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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Writers' Fear Of Death

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

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

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

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

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Ernest Hemingway

Psychology students, in Assholeology 101, study Ernest Hemingway.

Thornton P. Knowles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 20, 2017

An Armored Car Heist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thornton P. Knowles On His Last Words

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

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Criminalizing Certain Drugs, Regulating Alcohol and Tobacco

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

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

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Science in Science Fiction

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

Stanley Schmidt, Aliens and Alien Societies, 1995 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Intramural Sex at a Texas High School

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Get A Babysitter!

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Drugs For Writer's Block

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

Thornton P. Knowles 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Turning the Interrogation Room Into a Gas Chamber

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

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

Associated Press, November 13, 2017 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Baby Drug Snitch

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

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

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

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

One Stupid Mother

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 11, 2017

TV Star Confessed to Sex Crimes

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

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

     The incidents reportedly happened between 1973 and 1994.

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Canada: Where Rational Tort Law Goes to Die

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thornton P. Knowles on Truman Capote

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

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles on the Dried-Up Novelist

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

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, November 6, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles on Supermarket Literature

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

Thornton P. Knowles

The Cost of Catching a Cop Killer

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Should Bank Guards Be Armed?

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

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

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Mobster Turned Government Witness Got Off Light

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Short Story As Practice For The Novel

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

Wallace Stegner, On Teaching and Writing Fiction, 2002 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Bad Journalism From a Newspaper in Kentucky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank McCourt on "Angela's Ashes"

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

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

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

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


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

Thornton P. Knowles