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Friday, April 30, 2021

The Eye-Drop Poison Case

     Dr. Harry Johnston, since June 2009, had been treating Thurman Nesbitt for a mysterious illness. The 45-year-old patient, a resident of McConnellsburg in central Pennsylvania, suffered from nausea, low blood pressure, and breathing difficulties. Dr. Johnston, suspecting that his patient was being poisoned, had his blood analyzed. On July 27, 2012, the serology tests revealed the presence of tetrahydrozolin, a chemical found in over-the-counter eye-drops.

     On August 10, 2012, troopers with the Pennsylvania State Police arrested Nesbitt's girlfriend, Vickie Jo Mills. The 33-year-old McConnellsburg woman, on probation for forgery, admitted putting Visine drops into her boyfriend's drinking water. Mills told her interrogators that she had been making Nesbitt sick since June 2009. She said it had never been her intention to poison her boyfriend to death. To the obvious question of why she had done this, Mills explained that she had made Nesbitt sick in an effort to get him to pay more attention to her.

     Most women who use illness to attract attention make themselves sick pursuant to a syndrome called Munchausen. In Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, these women make their children sick. It's not clear why Mills thought poisoning her boyfriend would improve their relationship.

     The Fulton County prosecutor charged Vickie Jo Mills with ten counts of aggravated assault which carried a combined maximum sentence of 240 years in prison and a $300,000 fine. Shortly after her arrest, the authorities released Mills on a $75,000 surety bond.

     On October 16, 2002, the district attorney dropped nine of the ten counts in return for the defendant's guilty plea. A Fulton County judge, on February 14, 2013, sentenced Mills to two to four years in prison.

     It's odd that something you can put into your eyes will make you sick if you put it into your stomach.

The Death Penalty Debate in America

     To some extent, the debate about capital punishment has been going on almost since the founding of the Republic. At that time, each state, following the English tradition, imposed death for a long list of felonies. But the same humanism that posited the equal value of all men and animated democracy necessarily led to many questions about a punishment that vested such fierce power over citizens in the state and assumed individuals were irredeemable. Thomas Jefferson was among the earliest advocates of restricting executions, and in 1794, Pennsylvania limited capital punishment to first-degree murder. In 1846, Michigan became the first American state to outlaw capital punishment for killers.

     For most Americans, the death penalty debate goes no further than asking whether they "believe" in capital punishment. There is good reason for this, of course, because the threshold issues define us so profoundly as individuals and as a society that it is almost impossible to move past them. What are the goals of punishment? What do we think about the perfectibility of human beings and the perdurability of evil? What value do we place on life--of the murderer and the victim? What kind of power do we want in the hands of government, and what do we hope the state can accomplish when it wields it?

Scott Turow, Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty, 2003

The Celebrity Journalist

Journalists are now celebrities. Part of this has been caused by the ability and willingness of journalists to promote themselves. Part of this has been caused by television, the television reporter is often more famous than anyone he interviews.

Nora Ephron, 2003

The Complete Sentence

That's the hardest thing to do--to stay with a sentence until it has said what it should say, and then to know when that has been accomplished.

Vivian Gornick, American critic, essayist, and memoirist, The Paris Review, 2014

They Lived Happily Thereafter

What a romance novel does is describe the progress of the love story, from meeting to that moment when the heroine and the hero decide to commit to each other. At that point they expect to live happily thereafter. Whether they do or not is another story--the straight novel, if you like, after the romance.

Donna Baker, Writing a Romance Novel, 1997

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Nathan Dunlap: Saving the Life of a Cold-Blooded Mass Murderer

     In December 1993, a supervisor employed by the Chuck E Cheese family eating place and entertainment center in the suburban city of Aurora, Colorado outside of Denver, fired 19-year-old Nathan Dunlap for refusing to work extra hours. The pizza cook told his fellow workers that the boss had made a fool of him, and that he planned to get even.

     On December 14, 1993, Dunlap, while playing basketball with friends, said, in reference to his former place of employment, that he was going to "kill them all and take the money." Later that day, Dunlap walked into the Chuck E Cheese establishment and, in cold blood, shot five employees, killing four of them.

     A jury, in 1996, found Nathan Dunlap guilty of four counts of murder. The judge sentenced the convicted killer to death. Three years later, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld Dunlap's conviction.

     In early May 2013, after the U. S. Supreme Court declined to hear Dunlap's clemency appeal, an Arapahoe County judge scheduled Dunlap's execution for the week of August 18, 2013. Dunlap would be the first prisoner executed in the state in fifteen years. Friends and relatives of the murdered Chuck E Cheese employees were elated.

     Those who had been waiting twenty years for Dunlap's execution were crestfallen when Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, at a May 22, 2013 press conference, announced that he had granted "Offender No. 89148" a temporary reprieve. (During the news conference, Governor Hickenlooper never mentioned Dunlap by name. When asked why, he said, "I don't think he needs any more notoriety.")

     The governor's reprieve guaranteed that Dunlap would live until January 15, 2015, the last day of Hickenlooper's first term. If he lost his bid for re-election, the new governor could let the reprieve stand, or go forward with the execution. Dunlap's fate became a gubernatorial campaign issue.

     In justifying his decision to spare Dunlap's life, Hickenlooper rhetorically asked, "Is it just and moral to take this person's life? Is it a benefit to the world?" (A lot of people would answer, "Yes!")

     In reacting publicly to the governor's reprieve, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Braucher said, "There's going to be one person, one person in this system who goes to bed with a smile on his face tonight. And that's Nathan Dunlap. And he's got one person to thank for that smile. That's Governor Hickenlooper."

     The father of one of Dunlap's victims, in speaking to a reporter with the Denver Post, said, "The knife that's been in my back for twenty years was just turned by the governor."

      Governor Hickenlooper was elected to a second term in office. It was not clear what role the Dunlap reprieve played in that victory,

     In April 2017, a U.S. District Court judge denied the Dunlap legal team the right to lobby Governor Hickenlooper for permanent clemency. The death house defense team wanted to spend $750,000 in taxpayer money to present psychiatric evidence that Dunlap's murders were the result of a traumatic childhood.

    On November 20, 2017, Governor Hickenlooper denied clemency for Nathan Dunlap.
     Colorado governor Jared Polis, in March 2020, signed a bill abolishing the state's death penalty, thus saving Nathan Dunlap's life.

Sherlock Holmes: The Protagonist as Beloved Public Figure

A. Conan Doyle grew to detest his detective Sherlock Holmes and killed him off with satisfaction. The rest of the world didn't agree: London stockbrokers wore armbands, the public deluged newspapers with letters of mourning and outrage, and a woman even picketed Doyle's house with a sign that called him a murderer.

Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type to be a Writer, 2003 

John Scalzi On Science Fiction And Fantasy Writers

     Many of the writers who have inspired me most are outside the science fiction genre. Humorists like Robert Benchley and James Thurber, screenwriters like Ben Hecht and William Goldman, and journalist/columnists like H. L. Mencken, Mike Royko and Molly Ivins. They inspire me because they were good with words and they were also in command of their genres…

     I believe the best way to grow a genre--in this case science fiction--is to bring new elements into it. This is why I always recommend to aspiring science fiction and fantasy writers that they read outside the genre as much as they read inside it…

     My favorite thing about science fiction and fantasy right now is that it has so many genuinely good writers in it. I am biased, but I can say that the best writers in our genre can hold their own against any writers in any genre…

John Scalzi, "Science Fiction Author John Scalzi Explains How Not To Be Boring," by Brian A. Klems, writersdigest.com, July 20, 2011 

Believing the Unbelievable

Writers of nonfiction, particularly in the true crime genre, have a huge advantage over crime novelists, their fiction writing counterparts. Made up crime stories, to be believable, have to make sense. Otherwise, the fiction reader will lose interest because the story is unrealistic and unbelievable. A true crime story, on the other hand, regardless of how bizarre, pathological and mind-blowing, simply has to be true. The most celebrated crimes in American history--The Webster-Parkman Murder Case, The Lizzie Borden Ax Murder Case, The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case, and the O.J. Simpson Double Murder Case--exemplify the adage that fact is indeed stranger than fiction.

"Literary Fiction": The Unread Genre

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

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

     Is essence, the best genre fiction contains great writing, with the goal of telling a captivating story to escape from reality. Literary fiction is comprised of the heart and soul of a writer's being, and is experienced as an emotional journey through the symphony of words, leading to a stronger grasp of the universe and of ourselves. ["Emotional journey? Symphony of words? Literary fiction is different because no one reads it.]

Steven Petite, huffingtonpost.com, April 28, 2014 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Alisha Noel-Murray Murder-For-Hire Case

     Omar Murray, a Jamaican-born ironworker resided with his wife Alisha Noel-Murray in a Brooklyn row-house owned by Alisha's mother. The couple, married three years, had moved into the Brownsville neighborhood in early 2012. Omar was thirty-seven. His wife, a home health aide with Visiting Nurse Service of New York, was just twenty-five. A religious man, Omar regularly attended the Full Gospel Assembly of God Church in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.

     On Sunday, February 24, 2013, as Omar Murray entered his Lott Avenue house at one in the afternoon, he was approached by a man who shot him once in the chest. The victim stumbled into the house and collapsed in the entrance hallway. At the time of the shooting, Alisha was in the house recovering from surgery. She locked herself in her bedroom and called 911. Mr. Murray died a few hours after being rushed by ambulance to the Brookdale University Hospital.

     The next day, New York City Detectives arrested three local men in connection with the murder. Dameon Lovell told interrogators that the dead man's wife had been his lover. Together they had come up with the idea of having Omar murdered in a staged robbery. The 29-year-old murder-for-hire co-mastermind said that Alisha Noel-Murray wanted to cash in on her husband's two life insurance policies.

     In 2009, shortly after they were married, the couple took out a policy with National Benefit for $530,000. Sometime Mr. Murray's life was insured for an additional $150,000.

     Kirk Portious, a 25-year-old with a history of violent crime, confessed to being the hit-man. The prosecutor charged Portious and Lovell with first-degree murder. The third man taken into custody, 22-year-old Dion Jack, drove the getaway vehicle. He was charged with hindering prosecution. The judge set his bail at $5,000. Portious and Lovell were held without bond in the jail on Riker's Island.

     Funeral services for the murder victim were held at the Full Gospel Assemble of God Church on Friday night, March 8, 2013. Omar Murray's widow, who had not been charged with a crime, sat in the front pew chewing gum. Omar's uncle, in speaking to a New York Daily News reporter outside the Crown Heights church, said, "To see her [Alisha] sitting there with her crocodile tears makes me sick. We know she killed our Omar. Where is the justice?"

     Alisha Noel-Murray, to the same reporter, said, "I'm not hiding from no one....This is ridiculous."

     In June 2016, Alisha Noel-Murray was charged with first-degree murder in connection with Mr. Murray's death. Both life insurance companies refused to pay benefits on the ground local prosecutors had charged her as a murder-for-hire mastermind. She sued the National Benefit Life Insurance company and lost.

     Portious and Lovell awaited their murder trials while incarcerated on Riker's Island.

     In March 2017, Dameon Lovell pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a 25 year to life prison sentence.

     On June 8, 2017, a jury in Brooklyn, New York found Alisha Noel-Murray guilty of first-degree murder. Dameon Lovell's testimony helped convict her. A week later, a separate jury found Kirk Portious, the hit man, guilty of the same offense.

     The judge, in July 2017, sentenced Noel-Murray and her hit man to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy

     What does it mean to say that science fiction tries to make its speculations plausible while fantasy does not? Basically, fantasy writers don't expect you to believe that the things they're describing could actually happen, but only to pretend that they could for the duration of a story. Fantasy readers understand that and willingly play along. Science fiction writers, on the other hand, try to create worlds and futures that really could exist and do the things they describe. Their readers expect that of them, and write critical letters to editors and authors when they find holes in the logic (or the assumptions) that would make a science fiction story impossible.

     Often the same basic story material can be treated as either science fiction or fantasy, depending on how the writer approaches it. For example, the old fable of "The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs" is fantasy because real geese don't lay golden eggs and the story makes no attempt to convince you they could. It merely asks you to consider what might happen if one did. Isaac Asimov's story "Pate de Foie Gras" takes this basic idea and turns it into science fiction by postulating a biochemical mechanism so that readers can judge for themselves whether it might actually work.

     Fantasy is fun; but for some readers there is something extra special about a story that not only stretches the imagination, but just might be a real possibility.

Stanley Schmidt, Aliens and Alien Societies, 1995

Dealing With The Urge to Write a Novel

If you want to write a novel, the best thing you can do is take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass.

Lawrence Block, Writing the Novel, 1985 

Internet Book Reviewing

     With so many books being published, and so little space devoted to reviewing them, even a bad review can be considered a badge of honor. As painful as bad reviews are, it is arguably worse to have written a book that is totally ignored. Is literary criticism becoming a lost art?

     In an interview published in Novel Short Story Writer's Market 2002, editor Ann Close appraised the review picture as follows: "The review situation has gotten a lot worse. When newspapers and magazines hit bad times, a lot of them dropped their book reviews. Time and Newsweek used to review three to five books every week. They don't do that anymore. But in a way, the Internet has taken up the slack. You can get an enormous amount of information about a book on the Barnes & Noble and Amazon sites. Many other websites have started doing book reviews. It's hard to tell how much impact they've had. Nobody has been able to measure it exactly." Internet literary criticism has had an enormous impact on the reading public. Prior to the Internet, a handful of critics ruled the literary world. Those days are gone forever. 

The Flawed Romance Heroine

I feel that a character's flaws are what allows the reader to relate to her. I'm well-known for not being a fan of the "perfect" heroine. Our admiration may be aroused by perfection, but that is a distant emotion. Empathy comes from a shared sense of humanity, and that's what interests me. The flaws that I choose are flaws that interest me; flaws that seem to challenge the character is some way.

Laura Kinsale, likesbooks.com, 2003

Pulp Fiction Writer Peter Rabe

A guy named Peter Rabe wrote a batch of books for Gold Medal [mass market paperback publisher] in the 50s, and he was absolutely the single largest influence in my writing style. I was completely in love with the way the man wrote. [Clear and lucid. Peter Rabe (1921-1990) wrote under the names Marco Malaponte and J. T. MacCargo. According to Kein Graff at Booklist, "Rabe can pack more into 10 words than most writers can do with a page."]

Donald E. Westlake, American crime novelist, 2001

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Big Con

We convinced everyone college was 100 percent necessary, and then we made college unaffordable. It mostly started in 1978 when more loans and subsidies became available to greatly expand the number of students. The cost of college tuition has risen by six times the rate of inflation since the 1970s.

Jake Novak, CNBC Feb 23, 2020

True Crime Publishing

Why are some true crimes turned into books, while others barely make the national papers? It will hardly come as a staggering surprise to find that publishers choose only those cases that are out of the ordinary: so, while murder is a favorite topic for books, "domestic" murders are not, unless several people in the family are killed. [Or the killer or victim is famous.] The sort of case that attracts a book publisher is likely to involve large-scale crime, a mass or serial murder or a murderer who has been freed and has killed again or perhaps a murderer who almost got away with it.

Philip Rawlings, britsoccrim.org, April 1995

Stephen King On Story Versus Fancy Prose

     All my life as a writer I have been committed to the idea that in fiction the story holds value over every other facet of the writer's craft; characterization, theme, mood, none of those things is anything if the story is dull. And if the story does hold you, all else can be forgiven.

     I'm not any big-deal fancy writer. If I have any virtue it's that I know that. I don't have the ability to write the dazzling prose line. All I can do is entertain people. I think of myself as an American writer.

     My greatest virtue is that I know better than to evade my responsibilities by the useless exercise of trying to write fancy prose. I entertain people by giving them good stories dealing with the content of ordinary American lives, which is the best, truest tradition of American fiction.

Stephen King, Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing, 2000

Believable Fantasy

I learned years ago from Lester del Ray that the secret to writing good fantasy is to make certain it relates to what we know about our own world. Readers must be able to identify with the material in such a way that they recognize and believe the core truths of the storytelling. It doesn't matter if you are writing epic fantasy, contemporary fantasy, dark urban fantasy, comic fantasy, or something else altogether, there has to be truth in the material. Otherwise readers are going to have a tough time suspending disbelief long enough to stay interested.

Terry Brooks, Sometimes The Magic Works, 2003

Raymond Chandler's "Farewell, My Lovely"

I do not think Raymond Chandler should be judged by conventional literary standards. This is not fiction in the sense that Tolstoy or Balzac or Hemingway wrote fiction. As crime fiction, it belongs to a genre whose kinship is with other kinds of pop art, including the cartoon, the old radio serial, and what is known as science fiction. Of its kind, [Chandler's] Farewell, My Lovely is a masterpiece. It belongs to a class of writing for which we have no name.

Clifton Fadiman in Fifty Years, edited by Clifton Fadiman, 1965 

Monday, April 26, 2021

Two Romance Novel Rules

Two rules: All romance novels must have a happy ending that revolves between the hero and the heroine in the form of a lifelong commitment, and the love story revolves around one hero and one heroine--no adultery.

Charis McEachern, Writer's Digest, March 1999 

Who Needs Another Children's Book?

A child only reads 600 books in the course of his childhood, and all of those 600 have already been written. There are hundreds of contemporary books for children--many of them first class. There are also the classics. So what need is there for you to write another children's book? You should enter this literary field because you have a strong urge to tell the kind of story that you think children will enjoy. And preferably, because there is some particular story that is clamoring to be let out of your mind.

Joan Aiken in Fiction Writer's Market, edited by Laurie Henry, 1987 

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Linda Stoltzfoos Murder Case

     Lancaster County and the surrounding area in eastern Pennsylvania is home to the second largest old-order Amish enclave in the United States. Eighteen-year-old Linda Stoltzfoos, a member of that community, resided on a farm with her family in the East Lampeter Township village of Bird in Hand a few miles east of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

     On Sunday morning, June 21, 2020, Linda Stoltzfoos attended church services at an Amish home about a mile from her residence on Stumptown Road. A little after half-past noon, following the service, she left on foot en route to her farm. Before leaving, she told her friend Lillian Ebersole that she planned to change out of her formal church clothes before attending the 2:30 PM all-day church youth meeting on Beechdale Road in Upper Leacock Township. From the church service, Linda Stoltzfoos began the 19-minute walk to her house. She headed south on the east side of Beechdale Road in bare feet with her shoes in hand.

     At two o'clock the next morning, Linda Stoltzfoos' father called the East Lampeter Township Police Department to report his daughter missing. The missing girl's family believed that after church she had gone straight to the youth group get together. Her friends believed that when Linda got home from church she didn't feel well and missed the youth event. The brown haired, five-foot-ten, 125 pound Amish girl, when last seen, was wearing a tan dress, white apron and a black head covering.

     Surveillance footage from the 500 block of Beechdale Road five miles east of Lancaster showed a man approach Linda Stoltzfoos a few minutes after she departed the church service. He came from a red Kia Rio with black trim, a rear spoiler, and a "LCM" sticker on the trunk. The video footage also depicted Stoltzfoos walking with this man to the car. The girl's family and friends did not believe she had accompanied this man voluntarily.

     Investigators identified the owner of the red Kia as 34-year-old Justo Smoker, a resident of the 3200 block of the Lincoln Highway in Paradise, a village five miles east of Lancaster. In 1993, Vernon and Deb Smoker from Lancaster, Pennsylvania adopted seven-year-old Justo. The boy had been living on the street. At Pequea Valley High School Justo Smoker was a wrestling star but at age 21 turned to crime. Between 2004 and 2007 he committed, in Lancaster County, a string of armed robberies and burglaries. He was convicted at least three times for these offense and sentenced to prison. Although he spent a good portion of his adult life behind bars, he did not come close to serving the full terms of his sentences. Otherwise, he would not have been out of prison when Linda Stoltzfoos went missing.

     In the course of the missing persons investigation, several witnesses saw an Amish girl riding in a Red Kia driven by a dark complexioned man who was possibly Hispanic. Justo Smoker met this general description. Moreover, the FBI placed Smoker in the vicinity of the abduction through his cellphone.

     On July 10, 2020, a Pennsylvania State Police forensics team found a bra and a pair of stockings buried along Harvest Road in a rural area the village of Ronks. Witnesses had seen Smoker's car parked near the village which is three miles from the Stoltzfoos farm. The missing girl's parents informed investigators that these garments were what their daughter would have been wearing on the day she went missing. Linda Stoltzfoos herself remained missing.

     Police officers took Justo Smoker into custody on the evening of July 10, 2020. The suspect was arrested at his place of employment, Dutchland Inc., a manufacturing and construction company in Gap, Pennsylvania, a village in Lancaster County's Salisbury Township. The next day, he was charged with felony kidnapping and misdemeanor false imprisonment. The kidnapping suspect was held in the Lancaster County Jail without bail. At his arraignment Smoker pleaded not guilty. The search for Linda Stoltzfoos continued.

     Loren Johns, the recording secretary of the Swiss Anabaptist Genealogy Association and the creator of the largest database of anabaptist families with more that 700,000 records, announced on July 14, 2020 that Justo Smoker's great grandmother Fannie L. Fisher and Linda Stoltzfoos' great great grandmother Susan S. Stoltzfus were sisters. This made Smoker and Linda Stoltzfoos third cousins once removed. This did not mean, however, that the two knew each other.

     On July 15, 2020, according to a corrections officer at the Lancaster County Jail, Justo Smoker stated that he could not be prosecuted for Linda Stoltzfoos' murder if her body was never found.
     On April 22, 2021, searchers found Linda Stoltzfoos' body wrapped in a tarp buried 42 inches in the ground behind Dutchland, Inc., the company in Gap that had employed Smoker. Investigators believed her body had been moved from its original burial site on Harvest Road. The following day, Lancaster County Coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni announced that the cause of death was asphyxia caused by manual strangulation with stabbing as a contributing factor. The manner of death: homicide. The victim had been positively identified through dental records.
     According to Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams, DNA samples taken from the bra found on Harvest Road matched Justo Smoker. 

The Ultimate Personality Disorder

     How and why do serial murderers kill again and again? Serial killing is an addiction, some experts say. Simply explained, once they begin killing (and sometimes they kill the first time by accident), serial killers find themselves addicted to murder in an intense cycle that begins with homicidal sexual fantasies that in turn spark a desperate search for victims...Once a killing cycle is triggered, it is rarely broken.

     The worst aspect [of serial killing] is that murder fantasies are often the only thing the budding serial killer has that gives him comfort and solace. Once he crosses the line and actually realizes his fantasy, and discovers that the actual murder is not as satisfying as his fantasy, he is driven into the depths of depression and despair, from which rise even more intense homicidal fantasies driving him forward to kill again...With time, trapped in this addictive cycle, serial killers become more frenzied...The frequency and violence of their murders escalate until they are either caught or "burn out''--reach a point where killing no longer satisfies them and they stop on their own accord. Others commit suicide, move on to commit other crimes, or turn themselves into the police.

Peter Vronsky, Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters, 2004

The Lurid Genre

     Give me a book that begins with a time and a date and an address, something along the lines of: "At 9:36 on March 24, 1982, Deputy Frank McGruff of the Huntington County Sheriff's Department was dispatched to 234 Maple Street in Pleasantville, North Carolina, a quiet suburb 10 miles west of Raleigh, to follow up on reports of gunshots and screams."

     There is nothing more generic that this sort of sentence, and yet  there's nothing more seductive, either. The sentence carries promises: the regular-guy lawman, the horrific crime scene, the enigmatic object found lying  in the foyer, the minute-by-minute timeline of that fatal half-hour, the witness reports that don't add up, and the multiplication of scenarios and theories and complications.

     I've always felt somewhat sheepish about my appetite for true crime narratives, associated as they are with fat, flimsy paperbacks scavenged from the 25-cent box at garage sales, their battered covers branded with screaming two-word titles stamped in silver foil, blood dripping luridly from the last letter.  The most famous practitioners of this genre--Joe McGinniss, Ann Rule, Vincent Bugliosi--come coated with a thin, greasy film of dubious repute and poor taste.

     True crime is also the mother's milk of tabloid journalism, of endless trashy news cycles in which the same photo of a wide-eyed innocent bride (where is she?); a gap-toothed kindergarten student (who killed him?); a bleary-eyed, stubbled suspect (why did he do it?) appear over and over and over again.

Laura Miller, "Sleazy Bloody and Surprisingly Smart: In Defense of True Crime," salon.com, May 29, 2014 

Ann Rule's Work Habits

When I'm in a writing mode (eight months of the year), I am at my computer at least six days a week from ten in the morning to about 7:30 in the evening. I require ten pages a day--my personal commitment.

Ann Rule, writersreview.com, 2002. The prolific true crime author died in 2015 at age 74.

Depression Era Horror Fiction

The Great Depression only enhanced America's interest in things supernatural and horrifying. A number of horror-themed radio shows sprung up including "The Shadow" (1930) and "The Spider" (1933). Both spawned successful spinoffs in the form of novellas and comic books. Yet the 1930s also marked the last decade of the pulp magazine. Publisher Henry Steeger visited the French Grand Guignol Theater for inspiration and returned to revive the Dime Mystery Novels series. He added Terror Tales and Horror Stories over the next two years. All these pulps survived until 1941. The very real horrors of World War II overshadowed fictional ones. It wasn't until the 1950s that the horror genre hit its stride.

Kristin Masters, blog.bookstellingyouwhy.com, October 24, 2013 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Pulp Fiction

My own idea is that fiction falls into three main categories: literature, mainstream fiction, and pulp fiction. To label a novel "pulp" is not the same as saying it's a bad novel, or will give the reader no pleasure. To condemn pulp writing out of hand is like condemning a girl as loose simply because she came from unpleasant family circumstances.

Stephen King, Secret Windows, 2002 

Ann Rule's True Crime Writing Tips

If you want to be a true crime writer, the best thing you can be is immensely curious. And, you should go to criminal trials. Here are tips and etiquette for trial watching.

l. You can usually get a press pass, but there's often a deluge of writers trying to obtain one. Call the prosecutor's assistant.

2. Study the witnesses, watch the jury, and soak up the entire experience.

3. Try to obtain the court documents from the court reporter or the prosecutor, or purchase them.

4. Observe the other reporters in the room, and analyze what they are doing.

5. If you're sitting out in the hall with potential witnesses, don't ask them about anything. Keep our eyes and ears open and your mouth shut.

6. Don't take newspapers into the courtroom.

7. Know what you're getting yourself into. You don't want to start a book unless you're really in love with the story.

8. Absorb detail. When I'm writing a true crime book I want the reader to walk along with me…As far as writing, you can novelize, but keep all of your facts straight.

9. Don't use the real name of a rape or sexual crime victim in your writing.

Ann Rule in "Ann Rule on Breaking Into True Crime," writersdigest.com, by Zachary Petit, July 13, 2012

B. Traven's Concept Of Anonymous Authorship

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. Since writing for publication is an ego-driven activity, it's not surprising that authors would be vehemently against the idea. Most readers would be as well. Once a reader finds an author or authors they like, they are usually hesitant to try anyone new.

Crime Novelist Helen Eustis

     On January 11, 2015, 98-year-old crime novelist Helen Eustis died at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. The Cincinnati native was best known for her novel The Horizontal Man, a story about a murdered English professor. The book, informed by her experience as a student at Smith College, won the Mystery Writer's of America Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1947 for best debut novel.

     Eustis wrote The Fool Killer, a mystery adapted into a 1965 film of the same name starring Anthony Perkins. She also wrote award-winning short stories and translated books by mystery writer Georges Simenon as well as other European crime novelists. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

"Anti-Social Behavior"

I guess it was sometime in the 1960s that criminologists came up with the useless and imprecise term "anti-social behavior." Like most social science jargon, the phrase, while virtually meaningless, sounds intellectually profound. But what in the hell does it mean? In some places exercising free speech is considered anti-social behavior. So is buying a gun; being rude and insensitive; protesting government policy; or acquiring a legal abortion. In other words, this vague, pliable term can be used to describe everything from mass murder to littering. It's mainly a value judgment. People cannot effectively communicate using jargon which is the enemy of precise language, understanding, and clarity of thought. Bad behavior can be more precisely described, for example, as offensive, inappropriate, stupid, dangerous, greedy, immoral, deviant, dishonest, or criminal. Moreover, bad behavior comes in degrees of badness. Since the introduction of "anti-social," our ability to communicate clearly and with meaning has been further attenuated by politically motivated catchphrases like "social justice", "equity," and "root cause."

Surviving High School English

A high school English teacher almost murdered my impulse to write. Through her obsession with diagraming sentences, she turned the act of composition into a stressful and unpleasant technical exercise. Her dangling participles and split infinitives drove me to question if I had what it took to be a writer. I was saved by reading pulp fiction written by men who had never made it out of high school, and surly couldn't diagram sentences any better than me. I didn't become a writer because of this English teacher, I became a writer in spite of her. I guess if you can't overcome high school English you have no business being a writer. 

Characters Drawn From Real People

I should say that the practice of drawing characters from actual models is not only universal but necessary. I do not see why any novelist should be ashamed to acknowledge it. [Perhaps one who is afraid of being sued.]

W. Somerset Maugham in Writers on Writing, edited by Walter Allen, 1948 

Playing Fair With the Detective Story Reader

The most frequently repeated rule of detective fiction is the most nonsensical. It says, "you must play fair with the reader," meaning that in the course of the narrative the reader must see and hear everything that the detective sees and hears. I don't know why mystery writers have insisted on it, since every good writer of detective stories has violated this rule over and over again. [And they do so at the expense of the reader.]

Rex Stout in The Writer's Book, edited by Helen Hull, 1959 

Flashback Free

I try to make my books linear, which means that the starting point is at the beginning and it travels along a chronological line toward the end, with no flashbacks. I do this because it makes for an easier read. [Novels without flashbacks should advertise this fact on the cover with a flashback free symbol.] 

Janet Evanovich, How I Write, 2006 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Deon Nunlee Rape Case

     On October 30, 2013, in Detroit, Michigan, police officer Deon Nunlee and his partner were on patrol working out of the 8th Precinct. They were assigned to the late shift when dispatched to a home at three in the morning to investigate a domestic violence complaint.

     Officer Nunlee, 40, had been on the force eight years, and although he didn't have a perfectly clean work record, he had never been disciplined for a serious breach of professional misconduct.

     When the officers rolled up to the complainant's residence, the 31-year-old victim reported that she had been assaulted by her boyfriend. Officer Nunlee's partner stayed with the suspect while Nunlee took the victim to an upstairs bedroom. Instead of taking the woman's assault report, officer Nunlee allegedly assaulted her sexually.

     As the officers left the house that night (I don't know if they arrested the boyfriend), Nunlee informed the victim that he would return to the house after he got off duty. (He did not return to the dwelling.)

     Shortly after the officers departed the scene, the woman notified two of her friends that she had been sexually assaulted by a cop. A few hours later, she reported the crime to the authorities. That day a police administrator placed officer Nunlee on desk duty pending the outcome of the investigation into the accusation.

     On February 10, 2014, a crime lab scientist reported the results of the rape kit test. Deon Nunlee, according to DNA analysis, had engaged in sexual activity with his accuser. The chief of police suspended him without pay.

     On March 14, 2014, police officers booked Deon Nunlee into the Wayne County Jail on charges of second-degree sexual conduct, assault with intent to penetrate, and one count of misconduct in office. After being informed of his Miranda rights, the suspect declined interrogation. A 36th district court judge set Nunlee's bail at $50,000.

     On the day of the officer's arrest, Detroit Police Chief James Craig, at a press conference, said: "This case is an anomaly. This is not what our police officers do. This officer who decided to engage in criminal misconduct does not represent the 2,500 sworn men and women who wear this uniform."

     On November 18, 2014, after pleading guilty to second-degree rape, the Wayne County Judge sentenced the former police officer to 19 months to 15 years in prison.

Pushing the Envelope on Forensic Hair and Fiber Identification

     Forensic analysts who microscopically compare crime scene hair follicles with samples from a suspect's head or other part of the body note similarities or differences in hair length, thickness, texture, curl, color, and appearance of the medulla, the strip of cells that runs up the center of the hair shaft. A follicle, however, cannot be individualized like a fingerprint. A hair identification expert can declare, for example, that the defendant's hair looks like a crime scene follicle, or is consistent in appearance with the questioned evidence, but they are not supposed to testify that a follicle at the scene of a crime could have come from the defendant and no one else. What nobody knows about forensic hair identification is this: if two follicles look alike in all respects, what are the chances they have come from the same person? Just how strong an identification is this, and how incriminating?

     Hair identification experts also analyze crime scene strands of fiber and compare them with samples of clothing, carpets, blankets, and other fabrics associated with the defendant. Fibers can be distinguished by material, shape and color--there are 7,000 dyes used in the United States. A fiber expert can testify, for example, that a fiber on a murder victim's body is consistent in appearance with carpet fibers from the trunk of the defendant's vehicle. To go further than that is crossing the line, scientifically.

     Up until the mid-1990s, hair and fiber experts were routinely pushing the scientific envelope by identifying crime scene follicles and fibers the way an expert would identify a latent fingerprint. In hundreds, if not thousands of cases, defendants went to prison on the strength of this form of expert testimony. When DNA came on the scene, abuses in hair and fiber identification were exposed, and the scientific unreliability of these matches was dramatically revealed.

     In Texas alone, between 1995 and 2002, DNA analysis exonerated 30 men who had been convicted solely on crime scene hair identification. Dr. Edward Blake, the Berkeley, California DNA pioneer, put forensic hair identification in perspective: "They did it because they could get away with it. A defendant in Idaho and another in Florida were sent to death row in cases where the only evidence against them were jailhouse informants and crime scene hair identifications."

Jacqueline Susann: Bestselling Hack

Don Preston, the editor behind Jacqueline Susann's best-selling but numbingly vacuous novel, Valley of the Dolls (1966), said this about the unedited manuscript and its author: "She is a painfully dull, inept, clumsy, undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish writer whose every sentence, paragraph, and scene cries for the hand of a pro." Susann herself, when responding to her universally terrible reviews, said: "Too many male writers are writing for the critics. I don't write for men with pipes and leather on their elbows. I write for the public." While I agree with that sentiment, without editors like Don Preston, Jacqueline Susann would be writing for the slush pile.

Science Fiction Novels With Mystery Plots

Science fiction readers are frequently also mystery fans, and books that combine a science fiction setting with a mystery plot range from more or less straightforward detective stores with a future setting to uncompromising science fiction stories that have solving a mystery as a key plot element.

Peter Hack in Science Fiction Writer's Market Place and Sourcebook, edited by David G. Tompkins, 1994 

Finding the Beginning to Your Story

It would be nice, I suppose, to begin at the perfect point in the story, in the perfect way, using the perfect voice to present exactly the desired scene. Unfortunately, you have no choice but to be wholly clueless about all of this. The rightness of things is generally revealed in retrospect, and you're unlikely to know in advance what is right and wrong in a story that has not been written. So instead of waiting until everything is perfect, begin anyhow, anywhere and any way. The result will probably not be exactly right. It may not be even close. So what? You're going to persist until you get it right.

Stephen Koch, The Modern Literary Writer's Workshop, 2003

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Sherlock Holmes' Overblown Powers of Deduction

You mentioned your name, as if I should recognize it, but I assure you that, beyond the obvious facts that you are a bachelor, a solicitor, a Freemason, and an asthmatic, I know nothing whatever about you.

Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder," 1903

Book Cover Blurbs: Don't Believe Them

     Writers published by the biggest New York houses get [blurb] requests all the time. Typically they come from the editors at these publishing houses. It will be an email, or an actual book in the mail with a note attached that says something like this: "Jane Doe's first novel is an exciting new take on an old story and we'd be so pleased if you'd give it a look. And if you deem it worthy, a few words of support on Jane's behalf, sent to us by such and such a date, would give her novel a tremendous lift!"

     The more famous and respected the writer, the more of these blurb requests he or she will get. They might come from friends of the famous writer, too, or from his or her editor or agent and their friends. One imagines that Jonathan Franzen, for example, could spend hours and hours responding to the blurb requests he gets. Some writers are famous in the book trade for blurbing a lot (too much), and others for never blurbing at all.

Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2013

There is Nothing More Phony Than a Bestsellers List

There is nothing more fraudulent than The New York Times and other bestseller lists. First, these lists account for books sold by a limited number of preferred booksellers. Second, books the publishers of these lists do not like are undercounted. Bestseller rankings are as bogus as The Academy Awards. In the world of publishing and entertainment awards, nothing is on the level, and most people know it.

Genre Fiction Readers Expect Originality

     Horror is a genre with certain identifiable characteristics. When people who enjoy horror read your story, they are not reading it in a vacuum. They are reading it as part of a genre, constantly comparing your story to other horror stories they've read. If I had never read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" and then a story very much like it, readers who know Poe's story may not be quite as thrilled with my big surprise ending as I had hoped. To them it's no surprise. They've read it before, only a better version.

     To be a creative, innovative horror writer, you must read a lot of everything--and a lot of that everything must be horror. You may be thinking: How can I be creative and original with all these other authors' ideas floating around in my head? This is critical: The sheer amount of material floating around in your head will actually prevent you copying from any one author in particular.

     Instead, you will find a tiny piece of character from this book, a tiny piece of plot from that book, a certain stylistic technique from that other--to combine into something totally new. It is the writer who reads only Stephen King who will turn out stories that sound like Stephen King--on a very bad day.

Jeanne Cavelos in On Writing Horror, Mort Castle, editor, 2007  

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Dueling Forensic Science Experts

     The increasing presence of dueling expert witnesses, encouraged by the procedural and adversarial nature of the criminal trial process, is a problem without a satisfying remedy. As a trial technique, defense attorneys often put expert witnesses on the stand whose main job involves muddying the waters and confusing the jury. Trial lawyers call this ploy "blowing smoke."

     If there is an answer to this muddying the waters technique, it will have to come from within the legal and forensic science professions in the form of a tighter code of ethics. Regarding battling experts, judges could help by imposing stricter standards in the area of who qualifies as an expert. (Lawyers like expert witnesses because they can render opinions. Regular witnesses cannot.) This would help keep out the phonies and reduce the opportunity for opposing testimony, particularly in the field of forensic questioned document examination where half the "experts" are under-qualified. The problem also exists in the field of forensic pathology in disputes regarding cause and manner of death. It is also not unusual to see blood spatter analysts on both sides of a case.

     Many jurors, when confronted with conflicting forensic science analysis, disregard the evidence completely. Forensic science was supposed to bring certainty and truth to the criminal justice system, not confusion. 

The Forensic Pathologist in Serial Murder

In serial murders, the random factor inspires the most fear--the idea of a wandering murderer, moving from community to community, unknown to all. Anonymous killers are the most difficult to find. There are all kinds, from Jack the Ripper to Son of Sam, and we really don't know how many of their murders are solved. They have us at another disadvantage--many of them operate across state lines, while we are confined to our own territory. The FBI has begun to profile the deaths by computerizing the murder method and the victim's characteristics, but catching multiple murderers still depends mainly on good police work. Most of those who are caught know their victims, and their methods fall into patterns. The role of the medical examiner is to confirm the victims--that is, to certify that they are victims of a particular killer--and to find the pattern.

Dr. Michael M. Baden, Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner (with Judeth Adler Hennessee), 1989

Humor in Nonfiction

     Humor is the secret weapon of the nonfiction writer. It's secret because so few writers realize that humor is often their best tool--and sometimes their only tool--for making an important point.

     Few Americans understand this. We dismiss our humorists as triflers because they never settled down to "real" work. The Pulitzer Prizes go to authors like Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, who are (God knows) serious and are therefore certified as men of literature. The prizes seldom go to people like George Ade, H. L. Mencken, Ring Lardner, S. J. Perelman, Art Buckwald, Jules Feiffer, Woody Allen and Garrison Keillor, who seem to be just fooling around. 
     They're not fooling around. They are as serious in purpose as Hemingway or Faulkner--a national asset in forcing the country to see itself clearly. Humor, to them, is urgent work. 
William Zinsser, On Writing Well, originally published in 1975 

Great Writers, Troubled People

Charles Bukowski and John Fante--cruel; Ernest Hemingway and Gore Vidal--vain; John Cheever and F. Scott Fitzgerald--drunks; Truman Capote and Hunter S. Thompson--drug addled; Sylvia Plath and David Foster Wallace--suicidal; J.D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon--reclusive; Norman Mailer and William Burroughs--violent; Fred Exley and Ralph Ellison--blocked; and Leo Tolstoy and Jonathan Swift--mentally ill.

Spare Versus Thin Fiction

     Fiction writers tend to fall into two broad camps: those who overwrite and those who underwrite. And, while a novelist may be able to get away with writing a spare story, a thin story will never ignite the reader's imagination. A spare story is one in which the writer deliberately chooses to pare down every element, using a small cast of characters, only one or two subplots, and little exposition and description. A well-crafted, yet spare story can work when every word counts and there is enough information to take the reader on a fictional journey. Ernest Hemingway usually wrote spare stories, but readers still feel immersed in his stories and understand the ramifications of the plot on the lives of his characters.

     A thin story, on the other hand, is not based on deliberate choices, but rather on inexperience. In a thin story, the writer does not supply enough sensory data, creating a story line that can't be followed with confidence because of a lack of needed information. Spare stories spark the reader's imagination, but thin stories do not have enough data to do so, leaving the reader confused. In these anemic offerings, the reader is often adrift, longing for detail to place him in the scene, a hint about the themes or deeper meanings, or any doorway into the writer's intentions. 

Jessica Page Morrell, Between the Lines, 2006 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Authors On True Crime

Crime fiction spends a great deal of time sorting through the chaos to find some order, a sense of resolution for the often inexplicable madness of murder. Real crimes, however, don't work that way. Evidence is misfiled, suspects evade arrest on technicalities, investigations stretch out for years before an end comes in sight--if at all. True crime is a messier affair.
Sarah Wienman, The Daily Beast, May 2010

What is there to say about true-crime books? They're fun. They can be intellectually compelling, and, like the fictional variety from [crime novelists] Hammett, Cain and that crowd, they're more often than not rooted in the far side of respectability or polite society. Most every writer wants to write one. The trick is to come up with the right crime, the right crook or issue.

Peter Manso, The Huffington Post, July 2011

A number of popular true crime writers today (and yesterday) like to fluff up their narratives with figments from their imaginations, and often sugarcoat the details about a crime for what they think will bring them a wider reading audience. But I don't do that. It's not fair to the memories of the victims, their families, or the cops who worked the cases and brought the killers to justice. I tell it like it is, and I've been told time and time again by victims' families that this is the way they want their loved ones' stories to be told--truthfully, even though it is painful. Seeing things made up, they tell me, is more painful to them because often times the criminals become glamorized in a sense. You won't find glamorized killers in my books.

Gary C. King, All Things Crime, July 2013

True crime writing draws upon the methods of nonfiction and fiction, turns the American dream of picket fences and summer picnics into the American nightmare; solicits a particular kind of reader response, and cautiously toes the line between fact and fiction, and the temptation on part of the author to "create and embellish" for the sake of art. True crime writing can be understood as a style, a form, and a genre of universal appeal forever embedded in our popular culture, however sensational and exploitive it has become. Styles of writing and the themes portrayed are often grisly, morbid, and voyeuristic, thus obscuring the work of serious crime historians attempting to establish important links between economic conditions, social mores, and the day-to-day living conditions of people in a given place and time.

Richard Lindberg, richardlindberg.net, 2002 

Ray Bradbury

     Ray Bradbury's rocket ships were not souped-up fighter jets. Instead, they were the latter-day descendent of Joseph Conrad's sailing ships: You traveled on them not so much to encounter adventures as to think about what the encounter might mean. His Mars was not an arid red desert, it was filled with towns where old ladies puttered around on the same kinds of charming but pointless errands little old lades do in Marcel Proust's Cambray…

     One way to sum up Ray Bradbury is to notice that he is just about the only American science fiction writer to claim, proudly, the label "fantasy" for his books. Fahrenheit 451 was his only real science fiction novel, he said. You might even locate him in a middle ground between the best American fantasy literature and the hyper-masculine world of Astounding Science Fiction. 

John Plotz, slate.com, June 6, 2012

Elements of Humor

     Once you've developed skills in observing humor, you're ready to use basic comic elements. Some jokes are really old, tracing back to medieval times. Despite variations in individual funny bones, however, these jokes have survived for centuries because they work. Certain elements are almost always able to make people laugh.

     Like basic plot structures, you can use the comic elements as dependable foundations for creative adaptation…Here's a starting list: timing, mime, slapstick, repetition, switches, exaggeration, extremes, indecision, convention suspension and wordplay.

Patricia Case in How to Write Funny, John B. Kachuba, editor, 2001 

Raymond Chandler: The Depressed Novelist

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

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

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Firing Bad Cops

     Police unions, civil service, law enforcement solidarity, and the right of arbitration, makes firing a police officer extremely difficult. Once a police officer is on the job, short of being convicted of a felony, he stays on the force. Poor job performance, behavior unbecoming a law enforcement officer, and general unfitness for the work, are generally not grounds for dismissal.
     While it's easier to get your hands on top-secret CIA files than a police officer's personnel jacket, there are thousands of cops on the job with employment histories laden with citizen complaints and disciplinary actions. A brutal, dishonest, lazy, and/or incompetent police officer can stick around until retirement. Many get out early by fabricating  phony medical disability claims, then take up water sports in Miami. And there is very little a police chief can do about it. In law enforcement, the higher one goes up the chain of command, the less power one has. Moreover, it is much easier to get rid of a chief of police than a rank and file officer.

The Romance Novel Leading Man

Traditionally, the romance novel hero is the Byronic type--dark and brooding, writhing inside with all the residual anguish of his shadowed past. He's world-weary, cynical, quick-tempered and prone to fits of guilt and depression. He is strong, virile, powerful, and lost. Adept at many things that carry with them the respect and admiration of the world (particularly the world of other males), he is not fully competent in the arena where women excel--the arena of his emotions, which are violently out of control.

Linda Barlow in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women edited by Jayne Ann Krentz, 1992 

The Amateur Sleuth in Crime Fiction

The most important apparent disadvantage you'll face with an amateur sleuth has to do with the suspension of belief--why is this amateur detective attempting to solve this murder? Why not let the cops do it? Why does this amateur keep tripping over dead bodies? And why doesn't she mind her own business?

Nancy Pickard in Writing Mysteries, edited by Sue Grafton, 1992 

Ann Rule's True Crime Book Selection Process

There are many reasons I can't write about a true crime case. Sometimes, (1) there isn't enough there to fill a full-length book; (2) the characters are just not interesting; (3) the case has been over-publicized; (4) the story is too sad; or (5) the timing of a case may be wrong because I am already attending other trials or writing other books…I have to wait until an arrest has been made and a case is headed for trial. From there on it's a gamble; if the defendant should be acquitted, I probably couldn't write the book.

Ann Rule, annrule.com, October 2003 

Short Story Character Development

The novelist can slowly unfold the changing lives of several characters, but the short story writer has difficulty enough in making credible the change in a single character. Any intelligent reader has a very reasonable skepticism about sudden spiritual or moral change; the author most prove to the reader that this character was well on the way toward the change before it actually takes place. Doing this takes up much of an author's story.

Jarvis A. Thurston, Reading Modern Short Stories, 1955

Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Jean Erwin Soriano Vehicular Homicide Case

     In the early morning hours of March 30, 2013, on Interstate 15 eighty miles northeast of Las Vegas, a violent traffic accident took the lives of five people. All of the dead, and two others who were injured, had been in a Chevrolet van smashed from behind by a Dodge Durango SUV occupied by 18-year-old Jean Erwin Soriano and Alfred Gomez, 23. The dead and injured were members of a single family who were returning to the Los Angeles area from Denver, Colorado where they had been visiting a sick relative.

     Because there were several empty beer bottles in the SUV, police officers immediately suspected that the driver of the Dodge SUV had been under the influence of alcohol. Soriano, the 18-year-old, told police officers at the scene that he had been the one behind the wheel. Three weeks earlier, Soriano had fled from a juvenile guidance center in Santa Ana, California where teenagers with serious drug and alcohol problems were treated. An analysis of Soriano's blood revealed a blood-alcohol content of 0.12, a percentage well about the Nevada legal limit of 0.08 percent.

     On April 10, 2013, a Clark County prosecutor charged Soriano with seven felony counts of driving under the influence causing death or substantial injury. The magistrate set Soriano's bail at $3.5 million.

     Not long after the filing of the criminal charges, Jean Soriano's attorney, Frank Cofer, announced to the media that his client had not been driving the Dodge that night. On July 10, 2013, following an evidentiary hearing pertaining to the fatal accident, the judge dropped all of the charges against Soriano. To a Los Angeles Times reporter covering the case, attorney Cofer said, "Blood evidence on the driver's window and console matched Mr. Gomez." This meant that Soriano had been a passenger, not the driver of the SUV. According to the attorney, a shoe-print on the driver's side of the vehicle did not match his client's footwear. The defense attorney asserted that Mr. Gomez had "manipulated" and "intimidated" Soriano into identifying himself as the driver of the Dodge. (Because Mr. Gomez had not been a suspect that night, the officers had not tested him for drugs or alcohol.)

     At the time the charges against Jean Soriano were dropped, Alfred Gomez's whereabouts were unknown. To the Los Angeles Times reporter, attorney Cofer said, "Police should never rely solely on a confession that's not corroborated by the physical evidence. Physical evidence can't be intimidated, it can't be coerced." This case illustrated the power of forensic science to exonerate as well as incriminate.

     The Soriano case called to mind the death of New York Yankees manager Billy Martin. On December 25, 1989, Martin was killed in a low speed, single vehicle collision during an ice storm not far from his home in upstate New York. Questions arose regarding who had been driving Martin's Ford pickup, Martin or his friend William Reedy. Forensic pathologist Michael Baden, after performing the autopsy and analyzing the physical evidence in the truck, concluded that Billy Martin, not Reedy, had been behind the wheel of the vehicle at the time of the crash. Billy Martin had been drinking and was intoxicated when the accident occurred. 
     As of this writing, no one has been charged in connection with the accident that took the lives of five innocent people.

How Serial Killers Ted Bundy and Joel Rifkin Were Caught

     The identification of a serial murderer frequently occurs through happenstance or a fluke in which a seemingly unrelated criminal event. A serial murderer may be apprehended for driving a stolen vehicle, and very quickly the police learn they are dealing with a much more violent crime, as was the case when Ted Bundy was pursued in a stolen car in Pensacola, Florida. Following his arrest, the Pensacola police soon learned that they had more than a car thief in their jail.

     [Another example] of routine police work and an unrelated crime leading to the arrest of a serial murderer and a serial murder investigation occurred on June 28, 1993, in Long Island, New York. In the early morning hours two state troopers spotted a tan 1984 Mazda pickup with no license plates driving on the Southern State Parkway. The driver refused to pull over and the officers pursued the pickup. The chase ended 25 minutes later when the Mazda slammed into a utility pole. The driver was unhurt and was arrested. Following the arrest, the officers noticed a very strong smell coming from the bed of the truck where the officers found the badly decomposed body of Tiffany Bresciani, a 22-year-old woman from Manhattan. The driver, Joel Rifkin, would within hours confess to the killing of 16 other women.

Steven A. Egger, The Killers Among Us, 1998

Charles Manson's I.Q.

Charles Manson scored 109 on one prison I.Q. test, when he was 16, and 121 on another a few years later. The first result is slightly above average; the second is said to be in the "high normal" range. Jeff Guinn [the author of The Life and Times of Charles Manson] doesn't identify which tests were given. Was Manson brilliant, as some have claimed? Probably not. He cobbled together his pseudo-philosophy by studying Dale Carnegie and L. Ron Hubbard. He had no sense of how to adjust his conduct, grooming habits or conversation when dealing with the Hollywood producers who might have helped him realize his absolute goal: to become a rock star more famous than the Beatles. He had no clue how to self-censor, shooting himself in the foot over and over. Even so, he proved to be spellbinding to the vulnerable.

Ann Rule in reviewing Jeff Guinn's 2013 book for The New York Times Book Review, August 4, 2013

Pioneers of Narrative Nonfiction

Narrative nonfiction involves the use of novelistic techniques--scenes, dialogue, and character development--to tell a true story. Contrary to their claims, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, Thomas Wolfe, and Hunter Thompson did not create this journalistic sub-genre. Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Richard Harding Davis, and later, Ernest Hemingway, all journalists before becoming novelists, used narrative nonfiction in their news reporting, then later as writers of nonfiction books. A good narrative nonfiction book will usually outsell an equally good novel. Most readers prefer engaging stories that are true rather than made up.

Autobiography: Remembering Versus Reality

Autobiographies are written as their authors remember their lives, which may or may not be the way it really was. Autobiography has a limited market with commercial publishers unless the author is already well-known or has had a most unusual and interesting life.

Doris Ricker Marston, A Guide to Writing History, 1976 

Genre: The Science Fiction Ghetto

Some writers whose careers have been largely based on science fiction writing have never been categorized that way. Kurt Vonnegut and John Hershey were never within the science fiction ghetto. One surprising result of the ghettoizing of speculative fiction, however, is that writers have enormous freedom within its walls. It's as if, having once been confined within our cage, the keepers of the zoo of literature don't much care what we do as long as we stay behind bars.

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

Friday, April 16, 2021

The House-Call Hooker Robbery Case

     On May 1, 2013, a home-alone 14-year-old in Prospect Heights, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, decided to avail himself of the services of a prostitute. (The kid must have been watching that old Tom Cruise movie.) Since he wasn't old enough to drive, the hooker would have to come to him. Through a website designed for sexual hookups, the adventurous youngster arranged to have  23-year-old Dareka Brooks, a prostitute from Milwaukee, come to his house.

     The moment the hooker strolled into the suburban home, she took charge. She ordered the excited kid to go into his bedroom and take off his pants. As the hapless kid sat on his bed anticipating the real-life version of his wildest fantasies, Brooks walked into the room and introduced him to the reality of her world. She sprayed his face with pepper juice, grabbed his iPad and piggy bank, and left.

     The stunned, ripped-off underage John could have avoided the wrath of his parents by lying about his lost iPad and piggy bank. Instead, he called the police with a description of the prostitute and her car.

     A detective "pinged" the victim's iPad after Brooks turned it on. This allowed the investigator to track the hooker to a motel in Elk Grove Village ten miles from Prospect Heights. Officers arrested Brooks at the motel where they recovered the kid's iPad and his piggy bank.

     After being charged with armed robbery, a judge ordered Dareka Brooks held on $10,000 bond.

      On June 17, 2014, in exchange for her guilty plea, the judge sentenced Dareka Brooks to five years in prison. 

A Surrogate Life of Imagination

We are not geniuses, most of us who write novels, but we are, many of us, people who have chosen to live the surrogate life of the imagination. We have perhaps settled for that state which Wallace Stevens speaks: "The final belief," he said, "is to believe in a fiction that you know to be a fiction."

Brian Moore in Agony and the Ego, edited by Clare Boylan, 1994

Science Fiction Readers Expect Something New

     Different people read for different reasons, but to reproduce the mundane circumstances of their everyday lives is generally not one of them. There are literary writers who understand this and those who don't--hence the preponderance of divorce novels, teen angst novels, dealing-with-aging parent novels etc, that do little more than take us to where we've already been and tell us what we already know.

     Those who write science fiction and other forms of speculative fiction generally understand that while what we know and understand has its charms, the reason most of us read is to experience something fundamentally new.

Susan Defreitas, litreactor.com, September 24, 2014 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Pedophilia: America's Hidden Crime Wave

Pedophilia is our nation's most prevalent and ignored crime. It's kept hidden because it's so difficult for an advanced society to accept the fact that so many among us are serial sexual predators who prey on helpless, voiceless children. In denying the scope of this massive and longtime social cancer, detectives and prosecutors allow themselves to believe credibly accused pedophile suspects and disbelieve the victims of this horrific crime. As a result, law abiding citizens who suspect pedophilia within their own families, their churches, their neighborhoods and their places of employment are afraid to come forward. This is also true of victims who remain silent out of fear of the pedophile, and of not being believed. The way it functions, our criminal justice system benefits these insidious serial offenders at the expense of victims who have no voice, victims who suffer in silence the rest of their lives as their abusers continue to offend without consequence. And when a pedophile is caught and prosecuted, the sentence is either light or the offender is released early on parole. Beyond outrageous, this is a national disgrace.

The Future Night Watchman

Silicon Valley's latest obsession? A robot security guard named K5. This glorified Roomba patrols a tech campus perimeter in unpredictable patterns, whistling like a beat cop and wirelessly monitoring social media for "threats." That doesn't stop burglars, though, so K5 also records everything it sees in 360-degree, thermal imaging, night-vision high-definition. It also contacts police about suspicious behavior.

Editors of Portable Press, Strange Crime, 2019

The Gender Neutral Pronoun "Their"

Current political correctness demands that "A person can't help his or her birth" must be changed to "A person can't help their birth." Marry Norris, in her book Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, says this: "The colloquial use of "their" when you mean "his or her" is just wrong. It may solve the gender problem and there is no doubt that it has taken over in the spoken language, but it does so at the expense of number. An antecedent that is the singular ["a person"] cannot take a plural pronoun [their]. And yet it does, all the time--certainly in speech."  

Nightmare Fiction

Horror fiction upsets apple carts, burns old buildings, and stampedes the horses; it questions and yearns for answers, and takes nothing for granted. It's not safe, and it probably rots your teeth, too. Horror fiction can be a guide through a nightmare world, entered freely and by the reader's own will. And since horror can be many, many things and go in many, many directions, that guided nightmare ride can shock, educate, illuminate, threaten, shriek, and whisper before it lets the reader loose.

Robert McCammon, Twilight Zone Magazine, October 1966 

Not All Lives Are Stories Worth Telling

How to begin? I had always shuddered at biographies that began, "It was a clear, cold morning in mid-December 1830, when the cry of a newborn baby broke the winter stillness." And once you begin, how to tell the story of a life that had no story?

Richard B. Sewall in Extra Ordinary Lives, edited by William Zinsser, 1986

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Are Newspapers Going the Way of Drive-In Theaters?

Declining ad revenues and a generally broken business model have shuttered nearly one-quarter of U.S. newspapers over the past 15 years. "We are truly facing an extinction-level event for local news," Jonathon Schleuss, president of the News Guild-Communications Workers of America, testified at a House hearing in March 2021.

Brandy Zadrozny, NBC News, April 6, 2021

If You're Not Born With a Silver Spoon, Steal One

Twenty thousand silver teaspoons are stolen from the Washington DC, Hilton each year. [This must be where the politicians eat.)

Editors of Portable Press, Strange Crime, 2019

What is the Appeal of Fame?

Why do so many Americans want to be famous? Don't they know fame will not necessarily bring wisdom, happiness, love, or even money? Don't they know it often ends up in disgrace, humiliation and misery? Why do they seek fame, and what does it say about our culture?

The Catch-22 of Publishing

Because there are almost as many writers in the U.S. as there are readers, publishing houses are overwhelmed with manuscripts. To help screen out the junk, the major publishers only accept manuscripts submitted through a literary agent. For the unpublished writer, it's as hard to secure a literary agent as it once was to find a publisher. The catch-22 is this: To get published one needs a legitimate literary agent. To get a good literary agent, one needs to be published.

Memorable Dialogue

Dialogue that jumps off the page sounds nothing like the way real people converse. A transcript of an everyday conversation is devoid of coherent, memorable, rhetoric. Ordinary talk, when read aloud, comes off as repetitive and at times, idiotic. Sparkling, rhythmic dialogue is difficult to write and requires a great deal of training, experience, and talent. Many novelists don't have an ear for it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Insanity: The Unpopular Defense

Insanity isn't an easy thing to prove, and it is often the defense of last resort. The belief that madness can be exculpatory is an ancient one--so ancient that it was carved into the Code of Hammurabi seventeen hundred years before the birth of Christ, alongside the notion of proportional retaliation, lex talionis, an eye for an eye...The insanity defense has been out of favor for a century. Queen Victoria tried to stifle it in the mid-nineteenth century, out of fear that it would encourage would-be assassins; a hundred years later, President Richard Nixon tried to have it [federally] outlawed. Too many defendants had turned out to be insane only until acquittal, and prosecutors and psychiatrists alike had come to worry that the defense was just a way of letting murderers get away with murder; around the country, there were examples of defendants sent to state mental hospitals after a jury decided they were insane, only to have the hospital's superintendent and staff release them after diagnosing them as sane. In response, some states--Idaho, Kansas, Montana, and Utah--banned the insanity plea entirely.  

Casy Cep, Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, 2019

Thought Crime

DEFENDANT: If I called you a son of a bitch, what would you do?

JUDGE: I'd hold you in contempt and assess an additional five days in jail.

DEFENDANT; What if I thought you were a son of a bitch?

JUDGE: I can't do anything about that. There's no law against thinking.

DEFENDANT: In that case, I think you are a son of a bitch.

Editors of Portable Press, Strange Crime, 2019


Contradictanyms are words which have opposing meanings depending on the context in which they are used. For example, the word DUST can mean to add fine particles (as in dust the cake with icing sugar) as well as to remove fine particles (as in dust the furniture).

Ben Schott, Schott's Original Miscellany, 2003 

Research Done: Now the Hard Part

Nothing writes itself. Left to its own devices, the world will never transform into words, and no matter how many pages of notes and interviews and documents a reporting trip generates, the one that matters most always starts out blank. In The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcom called this space between reporting and writing an "abyss." It's an awful place, and an awfully easy place to get stuck. 

Casey Cep, Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, 2019 

The Accessible Genre

The fantasy genre is a much more accessible form of literature than science fiction. You don't have to possess any pre-existing knowledge to get into fantasy. In science fiction, however, you do because it has all of that science in there.

Terry Brooks, scifi.com, 2003 

A Bad Review? Who Cares?

People who aren't novelists might think that authors would be well advised to study their negative reviews with care, rather than letting a protective skin form. After all, isn't there something to be learned from the thoughtful analysis of intelligent and knowledgeable critics? Well, maybe, but most of the writers I know don't take them seriously, and neither do I. It's not that I don't respect reviewers. It's that reviewers don't write their columns for writers. They write them with readers in mind, and that's a different thing.

Aaron Elkins, Mystery Writers Annual, 2004 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Avoiding Bias in Crime Scene Impression Identification

Even the most qualified fingerprint examiners, handwriting experts, and footwear identification specialists make honest mistakes. Particularly in fields of subjective identification, bias has a way of creeping into the analysis. A series of studies and experiments involving fingerprint examiners in England by a pair of cognitive psychologists has shown that "biasing contextual information" can lead to mistaken conclusions. For example, when fingerprint examiners were told a suspect had confessed, these experts made identifications in cases where, without this knowledge, they had previously declared the same set of prints a mismatch. These studies, conducted at the University of Southampton, suggest that latent fingerprint work and, by implication, handwriting identification and footwear impression comparison are more subjective than previously believed. In light of these findings, the less these forensic experts know about the crime in question, the better. Within the fingerprint field, erecting a wall between the examiner and the criminal investigation is much more difficult when the expert is employed directly by the law enforcement agency.

Investigative Journalist Robert I. Friedman

In the ever shrinking community of serious investigative reporters in New York City, Robert I. Friedman [1950-2002] will be remembered as a dedicated pro who followed his reporting wherever it took him, no matter whom it offended or what it meant for his own career. In 1993, for example, Friedman castigated the FBI in The Village Voice for ignoring information it had developed on the Muslim extremists behind the first bombing of the World Trade Center, warning that without stronger action, terrorists would strike at the towers again. Though the story would cost him valuable sources with the FBI, Friedman published it and won a Society of Professional Journalists Award for Best Investigative Reporting in a Weekly.

Dan Bischoff in What Are Journalists For, 1999 

In Your Journal Include Yourself

Many diarists, concerned over seeming too self-absorbed, actually avoid recording their own perceptions, reactions, and feelings. They describe other people and events but forget to include themselves as observers with unique perceptions and feelings that are validly explored in a diary.

Tristine Rainer, Your Life Story, 1998 

Norman Mailer On Writing For The Screen

 I'm not interested in getting a job in Hollywood. I have no desire in the world to write a movie script. Why the hell should I write a movie script? Scriptwriting has nothing to do with writing. The best scriptwriter in the world, ideally, would be a film editor with a novelistic gift. And those are qualities that don't usually go together.

Norman Mailer, 1998

Novel Versus Short Story Writing

Short stories are wonderful and extremely challenging, and the joy of them--because it only takes me three or four months to write--is that I can take more risks with them. It's just less of your life invested. That's great. But the challenge of a novel is so rewarding--there's so much more you can cram into them. Maybe the metaphor is: With a short story, you're building a table, you have four legs, you're trying to make it as beautiful and as functional as you can. With a novel, you're building not just a table but a whole house--you're building all the furniture inside it. It's more challenging, and then when you finish, it's more rewarding. I do think it's a richer experience.

Carole Burns, Off The Page, 2008 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Executing Kelly Gissendancer

     Since only a handful of states actually execute death row inmates, death by lethal injection has become a relatively unusual event. Rarer still are the executions of women. Even in the heyday of capital punishment, few women died at the end of a robe or in the electric chair. While women are no less capable of unspeakable evil than men, executing them, at least since the dawn of the 20th century, has been deemed inappropriate. 

     In Georgia, where executions are still carried out, the authorities hadn't executed a woman in 70 years. That made the September 30, 2015 execution of Kelly Renee Gissendancer so newsworthy, and to many, barbaric.

     The 47-year-old death row inmate of 18 years received her lethal injection a few minutes after midnight following the U. S. Supreme Court's decision not to intercede on her behalf.

     In 1998, a jury found Gissendancer guilty of arranging to have her boyfriend kidnap and stab to death her husband Douglas. A jury found the hit man, Gregory Owen, guilty of kidnapping and first-degree murder. The judge sentenced Mr. Owen to life in prison. Prosecutors, with the help of Owen as a key witness, secured Gissendancer's first-degree murder conviction.

     Over the years Gissendancer's death house attorneys based their appeals for clemency on the fact she was not present when her boyfriend committed the murder on her behalf. Moreover, the defense lawyers argued their client had found religion and had been a model prisoner. They said she felt bad about ordering the hit. Apparently the governor of the state and a majority of the Supreme Court justices, officials who could have saved her life, were unmoved by those arguments.

     Gissendancer, at the time of her execution, was the 16th women executed in the United States since the U. S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. She was survived by three adult children.

Exaggeration as Humor

Be careful with exaggeration, one of the main tools of humor writing. Exaggeration, generally speaking, should be outside the realm of possibility, but somehow within the realm of visual imagination.

Patrick McManus, The Deer on a Bicycle, 2000

The Depressed Novelist

I get moments of gloom and pessimism when it seems as nobody could ever like my kind of writing again [social-comedy novels]. I get depressed about my writing, and feel that however good it was it still wouldn't be acceptable to any publisher.

Barbara Pym in Lot to Ask by Hazel Holt, 1991 

Catherine Drinker Bowen on Biography Writing

In the writing of a biography, it is expedient to approach one's subject from the periphery, from the outside in--to study first the times, then move to the localities and persons of the immediate story.

Catherine Drinker Bowen, Adventures of a Biographer, 1959 

Pretentious Characters Are Humorous

Pretense is a common trait of many humorous characters. An audience will laugh at any character that lacks self-knowledge--one who is a fraud and tries to publicly present himself as an authority figure deserving of respect. When exposed by other characters as a fraud, the audience will laugh. When these pretentious characters try to cover up and continue their pretensions, the reader will laugh again because these characters are not a threat to them.

Richard Michaels Stefanik, writersstore.com, 2000 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Murder Trial as TV Entertainment

     A court room isn't quite a theatre, but there's something inherently dramatic about it all the same. Ever since the dark ages of the Salem Witch Trials, court proceedings have been public affairs. Trials represent the goal of governmental transparency. It makes sense that a crime against society should be tried before the eyes of that same society. But somewhere along the line, that public interest became public entertainment. Trials began to be televised, in a slightly edited fashion. Commentary on trials came to resemble the commentary on a major sporting event. For high profile cases, crowds gather outside court rooms in hopes of getting a seat in the gallery. [American's first high-profile trial, the Webster-Parkman case, took place in Boston in 1850. Since then there have been hundreds of such judicial spectacles and dozens of "Crimes of the Century."]

     In 2013, the floodgates opened completely and the line between reality TV and the criminal trial became blurred in the trial of Jodi Arias, then accused of the murder of  her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander. The trial was streamed in its entirety on Youtube. The only censored information was the sidebars. Prosecutor Juan Martinez actually signed autographs outside the court house, and posed for pictures with "fans" who traveled from across the globe to attend the lengthy trial.

"10 of the Most Entertaining Criminal Trials," TheRichList.com, March 13, 2014      

Fantasy Fiction Celebrates the Unreal

Fantasy celebrates the non-rational. Wrapped in a cloak of magic, it dares a rational reader to object to a frog suddenly being turned into a prince. Where an explanation would be required in science fiction, fantasy says: "Because it did." Though fantasy may offer some cause and effect--the prince probably did something wrong in the first place to cause him to be turned into a warty amphibian--no scientific rationale is required.

Philip Martin in The Writer's Guide to Fantasy and Literature, edited by Philip Martin, 2002 

What Pre-Teens Read

Children of both sexes in the 10 to 12 year age group predominantly read fiction, with the most popular genre amongst both boys and girls being adventure stories. Girls choose more romances, horror/ghost stories and poetry books. Boys choose more science fiction, comedy, sports and war/spy books.

Lyn Pritchard, penguin.com, 1999

Ghost, Vampire and Werewolf Novels

     Suppose you have a strong desire to use a ghost, vampire or werewolf as your central horror novel menace. Is it still possible to utilize such conventional monsters? Will editors buy yet another vampire novel when so many have already been written?

     The answer is yes: Editors are always receptive to novels and stories containing supernatural monsters, but they must be freshly presented; your stories must offer new insights and a fresh approach.

William F. Nolan, How to Write Horror Fiction, 1990

Friday, April 9, 2021

Painting Stripes on Your Ass

In July 2018, a couple of zoologists accused the director of a zoo in Cairo, Egypt of displaying a pair of donkeys painted up to look like zebras. Nine years earlier, in a zoo in Gaza, another pair of donkeys were painted with zebra stripes. In 2013, a zoo in China was caught displaying a large dog made to look like a lion. What's next? A Volkswagen painted up to look like giant beetle? Or how about a donkey with a snow cone cup glued to its forehead to make it look like a unicorn. 

911 Is For Emergencies

      In March 2013, 27-year-old Melissa Townsend, a resident of Indian Harour Beach, a small community on southern Florida's Atlantic coast, called 911 with a less than urgent problem. Her young children were misbehaving. To the dispatcher, Townsend said, "I need a police officer to scare the shit out of my kids. They need to learn respect, and they need to learn that people in law enforcement have authority. They need to learn that lesson."

     The 911 dispatcher replied, "Okay. But we're not coming out to raise your kids for you."

     Ignoring the dispatcher's response, Townsend said, "They need to learn that. You know what I mean?"

     The dispatcher, who probably wasn't sure what was going on in this caller's mind, sent police officers to her house on the chance there was some kind of emergency. The officers rolled up to the dwelling to find the young mother intoxicated. Because Townsend was on probation, and not allowed to consume alcohol, the officers took her into custody for the probation violation. That's when all hell broke out.

     Ignoring her own advice to her kids about respecting law enforcement authority, Townsend resisted arrest, and in the process, kicked one of the officers in the groin.

     At the police lockup, Townsend, still out of control, repeatedly banged her head against the jail wall, and had to be taken to the hospital. She was charged with child neglect (being drunk) and battery of a police officer.

     What started out as a silly 911 call turned into something more serious. Townsend, for reasons that went beyond her intoxicated emergency call, eventually lost custody of her children. 

Stephen King On Learning To Write From Reading

     If you want to be a writer you must read a lot. There's no way around this that I'm aware of, no shortcut.
     I'm a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don't read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read. It's what I do at night, kicked back in my blue chair. Similarly, I don't read fiction to study the art of fiction, but simply because I like stories. Yet there is a learning process going on. Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000