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Friday, December 29, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Writing Sex Scenes

There are no sex scenes in my novels. I'm not a prude, nor against sex, I just don't know how to write them. There's nothing more pathetic than badly written sex. For me, it's a lot easier to have good sex than make it come alive on paper. I suspect that some writers who compose good sex are better on the page than in bed. Would I rather have good sex or write it? That's a tough one.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On His Dreams

I don't know any of the people in my dreams. They are all perfect strangers to me. So, I not only write fiction, I dream it as well. Does that make me a bit crazy? Probably, but what the hell, if I were sane I wouldn't be writing novels.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Why Novelists Write

Writing fiction is a form of escape from the mundane realities of life. The same is true for those who read fiction.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Being Armed With A Stun-Gun

If I were a cop, I couldn't be trusted with a stun-gun. I'd zap every jerk I encountered. Give me lip? Zap. Give me the finger? Zap. Walk away when I'm questioning you? Zap. I'd be a real Thomas Edison out there.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Thornton P. Knowles On Why Johnny Can't Write

Johnny can't write because Johnny can't think. Half of his brain has been sucked out of his head into his television set.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, December 22, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Ben Hecht

While 1940s and 50s screenwriter Ben Hecht is largely forgotten, few writers today can hold a candle to his gift for expressing himself in such a colorful and memorable way. For example, in describing the writer in Hollywood, he wrote: "I knew her name--Madam Hollywood. I rose and said good-bye to this strumpet in her bespangled red gown; good-bye to her lavender-painted cheeks, her coarsened laugh, her straw-dyed hair, her wrinkled fingers bulging with gems. A wench with flaccid tits and sandpaper skin under her silks, shined up and whistling like a whore in a park; covered with the stink like a railroad station pissery and swinging a dead ass in the moonlight." In today's stifling culture of political correctness, even writers born with Ben Hecht's gift aren't allowed to write like this.

Thornton P. Knowles


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Death As The Writer's Nightmare

You wait all your life to die. And when you do, you can't write about it. This is the writer's nightmare.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Children Die From Abuse and Neglect as Child Protection Services Look On

     According to the Associated Press, at least 786 children died of abuse and neglect in the U.S. in a six-year span in plain view of child protection authorities. Many of them were beaten, starved or left alone to drown while these agencies had good reason to know these children were in danger…

     To determine that number, the AP canvassed the 50 states, the District of Columbia and branches of the military…Many states struggled to provide numbers. Secrecy often prevailed. Most of the 786 children whose cases were compiled by the AP were under the age of 4. They lost their lives even as authorities were investigating their families or providing some form of protective services because of previous instances of neglect or violence or other troubles in the home…

     Many factors contribute to the child abuse problem nationwide: The child protective services system is plagued with worker shortages and a serious overload of cases. Budgets are tight, and nearly 40 percent of the 3 million child abuse and neglect complaints made annually to child protection services hotlines are "screened out" and never investigated. [This sounds a lot like our VA Hospital situation.]

     Also, insufficient training for those who answer child abuse hotlines leads to reports being misclassified, sometimes with deadly consequences; a lack of a comprehensive national child welfare database allows some abusers to avoid detection by moving to different states; and a policy that promotes keeping families intact can play a major role in the number of deaths.

     Because no single, complete set of data exists for the deaths of children who already were being overseen by child welfare caseworkers, the information compiled over the course of the AP's eight-month investigation represents the most comprehensive statistics publicly available….

"AP Impact: Abused Kids Die as Officials Fail to Protect," Associated Press, December 30, 2014
    

Thornton P. Knowles On Judging a Book By Its Author

A chain-smoking reporter once asked me if I could enjoy a book written by a bigot. I asked the reporter if he could enjoy a cigarette made by a company that knew it was killing people.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Living Before Writing

It's against the law to drive a car before you're sixteen. There is a reason for that, so how about this: You should not publish a novel until you're thirty-five. Although this rule won't save lives, it would improve the quality of book-length fiction. One of my favorite crime novelists, Ross H. Spencer, a blue collar guy who, like me, was born in Nitro, West Virginia, didn't start writing until he was 58. That's why his books are so full of life and so funny. He lived before he wrote.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

More Fun and Games in Whackademia

The Phantom Professor

     Venetia Orcutt, an assistant professor in George Washington University's department of Physician Assistant Studies, went AWOL from class in two of her courses. She just didn't show up. Students who signed up for these teacherless courses, however, all received As. This went on for two semesters. After someone finally came forward, the dean of the medical school fired Orcutt and announced that the students who had not attended her classes would still get credit for the teacherless courses.

     In college, grades are a form of currency. Being a professor is a lot like being able to print money. Like money, grades can be used by academic slackers to buy the silence of  students in a conspiracy of fruad against parents, taxpayers, and alumni contributors. Professor Orcutt, had she not reached for the moon, might have gotten away with her scam indefinately. I'm sure many professors have.

Students or Guinea Pigs?

     Oklahoma University placed assistant professor Chad Kerksick on leave of absence following accusations from his Health and Exercise Students that, as a part of his research, he injected them with substances that caused pain and bruising. The university removed Kerksick from his duties. After the professor challenged the school's right to remove his tenure-track position, the university agreed to pay Kerksick $75,000 and give him one year of unpaid leave during which time he could look for a teaching position elsewhere.

     The above story made me think of my own career as a criminal justice professor, I who worked at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania for thirty years, and actually showed up for class and didn't taser my students for a paper on nonlethal force. I now realize I was working at the wrong university. I should have been in Oklahoma.

Publish or Perish

     Emory University Professor Mark Bauerlein, in a recent paper, argues that professors who teach English Literature spend far too much time writing books, essays, reviews, and dissertations, stuff that nobody reads. According to the Modern Language Association, the number of these scholarly works published every year in the fields of English and foreign languages and literature has climbed from 13,757 in 1959 to 70,000 a  year. This glut of dense, arcane babble is not only killing innocent trees, it's keeping the writers of this unreadable stuff from teaching classes and interacting with students. Unless academic administrators eliminate publication as a prerequisite of academic advancement and tenure, trees will continue to fall and students will be taught by graduate assistants. (And English departments will continue to be called "Anguish" departments.)

No Snacks, No Class

     At California State University at Sacramento, students in professor George Parrott's Psychology 101 lab class, were required to bring homemade snacks each week to the laboratory. If the professor didn't get his snacks, a policy he established in the early 1970s, he canceled the class. Over the years, the professor's students went along with the joke without complaint. But a few weeks ago, when students in the professor's morning section of Foundations of Behavorial Research failed to bring muffins, professor Parrott walked out of the lab.

     Members of the Psychology Department ruled that professor Parrott's decision to walk out of class because his students had violated his homemade snack rule, was unacceptable. So, the dean told professor Parrott, who is retiring at the end of the year, to teach without snacks. (It's hard to image all of this was news to Parrott's teaching colleagues.) Since I didn't major in psychology, I am not equipped to figure out what in the hell was going on with this teacher, or his department.      

Monday, December 11, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Do-Gooders In Crime Novels

In the crime novel, the do-gooder rarely makes it past page 50. In my novels, there are no do-gooders. They don't even make it into the book.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Wrong-Way Driver

     Two separate wrong-way wrecks killed 11 people on Sunday morning, February 9, 2014 in Florida and California….Five people died in a crash on Interstate 275 in Tampa when a Ford Expedition, traveling south in the northbound lanes, collided head-on with a Hyundai….The Expedition caught fire, and the driver was killed. The other four people killed, all men between the ages 20 and 21, were occupants in the Hyundai….

     In Pomona, California, a wrong-way driver crashed into two other vehicles on State Route 60, known locally as 60 Freeway, leaving six dead…The first driver was arrested on suspicion of DUI and manslaughter….The driver was hospitalized in critical condition….Four other people at the scene and two others died at the hospital.

Ralph Ellis, "11 Killed in Wrong-Way Wrecks in Florida, California," CNN, February 9, 2014

Thornton P. Knowles On "The Catcher In The Rye"

Over the years I've read J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in The Rye several times. I must say that the greatness of this 1951 classic escapes me. In my opinion, the book is nothing more than a coming of age novel narrated by a dimwit.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Rounding up Pedophiles in the United Kingdom

     Police in the United Kingdom arrested 660 alleged pedophiles following a six-month investigation. The suspects included doctors, teachers, scout leaders, care workers, and former police officers. On July 16, 2014, the United Kingdom's Crime Agency reported that the operation occurred across the UK and included 45 police forces…

     The operation, kept secret until the arrests, involved targeting those accessing online images of pedophilia. Thirty-nine of those arrested were registered sex offenders. The rest of the suspects had been unknown to the police. The charges ranged from possessing indecent images of children to serious sexual abuse…

     These arrests followed a series of pedophilia scandals that have dogged the UK. In July 2014, the authorities revealed that in the 1980s, politicians in the UK routinely abused vulnerable children….

Mirren Gidda, "UK Police Arrest 660 Suspected Pedophiles," time.com, July 17, 2014

     

Thornton P. Knowles On Ignorance As Bliss

My mother, bless her soul, had a high regard for authority. She believed, for example, that all physicians were highly competent and well meaning. Men of the cloth were as pure as the driven snow. Local politicians had her best interests in mind, and the president of the United States would never lie to the American people. And, if she read something in the newspaper, it had to be true. It must have been nice.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On a Compliment From Another Writer

The West Virginia poet, Fannie Pingpong, once called me a "mildly talented nutcase." That was the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me. I liked the "mildly talented" part.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On The Politician

The mere act of talking voters into putting you into a position of privilege and power that enables you to take money from them is inherently an act of deceit and corruption. No wonder we hate the politician.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Writers' Fear Of Death

Creative writers, more than normal people, are terrified of death. For example, Woody Allen had this to say about the grim reaper: "I don't want to achieve immortality through my writing. I want to achieve it by not dying."

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On How Many Words a Picture is Worth

So, a picture is supposedly worth a thousand words? Give me a break. In reality, a word is worth a thousand pictures. Only a so-called "literary" novelist could do a thousand words on a picture, say, of a cow. Most pictures don't rate more than a title like, "Brown and White Cow."

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Ernest Hemingway

Psychology students, in Assholeology 101, study Ernest Hemingway.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Bank Account is Alive, But The Account-Holder Isn't

     Seven hours before Caryl Vanzo was reported dead at the age of 91, she went to the bank with her son and withdrew $850. Now authorities believe Vanzo, wheeled into the Wells Fargo bank in Plymouth, Minnesota, was dead…

     David Vanzo, her son, called 911 on January 5, 2015 to report his mother's death. But an investigation is underway to determine when Caryl Vanzo died and if her son had anything to do with it…

     Officers who responded to the Vanzo home reported that the stench of urine and feces was overwhelming. They found the dead woman wrapped in a robe and a fur coat…

     Neighbors said they saw the mother and her son get into a taxi to go to the bank. She looked either dead or unconscious. Witnesses at the bank said her feet kept dragging under her wheelchair. ..The cab driver said he believed she was alive when they got into the taxi, but may have died on the way to the bank.

     Police took David Vanzo into custody on the charge of neglect. He has been investigated several times in the past for exploiting his mother financially…Bank records show that David Vanzo took out a $118,000 reverse mortgage and cash withdrawals of $47,000 and $25,000…He denied any wrongdoing. "My mom and I had an agreement. I took care of my mom for years, I'm the good guy here, not the bad guy. My mother wouldn't eat in the end."

"David Vanzo Possibly Made Bank Withdrawals With Dead Mom," huffingtonpost.com, January 22, 2015 

Monday, November 20, 2017

An Armored Car Heist

     Armored car driver Trent Michael Smith, 24, charged with stealing more than $200,000 from the vehicle, was arrested on Monday December 22, 2014 in Colorado Springs, Colorado….He has been charged with first-degree felony theft…

     Shortly before eight in the morning on Monday December 22, 2014, police in Amarillo, Texas responded to a report that a Rochester Armored Car Company vehicle had been found unoccupied and still running on Northeast 22nd Avenue. Both the driver and the contents of the armored vehicle were missing…

     On Monday night, officers arrested Cook's father, Brian Keith Hodge, 43, on a charge of tampering with evidence connected to the theft. The next day, investigators recovered a white 1995 Ford van they believed had been used in the heist…

     Cook was supposed to meet another Rochester Armored Car Company employee at eight on the morning of December 22 to replenish ATMs with cash. An hour later the empty armored vehicle was discovered several miles from Cook's assigned location…

     Cook, with the help of his father, rented a storage unit where they concealed the Ford van. Investigators believed the van was used to haul the stolen cash. The money was recovered at the time of Cook's arrest….

     [In August 2015, a federal judge sentenced Trent Michael Smith to 78 months in prison. Smith's father received a sentence of 63 months behind bars.]

"Armored Car Driver Arrested in Colorado," amarillo.com, December 24, 2014 

Thornton P. Knowles On His Last Words

Unless I'm run over from behind by a semi, my last words, appropriate for a writer, will be: "The End."

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Criminalizing Certain Drugs, Regulating Alcohol and Tobacco

     In trying to confront crime and health problems caused by alcohol, tobacco and drugs, American legislatures over time have enacted various laws ranging from criminalization to regulation to revenue-raising. The governmental efforts to eliminate or at least control these quests for pleasure engender intense reactions of approval and disapproval, ideology and rhetoric, culture and religion, and in some cases, racial and ethnic effects.

     But for the past seventy years, the basic response structure has endured intact. Using alcohol and tobacco for pleasure is legal; using drugs for pleasure is illegal. To justify this radical contrast, government asserts a need to control crime and public health problems by criminalizing drug sale and use, with no need to control such problems through a criminal ban on the adult sale and use of tobacco. But when the government punishes Americans for engaging in conduct they want or feel a need to pursue, it needs to have a compelling reason or such action will eventually falter. The political failure of alcohol prohibition, for example, led to its repeal in 1933. [Since the above was written, several states have adopted medical marijuana. Two states have legalized it altogether.]

Henry Ruth and Kevin R. Reitz, The Challenge of Crime, 2003

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Science in Science Fiction

There's a great deal of evidence that the laws of nature are the same throughout the universe. This fact enables us to make reasonable guesses about what sorts of things might exist in other parts of it. We would not expect, for example, to find civilizations growing in atmospheres consisting principally of hydrogen and oxygen. The laws of chemistry make such an atmosphere too unstable to exist, on Earth or anywhere else. Nor would we expect to find real counterparts of that hoary old cliche of monster movies, giant spiders exactly like Earthly tarantulas but a hundred times larger. A really determined science fiction writer could concoct plausible aliens that superficially looked somewhat like big spiders, but inside, they would have to be very different.

Stanley Schmidt, Aliens and Alien Societies, 1995 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Intramural Sex at a Texas High School

     Saralyn Gayle Portwood was arrested on April 17, 2014 for suspicion of having an inappropriate relationship with a student. She's been suspended from Princeton High School [Texas] pending the outcome of the investigation.

     In an interview with authorities, the teacher's 17-year-old alleged victim, who is not enrolled in Portwood's special education classes, said that the 30-year-old teacher began harassing him at school earlier this year. She would compliment his appearance and inappropriately brush against him and touch him, he said. The student claimed that he told Portwood several times that he wasn't interested in a relationship with her, but she persisted, and he did not know how or who to tell….

     One day, the student said, he was called into Portwood's office. Once he was there, she pushed him against a desk, pulled down his shorts and performed oral sex….

     Portwood is married to another teacher in the Princeton School District, and they have a son. School district officials said the allegations surfaced after teachers overheard some disturbing rumors…."It was just rumors by some kids talking, and some teachers overheard. So, when we found out that there truly was an allegation, we immediately called our local law enforcement," Superintendent Philip Anthony said.

     If convicted, Portwood could face up to 20 years in prison.

Andres Jaurequi, "Special Ed Teacher Accused of Forcibly Performing Oral Sex on Student," The Huffington Post, April 22, 2014 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Get A Babysitter!

     Two children in Washington, D.C. under the age of two were left in an unattended car while their parents went to a wine tasting event in a restaurant on New Year's Eve 2014. Police identified the parents as Christopher Lucas, 41 and 45-year-old Jennie Chang…

    The children, a 22-month-old boy and a two-year-old girl were restrained in child seats inside the car which was locked. The children were left alone for about an hour. When the parents returned to the car police arrested them on the charge of second-degree cruelty to children…The youngsters were examined by paramedics then taken into custody by Child Protective Services personnel.

"Parents Left Kids In Car To Attend Wine Tasting," WUSA-TV, February 3, 2015 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Drugs For Writer's Block

They now have a drug (Prozac) for writer's block. Hell, they should invent a drug that kills the creative writing desire. You know, get to the root cause of all this misery. Short of that, there's always the Ernest Hemingway solution.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Turning the Interrogation Room Into a Gas Chamber

     A police interrogation of a Kansas City man charged with drug and gun offenses ended prematurely when the interrogator was driven from the room by the suspect's excessive flatulence.

     A detective reported that when asked for his address, 24-year-old Sean Sykes Jr leaned to the side of his chair and released a loud fart before answering...Sykes continued to be flatulent and the detective was forced to quickly end the interview.

Associated Press, November 13, 2017 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Baby Drug Snitch

     Deputy Sheriffs in Daytona Beach, Florida stopped a car on Sunday February 1, 2015 for traffic violations…A K-9 unit arrived to check the car for drugs and deputies asked the occupants to step outside. One of the occupants had an 11-month-old baby in her arms.

     When a deputy handed the driver's license back to Candyce Harden, the baby in her arms reached inside her shirt and pulled out a baggie full of cocaine…The officers found three more bags of cocaine and a quantity of pills without a prescription.

     Harden faces several charges including child abuse and possession of drugs.

"Baby Pulls Cocaine From Woman's Shirt During Traffic Stop," Associated Press, February 3, 2015 

One Stupid Mother

     Police in Lincoln County, Missouri say a 6-year-old boy was subjected to a violent kidnapping arranged by family members who worried he was "too nice" and wanted to scare him to teach him to be warier of strangers.

     According to the account from the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office, the boy's aunt arranged for a male co-worker to do the kidnapping with the consent of the boy's mother and grandmother. He then lured the boy into his truck, told him he would never "see his mommy again," and showed him a handgun. The man bound the boy's hands and feet, blindfolded him, and took him to the family's basement. After more trauma, the boy was taken upstairs for a lecture on stranger danger.

     All four adults involved in the scheme were charged with a range of offenses including felony kidnapping and child abuse.

"Staged Kidnapping of Boy: Why Parents Should Avoid Using Fear," csmonitor.com, February 2, 2015 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

TV Star Confessed to Sex Crimes

     "7th Heaven" TV star Stephen Collins has admitted to inappropriate sexual contact with three female minors…The actor released a statement amid child molestation accusations that arose in his divorce proceedings.

     Collins was the subject of reports in October 2014 after his wife, Faye Grant, said he admitted to her he molested three underage girls. TMZ posted an audio recording that was alleged to have been made during a November 2012 therapy session involving Collins and his wife during which he made incriminating statements…

     The incidents reportedly happened between 1973 and 1994.

     "Forty years ago, I did something terribly wrong that I deeply regret…I have been working to atone for it ever since. I've decided to address these issues publicly because two months ago, various news organizations published a recording made by my then wife, Faye Grant, during a confidential marriage therapy session in January 2012. This session was recorded without the therapist's or my knowledge or consent," Collins wrote.

     Collins, 67, was known for his clean-cut image in Hollywood and played a pastor and beloved father on the hit show "7th Heaven," He's avoided the limelight since the accusations were made public….

" '7th Heaven' Actor Stephen Collins: 'I Did Something Terribly Wrong,' " CNN, December 17, 2014 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Canada: Where Rational Tort Law Goes to Die

     Before the August 2008 car accident, Alissa Afonia's teacher described her as a very bright student, in the top two percent of her media-arts high school class who dreamt of being a filmmaker or actress. After the accident she became a different girl and ended up working as a dominatrix. She showed no impulse control, could not carry through on tasks, became isolated and began to have outbursts and make inappropriate sexual comments...

     Justice Joel Grove of the British Columbia Supreme Court, after presiding over Afonia's 2014 personal injury lawsuit, awarded the plaintiff $1.5 million in damages. In so doing, the judge noted that the pre-accident Afonia was "in some ways a typical girl, in some ways an atypical girl, someone who described herself as a 'goth girl' with "artiste presentation. But all that changed in the wake of the motor vehicle accident."

     Afonia, who was about to enter 12th grade, was a passenger in a vehicle driven by her mother's boyfriend. Her mother and brother were also in the car. The driver's Toyota ended up in a ditch. The judge concluded the civil suit defendant was driving too fast under the conditions and was therefore negligent.

     Lawyers for the plaintiff argued that her decision to begin working as a dominatrix showed a lack of "correct thinking" and was proof she'd taken an unnecessary risk due to a loss of cognitive function from a moderate traumatic brain injury…According to her lawyer, without the injury, she'd have been capable of earning a two-year college or university degree.

     The judge's damages included $825,000 for "future capacity loss," $376.000 for cost of future care, $300,000 for pain and suffering and $23,000 for special damages…Afonia's mother suffered a mild traumatic brain injury as well and was awarded more than $943,000 in damages….

"Student-Turned-Dominatrix Awarded $1.5 Million After Car Accident," nationalpost.com, January 29, 2015

Thornton P. Knowles on Truman Capote

Truman Capote is a strange little man who writes well for a boozed-up, drug-addled manic-depressive. There is no doubt that some of our most creative writers are oddballs gifted with an abundance of talent. Some writers pay a high price for that gift.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles on the Dried-Up Novelist

Eventually, all novelists run out of ink. The well and spirit go dry. For the dedicated writer, it's a form of non-fatal death.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, November 6, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles on Supermarket Literature

For the well-constructed, to-the-point sentence, go to the supermarket and read boxes, cans, and packages. Every word counts.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Cost of Catching a Cop Killer

     The manhunt for alleged cop killer Eric Frein cost more than $11 million according to the Pennsylvania State Police. Overtime costs for the state police accounted for the majority of this total, with $6.9 million being paid out to officers who worked extra hours throughout the 48-day manhunt.

     The $11,046,653 total only accounted for the costs for the Pennsylvania State Police and not the supporting agencies like the FBI and the U.S. Marshals who were the officers who ended up finding Frein October 30, 2014 in an abandoned airport hanger in the Poconos.

     In addition to overtime wages, nearly $3 million was spent on benefits and more than $657,000 in standard salaries. Travel costs amounted to more than $66,000 and nearly $200,000 for inventory and operational expenses.

     The manhunt for Frein began after he allegedly ambushed two state troopers on September 12, 2014, killing one and wounding the other. Frein, a war re-enactor, excellent shot and self-taught survivalist, eluded the massive police dragnet for nearly 7 weeks. He has been charged with murder and possession of weapons of mass destruction (two bombs). He has also been charged with terrorism. He has not entered a plea and is being held without bail. [Taxpayers will still have to pay for this killer's prosecution, defense and lifetime incarceration.]

"Eric Frein Manhunt Cost More Than $11 Million," ABC News, November 14, 2014 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Should Bank Guards Be Armed?

Bank crimes data from the FBI show that when bank guards are armed with guns, bank robberies are three times as likely to become violent. [It would be better not to have bank guards at all then have guards that are unarmed. Unarmed guards would be pointless and unnecessarily dangerous for the officer.]

" Armed Guards and Bank Robbery," Center For Investigative Reporting, December 2014 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Mobster Turned Government Witness Got Off Light

     The ex-husband of TV series' "Mob Wives" star Renee Graziano was sentenced to just 11 years in prison on September 24, 2014 for his role in the murder of a Brooklyn man…Mobster Hank Pagan, who could have been sentenced to life behind bars, caught a break on the murder case because he had been a "significant government cooperator."…

     Along with Bonanno crime family associates Luigi Grasso and Richard Riccardi, Pagan ambushed and shot to death James Donovan at his Brooklyn check cashing business in July 2010.

     At Pagan's sentencing hearing, the slain man's daughter pleaded with Judge John Gleeson to give Pagan a lengthy sentence…After the judge handed down the lenient punishment, the victim's daughter blasted the criminal justice system for giving mobsters light sentences in return for their prosecution testimony. Judge Gleeson responded by saying that such deals, while not pretty, were a necessary part of the system….

"'Mob Wives' Star's Ex Gets 11 years for Murder. The New York Post, September 24, 2014 

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Short Story As Practice For The Novel

A young fiction writer should try everything, but some literary forms will come more naturally to him than others. Short stories are more within his scope than longer forms, and he will learn most by making many beginnings and endings--the hardest parts of any piece of writing.

Wallace Stegner, On Teaching and Writing Fiction, 2002 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Bad Journalism From a Newspaper in Kentucky

     On Thursday January 8, 2015, a newspaper in Kentucky retracted a front-page story after publishing a racist quote attributed to Hardin County Sheriff John Ward that turned out to be false. The quote, published in the Elizabethtown News-Enterprise read: "Those who go into the law enforcement profession typically do it because they have a desire to shoot minorities."

     Sheriff Ward said he did not come close to making such an outlandish statement…According to Sheriff Ward, he said in the interview that cops enter the profession "because they have a desire to serve the community."…

     How Ward came to be quoted so falsely was unclear, but the paper's editor, Ben Sheroan, retracted the article…He said that "disciplinary steps have been taken" [Like what?] and that "this error involved a failure to follow established production processes in our news department."…

"Kentucky Newspaper Retracts 'Major Error' In Police Story," The Daily Caller, January 8, 2015 

Drug Cops Found Nothing After Breaking Into A 90-Year-Old Woman's House

     A broken door. Smashed windows. Residue from a flash grenade on the carpet. That's the state in which cops in south Florida left a 90-year-old woman's house after raiding it for drugs. They didn't find any illegal activity, but won't admit they made a mistake.

     The woman said the raid happened on December 18, 2014. "I don't know how the cops got in here. The noise woke me up when something said boom! Like a bomb or something," she said. "Cops standing over here talking about where's the drugs? I said 'what? What drugs? Ain't no drugs in here.'

     Riviera Beach police said they got a search warrant based on evidence of criminal activity.

     After drug-sniffing dogs failed to find anything, the police left. When asked whether they got the wrong address, a police spokesperson said that just because the woman didn't know anything about drugs being sold out of her house "doesn't mean it didn't happen." The cops agreed to repair the damage to the woman's house.]

Robby Soave, "90-year-Old Woman's House Destroyed By Cops in Wrong-Door Raid," reason.com, February 18, 2015 

Frank McCourt on "Angela's Ashes"

In August of 1994 I started writing Angela's Ashes. I was sixty-four years old…I began by writing in the past tense about my parents meeting in New York and having me. Then, suddenly--it's on page nineteen of the book--I wrote a sentence in the present tense that says: "I'm in a playground on Classon Avenue in Brooklyn with my brother Malachy. He's two, I'm three. We're on the seesaw." I meant it just as a note to myself for the next day: how to continue. But the next day I continued where I had left off, in the present tense, in the voice of the child on the seesaw. It felt very comfortable, and I just kept going with it. The whole book is in the present tense, with a great lack of punctuation and with simple sentences and a simple vocabulary. It was kind of a mosaic: bits would come to me and I'd put them down. It wasn't a linear process, though in general the narrative follows the "Once upon a time" format right to the end.

Frank McCourt in Inventing the Truth, edited by William Zinsser, 1998 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles on Book Publishers' Fear of Truly Original Fiction


In the 1960s, my manuscript, Where There's Smoke, a crime novel featuring a 14-year-old male protagonist who set fires for the sexual thrill of it, was simply too original and disturbing for mainstream publication. Editors kept saying, "There must be a reason no novel has ever been published with this kind of protagonist." My answer was, "There is a reason, publishers like you are gutless followers." That response didn't help my cause. But it was true.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

While Parents Drink, Baby Dies

     A 9-month-old baby in Prince William County, Virginia was pronounced dead after being left unattended in a crib for 16 hours…Avarice Alexander was in her crib from 8:30 PM October 15, 2014 to 12:30 PM the next day…

     Police took the 21-year-old parents, Adam and Jasmyne Alexander, into custody. They were charged on October 16, 2014 with child neglect. [Child neglect? What about criminal homicide?] Police allege the baby was left in her crib while the parents were drinking.

     A Gofundme.com page was created by the mother, claiming that her daughter had died of SIDS. [SIDS is a description of death, not a cause.] An aunt has since taken over the fundraising account, claiming the funds will be used so her niece can have a proper burial. The aunt says that the parents will have no access to any of the donations.

"Baby Left in Crib For 16 Hours Dies," Dayton Daily News, October 18, 2014 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles on Being an Obscene Writer

A seventh grade teacher called a short story I wrote "obscene." I went home and bragged to my parents that I was an obscene writer! I didn't know what the word meant. Fortunately for me, they didn't either.

Thornton P. Knowles 

When a Professional Athlete Steals, It's a Mistake. For the Rest of Us, It's Criminal

     Saying it was "the biggest mistake I've ever made in my life," Dallas Cowboys running back Joseph Randle apologized to teammates after getting arrested on shoplifting charges. [How about an apology to the store he ripped-off?]

     Randle, 22, a backup tailback in his second season with the Cowboys, was accused of attempting to steal $80 worth of cologne and underwear from a Dillards' Inc. store in the Dallas suburb of Frisco. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett told reporters on October 15, 2014 that Randle will be fined, but not suspended for this weekend's game against the New York Giants.

     "The actions that we're going to take is to fine him significantly and move forward," Garrett said in a news conference…[I don't think it's a good sign that people are always "moving forward."] Randle will be fined at $29,117, the amount he earns each week on his scheduled $495,000 base salary this season. [He can't afford cologne and underwear on that salary? This kid needs a raise.]…

     "I just made a huge mistake," Randle told reporters. "It was hard coming back in the locker room and looking at people who care about me in the eye, knowing that I did something stupid."…

"Cowboy's Randle Charged with Trying to Steal Underwear," bloomberg.com, October 16, 2014 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Reverend Creflo Dollar: Megaproblems at the Megachurch

     In 1986, prosperity minister Creflo Dollar started World Changers International Church in suburban Atlanta's College Park, Georgia. Housed in the World Dome, a golden-domed structure that houses a 8,500-seat sanctuary, the megachurch boasts a membership of 30,000. Through his Creflo Dollar Ministries, the silver-tongued pastor had become a wealthy man with his real estate holdings, a stable of breeding horses, and thirty books to his name. Reverent Dollar charged up to $100,000 for one of his rousing, motivational talks.

     In 2007, United States Senator Charles Grassley launched a congressional investigation of Creflo Dollar and five other wealthy televangelists to determine if these preachers were using church-owned airplanes, luxury homes, and credit cards for personal use. While no tax evasion charges were filed in connection with the inquiry, senators decried the lack of governmental oversight of these religious goldmines.

     Pastor Dollar's problems became more personal, and hit closer to home on June 8, 2012. His 15-year-old daughter called 911, and reported that the reverend had assaulted her. Deputies with the Fayette County Sheriff's Office who responded to the mansion spoke to the daughter and her 19-year-old sister who said she had witnessed the incident.

     According to the older Dollar sibling, her father and the alleged victim had been arguing over whether the girl should go to a party. The witness told deputies that Pastor Dollar grabbed his daughter by the shoulders, slapped her in the face, choked her for five seconds, then threw her to the floor. The officers noticed fresh scratch marks on the complainant's neck. The police handcuffed Reverend Dollar and hauled him off to the Fayette County Jail. ( On January 25, 2013, after Pastor Dollar completed an anger management program, the Fayette County prosecutor dropped the assault charges.)

     Just before ten in the morning of October 24, 2012, 51-year-old Floyd Palmer, a former janitor at the  World Changers International Church, walked into a chapel where 25 members of the congregation were being led in prayer by Greg McDowell. Palmer calmly walked up to the stage where the 39-year-old volunteer staff member stood, and shot him dead. After murdering this husband and father, Palmer walked casually out of the World Dome, climbed into his black Subaru station wagon, and drove off. Reverend Dollar was not in the church at the time, and no one else was shot.

     A few hours after the church killing, local police and U.S. Marshals arrested Floyd Palmer outside a Macy's store in a shopping mall in the upscale Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. The police had spotted Palmer's vehicle in the parking lot. Taken into custody without incident, the suspect was placed into the Fulton County jail where he was held without bond.

     Floyd Palmer was a psychotic and violent person in what seems to be a growing population of dangerous nut cases. In June 2001, when Palmer was part of a security detail at a Baltimore mosque, he shot a fellow employee named Reuben Jerry Ash. After shooting Ash in the back, Palmer tried to fire again, but his handgun jammed. Bystanders ran toward Palmer to disarm him. He fired at them but the gun still didn't work. Fortunately no one was killed, but the shooting left Reuben Ash paralyzed.

     At his pretrial psychiatric examination, Palmer said that members of his family, and Ray Lewis, a linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens, were out to get him. Palmer pleaded guilty to attempted murder, and was committed to a mental hospital. Three years later, Palmer shot and wounded another Baltimore man. For that attempted murder, Mr. Palmer spent 18 months in a psychiatric hospital.

     In September 2015, a Fulton County judge ruled Floyd Palmer mentally competent to stand trial for murder.

     A Fulton County jury, in May 2016, found Floyd Palmer guilty of first-degree murder but mentally ill. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     When violent mental cases like Floyd Palmer are allowed to live among us, no one is safe, not even a man inside a church leading a prayer service. I can't imagine that Mr. Palmer would have been hired to clean the church if the people who employed him knew of his violent background. If they did, and hired him anyway, they are fools who will have to answer for their bad judgment.  

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Bradley Stone Mass Murder-Suicide Case

     Bradley William Stone, a 35-year-old former Marine reservist, resided with his wife Jen, a media analyst, in the town of Pennsburg thirty miles northwest of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He married Jen in September 2013 following his divorce from his first wife Nicole. Nicole had filed for divorce in March 2009 and since that time she and Bradley had been embroiled in a bitter custody battle over their two daughters. On December 9, 2014, a family court judge denied a petition from Bradley that ended the court fight in Nicole's favor. He did not take this defeat in stride.

     Bradley Stone served as a Marine reservist from 2002 to 2011 during which time he spent a couple of months in Ramadi, Iraq where he monitored a computer screen that tracked missiles. After convincing his superior officers that he suffered from asthma, they sent him back to the states.

     In October 2010, Stone was diagnosed with 100 percent service connected post-traumatic stress disorder. At the time of his honorable discharge in 2011, he had risen to the rank of sergeant. In October 2013, Stone filed 17 VA disability claims for problems that included traumatic brain injury,  muscle and joint pain, sleep apnea, and headaches.

     Following his military service, and during the height of his domestic war with his estranged then ex-wife Nicole, Stone received psychiatric treatment at the Lanape Valley Foundation in the Doylestown Hospital for post-traumatic stress disorder. (Some former Marines with PTSD questioned Stones' diagnosis noting that he hadn't seen combat.)

     In 2013, a Montgomery County, Pennsylvania judge sentenced Stone to one year probation following his second driving while intoxicated conviction.

     At four-thirty in the morning of Monday December 15, 2014, six days after Bradley Stone lost the child custody battle, police officers were dispatched to a house in Lansdale, Pennsylvania 28 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Nicole Stone's mother, 57-year-old Joanne Gilbert and her mother, 75-year-old Patricia Hill, resided in that house. Police officers found both women dead.

     Bradley Stone's ex-mother-in-law lay in her bed with a slashed throat. Her mother lay on the floor with a gunshot wound to her right eye. The scene of this double-murder was awash in the victims' blood.

     Shortly after the discovery of the two Bradley Stone ex-in-laws, a 911 call was made from an apartment complex in nearby Lower Salford where Stone's 33-year-old ex-wife Nicole resided. A neighbor in the Pheasant Run apartments reported hearing a disturbance followed by three or four gunshots that came from Nicole's unit. Following the disturbance, the neighbor saw Stone putting his daughters into a green Ford and driving off. (Stone dropped the girls off at an acquaintance's house in Pennsburg. They were unharmed.)

     In Nicole Stone's apartment police officers found her lying on her bed with two gunshot wounds to her face. On the bed lay the murder weapon, Bradley Stone's .40-caliber Heckler & Koch pistol.

     At eight o'clock that morning in southeastern Pennsylvania, police officers in the town of Souderson discovered three more victims of Bradley Stone's murderous rage. Patricia Flick, Nicole's sister, was found hacked to death in her home. Her husband Aaron and her 14-year-old daughter Nina had been bludgeoned and slashed. Anthony Flick, Nicole's 17-year-old nephew, in fighting off an ax-wielding Bradley Stone, had lost fingertips, sustained lacerations to his hands and arms, and suffered a fractured skull. He survived the attack by barricading himself in a room on the third floor of the house. Paramedics rushed the seriously wounded teenager to Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia.

     Later that Monday, Bradley Smith, the subject of an intense police manhunt, confronted a man walking his dog in Doylestown. Wearing camouflage clothing, Stone demanded the man's car keys. Instead of acquiring access to a vehicle, Stone found himself looking down the barrel of the man's handgun. The mass murderer was last seen running into a nearby wooded area.

     On Tuesday December 16, 2014, SWAT team officers looking for Stone in Pennsburg, came across his body in the woods a half mile from his home. He had managed to hack himself to death.

     Neuropsychology professor Eric Zillmer of Drexel University, in speaking to reporters about the mass murder-suicide, said he didn't believe that Stone's murderous rampage had anything to do with PTSD. 

A Mafia Hit Man's Self-Analysis

I didn't want to go straight. No boring sessions with do-gooder social workers for this cookie. No BS therapy from a shrink who would say I hated my uncle. Forget denial and struggling to make ends meet on some begged-for, dead-end job. "You're a criminal pure and simple," I told myself, "so go for it whole hog."

Donald "Tony the Greek" Frankos in The Book of Criminal Quotations, J. P. Bean, editor, 2003 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Courtroom Impostor

     A bizarre case in Summit County, Utah has led to the arrest of a woman who police say was impersonating a Utah attorney and handling cases in court, representing real clients under the attorney's name. Karla Carbo, 29, of South Jordan, Utah was arrested on December 30, 2014 and booked into the Summit County Jail for investigation of identify theft, two counts of forgery, and communications fraud. Investigators say she represented herself as an attorney in several jurisdictions and will likely face more charges.

     Carbo allegedly opened her own law office and hired a man who recently pass the bar but had no idea he was being hired by a fake attorney…On December 23, 2014, Carbo was allegedly in court representing a suspect in a 2008 criminal case…Carbo said her name was Karla Stirling Fierro. Karla Stirling is an actual attorney from Bountiful, Utah certified by the state bar association. Carbo allegedly used Stirling's real bar number…Stirling, while licensed in Utah, mainly practices in California…"I don't do any criminal work or personal injury cases," she said. "I've done business contracts, real estate…There shouldn't be any court files with my name on my bar number in Utah whatsoever."

     When the court contacted Stirling on December 23 with a question regarding the recently completed court matter, she had no idea what they were talking about…The Summit County Attorney's Office got a phone call from the Utah State Bar Association explaining that Fierro was not an attorney….

"Woman Accused of Impersonating Attorney in Court," ksl.com, December 31, 2014 

Thornton P. Knowles on Writing as the Self-Delusion Advocation

Writers must delude themselves into believing that what they have to say is either important or entertaining, that people will actually want to read what they write. Man, how we kid ourselves.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Heroin Overdose Deaths: Give Cops Naloxone

     With deaths from heroin and opioid prescription pills soaring, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman on April 3, 2014 announced a push to have law enforcement officers across the state carry a drug that is effectively an antidote to overdose. The program, to be funded primarily from $5 million in criminal and civil seizures from drug dealers, would help provide a kit with the drug, naloxone, and the training to use it to every state and local officer in New York. [Drug dealers, I image are behind this program. Fatal overdosing costs them customers.]

     The authorities have increasingly seen naloxone, also known under its brand name Narcan, as a potent weapon against a national surge in drug overdoses. Last month, the Justice Department encouraged emergency medical workers across the country to begin carrying the drug. The move to broaden access in New York is the latest tactic employed by state officials to combat abuse of pills and the rising specter of heroin use….In New York City, there was an 84 percent jump in heroin overdose deaths between 2010 and 2012….[While naloxone may save lives, it won't play a role in reducing drug abuse.]

     The drug naloxone, which has been available for decades in emergency rooms, works on the opiate molecules that attach to the brain and, during an overdose, fatally slows a person's breathing. Naloxone effectively bumps them away, restoring breathing in minutes and giving medical workers time to get a hospital.

     For years only paramedics carried the drug. In 2012, a pilot program in Suffolk County, New York trained emergency technicians and half the police officers to administer the drug….Last year, the New York Police Department trained some 180 officers to use the drug on Staten Island, which has the city's most acute problem with heroin and pill overdoses, saving three people in the first three months. The department is currently looking to expand the program across the borough and around the city.

     The state's Good Samaritan law protects those who call the police during an overdose, even if they too were using illegal drugs. Those who administer naloxone are also protected from liability. The drug, which is not habit forming and gives no high to an overdosing user, is nontoxic….

David Goodman, "New York Program to Help Police Get a Kit to Combat Overdoses," The New York Times, April 3, 2014 

Thornton P. Knowles onThe Urge to Write

Any writer with an I.Q. over 100 must know that the urge to write is an illness cured only by death. Perhaps that's why so many authors kill themselves.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Life is Good in a Pennsylvania Prison

     The Mercer Regional Correctional Facility in western Pennsylvania looks like a small college campus, with tidy brick buildings scattered across expansive, manicured green yards. The prison superintendent, a self-described "liberal," told me he tries to make the prison experience for inmates "as much like the street as I can." At one point, he referred to them as his "clients," adding, "Inmates aren't evil, by and large. Many just did not have good life circumstances, and have reacted inappropriately." He concluded: "The public needs to know that modern corrections is not like the Jimmy Cagney movie."

     That is an understatement.

     The only building with actual cells is the Restricted Housing Unit, where a handful of troublemakers are locked up all day. But the rest of the inmates wander freely among the two-story, brick dormitories. One holds rapists, child molesters, and HIV-positive inmates. Though small, it has two separate recreation rooms, so that inmates watching TV don't distract those who wish to play cards. Individual inmate rooms are about 8 by 10 and have no bars--just doors with glass windows. In one, the only occupant lounges comfortably on his bunk, reading a book. Around him are a desk, bookshelves, lots of magazines, and his own TV.

     The prison's thieves, rapists, and killers are indulged with a very good library, a separate law library, and a beautiful chapel. The prison offers them GED and art classes, electrical and mechanical training, even night college courses in classrooms filled with books and computers--all for free. Inmates can visit the infirmary and dentist offices for free medical care on demand, while those with emotional problems have access to four staff psychologists and ten counselors--again, at no charge.

     One of three "activities directors" leads me from a commissary stocked with amenities to the gymnasium. A volleyball net bisects the gleaming floor of the full-sized basketball court. At one end, nine cycling machines and four "stepper" aerobics machines face a TV. These, he explains, are for the inmates' "leisure fitness program." Two rooms are jammed with weightlifting equipment; from another, current movie videos are broadcast nightly to the TVs in the inmates' rooms. "Nothing cheap here," my guide says proudly.

     Outside, there is a softball field with bleachers, and a running track circling an outdoor weightlifting pavilion, exercise stations, five horseshoe pits, two bocci courts, a handball area, and more basketball hoops. My guide rattles off some of the other pastimes available: tennis, racketball, ping-pong, football, chess, checkers….[What? No golf?] Inmates even have their own leagues for baseball, softball, volleyball and power lifting. Teams of felons are squired around in prison vans, by guards and activities directors to compete at other state prisons.

     Contrary to the claim of Mercer's superintendent, this does not mirror life on the outside. For most housed in modern prisons, life is far better than it is on the streets.

Robert James Bidinotto, "Crime and Moral Retribution," in Criminal Justice?, Robert James Bidinott, editor, 1994 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Traffic Laws Are For Civilians, Not Cops

The fallout from her traffic stop of a speeding police officer is continuing for Florida Highway Patrol officer Donna Jane Watts as she pursues a federal lawsuit claiming she was harassed because of her actions. Watts says in the lawsuit that after stopping the officer in October 2011, her private driver's license information was accessed more than 200 times by at least 88 law enforcement officers from 25 different agencies. She says she received threatening and prank phone calls and other forms of harassment….The Miami Police Department eventually fired the speeding officer, who was clocked at 120 mph.

Curt Anderson, "Florida Trooper Who Stopped Cop Sues After Harassment," Associated Press, February 11, 2014

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Citizen Solves His Own Hit and Run Case

     When a hit and run driver in Smyrna, Georgia struck Jacob Rogers, a 39-year-old riding his bicycle to work, police told the victim it would be difficult to find the suspect. That's when he decided to conduct his own investigation. He had stopped that morning on July 17, 2014 at an entrance to an apartment complex. What happened next caught him by surprise. "I didn't see anything so I proceeded, and that's when I got hit," he said.

     A female driver of a silver Volkswagen pulled out of the apartment complex and ran into Rogers. "So I'm still on my bike," he said, "and she forced her way through me." The Volkswagen pushed him aside and took off.

     Rogers said that although he wasn't hurt seriously, he suffered pain in the foot that was on the bike pedal struck by vehicle. Part of the pedal broke off, and Rogers couldn't find the piece at the hit and run site.

     The next day, Rogers went back to the apartment complex to look for a silver Volkswagen."The first car that I saw was a silver Volkswagen," he said. I took a picture of the rear license plate and checked the front for damage." In front grill he found the missing piece from his left bike pedal lodged in the vehicle.

     A police officer resident of the apartment complex ran the license plate. Shortly thereafter Smyrna police officers arrested the car's owner. They took 20-year-old Pablynne Silva into custody. A local prosecutor charged her with misdemeanor hit and run, an offense punishable by a fine of $1,000 and up to a year in jail.

     Pablynne told officers she had driven off after hitting the man on the bike out of fear of getting into trouble with the law.

Politician Know Thy Self: Sociopathy and the Quest for the Presidency

     Only a sociopath believes that he or she can lead the free world. A normal person knows better. While some presidents and candidates for the office do a pretty good job of disguising their sociopathy, they all give themselves away. It became obvious that Jimmy Carter thought he was Jesus. Richard Nixon turned out to be paranoid and a crook. George W. Bush had conversations with God. Bill Clinton's bold-face lying and reckless behavior exposed his sociopathy. President Obama's favorite word was"I," and Herman Cain repeatedly referred to himself in third person. John Edwards swooned over his refection in the mirror, and let a aide take the fall in his love-child scandal. Newt Gingrich's ruthless treatment of his first wife and his belief that he knew everything qualified him for the presidency. And Hillary Clinton? Where to begin? As for Donald Trump, what normal person believes that he alone can "drain the swamp" and make America great again?

     It would be refreshing for a presidential candidate to step up to the mike and say, "I am a sociopath. I'm smarter than the people whose money and votes I solicit, and I will lie to get your support. And when I get into office, I'll continue to lie and keep on asking for money and votes in order to keep the job all politically oriented sociopaths covet." This, of course, will never happen because it requires telling the truth to people who don't want to hear it anyway.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Charles Bukowski's Fan Mail

I get many of my letters from people in madhouses and jails and some from strange people out of them. What they say, mainly, is that I have given them a reason for going on: "Since you are so screwed-up, Bukowski, and still around, there is a chance for me." But I don't write to save people; I dislike most of them. I feel best when I am totally alone. I've tried to answer most of my letters, especially from people in the madhouses but I found that an answer just brings another letter, a longer one and a stranger one.

Charles Bukowski in Charles Bukowski: Selected Letters 1971-1986, edited by Seamus Cooney, 2004 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Stephen King on the Anatomy of Stories and Novels

     In my view, stories and novels consist of three parts: narration, which moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z; description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogue, which brings characters to life through their speech.

     You may wonder where plot is in all of this. The answer--my answer, anyway--is nowhere. I won't try to convince you that I've never plotted any more than I'd try to convince you that I've never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren't compatible. It's best that I be as clear about this as I can--I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Former Government Cyber Security Director Convicted of Child Pornography

     Former acting director of cyber security for the Department of Health and Human Services, Timothy DeFoggi, was convicted for a myriad of gruesome child pornography charges Tuesday, August 26, 2014. DeFoggi, who had top security clearance in his capacity as cyber security director, first joined the child pornography website PedoBook in March 2012…He was arrested last April when law enforcement officers, when serving a search warrant, found him downloading child pornography in his home.

     In addition to viewing and soliciting child pornography, DeFoggi reportedly asked another member of the PedoBook site if he would share photographs of the other member's son. DeFoggi suggested that he and the other member meet in person to violently rape and murder children together.

     The DeFoggi trial lasted four days. The jury only deliberated two hours to reach its guilty verdict. DeFoggi will be sentenced on November 7, 2014.

     PedoBook's founder, Aaron McGrath, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2013. So far seven users of the site, including DeFoggi, have been convicted. Department of Justice attorney Keith Becker explained that the site, prior to being shut down by the FBI in December 2013, had specific forums for discussion of babies, young boys, and young girls. DeFoggi had been active on forums discussing the rape of young children.

     Under federal law, the minimum sentence for engaging in a child pornography enterprise is 20 years in prison.

Tristyn Bloom, "Former HHS Cyber Security Director Convicted for Child Porn," The Daily Caller, August 26, 4014 

Writing Quote: The Art Book

Today, art-book publishing is blooming in a desert. Despite ever-dwindling nourishment from sales, it is a golden age in terms of both the number of titles available and their impressive quality. No single factor explains this paradox, but if we examine the list, we do see trends. The most important may be the uncoupling of art publishing from trade book-selling. As rising exhibition attendance led to increased in-house book sales, museums and galleries came to regard trade partners as superfluous. Relying on university and specialty book distributors, they began to replace trade houses at the center of art publishing. Relatively inexpensive page-makeup software helped turn books into appealing and versatile vehicles for promotion and marketing as well as creative expression by artists and designers. Traditional forms, like artist monographs and broad art-historical surveys, became rare.

Christopher Finch, Bookforum, Dec/Jan, 2015 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Judge Goes Easy on Rich Political Donor

     Multi-millionaire tech entrepreneur Gurbaksh Chahal was charged with 45 felony counts for a vicious incident where he allegedly punched and kicked his girlfriend 117 times and attempted to smother her. After a judge ruled the video footage taken from Chahal's bedroom inadmissible in court and Chahal's girlfriend withdrew her testimony, he pleaded guilty to two charges--one of domestic violence battery and one of battery.

     His punishment was a mere 25 hours of community service, three years of probation and a 52-hour education course on domestic violence….Chahal is a prominent donor to Democratic causes and has visited the White House on two occasions since 2011 to meet with President Obama….

     The California girlfriend beater has given over $108,000 to Democratic campaigns and causes since 2011….Chahal made his millions through online advertising start-ups and is currently CEO of RadiumOne, a company that reportedly earns $100 million a year. He was once named one of America's "most eligible bachelors," and was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in 2008….

Scott Greer, "Major Democratic Donor Pleades Guilty to Domestic Abuse, Only Receives Community Service," The Daily Caller, April 24, 2014 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Woman Arrested for "Feeding the Pigs"

Police in Massachusetts arrested a woman who smeared uncooked bacon and sausage onto a police station dispatch window offering to "feed the pigs." A Framingham Lieutenant told reporters that Lindsay McNamara entered the station Friday morning December 26, 2014 carrying a Dunkin' Donuts box of raw bacon and sausage. She approached an officer with a "great smile on her face" and said she was there to "feed the pigs." The officer said she took the meat from the box and smeared it on the window. She was arrested and charged with malicious destruction of property. The judge ordered a psychiatric examination of the suspect.

"Woman Smeared Bacon on Police Station Window," The Boston Herald, December 28, 2014 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Drunk On Ice

     A Fargo, North Dakota man accused of being drunk while operating a Zamboni ice-grooming machine on January 30, 2015 during a high school hockey game has pleaded not guilty to driving under the influence. [If I were his attorney I'd argue that one "operates" not "drives" a Zamboni "machine."More over, DUI laws pertain to motor vehicles, forms of transportation on public highways. I'd probably lose, but as a lawyer you've got to do something.]

     Steve Anderson allegedly was drunk while preparing the ice for a girl's hockey game. Spectators alerted South Sports Arena officials that Anderson was driving the Zamboni into the boards and appeared impaired. Police say Anderson's blood-alcohol level was 0.30, nearly four times the legal limit for driving. [Let's hope he's not also the driver of the team bus.]

     The 27-year-old could face up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine.

"Man Pleads Not Guilty To Drunk Zamboni Driving," Associated Press, February 20, 2015 

Charles Bukowski On Literary Critics

On punching out critics, no don't do it, unless you do it in play-form. It's all viewpoint, you know. And most viewpoints are pretty damned standard-form. And how does one become a critic? You know somebody in power who gives you the job.

Charles Bukowski in Charles Bukowski: Selected Letters 1987-1994, edited by Seamus Cooney, 2004

Friday, September 1, 2017

Journalistic Blogging

     The debate regarding blogging versus journalism involves the question of whether or not a blogger can be a journalist…Is there a sharp distinction between the two disciplines, or has time blurred that line?…

Blogging is Not Journalism

     When blogging first became a popular method of content distribution, this opinion was likely the most correct view. In the earliest days of blogging, even the best blogs incorporated a good deal of opinion and were relatively light on actual journalism. Indeed, this opinion still holds a fair amount of currency to today's more developed blogosphere…

Blogging is a Training Ground For Journalists

     Other people see blogging as a step along the road to becoming a journalist…Proponents of this opinion say bloggers can gain the tools to operate in a newsroom environment…

It's Not the Source, It's the Quality

     Rather than judging the medium with wide sweeping strokes, blogging should be judged on the basis of content…This view, which notes a distinction between the products of personal blogs and news sites, holds water in light of expert blogs. After all, if you're looking for information, you're likely to be better served by visiting a specialist blog rather than relying on the coverage of a writer less well-versed in that particular field…As bloggers become better and more experienced, they can become some of the best resources in their given field, especially if that field is underserved…In the end, there's little that distinguishes a good blogger and a good journalist, and the line between the two is hazy at best. A blogger may inject a little bit more analysis into a post than a journalist does in a news article, but when a blogger tracks down sources, does investigative reporting, and presents the fact clearly and fairly, that is journalism, plain and simple….

Jacob Friedman, "Blogging Versus Journalism: The Ongoing Debate," thenextweb.com, August 18, 2010


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Crime Lab Problems

In recent years, the integrity of crime laboratories has been called into question, with some heavily publicized cases highlighting (1) unqualified practitioners, (2) sometimes lax standards that have generated questionable or fraudulent evidence, and (3) the absence of quality control measures to detect questionable evidence. In one notorious case, the Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed serious inadequacies in the procedures used by the Houston Police Department Crime Laboratory, including routine failure to run essential scientific controls, to take adequate measures to prevent contamination of samples, to adequately document work performed and results obtained, and to follow correct procedures for computing statistical frequencies. There have been a number of other dismaying reports about crime labs--most recently, the San Francisco drug lab--that suffer from problems like those uncovered in Houston.

Judge Harry T. Edwards in Forensic Testimony (2013) by C. Michael Bowers

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Phantom Education of Illiterate Football Players

     If I had ever turned in a 146-word paper to one of my professors, I can assure you I would not have received an A- even if they were the most brilliant 146 words written in English. But apparently if you're an athlete at the University of North Carolina, those 146 words don't even have to be grammatically correct. Former professor Mary Willingham provided the essay as an example of the sort of "work" that UNC athletes are allowed to get by on at the school, and the image has certainly sparked conversation around the topic.

     It's one thing to know that athletes who attend schools where sports are a priority get special treatment and are often given grades they don't deserve just to keep them on the team. But it's a whole new thing to see a one paragraph essay that makes up a fictional conversation between Rosa Parks and a bus driver and know that the jock who wrote it got a better grade than a lot of students got for their well-reseached 10-page essays. But according to Willingham, who spent 10 years tutoring student athletes before turning whistleblower, this sort of thing happens all the time.

     "I became aware of this 'paper class' system, she told ESPN, "where students would take classes that didn't really exist." Formerly called "Independent studies," these "paper classes" involve no attendance, and in fact only require students to write a paper, at least according to Willingham. And the papers the students produce are far from college quality; in fact, Willingham says, some of the players only have a second grade reading level, which for an adult is functionally illiterate….

     In the ESPN segment, Willingham's allegations are backed up by former UNC athlete Duenta Williams, who added that advisors at the school were mostly interested in ensuring that he remained eligible to play, not in ensuring he got the best education possible. They both also claim that the NCAA turned a blind eye to these practices….[If American high schools didn't graduate illiterates, we'd still have college football, it just wouldn't be as professional. The problem is in our public education system where sports is also more important than academics.]

Emma Cueto, "This 146-Word Essay Earned UNC Athlete An A-, Says Former Professor," Clementinedaily.com, March 28, 2014 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Jury Duty in the George Zimmerman Murder Trial

I want people to know that we [the six-woman jury] put everything...into this verdict. We thought about it for hours and cried over it afterwards. I don't think any of us could ever do anything like that ever again. I have no doubt that George [Zimmerman] feared for his life in the situation he was in at the time. I think both [he and Trayvon Martin] were responsible for the situation they had gotten themselves into. I think they both could have walked away. [When the jury in the Zimmerman trial began their deliberations, three were for acquittal, one for second degree murder, and two for the manslaughter charge.]

Juror B 37, George Zimmerman murder trial, Sanford, Florida 2013 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Hit and Run Suspect Almost Escaped to Jordan

     A man wanted in a hit and run crash that left a 73-year-old man with severe injuries was minutes away from fleeing the country when U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents intervened and took the suspect into custody….Arlington, Texas police had an arrest warrant for Omar Mohammad, 25, and had contacted U.S. Customs and the Department of State, thinking Mohammad might be a flight risk. And they were right….

     Police informed federal investigators at 5:30 PM Wednesday, February 19, 2014 about Mohammad….That information came just in time. That flight, on its way to Jordan, was already on the tarmac and ready to depart….

"Texas Hit-And-Run Suspect Captured on Tarmac," CBS News, February 24, 2014


Friday, August 11, 2017

Destroying Pornographic Evidence in a Closed Murder Case

Legal experts say the destruction of evidence in a fatal Ohio rape case was likely justified by harm that could occur if the material became public. At issue are photos and audio and video recordings collected in the investigation into the 2012 death of Deanna Ballman and her nearly full-term child at the hands of a doctor convicted of killing her with a heroin overdose. Delaware County Judge Duncan Whitney approved a prosecutor's request late last year to destroy the evidence once the case is wrapped up. Assistant Delaware County prosecutor Kyle Rohrer argued the evidence was obscene because its purpose was to arouse lust….

"Judge Backs Destruction of Evidence in Ohio Rape Case," Fox News, February 9, 2014 

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Mother Who Pimped Out Her Daughters

     In April 2012, a tipster called the Nebraska State Patrol to report a woman he had met on Craigslist. According to the informant, she had sent him sexually graphic photographs of her 14-year-old daughter. For a price, this woman offered to make the girl available for sex.

     On April 26, an undercover state officer, posing as a potential John, arranged to meet the 35-year-old mother of three at a motel in Kearney, Nebraska. Michelle Randall, accompanied by her 14-year-old daughter, offered to sell herself for $150, and/or the girl for $200. The officer flashed his badge and arrested the mother. A child protection agent took custody of the teen.

     The arresting officer took Randall to the Buffalo County Jail where she was held on $250,000 bail under charges of soliciting the sexual assault of a child and possession of child pornography.

     Police and child protection personnel went Randall's home near Minden, Nebraska where they found the suspect's other two daughters, ages 7 and 9, alone in the filthy house. The girls were placed into foster care.

     When questioned by the police Michelle Randall admitted allowing her 41-year-old boyfriend, over a period of 14 months, to have sex with her teenage daughter and her 7 year old. She also named some of the men who had paid to have sex with the girls.

     Over the next few weeks, Nebraska police officers arrested 7 men, including the boyfriend, who had paid to have sex with the 14-year-old one or more times. Three of these men had sexually molested the 7-year-old sister. They were all charged with sexual assault.

     A Columbus, Nebraska man, 37-year-old Donald Grafe, had sex with the 14-year-old at a Lincoln truck stop. The other arrestees included Logan Roepke, a 22-year-old man from McCook, Nebraska; 38-year-old Alexander Rahe from Omaha; 41-year-old Shad Chandler from Lincoln; and Brian McCarthy, 25, also from Lincoln. McCarthy, incarcerated in the Lancaster County Jail, had pornographic images of the 14-year-old on his cellphone.

     In November 2012, Michelle Randall pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit first-degree sexual assault of a child and two counts of possession of child pornography. The judge sentenced the mother pimp to 92 to 120 years in prison.

     In January 2013, Shad Chandler from Lincoln, Nebraska, pleaded guilty to sexual assault of a child. Three months later the judge sentenced him to 15 to 45 years behind bars. The other patrons of child prostitution pleaded guilty and received similar sentences. In 2013, police officers arrested three more men accused of having sex with the 14-year-old girl. These men were eventually convicted and sentenced to prison terms.  

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Jason Young Murder Case

In November 2006, 29-year-old Jason Young and his 26-year-old wife Michelle lived in a suburban home outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. They had a 2-year-old daughter named Cassidy. Michelle was five months pregnant with their second child. It was not a happy marriage. He had several girlfriends, and as a salesman for a medical software company, he spent a lot of time on the road. Michelle told friends and relatives that she hated her life.

     On the morning of November 3, 2006 Jason was out of town. The previous night he had checked into a Hampton Inn in Huntsville, Virginia 169 miles from Raleigh. At nine that morning, he left a voicemail for Michelle's younger sister, Meredith Fisher. Jason asked Meredith to stop by his house and retrieve some papers for him. (I presume he told Meredith he had called home and didn't get an answer.)

     Later that morning, Meredith Fisher entered the Young house on Jason's behalf. When she climbed the stairs to the second floor, she was shocked by the sight of bloody footprints. In the master bedroom she discovered her sister lying facedown in a pool of blood. The victim, wearing a white sweatshirt and black sweatpants, had been bludgeoned to death beyond recognition. Meredith found Cassidy hiding under the covers of her parents' bed. She had not been harmed, but her socks were saturated in her mother's blood. Meredith Fisher called 911.

     According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, the assailant had struck Michelle Young at least thirty times in the head. The attacker had tried to kill the victim by manual strangulation before beating her to death. The extent of the head wounds suggested an attack by an enraged, out-of-control killer who hated the victim.

     The authorities, from the beginning, suspected that Jason Young had snuck back to North Carolina from Virginia, murdered his wife, then returned to the Hampton Inn. The killer had not forced his way into the house, nothing had been taken, and the little girl's life had been spared. At the time of the murder, Jason was having an affair with one of his wife's friends. The couple had been fighting, and Jason had made no secret of the fact he wanted out of the marriage.

     From a prosecutor's point of view, there were serious holes in the Jason Young case. The suspect had an alibi 169 miles from the murder scene, and there was no physical evidence linking him to the carnage. Moreover, no one had seen him at the house on the night of the murder. Even worse, investigators had not identified the murder weapon. As a result of these prosecutorial weaknesses, the Wake County District Attorney's Office did not charge Jason with the murder of his wife.

     Michelle Young's parents were convinced that Jason had murdered their daughter. When it became apparent that the authorities were not taking action, they filed a wrongful death suit against him. In March 2009, two years and four months after the homicide, the civil court jury, applying a standard of proof that is less demanding than a criminal trial's proof beyond a reasonable doubt, found the defendant responsible for Michelle's brutal killing. The jurors awarded the plaintiffs $15.5 in damages.

     Eight months after the civil court verdict, a Wake County prosecutor, based on a three-year homicide investigation conducted by the City-County Bureau of Investigation, charged Jason Young with first-degree murder. Police officers, on the afternoon of December 15, 2009, arrested Young after pulling over his car in Brevard, a town in southwest North Carolina. The local magistrate denied him bail.

     The Jason Young murder case went to trial in Raleigh in June 2011. The prosecutor, following his opening statement in which he alleged that the defendant had drugged his daughter that night with adult-strength Tylenol and a prescription sedative, put on an entirely circumstantial case that relied heavily on motive.

     The defense attorney hammered home the fact the prosecution could not place the defendant at the scene of the murder. The state did not have a confession, an eyewitness, or even the murder weapon. Jason took the stand on his own behalf and told the jurors that when his wife was murdered, he was sleeping in a hotel 169 miles away. He said he had loved his wife and their unborn child.

     On Monday morning, June 27, 2011, the foreman of the jury of seven men and five women told the judge that the jurors were "immovably hung" on the verdict. "We currently sit," he said, "at a six to six ration and do not appear to be able to make any further movement. Where do we go from here?"

     The trial judge instructed the jurors to return to the jury room and try to reach a verdict. But later in the day, after deliberating a total of twelve hours, the foreman announced that they were deadlocked in an eight to four vote in favor of acquittal. The judge declared a mistrial.

     The Wake County District Attorney, determined to bring Jason Young to justice, announced that he would try him again. Jason, who had been incarcerated in the Wake County Jail since his arrest in December 2009, went on trial for the second time on February 10, 2012.

     The prosecutor, in his opening statement, alleged that the defendant had checked into the Hillsville Hampton Inn just before eleven on the night of November 2, 2006. An hour later he left the building through an emergency exit he had propped open with a rock to avoid using his computer card key to re-enter the hotel. According to the prosecutor, the defendant arrived at his Birchleaf Drive home at around three in the morning. Shortly after his arrival, he drugged his daughter and murdered his wife. After cleaning up and disposing of his bloody shirt, shoes, and trousers, and ditching or cleaning off the murder weapon, he returned to the hotel, arriving there around seven in the morning.

     Following the testimony of the victim's sister, Meredith Fisher, and the testimony of several other prosecution witnesses, a Hampton Inn hotel clerk took the stand. According to this witness, he had found the emergency door on the first-floor stairwell propped open with a rock, He also noticed that in the same stairwell, someone had unplugged the security camera and turned its lens toward the ceiling.

     One of the City-County Bureau of Investigation crime scene officers testified that it appeared that someone had moved the victim's body to get into the defendant's closet. The detective said that despite all of the blood on the upstairs floor, certain items such as the sink drain had been sanitized by the killer. The investigator said he did find traces of blood on the knob to the door leading from the house to the garage. This witness had been present when, on the day after the murder, the suspect's body was checked for signs of trauma related to the killing. No injuries were found.

      A second detective testified that the dark shirt the defendant was seen wearing on hotel surveillance video footage was not in the suitcase he had used on that trip. The implication was that the defendant had disposed of the bloody garment.

     Included among the prosecution witnesses who took the stand over the next two weeks were two daycare employees who said they had seen Cassidy Young acting out her mother's beating. The girl was using a doll to demonstrate the attack. A therapist took the stand and testified that a week before her death, the victim had come to her seeking counseling to cope with her unhappy marriage. In the therapist's opinion, Michelle Young had been verbally abused by her husband.

     Jason Young's mother and father took the stand for the defense. On November 3, 2006 Jason had driven from the Hampton Inn in Virginia to his parents's home in Brevard, North Carolina. His mother testified that when they broke the news to him that Michelle had been murdered, "you saw the color just drain from his face."

     On February 29, 2012 the defense rested its case without calling Jason to the stand. (The defense attorney was probably worried that the prosecutor, having studied Jason's direct testimony from the first trial, would rip him apart on cross-examination.)

     The prosecutor, in his closing argument to the jury, said, "This woman wasn't just murdered, she suffered a beating the likes of which we seldom see. This woman was punished. The assailant struck her over thirty times with a weapon of some sort, and she was undoubtedly unconscious after the second or third blow."

     The defense attorney pointed out the weaknesses in the prosecution's case, talked about reasonable doubt, and reminded the jury that being a bad husband did not make his client a murderer.

     On March 5, 2012, after the jury of eight women and four men had deliberated eight hours, the judge, before a packed courtroom, read the verdict: guilty of first-degree murder. The 38-year-old defendant, after the judge announced the verdict, showed no emotion. Facing a mandatory life sentence without the chance of parole, Jason Young was escorted out of the room in handcuffs.

     Following the trial, several of the jurors spoke to reporters. Two members of the jury said that the lack of physical evidence in the case pointed more to the defendant's guilt than his innocence. For example, what happened to the shirt and shoes he was seen wearing on the hotel surveillance footage? A third juror found it incriminating that Cassidy had not been murdered, and possibly cleaned-up after the attack.

     The prosecutor in the Jason Young murder trial, the second time around, turned a weakness--a lack of physical evidence--into a strength. In the era of the "CSI" television shows, advanced DNA technology, and high forensic expectations on the part of juries, this was an unusual case. 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Who's Protecting Our Personal Data?

     Corporations have to be urged to better screen job applicants and to restrict access to sensitive information. Anyone working in the  payroll or personnel departments of a company would have continuous access to the private information of all employees, and they ought to be carefully screened. But if a company doesn't lock its file cabinets containing that information or protect computerized files, then anyone in the company has access to them. Anyone involved in processing expense accounts, including the secretary who first collects them, gets to look at personal data.

     Many companies use temporary employees. Do they screen them? Does the agency that sent them screen them? Lots of businesses, especially smaller ones, outsource things like payroll services. What's the security policy of those outside vendors? Do they even have any? You don't know the names of the people working there who are routinely handling your employees' private records.

Frank Abagnale (Of Catch Me if you Can fame), Stealing Your Life, 2007

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

What is Literary Talent?

What is literary talent? A nimble fluency. A way with words. An imagination that's easily aroused, quick to see, to hear, and to feel. An ear for the music of the language and a tendency to become absorbed in the mysterious movements of its significance and sound. A sense of audience. Skill at organizing verbal concepts solidly, effectively, and fairly swiftly. An aptitude for catching the elusive forms and figures of a vivid imagination and a knack for pinning them down on a page.

Stephen Koch, Writer's Workshop, 2003

Monday, July 3, 2017

Susan Sontag on the Perversity of the Novel

Notoriously, women tolerate qualities in a lover--moodiness, selfishness, unreliability, brutality--that they would never countenance in a husband, in return for excitement, and infusion of intense feeling…Perversity is the muse of modern literature. Today the house of fiction is full of mad lovers, gleeful rapists, castrated sons--but very few husbands.

Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation, 1969 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Market Oriented Publishing

     Trivia has swamped contemporary literary life and become, it seems, more important than the books. A book's blurb is more important than the book itself, the author's photograph on the book jacket is more important than its content, the author's appearance in wide-circulation newspapers and on TV is more important than what the author has actually written.

     Many writers feel increasingly uncomfortable in such a literary landscape, densely populated with publishers, editors, agents, distributors, brokers, publicity specialists, bookstore chains, "marketing people," television cameras, photographers. The writer and his reader--the two most important links in the chain--are more isolated than ever.

Dubravka Ugresic, Thank You For Not Reading, 2003

Monday, June 5, 2017

Clueless in the Bronx: Puerile Substitute Discusses Love Life With Fourth Graders

     A New York City substitute teacher was fired after she asked her 4th grade students for romantic advice about her relationship with two men. Cassandre Fiering, 45, asked students to act out conversations where they would play the part of the men, both of whom are in their 30s….The incident happened in June 2013 at Public School 189 in the Bronx. Fiering said she was stuck in the classroom with five students without a lesson plan while the rest of the class was on a field trip. So she decided to act out the conversations….

     Students allegedly said she called them her "munchkins" and told them to toilet paper one of the men's homes….The kids, who were asked to help her choose between the two men, advised Fiering to break up with the younger of the two men because he was not returning her calls. Fiering said the conversation was harmless, and that the kids thought it was fun….

     Fiering is also an actress who has had small roles in commercials, movies and television….She admitted that it was poor judgement to bring her romantic life into the classroom, but told a reporter with The New York News that she would appeal her dismissal. "I've been slandered," she said. "This is the biggest bunch of crap I've heard in my life."

     Fiering has since ended her relationship with both men….[This puerile woman was fired because she was a substitute employee and not in the teacher's union. Otherwise, she'd still be in the classroom.]

Ben Axelson, "New York Teacher Fired For Asking 4th Graders For Love Advice About Her Boyfriends," Syracuse.com, May 22, 2014 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

How to Get a Literary Agent

Choosing an agent is a lot like choosing a hairdresser. [I currently don't have an agent or a hairdresser.] If you know a bunch of writers and most writers do because who else is home all day?) ask the successful ones who represents them. [In reality, writers with agents hate to be asked this.] If you don't know any writers, look at books by authors you admire and see which agent the author thanked in the acknowledgements. Send five to ten of these agents a resume, cover letter, and proposal for what you're trying to sell (it's imperative that the prospective agent knows that you have a money-making project in mind). Interview the agents who respond positively and pick the one you like best. If no one responds positively, send your stuff to another five to ten agents. Don't take it personally. Think of it as practice in handling rejection. (Believe me, you'll need all the practice you can get.)

Margo Kaufman in Jon Winokur's Advice to Writers, 1999

[Avoid any agent who charges an upfront fee. A vast majority of the successful agents have offices in New York City. Retaining a fee-agent with an office in Youngstown, Ohio is worse than having no agent at all. Here's the catch-22: It's difficult getting commercially published without an agent, and it's hard to get an agent if you're not published.]