Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Whatever Happened To Free Speech?

In case you have not noticed, social media – mainly Twitter – has exposed a real hole in the notion that one can write or say what they want. The price may not be jail or a government beat-down, but it is steep.

Just look at two Olympians – one from Greece, the other from Switzerland. These two were banned from participating in the XXX Summer Olympics because of racially insensitive remarks posted on Twitter right at the onset of the international competition.

Now, I certainly do not want to defend racists or their remarks, but there are different ways to handle such people. Did these athletes use poor judgment to say what they think, knowing many would not look fondly upon such comments? Yes. Would most agree their statements were in fact racist and showed ignorance? Yes. But should the penalty be that they cannot play in a sporting event that they may never have a chance to play in ever again? And should their nation’s team also be dealt a penalty (by virtue of the player bans) for something they didn’t do – and that isn’t sports related. If these players were arrested for something – domestic dispute, speeding, even robbery, they wouldn’t be kicked out of the Olympics. Yes, for speaking their minds, they are annexed.

I don’t think so. The issue is more than the Olympics. What is at stake is free speech itself.

True free speech is protected at all levels.  It is one thing if a corporation chooses not to sponsor an athlete because of such remarks, it is another to ban someone from a sporting competition. I get it that no one wants to associate with a racist (except maybe other racists), but just because someone makes us uncomfortable or says an opposing viewpoint does that mean an entity can have the authority to throw you off a team, kick you out of school or fire you from your job? It appears the answer is yes.  But how far do we let this go? What if an athlete said he doesn’t like Obama and ridicules the president? Or an athlete vehemently disagrees with legislation pending in Congress? When it came to Chick-fil-A’s CEO making comments about opposing gay marriage his stores received a showing of support from customers who think the same way. So in certain cases is sounding racist or homophobic to be embraced?

I don’t know about you, but I think athletes, though they need to abide by the law, follow their sport’s rules, and to act with the appearance of being model citizens, should not be held accountable for what they say when the speech has nothing to do with their sport. Actions are one thing; but words are not actions when it comes to expressing a viewpoint.

Do I want a racist representing America? No, but you know what, just because someone disagrees with my views or lifestyle should not play any relevance when scoring who is the best athlete in their sport. The Games are meaningful because they have the best athletes, not the near-best athletes with PC-scrubbed resumes. I am sure not all of the thousands of athletes at the Games are good, clean, anti-racist individuals. I am sure some are wife-beaters, alcoholics, haters, and worse. If we find out after the Games that an athlete said or even did bad things in their lives, will we take their medals away?

We can’t go back and change history - -nor should we. Ty Cobb was one of the best baseball players of his era and he is in the Hall of Fame. But he was a vehement racist. So be it. Sports cannot judge morality – it can only concern itself with what happens on the field of competition.

Don’t get me wrong. Character counts. And I suppose there are other ways to counter racist tweets without punishing the sport, the team, or even the athlete. We need to promote a positive, inclusive, peaceful, loving world but we cannot force someone to be good, to think a certain way, to say certain things, or to be a nice person. But we can encourage these things.

I want to see free speech live at the expense not of sports competitions but rather our ability to tolerate such things. As a society, we can rebuke offensive comments but we run amok when we overstep boundaries and exact too high of a price on both sports and society.

Free speech is not only costing those athletes, but all of us. To support their banishment is to give all governments the green light to suppress the views of those that are seen as unpopular, or just different. If we don’t watch it, that Olympic flame may end up burning the freedom to speak our minds, even if what is said is mindless or insulting.

Interview With Author Farin Powell

1. What type of books do you write? I write fictions, mostly about relationships. 

2. What is your latest or upcoming book about? My recent novel, Two Weddings is about the strong bond between a mother and her daughter; a bond that cannot be severed even after the mother's death. Catherine, my protagonist befriends an angel in Heaven and watches what happens to her children on earth. Catherine is more worried about her daughter, Sarah, a wedding planner, a widow, and a single mother who seems to have lost her way. With the help of her angel friend, Catherine finds a husband for Sarah.

3. What inspired you to write it? When my mother died ten years ago, I thought that was the end of a very strong mother-daughter relationship. But I was wrong. She came to my dreams every night. That was comforting during my grieving period, but at the same time, it was scary. She knew everything that was happening to me. My novel is of course a work of fiction about Sarah, a wedding planner who lives in San Francisco. But Sarah's mother Catherine is very much like my mother.

4. What did you do before you became an author? I was and I still am an attorney. I have a long list of legal publications in many prestigious law reviews and law journals. However, I did not become a writer recently. I was a poet since age ten. I worked as a part-time reporter for two magazines and published three short stories before I turned 20. I changed my practice in 2010 to appellate work, and focused more on my writing. I have two more novels which I'm hoping to publish in 2012, and 2013.

5. How does it feel to be a published author? Any advice for struggling writers?  It's a good feeling that you have finished a big project. To me, it doesn't matter that my book is not on the best seller's list. Even if I have touched 100 people, that's good enough for me. The radio show hostess who interviewed me, and the feed back I get during book club events (please seewww.farinpowell.com, facebook, twitter) prove to me that many people have experienced what my characters had gone through. I'm a struggling writer myself. I don't have time to find an agent, or to blog. But, I will not give up. If you have a good story to tell, don't give up.

6. Where do you see book publishing heading? The traditional book publishing will continue. There are people who love to hold their books in their hands. However, one cannot ignore the success of the e-book authors and publishers.

For more information, please see www.farinpowell.com.

Interview With Author David Perlstein 

1.      What type of books do you write? I write novels now, but my first published book was about business and my second about the Hebrew Bible. I’d been a freelance copywriter for many years and saw how most freelancers, no matter how talented, struggled. So I literally wrote the book on managing the business side. In 1998, Crown (New York) published Solo Success: 100 Tips for Becoming a $100,000-a-Year Freelancer. I received thank-you emails from around the world—a great reward because few books make real money. At that time I started researching a non-fiction book, God’s Others: Non-Israelites’ Encounters With God in the Hebrew Bible. It ended up being a twelve-year project and a fabulous experience. But I had no platform—I wasn’t a rabbi, academic or journalist. So I published God’s Others independently through iUniverse, which made it available at their online bookstore, as well as through Amazon and barnesandnoble.com.

2.      What is your novel about? Slick!also published through iUniverse—is a geopolitical satire set in a fictional Persian-Gulf sultanate, Moq’tar. Satire is serious business, and Slick! gave me a chance not only to tell an entertaining story—a power struggle between two brothers and attempts on the life of the protagonist—but also shine a spotlight on instability and betrayal in the Middle East, as well as the follies of hyper-capitalism and American foreign policy. This fall, I’ll bring out a follow-up set in Central America. And I’m about to begin the agent search for a third novel. It’s different, involving a father and adult son living in the same house but estranged. Death is a major focus. So is stand-up comedy. As part of my research, I took a course on comedy and performed at open mics. And I’m about to begin a fourth novel—a Huckleberry Finn-like adventure set in 1980.

3.      What inspired you to write Slick!? Life. I certainly was motivated by the nation’s unfortunate adventure in Iraq—and I say this as a former Army officer who thinks highly of our military. Why satire? Because stretching characters and situations within a good story not only entertains but also communicates. The protagonist of Slick!, Bobby Gatling, represents all of us suddenly having our eyes opened by unfolding events. Employed by a military/security contractor, Bobby’s a retired U.S. Army officer (Special Forces), big and tough but well educated—a master’s in Russian history from Georgetown. He’s been around the block. Yet he’s constantly taken aback by what’s happening in Moq’tar and by the U.S. Ambassador’s actions. For sure, Bobby’s no James Bond. Twice-divorced, he’s lonely, struggles with a family history revealed to him only when he turned forty and limps from an errant AK round taken in the knee in Northern Iraq. I was thrilled when Kirkus Reviews awarded Slick! a star as “a book of remarkable merit.”

4.      So is fiction-writing something relatively new to you? Oh no. My advertising career kept me busy, but years ago I concurrently wrote novels and short stories. I shared my stories with the San Francisco Writers Group, which was formed right after World War Two and still is ongoing, and had a few published in small magazines. For the novels, I had an agent in New York, but while my work generated some nice responses from editors, nothing sold. I stopped writing to devote my time to a growing family and a growing business.

5.      How does it feel to be a published author? Having been published through traditional channels and independently, I can say that major rewards exist besides money, which is hard to earn. For one, I’m always thrilled to hold one of my books in my hand and say, “I did this.” Any writer who brings a book to print—or to the digital screen—has accomplished something. And that star Kirkus Reviews gave Slick! represents hope for every writer who publishes independently. I’d love to have an agent and editor and be published by a major company, but even these hard-working pros miss some gems.

6.      Where do you see book-publishing heading and the author’s role in it? While my crystal ball needs polishing, we all know that the industry—and it is an industry—faces continual change. It’s very hard to get published the “standard” way, especially for novelists. But on the plus side, authors have real options. Print-on-demand offers an inexpensive way to produce print and digital books and make them available through major online channels. The old way of having books printed and storing them in your bedroom or garage never offered national and global distribution. And all-digital books enable authors to sell their work at incredibly low prices—as low as 99 cents—and keep the revenue. On the flip side, no matter how authors get published they have to do a lot of hard work to market their books. But online opportunities abound. The rules of the game keep shifting, but the opportunities keep growing. 

Interview With Author Samuel Sattin

  1. What type of books do you write? Though I believe it would be difficult to pinpoint exactly what type of books I write (or plan to write), I will say that I hope to bring a more robust, character-oriented flavor to genre fiction, and, if it’s not to pretentious to say so, bring it into the literary mainstream.  I think this has been happening already with writers such as Mat Johnson, Lev Grossman, Victor LaValle, Jonathan Lethem, etc.  So I’m not really looking to reinvent the wheel.  If anything, I’m looking to explore, expand upon, and refine what others are doing, and hopefully, in the process, stumble upon something great. 

  1. What is your latest or upcoming book about? Well, on the surface it’s about a boy whose father tries to make him into a superhero, vis-à-vis a mélange of what might be called ‘Manhood Tests’ combined with unhealthy amounts of a plutonium compound, and a dash of divine intervention.  But while the superhero narrative takes the stage somewhat in this book, The League of Somebodies is really about the ways in which knowledge and tradition are passed down through the generations.  It’s also about gender, and the dangers of tribalism.

  1. What inspired you to write it? I won’t get too specific with this one, but I will say that family had a lot to do with it.  You really are your father’s son sometimes; you can’t escape who you are, even if you try.  But I also had a funny exchange with my wife one night, when we somehow imagined a horrifically hilarious image of a child being forced to run from a train by an angry Scotsman.  You might say it began there.

  1. What did you do before you became an author? I traveled the globe for a bit, teaching ESL.  I lived in New York and went to grad school in California.  Odd jobs seem to be a big part of writing.  Whatever helps pays the bills.

  1. How does it feel to be a published author? Better than not being one, that’s for sure!

  1. Any advice for struggling writers? I know this is pretty much ‘the thing to say,’ but I’ll say it anyway: keep going.  You can’t really stop if you want to see your words in print.  The fact of the matter is that you have to convince people (a lot of people, hopefully) to pay 13.99 plus tax to spend 14 or so hours with characters, language, and plot that someone else other than them created.  You can’t delude yourself with the fact that thinking if you don’t write your book will still get done.  Books are long, and won’t finish themselves. You have to focus, maintain pace, read a lot, and get something on the page.  Serious writing is a job.  One shouldn’t forget that.

  1. Where do you see book publishing heading? In a good direction, actually.  I don’t fret for the future of publishing.  If anything, I think more people are reading, and authors will have a big public thirst to quench.   But I do worry about monopolies, Amazon and the like, pushing small bookstores out of business.  Small bookstores are what helped me survive up until this point.  Losing them would be like losing a life raft out at sea. 

Interview With Author Kenneth Weene

1.      What type of books do you write? Primarily I write literary fiction, which means a great emphasis on the quality of language and depth of character. You can sample some of that writing at http://www.authorkenweene.com 

2.      What is your latest or upcoming book about? My most recently published book, Tales From the Dew Drop Inne tells the collective bittersweet stories of the people who make the place their home - people who have not fallen off the social ladder but who are hanging on desperately at the bottom.  Here's a link to the trailer.  http://mediasuite.multicastmedia.com/player.php?p=aat76pv9

3.      What inspired you to write it? I was working on another novel, The Stylite - a novel about love and sexuality, when I was asked to write a short story for a local magazine. Since the writing group that sponsored the magazine served as a creative home for me, I did a piece about a place that was a psychological home. Then a friend asked me to write a piece of flash for a contest. I figured I could use the same setting and characters. The story won the contest, and I was hooked. Once Dew Drop was finished, I went back to The Stylite, which is now in the hands of my agent.

4.      What did I do before I became an author? I trained as a shrink. For years I worked as a clinical psychologist in New York. I am also an ordained minister, so in Arizona, where I now live, I practice as a pastoral counselor.

5.      How does it feel to be a published author? I love writing and I love having my work out there for others to read; but the marketing end of the job is a bit wearing. I spend a lot of time doing interviews like this, appearing on radio shows, and just reaching out on the Internet. The up side is that I try to be an authentic person in the process and have therefore made a number of real friendships. People can find me on Twitter and Facebook. One of the neat things for me is that there are no others named Kenneth Weene, so finding me is very easy.

6.      Any advice for struggling writers? If you feel like writing is a struggle, you may want to ask yourself why. For me it is a joy, and I think it is for most of us who find out way. I think the most frequent reason people feel they are struggling is that they are so sure they know what they want to say; they aren't letting the writing flow but are rather trying to shape what comes off the tips of their fingers. It is like a river: first you need it to flow out and then you work at shaping it by building dams and levees, canals and even bridges. 

7.      Where do you see book publishing heading? I think that self-publishing will slowly diminish as readers find that too many self-published books are inadequately edited, proofed, etc. With the growth of e-readers, the big publishers will also diminish in importance. My best guess, the small houses like my current publisher, All Things That Matter Press, will become more a real factor.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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