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Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Victor Vickery Peeping Tom Murder Case

     In 2018, 30-year-old Victor "Tori" Vickery lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his girlfriend, Samantha Hobi. Vickery, a violent man with a short temper and criminal record involving domestic abuse, auto theft, and possession of illegal prescription drugs, had physically abused Hobi. As a result, they had an on-and-off again, turbulent relationship.

     On the night of July 2, 2018, Vickery and Hobi were in bed having sex when they heard a noise outside of their bedroom window. Vickery, without putting on any clothes, went outside to investigate and encountered, at the window, a man with his genitals exposed.

     Vickery yelled to his girlfriend that he was holding the window-peeking man for the police, and that she should call 911.

     Instead of simply restraining the man in his yard, Vickery punched him repeatedly in the head, and when the man was on the ground, kicked him several times in the torso.

     The 911 dispatcher who took Samatha Hobi's call, overheard her shouting, "Tori, stop! Tori, that's enough!"

     When police officers arrived at the house, they found Vickery, with his knuckles bloody, holding an ice pack on his swollen foot. Out in the fenced backyard, officers found the bloodied and unconscious Peeping Tom. Medics rushed the unconscious man to the Broward Health North Hospital in Deerfield Beach where, 90 minutes later, he died.

     Criminal investigators quickly identified the man beaten to death by Vickery as 57-year-old Asaad Akar, a resident of the neighborhood known to peep into his neighbors' bedroom windows.

     Samatha Hobi, when questioned by detectives that night, said that after calling 911, she went out to the backyard and struck the window peeking man with a shovel. Victor Vickery told the officers that he only punched and kicked the trespasser "a handful of times."

     On July 23, 2018, when questioned by detectives again, Samantha Hobi admitted she had lied to them about hitting Mr. Akar with a shovel. She said she did not leave the house that night, and did not witness the confrontation between Vickery and the man who was now dead from blunt force trauma to the head and torso.

     On August 15, 2018, three months after he killed Mr. Akar, Fort Lauderdale police arrested Victor Vickery regarding another matter. He was taken into custody on two counts of felony sexual battery, charges based on a criminal complain filed by Samantha Hobi. Vickery pleaded not guilty, put up his $75,000 bail, and was released from jail.

     On October 3, 2018, a Broward County judge granted Samantha Hobi a restraining order against her ex-boyfriend.

      Fourteen months after Asaad Akar's violent death, detectives, on October 17, 2019, arrested Victor Vickery for manslaughter in connection with the July 2018 beating. The suspect was held in the Broward County Mail Jail on $100,000 bond.

Walking On The Wild Side: The Increase of Pedestrian Deaths

In the United States, pedestrian deaths have increased more than 50 percent over the past ten years. In 2018, motorists killed 6,000 pedestrians. Experts blame the increase in pedestrian deaths on new road and street crossing designs, the proliferation of large vehicles such as SUVs and pickup trucks, and pedestrians distracted by their cellphones.

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

  

John Martorano: James Whitey Bulger's Hit Man

     James "Whitey" Bulger, the Boston area mobster and head of the Winter Hill Gang, went into hiding in 1995 after rogue FBI agent John Connolly tipped him off about an upcoming federal indictment. For years Bulger  avoided arrest by informing on other gangsters to the FBI. (Agent John Connolly is serving a life sentence for his longterm involvement with Bulger and his murderous gang.)

     In June 2011, FBI agents arrested Bulger in Santa Monica, California where he had lived 16 years in an apartment complex with his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greg. The fugitive and his companion had been living under the names Charlie and Carol Gasko. He was in his 80s.

     In 2013, Bulger was federally tried in Boston on 32 counts of murder, homicides he either committed himself or ordered. ( He was convicted and sentenced to life.) John V. Martorano, a professional hit man employed by the accused murder-for-hire mastermind, was one of the prosecution's most important witnesses. In 2007, Martorano cut a deal with the government to testify against the infamous Boston mobster. After confessing to twenty murders, Martorano was a free man. Three of the hit man's victims were innocent bystanders, including a man Martorano mistakenly shot because he was driving a car similar to the intended target's vehicle. (Even so-called "professional" hit men are notoriously incompetent.) After carrying out one of his contract murders, Martorano would summon mob underlings to dispose of the body. Most of his victims were buried.

     On June 18, 2013, Bulger's attorney, Henry Brennan, during his cross-examination of the 72-year-old witness, asked Martorano if he considered himself a serial killer. "No," the witness replied. "Serial killers kill until they get caught or stop. I confessed my murders.  Serial killers kill for fun. They like it. I never liked it. I never had any joy." 

     "No satisfaction?" the defense attorney asked.

     "None." Later in his testimony, Martorano insisted that he was a "nice guy." Moreover, he never thought of himself as a hit man or professional killer. "I didn't enjoy killing anybody," he said. "I enjoyed helping a friend if I could."

     "Does that make you a vigilante--like Batman?" Attorney Brennan asked in a sarcastic tone of voice. Later in the cross examination, the defense lawyer asked this prosecution witness to describe how he felt about murdering three innocent bystanders.

     "I did feel bad. I still feel bad. It was the worst thing I did."

     Mr. Martorano's testimony provided a rare peek into the mind of a mobbed-up contract killer. Only a cold-blooded sociopath could, with a straight face, portray himself as a nice guy and a victim. This hit man wanted us to believe that he didn't like killing people for money, that he did it to help others. What a nice guy.  

The Empowerment Fantasy in Romance Fiction

In the romance novel the domineering male becomes the catalyst that makes the empowerment fantasy work. The heroine isn't as big as he is; she isn't as strong, as old, as worldly; many times she isn't well-eductated. Yet despite all these limitations she confronts him--not with physical strength but with intelligence and courage. And what happens? She always wins! Guts and brains every time. What a comforting fantasy this is for an overburdened, anxiety-ridden reader.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, edited by Jayne Ann Krentz, 1992 

The Redundant Writer

For some writers, once is not enough. They don't beat a dead horse; they beat a totally dead horse. They use modifiers that say the same thing as the words they modify. For them, every fact is a true fact. They don't expedite; they speedily expedite. They don't smell a stench; they smell a malodorous stench. In other words, they're redundant. Or as they might put it, superfluously redundant. [This is meaningfully profound advice.]

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

Character Development in Literary Fiction

     In a detective story, the hero often has no development. Hercule Poirot [Agatha Christie] is pretty much the same from beginning to end of a particular novel; he merely changes in the way he perceives things. Popular action heroes such as James Bond, Dirk Pitt, or Captain Kirk don't develop much either; they are pretty much the same beginning to end, from book to book. [The same is true of Sherlock Holmes.] But in a more serious work of dramatic fiction, the characters do change, often profoundly.

     Scrooge in A Christmas Carol turns from unrepentant miser to generous celebrant; Charles Allnut in The African Queen changes from a drunken sot to a responsible husband. Fred C. Dobbs in B. Traven's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is changed from a rather likable, down-and-out tramp to a greedy paranoiac by his lust for gold.

     Well-plotted, serious dramatic fiction is transformational by its very nature. The vicarious experience of this transformation is the most important reason people read serious fiction. A plot isn't just a matter of one thing happening after another; it's the progress toward the resolution of a predicament that transforms the character.

James N. Frey in Novel Writing, 2002 edited by Meg Leder and Jack Heffron 

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, October 30, 2019

Daniel Chong: Missing In Action In The War On Drugs

     The years 2011 and 2012 were not good ones for federal law enforcement. The AFT was embarrassed by the Fast and Furious debacle; an ICE agent shot his supervisor, then was shot and killed by another agent; an ICE officer was convicted of embezzling a huge sum of government money; TSA screeners were accused of taking bribes from drug smugglers; and Secret Service agents were caught partying with prostitutes in Columbia. Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) pulled one of the most bone-headed blunders in the history of the federal government's war on drugs.

     On Saturday, April 21, 2012, 23-year-old University of California at San Diego engineering student Daniel Chong was smoking pot in a house in University City with eight of his friends. That day, DEA agents raided the place as a suspected Ecstasy pill distribution center. The agents recovered 18,000 Ecstasy pills, several guns, ammunition, and other drugs, and took Chong and the other eight suspects into custody.

     After the nine arrestees were fingerprinted, photographed, and questioned at the DEA office in Kearny Mesa, agents released one suspect, took seven to a detention facility, and placed the handcuffed Daniel Chong into a holding cell in the DEA office complex. Although being swept up in a federal drug raid was bad enough, Daniel Chong's ordeal had just begun.

     Because Chong was placed into a windowless 5 by 10 foot room with no sink or toilet, he didn't expect to be there very long. But as the hours dragged on, and no one came to release him, or take him elsewhere, Chong began to worry. To call attention to his isolation, he screamed for help and frantically kicked at the door. Still, no response. Hungry, in need of a bathroom, scared, and in a state of panic, Chong began to lose control of his body, and his emotions.

     A day or so into his confinement, Chong found a plastic bag containing white powder a previous detainee had hidden inside a folded blanket. Chong ingested the powdery stuff which turned out to be methamphetamine. (You can be cavity-searched at the airport, but apparently not in a DEA office.) The abandoned office prisoner drank his own urine, and by his third day in captivity, began hallucinating. In an effort to kill himself, Chong used his teeth to break out the glass in his eyewear, then swallowed the shards. As DEA personnel went about their business just yards from him, Chong, locked into his private hell, completely lost his mind.

     On Saturday, April 25, someone in the DEA office discovered Mr. Chong. They had simply forgotten about him. (I'm not sure why the people Chong had been arrested with didn't alert someone, or make inquires with the DEA. It's really hard to believe that someone can go missing inside a law enforcement facility.) When the bureaucrat discovered the incoherent, waste-covered, raving mad drug detainee, he weighed 15 pounds less than when they had placed him into the room. Had he been there much longer, the DEA people would have discovered a corpse.

     Rushed to Sharp Memorial Hospital, Chong, suffering from a failing kidney, a perforated lung, severe dehydration, and numerous other ailments, was placed into an intensive care unit. He left the hospital four days later.

     On May 2, 2012, Daniel Chong's attorney announced his plan to file a $20 million lawsuit against the DEA.

     On August 1, 2013, the DEA settled the Chong case out of court for $4.1 million.         

Kosta Karageorge's Football Concussions, Depression, and Suicide

     In 2009, Kosta Karageorge graduated from Thomas Worthington High School in Worthington, Ohio, a suburb north of Columbus where the 6-foot-5, 285-pound athlete wrestled and played football. After high school, Karageorge continued his wrestling career at nearby Ohio State University.

     In the fall of 2014, the 22-year-old fifth year senior joined the Ohio State football team as a walk-on. The defensive lineman played in one game in which he recorded a single tackle against Penn State.

     During his football playing years, Karageorge suffered several concussions, the last one occurring in September 2014.

     At one-thirty in the morning on Wednesday, November 26, 2014, Karageorge sent his mother what she considered a disturbing text message. He wrote that if he had been an embarrassment to the family he apologized, stating that his concussions had affected his behavior. Thirty minutes later, Karageorge left his apartment on East 7th Avenue in Columbus. He told his roommates he was upset over an incident involving his girlfriend, and needed to take a walk.

     Karageorge did not return to his apartment that morning, and failed to show up for the 6 AM football practice. He left his wallet in his apartment, and did not possess any form of identification. He was dressed that morning in black sweatpants, black Timberland boots, and a dark hoodie with the letters FOC on it. Karageorge wore a short beard and had recently shaved his head.

     At five in the afternoon on the day he left his apartment and didn't return, Karageorge's mother, after not hearing from her son all day, reported him missing to the Columbus Police Department. His earlier text message, and the fact he usually kept in daily touch with his family, caused her great concern.

     Columbus detectives traced the missing football player's cellphone through GPS technology to West 3rd and Elmwood Avenues in the Grandview Heights section of the city. Officers, however, did not find his phone. He could have walked to that neighborhood, taken public transportation, or accepted a ride with someone.

     On Friday November 28, 2014, 150 volunteers distributed hundreds of posters around the city that featured a photograph of the missing student. A group of former Ohio State football players put up a $1,000 reward for information leading to his whereabouts.

     On Sunday November 30, 2014, five days after he went missing, a searcher found Karageorge's body in a dumpster several blocks from his apartment. The authorities identified him by his tattoos. Detectives believed that Karaageorge had used the handgun found near his body to shoot himself in the head.

     The Franklin County coroner ruled Kosta Karageorge's death a suicide.

Tangible Murder Scene Clues

Clues are tangible signs which prove--or seem to prove--that no crime can be committed by thoughts only, and that we live in a world regulated by mechanical laws. The dead man was not killed by a ghostly hand but by a murderer of flesh and blood.

Theodore Reik, The Unknown Murderer, 1945

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

Don't Write Extremely Complicated Stories

A story that's too complicated uses up its energy just to explain what's happening. Complication is not complexity. A story that renders a single moment convincingly is a complex accomplishment. The complexity lies in the richness, the rendering, the texture, the subtlety of observation, the experience for readers. A beautifully complex story is often complex not because of a complicated surface but because of an impressive depth.

Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction, 1991

Jacqueline Susann: The Work Habits of One Of America's Worst Writers

Before the days of word processing, how did authors keep track of their various drafts and revisions? Purple prose writer Jacqueline Susann [Valley of the Dolls, 1966; The Love Machine, 1969; and Once Is Not Enough, 1973] typed each draft on different colors of paper: yellow for the first draft, then blue, pink, and finally white. [It's hard to believe it took four drafts to write such dreadful novels.]

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

Winning A Lottery Jackpot Or Selling Your Literary First Novel: Same Odds

Ignoring the hot MFA [Masters of Fine Arts] grad you read about in Publishers Weekly whose novel starts a big publishing house bidding war, literary first novels are almost impossible to introduce into the marketplace. Bookstores will only order them in small quantities, if at all, and it is difficult to get reviews, especially in places that really matter. Additionally, getting a bookstore reading for a first fiction author is an effort that would make Sisyphus proud. A well-established independent bookseller once told me flat out that he would never book a first fiction author into his store.

Robert Lasner, mobylives.com, 2005 

America's First Horror Novel

A man bursts spontaneously into flames. Disembodied voices speak. Something lurks behind the closet door. A victim of religious mania kills his wife and children. These episodes can be found in Wieland, or The Transformation, published in 1798. It is the first American horror novel, written by Charles B. Brockden Brown, a Philadelphian of Quaker stock who is recognized as the father of American literature. He was, in other words, the first American crazy enough to try to support himself solely by writing fiction.

Douglas E. Winter, Faces of Fear, 1985 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Middle School Student Used As Bait To Catch Alleged Sex Offender

     On January 14, 2010, Jeanne Dunaway and Teresa Terrell, vice principals at Sparkman Middle School near Huntsville, Alabama, received a complaint that a male student had touched a girl inappropriately. The subject of the complaint was no stranger to this kind of allegation. He had been accused of predatory sexual advances fifteen times in the recent past. The latest complaint resulted in the boy being placed on "in-school suspension."

     A couple of days later, teacher's aide June Simpson spoke to principal Ronnie Blair about the boy. According to Simpson, he had "repeatedly tried to convince girls to have sex with him in the boy's bathroom on the special needs students' corridor. The teacher's aide reported that the young predator had actually engaged in sex with one of the girls.

     Because the boy and the female special needs student denied having sex in the boy's restroom, the principal informed the teacher's aide that because the kids had not been caught in the act, his hands were tied. The concerned teacher's aide recommended that school officials keep a close eye on this boy.

     On January 22, 2010, a 14-year-old girl who wasn't physically or mentally handicapped but took special education classes, told teacher's aide Simpson that the alleged schoolboy sex fiend had been pestering her to have restroom sex with him. Simpson asked the girl if she'd be willing to act as bait in a plan to catch the sexual predator. The girl refused to participate in the sting, then changed her mind.

     The teacher's aide, accompanied by the girl, laid out her plan to vice principal Dunaway who didn't endorse or approve of it. The vice principal didn't forbid the execution of the scheme either. The plan was this: the girl would agree to have sex with the boy in the special needs bathroom where teachers would be hiding to confront the kid before things got out of hand.

     Shortly after leaving the vice principal's office, the girl encountered the young predator in the hallway. She agreed to have sex with him. But instead of getting together in the special needs restroom, he told her to meet him in the sixth-grade boy's bathroom in another part of the school. The girl did not have time to alert the teacher's aide of the change in plans.

     In the sixth-grade boy's restroom, with no teachers hiding nearby to intervene, the girl rejected the boy's advances. Unable to fight him off, he raped her anally.

     After the victim reported the crime to a teacher, police officers were summoned to the school. They took the girl to the National Children's Advocacy Center in Huntsville where medical personnel used a rape kit to gather physical evidence. Hospital personnel also photographed signs of trauma consistent with the girl's rape allegation.

     The young suspect, when confronted with the accusation, claimed he had only kissed the girl.

     After the alleged rape victim refused to cooperate with detectives, the police department turned the case over to the Madison County District Attorney's Office. Without the victim's testimony, an eyewitness, or the boy's confession, prosecutors closed the case for lack of evidence.

     Pursuant to an internal, administrative inquiry into the incident, vice principal Terrell testified that after seeing photographs of the girl's injuries, she didn't know whether or not the sex had been consensual. Vice Principal Dunaway testified that when the girl willingly entered the sixth-grade restroom with the boy, she was on her own.

     In the school's final disciplinary report on the matter, the incident in the school restroom was described as the "inappropriate touching of a female." The principal suspended the boy for five days. Following the suspension, the kid spent fifteen days at an alternative institution before returning to Sparkman Middle School.

     The 14-year-old girl withdrew from the Sparkman school. After extensive counseling, she ended up in North Carolina with her mother. Upon her mother's death shortly thereafter, the girl and her brother were placed in Child Protection Services.

     June Simpson, the Sparkman teacher's aide, resigned not long after the incident. Her attorney described her as a scapegoat in the case.

      In October 2010, the girl's father filed a Title IX "Jane Doe" lawsuit in federal court against the boy, school administrators, the teacher's aide, and the Madison County School Board. Title IX is a federal law aimed at ending gender discrimination in public education.

     A few months after the filing of the lawsuit, a U.S. District Court Judge tossed out the claim against the boy because he was a minor. The judge also threw out the Title IX portion of the action. He did allow, however, the claim of negligence against the teacher's aide and the school administrators. Attorney Eric Artrip appealed the lower court ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta.

     On September 17, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education filed amicus briefs (friend of the court arguments) in support of attorney Artrip's appeal of the Title IX rejection.

     The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in August 2015, overturned the district court ruling against the student used as sexual assault bait. That meant that "Jane Doe" could proceed with a lawsuit against the school system

     In March 2016, the Madison County School System settled the "Jane Doe" suit for an undisclosed amount.

Few People In America Steal For Survival

Some people steal to stay alive, and some steal to feel alive.

V.E. Schwab, A Darker Shade of Magic, 2015

From The Mouth Of A Homicidal Maniac

I don't wanna take my time going to work, I got a motorcycle and a sleeping bag and ten or fifteen girls. What the hell I wanna go off to work for? Work for what? Money? I got all the money in the world. I'm the king, man. I run the underworld. I decide who does what and where they do it at. What am I gonna run around like some teeny bobber somewhere for someone else's money. I roll the nickels. The game is mine. I deal the cards.

Charles Manson

LAPD Chief William Parker (1905-1966)

Appointed Chief of the Los Angeles Police in 1950, William Parker quickly imposed an authoritarian management style that resembled J. Edgar Hoover's leadership of the FBI. He cleaned up the notoriously corrupt department and developed a highly militaristic style of policing that emphasized aggressive crime-fighting. He portrayed the police as the thin blue line between civilization and chaos. Also like Hoover, he was a master of public relations and helped create the popular television show Dragnet, which projected a national image of the Los Angeles police as relentlessly efficient. Sergeant Joe Friday's favorite line, "Just the facts, ma'am," became a popular cliche. [Parker was chief of police for 39 years.]

Samuel Walker, Popular Justice: A History of American Criminal Justice, 1998

Real Life Versus Short Story Scenes

A basic distinction between an episode in real life and a short story is that the story does have an author, who creates his characters, selects his actions, and directs them in the exploration of some meaningful idea. Any episode in life is filled with irrelevancies of many kinds which confuse our understanding; in the story only those elements are included which serve to focus the overall effect, which is the story. The helpful author is present, then, in the creating, selecting, and focusing of the materials of his story.

James A. Thurston, Reading Modern Short Stories, 1955 

A Controversial Children's Book

Perhaps the most polarizing book written for children is The Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister. To its fans, it's a sparkling illustrated story about a beautiful but arrogant fish who learns humility by giving away its shiny scales to less fortunate fish. To detractors, it's a socialist screed that encourages "an attitude of greed and entitlement," as one customer wrote in a review on Amazon.com.

John Williams "Books to Love and Hate," The New York Times Book Review, October 5, 2014 

All Novelists Get Discouraged

Writing a novel is a very hard thing to do because it covers so long a space of time, and if you get discouraged it is not a bad sign, but a good one. If you think you are not doing it well, you're thinking the way real novelists do. I never knew one who did not feel greatly discouraged at times, and some get desperate, and I have always found that to be a good symptom.

Maxwell Perkins in Max Perkins, A. Scott Berg, 1978 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Killing Bambi

     Lest anyone think that American law enforcement isn't insanely militarized, the story of a SWAT-like raid of an animal shelter in search of a state-condemned baby fawn should settle the question once and for all.

     In early July 2013, a family living in Illinois across the state line from Kenosha, Wisconsin, rescued a baby fawn that had been abandoned by her mother. The animal lovers who discovered the deer in their backyard, called the Society of St. Francis Animal Shelter in Kenosha. Personnel at the no-kill shelter agreed to take custody of the abandoned deer.

     An unidentified busybody, shocked that the shelter housed a wild animal without the required state-issued permit, alerted the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). After the agency received the anonymous tip, DNR agents dedicated to maintaining the peace and dignity of the great state of Wisconsin, sprang into action. Rather than one agent simply driving out to the shelter to inform the St. Francis personnel that they needed to acquire a permit for the baby deer (the day will come when we will have to get government permits for everything), DNR agents assigned to the case arranged for aerial photographs of the animal shelter and the contraband deer.

     Employees of the rogue animal shelter had named the 35-pound fawn "Giggles" because of the sounds she made.

     On July 15, 2013, a heavily armed squad of nine DNR agents accompanied by four deputy sheriffs rolled up to the Society of St. Francis Animal Shelter in several police vehicles. (The local SWAT tank was currently being used to transport a captured check-passer who had been caught in possession of two unregistered ballpoint pens. Just kidding.) It's hard to image what the idiot in charge of this SWAT-like operation was thinking. Did these officers expect armed resistance from the shelter workers? We all know how dangerous these kind of people can be. Perhaps the agents were afraid of Giggles. Unarmed deer in the wild have been known to charge hunters.

     As the DNR agents began executing their search warrant--that's right, they actually went to the trouble of bothering a judge for a search warrant--confused and concerned shelter employee were corralled near a picnic area. A false move at this point could have gotten one of them killed. This was serious business.

     The woman in charge of the shelter under siege informed one of the agents that Giggles was being taken the next day to a wildlife reserve. This relevant information fell on deaf ears. Armed law enforcement warriors on important crime-fighting missions do not allow themselves to be distracted by interfering bystanders.

     Not long after the armed invasion of the animal shelter, a DNR agent walked proudly out of the barn with a body-bag thrown over his shoulder. Giggles, still alive, was in the sack. One of the outraged shelter workers who assumed the agent had killed Giggles, asked why he had killed the fawn. (Giggles was tranquilized and dispatched by government officials later that day.)

     The  DNR agent, in response to the obvious question of why, said, "That's our policy." Of course, policy! That explains everything. The government has its policies and we have to shut up and live with those policies. What would a citizen know about policy?

     The animal shelter employee, obviously not impressed with the DNR policy of armed animal shelter raids in search of unlicensed baby deer scheduled for execution, said, "That's one hell of a policy!"

     Following the idiotic raid and execution of Giggles, shelter worker Ray Schultz said this to a local reporter: "I spent 22 years in the Air Force and two years in Vietnam and I've never seen such totally unnecessary, senseless cruelty."

     Cindy Schultz, the president of the Society of St. Francis Animal Shelter, described the DNR raid to a reporter: "This was like the Gestapo coming in. Giggles didn't pose any threat. She was petrified. She wasn't even sick. There was no reason to kill her."

     It's bad enough that we have to live under the control of a growing army of mindless bureaucrats blindly enforcing stupid and unnecessary laws and regulations. It's even worse that these idiots have guns, and operate under the false belief they are keeping America safe.

If You Want To Try Cases, Don't Go To Harvard Law School

     For generations, many of our best law schools have failed in their mission to educated first-rate trial lawyers. Indeed, it is fair to say that most first-rate trial lawyers did not attend first-rate law schools. The law school at which I teach--Harvard--bears some of the responsibility. Back in the nineteenth century, its dean, Christopher Columbus Langdell, developed the appellate-case method of teaching substantive law, legal doctrine, legal theory and procedure. Emphasis is placed on appellate decision--that is, opinions rendered by courts of appeals, primarily on issues of law...

     What American law schools often do not teach--at least do not teach well enough--are the basic skills of advocacy: how to prepare a case, how to examine a witness, how to argue before a jury, how to write a brief and how to argue before appellate judges. One of the understandable reasons why law professors don't emphasize these skills is that many of them simply do not have experience or expertise in them. Law professors are selected, at least in many schools, not because of their skills as practicing lawyers, but because of their reputations as legal scholars and teachers.

Alan Dershowitz, Letters To A Young Lawyer, 2001

The Elements of Style

Though still revered, the classic text, The Elements of Style [by Will Strunk and E.B. White] is a little dated now, and just plain wrong about some things. Strunk and White are famously clueless for example, about what constitutes the passive voice. Their book also has some of the hectoring, preachy tone that creeps into so many of the discussions about writing, though it's not as extreme as Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves, which declares that people who misuse apostrophes "deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave."

Charles McGrath, "Omit Needless Rules," The New York Times Book Review, October 19, 2014 

The Stupid Pickpocket

Once I pulled a job. I was so stupid. I picked a guy's pocket on an airplane and made a run for it.

Rodney Dangerfield 

Literary Award Complaints

Literary prizes sometimes seem to function like parents whose approval we crave as well as spurn. The complaints are as common as they are contradictory: Prizes are awarded to tepid, undemanding best sellers everyone reads; prizes are awarded to obscure, abstruse books no one reads. They are awarded to the right authors, but for the wrong work (Hemingway for "The Old Man and the Sea," Faulkner for "A Fable"). They are awarded to the wrong authors for the wrong work (Margaret Mitchell for "Gone With the Wind"). They are withheld from the right authors for the right work (Gravity's Rainbow," by Thomas Pynchon, won jury approval for the Pulitzer Price in 1974 but was overruled by a board that deemed the novel "turgid," and "obscene"). Sometimes the grousing has the whiff of sour grapes. "Prize X has never been awarded to Philip Roth." Prize Y has never been awarded to me."

Jennifer Szalai, "Bookends," The New York Times Book Review, November 24, 2013

Romance: A Genre or Marketing Label?

I don't wholly agree with the label "romance." It is for me chiefly a marketing label, not a creative one. When Kathleen Woodiwiss and Margaret Mitchell were penning their first books, they weren't writing "romance." They were writing from their hearts like any other writer. Publishing labeled the books "romance." Publishing, in trying to imitate the success of these books, had superimposed rules and defined a genre. The best "romance writers" write from their hearts and break "rules" all over the place.

Judith Ivory, booktalk.com, 2005 

Biography Versus History Books

The historian frames a cosmos of happenings in which men are included only as event producers or event sufferers. The biographer explores the cosmos of a single being. History deals in generalizations about a time. Biography deals in the particulars of one person's life.

Paul Murray Kendall in Biography as High Adventure, edited by Stephen B. Oates, 1986

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Confessions of Reverend Juan D. McFarland

     The Reverend Juan D. McFarland became pastor of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in 1990. Three years later, he oversaw the construction of a new church complex near Alabama State University in Montgomery. While the 47-year-old minister was still behind the Shiloh Missionary pulpit in 2014, he was no longer married. He had married twice, but both of his wives had divorced him.

     On August 31, 2014, while delivering a Sunday morning sermon, Reverend McFarland told the congregation that God had directed him to reveal a secret. He said he suffered from full-blown AIDS. Two weeks later, on Sunday September 14, 2014, the Baptist pastor confessed to having had adulterous sexual encounters with female members of the congregation. The trysts, he said, took place in the church. He also informed those seated before him that he had used illicit drugs and had misappropriated church funds.

     The confessing minister dropped the big bombshell on Sunday September 21, 2014 when he revealed that he had not told his sexual partners that he had AIDS. (In Alabama, knowingly spreading a sexually transmitted disease is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.)

     The Shiloh Missionary Baptist Board of Deacons, on October 5, 2014, voted 80 to 1 to fire Pastor McFarland. The embattled preacher, however, made it clear that notwithstanding the deacons' desire to remove him from his position, he was not leaving his flock. He and a church member changed the locks on the church building to keep the deacons and other intruders out. Reverend McFarland also altered the number of the church's bank account. The church had $56,000 in the Wells Fargo bank.

     On Sunday October 12, 2014, Pastor McFarland was again standing behind the pulpit preaching to his most loyal parishioners. He had posted guards at the church's doors to keep out detractors. To the fifty or so seated in the pews, the preacher said, "Sometimes the worst times in our lives are when we have a midnight situation. When you pray, you've got to forgive. You can't go down on your knees hating somebody, wishing something bad will happen to somebody."

     The deacons of the church, obviously not in a forgiving mood, filed a court petition on October 14, 2014 asking the judge to order Reverend McFarland to return control of the church building as well as the bank account. The deacons also wanted the judge to force McFarland to give up his church-owned Mercedes Benz.

     In support of the motion to remove this pastor from the church, the deacons accused him of "debauchery, sinfulness, hedonism, sexual misconduct, dishonesty, thievery, and refection of the Ten Commandments."

     According to the deacons' petition, the pastor and church member Marc Anthoni Peacock had changed the church locks. Mr. Peacock had allegedly threatened to use "castle law" (deadly force in defense of one's home) to keep intruders out of the building. Julian McPhillips, an attorney for the church, wrote, "McFarland needs to get the message that he needs to be gone."

     On October 16, 2014, at a hearing on the deacons' petition attended by Reverend McFarland, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Charles Price issued a preliminary ruling against the preacher that required him to turn over the keys to the church, give back the Mercedes, and release information regarding the bank account. The judge also banned McFarland from the church property.

The Psychopath

[In dealing with a psychopath] we are not dealing with a complete man at all but with something that suggests a subtly constructed reflex machine which can mimic the human personality perfectly. This smoothly operating psychic apparatus not only reproduces consistent specimens of good human reasoning but also appropriates simulations of normal human emotions in response to nearly all the varied stimuli of life. So perfect is this reproduction of a whole and normal man that no one who examines him can point out in scientific or objective terms why he is not real. And yet one knows or feels he knows that reality, in the sense of full, healthy experiencing of life, is not here.

Dr. Hervey Cleckley, The Mask of Sanity, 1941

The Violent Crimes of Stanley B. Hoss

We watch the evening news and hear that one person has murdered another. We get up from the TV, have supper, and soon forget the names of the killer and victim as we go on with our lives. But some events sear the soul. Some dramas become stories that stick with us, hanging like a mist over the mountain. That seems to be so with Stanley Hoss. [Stanley Hoss, a serial killer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, broke into homes and tortured, raped, and killed the occupants.]

James G. Hollock, Born to Lose: Stanley B. Hoss and the Crime Spree that Gripped a Nation, 2011

Appreciating the Novel

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

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

The Portal Fantasy Story

The "portal fantasy" is a mainstay in the fantasy genre. In this type of novel, someone from our world discovers a pathway to another world where he or she is our relatable explorer. We discover this new world through this narrator's eyes. It's a tried and true fantasy plot.

Charlie Jane Anders, i09.com, January 26, 2012 

The Novelist's Detachment

Novelists when they're writing live in a spooky, clamorous silence, a state somewhat like the advanced stages of prayer but without prayer's calming benefits. A writer turns his back on the day and the night and its large and little beauties, and tries to fashion other days and nights with words. It's absurd. Oh, it's silly, dangerous work indeed.

Joy Williams in Why I Write, edited by William Blythe, 1998 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Travane Jackson Quadruple Murder Case

     In 2019, 29-year-old Jerrica Spellman and her boyfriend of several years, 27-year-old Travane Jackson, lived at the Elizabeth Canty Apartments in Columbus, Georgia. The couple resided with their three young children. Jerrica Spellman worked as an exotic dancer at the Carousel Lounge in the city while Travane Jackson was employed at a car wash called Blue Devil Detail. Jessica, raised in Jesup, Georgia, had moved to Columbus in 2005.

     Travane Jackson, over the past several years, had been in trouble with the law. He had been arrested for drug offenses and for violating the terms of his probation. In 2018, after Jerrica Spellman filed a domestic violence complaint against him, the police arrested him for simple battery. This was not the first time Jackson had abused the mother of his three children.

     In July 2019, Jerrica Spellman, fed up with the domestic abuse, was preparing to leave Jackson and move, along with the children, to Atlanta where they planned to take up residence with her parents.

     At nine o'clock Wednesday night, July 17, 2019, officers with the Columbus Police Department were called to the Elizabeth Canty complex where they discovered, in the Spellman/Jackson apartment, a bloody scene of violent death.

     Police officers, upon entering the apartment, found the bodies of four people, all of whom had been stabbed many times. The murder victims were identified as Jerrica Spellman and her three children: one-month-old Khristian Jackson, one-year-old Kensley Jackson, and three-year-old King Jackson.

     Early on the morning following the quadruple murder, Columbus police officers arrested Travane Jackson and booked him into the Muscogee County Jail on four counts of murder.

     When questioned by detectives, Travane Jackson confessed to fatally stabbing Jerrica Spellman and their three children. Jackson told his interrogators that he wanted to write letters to Spellman's family expressing his remorse.

     At Travane Jackson's arraignment, he pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder.

"Upskirting" in Massachusetts: No Crime in That

     In 2010, transit authority police in Boston arrested Michael Robertson for using his cell phone to secretly snap photographs from beneath the dresses of unsuspecting female trolly passengers. This perverted behavior was so common in Massachusetts and other places it had a name--"upskirting."

     A prosecutor in the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office charged the 32-year-old upskirt photographer with two counts of secretly photographing a person in a state of nudity or partial nudity. The statute underlying the charges was intended to criminalize the act of placing hidden cameras in restrooms, shower stalls, and other places where people undress. This form of voyeurism in the state is punishable by up to two and a half years in prison. Almost all the perpetrators who had been convicted of this offense were men clandestinely photographing women and children. By any standard this was deviant and unacceptable behavior.

     Following Robertson's arrest, his attorney, Michelle Menken, moved to have the charges dropped on the grounds her client's actions did not fall within the letter of the law. Specifically, the women he photographed were not nude or partially nude as required by the statute.

     The prosecutor in charge of the case, in contesting the motion to dismiss, argued that Robertson's behavior clearly came under the spirit of the law. Certainly the legislators who passed this law would agree.

     A Suffolk County District Judge let the upskirting charges stand. Defense attorney Menken appealed that decision.

     On March 4, 2014, the State Supreme Judicial Court, Massachusetts' highest judicial body, ruled in favor of the upskirt photographer. The justices found that the statute in question did not prohibit the photographing of women who were fully dressed.

     Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley, shortly after the ruling, told reporters that, "Every person, male or female, has a right to privacy beneath his or her clothing. If the statute as written doesn't protect that privacy, then I'm urging the legislature to act rapidly and adjust the law so it does."

     In the United States, before an act can be treated as criminal behavior, the act and a corresponding state of mind must be specifically defined in the form of a statute. As a result, state crimes codes have to be continually updated to keep up with the ever changing nature of human depravity. For example, the reading of the animal cruelty sections of state crimes codes reveals how many ways people have found to torture animals. The theft section of a crimes code depicts all the methods thieves have devised to steal.

     State crimes codes are essentially catalogues of modern deviant behavior. Not long ago, no one had a phone you could use as a camera, and no one heard of upskirting. There was a time when there was no such thing as sexting, cyber bullying or getting high on bath salts. To be effective, criminal codes have to keep up with the times. Given the ability of people to blaze new trails into the dark worlds of deviancy and criminality, this is no easy task. 

Junk Science: Altering Behavior Through Blood Transfusion

     British and French doctors tried transfusing sheep's blood into humans, hoping that the life force of a docile creature might tame mad passions. In France, Dr. Jean Denis tried it on a wife-beater, with at first good results.

     Over in England, on November 23, 1667, a daft impoverished clergyman's helper, named Arthur Coga, was paid twenty shillings to undergo the experiment, receiving up to twelve ounces of blood from the wooly four-footed beast. "Some think it may have a good effect upon him as a frantic man by cooling his blood," wrote famed diarist, Samuel Pepys. A large crowd of experts gathered at the Royal Society to observe.

     Pepys was pleased to note that the following week, the man addressed the Royal Society in Latin. "He is a little cracked in his head, though he speaks very reasonably," added Pepys a bit cryptically.

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997 

Big City Gun Violence

     When politicians talk about the epidemic of gun violence in the country, they seldom address the problem honestly. Driven by political correctness, politicians focus on shootings involving spree killers, and armed men in suburbia who mistake family members and neighbors as intruders. Anytime a gun enthusiast at a gun show accidentally shoots someone, the media is all over the accident.

     While politicians are not the brightest people around, they know that gun violence is principally about young black men shooting other young black men in cities big and small across the country. The fear of being labeled racists keeps politicians from stating the obvious. That fear, by the way, is well-grounded.

     Black males are ten times more likely to be victims of violent crime than their white counterparts. That's because so many of them live in high-crime neighborhoods, and participate in dangerous activities. Every year, 3,000 to 4,000 black men are murdered by handguns. Roughly 30,000 are wounded. In March 2013, during a three-day period in Chicago, 38 black men were shot to death. That is more homicides than most cities have in one year. For example, in 2017, Madison, Wisconsin, a city of 255,000, had 11 criminal homicides.

     On any given night in many big cities, ambulances deliver up to 35 black males to emergency rooms with gunshot wounds.

     On average, treating a patient who has been shot costs $322,000. This form of inner-city violence costs U. S. taxpayer about $12 billion a year. The bill is significantly higher if you include loss of work, rehabilitation, court, and incarceration costs.

     Since the vast majority of these shootings involve illegally possessed handguns, the current gun control debate is nothing more than political grandstanding, and a waste of time. Politicians should be talking about how to reduce violent, inner city crime instead of imposing more regulations on law abiding gun owners. 

The Rise of Dystopian Science Fiction

Dystopia has appeared in science fiction from the genre's inception, but the past decade has observed an unprecedented rise in its authorship. Once a literary niche within a niche, mankind is now destroyed with clockwork regularity by nuclear weapons, computers gone rogue, nanotechnology, and man-made viruses…We have plagues and we have zombies and we have zombie plagues.

Michael Solana, wired.com, August 24, 2014 

The Traditional Fantasy Milieu

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

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

E.B. White's Journals

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

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

Friday, October 25, 2019

True Crime Censorship In China: The Zhou Xijun Murder Case

     At 7:15 in the morning of Monday, March 4, 2013, Mr. Xu parked his gray Toyota RAV 4 near the supermarket where he worked. He ran into the building, turned on the heat, and returned to the parking lot. To his horror, Mr. Xu discovered that someone had stolen his SUV along with his two-month-old baby who was in the backseat. The car thief probably didn't know the vehicle was occupied.

     The distraught father called the police department in Changchun City, a sprawling megalopolis of 8 million people in northeast China's Jilin Province. Mr. Xu also called a local radio station which broadcast periodic bulletins that included descriptions of the stolen car and the missing baby. Eight thousand police officers were alerted as well as thousands of taxi cab drivers. All of these people, including listeners of the radio station, were on the lookout for the stolen Toyota and its infant passenger, a baby named Xu Haobo.

     Almost immediately a variety of Internet social media sites picked up on the ongoing story. Most people following the case assumed that once the car thief realized he had inadvertently abducted the car owner's child, would deposit the infant in front of a hospital or some other public place.

     The next day, the car had not been recovered and the baby was still missing. Perhaps the car thief was also a kidnapper seeking a ransom. At five in the afternoon of Tuesday, March 5, a man named Zhou Xijun turned himself in to the Changchun police. According to the 48-year-old resident of Gongzhuling City, about an hour after he took Mr. Xu's car, he strangled the baby to death. Mr. Xijun said he buried the corpse in the snow alongside a country road.

     While the Xu Haobo story was widely circulated in China's Internet social media, Xinwenhua News, the official Jilin Province newspaper, did not report the murder. According to an independent journalist who uses the name "Yingshidian," the Communist run Provincial Propaganda Department had censored reportage of the case. The story was suppressed because it lent credence to concerns that criminals in China were losing all respect for human life. Stories like this were bad for tourism as well.

     A relative of the murdered baby, on a Chinese web site similar to YouTube, criticized the police for not finding the car thief before he murdered Xu Haobo. The relative accused the police of gross negligence in the case.  (Reportedly, the baby was killed an hour after the car theft which rendered this criticism unreasonable.)

     Like all high-profile murders, the Xu Haobo case spawned a lot of rumors. One story that went around was that Zhou Xijun, the man who confessed to the car theft and murder, was covering for his son, Zhou Lei. Rumor had it that the son murdered the baby and was on the run from the police.

     The senseless murder of the baby in the stolen car became one of the most talked about crimes in China's recent history. The murdered infant's mother was treated for a mental breakdown.

     Public outrage led for calls that the baby's killer be punished with "lingchi"--the slow dismemberment of the prisoner's body.

     In May 2013, a judge in Changchun, China found Zhou Xijun guilty of murder. The convicted man was hanged six months later. (In 2013, 3,000 criminals were executed in China. In 2002, 12,000 had been hanged.) 

Disarming The Police: The Politics Of Insanity

     Jamaal Bowman, a middle school principal from the Bronx, New York, is a Democrat primary challenger to the incumbent Congressman for the 16th District Congressional District, Eliot Engel. Congressman Engel has held the seat since 1988.

     In October 2019, Jamaal Bowman tweeted this: "It's time to disarm the police." This candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives is calling for an unarmed police force. (I'm sure his proposal would not include taking guns away from the capital police.)

     No one in their right mind would stay on the job as an unarmed police officer in a criminally violent country like ours. And only suicidal people would fill all of the resultant law enforcement vacancies.

      If anti-gun advocates like Jamaal Bowman ever come to power, the only people who will possess firearms will be the criminals. Talk about dystopia.

     Disarming American law enforcement is an even more insane idea than disarming law abiding citizens. Anyone who would propose such irresponsible nonsense is unfit for public office. 

Should Dunkin Donuts, McDonald's, and Pizza Hut Be Sued For Making Us Fat And Sick?

In recent years personal injury attorneys and trial lawyers have attacked the food industry with numerous lawsuits alleging that these businesses should pay monetary damages to those who, of their own accord, consume too much of a legal, safe product.

Bob Ney

Informants: Snitching Your Way To A Light Sentence

     Informants broadly refers to any defendant or suspect in our criminal justice system who is offered a deal, who cooperates or provides information to the government in exchange for some benefit. The most famous benefit, of course, is leniency. A leniency for their own crimes, either a shorter stint or the ability to avoid charges altogether. And the use of informants is an enormous and central part of the way we run our criminal justice system. You can understand it as a kind of off-the-books form of plea bargaining. We don't keep track of it, but it is a form of negotiation that is legal, tolerated and very common practice.

Alexander Natapoff, Professor, University of California Irvine School of Law on Adam H. Johnson's The Appeal Podcast, October 10, 2019

Humiliating Book Readings and Signings

     Writers can only moan to each other about all this, really: the humiliating reading to an audience of two, the book signing where nobody turns up, the talk where the only question is "Where did you buy your nail varnish?" Nobody is really going to care, are they, if we sit alone and unloved beside our pile of books, approached only once in the two hours by a woman who tried to flog her manuscript…

     Humiliation, though one of a writer's specialties, is not an entirely unknown sensation to everybody else. We do expose ourselves, of course, by offering up our work to the world's critical stare, or, worse, its indifference. It's what we sign up for: that people give up their money and  their precious time to read about characters who have never existed. And there's a price to pay for this chutzpah.

Deborah Moggach in Mortification edited by Robin Robertson, 2004 

Horror Fiction Can Transcend Genre

It seems to me that horror, as I'm trying to write it, actually encompasses everything I want to write. But on the other hand, if a theme comes along and takes the book in a different direction that turns out not to be horror, then that's fine. Horror fiction, particularly supernatural horror fiction, came out of the mainstream. There's hardly a major writer of short fiction who hasn't written a ghost story at some stage, and often that may be what they are mostly remembered for…What has happened is that books have been packaged by publishers into genres and it is this which has caused the split between mainstream and horror fiction. Obviously there is some fiction which is pure horror, and there's nothing wrong with a story that sets out to do nothing but frighten the reader any more than there's nothing wrong with a comedy which sets out to be nothing but funny or a romance that sets out to do nothing but make you take out your box of tissue. At the same time, I think that horror fiction is often much more than that, and that's certainly the kind I've always tried to write.

Ramsey Campbell in How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction, edited by J. N. Williamson, 1991 

Nora Roberts On Repeating Yourself As A Novelist

Every novel I write is harder than the last book. You would think that it would get easier in time, but it doesn't because the challenges are bigger, and your ego pushes you to do better. You want your writing to be cleaner, and I don't want to repeat myself--and that gets hard after so many books--but you don't want the same plot line, and the same characters, you want to keep it fresh. That's one of the hardest things, but it's just absolutely necessary.

Nora Roberts in Novel And Short Story Writer's Market, edited by Robin Gee, 1994 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

A Football Coach Cheats And The Team Pays

     Sophomore running back Bill Jackson played for Cardinal Ritter College Prep in St. Louis, Missouri. In the 2018 title game, a referee ejected Jackson from the field following some infraction. As a result, Jackson was suspended from playing in one game in the following 2019 season.

     In the 2019 opening game, Cardinal Ritter head coach Brandon Gregory, rather than honor the suspension and keep his star player off the field, inserted him into the game under an alias. Junior running back Bill Jackson, jersey number 24, ran onto the field as freshman Marvin Burks, jersey number 4.

     Bill Jackson, aka Marvin Burks, ran for 109 yards that night and scored a touchdown in his team's 32-21 win over its opponent. To local sportswriters excited about the new running back, Coach Gregory praised Marvin Burks as a kid who had earned his right to start the game. "It was his time to play ball," Gregory said, knowing full well he was really talking about Bill Jackson.

     Well into Cardinal Ritter's 2019 undefeated season, the truth emerged about Marvin Burks' real identify. Someone noticed that the freshman running back had Bill Jackson's tattoos. Moreover, the player known as Marvin Burks and Bill Jackson were the same size, and had the same running style. As it turned out, Marvin Burks was Bill Jackson.

     Game over.

     Tamiko Armstead, the Cardinal Ritter College Prep president, voided the football team's 2019 season, and fired head coach Brandon Gregory and his entire coaching staff.

     Ex-coach Brandon Gregory, rather than take full responsibility for ruining the season for his football team and its fans, said in the passive voice of someone unwilling to admit guilt, that "a mistake had been made."

     If that response wasn't bad enough, the coach said he didn't know Bill Jackson had been suspended for one game. If that were true, why did Coach Gregory give his star running back a different number and a phony identity--for one game? Yeah, mistakes had been made, the big one being hiring this guy as coach.     

Rachel Monroe On Court TV

     The law does what it can to remain remote, with judges' robes and imposing courthouses...all that Latin, all those arcane rules...But in the early 1990s, that closed world was beginning to crack open. In 1991, Court TV began airing live coverage of high-profile trials; now, instead of waiting for the thirty-second highlight reel on the evening news, you could watch every single minute of courtroom action and stick around after the jury was dismissed for the day to hear expert commentary and analysis...

     Even in the splashiest trials, court proceedings are often tedious. Court TV made this procedural drone visible, yet it drew viewers anyway, millions of them. The audience wasn't turning in for highly orchestrated thrills; that was something they could get elsewhere. Long trials, in all their florid boredom, provided a different kind of drama, at a different pace. The genius of Court TV, and of cable television in general, was making programming more addictive even as it was less satisfying minute by minute...

     Watching Court TV could feel like peeking behind the curtain, witnessing a less mediated version of reality. If you appreciated human drama but were sick of the manufactured hysterics of daytime talk shows, you now had another option.

Rachel Monroe, Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession, 2019

The Cold-Blooded Murder of Skylar Neese

     Sixteen-year-old Skylar Neese lived in an apartment in Star City, West Virginia with her parents David and Mary Neese. Sky City is a town of 1,800 outside of Morgantown, the home of West Virginia University. The community, located in the northern part of the state, is a few miles south of the Pennsylvania state line.

     On the night of July 6, 2012, Skylar came home from her part time job and bid her parents goodnight. Just before midnight, a surveillance camera directed at the apartment complex caught the A-student at University High School climbing out of her bedroom window. The camera also recorded her getting into a car occupied by two girls her age. When Sklar's parents discovered their daughter's bedroom empty the next morning, they reported her missing.

     The police questioned the 16-year-old driver of the car seen on the surveillance tape who said she had dropped her friend off at her apartment an hour after Skylar had snuck out of her bedroom. In the initial stage of the investigation, the authorities operated under the theory that Skylar Neese was a runaway.

     Over the next several weeks, fliers bearing the missing girl's photograph were placed on hundreds of utility poles and distributed to dozens of local businesses. The FBI, suspecting foul play, entered the case. Several of Skylar's fellow students were chatting about the case on the social media. One student eventually went to the police after hearing two 16-year-old girls discussing how they had murdered Skylar Neese. This student at first assumed the girls were joking, and for that reason didn't alert the police right away.

     On January 3, 2013, almost six months after Skylar Neese was seen on camera getting into the car, Rachel Shoaf, one of Skylar's 16-year-old friends, confessed that she and another 16-year-old girl had lured Neese into the car that night for the purpose of killing her. According to Shoaf, they had stabbed Skylar to death and drove her body into Pennsylvania where, at a remote spot near the town of Waynesburg about 30 miles northwest of Star City, they dumped her body. When the girls ran into difficulty digging a grave, they simply covered the corpse with branches.

     If Shoaf articulated a motive for the murder, that was not revealed. Police later arrested Sheila Eddy on the charge of first-degree murder.

     Police officers from several law enforcement agencies, on January 16, 2013, found a badly decomposed corpse in Greene County's Wayne Township. The body was preliminarily identified as Skylar Neese, but the identification was not officially announced until March 13, 2013.

     On May 1, 2013, Rachel Shoaf pleaded guilty to second-degree murder before a judge in a Monongalia County Circuit Court. She was incarcerated in a juvenile detention center awaiting her sentencing. The local district attorney indicated that he planed to recommend a sentence of twenty years. Under West Virginia law, second-degree murder carried a maximum sentence of forty years.

     Sheila Eddy pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in January 2014 and was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. A month later, the judge sentenced Shoaf to 30 years in prison.

     It was odd this case didn't attracted more attention from the national media. If murder had taken place in Los Angeles, New York City, or Chicago, it might have developed into a big crime story. Sixteen year old, middle class girls do not go around stabbing each other to death in cold blood. Where were the TV crime profilers, criminologists, and murder shrinks?

     This strange and disturbing case was reminiscent of Chicago's Leopold and Loeb case in 1924. That murder involved a couple of young, well-educated men from good families who killed an innocent boy simply to see if they could commit the perfect crime. They didn't, and like the West Virginia girls, ended up in prison.

Thornton P. Knowles On The Nature Of Big Government

When you break it all down, government is nothing more than a giant bribery, propaganda, and lying machine; beautifully orchestrated corruption run by opposing crime families headquartered in Washington, D.C. and state capitals across the country. Any person running for office who promises to "drain the swamp" is either a liar or a fool. The only thing that gets "drained" is the taxpayer.

Thornton P. Knowles

Put a Prologue in Your Memoir

I advocate prologue in a memoir. I feel that it helps everyone involved--the writer, the reader--if certain early declarations are made. The thrill of literary memoir isn't bound up in plot, per se, and it shouldn't be bound up in gossip. The thrill of the genre--or at least one of its chief pleasures--is all about how well the author manages to answer all the questions or explore the themes or concerns that lie at the story's heart. Coy doesn't work--or at least I don't think it does. The questions, themes, and concerns that fuel a memoir are often best enunciated at the start. And prologues are such fine, flexible containers. You can make them do whatever you want them to do.

Beth Kephart, Handling the Truth, 2013 

Novelists As Born Liars

You might want to become a nonfiction writer, and yet at every turn you distort things, exaggerate and embellish them, and even introduce characters, places and events that had nothing to do with the original material. In that case, you are a born fiction writer, which is much nicer than saying you are a born liar.

Josip Novakovich in Fiction Writer's Workshop, edited by Josip Novakovich, 1995 

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Outsourcing Contract Murder

     Murder-for-hire cases fall generally into one of two categories: criminal homicides in which the contract for the killing is carried out, and crimes in which, due to law enforcement intervention in the form of an undercover operative playing the role of the assassin, no one is killed. While still a serious felony, the latter offense is one of criminal solicitation.

     The cast of a murder-for-hire plot features three principal characters: the instigator/mastermind who solicits the criminal homicide, the hit man (or the undercover cop playing the role of triggerman), and the victim, the person targeted for death. Supporting players might include a cast of go-betweens and accomplices such as people who put the mastermind in touch with the hit man or the undercover cop, and helpers brought into the scheme by the triggerman.

     A few years ago, hit men in China added a new player to the traditional cast of murder-for-hire characters: The subcontractor.

     In 2013, in Nanning, China, Tan Youhui, a highly successful owner of a real estate company, hired a hit man named Xi Guangan to kill a business competitor. The murder-for-hire mastermind provided his hit man with the murder target's business card, his cellphone number, and his vehicle registration information. Tan Youhui also paid Xi Guangan two million yuan ($385,000) to do the job.

     Instead of pulling off the hit, Xi subcontracted the assignment to another assassin named Mo Tianxiang and kept half of the murder fee for himself. Mo, the new hitman, decided to hire a man called Yang Kangsheng to kill the murder-for-hire target. Mo gave Yang 270 yuan ($52,000) upfront and promised $96,000 when he finished the job.

     Yang Kangsheng, the second murder-for-hire subcontractor, also decided to outsource the murder assignment to a third hit man named Ling Xiansi. Yang promised this assassin 100,000 yuan ($19,000) once he completed the task.

     Ling Xiansi, the final hit man in the outsourcing chain, decided not to get his hands bloody for a mere $19,000. Instead of killing Tan Youhui's business rival, Ling went to the murder-for-hire target to convince him to fake his own death. Ling could then collect his fee from Yang without resorting to murder.

     The murder-for-hire target approached by Ling Xiansi had no intention of faking his own death. Instead, he reported Tan Youhui's plot against his life to the local police.

     Following the criminal investigation into this bizarre murder-for-hire scheme where all of the hit men wanted the blood money without spilling any blood, Nanning police officers arrested the murder-for-hire mastermind Tan Youhui, and his original hit man, Xi Guangan. The authorities also took into custody all of the subcontractors in the case.

     Upon his conviction for soliciting murder, Tan Youhui received a sentence of five years in prison. The others were sentenced to two years and seven months behind bars.

Alexis de Tocqueville On The Future Of The American Republic

The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) French political scientist

Sugarcoating Executions

The use of lethal injection is the way of lying to ourselves, to make it look like executions are peaceful, benign--like going to sleep. And they're not. They're brutal things. [Firing squads and the guillotine] are 100 percent effective and leave no doubt that what we are doing is a violent thing. If we as a society are willing to take away human life, we should be willing to watch it.

Ninth Circuit Appeals Court Judge Alex Kozinski, 2017

The Privacy of Murder

I had never before thought about the terrible privacy of murder--how something so awful could be done to you and the only person who would ever know what had happened was the person who did it. How you couldn't tell anyone what you'd been through because you'd be dead...How it was a kind of evil intimacy. It seemed unbearable.

Rachel Monroe, Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession, 2019

Speeding Through Yellow Lights

According to federal guidelines, yellow traffic lights should have a duration of 3 to 6 seconds depending upon such factors as traffic volume, speed, and intersection design. While the yellow light denotes caution, if it precedes a red light, motorists in a hurry tend to speed through it.

A Novelist's Success Can Be Fleeting

The novelist's life is inherently an insecure one. Each project is a new start and may be a failure. The fact that a previous item has been successful is not a guard against failure this time. It's no wonder fiction writers so often turn misanthropic or are driven to drink to dull the agony.

Isaac Asimov, I Asimov, 1995 

The More Obscure the Words, The More Insecure the Novelist

Insecure novelists want to show off their vocabulary out of fear of sounding ignorant. If I don't use obscure words, they seem to think, how will readers know that I have a college degree? If I use simple words, won't people think I'm a simpleton? Such attitudes make for deadly writing.

Ralph Keyes, Courage to Write, 1995 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Forgotten Inmate

       The Dona Ana County Jail is in Las Cruces, New Mexico in the south central part of the state not far from the Mexican border. In August 2005, a driving while intoxicated and receiving stolen property arrestee named Stephen Slevin was placed into the 846-cot lockup. The 51-year-old, because of his history of mental illness, was segregated from the jail population. For reasons that defy understanding, Slevin remained in solitary confinement until his release in June 2007. After having Slevin in custody for 22 months, the local prosecutor dropped the charges against the so-called "forgotten inmate." (Had he been truly forgotten, the inmate would have starved to death. Since someone fed this isolated prisoner for 22 months, jail personnel knew of his situation. So how did this happen?)

     The "forgotten" prisoner had entered the Dona Ana County Jail in relatively good health, mentally and physically. He left the place weighting 133 pounds with bed sores and rotten teeth. (During his incarceration, he had pulled out his own abscessed tooth.) Slevin also walked out of the facility suffering from post-traumatic stress.

     Attorney Matthew Coyte, in December 2008, filed a civil rights suit on Slevin's behalf against Dana Ana County, New Mexico. County authorities fought the suit, but at Slevin's civil rights trial in March 2012, the jury awarded the plaintiff $22 million. Fighting the case had been an obvious mistake. The county appealed the award on grounds the damages were excessive.

     In March 2013, the Dona Ana County Board of Commissioners dropped the appeal and settled the case. The county agreed to pay the "forgotten inmate" $15.5 million.

     The settlement resolved the civil side of the case. But what about the criminal aspect of Slevin's 22-month wrongful imprisonment? The bureaucrats responsible for this man's ordeal were clearly guilty of a degree of reckless indifference that was criminal. But holding government employees responsible for malfeasance is extremely difficult. The nature of bureaucracy protects incompetent practitioners by making it almost impossible to pinpoint wrongdoing to any one person.

     Had Stephen Slevin been falsely imprisoned in a private sector facility, corrections personnel would be serving prison sentences.

     If Mr. Slevin, months into his hellish confinement, had committed suicide, this would have been a homicide case. The taxpayers of Dona Ana County had to foot the bill for this stunning example of governmental negligence, but no public employee was held criminally culpable for this inexplicable corrections fiasco. 

The Case Of The Dead Mental Patient Brains

     While most collectors acquire everyday objects such as coins, stamps, and books, a few collectors specialize in things that are odd and to most people disgusting. There was even a reality television series devoted to the acquisition of bizarre objects. The show was called "Oddities" and was presented on the Discovery Channel. Viewers followed the operation of a retail shop in Manhattan, New York called Obscura Antiques and Oddities. Items bought and sold on the show included a mummified cat, various animal teeth, a dead four-legged chicken, and a shrunken head.

     The "Oddities" television series helped establish a market for unusual items and "conversation pieces" most of us would consider too disgusting to possess. It also created an opportunity for thieves who specialized in these collectibles.

     In early October 2013, a thief in Indianapolis, Indiana walked off with sixty jars of brain and other tissue from dead mental patients. The specimens were kept, among thousands of other such containers, in warehouse space on the campus of the Indiana Medical History Museum. The brains and other specimens had come from clinical autopsies performed at the Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane, an institution that opened its doors in 1848 and closed in 1994. According to the director of the museum, the stolen jars were valued at $4,800. (Is there a bluebook for the pickled brains of dead mental patients?)

     In early December 2013, the director of the Indiana Medical History Museum received a call from a collector in California who said he had purchased, through an eBay auction site, six jars of brain matter. He had paid $600 for the specimens. According to the oddities buyer, he became suspicious when the jars he acquired appeared similar to the ones pictured on the museum's website.

     The tip from the California collector led to the identification of David Charles as the seller of the stolen brains.

     On December 16, 2013, an undercover Indianapolis police officer posing as an oddities collector interested in jarred brains met Mr. Charles in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen. When the 21-year-old suspected thief offered to sell the officer the stolen property, the cop took him into custody.

     A Marion County prosecutor charged David Charles with felony theft.

     In November 2015, after pleaded guilty to stealing the museum brains, the judge sentenced David Charles to four years in prison. 

What Is Justifiable Homicide?

     There is no crime called "homicide." It is simply an umbrella term that includes various types of lawful homicide [executions, valid police involved shootings, and self defense) as well as unlawful homicide (involuntary manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter, felony murder, second-degree murder, and first-degree murder]. The categories of lawful homicide are awfully narrow. One of them is justifiable homicide, which applies mainly to self-defense but can also apply to the defense of one's home from intruders. The latter is known as the castle defense….In such cases, the killing is intentional but "justified" by the circumstances.

     When the act of killing is truly unintentional [as opposed to reckless] the law calls this excusable homicide. Despite the name, it is not enough to say "excuse me" to the victim in order to fit into this category. Rather, the defendant must show that the killing was accidental; for example, when a driver hits a pedestrian who ran into the street without warning. [If a drunken driver accidentally runs over someone, that might constitute involuntary manslaughter.]

Adam Freedman, The Party of the First Part, 2007

Factors Affecting The Accuracy Of An Eyewitness Account

When a witness sees a serious event such as a crime or traffic accident and then must recall it later, three major stages can be identified: the acquisition state, the retention stage, and the retrieval stage. In the acquisition stage, there are numerous factors that will affect the accuracy of the initial perception. Some of these factors, such as the amount of time the witness had to look at whatever is going to be remembered, are inherent in the situation itself. Other factors, such as the amount of stress a witness is experiencing, are inherent in the witness. Both event factors and witness factors can dramatically affect a witness's ability to perceive accurately.

Elizabeth Loftus, Eyewitness Testimony, 1979 

When A Successful Novelist Calls It Quits

For public figures who walk away from the source of their fame, the question of what comes next may be treated lightly. A retired athlete can become a sportscaster or investor; the TV actor whose hit show comes to an end can mull over movie scripts. But when a successful novelist retires, it feels somehow different: writing novels is less a job one can leave than proof that one sees the world in a certain way. There's something that seems illogical about a writer declaring that he or she is done. Where, then, do all of the observations channeled into metaphor go?

Daniel D'Addario, Time, November 24, 2014 

Raymond Chandler: The Depressed Novelist

I write a scene and I read it over and think it stinks. Three days later--having done nothing in between but stew--I reread it and think it is great. So there you are. You can't bank on me. I may be all washed up.

Raymond Chandler in Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler, edited by Frank MacShane, 1981 

Stephen King On Learning To Write From Reading

     If you want to be a writer you must read a lot. There's no way around this that I'm aware of, no shortcut.

     I'm a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don't read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read. It's what I do at night, kicked back in my blue chair. Similarly, I don't read fiction to study the art of fiction, but simply because I like stories. Yet there is a learning process going on. Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Gina Virgilio Arson-Murder Case

     In 2007, the parents of 20-year-old Gina Virgilio noticed that she had become mentally unstable. Their daughter was also addicted to Oxytocin and cocaine. In early 2012, Virgilio was still on drugs and mentally ill. She had taken to injecting methamphetamine, and disappearing for weeks at a time on drug binges. She and her infant son resided in an Anchorage, Alaska apartment with her boyfriend, Michael Gonzales. Because she was too psychotic and drug addled to care for her son, a child service agency placed the infant with another family.

     On June 8, 2012, Virgilio's boyfriend, Michael Gonzales, fell asleep on his sofa after celebrating his 24th birthday. That night, Gina left their apartment carrying an empty gas can. She walked a quarter of a mile to a service station where an attendant filled the container with five dollars worth of gasoline.

     Upon returning to the Anchorage apartment, Virgilio splashed gasoline on the sofa around her sleeping boyfriend and on the carpet beneath his feet. She poured a gasoline trail to the apartment's only door, and standing in the hallway, put a match to the accelerant and watched the flames shoot across the carpet and engulf the sofa and Michael Gonzales.

     Surrounded in flames, Michael Gonzales leaped to his feet and shouted "Hot Hot!" As her boyfriend collapsed to the floor and died in flames, Gina Virgilio shut the door and walked away.

     That evening, when questioned by a detective at a local hospital where Virgilio was being treated for minor burns, she told the officer that Michael Gonzales had set the apartment fire. Shortly thereafter, she admitted to her mother that she had set the fire that killed her boyfriend. When questioned again by the police, she confessed.

     Not mentally competent to stand trial, Gina Virgilio spent the next six years in custody receiving psychiatric care. In April 2019, her attorney arranged to have her plead guilty to first-degree murder.

     On October 14, 2019, in addressing the court at her sentencing hearing, the 32-year-old Virgilio said that mental illness had driven her to kill Michael Gonzales. She said she had no idea why she had set him on fire. "I hate me for what I did," she said. "I can never bring him back. You can't make sense out of a mind that makes no sense."

     Anchorage Superior Court Judge Michael Wolverton sentenced Gina Virgilio to 60 years in prison.

     

Hunter S. Thompson On Writing For A Living

When you write for a living and you can't do anything else, you know that sooner or later that the deadline is going to come screaming down on you like a banshee. There's no avoiding it. So one day you just don't appear at the El Adobe bar anymore; you shut the door, paint the windows black, rent an electric typewriter and become the monster you always were--the writer.

Hunter S. Thompson  

The Small Town Murder

While most tend to think of violence as being associated with big cities, small towns are not immune to devious people looking for a kill. In fact, crimes in small towns can be even more gruesome and upsetting than those in big cities. Not only is it unnerving when places with low crime rates suddenly suffer serious horror, the suspect is usually someone everyone in town knows. With small town killings, you're forced to face the prospect that the killer is someone you know--someone you think of as a friend.

Lea Rose Emery

American Intervention

So far this year in Chicago, 2,199 people have been shot and 413 murdered. And this in just one city. If politicians are itching to intervene somewhere to stop a humanitarian crisis, how about Chicago rather than some country in the Middle East? If the U.S. must intervene in a foreign country, Mexico, a border nation being taken over by drug cartels, might be a good choice.

Where Have All The English Majors Gone?

     A great migration is happening on U.S. college campuses. Ever since the fall of 2008, a lot of students have walked out of English and humanities lectures and into STEM classes, especially computer science and engineering.

     English majors are down more than 25 percent since the Great Recession, according to data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics. It's the biggest drop for any major tracked by the center in its annual data and is quite startling, given that college enrollment has jumped in the past decade.

Heather Long, The Washington Post, Oct. 19, 2019

Are Literary Fiction Writers Better Than Genre Authors?

     All of the most prestigious awards for fiction each year are given to the works of literary fiction, which makes it sometimes easy to say that writers who write literary novels are better writers.

     In reality, neither of the two categories of writers necessarily deserve the distinction of being better writers. Different writers is a better word choice…

     Is essence, the best genre fiction contains great writing, with the goal of telling a captivating story to escape from reality. Literary fiction is comprised of the heart and soul of a writer's being, and is experienced as an emotional journey through the symphony of words, leading to a stronger grasp of the universe and of ourselves.

Steven Petite, huffingtonpost.com, April 28, 2014