Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Mounting Pressure

This week, I was put in a situation where I did something I don’t normally do. Actually, it happened more than once, and I broke personal rules. In each case, I felt secure in my decision, for a variety of reasons.

My husband muttered something about my need to over-think everything.

Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with exercising caution. Okay, it can paralyze you from time to time. One thing I was asked to do this week, it took me close to half an hour of just sitting and thinking it through before I was able to proceed.

I know I can over-think things, but I also know something else. The trust it’s taken a lifetime to earn can be destroyed in the blink of an eye.

Now, nothing that came up was quite that serious, but still. There have been times in the past when I’ve had to break confidences, and those were difficult situation, but the decision was the result of my obligations to one thing being more important than my obligations to another. Specifically, I was the boss and one of my staff told me about a medical condition. I was leaving the job and had to make an assessment of fitness of the staff… I didn’t put it in writing, but I did tell my boss. Ultimately, I had a greater obligation to the children we were responsible for than the staff member. If silence would jeopardize the safety of the staff, as well as kids, I had to break that confidence.

Those are horrendous situations to be in, although I suspect we’ve all had a few along the way. Part of the reason this has been on my mind is because I started working on a guide for readers for Suspicious Circumstances, and because of some things that are coming up in the media.

Namely, the fact that the RCMP is coming under mounting pressure to take swift action to restore public confidence in the force in the wake of a damaging public inquiry report into the Arar affair.

The RCMP has a squeaky-clean image. Most of the international community sees them as Dudley Do-Right. Do no wrong. I’m not saying they don’t deserve to have a good reputation, but the RCMP is an organization, like any other, comprised of people. And when people are involved there can never be perfection.

We’ve had our share of RCMP who made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Officers charged with murder, for example. But for some reason, the Arar case is a political hot-potato, I suppose because it connects directly to terrorism and because this man was imprisoned in another country as a result of the actions of the RCMP.

And now, it’s been established that the RCMP passed incorrect information to US authorities. As a result, Arar was detained on Sept. 26, 2002, during a stopover at New York's JFK airport as he was returning home after a vacation. He was held for two weeks in the United States, then flown on a private plane to Jordan and driven across the border to Syria where he was tortured, questioned and held for a year without charges.

Right now, I’m not sure if I should be grateful or worried. You see, my Canadian series centers on the RCMP, and I’m not pandering to the squeaky-clean image. The department if made up of real, flawed people, who don’t always get along or get things right. It was part of the reason the book was a harder sell.

I’ve always believed that people will warm to a sense of honesty. Watch a movie like Dudley Do-Right, or watch Due South, and you’ll see that people can’t really take the flawless Mountie reputation seriously.

Now, personally, I’ve never met an RCMP officer I haven’t liked. Those who helped me research for the book were fantastic. I have nothing against the RCMP.

I just wanted a healthy dose of realism in the book.

If the first Canadian noir book came out next year, the timing could be good. With a case like this fresh in people’s minds – even reaching international press – it paves the way for people having an open mind to what I’ve done with the book. (And no, I haven’t vilified the RCMP – my protagonists are RCMP officers. It’s just that they certainly aren’t perfect.)

But if a fair bit of time elapses between the backlash on this and my book release, the RCMP may go on a campaign to restore credibility and take a dim view of anything that doesn’t portray them in the most favourable light.

I have to admit that I never thought about any of this when I started the book. In fact, it was almost two years ago that I finished the first draft on it, having finished the first draft of Suspicious Circumstances in June and Past Transgressions in August.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. It will also be interesting to see how the book is received.

And if will be interesting to see how much I cringe when I do the edits on that book this fall.

As I noted, I didn’t write Suspicious Circumstances and the Canadian book back to back, but there are some similar themes.

Trust is definitely one of them.

Maybe, when it comes to some themes, we take things that are important to us, things we feel strongly about, and keep handing them over to different characters to see how they deal with them. A betrayal of trust is one of the most serious offenses in my book. Not just friend to friend, a country betraying the trust of citizens, a religion abusing the trust of followers. Trust on all levels.

There are other themes too, but we don't need to talk about them today.

I will suggest to you writers that when you work on edits, you give some thought to reader guides for book clubs. It is a bit tricky.

Now, a question for you guys. How do you decide to trust someone you’ve never met in person? I mean, what would prompt you to give me your phone number, or not, if you’ve never physically met me?

Asks she who just arranged to drive from Milwaukee to Madison with someone she’s never met before next week. But he has a nice telephone voice…

For laughs, it’s Dar Wednesday.

** And I have to warn you. I might make another tweak to the blog design. One of my regulars can't read white on black, so I'm going to see what I can do...


Christa M. Miller said...

I suspect that if the RCMP as a whole takes a dim view of SC, the controversy may help you sell.

But I bet a lot of RCMP officers will buy it if they think they can relate to it. Cops are like anyone else: they want to feel understood. I remember reading about Baltimore cops who very much appreciated the realistic way Homicide: Life on the Street portrayed them and their jobs. That series had deeply flawed characters, but they were (almost) always the good guys even when they made mistakes.

As for your question, I think it depends most on how the person relates to me. This summer I stayed at an online friend's house without ever having met her... we seemed that sympatico online. And we were. But that took months of emails to build. Most people I meet online, I have to meet in person in a public place first.

I'd give you my phone number because your blog tone is the same as your email tone. You're consistent in the ways that count... the ways that tell me (after over 10 years of being online) that you're probably not faking your persona.

Sorry for the ramble. Didn't sleep much last night.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Christa, no worries. It will be E&D (or TOR) that the RCMP could take interest in, not SC, but you might be right about the merit of controversy.

If the book was coming out tomorrow, it could be possible to get widespread media chat about it, depending on what critics were saying.

I loved Homicide. Still watch it sometimes.

You might be surprised that I can be very quiet in person, Christa. There's a big difference between seeing me in a small setting and seeing me at a convention too. I can do sociable for conventions when I need to, but I can be very quiet. Of course, I'm actually more likely to be that way when I'm around someone I feel a level of comfort with, and who I'm interested in - I want them to talk. I do have layers to my personality, but I suppose we all do.

Christa M. Miller said...

Actually, no, I'm not surprised to hear that - I'm the same way. "Persona" was probably the wrong word. (I knew the sleep deprivation would get in the way.) I meant something that's probably closer to "voice" - the way you come across, whether in private email or on the blog, is always the same regardless of subject matter. Again, an underlying consistency. Does that make a little better sense?

DesLily said...

I'm glad someone else can't read well with a black background to white writing...i was afraid to say anything because if YOU like it that's all that matters. I generally get around it by highlighting the entire post.. otherwise you get "ghosts".. like looking thru blinds a while then look at a wall and you see dark lines.. white on black does the same thing..sorta lol

I've met some people over the net in person.. generally I've emailed/ Imed/ and even talked on the phone with them over a year before a meeting takes then you do feel you know the person. Have to admit they were all women!

Bill Cameron said...

It's definitely a gut thing for me. I have had very nice email and online exchanges with people whom I wouldn't give my phone number to. Why? Just a feeling, mostly. Sometimes it's obvious, of course. Creepy comments or pushiness will turn me off in a second. Otherwise, I just go with my instincts.

Might it come back and bite me in the ass? Sure. So far, so good, but you never know, especially as I intentionally make myself more public. But I figure the cat's out of the bag now anyway. I sent Brett my cell phone number, so it's prolly gonna show up on bathroom walls everywhere in no time!

Regarding the whole RCMP thing, it makes me think of my cop friends. I see the same guys for coffee two or three times a week, and they sometimes ask me about how the writing is going. I'll start describing something, like my bad cop, and I'll immediately feel like I have to back pedel. "But, you know, most of my cops are good guys..." They always laugh and tell me it's cool. Apparently cops read novels and watch TV and go to movies too. Go figure.

Sandra Ruttan said...

About the blog - changing the colors is no big deal. It was the three column layout I really wanted, because my sidebar went on for eternity. This seems cleaner to me.

I'm curious to know if people can read the black or the white easier.

Christa, yes. Sleep deprivation is about to kick into high gear for you, isn't it? You poor thing.

DesLily, funny, most of the people I've actually gone on to meet in person were men. Never had a problem yet, even married one of them.

Bill, I'm surprised you're so chipper. After all, I have your cell # too. :)

Cops go to movies? Wow, you're just shattering all my preconceived ideas. Interestingly enough, there was a big debate about the RCMP scandal in parliament today...

Dana Y. T. Lin said...

Well, to be honest, I haven't met half the Bunions in person. Should I be worried?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Dana, given that these are a group of people who publicly go around calling themselves Bunions, maybe. Maybe.

James Goodman said...

Trust is hard earned. But I'm a naturally outgoing person. I take chances in this arena to a certain extent.

I've given out my cell phone number a couple of times and even met a few people, but for that first meeting, I always shoot for a lunch. A nice public place and a time frame in case they "ain't all they're cracked up to be".

Having said that the only time I've given out my number was to facilitate a face to face and there was always a seemingly logical reason to meet these people. Yanno, other than the obvious nicety of putting an actual physical personality to pair up with the words.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Lunch in a public place is a good standby, James. Pick a restaurant in a mall.

Geez, this is coming from someone who went to the UK and stayed in a hotel with someone she'd never met before. On the fact of it, seems I'm pretty trusting.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Whe1! I'm with you Deslily! Reading it actually upsets my stomach...

Being in the US, and writing about our government agencies in fiction, it never entered my mind that they'd be upset by anything I would write. So I don't know if you have anything to be concerned about on that point!

The trust thing...use your gut instinct! You're a woman! It won't let you down!

As the director of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, I have to ask people for a snail mail address to send books to, so I can understand that concern of being vulnerable to someone who is basically a stranger.

But then again...I have people that I've know face-to-face for 25 or 30 years and had them do something that was so off the wall, I wondered if I ever knew them at all, or had they been changed by the Pod People! LOL

Sandra Ruttan said...

You know Bonnie, I'm with you on the 'people you know in person' thing. I think I'm an anomaly, because I do tend to gauge people online more. If anyone participates in web discussion but won't talk to me (as in, we're on a forum together, but they avoid me or won't answer questions) I'm always suspicious and steer clear.

I seem to have no trouble making great web-based friends, and get along with them well in person. I've done this multiple times, but it still surprises me when people trust me.

Oh, and in Canada, it's a wee bit different with the politics and the offense. Not sure why, but it is.

Julia Buckley said...

Well, you can't please everyone, but I miss the mysterious blue. :)

And I look forward to the Canadian series. I need to learn more about my Northern brothers and sisters.

Andrea Maloney said...

I've met a bunch of people on the net who I've then gone on to meet in person. I guess I just go on my gut instinct and their emails. Plus usually the first time we meet in a public place. Like for lunch or something.

I'd have no problem giving you my phone number. My gut tells me your are a terrific person. Your emails and your blog tell me you are a good person. :) In the end i think it just comes down to a gut feeling. Plus I think you learn a lot about a person online from their blogs, websites, emails so that by the time you meet in person it's like you've known them forever.

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