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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Writer in Hollywood

I knew her name--Madam Hollywood. I rose and said good-by to this strumpet in her bespangled red gown; good-by to her lavender-painted cheeks, her coarsened laugh, her straw-dyed hair, her wrinkled fingers bulging with gems. A wench with flaccid tits and sandpaper skin under her silks, shined up and whistling like a whore in a park; covered with stink like a railroad station pissery and swinging a dead ass in the moonlight.

Ben Hecht, (1893-1964) novelist, journalist, screenwriter 

Monday, December 30, 2019

When a Haircut is Not Just a Haircut

     At five in the afternoon on Saturday, December 21, 2019, a man brought his 13-year-old son to a barbershop in Katy, Texas called Magic's Kutts and Fades. Following the haircut, the boy and his father left the shop. A short time later, the father and his son returned to the barbershop. Upon his return, the father complained about his son's look. The boy climbed back onto the chair and the barber fixed the problem without charge.

     Following the second cut, the barber and the boy's father got into an argument in the parking lot outside the shop. The fight ended when the father pulled a gun and shot the barber in the leg, arm, and stomach. As the barber lay bleeding outside the shop, the father and his son drove off.

     The wounded barber was rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital where he was expected to survive the shooting. Meanwhile, deputies with the Harris County Sheriff's Officer were searching for the shooter.

     Some people take haircuts very seriously. 

Defending the Police

The only people who distrust the cops are crooks. They're not out there just harassing innocent people. Maybe sometimes they do. But there's no inherent situation where cops are deliberately out there harassing people.

Charles Barkley, former NBA player

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Casey Anthony Murder Verdict

As I listened to the verdict in the Casey Anthony case, acquitting her of the homicide of her baby girl, I relived what I felt back when the clerk read the verdict in the Simpson case. But this case is different. The verdict is far more shocking. Why? Because Casey Anthony was no celebrity.

Marcia Clerk, O.J. Simpson case prosecutor 

Hit-and-Run in the U.S.

Since 2006 in the United States, there have been just under 700,000 hit-and-run cases every year. About 65 percent of the fatal cases involved pedestrians and bicyclists. 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Cities Where Bullets Fly and People Die

In the early morning hours of Sunday, December 22, 2019, in Baltimore, Maryland, two men shot seven people outside a hookah lounge. A few hours earlier, in separate incidents, three people were shot in East Baltimore. On Sunday evening, three more victims were shot. These people were murdered. In 2019, 342 people have been murdered in Baltimore. The city is having its deadliest year ever. On this Sunday, in Chicago, 13 people were shot in a home in south Chicago. In 2019, 508 people were murdered in the Windy City. Other places where murder has become routine are: St. Louis, Detroit, New Orleans, Memphis, Newark, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. Inner city homicide has become so common it's now essentially ignored by the national media. By contrast, when a kid shoots up a school, cable news channels cover the story nonstop for three days. 

Finders Keepers

     Four home remodelers no longer face criminal charges for spending $60,000 they had found hidden inside a home in western Pennsylvania…The theft and related charges were dismissed in December 2014 by a Washington County judge in what has become known as the "finders, keepers" case…

     The four men had been working as under-the-table laborers, fixing up an unoccupied house, when they found the money hidden in a second-floor dormer. The newest bills dated to the 1980s. The men didn't report the find and split the cash equally. The man they had been working for learned of the discovery and reported them to the police.

     The judge ruled that because the money's owner couldn't be identified, the four workers didn't have criminal intent to steal the cash.

"Charges Dismissed Against Crew That Found $60,000," Associated Press, January 2, 2015  

How Publishers Screen Manuscripts

Publishers will tell you...that every manuscript which reaches their office is faithfully read, but they are not to be believed. At least fifteen out of twenty manuscripts can be summarily rejected, usually with safety. There may be a masterpiece among them, but it is a thousand to one against.

Michael Joseph in Rotten Reviews & Rejections, 1998

Janet Malcolm's Famous Take on Journalists

Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man preying on peoples' vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. Like the credulous widow who wakes up one day to find the charming young man and all her savings gone, so the consenting subject of a piece of nonfiction writing learns--when the article or book appears--his hard lesson. Journalists justify their treachery in various ways according to their temperaments. The more pompous talk about freedom of speech and "the public's right to know", the least talented talk about Art; the seemliest murmur about earning a living.

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990

Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Future of Internet Journalism

The question is not whether Internet journalism will be dominant, but whether it will maintain the quality of the best print journalism. In the end it is not the delivery system that counts. It is what it delivers. There has never been such access to knowledge in all its forms. What we have to find is a way to sustain truth seeking. If we evolve the right financial model, we will enter a golden age of journalism.

Harold Evans, My Paper Chase, 2009

Thursday, December 19, 2019

December Crime Shorts

     State troopers saw a man standing by a car with a flat tire along I-80 in Indiana. The car had been stolen from State College, Pennsylvania. The officers, as trained observers, noticed that the man had used a crayon to draw a license plate on a brown grocery bag. The crafty forger was taken into custody on suspicious of auto theft.

     A 59-year-old Michigan man told the judge at his sentencing hearing that he had robbed the store because he wanted to return to prison. He had been out of prison for seven years but wanted to go back because he couldn't adjust to life in open society. The judge granted his wish by sentencing him to 25 years. 

     On a call about a possible dead woman in a house, the responding Los Angeles police officer allegedly fondled the dead woman's breasts. The incident was recorded on his body-cam. Although the officer had turned off the device, the camera had an off-switch with a two-minute delay. 

     An Alaska man was arrested for shooting his sister to death because she had unfriended him on Facebook.

     Border Patrol officers assigned to the El Paso sector recovered more than a half-pound of methamphetamine from the vagina of a drug smuggler. 

     Immediately after Baltimore Circuit Judge Wanda Keys Heard sentenced 31-year-old Travis Burroughs to life in prison, the serial rapist picked up a metal water pitcher from the defense table and hurled it at the judge, hitting her in the forehead. He probably felt he had nothing to lose.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Excessive Force: The SWAT Pre-Dawn Drug Raid

     Although the deadly mistakes of police officers are generally not crimes, the injury or killing of SWAT officers by civilians who are reacting to middle-of-the-night home invasions are almost always treated as criminal acts. Even when the police raid the wrong house and an officer, mistaken for a criminal intruder is shot, the shooter, in the vast majority of cases, will be convicted of a crime and sent to prison. Regardless of the circumstances, jurors in trials involving downed police officers are generally not sympathetic to the shooter. They are in no mood for excuses and defenses. Realizing this, many police shooting defendants in cases involving wrong house, no-knock SWAT raids, plead guilty and hope for the best.

     Even when SWAT officers lawfully break into homes for drugs just before dawn, they not only risk their own lives and the lives of everyone in the dwelling, they also create the opportunity, in the event of the officer's injury or death, for a much greater crime than the one that warranted the raid. This is particularly true when the raid is unnecessary and excessive. Suddenly a person guilty of possessing a small amount of marijuana finds himself charged with assaulting a police officer--or worse, criminal homicide. Since these greater crimes would not have been committed had the police found some other way to achieve their mission, they have, in essence, entrapped these defendants. Because the legal doctrine of entrapment (the police are not supposed to go beyond merely giving suspects the opportunity to commit a crime) doesn't apply in these cases as a bar to prosecution, defendants who assault or kill police officers have very little available to them in the way of defense. 

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Threat Of School Shootings In the Overall Scheme of Things

How big a threat are school shootings, really? About 143 students, teachers, staff, and family members were killed during assaults of schools between 1998 and early 2018, according to an exhaustive analysis by the Washington Post, and another 254 were injured. (The study only considered incidents at primary and secondary schools). Three incidents--Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Parkland--accounted for 43 percent of those fatalities. Each of those deaths was an unimaginable tragedy for a family and a community--but the raw numbers are quite small.

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

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Taking a Middle School Girl's Death Threats Seriously

     On Friday, December 6, 2019, a 12-year-old girl who attended the Falcon Cove Middle School in Weston, Florida posted two threats on the message app Snapchat that led to her arrest that evening.

     The 12-year-old's first message included the names of fellow students she planned to shoot to death. The second posting warned that these students would be killed on December 9, 2019.

     The suspect's parents, when they learned of their daughter's Internet death threats, notified the Broward County Sheriff's Office. A local prosecutor charged the girl with two counts of making a written threat to kill someone.

     Weston is a community located 25 miles south of Parkland, Florida where a former Stoneman Doublas High student, in 2018, entered the school and shot 17 people to death.

     The attorney representing the young death threat suspect characterized her postings as a "bad joke," noting that in the wake of the Parkland mass murder, this was not a matter to joke about. He was right about that. Nobody was laughing.

Cat and Dog Memoirs

Memoirs about cats and dogs are nearly as common as cats and dogs.

John E Williams (1922-1994) writer, editor, and professor

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Less Militarized Policing

      Militarized policing doesn't provide added protection from crime and domestic terrorism. What it does do, however, is alienate innocent people, cost money the country can't afford, turn public servants into combat warriors, and, in a free nation, make police officers an occupying force.

     The first step toward police demilitarization would include a de-escalation of the war on drugs followed by the disbanding of SWAT teams that exist primarily to serve predawn, no-knock search warrants. Demilitarizing law enforcement would also include the termination of the special forces training of ordinary police officers.

     Step two would involve replacing zero-tolerance, no-discretion law enforcement with the less aggressive community model of policing where officers function more as public servants than as occupiers of enemy territory. Less fear mongering from politicians and police administrators would also improve police-community relations.

     And finally, reducing the role of the federal government in dealing with criminal offenses that could be adequately handled on the local level would further enhance police-community relations.

     In the larger jurisdictions where SWAT teams are occasionally needed, training should be standardized and intense. Officer assigned to routine patrol should not receive SWAT training, or be issued paramilitary weapons. SWAT operations should be subjected to enhanced civilian oversight and, if there are too many botched or low-risk raids, disbanded. Legislators, in cases where victims of wrong-house raids sue the government, might consider a kind of tort law reform that would make the recovery of civil damages less difficult.

     The demilitarization of policing should not be confused with lax law enforcement or criminal leniency. It's a matter of how to enforce the law, not if to enforce it.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Understanding and Preventing School Shootings

     Following the Columbine mass murder in 1999 that involved two Colorado high school shooters who killed 13 and injured 20 before committing suicide, the United States Secret Service published its first study of school shooting incidents. According to the report, 71 percent of school shooters had been bullied, and many of them for years. After the Columbine shooting spree, public schools across the nation instituted anti-bullying courses. These programs have not, however, solved the problem. School kids are bullied now more than ever.

     Research has shown that 90 percent of school shooters foreshadowed their intentions with rants and threats published on social media. These indicators of future violence were either ignored or downplayed.

     School shooting studies also reveal there is no proof that active shooter drills are useful. In fact, they may do more harm than good, causing unnecessary student anxiety.

    The most recent Secret Service school shooting study shows that 83 percent of the attacks are over in five minutes or less. According to Lina Alathari, the study's lead researcher, schools need a more comprehensive approach than active shooter drills, metal detectors, lockdown procedures, armed school guards, and teachers with guns. What is lacking is threat assessment procedures, the identification of bullied students who are fascinated with guns, bombs and accounts of previous mass murders. These potential shooters also fantasize about getting revenge by killing their teachers and fellow students.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

There Is No Typical School Shooter

There is no accurate or useful "profile" of students who engage in targeted school violence. Some come from good homes, some from bad. Some have good grades, some bad.

Bill Dedman, investigative journalist 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Problems in American Criminal Justice

     POLICING: Modern law enforcement has become too militarized. There are too many SWAT teams and pre-dawn, no-knock drug raids into private dwellings occupied by children and other innocent people. Offices see themselves as crime warriors instead of public servants. Another unrelated problem involves powerful police unions that keep bad cops on the job.

     FORENSIC SCIENCE: The nation's crime laboratories are in a state of crisis. Due to budget restraints and a shortage of qualified personnel, these facilities are overwhelmed with evidence submissions which has created serious backlogs, sloppy work, contaminated evidence, and identification mistakes. Crime labs and crime lab units all over the country are being shut down due to inferior work. With criminal investigation being a low law enforcement priority, the crime lab problem is not about to be fixed any time soon. (There is also a critical shortage of forensic pathologists in the country.)

     CORRECTIONS: Because judges won't allow prison overcrowding, and there is no money to expand our prison infrastructure, we have more criminals than places to put them. In California and other states, pedophiles, rapists, and other violent criminals who should be locked-up are walking free to make room for the drug offenders. In Massachusetts, instead of new prison space, taxpayers are funding an inmate's sex-change operation. Our prison system has become a national disgrace. (In New Orleans recently, a prisoner-produced video shows inmates doing drugs and walking around with handguns.)

     CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION: Because of the government's preoccupation with heavily armed street patrol, the never-ending drug war, and anti-terrorism, criminal investigation in this country is becoming a lost art. While national crime rates have steadily decreased, more and more homicide and sexual offense cases are being bungled or ignored. The combination of poor crime lab services and the fact detective bureaus across the country are being cut has led to a significant decline in crime solution rates.

     CRIMINAL LAW: Virtually every form of criminal behavior is now a federal offense. The central government has become too involved in criminal justice matters that should be left to the states. We are creating a national police force which is contrary to the principles of freedom and limited government. Moreover, state crime codes have become cluttered with unnecessary, politically-motivated window-dressing laws that pander to various minority groups. The entire hate-crime movement is an example of this form of over-legislation.

     CRIMINAL COURTS: The nation's prosecutors, state and federal, are overwhelmed with drug cases that clog the dockets and force the government into plea-bargain deals that do not always serve the public interest. More than 90 percent of convictions in this country are the result of bargained guilty pleas. 

Crime in England

Only one Western country can say today that it doesn't have organized crime and that's England. They have crime there, spectacular crimes like bank holdups, train robberies, stuff like that. Gambling has been knocked off by being legalized, prostitution has been knocked-off--it's not legal but they don't bother you--and the government's narcotics program has taken most of the profit out of that. England has a very tough legal system to beat. They have uniformity of laws. There is no such thing as a law in London and another law in Manchester--each law is for the entire country. And finally, over there, from the time you are arrested to the day you go to trial, it's never more than three or four weeks.

Joey (with Dave Fisher), Joey The Hitman

Public Education in America: Not The Envy of the World

Everybody around the world wants to send their kids to our universities. But nobody wants to send their kids here to public school.

Walter Annenberg (1908-2002), publisher

The Ideal Government

I would have government defend the life and property of all citizens equally; protect all willing exchange; suppress and penalize all fraud; all misrepresentation; all violence; all predatory practices; involve a common justice under law; and keep records incidental to these functions. Even this is a bigger assignment that governments, generally, have proven capable of. Let governments do these things and do them well. Leave all else to men in free and creative effort.

Leonard Read (1898-1983)

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Downside To Marijuana Legalization

A new study [published in the JMA Psychiatry] suggests that marijuana legalization leads to more cannabis use and perhaps addiction, particularly among adults 26 and older--highlighting a public health downside to a policy change that now 11 states and Washington, D.C. have adopted and several other states are considering.

German Lopez, Vox, November 12, 2019

Friday, November 22, 2019

No Easy Solution For School Shootings

After every massacre in a school, Americans grasp at quick cures. "Let's install metal detectors and give guns to teachers. Let's crack down on troublemakers, weeding out kids who fit the profile of a gunman. Let's buy bulletproof whiteboards for the students to scurry behind, or train kids to throw erasers or cans of soup at an attacker."

Bill Dedman, investigative journalist

Fiction Should Be About People, Not Words

     I've had this conversation with many fiction writing students…Basically what's happening is this: The student is telling you that he has given up trying to write stories about people because he can't find anything to say about them, and wants your blessing as he launches a new student career of writing words about words.

     Give him nothing. This is a crucial moment in his life. If you let him go he's likely to end up with a doctoral degree in rhetoric and will spend the rest of his life teaching undergrads how to write words about words. The best thing to do is to put him up against the wall and threaten to shoot him if he doesn't shut up with that silly stuff.

Martin Russ, Showdown Semester, 1980 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Congress

I've heard people say that Congress is useless. My response: Wouldn't that be nice. I say that because useless is a lot better than harmful. For example, whenever Congress tackles a problem, they make it worse, and create a new problem. They then tackle the new problem they created, and make it worse--and create another problem. And so it goes. We'd be better off if these hacks just stuck to passing resolutions and holding meaningless hearings to promote themselves on television. Yet the more we see these parasites on TV, the more we are reminded of why we hate politicians. Term limits and making it a felony for a politician to lie on television would be nice, but even these measures wouldn't drain the swamp. Let's face it, politics is just a lousy occupation that draws self-serving, grandstanding narcissists.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Shankar Nagappa Hangud Mass Murder Case

     In 2019, Shankar Nagappa Hungud lived with his wife, daughter and one of his two sons at Carmel at Wood Creek West, an apartment complex in Roseville, California, a Placer County community of 132,000 not far from San Francisco. The 53-year-old of East Indian descent had worked as a data specialist for a consulting firm in Sacramento before becoming unemployed in 2018. His two children living at home attended the Dry Creek Middle School in Roseville,

     Mr. Hangud's financial problems had placed him under considerable stress. As of May 2019, he owed $178,000 to the IRS in taxes.

     On Monday, October 7, 2019, Shankar Hangud murdered his wife and his middle school daughter in their apartment. The day after he killed his wife and daughter, Hangud returned to the apartment and murdered his son.

     On Sunday, October 13, 2019, with the bodies of his wife, son, and daughter still undiscovered in the Roseville apartment, Hangud, with his 20-year-old son as a passenger in his red Mazda, drove 200 miles north to a remote area in Siskiyou County near the Oregon state line where Hangud strangled his son to death.

     The next day, with his oldest son's body in the trunk of his car, Hangud drove to Mount Shasta, California, a town of 3,000 in Siskiyou County. There, he turned himself over to officers with the Mount Shasta Police Department. To these officers, Shankar Hangud confessed to murdering his wife and their two younger children in the Roseville apartment. He said the body of his 20-year-old son was in trunk of his Mazda.

     Upon hearing from the police in Mount Shasta, officers with the Roseville department traveled to the Carmel at Wood Creek West apartment complex where they discovered the week-old corpses of a woman and two children.

     Later on the day of the discovery of Shankar Hangud's murder victims, Roseville police detectives drove to Mount Shasta to question him and return him to Placer County. That evening, the suspect was booked into the South Placer County Jail.

     On Wednesday, October 16, 2019, Shankar Hangud appeared before Judge Jeffrey S. Penny who informed him he had been charged with four counts of first-degree murder. The defendant said he didn't want an attorney, but the judge appointed him a public defender anyway. Judge Penny denied Hangud bail.

     As of this writing, about six weeks after the discovery of Hangud's wife and two children in the Roseville apartment, the authorities have not released information regarding how the victims were murdered, exactly when, or why. They haven't even released the names of the victims. For some reason, there has been a news blackout on this case. Nothing has been published about it since October 25, 2019.

Anti-Drug Public Service Ads: Telling People Things They Already Know

     In November 2019, the governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, launched a $1.4 million anti-methamphetamine ad campaign. The idea was to bring awareness to the growing problem of meth addiction in the state. The ads can be seen on television, billboards, posters, and on the Internet. They feature images of people of different ages and races who say, "I'm on meth." The governor then intones: "This is our problem and we need to get on it." She goes on to explain how the meth problem has crowded the jails, overwhelmed the courts, and has destroyed lives.

     The public service motto is, "Meth. We're on it."

     The ad campaign will continue until May 2020. The advertising agency that came up with the catch phrase, "Meth. We're on it," was paid $445,000 for that.

     Everyone knows that people don't eat too much, abuse alcohol, smoke, and take drugs because they were not aware that these behaviors are bad for them. No one is that stupid. But politicians, when confronted with a problem, feel that they have to do something. And what they do, what they do best, is spend taxpayer money.

     The anti-meth motto, "Meth. We're on it." is not only useless and a waste of taxpayer money, it's a mockery of the problem and the government. It has become a cultural joke. When it comes to wasting taxpayer money on useless, window dressing measures, politicians should take Nancy Reagan's famously puerile anti-drug advice: "Just say no."

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Hybritophilia: Moths to the Flame

Hybritophiles are women sexually attracted to men who have committed murder. These women are especially attracted to high profile murderers and famous serial killers. They send these depraved men love letters, learn everything they can about their private lives, try to call or visit them in prison, and in rare cases, even marry them. The syndrome is an extreme form of the teenage girl's attraction to the forbidden bad boy. According to psychologists, hybritophiles are usually submissive, narcissist enablers who are attracted to power. Serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Ramirez, and Ted Bundy were pursued by such women.

Samuel Byck's Attempted Assassination of President Richard Nixon

     Early on the morning of Friday, February 22, 1974, Samuel Byck drove to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport carrying a .22-caliber pistol and a gasoline bomb that was designed to explode on impact. His plan was to hijack a plane and force the pilot to fly it into the White House where the plane's fuel and the gasoline bomb would detonate and kill President Richard Nixon and destroy the building.

     Upon his arrival at the airport, Byck shot and killed an airport security guard. He then stormed his way onto Delta Flight 523 which was scheduled to take off for Atlanta, burst into the cockpit, and shot and killed the co-pilot. He then ordered the pilot to take off, but the pilot refused. Byck then grabbed a female passenger and forced her into the cockpit at gunpoint, telling her to help the pilot fly the plane.

     By this time, security personnel had been alerted to the hijacking, and armed agents surrounded the plane. They immediately began firing furiously into the cockpit.  Byck was hit in the chest and the stomach. Unable to stand, he fell to the cockpit floor and committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

     Byck was deranged and, after his death, it was learned that he had sent a tape to the Washington Post columnist Jack Anderson before the hijacking on which he detailed his plans to use a plane as a guided missile to kill President Nixon.

Stephen J. Spignesi, In The Crosshairs, 2003

Oral Biographies

Oral biography's biggest problem, of course, is the lack of any controlling intelligence. Recorded interviewees exaggerate and ramble on, often ludicrously.

Thomas Mallon, In Fact, 2001 

Monday, November 18, 2019

Ayn Rand On The Power Of Crime Legislation

There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is in the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime [Like making it a crime to use the word "bitch."] that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.

Ayn Rand, political philosopher and novelist (1905-1982)

Lawyer Bashing

Since time immemorial Americans have reveled in the sport of lawyer bashing. While people generally appreciate lawyers who help them personally and professionally, they routinely rail against the profession. Many share tales of terrible greedy lawyers to whom they refer as "shysters" or describe as "crooked."

Blake Morant, huffingtonpost.com

Eccentric Characters

If you were to examine the surviving novels of this century, you would find that a majority of the most memorable characters in fiction are to some degree eccentric. Eccentricity has frequently been at the heart of strong characterization for good reason. Ordinariness is what readers have enough of in real life.

Sol Stein, Stein on Writing, 1995 

A Good Writing Day

I know perfectly well how to have a good writing day: get up around six, get a quick breakfast, at my desk before seven for an uninterrupted three hours of solid work (invariably the most productive segment of the day); a break at ten to fetch the mail, then back to work--resisting, by sheer strength of character, the seductions of the mail--until noon. Break again to [take a walk], get lunch, read the paper. Back to the desk for another productive couple of hours, until concentration fades; sag away from the desk about four, get a nap, feed and exercise the dogs, and begin, cocktail in hand, to read whatever it is I'm reading at the time. Piece of cake. I get a writing day like that, oh, at least once a month.

John Jerome, The Writing Trade, 1992 

Getting Into a Writing Program

     When I went to writing school, I craved rules. I craved a mentor, and the revelation of secrets, and the permission to write scads, and most of all I craved the confirmation that I could write. In other words, I was like practically everyone else.

    What a mystique writing programs have! A sense of promise emanates from their doors, wafts up from the embossed paper bearing their letterheads. I felt that being accepted to one, and especially to that bizarrely exotic one nestled in the middle of America, Iowa, was like being chosen for an initiation into mysteries. After all, what could be more mysterious than learning how to write?

Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark, 1994 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Con Game Victim

I think good cons are all based on the victim's need, and the successful con artist is the one who can exploit that. I remember reading something about this, that one of the greatest traits of confidence tricksters is the level they flatter their victims.

Alfred Molina, actor

Playing A Cop On TV

I did more research than I ever wanted to and saw some things I wish I didn't. I went on [police] ride-alongs, spent time with homicide, cold case, and SVU [surveillance unit] detectives, hung out in subways learning how to spot pervs and pick-pockets, viewed an autopsy, went to a police firing range, and witnessed court cases and I read, read, read.

Mariska Hargitay, actress on the drama series "Law & Order."

People Have Secrets From Each Other, But Not From The Government

You know something is wrong when the government declares opening someone else's mail a felony but your Internet activity is fair game for data collecting.

E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly, 2011

Fictional Dialogue

     Among the things I remember hearing when I was beginning to write was: You shouldn't make fictional dialogue--conversation on the page--sound like actual speech. The repetitions, meaningless expressions, stammers, and nonsensical monosyllables with which we express hesitation, along with the cliches and banalities that constitute so much of everyday conversation, cannot and should not be used when our characters are talking. Rather, they should speak more fluently than we do, with greater economy and certitude. Unlike us, they should say what they mean, get to the point, avoid circumlocution and digression. The idea, presumably, is that fictional dialogue should be an improved, cleaned-up, smoothed-out version of the the way people talk.

     Then why is so much written dialogue less colorful and interesting than what we can overhear daily. Many writers have a gift for language that flows when they are talking and dries up when they are confronted with the blank page, or when they are trying to make characters speak?

     When we speak, we are not merely communicating information but attempting to make an impression and achieve a goal. And sometimes we are hoping to prevent the listener from noticing what  we are not saying, which is often not merely distracting but, we fear, as audible as what we are saying. As a result, dialogue usually contains as much or even more subtext than it does text. More is going on under the surface than on it. One mark of badly written dialogue is that it is only doing one thing at once.

Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer, 2006

A Writer's "Voice"

     Style is the relationship between writer and reader, and it is the vehicle through which you say whatever you have to say. It is the way you get your story told, and therefore consists of all your language and the whole manner you bring to its use. Style is always much more than decor or ornament, and it is always more than the way you dress up your story. It is the complete sound of what you write.

     Writers often talk about "finding their voice," and that is indeed just what it feels like. In fact, most writers have to "find their voice" many times over, since each new project, with its changed subject and set of demands, will call for some change in manner and inflection.

Stephen Koch, Writer's Workshop, 2003

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Norman Mailer On Journalism

If a person is not talented enough to be a novelist, not smart enough to be a lawyer, and his hands are too shaky to perform operations, he becomes a journalist.

Norman Mailer (1923-2007), novelist/journalist 

Body Snatching

     The dark practice of body snatching is directly tied to the advancements in the study of anatomy and medicine. The term was coined to describe the act of secretly removing corpses from graves for sale, primarily to medical schools where they were used for dissection and anatomy lessons.

     The first known case of body snatching was committed by four medical students in Bologna in 1319. In the 17th and 18th centuries body snatching reached epic proportions around the world. There was a reduction in executions, the traditional source of cadavers. There was also, simultaneously, a proliferation of medical schools and the study of anatomy. Poor refrigeration methods meant a deficit of fresh bodies for medical study. Furthermore, the punishment was minimal--the convicted were either fined or given light prison sentences.

     Body snatching was condoned by many medical practitioners and institutions who believed it was a necessary evil, one that was offset by the benefits anatomical study of the bodies would produce.

     The increasing demand for fresh cadavers gave rise to "ressurectionists," men paid to dig up and deliver bodies. Ressurectionists would work in teams, mainly targeting new graves because it was easier to dig the unsettled earth. They would send spies to funerals--mostly women--to scout the grave and plan for the removal of the body.

     A particular target for ressurectionists were the mass graves that the poor were often buried in. These graves were left uncovered until they were full of coffins. Single graves were far more troublesome to break into--a tunnel would have to be dug, sometimes four feet down, the coffin broken into and the body carried to the surface.

Oregon Public Broadcasting, 2003

Contemporary American Fiction

If I am to be honest, I must admit that most books disappoint me. Contemporary American fiction in particular. What so many writers seem to have forgotten, or never to have learned in the first place, is that reading should not be a torture. I will also admit that I find whimsy fatiguing.

David Leavitt, The New York Times Book Review, June 29, 2014 

Dominick Dunne on Book Tours

These days, publicity tours are very important. If you are asked to go one one, go. Not everyone is asked. I always feel honored when my publisher asks me to go on the road or appear on television chat shows. I've become very good at it. I know how to sell my book. If the conversation veers away to another topic, I have learned how to bring it back to the book. Nothing annoys me more than to hear writers in the various television green rooms around the country bitch and moan about how boring the book tours are, or how exhausting. Get into it. Have fun. Most of the people you meet are great. You're selling your books, and you're building your reputation. what's so bad about that?

Dominick Dunne (1925-2009), true crime writer and TV personality in Jon Winokur's book, Advice to Writers, 1999

Designing Dust Jackets

     The great book designer George Salter once said that a good dust jacket "must be in perfect accord with the literary quality of the book. It must be even more if it is to function as an important sales factor, if it is to 'stop' the eye of the person passing by."

     According to many book designers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to put together a good dust jacket. Each one needs to be approved by sales representatives, editors, art buyers and authors before it wins approval. "It is getting tougher and tougher to do good work these days," said Oliver Munday, a designer for Knopf. And Matt Dorfman, freelance book designer, admitted, "It was a pretty abysmal year for me approval-wise."

Nicholas Blechman, "The Best Book Covers of 2013," The New York Times Book Review, December 15, 1013

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Adam R. Crespo Murder Case

     In October 2017, 30-year-old Silvia Galva was living with 41-year-old Adam Reechard Crespo in his condominium in Hallandale Beach, a coastal town twenty miles north of Miami, Florida. On October 17, 2017, at four-thirty in the morning after a night of drinking with her boyfriend at a Hallandale Beach nightclub, Silvia Galva called 911 and reported that she had been physically assaulted by Crespo.

     When officers from the Hallandale Police Department arrived at Crespo's condominium, they found Galva with blood on her face and in her hair and bruises and scratches on her arms and legs. Adam Crespo literally had blood on his hands.

     Police officers arrested Adam Crespo and booked him into the Broward County Jail on the charge of misdemeanor battery.

     Silvia Galva, after filing the domestic abuse complaint, continued to live with the man who had assaulted her. In November 2017, Galva signed a petition requesting that the county prosecutor drop the misdemeanor battery charge against the man she had accused of abuse just a month earlier. The Broward County State's Attorneys Office denied Galva's dismissal request and set Crespo's trail date for January 23, 2018.

     As Crespo's day in court appoached, Silvia Galva ignored preliminary hearing subpoenas, and on the day of the trial, failed to show up for court. The prosecutor, without the cooperation of the prosecution witness, had no choice but to drop the case against Adam Crespo.

     At midnight on Friday, July 12, 2019, Hallandale police officers responded to a 911 call from Adam Crespo's condominium. The officers who answered the call found Silvia Galva lying on the bedroom floor with a puncture wound in her chest. A woman who identified herself as Galva's friend, the one who had called 911, was trying to revive the unconscious Galva with CPR.

     Medics rushed Silvia Galva to nearby Aventura Hospital where medical personnel pronounced her dead on arrival.

     Back at the death scene, Adam Crespo described to officers what he and his girlfriend had been doing that night, and exactly how she had died, a death he admitted was quite bizarre.

    Crespo, Salva and her female friend had been out drinking at the Diplomat Beach Resort bar in nearby Hollywood, Florida. Shortly after returning to the condo, Crespo and Salva were in the bedroom arguing. Her friend was in the living room. Crespo asked Salva to leave the bedroom, but she refused. He grabbed her by the ankles as she lay facedown on the bed. Across the foot of the bed lay a five-foot wooden shaft tipped with a 12-inch, metal spear point. With his back to Salva as he tried to pull her off the bed by her feet, Crespo heard the spear shaft, apparently caught on something, break with a snap. He turned and saw Salva with the spear point penetrating her chest. He took hold of the broken shaft and pulled the point out of her body, hoping that her wound "wasn't too bad." While Crespo applied pressure to Salva's bleeding wound, her female friend called 911.

     Hallandale police officers, skeptical of Crespo's account of Salva's death, took him into custody at the scene and booked him into the Broward County Jail. A local prosecutor charged Adam Crespo with second-degree murder (murder without premeditation).

     On July 15, 2019, at his arraignment before Broward County Judge Jackie Powell, Crespo pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. At the hearing, Silvia Galva's sister Veronica testified that the victim had "always been a caring and loving person, but when she began sharing her life with Crespo, everything changed." According to the sister, Crespo had isolated Galva from her closest friends and family. Silvia wanted to get away from this man but he always found a way to get back into her life. "He was always dominant with her, didn't let her have friends, go out, have a job, or even hang a painting she had made." According to the victim's sister, "Silvia was being manipulated by him and ended up being the victim in this scenario."

     Judge Powell set Adam Crespo's bail at $65,000 and ordered him not to contact any members of the Galva family. Once he posted his bond, the defendant would have to wear a GPS monitor, submit to random alcohol and drug testing, and surrender his passport.

     On November 1, 2019, news outlets reported that Hallandale detectives had seized, from Crespo's condominium, a pair of Alexa personal assistant systems. Investigators hoped these voice-activated devices had recorded conversations that would shed some light on how Silvia Galva had died that night.

     Defense attorney Christopher O'Toole, in speaking to reporters, characterized Silvia Galva's death as an accident. O'Toole said, "He [Crespo] tried to save Silvia's life, this was the woman he loved." Regarding the police seizure of the Alexa devices, the attorney said, "Ordinarily, I'd be jumping up and down objecting, but we believe the recordings could help us."

The Sociopathic Criminal

     The criminal values people only insofar as they bend to his will or can be coerced or manipulated into doing what he wants. He has been this way since childhood, and by the time he is an adult he has a self-centered view of the world in which he believes that he is entitled to whatever he wants. Constantly he is sizing up his prospects for exploiting people and situations. To him the world is a chessboard, with other people serving as pawns to gratify his desires. This view of life is not only expressed in his actions but also pervades his fantasies.

     The criminal conjures up visions of himself as a super-criminal, dramatically pulling off big scores that outdo the exploits of the most legendary figures. Typical of his fantasies are masterminding a worldwide diamond smuggling operation, working for a syndicate as a hit man, and living lavishly from the proceeds of multimillion-dollar holdups. By no means limiting his fantasies to crime, the criminal fancies himself at the top of the heap in any undertaking. He is the medal of honor combat hero, the secret agent, or the sleuth who cracks a murder case that has stymied an entire police department. He also envisions himself as the self-made millionaire luxuriating in a palatial seaside home, with his Rolls Royce, harem of women, retinue of servants, private jet, and yacht.

Dr. Stanton E. Samenow, Inside the Criminal Mind, 1984

The Barry Loukaitis Case: The Media And Mass Murder

     Suicide clusters of the 1980s would be replaced by the school shootings of the 1990s, almost all conducted by suicidal male youth. The Copycat Effect had merely shifted its target as the media had shifted its focus. School violence has been around for a long time, but the media-driven contagion of modern school shootings dates back to February 2, 1996, when Barry Loukaitis, a 14-year-old boy in Moses Lake, Washington, killed two students and a math teacher. He ended his rampage by saying, "This sure beats algebra, doesn't it?"

     Loukaitis had taken that expression directly from the Stephen King novel, Rage, which he had really liked and which was about a school killing. Loukaitis said his murderous loss of control was inspired by Rage, Pearl Jam's music video Jeremy, and the movies Natural Born Killers and The Basketball Diaries. Unfortunately, the explosive media attention to Loukaitis's school shooting triggered a series of similar events. Today, Stephen King says he wishes he had never written Rage. [The Columbine shooting in 1999 created an Internet subculture of disaffected youths who fantasize about becoming mass murder anti-heroes like Harris and Kleber.]

Loren Coleman, The Copycat Effect, 2004 

The History of School Mass Shootings

     Large scale attacks at schools and college campuses may seem to be a recent phenomenon, but this is not the case. In fact, the deadliest school attack in the United States occurred in 1927, when a 55-year-old man named Andrew Kehoe murdered his wife and then used dynamite to blow up a school in Bath, Michigan. In all, Kehoe killed 45 people and wounded 58; most of these were children.

     Nearly 40 years later, in 1966, Charles Whitman, a 25-year-old student at the University of Texas, went on a rampage. First he killed his wife and mother, then he set up a sniper position in a tower on campus and gunned down 45 people, killing 14.

     The 1970s and 1980s were not devoid of school attacks. In 1979, a teenage girl named Brenda Spencer opened fire on an elementary school across the street from her home in San Diego, California. She killed 2 adults and wounded 8 children and a police officer. Ten years later, in 1989, a 26-year-old named Patrick Purdy opened fire on an elementary school playground in Stockton, California. He killed 5 children and wounded 29 children and a teacher.

Dr. Peter Langman, Why Kids Kill, 2009 

The Novelization of Movies

     You've seen the movie, now read the book. The movie came from an original screenplay, but several weeks before the film comes out, there's a book on the stands. Novelizations, they're called…

     The authors of these books are usually paid a bit more up front than the average first novel advance--but their percentage of royalties is far lower, so that a box office hit won't mean that much more money to the novelizer than a complete failure. Also, writing a novelization can be a frustrating experience, since you almost always have to work from the screenplay, turning in your manuscript before the filming has been competed. Often the whole plot of the movie will be changed in filming or editing, and there sits the book, with the old "wrong" version firmly enshrined.

     Novelizations can be fine pieces of work, but in most cases very few readers and no critics will notice or care. There's little joy in the work, it does nothing for your career, and whether the money is worth it to you is for you to answer.

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

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Crime Witnesses Should Not Confer With Each Other

One of the worst things is when witnesses start talking to each other. As soon as you start talking to someone else, the story you have in your head changes. Human memory is rewritten like computer memory. You just get the most updated file.

Maureen Johnson, Truly Devious, 2018

The Sciences in Forensic Science

There is no such thing as "forensic science"; instead it is a collection of scientific techniques and principles that are begged and borrowed from "real" sciences such as chemistry, biology, physics, medicine, and mathematics.

Encyclopedia of Forensic Science, Jay A. Siegal, editor, 2000

Sleepwalking As A Criminal Defense

     The murder trial of Albert Tirrell marked the first successful use of sleepwalking as a criminal defense. In 1846, a jury acquitted Tirrell of murder after his lawyer proved that he was a chronic sleepwalker.

     Tirrell's troubles first began after police found the body of Maria Bickford, a prostitute with whom Tirrell had developed a significant relationship, with her throat slit almost to the point of decapitation. Tirrell, who had a wife and a child, was with Bickford in the [Boston, Massachusetts] brothel at the time of the murder.

     The case quickly became sensationalized in the papers: The story went that Tirrell, who treated Bickford as a romantic partner, was jealous that she'd taken another customer. After that customer left Bickford's room, Tirrell took a razor to Bickford's neck and slit her throat and then set multiple fires to destroy the evidence. Perhaps most incriminating of all, Tirrell fled to New Orleans before he was finally arrested.

     The jury bought the sleepwalking defense. and after just two hours of deliberation, found the defendant not guilty.

All That's Interesting,  PBH Network, June 21, 2017

Alfred Hitchcock's Secret Of Success

Luck is everything. My good luck in life was to be a really frightened person. I'm fortunate to be a coward, to have a low threshold of fear, because a hero couldn't make a good suspense film.

Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980)

Hunter S. Thompson On Journalsim

So much for Objective Journalism. Don't bother to look for it here--not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.

Hunter S. Thompson, "Fear and Loathing in The Campaign Trial '72"

True Crime TV

The only television shows that Americans watch in big numbers are shows about lawyers, doctors, or cops. People don't tune in to watch scientists unless they are forensic scientists.

Robert J. Sawyer, science fiction writer

Thornton P. Knowles On Television And The American Way

Television reduced our attention span, lowered our taste, created envy of the rich, made clowns of politicians, writers, and preachers, destroyed community life, promoted illiteracy, made us fat, and replaced real journalists with propagandists and news readers. The old "boob-tube" has made boobs of us all, and eased us into what will lead to the ultimate cultural dystopia: the Internet.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Online Criminal Justice Advocacy

 [By 1996] the world of online criminal justice advocacy would take a number of different forms, with some factions focusing on solving old cases, others on finding new angles on old conspiracies or putting names to unidentified bodies or working to get elusive serial killers arrested. Ultimately, thousands of these crime-centric groups would congregate on Facebook and message boards and Reddit forums. Many posters took on the persona of the righteous defender, the person who did the hard work that institutions couldn't--or wouldn't--do.

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

Jeffrey Dahmer On The Mind Of A Serial Killer

It's a process, it doesn't happen overnight, when you depersonalize another person and view him as just an object, an object for pleasure and not a living breathing human being. It seems to make it easier to do the things you shouldn't do.

Jeffrey Dahmer (1960-1994) "The Milwaukee Cannibal"

Bonnie and Clyde: Armed And Short

Bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde were both short. Bonnie Parker was only 4' 11" and Clyde Barrow 5' 4" at a time [1934] when average heights for women and men were 5' 3" and 5' 8". Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty who played Bonnie and Clyde in the famous 1967 film stood 5' 7" and 6' 2" respectively.

ancestry.com, June 20, 2013 

Does An Author's Looks Affect Sales?

     I remember when looks started to matter in publishing. I began writing in the late 1960s--just as publishing was turning into an industry. The cult of personality had arrived, and writers could no longer be private people as my grandfather, my mother and my uncle, all professional novelists, had been. The notion of having author photographs on book jackets appalled them: They believed they could write freely only if they felt anonymous.

     My generation had no such qualms. We poured out our indignations, our quirky personalities, made ourselves vulnerable. I was young when my first book was published and had quick success; I roared round the world on the Concorde, from one international convention to the next. I like to think it was because I wrote good novels, not because I fluttered my eyelashes, but really, who can say? With age things calm down. Publicity photographs give up trying to make you look sexy and try to make you look intelligent.

Fay Weldon, The New York Times Book Review, January 26, 2014 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Is Executing Murderers More Trouble Than It's Worth?

     Legal challenges and a struggle to find lethal drugs have triggered a raging debate in Ohio and other states over the proper way to execute killers. The unavailability of certain drugs has led to changes in many death-penalty states and prompted the talk of executing methods that haven't been used for decades.

     Bringing back firing squads, the electric chair and even gas chambers is being discussed in some parts of the country, while other states--most recently Maryland and Connecticut--are moving away from the death penalty.

     Support for the death penalty has dropped nationally from a high of 80 percent in 1994. [Now it's around 50 percent.]

"Debate Rages Over Proper Way to Execute Criminals," Dayton Daily News, February 2, 2014

Gun Shot Surgeons

Gunshot wounds are now becoming almost a distinct branch of surgery.

J.A. Hunter in Treatise on Gunshot Wounds, 1794 (reprinted in 1989)

No Hunches Or "Gut Feelings" In Forensic Science

Forensic scientists are not policemen. We are scientists. We deal with matters objectively. We do not act on our suspicions.

Dr. Cyril Wecht, forensic pathologist 

Drunken School Bus Drivers Shouldn't Get A Second Chance

     A Baltimore bus driver with a criminal record was arrested for DUI on Friday February 27, 2015 as she was headed to pick up a group of students for a field trip. Pamela L. Willie, 52, was pulled over after several motorists notified Maryland State Police that a school bus was moving erratically on Interstate 695 and running vehicles off the road.

     During the stop, police officers observed that Willie was impaired and found four containers of beer and liquor--varying from full to partially full to empty--on the bus.

     A prosecutor charged Willie with 23 criminal charges including driving under the influence, operating a commercial vehicle in possession of alcohol, consuming alcohol in the passenger area of a vehicle, driving a commercial vehicle without an appropriate medical certificate, negligent and reckless driving, and driving off the highway. [If the FBI had a ten most wanted list for traffic offenders, Willie would be on that poster]…

     Records show that in August 2009, Willie was arrested on a string of charges including consumption of an alcoholic beverage while driving on the highway, failure to control a vehicle on the highway to avoid a collision, reckless driving, failure to remain at the scene of an accident, assault in the first-degree, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

     In July 2009, Willie was charged on several accounts, including assault in the first-degree, assault in the second-degree, possession of drug paraphernalia, violation of a protective order, and the malicious destruction of property…In February 2003, Willie was sentenced to one year in jail on charges of assault in the first-degree and resisting arrest. She took a plea deal and avoided jail time.

Chuck Ross, "Bus Driver With Criminal Record Arrested For DUI," The Daily Caller, February 28, 2015

Monday, November 11, 2019

Charles Dickens On Anticipating The Decadence Of America's Rich And Powerful

The American elite is almost beyond redemption. Moral relativism has set in so deeply that the gilded classes have become incapable of discerning right from wrong. Everything can be explained away, especially by journalists. Life is one great moral mush--sophistry washed down with Chardonnay. The ordinary citizens, thank goodness, still adhere to absolutes. It is they who have saved the republic from creeping degradation while their "betters" were derelict.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Urban Renewal, Deteriorating Neighborhoods, and Crime

     In 1961, Jane Jacobs published a classic book, Death and Life of Great American Cities. Her thesis was that the old urban neighborhoods, despite a bit of crime, were actually good places to live and raise children. She was adamantly opposed to the urban renewal projects that bulldozed these neighborhoods and replaced them with high-rise housing. She felt that the old neighborhoods were built for pedestrians and that life on the street created not only a vibrancy of a living city but also a relatively low crime rate. She anticipated that the new high-rise buildings and streets built for cars but hostile to pedestrians would destroy neighborhood life and ultimately undermine the city as we once knew it.

     In many ways, history has vindicated her ideas. High-rise public housing proved to be a disaster for families with young children, and pedestrian life did indeed die in many central cities. As cities deteriorated, the bulk of people left or tried to leave for the suburbs. Crime rates skyrocketed. The only controversy that remained is whether these changes were the irresistible result of the automotive age or could have been prevented through public policy.

Marcus Felson, Crime & Everyday Life, Second Edition, 1998 

The Literary Novel

A novel is the literary equivalent of a symphony, the big, ambitious form of fiction. Novels aren't just longer than other forms of fiction, they generally have more of everything: more characters, more scenes, more developments, and more heft. They may have a central story, but the story is usually surrounded by a whole swirling world of activity. Someone once told me she could tell if a work was a novel or short story simply by reading the first sentence.

Alexander Steele, Fiction, 2003 

Too Much Dialogue

     Film and television have convinced too many writers that heaps of dialogue make novels more like movies and therefore good. This is an amateur's fantasy, and it has induced some writers to surrender the few advantages they have over cinematic storytelling.

     The movie maker is stuck with what the camera can see and the microphone can hear. You have more freedom. You can summarize situations. You can forthrightly give us people's histories. You can concentrate ten years into ten words. You can move anywhere you like outside real time. You can tell us--just tell us--what people are thinking and feeling.

     Yes, abundant dialogue can lighten a story, make it more readable and sparkle with wonders. But it is pitiably inadequate for what it is not suited to do. Exposition, for example: the "five w's"--the who, what, when, where, and why of a given situation. Forcing this information into a visual background through performance and dialogue is cumbersome stuff.

Stephen Koch, Writer's Workshop, 2003 Book

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Assassination

     "Assassin" is an umbrella term for an individual, a group, or a government that uses murder to advance its agenda. This agenda can be blatantly insane (obsession, delusion), sociological (racial, religious, ethnic), or purely political (regime change).

     It has been rumored that almost every government on earth has, at one time or another, conducted clandestine assassinations. These "terminations with great prejudice" (intelligence code for killings) don't usually make the papers. [The Obama administration "terminated with great prejudice" a U.S. citizen by drone.] The assassinations and assassination attempts that do make the news and get wall-to-wall coverage are the highly visible, public attempts in which a celebrity or a political figure is targeted during an event in which he or she is visible and accessible.

     Assassination is unlike other types of murder, many of which occur in a moment of passion or during the commission of a crime. Assassinations are planned. They are thought through and in many cases, they are successful. This simple fact leads inexorably to the fatalistic view held by American presidents--and explains why the Pope rides with a bulletproof bubble over his vehicle and why no American president has ridden in an open vehicle since 1962.

Stephen J. Spignesi, In The Crosshairs, 2003


The Christian Approach To Gun Play

You will acquire a deep understanding of the ancient Christian moral principle, as applied to aimed fire: "It is better to give than receive."

George Prosser in Armed and Dangerous: A Writer's Guide to Weapons by Michael Newton, 1990.

Crime Writers as Romantics

Most crime fiction, no matter how "hard-boiled" or bloodily forensic, is essentially sentimental, for most crime writers are disappointed romantics.

John Banville, crime novelist

Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Halloween Party Mass Murder

     In late October 2019, a woman (unidentified at this writing) booked a short-term rental of a mansion on a hill southwest of downtown Orinda, a town of 19,000 located in Contra Costa County just east of San Francisco. The renter said she was leasing the old house for a family reunion. The 3,972-square-foot home, known for the site of rowdy parties that upset and disturbed residents of this quiet, hillside neighborhood, had been booked though an online company called Airbnb.

     Unbeknownst to the owner of the mansion and Airbnb, the place had been rented as a place to host a Halloween party scheduled for Thursday, October 31, 2019. The party organizer advertised the event on Instagram with a poster featuring the faces of several young black men under the headline: AIRBNB MANSION PARTY. Attendees were told to bring their own booze.

     On Halloween night 2019, more than a hundred young party goers showed up at the mansion on Lucille Way. At nine-twenty, a neighbor called the Orinda Police Department to complain about the noise. Another disturbance complaint brought the police to the house about an hour later.

     Shortly after Orinda police officers responded to the second noise complaint, someone at the party called 911 to report shots fired.

     Upon arrival at the scene, officers saw dozens of young people running out of the house yelling and screaming. More than a hundred party goers were still in the mansion. Inside the house, officers found three victims who had been shot to death. Four others had been wounded.

     Later that night, one of the wounded party goers died at the John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, California. The next day, a fifth victim died from a gunshot wound.

     The young people murdered at the Orinda Halloween party were: Tiyon Farley, 22; Omar Taylor, 24; Ramon Hill Jr., 23; Javin County, 29; and Oshiana Tompkins, 19.

Writing A Narrative Nonfiction Book

I love to read nonfiction that's built around a story. Very often, as a literary agent, I get wonderful writing by someone who's got either an interesting point of view or some great anecdote but they haven't yet figured out a way to craft a full, book-length narrative. That's especially a challenge for journalists, who may have what is essentially ten magazine pieces with a loose theme around them all, but they haven't figured out a way to bring the reader through the entire 300 pages.

Ted Weinstein, twliterary.com, 2004 

Sylvia Plath on Not Writing

I was getting worried about becoming too happily stodgily practical: instead of studying [John] Locke, for instance, or writing--I go make an apple pie, or study The Joy of Cooking, reading it like a rare novel. Whoa, I said to myself. You will escape into domesticity and stifle yourself by falling headfirst into a bowl of cookie batter. And just now I pick up the blessed diary of Virginia Woolf...and she works off her depression over rejections from Harper's (no less!--and I can hardly believe that the Big Ones got rejected, too!) by cleaning out the kitchen.

 The Writer's Life (1997) edited by Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks. Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) was an American poet who committed suicide in England. Before her death she was relatively unknown.

Determining Gender From the Skeletons of the Young

     Determining sex in children can be elusive. Most of the skeletal differences, even in the pelvis, that distinguish the sexes don't fully define until early adulthood, and the differences that do exist in children are often not of the magnitude that permit a confident estimate.

     One of the best indicators of sex in a child is the teeth. In determining gender, the indicator is not in how dissimilar they are but in how alike. It is well known that in general males tend to be a year or two slower than females in their overall body development. But although girls' long bones grow earlier and faster than boys' do, for some reason that same advantage is not as extensive in the development of the teeth. Accordingly, it is possible to estimate the sex of a child's skeleton by comparing the extent of skeletal development with the level of dental maturation. The older the child, the more accurate the technique. However, we usually do not attempt to estimate the sex of immature skeletons because the accuracy reaches only about 80 percent even in older children. In a forensic case, 80 percent is not good enough; we can estimate with 50 percent reliability just by guessing.

Dr. Douglas Ubelaker and Henry Scammell, Bones, 1992

Friday, November 8, 2019

Bath Salts and the Zombie Apocalypse

     The May 2012 "causeway cannibal" case in Miami involving the fatal police shooting of Rudy Eugene, the person who chewed off the face of a homeless man, ignited the morbid imagination of millions of people fascinated with zombies, cannibalism, and the specter of a "zombie apocalypse." The Rudy Eugene case increased awareness of the bath salt trend, and how designer drugs can make people dangerous. (See JFTC posting: "The Naked Flesh Eater: Police Kill Rudy Eugene.") Other  cases of cannibalistic behavior include the Texas woman who killed and ate part of her newborn baby, and the college student in Maryland who consumed part of a man's brain and heart.

     Zombies, the stars of horror movies, TV series ("The Walking Dead"), novels, and comic books, along with vampires, their more romantic, blood-sucking cousins, have worked their way into American culture. The term "zombie apocalypse" pertains to human-like creatures who rise from the dead, as the world is ending, to prey upon the living to replenish their brains and blood. In the wake of the causeway cannibal case in Miami, people wondered if the bath salt and synthetic marijuana epidemic was creating a class of zombie-like flesh eaters.

     Mind altering bath salts are not those crystallin household products people put in bath water. While in a few states the drug can still be purchased at convenience stores, gas stations, and head shops, these designer hallucinogenic powders are extremely toxic. Although the active ingredients in bath salts have been outlawed by congress, drug designers have been able to replace the banned chemicals with modified substances that are even worse.

     Besides giving the user an intense high, bath salts, like LSD, create bizarre hallucinations. And like PCP, Ecstasy, and crystal meth, they give users supernatural strength, and can turn them violent.

     So, could the abuse of bath salts and similar synthetic designer drugs turn people into flesh-eating zombies? No. While taking these toxic chemicals can make a stupid person even less bright, a crazy person crazier, and an otherwise nonviolent person dangerous, they do not give users a taste for human flesh. Bath salts are responsible for bizarre and violent behavior, but they don't turn people into cannibals.  

A Culture Of Spying And Snitching

     If we enroll in the public schools, we are spied on by other students, our teachers, and our counselors. Many schools provide anonymous telephone tip lines for students to squeal on their classmates...Teachers and counselors are encouraged to report students with "anti-social tendencies" to the police. Reports of typical juvenile schoolyard behavior now results in suspensions, expulsions, and arrests.

     College campuses are riddled with informants. Politically active teachers are monitored by students who oppose their views. Student political organizations are infiltrated by undercover operatives gathering information on controversial campus speakers and upcoming demonstrations...

     Informants track us after we graduate and enter the workplace. Many potential employers run background checks on job applicants, asking friends and neighbors about their private lives. Some bosses hire undercover agents to pose as workers and spy on everyone in the company, reporting on everything from suspected thieves to employees with poor morale. [Today, potential employers and government agencies monitor social media to gain information on people.] If we own a business, the government might send over fake customers to see if they can trick us into breaking civil rights laws...

     Our neighbors are encouraged to spy on us. If our children cry, they report us to social workers for abuse. If we have a large number of visitors, they call the police and accuse us of dealing drugs. If we drive a new car, they call the Internal Revenue Service and say we're not paying our taxes.

Jim Redden, Snitch Culture, 2000

Con Artists Replaced By Computers

I contend there are no more con men. There's no need for con men anymore. There's no need for the very sophisticated, suave guy, the well-dressed guy. Today, you steal with the computer from thousands of miles away--from China, from Libya, from Hong Kong. Your victims are never going to see you, so there's no need to be any of that.

Frank Abagnale, former con man, check forger, and imposter between the ages 15 to 21. The book and the film Catch Me If You Can are based on Abagnale's criminal exploits. He later worked for the FBI, then became a successful private consultant.

William Styron on Booze and Writing

I used alcohol as the magical conduit to fantasy and euphoria, and to the enhancement of the imagination. There is no need to either rue or apologize for my use of this soothing, often sublime agent, which had contributed greatly to my writing; although I never set down a line while under its influence....Alcohol was an invaluable senior partner of my intellect, besides being a friend whose ministrations I sought daily--sought also I now see, as a means to calm the anxiety and incipient dread that I had hidden away for so long in the dungeons of my spirit.

William Styron, (1925-2006) novelist 

Speech Tags

     Speech tags are a problem at first for writers. They feel self-conscious about the he saids and Mrs. Philpott saids of dialogue. But readers register them almost subliminally, as they do punctuation. Speech tags don't intrude, and by preventing confusion they help to keep readers in the world of the story. In two-person conversation it's good to have a speech tag now and then so readers don't loose track. If more than two people are in the conversation, you need more speech tags...

     Variations on said, like answered, commented, added, replied, asked, queried, muttered, snarled, roared, are best used sparingly. They call attention to themselves and sometimes seem strained. Adverbs in speech tags often sound corny--she said kittenishly, he responded sneeringly, she hissed angrily.

Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction, 1919


Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Golden Gate Bridge: Where Jumpers Go To Die

     Bridges have always been natural magnets for suicide, but not all bridges qualify. The number one bridge in the world for suicides is the Golden Gate Bridge, sitting astride San Francisco Bay between San Francisco and Marin County. The appeal of the Golden Gate Bridge cannot be understated.

     "It's what I like to call an aura of grandeur. It's a magnificent setting,"San Francisco professor of psychiatry Jerome Motto told the Associated Press in 1996 when campaigning to get a suicide barrier built on the bridge. "Some persons are very, very sensitive to appearance, style, and so on. With the certainty, the sort of aesthetic appeal, along with the quickness, and [alleged] painlessness, I think that is one important reason why the Golden Gate Bridge is used…I talked to one person who went to the bridge to shoot himself, and when I asked why did he go to the bridge, his reply was 'what a beautiful place to die.'"…

     More people leap from the bridge than are known to have jumped. An individual may only have been known to leap because his or her body was found later in the water or on the rocks. A suicide victim who was seen to have gone off the bridge may never be found. Because of the large gaps in the loss of bodies and some people slipping over the rails in the dark, the unofficial yearly average of fifty suicides is difficult to confirm….

     By 2003, upward of 1,300 people were said to have died from throwing themselves off the Golden Gate Bridge, a yearly rate of nearly forty-three people a year. But one Coast Guard coxswain who works closely with others on the bridge recently told the media that the yearly average is, incredibly, closer to three hundred. [In 2000, Kevin Hines jumped off the bridge and survived the 240 foot fall with a broken ankle and several crushed vertebrae.]

     These deaths are not painless. The four-second falls end in fatalities that the local coroner reports are caused by "multiple blunt-force injuries," which The New Yorker's Tad Friend writes, "euphemizes the devastation. Many people don't look down first, and so those who jump from the north end of the bridge hit the land instead of the water they saw farther out. Jumpers who hit the water do so at about seventy-five miles an hour and with a force of fifteen thousand pounds per square inch. Eighty-five percent of them suffer broken ribs, which rip inward and tear through the spleen, the lungs, and the heart. Vertebrae snap, and the liver often ruptures." [By 2014, an estimated 1,600 people had ended their lives by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. In 2017, the authorities constructed a stainless steel net to deter suicide attempts.]

Loren Coleman, The Copycat Effect, 2004

The Birth of the IRS

1913 wasn't a very good year. 1913 gave us the income tax, the 16th Amendment and the IRS.

Ron Paul, U.S. House of Representatives

Novelists Who Take Themselves Too Seriously

The world likes humor, but treats it patronizingly. It feels if a thing is funny it can be presumed to be something other than great. Writers know this, and those who take their literary selves with great seriousness take considerable pains never to associate their names with anything funny or flippant or nonsensical or "light." They suspect it would hurt their reputation, and they are right.

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

Max Perkins On Editing Books

An editor does not add to a book. At best he serves as a handmaiden to an author. [Editors should never] get to feeling important about themselves, because an editor at most releases energy. He creates nothing. A writer's best work comes entirely from himself. If you [an editor] have a Mark Twain, don't try to make him into a Shakespeare or make a Shakespeare into a Mark Twain. Because in the end an editor can get only as much out of an author as the author has in him.

Maxwell Perkins as quoted in A. Scott Berg's Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, 1978

The Phony, Fame-Seeking Journalist

I'm still a sucker for the romance of journalism, but I'm also a realist. My adult lifetime graduate course has taught me that my profession's virtues, like those of the Greek heroes, often become its vices. Its very successes--illuminating the civil rights revolution, helping open America's eyes to Vietnam or Nixon's depredations or financial mismanagement--induced excess. Reporters wanted to be famous, rich, influential. As a media writer, I've reported on a new generation of windbags, of callow people who think they become investigative reporters by adopting a belligerent pose without doing the hard digging, of bloviators so infatuated with their own voice they have forgotten how to listen, of news presidents who are slaves to ratings, and of editors terrified they may bore readers. As in any profession, some folks take shortcuts.

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

Mickey Spillane on His Detective Novels

Mickey Spillane, addressing a Mystery Writer's of America convention, warned his fans not to look closely for symbolic depth in his novels. Of his famous protagonist, Spillane said, "Mike Hammer drinks beer, not cognac, because I can't spell cognac."

James Charlton and Lisbeth Mark, The Writer's Home Companion, 1987

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Streets Of Chicago: Trick-Or-Treating Amid Flying Bullets

     At five-thirty on Halloween evening, October 31, 2019, a 7-year-old girl trick-or-treating in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood was struck in the neck by a stray bullet fired by a 15-year-old member of the Two-Six gang. A 31-year-old man, another innocent victim caught in the crossfire, was shot in the left hand. The man was treated and released at a local hospital. The seriously wounded child was admitted to a nearby medical center in critical condition.

     The 15-year-old shooter intended to murder a member of the Latin Kings, a rival street gang.

     The day following the gang-related shooting in a neighborhood crowded with trick-or-treaters and their adult supervisors, police officers arrested the 15-year-old suspect. Charged with two counts of attempted murder and two counts of battery through the discharge of a firearm, the shooter was placed into a juvenile detention center. Given the seriousness of the crime, the suspect will probably be prosecuted as an adult.

     In certain Chicago neighborhoods it is simply not safe to walk the streets. Last year 557 people were murdered in the city with hundreds more shot and wounded. A good number of these shootings were gang-related, and a vast majority of the shooters and their victims were young black men.

The Hooded Executioner

     Florida takes the executioner's secrecy to extremes. One of the last states to use a civilian executioner, the Sunshine State is also one of the last that hoods the man. Hired through classified ads, his name is known by only two people in the state whose identities are also secret. At five on the morning of sentence, the executioner is picked up and hooded at a designated spot by an administrative assistant of the Department of Corrections (DOC). The hood stays on for the drive to the prison farm at Starke where the executioner is shown to a small room off of the death chamber. He sits there until sunrise when he's summoned to another small room called the "executioner's alcove" which is visible to the execution participants but not the witnesses.

   How strange this hooded man must look to the condemned, who in Florida has full view of his executioner before his head is pinioned to the electric chair.
     After the condemned man is strapped in, two electricians engage the circuits and a third man throws a switch activating the "executioner control panel." When the moment comes, the warden nods to the hooded man who hits a switch that begins an automated sequence of voltages. For reasons no one in the DOC can explain, this hooded man is the last to leave after sentence is carried out. Driven to the spot where he was picked up, he's paid $150 in cash. [In 2000, legislators in Florida passed a law allowing death row inmates to choose between lethal injection and the electric chair.]

Ivan Solotaroff, The Last Face You'll Ever See, 2002

Wild Bill Hickok's Corpse

I have seen many dead men on the field of battle and in civil life, but Wild Bill Hickok was the prettiest corpse I have ever seen. His long mustache was attractive, even in death, and his long tapering fingers looked like marble.

Ellis T. "Doc" Pierce [Hickok was shot to death by Jack McCall on August 21, 1876 in Deadwood, South Dakota Territory.] 

Children's Book Tall Tales

Tall tales are a highly specialized form of children's book humor. You need to be awfully good, for the classic tales you compete with are superb. Take Jim Bridger who discovered that it took eight hours for an echo to return from a distant mountain. He turned it into an alarm clock by shouting "wake up!" before he went to bed.

Sid Fleischman in The ABC's of Writing For Children, edited by Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff, 2003 

Stephen King's Bloody Book Signing

My favorite book signing story is about Stephen King, who one time signed books in Seattle until his fingers cracked and started to bleed. The publicist who watched this says how she had to hold an ice pack to King's shoulder the whole time, and the moment he asked for a bandage, a fan in line shouted for some of King's blood on his books. The bandage never arrived, and after hours of bleeding, King left the event pale and flanked by bodyguards.

Chuck Palahniuk, Stranger Than Fiction, 2004

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Isaiah Thompson: New York City's Subway Menace

     In 2019, 23-year-old Isaiah Thompson, a resident of the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York, was well-known to the city's transit police as the infamous "Subway Menace." He was also known to subway riders as a dangerous psychopath, one of many reasons why descending to a New York City subway station involved using transportation of the last resort in a city becoming more unlivable by the day.

     In March, September, and November of 2017, police officers arrested Isaiah Thompson for what he called "subway surfing," the practice of traveling through the underground tunnels by holding onto the outside of subway cars. He was arrested again for this mindless activity in July 2018 when he attached himself to a C-train. He also amused himself that day by sneaking into the conductor's cab and pulling the train's emergency brake. That stunt caused a system-wide delay that involved 750 trains.

     In May 2019, Thompson exposed himself to a subway passenger, and not long after that, attacked a subway traveler with a knife. In an ideal world, repeat offenders like Isaiah Thompson would be taken off the street, sent to prison, or involuntarily incarcerated in a mental facility. But in New York City, offenders who make life miserable for people trying to go about their daily lives unmolested, are released after serving brief stints in jail.

     All in all, from March 2017 to May 2019, "The Subway Menace" had been arrested 17 times for offenses such as assault, spitting on people, pulling subway emergency brakes, subway surfing, and exhibitionism.

     On October 24, 2019, at the Jamaica 179th Street subway station, Isaiah Thompson pushed a 58-year-old man into the side of an idling F-train. A week later, a subway passenger at Brooklyn's Dekalb Avenue station in Fort Greene, caught Thompson on video violently pushing a woman from behind, sending the unsuspecting victim flying headfirst into an idling subway car. The victim managed to get back on her feet and stumble off before medics arrived at the scene. Thompson, following the unprovoked attack, ran off like a rat, disappearing into the darkness of the subway tunnel.

     On Thursday, October 31, 2019, police officers arrested Isaiah Thompson at his home in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Rather than deny any wrongdoing, Thompson bragged that he enjoyed creating mayhem and inconvenience in the New York subway system. Booked into jail for pushing the woman into the subway car, Thompson, based on his past experience with New York City's criminal justice system, had every reason to believe that in a month or so he'd be back creating mayhem and inconvenience beneath the streets of the city.

     The principal responsibility of local law enforcement is to maintain public order. When the leaders of a city are more concerned with the welfare of law breakers than the welfare of law obeyers, people either leave town, become prisoners in their homes, carry guns, or risk being victims of crime. This is no way to live, and no way to run a city.

Celebrity Crime First Responders

All I know is for a number of years, if someone like me called police for a burglary, a mugging, or something happened to me, chances are that a photographer or reporter would turn up before a policeman.

Hugh Grant

Familiarity Breeds Murder

Except for cases that clearly involve a homicidal maniac, the police like to believe murders are committed by those we know and love, and most of the time they're right--a chilling thought when you sit down to dinner with a family of five. All those potential killers passing their plates.

Sue Grafton, A is for Alibi, 1982

Purple Prose

The term "purple prose" describes prose that is heightened, flowery, and overdone. The culprits of purple prose are usually modifiers that make your writing wordy, overwrought, distracting, and even silly. You might say that Hemingway's prose is the opposite of purple prose.

Jessica Page Morrell, Between the Lines, 2006 

The Difference Between a Foreword, Introduction, And Preface

     A foreword is a discussion of the book by someone other than the author, often a celebrity or noted expert. The discussion will usually explain why the book should be read.

     An introduction is often a long discussion by the author about the subject of the book. It is like a movie preview, luring readers to the main attraction.

     A preface is a short discussion by the author about the purpose, background, and structure of the book.

Rod L. Evans, The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language, 2009

What Is A Contronym?

A contronym is a word that is its own antonym. Oversight can mean both "watchful supervision" and "an inadvertent omission." Left means both "departed" and "remaining." Dust can mean "to add dust" (to crops) or "to remove dust" (from furniture). Cleave means either to "cling/adhere" or "to split/sever." Off means both "deactivated" (from turn off) and "activated" (the alarm went off).


Monday, November 4, 2019

Defending Against Robbery

     The 76-year-old Lincolnville, South Carolina homeowner who shot and killed a suspected robber outside his home will not be charged….The suspect robber, 25-year-old Robert Joseph Deziel, was carrying a stun gun made to look like a cell phone during the incident. Charleston County deputies were called to the home…on February 9, 2014 just after 6 AM for a report of attempted armed robbery and shooting. The victim told police he was attacked by Deziel….

     "I just shot somebody who was trying to rob me," the victim told a 911 dispatcher. The solicitor's office says this was a case of self defense, and the 76-year-old homeowner was under attack and defended himself. "I shot about three times before I hit him because he had me on the ground trying to tase me. And I finally got one in him," the victim told the 911 dispatcher….

     The prosecutor says Denziel was wearing two sets of clothing, which deputies say indicated he was planning to rob the victim.

"Homeowner Who Fatally Shot Robbery Suspect Will Not Be Charged," WCSC, February 14, 2014 


Around 2 percent of suicides in the United States are accompanied by the murder of at least one other person. It averages out to slightly more than two murder-suicides per day. Nearly 90 percent of "ordinary" murders are committed by men, who also make up most (at least 75 percent) of the body count. With murder-suicides, the figures are significantly different: the perpetrators are male more than 90 percent of the time, while 75 percent of the victims are female. Both murder per se and suicide per se involved firearms between 55 percent and 70 percent of the time. The rate in murder-suicide is considerably higher, with some studies returning rates approaching 100 percent.

Thomas Joiner, The Perversion of Virtue, 2014 

The Objective Biographer

The dangers of biography are inaccuracy and hero worship. The biographer needs to cultivate an objective eye that fits his subject into the world with compassion. Most biographers treat their subjects as one of three things: an example, a victim, or a source of wisdom.

Peter Rubie, Telling the Story, 2003 

Children's Picture Books Must Feature Familiar Things

Babies recognize faces and other babies and all the little things they have around them--the dish that they eat out of and their highchair. It would be silly to do a board [picture] book with atmosphere and landscapes for a tiny child who has no experience of that.

Helen Oxenbury in Ways of Telling, edited by Leonard S. Marcus, 2002 

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Joey The Hit Man

     I've dabbled in just about every area of crime, but my specialty, the thing I do best, is kill people. I am to mob rub-outs what Leonard Bernstein is to music. I am one of the most feared killers in the United States today. I'm proud of the reputation; I've worked long hours and in dangerous places to earn it.

     I don't make that claim braggingly, but truthfully. I have sent 38 deserving men to their early graves. [Joey didn't murder these men because they deserved it, he killed them for the money.] I can remember each man that I hit. I can give you the order. The details. Even the weather on the day I made the hit. Number 18, for example, was a gambler who was discovered informing on the mob.

Joey in Joey the Hitman (with David Fisher) 2002 [This book is an easy, entertaining read, but I'm not sure how much of it is fiction.]