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Monday, July 31, 2017

The Jason Young Murder Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning to Write From Writers

     The serious student of writing and the teacher of writing should know that the extensive testimony of writers has largely been ignored by composition researchers. What writers know about their craft has been dismissed as the "lore of the practitioner."...

     Researchers usually dismiss what writers say about writing because they believe that writers do not know, intellectually, what they do. But writing is an intellectual act, and writers who are able to repeat acts of effective writing demonstrably know what they are doing. And they are articulate in sharing it.

Donald M. Murray, Shoptalk: Learning to Write With Writers, 1990

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sherlock Holmes: Arthur Conan Doyle's Gold Mine

[In 1891] I made my first effort to live entirely by my pen. It soon became evident that I had been playing the game well within my powers and that I should have no difficulty in providing a sufficient income…The difficulty of the Sherlock Holmes work was that every story really needed as clear-cut and original a plot as a longish book would do. One cannot without effort spin plots at such a rate. They are apt to become too thin or break. I was determined, now that I had no longer the excuse of absolute pecuniary [financial] pressure, never again to write anything which was not as good as I could possibly make it, and therefore I would not write a Holmes story without a worthy plot and without a problem which interested my own mind, for that is the first requisite before you can interest anyone else.

Arthur Conan Doyle in Russell Miller, The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle, 2008

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Writing As A Lonely, Insecure Occupation

     The writer's life is inherently an insecure one. Each project is a new start and may be a failure. The fact that a previous item has been successful is no guard against failure this time.

     What's more, as has often been pointed out, writing is a very lonely occupation. You can talk about what you write, and discuss it with family, friends, or editors, but when you sit down at that typewriter, you are alone with it and no one can possibly help. You must extract every word from you own suffering mind.

     It's no wonder writers so often turn misanthropic or are driven to drink to dull the agony. I've heard it said that alcoholism is an occupational disease with writers.

Isaac Asimov, I. Asimov: A Memoir, 1994

Friday, July 28, 2017

Crime Novelist Elizabeth George on Writing Groups

People want to know what I think about writing critique groups. I belonged to one briefly, but I didn't use it much. I prefer now to use the services of a cold reader when the book is done. But if you're going to belong to a group, check it out carefully before you commit yourself to joining. It there's someone in there with an ax to grind, don't become a member. If the group isn't solution-oriented, just saying things like, "I have a problem with X" (your character, your plot, your scene, or whatever) without proposing a solution to the problem or a way to approach developing a solution, just pass them by. If you don't feel good about the group dynamic, trust yourself and don't join up. [My advice, for what it's worth: Forget writing groups. Most members are unpublished and can't help you. Moreover, why waste your time helping others improve their writing? Work on your own stuff. Writing groups are a waste of time.]

Elizabeth George, Write Away, 2004 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Using a Pen Name

Pseudonyms are especially attractive to fiction writers, whose work (inventing people and seeing the world through their eyes) requires an impersonation, of sorts. Writing under a pen name is like doing an impersonation of someone doing an impersonation. I've fantasized about using an alias, but my fantasy mostly entails making a lot of money writing a quick horror novel. [Unless you write in that genre, good luck with that.]

Francine Prose, "Bookends," The New York Times Book Review, November 17, 2013

Does Perfectionism Cause Writer's Block?

     Much of the self-help literature on writer's block falls into the category of creativity enhancement. One popular approach tries to decrease the writer's perfectionism, or to silence his or her inner critics. This theme implicitly draws on the psychoanalytic concept of the superego, that internalized, harshly judgmental representation of parental and societal values. Yet lofty values alone are not sufficient to cause writer's block. Writer's block requires not just the inability to write as well as you want, but the inability to write anything less than you want. What drives that inability is the belief--usually unconscious--that it is better to write nothing than to write poorly…

     Perfectionism certainly causes some block. But it is invoked as a cause a little too often; it is such a comfortable explanation of your block. It is easier to tell people that you haven't published much because you have such high standards, than that you are disorganized or inhibited or love to play tennis.

Alice W. Flaherty, The Midnight Disease, 2004  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Writing In The FantasyGenre Is Not Easy

So many writers think fantasy is easy. All you have to do is rip off some elves, goblins, and a few other things from Tolkien and spend about 10 minutes making up imaginary words and another 10 minutes working up a rough idea of the country and a little local history and bingo, you're in business. You're a fantasist. It's not like that. What made Tolkien unique is that he spent 50 years building his world, and he built it from the inside out.

Peter S. Beagle in The Writer's Handbook, edited by Alfrieda Abbe, 2004 

The Benefits of Writing

We [women] have come to think that duty should come first. I disagree. Duty should be a by-product. Writing, the creative effort, the use of the imagination, should come first,--at least for some part of every day of your life. It is a wonderful blessing if you will use it. You will become happier, more enlightened, alive, impassioned, light-hearted and generous to everybody else. Even your health will improve. Colds will disappear and all the other ailments of discouragement and boredom.

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

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Bernard Shaw on Literary Critics

I have never been able to see how the duties of a critic, which consists largely in making painful remarks in public about the most sensitive of his fellow creatures, can be reconciled with the manners of a gentleman. But gentleman or no, a critic is most certainly not bound to perjure himself to shield the reputation of the profession he criticizes.

Bernard Shaw in Never in Doubt by Peter S. Prescott, 1986 

The Value of Rewriting

Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it's where the game is won or lost. That idea is hard to accept. We all have an emotional equity in our first draft; we can't believe that it wasn't born perfect. But the odds are close to 100 percent that it wasn't. Most writers don't initially say what they want to say, or say it as well as they could. The newly hatched sentence almost always has something wrong with it. It's not clear. It's not logical. It's verbose. It's klunky. It's pretentious. It's boring. It's full of clutter. It's full of cliches. It lacks rhythm. It can be read in seven different ways. It doesn't lead out of the previous sentence...The point is that clear writing is the result of a lot of tinkering.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, originally published in 1975

Monday, July 24, 2017

Writing The How-To Article

Some kinds of writing are more debilitating than others, and it took me years to learn which, for me, is which. Instructional writing--the pure how-to article--is the worst.

John Jerome, Writing Trade, 1992

Categories Within The Mystery Genre

The term mystery, as in mystery novel, is an umbrella that shelters a variety of subgenres: the traditional whodunit, the private eye, the classic puzzle, the police procedural, action/adventure, thriller, espionage, the novels of psychological and romantic suspense.

Sue Grafton, Writing Mysteries, 1992 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

What is Literary Success?

     It is important to establish your own definition of success. Is it one story? A completed manuscript? One appreciative reader? Publication? A bestseller? A number-one bestseller? Ten number-one bestsellers?…

     [According to writer Irvine Walsh]: "I'll just write until I can't write anymore. If my next book was my last book, I wouldn't care at all. If my next book was my two hundredth from last, it wouldn't bother me. You can only write so long as you've got something to say. I don't think there's any particular virtue in being a writer."

In Ian Jackman, editor, The Writer's Mentor, 2004 

The Pompous Writer

     Sometimes it takes courage to drop our pretensions, to choose use instead of utilize, rain instead of precipitation, arithmetic instead of computational skills. An idea expressed in simple English has to stand on its own, naked and unadorned, while ostentatious words sound impressive even when they mean nothing.

     Not all pompous writers are showing off or covering up their ignorance. Some are just timid, imagining that their ideas are flimsy or flawed or silly, even when they aren't. If you've done your homework, you shouldn't have to disguise your ideas with showy language. Be brave. Write plainly.

     The truth about big, ostentatious words is that they don't work as well as simple ones.

Patricia T. O'Conner, Words Fail Me, 1999

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Not Everyone Is a Fan of Russian Literature

The one genre I absolutely cannot stand is Russian literature. You need genealogy charts to just figure out the characters, every novel is a thousand pages and pretty much everyone dies.

Jodi Picoult, The New York Times Book Review, October 12, 2014 

Sociopaths and Conflict of Interest

It is impossible to explain the concept of conflict of interest to an unethical lawyer, stock broker, or real estate agent. That's because these sociopaths only recognize one interest--their own. So where's the conflict?

Jim Fisher

When to Blow a Bad Book Out of the Water

Is a reviewer ever justified in attempting to blow a bad book out of the water? I think the answer is yes, but the reviewer must choose his targets with the greatest of care. It's not enough for the book to be bad; other elements must be present: smugness; pretentiousness; and over inflated reputation; clear evidence that a book's badness is not the result of incompetence, but of deliberate design. Such books represent an assault on the republic of letters and should not be ignored.

Peter Prescott, Never in Doubt, 1986

James F. Neal on Trial Technique

You wait for the prosecutor to make a mistake and hope that your total, thorough preparation will allow you to take advantage of that mistake. And they will make mistakes....I never take the chance that will result in a bad error. I try not to stretch what I'm doing into making a mistake--not to try to put on too much cross-examination, not to put a witness on who might either be a great witness or a disaster. If someone is going to win a case against me, they're going to beat me. But I don't beat myself.

 James F. Neal in Emily Couric, The Trial Lawyers, 1988 [James Neal, the famed trial attorney, was one of my professors at Vanderbilt University Law School. Neal also became an actor who appeared in several theatrical movies. He died in 2010.]   

Friday, July 21, 2017

Writing About Animals

I write about animals because I really like animals. I'm also interested in the animalistic side of human nature, and when and why humans cross over into doing very violent things. [When animals become gratuitously violent they are acting like humans. In other words, violent human behavior is more humanistic than animalistic.] Writing about animals is a way of getting at readers' emotions. People sometimes open up their emotions to animals more easily than they do other people. You see that with the way people get so obsessed with their pets. A big thing you see in New York is a person walking their dog with a diamond-stud collar, right past a homeless person. [Unlike people, dogs do not become paranoid schizophrenics.] That interests me as well. My stories are about people, but I use animals as vehicles to get at the people.

Carole Burns, Off the Page, 2008

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Dead White Guy Classroom Literature

I don't love women writers enough to teach them. If you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. [Elmore Leonard, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anton Chekhov, Marcel Proust, Leo Tolstoy, Henry Miller, and Philip Roth.]

 David Gilmour, novelist and professor at the University of Toronto. Hazlitt.com, September 26, 2013 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Writer Buried in Books

     I've decided that books are my enemy, though they used to be my great love. They are taking over. They crowd my dining room, they double up in the bedroom, they make the attic floor sag. We even have a library in the bathroom: shelves and shelves of books where a normal person might have a vanity table or piles of towels….

     I once went through our library and calculated that my husband and I had read about a third of the books that we own, and I think, as we buy more books and read of third of what we buy, that the statistic is more or less holding up. Sometimes we even buy a book and go to put it on one of our few organized shelves only to find that it is already there….

     We have a psychological problem and we recognize it: We never get rid of books….It's a sick relationship we have with these piles of pages between covers. Most people wold be secretly bragging if they said this, but I'm not bragging. I think it's weird and demented. Maybe I'm so involved with my books' fate because I am a writer, and I can all too well imagine a reader taking one of my books and cosigning it to the trash heap.

Amy Wilentz, "…One Book Out," The New York Times Book Review, August 4, 2013

Science Writing

Science writing has a reputation for bloodlessness, but in many ways it is the most human of disciplines. Science, after all, is a quest, and as such it's one of the oldest and most enduring stories we have. It's about searching for answers, struggling with setbacks, persevering through tedium and competing with colleagues all eager to put forth their own ideas about how the world works. Perhaps most of all, it's about women and men possessed by curiosity, people who devote their lives to pursuits the rest of us find mystifying or terrifying--chasing viruses, finding undiscovered planets, dusting off dinosaurs or teasing venomous snakes.

Michelle Nijhuis, "The Science and Art of Science Writing," The New York Times, December 9, 2013

Sherlock Holmes on Vigilantism

I think that there are certain crimes which the law cannot touch, and which therefore, to some extent, justify private revenge.

Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Raymond Chandler on Dashiell Hammett

In the late 1930s Raymond Chandler extrolled the virtues of Dashiell Hammet (who, he felt, took murder out of the library and put it back on the streets where it belonged) and defined the hard-boiled detective genre in an essay for the Atlantic Monthly entitled, "The Simple Art of Murder." He might have been writing a justification of his own work as well: uncluttered prose, lots of metaphors, a wisecracking detective (Philip Marlowe), and the mean streets of a tough and uncaring city.

Nancy Pearl, Book Lust, 2003 

Seasoning Your Writing With Humor

Most writers aren't relentlessly funny from beginning to end, and they don't have to be. A pinch of humor that works is better than a potful that doesn't. For most of us humor is merely seasoning; it's not the whole dish.

Patricia O'Conner, Words Fail Me, 1999

Does The Death Penalty Deter Murder?

When we look closely into it, there are two categories of people who commit murder: (1) Those who are sane (know the nature and quality or consequences of their act) but hope to escape the penalty; (2) Those who are insane, and these either do not know or do not care what they do. Homicides are either the one or the other, so it is difficult to appreciate the deterring effect of the death penalty upon their minds. I am not a psychologist or metaphysician, or even a theologian, so I cannot resolve this difficult problem except by saying that, if a man knows what will happen as a result of an act of his, and hopes so strongly to escape the consequences that he actually commits the act, a contemplation of the possible penalty does not seem to hinder him.

Charles Duff, A Handbook on Hanging, 2001 reprint of 1961 edition 

Origins of Violent Behavior in Women

A more compelling culprit [for violent behavior in women] than hormones may be the wiring of the human brain, in a way that does not discriminate one sex from the other....Frontal lobe damage, for example, can cause perfectly calm people to lose their impulse control, which is usually governed by the cerebral cortex. They revert to the most primal emotions, zooming from annoyance to homicidal fury in a matter of seconds, with no mood in between. We know this in its less extreme form as "hair-trigger temper." Its more voluble expression is called "episodic aggression," or "rage attacks." But why would it affect only men?...How many women undergo this Jekyll and Hyde transformation? Thousands? The scientific literature is mum. Men are the standard bearers of violence, and masculine violence is the measure.

Patricia Pearson, When She Was Bad, 1997 

Monday, July 17, 2017

The David Pichosky/Rochelle Wise Murder Case

     In 2008, a year after his wife died of breast cancer, David "Donny" Pichosky, on a blind date arranged by his children, met Rochelle Wise. Donny, an active member of Toronto, Canada's Shaarei Shomayin Synagogue, a modern Jewish Orthodox congregation, retired after selling his office-carpet business in the North York section of the city. Rochelle, a divorcee, had retired in 2005 as a teacher and vice principal of the Bialik Hebrew Day School just outside of Toronto. She was also the founding director of the Crestwood Valley Day Camp. Shortly after their blind date, the couple were married.

     In 2013, the 71-year-old Pichosky and his 66-year-old wife were wintering in Venetian Park, an affluent island neighborhood in Hallandale Beach, Florida, a town of 38,000 located between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Surrounded by canals and waterways, the snowbirds resided in a stucco townhouse amid palm trees and the other pastel-colored dwellings. Donny and Rochelle must have felt safe living in this gated, security guard patrolled retirement enclave. (In 2012, there had been four criminal homicides in Hallandale Beach.)

     On Wednesday, January 9, 2013, Danny and Rochelle failed to show-up for a lunch date with a neighbor. The friend made several calls to the couple that were not returned. The next day, at six-thirty in the evening, a friend with a spare key entered the townhouse to check on the couple. The neighbor found Donny and Rochelle dead. Shortly after the discovery, a spokesperson with the Hallandale Beach Police Department announced that the Canadian retirees had been murdered.

     According to the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office, the Canadian Couple had been murdered in their home. The cause of their deaths: asphyxiation either by hand or by ligature.

     In April 2013, Hallandale Chief of Police Dwayne Flourney told a reporter with the Miami Herald that detectives were looking for an intruder or intruders who had been motivated by robbery. Rochelle Wise's wedding band--valued at $16,000--was missing from the dwelling. Investigators asked local pawn shop operators to report anyone coming to their places of business with the platinum, five half-carat white diamond ring. (I presume the ring and it's description has been entered into the National Crime Information Center database.)

     A month before publicizing the missing ring, the police released a video taken from a neighbor's surveillance camera that showed a woman walking toward the rear of the murdered couple's home. That person remained unidentified. Detectives believed the murders were committed by two people.

     Cases involving home invasion criminal homicides in places once considered relatively safe from crime make residents of that community quite fearful. The double-murder in Venetian Park put a lot of pressure on the local police to identify and catch the perpetrators.

     On January 8, 2014, a spokesperson for the Hallandale Beach Department held a press conference on the Pichosky murder case. It had been almost a year since the double murder. According to the spokesperson, crime scene investigators recovered DNA profiles of two women from the murder site. This DNA evidence did not match anyone who had access to the Pichosky home.

     In addition to the DNA, a partial shoe print left at the murder scene was identified as an Adidas model shoe that had been out of production since 2000. Over the past year, detectives had questioned more than fifty people in the investigation of the case. A $57,000 reward had been posted for information leading to the identify of the killer or killers.

     This is one of those frustrating cases where the police  have physical evidence but no suspects to match it to. Eventually someone will identify a suspect. Once that happens, the resolution of the case will be in the hands of the forensic scientists. It's just a matter of time.

     In January 2015, Jamie Wise, Rochell's son, wrote a letter to Florida Governor Rick Scott requesting the appointment of another law enforcement agency to take over the unsolved murder case. "What is desperately needed," he wrote, "is a fresh set of eyes, an independent investigation by an experienced entity capable of cultivating new leads through diligence, openness and the willingness to collaborate more purposely with agencies throughout the state."

     The Hallandale Beach Police Department remained in charge of the still unsolved double-murder.

     In April 2016, Police Chief Dwayne Flournoy told reporters that the best lead in the case involved crime scene DNA phenotyping that pointed to a pair of unidentified females. Flourney said that the constant running the DNA profile through CODUS, the U.S. DNA database, had to date failed to identify the killers. (As of July 2017, the Wise/Pichosky murder case remained unsolved.)
    

The Editor-Writer Relationship

Eliciting revisions requires more than delicacy, it requires a certain understanding about the writer's general temperament and well-being. Some writers are dead serious about their work and defend each word. Some are deeply analytical and need only be presented with reasons to make changes. Others work on instinct and feeling; they traffic in nuance and tone. Some authors are humorless. I usually like to have a trial run of editing around seventy-five pages to see how an author responds before continuing on the entire text. Almost in a reversal of the authorial anxiety that attends handing in pages, I'm always anxious about the author's response. Will he or she take to my editing? When I hear about author-editor relationships that have run aground, it is usually the author who is cited as the malcontent. But it is also true that some editors fail to realize that an author needs more that the benefit of line-by-line editing; he needs someone who has the sensitivity to build confidence in the writer as he revises his text.

Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees, 2000

Write About What Interests You

Nothing in the world is inherently interesting--that is, immediately interesting, and interesting in the same degree, to all human beings. [What about murder?] And nothing can be made to be of interest to the reader that was not first of vital concern to the writer. Each writer's prejudices, tastes, background, and experience tend to limit the kinds of characters, actions, and settings he can honestly care about, since by the nature of our mortality we care about what we know and might possibly lose (or have already lost), dislike that which threatens what we care about, and feel indifferent toward that which has no visible bearing on our safety or the safety of the people and things we love. Thus no two writers get aesthetic interest from exactly the same materials.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, 1984

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Crime Lab Rogue

     Annie Dookhan, a chemist for the Massachusetts police, was sentenced to three to five years in prison after committing a fraud so extensive that her crimes call into question the validity of over 40,000 convictions.

     Dookhan worked in a laboratory examining evidence in drug cases. She was a go-to analyst for law enforcement and prosecutors, thanks to her rapid turnaround time and penchant for delivering much needed drug evidence to score convictions.

     Her record, however, was based on countless criminal fabrications. She falsified numerous reports, cut corners, forged signatures, inflated her credentials, lied about whether she was actually testing the lab samples she received and even tampered with evidence, according to NPR.

Robby Soave, The Daily Caller, November 25, 2013

How to Structure a Book

There's no formal school, so far as I know, where you can learn how to structure long forms of prose. Writing programs typically work with short forms, for the obvious reason that short forms can be examined productively within the brief compass of a course program. But the difference between long forms and short forms is precisely their structure, which means that you can't learn how to structure the one by studying the other. Fortunately, you can teach yourself long-form structure by reading books and analyzing how their authors assembled them.

Richard Rhodes, How to Write, 1995 

Loose Lips Sink Wiseguys

You know, sometimes I lose my temper, and I say, "Gee I wish somebody would bump that guy off," and then one of these young punks who wants to make a name for himself goes ahead and does it. And then I have to pick up the pieces.

Al Capone in Jerry Capeci, Wiseguy's Say the Darndest Things, 2004

Scenes as the Building Blocks of Creative Nonfiction

     Scenes (vignettes, episodes, slices of reality, and so forth) are the building blocks of creative nonfiction--the primary factor that separates and defines literary and/or creative nonfiction from traditional journalism and ordinary lifeless prose.

     The uninspired writer will tell the reader about a subject place, or personality but the creative nonfiction writer will show that subject, place, or personality in action.

Lee Gutkind, The Art of Creative Nonfiction, 1997

Saturday, July 15, 2017

"Serious" Fiction

The difference between the writer of serious fiction and the writer of escape entertainment is the clear difference between the artist and the craftsman. The one has the privilege and the faculty or original design; the other does not. The man who works from blueprints is a thoroughly respectable character, but he is of another order from the man who makes the blueprints in the first place.

Wallace Stegner, Teaching and Writing Fiction, 2002 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Writer Lajos Egri on Originality

     In the arts we cannot discover startling originality--only trends, styles, twists, slants, tricks, exaggeration, minimization, emphasis on parts instead of the whole. Originality, then, is rare in the field of literature and, for that matter, in all fields of art.

     If we consider originality almost non-existent, then what shall a writer strive for? Characterization. Living, vibrating human beings are still the secret and magic formula of great and enduring writing. Read, or better, study the immortals and you will be forced to conclude that their unusual penetration into human character is what has kept their work fresh and alive through centuries, and not because they may have a new "slant" which seemed to many to be "original."

Lajos Egri, The Art of Creative Writing, 1990 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Stephen King on Moral Fiction

     I've written a lot of stories about desperate people in desperate situations, and it gets to the point where you say to yourself: Here's a guy who's building something in his garage. He's all by himself, and he's hammering a nail into the board and hits his thumb instead, and blood spurts out. Now, does this guy say, "Oh, pickles"? Use your imagination. In other words, what I'm talking about is telling the truth. Frank Norris, who wrote The Pit, McTeague, and other naturalistic novels that were banned said: "I don't fear; I don't apologize because I know in my heart that I never lied. I told the truth." And I think the real truth of fiction is that fiction is the truth; moral fiction is the truth inside the lie. And if you lie in your fiction, you are immoral and have no business writing at all.

Stephen King, Secret Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing, 2000

Headlines Over Content

An inescapable truism about journalism is that form dictates content. The form of journalism--gimme a headline, gimme a story in the next hour or two, and gimme it in 500 or 250 words--subverts the content. It's easy for someone who is allowed 20,000 words and months to report a New Yorker story to say this, but it's nevertheless true that most editors don't allow reporters enough time or space to get a story's facts and context right.

Ken Auletta, Backstory: Inside the Business of News, 2003

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Depressed Writer

Depression can cause block in any field of creativity. But some psychiatrists think that depression is especially intertwined with and harmful to language because of the way depression drains away meaning. The French psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva described this process: "For those who are racked by melancholia, writing about it would have meaning only if it sprang out of that very melancholia. I am trying to address an abyss of sorrow, a noncommunicable grief that at times, and often on a long-term basis, lays claim upon us to the extent of losing all interest in words."

Alice W. Flaherty, The Midnight Disease, 2004 

The Ethical Dilemma of Journalism

There's an ethical dilemma in almost all journalism. In taking someone else's story and making it your own, in describing them on your terms, in ways they may not agree with.

Ted Conover in The New Journalism (2005) by Robert S. Boynton 

Where to Begin Your Story

Reading about first draft writing tactics has made me realize how many I've unconsciously developed over the years. [Shouldn't that be subconsciously?] One key anxiety reducer I've learned is not to worry about beginnings. It's too easy to panic while waiting for the perfect opening. Fiction writers typically know the conclusion of a story they set out to write, but rarely know how it will begin. Good leads usually show up late. In my own writing and that of my students, I generally find the best opening deep within a narrative. This opening only makes itself known as I read drafts, see what catches my eye, something that sets a tone, that gets the piece up and running. Knowing this, I don't concern myself with beginnings until the end.

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Confusing Short Story

Deliberately puzzling or confusing a short story reader may keep him reading for a while, but at too great an expense. Even just an "aura" of mystery in a short story is usually just a lot of baloney. Who are these people? What are they up to? Provoking such questions from a reader can be a writer's way of deferring exposition until he feels the reader is ready for the explanation of it all. But more likely it's just fogging things up. A lot of beginning writers' fiction is like of beginners' poetry: deliberately unintelligible as to make the shallow seem deep.

Rust Hills, Writing in General and The Short Story in Particular, 1987 

Can Writing Be Taught

     I find it both fascinating and disconcerting when I discover yet another person who believes that writing can't be taught. Frankly, I don't understand this point of view.

     I've long believed that there are two distinct but equally important halves to the writing process: One of these is related to art; the other is related to craft. Obviously, art cannot be taught. No one can give another human being the soul of an artist, the sensibility of a writer, or the passion to put words on paper that is the gift and the curse of those who fashion poetry and prose. But it's ludicrous to suggest and shortsighted to believe that the fundamentals of fiction can't be taught.

Elizabeth Gorge, Write Away, 2004

Raymond Carver on the Writer's Voice

The writer's voice is akin to style, but it isn't style alone. It is the writer's particular and unmistakable signature on everything he writes. It is his world and no other. This is one of the things that distinguishes one writer from another. Not talent. There's plenty of that around. But a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to his way of looking: that writer may be around for a time.

Raymond Carver in On Writing Short Stories, edited by Tom Bailey, 2000

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Who's Protecting Our Personal Data?

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

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

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

Writing Humorous Dialogue

Wordplay itself is not usually funny, only clever, unless it is attached to some other psychological force in the narrative…Most of the humor I'm interested in has to do with awkwardness: the makeshift theater that springs up between people at really awkward times…Bad jokes may be an expression of that awkwardness, without being inherently funny themselves. Of course, in including humor in a narrative a writer isn't doing anything especially artificial. Humor is just part of the texture of human conversation and life. In real life people are always funny.

Lorrie Moore, The Paris Review, Spring/Summer 2001 

Why Harry Potter Is So Endearing a Character

Harry Potter, like many heros of fantasy, is endearing because he is rather ordinary. Surrounded by magic, he is the quintessential young, insecure schoolboy, seeking friendship from peers and respect from adults, learning to trust others, trying to stand up for what he thinks is right. While engaging in ongoing struggles with evil creatures of darkness, he is also fond of sports, wizard trading cards, and jelly beans. In the best of fantasy, the world is infused with magic--but victory comes in the end, after all is said and done, from very human values of faith, courage and perseverance.

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

Friday, July 7, 2017

In Writing for Children Don't Put Theme Over Plot

The goal in writing popular books for both adults and children is identical: Fiction is entertainment. Your children's book should not be designed to teach a lesson, send a message, or expound upon a moral theme. A theme, such as honesty is the best policy or perseverance pays, may be implicit in the storyline, but the point should be made subtly by the outcome of the plot.

Sam McCarver in The Writer's Handbook, edited by Alfrieda Abbe, 2004 

Writing With a Day Job

     Writing is a job. It fits into a lot of other categories, too--compulsion, therapy, joy, art, and occasional nightmare. But, at the end of the day, it's a job. And--unless you're lucky--it's not your only occupation…

     I've always had to find time to write fiction as well as maintain a demanding day job…My day job feeds my writing in all kinds of ways. Quite apart from the fact you meet fascination people in professions that might just come in very handy for research, it gives you a structure.

     Like many people, if I have all day to write something, then writing it has a habit of taking me all day…Knowing I haven't got all day to write something makes me buckle down and get on with it…Setting your alarm an hour earlier in the morning and getting up to write with a cup of coffee before you start your normal day achieves a surprising number of words over a few weeks or months.

Zoe Sharp in How I Got Published, edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay, 2007 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Science Fiction in the 1940s

     To the American literary community--to the American arts establishment--the science fiction writers of the forties were invisible. There is no more graceful way to put this. There were, for the first half of the decade, almost no books at all: no anthologies, no reprints, no second-serial rights. Novels and stories were written for genre magazines of limited circulation, were published and went out of print, presumably forever....

     It must be understood that in certain respects science fiction was no different for its writers, offered nothing less, than did the other branches of popular literature. It was pulp and appeared in the torrent of pulp magazines which by the hundreds got on in various degrees of health until wartime paper shortages and, finally, the curse of television put almost all of them in the ground by the beginning of the fifties. Western and romance writers, adventure and sports pulpeteers, also worked for a half cent to two cents a word and knew that when the magazines went off sale their work would never be seen by a nonrelative or nonlover again.

Barry N. Malzberg, reprinted in Breakfast in the Ruins, 2007

Stephen King's First Novel

I wrote my first novel when I was a freshman in college and submitted it to a first-novel competition--I believe it was the Bennett Cerf competition. I thought the book had an outside chance, and I was enormously proud to have fathered such a wonderful creation at the age of nineteen. It was rejected with a short "Dear contributor" note, and I was too crushed to show that book to any publisher in New York.

Stephen King, Secret Windows, 2002 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Executions: The Thrill is Gone

     During the late Middle Ages (1000-1500), executions took place in the marketplace or in the village square, but by then they had become more formal, dignified, even ceremonial undertakings. Procedures were more elaborate; rage was blunted by formalities. For the grievous offenders of this time--a category including heretics--executions were elaborate highly planned exhibitions orchestrated by high officials. Rage was absent altogether in these pageants, but other strong emotions reigned. Most notably, there was excitement and awe, especially before the might and majesty of the Inquisition.

     Executions marked by a restrained ceremony were the norm during the early modern period (1500-1800). Crowds of spectators might have lapsed into unseemly behavior, but such behavior was sharply at odds with the formal execution script. These executions featured ritual and etiquette, as in the late Middle Ages, but little pomp or circumstance. Milder feelings, such as those of devotion were given an outlet in ceremony; excitement or awe was deemed inappropriately expressive. Officials and spectators were instead expected to show a quiet reverence, tinged by sadness.

     In the modern period (from 1800 on), ceremony gradually gave way to bureaucratic procedure played out behind prison walls, in isolation from the community. Feelings are absent, or at least suppressed, in bureaucratically administered executions. With bureaucratic procedure, there is a functional routine dominated by hierarchy and task. Officials perform mechanically before a small, silent gathering of authorized witnesses who behave with marked restraint. Executions have come to be seen as "dirty work." Hence, there is no communal involvement of any sort. The proceedings are antiseptically arranged; few of us get our hands soiled.

Robert Johnson, Death Work, Second Edition, 1998 

What is Literary Talent?

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

Stephen Koch, Writer's Workshop, 2003

Writer Self Censorship

Renowned editor and author Gordon Lish, in his famous writing class used to shock the assembled company by asking whether we were waiting for our parents to die before writing something worth reading. Some students were offended by this suggestion, but I felt it made a great deal of sense. [Today, the writing teacher's comment might get some students thinking about hiring a hit man. Just kidding, I think.] Writers tend to censor themselves for fear of what other people think, especially those at home.

Betsy Lerner, The Forest For the Trees, 2000

Criminologists Who Make Excuses For Criminals

     The criminal justice system's failure to provide justice was inevitable, given the deterministic premises of its modern architects. Criminologists Wilson and Herrnstein explained, "The modern liberal position on criminal justice is rehabilitative, not retributive, because the offender is believed to have been driven to his crimes, rather than to have committed them freely and intentionally…."

     Some "reformers" have even made their antipathy toward traditional conceptions of justice explicit. Here, two of them express acute discomfort with the classical symbol, Justitia--the familiar courtroom figure, robed and blindfolded, holding her scales and sword: "Though excellently symbolizing impartial, even-handed, and effective justice generally, Justitia is ill-equipped to meet our current demands from penal sentences…From her left hand she should drop the scales and put in its place the case history, the symbol of the full psychological, sociological, and criminological investigation of the individual criminal. Her right hand will find very little use for a sword in the modern penal system….Around her knees she would be well advised to gather the adolescent social sciences….Finally, it is essential that she removed the anachronistic bandage from her eyes and look at the developments on society generally…."

     A new kind of justice--"social justice" or "distributive justice"--was to replace the "anachronistic," Justitian sort. Since men were helpless playthings of circumstances, and since circumstances impinged upon men unequally, it was the moral duty of government to intervene and redress the resulting "injustices." Government, according to Excuse-Makers such as John Rawls, was not to be society's impartial umpire, but rather its meddling therapist.

     This outlook, largely a legacy of Rousseau's view of human nature, spawned the redistributionist welfare state. "If you are bright, accomplished, famous, well-off, virtuous--you're just lucky, you had nothing to do with it. [Remember Obama's comment: "You didn't build your business, government did."] You didn't deserve any of your success. Likewise, if you are stupid, lazy, corrupt, poor, mediocre, even criminal--you can't help that either. Therefore, 'distributive justice' requires that the government level the playing field."

     It also led logically to "a culture of instinctive 'sympathy for the devil,' " as one historian put it, "a feeling that criminals in this society are as much victims as victimizers, as much sinned against as sinners--if not more so."

Robert James Bidinotto, "Subverting Justice," in Criminal Justice?, Robert James Bidinotto, ed., 1994

Monday, July 3, 2017

Susan Sontag on the Perversity of the Novel

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

Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation, 1969 

Children's Books Are Not Watered Down Adult Literature

Children's books are not watered down adult books. They demand certain abilities of their authors, not the least of which is that of being able to tap into the minds and souls of young people and to project the voice of those people to the reader. You, as an experienced adult, have to see things objectively and yet have the ability to recall feelings and attitudes and viewpoints of your early years to the point that you can write about children convincingly.

Barbara Seuling, How to Write a Children's Book and Get It Published, 1991

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Writers on Writing

Most writers love to talk, and some of the things they love to talk about most is writing. In interviews and letters, in table talk and memoirs and manifestos, writers have always held forth in surprisingly full detail about how they do what they do. It adds to a vast, untapped literature on technique.

Stephen Koch, Writer's Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction, 2003

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Memo to Aspiring Novelists: It Helps to be A Little Nuts

In wanting to be a novelist, there must be something beyond rationality at work. Call it love or obsession, a need to express or a need for attention, an ability to communicate or an inability to shut up, but writers are clearly a little bit insane.

Erin Barratte and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type To Be A Writer, 2003


How Long Does it Take to Write a Novel?

Someone will always ask, "How long does it take you to write a novel?" I hardly ever give them the real answer. "It depends," I will say. "A year. Sometimes three or four." The real answer, of course, is that it takes your entire life. I am forty-four, and it took me forty-four years to get this novel finished. You don't mention this to too many people, because it can fill their hearts with sadness, looking at you and thinking, Jesus, forty-four years to come up with this? But it's always the truest answer. You could not have written it any sooner. You write the book when its time has come, and you bring your lifetime to the task, however few or many years you have behind you.

James D. Houston in The Writer's Life, Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks, editors, 1997