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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Bureaucratic Sloth and Indifference

     Before an Englishman named Sir Edward Henry, in 1901, created a method of filing arrest histories and criminal records according to arrestees' fingerprint set classifications, arrested offenders, to avoid detection as fugitives and repeat offenders, simply used different names. The Henry method of fingerprint classification--based upon organizing prints according to their basic patterns such as whorls, loops, and arches--brought law enforcement into the modern era. Notwithstanding the arrival of DNA technology in the mid 1990s, fingerprint classification remained the principal method of criminal identification and crime file organization in American and the rest of the world. (This type of fingerprint identification should be distinguished from the identification of crime scene fingermarks, called latent prints.)

     Thanks to fingerprints and Sir Edward Henry (and Francis Galton before him), no one who enters the criminal justice pipeline should ever be the victim of a misidentification, especially in the modern era of computer science. While this should never happen, it does occur because criminal justice is government, and most governmental operations are sloppy affairs at best.

     In 2011, an investigation by the Los Angeles Times revealed that in the past five years, 1,480 people, wrongfully identified as wanted offenders, were arrested and incarcerated in Los Angeles County Jails. Police officers were arresting people they had misidentified as fugitives; magistrates issued warrants without precisely identifying the subjects to be arrested; and jail keepers did not make fingerprint checks to insure they were holding the people they thought they were incarcerating. Misidentified arrestees were locked-up for weeks, even months before fingerprint checks revealed their true identities.

     Victims of wrongful incarceration based on misidentification, because of sovereign immunity from lawsuits, had no legal recourse or remedy as long as government employees were merely lazy or stupid rather than malicious. One attorney who represented wrongfully held citizens blamed the problem on bureaucratic "sloth and indifference." He was right, there was no other explanation for this. Even for government work, this was below par. Sir Edward Henry, the father of fingerprint based criminal identification and record keeping, would never have imagined this degree of inefficiency in modern law enforcement.

      Technology and innovation is only as good as the people who administer it.

Self Protection Versus Police Protection

     It is a general misconception that the police exist to protect the public. This is true only in the most generic sense--i.e., once a criminal act is committed, and a suspect caught and convicted. Theoretically, he is locked up so that he cannot prey on other people. The problem is that someone has to be a victim before the criminal can be taken out of society. And many offenders commit dozens of violent acts before they are caught. This doesn't even taken into account the fact that the criminal justice system continually releases the most violent offenders.

     Since police are unable to protect citizens from violent attacks, many individuals feel that it is their own responsibility to protect themselves and their families. 

Robert A. Waters, The Best Defense, 1998 

Prosecutorial Discretion

By law and by custom, a prosecutor has broad authority in prosecuting criminal cases, including the option to "screen out" or decide against pursuing a case at any stage. Soon after the police make an arrest, usually within twenty-four hours, the defendant appears before a judge, who determines whether the initial evidence indicates that this person has committed a crime. At this time and until trial, the prosecutor reviews the charges and makes a choice: prosecute, investigate, or go no further. The responsibility of making this call might be the most important one a prosecutor has. As it happens, many cases get screened out across the country for reasons that are hard to divine. For the most part, the exercise of "prosecutorial discretion" requires no formal process or oversight. A prosecutor does not have to explain his or her decision to proceed or dismiss a case and can even rely on gut instinct if he or she chooses. 

Amy Bach, Ordinary Justice, 2009 

Biography As A Prism of History

As a prism of history, biography attracts and holds the reader's interest in the larger subject. People are interested in other people, in the fortunes of the individual.

Barbara W. Tuchman in Biography as High Adventure, edited by Stephen B. Oates, 1986

Northern Noir

 What, exactly, is Scandinavian noir? They're thrillers with a few things in common--a dour sensibility, a belief that political issues (as opposed to, say, lurid serial murders) are the bedrock of modern crime fiction. They often feature forbiddingly bleak settings and what seem to be rather morose police detectives.

Tina Jordan, The New York Times Book Review, July 26, 2020

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Officer James Peters: Scottsdale's Dirty Harry

     During the period November 2002 through February 2012, Scottsdale, Arizona police officer James Peters shot at seven people, killing six of them. From this, one might conclude that Scottsdale, the Phoenix area suburb of 220,000, was the site of daily shootouts between the police and a large population of violent criminals. But this wasn't the case. In 2011, the Scottsdale police only shot one person, and it wasn't fatal. By comparison, the police in Phoenix that year shot 16, killing 9.

     How could one member of a police department made up of 435 sworn officers, shoot so many people in a relatively low crime city? After say, the third shooting incident, why wasn't this man psychologically evaluated, and at the very least, put behind a desk? Moreover, didn't the officer himself ask himself why he was the only guy on the force doing all of the shooting?

     On November 3, 2002, roughly two years after joining the police department, Peters, as a member of the SWAT team, responded to a domestic violence call at the home of a man named Albert Redford. Following a 4-hour standoff, Peters and two other SWAT officers fired seven shots at the suspect, hitting him three times. Mr. Redford died a few hours later in the emergency room. As it turned out, none of the fatal bullets had been fired from Peter's rifle. An investigation by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office cleared all three officers of wrongdoing

     Officer Peters, on March 25, 2003, responded to a call regarding shotgun blasts coming from the home of a distraught, disbarred attorney named Brent Bradshaw. Three hours later, Peters and his follow officers encountered the 47-year-old suspect wandering along the Arizona Canal carrying a shotgun. When Mr. Bradshaw refused to drop his weapon, Peters dropped him with a shot to the head. This shooting was declared justified.

     On October 10, 2005, Officer Peters shot and killed Mark Wesley Smith. High on methamphetamine, Smith was smashing car windows with a pipe outside an auto-body shop.  In justifying his use of deadly force in this case, Peters said the subject had threatened a fellow officer with the pipe.

     Brian Daniel Brown, 28, took a Safeway grocery store employee hostage on April 23, 2006 after he had hijacked a Krispy Kreme delivery truck. After killing this hostage taker, the department awarded Officer Peters a medal of valor.

     Peters and Scottsdale officer Tom Myers were in Mesa, Arizona on August 30, 2006 hoping to question Kevin Hutchings, a suspect in an assault committed earlier that evening in Scottsdale. After Mr. Hutchings fired a shot from inside his house, the officers had the power company cut off electricity to the dwelling. When the armed man came out of his house to investigate the power outage, Peters shot him to death. The city, in this case, ended up paying the Hutchings family an out of court settlement of $75,000. Even so, the department declared this shooting justified, and Officer Peters kept his assignment as a street cop even though he had killed two people in one year.

     On February 17, 2010, Officer Peters and Detective Scott Gailbraith confronted 46-year-old Jimmy Hammack, a suspect in five Phoenix and Scottsdale bank robberies. When Hammack drove his pickup truck toward the detective, Peters shot him. A few days later, Hammack died in the hospital. This shooting, on the grounds the subject was using his vehicle as a deadly weapon, went into the books as justified.

The Killing of John Loxas

     John Loxas, 50, lived alone in a trash-littered house near Vista De Camino Park in Scottsdale. In 2010, police arrested him for displaying a handgun in public. On February 14, 2012, Peters and five other officers responded to a 911 call concerning Loxas who reportedly was threatening his neighbors with a firearm. To complicate matters, Loxas, who regularly babysat his 9-month-old grandson, had the child in his arms while intimidating the neighbors.

     When Peters and the other officers arrived at the scene, Mr. Loxas and the baby were back inside the house. When ordered to exit the dwelling, Loxas, still holding the child, appeared in the doorway. As the subject turned to reenter the house, and lowered the baby exposing his upper torso and head, Peters, thinking he saw a black object in Loxas' hand, shot him in the head from 18 feet. The subject, killed instantly by the bullet from Peter's rifle, collapsed to the ground still holding the baby. Fortunately, and perhaps miraculously, the infant was not injured.

     As it turned out, at the time Officer Peters killed Mr. Loxas, the subject was not armed, or within reach of a weapon. Police did find, in the dead man's living room, a loaded handgun hidden between the arm and cushion of a stuffed chair. Farther into the dwelling, searchers discovered a shotgun, several "Airsoft"-type rifles and pistols, and a "functional improvised explosive device."

     In explaining why he had shot Mr. Loxas, Officer Peters said he had been concerned for the safety of the baby. Peters was placed on paid administrative leave pending yet another police involved shooting investigation by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. Critics of the shooting, including some of Loxas' neighbors, protested the incident outside the police department.

     Except for the Safeway hostage case in April 2006, most police officers, faced with the choices presented to Officer Peters, probably would not have exercised deadly force. This didn't mean that Peters had committed criminal acts, or that his shootings were even  administratively unjustified. It just meant that most officers wouldn't have been so quick to pull the trigger. If it were otherwise, every year thousands rather than hundreds of people would die at the hands of the police.

     Because Mr. Loxas had been armed shortly before the police arrived at the scene, and Officer Peters thought the subject was holding a handgun when he shot him, this case was ruled a justifiable homicide. Whether or not, under the circumstances, the killing of Mr. Loxas was the right thing to do, was another question altogether.
 
     On June 22, 2012, the Scottsdale police board for the Public Safety Retirement System approved Officer Peters' application for early retirement based on some unnamed disability. He received a pension of $4,500 a month for life. Not bad for 12 years of work. No wonder the country was going broke, and people in the private sector resented the government.

     In September 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, on behalf of John Loxas' relatives, sued the city of Scottsdale. The Scottsdale City Council, in June 2013, approved a court settlement of $4.25 million. The Loxas family had originally sought $7.5 million in damages. The city of Scottsdale, in this case, was self-insured up to $2 million, a sum that would have to be paid by municipal taxpayers. Officer James Peters had been one costly cop. 

In Murder, Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

     It might be thought that murder presented as fictional entertainment on cinema and television screens is frequently implausible. Yet in its bizarre, extraordinary and frequently farcical consequences it is invariably bettered by the real thing. Truth really is stranger than fiction…The details of murders…frequently fall into that category where the conclusion is, "You couldn't make that up."

     Murder seems to attract weird behavior beyond the basic elements of one person killing another. Tremaryne Durham, for instance, a murder suspect in custody in the United States, became fed up with the monotonous institutional food he was served in jail and arranged a plea bargain whereby he would admit guilt in return for a chicken dinner.

Robin Odell, The Mammoth Book of Bizarre Crimes, 2010 

Science Writing

Science writing has a reputation for bloodlessness, but in many ways it is the most human of disciplines. Science, after all, is a quest, and as such it's one of the oldest and most enduring stories we have. It's about searching for answers, struggling with setbacks, persevering through tedium and competing with colleagues all eager to put forth their own ideas about how the world works. Perhaps most of all, it's about women and men possessed by curiosity, people who devote their lives to pursuits the rest of us find mystifying or terrifying--chasing viruses, finding undiscovered planets, dusting off dinosaurs or teasing venomous snakes. [Science can also be about fraud, scandal, and greed.]

Michelle Nijhuis, "The Science and Art of Science Writing," The New York Times, December 9, 2013

Hunter S.Thompson and the Decline Of True Journalism

New journalism is a term that Tom Wolfe has been trying to explain, on the lecture stump, for more than five years and the reason he's never been able to properly define "new journalism" is that it never actually existed, except maybe in the minds of people with a vested interest in the "old journalism"--editors, professors and book reviewers who refused to understand that some of the country's best young writers no longer recognized "the line" between fiction and journalism. [If you want to write fiction, write fiction. Don't pretend to be a journalist.]

Hunter S. Thompson in Hunter S. Thompson: The Gonzo Letters, edited by Douglas Brinkley, 2000

Charles Bukowski On Humor

Humor is good when it stems from the truth. In fact, truth alone is often humorous. But the humor of artifice--whose worst device is exaggeration--always makes me a little ill because it is just another con game…I suppose that the worst is Bob Hope with his flip little cute exaggerations and his name droppings. I don't keep up much with the world and he drops these names I never heard of, all supposing to mean something.

Charles Bukowski in Charles Bukowski: Selected Letters 1965-1970, edited by Seamus Cooney, 2004

Monday, June 28, 2021

Criminologist Edwin Sutherland On The Death Penalty

The death penalty does not fit into the system that is being developed for the treatment of criminals, which is individualization on the basis of the character and personality of the offender rather than punishment on the basis of the crime committed. Some criminals, of course, cannot be reformed by known methods, but there are none whose reformation should not be attempted. The death penalty, as a compulsory penalty for any offense, is therefore an anachronism or rapidly becoming such. [What if serial killer Ted Bundy could be reformed, then what?]

Edwin Sutherland (1883-1950)

The Execution of Charles Warner

     Oklahoma's first execution in nine months was carried out at 7:28 Thursday night January 15, 2015. The state of Oklahoma pronounced Charles Warner dead from lethal injection. Warner, who was sentenced to death for the 1997 rape and murder of an 11-month-old girl, had his last minute appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court denied. Less than 90 minutes later he was dead…

     Warner offered a full statement before the execution in which he said that he apologized for the pain he caused by his crime. He said he was not a monster.

     This was the first execution in the state since the execution of Clayton Lockett which did not go as planned. Lockett's execution in April 2014 went wrong when one of his veins failed. The lethal drug was not injected directly into his blood and his death was drawn out. Executions in the state were suspended until authorities conducted an investigation into the process. Changes were implemented…

     After Warner's microphone was turned off, he said loud enough to be heard: "No one should have to go through this. I'm not afraid to die. We are all going to die."

"Convicted Child Killer Charles Warner Executed," Fox News, January 15, 2015 

When the Cure Can be Worse than the Malady

Unusual [exactly how unusual?] but serious side effects with pramipexole [used to treat restless leg syndrome] include impulse-control disorders (compulsive eating, gambling and hypersexuality have been reported). Long-term use of pramipexole is associated with a side effect called "augmentation," which is a worsening in RLS symptoms.

Dr. Keith Roach, syndicated column, June 2021

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Accidental Killer

There are self-help books written for seemingly every aberration of human experience: for alcoholics and opiate abusers; for widows; rape victims, gambling addicts, and anorexics; for the parents of children with disabilities; for the sufferers of acne and shopping compulsions; for cancer survivors; asexuals, and people who just aren't that happy and don't know why. But there are no self-help books for anyone who has accidentally killed another person. An exhaustive search yielded no research on such people, and nothing in the way of therapeutic protocols, publicly listed support groups, or therapists who specialize in their treatment. 

Alice Gregory, "The Sorrow and the Shame of the Accidental Killer: How Do You Live After Unintentionally Causing a Death?" Annals of Psychology, September 18, 2017

What the Best Law Schools Don't Teach

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

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

Alan Dershowitz, Letters To A Young Lawyer, 2001

What an Editor Doesn't Like in a Children's Book

I hate to see [in a children's book] a whiny character who's in the middle of a fight with one of his parents, slamming doors, rolling eyes and displaying all sorts of stereotypical behavior. I hate seeing character "stats" ("Hi, I'm Brian. I'm 10 years and 35 days old with brown hair and green eyes.") I also tend to have a hard time bonding with characters who talk to the reader ("Let me tell you about the summer when I...")

Kelly Sonnack in 2013 Children's and Illustrator's Market, edited by Chuck Sambuchino, 2012 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Dangerous Mothers: The Mystery of Postpartum Psychosis

By the time Andrea Yates drowned her children, she believed that Satan was inside her, and that the only way to protect her daughter and four sons from a similar fate was to kill them and send them to paradise. In the wake of Yate's trial--and in the trials of other women who hurt or neglect their children during bouts of postpartum psychosis--coverage has tended to dwell on the least useful question: How could any sane woman kill her kids? A better question...would inquire about the factors (biological, cultural and environmental) that make some women vulnerable to episodes of acute, severe mental illness in the period after they become mothers.

Kim Brooks, The New York Times Book Review, November 15, 2020

The Good Lawyer

About once a day I'm asked to recommend a "good lawyer" to someone. Often I can come up with the name of someone appropriate with whom I have actually worked or whose work I have observed close up. Sometimes he was my co-counsel or opponent. Other times I may have read the trial transcript of a case in which she was lead counsel. But for many lawyers, all I have to go on is their reputation, and that can be more a product of careful public relations than of proven excellence. I have seen lawyers with great reputations come into court unprepared and do terrible jobs.

Alan Dershowitz, Letters to a Young Lawyer, 2001

The Romance Novel: A Genre Deserving Respect

     The detractors of romance novels--usually people who haven't read any--often say the stories are simplistic and childish, and they contain no big words and very little plot--just a bunch of sex scenes separated by filler and fluff. A common view of romance is that there's only one story; all the authors do is change the characters' names and hair color and crank out another book.

     Critics of romance also accuse the stories--and their authors by extension--of presenting a world in which women are helpless. Romance, they say, encourages young readers to fantasize about Prince Charming riding to their rescue, to think their only important goal is to find a man to take care of them. The books are accused of limiting women by idealizing romantic relationships, making women unable to relate to real men because they're holding out for a wonderful Harlequin hero.

     In fact, rather than trailing behind the times, romance novels have actually been on the cutting edge of society. Long before divorce was common, for instance, romance novels explored the circumstances in which it might be better to dissolve a marriage than to continue it…

     Even early romances often featured working women and emphasized the importance of economic independence for women. While some heroines are indeed young, inexperienced, and in need of assistance, the usual romance heroine is perfectly competent. Finding her ideal man isn't a necessity; it's a bonus.

     Modern romance novels tell a young woman that she can be successful, useful, and valuable on her own; that there are men who will respect her and treat her well; and that such men are worth waiting for.

Leigh Michaels, On Writing Romance, 2007 

The Longevity Of Children's Literature

It's striking how long children's book can last. One explanation may be the way in which they're read. They become part of our emotional autobiographies, acquiring associations and memories, more like music than prose. Another explanation may lie in the fact that children's books are designed with re-reading in mind. For all children's writers are conscious that his or her books may be re-read by children themselves.

S. F. Said, The Guardian, February 16, 2015 

Friday, June 25, 2021

The Devil's Horns Killer

     Caius Veiovis, 34, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, faced up to life in prison after being found guilty of three counts of murder, intimidation of a witness and kidnapping. Veiovis kidnapped and killed three Pittsfield men…The victims were last seen on August 28, 2011 at an apartment shared by two of the murdered men.

     After the verdict was delivered on Friday September 26, 2014, Veiovis told the jurors, "I will see you all in hell." The verdict came after jurors deliberated for more than 36 hours over six days in a Springfield, Massachusetts court. News photographs of Veiovis show his implanted devil's horns and facial tattoos.

"Convicted Killer with 'Devil Horns' Threatened Jurors," Standard Media Company, September 30, 2014  

Jason "Eyeball" Barnum

     A man nicknamed "Eyeball" because of a tattoo that darkened the white part of his right eye [he also has numerous tattoos on his face and bald head] pleaded guilty Friday January 2, 2015 to the [nonfatal] shooting of an Anchorage, Alaska police officer. The judge sentenced him to 22 years in prison.

     The suspect also pleaded guilty to first-degree burglary and third-degree possession of a weapon. The shooting took place when police were investigating home burglaries and car thefts. Officers were inspecting a hotel in 2012 when Barnum opened fire from a bathroom. Two officers shot back, striking Barnum in the arm. One of the officers was injured in the shoot-out. Barnum later confessed to committing thefts and burglaries to feed his heroin addiction…

     At his sentencing hearing Barnum said, "Everybody knows that I'm not the nicest guy. I understand that what I did was wrong. I can't take none of it back." In explaining his criminal behavior, Barnum deflected some of the blame to the Alaska Department of Corrections, saying he left prison in 2010 with nowhere to go and nothing to do. I was living on the streets, and I tried to get a job, but of course my beautiful face didn't allow me to do that." [Eyeball" decided to make himself look like a carnival freak. They didn't do that to him in prison. Today, fast foot places desperate for employees would offer him a bonus to work for them.]

" 'Eyeball' Man Sentenced For Shooting Officer," Associated Press, January 3, 2015 

Interpreting Blood Spatter Patterns

     Drip and flow patterns are the infamous O.J. Simpson patterns that became known worldwide. A drip pattern occurs when a drop of blood drips into another liquid, usually more blood. If a person is bleeding and the drops are hitting an already formed puddle on the floor, a drip pattern will result. A flow pattern is blood that has been dropped in a trail. Though these types of patterns can be caused by other occurrence, they are traditionally represented by someone bleeding on the move, fleeing the scene of a crime.

     Splashed stains are similar to drip stains, though usually a little larger. They result from blood being projected with little force exerted on them and they usually disperse in a radial pattern. Think of splashing in terms of a mud puddle. If you jump in the puddle, the mud splashed in a radial pattern away from itself…

     Projected patterns are associated with a larger volume of blood that is acted upon with a significant amount of force. One of the classic examples of this pattern is an arterial spurt, seen in violent crimes when there is sharp force trauma or, in other words, a stabbing or slashing. If the all-too-familiar jugular vein is slashed, it will most certainly create this pattern.

     Satellite patterns are created when blood that was originally part of a bigger stain leaves that stain through some type of force. A drop of blood that is flying through the air will not separate without another force acting upon it. Think of it in terms of dropping blood at a significant height. When the drop hits a surface, it goes through four actions: contact, dispersion, displacement, and collapse. When blood contacts a surface, it flattens out. If there is enough volume and force to break the surface tension of the blood drop when it hits, it will disperse, sending blood out in all directions. If the force is great enough, it will displace. The displaced blood leaves the original parent stain, causing what is called satellite spatter. Satellite spatter is merely small stains leaving a larger stain. Finally, the blood drop will collapse back on itself with the vast majority of the blood collecting back together….

     Cast-off patterns are patterns that are created by blood being slung off an object, such as a bloody baseball bat, that is in motion or when the object suddenly stops…These patterns are traditionally found in a linear fashion, representing a swinging or chopping motion, and can help define where a person was when the pattern was created…These patterns are one of the three patterns that have caused the most debate among the bloodstain experts…

Jarrett Hallcox and Amy Welch, Bodies We've Buried, 2006  

Living With the Fear of Crime

Crime affects all of us. There is little we do without thinking, however briefly, that we might be victimized. Nearly every time we turn around it seems we risk being cheated, robbed, attacked, or preyed upon in some other insidious manner. Our cities turn into ghost towns at night because we fear to go out. We are afraid to keep jewelry, silver, and other precious possessions in our homes; so we must resort to safes, locks, deposit boxes, and security systems. Fearing sexual assault, women who live alone bar their windows, severely restrict where they go by themselves, and even fear to have their names on a mailbox or in a telephone book. Municipal parks and swimming pools are no longer oases in the asphalt for they have been taken over by muggers, robbers, and drug traffickers. People are threatened with weapons and even murdered so their assailants can grab a few dollars. When we shop for clothes we are inconvenienced by security precautions that limit how many items we can try on, and we are afraid to leave our own clothes in the changing rooms. We fear for our children because the public schools are beset with disorder, vandalism, drugs, thefts, and violence. [And don't forget the pedophiles.] Fear that our medicine or food will poison us is no longer a paranoid's delusion. Such things have happened from coast to coast.

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

Stories Come From Characters

     People wonder where writers get their ideas. Must they first experience what they write? Do they really rush wildly around looking for story ideas? Good writers look for "characters," because ideas grow as freely from characters as apples from trees. Every character grows not one but many fresh, unique, writable stories.

     Writers who want to write good stories or plays must know their characters better than they know themselves. Better--because most of the time we are unaware of the motivating forces within us. Strange but true, it is easier to create a living, three-dimensional character than an unreal, one-dimensional character.

Lajos Egri, The Art of Creative Writing, 1990 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

A Gravesite Theft

     Police charged a woman with stealing an item from a baby's gravesite at Mansfield Memorial Park in Mansfield, Ohio. Detective John Sigler said Frieda Kay Shade, 54 of Mansfield, turned herself in on April 23, 2014. She explained to authorities that she took a stuffed toy animal from the grave of Hayden Sheridan because a dog was running loose in the area and she didn't want the dog to destroy the toy. Sigler said Shade's attorney, Charles Robinson, said Shade will plead not guilty to one count of theft, a first-degree misdemeanor.

     Detective Sigler said several people came forward and identified Shade as the suspect after a video camera the police had set up near the gravesite captured a woman taking the toy. The footage was played in the social media where it received several thousand hits.

     "The video is there," said attorney Robinson, "we're not denying that. But the video evidence does not show what a person is thinking. There are mitigating circumstances. We have sympathy for the child who has expired."

     According to Mansfield Municipal Court records, Shade had made several appearances in court for criminal and civil charges that include passing bad checks, unauthorized use of property, and evictions. Shade had two open cases in Richland County Common Pleas Court in reference to state taxes.

     The parents of the deceased boy believed his grave has been targeted by thieves over the years who have stolen flowers, wreaths, and toys. That led the police department to set up a surveillance camera, the kind typically used by hunters, near the gravesite in July 2012. [In October 2014, a Mansfield municipal judge sentenced Shade to 30 days in jail and fined her $250. Had Kay Shade stolen the toy from a store, she probably not would have been sentenced to jail.]

"Woman Charged in Theft From Child's Grave," The Mansfield News Journal, April 25, 2014 

Speculative Biography

      Of the 16,000 books produced about Abraham Lincoln since his death 155 years ago, not one, in the view of the historian and biographer David S. Reynolds, fits the definition of a "full-scale cultural biography." Reynolds, the author and editor of 16 books on 19th-century America, has set out to fill that void with Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times, a prodigious and lucidly rendered exposition of the character and thought of the 16th president as gleaned through the prism of the cultural and social forces swirling through America during his lifetime.

     More character study than narrative biography, this Lincoln portrait, fully 922 pages of text, goes further than most previous studies in probing the complexities and nuances of the man: his tastes, likes, dislikes, the quality of his thinking, the evolution of his ideas--all shaped and molded by the society around him. At the same time, Reynolds succumbs to a pitfall in drawing conclusions about how particular Lincoln experiences influenced his later thoughts and actions when no evidence for such casual effects is discernible. The author employs speculative language abundantly, as when he writes within one three-page section: "Must have been also saddened by," "could not have been moved by," "could have exposed him to," "must have also been aware," and "appears to have been influenced."

Robert W. Merry, "More Than Just Honest," The New York Times Book Review, November 15, 2020

Attorney Alan Dershowitz On Career Versus Family

We've all heard the cliche that "nobody on their death bed ever regretted not having spent more time at the office." The reality is that there are many people who should regret not having spent more time at work. These are the people who failed to achieve their potential because of laziness or misplaced priorities. We rarely hear their deathbed regrets: "Damn, I should have spent more time working and less time with my ungrateful kids and the wife who left me for a more successful guy."

Alan Dershowitz, Letters to a Young Lawyer, 2001

Children's Books: The Importance of Pictures

      Like most children learning to read, I leaned heavily on illustrations to help me understand and enjoy stories. Images provided a bridge to comprehension when words were little more than mysterious hieroglyphs. But as I became more comfortable with the words and moved on to chapter books and novels in upper elementary school, I missed that extra layer of story the art had provided.

     Illustrations can arm apprehensive new readers with confidence, particularly if they're visual learners. They also offer a space in the story to pause, to reflect on the meaning of what one has just read. To read a book with pictures is to place oneself in those images, connecting more deeply to the characters and their world.

Lauren Castillo, "Animal Magnetism," The New York Times Book Review, October 4, 2020

Novel Readers Want Action

Authors of so-called "literary" fiction insist that action, like plot, is vulgar and unworthy of the true artist. Don't pay any attention to misguided advice of that sort. If you do, you will likely starve trying to live on your writing income. Besides, the only writers who survive the ages are those who understand the need for action in a novel.

Dean R. Koontz, suspense novelist, 2000

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Retail Theft Law

     The laws vary in different states, but in most places security personnel may legally stop a shoplifting suspect once he leaves what is known as the paying area of the store. These laws provide that a retail store or its employees have the right to detain suspected shoplifters. Detaining a person in a reasonable manner for a reasonable length of time is not considered an arrest, and the store will not be liable to the person detained. However, retailers must notify their local police departments as soon as possible. That is if the retailer wants to press charges. Otherwise, the shoplifter can be detained then released after the stolen merchandise is recovered and/or the shoplifter pays for the item or items.

     In most states it is considered retail theft to conceal goods on one's person while still inside the store. The shoplifter does not have to walk past the cash register to be eligible for apprehension. The concealment itself creates a presumption of theft and probable cause for detention.

Why No One Reads Literary Fiction

 ...a novelist tasked with reviewing a scholarly analysis of a novelist's work...is akin to asking the electrician to take a look at the plumbing. Scholars and novelists have fundamental differences about how to understand works of fiction. The best fiction is, to some degree, ineffable [too great or extreme to be expressed in words]--no matter how deeply she digs, the reader of a masterly work cannot precisely explain what she has experienced. [In other words, the novel doesn't make any sense or the reader is just too stupid to comprehend the great author's work.]

Ayana Mathis, The New York Times Book Review, September 13, 2020

A Pretentious Reflection on Books

Books come to stand for various episodes of our lives, for certain idealisms, follies of belief, moments of love. They accumulate our marks, our stains, our innocent abuses--they come to wear our experience of them on their covers and bindings like wrinkles on our skin. 

Richard Baker, Princeton Architectural Press, 2021

The Autobiographical Novel Versus the Memoir

Perhaps everyone has a story to tell, but many never get around to telling them, and many others tell them poorly. Many people have led fascinating lives, but falter when they attempt to tell their stories. Often, this is because they focus on content rather than form. There's a difference between a memoir and a novel. A memoir is supposed to be true. A novel isn't. The difference between fact and fiction. It's a complex distinction, and some writers blur the distinction to good effect. Others, claiming they want to write fiction, really want to write memoirs. If you base a story on an actual event, but refuse to alter it because "that's the way it really happened," you probably want to write a memoir instead of a story.

Robin Hemley, Turning Life into Fiction, 2006

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Bad Times at "60 Minutes"

The verbal harassment I [Ira Rosen, producer and investigative reporter at "60 Minutes"] experienced from Mike Wallace and other TV big shots was, in a word, criminal. I was trapped with Wallace.

Ira Rosen, Ticking Clock: Behind the Scenes at "60 Minutes", 2021

Science and Science Fiction

     There is a co-dependency between science and science fiction. Many scientists and engineers acknowledge that science fiction helped to spark their imagination of what was possible in science…

     Sometimes science fiction authors just make things up, but untutored imaginings tend not to make the best science fiction. As JBS Haldane put it: "the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose." We need scientific input to sustain a rich science fictional imagination…

     Some science fiction writers are (or were until retirement) full-time scientists and academic researchers in their own right. Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, who coined the term "Big Bang", claimed to write his science fiction in order to publish ideas that would not fit into scientific journals. Back in the 1960s, Fred Pohl edited The Expert Dreamers and Groff Conklin edited Great Science Fiction by Scientists, with stories by George Gamow, JBS Haldane, Fred Hoyle, Julian Huxley, Norbet Weiner, and others. Some authors who were originally researchers have been successful enough to quit the day job in favor of fiction…

     Not all science fiction writers have science PhDs. Many of the Golden Age writers had little formal education. James White, for example wanted to be a medical doctor, but couldn't afford the training; that didn't stop him writing the marvelous alien doctors in space series called Sector General. Many science fiction writers have arts and humanities backgrounds, yet manage to write good hard science-based science fiction.

Susan Stepney, The Guardian, January 21, 2015

The Romance Novel's Leading Man

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

Mary Jo Putney,  romance novelist

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

Linda Barlow, romance novelist

There is a place in romance, in my own fantasies, for the laconic cowboy, for the over-civilized power broker, for the gentle prince and the burned-out spy. They all have their appeal, their merits, their stories to tell. But the vampire myth strikes deep in my soul. Deep in my heart I want more than just a man. I want a fallen angel, someone who would rather reign in hell that serve in heaven, a creature of light and darkness, good and evil, love and hate. A creature of life and death. The threat that kind of hero offers is essential to his appeal.

Anne Stuart Krentz, romance novelist

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

Susan Elizabeth Phillips, romance novelist

Children's Books Are Not Watered Down Adult Literature

Children's books are not watered down adult books. They demand certain abilities of their authors, not the least of which is that of being able to tap into the minds and souls of young people and to project the voice of those people to the reader. You, as an experienced adult, have to see things objectively and yet have the ability to recall feelings and attitudes and viewpoints of your early years to the point that you can write about children convincingly.

Barbara Seuling, How to Write a Children's Book and Get It Published, 1991

Monday, June 21, 2021

What is Fentanyl?

     Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid, a respiratory depressant that can restrict the user's ability to breathe. Created in the 1960s to manage pain after surgery, clinical use expanded in the 1990s with the extended release patch for chronic pain, typically caused by cancer. The pain relief is immediate. 

     Fentanyl is now illicitly made in labs and sold as powder or tablets or mixed with a variety of drugs such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. It is cheap and easy to produce and is ten times more likely to cause an overdose than other opioids. 

     Huge quantities of fentanyl from China are smuggled into the United States through Mexico. In the last year, 900,000 Americans overdosed on drugs and died. About half of those deaths involved fentanyl.

Serial Killer Belle Gunness

     She was never arrested or charged with a single crime, but Belle Gunness is recognized as one of the deadliest serial killers in criminal history. Born in Norway in 1859 to a family always teetering on the brink of ruin, she immigrated to the United States at age twenty-one, married, and seemed to be content. In 1896, her husband's confectionary business was failing when two disasters struck the family: their oldest child died suddenly and mysteriously, and the sweet shop was destroyed in a fire. Both were insured.

    Two years later, the family's new home burned to the ground and another child died mysteriously. In 1890, Belle's husband died. She collected benefits on all three occasions. Belle moved her children to an Indiana farm, where she continued her murders for money. Her second husband met with a fatal accident, and many of the farm workers who answered Belle's advertisements were never seen again.

     In 1908 the Gunness farmhouse was destroyed by fire. The bodies of Belle's three children and the decapitated corpse of a woman were found in the basement. Within a month, investigators had started digging up the remains of at least sixteen people and possibly twelve more. Most of the females had been buried, but some of the males had been fed to the hogs. [Belle Gunness escaped accountability for her crimes by dying in April 1908.]

The Monday Murder Club, A Miscellany of Murder, 2011

Charles Bukowski On Not Selling Out

Writing can trap you. Some writers tend to write what has pleased their readers in the past. Then they are finished. Most writers' creative span is short. They hear the accolades and believe them. There is only one final judge of writing and that is the writer. When he is swayed by the critics, the editors, the publishers, the readers, then he's finished.

Charles Bukowski, The Captain Is Out To Lunch And The Sailors Have Taken Over The Ship, 1968

Writing Students Who Can't Take Criticism

     I have had creative writing students who could neither give nor take criticism without getting fiery red in the face and rough in the voice--so sensitive to personal slight that they could neither take it themselves nor dish it out, without a heavy component of hostility. Untreated, that disease can be fatal; even treated, it is uncomfortable.

     If criticism affects you that way, you are very unlikely to "make it" as a writer, because there is no way to learn, except through criticism--your own or someone else's.

Wallace Stegner, Teaching and Writing Fiction, 2002 

Sherlock Holmes Would Have Ridiculed His Creator

Sir A. Conan Doyle's detective Sherlock Holmes was the epitome of rationalism and logic. However, Doyle himself was not. He believed deeply in ghosts, fairies, and other spiritualistic claptrap, and was duped over and over again by charlatans and hoaxers.

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

Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Uncharted Mind of the Serial Killer

     Over the years several convicted serial killers, before they died, bragged about murdering more victims than they had previously confessed to killing. Ted Bundy said he had killed more than a 100 women. Robert Charles Browne claimed to have killed 48. Glen Rogers raised his death count to 70, and Henry Lee Lucas between 60 and 100. Only a few of these post-confession admissions led to the discovery of more bodies.

     Detectives were left wondering if these dying sociopathic killers were fantasizing, intentionally misleading investigators, or coming clean before dying. One thing is certain, no one has ever been able to unlock the mystery of the serial killer's mind.

Public Executions

     For almost 5,000 years of human history, public executions have been an excuse to party, from the mass stonings of biblical times to the drunken festivities at Tyburn gallows in England all the way to the wine-and blood-soaked mobs at the guillotine, that "National Razor of France"…

     America was of course not exempt. Back in 1693 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a bargeman convicted of murder was scheduled to be hanged on July 3. The Colonial Records of Pennsylvania matter-of-factly stated, "There were too few people there to make the affair enjoyable."

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997

Truman Capote: The Master of Setting

This is the opening paragraph of Truman Capote's first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, published in 1948 when he was 24-years-old:

     Now a traveler must make his way to Noon City by the best means he can, for there are no buses or trains heading in that direction, though six days a week a truck from the Chuberry Turpentine Company collects mail and supplies in the next-door town of Paradise Chapel: occasionally a person bound for Noon City can catch a ride with the driver of the truck, Sam Radclif. It's a rough trip no matter how you come, for these washboard roads will loosen up even brandnew cars pretty fast; and hitchhikers always find the going bad. Also, this is lonesome country; and here in the swamplike hollows where tiger lilies bloom the size of a man' head, there are luminous green logs that shine under the dark marsh water like drowned corpses; often the only movement on the landscape is winter smoke winding out the chimney of some sorry-looking farmhouse, or a wing-stiffened bird, silent and narrow-eyed, circling over the black deserted pinewoods.

Truman Capote (1924-1884) 

English: The Crazy Language

Sometimes you have to believe that all English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what other language do people drive in a parkway and park in a driveway? In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? In what other language do privates eat in the general mess and generals eat in the private mess? In what other language do people ship by truck and send cargo by ship? In what other language can your nose run and your feet smell?

Richard Lederer, Crazy English, 1989 

Blending Fact and Fiction

Some writers are intentionally ambiguous about the line between fiction and fact. There's a virtue to allowing authors to filter reality through their imaginations, and that tempering ought to be respected and permitted. I would argue that blending fiction and fact is fine so long as everyone involved in the production of the work knows which is which and the reader is made aware that he's not reading straight fact.

Sarah Harrison Smith, The Fact Checker's Bible, 2004

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Pedophiles and the Catholic Priesthood

A difficult but fair question: Why would a pedophile, a man who craves sex with boys, go into the priesthood? Perhaps such a person truly believes that such behavior is not sinful, or maybe there is hope that once he becomes a priest he will be able to control his perverted sexual urges. The pedophile might become a priest simply because it gives him access to easy prey. While cynical and hard to accept, that may explain it best. How did this all get started, and where will it all end? When will the Catholic Church stop being such a friendly place for sexual abusers? 

Forensic Analysis of Stab Wounds

     Estimating the length of a knife from the depth of the wound it makes can be tricky, because different parts of the body have different degrees of elasticity or give. Abdominal tissue, for instance, is soft, so that a three-inch knife plunged into the gut can be driven all the way back to the spine, producing a six-inch-deep stab wound.

     At most autopsies, a trained forensic eye will take tissue flexibility into consideration and compensate appropriately in estimating puncture depth. On occasion, however, medical examiners forget to take account of this variable and as a result overestimate the length of the killing instrument, sometimes by several inches…

     Stab wounds delivered to the chest do not usually cause such miscalculations. Owing to the hardness of the ribs and the sternum, this area tends not to cave in when struck, even by the point of a dagger. In some cases, it is true, a rib cage will collapse under the pressure of a powerful jabbing thrust. I see this most often on the soft bones of children and the brittle bones of the elderly. But in a robust, healthy adult, the durable plating of the rib cage and sternum acts as a suit of armor, cracking and scarring but usually not breaking against the force of the lance.

Frederick Zugibe, M.D., Ph.D. and David L. Carroll, Dissecting Death, 2006

Film Makers And Our Culture of Violence

A common scene in detective films aired on TV and shown in theaters involves the good guy getting knocked out from a blunt object--often the butt of a handgun--to the back of the head. A few minutes after the assault the detective comes to, puts on his hat, and strides out of the room in pursuit of the bad guy. There is no skull fracture, no blood, no concussion, no lump or double vision. If the hero is left with a headache we don't hear about it because tough guys don't whine about such things. It's inevitable that some viewers, in order to temporarily disable someone, will bludgeon the victim on the back of the head. Quite often the victim of the attack, not being a film actor, will end up seriously injured or even dead. Real life violence has a way of doing that. Who knows how many assault victims are seriously injured and killed because the entertainment industry, for decades, has grossly misrepresents the true effects of violence. A common film scene involves people being punched, and when helpless on the ground, repeatedly kicked and stomped. In real life, if not killed, these battered individuals would be hospitalized and permanently disabled. The film industry has helped create a culture of violence in American society. 

Your Favorite Author

There are writers you admire, for the skill or the art, for the inventiveness or for the professionalism of a career well spent. And there are writers--sometimes the same ones, sometimes not--to whom you are powerfully attracted, for reasons that may or may not have to do with literary values. They speak to you, or speak for you, sometimes with a voice that could almost be your own. Often there is one writer in particular who awakens you, who is the teacher they say you will meet when you are ready for the lesson.

James D. Houston in The Writer's Life (1997) edited by Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks

Stephen King on Fear

How many things are we afraid of? We're afraid to turn off the lights when our hands are wet. We're afraid to stick a knife into the toaster to get the stuck English muffin without unplugging it first. We're afraid of what the doctor may tell us when the physical exam is over; when the airplane suddenly takes a great unearthly lurch in midair. We're afraid that the oil may run out, that the good air will run out, the good water, the good life. When the daughter promised to be in by eleven and it's now quarter past twelve and sleet is spatting against the window like dry sand, we sit and pretend to watch Johnny Carson and look occasionally at the mute telephone and we feel the emotion...that makes a stealthy ruin of the thinking process.

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

Friday, June 18, 2021

Serial Killer Henry Lee Lucas

I told them before I ever left prison that I was going to commit crimes, told the type of crimes I was going to commit, and they wouldn't believe it. They said I was going regardless of whether I liked it or not. And the day I got out of jail is the day I started killing. [Lucas, over a 13 year period, murdered more than 200 people.]

Henry Lee Lucas in The Book of Criminal Quotations, J. P. Bean, editor, 2003 

Archaeology as Forensic Science

As a child, my dream was to be an archaeologist when I grew up, and in a way, my fascination with forensics makes total sense. It's all about taking a shard or a splinter or bit of bone and reconstructing how someone died and lived, and who they were. An archaeological site is really one big crime scene.

Patricia Cornwell, The New York Times Book Review, November 24, 2013 

Writer Envy

    It used to be like a fever with me, a compulsion, a madness: to go into a bookstore, head straight for the brand-new books, flip right to the back of the jacket and see if the author was young or old, my age or even--rats!--younger. Envy is a vocational hazard for most writers. It festers in one's mind, distracting one from one's own work, at its most virulent even capable of rousing the sufferer from sleep to brood over another's triumph.

     Envy is the green-eyed beast. It is a sickness; it is a hunger...It takes what was most beloved--reading books, writing them--and sours it, a quick drop of vinegar into the glass of sweet milk. Even friendships aren't exempt.

Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark, 1994

Dale Peck on "Literary" Writers

As one reads contemporary novelists, one can't shake the feeling that they write for one another rather than for some more or less common reader. Their prose shares a showiness that speaks of solidarity and competition--the exaggerated panache with which teenaged boys shoot hoops in their driveways while pretending they don't notice their neighbor watching from across the street.

Dale Peck, Hatchet Jobs, 2004

Having a Story Doesn't Make One a Writer

Most people secretly believe they have a book in them, which they would write if they could find the time. And there's some truth to this notion. A lot of people do have a book in them--that is, they have had an experience that other people might want to read about. But this is not the same as "being a writer." Or put in a more sinister way: everyone can dig a hole in a cemetery, but not everyone is a grave-digger. The latter takes a good deal more stamina and persistence.

Margaret Atwood, Negotiating With the Dead, 2002 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

America's Last Public Hanging

     The United States has a long history of so-called "legal" public executions. The last one was carried out in Owensboro, Kentucky in 1936 when Rainey Bethea was hanged after his conviction for the rape and murder of a 70-year-old woman.

     Hundreds of reporters and photographers--some from as far away as New York and Chicago--were sent to Owensboro to cover what was then the country's first hanging conducted by a woman. At least 20,000 people descended on the town to witness the execution. Bethea walked toward the gallows shortly after sunrise and was pronounced dead at around 5:45 a.m. that day.

     In 1936, reporters blasted what they called the "Carnival in Owensboro." Many scholars say Bethea's execution--and the coverage it received--led to a banning of public executions in America.

National Public Radio, May 1, 2001

Public Opinion in High Profile Criminal Trials

Why should [trial lawyers] care about public relations? Their job is to persuade judges and jurors, not the public or the pundits. But the jurors come from the same public that would be watching the preliminary hearing on television. And judges, too, are human beings, who are influenced by public opinion.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Reasonable Doubt: The Criminal Justice System and the O. J. Simpson Case, 1996

The English Literary Critic

     Book reviewing in England is and always has been somewhat differently arranged than in the United States. Most often, in the United States, writers review one another's books and there is some sense of generosity born of shared time in the novel-writing trenches. It is more common in England for a novel to be reviewed by what you might call professional book assessors…

     It is perfectly acceptable, and even desirable, in England for a reviewer to show off his talent for eloquent invective at the expense of the author--desirable because it's fun for all, and if a novel is entertainingly killed, that's one less author who will be pulling his chair up to a crowded table.

Jane Smiley, 13 Ways of Looking at The Novel, 2005

The Appeal of Scandinavian Crime Fiction

     The detectives in Scandinavian crime fiction share many attributes with their American and British counterparts. Many are unkempt, unhealthy and sometimes fatalistic characters, but are nevertheless humane and brilliant sleuths. They doggedly pursue the criminal element, usually (but not always) winning the day at the expense of maintaining a normal family or social life. Some are alcoholics whose human interactions are limited to station and squad car. Some even develop relationships with the victims, or even worse, the criminal.

     Key to the appeal of Scandinavian crime literature is the stoic nature of its detectives and their peculiarly close relationship with death. One conjures up a brooding Bergmanesque figure contemplating the long dark winter. Another narrative component just as vital is the often bleak Scandinavian landscape which serves to mirror the thoughts of the characters. Ancient stone and dark shores inhabit these stories such that the landscape becomes an important narrative agent, even a character itself. Readers will also find fascinating the supernatural strain pervading this literature: Ancient beliefs in ghosts, changelings, and other natural spirits thrive in contemporary Nordic noir.

Jeremy Megraw, nypl.org, January 14, 2013 

Tracy Kidder on Narrative Nonfiction

Some people criticize nonfiction writers for "appropriating" the techniques and devices of fiction writing. These techniques, except for invention of characters and detail, never belonged to fiction. They belong to storytelling.

Tracy Kidder in Literary Journalism, edited by Norman Sims and Mark Kramer, 1995

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The Body Bag

     A good body bag gives up no clues. Little about what it contains should not be detected by any of the five senses of the observer. And nothing should be presumed--not even the length of what's inside. Death, after all, changes everything. And unnatural death changes everything absolutely.

     The Office of the New York City Medical Examiner orders about 8,000 body bags each year; Philadelphia's M.E., about 3,000; and Milwaukee's about 2,000. Massachusetts offices prefer shrouds, which are more like plastic envelopes folded and welded at the ends. They order 5,000.

     The same polyvinyl chloride used to make pipes can be woven into flexible fabric of varying degrees of strength. Some body bags will be dragged over long distances of rugged underbrush; others will be hoisted on the rocker legs of helicopters. Bags may need to be nothing more than short-term storage compartments, or nothing less than unconditionally leakproof vessels of somber transport. Zippers can swoop around the edges of the bag or run right down the middle. Handles, rivets and locks are optional.

     These days most body bags are white. That way you don't miss much--the red carpet fiber, the black hair, a chartreuse fleck of paint. You can see a lot, if you know how to look. [With the recent spike in murders, there are body bag shortages in some cities. Cadaver bags range in cost from $25 to $125 and can be purchased from Amazon.]

Michael Badin, M. D. and Marion Roach, Dead Reckoning, 2001

The AR-15

     The Colt AR-15, often known as the assault rifle, has captured the imagination of gun enthusiasts who are drawn to its sleek form, portability and ease of use, as well as a mystique born of its connection to the M-16, its combat cousin from the Vietnam War.

     Part of the appeal of the firearm stems…from the ability to "accessorize it like a Barbie doll," given extras like interchangeable optics systems and gun barrels. Its military pedigree and appeal to hobbyists has helped spur sales of 5 million AR-15s in the last two decades, with most of these buys coming in just the past six years. According to industry figures, nearly one of five guns sold in the U. S. is now a semi-automatic AR-15-style rifle.

     Even with the renewed effort to ban them, AR-15-style rifles appear to have attained a level of cultural currency rivaling the six-shooter that "Won the West" and Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum.
     [In September 2019, Colt Firearms announced it had ceased producing the AR-15 rifle. By then, almost 10 million AR-15 rifles had been sold in the United States. Dozens of companies, however, still make the gun. In 2020, a judge in California overturned the state's ban on the AR-15 as a violation of the Second Amendment.]

Andrew Blankstein, "The Most Loved, and Hated, Gun in America," NBC News, December 13, 2013

The Mystery of Novel Writing

After twenty years and a hundred books, I...realize that I don't know how to write a novel, that nobody does, that there is no right way to do it. Whatever method works--for you, for me, for whoever's sitting in the chair and poking away at the typewriter [now computer] keys--is the right way to do it.

Lawrence Block, Writing the Novel, 1979 [Most mystery writers, including Mr. Block, know that there is a wrong way to write a novel. That would include not understanding the craft of plotting, character development, dialogue, and point of view. There is, however, no way to know how to write a bestselling novel.]

Literary Versus Commercial Fiction

     In general, fiction is divided into literary fiction and commercial fiction. Nobody can definitively say what separates one from the other, but that doesn't stop everybody from trying…

     Literary fiction pays more attention to style than does commercial fiction. It also probes characterization more deeply. It's often slower paced than commercial fiction because added description and character development take up many words. The typical worldview implied by literary fiction is complex and ambiguous, trying to be faithful to the complexity and ambiguity of life. A traditional "happy ending" is possible but not common.

     Commercial fiction can be just as well written, but in an entirely different way. It's usually faster paced with a stronger plot line: more events, higher stakes, more danger. Characterization can range from good to practically nonexistent. The style is usually transparent, which means the writer wants to tell the story in words that don't call attention to themselves, so the story itself--and not the style--receives the attention.

Nancy Kress in Novel Writing, 2002, Meg Leder and Jack Heffron, Editor

Memorable Movie Dialogue

Some movie quotes become popular because they evoke a great film, or a great scene, or a great actor. Sometimes the words of the quote become proverbial--something like, "The natives are restless," or "If you build it they will come," or "Win one for the Gipper!" They enter into the language.

William Goldman in Leopold Todd, "What Makes a Movie Quote So Quotable?" CNN, August 22, 2014 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Plight of the Sexual Abuse Victim

      Our trial system, because it is adversarial, is hard on crime victims generally and particularly brutal for people who file allegations of sexual abuse. Sex crime cases often boil down to who jurors believe, the accuser or the defendant. Since the defendant is presumed innocent, the accuser has the burden of proving guilt. In this system even the slightest bit of information that might cast doubt on the accuser's reputation, motive, or credibility can destroy a prosecutor's case. All a jury needs to render a not guilty verdict is reasonable doubt. 

     Victims of sexual crimes, unlike people who have been robbed or had their cars stolen, are often embarrassed by what happened to them. This is particularly true in pedophile crimes where, under the best of circumstances, it is difficult for victims to come forward. The added potential of having one's personal life opened up like a book makes going public even more difficult. It is therefore not surprising that sex crimes are significantly underreported. As a result, tens of thousands of serial sex offenders live among us, unpunished for their horrible crimes.

Sloppy, Libelous Reporting

     When the Philip Morris Corporation sued the ABC television network for libel over a 1994 ABC report alleging that nicotine was intentionally added to cigarettes, ABC, which was by no means clearly in the wrong, decided to settle the case before going to court. They issued an apology for one statement and agreed to pay legal fees, which had already amounted to $15 million.

     Carol Burnett's 1996 libel suit against The National Enquirer did go to court after the Enquirer published a retraction. Although Burnett's initial $1.6 million award (which was lowered on appeal) was far smaller than Philip Morris's legal fees, it was a substantial victory of a public figure. [For a public figure to win a libel suit, the plaintiff must prove not only falsehood and defamation but malicious intent on behalf of the defendant.] The Enquirer had implied that Burnett had drunk too much at a French restaurant in Washington, D.C., and had "become boisterous," eventually arguing with Henry Kissinger and "disturbing other guests." The Enquirer simply didn't have the facts to back up its story. According to Alex Beam of The Atlantic Monthly, "The case had a plethora of bad facts. In a deposition a Florida-based editor of the Enquirer said that he distrusted the source of the original report and had rewritten the report himself. A reporter testified that he had tried to fact check the item one hour before deadline and failed. Two of the restaurant's employees came forward and said they had told Enquirer reporters that Burnett hadn't been drunk at all." Under scrutiny, it was clear that the Enquirer editors had reason to believe that the story was flawed and decided to publish anyway.

Sarah Harrison Smith, The Fact Checker's Bible, 2004

The Ideal Interrogation Room

     The interrogation room should be a small plain room about eight feet by ten. It should have one door with a small window, covered by material that can be easily removed from the outside to allow officers to view the subject when he is alone. The walls should be of a neutral color with nothing hanging on them. [No distractions.] A table or desk and two chairs should be the only furniture.

     Sit the suspect with his back to the door so he doesn't think about freedom. Sit directly in front of the suspect two to three feet away from him. You must be able to see the suspect's entire body to detect any movement. Never sit across a desk or table from a suspect because you won't be able to see his lower body or hands. [Not only that, a desk or table between the subject and the interrogator makes the suspect feel less vulnerable.] It's better for just one interrogator in the room. [Moreover, interrogators should never be armed or take notes.]

 Albert Joseph Jr., We Get Confessions, 1995 

In Fiction Are There Any New Ideas Left?

In a piece of fiction you have the freedom to make up anything. You have mermaids talking, people come back to life, misers turning into philanthropists, aliens arriving in flying saucers--all you have to do is write it down. And the trouble is, so many writers have. There have been so many ghost stories and haunted-object stories and guardian angel stories that it is hard to be fresh and original. Readers are quick to remember early incarnations and say, "Oh, that's like another story I read." A cliche is a cliche whether from this world or the next. 

Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction, 1991

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Jerry Sandusky and The O.J. Simpson Trials: A Contrast in Style and Justice

     Compared to the 1995 O. J. Simpson double-murder trial, a mind-numbing TV soap opera that dragged on for nine months and ended in an acquittal, former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky's sexual molestation trial, completed in less than three weeks, produced a verdict that made sense. Simpson had a battery of high-profile defense attorneys, who, like the prosecutors and the judge, played to the TV camera in one of the media capitals of the world. The Sandusky trial, held in a sleepy central Pennsylvania town, and not televised, did not last long enough (June 4 to June 22, 2012) for any of the court house participants other than Jerry Sandusky to become infamous. Most Americans were shocked and outraged by the Simpson acquittal. In the Sandusky case, people were relieved by the guilty verdict. The Simpson case represented everything that was wrong with our criminal justice system. While it took too long to bring Jerry Sandusky to justice, once he was arrested, the system worked the way it should. 

     Two days after the Centre County, Pennsylvania jury returned the Sandusky verdict, one of his attorneys, Joe Amendola, hinted of an appeal based upon the Sixth Amendment right to effective legal representation. Although Amendola won't be involved in the appellate process, he believed that Judge John Cleland did not give him and his co-attorney, Karl Rominger, enough time to prepare an adequate defense.

     While it is true that the seven months between the former coach's arrest and trial was, by the sluggish standards of American criminal justice, speedy, Amendola's argument had no merit.

     Attorney Joe Amendola claimed that he and attorney Karl Rominger needed more time to prepare Jerry Sandusky's defense. This begged the question: time to do what? To dig up more dirt on the eight young sexual abuse victims who took the stand for the prosecution? What dirt? All of these witnesses were credible and compelling because they were obviously telling the truth. Did the defense attorneys actually think the jurors would consider all of them liars? Did the defense need more time to find more character witnesses like the defendant's former Penn State coaching colleagues who told the jury they also liked to shower with young boys in the team's locker room?  Perhaps Mr. Amendola had in mind putting boys on the stand the defendant hadn't molested. This testimony would have been consistent with Sandusky's 2011 statement to NBC's Bob Costas that he hadn't molested all of the troubled kids he had helped through his youth organization, The Second Mile.

     In the Sandusky case there was no such thing as an adequate defense. At the close of the prosecution's case, the defense attorneys should have thrown their client to the mercy of the court, begged for some kind of plea deal. 

     In the Sandusky case, Attorney Amendola had nothing to complain about. Judge Cleland allowed the defense the jury they had asked for--twelve residents of Centre County, the home of Penn State University. In fact, eight of the jurors had direct or indirect associations with the school, the biggest employer in the region. If there was ever a trial ripe for jury nullification, it was this one. Moreover, it was fortunate for the defense that the jurors didn't learn about Matt Sandusky, the defendant's adopted son who later claimed he had been sexually molested by the coach.

     If there was a defect in the Sandusky defense it was the defendant. A dream team of defense attorneys, with all the time in the world could not have gotten this defendant off. Attorneys Joe Amendola and Karl Rominger did the best they could with what they had. The evidence against Sandusky was overwhelming, and suggested decades of sexual molestation, and hundreds of victims. Talk of an appeal in this case was ridiculous.
     Judge John Cleland, in July 2012, sentenced the convicted serial child molester to 30 to 60 years in prison.

Governor George Wallace's Prediction

Somebody's going to get me one of these days. I can just see a little guy out there that nobody's paying any attention to. He reaches into his pocket and out comes the little gun, like that Shirhan guy that got [Robert] Kennedy.

George Wallace, TheAlabama governor was shot by Arthur Herman Bremer on May 15, 1972. He survived the assassination attempt but spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Detroit News, 1972 

Romance As the Feminine Genre

     Women read and write romance novels. That writing does not appear in serious literary publications, though, because serious publications do not publish in the genre. These publications might claim they exclude romance novels not because they are often by women or appeal to women, but because they're frivolous, poorly written crap. And some romances are crap. Fifty Shades of Grey is a terrible book, and I couldn't even manage three pages of the last Nora Roberts novel I tried. But there are plenty of mediocre books of all sorts, up to and including literary fiction. Is the self-conscious virtuosity of Jonathan Lethem's As She Crawled Across the Table, with its thunking ironies and predictable magical realist absurdities, really any less formulaic than romance fiction? Certainly the book's exploration of love and creation seems clumsy compared to Judith Ivory's Regency romance, Black Silk.

     I'm sure there are many people--and indeed many women--who prefer Lethem to Ivory. The point isn't that all people everywhere should like what I like. The point is that certain authors and certain perspectives are excluded before a literary conversation can even begin.

     The typical excuse for that exclusion is genre, not gender. But those two words have a common root, and are intertwined in many ways. Romance is seen as unserious and frivolous because women are seen as unserious and frivolous, and romance is written largely by women, for women, about concerns traditionally seen as feminine.

Noah Berlatsky, salon.com, February 25, 2014 

Charles Bukowski On Style

     I've always been a sucker for the simple, bare line because I've always had this feeling that Literature, that of now and the centuries, was largely a put-on, you know, like pro wrestling matches. Even those who have lasted the centuries (with few exceptions) gave me the odd feeling that they were screwing me over. Basically, I feel that with the bare line it could be harder to get the lie across; besides it reads easier, and what's easy is good and what's hard to read is a pain in the ass.

     So John Fante gave me the bare line with feeling; Hemingway the line that did not beg; Thurber the line that laughed at what the mind did and couldn't help doing; Saroyan the line that loved itself; Celine the line that cut the page like a knife; Sherwood Anderson the line that said beyond the line. I think I have borrowed from all of these writers and I am not ashamed to admit it. I only hope that I have added, what? If I knew what I were doing I could no longer do it.

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

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Bathtub Murder

When a person is found nude and dead in a bathtub, it's almost always a woman, and there's a chance she had been drugged then drowned by her husband. Death by drowning in a bathtub can also be accidental, suicidal, or even natural. The detective has to prove homicide, and that can be difficult, particularly if there are no signs of physical trauma and no obvious motive. Who knows how many men have gotten away with killing their wives this way.

Representing the Innocent Client

     In many criminal trials the most important and difficult part of the defending attorney's job comes during the first half of the trial, when the prosecution is presenting its evidence. Discrediting the prosecution's case is at least as important as presenting the defense's own story.

     The guilty defendant often has an advantage over the truly innocent defendant: he knows what actually happened. If he is clever, he can carefully tailor his defense to fit the recoverable facts. The secret advantage for the side of truth and justice is that so many criminals who think they're clever are mistaken. The innocent defendant, on the other hand, usually doesn't know what really happened and is at a loss to explain away the evidence connecting him to the crime.

Michael Kurland, How to Try a Murder, 1997 

The Interviewer/Interviewee Relationship

     Journalist Janet Malcolm wrote a book called The Journalist and the Murderer (1990) about how true crime writer Joe McGinnis, in writing his book Fatal Vision (1983) lived with the Jeffrey MacDonald defense team as they prepared for the Green Beret doctor's murder trial. MacDonald was being tried for the 1970 murder of his pregnant wife and two daughters. The defendant and his legal team had every reason to expect that McGinnis' book would be sympathetic to MacDonald's claim of innocence. The jury found the doctor guilty, and when Fatal Vision came out, the insiders who had invited the journalist into the inner circle of the defense were shocked. McGinnis portrayed MacDonald as a sociopathic, narcissistic, cold-blooded killer who had murdered his family to free himself of the constraints of family life. (Fatal Vision is ranked 97th in Modern Library's 100 Best Works of Nonfiction.)

     In The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm's first sentence reveals an ugly truth about the relationship between the journalist and the people he interviews: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse."

     The following quotes are from other journalists about the art of the interview and the relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee:

It is a very strange way to make a living, to go into other people's lives and scrape those lives for what you can use for your stories and then go out and display those scrapings in front of others.
Bob Greene

Many reporters, especially in the era of celebrity journalism, far from betraying the subjects in their pieces, praise them and cater rather slavishly to them--so that the reporter's fortunes and his subject's rise together.
Renata Adler

The secret to the art of interviewing--and it is an art--is to let the other person think he's interviewing you. You tell him about yourself, and slowly you spin your web so that he tells you everything. (In his infamous article, "Answered Prayers," Truman Capote betrayed members of high-society who had befriended him.)
Truman Capote

I don't even like interviewing people, because I feel once I've interviewed someone, it's much harder to write critically about them unless you bring up every critical feeling you have in the course of the interview.
Norman Mailer

Walking up to a rank stranger who probably doesn't want to talk to you, introducing yourself cold, then making certain that you're the one in charge and what you're conducting is not a friendly conversation but an interview--these are not natural, or even particularly friendly, ways to behave and not a piece of cake to perform.
Beverly Lowry

Janet Malcolm on Writing Nonfiction

I speak about the limitation on a nonfiction writer's scope for invention as if it were a burden, when, in fact, it is what makes his work so much less arduous. Where the novelist has to start from scratch and endure the terrible labor of constructing a world, the nonfiction writer gets his world ready-made. Although it is a world by no means as coherent as the world of fiction, and is peopled by characters by no means as lifelike as the characters in fiction, the reader accepts it without complaint; he feels compensated for the inferiority of his reading experience by what he regards as the edifying character of the genre: a work about something that is true, about events that really occurred and people who actually lived or live, is valued simply for being that, and is read in a more lenient spirit than a work of imaginative literature, from which we expect a more intense experience.

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990

No Such Thing as Writer's Block?

There's no such thing as writer's block. That was invented by people in California who couldn't write.

 Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) British humorist, author

Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Case For Circumstantial Evidence

     When inferences of guilt or innocence are drawn from the analysis of tangible things or circumstances, this physical evidence is by definition circumstantial. For example, a burglar suspect's latent fingerprint on a safe at the scene of a safe cracking is direct proof that the burglar was at the scene of the crime. To conclude that the suspect was also the safe cracker requires an inference. This makes the crime scene fingerprint evidence circumstantial. This doesn't necessarily mean that circumstantial evidence is weak. On the contrary, unless the burglar suspect in this case can otherwise explain his presence at the crime scene, he will be convicted.

     Circumstantial evidence in the form of physical clues and scientific analysis, at least in theory, is more reliable than direct evidence such as eyewitness identifications, confessions, and the testimony of jailhouse informants. In other words, just because a prosecutor's case is based entirely on circumstantial evidence doesn't mean it's weak. For example, the O. J Simpson double murder case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence. Simpson was acquitted, but the evidence against him was strong. 

Children's Picture Books Have Happy Endings

     With little children, the way stories are resolved is critical. The endings of the more serious stories offer comfort and closure to fragile psyches. Little children need to feel safe, to feel protected from the vagaries of a capricious world. Time enough for them to learn about unpredictability and its messy aftermath.

     It's no accident that fairy tales end with "And they all lived happily ever after." Endings such as this give children a sense of security, a feeling they can cope with the circumstances they confront in their daily lives.

Nancy Lamb, Crafting Stories For Children, 2001 

Charles Bukowski on Writer Raymond Carver

I met Raymond Carver one time, long ago. We drank all night. In the morning we went out for breakfast and he couldn't eat. I ate his breakfast and mine. I remember him telling me, "I'm going to be famous now. A friend of mine has just been appointed editor of Esquire and he's going to publish everything I send him." I never got much out of Carver and still can't quite see what the fuss is all about. You asked, so I told you.

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

Craft in Memoir Writing

A good memoir requires two elements--one of art, the other of craft…Regarding craft, good memoirs involve a careful act of construction…Memoir writers must manufacture a text, imposing narrative order on a jumble of half remembered events. With that feat of manipulation they arrive at a truth that is theirs alone, not quite like that of anybody else who was present at the same events.

William Zinsser in Inventing the Truth, edited by William Zinsser, 1998 

Friday, June 11, 2021

Hair Samples For DNA Analysis

Hair is one of the most common items used to get DNA. To get a good sample to use, the crime scene investigator needs the root. The root most often comes out at a crime scene during a struggle when hair is pulled out. Crime scene investigators who have to collect a sample of hair from a rape suspect often choose the pubic area to pull from. Not because they have to, but because it hurts, They'll take a pair of forceps and grab as much hair as possible and jerk it out with excruciating delight. This gives them a good and bloody sample from which to draw DNA.

Jarrett Hallcox and Amy Welch, Bodies We've Buried, 2006      

The Hard-Boiled Detective Genre

     "Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean," Raymond Chandler wrote in his article, "The Simple Art of Murder" which could be called the manifesto of the American hard-boiled detective novel. This man, the detective, "is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of and certainly without saying it."

     It's a worthy aesthetic, and Chandler was certainly the master of it, even back in 1944, when he wrote "The Simple Art of Murder." The essay was a repudiation of the English school of murder mystery--best represented by Agatha Christie--or, more specifically, the countless American knockoffs thereof, genteel, stilted puzzles set in "Miami hotels and Cape Code summer colonies," rather than manor houses. Chandler held up Dashiell Hammett as the exemplar of what he referred to as the new "realist" school of crime fiction, yet Chandler was Hammett's equal, if not his superior in the style that would also become known as noir.

Laura Miller, salon.com, September 7, 2014 

Are Novelists Normal People?

     Is there such a thing as a novelist personality or type? Are there behavioral quirks, personality traits, and emotional temperaments common to fiction writers? Do they fit some kind of psychological profile? Are writers, as some people think, emotionally disturbed egomaniacs? (In the acknowledgments to her book Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life, novelist Natalie Goldberg thanked her typist, her agent, her editor, her acupuncturist, and her therapist.) Over the years, several well known writers have committed suicide. Many of them were alcoholics and/or drug addicts.

     Some novelists openly reveal in memoirs, journals, and letters that they consider themselves, at least in some respects, psychologically strange and abnormal. Such revelations are quite often the most interesting aspects of their life stories.

     In addition to being odd, many novelists have outsized egos and are pathologically competitive. George Bernard Shaw, for example, said this of himself: "With the exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his." (John Mason Brown, "George Bernard Shaw, Headmaster to the Universe," Saturday Review Gallery, 1959)

     Novelists have also shown themselves to be compulsive, whiny, petty, and cruel. When Truman Capote died, his rival Gore Vidal was supposed to have referred to his passing as "a good career move." 

Charles Bukowski on "Groupism"

It is a time of groups demanding their dignity and place under the smoggy sun. Often their demands reveal their weaknesses and cruelties, but the blinkers are on and they only see straight ahead--for themselves. Groupism can be an Al Capone gang or a ballet company. Groupism can be the Catholic Church or the men's track team at Stanford. Groupism means "win" and "win for us." Groupism means "I want mine and by God you better give it to me or else." Groupism is a demand for love through threat. Groupism will not work. Groupism will only create counter-groupism. Groupism, in a sense, isolates more than it frees. [If Mr. Bukowski were alive today even he, the cynic, would be shocked at how right he was about the effects of "Groupism."]

Charles Bukowski, "Ah, Liberation, Liberty, Lilies on the Moon!" 1971 in Charles Bukowski: Absence of the Hero, 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Serial Killers Among Us From the Beginning

Serial murder may, in fact, be a much older phenomenon than we realize. The stories and legends that may have filtered down about witches and werewolves and vampires may have been a way of explaining outrages so hideous that no one in the small and close-knit towns of Europe and early America could comprehend the perversities we now take for granted. Monsters had to be supernatural creatures. They couldn't be just like us.

John Douglas, Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit, 2017

The Harlequin Romance Novel

Employing around 2,000 writers and cover artists, Harlequin Enterprises has created a system that turns the writing of romance novels into a kind of science. With strict guidelines as to length (exactly 192 pages for Harlequin Presents novels), and content (plots "should not be too grounded in harsh realities"; writers should avoid such topics as drugs, terrorism, politics, sports, and alcoholic heroes), Harlequin does not allow much room for pesky creativity that could lead to failure. Traditional romance novels all loosely follow the same general formula: a young and beautiful heroine with a romantic name such as Salena, Storm or Ariana, meets a rakishly handsome man, often older, often darkly brooding, with a romantic name such as Bolt, Colt, or Holt. They encounter difficulties--perhaps she is unsure for most of the novel whether the man is hero or villain--but by the end of the novel they are passionately reconciled. Happy endings are an absolute requisite for the Harlequin Romance.

Tina Gianoulis, Encyclopedia, June 1999