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Monday, May 31, 2021

The "Honest" Memoir

     The uncommon memoirist presents actualities honestly and imaginatively. To be honest doesn't require unfailing accuracy, since memory and POV [point of view] intrude upon reminiscing. Honesty avoids deliberate falsehoods. Honest means the writer will not be self-serving, not always at the center, not always the star, though always in the movie. Sometimes she picks herself up off the cutting-room floor.

     Because the imagination is regularly attached to make-believe, these days it is rarely attached to the writing of memoirs, which are expected to be "true," that is, factual. But truth and true are not the same as fact. Historians use facts to support their interpretations of events; they draw conclusions based on evidence that is agreed upon by other historians. A memoir's evidence emerges from memory, the unreliable narrator. [In other words, memoirs are watered down fiction. Why bother?]

Paula Fox, "Speak, Memories", Bookforum, Dec/Jan, 2015 

Writing to Norman Mailer

     An author [who is well-known] will receive as many as several hundred letters a year from strangers. Usually they want something: will you read their works, or listen to a life-story and write it.

     There are happy paradoxes to being successful as a writer. For one thing, you don't have much opportunity to read good books (it's too demoralizing when you're at sea on your own work) and you also come to dread letter writing. Perhaps ten times a year, a couple of days are lost catching up on mail, and there's little pleasure in it. You are spending time that could have been given to more dedicated writing, and there are so many letters to answer! Few writers encourage correspondents. My reply to a good, thoughtful, even generous communication from someone I do not know is often short and apologetic.

Norman Mailer, Introduction to Jack Henry Abbott's In The Belly of the Beast, 1981

Robert A. Caro on Biography

I was never interested in writing biographies merely to tell the lives of famous men. [Caro is the author of a multi-volume biography of Lyndon B. Johnson.] I never had the slightest interest in doing that. From the first time I thought of becoming a biographer, I conceived of biography as a means of illuminating the times and the great forces that shape the times--particularly political power. A biography will only do that, of course, if the biography is about the right man.

Robert A. Caro in Extraordinary Lives, edited by William Zinsser, 1986 

The Legacy Of The Horror Genre

The horror genre has a great literary history. Hawthorne, Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe, many others found a depth and seriousness in it which made horror more valid, more interesting and more worthy than the general run of mystery fiction. Horror was about the invention of clever puzzles. It dealt with profound emotions and real mysteries, not who had left the footprints under the gorse-bush and how the key to the library had wound up in the colonel's golf bag. Horror could touch people, change them, make them think. While horror fiction was certainly entertaining, there was much more to the genre than mere weightless entertainment.

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

Sunday, May 30, 2021

The Rise of DNA and the Fall of Fingerprint Identification

      In 1993, when the O.J. Simpson trial began to turn "DNA fingerprinting" into a household term, the aura of infallibility surrounding fingerprinting stood in marked contrast to the reputation of DNA typing. Geneticists and lawyers were hotly contesting the reliability of genetic evidence. How had fingerprint identification been transformed from a subject of debate to something that everyone took for granted? How had fingerprint identification become a virtually incontestable form of truth?..

     At the turn of the twenty-first century, the relative positions of fingerprinting and DNA seem to have reversed. DNA typing has become much more widely trusted than it was a few short years ago. Meanwhile, longstanding fissures in the reliability of fingerprint identification had become cracks. The identities bestowed upon us by expert reading of our fingerprint patterns, it turns out, are "suspect" in yet another way. It may well be that we are approaching the end of the century-long period in which our fingerprint patterns told the state who we were and even defined our individuality, our very personhood. And yet, as DNA technology promises to create a whole new set of biologically defined, seemingly unquestionable identities for all of us, we would do well to reflect on the ways in which previous methods of criminal identification have been suspect.

Simon Cole, Suspect Identities, 2001. Simon Cole is a world renown fingerprint expert.

Subjectivity in Creative Nonfiction

     Truth to the traditional reporter encompasses objectivity, meaning that the reporter must not allow personal feelings to enter into the writing of the story. Like Jack Webb in the old and often rerun Dragnet TV series, they are seeking "Just the facts, ma'am." What the reporter/writer feels or thinks personally about the nature or truth of the story is irrelevant. Curiously, most everyone in the newspaper business will admit that objectivity is impossible, but that doesn't seem to diminish the intensity of their belief in the principle.

     More often than not, writers turn to the creative nonfiction genre because they feel passionately about a person, place, subject, or issue and have no interest in or intention of maintaining a balanced or objective tone or viewpoint. Writers turn to creative nonfiction because they have a story to tell, often involving themselves, and they do not want to be reined in or  controlled by Big Brother rules and regulations.

Lee Gutkind, The Art of Creative Nonfiction, 1997

The College Fiction Workshop

It's quite true that fiction writing can't be taught; but the teacher can pass along a few shortcuts and get students interested in the craft of it. I don't think any student wastes his time in a good fiction workshop, not even the talentless ones. By the end of the semester they'll have developed their critical skills to some extent, will respond more deeply to literature, will know a bit more about human nature than they did at the start. It may not be much, but how many other English courses achieve more?

Martin Russ, Showdown Semester, 1980 

Writing About Animals

I write about animals because I really like animals. I'm also interested in the animalistic side of human nature, and when and why humans cross over into doing very violent things. Writing about animals is a way of getting at readers' emotions. People sometimes open up their emotions to animals more easily than they do other people. You see that with the way people get so obsessed with their pets. A big thing you see in New York is a person walking their dog with a diamond-stud collar, right past a homeless person. That interests me as well. My stories are about people, but I use animals as vehicles to get at the people.

Carole Burns, Off the Page, 2008

The Writer's Life

Before I entered publishing, I believed, like most people, that the life of a writer was to be envied. As one of my heroes, Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) wrote, "When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip." Now I understand that writers are a breed apart, their gifts and their whips inextricably linked. The writer's psychology is by its very nature one of extreme duality. The writer labors in isolation, yet all that intensive, lonely work in the service of communicating, is an attempt to reach another person. It isn't surprising, then, that many writers are ambivalent, if not altogether neurotic, about bringing their work forward. For in so doing, a writer must face down that which he most fears: rejection. There is no stage of the writing process that doesn't challenge every aspect of a writer's personality. How well writers deal with those challenges can be critical to their survival.

Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees, 2000

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Police Brutality in China: The Xia Junfeng Case

     In China, the Chengguan are municipal law enforcement officers considered a notch below regular cops. As enforcers of city ordinances, these low-level officers have a national reputation for over-enforcement and brutality. This is particularly true in the way these enforcers handle unlicensed street vendors.

     Over the years, members of the Chengguan have been accused of physically abusing hundreds of street vendors. Many have been beaten to death. In July 2013, in Hunan Province, the government paid $150,000 to the family of a watermelon vendor killed by a Chengguan officer. In China, these ordinance enforcers are extremely unpopular, feared, and even hated by millions of Chinese citizens.

     In May 2009, in the city of Shenyang in northeast China, Chengguan officers arrested a 33-year-old street vendor named Xia Junfeng. Xia, a laid-off factory worker who sold sausages and kabobs from an unlicensed street cart, dreamed of sending his son to art school in Beijing. His wife held two jobs as a cleaning lady and baker at a school.

     While being given the third-degree in a police interrogation room, Xia, with a knife he used to slice meat, stabbed two Chengguan cops to death. A local prosecutor charged Xia with two counts of first-degree murder.

     One of the Chengguan officers Xia stabbed had a long history of police brutality. In 2008, the officer broke the arm of a woman he had arrested for selling umbrellas without a license.

     At his murder trial in November 2009, Xia pleaded not guilty on grounds of self-defense. The prosecution asserted that Xia's repeated stabbing of the officers went beyond what was necessary to defend himself. According to the defendant, had he not used deadly force, the officers would have beaten him to death. Xia's attorney put six witnesses on the stand who witnessed Xia's beating at the hands of these officers.

     Testifying on his own behalf, Xia said, "He [one of the arresting officers] began to beat me as soon as I entered the [interrogation] room. His fists pounded my head and ears. As I tried to run outside, I came face-to-face with another officer. Right away he grabbed my collar to stop me. He also struck me with his fist...and kicked at my thighs." When Xia put his hand down to protect his groin area, he felt the knife he kept in his pocket. This was the instrument he used to stab both of the officers to death. (Why wasn't Xia searched pursuant to his arrest? Do these officers receive any training?)

     The trial judge found Xia Junfeng guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death. Xia's wife, Zhang Jing, took up her husband's crusade by publishing a blog. As a result, both she and the condemned man became famous as his case worked its way through the appellate process. Because there had been prosecutorial improprieties at the trial, Xia's supporters were confident his conviction would be overturned.

     In 2011, while millions of Chinese citizens were expressing online sympathy for the street vendor convicted of killing two Chengguan officers, justices on the nation's supreme court upheld his conviction and sentence. "The crime he committed was heinous," wrote one of the justices. "The method he used was extremely cruel and the results serious. He should be punished to the full extent of the law."

     On September 25, 3013, millions of Chinese citizens were outraged by Xia Jonfeng's execution by lethal injection. On the popular website Sina.com, 28 million people posted messages of support for the man who had killed two members of the hated Chengguan police. Following Xia's execution, Chinese censors were busy scrubbing commentary on dozens of blogs protesting the death of the man who had come to represent resistance against oppressive Chinese law enforcement.

     In China, public support for capital punishment has diminished over the years. Ten years ago the authorities were executing 12,000 prisoners a year. In 2012, 3000 Chinese prisoners died by firing squad or lethal injection.

The Salem Witch Trials

The famous Salem witchcraft crisis erupted early in 1692 when several young women began exhibiting bizarre behavior: incoherent screaming, convulsions, crawling on the ground, and barking like dogs. Some people believed that the Devil himself was present in the community and blamed this on a slave woman named Tituba. The trial of Tituba and two of the young women only escalated the crisis. Suspects were encouraged to name other witches, and they responded enthusiastically. The search for witches quickly spread throughout Salem and to neighboring towns. The original girls identified more than fifty "witches" in Andover [Massachusetts], even though they did not personally know anyone in the town. By the end of the summer, nineteen accused witches had been executed, and seven more were sentenced to die...The term "witch hunt" eventually entered the American language as a description of persecution for political or religious beliefs.

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

"Literary Life: A Second Memoir" by Larry McMurtry

     In Literary Life: A Second Memoir, the second of a three-volume autobiography, Larry McMurtry, the author of 30 novels, and more than 30 screenplays, sums up his life as a man of letters. Volume 1 of his memoir deals with his life as a bookman and owner of a massive used book store in Archer City, Texas. The second installment focuses on his adventures in Hollywood as a screenwriter. McMurtry won a Pulitzer Prize for Lonesome Dove, a novel made into a popular television series. Literary Life: A Second Memoir is honest, devoid of false bravado, and provides a look into the literary life of a person who has been able to support himself on his writing. There aren't many of those people around. What follows are some passages from this engaging book:

I hoped to be a writer, but it was not until I had published my fifth book, All My Friends are Going to be Strangers, that I became convinced that I was a writer and would remain one.

Journalists mostly don't expect to be liked--Vanity Fair is not paying its writers big money to write nice things about their subjects.

Probably at least 85 percent of the books I've inscribed both to friends and strangers have found their way into the [book] market, and rather rapidly.

To this day it is not easy to get started in fiction, but the speed with which self-publishing has been established is making getting started a good deal easier...Much trash will get published, but then much trash is published even by the most reputable publishers.

Minor writers provide the stitchery of literature. Besides, major writers often find themselves writing minor books. Major writers aren't major all the time, and minor writers occasionally write better than they normally do, sometimes producing a major book. The commonwealth of literature is complex, but a sense of belonging to it is an important feeling for a writer to have and to keep.

Never discount luck, in the making of a literary career, or any other career, for that matter.

What A Memoir Should Not Be

     A memoir is not a chronological, thematically tone-deaf recitation of everything remembered. That's autobiography, which should be left, in this twenty-first century, to politicians and celebrities. Oh, be honest: It should just be left.

     A memoir is not an exhibition for exhibitionism's sake. If nothing's been learned from a life, is it worth sharing? Or, if nothing's been learned yet, shouldn't the story wait?

     A memoir is not a self-administered therapy session. Memoirists speak to others and not just to themselves.

Beth Kephart, Handling the Truth, 2013

Friday, May 28, 2021

The Hugo Ramos Murder Case

     At two-thirty in the afternoon of Monday September 15, 2014, Hugo Ramos and his three children--ages one to seven--while traveling on U.S. Route 20 in Lorain County 35 miles west of Cleveland, pulled his 2002 Acura off to the side of the road. The 28-year-old climbed out of the car and walked into the traffic flow on the busy highway. After almost being run over by an 18-wheeler, Ramos returned to his car.

     With his children still in the car, Ramos poured a container of gasoline on himself and lit a match. A passing motorist saw a man on the side of the highway consumed by flames. The motorist grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out the fire.

     Paramedics loaded the badly burned man onto a helicopter and flew him to the MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. Although in critical condition, Ramos told emergency personnel that he had killed his ex-girlfriend, the mother of his three children. He said they would find 25-year-old Glorimar Ramos-Perez in a small apartment at the rear of a house on Newark Avenue in Cleveland.

     At three that afternoon homicide detectives with the Cleveland Police Department arrived at 3638 Newark Avenue where they found Glorimar Ramos-Perez's body. She had been stabbed to death.

     The Cuyahoga County medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. Charged with the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Ramos remained for a period in critical condition at the MetroHealth Medical Center. His children were in the care of the Lorain County Children's Services.

     On August 19, 2015, a jury sitting in Cleveland rejected Hugo Ramos' insanity defense. The jurors found Ramos guilty of aggravated murder, kidnapping, felonious assault, domestic violence and endangering children.

     At the trial, the prosecution and defense put on dueling psychiatrists who gave testimony regarding the defendant's mental state at the time of the crimes. The jurors chose to believe the state's expert who declared Ramos legally sane.
     The judge sentenced Ramos to life in prison.

The Most Popular Genre

     Mention the words "romance novel," and the first thing that comes to mind for many is the cliched book cover image of a bare-chested hero embracing a swooning heroine--what stereotypically might be considered guilty-pleasure reading enjoyed largely by women. But in fact the genre has evolved to encompass a much wider audience and broader range of plot lines than that trope would indicate.

     There are now multiple sub-genres, such as romantic suspense and science fiction romance, and within these sub-genres are an increasing number of titles that reflect the diverse spectrum of relationships across society...As the genre has widened its appeal, romance publishing has become a billion-dollar industry, with romance novels accounting for a third of all mass-market fiction book sales.

Shayla Byrd, Vanderbilt, Summer 2019

So-Called "Literature"

     "Genre fiction" is a nasty phrase--when did genre turn into an adjective? But I object to the term for a different reason. It was clever marketing by publishers to set certain contemporary fiction apart and declare it Literature--and therefore important art and somehow better than genre writing.

     The term sneaks back into the past in an anachronistic way, so that, for example, Jane Austen's works are described as literary fiction. This is nonsense. Can anyone think for a moment that were she writing today she'd be published as literary fiction? No, and not because she'd end up under romance, but because she writes comedy, and literary fiction, with rare exception, does not include humor. [Perhaps that's why they call it "serious fiction."]

     Jane Austen never for a moment imagined she was writing literature. Posterity decided that, not her. She wrote fiction to entertain and to make money which is what we novelists have been doing ever since. Perhaps in our serious and solemn way, we ask fiction to bear a burden it was never intended to carry.

Elizabeth Edmondson, The Guardian, April 21, 2014 

The Aging Novelist

Raymond Chandler [a noted and literary twentieth century crime novelist] wrote a sentence true of [Ernest] Hemingway and himself: "I suppose the weakness, even the tragedy of writers like Hemingway is that their sort of stuff demands an immense vitality; and a man outgrows his vitality without unfortunately outgrowing his furious concern with it."

Michael Schmidt, The Novel: A Biography, 2014 

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Stephen King on Bad Writing

No matter how much I want to encourage the man or woman trying for the first time to write seriously, I can't lie and say there are no bad writers. Sorry, but there are lots of bad writers. Some are on-staff at your local newspaper, usually reviewing little-theater productions or pontificating about the local sports teams. Some have scribbled their way to homes in the Caribbean, leaving a trail of pulsing adverbs, wooden characters, and vile passive-voice constructions behind them. Others hold forth at open-mike poetry slams, wearing black turtlenecks and wrinkled khaki pants; they spout doggerel about "my angry lesbian breasts" and "the tilted alley where I cried my mother's name." While it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great one out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Writing a Celebrity Profile

     When you're writing about a [famous] person, one of the problems you encounter is that the reason the person is worthy of being profiled is not necessarily because they are good at talking about what they do. That's where the writer comes in. It's not her [the celebrity's] job to make my story good, it's my job to make my story good. So I write a story about what I would have asked her if she'd been awake and what I think she would have said.

     I grew up reading celebrity profiles, and I hated most of them. The ones I didn't hate all have the same quality, which was that the writer was not in bed with the subject. It's very easy to become so dazzled by a celebrity that by the time you write it, it's me and the subject doing something for your benefit, the reader. Like this is what it's like to be friends with this person. But that's not what a profile should be, because I'm not friends with that person. And we didn't have something that emulated friendship. We had a weird, short, intense relationship that we both knew the length of, the extent of, and the stakes of. I am the reader in those situations. I want the reader to know that I know what my job is. My job is to go there and to tell you what it would have been like if you were there. 

Taffy Brodesser-Akner in "How Taffy Brodesser-Akner Writes a Celebrity Profile," by Isaac Butler, slate.com July 13, 2020 

The Power of Dialogue

Dialogue has practically all the properties which a story demands. It can be both a story builder and a character builder.

Joseph T. Shaw (1874-1952) editor of Black Mask Magazine 1926 to 1936

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

A Shoplifter in Need of a Getaway Driver

     After reports of ongoing shoplifting on Thanksgiving 2014, police officers in Nampa, Idaho responded to a busy parking lot full of holiday shoppers. When they tried to arrest Camilla Hunt, the Oregon woman fled in a car. Given the potential threat to public safety, the police did not pursue her in the busy parking lot.

     But Hunt didn't make an escape. Instead, she drove around in circles. Police laid down a spike strip and Hunt drove her car over it, deflating two of her tires.

"Police Stop Woman Driving in Circles," Associated Press, November 28, 2014 

Degenerate Child Abusers

     Gregory Bernard Lacy, 60, and LaQuron D. McLean-Lacy, 43, lived with seven adopted children in a two-story house in a Perris, California subdivision of newer homes near the Ramona Expressway in Riverside County. During the early morning hours of July 22, 2012, sheriff's deputies responded to the Lacy dwelling in the Mar Ranch subdivision. Someone had reported shots being fired in front of the house.

     The Riverside County deputies, upon rolling up to the residence, found 46-year-old Calvin Lynch dead in the front yard from a single bullet. While Lynch, from Moreno Valley, California, had presumably been murdered and knew someone at the Lacy house. (If the police ever got to the bottom of the Lynch shooting it never made the Internet.)

     In searching the Lacy/McLean home that night, deputies discovered that the first-floor had been converted into a home strip-club complete with a stage and an erotic dancer's pole. In the kitchen, officers found a quantity of ecstasy pills. The police also learned that the couple's seven adopted children were all under eleven years old.

     Four months after Calvin Lynch was found death in the Lacy/McLean front yard, Gregory Lacy and LaQuron McLean were arrested on charges of child abuse. The children told the police and child protection agents that their adopted parents had beaten them with their fists, clothes hangers, and other objects. The kids were frequently locked into rooms, and often went without food. One of the girls accused Mr. Lacy of sexual assault. The children also reported being in the house during the all-night stripper parties.

     Gregory Lacy, charged with lewd acts on a child under ten, and one count of felony child abuse, was being held at the Robert Presley Detection Center in Riverside under $1 million bond. McLean, charged with two felony child abuse offenses, was incarcerated under $50,000 bail. The children were placed into protective custody. Both of the defendants had convictions for driving under the influence. Lacy was once arrested for driving without a license.

     In March 2016, a jury in Riverside County, California found the couple guilty of child abuse and related crimes. The judge sentenced Gregory Lacy to 26 years to life and his wife 75 years to life.

How Long Should it Take to Write a Book?

 Out of a human population on earth of four and a half billion people, perhaps twenty people can write a book in a year. Some people lift cars, too. Some people enter week-long sled races, go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, fly planes through the Arc de Triomphe. There is no call to take human extremes as norms. [Mainly, the time it takes to write a book depends on the book. Erle Stanley Gardner wrote six crime novels a year.] 

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life, 2013

Paul Theroux's Travel Writing

     Travel writing in our hyperconnected age is in the throes of an existential crisis. Journeys to new lands used to inspire masterly works of literary nonfiction. Now, they inspire Instagram posts by influencers who string together hashtags rather than sentences. So what should you read about travel when you can virtually sample the sights and sounds anywhere in the world from, well, anywhere in the world?

     Start out with an unvarnished depiction of reality from Paul Theroux, who is adept at immersing you fully within setting by the time you've finished the first page.

Monica Drake, The New York Times Book Review, December 8, 2019

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Right Tattoo, Wrong Man

     On January 24, 2012, a man walking in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Staten Island [NYC] before 9 AM was approached by a stranger with a knife. The stranger, the man later told the police, took his bag and the chain around his neck, then ran away. The victim was able to get a pretty good look at the robber, and told detectives that he was young and white. And one more thing: he had a big tattoo of a red lightning bolt running down the side of his face.

     The police searched their database of photos of young white men with big red lightening-bolt tattoos on their faces, and they found a match. The name on the picture was Dylan Vok, 28, a Staten Island resident with a short criminal record…The mug shot was released to the press. Word of the search for Dylan Wok and his big red lightening-bolt tattoo spread online, all the way to Detroit and to one incredulous reader in particular: Dylan Vok.

     "In October 2011, I left New York for Detroit," Mr. Vok said in a recent telephone interview. That was months before the robbery. "I had lots of proof of that. I was using a food-stamp card. I had time stamps." He said he could even produce video footage of himself at his job at a New Age chiropractor's office…

     And the tattoo? Mr. Vok said he was briefly in the Army, but had been discharged. "I had flat feet," he said. "I got depressed after." In 2009, his best friend was on his third tour of Iraq. Mr. Vok decided to have the symbol of the devision he himself had briefly been attached to tattooed on his face…

     Mr. Vok offered all sorts of proof of his whereabouts [on the morning of the robbery]. It seemed to have worked. The police informed Mr. Vok that he was no longer a suspect in the crime.

Michael Wilson, "A Suspect With an Incriminating Tattoo Saves Face," The New York Times, March 7, 2014 

Innocent on Death Row Thirty Years

Glenn Ford, Louisiana's longest-serving death row prisoner, walked free on March 11, 2014 after spending nearly 30 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit…According to the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana, a judge ordered that Ford be freed after prosecutors petitioned the court to release him. New information corroborated what Ford had said all along: that he was not present at nor involved in the November 5, 1983 slaying of Isadore Rozeman…Ford had been on death row since 1984, making him one of the longest-serving death row prisoners in the United States….

Dana Ford, "Louisiana's Longest-Serving Death Row Prisoner Walks Free After 30 Years," CNN, March 11, 2014

The Ethical Dilemma of Journalism

There's an ethical dilemma in almost all journalism. In taking someone else's story and making it your own, in describing them on your terms, in ways they may not agree with.

Ted Conover in The New Journalism (2005) by Robert S. Boynton 

The Journalist Is Not Your Friend

I think readers believe that a writer becomes friends with the people he interviews and writes about--and I think there are some writers who do that--but that hasn't happened to me. I do think it's dangerous because then you write to please them, which is a terrible error. [For example, why would anyone agree to be interviewed by Bob Woodward?]

Nora Ephron (1941-2012) American journalist, essayist, novelist and screenwriter.

Writers, Know Your Genre

     Writers of science fiction are, first and foremost, voracious readers, and they're often very savvy about the genre they work in. Whereas most literary writers have only the barest conception of where their work fits in the current publishing milieu. This is because many of them have been studying classic literature.

     The literary divisions are a little clearer within genre fiction--to an almost laughable degree (hence paranormal young adult romance, alternative historical fantasy, "furry" fiction, and virtually everything ending in the suffix-punk). But despite the fact that the differences between various types of literary fiction are more subtle, it behooves anyone serious about publishing to get savvy about them.

     The more knowledgeable you are about the imaginative space you're working in, the less likely you are to reinvent the wheel, and the more likely you are to get a handle on who your readers are and what they like.

Susan Defreitas, litreactor.com, September 24, 2014 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Mom Needs More Than a Parenting Class

     Police say a Massachusetts woman allowed her 2-year-old daughter to sip her margarita at a restaurant and poured some of it into the girl's sippy cup. Forty-one-year-old Sheldy Nelson of Lynn, Massachusetts pleaded not guilty on February 24, 2015 to child endangerment in a Salem district court. She was charged in connection with the August 2014 incident. The judge set her bond at $1,000.

     A witness told police that Nelson ignored two warnings from the restaurant staff to stop giving her daughter sips of the alcohol. Both the mother and her daughter appeared lethargic and were taken to a hospital where medical personnel found alcohol in the toddler's system. Police found the sippy cup in Nelson's bag. It smelled of alcohol. The girl was placed in state custody. [In July 2015, the judge agreed to drop the charges against Nelson if she took a parenting class and agreed to random drug testing for a period of three months.]

"Mom Let 2-Year-Old Sip Margarita," huffingtonpost.com, February 28, 2015 

Clues In The Refrigerator

I love to enter the crime scene from the kitchen. People's minute-to-minute movements are registered here. I routinely open the refrigerator to get people's lifestyles: the type of food they like, where they buy, how much they pay, how they wrap. In one homicide I investigated, the homeowner returned early, surprising the burglar, so the burglary ended in murder. But the burglar was hungry, so he had a bite to eat before leaving. We found distinct teeth marks in the cheese!

Dr. Thomas Noguchi, Coroner at Large, 1985. Dr. Noguchi was the Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner of Los Angeles County from 1967 to 1982. 

Learning How to Assemble a Book

There's no formal school, so far as I know, where you can learn how to structure long forms of prose. Writing programs typically work with short forms, for the obvious reason that short forms can be examined productively within the brief compass of a course program. But the difference between long forms and short forms is precisely their structure, which means that you can't learn how to structure the one by studying the other. Fortunately, you can teach yourself long-form structure by reading books and analyzing how their authors assembled them.

Richard Rhodes, How to Write, 1995 

Eliminate the Clutter

Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, 1976

You Need More Than an Idea

 Most anyone can have a great idea. A smaller group might get it onto paper in some form. A fair number of those will be able to revise parts of it until it is very good. Yet to take all the elements such as character and themes and place, and to think about voice, style and language, just doesn't happen in one fell swoop. Only a few writers can take what first comes out on the page and work it until every bit of it is right, until all of its parts become a beautiful whole. True talent--perhaps even genius--lies not in coming up with the idea but in being able to do the hard, dogged work that brings that idea to fruition.

Carole Burns, Off The Page, 2000

Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Execution of Paul Goodwin

     A Missouri inmate was put to death early Wednesday December 10, 2014 for fatally beating a 63-year-old woman with a hammer in 1998…Paul Goodwin, 48, sexually assaulted Joan Crotts in St. Louis County, pushed her down a flight of stairs and beat her in the head with a hammer. Goodwin was a former neighbor who felt Crotts played a role in getting him kicked out of a boarding house.

     Goodwin's execution began at 1:17 AM, more than an hour after it was scheduled because Supreme Court Appeals lingered into the early morning. He was pronounced dead at 1:25 AM. He declined to make a final statement.

     Efforts to spare Goodwin's life centered on his low I.Q. and claims that executing him would violate a U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting the death penalty for the mentally disabled. Attorney Jennifer Herndon said Goodwin had an I.Q. of 73, and some tests suggested even lower…But Goodwin's fate was sealed when Governor Jay Nixon denied a clemency request and the U.S. Supreme Court turned down legal appeals--one on the mental competency question and one concerning Missouri's use of an execution drug purchased from an unidentified compounding pharmacy.

"Missouri Executes Inmate For 1998 Hammer Death," Associated Press, December 10, 2014

The Mystery Of Normal

Because psychiatrists, psychologists and sociologists have spent so much time, effort and money studying the various forms of mental illness and other forms of behavioral deviance, we no longer have any idea of what it means to be sane. We have lost our sense of what it is to be more or less adjusted. Perhaps we should spend more time studying people who are not mentally or emotionally disturbed. Attack the problem of mental illness from that angle. We could justify such an approach by redefining the state of sanity as abnormal. Solve the mystery that way.

Journalists as Privacy Invaders

     Securing a subject's permission and cooperation, if that subject isn't a public figure, is one of the trickiest things I have to do as a nonfiction writer. It is a matter of both law and ethics. I try to make sure that private individuals understand what I'm doing, and I try to give them some sense of what the consequences might be. It's a sort of Miranda warning: Anything you say may be used against you in my book…

     These days, publishers often require authors to get signed releases from their subjects. Lawyers tell me these sorts of releases are of limited use in cases of invasion of privacy, a very vague area of the law, and of even less use in libel cases. The releases generally say something like this: I can write anything I want to about you. I can steal your good name. And I'll give you a free copy of the book in which I do these things. From what I understand, most courts don't think that's a valid contract. For those reasons I've stopped getting releases from the people who appear in my books. Nonetheless, releases can be a tool to help subjects truly consider what they are doing.

Tracy Kidder, "Security Consent," in Telling True Stores, Mark Kramer and Wendy Call, Editors, 2007

Types of Literary Criticism

A "mere book reviewer" writes for newspapers, magazines [and websites and blogs] and is content to treat books as news. He announces their publication, identifies their authors, briefly describes their contents and sometimes renders a verdict. Journalistic critics, who also write for the above media outlets, try whenever possible to climb out of the valley of "mere reviewing" onto the plateau of genuine criticism. The academic critics contribute to popular publications when the chance offers, but most of their work appears in learned journals and in book form. They are usually professors and usually they write for other professors, for serious students and for literary intellectuals. They are enormously influential because they are read in colleges and universities. [Today, because of online reader reviews, and the demise of so many magazines and newspapers, traditional book reviewers and critics have much less influence.]

Orville Prescott in Writer's Roundtable, edited by Helen Hull and Michael Drury, 1959 

Author Self-Promotion

I have a great ambivalence about interviews [of authors]. I believe writers should be read and not heard from. There are certain writers whose personalities are more responsible for their reputations than their writing. [They] use their personalities to make their works popular. I resent that, because they get far more attention than their work merits. And other writers who are really much better, but who are quiet and invisible souls, are not noticed at all. Part of me wants to be totally anonymous. The writer who I really admire most for his image is B. Traven, who wrote The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; he was totally unidentified in his lifetime. I admire that.

Dennis Etchison, novelist, 2014 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Thought Crime

An elementary school kid approaches his teacher with a confession: In a trembling voice he says, "I just had a bad thought. The image of a gun crept into my mind. I'm sorry, it will never happen again. Will I be suspended?" The teacher replies: "That depends. Was it an assault weapon?"

Writing Essays

Essays, unlike articles, intentionally include or even feature the writer's subjective viewpoint and experiences. Besides political and social commentary in newspapers, the essay form encompasses personal experiences of all kinds. Essays are further distinguished from articles by a structure suited to argue an opinion or tell a story.

Elizabeth Lyon, A Writer's Guide to Nonfiction, 2003

The Power of the Adjective

Mrs. Trotter, my fourth-grade teacher in Des Moines, Iowa, once wrote a sentence on the blackboard--"The family sat down to dinner"--and asked us to imagine the scene. Then she added a word--"The Hawaiian family sat down to dinner"--and asked us to picture the scene again. Everything changed: the room the people were in, what they looked like, the clothes they wore, the food they ate…By adding one word, Hawaiian, she transformed the whole sentence. I've never forgotten that lesson in what an adjective is and what it can do.

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

The Starving Artist Hoax

I remembered my New Orleans days, living on two five-cent candy bars a day for weeks at a time in order to have leisure to write. But starvation, unfortunately, didn't improve art. It only hindered it. A man's soul was rooted in his stomach. A man could write much better after eating a porterhouse steak and drinking a pint of whiskey than he could ever write after eating a nickel candy bar. The myth of the starving artist was a hoax.

Charles Bukowski, Factotum, 1974

Friday, May 21, 2021

The Politics of Headline Writing

     On May 20, 2021, the following two stories published by Google News appeared under headlines that slanted the news differently. 

Fox News: DHS [Department of Home Security] Closes 2 Detention Centers Run by ICE Amid Allegations of Abuse, Misconduct

CBS News: Biden Administration Ends Use of 2 ICE Jails in Bid to Improve Conditions For Immigrant Detainees

     The Fox version was negative, suggesting a scandal. The CBS version was positive, suggesting well intentioned steps by the government. The news accounts themselves were not that different.

One Less Baby Killer

     On the night of September 29, 1988, in the northern Ohio town of Mansfield, 31-year-old Steve Smith walked into his live-in girlfriend's bedroom carrying her six-month-old daughter. Smith was nude and had been drinking. The lifeless infant in his arms bore bruises and cuts.

      The girlfriend, Kesha Frye, took her daughter to a neighbor's house where she called 911. At the hospital doctors tried for an hour to revive Autumn Frye before pronouncing the baby dead. An autopsy revealed that the infant had been raped.

     A year after his arrest, Steve Smith went on trial for aggravated murder. On the advice of his attorneys, the defendant did not take the stand on his own behalf. The jury found him guilty as charged and the judge sentenced him to death.

     On April 2, 2013, after living twelve years on death row, Smith appeared before the Ohio Parole Board considering his petition to reduce  his sentence to life. Smith admitted raping the infant but said he hadn't intended to kill her. The parole board and Governor John Kasich denied Smith's motion for a life sentence.

     At ten-thirty in the morning of May 1, 2013, the Ohio executioner at the state prison in Lucasville injected a lethal dose of pentobarbital into the body of the 46-year-old prisoner. Steve Smith's 20-year-old daughter and a handful of others watched him go. If the rapist baby-killer made a statement before the pentobarbital got into his system, his last words did not escape the prison. 

Outdated "Inverted Pyramid" Journalism

     Screenwriters know that if a movie doesn't have a good ending, people will leave the theater feeling like they wasted their money. Novelists know that you can't write a good book without a good ending. Speechwriters always try to end on a high note…

     But most newspaper stories dribble pitifully to an end. This is the enduring legacy of the inverted pyramid--a form that makes good endings impossible. The inverted pyramid orders information from most important to least important, robbing stories of their drama and leaving nothing to reward readers who stay with it to the last line.

     It is important to recognize that the inverted pyramid never had anything to do with writing or readers or the news. Those of us who have studied the history of the form trace its emergence to the invention of the telegraph. Reporters covering far-flung news about, say, a sinking ship or a Civil War battle now had a speedy way to transmit their stories to their newspapers, but they found that they could not always rely on it. Sometimes the line would fail; sometimes their messages would be preempted by urgent official business. So they learned to transmit their information in bursts with the most important facts first.

     This proved to be the perfect form to accommodate the manufacturing process in every newspaper's back shop. Stories were written and edited on paper and then sent to typographers, who set them in lead type. This type had to fit into a designated space on a newspaper page, but often it was too long. The only practical way to cut lead type was to trim it from the bottom.

     We don't send our stories by telegraph anymore, and it has been more than forty years since U.S. newspapers used lead type. Today, most are fully digital so stories can be trimmed anywhere with the stroke of a key. Furthermore, stories for online use don't have to be trimmed to fit a preexisting hole at all…

Bruce DeSilva, "Endings," in Telling True Stories, Mark Kramer and Wendy Call, Editors, 2007

Beware of the Publisher's Advance

I have seen a lot of novelists stop writing or at least slow down after getting an advance. They have a feeling of completion after making a deal. That's bad news creatively. If you are within a few months of having a finished, edited manuscript, I advise you to carry on without an advance, without that false feeling of completion, without that bit of good news to announce to a lot of people before the job is really done.

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

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Separating the Mad From the Bad

The profession of forensic psychology, a recent fusion of psychology and the law, is practiced by a minority of licensed psychologists in the United States and taught in a handful of graduate programs...I use the traditional tools of my trade--trained observation, clinical interviews, detailed history-taking, and psychological tests--combined with the street smarts I've gained as a narcotics parole officer and by interviewing hundreds of murderers. But sometimes I must rely on psychological guerrilla tactics, like agreeing with a psychotic's delusions, entering his hallucinations, or stoking a defendant's enthusiasm about drugs, sex, or guns. In these ways, I cull the killers who have no inkling of the wrongfulness of their crime from those who know exactly what they have done. In other words, I try to separate the mad from the bad.

Dr. Barbara R. Kirwin, The Mad, The Bad, and the Innocent, 1997

The Fence As An Anti-Intrusion Measure

A fence is a structural barrier that defines and limits physical access to an area. It constitutes a psychological as well as physical deterrent to casual trespass and criminal intrusion. Although every fence, regardless of its size or construction, can be penetrated or scaled by a human being, the barrier makes entry more difficult, and thus tends to deter intrusion. Fences also aid in the observation and detection of intruders, since, in scaling the fence, they may activate an alarm or be seen by security or law enforcement personnel. Another function of a fence is to direct and restrict the flow of people and vehicles through designated points, to identify and stop those not authorized to enter the premise or area. Moreover, security patrols along a fenced boundary constitute more effective protection than patrols around an unfenced perimeter.

Isaac Asimov on The Literary Critic

     Criticism and writing are two different talents. I am a good writer but have no critical ability. I can't tell whether something I have written is good or bad, or just why it should be either. I can only say, "I like this story," or "It was easy to read," or other such trivial nonjudgmental remarks.

     The critic, if he can't write as I do, can nevertheless analyze what I write and point out flaws and virtues. In this way, he guides the writer and perhaps even helps the writer.

     Having said all that, I must remind you that I'm talking about critics of the first caliber. Most critics we encounter, alas, are fly-by-night pipsqueaks without any qualification for the job other than the rudimentary ability to read and write. It is their pleasure sometimes to tear down a book savagely, or to attack the author rather than the book. They use the review, sometimes, as a vehicle for displaying their own erudition or as an opportunity for safe sadism.

Isaac Asimov, I Asimov: A Memoir, 1994

Raymond Chandler's Dark Absurdist Humor

And there was Aaron Klopstein. Who ever heard of him? He committed suicide at the age of 33 in Greenwich Village by shooting himself with an Amazonian blow gun, having published two novels, two volumes of poetry, one book of short stories and a book of critical essays.

Raymond Chandler in Raymond Chandler Speaking, edited by Dorothy Gardiner and Kathleen Sorley Walker, 1962 

Charles Bukowski On Paying the Rent

This writing game is more desperate than holding up liquor stores, yet I'm snared in it now and there's no out. A man finally gets lazy, too lazy and the mind gets too lazy to do any damned job. Now I'm almost too lazy to write. An empty belly and rent due might stove that up, though.

Charles Bukowski in Charles Bukowski: Selected Letters 1971-1986, edited by Seamus Cooney, 2004

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

A Police Chief's Criminal History

     John L. Marra began his law enforcement career on July 11, 2005 when the 29-year-old became a part-time reserve police officer in Uniontown, Ohio, a Stark County village of 2,800 in the northeastern part of the state. A little over two years after being on the job, Marra entered into an intimate relationship with a 16-year-old girl. He sent her inappropriate text messages, and while on duty, kissed and fondled her at her place of employment, a Subway restaurant.

     In May 2008, the 32-year-old police officer pleaded no contest to dereliction of duty, a second-degree misdemeanor. The Stark County judge sentenced Marra to two years probation and 100 hours of community service. The judge also ordered Marra not to have further contact with the girl or members of her family. As part of the plea deal, Marra agreed to resign from the Uniontown Police Department.

     In 2010, shortly after his period of probation expired, Marra joined the police department in Brady Lake, Ohio, a small Portage County town in the Akron metropolitan area. In December 2013, following the retirement of the chief of police, the major named Marra acting head of the agency. On March 17, 2014, the village council approved Marra's appointment as the chief of the Brady Lake Police Department.

     Marra's promotion, given his history with the Uniontown Police Department, raised more than a few eyebrows. In April 2014, members of the local print and television news media asked Mayor Hal Lehman if someone, in anticipation of Marra's appointment, had conducted a background investigation. The mayor replied that such an inquiry had been made and said, "We are done with the issue." Another reporter asked the mayor if he would provide the media with a copy of the investigative report. Mayor Lehman said he did not have a copy of that document.

     Mayor Lehman, when asked specifically about the new police chief's dereliction of duty conviction five years earlier, had nothing to say other than the matter was settled.

     Chief Marra, aware that his 2008 conviction might prove troublesome to the advancement of his law enforcement career, had petitioned the court to seal the records of the case. If granted his request, this information would be no longer available to the public.

     The Stark County prosecutor's office opposed the Marra petition. Recognizing that offenses less serious than a first-degree misdemeanor can be removed from public scrutiny, the prosecutor trying to preserve Marra's conviction history argued that this particular case was an exception because of Marra's intimate involvement with a 16-year-old girl. Had Marra not agreed to plead in the case, he would have been convicted of a more serious offense. Moreover, as a public official, the chief of police should be held to a higher standard of conduct than an ordinary citizen. Chief Marra had violated that standard.

     On May 1, 2014, following a brief hearing on Marra's petition, Stark County Judge John Poulos approved of the sealing of all documents pertaining to the 2008 dereliction of duty conviction in Uniontown, Ohio. Judge Poulos based his decision on the fact the petitioner had been convicted of a second-degree misdemeanor that, under Ohio law, allowed the sealing of these crime records. The judge obviously didn't buy the argument that public officials should be held to a higher standard than the rest of us. [Why would he? The judge was a public official himself.]

     We give law enforcement officers enormous power over our lives. In return, they owe us honesty, trustworthiness, good character, and sound judgment. Officer John Marra, with regard to the girl, exhibited an alarming lack of good judgment as well as a troubling and perhaps pathological flaw in his character.

     The citizens of Brady Lake who paid the chief's salary, and were subject to his power and authority, had a right to know such things as the degree to which Marra had coerced or stalked the girl. It may also have been important to know how this case came to light, and how the officer initially reacted to the accusation.

     In May 2017, residents of Brady Lake voted to disband the town of 500. The fire department and EMS services had closed years earlier. Notwithstanding the closure of the village, Chief of Police Marra and his crew of five part-time officers and 25 volunteer officers continued to stop drivers and issue speeding tickets. Attorney Gregory Wysin told reporters that under Ohio's constitution, these officers did not have a right to detain and ticket motorists. The attorney said the police department's ticket issuing spree constituted a last minute money grab. Chief of Police Marra claimed that his department was acting lawfully according to the Ohio Attorney General's Office.

New York City: The Politics of Stupid

 At a time when crime rates are rising significantly in New York City, two progressive Democrat candidates in the city's upcoming mayoral race are promising to cut police funding if elected. Maya Wiley, a former top counsel to outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio, wants to cut $ 1 billion from the NYPD and reduce the force by at least 2,000 officers. Candidate Dianne Morales proposes taking $3 billion from the police budget and closing Rikers Island, the nation's second largest jail system. There are eight other candidates in the race led by Eric Adams and Andrew Wang who say they are against defunding the police. 

The Dead Rapist

     Ram Singh, a violent man who drank a lot and lived in the slums of New Delhi, India, was in jail, along with four other adults and a juvenile, for the beating, gang-rape, and murder a 23-year-old student on a bus in December 2012. The victim had been penetrated with a metal rod and thrown nude from the moving bus. She died two weeks later at a hospital in Singapore. Her male companion was beaten as well, but he survived the attack. The brutal crime, committed in broad daylight, energized women's rights advocates who had been accusing practitioners in the Indian criminal justice system of treating rape as a victimless crime. The highly publicized rape and murder eventually led to legal reforms in the country.

     At five in the morning on Monday, March 11, 2013, a jail guard found Ram Singh hanging in his cell. He had used a length of cloth to fashion a noose. His cell had been occupied by two other inmates. Knowing that he faced the death penalty if convicted, the suspect had threatened to kill himself and was on suicide watch.

     While government officials reported Singh's death as a suicide, his lawyer and members of his family claimed he had been murdered. India's home minister admitted to a "serious security lapse" on the part of jail personnel. Whether Ram Singh hanged himself or was murdered, very few people in India mourned his passing. 

The 37 Year Prison Escape

     San Diego police officers caught a woman escapee on February 3, 2014 who fled from a Michigan prison 37 years ago…Judy Lynn Hayman, 60, was arrested at her apartment in San Diego. She was held without bail and was taken to the Las Colinas Jail, where she faces extradition back to Michigan.

     The Michigan Department of Corrections records say Hayman was sentenced June 28, 1976 for attempted larceny….Then 23-years-old Hayman was given 16 months to two years of imprisonment. But April 14, 1977, she escaped from the Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Washtenaw County…Hayman did not reveal her true identify for over 30 years. According to police, she even concealed her identity to her 32-year-old son.

Vishakha Sonawane, "Woman Escapee From Michigan Prison Caught in San Diego After 37 Years," HNGN, February 5, 2014

Science Fiction Fandom

I think science fiction, along with jazz, is America's great contribution to world culture. It's as great as jazz, as profligate, and wonderful. What disappoints me about it is that most of its practitioners have not been as good as they should have been, and the fact that science fiction emerged as a genre of commercial literature, forced to make adjustments and compromises to accommodate a mass audience, which was not in its aesthetic interest. I don't segregate myself from those who do so. The readership has contributed to this debasement, I suppose, but any readership does. Norman Spinrod said the worst thing about science fiction is fandom. I don't disagree with that at all. Fandom has destroyed some authors. The need to be a hero.

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

Biography, The Unrespected Genre

Between history and the novel stands biography, their unwanted offspring, which has brought a great embarrassment to them both. In the historian's view it takes ten thousand biographies to make one small history. To the novelist biographers are simply what Nabokov called, "psycho-plagiarists."

Michael Holroyd, Works on Paper, 2002

The Mystery Fiction Reader

I think mystery fiction offers the complete package: a strong sense of place, complex main characters, moral and societal issues, roller coaster plotting. If you give me all of these, I'm happy as a reader.

Ian Rankin, 2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Traffic Laws Don't Apply to Politicians

     After unveiling a plan to curtail the number of traffic deaths in New York City, an SUV hauling Mayor Bill de Blasio was videotaped speeding through the streets of the city and running stop signs…Mayor de Blasio was riding in the front seat of the vehicle which was traveling at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour zone, and up to 60 miles per hour in a 45 mph zone…The SUV also cut through a stop sign at a Queens intersection…

     Those infractions would seem minor if they hadn't come just two days after a big traffic safety initiative announced by de Blasio. "We want the public to know that we are holding ourselves to this standard," he said on February 18, 2014 while announcing "Vision Zero," which is based on a plan first developed in Sweden in the 1990s.

     The plan would implement a number of changes with the goal of eliminating all traffic-related deaths. Those changes would include lowering the speed limit from 30 mph to 25, widening traffic lanes and installing cameras that track speeding and issue tickets. The size of the Highway Patrol department will also be increased.

     One controversial part of the "Vision Zero" plan would target speeding cab drivers by pausing their meters if they were driving too fast…

     [One of the hallmarks of American jurisprudence involves the fact that the law is applied unevenly to the disadvantage of citizens who are not members of the ruling elite.]

Chuck Ross, "Anti-Speeding New York Mayor Caught Speeding After Announcing Big Traffic Initiative," The Daily Caller, February 20, 2014 

The Presumption of Guilt

     Anastasio Prieto was driving his truck toward home along US Route 54, just north of El Paso, Texas on a late night in August 2007. While enjoying the beautiful countryside passing him by, he noticed a weigh station and pulled over to have his truck inspected. A state trooper approached him and asked whether he could search Anastasio's truck for contraband. Not protective of his own privacy, Anastasio said, "Of course," knowing  that no contraband would be found. During his conversation, Anastasio did mention that he happened to be carrying $23,700, his life savings, used to pay bills and maintain the truck, which he carried with him because he did not trust banks. What he did not realize was that his opinion of banks would be his undoing.

     The money was confiscated, and Anastasio was detained, photographed, and fingerprinted while canine dogs sniffed his truck. The state police, who believed that Anastasio must be guilty of something, turned the cash they seized from him over to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Though no evidence of illegal substances was found, the DEA explained to Anastasio that they would be keeping the money, and that in thirty days he would receive notice of federal proceedings to forfeit the money permanently to the government. Anastasio was told that if he wanted to get the money back, he would have to petition a court and prove that the money was legally obtained by him and not the product of criminal conduct.

     That's right; even though not a single shred of evidence of any illegal activity was found in his truck, Anastasio was considered guilty and would have to prove his innocence. Thankfully, the ACLU stepped in and sued the DEA on behalf of Anastasio. With the lawsuit looming, and fearing a more public revelation of its Gestapo tactics at a trial, the DEA returned the money months later.

Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, Lies the Government Tells You, 2010

Raymond Chandler's Private Detective

As Raymond Chandler himself would later admit, the typical real life private detective was not as he imagined his protagonist Philip Marlowe, an intellectual whose idea of a good time was a quiet night at home with a bottle of rye and a book of chess problems. The real PI was an ex-cop with the brains of a turtle who spent his time finding out where people had moved to. [In reality, Chandler had no knowledge whatsoever regarding private investigators, criminal investigation, criminal law, or policing. He was a novelist with no background or training in such matters. His ignorance shows up in his plots which are thin, literary, and unrealistic.] 

John Baxter, A Pound of Paper, 2003 

The Genre Called "New Autobiography"

This is what the New Autobiography genre is: the discovery of the unique story or stories your life makes. It is the application of story structure to your life experiences to give them meaning. It's reading your life as if it were a dream, asking, "What hidden significance do these characters and these events have for me?" It's shaping these elements into what is compelling to read as a contemporary novel. The New Autobiography asks that you perceive your life as a writer would, not simplistically, but with the mystery and complexity of literature. [Most of these books tend to be tedious, pretentious, and narcissistic works of bad fiction.]

Tristine Rainer, Your Life as Story, 1998 

The Journalistic Legacy of Watergate

     Investigative reporting has taken on every aspect of American society--from government, politics, business and finance to education, social welfare, culture and sports--and has won the lion's share of each year's journalism prizes. No matter how unpopular the news media may sometimes be, there has been, ever since Watergate, an expectation that the press would hold accountable those with power and influence over the rest of us. As Jon Marshal wrote in 2011, Watergate "shaped the way investigative reporting is perceived and practiced and how political leaders and the public respond to journalists."

     Woodward and Bernstein's techniques were hardly original. But they became central to the ethos of investigative reporting: Become an expert on your subject. Knock on doors and talk to sources in person. Protect the confidentiality of sources when necessary. Never rely on a single source. Find documents. Follow the money. Pile one hard-won detail on top of another until a pattern becomes discernible. [For the most part, investigative journalism no longer exists. With few exceptions, an independent press has been replaced by lapdog print journalism, social media, and cable news sucking up to governmental power.] 

Leonard Downie Jr., Washington Post, June 7, 2012 

Monday, May 17, 2021

The Cannibalism At Sea Dilemma

     In the summer of 1884, four English sailors were stranded at sea in a small lifeboat in the South Atlantic, over a thousand miles from land. Their ship, the Migonette, had gone down in a storm, and they had escaped to the lifeboat, with only two cans of preserved turnips and no fresh water. Thomas Dudley was the captain, Edwin Stephens was the first mate, and Edmund Brooks was a sailor--"all men of excellent character," according to newspaper accounts.

     The fourth member of the crew was the cabin boy, Richard Parker, age seventeen. He was an orphan, on his first voyage at sea. He had signed up against the advice of his friends, "in the hopefulness of youthful ambition," thinking the journey would make a man of him. Sadly, it was not to be.

     From the lifeboat, the four stranded sailors watched the horizon, hoping a ship might pass and rescue them. For the first three days, they ate small rations of turnips. On the fourth day, they caught a turtle. They subsisted on the turtle and the remaining turnips for the next few days. And then for eight days they ate nothing.

     By now Parker, the cabin boy, was lying in the corner of the lifeboat. He had drunk seawater, against the advice of the others, and became ill. He appeared to be dying. On the nineteenth day of their ordeal, Dudley, the captain, suggested drawing lots to determine who would die so that the others might live. But Brooks refused, and no lots were drawn.

     The next day came, and still no ship was in sight. Dudley told Brooks to avert his gaze and motioned to Stephens that Parker had to be killed. Dudley offered a prayer, told the boy his time had come, then killed him with a penknife, stabbing him in the jugular vein. Brooks emerged from his conscientious objection to share in the gruesome bounty. For four days, the three men fed on the body and blood of the cabin boy.

     And then  help came. Dudley describes their rescue in his diary, with staggering euphemism: On the 24th day, as we were having our breakfast," a ship appeared at last. The three survivors were picked up. Upon their return to England, they were arrested and tried. Brooks turned state's witness. Dudley and Stephens went to trial. They freely confessed that they had killed and eaten Parker. They claimed they had done so out of necessity.

     Suppose you were the judge. How would you rule?
     [The defendants were convicted of murder and sentenced to death but were pardoned by the Crown after serving six months in prison.]

Michael J. Sandel, Justice, 2009 

A Wrongful 32 Year Imprisonment

     A 74-year-old woman was released from prison on March 24, 2014 after serving 32 years for a murder committed by her abusive boyfriend. Mary Virginia Jones walked out of Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, California to the tears and cheers of family and friends…

     Jones was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery in a 1981 shooting death, but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Ryan set aside those convictions…The district attorney's office has agreed to accept a plea of no contest to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for Jones' release. Jones has already served 11,875 days, which exceeds the 11-year maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter.

     Jones' case was taken up by the University of Southern California's Post-Conviction Justice Report. It contends Jones' boyfriend, Mose Willis, kidnapped two drug dealers and forced the woman to drive to an alley, where he shot both men. One of them was killed…

     For years Jones maintained that she "did not willingly participate in the crime." A week before the shooting, Willis shot at Jones' daughter, Denitra Jones-Goodie, and threatened to kill both of them if they contacted the police…Law students at USC's Post Conviction Project argued Jones would not have been convicted if the jury had heard testimony on the effects of intimate partner battery, previously known as "Battered Women's Syndrome."

"Woman, 74, Freed After 32 Years in Prison For Murder She Didn't Commit," CBS News, March 25, 2014 

Extreme Biology at Columbia High

     An Idaho biology teacher is facing disciplinary action after killing and skinning a rabbit in class to show students where their food comes from.

     The teacher killed the rabbit in front of 16 students by snapping its neck at Columbia High School in Boise. The rabbit was then skinned and cut up in front of the 10th graders. [Whether he intended it or not, this teacher probably turned 16 kids into vegetarians.]

"Teacher Kills Rabbit in Class," Associated Press, November 15, 2014  

British Versus American Detective Fiction

Most critics date the emergence of the classical detective story with the publication of Edgar Allan Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1841. British versions by such writers as Arthur Conan Doyle tend to place emphasis on style, a few specific locales, and logic. American versions, which flourished from the twenties onward, carry with them a pulpier prose, a larger scope, and a heavy charge of sensationalism.

Lance Olsen, Rebel Yell, 1998 

Excuses Not to Write

Not writing at all constitutes the ultimate triumph of fear. We seldom admit this, however, even to ourselves. We just can't seem to "get around to it." That sounds like writer's block and sometimes is. Unlike blocked writers, however--who try to put words on paper but can't--non-writing writers have stopped trying. "Maybe after I retire I'll get back to it," they may say. Or: "When the kids are grown when I have a better office to write in." Or: "Once I've bought a new computer" or "After I take another writing class."

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995 

James Cain's Rejected Crime Classic

The Postman Always Rings Twice had nothing to do with the mail service. The title was a private joke of crime novelist James Cain. His postman would ring his doorbell twice whenever the many-times rejected book's manuscript came back from a publisher.

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

Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Yiqiang Wu Hate Crime Case

     Army Captain Andrew McClure, during his 14 years in military service that included a combat tour in Iraq, had escaped physical injury. On April 11, 2013, as he stood in the Walmart checkout line dressed in his camouflage fatigues, Captain McClure didn't expect to become the target of an anti-American assault. The incident took place at six o'clock in the evening in Albany, New York.

     In response to something mumbled by the man standing behind him in the Walmart line, Captain McClure turned around to determine if the man was speaking to him.  Forty-seven--year-old Yiqiang Wu responded by giving the man in uniform the finger.

     "Is that for me?" the Captain asked.

     "F---you, American scum," said Wu. "F---you, F---your nation!"

     "If you don't like it here, you can always go home," McClure replied. Before the Captain could turn from the man who had insulted him, the uniform, and the country, Wu punched the Captain several times in the face. Bystanders rushed to McClure's aid. The Walmart customers subdued the attacker until the police entered the store and hauled him away in handcuffs.

     The next day, the Walmart assailant from the Schenectady, New York area stood before a magistrate in an Albany criminal courtroom. Wu was charged with third-degree assault as a hate crime. Following his arraignment, the suspect posted his $5,000 bail and was released. The judge ordered a mental illness evaluation.

     Captain McClure, in explaining to a local reporter why he hadn't used his black belt skills to protect himself, said: "I had the presence of mind to know that we're on camera. I'm in uniform and I have to conduct myself as a professional and not do anything that would tarnish or embarrass the unit or the uniform."

     Yiqiang Wu, in speaking to a reporter, said that he heard voices and suffered from headaches. According to him, whenever he plugged his ears to block out the voices, his middle finger shot up. (I'm hearing a voice in my head right now and it says, "load of crap.") Wu assured the reporter he had no ill-will toward the U.S. military.

      Eight years have passed since this hate crime assault and there has not been one update in the media about this crime. As a result, we are left with questions regarding the disposition of the case. Was Yiqiang Wu found guilty? Was he a Chinese citizen who faced deportation? Was he institutionalized as a mental patient? And more importantly, why did the media ignore this outrageous hate crime against an American soldier?

The "Swiss Cheese Pervert"

      Philadelphia police have arrested a man they believe is the "Swiss Cheese Pervert," who reportedly sexually propositioned unsuspecting women with the dairy food. The suspect, identified as 41-year-old Christopher Pagano, was arrested at his Norristown, New Jersey home. Investigators suspect Pagano is the man who drove up to women on several occasions and offered them money to put cheese on his genitals and perform a lewd act.

     In March 2009, Norristown police charged Pagano with criminal solicitation to commit prostitution and disorderly conduct after a Norristown woman called police to report a man who said he would pay her $20 to perform a sex act on him with Swiss cheese he removed from his pocket. Under a negotiated guilty plea on November 6, 2009, a Montgomery County prosecutor dropped the criminal solicitation charge, leaving the summary offense of disorderly conduct. [The judge fined Pagano $100.]

The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 16, 2014 

Eyewitness Unreliability

     Pennsylvania criminal defendants are now able to offer expert testimony about the unreliability of eyewitness identification following a decision by a divided state Supreme Court that overturned a 20-year prohibition against such evidence. [Before this, only the judge could inform jurors of the dangers of eyewitness testimony in the jury instruction phase of the trial.]

     Pennsylvania will join the great majority of states and federal courts when it comes to letting an expert tell jurors about research into eyewitness testimony. [Going back thirty years, hundreds of studies have shown just how unreliable this kind of evidence can be. A countless number of rape and robbery defendants have been sent to prison on the strength of false line-up identifications. Today, in almost all jurisdictions, eyewitness testimony alone will not, by law, sustain a conviction.]

"Court  Decision Allows Expert Testimony on Eyewitness ID," Associated Press, May 29, 2014 

Lapdog Journalism

I think the principal problem with the establishment press, at least in terms of political journalism, has been excess deference to, and closeness with, the most powerful political factions, precincts over which journalism is, at its best, supposed to exercise oversight and serve as a watchdog. Instead it serves as a kind of amplifying mechanism and as a servant to them.

Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian journalist who published surveillance stories leaked by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden. Quoted in The Daily Caller, December 7, 2013 

The Novel's Opening Line

My favorite struggling writer is the Billy Crystal character in the movie Throw Momma From the Train who spends much of the film trying to write the first line of the book that will free him from his crippling writer's block. "The night was," he writers over and over, never getting beyond those first three words. In the end, comic and harrowing events in his life cause him to throw away the line and just start writing. The lesson is, there is no magic opening line. The magic is what creates the line in the first place.

Loren D. Estleman, Writing the Popular Novel, 2004 

The Glut of Pain and Suffering Memoirs

     The truth is out there. You can't miss it, in fact--it's everywhere. But even as we embrace the twenty-four hour confession cycle of social media, the popularity, and subsequent disparagement, of the memoir reveals our mixed feelings about true stories. We might be lured into tales of harrowing childhoods or devastating divorces, but our internal machinery will monitor the narratives based on the same arbitrary rubrics that guard our own personal revelations (or lack thereof): Is the author honest about his motives? Are her experiences exotic enough to teach us something new? Does he learn a big lesson at the end, or does he tumble off a cliff into a nihilistic abyss?

     Blogs and Instagram and YouTube have rendered brutal honesty and statements of "my truth" about as mundane as instructions on how to dye your hair. Nevertheless, committing your life experiences to the published page is still viewed as an audacious act, one reserved for celebrated authors, public figures, or those who've lived outside the norm and endured horrors untold. For every phalanx of writing instructors exhorting their pupils to write what they know, there's an equal and opposite gaggle of critics urging them to keep their junior-varsity trials and tribulations to themselves. If your pain doesn't equal the pain of the reader, you are merely indulging yourself.

Heather Havrilesky, Bookforum, February/March 2015 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Abuse of Corpse in San Juan

     Even in death, Christopher Rivera Amaro almost looked ready to box, leaning against the corner of a simulated ring. Mourners who came to the wake in San Juan on Friday, February 1, 2014 found him posed afoot, a yellow hood on his head, sunglasses over his eyes and blue boxing gloves on his hands.

     The vice president of the Marin Funeral Home, said the Amaro family wanted to stress his boxing. The funeral home suggested posing him in a ring…The funeral home has staged similar wakes for others. One featured a deceased man riding his motorcycle. The 23-year-old Amaro had a 5-15 record in the 130-pound weight class. Police said he was shot dead on January 26, 2014 in the city of Santurce. No one has been arrested.

"Family Props Up, Poses with Dead Boxer in Ring," Associated Press, February 1, 2014 

A World Without Humor

In 1937, Leo Rosten published a book called The Education of Hyman Kaplan. The novel chronicles the struggles of a group of recent immigrants trying to learn English. While funny and often touching, such a book today would not find a publisher. Many thin-skinned readers, and critics who didn't even bother to read the novel, would consider it patronizing and offensive. Nothing kills humor more than run-away political correctness. A world without humor is a dangerous place.

Crime Novel Detective Types

     In traditional hard-boiled crime fiction, if the hero is a police officer, he'll be the departmental maverick, too honest and decent to engage in office politics yet laser-focused on nailing the perp. Often there's a murdered relative, almost always female, to juice this crusader's motivation. His marriage will have fallen apart because he's too stoic and too devoted to the job to sustain a real relationship. But he'll be devoted to his kid and is a one-woman romantic at heart, even if hardly anybody ever gets near his heart. He'll brood a lot and go home alone. He'll have a temper but a righteous one. He might drink too much or be too ready with his fists, but that just makes him a bit of an antihero, that familiar figure from cable TV dramas.

     It's all getting awfully predictable, which may explain why this reader can't bear to finish yet another novel about such a hero. I've found, instead that the crime novels I open with the keenest anticipation these days are almost always by women. These are books that trespass the established boundaries of the genre by lingering over characters who used to serve as mere furniture in the old-style hard-boiled fiction. They may dare not to offer a solution to every mystery or to have their sleuths arrive at those solutions by non-rational means. Their prose ranges from the matter-of-fact to the intoxicating, and the battlefields they depict are not the sleazy nightclubs, back alleys, diners and shabby offices of the archetypal detective novel, but a far more intimate and treacherous terrain: family, marriage, friendship.

Laura Miller, salon.com, September 7, 2014 

Charles Bukowski's One Sentence Chapter

Chapter 10 of Charles Bukowski's novel, Pulp, reads: "Skip the rest of the day and night here, no action, it's not worth talking about." If Bukowski had been a "literary" novelist that chapter would have been 10,000 rather than sixteen words.

Friday, May 14, 2021

The Impulse Murder

     Murders cannot always be explained or understood. While the majority of criminal homicides are motivated either by greed, lust, power, fear, rage or mental illness, every once in awhile someone takes a life for no apparent reason. These cases are disturbing because there is a need to make sense out of such deviant, violent behavior.

     In 1958, Dr. Marvin Wolfgang (1924-1998) a criminology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, coined the term "victim precipitation" in his classic text, Profiles in Criminal Homicide. 
     According to Professor Wolfgang, in a high percentage of criminal homicides, the victim contributed to his or her fate by being the first to begin "the interplay of criminal violence" such as drawing a weapon, or striking the first blow. In terms of motive, these homicides are easy to understand.

     In his 1967 book, The Subculture of Violence, Wolfgang found that a high percent of criminal homicides are crimes of passion that are "unplanned, explosive, and determined by sudden motivational bursts." These killers act so quickly on their impulses there is simply no time for reasoning or restraint. Homicide investigators are familiar with subjects who have killed people for the smallest of reasons such as a casual argument over an insignificant point, a minor insult, or a mild frustration over something trivial. Investigators call these killings "simplicity of motive" cases.


Stop-and-frisk is not something that you can stop. It is an absolutely basic tool of American policing. It would be like asking a doctor to give an examination without his stethoscope.

William Bratton, NYC Police Commissioner 1994-1996 and 2014-2016

Murder 101

Here's some advice: If you ever have to kill someone, do it alone. No buddy watching your back, no friend with the getaway car, no one swearing you were with them.

Vincent H. O'Neil, Crime Capsules, 2013

The Computer Is Not Always Your Friend

To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer. [Such as the recent pipeline disruption.]

Paul R. Ehrlich, 2002. The biologist is best known for his book, The Population Bomb, 1968.

Creating a Villain in Crime Fiction

Often I start working out a story in terms of its villain. Sometimes he's more interesting than anyone else. I'm curious about what makes a murderer who he is. Was he born missing some human quality? Did his early environment shape him? Or was it a combination of both?

Sandra Scoppettone in Writing Mysteries, edited by Sue Grafton, 2002 

New Journalism Versus the Novel

What I remember about my first years as a published novelist is how eager publishers were, in those days, for new fiction. This may have been because there was no New Journalism. Once it appeared it dealt fiction a kind of double whammy, since the New Journalism used many of the techniques of fiction while keeping the appeal of fact.

Larry McMurtry, bestselling novelist, 1998

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Ebony Wilkerson Attempted Murder Case

     In 2014, Ebony Wilkerson and her three children, ages ten, nine, and three, lived with her husband, the children's father, in North Charleston, South Carolina. The 32-year old mother, pregnant with her fourth child, was losing her mind.

     On Sunday, March 2, 2014, Ebony called 911 and said she had been physically assaulted by her husband. To officers with the North Charleston Police Department, she claimed that her husband had abused her in a Myrtle Beach hotel room. They had been married 14 years.

     Following treatment at a local hospital, Ebony put her three children into her black Honda Odyssey and left the state en route to her sister's apartment in Dayton Beach, Florida.

     The distraught mother's sister, Jessica Harrell, saw signs that Ebony was in the midst of a mental and emotional breakdown. On Monday, March 3, 2014, at Jessica's urging, Ebony Wilkerson checked herself into a nearby hospital for psychiatric treatment. But the next morning she checked herself out of the health facility.

     That day, as Ebony ranted incoherently about demons, the Devil, disembodied voices, and various hallucinations, Jessica called 911 about having Ebony committed involuntarily into a mental facility. Before Jessica got off the phone with the 911 dispatcher, Ebony put her children in her minivan and drove off.

     A short time later, a Daytona Beach patrol officer pulled over Ebony's vehicle. Although the officer recognized that the woman driving the Honda carrying the kids seemed to be mentally disturbed, the police officer let her go. The patrolman didn't think he had enough evidence to take Ebony into custody pursuant to a Florida law that allows manifestly mentally ill people to be detained for their own wellbeing and the safety of others. The officer found nothing specific that indicated that this woman was dangerous, or about to go off the deep end.

     Two hours after the police officer stopped the distraught mother, Tim Tesseneer, driving with his wife on the sands of Daytona Beach, noticed a black minivan moving slowing through the surf in shallow water. As he ran toward the vehicle Tesseneer heard screams and saw two children waving frantically for help. "Please help us," one of the youngsters yelled. One of the kids was trying to wrestle control of the steering wheel from the driver. When Ebony became aware of Tesseneer's presence, she calmly said, "We're okay. We're okay." Obviously she and her children were not okay.

     Stacy Robinson, another man who had seen the car in the Atlantic Ocean, opened a back door and pulled out the nine and ten-year-old. The three-year-old child remained strapped in her car seat. A lifeguard who had joined the rescue effort dived through a front widow and unbuckled the toddler's seatbelt. As the van drifted into deeper water, he handed the terrified three-year-old to a second lifeguard who removed the child from the bobbing vehicle. One of the other men pulled Ebony out of the Honda.

     Ebony and the children were taken to the Halifax Health Medical Center for evaluation. In speaking to a police officer at the hospital, one of the Wilkerson children said, "Mom tried to kill us. Mom is crazy." According to the child, his mother told them to "close their eyes and go to sleep." She had locked the doors and rolled up the windows and said they were all going to a better place.

     On Friday, March 7, 2014, when a doctor released Ebony Wilkerson from the hospital, police officers booked her into the Volusia County Jail on three counts of attempted first-degree murder and three counts of aggravated child abuse. The judge set her bond at $1 million.

     In October 2014, Wilkerson's attorney announced that his client would plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Shortly after that, the Volusia County prosecutor dropped the criminal charges in lieu of an insanity hearing to determine if Wilkerson should be committed involuntarily to a mental institution or remain free on the condition she seek patient therapy.

     The insanity hearing got underway on December 17, 2014. Dr. Antonia Canaan, testifying on Wilkerson's behalf, said that in 2005 Wilkerson suffered from postpartum psychosis after giving birth. According to the doctor, pregnancy psychosis can occur near delivery time or emerge four weeks after delivery as postpartum depression.

     Wilkerson took the stand and testified that she hadn't been aware that her children locked in the minivan were in danger as she drove into the sea. "All that mattered," she said, "was that God was with me. I didn't realize the seriousness of it. I understand now that there were no angels, no demons. I understand now. I didn't hear voices in my head. I now know right from wrong." (This line suggests heavy coaching from her attorneys.)

     At the conclusion of the hearing before Volusia County Circuit Court Judge Leah R. Case, Wilkerson's attorneys announced that their client, to avoid involuntary mental institute commitment, would immediately undergo tubal ligation that would remove the possibility of postpartum psychosis.

     On December 23, 2014, Judge Case, before committing Wilkerson to mental incarceration for up to six months, said, "the court is convinced that the defendant should be involuntarily committed. She minimizes her health issues; she lacks insight into her mental health problems."

The "Witch Hunt"

     The term "witch hunt," used figuratively, applies to a government investigation and/or prosecution of innocent or harmless people. The term has been applied to describe the McCarthy era's hunt for communists working inside our government, and criminal cases involving railroaded defendants later proven to be innocent. An example of a criminal justice witch hunts includes the McMartin pre-school case where Los Angeles prosecutors created public hysteria by falsely and recklessly accusing dozens of California pre-school owners and teachers of child molestation. The wrongful conviction and imprisonment of three young men ("The Memphis Three") accused of satanic murder qualifies as a witch hunt. The members of the Duke Lacrosse team falsely accused of rape is another. People who believe that John and Patsy Ramsey were innocent of JonBenet's murder consider them victims of a police and media driven witch hunt.

     A legitimate victim of a political witch hunt was former California Congressman Gary Condit who was falsely implicated by the media in the 2001 murder of Chandra Levy, a political aide in his office. The scandal, fueled by hack, tabloid reporting by the mainstream media, ruined Condit's political career. Another man was later convicted for Chandra Levy's murder.

     The term "witch hunt" has been so overused by partisan politicians it has lost its meaning. However, because politics and government is a dirty business populated by unscrupulous people, there is always the chance witch hunters will raise their ugly heads and destroy an innocent person's life and career.