6,940,000 pageviews

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Vigilante Judges

At times, judges abandon their neutrality and step into the adversarial void, acting like prosecutors, forcing defendants either to take a deal or wait in jail for a trial date. That, or they deny a defendant his rights altogether. Many defendants plead guilty without a lawyer present. In some cases, they had been in jail for months without counsel. In others, they had no idea what they were pleading guilty to or they accepted sentences higher than the legal maximum.

Amy Bach, Ordinary Justice, 2009 

Stoning Someone to Death Versus Lethal Injection

There have been times in certain parts of the world when citizens convicted of what we now consider minor crimes or non-crimes have been buried to their shoulders in sand then pelted with small rocks until they die slowly by blunt force trauma. In America, sob sisters fret over the fact that a serial killer, after living twenty years on death row for an unspeakably horrible murder, or murders, might feel a little discomfort from the death delivering needle. Talk about extremes in a crazy world.

Making Readers Laugh

Writing is such lonely work that I try to keep myself cheered up. If something strikes me as funny in the act of writing, I throw it in just to amuse myself. If I think it's funny I assume that a few other people will find it funny, and that seems to me to be a good day's work. It doesn't bother me that a certain number of readers will not be amused; I know that a fair chunk of the population has no sense of humor--no idea that there are people in the world trying to entertain them.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, 1976 

I Want to Be a Novelist When I Grow Up

If you're a kid who hopes to become a professional novelist, keep that dream to yourself. No one wants to hear it, especially your parents who want you to grow up and get yourself a regular, good-paying job. No parent in his or her right mind goes around bragging that Johnny is going to be a novelist when he grows up.

Mystery Writers Leslie Charteris, Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle

Reading ten Leslie Charteris novels in succession cruelly highlights his weaknesses. Likewise Agatha Christie and even Arthur Conan Doyle. "Sherlock Holmes after all is mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue," wrote Raymond Chandler. And once you'd grasped the attitude and heard the lines, why read on?

John Baxter, A Pound of Paper, 2003 

Wednesday, September 29, 2021


     For centuries the focus of law enforcement has been exclusively on the perpetrator. The victim was left to fend for him--or herself. Today, one of the most dynamic areas in criminology and criminal investigation is Victimology. The hope of this field is that studying the victim will produce better results in crime prevention and prosecution.

     Crime is never the victim's fault, but it is often the case that certain actions and behaviors on the part of the victim might have made the victim vulnerable. Learning from victims' actions may aid in preventing crime.

     Victimology also strives to help the victim heal after the offense. More and more jurisdictions are offering victims financial assistance, psychological counseling, and other help.

     Victimology is an increasingly active area in criminology as well as in all phases of the criminal justice system.

Alan Axelrod and Guy Antinozzi, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Criminal Investigation, 2003

The Humiliation of Book Signings

Any creative endeavor can bring humiliation to the creator. It takes courage and thick skin to expose one's creative product to an indifferent, critical, and often uniformed public. For the vast majority of writers, there is nothing more disappointing and humiliating than the in-store book signing event. Unless you are some kind of celebrity whose autograph has value to adoring fans, you'll probably spend the afternoon alone behind your impressive pile of books while the store's publicity person looks on in boredom and disgust. As you sit there, you promise yourself that you will never expose yourself to this form of humiliation again. But, if you are like most authors, you will break that promise time and time again. The only way to spare yourself of this indignity is to become famous, or quit writing.

The "Cozy" Mystery Genre

A "cozy" is a mystery novel with a light tone and an element of fun; the setting is usually a small community and the protagonist is an amateur sleuth who's a member of the community. Sex and violence occur, for the most part, offstage. Agatha Christie's Miss Jane Marple remains the quintessential cozy protagonist.

Hallie Ephron, 1998

Wanting to Write Is Not Enough

I want to write and I never never will…Whatever I'm doing, it's always there saying, "Write this--write that--write--" and I can't. Lack ability, time, strength, and duration of vision. I wish someone would tell me brutally, "You can never write anything. Take up home gardening!"

Anne Morrow Lindbergh in The Writer's Life, Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks, editors, 1997 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

"Privileged" Or Not, No One "Deserves" to be Robbed

     In November 2014, Georgetown University senior Oliver Friedfeld and his roommate were mugged at gun point. Friedfeld says he deserved it because of his "privilege." In an opinion piece in the university newspaper, The Hoya, Friedfeld wrote that he "can hardly blame" the assailants for robbing him. He argued that income inequality is to blame for the crime.

     "Who am I to stand from my perch of privilege, surrounded by million-dollar homes and paying for a $60,000 education, to condemn these young men as 'thugs?' It's precisely this kind of 'otherization' that fuels the problem," Friedfeld wrote…

     Friedfeld asserted that in order to end opportunistic crime, "We should look at ourselves first. Simply amplifying police presence will not solved the issue. It is up to millenials to right some of the wrongs of the past. Until we do so, we should get comfortable with sporadic muggings and break-ins. I can hardly blame them." [What a load of university-speak crap from a rich, guilt-ridden ivory tower idiot.]

"Student Robbed at Gunpoint Says He Deserved It Due to His 'Privilege,' " breitbart.com, November 29, 2014 

Categories Within The Mystery Genre

The term mystery, as in mystery novel, is an umbrella that shelters a variety of subgenres: the traditional whodunit, the private eye, the classic puzzle, the police procedural, action/adventure, thriller, espionage, the novels of psychological and romantic suspense.

Sue Grafton, Writing Mysteries, 1992 

Beware Of The Prize-Winning Novel

In later 1999 I wrote a short book called Gorgons in the Pool. Quoting lengthy passages from prize-winning novels, I argued that some of the most acclaimed contemporary prose is the product of mediocre writers availing themselves of trendy stylistic gimmicks. The greater point was that we readers should trust our own taste and perception instead of deferring to received opinion...A thriller must thrill or it is worthless; this is as true now as it ever was. Today's "literary" novel, on the other hand, need only evince a few quotable passages to be guaranteed at least a lukewarm review. It is no surprise, therefore, that the "literary" camp now attracts a type of writer who, under different circumstances would never have strayed from the safest crime-novel formulae, and that so many critically acclaimed novels today are really mediocre "genre" stories told in an amalgam of trendy stylistic tics.

B. R. Myers, A Reader's Manifesto, 2002

[This is a groundbreaking book that exposes the bad, unreadable writing of, among others, "literary" novelists Don DeLillo, Annie Proulix, Paul Auster, David Guterson, and Cormac McCarthy.] 

Graphic Gore in Horror Fiction

Bloody acts of violence need not be graphically described…My position is simple. I detest the Vomit Bag School of Horror--books and stories featuring gore for gore's sake, designed strictly for the purpose of grossing out the reader.

William E. Nolan, How To Write Horror Fiction, 1990 

Monday, September 27, 2021

Serial Killer Ted Bundy On Murder

Murder is not about lust and it's not about violence. It's about possession. When you feel the last breath of life coming out of the woman, you look into her eyes. At that point, it's being God.

Ted Bundy

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Genres

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

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

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

Stanley Schmidt, Aliens and Alien Societies, 1996

Books About Writers

Disagreement over the merits of literary biography will likely subside by default, as the form begins to extinguish itself. Even among those who like it, demand is bound to slacken: Novelists' lives are considerably less interesting than they used to be. Longer, yes, but much drier in every sense; less full of rivalrous brawling, less harrowed by the unemployment that was so ofter their lot before creative writing programs started offering them day jobs. For another thing, literary biography will be crippled by the absence of many of its old tools. Writers' drafts, those manuscripts that show, line by line, how writers came to do what they did, now disappear with the deleting drag of the mouse; and for all the supposed permanence of tweets and Facebook posts, the deliberate letters that writers used to save and bundle have largely been replaced by emails and texts they don't bother to archive.

Thomas Mallon, The New York Times Book Review, June 29, 2014

The Role Of Alcohol In Writing Fiction

Raymond Chandler is reported to have said he couldn't find an ending to one of his excellent stories unless he took time to get drunk. Up to a point I accept his report. For alcohol can stimulate imagination. It can find inventions. But I'll lay my bottom dollar, as one not unacquainted with booze, that Chandler had to sober up to write that ending.

A. B. Guthrie Jr., Field Guide to Writing Fiction, 1991 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Impeaching Federal Judges

The impeachment of federal judges is rare, and removal is rarer still. With respect to federal judges, since 1803, the House of Representatives has impeached only 15 judges--an average of one every 14 years--and only 8 of those impeachments were followed by convictions in the Senate.

Douglas Keith, Brennan Center For Justice, March 8, 2018

What is a Fable?

A fable is a brief tale, in prose or verse, to illustrate a moral. Often involving unusual or supernatural incidents, fables sometimes contain animals, as in Aesop's Fables, Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, and George Orwell's Animal Farm. 

Rod L. Evans, The Artful Nuance, 1997 

Biographies Are Than A Collection of Facts

Research is only research. After all the facts have been marshaled, all the documents studied, all the locales visited, all the survivors interviewed, what then? What do the facts add up to? What did the life mean?

William Zinsser in Extraordinary Lives, edited by William Zinsser, 1986 

Not All Bestselling Novels Are Well Written

" 'Are you ready?' he mewled, smirking at me like a mother hamster about to eat her three-legged young."

E. L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey, 2012 

Story Driven Nonfiction

Story driven nonfiction is extraordinarily successful, and there's a huge market for it. I think it's partly because when you publish a nonfiction book, especially one that's story driven as opposed to didactic or scholarly, you can target the market in an easier way.

Charlie Conrad, Poets and Writers, May/June 2004 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Genius As A Form Of Insanity

Good sense travels on the well-worn paths; genius, never. And that is why the crowd, not altogether without reason, is so ready to treat great men as lunatics.

Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909), Italian Criminologist

Jailhouse Informant Testimony

Jailhouse informant testimony is one of the leading contributing factors of wrongful convictions nationally, playing a role in nearly one in five of the 364 DNA-based exoneration cases.

Innocence Project, March 6, 2019

The First Novel Rejection Blues

     I completed my first novel on July 29, 2012 and spent the next two months sending it out to hundreds of agents and any publisher I could find that accepted unsolicited manuscripts. Dropping over a grand on ink, paper, and postage, my days consisted of checking my email, walking to the post office, and scanning the Internet for details of any literary agency that had an address, never mind a respectable client list.

     I received dozens of rejection slips but mainly non-replies. Those that did get back to me all said the same thing: love it, but can't see it selling. After a few months I was forced to admit that my novel wasn't going to be bought for $500,000 nor for the price of a battered second-hand paperback. I was devastated. What would become of me now?

James Nolan, vice.com, April 29, 2014 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Michael Williams: The Amtrak Stabber

     On Friday December 5, 2014, Michael Williams boarded Amtrak Blue Water Service Train 364 in Chicago en route to its final destination, Port Huron, Michigan. The 44-year-old, a ten-year U.S. Army veteran, had spent time at the VA hospital in Saginaw, Michigan where he had been treated for mental illness. Upon his release from the hospital doctors prescribed anti-psychotic medication.

     Shortly after Williams boarded the train he became agitated and made passengers around him feel uncomfortable and nervous. Just before the train rolled into the Amtrak station in Niles, Michigan in the southwestern part of the state ten miles north of South Bend, Indiana, several passengers called 911 to report a potential disturbance involving a man who was behaving irrationally.

     By the time officers with the Niles, Michigan police department boarded the train against the flow of passengers hurrying to get off, Williams had stabbed a conductor and three passengers, one of whom was a seriously wounded woman.

     The responding police officers handcuffed Williams behind his back after subduing him with a stun gun. By using non-lethal force against a crazed, knife-wielding man who had already stabbed four people, these officers, in the wake of the Michael Brown case, avoided killing a black man. 

     The wounded Amtrak conductor and passengers were taken to a nearby hospital where they were listed in stable condition.

     After a Berrien County, Michigan prosecutor charged Michael Williams with four counts of assault with intent to murder, the judge set his bail at $1 million. The judge also ordered a psychiatric evaluation to determine the suspect's mental competence to understand the charges against him as well as his ability to help his attorney defend him against the charges.

     On October 25, 2015, Michael Williams was allowed to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. According to members of his family, he had recently struggled with delusions and paranoia. Instead of prison, the judge sent Williams to a mental institution where he would remain until sane enough to safely rejoin society.

Animal Cruelty and Public Outrage

     In April 2019, a man rummaging through a dumpster in Coachella, California made a startling discovery. Inside a white plastic bag he found seven live, three-day old Terrier mix puppies. The dogs, having been exposed to 90 degree heat, were rushed to an animal hospital where they were found to be in remarkably good health. From there the puppies were taken to an Animal shelter.

     Surveillance video footage showed that prior to the discovery of the hapless puppies that day, a car pulled up to the dumpster and a woman got out carrying the bag of dogs. She dropped the package into the dumpster and drove off.

     Investigation revealed that the woman in the video was 54-year-old Deborah Sue Culwell.

     A Riverside County prosecutor charged Deborah Sue Culwell with 14 counts of animal cruelty. She pleaded not guilty to the charges.

     In August 2019, following Culwell's guilty plea, the judge sentenced her to one year in which she would have to spend 275 days behind bars. Culwell would serve her remaining time pursuant to a work release arrangement followed by seven years of probation during which time she could not own an animal.

     Although a misdemeanor offense, the cruelty of Culwell's crime and the vulnerability of its victims sparked outrage in the southern California community. The judge obviously shared this view of Culwell's behavior.

     Perhaps there should be a registry for animal abusers.

Lizzie Borden's Acquittal

 In 1893, in Fall River, Massachusetts, Lizzie Borden got off murdering her father and stepmother with a hatchet because the all-male jury didn't think young women from good families were capable of committing gruesome homicides. After the Borden trial, no one was ever arrested for the double killing. Lizzie Borden lived the rest of her life in Fall River under a cloud of suspicion. Only the bravest kids would knock on her door for Halloween candy.

James Michener On His Work Habits

     Between the years 1986 and 1990 I would write ten books, publish seven of them including two very long ones, and have the other three completed in their third revisions and awaiting publication. It was an almost indecent display of frenzied industry, but it was carried out slowly, carefully, each morning at the typewriter, each afternoon at exciting research or quiet reflection...

     Curiously, during this spurt of energy I never thought of myself as either compulsive or driven. Nor am I. Through decades of writing I have acquired certain patterns of behavior and workmanship which have enabled me to write long books. I merely adhere to those solid rules. I rise each day at seven-thirty, wash my face in cold water but do not shave, eat a frugal breakfast of bran sprinkled with banana, raisins, and skim milk--no sugar--and go directly to my desk, where the day's work has been laid out the night before.

     With delight and a feeling of well-being, I leap into whatever task awaits and remain at it until after noon, when I have a light lunch after which I take a nap. I never compose in the afternoon but do research and meet classes at the university. At dusk each day, regardless of the weather, I take a mile walk at a rather brisk clip. Supper, the evening news, a nine o'clock movie if a good one is on television, a half-hour of cleaning up my desk at eleven, and off to bed.

James A. Michener (1907-1997), The Eagle and the Raven, 1990 [Michener, who lived in Austin, Texas, published forty historical novels and a memoir. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1948.]

Historical Accuracy in Horror Fiction

Let us start with an observable fact: Many commercially successful novels and motion pictures pay only slight attention to historical accuracy. This is just as true in horror fiction as it is in other types of historical storytelling. Let us also observe that these inaccuracies are found in many outstanding works of literature and drama, and that faithfulness to history does not, by itself, create compelling stories. [One could argue that history itself is a horror story.]

Richard Gillian in On Writing Horror, Mort Castle, editor, 2007 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Meth Professor

     In 2012, Professor McCarthy, described by his students as an eccentric who smoked meth, taught in Michigan State University's Engineering Building. In October, just before one o'clock on the day his students will never forget, he started shouting in class. The professor pressed his hands and his face against a window, and stated to scream at the top of his lungs. The out of control professor walked out of the classroom and continued to make a lot of noise as he paced up and down the hallway. At this point someone called 911.

     Professor McCarthy returned to the classroom, and with his terrified students looking on, took off his clothes except for his socks. He then ran naked about the room screaming, "There is no f-ing God," and ranting about computers, Steve Jobs, and that everything in life was just an act. Traumatized students fled the classroom.

     Fifteen minutes after the 911 call police officers entered the classroom, placed the screaming, naked man into handcuffs, and hauled him off to a local hospital for observation. His students, for the remainder of the semester, were reassigned to other math classes.

     In an email to his former students, Professor McCarthy, after being discharged from the hospital, wrote: "The incident that occurred Monday was unfortunate. Although I do not remember what happened, I have been told that I may have caused distress among my students in Monday's class. For that I am sorry." 

     Professor John McCarthy was not charged with a crime. While he was probably tenured, the professor must have had a hard time justifying his meth induced antics as an exercise in academic freedom. Still, in academia, bizarre behavior is tolerated that anywhere else would be frowned upon and cause for dismissal. If the professor lost his job over this incident, there is no mention of it on the Internet. Assuming he kept his position at MSU, how did he muster the nerve to show his face on campus after that? 

Books For Children 9 to 13

Middle-grade fiction is perhaps the most satisfying category for a writer. Children are still children, but their curiosity is unbounded and the writer who can enthrall them will be cherished. Statistics have shown that this age is also known for having the most readers as a group. To satisfy these voracious and varied readers, think about writing thrillers, literary novels, fantasy and science fiction, gripping historical fiction, humor, and books about contemporary problems.

Olga Litowinsky, Writing and Publishing Books For Children, 1992 

Musician Memoirs

The music star memoir is a special corner of literature where people who probably hated school get to have their revenge. They get to look back at the English teacher who gave them bad grades--and say--"Look at me now, lots of people want to read what I'm writing!" I can personally attest to the fact that these books are "written" by the stars because I've spent years working on memoirs by the hip-hop legends KRS-One, Nas and Rakim. In most cases, the star isn't actually typing anything--but they are dictating their story while the writer tries to be faithful to their voice so it absolutely is their book [if not their work]. In my experience, these memoirs are hard to write partly because musicians have conquered a field where success is rare, giving them a sense that it was all predestined.

The New York Times Book Review, December 8, 2019

The Alcoholic Novelist

William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, and F. Scott Fitzgerald are probably three of the most notorious fall-down drunks in the literary history of Twentieth Century America. They are followed by Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and John Cheever. Many literary critics believe that all this drinking among male novelists stemmed from the fact that, in American culture, creative writing was not considered masculine. In other words, real men don't write. Perhaps these literary booze-hounds were simply alcoholics who happened to take pen to paper. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Fear of Being Buried Alive

Since ancient times, people have worried about being mistaken for dead and then buried alive. Collapse and apparent death became especially common during the plagues that wracked medieval Europe. But at the dawn of the nineteenth century, sensation-mongering tabloids whipped such fears into an unprecedented fervor. The reports of the "many ugly secrets locked up underground" included descriptions of claw marks seen on the inside of disinterred coffins. As a result, several renowned medical societies offered substantial rewards for scientific methods of ascertaining whether someone was truly dead.

Jessica Snyder Sachs, Corpse, 2001

The Psychological Crime Novel Victim

Although it's widely acknowledged that the human capacity for self-delusion is boundless, it can often be difficult to get through psychological crime novels of the "How well do you know your husband/wife/best friend?" variety without becoming so irritated by the protagonist's willful obtuseness that you end up wanting to give him, or more usually her, a good shake.

Laura Wilson, The Guardian, September 19, 2004 

The Short Story Is Not A Slice of Life

A basic distinction between an episode in real life and a short story is that the story does have an author, who creates his characters, selects his actions, and directs them in the exploration of some meaningful idea. Any episode in life is filled with irrelevancies of many kinds which confuse our understanding; in the story only those elements are included which serve to focus the overall effect, which is the story. The helpful author is present, then, in the creating, selecting, and focusing of the materials of his story.

Jarvis A. Thurston in Reading Modern Short Stories, edited by Jarvis A. Thurston, 1955

Journalism Beats working

Being a journalist, I never felt bad talking to journalism students about the profession because it's a grand, grand job. You get to leave the office, go talk to strangers, ask them anything, come back, type up their stories. That's not going to retire your student loans as quickly as it should, and it's not going to turn you into a person who's worried about what kind of new car they should buy, but that's as it should be. I mean, it beats working.

David Carr, The Independent, February 13, 2015 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Violent Woman

When women commit violence the only explanation offered has been that it is involuntary, defensive, or the result of mental illness or hormonal imbalance inherent with female physiology: postpartum depression, premenstrual syndrome, and menopause have been included among the named culprits. Women have been generally perceived to be capable of committing only "expressive" violence--an uncontrollable release of bottled-up rage or fear, often as a result of long-term abuse at the hands of males: Battered Woman Syndrome or Battered Spouse Syndrome. It has been generally believed that women usually murder unwillingly without premeditation. [Murderous women, often cold-blooded poisoners, include so-called "Angels of Death" who kill hospital patients and "Black Widows" who kill their husbands for the inheritance.]

Peter Vronsky, Female Serial Killers, 2007

Corpse Whisperers

The typical American goes into the ground injected with three to four gallons of preservatives. But a sizable segment of our over-sanitized culture will always escape quick processing. Prominent among this population: the abandoned and the murdered. In theory, their moldering bodies--slumped under bridges, forgotten in bed, or dumped along roadsides--retain the natural if repulsive clues that might disclose time of death. For reasons as sensible as sensory, police are quick to pass these unvarnished dead to the next line of custody--the coroners and medical examiners whose job it is to coax secrets from a corpse.

Jessica Snyder Sachs, Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death, 2001

Books by Literature Professors

     I don't yet understand the source of my antipathy toward literature professors. The pervasive air of smugness has something to do with it.

     I've paid some attention to the publications of my English Department colleagues and have the impression that they are responsible for a staggering amount of inconsequentia. English professors are always turning out extraneous "textbooks" or else are collecting other people's writing and publishing them as anthologies. My favorite example--if you'll allow me a moment of rottenness--is something "edited by" two of our tenured battleships, and proudly displayed behind glass in the departmental office. It's called Affirmations of the Human Spirit: Readings in Excellence, and is little more than excerpts from the Aeneid, The Divine Comedy, and Paradise Lost with a one-paragraph introduction to each.

     Many of the local professor-products are patched together with the primary purpose of preserving their authors from perishing in the publish-or-perish sense, or else for some low-wattage pedantic reason; in any case, they tend to shorten the lives of those forced to do "readings" in them. Boredom, like speed, kills.

Martin Russ, Showdown Semester, 1980 

Establishing a Novel's Setting

Settings are as varied in fiction as they are in the world: A humid southern bayou; icy Norwegian fords; a crumbling Victorian mansion; a stable, pungent with the stench of animals. These are just a few of the infinite number of places in which you might set your characters. Though they may seem like merely the backdrop to the action and drama of your narrative, they are more like the rich soil in which you plant your seeds. Do not forget to set the scene. Unless you have a good  reason to set your novel or story in a vacuum, establishing a physical setting is one of the most important and literal ways to ground the reader and keep characters from being floating heads.

Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Make a Scene, 2008 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Jail Suicide

Even though prisons hold many more men and women than local jails, more people take their lives in jail. In prison, illness is the leading cause of death, while suicide is the leading cause of death in jails and has been for more than a decade, according to Bureau of Justice statistics.

Al Tompkins, August 12, 2019

J.D. Salinger's Relationship With His Fans

The most intense relationship anybody can have with a writer is by reading their work, alone, in silence. Yet readers seek writers in search of something additional. It was J.D. Salinger's hero, Holden Caufield, who said that what really knocked him out was a book that when you're done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the telephone whenever you felt like it. It was also J.D. Salinger who, when Catcher in the Rye achieved its enormous success, made himself as inaccessible to his readers as any living author has ever been.

Sean French in The Faber Book of Writers on Writers, edited by Sean French 

Reaching the Low Point in Higher Education

In more and more colleges and universities, higher education is becoming a swindle perpetrated on the American taxpayer. Too many institutions of higher learning have become places where free speech and diversity of ideas go to die. Moreover, serious courses taught by worldly professors are being replaced by a curricula of feel-good nonsense taught by political and cultural propagandists. Administrators, staff and teachers at these institutions have become terrified of their students. And it seems the more prestigious the school, the worse it gets. Eventually, tax payers will have to rise up and end this abuse, this devastating waste of time and money. There has to be a better way.

Biographical Debunking

Biography is not the place for "debunking," although in recent years there has been a trend in that direction. Why would a biographer wish to spend his days of work giving vent to anger or carrying on a literary association with a person he despises? Yet some enjoy this and write bestsellers.

Doris Ricker Marston, A Guide to Writing History, 1996 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Are Police Rewards Helpful?

     In response to crimes that create public outrage and/or fear--abducted children, missing women found dead, venerated objects vandalized or stolen, acts of terrorism, serial killings, and highly publicized murders--law enforcement agencies almost always post monetary rewards for information leading to the capture and successful prosecution of the perpetrators. The highest rewards come from the federal government. The U.S. State Department put up $25 million for the head of Osama Bin Laden, and $2 million for the capture of James "Whitey" Bulger, the Boston mobster suspected of 18 murders. For years, both of these fugitives lived normal lives in public view. Bin Laden was killed in May 2018, and Bulger, on the lam since 1995, was caught about a year later in California.

     Although the federal government pays out more than $100 million a year in rewards, and claims this money is well-spent, there is no solid evidence that monetary incentives play a significant role in bringing criminals and terrorists to justice. Reward offerings may not only be ineffective, they may actually have an adverse effect on the administration of justice.

     In cases where rewards have been posted, there is no data that indicates the percentage of instances in which the monetary incentive produced a positive result. Moreover, in those cases where reward seekers did come forward with important information, we don't know if those cases would have been eventually solved anyway. There is a real possibility that the police are substituting rewards for old-fashioned shoe leather. The question is: do rewards serve the public, or are they merely public relations gimmicks for lazy investigators?

    The overuse of rewards encourages citizens not to cooperate with the police unless they are paid. In many high profile murder cases, the first thing the police do is offer a big reward. This sends the following message to the perpetrators:: "We don't have a clue, and we are desperate for a lead."

     The principal problem law with enforcement rewards, particularly in nationally publicized cases, involves the extra investigative hours it takes to run down all of the false leads created by tipsters hoping for a piece of the reward money. The publicity alone draws out of the woodwork all manner of false confessors, phony eyewitnesses, visionaries, psychics, psychotics, and people bored and lonely. Adding a reward incentive to this mix exacerbates the problem.

     Whether they help or hinder, rewards are here to stay. Law enforcement administrators love them, and the public has come to expect them. They are, at best, a criminal investigative placebo.    

Surviving Prison

Prison socializes an inmate to act hyper-rationally. It teaches him patience in planning and pursuing his goals, punishes him severely for his mistakes, and rewards him generously for smart action. No wonder that inmates are such ardent optimizers. A clever move can shorten one's sentence, save one from rape or a beating, keep one's spirits high, or increase one's access to resources. There is little space for innocent and spontaneous expressions of emotion when they collide with fundamental interests. Brutal fights, self-injury, and rapes can all be explained as outcomes of carefully calculated actions. Paradoxically, much of the confusion in interpreting prison behavior arises from both a failure to understand the motives of inmates and an unwillingness to admit that outcomes judged as inhuman or bizarre may be consequences of individually rational action.

Marek M. Kaminski, Games Prisoners Play, 2004

Are Manic-Depressives Better Novelists?

     A surprising proportion of novelists are manic-depressive. The psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison, one of the foremost experts on manic-depression, has explored this phenomenon in depth…The work of Jamison and others shows that novelists are ten times more likely to be manic-depressive than the rest of the population, and poets are a remarkably forty times more likely to suffer from this condition...

     Although most writers who have been successfully treated for depression find that their work begins to flow again as their mood improves, paradoxically, a few writers have linked their desire to write to their depression…

     One justification for such a position is that an artist must suffer to create, and what more effective way to suffer than through mental illness? [Most of the suffering associated with angst-driven writing is experienced by the reader.] 

     Other writers argue that depression is not necessary for creativity directly, but is an inevitable side effect of the mechanism that produces elated creative states…Several more writers have described how their desire to write disappeared as their depressions lifted, but blame the antidepressant--not the loss of their depression--for their decreased creativity.

Alice W. Flaherty, The Midnight Disease, 2004 

Meaningless Dialogue: Cut the Chat

     Letting a scene drag is one of the worst mistakes a writer can make. [Unless he is an established "literary" novelist.] Bringing two or more characters together and letting them chat on and on about nothing is inexcusable. The problem is many writers aren't even aware that their characters are doing this, even when it's in front of their noses. They're sitting right there writing the story and fail to see they're boring their reader to death with going-nowhere-fast dialogue.

     There are many reasons dialogue scenes bog down. The main one is that we clutter them with so much added narrative and action that the reader has to muddle his way through and the going becomes a little clunky. Sometimes, the scene is weak when it comes to tension and suspense, and the reader is yawning…

Gloria Kempton, Dialogue, 2004 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

An Editor Can't Save a Bad Novel

Maxwell Perkins [Scribner and Sons], dead these many years after he by Herculean effort transformed Thomas Wolfe's undisciplined outpourings into actual novels, did a disservice to novelists today who believe in the notion that all they need to do is get something on paper and some editor somewhere, most likely wearing a green eyeshade, will toil upon the novel until it is fit to print. They are mistaken.

George V. Higgins, On Writing, 1990

The Limits of Autobiography

I  have tried autobiography and found that I am not to be trusted with it. I hate the restrictiveness of facts; I just can't control my impulse to rearrange, suppress, add, heighten, invent, and improve. Accuracy means less to me that suggestiveness; my memory is as much an inventor as a recorder, and when it has operated it has operated almost as freely as if no personal history were involved.

Wallace Stegner, On Teaching and Writing Fiction, 2002 

Friday, September 17, 2021

Why Is Charles Manson Fascinating?

Why does Charles Manson continue to compel us? Not because he reflects the dark heart of the 1960s but because he exemplifies a more far-reaching darkness, the one inside ourselves. As he said at his trial, "I am what you made me"--like any persuasive liar, nurturing his deceptions from a kernel of truth.

David Ulin in reviewing Jeff Guinn's new book, Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, 2013

Children Take What They Read Literally

While some young readers can think abstractly, most children understand fiction quite literally. This means you have to be careful about what you suggest to them. Perhaps you have a story idea about a little girl who is lonely. Suddenly, a magical man arrives and takes her away on a fantastic adventure. That may be a solid story idea, but your young reader might also take that story line literally, and the repercussions of that in today's world could be very dangerous.

Tracy E. Dils, You Can Write Children's Books, 1998

Memoirs by Journalists

Memoirs are for remembrance. And the remembrances of journalists, when they take book form, are what I think of as "and then I met" books. In my time as a journalist I have met many what we call great men--at least celebrated men. But in Growing Up I was not interested in doing an "and I met" book." My prime interest was to celebrate people that nobody heard of, people I was terribly fond of. I thought these people deserved to be known.

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

Write What You Can Learn About

That old dictum, write what you know? I've always thought that was terrible advice. Most of us don't know much. And what we do know can feel shopworn in the retelling. Shopworn or just divested of emotional content. Sometimes, the things we're closest to--our lives, for instance--are the very things we least want to examine with rigor. So I prefer: Write what you can learn about.

Fiona Maazel, novelist, 2005

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Who Assassinated Huey P. Long?

     The assassination of a political figure is most often executed by persons who seemingly have nothing to lose by their actions. Lee Harvey Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan, and James Earl Ray, the assassins of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., respectively, fit neatly into this category of down-and-outers. But Dr. Carl Austin Weiss, reputedly the assassin of Louisiana senator Huey P. Long, was not of that mold.

     Instead he is a rarity among proved or purported assassins--a medical doctor. He is the only physician in history to be an accused assassin. To add further mystery to this case, at the age of twenty-nine he had a flourishing medical practice in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as well as a wife and three-month-old son to grace a promising life. He was not overly involved in politics.

     In addition, he gave no indication on the day of the assassination [September 10, 1935] to anyone who knew him that he was about to do something so dramatic--and certainly suicidal, as well as humiliating for his family. He'd been on a family outing and had just ordered new furniture for his home. Yet despite these nagging questions, this case has been closed with the popular conviction, spurred by police efforts to close the file and by a popular enthusiasm to follow the police lead, that Weiss was indeed an assassin. Yet was he? [Dr. James Starrs, based on the forensic firearms identification evidence, believes that Senator Long was accidentally shot to death by his body guards, the men who also shot Dr. Weiss to death that night in the Louisiana State House.]

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

Catherine Wood and Gwendoline Graham: Angels of Death

     Killing to ease the stress of a bad day was part of the strategy adopted by care assistants Catherine Wood and Gwendoline Graham at the Alpine Manor Nursing Home in Walter, Michigan. To make the game more fun, they selected their elderly victims in a sequence whereby the first letter of their names spelled out the word, M.U.R.D.E.R…
     Wood and Graham were lesbian lovers and while they both received satisfactory job reviews, their nursing home colleagues had suspicions about their behavior. For one thing, the pair liked to boast about the callous way they treated some of their patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease which included taking souvenirs such as trinkets and ornaments. Colleagues were not sure how seriously to take things they were told.

     After a series of eight deaths at the nursing home [January through February 1987], some of these boasts landed on fertile ground. Wood's ex-husband heard stories about patients being suffocated and, after months of indecision, eventually went to the police. The two women were arrested in December 1988 and charged with murder…

     Wood was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to twenty to forty years imprisonment while Graham, found guilty of six murders, was sentenced to life with no hope of parole.

Robin Odell, The Mammoth Book of Bizarre Crimes, 2010

The First Creative Nonfiction Writing Course

     When I started teaching in the English Department at the University of Pittsburgh in the early 1970s, the concept of an "artful" or "literary" nonfiction was considered, to say the least, unlikely. My colleagues snickered when I proposed teaching a "creative" nonfiction course, while the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences proclaimed that nonfiction in general--forget the use of the word creative--was at its best a craft, not too different from plumbing. [Actually, it's probably just as difficult to be a good plumber as it is a good writer. Moreover, we have enough writers.]

     As the chairman of our department put it one day in a faculty meeting while we were debating the legitimacy of the course: "After all, gentlemen…we're interested in literature here--not writing." That remark and the subsequent debate had been precipitated by a contingent of students from the school newspaper who marched on the chairman's office and politely requested more nonfiction writing courses--"the creative kind."

     One English colleague, aghast at this prospect, carried a dozen of his favorite books to the meeting--poetry, fiction, and nonfiction--gave a belabored mini-review of each, and then, pointing a finger at the editor of the paper and pounding a fist, stated: "After you read all these books and understand what they mean, I will consider voting for a course called Creative Nonfiction. Otherwise, I don't want to be bothered."

     Luckily, most of my colleagues didn't want to be bothered fighting the school newspaper, so the course was approved--and I became one of the first people to teach creative nonfiction on a university level. This was 1973.

Lee Gutkind in Writing Creative Nonfiction, Carolyn Forche and Philip Gerard, editors, 2001 

Isaac Asimov's Quiet Life

I'm egocentric in the sense that I live inside my own head most of the time, and I'm fascinated by my own thoughts. Nothing has ever happened to me in any real sense. I haven't met famous people. I haven't been involved in world-shaking events. I haven't done unusual things like climb Mount Everest. I've led a very quiet life.

Isaac Asimov in The Writer as Celebrity, edited by Maralyn Lois Polak, 1986 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Social Media Revenge Porn

In 2017, the Cyber Civil Rights Institute, a nonprofit organization formed in 2013 to fight online abuse, found that more than 10 percent of social media users are victims of revenge porn, with women twice as likely to be targeted as men. These statistics aren't an enormous surprise given that many people these days meet their romantic partners online--39 percent of heterosexual couples and 65 percent of same-sex couples, according to a recent study by sociologists at Stanford University and the University of New Mexico--and go on to conduct a great deal of intimacy by way of smart-phone and computer, whether sexting or video-chatting.

Kate Bolick, The New York Times Book Review, September 22, 2019

Political Novels by Anonymous

As marketing strategies go, it's a chancy one: Gin up excitement for a book by declining to name the author. It worked for Primary Colors, a best-selling critically acclaimed novel about Bill Clinton's 1992 run for the White House (later revealed to have been written by the journalist Joe Klein.) Secrecy did not work so well for O: A Presidential Novel, a peek inside Barack Obama's 2012 campaign. The author of O is described on the book flap as "someone who has been in the room with Barack Obama." Michiko Kakutani wrote in her Times review, "but given the novel's many inane implausibilities, the reader can't help but think that the writer was either a lousy observer or that the room was really enormous--a hotel ballroom perhaps, or maybe a convention center."

Tina Jordan, The New York Times Book Review, December 8, 2019

Romance Novel Plot Cliches

     Because there have been thousands of romance novels published, it is inevitable that some of them have featured similar plots. Usually the fact that the characters in each book are different makes even the similar plots distinctive, too. But there are plot points that have been so overused that they've worn out and require an entirely new approach to make them unpredictable and exciting again.

     The only way to be aware of all these problem areas is to read a lot. Some of the standards that appear in far too many romance novels include the heroine running smack into the hero (usually feeling as if she's hit a solid wall when she collides with his impressive chest); the hero walking in on the heroine in her bath; the heroine walking in on the hero while he's clad only in a towel; the heroine falling, so the hero has to catch her; the heroine breaking the heel off her shoe; the hero and heroine feeling an electrical jolt on first touch; the heroine seeing fireworks with the first kiss.

Leigh Michaels, On Writing Romance, 2007 

Real Versus Fictitious Horror

Why read horror fiction when there is such an abundance of terror in the real world? It's a question I ask as someone who seeks out the macabre in literature, even as I cringe at the daily news. With temperatures reaching 123 and honey bees going the way of dodo birds, one can't help wondering: What is the point of dark fiction when reality gives us so much to fear. [This was written in relatively good times before the coronavirus epidemic, inflation, the southern border mess, the war on police, the rise in crime, and the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan.]

Danielle Trussoni, The New York Times Book Review, October 6, 2019

Kurt Vonnegut On His Writing Students

I wish my students could write simply and clearly, and keep a story moving as well. They are damned if they will tell a story simply and directly, and I have discovered the reason for this. It is not the fault of their previous teachers. It is their own fault: they have no stories to tell. I am going to take them on walks, and make them look at people. I have just ordered them to buy a book, which is to be the core text for my workshop. The book? That Steichen collection of photographs, The Family of Man

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

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Cleaning Homes Contaminated by Meth Labs

     Tens of thousands of houses have been used as meth labs the last decade and a cottage industry is developing around cleaning them up. Many Americans are more aware of the production of the highly addictive drug thanks to AMC's hit show "Breaking Bad" which featured a high school chemistry teacher who turned into a meth cooker and dealer. In real life, cleanup contractors are the ones who deal with a property when a batch explodes or police raid an operation and shut it down.

     However, there is little oversight of the growing industry in most states, opening the door for potential malfeasance.

     To make a meth home safe, a certified contractor must remove and replace all contaminated materials, from walls to carpet to air conditioning vents. Next, a certified "industrial hygienist" tests the home to gauge whether it can be lived in or needs more cleaning.

Adrian Sainz, Associated Press, December 27, 2013 

Good Sports Stories

The best sports books appeal to serious sports fans but also to readers who couldn't care less about statistics or play-by-play and are just looking for a darn good story. [ESPN's sports documentary series "30-30" is a good example of good stories that non-sports fans can enjoy.]

Juliet Macur, The New York Times Book Review, December 8, 2019

Taking Literature Too Seriously

English professors and literary critics often take literature too seriously. Judging the literary value of a novel, in the scheme of things, is a trivial pursuit. Kurt Vonnegut said it best: "Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel or play or a poem is preposterous. He or she is like a person who puts on full armor and attacks a hot fudge sundae or a banana split."

Journalists Can be Duped

Perhaps one shouldn't always feel bad about getting someone utterly wrong. Sometimes one is bested by a master. In November 2004, I went to interview Bernard Madoff for the Economist and was won over. I told friends that I trusted this quiet, thoughtful man more than I trusted any of the dozens of Wall Street loudmouths I'd talked to that year. It emerged in 2008 that Madoff had been one of the biggest con men in history.

Anthony Gottlieb, The New York Times Book Review, October 6, 2019

Writing a Thriller

A thriller is always about people in danger. The key is to make the reader share the hero's anxiety. In all popular fiction, the author's aim must be to get the reader to feel the emotions of the characters. That's what makes the reader turn the pages.

Ken Follett, The New York Times, September 4, 2014 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Removing Police Qualified Immunity

There is a reason that police officers, in the course of their law enforcement duties, have qualified immunity from being personally sued. Without this limited legal protection, there would be no law enforcement. Contingency lawyers would move in and kill the profession. Under these conditions, who in their right mind would risk personal bankruptcy by becoming a cop?  Instead of removing this essential protection, making it easier for police administrators to discipline offending officers is a better, more realistic option. 

Mommie Dearest Books: The Art of the Hatchet-Job

     In 1978, Mommie Dearest, Christina Crawford's viciously unflattering portrait of her mother, Hollywood star Joan Crawford, broke new ground in using the memoir to get even with a lousy parent. The book, painting Joan Crawford as a self-centered, compulsively clean neurotic, was made into a movie in 1981. Three years later, Gary Crosby, in his memoir Going My Way, did a hatchet-job on his father, crooner and film star, Bing Crosby. In 1987, the critic Vivian Gornick, the author of a previous book on how to write memoirs, published Fierce Attachments, a memoir describing her troubled relationship with her mother. The book, showing the author's mother in a terrible light, reveals a relationship characterized by hatred and rage. The author blames her later-in-life problems on her awful mother and their turbulent relationship. More recently, the writer Dan Fante, in a memoir about an early life of drugs, booze, mental illness and violence, portrays his father, the southern California screenwriter and novelist, John Fante, as an angry, aggressive drunk who regularly offended and bullied his bosses, his friends and his long-suffering wife.

     In 2011, Alexis Stewart contributed to the Mommie Dearest genre with a memoir critical of her famous mother, Martha Stewart. In the book, rather stupidly entitled Whatever Land: Learning to Live Here, the author shocks the reader with revelations such as these: mother made daughter wrap her own Christmas presents, didn't celebrate Halloween, and never closed the door when using the bathroom.

     A steady diet of Mommie Dearest books might cause celebrities to consider the wisdom of having children. 

Nora Ephron on Jacqueline Susann's "The Love Machine"

We looked backed to the summer of 1969 to see what people were reading 50 years ago. Back then the country's hottest novel was Jacqueline Susann's The Love Machine, which Nora Ephron reviewed for The New York Times. In her piece, which was as saucy and savagely funny as you might expect, Ephron wrote: "With the possible exception of Cosmopolitan magazine, no one writes about sadism in modern man and masochism in modern women quite as horribly and accurately as Jacqueline Susann. The Love Machine is not exactly a literary work. But in its own little sub-genre category of popularly written roman a clef, it shines, like a rhinestone in a trash can."

Tina Jordan, The New York Times Book Review, August 18, 2019

What it Takes to be a "Real Writer"

     Imagine if someone were to tell you "You're not a bicyclist until you've ridden at least five hundred miles," or "You can't consider yourself a real bather until you've spent at least a thousand hours in the tub." They'd sound pretty foolish.

     Yet some writers and writing teachers persist in trying to tell the world who qualifies to be a writer and who doesn't. "You only become a real writer after you've published three books." "After you've written your first million words, then you can call yourself a writer." "Oh, so you have a day job and write at night? You're really a hobbyist, not a writer."

     These sorts of pronouncements and judgments are all nonsense--and arrogant nonsense, at that.

     If you get on a bicycle and ride, you're a bicyclist. If you fill up the tub and climb in, you're a bather. And if you put words on paper, you're a writer. It's as simple--and obvious--as that.

Scott Edelstein, 100 Things Every Writer Needs to Know, 1999

Creating Fiction

Fiction, first of all, involves the invention of a world. Here the writer needs, not only the gift of writing, but the ability to create scenes, particulars and persons--to make imaginary lives and objects.

William H. Gass in Afterwords, edited by Thomas McCormack, 1988 

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Cesare Lombroso and the Early History of Criminal Investigation and Criminology

     For the first five thousand years or so, mankind's detective work was incredibly shoddy. A criminal investigation prior to the 1800s generally meant little more than a hasty search for eyewitnesses and motives and, above all, the coercion of the accused into confessing.

     That began to change in the mid-to late 1800s, as schools of forensic medicine opened up, as detectives turned to fingerprints and police departments began to collect mug shots. French chemists refined blood analysis.

     By the 1890s, criminologists appeared to be on the verge of a startling breakthrough: identifying criminal body types or markers.

     Internationally acclaimed Italian scientist, Cesare Lombroso, claimed that by carefully examining the physical characteristics of a suspect, i. e., every nook and cranny of the body, he could help determine guilt or innocence. [Actually, Lombroso claimed the ability to identify criminal types by analyzing their faces and general builds. For example, he believed that short, stocky men with low foreheads were often criminals.]

     Imagine the implications. Say someone was accused of rape, but the eyewitness identification was a bit shaky. What if Lombroso could inspect the man's body or skull and find definitive markers revealing the man to be a rapist? Would it be the suspect's ear? His tongue? His nose hair? No body part was off-limits to these scientific pioneers.

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997 

Historical Fiction

History is a comfy subject for fiction. We already know what happened, and we usually know what to think about it: how foolish it was to underestimate Hitler, to board the Titanic. This makes historical fiction a safe, even conservative genre, attractive to writers who aren't looking to go out on a limb.

Kevin Wilson, The New York Book Review, February 2, 2020

Remember Maps?

As the daughter of geography professor, I grew up in a house filled with maps, which papered the walls of our living room and filled my father's cramped study. In a digital age where maps have become all but obsolete, I still love them. I comb flea markets and secondhand bookstores looking at maps of the places I've lived. I always have a road atlas in my car which comes in handy in places with no cell service, like the remote hollows of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And I collect atlases of all kinds and spend far too much money on them.

Tina Jordan, The New York Times Book Review, December 8, 2019

Writers: Spare Us Your Agony

Some writers complain and wail about how difficult it is to write. Oh the suffering, the pure agony of putting words on paper. Enough already. Try complaining to people who farm, move furniture, paint houses, or serve food in restaurants full of small tippers and misbehaving kids. No one is forcing you to write, and no one wants to hear about your agony. If writing doesn't come easy, either quit doing it or shut up about how hard it is. Please.

Hard Work Might Not be Enough

We grow up being told by teachers and parents that if we work hard and try our best we can attain our goals. That might be good advice in general, but does not necessarily apply to careers and professions that also require a special talent or specific knowledge. To strenuously pursue those professions and careers without the requisite intelligence or talent can lead to frustration and despair. This certainly applies to aspiring writers who hope to become successful novelists.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Crime Scene Fiber Evidence

     Fiber evidence can be horrendously confusing. There's probably about seven thousand dyes and pigments that are used in textiles. Any one of those requires about eight to ten unit processes to turn it into a usable chemical for dyeing. There are about twelve different ways to get dyes into textiles. There's about twenty-nine different dye categories. Any one color that you see in a garment rarely is the result of one dye. And there's all types of finishes, both chemical and physical, that change the final properties of the dye.
     And that's just color. That's not talking about the categories of polymer…

Fiber specialist in Crime Scene by Connie Fletcher, 2006 

The Illness Memoir

     It is a mistake to dismiss illness memoirs out of hand. The worst of them are showy and whiny. The best of them are tussling with the great human themes in an utterly contemporary context…

     Disease is everywhere. How anyone could ever write about themselves or their fictional characters as not diseased is a bit beyond me. We live in a world that is spinning out more and more medicines that correspond to more and more diseases at an alarming pace.

     The illness memoir is so many things: a kindly attempt to keep company; a product of our culture's love of pathology, or of our sometimes whorish selves; a story of human suffering and the attempts to make meaning within it; and finally, a reflection on this awful and absurd and somehow very funny truth, that we are rotting, rotting, even as we write. [This is why many people don't read illness memoirs.]

Lauren Slater in Writing Creative Nonfiction, Carolyn Forche and Philip Gerard, editors, 2001 

The Goodreads Reviewer

Authors hold a strange place in our cultural imagination. Even if readers revere them, the scope and economics of publishing mean very few of today's authors become superstars. Most are just ordinary people, many of whom have debts and day jobs and little experience dealing with the public--fans or otherwise. Some also have plenty of time to mess around on the internet, and for those authors Goodreads is kryptonite. For every well-considered review on the book recommendations site, positive or negative, there's a Goodreads user who puts factually inaccurate opinions about books, or who lazily resorts to snark, to one-word reviews that tell readers nothing but "meh."

Maris Kreizman, The New York Times Book Review, October 6, 2019

Story Digressions

Every scene in your novel must pertain to your plot. Every single one. Even if a character muses or meanders, that activity must be plot-related. A character under suspicion of murder may drift off into thought, but those thoughts had better be about why he's been wrongfully accused, how he's going to prove his innocence, or who the true murderer is, not random memories of whale-watching or hiking.

Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Make a Scene, 2008 

A Journalist's Claim

For the past 15 years I've been writing nonfiction books that describe real events and real people, well known or not, close friends or distant acquaintances. Some of them I've hurt, yes, but I maintain that I did not dupe any of them.

Emmanuel Carrere, The New York Times Book Review, December 22, 2019

Friday, September 10, 2021

Executions: Violent Death by Electricity and Gas

     When Robert Wayne Williams was put to death in Angola [prison's] electric chair in 1983, Louisiana's first execution in nineteen years, wardens were amazed that the chair literally cooked William's scalp and legs, which smoked and sizzled for several minutes. Twenty-four hours later, the corpse reeked so strongly that mourners found it difficult to remain in the funeral parlor where Williams was laid out. Angola's warden, Ross Maggio, had to call sources outside the prison simply to learn if this was the way it was supposed to happen.

     The gas chamber was harder still for many to watch in action. The apparent violence of asphyxiation grievously offended [execution] witnesses in state after state, from the 1983 execution of Jimmy Lee Gray in Mississippi to the gassing of Donald Eugene Harding on April 11, 1992, Arizona's first execution in thirty years. A Tucson television reporter sobbed uncontrollably during Harding's ten-minute execution; two other reporters "were rendered walking vegetables for days"; the attorney general vomited halfway through; a prison staff member who ran the execution likened it to watching a man suffer a series of heart attacks; and the prison's pro-death penalty warden said he'd resign if the state told him to run another asphyxiation. But Harding's death was probably no different from those suffered in Arizona's gas chamber since it was installed as "a humane measure" in 1933, replacing a gallows that had decapitated a condemned woman.

Ivan Solotaroff, The Last Face You'll Ever See, 2001

Murder Fascination

     To say that as a society we take an interest in murder is an understatement. From today's headlines to tomorrow's books, TV, and movies, murder reigns supreme. And as if the more than half a million real-life murders a year around the globe (some 12,000 in the United States alone) somehow constituted a lack of violent death, we make up for that lack in fiction--adding a never-ending supply of made-up stories of murder and mayhem to the count.

     To paraphrase P. D. James [an English crime novelist], our fascination with this worst of crimes--a crime against the very humanity of our fellow humanity--perhaps lies more with our desire to restore order than it does with the despicable act itself. At any rate, fascinated we are--and remain.

A Miscellany of Murder, The Monday Murder Club, 2011

Anthony Burgess: The Anxious Novelist

The anxiety involved in writing is intolerable. And the financial rewards just don't make up for the expenditure of energy, the damage to health caused by stimulants and narcotics, the fear that one's work isn't good enough. I think, if I had enough money, I'd give up writing tomorrow.

Anthony Burgess, The New Yorker, June 14, 2004 

Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World"

Aldous Huxley's Brave New World reflected its author's worries in the 1930s that individual freedom was threatened by both communism and assembly-line capitalism, and it anticipated a technology-driven future in which people would be narcotized and distracted to death by trivia and entertainment.

Michiko Kakutani, The New York Book Review, September 22, 2019

Hard-Boiled Detective Fiction

We must cut off the modern detective story from the novel proper, put it in quite another category, one with its own traditions, conventions and demands, and thus develop a completely independent critical approach to it. I feel, in fact, that however we react to novels of the American hard-boiled school, nothing but harm can be done by an attempt to see them as "realistic" or closer to the novel proper than other varieties of crime fiction.

Robert Barnard, A Talent to Deceive, 1990 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Brady Oestrike Double Murder/Suicide Case

     In Grand Rapids, Michigan, 18-year-old Brooke Slocum and her boyfriend Charles Oppenneer, 25, were homeless. She was eight months pregnant. The couple frequently exchanged sex for food and a temporary place to stay. They hooked up with Johns through the online service Craigslist. An Internet pay-for-sex arrangement brought them into contact with Brady Oestrike.

     The 31-year-old Oestrike, employed as a lineman for a utility company, resided in a suburb of Grand Rapids called Wyoming. Because he talked about killing people and having bizarre dreams, many of his acquaintances considered him disturbed.

     On Saturday, July 12, 2014, Slocum, Oppenneer and Oestrike engaged in sexual activity at Oestrike's house. At some point that night the utility company lineman stabbed Charles Oppenneer to death and took Slocum prisoner.

     Hikers, on Wednesday July 16, 2014, came upon a headless corpse in nearby Gezon Park. A forensic pathologist identified the remains as Charles Oppenneer.

     The day following the gruesome discovery, Oestrike strangled the pregnant teen to death. He stuffed her body into the truck of his car for later disposal.

     By now homicide detectives had identified Oestrike as a suspect in the murder and missing person case. At nine-fifteen on the night of July 17, 2014, uniformed police officers and investigators rolled up to Oestrike's house in Wyoming armed with a search warrant. The suspect saw them coming, jumped into his car, and drove off.

     Following a brief chase, Oestrike crashed his vehicle into a tree. When officers approached the wrecked car they found Oestrike dead. He had shot himself in the head.

     Inside the dead man's trunk officers found Brooke Slocum's body. Her unborn baby was dead as well.

     A search of Oestrike's house produced several guns, ammunition, swords, knives, and items that belonged to the murdered couple. Mr. Oppenneer's head was never found. 

Serial Killer Bobby Joe Long

     As a child growing up in Kenova, West Virginia, kids teased Bobby Joe Long because he had an extra X chromosome that caused him to grow breasts. As a child he suffered several head injuries, and slept in his mother's bed until he was a teenager. Prior to killing women in the Tampa Bay, Florida area, Long raped at least fifty victims in Fort Lauderdale, Ocala, and Miami where he was known by the media as the "Classified Ad Rapist." Many of his victims were prostitutes.

     In 1974, Long married his high school girlfriend with whom he fathered two children. They divorced in 1980. Three years later Long moved to Tampa Bay, and in March 1984, abducted, raped and strangled to death his first murder victim. Over the next eight months Long would murder another nine women whose bodies he posed in gruesome positions. Either strangled or bludgeoned to death, all of these woman had their throats slit. Most of them died in his apartment.

     In November 1984, a women he had abducted managed to talk Long out of killing her. This led to his arrest, conviction and death sentence. Long confessed to deriving sadistic pleasure out of his victims' suffering.

     On May 23, 2019, the 65-year-old serial killer was executed. He had no last words for those who witnessed his death by lethal injection.

Last Words of Steven Wood

You're not about to witness an execution; you're about to witness a murder. I've never killed anybody, never. This whole thing is wrong...Warden, if you're going to murder someone, go ahead and do it. Pull that trigger. Goodbye.

Steven Wood, 31, executed September 13, 2011 by lethal injection in Texas

"Hooking" the Reader

     Some first lines are so powerful that you absolutely have to keep on reading. This is known as a "hook." Nearly all the great writers employ hooks in one form or another…

     Despite popular misconception, though, the hook is more than a marketing tool. At its best, it can be not only a propellant but also a statement of what you might expect from the text to come. It can establish a character, narrator, or setting, convey a shocking piece of information. The irony is there is only so much you can do with one line; thus it is a game: the less space you have to work with, the more creative you must become. It is not surprising then that hooks comprise some of the most memorable lines in literature.

     What is rarely discussed is the importance of the hook not only as an opening line but as an opening paragraph, not only an opening paragraph but as an opening page, not only as an opening page but as an opening chapter. In other words, the same intensity of thought applied to the opening line should not be confined to the opening line--a common malady--but rather applied to the text in its entirety. This takes endurance, focus and concentration; with this level of intensity, it might take several days to complete even one paragraph.

     Look at your first or last line and think of the agonizing effort you put into it. You knew you were in the spotlight, that it had to be good. How many times did you rewrite that one line? What would the rest of your manuscript be like if you agonized over each line the same way? It would take forever is probably your first thought…

     I am often amazed by how many manuscripts begin with good first lines--and good openings in general--and then fall apart; it is actually rare to see the intensity found in a first line (or last) maintained throughout a manuscript.

Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages, 2000

Writing So Pretentious It's Meaningless

In reviewing a 2018 book of photography featuring the work of married photographers, The New York Book Review author wrote: "Every spread contrasts a picture apiece by each of them, and the connections between them are mostly delicate and elusive--a hue, a texture, an incidental structural effect, now and then an object. She is more attuned to the natural world, he to the vagaries of human existence; both of them are intoxicated by color and enjoy making layered compositions on which the eye flits from close up to far back..." This description is so pretentious, so artsy-fartsy, it has no meaning, and is therefore useless and a waste of time. The review is not about the book, it's about a reviewer who is intoxicated by her own show-off writing. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Fear And Loathing In New York City: Law And Disorder In The Big Apple

Most large cities in the United States spend between 25 and 35 percent of their overall municipal budgets on policing. City leaders in Oakland, California spend 41 percent on police services while those in charge of New York City spend a mere 8 percent on law enforcement. In New York City, public safety is no longer a high priority, and the results of this de-emphasis on law and order is being felt by people who visit and live in the city. The contempt Mayor DeBlasio  and his city council have for New York City police officers has emboldened cop-hating mobs that vandalize police vehicles and attack officers. The quality of life in the city for criminals has improved at the expense of the police and the law abiding citizens who relay on them for protection. 

Law: A Literary Profession

The law is a literary profession, and lawyers are professional writers. The legal profession lives and breathes through the written word: letters, briefs, opinions, contracts, memoranda, and other products.

James E. Moliterno and Frederick L. Lederer, An Introduction to Law, Law Study, and the Lawyer's Role, 1991 

The Writer's Personality: A Study in Abnormality

     Is there such a thing as a writer's personality or type? Are there quirks, personality traits, and emotional qualities common to writers? Do writers, like serial killers, fit some kind of psychological profile? Are writers, as some people think, emotionally disturbed egomaniacs? Some writers openly reveal in memoirs, journals and letters that they consider themselves, at least in some respects, psychologically strange and abnormal. In addition to being odd, many writers have outsized egos and are pathologically competitive. George Bernard Shaw, for example, said this of himself: "With the exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his." Writers have also shown themselves to be compulsive, whiny, petty, and cruel. When Truman Capote died, his rival Gore Vidal was supposed to have referred to his passing as "a good career move."
      What follows are quotes from authors about the writer's personality:
Most writers I know have a combination of self-loathing and great narcissism.
Anne Lamott

One has to be an egomaniac to be a writer, but you've got to hide it.
James Jones

[Writers are] a bad lot on the whole--petty, nasty, bilious, suffused with envy and riddled with fear.
Roger Rosenblatt

Personally, I think it's [the talent to write] a disease, and the fact it produces books that people buy doesn't make it any more healthy.
James M. Cain

Most people who have strong talent [to write] also have impedimenta. There is something wrong with their character one way or another. It's not accident that so many talented writers are heavy drinkers and all that.
Norman Mailer

Neurologists have found that changes in a specific area of the brain can produce hypergraphia--the medical term for an overpowering desire to write.
Dr. Alice W. Flaherty

Unsurprisingly, a psychological survey of the Iowa Workshop showed that 80 percent of writers in the program reported evidence of manic depression, alcoholism, or other lonely addictions in themselves or their immediate families. 
Tom Grimes 

Sigmund Freud said that writers and artists are people who discovered as youngsters that they lost out in the hurly-burly of the playground. They discovered, however, that they had the power to fantasize about such things, about the fruits of power, such as money, glory and beautiful lovers.
Tom Wolfe

Do you have a new idea almost every day for a writing project? Do you either start them all and don't see them to fruition or think about starting but never actually get going?...Do you begin sentences in your head while walking to work or picking up the dry cleaning? Do you blab about your project to loved ones, coworkers or strangers before the idea is fully formed, let alone partially executed? Have you ever been diagnosed with any combination of bipolar disorder, alcoholism, or skin diseases such as eczema or psoriasis? Do you snap at people who ask how your writing is going? What is it to them? Do you fear that you will someday wonder where the years went? How is it that some no-talent you went to high school with is being published everywhere you look?...If you can relate to the above, you certainly have the obsessive qualities--along with the self-aggrandizement and concurrent feelings of worthlessness--that are part of the writer's makeup.
Betsey Lerner 

Mary Higgins Clark

     Multiple bestseller [crime novelist] Mary Higgins Clark worked as a flight attendant for Pan Am, got married, had five children, and was widowed in her thirties. She had always wanted to write and had taken writing courses at New York University. Before she hit pay dirt, Clark worked in radio, getting up at five A.M. to write before getting her kids ready for school.

     "I knew I had the talent. When I was fifteen I was picking out clothes that I would wear when I became a successful writer. I was sure I'd make it, but you have to learn the craft, how to tell the story."

Ian Jackman, The Writer's Mentor, 2004

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Arrest First, Ask Questions Later

     A compassionate Houston driver who gave some change to a homeless man was later wrongfully arrested on police suspicion that his charity was part of a drug deal. During a late-night drive, Greg Snider pulled into an empty parking lot to make a call on his cell phone. A homeless man approached him and asked for money. Snider gave him 75 cents in change before continuing his drive.

     A police car pulled Snider over. The officer ordered him out of his car, handcuffed him and put him in the back of the police car…The officer told Snider that he had seen him make a drug deal. Eventually, as many as 10 police cars approached the scene…Snider agreed to let the officer search his car…After a hour-long search, officers were forced to admit that the man had no drugs, and let him go. The police laughed all the while--apparently, they found it hilarious that they had detained an innocent man for over an hour over a misunderstanding. [Had the driver made a "furtive move," he may have been shot.]

Robby Soave, The Daily Caller, January 17, 2014 

What's The Fastest You Have Driven?

     New Hampshire State Police say an airborne patrol unit clocked a man driving 127 mph on Interstate 93 in the town of Northfield. The State Police Special Enforcement Unit was using an airplane to monitor traffic Saturday morning November 29, 2014 when the trooper in the aircraft saw a northbound vehicle traveling fast.

     Police said the tactical flight officer twice clocked the vehicle traveling in excess of 100 mph with the top speed at 127. The driver, stopped by troopers on the ground, was 19-year-old Ryan Quinn of Newport, Rhode Island. A prosecutor charged Quinn with reckless driving and two counts of possession of a controlled drug.

"Man clocked at 127 MPH on Highway," Associated Press, November 30, 2014 

First Novel Expectations

     I wrote my first novel when I was nineteen. It was bad, the kind of mystery they call "cozy" these days, but with added pretensions to high literary values. I had never taken a creative writing class and knew nothing of plot, character, or pace except for what I had gleaned from my random reading habits. It took me about a year to finish it, and the moment it was done I set about mailing it out to whatever big, famous publishers seemed most likely to back a dump truck full of money up to my parents' front door. It was, I figured, no more than I deserved.

     No one bought it. No one so much as nibbled. I'd be astonished to learn that anyone read more than a few pages of the thing before mailing out the obligatory polite rejection. Over the years I accumulated quite a stack of polite rejections.

A. J. Hartley in How I Got Published, edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay, 2007 

Jimmy Breslin's Creative Nonfiction

     In the introduction to his breakthrough 1973 anthology, The New Journalism, Tom Wolfe writes about how Jimmy Breslin, a columnist for the New York Herald Tribune, captured the realistic intimacy of experiences by noticing details that could act as metaphors for something larger and more all-encompassing that he wanted to say. Wolfe describes Breslin's coverage of the trial of Anthony Provenzano, a union boss charged with extortion. At the beginning, Breslin introduces the image of the bright morning sun bursting through the windows of the courtroom and reflecting off the large diamond ring on Provenzano's chubby pinky finger. Later, during a recess, Provenzano, flicking a silver cigarette holder, paces the halls, sparring with a friend who came to support him, the sun still glinting off the pinky ring.

     Wolfe writes: "The story went on in that vein with Provenzano's Jersey courtiers circling around him and fawning while the sun explodes off his pinky ring. Inside the courtroom itself, however, Provenzano starts getting his. The judge starts lecturing him and the sweat starts breaking out on Provenzano's upper lip. Then the judge sentences him to seven years, and Provenzano starts twisting his pinky finger with his right hand." The ring is a badge of Provenzano's ill-gotten labors, symbolic of his arrogance and his eventual vulnerability and resounding defeat.

Lee Gutkind (the "Godfather" of creative nonfiction), Forever Fat: Essays By the Godfather, 2003 

Monday, September 6, 2021

A Court Psychiatrist's View of the Insanity Defense

     The disorganized psychotic and the clear-thinking psychopath, though at opposite ends of the diagnostic spectrum, are both psychologically incomplete; and both kill for highly personal, insular reasons to which their victims make little contribution...

     Unlike true criminals, such killers make little effort to control their offenses--invariably committed at a time when their minds are beyond such precautions, and in a fashion ensuring their detection and capture. [Not always.] Subsequently they talk freely to arresting officers and almost always make full confessions. Their only remaining shield--and it is an appropriate one--is a plea of insanity. 

     By contrast, the true criminal favors stealth, denial, alibis, and his right to remain silent. [Not always, particularly if caught red-handed.] He eschews the insanity defense as no defense at all because it requires as a first prerequisite an admission of guilt. [It also requires insanity.] In short, the insanity defense is neither intended for nor desired by the inveterate offender. It exists so that the law can distinguish those whose criminality warrants its most crushing vengeance from those whose relative psychological innocence mandates that society's interests be best served by their diversion into a mental health system. 

Martin Blinder, M. D., Lovers, Killers, Husbands and Wives, 1985

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

     It's not true that the only reason criminals return to the scene of the crime is to make sure they didn't leave any evidence. Mostly, they return to the scene of the crime because they're stupid.

     Thomas Lancaster, twenty-one, came back to the doughnut shop he had just robbed a few minutes earlier at knifepoint in Oxnard, California. He wandered in, sat down, and tried to order a cup of coffee. The clerk merely beckoned to the police officer who was taking down all the information for the robbery report, and he made the arrest.

Chuck Shepherd, America's Least Competent Criminals, 1993

Why Sherlock Holmes Came Back to Life

     Sherlock Holmes died in 1893 but then came back to life ten years later. After writing twenty-four Holmes stories in six years, Arthur Conan Doyle had grown weary of the popular hero and wanted to focus on writing historical novels. So he figured he could put an end to the whole thing by having Holmes plunge to his death from Switzerland's Reichenbach Falls, holding his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarity, in a mutual death grip.

     Although public outcry was enormous, Doyle remained adamant about not bringing Holmes back. Ten years later, though, McClure's magazine in the United States offered Doyle $5,000 per story if he'd bring his detective back to life. That was the equivalent of nearly $100,000 in today's money, and Doyle couldn't resist. His first story had Holmes coming out of hiding after ten years, and Doyle wrote Holmes stories for a quarter of a century before retiring himself and his detective for good in 1927.

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

Isaac Asimov On Writer's Block

     The most serious problem a writer can face is "writer's block." This is a serious disease and when a writer has it he finds himself staring at a blank sheet of paper in the typewriter (or blank screen on the word processor) and can't do anything to un-blank it. The words don't come. Or if they do, they are clearly unsuitable and are quickly torn up or erased. What's more, the disease is progressive, for the longer the inability to write continues, the more certain it is that it will continue to continue.

     A writer can't put anything on paper when there's nothing left (at least temporarily) in his mind. It may be, therefore, that writer's block is unavoidable and that at best a writer must pause every once in a while, for a shorter or longer interval, to let his mind fill up again.

Isaac Asimov, I. Asimov: A Memoir, 1994

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Darren Agee Merager: The Art Thief/Burglar/Transgender Sex Offender

     A burglar broke into investment fund manager Jeffrey Gundlach's Santa Monica mansion sometime between 3 PM on September 12 and 8 PM on September 14, 2012. The intruder made off with $10 million worth of art as well as bottles of rare wine and several expensive watches. The burglar returned to the scene a few hours after the initial break-in to steal Mr. Gundlach's red 2010 Porsche Carrera 4S.

     Investigators did not reveal how the thief gained entry, or how the intruder circumvented the home burglary alarm system. Moreover, there was no information released regarding how the thief knew the art was in Gundlach's dwelling. The house burglar also knew to strike when Gundlach was on a business trip.

     Following the heist, Jeffrey Gundlach offered a $1 million reward for one of the paintings as well as a separate $500,000 for information leading to the recovery of another piece of art.

     On September 26, 2012, detectives in Pasadena called the Santa Monica burglary squad regarding a tip they had received about the location of some of the stolen paintings. According to the tipster, most of the stolen art was being held at Al and Ed's Autosound Store in Pasadena. Detectives executed a search warrant at the store which led to the recovery of several of Mr. Gundlach's paintings.

     Following the Pasadena search, officers arrested the store's 45-year-old manager, Jay Nieto. A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Nieto with receiving stolen property and possession of stolen items.

     Shortly after Nieto's arrest, detectives recovered four of the stolen paintings from a house in San Gabriel owned by 40-year-old Wilmer Cadiz. Cadiz was charged with the possession and receipt of stolen property.

     Nieto and Cadiz's cooperation with investigators led to the arrest, on January 4, 2013, of a known burglar named Darren Agee Merager. Charged with first-degree residential burglary and receiving stolen property, the 43-year-old Merager faced up to nine years in prison.

     The Los Angeles prosecutor also charged Merager's 68-year-old mother, Brenda Merager, and his two brothers, Wanis and Ely Wahba, with receiving stolen property. According to detectives, Merager's mother and his brothers had tried to sell some of the loot. Eventually the prosecutor dropped the charges against the mother.

     On January 22, 2014, Jay Nieto and Wilmer Codiz each pleaded no contest to one count of receiving stolen property. In return for their pleas, the judge sentenced each man to three years probation.

     The Wahba brothers also pleaded no contest to receiving stolen property. A judge sentenced them in April 2014 to probation.

     The burglar and car thief, Darren Agee Merager, pleaded guilty on January 22, 2014 to first-degree residential burglary and receiving stolen property. The judge sentenced him to four years in prison.

     All of the wealthy financier's paintings, as well as his Porsche, were recovered in good condition. (I don't know about the watches and the wine.) Breaking into middle class homes and selling off the loot--usually TVs, computers, jewelry and guns--is not that difficult. But high-end mansion burglaries like this case often unravel when thieves try to convert the extremely valuable merchandise into cash. Also, when there are several people involved in the caper, chances are someone will talk too much, and when brought in by detectives for questioning, snitch on the others in return for a plea deal. 
     In June 2021, about nine years after the Santa Monica art theft case, Darren Agee Merager's name was back in the news when he entered the Wi Spa women's locker room in Los Angeles as a trans-woman and exposed his penis to four women and a young girl. The victims confronted the spa staff about the incident and were shocked when the management sided with Merager, accusing the victims of anti-trans-woman bias. Frustrated, one of the victims recorded her angry exchange with a spa staff member and posted it on the Internet. The video went viral. 
     On September 1, 2021, Darren Merager, in connection with the Wi Spa incident, was charged with five counts of indecent exposure. At the time, Merager, a registered sex offender, was facing sex felony charges for an indecent exposure incident that took place at another Los Angeles women's spa locker room. This offense took place in December 2018. News outlets also reported that the art thief/burglar/transgender/sex offender had been convicted in 2002 and 2003 of indecent exposure.