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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Something's Not Kosher on Connecticut's Death Row

     A federal judge in Connecticut has rejected the arguments of a home invasion killer on death row who complained that the food he is being served in prison is not kosher. Steven Hayes, convicted of killing a mother and two daughters, sued the Department of Correction in August 2014, alleging the preparation practices for kosher meals in the kitchen at the state's highest-security prison do not conform to Jewish dietary laws.

     Hayes describes himself in the lawsuit as an Orthodox Jew and says he's been requesting a kosher diet since May 2013. He says he has suffered "almost two years of emotional injury from having to choose between following God and starving or choosing to survive. [What life and death choice did this cold-blooded killer give his three victims?]…

     The judge noted that Hayes is offered kosher meals, and the state Department of Correction has two rabbis who periodically monitor the preparation of kosher foods in the prison system. The judge said both rabbis certified that the food and the food preparation process comply with dietary laws. "Although Hayes raises as an issue regarding the lack of a reliable orthodox certificate or an onsite Jewish overseer, he provides no evidence suggesting that this leads to a finding that the meals are not kosher," the judge wrote….

"Death Row Inmate's Prison Food Complaint Rejected," ABC News, November 28, 2014

     

Friday, November 28, 2014

Writing Quote: The Secret of Being Funny in Print

What is the secret of writing funny? If I knew, I would write my own ticket. But I venture this thought: The art begins with a sense of sadness. This is the clown's gift.

James J. Kilpatrick, The Writer's Art, 1994 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

New Orleans Detectives Ignore Rape and Child Abuse Cases

     A New Orleans' city inspector general's report claims that five police detectives failed to do substantial investigation of more than 1,000 cases of sex crimes and child abuse--with one detective being cited for stating a belief that rape should not be considered a crime. The report, released on November 12, 2014, examined the detectives' work between January 2011 and December 2013. It found the detectives filed follow-up reports [the first report after the complaint] for only 179 of 1,290 sex crime cases. In particular, the report found that some cases of potentially abused children and rape victims went completely without investigation.

     Police officials said the detectives were transferred to patrol duty and were under further investigation. The police also said two supervisors who oversaw the detectives have been transferred…

     The U.S. Department of Justice previously investigated the scandal-plagued police force and in 2012 the city agreed to a host of changes in policies. Among the federal probe's major findings were that the police force was rife with corruption and had numerous instances of excessive use of deadly force, discrimination and problems with its sex crimes unit. A federal monitor is overseeing compliance.

     The latest city report charged that a detective handling child abuse failed to investigate a case involving a 3-year-old brought to an emergency room due to an alleged sexual assault, closing the case without any charges even though the child had a sexually transmitted disease. The same detective closed with book with minimal or no investigation, and again with no charges, on two cases involving children brought to the emergency room with fractured skulls…

     Two detectives stood accused of writing six reports on the same day in 2013--to make it appear they had done follow-up reports years before to the old cases…In fact, these documents were written only after inspectors asked for the missing reports…

     The five detectives could face criminal charges and be fired…

"Report Claims Five New Orleans Cops Failed to Properly Investigate Over 1,000 Sex Crimes, Associated Press, November 13, 2014

     

Short Story Writers Can Take Chances That Novelists Can't

Short stories are gratifying and fun and not the kind of heavy lifting involved with a novel. I used to frequently write them in one sitting. Now it's usually several days. Whatever it is, it's a cheap investment in time. Plus, you can take the amount of chances you can't with a novel because if you waste three days, what do you care?

Lawrence Block, Writing the Novel, 1985 

Writing Quote: The Similarities Between Fiction and Creative Nonfiction

Nonfiction has many of the same requirements as fiction: opening hooks baited to entice readers; personalities and settings developed appropriately; background material presented without dumping; and consistent internal logic. In fact, nonfiction's familiar traits--who, what, where, when, why, and how--translate easily into character, setting, motivation, and problem-solving action.

Carol Ottolenghi-Barga, sfwa.org, 2001 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Writing Quote: Famous Short Story Writers

It is sometimes fashionable to dismiss the short story and to attribute its apparent decline to the greater versatility of the novel and to the rise of nonfiction. But the trouble does not lie with the form but with the practitioners. A really good short story writer will always find an audience. J.D. Salinger, John Cheever and John Updike have been remarkably successful, and the reason is that they are all masters of the form. They all have a good ear and eye for detail.

Frank McShane, The Life of John O'Hara, 1980 

Writing Quote: Early Success Can Be Bad

When you have a first novel [Fear of Flying] that sells 6 million copies, anything you do after it has to be a disappointment. You set a standard that you cannot compete with, and the pressure it puts on you is almost unreal.

Erica Jong in On Being a Writer, Bill Strickland, editor, 1989 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Writing Quote: Introducing Humor Into Your Writing

Humor can either be a genre in its own right, or an important ingredient in many other genres. Shakespeare wrote comedies, tragedies, and romances. Even in the most tragic of his tales, he knew the importance of inserting a humorous scene every so often to bring the audience some comic relief from all the death, deceit, and unrequited love in the rest of the play. While joke writing is a subsection of the genre, and a potentially lucrative one, it would be a mistake to confuse the ability to tell a joke with the ability to write humor.

Gordon Kirkland in Novel & Short Story Writer's Market, edited by Anne Bowling and Vanessa Lyman, 2002 

15-Monrh-Old Boy Dies in Hot Car, Father Charged

     A Connecticut man was charged on November 11, 2014 with the death of his 15-month-old son, who died this summer after he was left in a hot car for hours…Kyle Steitz, 36, turned himself in to police and was charged with criminally negligent homicide over his son Benjamin's death…The authorities released Seitz on his promise to appear in court the next day…

     Benjamin Seitz died of "hyperthermia due to environmental exposure" on July 7, 2014 after being left alone in a hot car by his father. The state medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. The temperature in the car reached 88 degrees that day, according to a report issued by Danbury Hospital in Danbury, Connecticut.

     Seitz was supposed to take his son to day care that morning but instead he drove to his job at a technology company and accidentally left the boy in the car until realizing he had forgotten about him….

"Connecticut Man Charged in Death of Boy Left in Hot Car," wtaqnews.com, November 12, 2014 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Whackademia Quote: Graduating Magna Cum Debt

     The average amount of student debt per borrower in 2013, according to a study released on November 13, 2014 by the Institute for College Access and Success's Project on Student Debt, is $28,400…Matthew Reed, who directed the study, said the report aims to analyze increasing student debt averages for graduates with a bachelor's degree at a time when the cost of higher education is rising…

     "Debt varies from state to state and college-to-college so where you go to school can make a difference," Reed said. "It's something that prospective students should take a look at…Federal student loans come with protections such as fixed interest rates for the life of the loan, income based repayment programs, and public service loan forgiveness," Reed said. "These are not always available for private loans. Private loans are not a form of financial aid. They often have variable rates, and they do not have customer protections."…

     Kevin Long, a professor of economics at Boston University, said the rising averages of student debt is related to a combination of both poor labor market forces and increasing tuition costs….

"Recent Graduates Average $28,400 in Student Debt," The Detroit Free Press, November 17, 2014 

Writing Quote: Dealing With Criticism

     Criticism is the only antidote that human beings have discovered against error. It is the chief method that a skilled person can use to become even better. The key to discovering correctable errors before you commit a work to press.

     But criticism hurts. A deep and pervasive flaw in human character makes all of us resistant to the one thing that can help us do better. The only solution? Learn to grow up. To hold your head high, develop a thick skin, and take it.

     If a reader didn't like your work, that may be a matter of taste. But if she did not understand the work--or was bored--that's your fault as a writer, pure and simple.

David Brin in How I Got Published, edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay, 2007 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Writing Quote: Category Romance Novels

Category romances are marketed monthly under imprints readers have learned to associate with romance. Each book bearing the same imprint carries a distinctive cover design its readers recognize. To reduce costs, all books in the line have a fixed page length. Once printed, they are marketed in a block. Single-title romance novels are not part of a category line, their page length is not fixed, and each is sold on an individual basis.

Vanessa Grant, Writing Romance, 2001 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Police Officer Kills Woman Who in a Struggle Took His Taser

     A Citrus County, Florida deputy is on administrative leave after he fatally shot a woman who pointed a Taser at him during a disturbance call in Inverness late Sunday night November 16, 2014…The sheriff's deputy shot 46-year-old Dawn Renee Cameron following a struggle after receiving a call in Inverness. A witness told deputies that Cameron attempted to light a truck on fire then left the scene.

     Once the deputy encountered Cameron at the entrance to a park, she attacked him, removing his Taser that she then pointed at the officer. That's when the deputry shot her. Cameron was pronounced dead at a local hospital shortly after midnight…

     Jail records show that Cameron was arrested in June 2014 on a parole violation related to a previous grand theft case. Authorities have launched an investigation into the police-involved shooting.

"Citrus Deputy Fatally Shoots Woman Who Pointed Taser," tbo.com, November 17, 2014 

Writing Quote: The Elements of a Great Biography

In general, a biography has to have a theme, and its subject has to fit into the context of the times the subject lived in. More than that, the subject of a biography should also be a symbol of some sort or the spirit of his or her age. The book should bring out some thematic element of that culture. Broadly, a good biography is one that illuminates and shows the times as much as the person.

Peter Rubie, Telling the Story, 2003

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Two Americans Accused of Stealing Infant Body Parts From Bangkok Medical Museum

     On Saturday November 15, 2014, workers at a DHL office in Thailand's Pathum Thani province noticed something gruesome while scanning packages destined for the U.S. The discovery caused a DHL manager to notify the Royal Thai Police.

     Inside five plastic boxes officers discovered an infant's head, a baby's left foot sliced into three pieces, an adult heart, and patches of human skin.

     Thai investigators questioned Ryan Edward McPherson and Daniel Jamon Tanner, the Americans who had tried to ship the body parts out of the country. The men claimed to have purchased the body parts at a flea market for $100. The idea was, they said, to shock their friends back home.

     Notwithstanding the fact McPherson and Tanner could not remember the location of the flea market, the Thai authorities, unsure if these men had broken any laws, released them without criminal charges. The men said they were headed to Cambodia.

     On Monday November 17, 2014, Thai detectives determined that the infant body parts had been stolen from the Siriraj Medical Museum within Bangkok's Sirira Hospital. The items had been taken from the forensic medicine section of the museum.

     Closed-circuit camera footage from the hospital showed that McPherson and Tanner had visited the institution on the day the body parts went missing. A Thai judge, that Monday, approved arrest warrants for the two Americans on charges of theft from a government hospital. If convicted as charged, McPherson and Tanner could be locked up abroad for up to seven years.

     In Thailand, infant body parts are purchased on the black market by people who believe they possess the power of black magic. Believers make these macabre acquisitions for protection, good luck, and success in business. In this case, the stolen body parts brought McPherson and Tanner no protection and plenty of bad luck. 

Whackademia Quote: In Class, Speak Softly and Carry a Big Knife

     A middle school math teacher in New Mexico waved a large knife at two students who were talking too much during a pop quiz. The incident happened on Friday November 14, 2014 at Bernalillo Middle School in Bernalillo, a small suburb 20 miles north of Albuquerque…The teacher, Benjamin Nagurski, had the knife out in the classroom to dig out staples from a bulletin board. He approached the two students who were chatting during the pop quiz.

     "Stop talking," Nagurski, 63 said while holding the knife about four feet from the students. "Maybe next time I'll pull a machete on you," the teacher later told one of the boys... The students sent a text message to his parents after the incident.

     Nagurski insisted that he had made the machete comment in jest…

     In the complaint filed with local police, one of the students said he felt "unsafe" and "scared." The school district superintendent assured parents that the children were never in harms way…

     Police officers booked Nagurski into jail on charges of unlawfully carrying a deadly weapon on school premises and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The teacher posted his $10,000 bond and was released. He was placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the case.

"Math Teacher Pulls Knife on Students," The Daily Caller, November 18, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: Charles Manson: Idiots Should Not Be Allowed to Marry Death Row Psychopaths

     Mass murderer Charles Manson plans to marry a 26-year-old woman who left her midwestern home and spent the past nine years trying to help exonerate him. Afton Elaine Burton, the raven-haired bride-to-be, said she loves the man convicted in the notorious murders of seven people, including pregnant actress Sharon Tate.

     No date has been set, but a wedding coordinator has been assigned by the prison to handle the nuptials, and the couple has until early February to get married before they would have to reapply…Burton, who goes by the name "Star," told the Associated Press that she and Manson will be married next month. "Y'all can know that it's true," she said. "It's going to happen. I love him," she added. "I'm with him. There's all kinds of things."

     However, as a life prisoner with no parole date, Manson is not entitled to family visits, an euphemism for conjugal visits.

     Sharon Tate's sister, Debra, who acts as a spokesperson for the families of Manson's victims, said the impending marriage is "ludicrous."

"Manson Gets Marriage License," Associated Press, November 18, 2014 

Writing Quote: Science Fiction in the 1950s

No science fiction novel in the fifties sold more than one hundred thousand copies. Science fiction itself was regarded with lack of interest or contempt outside of the genre walls. Its very audience was an unorganized constituency, much like audiences for contemporary men's magazines. They might like it, buy it, need it, but they were not in the main evangelical and those who were, simply increased the popular perception of science fiction as a strange field, incestuous and defensive. The genre made no impression up the academic/literary nexus which controls critical perception and audiences in this country.

Barry N. Malzberg, The Man Who Loved the Midnight Lady, 1980 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: NYC Man Pushed to Death at Subway Station

     The Metropolitan Transportation Authority says a man killed by an oncoming train at a Bronx subway station had been pushed onto the tracks. A MTA spokesperson said it happened around 8:40 AM on Sunday November 16, 2014...

     The 61-year-old man was hit by a southbound D train at the Grand Concourse and East 167th Street station. The police are looking for a suspect…

     The victim is Wai Kuen Kwork of the Bronx. There have been three other incidents in recent years that involved a person being pushed onto the tracks.

"Man Hit by NYC Subway Train Was Pushed," Associated Press, November 17, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: Illegal Alien Suspected in Hit-And-Run Murder of Girl

     An illegal immigrant driving drunk and without a license crashed through a fence Sunday November 9, 2014 hitting and killing a 3-year-old girl as she was waiting in line for ice cream in Porterville, California. Adolf Balbuena, 18, mowed down the toddler, Angeles Moreno, as she and several others, including an 8-year-old boy, were waiting for an ice cream truck. After hitting Moreno, Balbuena backed up and drove away. He was arrested at his home around an hour later…

     Balbuena…is an illegal immigrant from Mexico. Though the local district attorney is handling the case, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will ultimately decide whether he will be tried in the U.S. or deported back to Mexico….

Chuck Ross, "Illegal Immigrant Drunk Driver Hits and Kills 3-Year-Old Waiting for Ice Cream," The Daily Caller, November 11, 2014 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Writing Quote: Where Do Humorous Ideas Come From?

It is not hard to write funny stuff. All you have to do is procure a pen and paper, and some ink, and then sit down and write it as it occurs to you. The writing is not hard, but the occurring--that, my friend, is the difficulty.

Stephen Leacock in Becoming a Writer edited by Dorthea Brande, 1934 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Manhattan Diamond Heist

     The search in New York City continues for two men who robbed a Manhattan jewelry store at gunpoint on November 11, 2014…The two men robbed the store in the middle of the afternoon. Police responded to the scene in force, sweeping the building looking for suspects…"All of a sudden we saw the SWAT team and all the cops outside the building," one witness said. Diamond district workers and shoppers say they got the scare of their lives…

     Investigators say just before 2:30 PM, two men posing as deliverymen buzzed for entrance into the Watch Standard Jewel Store saying they had some letters…"Suspect number one pulled out a firearm and demanded that the store empty out the safe and place the jewelry inside a bag," Deputy Chief William Aubrey said...

     The four employees inside the eighth floor wholesale and retail store complied but yelled for the owner to call 911. The first suspect then whipped the 56-year-old owner, leaving him with a minor injury while the second suspect waited in the hall…

     The first suspect had a black shoulder bag with a letter K in a blue circle. The second suspect was wearing black True Religion jeans. Police haven't revealed how much jewelry the robbers walked off with.

"Police Investigate Armed Heist in Diamond District," NY1.com, November 12, 2014 

Writing Quote: Fiction Should Not Primarily Be About Ideas

Ideas are not the best subject matter for fiction. They do not dramatize well. They are, rather, a by-product, something the reader himself is led to formulate after watching the story unfold. The ideas ought to be implicit in the selection and arrangement of the people and places and actions. They ought to haunt a piece of fiction as a ghost flits past an attic window after dark.

Wallace Stegner, On Teaching and Writing Fiction, 2002 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Trooper and His Dog Find Missing Girl in Woods

     A 2-year-old girl was found Thursday November 6, 2014 in the woods wrapped in a blanket. She had wandered away from her home 22 hours earlier. Brooklyn Lynn Lilly wandered off while playing outside her Tawas City, Michigan home in the eastern part of the state near Lake Huron. Her neighbors and family had feared the worst. "We worried that maybe somebody came and grabbed her, family friend Patrick McDonald said…

     State Trooper Denis McGuckin and his dog Jax found Brooklyn…"She lifted her head up off the ground and looked back toward me and my dog and smiled," McGuckin said. "She said, 'I love the woods.' "

"Toddler Who Spent 22 Hours Alone in the Woods Found Safe," ABC News, November 7, 2014



Miguel Mejia-Ramos Sentenced for Tripple Murder

     Miguel Mejia Ramos, a 45-year-old New York City man, has been sentenced to 45 years in prison for fatally stabbing his sleeping wife in a rage triggered by jealousy and then killing their two toddlers. Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown says Mejia-Ramos was sentenced Friday November 7, 2014. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter last month for the January 2014 killings. [Why did they let him plead to such a lesser offense? In places like Texas, killing three people will get you the death sentence.]

     Majia-Ramos told police officers he snapped after drinking and finding a photo on his wife's phone of her with another man. [Okay, but how does this explain the killing of the children?] He grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed 21-year-old Daisy Garcia and their daughters ages one and two. Police arrested him near Schulenburg, Texas. He was trying to flee to Mexico.

"NYC Man Gets 45 Years For Stabbing His Wife and 2 Toddlers to Death," Associated Press, November 7, 2014

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Whackademia Quote: Vinita Hegwood: Teacher in Trouble for Profane, Racially Charged Tweets

     A Duncanville, Texas teacher has been "suspended without pay pending discharge" after accusations that she sent racially charged tweets about the incidents in Ferguson, Missouri…Vinita Hegwood, a high school English teacher at Duncanville High School near Dallas, allegedly sent the tweets from her personal Twitter account on November 7, 2014. "Who (expletive) made you dumb (expletive) crackers think I give a squat (expletive) about your opinions? #Ferguson kill yourselves," read one of the messages.

     Later that evening another Hegwood tweet appeared, saying: "You exhibit nigga behavior, I'm a call you a nigga. You acting crackerish, I'm a call you a cracker." Hegwood is African-American…

     It's not clear exactly to what or whom the teacher was referring, but the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, have often hinged on race…A grand jury is expected to decide soon whether Officer Darren Wilson will face charges.

     Hegwood is in her second year at Duncanville High School, where she maintained a website for her students…The Twitter account from which she allegedly made the comments has since been taken down…

     Lari Barager, Duncanville Independent School District spokesperson, called the messages "offensive" and "reprehensible" and stressed the tweets do not represent the 240 other teachers at Duncanville High School…

     The board of trustees for the school district will decide Hegwood's fate at its next meeting. 

"Texas Teacher Suspended After Racist Ferguson Tweet," CNN, November 11, 2014 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Writing Quote: Writing a Short Story is a Sprint not a Marathon

The short story form is like a hundred-yard dash, compared to a cross-country race. There's no time for pacing, strategy, getting a second wind. In a short flash you go flat out, and that's all.

Ben Bova, Notes to a Science Fiction Writer, 1975 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Writing Quote: Short Story Character Development

The novelist can slowly unfold the changing lives of several characters, but the short story writer has difficulty enough in making credible the change in a single character. Any intelligent reader has a very reasonable skepticism about sudden spiritual or moral change; the author most prove to the reader that this character was well on the way toward the change before it actually takes place. Doing this takes up much of an author's story.

Jarvis A. Thurston, Reading Modern Short Stories, 1955

Criminal Justice Quote: AC/DC Drummer Accused of Murder Solicitation

     Phil Rudd, the drummer for the legendary hard rock band AC/DC, has been charged with attempting to have two men killed. The 60-year-old appeared in a New Zealand court Thursday November 6, 2014 facing a count of attempting to procure the murders…He was also charged with threatening to kill, possession of methamphetamine, and possession of cannabis…

     Rudd entered a no plea to the charges at the Tauranga District Court, and was bailed out until November 27, 2014…The Australian-born drummer moved to New Zealand in 1983 after being sacked by the group. He rejoined the group years later…[On November 7, 2014, the New Zealand prosecutor dropped the murder-for-hire charge against Rudd.]

"AC/DC Drummer Phil Rudd Charged with Attempting to Have Two Men Murdered," CNN, November 6, 2014 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Whackademia Quote: Federal Money Wasted on For-Profit Schools

     A trade group which represents some 1,400 for-profit colleges and universities sued in federal court on November 6, 2014 to force the U.S. Department of Education to rescind regulations designed to prevent the schools from taking billions in federal aid if they stick students with thousands of dollars in loan debt in return for unmarketable, dead-end degrees.

     Mainly at issue is a federal regulation called the "gainful employment rule." The rule compares graduate job earnings to their debt payments…Schools run afoul of the regulation if graduates can't get jobs which pay enough so that loan payments don't exceed 8 percent of their total annual earnings or 20 percent of their discretionary income.

     Schools that fail to meet these income-to-loan levels risk losing access to taxpayer-subsidized student loans and taxpayer-funded grants…

     For-profit schools rely heavily on federal cash and their chief executive officers bring home obscenely high salaries. For example, the CEO and president of Devry Education Group, Daniel Hamburger, made $5,680,939 in 2013. Edward H. West, president and CEO of Education Management Corporation, made $6,025,304 in 2013. Scott W. Steffy, president and CEO of Career Education Corporation, made $4,837,992 that year…

     Career Education Corporation, reached a $10 million settlement agreement in 2013 with the New York attorney general over charges of gross deception. The…company admitted that only 24 percent to 64 percent of graduates were able to find meaningful jobs. The company had touted an inflated rate of 55 percent to 80 percent…

     For-profit schools in the United States currently enroll about 2 million student.

Eric Owens, "For-Profit College Sue To Keep Billions In Federal Aid Flowing Despite Awful Student Outcomes," The Daily Caller, November 7, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: Stealing From The Dead

     A 26-year-old Brockton, Massachusetts man turned himself in Friday night November 7, 2014 after Boston Transit Police released his surveillance photo as the suspect they believe stole the cellphone off a woman struck and killed by a Red Line train the day before…He is to be arraigned in Boston Municipal Court…
   
     The well-dressed young man still possessed the dead woman's phone and turned it in. The Transit Police had released the surveillance video that showed the suspect walking toward the phone, which had a distinct orange case. He covered it with his foot, then picked it up.

     The woman was struck and killed at 9:48 PM Thursday November 6, 2014 at the Downtown Crossing Station.

"Man Wanted in Theft of Woman's Phone Turns Himself In," The Boston Globe, November 8, 2014

     

Writing Quotes: The Use of Flashbacks in a Novel

     Flashbacks are not designed for the writer's amusement, but rather the reader's education. If your flashback is not going to elucidate, illuminate, or provide context, then you probably don't need it.

     It is also advisable not to use a flashback in a novel-length manuscript when you only have one or two flashbacks to insert. You're better off setting up a pattern of at least half a dozen flashbacks at fairly regular intervals, rather than taking one or two lonely excursions into the past. If there are only two flashbacks, the reader will be jarred by the digressions and they will stand out as an abnormality.

Jessica Page Morrell, Between the Lines, 2006

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Writing Quote: The One-Book Novelist

Some of the American writers are said--particularly by European and British critics--to be one-book writers. They produce one good novel and never again produce anything to equal it, apparently because their first book was so heavily autobiographical.

Mary McCarthy in Conversations with Mary McCarthy, Carol Gilderman, editor, 1991 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Bottle Bomb Injures School Bus Driver

     On November 3, 2014, classes at Emily Dickinson Elementary School in Richmond, Washington were canceled after a two-liter bottle exploded in the parking lot, injuring a bus driver…The explosion happened at eight in the morning. No students were on campus at the time of the incident.

     Police Sergeant D. B. Gates said the bottle was filled with a volatile substance and exploded as the bus driver walked past it. The driver was hit by something that came out of the bottle. There is also a second adult who may have been exposed to fumes. Both were taken to a nearby hospital.

     Nothing was found when the King County Police Bomb Squad swept the school. As a precaution, a nearby school was closed and another placed in a modified lockdown.

"Explosion in Washington Elementary School Parking Lot," Fox News, November 3, 2014 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Going to Jail For Feeding the Homeless in Public

     On Sunday November 2, 2014, 90-year-old Arnold Abbott and two pastors in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, were charged with feeding the homeless in public. This was the city's first crackdown of its new ordinance banning public food sharing…According to Mr. Abbott, "an officer said, 'drop that plate now,' like I had a weapon."

     Despite some criticism from homeless advocates, city officers have vowed that the new law will be enforced. "Just because of media attention we don't stop enforcing the law. We enforce the laws here in Fort Lauderdale," Major Jack Seller said. "I'm not satisfied with having a cycle of homeless in the city of Fort Lauderdale. Providing them with a meal and keeping them in that cycle on the street is not productive."

     But Abbott, who has been helping feed homeless people in the area through his Love Thy Neighbor nonprofit since 1991, said the authorities are targeting the city's most vulnerable residents. "These are the poorest of the poor. They have nothing. They don't have a roof over their head," he said. "Who can turn them away?"…Abbott said the threat of jail won't stop him from doing it again.

"90-Year-old Florida Man Charged for Feeding Homeless People," CNN, November 4, 2014

Whackademia Quote: High School Student Writes About Committing Mass Murder

     A Radnor, Pennsylvania high school senior who had a "fascination" with the Columbine High School massacre of 15 years ago wrote about shooting "everyone in classrooms" and blowing up the cafeteria. "I would be the first female shooter," the student…wrote in her journal…"I'm homicidal and I'm fine with that."…

     The student made references to killing a teacher, killing fellow students in a certain manner, and also injuring herself…"I want to trap them, pick them off one by one," the girl wrote. "Blow up the cafeteria, shoot everyone in the classrooms…Imagine the power, the bullets leaving the gun with a loud bang, piercing kids around me, the way they collapse, their blood splattering the floor--the screams."

     The student, who will be charged on November 3, 2014 as a juvenile with making terroristic threats, has a history of treatment for "psychological issues." [If this girl ever gets straightened out, she should consider a career as a true crime writer.]

"Radnor Police: Girl Threatened School Shooting," Philadelphia Inquirer, November 4, 2014 

Writing Quote: The Autobiographical First Novel

Highly autobiographical first novels are out of fashion. Budding writers are expected to cast their eyes away from themselves. And yet in our culture of instant gratification and celebrity, a writer's reputation can depend almost exclusively on the critical reception of a first novel. The problem is twofold: we expect first novels to be works of non-autobiographical genius well before a writer has time to mature.

Rosalind Porter, findarticles.com, 2005 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: English Teen Sentenced for Murdering Teacher

     A 16-year-old boy has been imprisoned for life after being convicted of murdering a teacher in Leeds, England. Ann Maguire, 61, was attacked at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds in April 2014.  She had worked at the school for more than 40 years and had been due to retire.

     Speaking outside Leeds Crown Court, Chief Superintendent Paul Money described Mrs. Maguire's murder as a "cold-blooded, brutal and cowardly act." He said the boy's motive appeared to be an "inexplicable hatred of this teacher who was simply carrying out her duty."

"Ann Maguire Murder: Killing 'Brutal and Cowardly'," BBC News, November 3, 2014 

Writing Quote: Novels Are Imperfect

I like the Randall Jarrell line: "A novel is a prose narration of some length that has something wrong with it." I think that's true. If you're going to write a hundred, a hundred and fifty, two hundred thousand words, perfection is a fantasy.

Salman Rushdie, The Paris Review, 2005 

Writing Quote: The Novelist as Embittered Loser

The novelist has a grudge against society, which he documents with accounts of unsatisfying sex, unrealized ambition, unmitigated loneliness, and a sense of local and global distress. The square, overpopulation, the bourgeois, the bomb, and the cocktail party are variously identified as sources of the grudge. [Today it would be global warming, consumerism, terrorism, and flag-waving yahoos.] There follows a little obscenity here, a dash of philosophy there, considerable whining overall, and the modern novel is born.

Renata Adler, Toward a Radical Middle, 1969 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Former Mob Boss Back in Prison For Violating Parole

     A reputed former mob boss was ordered back to prison Friday October 24, 2014 for violating parole, and his lawyer complained that the FBI would pursue his client "to the grave." Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, the reputed head of Philadelphia's La Cosa Nostra in the 1990s, must serve four additional months for failing to report a meeting with a former co-defendant at a Boca Raton, Florida cigar bar. "I never had dinner with Johnny Ciancaglini. I bumped into him," said Marlino on a return trip to Philadelphia. "I didn't report it…It just slipped my mind."

     Merlino, 52, has been living in south Florida since 2011, when he left prison after more than a decade from a Philadelphia racketeering conviction. His lawyer maintains that Merlino plans to work as a maitre d' at a new Boca Raton restaurant that will bear his name…

     The FBI has been tailing Merlino as part of a new, unspecified criminal probe, according to testimony from organized crime task force members. On the night of the cigar bar meeting in June 2014, five officers in five cars were on the surveillance detail. The FBI task force members, who feared they stood out among regulars as they sipped pricey drinks, said they observed Merlino talking with Ciancaglini and other felons in a glass-enclosed VIP section of a spot called Havana Nights.

     "It's very obvious what is going on. This is a night on the town with his mob buddies," said Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer…Defense lawyer Edwin Jacobs Jr insists the contact was random and amounted to nothing more than "a couple minutes of chit chat."…

     Although Merlino appears to be enjoying an enviable lifestyle, he reported having almost no income.

"Ex-Mob Boss Gets 4 Months For Meeting Friend," Associated Press, October 24, 2014  

Writing Quote: Avoid Plot Digressions

Every scene in your novel must pertain to your plot. Every single one. Even if a character muses or meanders, that activity must be plot-related. A character under suspicion of murder may drift off into thought, but those thoughts had better be about why he's been wrongfully accused, how he's going to prove his innocence, or who the true murderer is, not random memories of whale-watching or hiking.

Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Make a Scene, 2008 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Writing Quote: A Writer's Despair

I want to write and I never never will…Whatever I'm doing, it's always there saying, "Write this--write that--write--" and I can't. Lack ability, time, strength, and duration of vision. I wish someone would tell me brutally, "You can never write anything. Take up home gardening!"

Anne Morrow Lindbergh in The Writer's Life, Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks, editors, 1997 

Criminal Justice Quote: Hit and Run Driver Kills Three Girls

     Three teenage girls trick-or-treating in Halloween costumes were killed on October 31, 2014 by a hit-and-run driver at a crosswalk near an elementary school in Santa Ana, California. There were hit by a Nissan Pathfinder at 6:45 PM. Two men were in the SUV.

     The girls ranged in ages from 13 to 15. Two of them were killed immediately while the third victim died on the way to the hospital. The vehicle involved was found abandoned not far from the scene. [The Nissan was probably stolen.] Santa Ana is located near Anaheim about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

"Three Trick-or-Treaters in Santa Ana Killed by Driver," NBC News, October 31, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Aerial War on Pot

     Georgia police raided a retired Atlanta man's garden on October 1, 2014 after a helicopter crew with the Governor's Task Force for Drug Suppression spotted suspicious-looking plants on the man's property. A heavily-armed K9 unit arrived and discovered that the plants were, in fact, okra bushes.

     The officers eventually apologized and left, but they took some of the suspicious okra leaves with them for analysis. A Georgia State Patrol spokesperson told reporters that, "We've not been able to identify the plants as yet. But they did have quite a number of characteristics that were similar to a cannabis plant." Indeed, like cannabis, okra is green and has leaves.

     Okra busts like these are good reasons for taxpayers to be skeptical about the wisdom of sending drug cops up in helicopters to fly around aimlessly, looking for drugs in suburban gardens. [It's a lot easier than wearing out shoe leather working on difficult criminal cases.] And that's not to mention the issue of whether we want a society where heavily-armed cops can burst onto your property, with no grounds for suspicion beyond what somebody thought he saw from several hundred yards up in a helicopter.

     Marijuana eradication programs, like the one that sent the helicopter up above the Georgia man's house, are typically funded partly via the Drug Enforcement Agency's Cannabis Eradication Program. Many of these funds come from the controversial asset forfeiture programs that allow law enforcement officials to seize property from citizens never even charged--much less convicted--of a crime.

     The Cannabis Eradication programs have historically inflated the size of their hauls by including non-psychoactive "ditchweed" in their totals of plants seized. In past years, ditchweed accounted for up to 98 percent of outdoor plant totals….

Christopher Ingraham, "Heavily Armed Drug Cops Raid Retiree's Garden, Seize Okra Plants," The Washington Post, October 6, 2014 

Writing Quote: The Importance of Setting

Settings are as varied in fiction as they are in the world: A humid southern bayou; icy Norwegian fords; a crumbling Victorian mansion; a stable, pungent with the stench of animals. These are just a few of the infinite number of places in which you might set your characters. Though they may seem like merely the backdrop to the action and drama of your narrative, they are more like the rich soil in which you plant your seeds. Do not forget to set the scene. Unless you have a good  reason to set your novel or story in a vacuum, establishing a physical setting is one of the most important and literal ways to ground the reader and keep characters from being floating heads.

Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Make a Scene, 2008 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Whackademia Quote: Should Teachers Be Trained in Hand-To-Hand Combat?

     The altercation that took place in early October 2014 at Carver Vocational-Technical High School in Baltimore, Maryland was caught on camera…The video shows a female teacher who appears to charge a female student, then throws the girl against lockers and pulls her hair. A male student attempts to intervene and break up the fight.

     But another part of the video shows what happened before the teacher lashed out at the student. In the classroom, the teacher appears to order the girl to stop using her phone while the class is taking a test. The student is seen shoving a chair toward the teacher and appears to throw something at her. The student slams an object down on the teacher's desk and rushes out of the room.

     When the teacher confronts the girl in the hallway, the student throws a book at the teacher, prompting the teacher's physical response.

     While at least one parent believes the teacher was in the wrong and should have acted more professionally, a student at the school said the teacher's actions were justified because they were in self-defense. According to a press release from the school, the teacher was treated for injuries and placed on administrative leave while an investigation is concluded. The student has been charged with assault. [I presume this student has been suspended from the school.]

"Fight Between Teacher and Student Caught on Camera," Cox Media Group, October 16, 2014 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Writing Quote: Story Endings for Middle-Grade Readers

     When writing for nine-to twelve-year-olds, the endings don't have to be happy. But they do have to be satisfying in some fundamental way. In younger books, stories deal primarily with situations and feelings the child might encounter. In middle-grade stories the endings grow out of the characters, their internal changes, and their ability to understand and cope with the world around them. As a consequence, the endings of these books are more complex.

     For instance, sometimes life doesn't turn out the way the hero wants it to. Yet she does get some of what she needs--an understanding of how the world works, perhaps, or a new-found ability to cope with a confusing and challenging event. She might have to accept adverse circumstances or even mourn a deep loss. But in all of these situations, the hero learns something. She changes, grows and begins to get a firmer grasp on the complexity of the world around her.

Nancy Lamb, Crafting Stories for Children, 2001