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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Traffic Laws Are For Civilians, Not Cops

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

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

Friday, September 29, 2017

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 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

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

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

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.

      

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 

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 

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  

Thursday, September 7, 2017

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

Last Words of 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 unknown 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.

     On April 2, 2018, Ethan Couch was released from prison after serving two years. A year later, the judge allowed Couch to continue his probation without wearing an ankle monitor.

        

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

The Romantic Plot in Women's Memoirs

All of us live with a life history in our mind, and very few of us subject it to critical analysis. But we are storytelling creatures. So it's very important to examine your own story and make sure that the plot is one you really want. When I give talks as a historian about the dominance of the romantic plot in women's telling of their life histories, I'm amused to see women investment bankers and corporate lawyers giving a wry smile, as if to say, "It's true--that's how I do see my life." As a young person it's important to scrutinize the plot you've internalized and find out whether it accurately represents what you want to be, because we tend to act out those life plots unless we think about them. I'm impatient with the postmodern effort to obfuscate the validity of narrative. We are time-bound creatures. We experience life along a time continuum; things happen sequentially in our lives, and we need to understand the causation. But we never really do understand it until we sit down and try to tell the story.

Jill Ker Conway in Inventing the Truth, edited by William Zinsser, 1998 

Journalistic Blogging

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

Blogging is Not Journalism

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

Blogging is a Training Ground For Journalists

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

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

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

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