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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Prostitution Is Here to Stay

Although there are social harms beyond private immorality in commercialized sex--spread of venereal disease, exploitation of the young, and the affront of public solicitation, for example--the blunt use of the criminal prohibition has proven ineffective and costly. Prostitution has flourished in all civilizations; indeed, few institutions have proven as hardy. The inevitable conditions of social life unfailingly produce the supply to meet the ever-present demand…There are limits to the degree of discouragement which the criminal law can properly exercise towards a woman who has deliberately decided to live her life in this way, or a man who has deliberately chosen to use her services.

Sanford H. Kadish, "Overcriminalization" in The Criminal in Society, Leon Radzinowicz and Marvin
Wolfgang, Editors, 1971

Football Season!

     It's football season again, and I know I speak for everybody in North America when I make the following statement: rah. Because to me football is more than just a game. It is a potential opportunity to see a live person lying on the ground with a bone sticking out of his leg, while the fans, to show their appreciation, perform "the wave."

     And football breeds character. They are constantly scrubbing the locker rooms because of all the character that breeds in there. This results in men the caliber of famed Notre Dame player George Gipp, played by Ronald Reagan, who, in a famous anecdote, looked up from his deathbed and told coach Knute Rockne, played by Pat O'Brien, that if things ever really got bad for the Fighting Irish, he (Rockne) should tell "the boys" to win one for the Gipper. Which Rockne did, and the boys said: "What for? He's dead." 

Dave Barry, Dave Barry's Greatest Hits, 1988

New York City: Will History Repeat Itself?

[New York City in 1930] was a mess. The city had more than eighty breadlines, and landlords were evicting New Yorkers from their homes by the tens of thousands. Some of these people took to living full time in Central Park, where chimmeyed shacks complete with beds and chairs were regular sights. Far from being a city in which to find a job, New York had become a gathering place for the unemployed.

Travis McDade, Thieves of Book Row, 2013

Comic Books as American War Propaganda

In World War II and the Cold War, government agencies recognized how powerful comic books were and exploited the medium to sell the idea of America across the world. Although by 1954, legislators had become alarmed by the violent and sexual content of comics, and stepped in to force the industry to self-regulate. Other parts of the federal government saw potential in the medium's reach and appeal, and exploited it. The Writer's War Board and, later, agencies within the State Department found ways to use comic books to sway hearts and minds across the globe toward the objectives of the American government. 

Rebecca Onion, Slate, August 27, 2021

A Question of Journalistic Ethics

     An Ohio media outlet sparked outrage after it published a report on the criminal past of the father of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy fatally shot by police in November 2014 at a Cleveland recreation center. Rice died holding an Airsoft pellet gun. Police were responding to a 911 call about someone pointing a handgun. The caller said the gun was "probably fake" and "I don't know if it's real or not."

     The article, "Tamir Rice's Father Has History of Domestic Violence," was written by Northeast Ohio Media Groups's Brandon Blackwell and published on the website for the Cleveland Plain Dealer on November 26, 2014. The relevance of the criminal past of Rice's father is not explained in the reporting nor does it appear to have anything to do with the shooting…

"Why Was Tamir Rice's Dad's Criminal History Reported?" mediaethics.com, December 4, 2014 

Monday, August 30, 2021

Jail Versus Prison

Jail is the place where people awaiting trial are detained or where those convicted of minor offenses (usually those calling for detention of thirty days or under) are kept. Prison is a facility for housing those found guilty of major crimes…Prison is another term for penitentiary. 

Rod L. Evans, The Artful Nuance, 1997 

Sherlock Holmes' Mind

My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere..I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession--or rather created it--for I am the only one in the world."

Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Sign of Four," 1890. 

Spilled Blood in Crime and Literature

     Blood is the great bedrock of forensic science, the foundation of murder detection itself. When a body is found, very often death from natural causes can be assumed. But if blood is discovered on the corpse, the the ugly question of murder arises.

     Most murders involve the spilling of blood, and from earliest times the written records abound with references to that red substance which pumps through all our veins and arteries. The Bible is full of allusions to blood: the spilling of blood, blood sacrifice and so on. Shakespeare too had his way with blood--blood feuds, ties of blood, blood-lust, blood money--and who can forget Lady Macbeth's obsession with the blood of her victim? [More recently, the popular TV series "Dexter" (2006-2013) featured a protagonist, Dexter Morgan, who was by day a police blood spatter analyst and by night a serial killer who targeted evil people who had evaded criminal justice.]

Brian Marriner, On Death's Bloody Trail, 1991

The Celebrity "Author"

For some reason, celebrity authors [whose books are ghost written] always assume that the hard part of writing is the thinking, whereas the truth, as every professional writer knows, is that the actual writing is what's difficult--thinking comes easy, by comparison, and nothing exists until it has been put down on paper.

Michael Korda, Another Life, 1999

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Bertrand Russell's Famous Quote

A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) British academic, philosopher 

Isaac Bashevis Singer On The Loss of Nonconformity

Isaac Bashevis Singer, the winner of the 1978 Nobel Prize for Literature said this about the United States during the 1980s: "The media are so omnipresent in this country. We are fooled by myriads of generalizations and by floods of propaganda." Mr. Singer, in lamenting the decline of diversity of thought and nonconformity among writers and academics famously said, "Only small fish swim in schools."

Marvin Mondlin and Roy Meador, Book Row, 2003 

Grade Inflation

The university where I teach has a policy that grades ending in 8 or 9 receive a "+" designation (78 is a C+, 89 is a B+. etc.). A student received his final grade and was adamant that I let off the plus sign. I looked up the grade. The kid got a 58. I told him he had failed the course. "I know," he said. "But I earned an F+, not an F." "You want me to change this to an F+?" I asked. He said yes and left happy when I agreed.

David Barman, Reader's Digest, September 2021

Dublin: The City of Crime Writers

     You'd be hard pushed to find a city more invested in books and literature than Dublin. Of course none other than James Joyce himself took a keen interest in crime and punishment--the 1803 execution of Robert Emmet for revolutionary activities, was just one famous trial whose details percolate through the narrative of Ulysses, while the Maamtrasna murders of 1882 which led to the execution of a peasant called Miles Joyce (wrongly convicted) is a significant theme in Finnegan's Wake. Joyce liked to attend trials. In 1889 he spent three days watching the trial in Dublin of Samuel Childs for the brutal murder of his brother, a crime (for which Childs was acquitted after a spectacular defense by Seymour Bushe). It is alluded to in Ulysses when a man tells Simon Dedalus, "That is where Childs was murdered..."
     Today, crime writing is a strong strand of Dublin's continuing literary tradition. Every discussion currently concerning the genre starts with Tana French who, though American-born, has lived in Ireland since her university days at Trinity College. The Irish Independent has dubbed her "The First Lady of Irish Crime" and her Dublin Murder Squad series, which began in 2007 with In the Woods (the novel that also forms the basis for the recent TV show, Dublin Murders), now has six installments. They are all bestsellers--In the Woods, which combines a psychological thriller with a police procedural, with now well over a million copies. The novel follows Dublin detectives Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox investigating the murder of a 12-year-old girl. The series revolves around the various members of the Dublin Murder Squad, with each team member taking centre stage in each book. The Likeness (2008) sees Maddox working with undercover ops cooper Frankie MacKay. Book 3 Faithful Place (2010) then focuses on a murder investigation led by Mackay. Broken Harbor (2012) follows Dublin's ace detective, "Scorcher"  Kennedy on a case while his life is in meltdown. The Secret Place (2014) and the most recent addition to the series, The Trespasser, (2016) continue the theme and follow other team members.
Paul French, "Dublin: A City of Books, and a City With a Serious Crime Fiction Tradition," CrimeReads, August 3, 2020.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Heath Bumpous: The Bungling Love Bandit

      Heath Bumpous had a problem. The 30-year-old resident of Crockett, Texas, a town 120 miles north of Houston, was getting married, but he didn't have enough money to pay for the wedding venue or a ring for his fiancee.

     On Friday, October 4, 2019, the day before the wedding, Heath Bumpous decided to raise money by robbing a bank. Why not? John Dillinger had done it, Willie Sutton had done it, and now Heath Bumpous would do it. How hard was it to rob a bank? (Someone should have told Mr. Bumpous that robbing the bank was the easy part, not getting caught was another matter.)

     Heath Bumpous decided to rob the Citizens State Bank in nearby Groveton, Texas. When John Dillinger and Willie Sutton robbed a bank, they approached the place in a stolen car with a get-away driver behind the wheel. Mr. Bumpous didn't have an accomplice, and he drove to the bank in his own car. Moreover, he didn't bother to conceal his identify with a ski-mask or even a fake mustache. Heath Bumpous was keeping it simple.

     At the service counter, Mr. Bumpous didn't make a dramatic statement like "This is a stickup!" He simply told the teller he had a gun and wanted the money in cash. (Did he think they'd give him a check?)

     Before casually walking out of the bank with the undisclosed amount of money, the bank surveillance camera captured a good likeness of the robber.

     Because the sheriff's office was just 500 feet from the Citizens State Bank, it didn't take police officers very long to respond to the scene where they looked at the bank's surveillance camera footage.

     Shortly after the holdup, a picture of the robber showed up on Facebook. The future Mrs. Bumpous just happened to be checking her Facebook page when she saw the bank surveillance photograph of her fiancee. It's hard to imagine what went through her mind when she saw the man she was about to marry robbing a bank.

     Heath Bumpous' fiancee contacted him by cellphone, and what followed must have been one of the strangest pre-wedding bride/groom conversations in history. Two hours after Bumpous' fiancee solved the bank robbery case, Heath Bumpous surrendered to the authorities. (She was not, obviously, Bonnie to his Clyde.)

     Instead of a festive wedding and a nice ring, the would-be bride ended up with a fiancee behind bars and a guy who will go down in crime history as the Bungling Love Bandit. In place of an album full of wedding pictures she ended up with a bank surveillance photograph and a mugshot.

     Sometimes things don't go as planned. (I could not find the disposition of this case on the Internet.)

Jack The Ripper as a Tourist Attraction

Jack the Ripper is considered by many to have ushered in the concept of serial murder even though such a form of killing has been on the Earth for hundreds of years. The Ripper's twisted sense of humor and his brutal method of killing and dismemberment brought to bear the attention of the world. To this day, tourists go to Whitechapel [East London] to retrace the footsteps of Jack the Ripper. [In America, crime tourists travel to Fall River, Massachusetts to stay in Lizzie Borden's old house which is now a B & B.]

Eric W. Hickey, Serial Murderers and Their Victims, Fourth Edition, 2006

The Suicide of Ross Lockridge Jr.

     A good many creative writers are high-strung, strung-out emotional wrecks. A lot of them are really odd. Many slip into despair, some go mad, and a number get hooked on booze or drugs. More than a few have ended their lives with suicide.

     To writers who are more or less normal, there is nothing more morbidly fascinating than the tormented life and self-inflicted death of a fellow author. Ross Lockridge Jr. is a case in point. In February 1949, about a year after the publication of his first book, Raintree County, a bestselling Book-of-the Month-Club selection, the 33-year-old writer gassed himself to death in his garage while seated in his newly purchased car.

     Journalist Nanette Kutner, who had interviewed Lockridge six months before his suicide, wrote this after his death: "He was no one-book author; he never would have been content to live as Margaret Mitchell [Gone With the Wind] lived. But he could not find a remedy for the letdown that invariably comes after completing a big job, the letdown [Anthony] Trollope understood so well he never submitted a novel until he was deep into the next."

     Do writers end their lives more often than people in other lines of work? There is no way to know if writers are particularly prone to suicide. Experts say that statistics on suicide by occupation are not clear on this issue because there is no national data base on line of work and suicide. Experts also believe that because occupation is not a major predictor of suicide, this aspect of life doesn't fully explain why people kill themselves. Since writing, for many authors, is more of a way of life than a profession, and is practiced by a lot of unstable people, it probably is a relevant variable.

     Well-known writers who have killed themselves include: John Berryman, Richard Brautigan, Hart Crane, John Gould Fletcher, Romain Gary, Ernest Hemingway, William Inge, Randall Jarrell, Jerry Kosinski, Primo Levi, Vachel Lindsay, Jack London, Malcolm Lowry, Charlotte Mew, Cesare Pavese, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Hunter S. Thompson, John Kennedy Toole, David Foster Wallace, and Virginia Wolff. And this list does not include writers who have killed themselves with alcohol and drugs.

The Educated Novelist

     It is true that some writers have kept themselves more or less innocent of education, that some, like Jack London, were more or less self-made men; that is, people who scratched out an education by reading books between work-shifts on boats, in logging camps or gold camps, on farms or in factories. It is true that university education is in many ways inimical to the work of the artist: Rarely do painters have much good to say of aetheticians or history-of-art professors, and it's equally uncommon for even the most serious, "academic" writers to look with fond admiration at "the profession of English." And it's true, moreover, that life in the university has almost never produced subject matter for really good fiction. The life has too much trivia, too much mediocrity, too much soap opera, but consider:

     No ignoramus--no writer who has kept himself innocent of education--has ever produced great art.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, originally published in 1983. Gardner (1933-1982) was a literary novelist, critic, and English professor at the University of Southern Illinois. He died young in a motorcycle accident. 

Friday, August 27, 2021

The Professional Plaintiff

     A Brooklyn jury awarded more than $500,000 to a man who sued the city for a broken ankle he suffered during an arrest for shoplifting. The jury awarded Kevin Jarman the damages on July 16, 2014. The 50-year-old Jarman filed the suit after pleading guilty to shoplifting at a Queens, New York Pathmark in 2011.

     The New York Post reported that Jarman had received other payouts from the city. In 2005, he sued the New York Police Department for false arrest after a drug sale charge was dropped. The city settled for $15,000. In June 2014, the city settled for $20,000 after Jarman sued the police for false arrest in another drug case.

"NYC Shoplifter Awarded $510,000 From Jury For Broken Ankle," Associated Press, July 17, 2014 

Useless Writing Advice

Over and over since I've been working on this book, I've been making notes to myself: Don't forget to tell about eating raw broccoli or drinking black coffee or dancing around the room to raise your energy level. Or, should I mention that a very famous novelist masturbated thirteen times a day when she was writing--should I pass that information on? [No, you should not pass that information on because it's pretentious and not helpful.]

Carolyn See, Making a Literary Life, 2002

Mickey Spillane on the Mystery Novel

Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore. The first page sells the book. The last page sells your next book.

American mystery writer Mickey Spillane (1918-2006)

Let Your Writing Flow

Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.

Louis L'Amour (1908-1988), best known for his western novels 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

American's Losing Their Taste For The Death Penalty

     Annual U.S. executions peaked at 98 in 1999 before steadily declining, the Death Penalty Information Center reports. With public support waning, executions fell to 17 in 2020, including 10 federal executions, the first in 17 years.
     Likewise, capital cases and convictions have decreased. In the mid 1990s, U.S. courts imposed more than 300 death row sentences a year; last year the number dropped to 18.
Greg Row and Robert Dunham, August 2021

A Nation of Sociopaths

     It was Joe McGinniss, in his 1984 book Fatal Vision, who introduced the general public to sociopathy, a personality disorder found in normal looking and acting people who commit cold-blooded murder. "Fatal Vision" explores the sociopathic personality of Dr. Jefferey MacDonald, an Army physician convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two small children.

     In the true crime genre, the 1980s became the golden era of books about serial killers, all of whom were sociopaths. Readers and TV viewers became familiar with FBI profilers John Douglas, Robert Ressler, and Roy Hazelwood, the founders of the FBI's Psychological Behavioral Unit housed at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia. Through hundreds of books and true crime television shows, serial killers such as Ted Bundy, Jefferey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) became household names. Dr. Park Dietz, a high-profile forensic psychiatrist, author and expert witness, educated the public on the most common traits found in the sociopathic personality which include: narcissism, lack of empathy, pathological lying, the inability to admit guilt, the belief they are smarter than everybody, and the belief they are above society's rules of behavior and laws. 

     Now, when people discuss sociopathy, it is not always in the context of criminal behavior. That's because not all people with sociopathic qualities are serial killers and/or rapists. Recently there have been numerous articles about how to identify a sociopathic person, what professions tend to attract them (politics, journalism, business, and law) and how to deal with these difficult people.

     Nobody knows for sure if sociopaths are born or made, but they seem to be multiplying. Perhaps it's our celebrity culture where rich and famous people are worshiped regardless of how they achieved their wealth and fame. The lesson here seems to be: If you want something bad enough, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it, you will succeed because you are special and deserve to get what you want.

    Many young people, if they don't realize their dreams of wealth and fame become despondent and morose. They live the rest of their miserable lives blaming "society" for their lost opportunities. Some of them turn to drugs, alcohol and crime.

Jack Olsen on Writing About Rapists and Serial Killers

I start every book with the idea that I want to explain how this seven or eight pounds of protoplasm went from his mommy's arms to become a serial rapist or serial killer. I think that a crime book that doesn't do this is pure pornography.

Jack Olsen, Seattle Post-Intelligence, July 19, 2002 

Mystery Novelists Must be Prolific

A mystery writer who waits patiently for a mood to encompass him, for an idea to strike, may find starvation, or other employment, striking first. The professional in this field cannot write one book every three or four years. Three or four a year would be more like it.

Richard Lockridge in Writer's Book, edited by Helen Hull, 1950. Lockridge (1898-1982) and his wife Francis created one of the most famous American mystery series, Mr. and Mrs. North.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Coerced Guilty Plea

According to a 2019 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, of the 80,000 federal prosecutions initiated in 2018, just two percent of the cases went to trial. In the state system, 94 percent of criminal prosecutions were resolved through the plea bargaining process. People who have studied this aspect of the criminal justice system believe that too many suspects charged with a crime are coerced into pleading guilty. They are told that if convicted, with their criminal records, they could serve long prison sentences, but if they plead guilty, they might get probation or just a few months behind bars. So why take the chance? No one knows how many of these people were actually innocent.

Historical True Crime

The highlight of any true crime book is the sleuthing and the detective. Historical investigations might be easier to understand than modern investigative techniques. Who can understand two expert witnesses arguing about the validity of the new generation of DNA tests, for instance? Historical, easy-to-follow criminal investigations might shift the book's appeal to the intellectual puzzle of solving the crime with traditional techniques.

Ann Marie Ackermann, Historical True Crime Blog

The Murder Genre

I define a true crime book as one involving murder. It's not about art theft, it's not about government cover-up. It's really a case involving murder in which there's an investigation and usually a trial. The best true crime books give you some insight into the characters, usually the character of the killer, and the situation that produced the crime.

Charles Spicer in Mystery Writer's Market Place and Sourcebook, edited by Donna Collingwood, 1993

Point Of View in Children's Books

This is not a hard and fast rule, but generally younger children's books are written with a single point of view. This means the story is told through the eyes and thoughts of the main character. Don't tell the reader the thoughts or feelings of any character except through their speech and actions. [No internal monologues.]

Bethany Robers, bethanyroberts.com, 2001

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

What Is Justifiable Homicide?

     There is no crime called "homicide." It is simply an umbrella term that includes various types of lawful homicide [executions, valid police involved shootings, and self defense as well as unlawful homicide that includes involuntary manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter, felony-murder, second-degree murder, and first-degree murder]. The categories of lawful homicide are awfully narrow. One of them is justifiable homicide, which applies mainly to self-defense but can also apply to the defense of one's home from intruders. The latter is known as the castle defense…In such cases, the killing is intentional but "justified" by the circumstances.

     When the act of killing is truly unintentional [as opposed to reckless] the law calls this excusable homicide. Despite the name, it is not enough to say "excuse me" to the victim in order to fit into this category. Rather, the defendant must show that the killing was accidental; for example, when a driver hits a pedestrian who ran into the street without warning. [However, if a drunken driver accidentally runs over this person, it might constitute involuntary manslaughter.]

Adam Freedman, The Party of the First Part, 2007

The Misery Profession

You can't envy writers who were persecuted, imprisoned or put to death for their writing. You can't envy writers whose greatness went unacknowledged in their lifetimes. The careers of alcoholic writers and writers who ended up committing suicide are also hard to covet in any wholehearted way. Even the steadiest-seeming, most successful writers tend, on close examination, to have suffered significant and distinctly unenviable episodes of professional misery at some point in their careers. Self-doubt and self-loathing are occupational hazards of a writing life, and no writer--with the exception of the awesomely sanguine John Updike--ever escapes them altogether.

Zoe Heller, The New York Times Book Review, June 8, 2014

The Role Played by Literary Agents

     If your aim is to land a contract with one of the major book publishing houses, you probably will need an agent to represent your work. About 80 percent of the books these conglomerates publish are purchased through agents. Some of the largest houses won't even consider submissions from unrepresented writers; when they get manuscripts directly from the author, the author usually gets a short form note advising him to get an agent.

     The advantage to the big publishers in dealing only with agents is that agents know what editors are looking for and won't submit work that isn't salable. The agent's reputation, and therefore his ability to succeed as an agent, rides on submitting only the best--not just in terms of ideas, but also in terms of presentation and research--to only those editors who are appropriate for the project. The publisher saves enormous time and expense by allowing agents to do the work of shifting through submissions to find the real gems.

Meg Schneider and Barbara Doyen, Get Published, 2008

Nitpicking Literary Critics

I hate orthodox literary criticism, the usual small niggling, fussy-mussy criticism, which thinks it can improve people by telling them where they are wrong, and results only in putting them in straitjackets of hesitancy and sapping all vision and bravery.

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, 1997 

Monday, August 23, 2021

The Crime Victim's Plight

     In our criminal justice system, when one commits a crime, it's not against the victim of that offense, but against the state. This legal fiction is derived from English common law where all crime was against the king. The crime-against-the-state concept means that real victims of crime have no say in how or if their cases are prosecuted, or even if they are investigated. The system is completely under the control of police and prosecutors. As a result, many victims of crime are victimized twice, first by the criminal, and then by the legal system.

     The small percentage of crimes that lead to someone's arrest are usually offenses that require little or no investigation. Criminal investigators hate mysteries, and prosecutors avoid complicated, difficult cases that may not result in convictions. At least 90 percent of this country's criminal convictions are the result of plea bargains. Over the years, fewer and fewer criminal cases go to trial. As a result, very few convicted criminals end up in prison for the crimes they have actually committed. For example, criminals who commit aggravated assault plead guilty to simple assault, rapists plead to lesser sexual offenses, and murderers go to prison for voluntary manslaughter.

     Usually the victims of crime, when it comes to their criminal cases, are ignored and kept in the dark. The only time they play a role in determining the fate of the people who victimized them is when they are called to testify on behalf of the prosecution. This, of course, exposes them to grueling cross-examinations by aggressive defense attorneys. In many rape cases, it's the victim who ends up on trial.

     Among the most abused victims of crime are children who satisfy the perverted sexual urges of America's huge pedophile population. The victims of these sexual predators are thrown to the wolves by organizations like the Catholic Church and The Boy Scouts of America who are more interested in self-preservation than child protection and criminal justice. Because their victims are powerless, intimidated children, only a small percentage of pedophiles end up in prison. And when some of these degenerates are eventually identified, the passage of time makes it impossible to prosecute them.

     For people who live in cities where district attorneys no longer prosecute what they consider low-level crime, the likelihood of being harassed in the street by a homeless person begging for drug money, having one's car broken into, or losing a wallet or purse to a mugger, increases dramatically. The crime rates in these decriminalized cities has skyrocketed. In places like Los Angeles, News York, Seattle, Chicago, and Philadelphia, these "progressive" prosecutors blame society for driving poor, oppressed criminals into lives of crime. In other words, the victims of crimes are not only ignored, they are blamed for their own victimhood.

     Crime victims, particularly in cases of celebrated offenses, are brutalized by the media. This is because in America, true crime sells newspapers and books and attracts television viewers. The more horrific the crime, the more value it has as entertainment.

     In the late Twentieth Century, attempts to provide victims a larger say in the criminal justice process led to the formation of a variety of victim's rights organizations that lobbied for such reforms as victim impact statements at sentencing hearings, victim compensations funds, and notification rules that require the authorities to notify crime victims of the early release of prisoners.

     The crime victim's plight is not limited to the way our criminal justice system works. Society itself, particularly with regard to murder cases, does not fully know how to deal with, or fully understand, the profound and prolonged suffering of murder victims' families. This reality has led to the formation of victim support groups like Parents of Murdered Children, an organization with chapters across the country.

     While crime victims today have it slightly better than before, most of the attention and concern among politicians, defense attorneys, and academics, is directed at the criminal. For example, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders believes that even convicted terrorists should be allowed to vote. Nancy Pelosi took offense when Donald Trump referred to MS 13 gang members as "animals." 
     Criminal justice reform legislation usually ends up letting more criminals out of prison. When too many Americans break our drug laws, state legislators across the country make more drugs legal. And while it's hard to believe, there are attorneys in the country who devote their entire careers to saving the lives of death row inmates who have committed unspeakable crimes. Meanwhile, the families of victims who were tortured, raped and murdered by these criminal sociopaths are ignored.

Arson Motives

   The identification of the fire setter's motive can help establish if the fire was a single event of fire setting or a series of fire setting behavior. Repetitive fire setting is broken down into three classifications: serial arson, spree arson and mass arson. Serial arson is as many as three fires set at different locations with a cooling off period in between. Spree arson is as many as three fires at different location with no cooling off period between fire sets. Mass arson is many fires set at the same time at the same location.

     There are six motive classifications for arson:

l. Vandalism [includes many school fires]
2. Excitement [which includes sexual gratification]
3. Revenge [also referred to as anger fires]
4. Crime concealment [murder, embezzlement]
5. Profit [usually insurance fraud]
6. Extremism [environmental extremists who set fire to saw mills]

Robert Disbrow Jr., Firehouse Magazine, December 13, 2010 

Movies, TV Series, and the Novel

     Movies have always seemed to me a much tighter form of storytelling than novels, requiring greater compression, and in that sense falling somewhere between the short story and the novel in scale. To watch a feature film is to be immersed in its world for an hour and a half, or maybe two, or exceptionally three. A novel that takes only three hours to read would be a short novel indeed, and novels that last five times as long are commonplace.

     Television is more capacious. Episode after episode, and season after season, a serial drama can uncoil for dozens of hours before reaching its end. Along the way, its characters and plot have room to develop, to change course, to congeal. In its near limitlessness, TV rivals the novel.

Mohsin Hamid, The New York Times Book Review, March 2, 2014

George Orwell on the Writer's Curse

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English novelist known for the classic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1950

Elements of a Writer's Style

Style is an author's choice of words (diction), arrangement of words in each sentence (syntax), and handling of sentences and paragraphs to achieve a specific effect.

David Madden, Revising Fiction: A Handbook For Writers, 1988

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Alan Dershowitz on the Crime Scene Work in the Simpson Case

     The [Los Angeles] police contaminated the crime scene by covering the bodies with a blanket from Nicole Brown's home, casting doubt on all the hair and fiber evidence they claimed to have recovered later.

     The bodies of the victims [Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman] were dragged around the crime scene before hair and fiber samples were taken from their clothing.

     The police failed to notify the coroner's office in a timely fashion, as required by Los Angeles Police Department procedure.

     The LAPD sent to the crime scene trainee, Andrea Mazzola, who collected blood samples along with [criminalist] Dennis Fung. Mazzola had never before had primary responsibility for collecting blood evidence from a crime scene. [At the Simpson trial, Dennis Fung turned out to be a huge embarrassment for the prosecution.]

     Detective Vannatter carried around O. J. Simpson's blood in a vial in an unsealed envelope for three hours and went for a cup of coffee before booking it [into evidence]. This would allow the defense to argue that 1.5 cc's of blood could not be accounted for by the prosecution. [A serious chain-of-custody mistake.]

     The criminologists [actually they're called criminalists] failed to find blood on the back gate and socks (if blood was, in fact, there) during the original investigation and only found it several weeks after Simpson's blood sample had been taken and carried around by Vannatter.

     The criminalists did not count the blood samples when they collected them, did not count them when they were put in tubes for drying, and did not count them when they were taken out of the tubes. No documented booking of samples occurred until June 16. [The murders were committed shortly after midnight on June 13, 1994.]

     [While these are serious and stupid crime scene blunders, the totality of the physical evidence in the Simpson case was sufficient to support a conviction. Even if these mistakes had not been made, the jury may have acquitted Simpson anyway.]

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

Frank Caira: The Ecstasy Cook Who Plotted to kill the Wrong People

     Murder for hire masterminds are almost as stupid as for ransom kidnappers. They almost always get caught and end up getting sentenced to life. As a murder-for-hire mastermind, Frank Caira was interesting because he worked at Northwestern University as a medical researcher and used workplace chemicals to manufacture Ecstasy pills in his suburban Chicago home.

     In 2009, a federal grand jury, relying on evidence uncovered by DEA agent Patrick Bagley, indicted the married, 41-year-old Downers Grove, Illinois drug manufacturer. In December 2009, when Caira realized the best plea deal he could get involved 14 year behind bars, he decided to hire someone to kill DEA agent Bagley and Shoshanan Gillers, the assistant United States Attorney in charge of his prosecution.

     Because Caira didn't know any hit men, he reached out to his friend, Jack Mann. When they met on a bench at the Oak Branch Shopping Center. Mann said he knew a gang member who might commit the double murder.

     After being approached by Mann, the gang member tipped off the authorities. After that, all of Caira's murder for hire meetings were secretly recorded. In the summer of 2011, with the would-be hit man and Jack Mann as key prosecution witnesses, the federal grand jury found Caira guilty of soliciting two murders. (Murder-for-hire is a federal crime as well as a state offense.)

     On July 6, 2012, the federal judge sentenced Frank Caira to 82 years in prison. To reporters, his attorney said this: "People like Mr. Caira don't deserve to die in jail." Really? If a man who tried to have two federal law enforcement officers murdered doesn't belong in prison for life, no one does. While defense attorneys are known to say ridiculous things on behalf of their clients, this comment was beyond the pale. 

George "Diamond" King

George "Diamond" King was electrocuted on August 14, 1935 for murdering FBI Agent Nelson Klein. This was the first federal execution under the 1934 law that made it a capital offense to murder a federal law enforcement officer.

The Armchair Traveler

My first writing mentor, Annie Dillard, once told our college class that if you ever have the choice between visiting a far-flung place or reading about it, choose the book. 
Virginia Pye, "Opinionator" The New York Times, December 29, 2013

Stay Calm, Ideas Will Come

Some people when they sit down to write and nothing special comes, no good ideas, are so frightened that they drink a lot of strong coffee to hurry them up, or smoke packages of cigarettes, or take drugs or get drunk. They do not know that good ideas come slowly, and that the more clear, tranquil and unstimulated you are, the slower the ideas come but the better they are.

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, originally published in 1938 

Why Newspaper Columnists Don't Get Rich

I figured out why I'm not getting seriously rich. I write newspaper columns. Nobody makes newspaper columns into major motion pictures starring Tom Cruise. The best you can hope for, with a newspaper column, is that people will like it enough to attach it to their refrigerators with magnets shaped like fruit.

Dave Barry, Dave Barry's Greatest Hits, 1988

You Can't Edit a Blank Page

You can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page.

Jodi Picoult, novelist, 2003

Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Times Square Cookie Monster Case

     New York City's Times Square, in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, was one of the seediest sections of the city. The midtown Manhattan tourist attraction was inhabited by panhandlers, pickpockets, drunks passed out in their own urine, prostitutes, pimps, three-card monte hustlers, and guys hawking stolen and knock-off watches. Times Square was home to strip joints, hole-in-the-wall bars, peep-shows, adult movie theaters, dirty book stores, and cathouses. This was not a destination for kids or tourists in search of wholesome entertainment. This was a place to get mugged, hustled, and ripped-off.

     When mayor Rudy Giuliani and his police commissioner took control of the city in the 1990s, they cleaned house in Manhattan and transformed Times Square into a Disneyesque theme park for families with young children. Toy stores, souvenir shops, clothing outlets, and fast-food restaurants replaced the adult entertainment establishments. The prostitutes, pimps, panhandlers and street hustlers were replaced by an assortment of costumed Sesame Street and comic book characters who probably thought of themselves as street performers.

     Instead of being accosted by whores, bums, and stolen goods merchants, Times Square tourists were hassled by a motley band of oddballs walking around the place inside Spider-Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, Elmo, Big Bird, Super Mario, and Cookie Monster outfits. (This kind of thing went on in Los Angeles as well. In small town America, if some guy dressed up like Superman and walked around town engaging kids he'd find himself in a police vehicle on his way to jail faster than a speeding bullet.)

     In Times Square, the costumed impersonators competed against each other for the attention of tourists accompanied by children. They'd pose and mug it up for the children whose parents were supposed to tip them for the photo-ops. When the kid returned home he could impress his friends with a photograph of himself being hugged by Wonder Woman.

     The street performers were not supposed to directly solicit tips. In New York City this was called "aggressive begging."

     In the scheme of things, slipping a guy in a Big Bird suit a couple of bucks for posing with your kid was harmless enough. It certainly beat having your pocket picked, or losing a couple of hundred bucks to some street corner three-card monte hustler. But occasionally, in the heat of tip-hustling competition things got out of hand. Some of the impersonators slipped out of character. Super Mario got in trouble for groping a woman. Spider-Man pushed a tourist, and Elmo uttered an anti-Sematic slur. Occasionally fights broke out between the characters. (It would be odd seeing Big Bird knock Superman to the ground.)

     On Sunday, April 7, 2013, Parmita Katkar, the former Miss India Asia Pacific beauty queen turned Bollywood actress and model, was in Times Square with her husband and two sons. From Stamford, Connecticut, the family had come to Times Square to buy a bicycle at the massive Toys-R-Us store. Around two-thirty that afternoon, she and her family were set upon by the Cookie Monster, aka Osvaldo Qviroz-Lopez. The big blue furry creature grabbed up Katkar's two-year-old boy and said, "Come on, take a picture." When the mother hesitated, the Cookie Monster put the kid down, pushed him, and said, "Come on, come on! Give me the money!"

     As the boy's father hustled off to find cash for a tip, Oviroz-Lopez launched a verbal attack on the kid's mother. "You are a bitch," he yelled. "Your son is a bastard and your stuff is trash." (I presume the Cookie Monster was commenting on Katkar's body of work in Bollywood.)

     As the shaken tourists escaped the wrath of the furious Cookie Monster, the toddler kept saying, "I don't like Cookie Monster!"

     The next day, the 33-year-old Cookie Monster impersonator was arraigned in a Manhattan criminal court on charges of assault, child endangerment, and aggressive begging. He posted his $1,000 bond and was released.

     In February 2014, the judge agreed to dismiss the charges against Quiroz-Lopez after the Cookie Monster performed one day of community service.  

When Book Thieves Were Reviled

In 1907, a Dallas Morning News editorial ranked the Library Book Thief as "probably the meanest thief God ever let live on Earth. The person who takes advantage of a collection of books maintained by the decent people of a city, under universal tax for the benefit of all, and steals a volume that better people need makes fallen angels weep." The editorial went on to note that "God is supposed to know everything, maybe he knows why such people exist--but no one else does. Perhaps these people--like the dog poisoners, whom they resemble--inhabit the earth merely to teach humility to those of us who are apt sometimes to think too complacently of human nature..."

Travis McDade, Thieves of Book Row, 2013


Graham Greene on "Popular" Novels

The really popular novels are full of cliches, people "flushing with anger" or "going pale with fear." Popular novelists bring nothing new to their readers, and I have no wish to belong to that type of popular writer.

Graham Greene in Conversations with Graham Greene, edited by Marie-Francoise Allain, 1991

The Value of Documentation in Journalism

Secondary sources are most useful when they lead to primary documents. The legislative hearing transcript would be a primary document as would be a real estate deed, political candidate's campaign finance report, lawsuit, insurance policy, and discharge certificate from the military. Documents can be just like human sources because they are prepared by humans. However, unlike humans, documents do not talk back and do not claim to have been misquoted.

Steve Weinberg in Leaving Readers Behind, 2001 

Animal Memoirs

Memoirs about cats and dogs are nearly as common as cats and dogs. [My wife read a memoir about a woman who devoted her life to her pet owl and a man who had a pet squirrel.]

John Williams, The New York Times Book Review, July 13, 2014 

Friday, August 20, 2021

The State of Forensic Science in America

     Maneka Sinha, a professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, in a 2021 article published in the Alabama Law Review, painted a bleak picture of American forensic science with quotes such as these:
     "Twenty-four percent of wrongful convictions involve junk science dressed up as scientific analysis."
     "Ironically, the extent to which lay people without scientific training tend to trust forensic science and mistakenly believe that it brings neutrality, fairness, accuracy, and certainty to the criminal justice process has allowed forensic evidence to do just the opposite."
     "Forensic science is so deeply resistant to change that it is beyond reform in the sense that tweaks around the edges cannot fix it."
Maneka Sinha, Alabama Law Review, Vol 73, 2021

The True Crime Reader as Detective

     If the murderer in your crime fiction isn't caught, readers will be left unsatisfied. They can't play detective because they only have the information you gave them. They can't dig any deeper to solve the mystery.

     With true crime, this isn't the case--there's always somewhere else the reader can look to find more information on a case, whether that's a book, a documentary, a key witness, or of course the Internet.

Kristina Adam, "Stories to Die For: True Crime vs Crime Fiction," The Writers Cookbook, June 19, 2018

Remember "Firewalking"?

One of the authors at the [1987 American Booksellers Association] convention was a person named Tolly Burkan, who is one of the top, if not the top firewalker in the United States. For the benefit of those of you who do not watch "Donahue," I should explain that firewalking is a very important new emerging growth trend where people walk on hot coals in bare feet. You will never in a jillion years guess what state this concept has gained great popularity in: California! Out in California, you can pay people money, and they will let you walk on their hot coals.

Dave Barry, Dave Barry's Greatest Hits, 1988 

Elements of a Good Short Story

It is not hard to state what Edgar Allan Poe meant by a good short story; it is a piece of fiction dealing with a single incident that can be read at a setting. It is original, it must sparkle, excite or impress; and it must have unity of effect or impression. It should move in an even line from its exposition to its close.

W. Somerset Maugham, Points of View, 1961

Thursday, August 19, 2021

The "Detectives of Death"

     Medical examiners are the only doctors whose patients are dead and therefore silent. They cannot explain why they died, so we have to find out in other ways. We are the detectives of death--we visit the scene; we examine the medical evidence and the laboratory findings and put them together with the circumstances and the patient's medical history. Through the autopsy, we make the body speak to us. Deciphering the message is an art as well as a science.

     Our medical specialty is forensic pathology. We know about the three kinds of unnatural death--suicides, homicides, and accidents. We are trained to analyze traumatic injuries--gunshot and stab wounds, blunt force, and poison. Our work is different from that of the hospital pathologists who autopsy bodies to study the ravages of disease. Our methods are different from those of doctors who care for the living and whose concern is more the treatment than the cause. We want to know how the knife went in, from above or below, and where the person who wielded it was standing; which bullet hole was the entrance and which the exit and where the shot came from. Medically, these things may be irrelevant, but in a courtroom they are extremely significant in deciding the cause and manner of death and reconstructing how it happened.

Dr. Michael M. Baden, Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner, 1989

The Role of Hair in TV Journalism

The turning point, in terms of my giving in to the concept of being a Television Personality, was when I let them put the styling mousse on my hair. Hair as always been my dividing line between television personalities and us newspaper guys. We newspaper guys generally have hair that looks like we trim it buy burning the ends with Bic lighters. We like to stand around and snicker at the TV guys, whose hair all goes in the same direction and looks as though it's full-bodied and soft, but which in fact has been permeated with hardened petrochemical substances to the point where it could deflect small caliber bullets. We newspaper guys think those substances have actually penetrated the skulls and attacked the brain cells of the TV guys, which we believe explains why their concept of a really major journalistic achievement is to interview Mr. T.

Dave Barry, Dave Barry's Greatest Hits, 1988

Jack London

Jack London's writing routine was the single unchanging element of his relatively brief adult life. [1876-1916] From the age of 22 to his death at 40, he wrote a thousand words every day, a quota he filled as a rule between 9 and 11 AM. He slept for five hours a night, which left him with 17 hours of free time. But in his writing hours he was prolific: he produced short stories, poetry, plays, reportage, "hackwork" and novels, many of them bestsellers. In 18 years, he published more than fifty books. "I'd rather win a water fight in the swimming pool," he said, "than write the great American novel."

James Camp, London Review of Books, September 25, 2014


Wanting To Write Versus Doing It

I believe that the writer who can't figure out what form to write in or what to write is stalling for a reason. Perhaps he is dancing around a subject because he is not ready to handle it psychologically or emotionally. Perhaps he is unable to pursue a project because doing so would upset his world too much, or the people in it. Maybe not writing, maybe being driven crazy by the desire to write and the inability to follow through, is serving some greater goal, keeping some greater fear at bay. Fear of failure is the reason most often cited to explain why so many aspiring writers never realize their dreams.

Betsy Lerner, The Forest For The Trees, 2001

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Handwriting Identification Versus Graphology

     Please don't confuse handwriting identification with handwriting analysis [graphology]. Handwriting identification is a science; handwriting analysis is considered by many people to be a pseudoscience. Handwriting identification attempts to decide who did, or sometimes who did not, write a particular document; handwriting analysis attempts to discern the personality traits of the person who did the writing.

     Handwriting identification looks at many factors, some of them conscious but many of them so habitual they are totally beyond conscious control. These include the slant of the letters, the way the letters are joined or separated, the use of capitals in place of small letters and vice versa, the shapes of individual letters, the shapes of buckles on letters such as K, the tails of letters such as Y and J. What the professional handwriting examiner looks at and what the amateur hoping to identify handwriting looks at are often totally different; therefore, what an amateur may think is an exact replica of someone's signature may, to a handwriting examiner, betray dozens of major points of difference…

     When a questioned signature is absolutely identical with a known signature, it is likely to be a tracing, which can almost always be identified microscopically by the types of hesitations that do not occur in fluent natural handwriting.

Anne Wingate, Ph.D., Science of the Crime, 1992 

Toxicology: Detecting Arsenic

Arsenic sticks around [inside the body] and today it's easily found after death if somebody thinks of looking for it. The problem with arsenic is that it isn't looked for in the common test for drugs.

Dr. Michael Baden, forensic pathologist, 2012

Novels That Require a Dictionary

     I love words. Most writers love words…When a writer has given new life to words you've heard a million times or used words you don't use or ordinarily think of, but love, it's inspiring.

     I love reading novels that send me to the dictionary to look up words. Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections did this. So did Don DeLillo's Underworld. I pulled out the Webster's to look up crepuscular. "Of relating to, or resembling twilight: active during twilight, insects." I can never look at fireflies, now, without thinking of them as crepuscular. 
     Ann Patchett's Bel Canto yielded the word sangfroid: "self-possession or imperturbability esp. under strain." So I have sangfroid when I don't stress out if I'm late getting somewhere. 
Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, Pen on Fire, 2004 [Why didn't she call her book Pen in the State of Self-Sustaining Combustion?]

Short Story Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing devices in short stories have the effect of enhancing the inevitability of the action, usually without destroying the suspense or tension--in fact, correctly used, foreshadowing can enhance those effects. What foreshadowing does is prepare in advance for events that will follow later in the story, often in ways that will not be fully understood by the reader until the story is completed. For while devices of foreshadowing may sometimes be very apparent, at other times it is necessary to go back into a story to see what methods were used to make its final effects convincing.

Rust Hill, Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular, Revised Edition, 1987  

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

A Lie Detection Joke

A father buys a lie detector robot that slaps people when they lie. He decides to test it out at dinner one night. The father asks his son what he did that afternoon. The son says, "I did some schoolwork." The robot slaps the son. The son says, "Okay, okay, I was at a friend's house watching movies." Dad asks, "What movie did you watch?" Son says, "Toy Story." The robot slaps the son. Son says, "Okay, okay, we were watching porn." Dad says, "What? At your age I didn't even know what porn was." The robot slaps the father. Mom laughs and says, "Well, he certainly is your son." The robot slaps the mother.

Unknown 

The "Distasteful" Genre

     Occasionally, true crime is where literary writers go to slum and, not coincidentally, make some real money: Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song." It's not the Great American Novel, yet somehow such books have a tendency to end up the most admired works of a celebrated author's career. Is it because better writers tease something out of the genre that pulp peddlers can't, or is it just that their blue-chip names give readers a free pass to indulge a guilty pleasure?

     True crime labors under the stigma of voyeurism, or worse. It's not just unseemly to linger over the bloodied bodies of the dead and the hideous sufferings inflicted upon them in their final hours, it's also a kind of sickness. Gillian Flynn's novel, Dark Places, describes the wincing interactions between the narrator, a survivor of a notorious multiple murder, and a creepy subculture of murder "fans" and collectors. When she's hard for cash, she's forced to auction off family memorabilia at one of their true crime conventions.

     The very thing that makes true crime compelling also makes it distasteful: the use of human agony for the purposes of entertainment.

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

A Reporter's Life

Fiction writing is a calling…Who wouldn't choose the role of literature's divinely chosen hand-servant over that of some schmo hustling to meet a deadline? There are many days when I am that schmo, beset by overlapping commitments, late on bills, typing the same sentence over and over with minuscule variations that somehow make it worse each time, wishing I had learned a proper trade. [The newspaper reporter's trade is in serious decline.]

Dana Stevens, The New York Times, January 27, 2015 

The Imposter Syndrome

At what point in a writing career does an author go from impersonating a writer to actually feeling like one? 

Monday, August 16, 2021

The Three-Card Monte Card Con

     The Three-Card Monte is the mother of all card cons…The Set-Up: 1. Two or more people are standing around a cardboard box on a busy street. The dealer has three cards; two are black and one is red. The red is usually a queen. The dealer shows all three cards, lays them face down on the table and rapidly picks up one card with his left hand and the other two with his right hand, and drops them back on the table in new positions. He repeats this scheme a number of times. The onlooker has to bet the position of the card which is alone in its suit (i.e. the queen). 2. Someone always seems to be winning; this person is the accomplice or shill, working alongside the dealer with the intention of luring unsuspecting marks. 3. Additional accomplices will include the look-out, who watches for the cops and signals their approach so that the game can be folded up quickly; the roper, who seeks out the marks; and the muscle man, who takes care of anyone who tries to complain.

     The Sting: 4. The mark is persuaded to join the game. He never wins. 5. The dealer holds two cards in his right hand. The upper card is held between the thumb and forefinger and the lower card is held between thumb and middle finger, with a small gap between both cards. According to common sense, the dealer should drop the lower card first, but his forefinger surreptitiously ejects the upper card first, which causes the mark to lose track of the right card (the queen). This is especially difficult to see if the dealer's hand makes a sweeping move from his left side to his right side while he drops the cards…

Joel Levy, The Scam Handbook, 2004    

The True Crime Fan

     The vast majority of violent crimes are committed by men. Most murder victims are also male. Homicide detectives and criminal investigators: predominantly male. Attorneys in criminal cases are mostly men. Put simply, the world of violent crime is masculine...

     But the consumers of crime stories are decidedly female. Women make up the majority of the readers of true crime books and the listeners of true crime podcasts. Television executives and writers, forensic scientists...all agree: true crime is a genre that overwhelmingly appeals to women.

     Women aren't just passively consuming these stories; they're also participating in them. Start reading through one of the many online sleuthing forums where amateurs speculate about unsolved crimes--and sometimes solve them--and you'll find that most of the posters are women. More than seven in ten students of forensic science, one of the fastest-growing college majors, are women...[In British, Australian, and Scandinavian TV crime drama series, women are frequently featured as homicide cops, police administrators, defense attorneys, forensic scientists and judges. The criminals and bent cops are almost aways men.]

Rachel Moore, Savage Appetites: Four True Stories Of Women, Crime, and Obsession, 2019

Writing For Young Adults

Books for young adults often explore the gulf in understanding between parents and children. You can only do this if you enter the world of the young person and address the conflict from their point of view. Try to remember the battles you had as a teenager with those adults who wielded authority over you, be they parents, teachers, the police or whomever. How did you feel when these people tried to impose their will on you?

Allan Frewin Jones and Lesly Pollinger, Writing For Children and Getting Published, 1996

Novels Should Be About People, Not Ideas

You're writing a novel, and a novel is about people. It's not about ideas, or it's not only, or not principally about ideas. Don't start your writing with an idea or an emotion if you can help it, no matter how important that idea may be to you. If the idea is so urgent, and you have something to say about that idea that you think we need to hear, then write an essay. Or write an editorial, write a manifesto, write an ad, write a poem, write anything but a novel. We read novels for the people in them, not for the ideas, although we do expect that these people will have ideas. When we remember our favorite novels we remember the character who won our hearts.

John Dufresne, Is Life Like This? 2010

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Claiming Self Defense

     We went to a scene where the husband shot his wife. His story was she came at him with a knife and tried to stab him. So he was saying he killed her in self-defense. But there were a couple of things that just didn't make sense.

     There was a knife in her hand. But it was in the wrong direction to be used as a stabbing-type instrument. It was apparent that he had placed the knife in her hand after he shot her and probably, in his panic, faced it the wrong way.

     There was blood on the palm of her hand where she had touched the entrance wound when she was shot. The normal reaction is to grab where it hurts. and she did. And she had blood on her hand, but there was no blood on the knife.

Crime scene investigator in Crime Scene by Connie Fletcher, 2006

Privacy Induces Confessions

The principal psychological factor contributing to a successful interrogation is privacy--being alone with the person under interrogation. This we all seem to instinctively realize in our own private or social affairs, but in criminal interrogations it is generally overlooked or ignored. For instance, in asking a personal friend or acquaintance to divulge a secret, we carefully avoid making the request in the presence of other persons; we seek a time and place when the matter can be discussed in private. Likewise, when anyone harbors a troublesome problem that he would like "to get off his chest," he finds it easier to confide in another person alone rather than in the presence of a third party. In criminal interrogations, where the same mental processes are in operation, and to an even greater degree by reason of the criminality of the disclosure, interrogators generally seem to lose sight of the fact that a suspect or witness is much more apt to reveal his secrets in the privacy of a room occupied only by himself and his interrogator than in the presence of an additional person or persons.

Fred E. Inbau and John E. Reid in Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 1962

Journal Writing

Writers keep journals because they like to write between projects, or they have other subjects to get off their minds besides the one they are writing about. They sometimes keep a journal because they want to write about their subjects in an unstructured way. They write journals because they like to keep writing.

Shelia Bender in The Writer's Journal, edited by Shelia Bender, 1997 

Movies About Writers

     Writers like watching movies about themselves. It gives us something to do. My doctor father used to scoff at movies about doctors because he was always finding fault with some diagnosis or treatment. I don't know how cops or lawyers feel about their portrayals. Politicians are usually shown as corruptible. Teachers as sad. Writers are variously crazy (Jack Nicholson in "The Shining"), reckless (Michael Douglas in "Wonder Boys"), cranky (Van Johnson in "23 Paces to Baker Street"), self-destructive (Ray Milland in "The Lost Weekend"), without principle (William Holden in "Sunset Boulevard") and/or flailing (Paul Giamatti in "Sideways"). Nothing to argue with, really.

     What we are not shown doing in movies is writing. Composers are shown composing because we can listen to their flights of fancy on the soundtrack. Painters are shown painting because one can actually see art in progress. Kirk Douglas did some very good van Gogh impressions. Ed Harris went so hog wild in "Pollock," one was tempted to go out and buy an original Harris. But writers are rarely shown laboring at the craft...I suppose there's nothing visually dramatic in what we do, though we can get quite worked up about crumpling little balls of paper, tossing them on the floor, then turning our heads this way and sometimes that.

Roger Rosenblatt, 2013   

"Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?"

      In his 1945 New Yorker article called "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd," (the title of a mystery novel by Agatha Christie), the American literary critic Edmund Wilson wrote: "The reading of detective stories is simply a kind of vice that, for silliness and minor harmfulness, ranks somewhere between crossword puzzles and smoking."
      Mr. Wilson (1895-1972) was not an Agatha Christie fan, nor a lover of crime fiction. He was, in that regard, a literary snob. Today, 48 years after his death, only a few literary professors know his name. However, millions of people around the world still read Agatha Christie.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Shopping For the Right Trial Psychiatrist

      How did psychiatry come to play a crucial role in criminal trials? Why do defense and prosecution psychiatrists often disagree drastically in their expert opinions? What good, if any, does psychiatry do in our courts? To begin to answer these questions, we must first look at how the insanity defense operates.

     Once the defense lawyer decides with the client to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, the attorney calls in one or more psychiatrists to examine the defendant. Even though the psychiatrists may question the accused weeks or months after the act was committed, they are expected to determine exactly what the defendant was thinking during the moments surrounding the crime. Most particularly, did the accused know what he or she was doing was against the law or wrong? If so, was a choice made to commit the crime anyway, or was the behavior beyond the defendant's control? Was he or she driven to it by mental disorder? 
     Psychiatrists have no tests to reconstruct a past state of mind, but they nonetheless offer an opinion, because they are convinced that their "clinical skills" allow them to expertly determine questions of legal sanity. If they decide the defendant was legally insane at the moment of the crime, the defense lawyer has reason to go forward with an insanity plea. If they decide differently, the defense attorney may decide to start over by hiring another psychiatrist to examine the defendant. A psychiatrist who will reach the desired conclusions can usually be found. Neither judge nor jury learns of the prior psychiatrists, only of those the defense lawyer calls to testify that the defendant was legally insane at the moment of the crime.

Lee Coleman, "The Insanity Defense," in Criminal Justice?, Robert James Bidinotto, editor, 1994 

Mainstream Murder

Violence serves as an element of suspense. If someone is murdered on the page--in an opening scene or at a plot point--then you have suspense. And please don't think that murders are the province of detective or crime fiction only. Alice Hoffman uses murders effectively in several of her novels. Indeed, William Faulkner uses murder, Charles Dickens uses murder, Wilkie Collins uses murder, Thomas Harding uses murder, and no one would accuse William Shakespeare of shying away from occasional bloodshed in the cause of a gripping tale. [If you do incorporate murder into your fiction, make sure you know something about the subject. Otherwise it will bring ridicule.]

Elizabeth George, Write Away, 2005

The Hunter and the Hunted

Many suspense novels and thrillers are based on the drama of the hunter and the hunted. Often a chase requires a one step forward, two steps backward approach. For example, after chasing down many false leads, a police detective finally discovers the suspect's hideout and hurries to secure a search warrant. The scene could end on his assistant rushing into the room with the warrant, and the detective grabbing his keys and heading for the car. Naturally the reader will be curious about where the villain lives and will keep reading. Or the scene might end with the detective arriving at the hideout to discover that the villain has vanished along with all traces of its illegal operation. The question is not only where he has gone, but who tipped him off.

Jessica Page Morrell, Between the Lines, 2006 

Prolonging the Suspense

     Good writers know how to create suspense; better writers know how to prolong it. Creating effective suspense is not that easy, and the best writers know they shouldn't let it go once it exists…

     Nearly all suspenseful elements can be prolonged. You can prolong danger in endless ways, even when you think you can't: a character can survive a dangerous operation only to develop a dangerous infection, or a character can get through one dangerous obstacle only to be faced with another.

Noah Lukeman, The Plot Thickens, 2002  

Friday, August 13, 2021

Opening a Serial Murder Investigation

A serial murder investigation is generally initiated by an agency or group of agencies following the identification of a series of related homicides…A serial murder investigation may be initiated as an extension of a current homicide investigation when a second unsolved murder or series of unsolved murders are linked to the original case. This linkage may be similarities in victims, crime scenes, attacks, geography, or any number of actions or situations which convince investigators that the homicides have been committed by a common killer.

Steven A. Egger, The Killers Among Us, 1998

"Sybil" and The Multiple Personality Hoax

     In 1973, the memoir, Sybil told the story of Sybil Dorsett (real identify Shirley Mason) who claimed to have had sixteen separate personalities as a result of childhood abuse. The best-selling book (7 million copies) created the multiple personality disorder and planted the notion of the repressed memory syndrome into the American consciousness.

     According to a 2011 book by Debbie Nathan called Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case, the 1973 memoir was a phony book contrived by Mason, her therapist, and a journalist. In a 1958 letter uncovered by Nathan, Mason confessed that she didn't have multiple personalities. Shirley Mason died of breast cancer in 1998. (In the years that followed the publication of the 1973 memoir, several defendants in serial murder cases, pursuant to insanity defenses, claimed--unsuccessfully--multiple personality disorders.)

     Mason's memoir led 40,000 readers to claim they had repressed memories of childhood abuse, an unknown syndrome prior to 1973. Several of these claims led to the sexual abuse convictions of innocent people. In 1976 and 2007 two movies based on Mason's memoir were produced. One of them starred Sally Fields. 

Drugs and Crime

The great availability of illicit drugs contributes not only to more frequent crime but to more serious crime. The man who steals from stores and houses may have ideas about bank robberies flash through his mind, but without drugs he is too fearful to carry them out. Once he is on drugs, barriers to more daring ventures are overcome. The drugs do not cause a person to obtain a sawed-off shotgun and hold up a liquor store, or for that matter, commit any other crime. They simply make it more feasible for him to eliminate fears for the time being in order to act upon what he has previously considered. That is, drugs intensify and bring out tendencies already present within the individual user. They do not transform a responsible person into a criminal. The criminality comes first, the decision to use drugs later.

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

[This concept may hold true in the relationship between mental illness and violent crime. Violence is not a symptom of mental illness. However, when a violent person loses his mind, the tendency already present in the person manifests itself. The mental illness merely releases the violence.]

The " Memoir of Crisis"

Ours is a memoir-obsessed literary culture. With the waning of confessional poetry, what we might call the "memoir of crisis" has blossomed.

The New York Times Book Review, September 29, 2019

Jack London on Writing Humor

Humor is the hardest to write, easiest to sell, and best rewarded. There are only a few who are able to do it. If you are able, do it by all means.

Jack London in Jack London, edited by Dale L. Walker, 1979 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Should Registered Sex Offenders Have Access to Social Media?

     Constitutional law in America could be described as an ongoing struggle between the interests of society and the rights of individuals and groups. In this battle, most citizens, unless their individual rights are threatened, come down in favor of the government. This is particularly true when the individuals complaining about their rights being violated are convicted sex offenders.

     The Indiana legislature, in 2008, passed a bill barring most registered sex offenders in the state from using social networking sites that allow access to youngsters under eighteen. The law, passed without a single opposing vote in the state house and senate, and signed by Governor Mitch Daniels, made it a crime for registered sex offenders to access Facebook and sites like it.

     While the vast majority of Indiana's citizens embraced the new legislation, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a class-action suit on behalf of the state's registered sex offenders challenging the constitutionality of the law. According to the ACLU, the law violated its clients' First Amendment rights to free speech.

     In June 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt upheld the social networking ban as constitutional on the grounds the state has a strong interest in protecting children from pedophiles. Judge Pratt, in her opinion, described Internet sites like Facebook as "virtual playgrounds for sexual predators."

     The ACLU appealed the U.S. District Court ruling to the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. In January 2013, the three-judge panel handed down its decision. The Indiana law denying registered sex offenders the right to avail themselves of Facebook and the other networking sites violated their right to free speech.

     As a result of the federal appeals court decision, registered sex offenders in Indiana found guilty of violating the 2008 social media ban could petition state courts to have their convictions vacated. If they didn't, their convictions would stand.

     It's not surprising that the appeals court decision to strike down the sex offender social media ban was extremely unpopular in Indiana. Very few people had sympathy for sex offenders, even after they had "paid for their crimes." That's because almost all of these people re-offend. Once a sex offender, always a sex offender. This is particularly true of serial rapists and pedophiles.

     If alcoholics can be prohibited from flying airplanes, why should convicted sex offenders be allowed to use Facebook to network with each other and prowl for victims? A lawyer for the ACLU would answer that question this way: citizens don't have a constitutional right to fly a plane. Child safety from sexual abuse, however, should trump this constitutional right of sex offenders.  

Dr. Arthur Waite: The Happy Poisoner

     In 1917, on trial for his life, accused of double murder, Dr. Arthur Warren Waite laughed at the law. It was, he agreed, all true. He had indeed murdered his mother-in-law by mixing germs in her food. He had also killed his wealthy father-in-law, but when germs failed, and arsenic too, Waite had used chloroform, suffocating the old man with a pillow to finish him off. Why? "For the money," said Waite.

     Waite's trial was the New York City sensation of its day. The debonair young dentist cheerfully explained how he had poisoned his mother-in-law mixing pneumonia, diphtheria and influenza germs into her meals.

     Dr. Waite's father-in-law had been a hardier soul, resisting tuberculosis bacteria sprayed up his nose, chlorine gas, and various attempts to give him pneumonia, including dampening his bed sheets. Science caught up with Dr. Waite when arsenic he'd poured into the old man's soup was detected at autopsy. [Waite was found guilty and hanged.]

Roger Wilkes, ed, The Mammoth Book of Murder & Science, 2000

John Updike on the New Kind of Fiction

The 1960s were when the demise of fiction became something to crow about. Philip Roth told us that life in America had become so barbaric and bizarre that no fiction could hold a candle to the grotesque truth. Truman Capote allowed as how he had invented a new kind of narrative treat, the nonfiction novel, that made the un-non kind as obsolete as hand-churned ice cream. Tom Wolfe let us know that his new journalism was zippier, grabbier, funnier, wilder, and truer-to-life than any old wistful bit of fiction published, say, by those tiny giants over at The New Yorker. 

John Updike in Handbook of Short Story Writing, Jean M. Fredette, editor, 1988 

Editing Jacqueline Susann

     There was a time when editors like Maxwell Perkins of Scribner's and Sons played a hands-on role in getting a book ready for publication. Those days are long gone. In the 1960s, editor Don Preston had the almost impossible job of getting a glitzy, gossipy novel by an amateurish writer named Jacqueline Susann into publishable form. The manuscript, entitled Valley of the Dolls, became a national bestseller thanks in large part to Don Preston's editorial skills. This is Preston's evaluation of Susann's manuscript:

     "She is a painfully dull, inept, clumsy, undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish writer whose every sentence, paragraph and scene cries for the hand of a pro. She wastes endless pages on utter trivia, writes wide-eyed romantic scenes that would not make the back pages of True Confessions, hauls out every terrible show biz cliche, lets every good scene fall apart in endless talk and allows her book to ramble aimlessly. I really don't think there is a page of this manuscript that can stand in present form. And after it is done, we will be left with a faster, slicker, more readable mediocrity."

Don Preston as cited in Barbara Seaman's Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann, 1987

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

The Class Action Suit: A Goldmine for Lawyers

     In a class action, a group of enterprising lawyers persuade a judge to certify a "class" of plaintiffs and then proceed to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the class. If you're a member of the class, you'll get a letter giving you the right to "opt out" of the class. Most likely, you'll throw the letter away without reading it because it's written in legalese. Since you didn't opt out, you're a plaintiff. And if the defendant ends up paying the money, you'll get your share, but it's usually a very small one.

     In April 2005, a Los Angeles Times reporter was surprised to discover that his son had been a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against Bank of America. The son was equally surprised, and disappointed, to learn that his cut would be 49 cents, while the plaintiffs' lawyers collected fees in excess of $2 million. In a similar action against Citibank, unwitting plaintiffs reported receiving checks as small as 2 cents. The legal fees were over $7 million.

Adam Freedman, The Party of the First Part, 2007 

Legalese: Are Lawyers Bi-Lingual?

     In 2001, the Economist magazine reported on a "worrying gap" between the language of the public and that of the legal profession. That gap grows wider every day, as legal English staunchly resists the changes rippling through everyday English. On the brighter side, this means that the law is less susceptible to silly fads, but it also means that the law is less and less accessible to each new generation.

     Legalese could even evolve into a foreign language in the not-too-distant future. Already, many linguists refer to the language of law as a "sublanguage," meaning that it's more than just a collection of jargon, but also has its own specialized rules of grammar and syntax [word order].

Adam Freedman, The Party of the First Part, 2007

Crime Novels Are About Society

The crime novel is where the social novel went. If you want to write about the underbelly of America, if you want to write about the America nobody wants to look at, you turn to the crime novel. I don't bristle at the "you're a mystery writer" or "you're a crime writer" thing. I don't have an issue with that. But I do think that personally, when I sit down to write I'm writing an urban novel, writing about urban realities.

Dennis Lehane, powells.com, 2003 

The Psychology of Writing

What kind of an emotion is the desire to write? It is not a core emotion like joy or fear. Nor is it a biological drive in the sense that hunger or sexual desire is. But there are secondary emotions and secondary drives, made up of a mixture of core emotions or drives, often in combination with certain beliefs. Secondary emotions include complicated states such as guilt, hope, and smugness. Secondary drives might include the urge to buy a house or to gamble. It is in this secondary category that the drive to write best fits.

Alice W. Flaherty, The Midnight Disease, 2004 

Writing Out of Revenge

[Some writers] insist that you should never write out of vengeance. I tell my students that they should always write out of vengeance, as long as they do so nicely. If someone has crossed them, if someone has treated them too roughly, I urge them to write about it.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, 1994

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Explosion of Unemployment Compensation Fraud

     A Bronx man allegedly received $1.5 million in just ten months. A California real estate broker raked in more than $500,000 within half a year. A Nigerian government official is accused of pocketing over $350,000 in less than six weeks.

     What they all had in common, according to federal prosecutors, was participation in what may turn out to be the biggest fraud wave in U.S. history: filing bogus claims for unemployment insurance benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

     U.S. Department of Labor used a single social security number to file unemployment insurance claims in 40 states. Twenty-nine states paid up, sending $222, 532.

     But the problem extends far beyond a plague of solo scammers. A ProPublica investigation reveals that much of the fraud has been organized--both in the U.S. and abroad. Fraudsters have used bots [fake people] to file online claims in bulk. And others, located as far away as China and West Africa, have organized low-wage teams to file phony claims.

     In addition, the fraud has been enabled by a burgeoning online infrastructure, whose existence has not been previously reported in the mainstream press. Much of it is geared toward exploiting aging or obsolete state employment systems whose weaknesses have drawn warnings for decades...

     Nobody has yet come close to putting a definitive number on the dollar value of fraud relating to the pandemic-era unemployment benefits. But ProPublica performed a data analysis that hints at the massive scope. In state after state, the volume of initial jobless claims has far exceeded the number of estimated job losses. Across the U.S. from March to December 2020, the number of initial claims equaled to 68% of the country's labor force, which stood at around 164 million before the pandemic. In five states--Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada and Rhode Island--the initial claims outnumbered the entire pool of civilian workers. By contrast, about 23% of American workers were out of a job or underemployed at the peak of the pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics...

Most Criminals: Evil Geniuses or Just Stupid?

     In the world of noir fiction, criminals are routinely portrayed as brilliant masterminds who cleverly plot mayhem while engaging the police in suspenseful cat-and-mouse games. But for every Joker or Hannibal Lector that appears on the silver screen, there are scores of criminals in the real world who show stunningly poor judgment: getting their crimes tattooed on their bodies, writing "fictional" books detailing murders they've committed, or turning their own wanted posters into profile pictures on Facebook...

     ...If you go to prison looking for evil geniuses, you're going to be frustrated. Most people in prison are bad at life, and most are bad at crime. There's a lot of reasons someone will do something stupid. One of the reasons is: They are stupid.

Adam Janos, "Real Crime," A&E, May 25, 2018

Writers Discuss Literary Humor

     Humor is like pornography in that it's easy to recognize, but hard to define. Robin Hemley distinguishes comedy from tragedy this way: "Simply put, tragedy has serious and logical consequences. Cause and effect. Comedy usually doesn't. You throw a person off a tall building in a comedy, he bounces. You throw someone off a building in a tragedy, don't wait for the bounce."

     Memoirs and biographies devoid of humor tend to be tedious and not worth the effort. All really good novelists include humor in their stories. Here's what some professional writers have said about humor:

Comedy writers have a long-running debate....It is known as the Mickey Mouse Question, and it goes like this: Mickey Mouse is not a funny character. He neither tells jokes nor does anything funny, he has no point of view, no real character, and his girlfriend is an uptight bore. Bugs Bunny, on the other hand, is a brilliantly inventive comic genius, sharp-witted, physically agile, a fearless wise guy who thinks nothing of donning a dress, producing an anvil out of the air, kissing his enemy on the lips, and in the face of death and torture calling out a cheery "What's Up Doc?" Bugs is much funnier than Mickey, no contest. Why, then, is Mickey the billionaire movie star?...Creating a television sitcom means choosing between Mickey and Bugs, between a universe of likable, not-terribly funny people and a universe of vaguely disturbing, very funny people. Networks tend on the whole, not to like funny characters very much. If they had their choice, every sitcom would be a family or group of Mickeys, with maybe a Bugs living next door. Writers, unfortunately, on the whole prefer a big group of Bugs with a Mickey around saying things like, "What's going on here?"
Rob Long

What is the secret of writing funny? If I knew, I would write my own ticket. But I venture this thought: The art begins with a sense of sadness. This is the clown's gift.
James J. Kilpatrick

Humor is the hardest to write, easiest to sell, and best rewarded. There are only a few who are able to do it. If you are able, do it by all means.
Jack London

I don't think a man can deliberately sit down to write a funny story unless he has got a sort of slant on life that leads to funny stories.
P. G. Wodehouse

Analysts have had their go at humor, and I have read some of this interpretative literature, but without being greatly instructed. Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.
E. B. White

With humor you have to look for traps. You're likely to be very gleeful with what you've first put down, and you think it's fine, very funny. One reason you go over and over it is to make the piece sound less as if you were having a lot of fun with it yourself. You try to play it down.
James Thurber

Writing comedy is quite a joy for me. There's an instant reward. If I've written a really funny line, then, for a moment, I become the audience and I laugh. I enjoy it, I know it works.
William Peter Blatty

If you have doubts about whether something's funny, play it straight. Nothing is worse than a lame joke. And if you're not sure humor is appropriate, it probably isn't.
Patricia O'Conner

Writers often have a predilection for humor based on wordplay. Caution is advised, especially when using puns. They can reek of corniness, and they don't alway work on paper.
Roger Bates

You must never make one character laugh at what another says or does...You must never offer the reader anything simply as funny and nothing more. Make it acceptable as information, comment, narrative, etcetera, so that if the joke flops the reader will get something.
Kingsley Amis

Writing humor is more difficult than delivering a punch line to a joke you tell while standing by the office water cooler. For one thing, our society is much more practiced at telling jokes than at writing them. Also, a joke written on paper has no facial expressions, pauses and emphasis to go with it. It's devoid of the most important elements of comedy--timing.
John McCollister

Monday, August 9, 2021

How the Automobile Changed U. S. Policing

From 1900 to 1930, the number of automobile registrations in the United States rose from 8,000 to more than 23 million. This phenomenal growth posed challenging new responsibilities for urban police departments regulating traffic, limiting parking in downtown areas, and trying to keep the killed and maimed to a minimum. The introduction and spread of the automobile obliterated the distinction between the law breaking and the law abiding. [It also led to the federalization of law enforcement.]

James F. Richardson, Urban Police in the United States, 1974

Law School as the Last Resort

I studied philosophy in college and didn't realize until my senior year that no one would pay me to philosophize when I graduated. My frantic search for a "post-graduation plan" led me to law school mostly because other graduate programs required you to know something about your field of study to enroll; law schools, it seemed, didn't require you to know anything.

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, 2014

No Secret Formula For Writing a Bestseller

The fact that nobody has even been able to reduce the elements that go into the fashioning of a predictable best-seller has long been illustrated by the classic story of an expensive book-business survey that produced the three kinds of books that had always proved most popular: books about Abraham Lincoln, books about doctors, and books about dogs. The only thing predictable about the survey was that some publisher was bound to act on it, and not long after the survey some publisher did. He brought out a book called Lincoln's Doctor's Dog. It was--predictably--a disaster.

Jerome Weidman, Praying For Rain, 1986