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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

Writing Quote: Telling Children's Book Tall Tales

Tall tales are a highly specialized form of children's book humor. You need to be awfully good, for the classic tales you compete with are superb. Take Jim Bridger who discovered that it took eight hours for an echo to return from a distant mountain. He turned it into an alarm clock by shouting "wake up!" before he went to bed.

Sid Fleischman in The ABC's of Writing For Children, edited by Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff, 2003 

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: Biography Versus History Books

The historian frames a cosmos of happenings in which men are included only as event producers or event sufferers. The biographer explores the cosmos of a single being. History deals in generalizations about a time. Biography deals in the particulars of one person's life.

Paul Murray Kendall in Biography as High Adventure, edited by Stephen B. Oates, 1986

Jack London on Writing Humor

Humor is the hardest to write, easiest to sell, and best rewarded. There are only a few who are able to do it. If you are able, do it by all means.

Jack London in Jack London, edited by Dale L. Walker, 1979 

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

Writing Quote: The Objective Biographer

The dangers of biography are inaccuracy and hero worship. The biographer needs to cultivate an objective eye that fits his subject into the world with compassion. Most biographers treat their subjects as one of three things: an example, a victim, or a source of wisdom.

Peter Rubie, Telling the Story, 2003 

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: Is Romance a Genre or a Marketing Label?

I don't wholly agree with the label "romance." It is for me chiefly a marketing label, not a creative one. When Kathleen Woodiwiss and Margaret Mitchell were penning their first books, they weren't writing "romance." They were writing from their hearts like any other writer. Publishing labeled the books "romance." Publishing, in trying to imitate the success of these books, had superimposed rules and defined a genre. The best "romance writers" write from their hearts and break "rules" all over the place.

Judith Ivory, booktalk.com, 2005 

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 

Writing Quote: Learn the Business of Publishing

Publishing is a business, and aspiring writers who take the time and expend the effort to learn about that business and what it demands give themselves a leg up on success.

Donald Bain in How I Got Published edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay, 2007  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Myron May: Police Kill An Insane Lawyer Who Shot Three at Florida State University

     As a teenager, Myron May didn't get along with his parents. In 1999 he moved from Ohio to the Florida panhandle where he took up residence in the rural town of Wewahitchka with his grandmother. After graduating from high school, May enrolled at Florida State University in Tallahassee. He graduated from the university in 2005.

     In 2009, Myron May was granted a law degree from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. For the next three years he practiced law in that state.

     On January 18, 2014, May accepted a position as junior prosecutor in the district attorney's office in Las Cruces, New Mexico. According to District Attorney Mark D'Antonio, the 31-year-old did a good job and was well-liked by his colleagues. But on October 6, 2014, May abruptly resigned. It was about this time he began to exhibit the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia.

     May's former girlfriend, Danielle Nixon, called the police after he came to her house uninvited with news that government agents were bugging his dwelling and his car. In a journal he kept, May wrote about his fear of being a target of government surveillance. His Facebook page contained messages regarding government agents who were spying on him by reading his mind.

     In early November 2014, May moved back to Tallahassee where an old friend let him stay in a guest house.Troubled by financial issues and mental illness, May said he planned to take the Florida bar examine in February 2015.

     At twelve-thirty in the morning of Thursday November 20, 2014, Myron May showed up on the FSU campus armed with a .380-caliber pistol. He walked into the lobby of Stozier Library that was packed with students studying for their upcoming final exams.

     In the library lobby, May opened fire wounding two students and a university employee. Students in the library proper heard the gunshots and called 911. The scene was one of chaos with 450 students taking cover.

     After the shooting spree, May stepped out of the building to reload. It was there he encountered officers with the Florida State Police and members of the Tallahassee Police Department who ordered him to drop his weapon. May shot at the officers who returned fire, killing him on the spot.

     One of the students May shot was taken to a nearby hospital in critical condition. The five police officers involved in the exchange of gunfire were placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. 

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 

Writing Quote: The Biographer's Fascination with Their Subjects' Sexual Lives

One respect in which modern biography resembles fiction is its fascination with its subjects' sexual lives. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the novel was the literary genre above all others to which readers turned for the representation of sexuality. Biography restricted itself to the public lives of its subjects--or, insofar as it dealt with their private lives, did not intrude into the bedroom.

David Lodge, The Practice of Writing, 1996 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Miss World Beauty Contestant and Her Sister Murdered in Honduras

     Beauty queen Maria Jose Alvarado, as Miss Honduras, represented a country that has the world's highest murder rate for a place not at war. From 2005 to 2013, the murder of Honduran woman and girls increased by 263 percent. The 19-year-old university student resided in Teguigalpa, the Honduran capital. She had been participating in beauty pageants since she was a young girl.

     In Latin America, where beauty pageants are popular, winners often become celebrities and TV personalities. While Alvarado hoped to become a diplomat after graduating from the university, she worked as a model on the popular Honduran television game show "X-O Da Dinero." In her spare time she played volleyball and football (soccer).

     On the night of November 13, 2014, Maria Alvarado was at a resort/spa outside of Santa Barbara, a city 240 miles west of her home. She was there to attend a birthday party for her sister's boyfriend, Plutarco Ruiz.

     That night, after the party, Alvarado, her 23-year-old sister Sofia Trinidad Alvarado, and Plutarco were seen getting into a champagne colored car.

     The next day, when Maria failed to board a plane for London to participate in the early rounds of the  120-contestant Miss World pageant, she and her sister were reported missing.

     On Tuesday November 18, 2014, officers with the Honduran National Bureau of Investigation arrested Sofia Alvarado's boyfriend, Plutarco Ruiz. Pursuant to the arrest, the officers seized a champagne colored car and a pickup truck. They also recovered a .45-caliber pistol.

     Under police interrogation, Ruiz confessed to murdering his girlfriend and her sister, the beauty queen. After he and the women left the party, Ruiz and Sofia got into a heated argument regarding the fact she had been dancing with another man. At some point, out of a jealous rage, Plutarco pulled the .45-caliber handgun and shot her in the head. He shot Maria twice in the back as she tried to flee the scene.

     Ruiz and an accomplice loaded the two corpses onto the back of a pickup truck and hauled them to a remote spot along the banks of the Aguagual River near the town of Arada 25 miles from Santa Barbara.

     On Wednesday November 19, 2014, police officers recovered the bodies lying on top of each other in a shallow grave near the river. Maria Alvarado was wrapped in a brown plastic sheet.

     Officers with the Honduras National Bureau of Investigation, on the day they arrested Ruiz, took five suspected accomplices into custody. The officers arrested Aris Maldonado Mejia, Antonio Ruiz Rodriguez, Ventura Diaz, Elizabeth Diaz, and Irma Nicolle. 

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 

What Makes a Short Story Great?

Unlike most novels, great short stories make us marvel at their integrity, their economy. If we went at them with our red pencils, we might find we had nothing to do. We would discover there was nothing that the story could afford to lose without the whole delicate structure collapsing like a souffle or meringue. And yet we are left with a feeling of completeness, a conviction that we know exactly as much as we need to know, that all of our questions have been answered.

Francine Prose in On Writing Short Stories, edited by Tom Bailey, 2000

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Writing Quote: The Types of Writer's Workshops

     Writer's workshops around the country reflect wildly different assumptions about what the work should be, what the goals are, and how progress might be measured. Some are simply therapy sessions, attempting to create a warm, nurturing environment in which writers are encouraged to express themselves, release their creative energies without fear, and see what happens. Some have a political agenda--feminist art, black art, social protest art. Some have an aesthetic agenda--minimalism, realism, metafiction, etc. There are writer workshops specializing in horror fiction, detective fiction, children's fiction, science fiction, and so on.

     There are workshops that have almost nothing to do with writing, where the texts are little more than an excuse for primal scream catharsis on one hand or new age channeling on the other. So it follows that in talking about a writer's workshop it must be made clear just whose workshop is under discussion.

Frank Conroy in On Writing Short Stories, edited by Tom Bailey, 2000

Writing Quote: The Biographer's Impossible Mission

Biography is a vain and foolhardy undertaking. Its essential conceit, that the unimaginable distance between two human beings can be crossed, is unsupportable; each of us is inherently unknowable. The biographer may be able to locate his subject in place and time--to describe the clothes he wore, the food he ate, the jobs he had, the opinions he expressed--but that subject's inner essence is, by its very nature, forever inaccessible.

Jonathan Yardley, Misfit, 1997

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. 

Writing Quote: Don't Quit Your Day Job

A few first novelists rush to quit their day jobs, especially if they manage to swing a large advance. It is accepted industry wisdom that getting big money up front means that one's publisher will be forced to work hard to earn it back. Sounds logical, but it isn't necessarily so. Even with massive support, a certain number of books are bound to fail. It also happens that publishers blow off high advances.

Donald Maass, The Career Novelist, 1986 

Writing Quote: The Writer's Brain: Hypergraphia And Writer's Block

Neurologists have found that changes in a specific area of the brain can produce hypergraphia--the medical term for an overpowering desire to write. Thinking in a counterintuitive, neurological way about what drives and frustrates literary creation can suggest new treatments for hypergraphia's more common and tormenting opposite, writer's block. Both conditions arise from complicated abnormalities of the basic biological drive to communicate.

Dr. Alice W. Flaherty, The Midnight Disease, 2004 

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

Writing Quote: The Coming-Of-Age Memoir

Coming-of-age is a literary term to describe the passage from childhood to adulthood, from a state of innocence to a state of experience. Most writing about the teenage years is about coming-of-age, for that is the point of those years. We slip free of the protection and constraints of childhood and step into the vulnerability and freedom of adulthood, and we know it.

Susan Carol Hauser, You Can Write a Memoir, 2001 

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 

Whackademia Quote: Extreme Biology at Columbia High

     An Idaho biology teacher is facing disciplinary action after killing and skinning a rabbit in class to show students where their food comes from.

     The teacher killed the rabbit in front of 16 students by snapping its neck at Columbia High School in Boise. The rabbit was then skinned and cut up in front of the 10th graders. [Whether he intended it or not, this teacher probably turned 16 kids into vegetarians.]

"Teacher Kills Rabbit in Class," Associated Press, November 15, 2014  

Monday, November 17, 2014

State Trooper's Careless Driving Kills Woman

     At three-thirty in the morning of Saturday July 5, 2014, Pennsylvania State Trooper Frederick Schimp, with another officer in the police utility vehicle, ran a stop sign in Fairview Township just west of the lakeside city of Erie. The officers were not responding to an emergency.

     A vehicle driven by 57-year-old Donna Platz from nearby Edinboro, Pennsylvania, plowed into the troopers' 2013 Ford Explorer. An hour later, the Erie County Coroner pronounced Donna Platz dead at the scene.

     Members of the Fairview, Pennsylvania Fire Department cut the officers out of the badly damaged police vehicle. Trooper Schimp, 48, and his Troop E partner, 26-year-old Garrett Padasak, were taken to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Hamot Trauma Unit. After being treated for "moderate" injuries, the officers were released the next day.

     The district attorney of Erie County declined to bring homicide charges against Trooper Schimp. While the officer's actions did violate the legal standard of due care, his behavior did not rise to the criminal standard of recklessness, a degree of negligence needed to justify a charge of homicide. (Reckless behavior involves a knowing disregard for the safety of others.)

     The local prosecutor charged Trooper Schimp with careless driving, a summary offense that imposes a six-month driver's license suspension in cases involving fatalities.

     On November 14, 2014, at a summary trial before Judge Paul Manzi, Trooper Schimp pleaded guilty to carless driving. The conviction placed the officer in danger of losing his job. Because he was just two years shy of the state police retirement age, termination had an enormous impact on this officer's life.

     Pending the results of an internal inquiry into the fatal accident, Trooper Schimp was placed on paid administrative leave.

     Regardless of whether or not Trooper Schimp remains on the force, the state of Pennsylvania and this officer can expect a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Donna Platz's family. This case is not over. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Man On Fire

     A Glendale, Arizona man walking down a street fully engulfed in flames Thursday evening November 13, 2014 was taken to Maricopa Medical Center with burns over 80 percent of his body…Bystanders attempted to help the man, one of them using a fire extinguisher to put out the flames…

     "The weird thing was, he wasn't making a sound," said Lindsay Riedlinger, manager at the Arby's Restaurant near where the man was walking. "By the time I got there, he was silent." Someone had run into the restaurant screaming about a fire and asking for an extinguisher, she said. Riedlinger, 24, grabbed the extinguisher and went outside. By that time the man was surrounded by eight or nine people…"I aimed and put out the places on fire on his body," Riedlinger said. "The flames took everything. It looked like on his shoulders, his shirt was singed into his skin. He didn't know what was happening. After I put him out, he walked away and went into the Taco Bell. He said he just wanted water."

     Taco Bell employees called 911 and paramedics took the man to the county burn center in extremely critical condition. The man would not tell officials how the fire started….

"Man Survives After Being Found Engulfed in Flames in Street," The Arizona Republic, November 14, 2014


     

Criminal Justice Quote: Judge Says Strippers Barely Make a Living

     Dancers at a strip club are due more than $10 million in back wages and tips, a federal judge in New York City ruled on November 14, 2014 after the dancers sued to be paid at least a minimum wage. And additional claims are headed for trial in the class action case, meaning there ultimately could be further awards to roughly 1,900 women who worked at Rick's Cabaret in Manhattan between 2005 and 2012…

     The dancers got no steady wages, instead paying a fee to the club to perform there and in return getting paid by customers. The customers put up $20 for each personal dance and fees starting at $100 for 15 minutes of entertainment in semi-private rooms. But after paying club fees and required tips to deejays and other club workers, the dancers sometimes ended up in the red…

     According to the plaintiffs' attorney E. Michelle Drake, "there is a real mythology of the wealthy stripper who has made piles of money. People see all the money that the customers give to the dancers. What they don't see is all the money going back from the entertainer to the club."

     The club argued that the dancers were independent contractors. Club lawyers said the wages due to the strippers should be offset by the money they made from customers, called performance fees….

"Court Awards New York Strippers $10 Million in Back Wages," Fox News, November 16, 2014 

Writing Quote: Novels Still Taught in School Are Short

It's fair to say that not many writers' works and reputations survive for more than a generation or two. In a practical sense, writers in this country generally survive after their books--that is they stay in print--because they are taught in the classroom. Moreover, short books, like small dogs, live longer: Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Hemingway's In Our Time and The Sun Also Rises are taught more frequently than Tender is the Night and For Whom the Bell Tolls, not necessarily because they are better but because shorter books are easier to get students to read and to teach.

Anthony Arthur, Literary Feuds, 2002 

Writing Quote: The Supposed Death of Fiction

The 1960s were when the demise of fiction became something to crow about. Philip Roth told us that life in America had become so barbaric and bizarre that no fiction could hold a candle to the grotesque truth. Truman Capote allowed as how he had invented a new kind of narrative treat, the nonfiction novel, that made the un-non kind as obsolete as hand-churned ice cream. Tom Wolfe let us know that his new journalism was zippier, grabbier, funnier, wilder, and truer-to-life than any old wistful bit of fiction published, say, by those tiny giants over at The New Yorker. 

John Updike in Handbook of Short Story Writing, Jean M. Fredette, editor, 1988 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Writing Quote: The Benefits of Writing Nonfiction Over Fiction

I find the possibility of life as a fiction writer horribly depressing. Nonfiction, meaning journalism, essays, scholarly work, etc. is far more important to me because I am attempting to have an actual impact on the culture, on politics, and on ideas in people's heads. Nonfiction provides a more direct line to all of those things than fiction, which is too often used as an escape or to console people about their lives. Oh, and nonfiction pays much better.

Nick Mamatas, smallsspiralnotebook.com, 2005 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

USC Player Josh Shaw's Big Lie

     Josh Shaw's fellow football players, just prior to the University of California's opening game of the 2014 season, voted the fifth-year senior cornerback captain of the team. Trogans fans, when they checked the team's website on Monday August 25, 2014, read that the 22-year-old star, over the weekend, had suffered two high ankle sprains that would sideline him for the year. The injuries, however, were not football related.

     Shaw's online account of how he hurt himself comprised a compelling story. On Saturday night, August 23, while attending a family get together in Palmdale, California, he jumped from a second-story balcony when he saw his 7-year-old nephew struggling in the swimming pool. To save the boy he knew couldn't swim, Shaw leaped off the balcony, landing onto the concrete below. In severe pain, he crawled to the pool where he saved the child. That selfless act of heroism had cost him his final football season at USC.

     Not long after the website posting, doubts surfaced regarding the validity of Shaw's story. Too many things just didn't add up. For one, on Saturday August 23, it seemed the football star wasn't anywhere near Palmdale.

     On Tuesday afternoon, August 26, Lieutenant Andy Neiman with the Los Angeles Police Department released a statement that laid waste to Shaw's tale of heroism.

     In downtown Los Angeles that Saturday night, officers responded to reports of a woman screaming from the third floor of an apartment complex. Someone had entered her dwelling by prying open a window facing a balcony. According to the woman, the intruder fled the apartment and jumped off the landing. During the questioning of this victim, the name Joshua Shaw came up. Apparently the victim and the football player had some kind of relationship. He also lived in the complex. Several witnesses saw a man at the apartment complex that night that matched Shaw's description. (A husky black man with dreadlocks.)

     On Wednesday August 27, 2014, Josh Shaw confessed to coach Steve Sarkisian and other USC officials that he had not injured his ankles by jumping off a balcony in Palmdale to save his nephew. Coach Sarkisian suspended Shaw from the football team.

     In a written statement released by Josh Shaw's attorney, Donald Etra, the football player said, "On Saturday August 23, 2014, I injured myself in a fall. I made up a story about this fall that was untrue. I was wrong not to tell the truth. I apologize to USC for this action on my part."

     Other than to say the injuries were caused by a fall from the downtown apartment complex, neither Shaw nor his attorney explained what he was doing at the time or what had caused the "fall."

     In his statement to the media, coach Sarkisian said, "We are extremely disappointed in Josh. He let us all down…I appreciate that Josh has admitted that he lied and has apologized. Although this type of behavior is out of character for Josh, it is unacceptable. Honesty and integrity must be at the center of our program. I believe Josh will learn from this."

     Perhaps. But in all probability Mr. Shaw came clean when it became obvious that his elaborate lie wouldn't hold water.

     On November 12, 2014, Josh Shaw spoke publicly for the first time about the scandal that ended his football career at USC. To a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, he said, "I've seen the dark side, I've hit the bottom. I've learned."

     Shaw admitted jumping off the balcony following an argument with his girlfriend. "We just got into an argument just like every couple does. Was it loud? Yes. Was it overly loud? I don't think so." (What is overly loud?)

     "We were not on good terms when she left," Shaw continued. "I thought she had somebody call the authorities. I was thinking the worst. If she did say anything, I'm a black man with dreadlocks, and with everything going on in the country at the time, all that stuff in Ferguson, Missouri in my mind, I'm going to leap from the balcony so the authorities didn't see me."

     If I may, I'm going to leap to the following conclusion: The Ferguson excuse is a load of crap. Shaw was up to no good and he wanted to get out of that apartment. Ferguson, Missouri? Does he think we are stupid?
     

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 

Writing Quote: The Elements of Style

Though still revered, the classic text, The Elements of Style [by Will Strunk and E.B. White] is a little dated now, and just plain wrong about some things. Strunk and White  are famously clueless for example, about what constitutes the passive voice. Their book also has some of the hectoring, preachy tone that creeps into so many of the discussions about writing, though it's not as extreme as Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves, which declares that people who misuse apostrophes "deserve to be struck by lightening, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave."

Charles McGrath, "Omit Needless Rules," The New York Times Book Review, October 19, 2014 

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

Writing Quote: Real Life Events Versus Short Story Episodes

A basic distinction between an episode in real life and a short story is that the story does have an author, who creates his characters, selects his actions, and directs them in the exploration of some meaningful idea. Any episode in life is filled with irrelevancies of many kinds which confuse our understanding; in the story only those elements are included which serve to focus the overall effect, which is the story. The helpful author is present, then, in the creating, selecting, and focusing of the materials of his story.

James A. Thurston, Reading Modern Short Stories, 1955 

Writing Quote: There's No Such Thing as a Being A Little Funny

Humor is difficult. Other kinds of stories don't have to hit the bull's-eye. The outer rings have their rewards too. A story can be fairly suspenseful, moderately romantic, somewhat terrifying, and so on. This is not the case with humor. A story is either funny or it is not funny. Nothing in between. The humor target contains only a bull's-eye.

Isaac Asimov, I, Asimov, 1996

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Robert Lustyik: Rogue FBI Agent

     Special Agent Robert Lustyik, a 48-year-old assigned to the FBI resident agency in White Plains, New York, was under investigation by various federal agencies for soliciting bribes from a native of Bangladesh named Rizve Ahmed. Agent Lustyik and his lifelong friend, Johannes Thaler, a ladies shoe salesman from Tarrytown, Connecticut, were suspected of selling FBI data to Ahmed. The information pertained to a political opponent of Ahmed's in Bangladesh, material Ahmed could use to harm his rival. Federal authorities believed agent Lustyik's and his accomplice's scheme unfolded between September 2011 through March 2012.

     Federal investigators had acquired a series of text messages between Lustyik and Thaler discussing how to pressure Ahmed, a resident of Danbury, Connecticut, into paying them the maximum amount of money for the information taken from confidential FBI files. In one such message, Lustyik wrote: "We need to push Ahmed for this meeting and get that $40,000 quick…I will talk us into getting the cash…I will work my magic. We are so close." 

     In a text message to his FBI friend, Thaler replied: "I know. It's all right there in front of us. Pretty soon we'll be having lunch in our oceanfront restaurant." 

     The FBI agent's scheme threatened to unravel in January 2012 when Lustyik learned that Ahmed was considering using another source for the information he wanted. In a text message to Thaler, Lustyik wrote: "I want to kill him [Ahmed]…I'm pissed…I will put a wire on and get Ahmed and his associates to admit they want a Bangladeshi political figure offed [murdered]…We'll sell that information to him [Ahmed]." 

     According to their scheme, the FBI agent and his accomplice hoped to secure, from Ahmed, a $40,000 "retainer"and monthly payments of $30,000. Only $1,000 in bribe money had actually exchanged hands. 

     Besides the Bangladesh scheme, the criminally industrious FBI agent and his co-conspirator had another illegal iron in the fire. In a separate, parallel case, Lustyik and Thaler stood accused of using the agent's access to FBI data to thwart a federal investigation into military contract fraud involving a Utah-based company formed by former U.S. soldiers. The company's head, Michael Taylor, was charged in 2011 with using inside information to win inflated government contracts worth $54 million. The contracts were intended to supply weapons to Afghan troops. 

     Agent Lustyik, in exchange for millions of dollars, offered to make Michael Taylor look like a valuable counterintelligence source by creating a dossier of fake interviews with former agents and prosecutors. In a text message to Taylor, Lustyik wrote: "I will not stop in my attempt to sway this [investigation] your way." Johannes Thaler's role in the scene involved acting as a messenger between Lustyyik and Taylor. 

     Unfortunately for Special Agent Lustyik, Taylor and two of his employees pleaded guilty to the defense contract scheme in late 2011. A few months later, when he turned 50, Lustyik retired from the FBI. 

     FBI agents, on August 2, 2013, arrested Lustyik and Thaler for their roles in the Bangladesh bribery case. They were charged with conspiracy to bribe a public official and soliciting and receiving bribes. Lustyik was also charged with disclosing the contents of a FBI Suspicious Activity Report. Lustyik and Thaler posted their bonds and were released from custody to await their trials. If convicted, they faced up to 25 years in prison. 

     Michael Taylor, in December 2013, after spending 14 months in federal custody in Utah, gained his freedom by cutting a deal with federal prosecutors in the cases against Lustyik and Thaler. At this point the focus of the federal investigators was on the ex-FBI agent and his friend. 

     On September 30, 2014, the former FBI agent pleaded guilty in a Salt Lake City federal courtroom to attempting to derail the investigation into Michael Taylor's defense contract case. Lustyik's lawyer, in speaking to reporters, said that his client would not make a deal to cooperate with federal prosecutors. He would not testify against his friend, Johannes Thaler. 

     Johannes Thaler, 51, and Rizve Ahmed, 35, on October 17, 2014, pleaded guilty in a White Plains, New York federal court to bribery and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the Bangladesh case. Lustyik's trial on these bribery charges is scheduled for November 2014.    

Writing Quote: Jack London's Writing Routine

Jack London's writing routine was the single unchanging element of his relatively brief adult life. [1876-1916] From the age of 22 to his death at 40, he wrote a thousand words every day, a quota he filled as a rule between 9 and 11 AM. He slept for five hours a night, which left him with 17 hours of free time. But in his writing hours he was prolific: he produced short stories, poetry, plays, reportage, "hackwork" and novels, many of them bestsellers. In 18 years, he published more than fifty books. "I'd rather win a water fight in the swimming pool," he said, "than write the great American novel."

James Camp, London Review of Books, September 25, 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: A Controversial Children's Book

Perhaps the most polarizing book written for children is The Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister. To its fans, it's a sparkling illustrated story about a beautiful but arrogant fish who learns humility by giving away its shiny scales to less fortunate fish. To detractors, it's a socialist screed that encourages "an attitude of greed and entitlement," as one customer wrote in a review on Amazon.com.

John Williams "Books to Love and Hate," The New York Times Book Review, October 5, 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 

Writing Quote: Humor in Literature

Writing funny pieces is a legitimate form of activity, but the durable humor in literature, I suspect, is not the contrived humor of a comedian commenting on the news but the sly and amost imperceptible ingredient that sometimes gets into writing. I think of Jane Austen, a deeply humorous woman. I think of Thoreau, a man of some humor along with his bile.

E.B. White in Writers at Work, Eighth Series, edited by George Plimpton, 1988  

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

Writing Quote: The Second Novel Jitters

Now that I had written one novel and they, the actual readers and the critics who had read it, were looking for a second, I was up against it. I was not up against it in the way I dreaded, I was up against it cold and hard as one comes up against a wall. I was a writer. I had made the writer's life my life; there was no going back; I had to go on. What could I do? After the first book there had to be a second book. What was the second book to be about? Where would it come from?

Thomas Wolfe in The Golden Age, Richard L. Tobin, editor, 1974 

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 

Writing Quote: The Novel of Manners

Novels of Manners emphasize social customs, manners, conventions and mores of a definite social class. Such novels are always realistic, and sometimes they are satiric and comic, as in Henry Fielding's or Jane Austen's work.

Sherri Szeman, Mastering Point of View, 2001 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Kidnapper Caught by Father After Taking Girl From Her Bed

     A Utah stepfather foiled an attempt to kidnap his young daughter from her bed early Friday November 7, 2014 after confronting a man carrying her across the lawn. The 5-year-old girl wasn't hurt…

     The suspect entered the home through an unlocked door or window about 4:30 AM in Sandy, a middle-class suburb of Salt Lake City…The intruder was in the family's basement searching through things when he came upon the girl sleeping in her bedroom. The suspect took her out of bed and carried her upstairs, making noises that woke the parents.

     The girl's stepfather went to the door and saw the man carrying his stepdaughter on the front lawn. He ran outside and confronted the man, wrestling her free of the abductor. The suspect fled, and the stepfather called 911.

     Officers set up a perimeter, and with the help of police dogs, launched a search. The suspect went into a second home, where the residents heard him and called the police.

     Police captured the 46-year-old man outside the second home thanks to a police dog that bit the suspect in the upper shoulder…The family told the police that they had never seen and don't know the suspect, who police have identified as Troy Morley of Roy, Utah…

     Morley was taken to a nearby hospital to receive treatment for the dog bite. He was arrested later in the day and booked into jail on charges of child kidnapping and burglary….

"Dad Confronts Kidnapper, Saves 5-Year-Old Daughter," Associated Press, November 7, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: Locked-Up Abroad: Stacey Addison's Guilt By Association

     On September 5, 2014, Stacey Addison, an American veterinarian from Oregon who had been traveling solo around the world since January 2013, traveled from Indonesia into Timor-Leste (also known as East Timor) and shared a cab from the border crossing at Batugade to the capital city of Dili. Along the way, another passenger asked to pick up a package at a DHL office…Police, acting on a tip from Indonesian authorities, were watching and found methamphetamine in the parcel.

     Addison and everyone in the cab were arrested. She was held in the Dili Detention Center for four nights then released after an initial hearing…The judge ordered that her passport be held by the authorities until the investigation was completed. Addison was released on September 9, 2014 but wasn't allowed to leave the country…The prosecutor told her that she was needed as a witness for an investigation that could take a year.

     After an October 29, 2014 court appearance, Addison was jailed again without explanation or warning, and spent five days in solitary confinement. It's unclear when she will be released….

"Woman Takes Wrong Cab, Winds Up in Prison," CNN, November 4, 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 Quote: All Novelists Get Discouraged

Writing a novel is a very hard thing to do because it covers so long a space of time, and if you get discouraged it is not a bad sign, but a good one. If you think you are not doing it well, you're thinking the way real novelists do. I never knew one who did not feel greatly discouraged at times, and some get desperate, and I have always found that to be a good symptom.

Maxwell Perkins in Max Perkins, A. Scott Berg, 1978 

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

The Scotty McMillan Torture-Murder Case: An American Horror Story

     Gary Fellenbaum, a 21-year-old Wal-Mart employee, lived with his estranged wife Amber and their 11-month-old daughter in a mobile home in West Cain Township outside Coatesville, Pennsylvania 35 miles northwest of Philadelphia. In mid-October 2014, not long after meeting 31-year-old Jilliam Tait, a fellow Wal-Mart employee, Fellenbaum agreed to let her and her two children--Ryan McMillan, 6 and 3-year-old Scotty McMillan--move in with him and his 21-year-old estranged wife.

     Not long after Tait and her sons took up residence in the mobile home, the 270-pound Fellenbaum began to physically abuse her sons. Jilliam Tait immediately became a willing participant in the beatings.

     The physical abuse of 3-year-old Scotty intensified during a three-day period beginning on November 2, 2014. The couple repeatedly beat the boy with their fists, a homemade whip, a curtain rod, and an aluminum strip. They smashed his head through a wall, punched him in the face and stomach, and hanged him upside down by his feet while they hit him. At one point during a torture session, the couple thought if funny when the child tried to free himself.

     On Tuesday morning, November 4, 2014, Fellenbaum taped Scotty to a chair and beat him for refusing to eat his toast. That afternoon, after being beaten throughout the day, Scotty lost consciousness. His torturers, in an effort to wake him up, laid him in a shower stall and ran water on him for thirty minutes. Still unresponsive, they placed his body on an un-inflated air mattress.

     Later that afternoon, Fellenbaum and Tait left the unresponsive child in the mobile home while they went shopping for a car. They returned to the dwelling with pizza, had dinner, engaged in sex, then took a nap. When Tait awoke at seven-thirty that evening, she checked on Scotty. When she couldn't revive the toddler, she asked Amber Fellenbaum to call 911.

     Paramedics couldn't revive the boy either. After doctors at a nearby hospital pronounced him dead, they called the authorities. When hardened emergency room nurses saw the horribly bruised and swollen child, they wept.

     Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan charged Gary Fellenbaum and Jilliam Tait with first-degree mruder, aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a child, and reckless endangerment. The judge denied the couple bail. (Under Pennsylvania law, murder preceded by torture is a death penalty offense.)

     Amber Fellenbaum admitted being aware of the abuse for two weeks prior to Scotty McMillan's death. She said she first knew there was a problem when she saw her estranged husband beat the boy with a frying pan. The district attorney charged her with child endangerment for not reporting the abuse. The judge set her bail at $500,000.

     Six-year-old Ryan McMillan was placed into the care of a relative. County child services personnel took custody of the 11-month-old Fellenbaum baby.

     Detectives questioned Ryan McMillan's teachers at his Coatesville area elementary school to determine if anyone there had noticed his injuries. Records indicated that he had been absent the past two weeks. 

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 

Writing Quote: The Literary First Novel: A Hard Sell

Ignoring the hot MFA [Masters of Fine Arts] grad you read about in Publishers Weekly whose novel starts a big publishing house bidding war, literary first novels are almost impossible to introduce into the marketplace. Bookstores will only order them in small quantities, if at all, and it is difficult to get reviews, especially in places that really matter. Additionally, getting a bookstore reading for a first fiction author is an effort that would make Sisyphus proud. A well-established independent bookseller once told me flat out that he would never book a first fiction author into his store.

Robert Lasner, mobylives.com, 2005 

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 

Writing Quote: Purple Prose

The term "purple prose" describes prose that is heightened, flowery, and overdone. The culprits of purple prose are usually modifiers that make your writing wordy, overwrought, distracting, and even silly. You might say that Hemingway's prose is the opposite of purple prose.

Jessica Page Morrell, Between the Lines, 2006 

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 Unknown Father of American Literature

A man bursts spontaneously into flames. Disembodied voices speak. Something lurks behind the closet door. A victim of religious mania kills his wife and children. These episodes can be found in Wieland, or The Transformation, published in 1798. It is the first American horror novel, written by Charles B. Brockden Brown, a Philadelphian of Quaker stock who is recognized as the father of American literature. He was, in other words, the first American crazy enough to try to support himself solely by writing fiction.

Douglas E. Winter, Faces of Fear, 1985 

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

Stephen Sapp: The Drunk, Disorderly and Disrespectful Steeler's Fan

     On Sunday night, November 3, 2014, the Baltimore Ravens were in Pittsburgh to play the Steelers at Heinz Field. Stephen Sapp, a 29-year-old fan from Hazelwood, a Pittsburgh neighborhood on the northern bank of the Monongahela River, was in attendance. He would have been better off if he'd stayed home and watched the game on TV.

     At some point during the event, stadium security officers were called to Gate C where an apparently intoxicated Sapp had become disorderly and loud. The security officers warned Mr. Sapp that if he didn't stop yelling and screaming they would have to ask him to leave the stadium. The out of control football fan said he had no intention of being ejected from the premises. That's when security called in the Pittsburgh police.

     Upon the arrival of the Pittsburgh police, Stephen Sapp started kicking the steel dividing barriers. The officers warned him that if he didn't stop doing that, they would have to take him into custody. Mr. Sapp showed his contempt for authority by kicking another barrier that broke loose and hit Melissa Yancee in the forehead. The blow cut her face and knocked her unconscious.

     The officers informed the drunken fan that they were taking him to jail. When they tried to handcuff the disorderly and now dangerous fan, he physically resisted. Sapp ended up on the ground with his hands tucked under his body in an effort to avoid the handcuffs. Following a brief struggle, the officers were able to free the arrestee's hands and apply the restraining device.

     Because Sapp had sustained cuts during his scuffle with the police, the officers took him to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Mercy Hospital. While waiting to be treated for his minor injuries, Sapp said this to a police officer: "I know how this works. How much money will it take to make this go away and to let me go home today?"

     The officer informed Mr. Sapp that he had just committed the crime of bribery. Seemingly devoid of good sense, the man in custody continued, "Look, I am an IRS agent and I can help you in other ways if you let me go home and make this go away."

     Later that night, the officers showed Mr. Sapp how things work in Pittsburgh criminal justice. They booked him into the Allegheny County Jail on charges of aggravated assault, defiant trespass, resisting arrest, reckless endangerment, and bribery. The judge set his bond at $10,000.

     Melissa Yancee, the woman injured as a result of Mr. Sapp's drunken Heinz Field antics, had been transported to Allegheny General Hospital for treatment of her head wounds.

     The Steelers, without Mr. Sapps's help, went on to win the game.  

Writing Quote: Finding Your Fiction Voice

The thing you are trying to find is the voice. This is the single most important thing in any novel. The voice. How it will sound. Who is telling the story? Why is he telling it? If you're sixty years old and writing in the first person singular about a sixteen-year-old high school student, beware of the voice. It may be your own, and that is wrong.

Evan Hunter in The Writer's Handbook, Sylvia K. Burack, editor, 1986 

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 Great American Novel Myth

The Great American Novel is as elusive as the Lock Ness monster…Mythical beasts, the both of them, but that won't stop us from setting up our telescopes and yardsticks, or from speculating: where will it surface?

Peter S. Prescott, Never in Doubt, 1986 

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  

Criminal Justice Quote: Murder Among Friends

     Tewana Sullivan, 50, was visiting her godfather in HUD housing in the Detroit suburb of Livonia when something went horribly wrong. It ended with 66-year-old Cheryl Livy dead and Sullivan in custody for her murder. Sullivan's godfather, Marvin Jones, said, "All of us were good friends and for something like this to happen, I just don't see it. It was such a shock that something like that would happen between two good friends…"

     Sullivan stands accused of beating Livy to death with a crock-pot. Police say the women fought, though they don't know why. When asked if he was disappointed in his goddaughter, Mr. Jones replied, "I'm not really disappointed in her because nobody knows what happened. So why would I be disappointed in her?" After being informed of what police were alleging, Jones said, "The police might be saying that, but I don't see it that way. I see them being friends and something happened."

Derek Hunter, "Detroit: Woman Beats Friend to Death With a Crock-Pot," Daily Caller, October 28, 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

Deputy Sheriff Intentionally Shoots Fellow Officer

     After transporting an inmate back to jail in Safford, Arizona, Jeremy Martin and Tai Chan, deputies with the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office in Santa Fe, New Mexico, checked into a hotel in Las Cruces.

     Jeremy Martin, a 29-year-old with a wife and three children, had been on the force as a patrol officer for two and a half years. Tai Chan, 27, a member of the department's investigative bureau, had been a deputy three years. Both were considered hard working members of the sheriff's office.

     On Monday October 29, 2014, after checking into the Hotel Encanto in Las Cruces, the deputies began drinking at Dublin's Pub. It was there the officers got into an argument. Just after midnight, the officers returned to the hotel room where the fight continued.

     At one-thirty in the morning of October 30, a 911 caller from the hotel reported hearing six gunshots coming from the vicinity of the deputies' 7th floor room. When officers with the Las Cruces Police Department arrived at the hotel, they encountered Deputy Martin staggering out of a 7th floor elevator. The bleeding man had been shot in the back and arms.

     Shortly after being shot several times, Jeremy Martin died at the Mountain View Regional Medical Center. Based on the physical evidence at the homicide scene, investigators believed the victim had been shot as he fled the hotel room.

     Shortly after discovering the victim, police officers found Deputy Chan in a stairwell near the hotel roof. That's where they took him into custody on suspicion of murder.

     Las Cruces officers booked Tai Chan into the Dona Ana County Jail on an open charge of murder. The judge denied him bond. The next day the sheriff of Santa Fe County announced that Tai Chan had been dismissed from the force. 

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 

Real Versus Fictional Dialogue

     Among the things I remember hearing when I was beginning to write was: You shouldn't make fictional dialogue--conversation on the page--sound like actual speech. The repetitions, meaningless expressions, stammers, and nonsensical monosyllables with which we express hesitation, along with the cliche`s and banalities that constitute so much of everyday conversation, cannot and should not be used when our characters are talking. Rather, they should speak more fluently than we do, with greater economy and certitude. Unlike us, they should say what they mean, get to the point, avoid circumlocution and digression. The idea, presumably, is that fictional dialogue should be an improved, cleaned-up, smoothed-out version of the the way people talk.

     Then why is so much written dialogue less colorful and interesting than what we can overhear daily…Many writers have a gift for language that flows when they are talking and dries up when they are confronted with the blank page, or when they are trying to make characters speak?…

     When we speak, we are not merely communicating information but attempting to make an impression and achieve a goal. And sometimes we are hoping to prevent the listener from noticing what  we are not saying, which is often not merely distracting but, we fear, as audible as what we are saying. As a result, dialogue usually contains as much or even more subtext than it does text. More is going on under the surface than on it. One mark of badly written dialogue is that it is only doing one thing at once.

Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer, 2006

     

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