combat the habit of America's 27 million illicit-drug users, and 22 million of them use marijuana.

The blinkered drug-warrior culture in the ranks of the departments of Justice, State and Defense remains similarly entrenched. The acting chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration calls medical marijuana "a joke." The State Department's top drug official insists, "Our objective remains … eliminating the use of marijuana in the United States." With pot, such knee-jerk commitment to prohibition might be amusing. With harder drugs, it has deadly ramifications. At home, the administration's early crackdown on prescription opioids helped drive the current spike in heroin deaths. South of the border, cartel violence rages unabated, despite the recapture of Mexico's most notorious drug lord; the country's homicide rate in February spiked to 55 murders a day.

The futility of the greater Drug War was laid bare in recent Senate testimony by top admirals charged with combating global narcotraffic. They confessed they had no solution to halt the flow of heroin from Mexico; admitted global drug suppliers would invariably service U.S. demand; and pressed the government to steel itself for a 30-year nation-building effort in drug-ravaged Mexico and Central America.

How America’s jails prey on the poor

Most people in jail are pretrial – they haven’t been convicted of anything. And yet they’re required to pay bail to get out, to pay court costs, and even to pay their own room and board (as if they were there by choice). While the middle class and wealthy can afford these expenses (just barely in the case of many middle class), the poor can’t, and so they languish in jail, while in the outside world they lose their jobs and families.

Many of these people are in jail for non-DUI traffic violations, or for failure to appear in costs or to pay previous court costs.

Nancy Fishman of the Vera Institute of Justice discusses the problem with Terry Gross on Fresh Air.

Is America Engaged In A ‘Vicious Circle’ Of Jailing The Poor?

Woody Allen’s son Ronan Farrow on the “culture of acquiescence” surrounding his father

Despite Dylan Farrow’s damning allegations of sexual abuse, [Woody Allen] today remains beloved by stars, paid by Amazon and rarely interrogated by media as his son, Ronan Farrow, writes about the culture of acquiescence surrounding his father.

My Father, Woody Allen, and the Danger of Questions Unasked – Ronan Farrow, Hollywood Reporter

Farrow writes about the subject from the inside. At first, he distanced himself from his sister’s, Dylan Farrow’s, allegations. And when it came time for him to write about Bill Cosby, he downplayed the accusations against that comedian.

Confronting a subject with allegations from women or children, not backed by a simple, dispositive legal ruling is hard. It means having those tough newsroom conversations, making the case for burning bridges with powerful public figures. It means going up against angry fans and angry publicists.

Should prostitution be a crime?

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Emily Bazelon examines the question in an in-depth New York Times report incorporating many interviews with prostitutes – they call themselves “sex workers” – and former prostitutes who advocate legalization. The article also interviews opponents of legalization, many of them also former prostitutes, who are fighting to stamp out the practice around the world:

“Like many feminists, I’m conflicted about sex work,” says Liesl Gerntholtz, executive director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, which took a stand in favor of decriminalization four years ago. “You’re often talking about women who have extremely limited choices. Would I like to live in a world where no one has to do sex work? Absolutely. But that’s not the case. So I want to live in a world where women do it largely voluntarily, in a way that is safe. If they’re raped by a police officer or a client, they can lay a charge and know it will be investigated. Their kid won’t be expelled from school, and their landlord won’t kick them out.”

Prostitution’s opponents point to the bad effects: Violence, drug addiction, disease, psychological harm. Advocates of legalization say those ill effects could be mitigated or eliminated when sex workers have access to legal protections. Prostitution’s opponents say the practice inherently contributes to objectifying women.