The State Department’s “@TravelGov” Twitter feed got into some social media trouble because of a single tweet on Wednesday. After attempts to explain it to several offended, irate tweeters, the department gave up and simply deleted it a couple of hours later. The New York Times caught it before it was removed:
Those tweeters, and the NYT above, focused on the tweet’s dopey “lookist” opener, but ignored the rest of it. What the department was merely trying to do there – albeit in a bumbling manner – was not to insult anyone. Rather it aimed to warn U.S. college students traveling abroad for Spring Break to be mindful of their personal safety when out having “a good time.”
Meaning forget that opening two sentence silliness. I suppose this is the former university teacher coming out of me here. The tweet should have been straightforward: Don’t let your guard down when clubbing with strangers who may not be pleasant new acquaintances but actually – to be blunt – con artists and thugs flattering you in looking for an easy mark to rob and/or worse. Got it?
Although that would have been too long for a single tweet, of course.
The minor uproar over its silly reference to a student’s looks – which actually could have applied equally to young men as much as to young women; either sex naturally can be preyed upon much the same way – unfortunately crowded out a closely related issue. It is one that is not discussed nearly enough in such advice. It should be.
This “sticky post” will be up until shortly after that 29th. Unless I decide to take it down before, of course. The reason for it is I just wanted to prominently reshare the full cover and the publication date.
If you are reading this, you may be on social media yourself too – with a blog, a Twitter account, Instagram, etc. Recently, some “guy” I’d never encountered before evidently took umbrage with my voicing my opinion on too many U.S. study abroad students’ immature behaviors. Regular visitors here also know I attribute those primarily to overzealous parenting coupled with inexperience with legal alcohol; but apparently “he” thought attacking me on Twitter personally would get a reaction.
I yawned: I’ve seen much worse. When you put yourself out there publicly in even the smallest way, you have to expect criticisms and even degrees of nastiness. We all know it comes with the territory.
Please pardon a very serious post, but I wish to address this in one “summation” and be done with it.
You may know by now that one Amanda Knox of Seattle, Washington, has had a successful appeal in Italy’s highest court. Her murder conviction has been quashed. As no further appeal by the prosecution is permitted, the case is now concluded.
So it no longer matters whether she did what Italian investigators claim. The BBC has reported the court has promised to release its reasoning for the decision within 90 days. Given the circus that has prevailed around this, and the roller coaster “justice” the victim’s family has endured, many of us out here are indeed very interested in reading it.
“No permission is sought, or granted,” Harris wrote. “There is no opt-out clause for authors or publishers. This is censorship, not by the State, but by a religious minority, and if you think it sounds trivial, take a moment to think about this…
“ISIS are currently destroying antiquities and historical sites in the Middle East, including the ancient city of Nimrud, the walls of Nineveh and statues up to 8000 years old.
“And all in the name of purity, morality and good taste.”
Others have condemned the app as “f***ing horrifying,” and apparently laying the foundation for a rerun of the 1933 Nazi Germany mass book burnings. And more.
Based on how strongly so many feel, I did as Harris asked. I did take a moment to think…..
Interesting to note how Americans are when they meet each other in foreign climes, be it Paris or Kathmandu (Said with affection) Your writing adds a lot of colour. I get impression colour around you is somehow very important?
“Colour” is indeed vital to me. Background. Setting. Personalities. A sentence. A nod. A look. Taking a hand. The tiniest of moments that have the most gigantic of life consequences. As in our real lives.
A major purpose of my site here is simply to convey something daily of what I am. In doing that, I like to share the hows and whys of what I write: a journal of ups and downs. I also touch on broader topics that go beyond just my books, but which are related to my subject.
In the first two volumes, I concentrated (unsurprisingly, I suppose) on three countries: the U.S., France, and Britain. However, I also made scattered references to Italy. I included the likes of “James” having an Italian aunt, “Isabelle” having been to a language school in Rome, “Giorgio” debating Italian girls with “Isabelle,” English “Natalie’s” younger cousin “Maddie” having studied in Florence, and “Valérie” loving Rome as a getaway destination.
I did that for two reasons. First, it’s really difficult not to be wowed by Italy. Millions of us visitors (perhaps you have been one too) are every year:
Specifically, yesterday I was working on a scene that sees two characters disagreeing strongly and moving towards an “explosion,” while a third witnesses the rising tension. This morning, I thought on yesterday’s post. I suppose I could now reply to this question:
6. When did you last talk to yourself? When did you last berate yourself to the point of tears?
It wasn’t merely “talk.” As I was writing yesterday, I was often having a real go. It got pretty heated.
I do write occasionally while talking out loud – particularly when it comes to stretches of extended dialogue, and especially when there are multiple participants. I find it helps me to listen to how it reads to “the ear” as realistic chatter. Good thing I was alone in this case, as the “last third” of me tried several times to step in and calm the increasingly nasty and confrontational other “two-thirds”:
Ah, our loving families. That’s only part of the exchange – which is also the first “sneak peek” I will share into the rough draft for the third (as yet unnamed) novel in the series.
By the way, none of the, uh, “three” of me got teary or berated myself.
Have a good Thursday, wherever you are in the world.😉
Please pardon an extremely serious post. A Twitter reference the other day to a novel entitled Abroad, which I had not heard of until then, caught my eye. It is based on the 2007 murder in Italy of English student, Meredith Kercher.
Her murder case is so over-argued on social media, I decided the best way to learn about the book was to seek out “mainstream” summations of it. This first is from Publishers Weekly:
A mystery based on the Amanda Knox saga unfolds…. Tabitha (“Taz”) Deacon, an Irish student studying abroad in Grifonia, Italy, finds herself caught up in the glamorous lives of a trio of beautiful, and close, fellow students while also nurturing a friendship with her quirky American flatmate, Claire….
The first sentence use of the word “saga” is a cautionary flag. So what we have here is the murder of Ms. Kercher reduced to the level of a Twilight installment? Not exactly an opener that indicates (to me anyway) an appreciation of the gravity of the real life subject being fictionalized.
….The similarities to the Amanda Knox story are myriad, and at times distracting, but [the author] explores an overshadowed element of that case: the victim, her thoughts and dreams and mistakes, as well as those she’ll never be able to have or make. “We were all alive, and we loved and hated and lived brilliant, messy existences,” Taz says.
“The [real] victim” has a name: it was Meredith Kercher. While we don’t learn that there, we do discover the tale’s told from the “fictionalized” victim’s perspective. We see noted that a phrase like “messy existences” is even put into her “fictionalized” mouth – as if this is a young adult variation on Desperate Housewives too?
It is worth recalling Ms. Kercher’s real existence was ended brutally. She had been stabbed and sliced no less than forty times. While attacked, she had also evidently been restrained and was unable to defend herself.
Thus that sentence masquerading as a profound observation on lives lived, is in fact a whopper of insensitivity. This seems creepy, disturbing stuff. And not in a “chilling fiction” way.
….Claire, Taz’s American flat mate, who speaks her mind, adores Taz and spends most of the novel trying to get her away from what she feels is the very bad influence of these girls. Claire’s clearly the moral center of the novel, and she and Taz develop a real and important friendship, until both fall for mysterious Colin, which leads to a stunning betrayal….
According to an Amazon poster, “The character who substitutes for Amanda Knox in this book is Claire.” If that person easily spots who that character is meant to be, certainly that Chronicle reviewer must have too. That any such mainstream reviewer could then label that character “the moral center” shows that to achieve that “substitution” the author must have written Claire quite sympathetically.
Allow me to inject this non-fiction. Having worked in a London university in the early 2000s, my initial reaction to Ms. Knox’s charged involvement in the murder was a shrug: she was unremarkable. Learning over time about her “studies” in Italy merely reinforced my opinion. I recalled how, in British universities, U.S. study abroad students are among administrators’ biggest foreign student headaches: some enroll and rarely or never appear, leaving the universities with no idea what they are up to.
An Admissions officer once told me, “You know who our biggest problems are, Robert? It’s [———-] and Americans.” That’s no shocker. Too many U.S. study abroads are a weird melding of childishness, self-absorption, arrogance and insouciance. They arrive in Europe imagining it’s a decadent playground, and, often away from parental oversight for the first time, they lose their minds.
I told incredulous European colleagues more than once, “Don’t look at me, I didn’t raise them.” Heavy drinking (age 18 in Europe is generally the drinking age), illegal drug use (yes, there are illegal drugs here), and casual sex (not the most intelligent of behaviors at any time, let alone when you’re also drunk, stoned, and in an environment in which you may be linguistically-challenged) are not uncommon among them.
And those who overindulge are often quite “proud” of those “achievements” in “finding themselves.” Much like Ms. Knox was. Pre-murder, apparently she had been having a great ol’ fun time “studying” abroad. (Europe’s just, like, so cool, isn’t it?)
So until the night of Ms. Kercher’s slaying, by all accounts (including the mouthy Ms. Knox’s own gaseous admissions) Ms. Knox’s study abroad “adventures” were hardly a source for a groundbreaking novel. They closely resembled those of so many others wearyingly like herself. Indeed, they were an embarrassment and a slap in the face to the many young Americans who study (and live) in Europe and do so responsibly and maturely.
All that makes this Ms. Knox really unique is that Italian authorities are convinced there is more than enough reasonable evidence proving she is one of three (and the sole American) involved in the butchering of Ms. Kercher. The only people who know the absolute truth of what occurred that night are “the victim” and her killers. Ms. Kercher’s murdered, so, absent honest confessions from those who did it, all that’s possible in these situations is to attempt to piece together what happened to her and who’s responsible.
I had never heard of that author before seeing that tweet; but it appears she has decided mythologizing Ms. Knox is a better way forward than arguing this or that fact as it sometimes appears half the internet is doing.
She seems to have constructed her Ms. Knox as the inspiration for the fictionalized, “quirky American flatmate?” She, from among the thousands of doubtless far more interesting, but also of course largely unknown, young American women who’ve also studied recently in Italy? Again, that’s any author’s right.
However, one would have thought at least waiting for “the saga’s” legal conclusion to have played itself out pre-publication would have better sure-footed any fictional effort. Still, anyone may choose to nail their literary colors to whichever mast one wishes, and whenever one wants. But if the Italian Supreme Court later this year, or early in 2015, upholds Ms. Knox’s murder guilt, well, that will have demonstrated that having retreated into a fantasy novelistic alternative universe had been the only realistic recourse left anyway.
NOTE: I’ve turned off the comments. I’m not debating evidence in the case, and won’t have others do so either in my comments. It belongs in the courts. If you feel Ms. Knox is a victim of a miscarriage of justice, please forward your suggested defense appeal tactics directly to her lawyers.
Over Sunday lunch with my parents, as we somehow ended up talking about the often vulgar way sex is portrayed on House of Cards (yes, really; and I have no idea how we got on that topic either), my mother declared nonchalantly:
Your father and I aren’t embarrassed to see sex on TV. We’ve had sex.
After we all stopped laughing at that inadvertent motherly masterpiece (my wife was reduced almost to tears), I found myself thinking again on the issue of sex and romance in novels. Which is no shock really. I think about aspects of my writing seemingly most of my waking hours.
Over the next couple of days, I considered the bigger picture. I also remembered a bit I’d written in Passports. I feel this is accidentally useful to illustrate this post:
Joanne realized someone was missing and asked Isabelle, “Where is my Foreign Service dreaming son anyway?”
“I think he is upstairs,” Isabelle replied.
“Oh, find something,” Joanne urged her husband as she walked around to the sofa to sit down next to him.
“I’m looking,” Jim replied. “Hey, what’s this?” He had stopped on a film channel.
“No idea,” Joanne answered. “What’s it called?”
The film was fading in.
“It’s French,” he observed. “Isabelle’s here tonight.”
Isabelle watched the screen with them, and what James’s father had chosen hit her as he began to read out the title. “Change it! Turn over the channel! Now!” she laughed.
I love this post, and I feel your pain. I cringe at myself all the time, but one needs to make start. I also tend to overtweak, and that usually makes it worse😉
A few weeks ago, I also discussed with a (male) friend, who is writing what I would rate as a serious “guy book,” that I have by now become comfortable with writing novels which may by default, yes, appeal more to women than to men. Yet I’ve not given up on constructing them to appeal to men too. It is just extremely difficult to hit both audiences.
I admit as man that writing for women characters is a challenge. But we men are not without romance in our souls too. That latter contention is, of course, an assertion my wife never fails to (smilingly) remind me of every chance she gets:
You seem to know quite a bit about what certain French girls think…. and I know why.
Uh, and moving swiftly along, I don’t consider my tale “romance.” It is as much about culture, travel, life abroad, diverse relationships and companionship. But it naturally does have substantial romance woven into that, so “what women like” in that regard is absolutely vital to me.
I get a mishmash of answers to this query from every woman I ask, so I figured I would toss this out there into the WordPress world and see if any of you care to share your literary opinion too? 1) Do women steer away from “romance” when they know it’s written by a man? 2) And if they don’t, would they nevertheless still see “romance” composed by a man differently than that authored by a woman?