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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Starving Artist

Starvation and obscurity are not necessarily signs of genius.

Charles Bukowski

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Writing Genre: The Scope of Science Fiction

One of the hallmarks of science fiction is its intense originality. Science Fiction has few limits on topics or scope, and has wandered far into speculation about the future, future societies, and technological change. Along the way, science fiction writers have explored fiction's classic themes of life and death, human failure, and challenges intrinsic to any worthwhile story. To catch an editor's eye, you must have something different in your story, something you handle especially well--a vivid character, an intriguing background, a compelling theme.

Paula E. Downing in The Writer's Handbook, edited by Sylvia K. Burack, 1994 

Finding a Topic To Write About

Learning how to write is hard enough, but deciding what to write about--isolating a marketable subject that is appealing to you--is the most difficult task a writer must confront. Find a subject that intrigues and motives you and that will simultaneously intrigue and motivate readers. The task is double-edged. Salable subjects are around us everywhere; on the other hand, they are astoundingly elusive.

Lee Gutkind, The Art of Creative Nonfiction, 1997

Monday, May 29, 2017

Writing in First Person

First person, past tense is a good way for beginning writers to tell a story. As voices go, it's straightforward, its boundaries reasonably clear. It's a familiar voice; we normally frame the ongoing narrative of our lives in the first person, past tense. "Where were you?" "I was out walking the dog and I stopped to buy an ice cream cone." But a first person narrator must be a participant in the story he's telling, and his involvement limits his information. He can report only what his senses reveal, what others tell him, what he knows, and what he speculates.

Richard Rhodes, How to Write, 1995

For Writers, The Lure of Hollywood

They give you a thousand dollars a week [1960s] until that's what you need to live on. And then every day you live after that, you're afraid they'll take it away from you. It's all very scientific. It's based on the psychological fact that a man is a grubbing, hungry little sleaze....In twenty-four hours you can develop a taste for caviar. In forty-eight hours fish eggs are no longer a luxury, they're a necessity.

Character in Rod Serling's play, Velvet Alley

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Writing Nonfiction

A beginning writer has more going for him if he decides to write a nonfiction book....A beginner has just as good a chance to find a salable idea as the professional writer.

Doris Ricker Marston

Ultimately every writer must follow the path that feels most comfortable. For most people learning to write, that path is nonfiction. It enables them to write about what they know or can observe or can find out.

 William Zinsser

Being a writer of nonfiction books doesn't seem perishingly difficult; it just requires a certain amount of energy and an intelligent interest in the world. And a certain accumulated skill at organizing the materials that one's research gathers.

John Jerome

Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is more telling. To know that a thing actually happened gives it a poignancy, touches a chord, which a piece of acknowledged fiction misses.

W. Somerset Maugham

I'll bet you think that if you write a nonfiction book that is interesting, fact filled, and with touches of great writing, a publisher is sure to buy it. Wrong. You have forgotten the first basic rule. Find out who wants it.

Oscar Collier

Fact-based writing can reach creative levels just as fiction writing does, and in the hands of an accomplished nonfiction writer, imaginative use of facts can be transformed and become art.

William Noble 

Book Dedications

A friend of mine spoke of books that are dedicated like this: "To my wife, by whose helpful criticism..." and so on. He said the dedication should really read: "To my wife. If it had not been for her continual criticism and persistent nagging doubt as to my ability, this book would have appeared in Harper's instead of The Hardware Age."

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, originally published in 1938  

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Truman Capote's Betrayal

One of the most public and wholesale rejections of a writer occurred in 1975, when Esquire published "La Cote Basque," an early chapter from Truman Capote's novel-in-progress Answered Prayers. Capote's women friends from New York's cafe society were horrified by the exposure of their secrets and promptly banished him from their inner circle. According to his editor, Joe Fox at Random House, "Virtually every friend he had in this world ostracized him for telling thinly disguised tales out of school, and many of them never spoke to him again." Their little writer friend, the elfin troublemaker, had taken things just a little too far. Capote crossed a line he claimed he hadn't known existed, though he confessed to a certain amount of delicious anticipation before the piece ran, and he agreed to be photographed for the magazine's cover with a fedora wickedly tilted atop his head while he pared his fingernails with a very long blade.

Betsy Lerner, The Forest For the Trees, 2000

Sportswriter Red Smith

The best sportswriters know this. They avoid the exhausted synonyms and strive for freshness elsewhere in their sentences. You can search the columns of Red Smith and never find a batsman bouncing into a twin killing. Smith wasn't afraid to let a batsman hit into a double play. But you will find hundreds of unusual words--good English words--chosen with precision and fitted into situations where no other sportswriter would put them. They please us because the writer cared about using fresh imagery in a journalistic form where his competitors settle for the same old stuff. That's why Red Smith was still king of his field after half a century of writing, and why his competitors had long since been sent--as they would be the first to say--to the showers.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, first published in 1975

Friday, May 26, 2017

Revealing Oneself Through Fiction

Many start writing fiction as a dodge, thinking it will provide a good hideout from themselves. Yet those who write stories and novels to escape themselves invariably discover that this is who they stumble over at every turn. Even though novelists and short story writers ostensibly deal in fantasy, they are the most self-exposed authors of all. Writers of nonfiction can be judged on their ability to marshal facts coherently and gracefully. Poets can hide behind elegant words, powerful metaphors, and seductive rhythms. Fiction writers are judged by the emotional authenticity of their work. To create authentic feelings in their characters, they must first call up their own.

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

Writing Life Is The LIfe of Rejection

Rejection is a fact of writing life. If you are still unpublished, you probably suffer from the misconception that publication in and of itself will cure everything that ails you. But the pain of rejection doesn't stop the day a contract arrives. In fact, when you sign your name on the bottom line of your publisher's contract, you may be signing up for more disappointment than you ever dreamed imaginable. Saint Teresa's dictum "More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones" should be hung on the wall over every writer's desk. Sometimes being rejected may mean being spared. [That's like death sparing one from pain and suffering.] But try telling that to a hungry writer with some fresh pages in hand!

Betsy Lerner, The Forest For The Trees, 2000 

Floyd Mayweather's Cry For Help From the Bowels of the Clark County Jail

     Undefeated lightweight boxing champion Floyd Mayweather, Jr., an unpopular fighter in a corrupt and dying sport, pleaded guilty in December 2011 to beating Josie Harris, the mother of three of his children. The assault took place in Mayweather's palatial 12,000-foot square home in the upscale Southern Highlands neighborhood in Las Vegas.

     On June 1, 2012, Mayweather began serving his 87-day sentence at the Clark County Detention Center. Because he's a celebrity and a notorious loudmouth, corrections officials, for the boxer's own protection, isolated him from the general jail population. (I'm sure jail administrators were not thrilled to learn they would be responsible for this guy.)

     A few days into his incarceration, Mayweather's attorney filed an emergency motion asking for a modification of the multi-millionare's sentence. The boxer's lawyer, citing "inhumane" conditions at the lockup, wanted the justice of the peace to change Mayweather's sentence to house arrest, or, at the very least, 3 days a week in the hell-hole, and the rest of the week at home. (There are millions of Americans who would plead guilty to murder in order to be sentenced to life without parole at Mayweather's mansion. There are probably hundreds of thousands who would find the Clark County Jail an improvement over their current living conditions.)

     So what were the inhumane conditions that required Mr. Mayweather's immediate rescue from county incarceration? Was he living off bread and water in a stifling hot cell equipped with a bucket and a lice-infested mattress? Was he fighting off rats, sexual predators, a gang of deranged skinheads, and sadistic guards? What?

     According to the 35-page sentence modification motion with the attached affidavit from Mayweather's personal physician, Dr. Robert Voy, after 10 days in the can, the boxer was getting out of shape. Incarceration was interfering, in a serious way, with his career as a prize fighter. (And great prizes at that. Last month, in his victory over Migel Cotto, Mayweather walked away with $32 million. Most fans who paid to see the fight paid to see Mayweather lose. Instead they saw a boring bout.) As an inmate at the Clark County Jail, Mayweather was not able to maintain his exercise regime. And perhaps even worse, the joint's food and water were simply not up to his standards.

      Because this special man was forced to eat bread, fruit, and energy bars purchased from the commissary rather than the crap fed to the other inmates, Mr. Mayweather was only taking in 800 calories a day. In other words, his Clark County captors were starving him to death! They were not mistreating an ordinary beater of woman, this man was a professional. He was the holder of a title belt, and lest you forget, he had been on "Dancing with the Stars"! (His only defeat.) How could this be happening in America?

     Arguments on Mayweather's motion were heard before Las Vegas justice of the peace Melissa Saragosa on Wednesday, June 13, 2012. Ruling that Mayweather's request did not meet the criterial for sentence modification, (an illegal sentence, or one based upon an untrue assumption or mistake of fact) Saragosa condemned the prisoner to 75 more days in Clark County hell.

     When asked by a reporter to comment on Mayweather's sentence modification plea, prosecutor Lisa Luzaich remarked, "It's jail. Where did he think he was going? The Four Seasons?"

     Floyd Mayweather is now a successful boxing promotor operating out of Las Vegas.     

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Writer's Vocabulary

A huge vocabulary is not always an advantage. Simple language, for some kinds of fiction at least, can be more effective than complex language which can lead to stiltedness or suggest dishonesty or faulty education.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, 1984

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Literary Jerks

An ordinary, nonliterary jerk is a person with an off-putting personality who nobody likes. While the term "jerk" is not included in the jargon of psychology, we all know what it means. Miserable jerks are even worse, and populate every profession. In the literary world, miserable jerks are often well-educated novelists whose literary ambitions far exceed their talents. Miserable jerks often end up as unpublished college professors teaching aspiring novelists how to write. Again, if I may use the vernacular, a flaming jerk is an egotistical, mildly talented novelist who writes a bestseller that miserable jerks hate. While writing bad reviews of this flaming jerk's novel, they take to their writing desks to imitate his literary style. It's all pretty sad.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Kurt Vonnegut on Literary Critics

As for literary criticism in general: I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel or play or a poem is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or a banana split.

Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday, 1981 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Bombers On Welfare: A New Form of State-Sponsored Terrorism

     Americans who grew up in the 1950s were programed to respect and obey the law, work hard, and raise their own children without state interference. They also paid their taxes. Today, I image that most people of this generation remain true to these values. I've been fortunate to have lived in this country my entire life. I earned a wage for forty years, paid my taxes, have never been to jail, and helped raise a family. I don't like paying taxes which I believe are too high, but I pay them anyway because that's part of the social contract that binds us as a nation. It's also against the law to cheat the government.

     Citizens of my generation were taught to play by the rules. You don't drive unless you have a valid driver's license, an updated inspection sticker, and car insurance. I consider being pulled over for speeding and not being able to produce my driver's license because I left it at home a big problem. I would come away from that experience feeling like a criminal. I still view shoplifting, bad check passing, and illegal drug possession as crimes of moral turpitude. Growing up, I don't think I met anyone who had been in jail. In the past, cops were treated with respect even if they didn't deserve it.

     Today, when I go to the doctor's office, if I don't have my social security data and my insurance papers, the doctor won't see me. There are no excuses. When I go to vote, I expect to be asked to produce a driver's license or some other form of identification. That requirement doesn't offend me because it makes sense. You are only allowed to vote once, and you have to be a U. S. citizen.

     Years ago, the U. S. government lent me money to go to college. I paid it back. The idea of not paying it back never entered my mind. In my day, people who didn't pay their bills were considered deadbeats. The vast majority of citizens who were on welfare back then were on the dole temporarily because they were ashamed and embarrassed by having to rely on the government. Welfare was not a way of life. People didn't feel entitled to a free lunch.

     In the wake of the Boston Marathon Bombings, the terrorists' mother was on television criticizing the United States government for framing and not protecting her two sons. She and her husband had lived in this country ten years. They left the county but their boys stayed here. While the family lived in Massachusetts they were on state welfare. The boys had free rides in college, and while they were plotting to kill Americans, were living off welfare checks.

     Since the bombings, a Massachusetts state legislator has been on TV revealing how easy it is in that state to get on welfare. All a resident has to do is ask for the money. Social security numbers are not required. In other words, bureaucrats in Massachusetts have no idea who they are giving taxpayer money to. As it turned out, they were giving it to a pair of terrorists who set off two bombs at the Boston Marathon.

    One would have to conclude that the people of Massachusetts are either very wealthy or not very bright. As a U. S. citizen who pays his taxes and obeys the law, I can't see my doctor without my social security data. In Massachusetts, suspected terrorists go to college free, and live on the dole. This gives new meaning to the phrase state-sponsored terrorism.

     

Literary Awards

Goodreads.com lists over 6,000 [literary] prizes on its web site. The oldest, the Nobel Prize in Literature, was founded in 1901; the youngest was established yesterday. Ten more will certainly be announced tomorrow.

Amanda Foreman, author, 2013 interview

Clean Up Your Writing

Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, 1976

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Diane McDermott Murder Case

     Americans have enjoyed detective fiction since the 1930s. The early police detectives of literature and film were far more impressive than their thick-skulled, real-life contemporaries. In the U.S., criminal investigation, as practiced by the police, didn't become anything resembling a profession well into the 20th Century. The first widely read criminal investigation textbook didn't come out until 1958. (Criminal Investigation by Charles O'Hara) Colleges and universities didn't start criminal justice programs until the early 1970s, and most of them were puerile.

     As late as the 1950s and 60s, police detectives, instead of employing interrogation techniques to acquire confessions, simply beat the hell out of suspects until someone broke down and confessed. In the 1940s, Fred Inbau of Northwestern University Law School, developed a set of interrogation techniques designed to psychologically induce admissions of guilt without the use of force. As a polygraph examiner in the Chicago Crime Lab, he knew that confessions beat out of people by the Chicago Police were unreliable, not to mention inhumane. Inbau's methods, however, weren't universally practiced until after the 1966 Supreme Court decision, Miranda v. Arizona. Cops loved the third-degree, and old habits were hard to break.

     During the first half of the 20th Century and beyond, police detectives didn't routinely conduct professional crime scene investigations, take detailed notes, write case reports, or submit physical evidence to crime labs. Crimes were not systematically investigated and solved, and if a case didn't present an obvious suspect, detectives quickly closed it. Crime novelists and their readers loved murder mysteries, cops didn't. Homicide detectives regularly ignored or bungled murder cases, no one knew how to investigate arsons, and burglars were rarely caught because these crimes did not produce eyewitnesses. Most rape complaints received no investigation whatsoever. Cops who wore suits and carried gold badges were detectives in name only. (The word "detective" wasn't introduced into the English language until 1853 when Charles Dickens coined the term in his novel Bleak House.)

     Today, police detectives are well-paid and have access to cutting edge forensic science. They also can avail themselves of all sorts of relevant education and training. Still, in some big cities, small towns, and suburban communities, criminal investigations are regularly bungled due to indifference, laziness, corruption, and a shortage of qualified personnel. Modern law enforcement is principally focused on street crime, anti-terrorism, and the war on drugs. Criminal investigation has taken a backseat to these law enforcement priorities, and is becoming a lost art. (The nation's crime labs are also underfunded and understaffed.) In the history of criminal investigation, we are coming full circle.

The Diane McDermott Case

     A murder ignored by the police in 1967 drew attention in the spring of 2012 because the victim's son, a TV actor named Dylan McDermott, prevailed upon the authorities to take a second look at his mother's violent death. The Diane McDermott case is one of thousands of suspicious deaths in the past 100 years never investigated seriously or competently by the police.

     In 1967, Diane McDermott lived in a Waterbury, Connecticut apartment with her 5-year-old son Dylan, her 7-month-old daughter Robin, and John Sponza, her 27-year-old boyfriend. In February of that year, Sponza shot Diane McDermott in the head at point-blank range, placed a handgun next to her body that wasn't the firearm he had shot her with, then called the police. Sponza, a heroin addict with organized crime connections, told detectives with the Waterbury Police Department that Diane had picked up the gun he had been cleaning and accidentally shot herself in the head. Only an idiot, or cops on the take, would buy this story.

     Police interviews of Dylan McDermott, neighbors, and friends of the victim contradicted Sponza's claim that he and Diane rarely argued. Dylan said he had seen the boyfriend, who had once locked him out of the apartment, point a gun at his mother. Moreover, the two of them were often heard yelling at each other.

     Following a cursory investigation, the Waterbury Police closed the McDermott case as an accidental shooting. Four years later, police in Waltham, Massachusetts found Sponza's body in the trunk of a car parked in front of a a grocery store.

     The fact Sponza had murdered Diane McDermott in 1967 before DNA and other forensic science breakthroughs does not excuse the bungling of this case. (I don't know if McDermott's body had been autopsied, or if a forensic pathologist had recovered the fatal bullet. Media coverage of the case has focused on the actor's angst.) Even if the fatal slug had been too damaged for microscopic comparison with a test-fired bullet from the death scene handgun, a forensic firearms identification expert could have determined if the two projectiles were the same caliber. The victim's hands could have been tested for traces of gunshot residue, and the firearm next to her body could have been processed for latent fingerprints.

     In June 2012, Dr. H. Wayne Carver, the medical examiner for the state of Connecticut, reviewed the McDermott case file and concluded that the gun next to the victim's body was too small a caliber to have fired the fatal shot. In his report, Dr. Carver wrote, "The wound also showed that the murder weapon had been pressed to the back of the head." (This suggests the victim had been autopsied, and photographs had been taken.)

     Since people don't accidentally shoot themselves in the back of the head, Diane McDermott had obviously been murdered, and the last person to have seen her alive was John Sponza.

     While it's possible the detectives in charge of the McDermott case were either extremely stupid, lazy, or indifferent, I think they were corrupt. While the Connecticut criminal justice system failed to do its job in this case, John Sponza ended up where he belonged, dead in the trunk of someone's car.

      

George Orwell and C.S. Lewis

If you want to learn how to write, the best way to start is by imitating C.S. Lewis and George Orwell. These two Englishmen, born five years apart, never used a pompous word if a short and plain one would do. Orwell was a master of the welcoming first sentence. He wrote an essay called "England Your England" while sheltering from German bombs during World War II. Here is his opening: "As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me."

David Brooks, "Really Good Books, Part I," The New York Times, May 22, 2014 

The Screenwriting Workshop

There comes a time in every screenwriter's career when he feels the need to cease a solitary existence and enroll in a class or workshop. Before you jump in, be aware that many of these classes are taught by petty people. Of course not all workshops are evil. [I'm not so sure about that.] In fact, there are many wonderful workshops and teachers across the country. Just make sure the instructor of your workshop promotes constructive, not destructive, feedback, and the other students seem talented, supportive and serious. [My idea of good advice from workshop instructor: If you have real talent, get the hell out of this class. Movies today are crap, written by teams of hacks. Write a genre novel or get into nonfiction. Or better yet, get a real job.]

Richard Krevolin, Screenwriting in the Land of Oz, 2011

Sunday, May 21, 2017

E. M. Forster on Literary Critics

[The literary critic's] constant reference to genius is a characteristic of the pseudo-scholar. He loves mentioning genius, because the sound of the word exempts him from trying to discover its meaning. Literature is written by geniuses. Novelists are geniuses....Everything [the critic] says may be accurate but all is useless because he is moving round books instead of through them. He either has not read them or cannot read them properly. Books have to be read...it is the only way of discovering what they contain....The reader must sit down alone and struggle with the writer, and this the pseudo-scholar will not do. He would rather relate a book to the history of its time, to events in the life of its author, or to the events it describes.

E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel, 1927 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Teenagers Charged With Murdering a Boy in a Car They Stole

     At two-thirty on the afternoon of Thursday, May 18, 2017, Ebony Archie pulled into the Kroger supermarket parking lot in Jackson, Mississippi. With her 6-year-old son Kingston Frazier asleep in the back seat of her running Toyota Camry, the mother entered the store to purchase some medicine.

     According to a parking lot surveillance camera, shortly after the mother entered the grocery store, two men in a two-door Honda Civic approached the Toyota. One of the men climbed out of the Honda, got behind the wheel of Ebony Archie's car and drove off with the 6-year-old still in the back seat.

     When the mother came of the supermarket and discovered her car and her son missing, she reported the theft to a Hinds County sheriff's deputy on patrol on the lot. She did not, however, initially mention that she had left her son in the stolen car.

     At 4:30 that afternoon, when the distraught mother informed the police of her missing son, the authorities broadcast an Amber Alert.

     Sometime during the early morning hours of Friday, May 19, 2017, a citizen reported seeing the stolen Toyota parked alongside a dirt road outside the Madison County town of Gluckstadt, Mississippi. In the back seat of the vehicle, police officers discovered the corpse of Kingston Frazier. The boy had been shot at least once in the head.

     At ten o'clock that morning, Madison County District Attorney Michael Guest announced at a press conference that within hours of the discovery of Kingston Frazier's body, three local teenage suspects had been taken into custody and charged with capital murder.

     The murder suspects were: Dwan Wakefield, 17, D'Allen Washington, 17, and Bryon McBride, 19. (In Mississippi, 17-year-olds accused of capital murder can be charged as adults. They could also face the death penalty.)

     According to media reports, Dwan Wakefield was a senior at Ridgeland High School where he had played football until he was thrown off the team for an unspecified reason. At the press conference, the district attorney did not reveal the roles each suspect had allegedly played in the boy's murder. The suspects were due in court for arraignment on Monday, May 22, 2017. 

The Nonfiction Hardback Bestseller

     The most popular nonfiction authors of our day might be characterized by a certain overconfident swagger, the modern prerequisite for mattering in a mixed-up, insecure world. More often than not, these "authors"aren't authors at all, in the strict sense of carefully pondering their ideas and diction and lovingly crafting an argument sturdy yet supple enough to carry their work over to a mass readership. In place of the William Whytes, Vance Packards, and Betty Friedans of earlier, more confident chapters of our national bestsellerdom, we have promoted a generation of alternately jumpy and anxious shouters. Generally these public figures fall into one of two categories: television personalities who have hired hands to cobble together their sound bites; and middling non-writers suffering from extended delusions of grandeur. When it comes to hardcover nonfiction, a realm in which books are physical objects, plunked down on coffee tables as signifiers or comfort totems, Americans don't seem to be looking for authors or writers or artists so much as lifestyle brands in human form: placeholder thinkers whose outrage, sense of irony, or general dystopian worldview matches their own, whether it is Glenn Beck, Barack Obama, or Chelsa Handler.

      It's a glum corollary of such market forces that these very popular nonfiction books aren't books in the traditional sense of the word so much as aspirational impulse buys. They imbue their owners with a feeling of achievement and well-being upon purchase, a feeling that crucially does not require the purchaser to actually sit and read the book in question. Substantive, thoughtful books might pervade other lists (e-book, trade paperback, etc.), but when it comes to the top position on the hardcover nonfiction roster, accessory books by high-profile bloviators typically dominate from Al Franken's Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot to Ann Coulter's Godless to Edward Klein's The Amateur to Dinesh D'Souza's America. 

Heather Havrilesky, "Mansplanation Nation," Bookforum, Dec/Jan, 2015 

Biography As The Unwanted Genre

Between history and the novel stands biography, their unwanted offspring, which has brought a great embarrassment to them both. In the historian's view it takes ten thousand biographies to make one small history. To the novelist biographers are simply what Nabokov called, "psycho-plagiarists."

Michael Holroyd, Works on Paper, 2002

Friday, May 19, 2017

Novelist Gore Vidal on Fame

Recently, I observed to [an interviewer] that I was once a famous novelist. When assured, politely, that I was still known and read, I explained myself. I was speaking, I said, not of me but of a category to which I once belonged that no longer exists. I am still here, but my category is not. To speak today of a famous novelist is like speaking of a famous cabinetmaker, or speedboat designer.

Gore Vidal (1925-2012), Screening History, 1992

Movies About Writers

     Writers like watching movies about themselves. It gives us something to do. My doctor father used to scoff at movies about doctors because he was always finding fault with some diagnosis or treatment. I don't know how cops or lawyers feel about their portrayals. Politicians are usually shown as corruptible. Teachers as sad. Writers are variously crazy (Jack Nicholson in "The Shining"), reckless (Michael Douglas in "Wonder Boys"), cranky (Van Johnson in "23 Paces to Baker Street"), self-destructive (Ray Milland in "The Lost Weekend"), without principle (William Holden in "Sunset Boulevard") and/or flailing (Paul Giamatti in "Sideways"). Nothing to argue with, really.

     What we are not shown doing in movies is writing. Composers are shown composing because we can listen to their flights of fancy on the soundtrack. Painters are shown painting because one can actually see art in progress. Kirk Douglas did some very good van Gogh impressions. Ed Harris went so hog wild in "Pollock," one was tempted to go out and buy an original Harris. But writers are rarely shown laboring at the craft....I suppose there's nothing visually dramatic in what we do, though we can get quite worked up about crumpling little balls of paper, tossing them on the floor, then turning our heads this way and sometimes that.

Roger Rosenblatt, 2013   

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Trigger-Happy Constable

     On November 2, 2011, at 3:30 in the afternoon, Jefferson County Constable David Whitlock, while shopping in a Louisville, Kentucky Walmart where he worked off-duty as a retail security officer, received a call on his cellphone regarding a possible shoplifter. Constable Whitlock approached the suspect, Tammy Lee Jamian, aka Tammy Ortiz, as she sat in her car in the parking lot. When Whitlock reached the vehicle, the suspect started to drive away. Her car ran over Whitlock's foot so he shot her in the arm and hand.

     In Kentucky, constables were elected under the state constitution that gave them powers of arrest in the enforcement of traffic laws. They also served certain types of warrants. Whitlock, in 2000 and 2002, had been charged in a couple of theft cases. Other law enforcement officers had criticized him for carrying a gun without the proper firearms training. In Kentucky, constables were not required to undergo special law enforcement instruction. Whitlock claimed, however, to have taken 122 hours of deadly force classes. According to a Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy, Whitlock failed the shooting portion of the course and was sent home.

     In a newspaper interview following the Walmart shooting, Whitlock told the reporter he spent 20 to 25 hours a week writing citations for illegal parking in fire lanes and handicapped spots. He also patrolled Louisville making sure addresses were visible on buildings as required by law.

     Tammy Lee Jamian, who has an arrest record for burglary, theft, and prostitution, claimed she was not shoplifting in the store and that Constable Whitlock, when he confronted her in the parking lot, did not identify himself as a police officer. She drove off because she thought she was being mugged. Referring to Whitlock, Jamian's attorney told a reporter "This cowboy shot an unarmed woman for shoplifting. He didn't know if she was Bonnie from Bonnie and Clyde or Sister Teresa. He just shot her."

     On November 11, Louisville Councilman Rick Blackwell called for the state legislature to remove Whitlock as a Jefferson County Constable. According to the councilman, Whitlock violated three state laws: deputizing staff members, failing to file monthly reports to the county clerk, and using oscillating blue lights on his car.

     In October 2012, pursuant to his guilty plea to charges of wanton endangerment and second-degree assault, Whitlock agreed never to work in law enforcement again. After he completed a diversion program, the prosecutor dropped the charges against the former constable.

     In Louisville, on January 27, 2014, David Whitlock announced his plan to run for a seat on the Metro Council. He lost.

    

In Writing, Having an Idea For a Book is the Easy Part

Most anyone can have a great idea. A smaller group might get it onto paper in some form. A fair number of those will be able to revise parts of it until it is very good. Yet to take all the elements such as character and themes and place, and to think about voice, style and language, just doesn't happen in one fell swoop. Only a few writers can take what first comes out on the page and work it until every bit of it is right, until all of its parts become a beautiful whole. True talent--perhaps even genius--lies not in coming up with the idea but in being able to do the hard, dogged work that brings that idea to fruition.

Carole Burns, Off The Page, 2008


B. R. Myers on The "Literary" Novelist

The joy of being a [literary] writer today is that you can claim your work's flaws are all there by design. Plot doesn't add up? It was never meant to; you were playfully reworking the conventions of traditional narrative. Your philosophizing makes no sense? Well, we live in an incoherent age after all. The dialogue is implausible? Comedy often is. But half the jokes fall flat?  Ah! Those were the serious bits. Make sure then, that your readers can never put a finger on what you are trying to say at any point in the book. Let them create their own text--you're just the one who gets paid for it.

B. R. Myers, A Reader's Manifesto, 2002
[This is an outstanding, groundbreaking book.]

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Book Editor

   There was a time in book publishing when editors like Maxwell Perkins of Scribner's and Sons played a hands-on role in getting a manuscript ready for publication. Today, editors still evaluate manuscripts and make suggestions, but get much less involved in shaping the book for publication. In the 1960's, editor Don Preston had the almost impossible job of getting a glitzy, gossipy novel by an amateurish writer named Jacqueline Susann into publishable form. The manuscript, entitled Valley of the Dolls, became a national bestseller thanks in large part to Don Preston's editorial skills. This is Preston's evaluation of Susann's manuscript: "...she is a painfully dull, inept, clumsy, undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish writer whose every sentence, paragraph and scene cries for the hand of a pro. She wastes endless pages on utter trivia, writes wide-eyed romantic scenes that would not make the pages of True Confessions, hauls out every terrible show biz cliche...lets every good scene fall apart in endless talk and allows her book to ramble aimlessly....I reaally don't think there is a page of this manuscript that can stand in its present form. And after it is done, we will be left with a faster, slicker, more readable mediocrity."

     A lot of writers think of book editors as failed novelists who take out their frustration on authors. This view is expressed in a quote by David A. Fryxell: "Most of them [editors] grew up wanting to be writers. Now they hold the power of professional life or death over people who are doing what they would probably still rather be doing--writing." I disagree. Literary editing is an art form in its own right, and great editors are talented people. A great editor can turn a good manuscript into an excellent book.

     What follows are what authors say about book editors and the editing process:

Editors in publishing houses can be perceived as basically performing three different roles, all of them simultaneously. First they must find and select the books the house is to publish. Second they edit (yes, Virginia, they still do edit,...). And third, they perform the Janus-like function of representing the house to the author and the author to the house.
Alan D. Williams

Although they're skittish and sometimes blind to real talent, they [editors] are often ambitious idealists; they would like nothing better than to discover and publish a great book--or even a moderately good one.
John Gardner

Often the editing talent is not the writer's own. An outside eye and hand is usually essential.
Dr. Alice W. Flaherty

The successful editor is one who is constantly finding new writers, nurturing their talents, and publishing them with critical and financial success. The thrill of developing fresh writing makes the search worthwhile, even when the waiting and working becomes months, sometimes years of drudgery and frequent disappointment.
A Scott Berg

Master editors taught me how to break books down and put them back together. You learn values--the value of tension, of keeping tension on the page and how that's done, and you learn how to spot self-indulgence, how you don't need it. You learn to become very free and easy about moving things around, which a reader would never do. A reader sees a printed book and that's it. But when you see a manuscript as an editor, you say, well this is chapter twenty, but it should be chapter three.
E. L. Doctorow

Good editing is one of those laborious invisibile jobs, like housekeeping, that are apparent only when they aren't done.
John Jerome

Readers give as much credit to an editor for the books they read as pitchers pay tribute to the horses whose hides encase baseballs.
John T. Winterich

You know I'm not the sort of editor who pesters authors [of children's books] and artists. I love creative people, and I never want to do anything to make life harder than it is for creative people.
Ursula Nordstrom

Nobody remotely interested in the role of editors or their relationship to writers should fail to read Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell Perkins, edited by John Hall Wheelock. With their warmth, eloquence, total empathy with authors, and gentle but keenly persuasive suggestions, these letters stand alone as lasting beacons to those who would follow.
Alan D. Williams

A good editor is a man who understands what you're talking and writing about and doesn't meddle too much. A good editor can put his finger on weakness...without trying to tell you how to repair it.
Irwin Shaw

The job of editor in a publishing house is the dullest, hardest, most exciting, exasperating and rewarding of perhaps any job in the world.
John Hall Wheelock

When I was an editor, nothing turned me off quicker than reading a presentation that stated the author's book was suitable for every man, woman, and child in the U.S.A., and therefore the book had a potential sale of more than 200 million.
Oscar Collier (Oscar became a well-known literarary agent in New York City. I'm proud to say that he represented me until he passed away in 1998.)

Writers work under constant threat of public ridicule and rejection. Editors are protected by a shield of public anonymity
Ralph Keyes

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Journalist as Con Artist

     Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. Like the credulous widow who wakes up one day to find the charming young man and all her savings gone, so the consenting subject of a piece of nonfiction writing learns--when the article or book appears--his hard lesson.

     Journalists justify their treachery in various ways according to their temperaments. The more pompous talk about freedom of speech and "the public's right to know"; the least talented talk about Art; the seemliest murmur about earning a living.

     The catastrophe suffered by the subject is no simple matter of an unflattering likeness or a misrepresentation of his views; what pains him, what rankles and sometimes drives him to extremes of vengefulness, is the deception that has been practiced on him. On reading the article or book in question, he has to face the fact that the journalist--who seemed so friendly and sympathetic, so keen to understand him fully, so remarkably attuned to his vision of things--never had the slightest intention of collaborating with him on his story but always intended to write a story of his own.

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990

Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett produced work so stark, yet so complex, that any attempt to dismiss him as a mystery writer would be a glaring error. In Red Harvest, 1929, he deals with mob control and mob wars in a town called Personville, nicknamed Poisonville. The bad guys are bad, and the good guys are bad in a good way, and the whole book is a morality play. Forces of light and dark run through the actions of tough guys. The value of traditional male ideals is enhanced because even some awfully cynical people can still hold them.

Jack Cady, The American Writer, 1999

The Role of Popular Music in Mass Shooting/Suicides

School shootings, like other mass murders and suicide clusters, reflects the culture of the times. The role of the media takes many forms in such events, but perhaps nothing rules and mirrors the culture of adolescents the way music does. Yesterday's swing and jazz, as remembered in bebop, the Lindy, the shimmy, and the Charleston, have evolved into the music that fills our world today: Rock and roll. New wave. Punk. Heavy mental. Grunge rock. Hip-Hop. Gangsta rock. Death rock. The beat, lyrics, groups and individual artists are held in high regard. Rock-star look-alikes are everywhere. And the fashion follows the music in more than clothing. Attitudes and beliefs systems are born from the messages communicated or reinforced through teen music.

Loren Coleman, The Copycat Effect, 2004 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Jim Thompson's True Crime Writing Tips

True crime stories must be post-trial, with the perpetrators convicted and sentenced at the conclusion…Use active writing, avoid passive constructions. Remember that detectives probe, dig up, determine, deduce, seek out, ascertain, discover, hunt, root out, delve, uncover, track, trace, and inspect. They also canvass, inquire, question, and quiz.

Jim Thompson in Savage Art by Robert Polito, 1995

Supernatural Fiction

More than other genres, supernatural fiction is defined by atmosphere and characterization. By atmosphere I mean the author's ability to evoke a mood or place viscerally by the use of original and elegant, almost seductive language. The most successful supernatural novels are set in our world. Their narrative tension, their very ability to frighten and transport us, derives from a conflict between the macabre and the mundane, between everyday reality and the threatening other--whether revenant [a ghost that returns], werewolf, or demonic godling--that seeks to destroy it.

Elizabeth Hand in The Writer's Guide to Fantasy and Literature, edited by Philip Martin, 2002

Literary Critics in England Versus the U.S.

     Book reviewing in England is and always has been somewhat differently arranged than in the United States. Most often, in the United States, writers review one another's books and there is some sense of generosity born of shared time in the novel-writing trenches. It is more common in England for a novel to be reviewed by what you might call professional book assessors…

     It is perfectly acceptable, and even desirable, in England for a reviewer to show off his talent for eloquent invective at the expense of the author--desirable because it's fun for all, and if a novel is entertainingly killed, that's one less author who will be pulling his chair up to a crowded table.

Jane Smiley, 13 Ways of Looking at The Novel, 2005

     

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The World's Most Stupid Book

Think of what a difficulty it would be if you couldn't use the most common letter in your writing. In 1937, Ernest Vincent Wright took the challenge head on and wrote a book called Gadsby: A Story of Over 50,000 Words Without Using the Letter "E." Wright literally tied down the e  key on his typewriter and spent 165 days writing without e's (the e-filled subtitle was added later by the publisher.) Not that Wright lived a life of ease from his e-less accomplishment. He died the day Gadsby was published. [The plot of this self-published book revolves around the dying fictional city of Hills that is revitalized thanks to the protagonist, John Gadsby and a youth group he organizes. The book, sought after by book collectors, entered the public domain in 1968.]

Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type of Person To Be A Writer, 2003 

Drug Raid Adrenaline

One of the biggest adrenaline rushes on this job [law enforcement officer] is being the first one through the door on a drug raid. You wait on deck, knowing that because you are about to enter a place where the occupants can be both armed and high...You have your gun drawn, sweat salting the corners of your mouth, ready to rumble with a pit bull, ready to shoot, punch, duck, shout commands. You don't know what's on the other side of that door. One suspect? Two? A baker's dozen? That great unknown generates a specific electric charge, one that starts in your stomach and ends up somewhere in your chest, a kind of queasy excitement born of both expectation and resolve. There is nothing like it. [The same is true for the people being raided.]

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014 

The Shortest Science Fiction Story Ever Written

The shortest science fiction story on record, which is always attributed to that most prolific author, Anonymous, is in its entirety: "The last man on Earth sat in a room. There was a knock on the door." These two lines have the hallmarks of a good science fiction story: It's accessible, there's at least one mind-bending idea, it has an interesting character, and you want to find out what happens next.

Nancy Pearl, Book Lust, 2003 

Science Fiction Fans

I think science fiction, along with jazz, is America's great contribution to world culture. It's as great as jazz, as profligate, and wonderful. What disappoints me about it is that most of its practitioners have not been as good as they should have been, and the fact that science fiction emerged as a genre of commercial literature, forced to make adjustments and compromises to accommodate a mass audience, which was not its aesthetic interest. I don't segregate myself from those who do so. The readership has contributed to this debasement, I suppose, but any readership does. Norman Spinrod said the worst thing about science fiction is fandom. I don't disagree with that at all. Fandom has destroyed some authors. The need to be a hero.

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

Teenage Parents Accused of Giving Toddler Marijuana

     In late November 2013, someone called 911 to report that the parents of a two-year-old had helped, observed or encouraged their toddler to breathe smoke from a lighted bowl of marijuana. The alleged incident took placed in Mayfield, New York, an upstate town in Chatauqua County not far from Buffalo.

     On December 5, 2013, deputies with the Chatgauqua County Sheriff's Office arrested the parents and the grandfather of the weed-exposed child. George Kelsey, 18, Jessica Kelsey, 17, and 54-year-old Don Baker were booked into the Chataququa County Jail on charges of second-degree reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child. A magistrate set each of the suspect's bond at $20,000.

     The two-year-old victim has been placed into the care of a child protection agency pending the outcome of the case.

     If the endangerment charges prove true, these stupid, drug-addled parents should lose permanent custody of their child. Moreover, the judge should impose the maximum sentence on all three defendants.

     In a nation of potheads, kids under twelve are the only sober citizens left. How long will that last? 

Appreciating the Novel

Willing suspension of disbelief is a strange state of mine--reading nonfiction does not require it and neither does reading poetry, since both are based on logical argument…The world is full of people who are rather proud that they don't read novels. Publishers often lament that the audience for novels is narrowing, and especially that it is losing men. A literary education not only enlarges a readers' willingness to suspend disbelief by extending her range of pleasures, it also strengthens her ability to enter the meditative state, and to be receptive to the influence of another human mind, because it is a state of contemplation that is essential to the true appreciation of the novel.

Jane Smiley, 13 Ways at Looking at the Novel, 2005 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Harold Montague Ax Murder Case

     In 2010, 33-year-old Harold E. Montague lived in a single-story house with his wife Erricca, their two grade school children, and Erricca's disabled mother, Monica O'Dazier. The family resided on San Pedro Avenue in the central valley area of Las Vegas. Erricca worked outside the home while her husband cared for her mother who had cerebral palsy and suffered seizures. Harold had been his mother-in-law's principal caregiver for the past five years.

     At eleven-forty on the morning of Thursday, February 11, 2010, Harold Montague removed a medieval-style battle ax that hung on his wall and used it to hack his mother-in-law twenty times. Leaving the gravely wounded O'Dazier bleeding in the rear bedroom of the dwelling, Montague, with the bloody battle ax in hand, walked out onto Pedro Avenue where he encountered a young mother pushing her 4-month-old son in a stroller.

     Montague walked up to Sonia Castro and her son Damian, and started swing the weapon. He quickly hacked the baby to death, then struck Sonia several times in the head and hands as she tried to protect herself. During the murderous rampage, Castro begged her attacker to stop. Instead of letting up, Montague laughed in her face. With the dead baby under the overturned stroller, and the infant's mother on the ground with her jaw hanging loosely from her face, Montague walked back into his house.

     A neighbor, 52-year-old Teresa Garner, witnessed the attack and called 911. After making the emergency call, Garner ran to the victims. She found the baby dead, and Sonia alive but horribly disfigured, and bleeding profusely.

     Paramedics rushed the unconscious Monica O'Dazier to the University Medical Center. Sonia Castrol was taken to the same facility where she was listed in "extremely critical" condition. Both women would survive Montague's vicious attacks.

     Following a brief scuffle, Las Vegas officers arrested Harold Montague at his house. He told the officers that he had no memory of the assaults. They booked him into the Clark County Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder and attempted murder.

     The next day, at Montague's arraignment, the judge denied him bail. At that hearing, defense attorney Norm Reed characterized his client as delusional and paranoid. The lawyer said he would have his client examined by a psychiatrist, and depending upon the results of that examination, make a decision as to whether he would plead his client legally insane.

     In October 2010, attorney Reed informed the court that he planned to put on an insanity defense. The judge set the trial for June 2011.

     By 2013, due to several postponements, the Montague case had not come to trial. At a preliminary hearing on December 6, 2013, attorney Reed put a Reno, Nevada psychiatrist named Dr. Tom Bittker on the stand. Dr. Bittker said that several interviews of Montague had given him a profile of this disturbed man's life. For example, as a child, Montague had been beaten, raped and emotionally tormented by his drug-abusing parents. At age six someone murdered the boy's father.

     According to Dr. Bittker, Harold didn't go beyond the fifth grade, and grew up in and out of a Las Vegas juvenile detention center. As an adult, he married Erricca, and fathered two children with her. She worked out of the house while he stayed at home, unable to hold down a job. In 2004, he began taking care of Erricca's mother.

     Dr. Bittker testified that in his expert medical opinion, when Mr. Montague attacked Monica O'Dazier, Sonia Castro, and little Damian, he was in the midst of a psychotic episode that included the delusion that God was speaking to him directly.

     Erricca Montague took the stand at the hearing and testified that for several days before the attacks, her husband's behavior had been bizarre. He hadn't slept for days, stopped eating, and refused to drink water. He spent his nights pacing the house and talking to himself.

     Following the preliminary hearing, the judge ruled that the defense had produced enough evidence to go forward with an insanity defense. (In Nevada as in most states, legal insanity is a so-called affirmative defense, which means the defendant has the burden of proving, with a preponderance of evidence, that he was insane at the time of the alleged criminal act.)

     On May 22, 2014, the Montague case came to an abrupt conclusion when attorney Reed announced that his client had pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, and battery of a police officer. Under the plea agreement, the defendant was sentenced on July 30, 2014 to life in prison without the chance of parole. In prison, he received treatment for his mental illness.

     The plea agreement meant that Sonia Castro would not have to testify at Montague's trial. Earlier, at a April 2010 preliminary hearing, she had testified that when she begged him to stop his murderous assault, he laughed at her. After the rampage, her jaw had to be surgically reattached. The attack had also left her with an irreparably damaged eye.

     Montague's guilty plea also spared eyewitness Teresa Garner from the ordeal of re-living the crime in court. After Montague's ax-wielding madness, Garner suffered a nervous breakdown.

     Harold Montague, on anti-psychotic medication, expressed a desire to apologize to his victims, and to explain that he had acted out of a psychotic delusion. I doubt that his apology and explanation helped his victims, people who had been permanently scarred physically and emotionally as a result of his bloody rampage.

     

E.B. White's Journals

My journals date from about 1917 to about 1930, with a few entries of more recent date. They occupy two-thirds of a whiskey carton. How many words that would be I have no idea, but it would be an awful lot. The journals are callow, sententious, moralistic, and full of rubbish. They are also hard to ignore. They were written sometimes in longhand, sometimes typed (single typed). They contain many clippings. Extensive is the word for them. I do not hope to publish them, but I would like to get a little mileage out of them. After so many years, they tend to hold my attention even though they do not excite my admiration. I have already dipped into them on a couple of occasions, to help out on a couple of pieces.

E. B. White, The Second Tree From the Corner, 1954 

The Real Threat to Civil Liberty

An important tenet of civil liberties is that the greatest danger to liberty comes from the powerful state. The greatest disasters throughout history have been inflicted by states. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Stalinist murders, the Holocaust, the Cambodian genocide--all were inflicted by governments. Hence, the focus of civil libertarian concerns has always been on the abuse of power by state actors.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works, 2002

The Traditional Fantasy Milieu

At the heart of most traditional fantasy milieu is a culture derived from that of the European Middle Ages, in large part the medieval societies of what are now Great Britain, France and Germany. The culture is a synthesis of both the Roman culture that dominated western Europe for some five centuries and of the Germanic culture that eventually overran and absorbed it. Three major institutions formed the basis of medieval society and dictated how most people lived. These were feudalism, manorialism and Christianity.

Michael J. Varbola in The Writer's Complete Fantasy Reference, edited by the editors of Writer's Digest Books, 1998 

The M'Naghten Case and the Birth of the Insanity Defense

     On Friday, January 20, 1843, in a shot heard around the world, Scottish woodcutter and conspiracy theorist Daniel M'Naghten fired at and killed Edward Drummond, private secretary of Sir Robert Peel. M'Naghten was under the impression that he was shooting at Sir Robert, then Prime Minister of Great Britain. He was further under the delusion that Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the first London Police force was part of a cabal, along with the Pope and the Society of Jesus, that plotted to abridge the rights of British subjects and that had deliberately set out to spy on and persecute him.

     That M'Naghten was insane there was no doubt; nine medical experts testified for the defense, and none for the prosecution. That insanity was accepted as a defense came as a surprise, and that M'Naghten was acquitted "by reason of insanity" came as a shock. [In many states the insanity defense doctrine is called The M'Naghten Rule.]

Michael Kurland, How To Try a Murder, 1997


Friday, May 12, 2017

University Hazing Deaths

     Over the past ten years there have been more than two dozen hazing deaths at U. S. colleges and universities. Victims of these unintentional, senseless killings were members of fraternities, school bands, or sports teams that had long histories of putting new members through right-of-passage rituals. These young people died because they desperately wanted to belong. Despite the efforts of university administrators and others to break this tradition, hazing has continued and students die as a result. (Since 1970, there has been at least one hazing related death on a college campus every year. Eighty-two percent of these  hazing deaths involved alcohol.)

The Penn State Case

     In early February 2017, a hazing ritual at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house led to the death of a 19-year-old pledge from Lebanon, New Jersey. After consuming vast amounts of alcohol, Timothy Piazza fell several times causing a fractured skull and shattered spleen. Fraternity members waited 12 hours after the pledge's first fall to call 911. In May 2017, the local prosecutor charged eight fraternity brothers with involuntary manslaughter.

The Chen Deng Case

     Before the Penn State hazing death, Chen Hsien Deng died pursuant to a fraternity house incident.

     Chen Hsien Deng, a 19-year-old freshman finance major at Baruch College in Manhattan, New York, joined the Pi Delta Psi fraternity. According to its published profile, this fraternal organization is an Asian-American group with a mission to "spread Asian-Amerian cultural awareness." Founded in 1994, the organization has chapters in twenty states and the District or Columbia.

     On Friday, December 6, 2013, thirty members of Pi Delta Psi left New York City en route to the Poconos Mountain region in northeastern Pennsylvania. Chen Deng was one of four fraternity pledges participating in the weekend getaway. The group had rented a house in Tunkhannock Township in Monroe County.

     On Sunday, December 8, 2013, at eight-fifteen in the morning, three of Deng's fraternity brothers drove him to the Geisinger Wyoming Valley Hospital emergency room in Danville, Pennsylvania. Doctors found the freshman unresponsive and immediately placed him on life support. Twenty-four hours later, Chen Deng died.

     Two days later, a spokesperson for the Luzerne County Coroner's Office announced that Chen Deng had died from "closed head injuries due to blunt force trauma."

     Investigators with the Poconos Mountain Regional Police Department, when they searched the rented house in Tunkhannock Township, found marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms.

      At the hospital, detectives spoke to Sheldon Wong, the fraternity's "pledge educator." Wong said that Deng had injured his head when he fell backward in the snow while wrestling another fraternity brother. Charles Lai, another member of the fraternity told a different story. According to Lai, Deng had died during a hazing ritual called "The Gauntlet." In this initiation game, a blindfolded pledge is repeatedly tackled as he runs a gauntlet of fraternity brothers while carrying a backpack full of sand. After Deng was knocked unconscious in the snow outside the rented house, fraternity brothers carried him into the dwelling.

     Before driving Deng to the hospital, fraternity members removed and replaced his wet clothing. Next, someone made an Internet search regarding the unconscious pledge's symptoms. The Internet inquiry also included determining the location of the nearest hospital. An hour after Deng collapsed in the snow, the three Pi Delta Psi fraternity brothers drove him to the emergency room in Danville.

     At the hospital, one of the fraternity brothers called the rented house in Tunkhannock and instructed someone there to dispose of all fraternity memorabilia as well as anything else that would reveal what had happened to the dead pledge.

     In July 2015, 37 members of the fraternity were charged with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, hindering apprehension, and other related offenses.

     In January 2017, 25-year-old Ka-Wing Yuen became the first defendant in the Deng Case to plead guilty. Yuen pleaded guilty to the felony charge of hindering apprehension and the lesser offense of conspiracy to haze. He faced up to eight years in prison. The judge sentenced Yuen to five years of probation.
     

Inside Jobs: Four Theft Cases

     While it's impossible for a normal person to understand why, for example, a 14-year-old boy sets a building on fire for a sexual thrill, we all know why people steal. We understand because either as children, adolescents, or adults, we have taken something that didn't belong to us. The motive for theft is simple and direct, to get something for nothing. Theft is immoral, and of course, illegal. As a matter of morality, and certainly in law, the more you steal, the more serious your crime.

     In criminal law, there are several forms of theft, or illegal taking. Customers who steal merchandise from stores are retail thieves. People who slip out of restaurants without paying their bills commit theft of service. Employees who steal from their employers are larcenists security professionals call internal thieves. Criminals who threaten to expose victims' secrets if not paid money to remain silent, are blackmailers. A thug threatening future physical harm if the victim doesn't pay up is called an extortionist. (If you don't pay me $1,000 a month I'll burn down your business, is not how fire insurance is supposed to work.) Robbers are thieves who take money and valuables through the use of force or threat of immediate physical force; and burglars steal (and commit other crimes) by unlawful intrusion into homes and buildings. Swindlers and con artists acquire their loot through deception and fraud. And don't forget the passers of bad checks, forged money orders, and stolen and fake credit cards. It seems there are as many ways to steal as there are ways to acquire things legally.

     Except for major armored truck ambush jobs, big time jewelry heists, and massive credit card cases, the thieves who hit their victims the hardest financially, are the embezzlers. (The average bank robbery haul, for example, is just a few thousand dollars.) An embezzler is a person who's in what is called a fiduciary relationship with the victim, a position of trust. The embezzler--accountants, company and organization treasurers, financial managers, and various financial institution employees--steal from private and government employers and clients who have entrusted them with their money. While an embezzler can make a big, one-time haul, most steal smaller amounts over extended periods of time. To accomplish these illegal diversions of funds, embezzlers often alter financial documents, and commit the separate crimes of forgery and false swearing. Quite often, embezzlers, to get away with their thefts, have accomplices within the victim companies and organizations. Detectives and federal agents who investigate these cases (particularly when they involve sophisticated computer crimes), should be specialists in the investigation of financial offenses and criminal conspiracies.

Ligonier Township, Pennsylvania

     A recent audit of the personal finances of 95-year-old Dr. Robert Monsour led to criminal charges against 58-year-old Maureen A. Becker who was hired in 2000 to take around-the-clock care of the doctor, and to look after his money. She has been charged with diverting to her own use, between January 2008 and March 2010, $340,000 of the old man's money. Becker stood accused of depositing, into her own bank account, $167,000 from the sale of 67 acres of the doctor's estate. When asked why she had diverted these funds to her own bank account, Becker claimed the money had been a gift from her employer. (This, apparently, was news to Dr. Monsour.) Becker also told investigators that the doctor had raised her salary from $300 a week to $800. Detectives also found that the suspect deposited a number of her employer's CDs into her account, money she claimed the doctor wanted her to have.

     The judge, following Becker's guilty plea, sentenced her in June 2012 to three years in prison.

New York City

     Anita Collins, in 1986 and 1999, pleaded guilty to fraud in connection with the theft of funds from a pair of her New York City employers. In return for her pleas, she avoided prison. In 2010, Collins, at age 65, worked in the finance office of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. She had been hired without a background investigation. In an article published in the archdiocese newspaper, Catholic New York, she received praise for volunteering at St. Patrick's Cathedral when Archbishop Timothy Dolan presided over a mass welcoming 600 people to Catholicism. Described as an "unassuming" person, Collins told the author of the piece that "My faith has always been a steadfast part of my life."

     An outside auditor, in November 2011, discovered $350,000 of the church's money missing. Following a criminal investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, Collins was charged with siphoning $1 million in church donations. Over a period of seven years Collins sent fake invoices to the archdiocese then issued some 450 checks to accounts she controlled. All of the transactions were in sums just under the $2,500 threshold that required a supervisor's approval.

     The church fired Anita Collins in December 2011. According to the chief investigator on the case, the suspect spent the $1 million on mortgage payments and on "a lifestyle that was not extravagant but was far from her lawful means."

     Collins pleaded guilty to grand larceny in the first degree in September 2012. In October 2012, the Manhattan judge sentenced her to 4 to 9 years in prison. The judge also ordered her to pay back the church.

Belgrade, Montana

      In November 2010, police were called in when members of the Belgrade Little League Baseball Association couldn't figure out why outstanding bills for uniforms and supplies had not been paid. During a period of four years, league board members had signed blank checks, and gave them to the treasurer, Amy Jo Erickson, to pay the bills.

     In January 2011, after the police discovered that $92,000 from the organization had vanished, they confronted Erickson. The little league treasurer admitted that she had made the blank checks out to herself in "cash," and to her husband's plumbing company. She started embezzling in 2007 because, according to court records, she "needed help financially."

     Anita Collins took money from the church and Amy Jo Erickson stole from the parents and sponsors of little league baseball players. These thieves weren't starving, they didn't use the money for life saving surgery, and they didn't play Robin Hood by giving it to the poor. They simply redistributed a little wealth to themselves.

     In October 2012, after Erickson pleaded guilty, the judge sentenced her to 180 days in the Gallatin County Jail. The judge ordered her to pay full restitution.

Lakewood, Washington

     On November 29, 2009, a police assassin named Maurice Clemmons walked into a coffee shop in Parkland, Washington and shot four Lakewood police officers to death. Two days later, a police officer in Seattle killed Clemmons in a gun battle. Following the mass murder, the police department formed a charity to help the families of the slain officers called the Lakewood Police Independent Guild (LPIG). Officer Timothy Manos became the treasurer of the fund.

     Although the 34-year-old treasurer received a police salary of $93,347 a year, Manos had serious financial problems. In June 2006, Ford Motor Credit Company sued him for $12,000 he owned in car payments. He had been sued for unpaid medical expenses, and owed a lot of money to credit card companies. He and his wife also enjoyed what some would consider an extravagant lifestyle.

     In 2010 and 2011, citizens in the Lakewood community donated $3.2 million to the fund from which Manos allegedly skimmed $150,000. During the period the FBI believed he was embezzling the money, this debt-ridden cop took his wife to Las Vegas to enjoy the Cirque du Soleil, and several nights of gambling. Also during this period, Manos spent $1,700 on snowboarding and other outdoor gear. He bought a high-definition video camera; a computer; a stainless-steel refrigerator; and a high-definition television set. Between February 12, 2010 and February 20, 2011 Manos withdrew $50,000 from ATMs.

     In March 2011, FBI agents arrested Manos on 10 counts of wire fraud. LPIG official placed Officer Manos on paid administrative leave pending the completion of the federal investigation.

     A federal judge in Tacoma, following Manos' guilty plea, sentenced him to 33 months in prison and ordered him to pay $159,000 in restitution.

     Stealing from the Catholic church and the little league is bad enough, but the ripping-off of a charity for the families of slain police officers by a fellow officer is as bad as it gets.            

The Golden Age of Detective Fiction

The Golden Age of detective fiction occurred between the two world wars, when several crucial developments changed the genre forever. The stories became more literate and the detectives more believable--no longer were they persons of super human intellect who could look at someone's shoes and determine where they had just been by the type of dirt collected there. Also, much more emphasis was put on period and character as opposed to merely constructing a clever puzzle.

Jay Pearsal, Mystery & Crime, 1995

Killing Sherlock Holmes

Arthur Conan Doyle was naturally gratified by his success but increasingly concerned that Sherlock Homes was damaging his aspirations to be considered a serious writer. As early as November 1891, only four years after Holmes's first appearance in print, he had written to his mother revealing that he was thinking of "slaying" Holmes in the final story of the first series. "He takes my mind from better things," he explained. Mary Doyle was horrified that he should think of eliminating the source of such a handsome income and urgently advised him to reconsider.

Russell Miller, The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle, 2008 

Novelist Lawrence Block on False Starts and Failures

     In the past two or three years I've had perhaps half a dozen ideas for novels that got no further than the first chapter. I've written three novels that got no further than the first chapter. I've written novels that died after I'd written over a hundred pages; they repose in my file cabinet at this very moment, like out-of-gas cars on a highway, waiting for someone to start them up again. I very much doubt they'll ever be completed.

     That's not all. During that same stretch of time I've seen two novels through to completion and succeeded only in producing books that no one has wanted to publish--and, I've come to believe, for good and sufficient reason. Both were books I probably shouldn't have tried writing in the first place. Both failures constituted learning experiences that will almost certainly prove beneficial in future work. While I could by no means afford the time spent on these books, neither can I properly write that time off as altogether wasted.

     But how could an established professional [author] write an unpublishable book? If he's written a dozen or two dozen or five dozen publishable ones in a row, wouldn't you think he'd have the formula down pat?

     The answer, of course, is that there's no such thing as a formula. Except in the genuinely rare instances of writers who tend to write the same book over and over, every novel is a wholly new experience.

Lawrence Block, Writing the Novel, 1979 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Writing Students Can't Take Criticism

     I have had creative writing students who could neither give nor take criticism without getting fiery red in the face and rough in the voice--so sensitive to personal slight that they could neither take it themselves nor dish it out, without a heavy component of hostility. Untreated, that disease can be fatal; even treated, it is uncomfortable.

     If criticism affects you that way, you are very unlikely to "make it" as a writer, because there is no way to learn, except through criticism--your own or someone else's.

Wallace Stegner, Teaching and Writing Fiction, 2002 

Violent Crime as Entertainment

American culture as a whole has cultivated a taste for violence that seems to be insatiable. We are a people obsessed with violence, and consequently, our entertainment industry is driven by such violence. The violence of our popular culture reflected in movies, TV programs, magazines, and fact or fiction books in the latter part of the twentieth century has made the shocking realism of this violence a routine task that we all face. Our own sense of humanity is anesthetized to the point of losing consciousness. [The trend has continued into the twenty-first century. A recent study showed that movies rated R in the 1990s are much milder than their modern counterparts. Moreover, the Internet is a venue for people who enjoy the aftermath of criminal deviance and raw violence.]

Steven A. Egger, The Killers Among Us, 1998

Executioners Got No Respect

Accounts of criminal trials published in old books and documents generally go into much deatil of the court proceedings. The judge's name, the lawyers' speeches, evidence given by the witnesses, even the prisoners' protestations, are covered in full. And when executions were held in public, news sheets described each one minutely, dwelling avidly on the victims's behavior, the crowd's reactions. Yet little if anything was said about the official presiding over the dreaded finale. He was referred to only as the "executioner," thereby implying that he was unworthy of further identification, except as an object of scorn.

Geoffrey Abbott, Lords of the Scaffold, 1991

Suspension of Disbelief in Fiction Reading

In any piece of fiction, the writer's first job is to convince the reader that the events he recounts really happened, or to persuade the reader that they might have happened (given small changes in the laws of the universe), or else to engage the reader's interest in the patent absurdity of the lie. The realistic writer's way of making events convincing is verisimilitude. The tale writer, telling stories of ghosts, or shape-shifter, or some character who never sleeps, uses a different approach: By the quality of his voice, and by means of various devices that distract the critical intelligence, he gets what Coleridge called--in one of the most clumsy famous sentences in all literature--"the willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith."

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, 1983 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The O. J. Simpson Murders: A "Crime of the Century"

     In America, the combination of celebrity worship and the fascination with violent crime has produced a dozen or so "crimes of the century." Obscure people, by virtue of their willingness to commit outrageous mayhem, can become instant celebrities. In the 20th century, unknown people like Bruno Richard Hauptmann, Mark Chapman, David Berkowitz, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Ted Kaczinski, because of who or how many people they murdered, propelled themselves into the history books. Assassins Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, and Sirhan Sirhan committed acts of violence that changed the direction of history.

     In Kansas, the 1959 Clutter family killers, Richard Hickok and Perry Smith, destined to remain relatively obscure despite their mass murder, were immortalized by celebrity author Truman Capote whose book In Cold Blood became a bestseller, a movie, and as a "nonfiction novel," a literary classic. Charles Manson, Erik and Lyle Menendez, Ted Bundy, and other convicted killers of the 20th Century, were regularly seen on TV as celebrity criminals being interviewed by celebrity reporters.

     In my opinion, the 20th century saw three "crimes of the century:" The Lindbergh Kidnapping; The John F. Kennedy Assassination; and the O. J. Simpson case. Charles A. Lindbergh was brought down by an unemployed illegal alien who abducted and murdered his 20-month-old son; President Kennedy by a deranged lone wolf; and O. J. Simpson by himself. These three cases rose above the rest because they involved two famous victims, and a famous defendant, all of whom were heroes to millions of people.

     There have been dozens of books written about the Lindbergh and Simpson crimes, and more than 500 books on the Kennedy assassination. In the Lindbergh and Kennedy cases, many of these works feature revisionist history by crime writing hacks. Notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence of his guilt, there have been authors who have made literary cases for O. J. Simpson's innocence.

The O. J. Simpson Case and its Aftermath

     From the June 1994 day in Los Angeles when Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were viciously stabbed and slashed to death outside of O. J. Simpson's ex-wife's condo, to Simpson's October 1995 murder acquittal, the O. J. Simpson case dominated the news in the United States and abroad. His acquittal at the hands of a stupid jury shocked the nation. In February 1997, a civil jury found Simpson liable for the wrongful deaths of his ex-wife and her friend, awarding the plaintiffs $8.5 million in compensatory damages. The civil court judge also ordered Simpson to turn over his 1968 Heisman Trophy, an Andy Warhol painting, his golf clubs, and other personal assets.

     In September 2007, O. J. and a group of his associates entered a room at the Palace Station hotel-casino in Las Vegas where they stole, at gunpoint, sports memorabilia from a dealer in that kind of stuff. O. J.'s accomplices, upon arrest, quickly agreed to plead guilty and testify against Simpson. A year later, after being found guilty of robbery, assault, and kidnapping, Simpson was on his way to prison where he would have to serve at least nine years before being eligible for parole. He was now 65, and serving his time at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada.

     The O. J. Simpson case, involving DNA analysis, blood spatter interpretation, shoe print identification, and forensic pathology, popularized forensic science. The not guilty verdict also introduced the public to the concept of jury nullification.

     The infamous double murder turned police detectives, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and the trial judge into instant celebrities. Several of the major players in the case cashed-in with lucrative book deals. A few became television personalities. The case put CNN on the map, and elevated the careers of more than a few talking-heads. In that respect, the effects of the Simpson case are still visible.

The Post-Conviction Lives of Key Simpson Figures

     The chief prosecutor, Marcia Clark, left the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office in 1997 just before the publication of her book (with Teresa Carpenter) Without a Doubt. Clark received a publisher's advance of $4.2 million. (An insane amount for a true crime book, and a much better deal for Clark than the publisher.) Clark, although criticized by many legal scholars and commentators for her handling of the case, parlayed it into a media career. A special correspondent for "Entertainment Tonight," Clark commented on the Casey Anthony trial for Headline News. She is now 61.

     Johnny Cochran, the chief defense attorney, was already known as a celebrity trial attorney before taking on O. J. Simpson as a client. In 1993, he had defended Michael Jackson against accusations of child molestation. At the Simpson trial, regarding the bloody crime scene glove, Cochran issued the now famous quote: "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." He retired from his legal practice in 2002, and on March 29, 2005, died of an inoperable brain tumor. He was 67.

     Judge Lance Ito, the man who presided over the 9-month trial, was severely criticized by legal scholars for letting the proceeding degenerate into a media circus and television soap opera. In his book, Outrage, Vincent Bugliosi, the man who prosecuted Charles Manson and his crew (Helter Skelter), accuses Ito of judicial incompetence in the case. Ito, now 63, retired recently as a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.

     After the Simpson trial, Marcia Clark's assistant, Christopher Darden, worked as a legal commentator for CNN, Court TV, and NBC. His book on the case is called In Contempt. Darden has since written several other books, including a crime thriller with writer Dick Lochte. He is 58 and practices law in southern California.

     If the Simpson case produced a law enforcement villain, it was Mark Fuhrman. The Los Angeles police detective was accused of planting the bloody crime scene glove. Convicted of perjury, Fuhrman was sentenced to three years probation. (There was never solid proof that Detective Fuhrman planted any evidence in the case.) The former Marine, in the years since the Simpson trial, rehabilitated his image by becoming a successful author of nonfiction crime books. In addition to his book on the Simpson case, Murder in Brentwood, Fuhrman has written Murder in Greenwich, a bestseller about the Martha Moxley case. He was also a regular crime commentator on Fox News. He is 62

     In May 2016, O. J. Simpson came up for parole in the Las Vegas robbery/kidnapping case. The parole board denied his request for early release. On July 21, 2017, the parole board paroled Simpson and allowed him to live in Miami, Florida. 

The AR-15: America's Favorite Rifle

     The Colt AR-15, often known as the assault rifle, has captured the imagination of gun enthusiasts who are drawn to its sleek form, portability and ease of use, as well as a mystique born of its connection to the M-16, its combat cousin from the Vietnam War.

     Part of the appeal of the firearm stems…from the ability to "accessorize it like a Barbie doll," given  extras like interchangeable optics systems and gun barrels. Its military pedigree and appeal to hobbyists has helped spur sales of 5 million AR-15s in the last two decades, with most of these buys coming in just the past six years. According to industry figures, nearly one of five guns sold in the U. S. is now a semi-automatic AR-15-style rifle….

     Even with the renewed effort to ban them, AR-15-style rifles appear to have attained a level of cultural currency rivaling the six-shooter that "Won the West" and Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum.

Andrew Blankstein, "The Most Loved, and Hated, Gun in America," NBC News, December 13, 2013

Literary License in Creative Nonfiction

     The term literary license is often used in reference to writers who manipulate truth and accuracy in stories--what really happened--to enhance dramatic impact and, therefore, to make a story more readable or exciting.

     Creative nonfiction writers, however, are permitted a different form of literary license: to use the literary devices previously and exclusively available to the fiction writer in the writing of their true and accurate creative nonfiction stories. In other words, nonfiction writers cannot alter the facts, but they can capture and present them much more dramatically.

Lee Gutkind, The Art of Creative Nonfiction, 1997

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Prison Health Care: Providing the Best For The Worst

     There is something profoundly wrong with a government that provides convicted felons with better health care than it does to many sick people who haven't committed crimes against their fellow citizens. Perhaps this is what happens when a criminal justice system is organized around the idea of protecting the defendant. In Massachusetts, for example, a judge ordered the state to finance the sex change of a man who had murdered his wife. If Robert Kosilek hadn't strangled his wife to death, taxpayers would not have been forced to pay the cost of changing him into a female.

     In 2005, a judge in California, after determining that prison health in that state was unconstitutionally substandard, granted a so-called "receiver" the power to hire state medical personnel and set their pay levels. In 2004, the prison health care bill cost California taxpayers $1.1 billion. In 2012, the cost of providing California inmates quality health care cost the state $2.3 billion. Between 2005 and 2012, the number of California prison system health care workers--doctors, nurses, dentists, physical therapists, and psychiatrists--jumped from 5,100 to 12,000. The system also employed 1,400 health care paper shufflers.

     In 2011, 44 of California's highest paid employees worked in the prison health care system. A psychiatrist who worked at the Salinas Valley State Prison, made $803,271 in 2012. (This shrink must  have been good.) A prison doctor in northern California made, in 2011, a base salary of $239,572 plus $169,548 in overtime for working nights and weekends. A registered nurse at the High Desert State Prison pulled down $246,000 that year. In bankrupt California, when it comes to health care, nothing is too good for the state's 124,700 state prison inmates. (These prison health care expenses don't cover the tens of thousands of county jail prisoners throughout the state.)

     Since 2006, heroin addicted inmates at Albuquerque's Metropolitan Detention Center, New Mexico's largest jail, have been treated with methadone to ease the trauma of withdrawal. Warden Ramon Rustin, in November 2012, announced that the $10,000-a-month program was too expensive, that the taxpayers of his county simply couldn't afford this in-jail drug treatment measure. Rustin, the former warden of the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with 32 years experience in the corrections field, said he didn't believe the costly program helped drug-addicted inmates stay out of jail once they were released.

     A month after Warden Rustin's effort to save the county serious money, the  county ccommissioners ordered him to extend the program two months during which time a study of its effectiveness would be conducted. (This is typical government. In the private sector, studies of cost-effectiveness are ongoing, and if a measure wastes money, it's immediately cut.) The county also received $200,000 a year from the state to help fund its methadone program.

     When a person commits a crime that is serious enough to land him in prison, any health care he or she receives while in custody should be treated as a privilege rather than a constitutional right. The rule should be this: If you want good health care, don't murder anyone, rob a store, break into a home, beat your wife and children, or commit a sexual assault. If good health is your priority, exercise, quit smoking, eat right, and stay off drugs and booze. Also, get a job. If you feel the need to switch genders while in prison, fine, but you don't deserve to have law obeying taxpayers foot the bill.

     In the United States, when it comes to health care, crime pays, and at the huge expense of the law obeying tax payer. (Here's an idea, if you get sick and need an expensive operation you can't afford, but don't want to rob a bank or kill someone, stop paying your taxes.)  

A Bad Novel is as Hard to Write as a Good One

When it comes to the novel you have to work long and hard even to produce a bad one. This may help explain why there are so many more bad amateur poets around than there are bad amateur novelists. Writing a good poem may be as difficult as writing a good novel. It may even be harder. But any clown with a sharp pencil can write out a dozen lines of verse and call it a poem. Not just any clown can fill 200 pages with prose and call it a novel. Only the more determined clowns can get the job done.

Lawrence Block, Writing the Novel, 1979

What To Do If You Want to Write a Novel

If you want to write a novel, the best thing you can do is take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass.

Lawrence Block, Writing the Novel, 1985 

Science Fiction Versus the Fantasy Genre

If the story is set in a universe that follows the same rules as ours, it's science fiction. If it's set in a universe that doesn't follow our rules, it's fantasy. [It's the rocket ship versus the magic carpet.]

Orson Scott Card, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1990

Monday, May 8, 2017

Writing Your Memoir

     A memoir takes a certain amount of arrogance to write….One must think one's life is important or interesting enough to palm off on an unsuspecting public. At least fiction writers have the pretense that their work has more to do with their characters than with themselves. Still, I doubt you'd find much of a difference between a memoir writer and a fiction writer in the humility department.

     Or maybe memoir writers tend more toward exhibitionism, are more willing--eager, in fact--to slap their cards on the table and squawk, "Read 'em and weep." The fiction writer, cagier, plays his hand close to his vest, pretends he knows how to bluff.

     If you write your life down on the page, beginning with "I was born in…" and ending with, "As I pen these immortal words, I gasp my last breath," what you've probably got is a self-indulgent autobiography, not a memoir. A memoir usually deals with a portion of one's life--say, childhood--not the life in its entirety.

Robin Hemley, Turning Life Into Fiction, 1994