Before the times of COVID-19, all the way back to the beginning of January 2020, I finished my new novel, an immigration thriller called Extreme Vetting. The title comes from a catchword coined by our own salesman president, and it refers to the treatment of immigrants in the United States—undocumented and documented—under the current administration. “Extreme vetting” describes a rough and cruel time in the lives of millions, beginning with asylum seekers at the southern border and ending with Americans whose citizenship could be revoked on technicalities. As an example, if an immigrant now leaves a blank space on a visa application (such as a middle name they don’t have or an apartment number when they live in a house), their application will be rejected. So much misery to go around.
All of last year and part of 2018, I worked hard on my manuscript. I interviewed a dear friend of mine who’s also an immigration lawyer. I read a lot of immigration literature and news. I dug into my own experience of adapting to a new country and culture when I first arrived in the U.S. at the beginning of the 2000s. I took thriller-writing classes and read craft books and thrillers. I stayed on top of an ever-changing legal immigration landscape controlled by a capricious and xenophobic administration. Meanwhile, I wrote and rewrote Extreme Vetting with help from generous beta readers and editors.
Then, at the beginning of 2020, after working like crazy through winter break and our family’s vacation (my kids said I was easy to find on the beach because I was the only person with a laptop), I finished my manuscript. I was exhausted, but ready to query agents and editors. Extreme Vetting was a timely thriller written by an immigrant. Could be relevant to our current cultural conversation. Two weeks later, the first case of COVID-19 was recorded in the U.S.
My passion for immigration justice seems out of place now. We’re all absorbed in news about a globetrotting virus that puts human civilization in mortal danger. We must stay apart and healthy and alive first, then recover from the coronavirus wreckage, and only then maybe go back to worrying about writing books, or about immigration, or climate change, or whatever rocks our boat. Until then, dreams deferred. Which is nothing compared with people losing jobs or their lives’ savings or even their lives. Dreams deferred, then. Because survival comes first. And helping put back our society comes first. For people caught up in the nightmare of immigration, it’s going to be a long wait.
The other day I read a New York Times article about the publishing industry hurting from the pandemic shutdown and the developing recession. A small press I queried wrote back this week to say they’re closing until the coronavirus crisis is over. Against this backdrop of awful daily news, I was thrilled when The Write Launch, a wonderful literary magazine, published the first chapter of Extreme Vetting in their April issue. Back in August 2018, they also published a chapter from another manuscript of mine, a speculative historical novel set in ancient Roman times on the old territory of my native Romania.
In case you’re interested, here’s a short description of my thriller:
A female attorney battles a Kafkaesque immigration system on behalf of a client who fled his family’s killers—and Guatemala—many years ago. But getting him asylum may not be enough when a corrupt ICE prosecutor sells detainee information to the highest bidder. Now the killers come looking for the man who got away—and the lawyer who’s helping him.
And here is the first chapter, published in the April issue of The Write Launch. I hope you enjoy reading it if you have time and energy for such distractions. And stay safe!