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Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Phil Spector Murder Case

     In the morning of February 3, 2003, Los Angeles County Sheriff deputies responded to a call from the Alhambra mansion owned by Phil Spector, the 67-year-old music producer who became famous in the 1960s for his "wall of sound." In the foyer, the deputies found 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson slumped in a chair. She had been shot once in the mouth by the .38-caliber Cobra revolver lying on the floor under her right hand. When the fatal shot had been fired, Clarkson and Spector were the only people in the house.

     Spector's chauffeur told the police that at five in the morning, he heard a noise that sounded like a gunshot. Shortly after that, he said Spector came out of the mansion carrying a handgun. According to the driver, Spector had said, "I think I killed somebody."

     The music producer had met the victim the previous night at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip where the struggling actress worked as a hostess for $9 per hour. When the nightclub closed for the night, she had accompanied Spector back to his house for a drink. According to Spector's account of the death, Lana Clarkson had committed suicide.

     The crime scene investigation and the analysis of the physical evidence featured forensic pathology, the location of the gunshot residue, and the interpretation of the blood spatter patterns. Los Angeles Deputy Coroner Dr. Louis Pena visited the scene, and conducted the autopsy. The forensic pathologist found bruises on the victim's right arm and wrist that suggested a struggle. A missing fingernail on Clarkson's right hand also indicated some kind of violence just prior to the shooting. Her bruised tongue led Dr. Pena to conclude that the gun had been forced into the victim's mouth. Its recoil had shattered her front teeth. Clarkson's purse was found slung over her right shoulder. Since she was right-handed, and would have used that hand tho hold the gun, the deputy coroner questioned suicide as the manner of death. Based on his crime scene examination and autopsy, Dr. Pena ruled Lana Clarkson's death a criminal homicide. The police arrested Spector who retained his freedom by posting the $1 million bail.

     Blood spatter analysts from the sheriff's office concluded that after the shooting, Spector had pressed the victim's right hand around the gun handle, placed the revolver temporarily into his pants pocket, later wiped it clean of his fingerprints, then laid it near her body. From the bloodstains on his jacket, the government experts concluded he had been standing within two feet of the victim when the gun went off. The absence of her blood spray on a nearby wall led the spatter analysts to believe that Spector had been standing between the victim and the unstained surface when he fired the bullet into her mouth. Gunshot residue experts found traces of gunpowder on Spector's hands.

     The forensic work performed by the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office and the sheriff's department had not been flawless. A dental evidence technician had lost one of the victim's teeth; a criminalist had used lift-off tape to retrieve trace evidence from the victim's dress which had interfered with the serology analysis; and the corpse had been moved at the scene, causing unnatural, postmortem blood flow from her mouth which compromised that aspect of the blood spatter analysis

     The Phil Spector murder trial got underway in May 2007. On June 26, the government rested its case. The defense led off with Dr. Vincent Di Maio, the former chief medical examiner of Bexar County, Texas. Dr. Di Maio, considered one of the leading experts on the subject of gunshot wounds, testified that he disagreed with the prosecution's experts who had asserted that blood spatter can travel only three feet from a person struck by a bullet. Dr. Di Maio said blood can travel more than six feet if a gun is fired into a person's mouth, the pressure from the muzzle gas that is trapped in the oral cavity creates a violent explosion. "The gas," he said, "is like a whirlwind, it ejects out of the mouth, out of the nose." (If the defendant had been standing six feet from the victim when the gun went off, he couldn't have placed the gun into her mouth.) Because 99 percent of intra-oral gunshot deaths are suicides, Dr. Di Maio opined that Lana Clarkson had killed herself. In the witness' 35 years as a medical examiner, he had seen only "three homicides that were intra-oral."

     In an aggressive cross-examination by the deputy district attorney, Dr. Di Maio was asked how much he had been paid for his work on the case. The former medical examiner said that his bill was $46,000, which did not include his trial testimony. Courtroom spectators laughed when Dr. Di Maio told his cross-examiner that the longer he kept him on the stand, the more it would cost the defendant.

     On September 18, 2007, the Spector jury, following a week of deliberation, announced they were deadlocked seven to five. Two days later, the judge sent them back to the jury room with a new set of instructions on how to determine reasonable doubt. In the Spector trial, the celebrity experts for the defense (including Dr. Henry Lee) did more than just muddy the water by pointing out mistakes and erroneous conclusions by the government's experts. They had offered a conflicting scenario backed by their interpretations of the physical evidence. In circumstantial cases like this, deadlocked juries are to be expected. The hung jury is what Phil Spector paid for, and it's what he got. The jury remained split, and the judge had to declare a mistrial.

     The second trial, this one not televised, got underway on October 20, 2008. The case went to the jury on March 26, 2009, and 19 days later, the jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. Two months later, the judge sentenced Phil Spector to 19 years to life. In May 2011, the California Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. The California Supreme Court, when it declined to review the case, guaranteed that Mr. Spector will die in prison. Because so many high-profile forensic scientists disagreed on the interpretation of the physical evidence in this case, it will not be a positive landmark in the history of forensic science.

     

The Role of the Forensic Psychiatrist

     When John Hinckley was found "not guilty by reason of insanity" after having shot President Ronald Reagan and two of his aides [in 1981] in full view of the national press corps, public furor brought the controversy concerning the use of psychiatric testimony in criminal trials to a boil.

     Critics [of psychiatrists in the courtroom], most of whom demand that psychiatrists be banished from all criminal trials, possess either a minimal or distorted understanding of just what a forensic psychiatrist does....[The critics] have forgotten that well before a psychiatrist ever entered an American courtroom, our legal system was already greatly concerned not only with what a man did wrong, but why he did it--what was going on in his head at the moment of his offense.

     It is a cornerstone of our system of justice that if a man perceives himself as innocent at the time of his offense, if he had not intended a wrongful outcome, then he is less culpable than someone whose crime was deliberate and committed with malice aforethought. Because of the preeminence of the principle that there are degrees of criminal liability, criminal trials necessarily go beyond the black-and-white issue of whether or not the accused pulled the trigger, and into the murky labyrinth of his intentions and motivations--his state of mind.

Dr. Martin Blinder, Lovers, Killers, Husbands and Wives, 1985

  

Traffic Laws Are For Civilians, Not Cops

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

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

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Police Involved Killing of David Hooks

     David Hooks, a respected and successful businessman lived with Teresa, his wife of 25 years, in an upper-middle class neighborhood in East Dublin, Georgia. Hooks' construction company did a lot of work on area military bases such as Hunter Army Airfield and Fort Stewart. This meant that Hooks had passed background investigations conducted by the Department of Homeland Security and the ATF.

     On September 22, 2014, a meth-addled burglar named Rodney Garrett, after he broke into Mr. Hooks' pickup truck, stole the family's Lincoln Aviator SUV. The next day, Garrett surrendered to deputies with the Laurens County Sheriff's Office.

     Perhaps to curry favor with the police, Garrett told deputies that in Mr. Hooks' pickup he came across a bag that he opened hoping to find cash. Instead he found 20 grams of methamphetamine and a digital scale. Before searching Mr. Hooks' house, officers knew they would need more than the word of a meth-addicted burglar and car thief to get a judge to sign off on a warrant. In an effort to bolster this  unreliable evidence, a deputy sheriff told the issuing magistrate that in 2009 another snitch said he had supplied Mr. Hooks with meth and that the businessman had resold it.

     The local magistrate, based on the word of a meth-using thief in trouble with the law and the six-year-old word of another snitch in another case that had gone nowhere, issued a warrant to search the Hooks residence for methamphetamine. By no stretch of the imagination was this warrant based upon sufficient probable cause.

     To execute the Hooks drug warrant, the sheriff, in typical drug enforcement overkill, deployed eight members of a SRT (Special Response Team) to raid the target dwelling with officers armed with assault weapons and dressed in SWAT-like combat boots, helmets, and flack-jackets.

     At eleven in the morning of September 24, 2014, just two days after Rodney Garrett broke into the Hooks pickup truck and stole their SUV, Teresa Hooks, while on the second-floor of her house, heard vehicles coming up the driveway. She looked out the window and saw several masked men with rifles advancing on the residence.

     Teresa Hooks ran downstairs into a first-floor bedroom where her husband was sleeping. She shook him up and screamed, "the burglars are back!" Mr. Hooks jumped out of bed, grabbed his shotgun and walked out of the bedroom as members of the raiding party broke down the back door and stormed into the house. In the course of the home intrusion, officers fired eighteen shots. Mr. Hooks did not discharge his weapon. At some point in the drug raid he was shot twice and died on the spot.

     According to the official police version of the fatal shooting of a man in his own home, Mr. Hooks came to the door armed with a shotgun. Officers broke into the dwelling after knocking and announcing their presence. When Mr. Hooks refused to lower his weapon, the officers had no choice but to shoot him dead. That was the story.

     A 44-hour search of the Hooks residence by deputy sheriffs and officers with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation failed to produce drugs or any other evidence of crime.

     On October 2, 2014, the Hooks family attorney, Mitch Shook, told reporters that the police had forced their way into the house without knocking or announcing themselves to execute a search warrant based upon bogus informant information. The attorney said Mr. David Hooks had been a respected businessman who had never used or sold drugs. The police, according to Mr. Shook, had no business raiding this house and killing this decent man.

     Attorney Shook, on December 11, 2014, made a startling announcement: When the police shot Mr. Hooks in the back and in the back of the head, he was lying face-down on the floor. Mr. Shook said he has asked the FBI to launch an investigation into the case.

     In July 2015, a Laurens County grand jury declined to indict anyone in the David Hooks killing. According to a crime lab toxicology report, Mr. Hooks, at the time of his death, had methamphetamine in his system. Mr. Hooks had been deaf in one ear.

     The FBI decided not to launch an investigation into this SWAT related shooting death.  

Georges Simenon on Writing a Detective Story

There is nothing easier than to write a detective story. For a start there is at least one corpse, more in American detective stories. Then there is an inspector or a superintendent who conducts the inquiry and who has the right to probe the past and present life of each of the characters. And finally there are the suspects, in varying numbers and different degrees of camouflage as the author decides will best lead to the final denouement.

Georges Simenon, The Man Who Wasn't Margret by Patrick Marnham, 1994 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Importance of Clarity in Nonfiction Writing

Any person who can speak English grammatically can learn to write nonfiction. Nonfiction writing is not difficult, though it is a technical skill. What you need for nonfiction writing is what you need for life in general: an orderly method of thinking. Writing is literally only the skill of putting down on paper a clear thought, in clear terms. Everything else, such as drama and "jazziness," is merely the trimmings. I once said that the three most important elements of fiction are plot, plot, and plot. The equivalent in nonfiction is: clarity, clarity, and clarity.

Ayn Rand, The Art of Nonfiction, 2001 

Is Writing For Children Easier Than Writing For Adults?

Even famous authors of books intended for adult readers have found that their fame does not transfer easily into the children's market. Renown in one area of writing does not necessarily smooth a path into an entirely different genre. And that is precisely what writing for children is: a different and separate writing area, not an easier one. It has its own difficulties and calls on special and specific skills from its practitioners.

Allan Frewin Jones and Lesly Pollinger, Writing for Children and Getting Published, 1996 

Arguing Over What is Right and What is Wrong in American Society

     Life in democratic societies is rife with disagreement about right and wrong, justice and injustice. Some people favor abortion rights, and other consider abortion to be murder. Some believe fairness requires taxing the rich to help the poor, while others believe it is unfair to tax away money people have earned through their efforts. Some defend affirmative action in college admissions as a way of righting past wrongs, whereas others consider it an unfair form of reverse discrimination against people who deserve admission on their merits. Some people reject the torture of terror suspects as a moral abomination unworthy of a free society, while others defend it as a last resort to prevent a terrorist attack.

     Elections are won and lost on these disagreements. The so-called culture wars are fought over them. Given the passion and intensity with which we debate moral questions in public life, we might be tempted to think that our moral convictions are fixed once and for all, by upbringing or faith, beyond the reach of reason.

     But if this were true, moral persuasion would be inconceivable, and what we take to the public debate about justice and rights would be nothing more than a volley of dogmatic assertions, an ideological food fight.

     At its worst, our politics comes close to this condition. But it need not be this way. Sometimes an argument can change our minds.

Michael J. Sandel, Justice, 2009

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The No-Body Murder Case

     Many missing persons cases involving young woman turn into homicide investigations when the victims are found dead. However, there are thousands of cases in which the missing women are not found but presumed dead. Many women who disappear without a trace were murdered by killers who did a good job of disposing of the their bodies. It's no secret that if the police don't have a corpse they probably won't be able to arrest anyone for murder. Notwithstanding disappearances that are highly suspicious, it generally comes down to this unpleasant reality: if there's no body, there's no homicide case.

     There are, however, exceptions to this rule. Prosecutors have pressed charges in homicide cases that do not feature a body. In these so-called no-body cases, prosecutors work without an autopsy report, have no time of death based upon postmortem biological changes, or physical evidence establishing the victims' exact causes of death. Moreover, there are no death scene photographs in no-body cases.

     Based on his research of no-body cases, Thomas A. Di Biase believes that in the United States, from 1843 to 2013, 380 homicide cases have gone to trial without the victims' remains. According to Di Biase, a former federal prosecutor, the conviction rate pertaining to these prosecutions is 89 percent.

     In a homicide case, the corpus delecti of the crime--the body or main element of the offense-- consists of proof that an unlawful death has occurred. The best evidence of an unlawful death is the corpse itself.

     So, without a body, can a prosecutor, by law, acquire a homicide conviction? That legal question was settled in a 1960 California appellate case titled, U.S. v. Scott. The state appeals court justices decided that a homicide defendant in a case without a body can lawfully be found guilty if the prosecution presents circumstantial evidence of an unlawful death that excludes other reasonable hypotheses regarding the missing person's fate. The prosecutor must also present sufficient evidence that the defendant was the person who unlawfully killed the missing person.

     Because juries understandably are uncomfortable with no-body homicide cases, prosecutors need strong circumstantial evidence that the missing person is dead, and that the defendant is responsible for that death. In establishing the necessary proof, it helps if detectives have located a probable killing site. Such a place might be a bed soaked in a large quantity of blood. The crime scene might also feature other types of physical evidence that suggests the occurrence of lethal violence. This evidence of course must be linked to the missing person, ideally through DNA analysis.

     It's also better if the prosecutor can place the defendant at the scene of the violence through fingerprints, hair follicles, semen, blood, shoe impressions, handwriting, or fiber evidence.

     The no-body case prosecutor will be helped if the defendant possessed a strong motive to kill the victim such as jealousy, lust, money, or revenge. If the defendant offers an alibi, the prosecution must be able to break that alibi. The presence of physical evidence linking the defendant to the crime scene will sometimes have that effect.

     Other circumstantial evidence against a homicide defendant in a no-body case might include conflicting statements by the defendant to the police, or a history of violence between the defendant and the missing person. Secretly recorded death threats by the defendant against the victim would also be relevant.

     If the no-body prosecutor doesn't have physical evidence from a probable crime scene to work with, a conviction won't be possible unless the defendant confesses to the police, a friend, or to a jailhouse snitch. The confession of an accomplice that implicates the defendant is good.

     Attorneys representing defendants in no-body cases usually portray the murder evidence as circumstantial, and therefore weak. Defense lawyers often remind jurors that they cannot convict the defendant if they have any reasonable doubt regarding his or her guilt.

     While the conviction rate of no-body cases brought to trial is high, only a small percentage of no-body suspects are charged with criminal homicide. Without a body, there is simply too much reasonable doubt to overcome.
     

The Effect of Literary Criticism on Writers

I hate orthodox literary criticism, the usual small niggling, fussy-mussy criticism, which thinks it can improve people by telling them where they are wrong, and results only in putting them in straitjackets of hesitancy and self-conscouness, and sapping all vision and bravery.

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, 1997 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Novelists Should Write For Themselves

My biggest struggle as a novelist is to put my own story on paper--not to be influenced by what I think my editor, my publisher, my friends, or the reader wants to see on the page. I need to get these people out of my writing space and focus on writing my story. If it resonates for me, it will resonate for my readers.

Joan Johnston in The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, edited by Andrew McLeer, 2008 

Young Readers Have Different Tastes Than Adults

Children and adolescents have their own distinctive ideas concerning humor, politics, and prose, and their tastes in these matters may strike older readers as sophomoric, gauche, ill-informed, or just dead wrong. Conversely, the young have a way of noticing that good manners can be oppressive, that the past is often irrelevant, and that emperors are sometimes naked. In short, the young are not lesser beings; they're just different.

Thomas M. Disch, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of, 1998 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Ralph Wald Murder Case

     In March 2013, Ralph Wald, a 69-year-old retired Army Lieutenant Colonel who fought in Vietnam, lived with his wife Johnna Flores in Brandon, Florida. The couple had been married since October 2012. She was 41.

     On Sunday, March 10, 2013, just before midnight, Wald got out of bed for a drink of water. En route to the kitchen he saw Johnna on the living room floor having sex with a man he didn't recognize. Wald immediately returned to his bedroom where he picked up his .38-caliber revolver. Back in the living room a few moments later, he shot his wife's sex partner in the stomach and head. The man died on the spot.

     After shooting 32-year-old Walter Lee Copley, who turned out to be one of Johnna's old flames from Riverview, Florida, Mr. Wald called the police. To the dispatcher he said that he had just shot a man he caught "fornicating" with his wife in their home. After the call, Mr. Wald laid down his gun and waited for the authorities to arrive at the death scene.

     Deputies with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office took Mr. Wald into custody that night. The next day, Hillsborough County Assistant State Attorney Chris Moody charged Ralph Wald with second-degree murder. A judge denied the murder suspect bail.

      The Wald case went to trial in Tampa, Florida just eleven weeks after Mr. Copley's death. Prosecutor Moody, in his opening remarks, told the jury that the defendant, who suffered from erectile dysfunction, killed the victim in a jealous rage.

     Defense attorney Joe Episcopo argued that his client thought Mr. Copley was an intruder raping his wife. Under Florida's stand your ground self-defense doctrine, the defendant had no duty to retreat from his own home.

     On the second day of the three-day trial, Johnna Flores took the stand for the defense. She testified that when her husband shot Mr. Copley she was "black-out" drunk from too much cognac. As a result, she had virtually no memory of the shooting.

     The defendant followed his wife to the stand. According to Ralph Wald, he and Johnna had planned to see a therapist regarding their sexual problem. "In fact," he said, "she would joke a lot with me that we were a perfect couple. She didn't want to do it, and I couldn't do it." The witness said he hoped to salvage his marriage. "I love my wife," he said.

     Prosecutor Moody, in his closing argument to the jury, said this about Mr. Copley: "It's a personal insult to conduct that kind of activity in a man's home, his castle. It cuts to the quick. It's brazen. That kind of deep and personal insult when you find another man having sex in your living room and you can't have sex yourself. This would make you want to lash out--and the defendant did."

     Defense attorney Episcopo, in addressing the jurors, said, "This was a military man trained to know what to do with the enemy. You take your gun and you kill the enemy."

     On May 30, 2013, the jury, after just two hours of deliberation, found the defendant not guilty. Ralph Wald embraced his two lawyers as his wife Johnna cried tears of joy.

     Members of Walter Copley's family who were in the courtroom when the verdict was read were not happy with the outcome of the case. 

How to Deal With a Bad Review

My favorite Kirkus review labeled my writing as "awkward and repetitious." I framed that one.

Charles Knief, mysterylinkonline.com, August 29, 2001 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Robert Van Handel: The Profile Of A Pedophile

     In 1994, Robert Van Handel, a 48-year-old Franciscan priest and former rector at St. Anthony's Seminary School in Santa Barbara, California, pleaded guilty to sexually molesting an 8-year-old student. He had been accused of molesting fifteen other boys between the ages 8 to 11, but those cases were too old to prosecute. In preparation for his sentencing hearing, the psychiatrist who evaluated Van Handel at the Pacific Treatment Associates in Santa Cruz, asked him to write a history of his sexual life. Van Handel complied, producing a detailed, 27-page memoir of a life devoted to sexually abusing boys.

     Van Handel's revealing description of his perverted thoughts and behavior provided a rare look into the twisted mind and life of a sexual predator. The document didn't come to light until 2006, the year the Franciscans, in a civil court settlement, paid twenty-five clergy abuse victims $28 million in damages. The church, in an attempt to keep Van Handel's revelations from the public, fought several newspaper organizations all the way to the California Supreme Court. The church lost. What follows is Van Handel's account of his life as a priest, teacher, and pedophile.

     In 1956, at age 10, Van Hendel and his family of seven settled in Orange County, California. Three years later, the 13-year-old, to escape his strict, demanding father who forced him to read a sex education manual that scared the hell out of  him, enrolled in the Franciscan run St. Anthony's Seminary School in Santa Barbara. Two years later, while in the infirmary with a fever, a priest sexually molested him. According to the seminarian pedophile who attacked him, this activity would, by making the sick boy sweat, draw the fever out of him.

     Over the next nine years, while at St Anthony's, Van Handel collected magazines featuring child pornography, and used a telephoto lens to take clandestine photographs of children. While he fantasized about having sex with young boys, Van Handel did not actually molest anyone during this period.

     In 1970, at age 24, Van Handel moved to Berkeley, California to pursue his master's degree at the University of California. While there, he formed a neighborhood boy's choir and molested a 7-year-old choir member. He also, during this period, raped his 5-year-old nephew.

     Robert Van Handel, as an ordained Franciscan priest, returned to St. Anthony's in 1975 where he taught English. He also became the director of the school choir. In his sexual memoir, the priest acknowledged that the school choir provided him with a steady supply of victims. An 11-year-old boy, a student he had been abusing since the child was 7, resisted for the first time after four years of molestation. In his memoir, Van Handel said that he was shocked by the rejection. He wrote, "He started to cry and that snapped something in my head. For the first time, I was seeing signs that he really did not like this." In another passage, the priest wrote: "There is something about me that is happier when accompanied by a small boy. Perhaps besides the sexual element, the child in me wants a playmate."

     Van Handel's relationships with his students and choir boys exemplified typical pedophile behavior. The priest rubbed their backs, photographed them tied-up in ropes, wrestled with them, and invented tickling games. (The Penn State pedophile, coach Jerry Sandusky, called himself the "tickle monster.") In his memoir of perversion, Van Handel, noted that the fact the boys couldn't stop him from doing what he wanted, turned him on. He wrote, "It was though I could do anything with them that I wanted."

     In 1983, Robert Van Handel became rector of St. Anthony's. As head of this enclave of pedophilia, he was asked to investigate another priest who had been accused of molesting two boys who were brothers. As it turned out, Van Handel had also sexually assaulted these students.

     Van Handel's tenure at St. Anthony's came to an end in 1992 when the parents of one of his victims wrote a letter to the head of the Franciscan order. Within months of this letter, Van Handel was removed from the ministry.

     After the defrocked pedophile's guilty plea in 1994, the judge sentenced him to eight years in prison.  (Eight years? This serial sex offender should have been sentenced to life without parole.)

Framing Your Estranged Husband

     On August 11, 2014, a jury in Indiana, Pennsylvania found 43-year-old Meri Jane Woods guilty of trying to frame her estranged husband of a crime. According to the district attorney, in August 2013, the  Clymer, Pennsylvania defendant downloaded 40 images of child pornography onto the family computer and took the photographs to the police. She accused her estranged husband, Matthew Woods, of downloading the pornographic contraband.

     When investigators examined the time stamps on the images, they determined they had been downloaded more than two weeks after Meri Woods had kicked her husband out of the house pursuant to a protection from abuse order. Since he didn't have access to the dwelling or the computer, he couldn't have downloaded the incriminating material.

     In December 2014, the Indiana County judge sentenced Woods to six months to two years in prison. 

Successful Literary Journalism

To produce successful literary journalism or creative nonfiction, the writer must achieve two goals: journalistic credibility and artistic merit.

Mark Masse, Writer's Digest, March 2002 

Writers Dealing With Rejection

Lee Pennington has been published in more than 300 magazines--and rejected so many thousand times that in one six-month period he papered al four walls of a room with rejection slips. ("I loved getting the 8 by 11 rejections more than the 3 by 5 ones because they covered more space.) He has also filled scrapbooks with rejection slips, used them for coasters, and given rejection parties--invitations written on the back of rejection slips.

[I have received form rejections letters a year after the books in question were published by other publishers.]

Rotten Reviews & Rejections, 1998

Friday, September 22, 2017

Paul Tarver and The Unknown Hitman

     In September 2001, when Keisha Lewis of Canton, Ohio informed her former boyfriend, Paul Tarver, that she was three months pregnant with his baby, he was not happy. He made it clear that he did not want to be a father. Tarver told Keisha to get an abortion, and if she didn't, he would not support the kid. Keisha said she had no intention of aborting the pregnancy, and would have the child with or without his support.

     Two months later, Keisha and Paul were still fighting over whether she should get an abortion. When Tarver realized she was not going to changer her mind, he threatened to kill her if she didn't end the pregnancy. Keisha said she was reporting him to the police, but didn't follow through on her threat. Perhaps he was just bluffing. After the arguing and threats, Paul Tarver suddenly stopped coming around. Keisha figured he had moved out of her life for good.

     On March 7, 2002, a week before the baby was due, Paul Tarver popped back into Keisha's life, and seemed to be a different man. He apologized for the fighting and the threats, and offered to make amends. He said he wanted to remain friends--for the baby's sake--and in the spirit of good will, he offered to take her out to dinner. Relieved that her baby's father was no longer an enemy, she accepted his invitation.

     A few days later, Paul and Keisha, in the cab of his Ford Ranger pickup, pulled into the spacious parking lot surrounding Canton's Country Kitchen restaurant. Although Keisha was nine months pregnant and had trouble walking, Paul parked the truck in a remote section of the lot far from the restaurant. Keisha had just opened the passenger's door and was about to alight from the vehicle when a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and gloves stuck a gun in her face and ordered her to slide across the seat so he could squeeze into the truck.

     The armed kidnapper ordered Tarver to drive to a chicken hatchery a few miles from the restaurant where the gunman ordered him to hand over his ring, watch, and wallet. The kidnapper shot Keisha in the abdomen, Tarver in the foot, then jumped out of the truck and ran into the nearby woods. Using his cellphone, Tarver called 911.

     Surgeons, although able to save Keisha's life, could not save the fetus. Doctors treated Tarver's wound which was minor. Keisha suffered major nerve damage that would leave her with a permanent limp.

     Detectives with the Canton Police Department trying to identify the kidnapper didn't have much to go on. Keisha could only provide a general description of the assailant, and Tarver wasn't much help either. Investigators did recover the three shell cases from the shooting scene. A forensic firearms identification expert matched the crime scene firing pin impressions to a .380 Carpati pistol recovered from the site of another Canton shooting. In tracing the history of the gun, police learned that one of the owners was a man who had once worked with Paul Tarver. Detectives also questioned a man from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Tarver had called several times just prior to the assault. During the interrogation, the Pittsburgh man broke down and cried, then terminated the questioning.

     In October 2002, a Stark County prosecutor at Paul Tarver's murder-for-hire trial presented a weak, circumstantial case against him. The police had still not identified the triggerman. The defendant's attorney did not put his client on the stand in own defense. If he had done so, the jury would have learned about Tarver's long history of drug trafficking and robbery. Perhaps because the defendant did not take the stand to deny that he had paid someone to end his girlfriend's pregnancy, the jury found him guilty.

     The judge sentenced Paul Tarver to 31 years to life. Paul Tarver continued to maintain his innocence, and the triggerman was never identified. This was one of a handful of murder-for-hire cases in which the mastermind was convicted without the testimony or even the identify of the hitman.
      

Are Some Novelists Nuts?

Early in his career, John Cheever put on his business suit, then went from his apartment to a room in the basement where he hung his suit on a hanger and wrote in his underwear. Victor Hugo's servant took away his clothes for the duration of the author's writing day. James Whitcomb Riley had a friend lock him in a hotel room without clothes so that he couldn't go out for a drink until he had finished writing. [How do you lock someone in a hotel room?] Jessamyn West wrote in bed without getting dressed for what she thought were two compelling reasons: "One, you have on your nightgown or pajamas and can't go running to the door at the knock of strangers. Also, once you're up and dressed, you see ten thousand things that need doing."

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

Plot Ups and Downs

A plot needs arcs. Arcs are the ups and downs, the changes in direction the story takes as events unfold. The most important thing is to keep the reader engaged in the story and the characters. If things don't change, if unexpected events don't occur, the book becomes boring fast.

Janet Evanovich, How I Write, 2006

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Scottye Miller Stalker Murder Case

     Scottye Leon Miller, a violent, sociopathic stalker of ex-girlfriends and other women unfortunate enough to have crossed his path, lived in Burien, Washington, a King County town of 33,000 located south of Seattle. Between 2002 and 2010, Miller had stalked, harassed, threatened, and assaulted several women. His arrest record featured 15 domestic violence related convictions, and six court protection order violations. It was just a matter of time before he killed one of his victims.

     In 2008, the violent ex-con started dating Tricia Patricelli, a 30-year-old mother of two daughters who lived in the nearby city of Auburn. In January of the following year, Miller forced his way into Patricelli's apartment and assaulted her in front of her children. A local prosecutor charged the 30-year-old subject with burglary and third-degree assault. The defendant pleaded guilty and received a short sentence in the King County Jail. (Burglary is a felony, the judge should have sentenced Miller, given his criminal record, to twenty years.)

     Miller served less than a year in jail on the Patricelli burglary/assault conviction. In January 2012, Tricia Patricelli called 911 and reported that he had threatened to kill her, and was chasing her in the parking lot of the apartment complex. "Please hurry, he is going to kill me!" she screamed. The police arrived and took Miller into custody. To the responding officers, Patricelli said, "You don't know who you are dealing with. He is going to kill me."

     Scottye Miller, convicted of fourth-degree assault and harassment, was sentenced to another short stretch in the King County Jail. The fact he was behind bars, however, did not stop this man from continuing to terrorize his victim. While serving his time, Miller wrote Patricelli letters in which he promised to kill her when he got out of jail. Apparently in King County, victims of stalking and assault do not get relief even when their offenders are in custody. For a victim of this type of crime, this reality must be frightening as hell.

     Scottye Miller, on October 12, 2012, walked out of jail a free man. This meant serious trouble for Tricia Patricelli, the object of the serial stalker's obsession and pathological wrath. The criminal justice system, at this point, had no solution for Patricelli's life-threatening predicament. It didn't take a psychic detective to predict bad things for this vulnerable woman.

     At eight-thirty in the morning of October 30, 2012, just two weeks after Miller's release from the King County Jail, neighbors heard the screams of a woman coming from Tricia Patricelli's apartment. Moments after the woman went silent, witnesses saw a man meeting Miller's physical description walk out of the building. Someone called 911.

     Responders to Patricelli's apartment found that Miller had stabbed her to death in the bathroom. He had stabbed his ex-girlfriend in the face, neck, torso, and back--22 times in all. Police arrested him shortly thereafter at a nearby bus stop. Miller denied any knowledge of the stabbing, but admitted that he had sent the dead woman text messages in which he had threatened to kill her. Miller told the arresting officers that he had been dating the victim for four years, and had lived with her, on and off, during half of that time.

     Shortly after Patricelli's murder, investigators found three bloody knives, a pair of blood-stained gloves, and the victim's cellphone at the foot of a fence near the apartment complex. One of the knives was 8 inches long. During a second interrogation, Scottye Miller confessed to the killing. He said that in the midst of a fight in Patricelli's apartment, he just "snapped." After "snapping," Miller slipped on a pair of gloves, and using the three knives he had brought with him to Patricelli's place, started stabbing her. The bloody assault ended up in Patricelli's bathroom where she died.

     On November 15, a King County judge arraigned Miller on the charge of first-degree murder. The homicidal stalker was back in jail under $1 million bond.

     In December 2013, a jury found Miller guilty of first-degree murder. Two weeks after the verdict the judge sentenced him to 50 years in prison.

     The Scottye Miller case reminds us of a frightening truth about our criminal justice system. The police cannot arrest dangerous people for what they might do in the future. Law enforcement authorities only spring into action after the harm is done. In this case it was too late to protect the victim's life. Our system of criminal justice is designed more for the protection of the criminal than it is for the safety of the victim. Women being stalked, threatened with death, and assaulted by pathological criminals like Scottye Miller cannot look to the police or the courts for protection. They either have to flee and hide, buy themselves a gun and do the job themselves, or hire a contract killer. None of these options are good, but neither is being hounded, assaulted, then murdered by some low-life sociopath in your own bathroom.  

Driving While Stupid

     On October 13, 2015, 23-year-old Whitney Beall, while driving from one bar to another in her 2015 Toyota Corolla in Lakeland, Florida, recorded her alcohol intoxication by video on the social media app Periscope. "Let's have fun! Let's have fun!" she repeatedly exclaimed into the little camera. Also: "Hi everybody in different countries. I really hope you don't mind that I drive, because in the USA it is really important."

     Beall declared herself unfit to drive when she said, " I'm driving drunk and this is not cool. I haven't been arrested yet, and I really don't hope so." A few minutes later she announced this into the video camera: "I'm driving home drunk, let's see if I get a DUI."

     Several people watching the live-steamed video called 911 to report the drunken driver who was exhibiting her condition to the world.

     Lakeland patrol officer Mike Kellner spotted a 2015 Toyota Corolla being driven on the wrong side of the road. He pulled the car over and encountered the social media sensation, Whitney Beall.

     Beall and her car reeked of alcohol, and her eyes were bloodshot and glassy. In addressing the officer, Beall made a series of slurred, rambling statements that included the claim she was lost and driving on a flat tire.

     After failing the field sobriety test, Officer Kellner took the suspect into custody. After refusing to take a breathalyzer test, officers booked Beall into the Polk County Jail on the charge of driving under the influence. It was her first DUI arrest.

     The day following her DUI charge, Beall made bond and was released from custody. To a reporter she said, "It was a big mistake and I'm learning my lesson." Fortunately, this idiot's "big mistake" and learning experience didn't cost someone his or her life.

     In February 2016, Beall pleaded no contest to driving under the influence. The judge sentenced her to a six month license suspension, ten days of vehicle impoundment, and a year of probation.

     

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Citizen Solves His Own Hit and Run Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Jeffrey Jarrett's Last Night Out: Too Bad He Was Dead

     In the 1989 comedy, "Weekend at Bernie's," a couple of low-level insurance agency employees are invited to spend the weekend at a beach house owned by their boss--Bernie. They show up at the summer house and find Bernie dead, and for the next two days, carry on as though he were alive. In one scene, these guys drive around in Bernie's convertible with the dead man propped up in the back seat. When people wave at Bernie, the guy sitting next to him grabs the dead man's arm and waves back. It's that kind of movie, kind of funny in spots, but really stupid because in real life no one would do something like this. That is until a couple of clowns in Glendale, Colorado bar-hopped one night accompanied by a dead man who picked up the tab.

     Jeffrey Jarrett, a 43-year-old real estate agent, had a problem with drugs and alcohol. In the summer of 2011, he called a friend from his days at Colorado State University. Jarrett asked his old buddy to room with him until he got his life straightened out. Shortly after his cry for help, 43-year-old Robert J. Young moved into his friend's house.

     On August 27, 2011, when Young came home from work, he found Jarrett sprawled on the floor, obviously dead. The look of the death scene suggested a drug overdose. (A toxicology report confirmed this. According to the medical examiner, Jarrett had overdosed on Xanax and Subutex--a drug addicted people take to get off opiates). Robert Young, instead of calling 911 phoned a 25-year-old drinking buddy named Mark Rubinson.

     That evening, a Saturday, Young and Rubinson stuffed Jeffrey Jarrett's lifeless body into the backseat of Rubinson's Lincoln Navigator and took off for a night on the town. They started off with drinks at a joint called Teddy T's Bar and Grill. The corpse remained in the SUV as Young and his friend used Jarrett's credit card to pay for their booze. From Teddy T's, the pair visited Sam's No. 3 where they continued to imbibe on the dead man's dime.

     Perhaps realizing that for Jarrett's credit card to work, his body didn't have to be sitting outside in Rubinson's SUV, they decided to take him home. After lugging the corpse back into the house, Young and Rubinson enjoyed a meal, at Jarrett's expense, at an eatery called Viva Burrito. (An appropriate pre-meal toast would have been, "Viva Jarrett's credit card.")

     The party animals finished off the night at a strip club called Shotgun Willie's where Robert Young used the dead man's credit card to withdraw $400 from the ATM. After the joint closed at four in the morning, Young contacted the Glendale Police Department to report his housemate's death.

     The local prosecutor charged Young and Rubinson with abuse of corpse, identify theft, and criminal impersonation. After first denying any wrongdoing, both suspects agreed to plead guilty to all charges.

     On March 6, 2012, a judge sentenced Robert J. Young to two years probation and ordered that he undergo "mental health evaluation and treatment; substance abuse assessment and treatment; and cognitive behavioral therapy." ( "Cognitive behavioral therapy"? I guess that meant that some therapist or shrink would explain to Mr. Young that hauling a corpse from bar to bar while using the dead man's credit card constitutes inappropriate behavior.)  Pursuant to his sentence, if Mr. Young behaved himself for two years, his record of shameless behavior would be expunged. (Wow, they are really tough on crime in Colorado.)

     Mr. Rubinson got off with a couple of years of probation as well. For some reason the judge didn't think he needed any cognitive behavioral therapy. He had just helped Young carry the corpse to and from the car, then drove his two companions, one dead and one alive, around town. The man drove a Lincoln Navigator, yet had to mooch drinks off a dead man.

     Only in America.

      

The Need for Exploding Corpse Insurance

     Her neighbor's corpse exploded. Now Judy Rodrigo has to pay for the damages to her apartment. After six years of legal battle, a Florida court ruled Rodrigo's insurance policy did not cover damage caused by bursting corpses.

     In 2008, an elderly woman who lived alone with her two dogs died in her apartment and her body remained undiscovered for two weeks….The corpse decayed and festered until it burst, leaking corrosive fluids into Rodrigo's downstairs apartment. The body was finally discovered when the stench reached neighboring units.

     Rodrigo paid out of pocket to repair her apartment, which she said had to be gutted. The smell apparently lingered. She blamed the condo association for not discovering the corpse, and filed suit against her insurance company, State Farm, which refused to cover the full cost of the repair. "Another unit owner's body exploded thereby causing blood and bodily fluids to go into the adjoining condominium and the unit owned by Judy Rodrigo," the lawsuit said. [Perhaps human decomposition detectors should be installed in all of these units.]

     The court ruled in April 2014 in favor of State Farm, saying Rodrigo failed to establish the incident was indeed "tantamount to an explosion." [Decomposing bodies do not, in fact, explode. They do seep, however.]

Rachel Stolzfoos, "Corpse Explodes, Neighbor Forced to Pay Damages," The Daily Caller, April 28, 2014



Kurt Vonnegut's Response to a Critic of Science Fiction

     Peter S. Prescott says in his Newsweek piece on science fiction (December 22, 1975): "Few science fiction writers aim higher than what a teen-age intelligence can grasp, and the smart ones--like Kurt Vonnegut, carefully satirize targets--racism, pollution, teachers--that teen-agers are conditioned to dislike."

     That unsupported allegation about me will now become a part of my dossier at Newsweek. I ask you to put this letter in the same folder, so that more honest reporters than Mr. Prescott may learn the following about me:

     I have never written with teen-agers in mind, nor are teen-agers the chief readers of my books. I am the first science fiction writer to win a Guggenheim, the first to become a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the first to have a novel become a finalist for a National Book Award. I have been on the faculties of the University of Iowa and Harvard, and was most recently a Distinguished Professor of Literature at CCNY.

     Mr. Prescott is entitled to loathe everything I have ever done, which he clearly does. But he should not be a liar. Newsweek should not be a liar.

Kurt Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, edited by Dan Wakefield, 2012 

Charles Bukowski's Fan Mail

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

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Steven Zelich Rough Sex Murder Case

     On June 5, 2014, a highway cutting high grass along a road in Geneva, Wisconsin, a town in Walworth County 50 miles southwest of Milwaukee, exposed a pair of large suitcases. The overpowering odor of rotting flesh caused the highway employee to notify the police.

     Each of the suitcases contained a badly decomposed body of a woman. Through dental records the authorities identified the women as 37-year-old Laura Simonson and 21-year-old Jenny Gamez. The forensic pathologist, due to the condition of the bodies, could not establish their causes of death. Neither woman, however, had been shot.

     One of Laura Simonson's relatives reported the mother of seven from Farmington, Wisconsin missing on November 22, 2013. While her cause of death was unknown, before she died someone had tied a rope around her neck. That person also stuffed a ball attached to a collar into her mouth. The gag collar looked like a device commonly used by sadomasochists in bondage/slave sexual activity. According to family members, Simonson had struggled with mental illness.

     No one had been looking for the younger woman, Jenny Gamez. According to her foster parents, Gamez had left their home in Cottage Grove, Oregon to start a new life. In 2008, as a fifteen-year-old, she had given birth to a son. The baby's father, in 2010, gained full custody of the child. In keeping with the sadomasochistic theme of the case, someone had tied Gamez's hands behind her back.

     On June 27, 2014, police officers arrested 52-year-old Steven M. Zelich at his home in West Allis, Wisconsin. Zelich had been seen with each woman on separate occasions in Wisconsin and Minnesota. A Wisconsin prosecutor charged Zelich with two counts of hiding a corpse.

     In 1989, the then 27-year-old Zelich started working in West Allis as a police officer. Three years later, following an off-duty altercation with a prostitute, the chief of police forced him to resign. Since 2007 Zelich had been an employee of a contract security guard company.

     Zelich's sexual tastes, in light of evidence of bondage associated with the bodies in the suitcases, led detectives to suspect he was the last person to see these women alive. On a bondage and sadomasochism website, Zelich solicited sexual partners with the following message: "Seeking no limit enslavement, imprisonment, captivity, animalization [no clue] ideally in a farm/caged situation."

     Following his arrest, Zelich told detectives he met the 21-year-old Gamez through the sex website. In November of 2013, he spent several nights with her in a Kenosha County Hotel where they had sadomasochistic sex that included bondage. Upon her accidental death in the course of this activity, he stuffed her body into a suitcase and took the corpse home.

     After connecting with the 37-year-old Simonson through the sadomasochistic Internet site, they engaged in bondage sex at the Microtel Inn & Suites in Rochester, Minnesota. This took place on November 21, 2013. Simonson had checked into the motel under her own name but never checked out. After she died while having sex with him, Zelich placed her body into a suitcase that ended up in his house with the other corpse.

     In late May or early June 2014, Zelich dumped the suitcases along the road in Geneva, Wisconsin. According to Zelich's attorney the women, as willing participants in rough sex, died accidentally. By dumping the suitcases along the road, Zelich wanted the bodies to be discovered. The attorney did not believe that homicide charges in this case would be appropriate.

     In January 2016, Steven Zelich pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree homicide as well as one count of hiding a corpse. He had been scheduled for trial on the charge of first-degree intentional homicide. The judge, in March 2016, sentenced Steven Zelich to 35 years in prison.

   

     

When You Sit Down to Write--Write

Here's a short list of what not to do when you sit down to write. Don't answer the phone. Don't look at e-mail. Don't go on the Internet for any reason, including checking the spelling of some obscure word, or for what you might think of as research but is really a fancy form of procrastination…Sit down and stay there…Get used to the discomfort. Make some kind of peace with it.

Dani Shapiro, Still Writing, 2013 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Stephen King's Daily Word Production

I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That's 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book--something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh. On some days those ten pages come easily; I'm up and out and doing errands by eleven-thirty in the morning…More frequently, as I grow older, I find myself eating lunch at my desk and finishing the day's work around one-thirty in the afternoon. Sometimes, when the words come hard, I'm still fiddling around at teatime. Either way is fine with me, but only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

What Pre-Teens Read

Children of both sexes in the 10 to 12 year age group predominantly read fiction, with the most popular genre amongst both boys and girls being adventure stories. Girls choose more romances, horror/ghost stories and poetry books. Boys choose more science fiction, comedy, sports and war/spy books.

Lyn Pritchard, penguin.com, 1999

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Sword-and-Socery Fantasy

Sword-and-socery fiction is to fantasy what the western is to the historical novel, or perhaps more precisely, what the hardboiled private-eye story is to mystery fiction. It is a subgenre based on a prefabricated image, without which it cannot be identified at all: the cowboy in the middle of the dusty street, ready to draw; the private-eye in the trench coat; the brawny scantily-clad swordsman, glaring defiantly at menaces supernatural and otherwise, with an even less-clad shapely wench cowering somewhere in the background.

Darrell Schweitzer in How To Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction, edited by J.N. Williamson, 1991 

What Editors Don't Like in Children's Books

I hate to see [in a children's book] a whiny character who's in the middle of a fight with one of his parents, slamming doors, rolling eyes and displaying all sorts of stereotypical behavior. I hate seeing character "stats" ("Hi, I'm Brian. I'm 10 years and 35 days old with brown hair and green eyes.") I also tend to have a hard time bonding with characters who talk to the reader ("Let me tell you about the summer when I…")

Kelly Sonnack in 2013 Children's and Illustrator's Market, edited by Chuck Sambuchino, 2012 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Writing Class

When Katherine Anne Porter taught creative writing at the University of Virginia, her method was to sit the student writer down and read his story to him aloud. That's all there was to it, or so I've heard tell. I've also heard tell that one student, before his story was half read, broke down and ran out of class. [I would have been right behind him, all the way to the registrar's office to get my tuition back.]

John Casey in The Writing Life, 1995 

Your Favorite Author

There are writers you admire, for the skill or the art, for the inventiveness or for the professionalism of a career well spent. And there are writers--sometimes the same ones, sometimes not--to whom you are powerfully attracted, for reasons that may or may not have to do with literary values. They speak to you, or speak for you, sometimes with a voice that could almost be your own. Often there is one writer in particular who awakens you, who is the teacher they say you will meet when you are ready for the lesson.

James D. Houston in The Writer's Life (1997) edited by Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Science Fiction Writers Are Rarely Recognized Outside the Genre

Some writers whose careers have been largely based on science fiction writing have never been categorized that way. Kurt Vonnegut and John Hershey were never within the science fiction ghetto. One surprising result of the ghettoizing of speculative fiction, however, is that writers have enormous freedom within its walls. It's as if, having once been confined within our cage, the keepers of the zoo of literature don't much care what we do as long as we stay behind bars.

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

Short Story Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing devices in short stories have the effect of enhancing the inevitability of the action, usually without destroying the suspense or tension--in fact, correctly used, foreshadowing can enhance those effects. What foreshadowing does is prepare in advance for events that will follow later in the story, often in ways that will not be fully understood by the reader until the story is completed. For while devices of foreshadowing may sometimes be very apparent, at other times it is necessary to go back into a story to see what methods were used to make its final effects convincing.

Rust Hill, Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular, Revised Edition, 1987  

Friday, September 8, 2017

Begging For Cover Blurbs

     Writers published by the biggest New York houses get [blurb] requests all the time. Typically they come from the editors at these publishing houses. It will be an email, or an actual book in the mail with a note attached that says something like this: "Jane Doe's first novel is an exciting new take on an old story and we'd be so pleased if you'd give it a look. And if you deem it worthy, a few words of support on Jane's behalf, sent to us by such and such a date, would give her novel a tremendous lift!"

     The more famous and respected the writer, the more of these blurb requests he or she will get. They might come from friends of the famous writer, too, or from his or her editor or agent and their friends. One imagines that Jonathan Franzen, for example, could spend hours and hours responding to the blurb requests he gets. Some writers are famous in the book trade for blurbing a lot (too much), and others for never blurbing at all.

Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2013

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Alien Nonhuman Beings in Literature and Film

     Aliens--nonhuman beings, usually intelligent and sentient, usually from places other than Earth--are of the most familiar elements of science fiction. Even people who don't read science fiction have become well acquainted with quite a few of them through television shows and movies. "E.T." was the title character of one of the highest-grossing movies ever made; the Star Wars movies popularized wookies, Yoda and Jabba the Hut; Star Trek offered a steady parade of nonhuman life-forms, some of them regular members of the cast.

     Movies have been dealing with aliens for much longer. Invasions of giant spiders and such have long been a staple of low-budget horror films, while occasionally a film would try something a bit more sophisticated like H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds. The same novel inspired Orson Wells' 1938 radio broadcast that literally terrified thousands of listeners.

     Printed science fiction has also featured a great many aliens, often with more care and finesse than they've usually received in the visual and broadcast media…

     Some writers have made a specialty of creating fascinating, believable aliens, along with their cultures and the worlds that produced them…Intelligent nonhumans have been an important element in literature much longer than what we now know as science fiction. Gods, demons and talking animals appear in the most ancient mythologies. The folklores of many lands have produced elves, dragons and trolls that have persisted in some form into the written fantasy of today.

Stanley Schmidt, Aliens and Alien Societies, 1995 

S.J. Perelman on Humor

If people expect me to be funny, they are in for a rude shock. I figure my job ends when I leave the typewriter and get out of the swivel chair. People make a mistake when they confuse a writer with a performer.

S.J. Perelman, in People, Books & Book People, edited by David W. McCullough, 1981 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Donald Greenslit Arson Dismemberment Case

     Prior to his domestic assault conviction in October 2011, Donald Greenslit lived with his common-law wife Stacie Dorego and their two young children in a two-story house in Johnston, Rhode Island. Following Greenslit's conviction, probated sentence, and no-contact court order, he moved out. The couple's relationship had been a tumultuous one, marred by numerous arrests for domestic violence. He beat this woman, and beat her often.

     During the early morning hours of Monday, January 22, 2012, Johnston firefighters and rescue personnel were dispatched to the Pershing Road home after receiving a call regarding smoke coming from the house. Greenslit met the responders at the front door of the smoke-filled dwelling. The 52-year-old, after assuring the firefighters that all was well, ordered them to leave his property. Police officers pushed Greenslit aside so the emergency personnel could extinguish the fire and check on the children.

     Greenslit's children, found in their second-story bedroom, were rushed to the Hasbro Children's Hospital where they were treated for smoke inhalation. Firefighters quickly got control of the fire, but in the process, made a gruesome discovery.

     In the fireplace, the emergency responders found the dismembered and smoldering remains of a woman wrapped in a blanket. At the Johnston Police Department later that morning, Greenslit admitted dismembering his wife with a power saw and setting fire to her mutilated corpse. Yes, he had stabbed Stacie Dorego to death, but in self-defense after she had attacked him with a knife.

     According to Dr. Christina Stanley, the Chief Medical Examiner for Rhode Island, the 39-year-old victim had died from multiple stab wounds. The forensic pathologist ruled the death a criminal homicide.

     On January 23, 2012, a Providence County prosecutor charged Greenslit with domestic murder, two counts of child abuse, the obstruction of fire officers, disorderly conduct, and the violation of a non-contact order. Two months later, a grand jury sitting in Providence indicted Greenslit on all charges. In April, at his preliminary hearing, Greenslit pleaded not guilty to domestic murder and the other offenses. He had since recanted his statement to the police that he had killed Dorego in self-defense.

     The Donald Greenslit murder trial got underway on March 1, 2013 in a Providence Superior Court. Following the selection of the jury and the opening statements, the prosecution, on March 4, put two firefighters on the stand who testified that the defendant had tried to deny them entry into the smokey house. A Johnston detective climbed into the witness box and described what he had found in the basement after the fire had been extinguished. The officer recovered a piece of flesh that bore Stacie Dorego's tattoo of a butterfly.

     Special Assistant Attorney General Sara Tindall-Woodman, on March 6, put a jailhouse snitch named Alex Boisclair on the stand. This witness said that he had shared a cell with the defendant, and after being cellmates for one day, Greenslit confided in him that he had stabbed his common-law wife five times. According to the police informant, Greenslit said he had burned Dorego's body parts because he knew she had, upon her death, wished to be cremated. (I doubt she had envisioned her own fireplace as the cremation site.)

     Defense attorney Mark Dana, on cross-examination, accused this witness of incriminating Greenslit in return for prosecutorial leniency on his own behalf. Boisclair, in denying a prosecution deal, said he was simply doing what he thought was the right thing.

     On March 7, 2013, a DNA analyst testified that blood found on a circular saw recovered from the defendant's basement had come from Stacie Dorego. The DNA expert was followed to the stand by the state's chief medical examiner who said that Stacie Dorego's heart had been pierced three times by "something with a single edge." Following Dr. Christina Stanley's testimony, the prosecution rested its case. (I don't believe the prosecution introduced a murder weapon into evidence.)

     On Friday, March 8, defense attorney Mark Dana rested his case without putting the defendant on the stand. (While jurors are not supposed to take this as evidence of guilt, they usually do.) Dana told the jurors that the police didn't test for DNA at the death scene because they didn't want to discover that someone else had committed the murder. He pointed out that without a confession, eyewitness, or physical evidence linking his client to the crime scene, the prosecution's case was weak, and circumstantial. The defense attorney also attacked the credibility of the jailhouse snitch.

     On March 11, 2013, the jury of ten women and two men found Donald Greenslit guilty of murder.

     On May 15, 2013, Judge Susan McGuirl sentenced Greenslit to life in prison without the chance of parole.
     

Stephen King on the Anatomy of Stories and Novels

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

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

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Former Government Cyber Security Director Convicted of Child Pornography

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing Quote: The Art Book

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

Christopher Finch, Bookforum, Dec/Jan, 2015 

The Fantasy Novel

Fantasy celebrates the non-rational. Wrapped in a cloak of magic, it dares a rational reader to object to a frog suddenly being turned into a prince. Where an explanation would be required in science fiction, fantasy says: "Because it did." Though fantasy may offer some cause and effect--the prince probably did something wrong in the first place to cause him to be turned into a warty amphibian--no scientific rationale is required.

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Norman Mailer on Becoming a Writer

     I'm now eighty, but some people still regard me as a wild man. Even at my peak, that was only five to ten percent of my nature. The rest was work. I remember Elia Kazan saying one day at Actors Studio, "Here, we're always talking about the work. We talk about it piously. We say the work. The work. Well, we do work here, and get it straight: Work is a blessing." He said this, glaring at every one of us. And I thought, He's right. That's what it is. A blessing.

     Of course, if you ask what work is dependent upon, the key word, an unhappy one, is stamina. It's as difficult to become a professional writer as a professional athlete. It often depends on the ability to keep faith in yourself. One must be willing to take risks and try again. And it does need an enormous amount of ongoing working practice to be good at it. Since you are affected by what you read as a child and adolescent, it also takes a while to unlearn all sorts of reading reflexes that have led you into bad prose.

Norman Mailer, The Spooky Art, 2003

Last Words of Executed Prisoner Steven Wood

You're not about to witness an execution; you're about to witness a murder. I've never killed anybody, never. This whole thing is wrong...Warden, if you're going to murder someone, go ahead and do it. Pull that trigger. Goodbye.

Steven Wood, 31, executed September 13, 2011 by lethal injection in Texas

Monday, September 4, 2017

Using Dialogue in a Memoir

     A fellow memoirist and reviewer writes: "I'm reading a memoir now where the author has written four chapters full of dialogue for events that occurred when she was four years old. Over half the book occurs before she is ten and it's all about what people said and felt. I don't see how much of this could be possibly true."

     My friend's got this right: Nothing makes a reader question memoir more indignantly than the things set aside by quotation marks…

     Unless you walked around your entire life with a tape recorder in your pocket, dialogue will become one of the greatest moral and storytelling conundrums you will face when writing a memoir. You may feel that you need some of it, a smattering at least, to round-out characters, change the pace, dissect the rub between what was thought and what was actually said. You may need dialogue because in life people talk to one another and readers want to know what they said. They want to know the sound of the relationships.

     Dialogue isn't, strictly speaking, absolutely necessary in a memoir…But when it's done right, it feels essential. It seems to bring one closer to the story's heart.

Beth Kephart, Handling the Truth, 2013

Criminal Defendants Are The Stars of Their Trials

It is a fact of life that victims get lost in murder trials as the focus of attention shifts to the defendant in the courtroom. It is also a fact that the defendant becomes a sympathetic figure in many people's eyes. The charismatic star O. J. Simpson dominated the proceedings the moment he made his entrance into the courtroom each morning, totally aware of the effect his presence made. His cadre of lawyers, as well as one of the deputies assigned to guard him, were deferential to him. His every reaction, from his frequent exasperation to his occasional laughter, captivated the attention of the room. When photographs of the slashed victims, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, lying in grotesque positions in gallons of blood, were flashed on the large screen in the courtroom, observers no longer recoiled in horror. They had become used to them.

Dominick Dunne, Justice, 2001

Are Americans Losing Touch With Reality?

     The results of a pair studies published in 2012 were quite disturbing. One study concerns the use of illegal drugs worldwide. The other pertains to mental deterioration as one gets older.

     According to researchers in Paris, France, the belief that mental decline doesn't start before age 60 is not correct. In reality, cognitive ability--memory, reasoning, and comprehension--begins to go south at age 45. So, what does this mean for America? In a country where 100 million citizens are over 50, and 35 million are older than 65, this could not be good news. And look at our politicians, a vast majority of them are over 50, and many into their 60s and 70s. In Mississippi they have a congressman who's in his eighties. And there's an eighty-some-year-old representing a congressional district in New York City. People with deteriorating minds are running our country. Perhaps that's one of the reasons the nation is in decline. (Young people have good, fresh brains, but they don't know anything.) What a mess.

     On the illicit drug front, according to a pair of Australian researchers, between 149 million and 271 million people worldwide took an illegal drug at least once in 2009. Other studies have shown that the heaviest drug users in the world are Americans. In 2009, 22 million Americans (This figure is low because it is based on self-reporting.) used illegal drugs. The narcotic of choice, marijuana was followed by meth, cocaine, ecstasy, and heroin. In addition, 9 million Americans abuse legal drugs and millions more take prescription pills. The latter is particularly true among older Americans who are losing their minds.

     On top of the dementia and the drug taking, the U.S. is home to 12 million alcoholics as well as an additional unkown number of people who drink too much but don't go to the meetings. According to a recent study, 38 million Americans binge drink at least once a month.

     So, what do we have here? We've got at least half of the adults in this country losing their minds, taking drugs and/or drinking too much. (Americans also eat too much, but that's another story.) If we are still the greatest country on earth, what does that say about the rest of the world?

      

Judge Goes Easy on Rich Political Donor

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Ethan Couch and the "Affluenza" Defense Mass Manslaughter Case

     On the night of June 15, 2013, in Fort Worth, Texas, 16-year-old Ethan Couch and seven of  his friends stole two cases of beer from a local Walmart store. A few hours later, Couch, behind the wheel of his wealthy family's F-350 pickup, sped down a poorly lit rural road. With his blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit and seven passengers in the cab--two in the back of the truck--he lost control of the vehicle.

     Couch's truck plowed into vehicles parked along the side of the road. The two boys in the bed of the truck were flung out of the pickup and severely injured. Breanna Mitchell, whose SUV had broken down was off the road, was killed. Brian Jennings, Shelby Boyles, and Hollie Boyles, people who had pulled off the road to help Breanna, also died in the crash.

     Ethan Couch, on the advise of his attorneys, pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter. This meant the only issue left to be resolved in the case involved his punishment. Was he a troubled kid who needed psychological treatment, or a spoiled brat who required incarceration? If punishment was appropriate in this case, how severe? Did it matter that he was only sixteen? These were questions that would have to be resolved by juvenile court judge Jean Boyd.

     At Ethan Couch's sentence hearing held in Fort Worth on December 10, 2013, Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Richard Alpert proposed that the defendant be incarcerated for twenty years. In addressing Judge Boyd, Alpert said, "If the boy, who is from an affluent family, is cushioned by the family's wealth, there can be no doubt that he will be in another courthouse one day blaming the leniency he received here." The prosecutor pointed out that inmates in Texas who needed it received drug and alcohol treatment.

     One of the defendant's attorneys, Scott Brown, argued that his client required rehabilitation more than he needed treatment. (Perhaps, but the families of the victims needed for him to be punished. Sentencing should be more than just about what's good for the defendant.)

     Couch's attorney recommended a two-year treatment program at a $1,200-a-day rehabilitation center near Newport Beach, California followed by a period of probation. The $450,000-a-year program in southern California featured equine sports, yoga, and messages. (It also probably featured rubbing shoulders with a lot of drug-addled Hollywood celebrities.) According to attorney Brown, the boy's parents were willing to pick up the California rehabilitation tab.

     Dr. Dick Miller, a clinical psychologist from Bedford, Texas testified at the sentencing hearing on the defendant's behalf. According to Dr. Miller, Ethan Couch suffered from what he called "affluenza," a syndrome caused by rich parents who didn't set limits and discipline their children. As a result of being spoiled rotten, Ethan didn't know how to behave appropriately. (Dr. Miller's notion of social insanity as a mitigating factor in sentencing is patently absurd.)

     Judge Boyd stunned the prosecutor and friends and families of the four victims when she sentenced the teenager to ten years of probation. The judge said she would find a treatment program for the boy in the state of Texas. If he violated the terms of his probation, he could be sent to a juvenile detection facility.

     Eric Boyles had lost his wife Hollie and his daughter Shelby in Couch's drunken crash. In speaking to a CNN correspondent, he said, "There are absolutely no consequences for what occurred that day….Money always seems to keep you out of trouble. Ultimately today, I feel that money did prevail."

     In responding to Judge Boyd's decision, prosecutor Alpert told a reporter that "We are disappointed by the punishment assessed but we have no power under the law to change or overturn it."

     In horrific homicides like this, when there is no retribution, the public loses confidence in the criminal justice system. While rich people do not always get their way in criminal court, the public perception is that they do.

     The so-called "affluenza" case jumped back in the news in December 2015 after a video appeared online featuring Ethan Couch and several other youngsters playing beer pong. This was a clear violation of the terms of Couch's probation. When the kid's probation officer lost touch with him, the authorities in Tarrant County issued a warrant for his arrest. Also missing was Tonya Couch, the boy's mother with whom he had been living.

     Because the local authorities believed the boy and his mother might have fled the country to avoid the possibility of Ethan's incarceration, FBI agents and U. S. Marshal's office investigators were involved in the hunt for the mother and her son.

     On December 29, 2015, Ethan Couch and his mother were arrested in the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta.

     Upon the teen's return to the U.S., a judge transferred Couch's case from the juvenile system to adult court. In 2016, pursuant to his probation violation, the judge sentenced Couch to two years behind bars.

     Couch's attorneys appealed the adult prison sentence to the Texas Supreme Court on the grounds the judge did not have the legal authority to make the transfer to adult court. The attorneys asked the high court to order Couch's release from prison. The Texas Supreme Court denied that request. Young Mr. Couch would do his time behind bars.

        

Woman Arrested for "Feeding the Pigs"

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

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

Young Writers Don't Write Biographies

Aspiring writers find biography a less attractive form of creative nonfiction because they like to write about themselves, and unlike memoir, poetry, fiction, and drama, biography offers little chance for self-expression.

Philip Furia in Writing Creative Nonfiction, edited by Carolyn Forche and Philip Gerard, 2001 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Drunk On Ice

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

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

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

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

Charles Bukowski On Literary Critics

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

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

The Affect of Political Correctness on Humor

Humor, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. What's uproariously funny to one person may leave another cold. What's funny today may seem insensitive tomorrow. This is certainly true with Leo Rosten's 1937 book The Education of Hyman Kaplan, which describes the very funny struggles of a group of adult immigrants learning English. Many readers may find Rosten's book patronizing at best and offensive at worst. Issues of political correctness--the death knell for humor--arise, too

Nancy Pearl, Book Lust, 2003 

Friday, September 1, 2017

First Novel High Expectations

     I wrote my first novel when I was nineteen. It was bad, the kind of mystery they call "cozy" these days, but with added pretensions to high literary values. I had never taken a creative writing class and knew nothing of plot, character, or pace except for what I had gleaned from my random reading habits. It took me about a year to finish it, and the moment it was done I set about mailing it out to whatever big, famous publishers seemed most likely to back a dump truck full of money up to my parents' front door. It was, I figured, no more than I deserved.

     No one bought it. No one so much as nibbled. I'd be astonished to learn that anyone read more than a few pages of the thing before mailing out the obligatory polite rejection. Over the years I accumulated quite a stack of polite rejections.

A. J. Hartley in How I Got Published, edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay, 2007