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Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Reader's Identification With Characters

If it is true that no two writers get aesthetic interest from exactly the same materials, yet true that all writers, given adequate technique, can stir interest in their special subject matter--since all human beings have the same root experience (we're born, we suffer, we die, to put it grimly), so that all we need for our sympathy to be roused is that the writer communicate with power and conviction the similarities in his characters' experience and our own--then it must follow that the first business of the writer must be to make us see and feel vividly what his characters see and feel. However odd, however wildly unfamiliar the fictional world--odd as hog-farming to a fourth-generation Parisian designer, or Wall Street to an unemployed tuba player--we must be drawn into the characters' world as if we were born to it.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, originally published in 1983 

The Politics of Disagreement

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

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

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

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

Michael J. Sandel, Justice, 2009

Novelists Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, and Truman Capote as Pioneer TV Personalities

Novelists Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, and Gore Vidal were among the first novelists to promote themselves and their books on television. It apparently didn't bother these talented writers that they often made fools of themselves, and made it difficult for novelists who were either unwilling or unable to become TV personalities to promote their books. Today, very few authors would turn down a chance to appear on television.     

George Orwell's Idea of Journalsim

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.

George Orwell (1903-1950)

Christoper Hitchens On Writer Appearances On Television

Gore Vidal once languidly told me that one should never miss a chance to appear on television. My efforts to live up to this maxim have mainly resulted in my passing many unglamorous hours on off-peak cable TV. Almost every time I go to a TV studio, I feel faintly guilty. This is pre-eminently the "soft" world of dream and illusion and "perception": it has only a surrogate relationship to the "hard" world of printed words and written-down concepts to which I've tried to dedicate my life, and that surrogate relationship, while it, too, may be "verbal," consists of being glib rather than fluent, fast rather than quick, sharp rather than pointed. It means reveling in the fact that I have a meretricious, want-it-both ways side. My only excuse is to say that at least I do not pretend that this is not so. 

Christopher Hitchens, Hitch 22: A Memoir, 2010 (1949-2011)

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Pulp Fiction Writer David Goodis

David Goodis (1917-1967) was a pulp fiction writer of noir crime novels and short stories in the 1940s and 1950s. He was pretty much forgotten until recently after a couple of literary critics rediscovered his work. This led to the reprinting of a few of his novels. The following excerpt from his 1946 novel Dark Passage exemplifies the genre: "You know me. Guys like me come a dime a dozen. No fire. No backbone. Dead weight waiting to be pulled around and taken to places where we want to go but can't go alone. Because we're afraid to be alone. Because we can't face people and we can't talk to people. Because we don't know how. Because we can't handle life and don't know the first thing about taking a bite out of life. Because we're afraid and we don't know what we're afraid of and still we're afraid. Guys like me." 

Fantasy as Escapist Literature

I still see fantasy as escapist literature. Whether the storytelling itself or by the ideas behind the story, readers want to be transported beyond their mundane existence by the genre.

Betsy Mitchell, Writer's Digest, 1999

Kurt Vonnegut's Response to a Critic

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 26, 2021

Prison Jobs

     Just because you have a work assignment doesn't mean you'll be paid. Prisons are under no obligation to compensate you for your labor. In fact, many correctional facilities don't pay their inmates anything. When prisons do pay cons, they only pay enough so guys can purchase small items from the commissary or cover the costs of their telephone calls. If no cons have money in their commissary accounts, the place gets really desperate.

     The waiting list to get a job in prison industries is usually a couple years long, because that's the best way to make money. In any event, inmate pay for general labor is very low, a few dollars a week. Mopping floors pays about 12 cents an hour, and working in the factory ranges from 40 cents to $1.10. Remember--to the authorities, work for convicts is a privilege, not a right. In the outside world, you must work or starve. In prison you work to keep from dying of boredom.

Jeffrey Ian Ross and Stephen C. Richards, Behind Bars: Surviving Prison, 2002

Don't Drink and Shoot

Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors and miss.

Robert Heinlein, science fiction writer (1907-1988)

Finding a Topic

Learning how to write is hard enough, but deciding what to write about--isolating a marketable subject that is appealing to you--is the most difficult task a writer must confront. Find a subject that intrigues and motivates you and that will simultaneously intrigue and motivate readers. The task is double-edged. Salable subjects are around us everywhere; on the other hand, they are astoundingly elusive.

Lee Gutkind, The Art of Creative Nonfiction, 1997

Newspapers' Declining Popularity

Newspapers' paid circulation has declined from 62.5 million in 1968 to 34.7 million in 2016, while the country's population was increasing by 50 percent. Almost 1,800 newspapers, most of them local weeklies, have closed since 2004.

Nicholas Lemann, "Can Journalism be Saved? The New York Review of Books, Feb 27, 2020

Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Mouthpiece

So you want to do good. Don't we all? But when you become a lawyer, you have to define good differently than you did before. As a lawyer, you're someone else's representative. You're acting on their behalf. You're their spokesperson. You may not like the term, but you're their mouthpiece. You are they, only you are better educated and more articulate. So doing good often means doing good specifically for your client, not the world at large, and certainly not for yourself.

Alan Dershowitz, Letters to a Young Lawyer, 2001

Erle Stanley Gardner: A Writing Machine

Erle Stanley Gardner is credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the fastest author of this century. It was his habit to tape 3-by-5 inch index cards around his study. Each index card explained where and when certain key incidents would occur in each detective novel. He then dictated to a crew of secretaries some ten thousand words a day, on up to seven different [mystery] novels at a time.

The Writer's Home Companion (1987) edited by James Charlton and Lisbeth Mark

Writers Are Defined By What Interests Them

Nothing in the world is inherently interesting--that is, immediately interesting, and interesting in the same degree, to all human beings. And nothing can be made to be of interest to the reader that was not first of vital concern to the writer. Each writer's prejudices, tastes, background, and experience tend to limit the kinds of characters, actions, and settings he can honestly care about, since by the nature of our mortality we care about what we know and might possibly lose (or have already lost), dislike that which threatens what we care about, and feel indifferent toward that which has no visible bearing on our safety or the safety of the people and things we love. Thus no two writers get aesthetic interest from exactly the same materials.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, 1984

Nothing Has Changed in Journalism

Why are there so many black sheep in journalism? Why so many fakes? Why is the epidemic of "yellow journalism" so prevalent? This phrase is applied to newspapers which delight in sensations, crime, scandal, smut, funny pictures, caricatures and malicious or frivolous gossip about persons and things of no public concern.

Horace White, 1904

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Oxygen TV: The True Crime Channel

Until a few years ago, Oxygen was a cable TV channel that targeted a young, female demographic with forgettable high-drama shows with names like Last Squad Standing and Bad Girls Club. According to network executives, the millennial women they were hoping to capture craved "freshness" and "authenticity," "high emotional stakes and optimism." It didn't take long for the executives to figure out that what young women actually wanted was more shows about murder. When the struggling network began airing a dedicated true crime block in 2015, viewership increased by 42 percent. In 2017, the network rebranded and adopted revised programming priorities: all crime, all the time.

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

Your Novel is Out: The Fleeting Thrill

Examining the first copy of your novel is a mixed experience. On the one hand, proof now rests in your hand that you indeed wrote a book. This exciting thought lasts for about six seconds then the mind turns elsewhere: couldn't my publisher have found a better typeface for the jacket? Next time, I'm going to hire a professional photographer to take a good author picture. I wonder how long it will take before my novel shows up on remainder tables. I wonder if it's going to get panned. I wonder if anyone will read it at all.

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995 

The Talented But Obnoxious Writer

Like many, I've often been disappointed when meeting a writer whose work I admire, only to find that person off-putting. Some are downright obnoxious. How could such an unpleasant human being write with such sensitivity, such insight and candor? Or are the two connected? Perhaps rudeness and the courage to put your work on public display are symbiotic. An ability to reveal unattractive parts of yourself on the page and in person dips from the same well. That's why it's not necessarily a bad thing for a writer to lack social grace.

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995 

Charles Bukowski: Easy Writer

Writing was never hard work for me. It had been the same for as long as I could remember: turn on the radio to a classical music station, light a cigarette or a cigar, open the bottle. The typer did the rest. All I had to do was be there. The whole process allowed me to continue when life itself offered very little, when life itself was a horror show. There was always the typer to soothe me, to talk to me, to entertain me.

Charles Bukowski, Hollywood, 1989

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Sherlock Holmes on Criminal Investigation

The creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, said that a first-class investigator had to have a good mind, exact knowledge, and the powers of observation and deduction. That's true, as far as it goes, but he forgot to mention persistence, audacity, objectivity, and above all, integrity. And a little luck never hurt anyone.

A Writer's Progression

When I was young, the main struggle was to be a "good writer." Now I more or less take my writing abilities for granted, although this doesn't mean I always write well.

Jonathan Franzen, The Paris Review, Winter 2010

The Fear of Writing

Whenever I start writing a book, my fears follow a predictable path. First I'm scared that I won't finish it; that I'll be exposed as a fraud who conned a publisher into thinking he could write a book. When I do complete the manuscript, I'm afraid my editor won't accept it. If my editor does accept the manuscript, I'm worried that critics will hate it. If critics don't hate it, I'm sure no one will buy my book. And even if readers do buy my book, there's a danger that they won't like what they read. They might find it laughable. Worst of all, someone I know may ridicule my efforts. These are the types of fears that keep me, and anyone who presumes to write for public consumption, awake at night.

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995 

Margaret Mitchell's Manuscript

     Legend has it that, when Margaret Mitchell contacted a publisher about Gone With the Wind, she hauled two stacks of manuscript pages as tall as she was into the publisher's hotel room and said, "Here it is." Part of the manuscript was typed, part was handwritten, some pages were drenched in spilled coffee, and some chapters were included in multiple versions.

     Today, she'd be asked to haul it all home, boil it down to a two-page query letter, and get an agent.

Leigh Michaels, On Writing Romance, 2007 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Law in Authoritarian Countries

The law is an adroit mixture of customs that are beneficial to society, and could be followed even if no law existed. And others that are of advantage to a ruling minority, but harmful to the masses of men, and can be enforced only by terror.

Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) Russian anarchist, writer

Novelist John Gardner On Editors

One should fight like the devil to think well of [book] editors. They are, without exception--at least some of the time--incompetent or crazy.

John Gardner (1933-1982)

Agatha Christie's Hoax

Agatha Christie nearly pulled off a real-life hoax worthy of her mystery novels. Upset that her husband was leaving her for another woman, she set up an incriminating scene that almost got him arrested for her "murder." Luckily for him, an employee at a distant seaside hotel saw news photos of Christie and recognized her as the woman who had slipped into the hotel under an assumed name. Although Christie claimed amnesia, the police were not amused after having wasted a week of searching rivers and bogs.

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

Ben Hecht In Hollywood

I'm a Hollywood writer, so I put on my sports jacket and take off my brain.

Ben Hecht (1893-1964)

You Can't Write If You Don't Know Anything

I always tell writers that it's good to have an area of expertise. It's a really practical answer, I know, but know about science or about sports or about medicine, so you can work as a science writer or a sports writer. Don't just know about yourself.

Meghan Daum, essayist, journalist, 2008

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Heroin High

     The nearest I can come to explaining to someone who doesn't take illegal drugs the un-recapturable [I don't think this is a word] specialness of your first heroin high is to invoke the deep satisfaction of your first cup of coffee in the morning. Your subsequent coffees may be pleasant enough, but they're all marred by not being the first. And heroin use is one of the indisputable cases where the good old days really were the good old days. The initial highs did feel better than the drug will ever make you feel again.

     The chemistry of the drug is ruthless: it is designed to disappoint you. Yes, once in a while there's a night when you get exactly where you're trying to go. Magic. Then you chase that memory for a month. But precisely because you so want to get there it becomes harder and harder. Your mind starts playing tricks on you. Scrutinizing the high, it weakens. You wonder if you're quite as high as you should be. Ah for the good old days when heroin felt wonderful. If I had to offer up a one sentence definition of addiction, I'd call it a form of mourning for the irrecoverable glories of the first time.

Ann Marlowe, How To Stop Time, 1999

The "Saved By The Love Of A Good Woman" Theme in Romance Fiction

The theme of the man who is "saved by the love of a good woman" is common in both life and romance. In reality, savior complexes are dangerous because they encourage women to stay with abusive mates, but that is another story, one that belongs in "woman's fiction" rather than "romance." What matters in a romance context is that healing the wounded hero is a fantasy of incredible potency.

Mary Jo Putney in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, edited by Jayne Ann Krenz, 1992 

L. Frank Baum On Literary Fame

When I was young I longed to write a great novel that would win me fame. My first book, Mother Goose in Prose (1914) was written to amuse children. For, aside from my evident inability to do anything "great," I have learned to regard fame as the will-o-the-wisp which, when caught, is not worth the possession. But to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one's heart and brings it own reward.

L. Frank Baum in L. Frank Baum by Katharine M. Rogers, 2002 

Biographers And Their Subjects

Picasso was an awful man. I don't think you have to love your subject--initially you shouldn't--but writing a biography is like picking a roommate. After all you're going to be with that person every day, maybe for years, and why subject yourself to someone you have no respect for, or outright don't like?

David McCullough, The Paris Review, Fall 1999

Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Meaning of "Prima Facie"

Prima Facie is a Latin word that means "on its face," referring to a lawsuit or criminal prosecution in which the evidence before trial is sufficient to prove the case unless there is substantial contradictory evidence presented at trial. A prima facie case presented to a grand jury by the prosecution will result in an indictment. Example: in a charge of bad check writing, evidence of a half dozen checks written on a non-existent bank account makes it a prima facie case. However, proof that the bank had misprinted the account number on the checks might disprove the prosecution's apparent "open and shut" case.

law.com Legal Dictionary 

Michelle Obama's Bestseller

     If you want to work hard and make very little money, become a writer. For the vast majority of writers, even very good ones, that is the reality of book publishing and authorship. Another reality is this: in terms of income inequity, nothing tops the profession of book writing where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

     In America, while 95 percent of writers make far below the minimum wage, the top five percent--mostly celebrity memoirists--make the good money. And because they are not real writers, celebrities don't even have to write their own books. Most celebrity-"authored" memoirs are written by ghostwriters. (Believe it or not, celebrities have even published ghostwritten fiction.) This is not to say that all celebrity memoirs are bestsellers, but on the whole, compared to their no-name counterparts, they do quite well. Is this the way book publishing should work? No, but this is how things work in a capitalistic nation where celebrities are worshipped. (For example, while traditional journalism is dead, celebrity "journalism" flourishes.)

      In 2019, 27 percent of the adult population did not open one book. Although America is not a book reading country, it is a book writing country. Every year about 800,000 books are published, half of which are self-published. The average book, in its lifetime, sells less than 250 copies. A hardback book that sells 30.000 copies is considered a publishing success. In 2017, not one hardback book sold more than a million copies.

     And now, the unreality of book publishing. On November 13, 2018, Bertelsmann's Penguin Random House Division published Michelle Obama's memoir, Becoming: A Guided Journal For Discovering Your Voice. Written "with the help" of a ghostwriter, the 448-page celebrity memoir was released in 24 languages. For her efforts, Michelle Obama received a staggering $65 million advance. (The average commercial hardback book advance in the United States is a paltry $5,000. And these people write their own books. Talk about income inequality.) In publishing, the bigger the advance, the more the publisher has to spend promoting the book and its author. For this reason, the vast majority of writers have to promote their books themselves, and never experience a book tour.

     On the first day of its publication, Becoming, in the United States and Canada, sold 725,000 copies. Those sales shot the book to the top of every bestseller list in the country with a half a million copies to spare. Obama's was the second best first-day book launch in U.S. publishing history. (Bob Woodward's 2015 Fear: Trump in the White House, sold 900,000 on its first day.) In reality, there are not enough individual book buyers in the world to bring a publisher enough royalty money to cover a $65 million advance. 

     In America, if you want to become a bestselling memoirist without actually writing the book, become a celebrity loved by the masses and adored by the media. It's especially important to be adored by a media eager to promote you and your ghost-written memoir.

Truman Capote's Workday

I'm always quite nervous at the beginning of my workday. It takes me a great deal of time to get started. Once I get started, it gradually calms down a bit, but I'll do anything to keep postponing…Anyway, one way or another, I manage to write about four hours a day.

Truman Capote in Conversations With Capote, edited by Lawrence Grobel, 1985 

Romance Novels Written in The First Person

Many romance readers won't try a novel written in first-person, single person point of view. As romances go, it can be a challenge to reveal enough about the main character's love interest to make the romance seem convincing. In other words, to understand what that other person sees in the main character. What do you do to reveal these emotions to the reader?

Holly Cook, likesbooks.com, 2013 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Insurance Fraud Investigation

The sad truth is that insurance fraud investigation is not a priority in this country. The police and prosecuting authorities are quick to pursue a bank robber or a burglar, but getting them to commit the resources to investigate an insurance fraud case is an uphill battle. Arson, for instance, is the least often and least effectively prosecuted crime in America. Most insurance fraud cases are circumstantial in nature and lack direct proof in the form of eyewitnesses. These are not the kinds of cases the police and prosecutors want to readily pursue, because they know it will be a lengthy investigation, perhaps a costly investigation, and the prospects of conviction are far less than any other type of crime. [And even if there is a conviction, it's unlikely that the fraudster will go to prison for very long, if at all.]

Jack Morgan, 2011

The Modern Mainstream Novel

The novelist has a grudge against society, which he documents with accounts of unsatisfying sex, unrealized ambition, unmitigated loneliness, and a sense of local and global distress. The square, overpopulation, the bourgeois, the bomb, and the cocktail party are variously identified as sources of the grudge. [Today it's climate change, patriotism, Christianity, "systemic" racism, sexism, and bigotry.] There follows a little obscenity here, a dash of philosophy there, considerable whining overall, and the modern novel is born.

Renata Adler, Toward a Radical Middle, 1969 

The Bad Boy Writer

     The literary bad boy lives today--in the mind of the writer. He is a legend only, a creature of folk memory. Which isn't to say that there aren't plenty of traditionally chaotic real-life writers out there, crashing about and appalling their spouses [Norman Mailer knifed one of his wives]. What's changed, for us, is that the media is no longer interested.

     We have bad-boy chefs (Bourdain, Ramsay), bad-boy comedians (Russell Brand), bad-boy athletes (the demonic Uruguayan soccer player Luis Suarez). And it's possible, I suppose, that some young word-slinger could come along and wring a new twist from the tired repertoire of writerly naughtiness--be a postmodern literary bad boy. But in the end, who cares? Drink, divorce, insanity, firearms: all beside the point. The work is what counts. [If you like bad boy writers, try Charles Bukowski.]

James Parker, "What's Become of the So-Called Literary Bad Boy?" The New York Times, February 18, 2014

The Relevance of Grammar

Among the questions that writers need to ask themselves in the process of revision--is this the best word I can find? Is my meaning clear? Can a word or phrase be cut from this without sacrificing anything essential? Perhaps the most important question is: Is this grammatical? What's strange is how many beginning writers seem to think that grammar is irrelevant, or that they are somehow above or beyond this subject more fit for a schoolchild than the future author of great literature. Or possibly they worry that they will be distracted from their focus on art if they permit themselves to be sidetracked by the dull requirements of English usage. But the truth is that grammar is always interesting, always useful. Mastering the logic of grammar contributes, in a mysterious way that evokes some process of osmosis, to the logic of thought.

Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer, 2006 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Meaning of "Corpus Delicti"

Corpus Delicti literally means "body of the crime" in Latin. In its original sense, the body in question refers not to a corpse but to the body of essential facts that, taken together, prove that a crime has been committed. In popular usage, corpus delicti also refers to the actual physical object upon which a crime has been committed. In a case of arson, it would be a burned building; in a murder case, the victim's corpse.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary 

The Biographer's Impossible Mission

Biography is a vain and foolhardy undertaking. Its essential conceit, that the unimaginable distance between two human beings can be crossed, is unsupportable; each of us is inherently unknowable. The biographer may be able to locate his subject in place and time--to describe the clothes he wore, the food he ate, the jobs he had, the opinions he expressed--but that subject's inner essence is, by its very nature, forever inaccessible.

Jonathan Yardley, Misfit, 1997

Setting in Crime Fiction

The backdrop of a mystery, the world in which the action takes place--the scenery so to speak--has the potential to be as important as character or plot. Indeed, if painted vividly enough it can become a character itself; or it can determine plot. It can set a mood, create an atmosphere. It can add richness and color.

Julie Smith in Writing Mysteries, edited by Sue Grafton, 2002 

Science Fiction in the 1950s

No science fiction novel in the fifties sold more than one hundred thousand copies. Science fiction itself was regarded with lack of interest or contempt outside of the genre walls. Its very audience was an unorganized constituency, much like audiences for contemporary men's magazines. They might like it, buy it, need it, but they were not in the main evangelical and those who were, simply increased the popular perception of science fiction as a strange field, incestuous and defensive. The genre made no impression up the academic/literary nexus which controls critical perception and audiences in this country.

Barry N. Malzberg, The Man Who Loved the Midnight Lady, 1980 

Novels About Unhappy People

It's more interesting to read about something being wrong than everything being right. Happiness threatens the things that every writing workshop demands: suspense, conflict, desire. It also threatens particularity. Happiness collapses characters into people who look just like everyone else, without the sharper contours of pathos to mark their edges and render them distinct. As Tolstoy famously tells us at the beginning of Anna Karenia: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Leslie Jamison, "Bookends," The New York Times Book Review, March 16, 2014

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Scared Straight

     Ross Wilson, a man in his mid-forties with six children who didn't live with him, resided in a rental house in a crime-ridden neighborhood in Fairfield, a suburb of Hamilton on New Zealand's Northern Island. Mr. Wilson, who worked at a sales job in Hamilton, had, within the past year, moved to Fairfield from Porirua, Wellington, New Zealand. He recently told his relatives that he hated living among drug dealers and other criminals but couldn't afford a safer neighborhood.

     In March 2013, after someone broke into his house, Mr. Wilson posted the following on his Facebook page: "To the scumbag who burgled my house--I hope I'm there to watch when Karma comes and screws you up."

     Just after midnight on June 19, 2013, Tom Smith [not his real name], broke into Ross Wilson's house. As the 21-year-old burglar crept through the dark, he bumped into Mr. Wilson's corpse as it hung from the end of a rope. The thief screamed so loud, several of Mr. Wilson's neighbors called 911 to report a domestic disturbance. The terrified burglar ran out of the house. When he arrived at his own place of residence, Smith called the police and reported what he had encountered at the scene of his crime.

     The Hamilton County police believed that Mr. Wilson had hanged himself a couple of days before Smith's criminal intrusion. A few of Mr. Wilson's relatives urged the local prosecutor to charge Smith with burglary. Because Smith had been scared witless, the authorities decided not to bring charges against him even though he had been in trouble with the law. The local police hoped that this burglar has been scared straight by his deceased burglary victim. 

Transporting Prisoners

     The Federal Bureau of Prisons transports thousands of prisoners every week. Every night these men and women, who are officially called "holdover" prisoners, are housed in different prisons. Various federal prisons provide different accommodations for these "guests." If there is room available in the penitentiaries and correctional institutions, they are usually confined in "holdover units." If the prison is already crowded (no empty beds), they will either sleep on the bus or on mattresses laid out in corridors on cell-house tiers. In camps, the visiting prisoners may sleep in crowded hallways, or recreational areas.

     Federal transport and holdover prisoners travel in the clothes they wear and their one "federal box," which holds all of their belongings and is loaded in the cargo bay of the bus or plane. While in transit, which may last for weeks or months, prisoners normally do not receive mail, have access to phones, or opportunities for outside visits. They do not work, participate in prison programs, receive institutional pay, or have commissary privileges. They are forced to depend on the generosity of general population prisoners for necessary items--soap, shampoo, smokes--which may or may not be forthcoming.

     In contrast to federal prisoners, who may be transported across the United States, state prisoners are usually subject to shorter trips. Generally, state prisoners are taken in police cars, school buses converted for prison use, or vans. These trips are usually from county jail to prison. Because state systems are smaller, these prisoners may serve time in fewer prisons; thus they are transferred less frequently.

Jeffrey Ian Ross and Stephen C. Richards, Behind Bars: Surviving Prison, 2002

Novelists Truman Capote and John O'Hara

It would be hard to think of two novelists less alike--stylistically and, for that matter, personally--than Truman Capote and John O'Hara, yet they shared many preoccupations. Both were fascinated by society high and low, by how people climbed or toppled from one rank to the other, and by how sex and money underpinned the entire system.

Charles McGrath, The New York Times Book Review, May 18, 2014 

Florence King: Funny and Politically Incorrect

Florence King, a self-described "conservative lesbian feminist," had an acerbic sense of humor in the tradition of Dorothy Parker and H. L. Mencken. In her 1989 collection, Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye, she wrote: "Pretending to be humorous is easy and a great many people are doing it." Florence King was no pretender. Today, no publisher would have the guts to publish her work. (Florence King died on January 7, 2016. She was 80.)

When Literary Novelists Try Writing Bestsellers

I'm reminded of a few serious novelists I know who have consciously set out to write best-sellers, often under pseudonyms. They've become veritable students of commercial fiction, reading everything by Danielle Steele or Tom Clancy, but when they actually write such a book themselves, it almost never works. The novel is rejected by publishers who say that the manuscript is lacking something basic, although they can't put their finger on what it is. I think what these novels are lacking is conviction. The difference between a writer of literary fiction attempting one of those books and Danielle Steele doing so is that Danielle Steele actually believes in her stories and her characters.

Meg Wolitzer, Fitzgerald Did It, 1999 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

How Did He Do That?

 On February 13, 2021, CNN ran this headline: "Authorities are investigating a fire that broke out at a summer camp started by the late actor Paul Newman."

The Elements of a Great Biography

In general, a biography has to have a theme, and its subject has to fit into the context of the times the subject lived in. More than that, the subject of a biography should also be a symbol of some sort or the spirit of his or her age. The book should bring out some thematic element of that culture. Broadly, a good biography is one that illuminates and shows the times as much as the person.

Peter Rubie, Telling the Story, 2003

Literary Critics Don't Like Storytellers

I think I function in the direct tradition of the early American novel, as a storyteller rather than a philosopher or a teacher; so I'm resented by the school of criticism that rejects storytelling as superficial and looks on the novel as basically as examination of the interior life. The critics don't choose to examine how well you tell a story, and that's what I'm interested in.

Howard Fast in Writing For Your Life, edited by Sybil Steinberg, 1992 

The Birth of Narrative Journalism

     The dominance of the realistic novel in the nineteenth century created a bridge between literature and journalism, and the era's narrative masters routinely crossed it. Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, and Stephen Crane all wrote for newspapers.

     Richard Harding Davis, a newspaper journalist largely forgotten in the twentieth century but celebrated in the nineteenth, was the son of an accomplished short-story writer. Polished, mass-market narrative technique powered not only his fiction, but also the wartime dispatches that made him famous. World War I, his last great campaign, gave him the material for his most frequently quoted narrative lede: "The entrance of the German army into Brussels has lost the human quality."
Jack Hart in Telling True Stories, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call, 2007 

Monday, February 15, 2021

"Wobbler" Crimes

"Wobblers" are crimes that can be considered misdemeanors or felonies depending on how the prosecutor chooses to charge the crime or how the judge and/or jury chooses to treat the conviction. If you are a first-time offender charged with a "wobbler" it is very likely that you will be charged with a misdemeanor. However, people with prior convictions who are charged with a "wobbler" will likely be charged with a felony. [In California, wobbler crimes include statutory rape, driving under the influence, making criminal threats, burglary, forgery, and carrying a loaded firearm.]

Ralph Sasson, legal blog, August 1, 2019

Women Raped by Ghosts

      In 2014, Natasha Blasick, an actor who played a minor part in a British show called "Paranoid Activity 2", appeared as a guest on the British show "This Morning." On that occasion, she revealed that she had sexual encounters with ghosts. According to the Russian-born actor, she  was raped in her home by a spirit. "I felt something enter the room. I couldn't see anybody. Suddenly I could feel that somebody was touching me. Their [his?] hands were pushing against my will and then I could feel the weight of their [his] body on top of me but I couldn't see anybody. At first I was very confused then I decided to relax and it was really pleasurable, I really enjoyed it."

     Blasick claimed the ghost returned to her home a month later, and this time, the assault was more violent. An apparent authority on rapist ghosts, a psychic named Patti Negri, informed the TV audience that Blasick's experience is a common occurrence that usually occurs when a woman is mourning the loss of a lover.

     Psychologist Claran O'Keeffe believes the ghost rape experience is caused by sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis happens when the brain wakes up before the body does. The sleep paralysis victim, for a few seconds, feels that he or she cannot move or speak. There can also be hallucinations associated with the experience.

     According to psychic Negri, 80 percent of ghost rapes are committed by a ghost who knows the victim. The psychic advised ghost rape victims to tell the invisible rapist in the strongest language that this is not consensual sex. Moreover, the victim should not be ashamed to report the crime to others. (Do not, however, report the incident to the police. That won't go well with people who deal regularly with real victims of rape.)

Biographies as Nonfiction Light

     As a literary form, is there such a thing as pure nonfiction? How close to pure nonfiction can a biographer get in recreating the life of his subject? In a 1968 magazine interview, Irving Stone, the originator of the so-called biographical novel, suggests that, in biography, there is no such thing as pure nonfiction:

     "You can never get 100 percent documentation on what a man or woman thought and did throughout a lifetime. Even if you get everything available, and that is what I strive for, you are still a way short of a full understanding of that individual because thousands of hours of interior monologue are unrecorded--many of the days, weeks and months of worry and anxiety and frustration and taking time to think through a problem. It is very difficult for the author to know what went on in that mind, step by step."

The Fluctuating Popularity of the Regency Romance Genre

Publishers (like television executives) have this "thing." They find something that sells, and they do it and do it and do it until they have killed it. If you're around long enough you'll see Regency romance novels [set in Britain's early 19th Century] come in, be beaten to death, go out, then come back seven to ten years later. I was dropped by Avon in the mid-eighties because traditional Regencies weren't selling and they weren't going to do them anymore. Ten months later, they called and asked me for three more. Now traditional Regencies are dying again. I have my own theory on that--the publishers tried putting graphic sex in them, that was a mistake. Traditional Regencies were perfect little gems, never with a large following, but always there, always to be counted on by older readers and for young women just getting into reading romance. Traditional Regencies introduced several generations of readers to romance.

Kasey Michaels, likesbooks.com, 2005 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Unwanted Husbands, Rich Uncles, and Arsenic

In early nineteenth century England, a good way to get rid of your husband was arsenic. A medical examiner usually couldn't tell whether the poison was involved, because the symptoms--diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain--are much like those of other disorders. Nor could he necessarily place you at the murder scene. The dying typically took hours. Also, you could administer the poison gradually, a little bit every day. In the mid-century, arsenic poisoning was commonly the resort of women. But unpleasant husbands were not the only people to eliminate. During this period of feverish social mobility, a young person might be waiting impatiently for an inheritance, and there was old Uncle Ted, sitting on all that money and meanwhile bossing you around, toying with your hopes. In such cases, male poisoners presumably outnumbered females.

Joan Acocella, "The Rise and Fall of Arsenic," The New Yorker, October 7, 2013

Dealing With Criticism and Bad Reviews

     Criticism is the only antidote that human beings have discovered against error. It is the chief method that a skilled person can use to become even better. The key to discovering correctable errors before you commit a work to press.

     But criticism hurts. A deep and pervasive flaw in human character makes all of us resistant to the one thing that can help us do better. The only solution? Learn to grow up. To hold your head high, develop a thick skin, and take it.

     If a reader didn't like your work, that may be a matter of taste. But if she did not understand the work--or was bored--that's your fault as a writer, pure and simple.

David Brin in How I Got Published, edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay, 2007 

Interior Monologue

     The defining characteristic of a contemplative scene is that your character spends more time thinking than he does in action or speech. These passages of thought are referred to as interior monologue and are meant to reveal something to the reader. These thoughts will be overheard by the reader, and therefore have a bearing on plot and character in each scene.

     While the old convention was to set off thoughts by putting them into italics, I'm more of a fan of embedding thoughts within the narrative voice as simple, elegant exposition.

Jordane Rosenfeld, Make a Scene, 2008 

Can Writing Students Handle the Truth?

The brute fact is, the instructor in a fiction workshop earns his pay by telling students what's wrong with their stories. The students themselves are convinced they need encouragement more than anything, and of course you'll encourage them as much as you can; but what they need most of all is discouragement, so that they'll come to realize how appallingly low their standards are and break the terrible habits they've learned.

Martin Russ, Showdown Semester, 1980

Saturday, February 13, 2021

In Police-Dog Confrontations, Pets Lose

     The Browns say a patrolman wielding a shotgun killed a member of their family. Cali, a gentle and loving pit bull was shot to death after jumping the backyard fence in Ardmore, Oklahoma say her owners, who have started a massive social media drive to get the officer disciplined.

     Sarah Brown says a neighbor witnessed the shooting and heard the cop boasting about how "awesome" it looked when the dog's collar blew off from the blast.

     Ardmore Police Captain Eric Hamblin said the March 2014 shooting was justified because animal control officers were unable to collect the dog after receiving phone complaints that a pit bull was acting aggressively in the neighborhood. According to Hamblin, the policeman who shot Cali has received death threats.

     Brown says the neighbor told her the cop had laughed after shooting her 2-year-old dog. The pet joined the family as a puppy and had no history of bad behavior, family members said.

Deborah Hastings, "Oklahoma Family Says Cop Shot To Death Their Beloved Dog For No Reason," New York Daily News, March 25, 2014. There are no statistics regarding how many pet dogs police officers kill every year, but the number is in the thousands. The officer in this case was not disciplined.

Putting Suspense in True Crime

True crime books should be suspenseful. It's easier to create complete suspense in fiction, but it's still possible to hold back the denouement of a real case for a few hundred pages. It's always a temptation for new writers to give the whole thing away in the first chapter, leaning very heavily on verbatim police files. If you do that, your book will sound stilted and will go downhill rather than building tension.

Ann Rule in Writing Mysteries, Sue Grafton, editor, 2002 

Philip Roth On Why He Writes

My interest is in solving problems presented by writing a novel. That's what stops my brain spinning like a car wheel in the snow, obsessing about nothing. Some people do crossword puzzles to satisfy their need to keep their mind engaged. For me, the absolutely demanding mental test is the desire to get the work right. The crude cliche is that the novelist is solving the problem of his life in his books. Not at all. What he's doing is taking something that interests him in life and then solving the problem of the book--which is, how do you write about this?

Philip Roth, The Guardian, September 11, 2004 

Why Some Readers Find the Fantasy Story Appealing

     From the earliest myths and legends, through different cultures, fantasy has been with us. Think of the Arabian Nights stories, the Arthurian Romances, Spenser's The Fairie Queen, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Lord Byron's Manfred, Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Lovecraft, Lord Dunsany, and George MacDonald.

     Whether these stories are set in our world or a secondary world where magical creatures and/or people exist, they all share a common theme: the exploration of the human condition. Even the much maligned medieval/quest fantasies offer readers the chance to vicariously explore a wondrous world, battle evil and restore justice. Even a lowly Hobbit can change the course of the world by destroying the Ring.

     That is the appeal of the tolkienesque fantasy. In our modern world where politicians prove corrupt, large corporations rip off customers and terrorists kill ordinary people going about their daily lives, the traditional quest fantasy provides an antidote to cynicism. Fantasy, deriving from the word fantastic, exercises our sense of wonder.

Rowena Cory Daniells, The Australian Literature Review, June 17, 2010 

Is Writing That Difficult?

     Americans do not write for many reasons. One big reason is the writer's struggle. Too many writers talk and act as if writing were slow torture, a form of procreation without arousal and romance--all dilation and contraction, grunting and pushing. As New York sports writer Red Smith once observed, "Writing is easy. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein..."

     If you want to write, here's a secret: the writer's struggle is overrated, a con game, a cognitive distortion, a self-fulfilling prophecy, the best excuse for not writing. "Why should I get writer's block?" asked the mischievous Roger Simon. "My father never got truck driver's block."

Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer, 2006

Friday, February 12, 2021

Execution: North Korean Style

The execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's uncle was more brutal than initially reported, according to a Beijing controlled newspaper. The paper cited a report that said that Jang Song Thaek and five close associates were stripped and fed to 120 dogs that had not eaten for three days. The entire process, witnessed by 300 senior officials, lasted about an hour. Most political prisoners in North Korea are killed by a firing squad. North Korea accused Jang, 67, of corruption, womanizing, gambling and taking drugs.

Edmund DeMarche, Fox News, January 3, 2014 

Charles Bukowski On Delayed Success

I just got rid of a short story called "The Other." Arete took it. They pay a grand. Then they asked that I might illustrate the story. I sat down and flipped out three or four drawings, took me maybe five minutes. They accepted--$400. Everything is very strange. From a total bum to all this. But something is watching me. I am always being tested. There is always the next day, the next night. I began late and I'm going to have to keep pounding. I missed a hell of a lot of years. But the luckiest thing that ever happened to me is that I didn't get lucky early.

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

Robert Frost's Biographer

I think the most biased biography I know of, almost viciously biased against the subject, was Lawrence Thompson's biography of Robert Frost. But Frost did not do the convenient things. Thompson took on the job of being Frost's biographer something like forty years before Frost died, and he was not allowed to publish the book until Frost was gone. That was their agreement. If Frost had died at sixty or seventy, instead of ninety, that would have been much nicer for Thompson. So there's that side of it. And Frost had some pretty unpleasant characteristics, along with tremendous charm. Thompson simply got turned off by him. There was a relationship with a woman that involved them both--they were rivals--there's nothing about that in the biography, of course. Thompson ends by attributing the worst possible motives to anything Frost did. The book is painful to read.

Scott Donaldson, themillions.com, February 27, 2012 

Movie Writer Credits

     A screenplay by credit will go to those who wrote the scenes and dialogue of a screenplay but normally didn't generate the idea for the story.

     A story by credit will go to those who came up with the essence of a movie (such as the plot or main characters) and who might have written a treatment or summary, but who didn't write the screenplay. Similarly, those receiving a screen story by credit have adopted material from others' novels, short stories, or news articles for the film, often making substantial changes.

     A written by credit will go to those who both conceived the story and wrote the screenplay, usually merging the meaning of story by and screenplay by.

Rod L. Evans, The Art of Nuance, 1997 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

A Police Officer's Strange and Unlawful Requests

     In 2014, 27-year-old Patrick Quinn worked as a uniformed patrol officer for the Cypress-Fairbanks School District in suburban Houston, Texas. On August 11 of that year, while driving his patrol vehicle, officer Quinn pulled over a motorist in northwest Harris County. Following the stop, the officer examined the female driver's insurance card and found that her car insurance had expired. Quinn also informed the driver that he detected the odor of marijuana in the vehicle.

     Officer Quinn, after he secured the stopped driver's permission to search her car, placed the suspect in the backseat of his patrol vehicle. A search of the motorist's car resulted in the discovery of a marijuana grinder. Officer Quinn advised the detainee that he could arrest her for possession of drug paraphernalia. At that point the patrol officer stunned the woman with the revelation that he had a foot fetish. If she allowed him to sniff and lick her bare feet, he wouldn't take her into custody.

     Not wanting to be arrested, the motorist removed her boots and socks. But instead of availing himself of the woman's feet, officer Quinn asked her to remove and give him her underwear. Before the woman could comply with that request, the patrol officer changed his mind and let her go.

     The day following her harrowing encounter with the disturbed cop, the woman reported the bizarre and frightening incident to the authorities. Detectives with the Harris County District Attorney's Office launched an investigation.

     Police officers arrested Patrick Quinn after detectives identified him through his latent fingerprints on the victim's insurance card.

     The Cypress-Fairbanks School District fired Mr. Quinn after a Harris County prosecutor charged him with two counts of official oppression. In the course of the investigation leading up to the arrest, detectives had found three other women who had been victims of the officer's deviant propositions.

     On October 22, 2015, in a Houston Courtroom, Patrick Quinn pleaded guilty to one count of official oppression. The judge sentenced him to a year in the Harris County Jail.

Norman Mailer On Prisons: Beware Of The Bleeding Heart

The fundamental premise of incarceration demonstrates to us, over and over, is that prison is equipped to grind down criminals who are cowards into social submission, but can only break the spirit of brave men who are criminals, or anneal them until they are harder that the steel that encloses them. [Brave men? Brave men do not mug old people, rape women or murder their girlfriends and wives. Only a hopeless romantic would associate criminality with courage.] No system of punishment that asks a brave human being to surrender his or her bravery can ever work for the common good. It violates the universal stuff of the soul out of which great civilizations are built.

Norman Mailer. Mailer wrote the introduction to Jack Abbott's In The Belly of the Beast, 1981 Not long after Mailer and other bleeding-hearts lobbied corrections authorities to release Jack Abbott from prison, this violent criminal, without provocation, stabbed a New York City waiter to death. The victim was a total stranger to him. How brave was that? 

Charles Bukowski On His Schooling

I had Genius pushed at me all through school: Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Ibsen, G.B. Shaw, Chekov, all those dullards. And worse, Mark Twain, Hawthorne, the Bronte sisters, Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, it all just laid on you like a slab of cement, and you wanted to get out and away, they were like heavy stupid parents insisting upon regulations and ways that would make even the dead cringe.

Charles Bukowski, Hollywood, 1989

The Do-Or-Die Protagonist

The nature of the mystery novel is such that your protagonist will be tested. He'll be insulted, lied to, bullied, humiliated, cheated, threatened, and injured. He'll see other people duped, scapegoated, and hurt. Characters, like real people, show their mettle in the do-or-die situations.

Hallie Ephron, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, 2005

Flogging Your Book

     Writers are prone to take themselves very seriously, which is fine, except it also means they sometimes find the self-promotional aspects of their craft distasteful, if not downright excruciating. Writing is about the journey, not the destination, right? And book selling is such an inexact science, it would be near impossible to prove that more publicity necessarily translates into more sales.

     Except it often does. Sure, there are veteran authors who have to do nothing than hit "send" on a manuscript before the Time magazine cover gets scheduled and the royalty checks start pouring in; others, thanks to whatever particular combination of timing and talent, seem to skyrocket into the public consciousness out of nowhere. But they are the exception, not the rule

     Then there are the rest of us. As the editor of two well-publicized but by no means best-selling books, it would make sense for me to deem aspects of book promotion frivolous--sales of my first book were proof that multiple appearances on high-profile public radio and morning news shows don't always move the needle--but I do believe promotion is a necessary, if often exhausting endeavor.

Anna Holmes, The New York Times Review of Books, May 25, 2014

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Book Acknowledgments

Authors write acknowledgments to acknowledge their debts, of course, to thank people who helped in some way. Ideally, your tone should be gracious but not queenly grateful nor groveling. Humble dignity is what you should aim for. Acknowledgements also enable you to shamelessly drop names without seeming immodest. In this way, you let the reader know that while you, the author, did the real work, a great many important people stopped whatever they were doing to give you a hand.

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

Stephen King on Pulp Fiction

You can place the fiction genre into three general categories: literature, mainstream, and pulp fiction. According to Stephen King: "To condemn pulp writing out of hand is like condemning a girl as loose simply because she came from unpleasant family circumstances." 

Home Alone Writing Your Novel

Writing a novel is like poking out your eyes with a flaming stick. A real writer will develop the discipline to do it anyway, instead of just talking about the story to anyone within listening range. Unfortunately, writing the book requires spending time alone with yourself. Locking yourself in a room without distractions is usually the best course. Woody Allen said that he can't write in a room with a window.

Bruce Balfour in The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, Andrew McLeer, 2008 

The Unhappiness Vocation

Novel writing is considered a profession and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think that an artist can ever be happy.

Georges Simenon, Paris Review, Summer 1955 

Memoirist Hatchet Jobs

Books like Christina Crawford's Mommy, Dearest and Gary Crosby's Going My Own Way, offered sensational, firsthand accounts into the family lives of Joan Crawford and Bing Crosby, proving that even in the film industry's Golden Age, Hollywood idols did not make top-notch parents. Nor most likely do their own children, comfortable performing literary blindsides on their star parents in the pursuit of their own 15 minutes of fame. It's a vicious cycle.

Andrew Breibart and Mark Ebner, Hollywood, Interrupted, 2004 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Punching Judge Of Brevard County

     A judge struck a public defender on June 2, 2014 after a verbal confrontation in a Brevard County, Florida courtroom. According to a spokesperson for the public defender's office, Judge John Murphy physically assaulted attorney Andrew Weinstock.

     During a court session in Viera, Florida, when Judge Murphy asked Mr. Weinstock to waive his client's right to a speedy trial, the public defender refused. The courtroom confrontation was captured on video.

      In the hallway outside the courtroom, Judge Murphy grabbed Weinstock by the collar and started punching him in the face. A Brevard County sheriff's deputy stepped in and stopped the assault. The video showed the judge being applauded when he returned to the courtroom. 

     The participants refused to press charges, and no arrests were made. 
     In December 2015, justices on the Florida Supreme Court found that Judge John Murphy was not fit to serve and removed him from the bench.

Crime Headlines of the Past

     There is nothing like a good murder story to sell newspapers. And a good story needs an eye-catching headline. The Victorians mastered this art and nowhere was the genre better demonstrated than during the 1870s in the Illustrated Police News. This was a popular, high-circulation newspaper and a forerunner of the modern tabloids.

     The paper reported various types of criminal happenings and bizarre events with arresting headlines and, in an age before press photographs, used graphic artists' illustrations. Headlines contained two essential elements to connect with readers' interests. First was a reference to the nature of the crime and, all importantly, where it had taken place. This was usually preceded by an adjective to stimulate interest and convey a sense of outrage. Thus, in 1873, a "Dreadful Child Murder at Hull" was reported and, in 1876, a "Frightful Wife Murder in Bristol."
Robin Odell, The Mammoth Book of Bizarre Crimes, 2010

When to Expose a Bad Book

Is a reviewer ever justified in attempting to blow a bad book out of the water? I think the answer is yes, but the reviewer must choose his targets with the greatest of care. It's not enough for the book to be bad; other elements must be present: smugness; pretentiousness; and over inflated reputation; clear evidence that a book's badness is not the result of incompetence, but of deliberate design. Such books represent an assault on the republic of letters and should not be ignored.

Peter Prescott, Never in Doubt, 1996

Alien Nonhuman Beings in Literature and Film

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

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

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

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

Stanley Schmidt, Aliens and Alien Societies, 1995 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Killing Jesse James

      Was it the notorious outlaw Jesse Woodson James who Bob Ford killed on April 3, 1882 in Ford's house high atop Lafayette Street in St. Joseph, Missouri? If not Jesse James, then who met his maker, courtesy of Bob Ford's revolver, on that fateful day?

     Some say the assassinated man was an unwitting stand-in by the name of Charlie Bigelow. Others announce that there were in truth two Jesse Jameses: one, the true Jesse Woodson James, and the other, Jesse R. James, who was a Jesse Woodson James look-a-like who could fool even Jesse's older brother Frank. In life and death, he passed himself off, it is said, as the authentic Jesse.

     Jesse James died on April 3, 1882 in St. Joseph, Missouri when he was shot in the head by a single bullet that did not exit his skull. In light of scientific findings, the claims of those who say that someone else died in Jesse's place, and that Jesse lived on to father additional children, are worse than nonsense. They are ludicrous in the extreme.

James E. Starrs (with Katherine Ramsland), A Voice for the Dead, 2005

Stephen King on the Long Novel

     Let us consider the problems of the long novel, in which the heft is apt to come in for almost as much critical examination as the contents. There is, for instance, Jack Beatty's famous critique of James A. Michener's Chesapeake (865 pages): "My best advice is don't read it; my second best is don't drop it on your foot." Presumably, Beatty read it--or at least skimmed it--before offering these helpful hints, but you get the idea. In this hurry-scurry age, big books are viewed with suspicion, and sometimes disdain.

     The book buyer's suspicions are more justified. The critic, after all, is being paid to read. Consumers must spend their hard-earned cash for the same privilege. Then there's the question of time. Prospective buyers have every right to ask: "Do I really want to give two weeks of my reading life to this novel? Can it possibly be worth it when there are so many others--most a good deal shorter--clamoring for my attention?"

Stephen King, "Flights of Fancy," The New York Times Book Review, October 13, 2013

Free College?

Lady Gaga may not have much class but now there is a class on her. The University of South Carolina is offering a class called Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame. Mathieu Deflem, the professor teaching the course describes it as aiming to "unravel some of the sociologically relevant dimensions of the fame of Lady Gaga with respect to her music, videos, fashion, and other endeavors." 

Michael Snyder, "20 Completely Ridiculous College Courses Offered at U. S. Universities," theeconomiccollapseblog.com, June 5, 2013 (See my post, "Ridiculous College Courses: Majoring in Stupid")

Novelists Reviewing Each Other's Books

     Novelists are not remotely wary of criticizing one another's work in private; they do it all the time. Only when they're asked to commit their shoptalk to print do they grow reticent. A hardy few are prepared to engage tough-mindedly with the works of their peers.

     Most fiction writers end up deciding that discretion is the greater part of critical valor. Some recuse themselves from reviewing any contemporary fiction at all. Others review only those novels they can praise in good faith. Still others adopt a tactful, discursive reviewing style that allows them to write about books they don't rate without actually copping to an opinion.

     Before we rebuke these writers for their intellectual cowardice, we ought to acknowledge the genuine difficulty of the task they shirk. The literary world is tiny. The subgroup represented by novelists is even tinier. If you're an author who regularly reviews other authors, the chances of running into a person whose novel you have criticized are fairly high. It may not be the worst thing in the world to find yourself side by side at a cocktail party with the angry man whose work you described as mediocre in last Sunday's paper, but the threat of such encounter is not a great spur to critical honesty. [If you're interested in literary courage, read B. R. Myers' book Reader's Manifesto where he rips apart several so-called literary giants. A great book and a wonderful read.]

Zoe Heller, The New York Times Book Review, September 26, 2014

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Does The Death Penalty Deter Murder?

When we look closely into it, there are two categories of people who commit murder: (1) Those who are sane (know the nature and quality or consequences of their act) but hope to escape the penalty; (2) Those who are insane, and these either do not know or do not care what they do. Homicides are either the one or the other, so it is difficult to appreciate the deterring effect of the death penalty upon their minds. I am not a psychologist or metaphysician, or even a theologian, so I cannot resolve this difficult problem except by saying that, if a man knows what will happen as a result of an act of his, and hopes so strongly to escape the consequences that he actually commits the act, a contemplation of the possible penalty does not seem to hinder him.

Charles Duff, A Handbook on Hanging, 2001 reprint of 1961 edition 

In Literature Nothing is New

     In the arts we cannot discover startling originality--only trends, styles, twists, slants, tricks, exaggeration, minimization, emphasis on parts instead of the whole. Originality, then, is rare in the field of literature and, for that matter, in all fields of art.

     If we consider originality almost non-existent, then what shall a writer strive for? Characterization. Living, vibrating human beings are still the secret and magic formula of great and enduring writing. Read, or better, study the immortals and you will be forced to conclude that their unusual penetration into human character is what has kept their work fresh and alive through centuries, and not because they may have a new "slant" which seemed to many to be "original."

Lajos Egri, The Art of Creative Writing, 1990 

Are Writers Lonely, Unhappy Drunks?

     The writer's life is inherently an insecure one. Each project is a new start and may be a failure. The fact that a previous item has been successful is no guard against failure this time.

     What's more, as has often been pointed out, writing is a very lonely occupation. You can talk about what you write, and discuss it with family, friends, or editors, but when you sit down at that typewriter, you are alone with it and no one can possibly help. You must extract every word from you own suffering mind.

     It's no wonder writers so often turn misanthropic or are driven to drink to dull the agony. I've heard it said that alcoholism is an occupational disease with writers.

Isaac Asimov, I. Asimov: A Memoir, 1994

Writing One's Life Or Re-Writing It?

Perhaps all memoirists lie. We alter the truth on paper so as to alter it in fact; we lie about our past and invent surrogate memories the better to make sense of our lives and live the life we know was truly ours. We write about our life, not to see it as it was, but to see it as we wish others might see it, so we may borrow their gaze and begin to see our life through their eyes, not ours.

Andre Acimen in Writers on Writing, edited by John Darnton, 2001 

The Short Story's Golden Age

This country used to be crazy about short stories. New stories would appear every week in the Saturday Evening Post or in The New Yorker, and every middle-class literate person would be talking about it: "Hey, did you read that story by Salinger?" or "Hey, did you read that story by Ray Bradbury?"

Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday, 1981 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Whodunit Crime Novel

     Most of my fiction writing has been in the murder mystery novel genre, specifically whodunits, in which there are usually four to six suspects. One of the most difficult aspects of writing whodunits is to give all of these suspects roughly equal motives for having committed the murder. The idea is to keep the reader guessing as long as possible.

     I try to adhere to the doctrine of fair play in the plot. That is, I put in clues so that the reader could conceivably identify the murderer. Having said that, I bury the clues by making them hard to spot. Many of these clues are embedded in seemingly innocuous details. [In real life, most murder cases are not mysteries. However, true crime readers find them interesting because they really happened.]

Robert Goldsborough in The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, Andrew McAleer, editor, 2008

The Ominous Beginning

In stories that begin with a man or woman walking alone on a moonlit, deserted road in the middle of nowhere, or on an empty street in the city, you know that something bad. really bad, is about to happen.

Word Abuse

Since when did everything look, taste, and feel "amazing?" What does "amazing" look, taste, and feel like? It's amazing how this poor word has been abused. It's time for a word assassin to put it out of its misery. And how about "literally." National TV commentators and reporters say things like, "On the debate stage, they "literally" ripped him to threads." I glad I didn't witness that. Or how about this: "She is "literally over the hill." What hill? Is she missing?

Journalism's Objectivity Myth

There is no such thing as purely objective journalism, and there never has been. All reporters have opinions and biases, and these feelings seep into their work. It's time to put this ridiculous lie to rest.

True Crime Research

Writing a true crime book requires the writer to dig into angles not covered in the original rush of publicity and to deeply research the stories of victims, survivors, investigators, attorneys, and others; review all court, prison, psychiatric, medical, police and other documents about the perpetrator and interview people close to him.

Gretchen Brinck, authorsontheweb.com, 2002 

Writer's Angst?

Writer's angst? Forget it. You want angst? Lose your wallet, step on your eyeglasses, or get a bad haircut. If writing causes you angst, quit and do something else. Life is too short and no one cares if you write or not.

Friday, February 5, 2021

The Celebrity Stalker's "Entitled Reciprocity" syndrome

If the celebrity stalker thinks he's being rejected, he can feel humiliated and develop anger and hatred toward the star he loves. He thinks, "I have spent hundreds of hours writing and communicating and sending e-mails and presents to this celebrity; this celebrity figure owes me time, he owes me attention--how dare he ignore me." Narcissism is the aggressive underbelly of this idealized fantasy.

Reid Meloy, forensic psychologist in Details Magazine, April 2013

"Literary" Novelists: It's the Readers Who Are Stupid, Not the Book

The joy of being a [literary] writer today is that you can claim your work's flaws are all there by design. Plot doesn't add up? It was never meant to; you were playfully reworking the conventions of traditional narrative. Your philosophizing makes no sense? Well, we live in an incoherent age after all. The dialogue is implausible? Comedy often is. But half the jokes fall flat?  Ah! Those were the serious bits. Make sure then, that your readers can never put a finger on what you are trying to say at any point in the book. Let them create their own text--you're just the one who gets paid for it.

B. R. Myers, A Reader's Manifesto, 2002. This is an outstanding, groundbreaking book.

Joseph Wambaugh on Writing Dramatic Nonfiction

When I write nonfiction, obviously I was not there when the events occurred. I write in a dramatic style--that is, I employ lots of dialogue. I describe feelings. I describe how the events must have taken place. I invent probable dialogue or a least possible dialogue based upon all of the research that I do.

Joseph Wambaugh in Janet Malcolm's The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Best Reasons to Write

Interviewers ask famous writers why they write, and it was the poet John Ashbery who answered, "Because I want to." Flannery O'Connor answered, "Because I'm good at it," and when the occasional interviewer asks me, I quote them both. Then I add that other than writing, I am completely unemployable. But really, secretly, when I'm not being smart-alecky, it's because I want to and I'm good at it.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, 1994

Scholars And Intellectuals

Scholars are well educated people who usually teach at a college or university. Intellectuals are original thinkers who are usually scholars as well. But an intellectual can also be someone who works in a coal mine. Scholars are a dime a dozen. Intellectuals, regardless of what they do, are few and far between. Very few novelists are either scholars or intellectuals. Some of them, however, are talented story tellers, and that's enough.

Norman Mailer on Those Who Write

     One of the cruelest remarks in the language is: Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. The parallel must be: Those who meet experience, learn to live; those who don't, write.

     The second remark has as much truth as the first--which is to say, some truth. Of course, many a young man has put himself in danger to pick up material for his writing, but as a matter to make one wistful, not one major American athlete, CEO, politician, engineer, trade-union official, surgeon, airline pilot, chess master, call girl, sea captain, teacher, bureaucrat, Mafioso, pimp, recidivist, physicist, rabbi, movie star, clergyman, or priest or nun has also emerged as a major novelist since the Second World War.

Norman Mailer, The Spooky Art, 2003

Stephen King on Being a Successful Writer

The idea that success in itself can hurt a writer is as ridiculous and as elitist as the commonly held belief that a popular book is a bad book--the former belief presumes that writers are even more corruptible than, say, politicians, and the later belief presumes that the level of taste in the world's most literate country is illogically low. I don't--and perhaps can't, as a direct result of what I'm doing--accept either idea.

Stephen King, Adelina Magazine, 1980 

B. Traven: All Books Should Be Published Anonymously

     A character in B. Traven's story "The Night Visitor" who has written several books he has chosen not to publish, contemplates fame: "What is fame, after all? It stinks to hell and heaven. Today I am famous. Today my name is printed on the front page of all the papers in the world. Tomorrow perhaps fifty people can still spell my name correctly. Day after tomorrow I may starve to death and nobody cares. That's what you call fame."

     B. Traven, the pen name of the mysterious author of dozens of novels--notably, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre--believed that all books should be published anonymously. He based this belief on the notion that readers, by knowing in advance who the author is, will expect and demand a certain kind of book.

     Modern publishing is all about fame. Gore Vidal once said that an author should never turn down a chance to be on television. (Vidal, Truman Capote, and Norman Mailer were notorious media whores.) Today, book publishers pay publicists to get their authors in the news and on radio and TV talk shows. (Publicity, by definition, is free advertising.) Publishers also like celebrity authors who are already famous. Fans come to celebrity book signings not to acquire the book for reading but for the writer's autograph and a photo op. Moreover, it doesn't seem to bother anyone that celebrity authors do not write (or, possibly, even read) their own books. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Rudy Eugene: The Case Of The Naked Flesh Eater

     As a nation of drug addicts and alcoholics, are we creating a class of taser-resistant monsters and flesh-eating zombies?

Excited Delirium Syndrome

     According to  Dr. Deborah Mash, the University of Miami neurologist who coined the term Excited Delirium, men who are high on drugs and/or alcohol, and are mentally ill, can  fly off the handle when placed under stress. Their body temperatures soar to 103-5 degrees, and their hearts race. When in this state, these men also possess supernatural strength, and can be resistant to taser shocks. Many of these men, often overweight, die of cardiac or respiratory arrest when fighting with the police. Among forensic pathologists in the United States, Canada, and England, Excited Delirium Syndrome is becoming a recognized cause of death.

Rudy Eugene

     At two in the afternoon on Saturday, May 26, 2012, Larry Vegas, while riding his bicycle on the MacArthur off-ramp to Biscayne Boulevard in Miami, saw a naked man on top of another nude man on the pedestrian walkway. The area under the causeway, populated by homeless people, was littered with cardboard mats, personal belongings, syringes, and broken bottles. The person on the pavement wasn't moving as the man on top chewed away at his face. The witness on the bicycle yelled at the attacker to stop. This man, with pieces of bloody flesh hanging out of his mouth, raised his head, looked at Mr. Vegas, and growled.

     Mr. Vegas, now joined by other horrified witnesses, flagged down a Miami Police officer who ordered the attacker to desist. The attacker, paying no attention to the cop, the rubber-necking motorists, and the witnesses gathering at the scene, continued to tear away his victim's face. Obviously stunned and repelled by what he saw, the officer shot the attacker. When the bullet didn't stop the gruesome assault, the officer fired again, three times, killing the flesh eating predator.

     Paramedics rushed the bloody, badly mauled victim to Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center. The homeless victim, whose face had been chewed beyond recognition, was in critical condition.

     The man shot to death by the Miami police officer was a 31-year-old man named Rudy Eugene. Police theorize Mr. Eugene had been under the influence of "Cocaine Psychosis," a condition which causes the body to heat-up. Perhaps this was why the attacker was nude.

     Forensic pathologists, police officers, emergency room doctors, EMS personnel, and people who treat drug abusers, had been aware of Cocaine Psychosis since 1987. Cocaine causes dopamine levels in the body to rise, causing euphoria. The dropping of the dopamine level when the drug wears off can cause schizophrenic-like symptoms, and/or extremely violent behavior. Cocaine Psychosis was  common in longtime drug abusers.

     At two in the morning on the day of the attack, Rudy Eugene, while at his girlfriend's house, rifled through his clothing and hers, then drove off in his purple Chevy sedan. He told a friend he was going to Miami Beach to attend a Memorial Day party. Later in the day, his car broke down, and as he walked across the 3-mile causeway he stated taking off his clothes. Police found his clothing and his driver's license along the road.

     As the investigation progressed, detectives began to suspect that Mr. Eugene had been under the influence of a LSD-like synthetic drug called "bath salts." His former wife, Jenny Ductant said this to a reporter: "I wouldn't say he had mental problems but he always felt like people were against him."

     The authorities identified the victim as 65-year-old Ronald Poppo, a man who lived under the causeway, and had been homeless for 30 years. He was a 1964 graduate of New York City's elite Stuyvesant High School. Before hitting the skids, Poppo had worked in the guidance officer at Stuyvesant. He had lived in Florida 40 years, during which time he had been arrested for petty crimes. Before the Miami police officer shot and killed Rudy Eugene, the attacker had been chewing on Poppo's face for 18 minutes. When the ambulance took the victim from the scene, he had lost 80 percent of his face including his nose, cheeks, lips and an eye.

     Rudy Eugene's girlfriend told detectives that she met him in 2007. Since that time she and Rudy Eugene had an on-again, off-again relationship. The man she portrayed, a guy who read from a Bible he carried everywhere with him, did not comport with a man who had eaten a stranger's face. While the girlfriend admitted that Eugene smoked pot, she believed that on the day he was shot by the police, he had been unknowingly drugged. She also floated the possibility that someone put a Voodoo curse on him.

     In 2004, Mr. Eugene had been arrested for battery after he threatened his mother and smashed furniture. He had also threatened the responding police officer who shot him with a taser device.

     Toxicological tests revealed that Rudy Eugene, when he attacked the homeless man, was not under the influence of bath salts. He was, however, high on marijuana. Exactly what caused Mr. Eugene to do what he did to a complete stranger went with him to the grave.

The Unpredictability of Death House Electrocution

     Divorced from the emotional and ethical aspects of the matter, electrocution can be pictured as a purely physical process. The body--seen as a conductor of electricity--is a leathery bag containing a solution of electrolytes. Though electricity does not move in a perfectly straight line as is passes from entrance to exit, the greatest density of current is along the line connecting the two points of contact. But because the human body is a complex object for the current to pass though--unlike a uniform substance such as copper wire or salt water--the actual resistance of the body may vary greatly during the time the electricity is moving through it. The effects of the shock are often impossible to predict.

     To make electrocution as efficient and expedient a process as possible, certain techniques of preparation have been developed. Like a patient being readied for surgery, the prisoner to be executed goes though an exacting process before the actual procedure occurs. Very important is the maximizing of contact. The prisoner's scalp is shaved down to stubble; a safety razor is used to clear a spot at the center of the head. This is the place where the soaked sponge of the death cap will make contact. Similarly, an area approximately six inches above the ankle is shaved, to make the optimum connection with the ground pad.

     Everything possible is done to ensure that the mechanism works as desired. The connection at head and leg soaked with conductive Electro-Creme or paste-like brine solution--is the most efficient way of transferring electrical current into the body. Voltages and amperages are finely calibrated. The system itself is checked and rechecked, tested and inspected. Hundreds of previous executions give the prison personnel a good idea of what to expect. A controlled environment, witnesses, accurate analytic tools, the frequent presence of doctors and nurses lend the execution the air of a scientific experiment. But the body is always a variable.

Th. Metzger, Blood & Volts, 1996

Selling Mainstream Literary Novels

Authors often believe that if a novel can only be categorized "mainstream" that it will automatically ship to stores in large quantities and sell to customers in big numbers. That belief is naive. So-called mainstream novels can sell in tiny numbers. That is even more true in the category of literary fiction. Authors with such labels face a double struggle in building their audience. For one thing, they cannot tap into the popularity of an existing genre. They must build from the ground up, creating a category where none existed before--their own. It can be a tough job.

Donald Maass, The Career Novelist, 2001 

A Novelist's Unlikeable Characters

I have been idiotically told that I write "awful" books [novels] because the people in them are unpleasant. Intelligent readers do not confuse the quality of the book with the moral rectitude of the characters. For those who want goodigoodness, there are the Victorian good-girl religious novels that would suit them fine.

Margaret Atwood, novelist,  2013

Creative Nonfiction Focuses On The Story, Not The Writer

Nonfiction writers write too much about themselves and what they think without seeking a universal focus so that readers are properly and firmly engaged. Essays that are so personal that they omit the reader are essays that will never see the light of print. The overall objective of a writer should be to make the reader tune in, not out.The uninspired writer will tell the reader about a subject, place, or personality, but the creative nonfiction writer will show that subject, place, or personality in action.

Lee Gutkind, Keep it Real, 2009

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Policing Speech Instead of Protecting It

The New York Times just published a feature article entitled, "Why is Big Tech Policing Speech? Because the Government Isn't." In a democratic country, the only thing policed should be crime. It's bad enough that Big Tech has taken it upon itself to police speech. It's even worse when the government does it. Information monopolies and governments should protect and encourage free speech, not restrict it. It's more than a little odd to see such an anti-free speech article in a major newspaper. 

Honeymoons And Hookers Don't Mix

     Between May 8 and 11, 2013, Florida undercover officers with the Polk County Sheriff's Office ran a prostitution sting involving an online ad aimed at prospective Johns. The operation resulted in the arrests of 92 men. One of the suspects caught in the web was a 45-year-old youth minister. Another unlikely catch involved a young man who was on his honeymoon.

     A 21-year-old Chicago area groom named Mohammed Ahmed was on his honeymoon in Orlando, Florida. After showing up at the place where he hoped to engage the prostitute, Ahmed was arrested by the cops running the sting. When Ahmed didn't return to his honeymoon suite at the Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate, his bride called the police and reported him missing.

     As it turned out, the newlywed was only missing from his bride. The authorities knew exactly where he was--sitting in the Polk County Jail facing charges of prostitution solicitation and possession of marijuana. The realization that her husband tried to hire a hooker just hours after the wedding ceremony must rank near the top of the honeymoon-from-hell list.

     Because I believe that police officers should be spending their time and resources on more serious crimes, I am not a fan of prostitution stings. But in Ahmed's case, the Polk County Sheriff's Office did Mr. Ahmed's bride a huge favor. If she didn't treat his prostitution arrest as an indication of what life would be like with this husband, she had only herself to blame.

The Pre-Twentieth Century History of Hemp and Marijuana

     The first American law concerning marijuana, passed in the Virginia assembly in 1619, required every household to grow it. Hemp was deemed not only a valuable commodity, but also a strategic necessity. Its fibers were used to make sails and riggings, and its byproducts were turned into oakum for the caulking of wooden ships. Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and other colonies eventually allowed hemp to be used as legal tender to boost its production and relieve colonial shortages of currency. Although a number of the Founding Fathers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, later grew hemp on their estates, there is no evidence they were aware of its psychoactive properties. The domestic production of hemp flourished, especially in Kentucky, until the Civil War, when it was replaced by imports from Russia and by other domestic materials.

     In the latter half of the nineteenth century marijuana became a popular ingredient in patent medicines and was sold openly at pharmacies in one-ounce herbal packages and alcohol-based tinctures, as a cure for migraines, rheumatism, and insomnia. Dr. Brown's Sedative Tablets contained marijuana, as did Eli Lilly's One Day Cough Cure.

Eric Schlosser, Reefer Madness, 2003 

Anti-Stalking Laws

     Most anti-stalking laws around the country discuss threats or threatening behavior. Most anti-stalking laws require, at minimum, that the victim feel threatened by the stalker's actions. In these states, the stalker may explicitly threaten the victim, but the law does not require that such a threat take place. As long as the stalker's other actions create a threatening climate for the victim, the law can be applied.

     In a few states, however, repeated harassment or following must be accompanied by an explicit threat. Most states that require a threat also require that it be "credible." In many states that require a credible threat, the defendant must have the "intent and/or apparent ability" to carry out the threat. Someone who clearly could not carry out the threat would not fit this requirement.

Melita Schaum and Karen Parrish, Stalked, 1995