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Sunday, October 31, 2021

The Criminalization Of Classroom Misbehavior

     In 2018, officer Dennis Turner retired from the Orlando Police Department. Upon retirement, as part of the Reserve Officer Program, Mr. Turner took a job as a School Resource Officer (SRO) at the Lucious and Emma Nixon Charter School in Orlando, Florida.

     On September 19. 2019, SRO Turner responded to a first grade classroom where a 6-year-old girl, in the course of throwing a tantrum, either kicked the teacher, a student, or the officer. When the girl wouldn't calm down, officer Turner arrested the kid for battery, placed her into handcuffs, put her in the backseat of a patrol car, and drove off.

     At the Orange County Regional Juvenile Center in Orlando, officials fingerprinted and photographed the tiny arrestee. After being processed into the criminal justice system, the 6-year-old battery suspect was released to her family.

     SRO Turner had arrested, earlier that day, an unruly 8-year-old boy at the same school. This kid had also been hauled off to the juvenile detention center and processed into the system before being picked up by family members.

     As one might expect, when these child arrests were made public, the public reacted in disbelief and outrage. What was going on in that charter school? Orlando Police Chief, Orlando Rolon, immediately suspended SRO Turner pending the results of an internal inquiry.

     Pursuant to departmental regulations, a SRO could not arrest a student under the age of 12 without the approval of a watch commander. It appeared that SRO Turner had not complied with that policy.

     According to the the 6-year-old battery suspect's grandmother, Meralyn Kirkland, the girl suffered from sleep apnea. It was lack of sleep that caused her to melt down.

     Handcuffing misbehaving elementary school children and hauling them off in police cars, over the past ten years or so, had not been that uncommon.  Before that, teachers had the authority to maintain order in their classrooms. Kids that could not be controlled by teachers were much easier to expel. But with the militarization of American policing as well as institutional restrictions on teachers' abilities to physically restrain disruptive students, educators lost control of their classrooms. That's when the police become involved in maintaining order in the school.

     In the Orlando case, and situations like it, officers did not use good judgment in handcuffing and frogmarching elementary school children out of their classrooms like adult criminals. 

     On September 2019, Chief Rolon fired Officer Dennis Turner.

Neurological and Physiological Contributors to Violent Behavior

     [Psychologist Adrian Raine] makes a good case that certain genetic, neurological and physiological factors do predict violent behavior. Some of these findings might be obvious. Few will be shocked to hear that being born a man is linked to later bad behavior--indeed, almost all of the horrific crimes Raine describes [in his new book] are committed by men. Anyone familiar with research in behavioral genetics will be unsurprised to learn that the propensity for violent crime is partly heritable. And it makes sense that certain forms of brain damage, particularly to the parts of the brain that govern impulse control, make people more likely to commit violent acts later in life.

     Other [physiological] predictors [of a violent personality] are more surprising. A low resting heart rate correlates with antisocial behavior. Certain insults to the developing brain, like smoking and drinking by pregnant mothers, have pernicious effects on behavior. And there is evidence that eating a lot of fish leads to a decline in violence, possibly because of the positive neurological effects of the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.

Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology at Yale in reviewing Adrian Raine's 2013 book, The Anatomy of Violence for The New York Times Book Review  

The Sociopath and the Limits of Psychiatry

The concept of the psychopath is, in fact, an admission of failure to solve the mystery of evil--it is merely a restatement of the mystery--and only offers an escape valve for the frustration felt by psychiatrists, social workers, and police officers, who daily encounter its force.

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990

The Boring Interviewee

When confronted with an interview subject who might not have exactly scintillating things to say, a good nonfiction writer, rather than making up better stuff, will work hard to discover other aspects of the subject that are interesting, like by talking to other people about the character in question or simply work on getting the subject to talk more and reveal himself, rather than resorting to fiction.

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

Thomas Wolfe On the First Novel

Usually the first novel of a young writer is a book of discovery. From his meager experience, accentuated by his youth, comes a knowledge so new and startling and so wonderful that its pain is almost beyond bearing. Mellow, many-faceted understanding is not for now; understanding is the hard reward of decades of summers. Youth's knowledge, youth's discoveries, are as sure as an April dawn. [Mr. Wolfe (1900-1938) was a bit of a mental case.]

Thomas Wolfe in Wolfe by Richard Walser, 1961 

"Great Writing" Wasn't That Great

Great Writing was done in a language that had nothing to do with the way one spoke. The words were similar, but arranged more cleverly, less directly. A good literary sentence was like a floor with a hole hidden in it. You got to the end and thought: "Why'd he say it that way? He must really be a great writer." Plain English language was a degraded thing, good only for getting around your dopey miniature world, cashing checks and finding restaurants and talking about television and so on.

George Saunders, amazon.com, 2004 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Forensic Science: A Failed Promise

In the 1920s, forensic science pioneers and their supporters believed that one day scientific criminal investigation would significantly increase crime solution rates and at the same time reduce the dependence on the unreliable information produced by the third-degree, eyewitness testimony, and jailhouse informants. This has not happened, at least not to a great enough extent, and to that degree, forensic science has been a failed promise.

Potato Chips As a Fire Accelerant

Crime laboratories do not always detect accelerants used in an incendiary fire. Accelerant-sniffing dogs, whose sniffers are more sensitive than even the most sophisticated laboratory equipment, don't always, either. If it is believed that an accelerant was used in the fire, it might be that the accelerant itself is undetectable. One such accelerant could be a bag of potato chips. It is possible to set a bag of chips on fire and throw it on a couch, creating an accelerant-like effect. The fat in the chips make them extremely volatile when ignited (think of a kitchen grease fire). An accelerant-sniffing dog won't even detect the chips, and the labs won't be testing for them, either. The crime scene investigator should always question finding a couch with too many crumbs in the cushions.

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

Armchair How-To Book Writers

     A friend of mine once wrote a "how-to" book about camping and hiking. On the book cover, as you might expect, is a photograph of the author, wearing a backpack out in the mountains somewhere. But what you wouldn't expect is that the backpack wasn't his; he had to borrow it. And what looks like a scene from Sequoia National Park actually took place in Central Park.

     As you may have guessed by now, this self-proclaimed "expert" on hiking and camping had never done either; but he did do his research. His book sold well and no one was the wiser.

Joel Saltzman, If You Can Talk, You Can Write, 1993 

Science Fiction Is About How Humans Change the World

Years ago Sir Arthur C. Clarke commented that he preferred reading science fiction because it's the only realistic fiction--by which he meant that it's the only fiction that incorporates the concept that the world is changing and being changed by human activities.

James Gunn, LJworld.com, 2006 

The Happy Ending Genre

The happy ending--happily ever after, or at least happy for now--is the defining trait of romance. No love story, no happy ending? Not a romance. But nobody says they have to start happy--and they often don't.

Jaime Green, The New York Times Book Review, November 10, 2019

Friday, October 29, 2021

Video Games And Violent Behavior

When it comes to actual criminal violence, there's virtually no evidence that video games matter...I think we like to point to video games because we don't want to talk about other things we know that are much more likely to be relevant.

James Ivory, research director, Virginia Tech, 2019

Forensic Pathologists: Where Are they Educated?

There is a stereotype of the forensic pathologist as a foreigner, relegated to this area of medicine because he or she did not attend medical school in the United States. In fact, in recent decades a third to a half of all pathology residents in the United States have been graduates of foreign medical schools, which are generally considered inferior to those in the Unties States. Too few American medical school students view the field as attractive, in part because of the lack of patient contact. [Currently, there are about 500 forensic pathologists working in the United States. At least 1,000 are needed. There are only 37 accredited forensic pathology programs in U.S. medical schools. Of the 1,700 American medical school graduations each year, only about 30 become forensic pathologists. This is why there are so many forensic pathologists in the country with foreign degrees.]

John Temple, Death House, 2005 

Biographers' Fascination with Sex

One respect in which modern biography resembles fiction is its fascination with its subjects' sexual lives. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the novel was the literary genre above all others to which readers turned for the representation of sexuality. Biography restricted itself to the public lives of its subjects--or, insofar as it dealt with their private lives, did not intrude into the bedroom.

David Lodge, The Practice of Writing, 1996 

A Review That Says: "An Unreadable Book."

Garth Greenwell's first novel, What Belongs to You (2016), uses mesmeric cadences. The world observed and the interior life are slowed down, the rhythms in the prose given a strange and powerful nervous energy, every nuance and angle offered their due. Narrated by a poet in a foreign country, the novel and its inflections suggest that feeling itself is almost foreign and hard to pin down; that it has to be outlined with many subclauses, digressions and asides. Language becomes a way of holding experience close before it dissolves in your mind. Some of the scenes in the book, such as when the narrator watches a boy on a train, have the aura of beautifully rich film, something captured with meticulous attention to every shift of light and atmosphere. These scenes are created with a great moody melancholy, the narrator fully aware how soon they will be over and how they must be secured before they crumble.

Colm Toibin, The New York Times Book Review, January 26, 2020

Anais Nin's Diary/Autobiography

The edited diaries of Anais Nin were set down spontaneously as natural diaries, but when Nin chose to publish them, she want back and edited and rewrote from the perspective of a later point in time. Although overlooked, Nin's importance is in creating a new hybrid literary form, something between diary and autobiography.

Tristine Rainer, The New Diary, 1978. Anais Nin (1903-1977) a French-Cuban-American novelist and short story writer, is best known for The Diary of Anais Nin, 1966

Thursday, October 28, 2021

The San Francisco Body Parts Case

     At four in the afternoon on Wednesday January 28, 2015, a citizen in the South Market section of downtown San Francisco flagged down a police officer to investigate the source of a bad smell coming from a collection of rat-infested garbage and debris not far from the entrance to a Goodwill store.

     In an abandoned suitcase on 11th Street between Mission and Market Streets, a neighborhood populated by homeless people, the police officer found in the suitcase what appeared to be human body parts. The gruesome discovery triggered a search of a three-block radius of the suitcase that led to the location of more body parts.

     The San Francisco medical examiner determined that the remains were human. The head, hands and lower arms of the corpse remained unaccounted for. The forensic pathologist, in the initial postmortem report, did not reveal the age or gender of the victim or disclose information regarding the cause of death.

     In the meantime, detectives questioned potential witnesses and suspects, looked at surveillance camera footage, and searched area garbage bins for the missing body parts.

      On Friday evening, January 30, 2015, detectives detained and questioned a suspect in the Tenderloin district. They considered him a person of interest because he was seen the day before near the suitcase containing the human remains. He was questioned and released.

     According to an update from the medical examiner's office, the body parts belonged to a "light-skinned man." The medical examiner said that a forensic scientist would conduct DNA tests on the remains in an effort to identify the victim.

     On Saturday January 31, 2015, San Francisco police officer Albie Esparza told a reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle that organized criminals--gang activity--might be responsible for the body parts found in and around the downtown suitcase. That morning, officers arrested 59-year-old Mark Andrus and booked him into the county jail on suspicion of murder.

     Helen Andrus, Mark Andrus' sister-in-law, told a reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle that he had a history of crime and had drifted from the family. "We haven't heard from him in years. My husband at one point tried to reach and find him. It's been 20 years since we've seen him." In the 1980s and 1990s police in Missoula, Montana arrested Mark Andrus for drug possession, theft, burglary, and bail jumping.

     Mark Keever, a friend of the suspect's, told reporters that the police had arrested the wrong man. Keever insisted that Andrus looked like a transient and just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

     Homicide investigators, following the Andrus arrest, conceded that the victim could have been cut into pieces somewhere else and dumped near the Goodwill Store. An attorney with the San Francisco Public Defender's Office represented Mr. Andrus.

     On Tuesday February 3, 2015, the San Francisco District Attorney announced there would be no charges filed against Mark Andrus. The prosecutor said there wasn't enough evidence to hold the suspect.

     The San Francisco medical examiner, on February 11, 2015, revealed that the remains found in the suitcase belonged to 58-year-old Omar Shawan of Vallejo, California. Investigators did not say if Shawan and Mark Andrus had known each other or had any kind of interaction. Public Defender Jeff Adachi, in speaking to reporters about Mr. Andrus, described him as a "kind and engaging" person. 
     Out of custody, but still a suspect, Mark Andrus was placed under 24-hour surveillance. Four days after his release from jail, Andrus died from years of drug abuse. A review of text messages made from his cellphone revealed that a few days before Omar Shawan's murder, he and Andrus checked into room 320 of the Aldrich Hotel in the Tenderloin district not far from where the body parts were found. People staying at the hotel told detectives that they had heard someone in room 320, presumably Omar Shawan, pleading for mercy. 
     The search of the deceased suspect's cellphone also revealed Google searches for saws to "cut up meat."
     As of this writing,  there have been no arrests in the Omar Shawan case, and no continuing investigation into Omar Shawan's murder.

Burning At The Stake

     For many centuries in most of Europe through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, it was considered "immodest" to hang women--since, given the billowy nature of skirts…their legs if not more would visible from below the gallows.

     "For as the decency due to their sex forbids the exposing and publicly mangling of their bodies, their sentence is, to be drawn to the gallows and there to be burnt alive." So stated Blackstone Commentaries, England's authoritative early law book.

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997

Truman Capote On Being An Alcoholic

I can go three or four months without having a drink. And then suddenly I'm walking down the street and I feel that I'm going to die, that I can't put one foot in front of the other unless I have a drink. So I step into a bar. Someone who's not an alcoholic couldn't understand. But suddenly I feel so tired. I've had this problem with alcoholism for about fifteen years. I've gone to hospitals, I tried Anatabuse, I've done everything. But nothing seems to work.

Truman Capote in Capote by Gerald Clarke, 1988 

The Suspense Novel

Suspense novels are deservedly popular, but very hard to define. They are not murder mysteries. They are not just straight novels, because something nasty and frightening is bound to happen. That is the promise to the reader. They are not spy stories, and they are certainly not police procedurals. In a suspense novel, the element of character matters very much indeed. The hero/heroine is pitted, not against organized crime or international terrorism, but against a personal enemy, a personal problem; the conflict is on an individual, adversarial level.

Joan Aiken in The Writer's Handbook, edited by Sylvia K. Burack, 2004 

What is Literary Narrative?

Narrative is the representation of an event or series of events. "Event" is the key word here, though some people prefer the word "action." Without an event or an action you may have a "description," an "exposition," an "argument," a "lyric," some combination of these or something else altogether, but you won't have a narrative. "My dog has fleas" is a description of my dog, but it is not a narrative because nothing happens. "My dog was bitten by a flea" is a narrative. It tells of an event. The event is very small one--the bite of a flea--but that is enough to make it a narrative.

H. Porter Abbott, The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, 2002

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Duty to Report Pedophile Teachers

     On October 2011, a mother and her 8-year-old daughter met with the principal of the girl's elementary school regarding the behavior of a teacher named Craig Chandler. The 35-year-old taught second grade at the O.B.Whaley Elementary School in San Jose, California. According to principal Lyn Vijayendran's notes of the meeting, the student--identified as Jane Doe--was summoned from recess to Chandler's empty classroom. Pursuant to a lesson plan he called "The Helen Keller Unit," Chandler blindfolded the student and instructed her to lie down on the floor and part her legs. After the teacher removed the girl's shoes, she sensed something "gooey" on her feet that felt like his tongue. Chandler placed something into the student's mouth, and with his hands moved her head back and forth. The girl tasted something salty that dripped onto her jacket. Before Jane Doe left Chandler's classroom, he put a piece of hard candy into her mouth.

     Instead of passing this information on to the police for further investigation, Vijayendran questioned Craig Chandler herself. The teacher explained that he had been doing his Helen Keller (a deaf and blind woman who rose to fame as an early twentieth century author) lesson plan for years. He said his "instructional goal" was to deprive students of sight so they could experience what it's like to be blind. The gooey sensation felt by the student on her feet had been caused by a wet  sponge, and the taste in her mouth from a bottle of salt water. The teacher offered to meet personally with the girl's parents to clean up any misunderstanding.

     Satisfied with Chandler's explanation, the principal told him to discontinue the Helen Keller business, transferred the student to another class, and reported the incident to the Evergreen School District's human resources department. Someone from that department also questioned Chandler, and the matter, institutionally, went no further than that. Craig Chandler continued teaching at the O.B.Whaley Elementary School.

     Although principal Vijayendran had closed the book on the case, parents of other girls in his class went straight to the police with complaints about Chandler's Helen Keller ploy. Following an investigation by detectives with the San Jose Police Department, a Santa Clara County prosecutor, on January 10, 2012, charged Chandler with the crime of lewd and lascivious acts performed on a child under fourteen. Seven months later, additional charges were filed against the teacher involving four other students who were, between the period August 2010 and May 2011, exposed to Chandler's Helen Keller experiment.

     Incarcerated in the Santa Clara County Jail, Chandler faced up to 75 years in prison if convicted of these crimes. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     On October 19, 2012, with Chandler still in custody awaiting his trial, Jane Doe's parents filed a civil suit against the Evergreen School District, the O.B.Whaley Elementary School, and principal Vijayendran.

     Santa Clara County prosecutor Alison Filo, in July 2012, charged principal Vijayendran under a  California law that made the failure of an educator to report the suspected sexual abuse of a student a crime. If convicted of the misdemeanor,  the principal faced up to six months in jail.

     The Vijayendran trial got underway on October 31, 2012. Prosecutor Filo, in her opening statement to the jury said that any reasonable person under the circumstances of this case would have suspected sexual abuse on the part of this teacher. Defense attorney Eric Geffon argued that his client had no reason to suspect foul play on Mr. Chandler's part. Geffon described the teacher's Helen Keller cover as "a detailed, devious, well thought out, well prepared story he concocted that explained everything."

     On November 2,  2012, Lyn Vijayendran took the stand on her own behalf in an effort to convince the jury that there was nothing in the student's story or her demeanor that suggested sexual impropriety on the part of the teacher. Referring to the 8-year-old girl, Vijayendran said, "She had a big smile on her face. She was her normal self, very talkative." The witness said that at no point in the meeting with the student and her mother did the subject of sexual abuse come up.

     On cross-examination, the defendant admitted that when she learned that Mr. Chandler had asked the student to "open her two legs," the idea of sexual impropriety crossed her mind. Prosecutor Filo asked, "If someone said that to you in a grocery store line, you'd slap him, wouldn't you?"

     "You'd have to be crazy not to think it was sexual," the defendant answered.

     On November 5, 2012, the jury found Lyn Vijayendran guilty of failing to report Craig Chandler's sexually suspicious behavior to the police. Judge Deborah Ryan sentenced the principal to two years probation, $602 in fines, and 100 hours of community service.

     In August 2013, a Santa Clara County jury found 36-year-old Craig Chandler guilty of five counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14. The judge sentenced him to 25 years in prison.

     The Evergreen School District paid out $16.5 million in damages as a result of civil suits stemming from the Chandler case.

     It's a shame that educators, to protect the children under their care, have to be induced to do the right thing by making it a crime not to. In a perfect society, there should be no need for such crimes of omission.

The Violent Child

     It must be awful to be afraid of your own child. But this is how it is for  families where the abusers aren't the parents but their children. In these homes, parents live in fear they will be murdered in their sleep. Many of these adults are foster parents who took in children taken from abusive biological parents. 

     As infants, many of these children went hungry, didn't have their diapers changed, weren't touched, comforted or talked to. As a result, they never formed a healthy bond with their parents.

     Between the ages nine months to five years, these neglected and abused children exhibit behavior problems associated with a syndrome called Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). As early as three and four, these children express rage and frustration by throwing prolonged tantrums over minor provocations. They slap, spit, punch and kick the people taking care of them. They attack other children in the home.

     RAD adolescents pose danger to siblings, parents, and teachers. They get expelled from school and find themselves in and out of the criminal justice system.

     The most dangerous among these adolescents are the youngsters also diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Some later become paranoid schizophrenics with Bipolar Disorder. Many are addicted to drugs.

    Medication and therapy in these cases are not effective. Many of these violent children grow into violent adults who end up on the streets, in prison, or in the morgue.

There's No Such Thing As A Little Funny

Humor is difficult. Other kinds of stories don't have to hit the bull's-eye. The outer rings have their rewards too. A story can be fairly suspenseful, moderately romantic, somewhat terrifying, and so on. This is not the case with humor. A story is either funny or it is not funny. Nothing in between. The humor target contains only a bull's-eye.

Isaac Asimov, I, Asimov, 1996

The Appeal of Detective Fiction

The resilience of detective fiction, and particularly the fact that so many distinguished and powerful people are apparently under its spell, has puzzled both its admirers and its detractors and spawned a number of notable critical studies which attempt to explain this puzzling phenomenon. In "The Guilty Vicarage," W. H. Auden wrote that his reading of detective stories was an addiction, the symptoms being the intensity of his craving, the specificity of the story, which, for him, had to be set in rural England, and last, its immediacy. He forgot the story as soon as he had finished the book and had no wish to read it again. Should he begin a detective story and then discover it was one he had already read, he was unable to continue. In all this the distinguished poet differed from me and, I suspect, from many other lovers of the genre. I enjoy rereading my favorite mysteries although I know full well how the book will end, and although I can understand the attraction of a rural setting, I am frequently happy to venture with my favorite detectives onto unfamiliar territory.

P. D. James, Talking About Detective Fiction, 2009

The Young Adult Novel (Ages 12 to 20)

     Most young adult novels are over 30,000 words long or 120-250 pages. Although younger adult novels can deal with intense and serious subjects, they are often mysteries and thrillers--stories engrossing enough to appeal to younger kids as well as older ones. The older young adult novels deal with more complex subjects.

     What distinguishes a young adult novel from an adult novel is often nothing more than subject matter. These books are complicated, sophisticated and challenging. They are not limited in what issues can be discussed, nor are they in any way "kids' books." By this age level, there is a high tolerance for ambivalence in both character and plot, as well as a general acceptance of complex and painful subjects. 
Nancy Lamb, Crafting Stories for Children, 2001 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Parole: A Public Safety Disaster

     The huge gap between the nominal sentence given and the real time served is dishonest, and is bad policy. It is dishonest because the public--especially victims of crime--is often under the impression that the sentence will be served in full, when in fact no such thing happens. It is bad policy because it puts the public at risk.

     There are several reasons why states should restrict parole practices. First, parole is based on the mistaken idea that the primary reason for incarceration is rehabilitation (prisoners can be released as soon as they are rehabilitated, so the argument goes), and ignores the deterrent, incapacitative, and retributive reasons for imprisonment. A clear and truthful sentence increases the certainty of punishment, and both its deterrent and in-capacitative effects.

     Second, in too many cases parole simply does not work. Studies of the continuing failure of parole obscure the terrible human cost to law-abiding citizens. 

Mary Kay Cary, in Crime and Criminals, 1995 edited by David Bender and Bruno Leone. Parole policies today do even more public harm than they did in the 1990s.

Cooperating With the IRS

We'll try to cooperate fully with the IRS, because as citizens we feel a strong patriotic duty not to go to jail.

Dave Barry, 2008

Literary Hit Jobs: A Moral Dilemma

     "If you want to be a writer, somewhere along the line you're going to have to hurt somebody. And when that time comes, you go ahead and do it," Charles McGrath said when he was an editor at The New Yorker. "If you can't or don't want to tell that truth, you may as well stop now and save yourself a lot of hardship and pain."

     A novelist wrote a withering account of her recent marriage. Soon after the book came out, the author's ex-husband killed himself. Was she correct to write that novel?

Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark, 1994 

Catholic Priest Casts Out Harry Potter Books

     In August 2019, at the St. Edward Catholic school in Nashville, Tennessee, Reverend Dan Reehill ordered the middle school librarian to remove all of the library's Harry Potter books. The priest, in justifying taking books out of the school that students liked, said he had consulted exorcists in the United States and Rome who recommended the literary purge.

     According to Father Reehill, "The curses and spells used in the Harry Potter books are actual curses and spells which risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the persons reading the texts."

Monday, October 25, 2021

Caleb "Kai" McGillvary and the Hatchet Hitchhiker Murder Case

     On February 1, 2013, a CNN reporter in Fresno, California interviewed a 24-year-old homeless drifter named Caleb "Kai" McGillvary. The long-haired, backpack-carrying, bandana-wearing hitchhiker who went under the names Kai Lawrence and Kai Nicodermus, described, in a rambling, profane-laced TV interview, how he had thwarted an assault on a female Fresno area utility worker.

     On the day in question, McGillvary had hitched a ride with a manifestly insane driver who intentionally tried to run over the female utility employee. The large man behind the wheel jumped out of his car, and as he approached the injured woman said, "I am Jesus and I am here to take you home." When the mentally ill assailant began punching the helpless woman, McGillvary pulled a hatchet out of his backpack and used it to subdue the attacker by whacking him in the head a couple of times.

     According to media reports, the crazy man, a month earlier, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to a murder charge in another case. (This raises the question of why he was not in custody awaiting his homicide trial.)  The assaulted utility worker underwent surgery for her non-life-threatening injuries. Her mentally ill assailant was charged, in that case, with attempt murder. This time he was denied bail.

     Kai McGillvary's television interview went viral with more than 4 million YouTube hits. An instant cyber-culture celebrity, the self-named "Hatchet Hitchhiker" appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! where he informed America that he preferred to be called "home-free" rather than homeless. (He was also "car-free", "job-free",  and probably "money-free" as well.) The story of McGillvary's hatchet intervention in the Fresno assault was also featured on The Colbert Report. 

     On Saturday, May 11, 2013, the "Hatchet Hitchhiker" was seen in New York City's Times Square in the company of a 73-year-old lawyer named Joseph Galfy, Jr. That night, Mr. Galfy took McGillvary back to his house in Clark, New Jersey, a town 20 miles west of the city. According to reports, the drifter spend two nights with Galfy who lived in the house by himself.

     On Monday morning, May 13, 2013, when Mr. Galfy failed to show up for work at the law firm, a fellow employee asked local police officers to make a welfare check at his residence. Inside the tidy, brick dwelling, officers found the lawyer lying dead in his bed wearing socks and his underwear. According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, Mr. Galfy had been bludgeoned to death. Detectives believed the victim had been murdered sometime on Sunday, May 12, 2013.

     On Tuesday, the day after the discovery of Mr. Galfy's corpse, Kia McGillvary, on his Facebook page, asked his readers what they would do if they awoke in a stranger's house to the realization they had been drugged and sexually assaulted. One Facebook commentator suggested hitting the rapist with a hatchet. To that McGillvary responded, "I like your idea."

     Late Thursday night, May 16, 2013, police officers arrested the "Hatchet Hitchhiker" at the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown Philadelphia. Officers noticed that McGillvary had cut his hair to change his appearance. Held on $3 million bail, the freedom-free suspect was shipped back to Union County, New Jersey where he faced a charge of murder in connection with Joseph Galfy's violent death.

     Following his arrest, McGillvary gained supporters who followed his case on a special Facebook site. Moreover, someone established a GoFundMe campaign for McGillvary as well as a YouTube page.

      In April 2019, a jury sitting in Union County, New Jersey found McGillvary guilty of murdering the lawyer. A month later, the judge sentenced the "Hatchet Hitchhiker" to 57 years in prison.

The Un-Unanimous Verdict

     In 2016, Evangelisto Ramos was found guilty of murder in Louisiana after the jury voted ten to two for conviction. The judge sentenced Ramos to life in prison. His attorney appealed the conviction on grounds a non-unanimous guilty verdict in a criminal case is inconsistent with the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.

     In 2016, only two states, Louisiana and Oregon, allowed un-unanimous guilty verdicts in criminal trials. The rule permitting such verdicts dated back to the 1930s to prevent black jurors from blocking the convictions of black criminal defendants.

     The Ramos case went up to the United States Supreme Court, and on April 20, 2020, the highest court in the land, with Justice Neil Gorsuch writing the majority opinion, set aside the Ramos murder conviction. The decision put an end to criminal convictions based on less than a un-unanimous jury vote.

     Justice Gorsuch, setting out the court's rationalization for the decision, wrote: "Adopted in the 1930's [the un-unanimous verdict rule] can be traced to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and efforts to delete the influence of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities on juries."

     Three justices--John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Elena Kagan--dissented. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Alito wrote: "All the talk about the Klan, etc., is entirely out of place."

The Biographer's Natural Enemies

The biographer's business, like the journalist's, is to satisfy the reader's curiosity, not to place limits on it. He is supposed to go out and bring back the goods--the malevolent secrets that have been quietly burning in archives and libraries and in the minds of contemporaries who have been biding their time, waiting for the biographer's knock on their doors. Some of the secrets are difficult to bring away, and some, jealously guarded by relatives, are even impossible. Relatives are the biographer's natural enemies; they are like the hostile tribes the explorer must ruthlessly subdue to claim his territory.

Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman, 1994 

First Novels

As a first novelist I learned about the odds I was facing. They were, shall we say, long. It has been estimated that the number of novel manuscripts each year to be in excess of 100,000. The number of first novels published annually by major houses? Three to four hundred. [It's probably half that now.]

Stephen White in How I Got Published, edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay, 2007 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Abolishing The Insanity Defense

     On March 23, 2020, the United States Supreme Court, in Kahler v. Kansas, ruled that it is not unconstitutional for a state to abolish its insanity defense. The insanity defense allows a criminal defendant to be found not guilty due to a mental illness that deprived the offender of knowing right from wrong. In other words, the defendant was too mentally impaired to form criminal intent. Instead of being guilty of the crime, the defendant is found not guilty by reason of insanity. These defendants, instead of serving a sentence in prison, are committed to a mental hospital where they remain until doctors determine they are sane enough to return to society. Because juries are skeptical of the insanity defense, it is successful in only one percent of insanity defense cases.

     In November 2009, in a Kansas killing rampage, James Kahler murdered his two daughters, his estranged wife, and his wife's mother. His attorneys claimed that he was insane, but because the state had made the insanity defense unavailable in 1995, Kahler was convicted of four-counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. In 2011, Kahler's attorneys challenged the constitutionality of the elimination of the insanity defense. The case worked its way up to  the United States Supreme Court which ruled 6 to 3 in favor of the state. Justice Elena Kagan wrote the majority opinion.

     While Kahler v. Kansas allows states to abolish the not guilty by reason of insanity defense, defendants can present evidence of mental illness to establish a lack of criminal intent to reduce say, first-degree murder to a lesser homicide offense. Moreover, it can be used post-conviction at a sentence hearing as a mitigating factor.

Political Correctness is Not Funny

Humor, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. What's uproariously funny to one person may leave another cold. What's funny today may seem insensitive tomorrow. This is certainly true with Leo Rosten's 1937 book The Education of Hyman Kaplan, which describes the very funny struggles of a group of adult immigrants learning English. Many readers may find Rosten's book patronizing at best and offensive at worst. Issues of political correctness--the death knell for humor--arise, too

Nancy Pearl, Book Lust, 2003 

Who Should You Write For?

My biggest struggle as a novelist is to put my own story on paper--not to be influenced by what I think my editor, my publisher, my friends, or the reader wants to see on the page. I need to get these people out of my writing space and focus on writing my story. If it resonates for me, it will resonate for my readers.

Joan Johnston in The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, edited by Andrew McLeer, 2008 

The Young Reader

Children and adolescents have their own distinctive ideas concerning humor, politics, and prose, and their tastes in these matters may strike older readers as sophomoric, gauche, ill-informed, or just dead wrong. Conversely, the young have a way of noticing that good manners can be oppressive, that the past is often irrelevant, and that emperors are sometimes naked. In short, the young are not lesser beings; they're just different.

Thomas M. Disch, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of, 1998 

Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Legal Definition of Death

     Andrew Lyons shot a man in the head in September 1973 and left him brain-dead. When Lyon's attorneys found out the victim's family had donated his heart for transplantation, they tried to use this in Lyon's defense: If the heart was still beating at the time of surgery, they maintained, then how could it be that Lyons had killed him the day before? They tried to convince the jury that, technically speaking, Andrew Lyons hadn't murdered the man, the organ surgeon had.

     The judge would have none of it. In the end, Lyons was convicted of murder. Based on the outcome of the case, California passed legislation making brain death the legal definition of death. Other states quickly followed suit.

Mary Roach, Stiff, 2003 

The First Paragraph

One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest comes out very easily.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in For Writer's Only (1994) by Sophy Burnham

Having the Correct Word

When writing, we will never, of course, deploy all the words we've learned. But a writer with an expansive vocabulary is much like a visual artist with many colors at his command. Regardless of the painting he's working on, he will always have the right colors available when he needs them. So, too, with a large vocabulary, you develop a sensitivity or feel...for the exactly correct word for a thought or experience.

Charles Johnson, The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling, 2016

A Compelling Story is Timeless

In fiction, the technical problems of shaping a story to make it interesting to read, to provide for suspense, to find the logical points where the story should begin and end, don't change much in whatever time or culture the story's being told.

Northrop Frye, literary scholar, 2001

Friday, October 22, 2021

Charles Manson Follower Bruce Davis

     On August 8, 2014, California governor Jerry Brown reversed a parole board and denied the release of a former Charles Manson follower who served more than 43 years in prison. It was the third time a California governor denied the release of Bruce Davis 71, a member of the murderous Manson Family convicted in the 1969 slayings of musician Gary Hinman and stuntman Donald "Shorty" Shea.

     In March 2014, the parole board once again found that Davis was suitable for parole based on his age, conduct in prison--he became a born-again Christian, earned a doctoral degree in philosophy of religion, ministers to other inmates--and other factors. The governor lauded Davis for his efforts to improve himself. However, he wrote his his five-page decision that the evidence shows that Davis "currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison." 
     [Davis posed an unreasonable danger to Brown's political future if released. Asserting that he was still dangerous was ridiculous. He shouldn't be released because of what he did. In 2017, Davis was denied parole for the fifth time, and in November 2019, after another parole board recommended his release, Governor Gavin Newson denied the parole. The parole board, in January 2021 again recommended release for the born-again-Christian and again the governor denied it. Davis is 79.]

"California Governor Denies Manson Follower Parole," Associated Press, August 9,  2014 

Are All Males Potential Murderers?

When a murder occurs, the search is for motive as well as weapon. Hypotheses generally center around passion, greed, and uncontrollable anger. All of the above related factors have often been seen as at least comprehensible, if deplorable. After all, some say, how can a man stomach his wife's affair with another man or her consideration of another relationship? Although money as a reason for murder is perceived as unacceptable knavery, acquisition of financial resources is recognized as a goal toward which, of necessity, most strive throughout most of their lives. Regarding uncontrollable rage, anger is an emotion with which everyone must struggle, and all deal with it imperfectly. "A man can take just so much," has been one way the killer's apologist has attempted to explain an apparently senseless murder.

Constance A. Bean, Women Murdered By The Men They Loved, 1992 

Who's Afraid of Frankenstein?

     For the modern reader, Frankenstein fails in its intention to depict and evoke horror. In part this is a failure of style, and in part is a failure of technique--the author dwells too little on grisly details. We have to take the horror too much secondhand. Though the events of the novel are horrifying--three murders, a wrongful conviction, another death--the author, for whatever reason of sensibility or youth, chooses not to make a spectacle of them.

   While Frankenstein worked in its day, it has since become a model of what not to do if you really want to frighten the reader.

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

Favorite Characters

I like to read stores where people suffer a lot. If there's no suffering, I kind of tune out…I do have a weakness for funny characters who can't shut up to save their lives.

Gary Shteyngart, The New York Times Book Review, February 2, 2014

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Can Police Interrogators Lie?

     Courts have long upheld the rights of interrogators to lie to suspects, with a single exception, which stems from an 1997 Supreme Court decision. In that case, Bram v. United States, the court held that a confession was not admissible if it came from threats or "direct or implied promises," such as an assurance that a suspect would be treated more leniently if he confessed, or more harshly if he did not. Despite the restriction on both "direct" and "implied" promises, in the years since 1997, courts have tended only to reject confessions when there was evidence of an explicit threat or promise.

     Since then, the practices of interrogators have grown more nuanced, to include threats and promises that are merely and subtly implied, and therefore more often accepted in courtrooms as legitimate. Even when an explicit threat or promise is made, it can be difficult for an interrogation suspect to prove that coercive techniques were used, as most interrogations are not recorded in their entirely, and a detective's word can carry more weight with a jury than that of the accused.

Sarah Burns, The Central Park Five, 2011

The Thriller

The crime fiction thriller is an extension of the fairy tale. It is melodrama so embellished as to create the illusion that the story being told, however unlikely, could be true.

Eric Ambler in The Mystery Lovers' Book of Quotations, edited by Jane Horning, 1988 

Not All Crimes Are Book Worthy

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

Philip Rawlings, britsoccrim.org, 1995 

Journalists Don't Like To Be Scrutinized

Photographers don't like to be photographed. Surgeons require nearly twice the amount of anesthesia ordinary patients require to undergo surgery. Journalists are the least receptive to professional scrutiny by their colleagues. They react, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes with the utmost deliberation, to avenge themselves.

Renata Adler, Gone, The Last Days of the New Yorker, 1999

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Bank Robbery: The Lost Romance

Today's bank robbers, are, for the most part, crude amateurs possessing little of the romantic aura of yesteryear's brigands. Today, the fine art of illegally removing capital from a financial institution has often been reduced to the practice of crude thuggery or impulsive strong-arm holdups. This is not to say that old-style desperados were invariably suave or elegant; they were not. However, there was something about the old-time robber that captured the American public's attention and, frequently, admiration. The perception begs the question: "How were the old-times different from today's petty thugs?" [What difference? Many of the old-time bank robbers were worse. Billy The Kid was a vicious cretin, and John Dillinger, a generation later, was a cold-blooded killer. Nothing romantic about that.]

L. R. Kirchner, Robbing Banks, 2003

Writers Workshops

     Writer's workshops around the country reflect wildly different assumptions about what the work should be, what the goals are, and how progress might be measured. Some are simply therapy sessions, attempting to create a warm, nurturing environment in which writers are encouraged to express themselves, release their creative energies without fear, and see what happens. Some have a political agenda--feminist art, black art, social protest art. Some have an aesthetic agenda--minimalism, realism, metafiction, etc. There are writer workshops specializing in horror fiction, detective fiction, children's fiction, science fiction, and so on.

     There are workshops that have almost nothing to do with writing, where the texts are little more than an excuse for primal scream catharsis on one hand or new age channeling on the other. So it follows that in talking about a writer's workshop it must be made clear just whose workshop is under discussion.

Frank Conroy in On Writing Short Stories, edited by Tom Bailey, 2000

The Origins of the True Crime Genre

It is generally held that the genre of true crime has been around since the latter part of the 19th century. As a precursor to these nonfiction accounts of crime, writers such as Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and William Thackeray borrowed incidents and characters from real crimes for their novels.

Vicky Munro, crimeculture.com, 2001 

Dictating Student Tastes in Literature

For many years now, literary academics high and low have preempted serious criticism, have been riding hard on students who are so unused to general reading that they have little taste of their own and are glad to be told how to read…This supposedly will get these students closer and closer to the work of art. What nonsense. What gets us closer to a work of art is not instruction but another work of art.

Alfred Kazin, Writing Was Everything, 1995

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Eyewitness

Before a witness can recall a complex incident, the incident must be accurately perceived at the onset; it must be stored in memory. Before it can be stored, it must be within a witness's perceptual range, which means that it must be loud enough and close enough so the the ordinary senses pick it up. If visual details are to be perceived, the situation must be reasonably well illuminated. Before some information can be recalled, a witness must have paid attention to it. But even though an event is bright enough, loud enough, and close enough, and even though attention is being paid, we can still find significant errors in a witness's recollection of the event, and it is common for two witnesses to the same event to recall it very differently.

Elizabeth Loftus, Eyewitness Testimony, 1979

J. Edgar Hoover on the Criminal Mind

A criminal does not look upon himself as such. You must accept this as an axiom if you ever are to learn the slightest rules about protecting yourself, your home and your family. His viewpoint is this: he wants something. That is the end of the matter. Wanting it, he feels he should have it. No ideas of justice ever enter his mind; if they do, they are quickly swamped by selfishness. The old excuse of "I did not stop to think" was never true, although this alibi for crime has worked to the amelioration of sentences until it is threadbare. The true statement, which is rarely voiced, is: "I did not stop to think of anyone but myself."

J. P. Bean, editor, The Book of Criminal Quotations, 2003. J. Edgar Hoover was Director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972.

Short Story Word Economy

Unlike most novels, great short stories make us marvel at their integrity, their economy. If we went at them with our red pencils, we might find we had nothing to do. We would discover there was nothing that the story could afford to lose without the whole delicate structure collapsing like a souffle or meringue. And yet we are left with a feeling of completeness, a conviction that we know exactly as much as we need to know, that all of our questions have been answered.

Francine Prose in On Writing Short Stories, edited by Tom Bailey, 2000

Stephen King's Daily Word Production

I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That's 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book--something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh. On some days those ten pages come easily; I'm up and out and doing errands by eleven-thirty in the morning. More frequently, as I grow older, I find myself eating lunch at my desk and finishing the day's work around one-thirty in the afternoon. Sometimes, when the words come hard, I'm still fiddling around at teatime. Either way is fine with me, but only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Monday, October 18, 2021

The Brandon O'Brien Minneapolis Street Mob Assault/Robbery Case

     Minneapolis, Minnesota, a midwestern city of about 425,000, has an overall crime rate higher than 97 percent of other cities in the United States. In 2017, crime in Minneapolis was up 5 percent from the year before. And in 2018, while property crime rates in the city fell slightly, the rates of violent offenses--murder, aggravated assault, armed robbery, and rape--went up.

     Minneapolis Chief of Police Medaria Arradondo, in 2018, asked the 13-member city council to approve funding for an additional 100 officers. The department's 880 sworn officers were unable to maintain an adequate level of order maintenance in the growing city. Council members, preferring to spend taxpayer money on social programs, declined.

     In late 2018 and early 2019, the violent crime problem in Minneapolis continued to get worse, overwhelming the understaffed police department. Still, local politicians did nothing to protect the city's residents and visitors.

     A report by a criminal justice research group regarding the degree to which the Minneapolis Police Department was unable to enforce the law in the city, stunned concerned citizens. In 2018, due to the police manpower shortage, police officers were not available to respond to 6, 776 high priority 911calls that included shots being fired, officer down, sexual assaults, and stabbings.

     In August 2019, the uncontrolled lawlessness in Minneapolis brought national attention to the city following the publication of three videos that depicted, in gruesome detail, mobs of black teenagers and young adults beating and robbing physically impaired young white men. All of the unprovoked attacks took place during the day, in public, and in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

     Brandon O'Brien was out celebrating his birthday not far from the Minneapolis Twins baseball stadium when he was suddenly surrounded by a mob of joyful robbers who punched him to the ground, stripped him of his trousers, beat him with his belt, kicked him in the face, jumped on his body, and rode over him with a bike. His attackers took his cellphone and left the battered and bleeding victim lying unconscious on the pavement.

     The 24-year-old victim of this brutal and gratuitous violence, among other injuries, suffered a serious concussion that left him with memory loss and the inability to sleep. As a result of being viciously assaulted by a mob of strangers in public, the traumatized Brandon O' Brien would live in fear of his life.

     Outside a steakhouse not far from where the robbery mob accosted Brandon O' Brien, a gang of criminals set upon two young men whom they beat by repeatedly punching and kicking them until both victims ended up unconscious on the ground.

     The third incident of mob violence in Minneapolis involved another street robbery and another young man left laid out cold on his back.

     In response to these roving criminal mobs in search of vulnerable victims to viciously assault in broad daylight, Chief of Police Arradonda requested adding 400 sworn officers to the department by 2025.

     Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey responded to his city's lawlessness by proposing 14 additional police officers. A few members of the city council said they would be willing to support an additional 30 officers.

     From their ridiculously weak responses to what most reasonable people would consider a public safety crisis, the city's politicians, not vulnerable themselves to street crime, revealed just how unconcerned they were about the dangers of living in Minneapolis.

     On September 17, 2019, thanks to a team of Hennepin County Sheriff's Office investigators and detectives from the city, officers arrested 18 black males between the ages 15 to 27 believed by investigators to have been involved in the mob-style assaults.

     A spokesperson for the Minneapolis Police Department told reporters that the mob suspects were not charged with hate crimes because they did not target their victims because they were white. These young men were singled out for assault because they were physically impaired.

      Adrian Cooper, a 25-year-old from Brooklyn Center, a city of 33,000 in the Minneapolis metropolitan area, was taken in custody for the Brandon O'Brien assault and one of the other violent robberies. At first Cooper denied involvement in the O'Brien attack then admitted that he had "gotten in his licks." He was charged with first-degree robbery, aiding and abetting first-degree robbery, and third-degree riot. 
     Cooper, as of this writing, is the only suspect named in the street robbery/assaults. Since his arrest, nothing has appeared about these mob assaults on the Internet. This includes whether or not Adrian Cooper pleaded not guilty, or if he was released on bail. It is as though these public safety atrocities never happened.

The Threat to Civil Liberty

An important tenet of civil liberties is that the greatest danger to liberty comes from the powerful state. The greatest disasters throughout history have been inflicted by states. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Stalinist murders, the Holocaust, the Cambodian genocide--all were inflicted by governments. Hence, the focus of civil libertarian concerns has always been on the abuse of power by state actors.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works, 2002

Bad Journalism

     On Thursday January 8, 2015, a newspaper in Kentucky retracted a front-page story after publishing a racist quote attributed to Hardin County Sheriff John Ward that turned out to be false. The quote, published in the Elizabethtown News-Enterprise read: "Those who go into the law enforcement profession typically do it because they have a desire to shoot minorities."

     Sheriff Ward said he did not come close to making such an outlandish statement…According to Sheriff Ward, he said in the interview that cops enter the profession "because they have a desire to serve the community."

     How Ward came to be quoted so falsely was unclear, but the paper's editor, Ben Sheroan, retracted the article…He said that "disciplinary steps have been taken" [Like what?] and that "this error involved a failure to follow established production processes in our news department."

"Kentucky Newspaper Retracts 'Major Error' In Police Story," The Daily Caller, January 8, 2015 

The Science in Science Fiction

There's a great deal of evidence that the laws of nature are the same throughout the universe. This fact enables us to make reasonable guesses about what sorts of things might exist in other parts of it. We would not expect, for example, to find civilizations growing in atmospheres consisting principally of hydrogen and oxygen. The laws of chemistry make such an atmosphere too unstable to exist, on Earth or anywhere else. Nor would we expect to find real counterparts of that hoary old cliche of monster movies, giant spiders exactly like Earthly tarantulas but a hundred times larger. A really determined science fiction writer could concoct plausible aliens that superficially looked somewhat like big spiders, but inside, they would have to be very different.

Stanley Schmidt, Aliens and Alien Societies, 1995 

Aspiring Novelists, Start Small

A young fiction writer should try everything, but some literary forms will come more naturally to him than others. Short stories are more within his scope than longer forms, and he will learn most by making many beginnings and endings--the hardest parts of any piece of writing.

Wallace Stegner, On Teaching and Writing Fiction, 2002 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Fear of Violent Criminals

Most people dread becoming the victim of a heinous violent crime more than any other crime because they fear that without any real provocation on their part, someone could gravely harm them. People justifiably fear that merely being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and by saying and doing the wrong thing or not saying and doing the right thing to the wrong person, they or someone they care about could be seriously injured, maimed, or killed. The likelihood of this happening in our present society is not so remote as to make this a groundless or needless worry for any individual, including those most heavily shielded from the vagaries of social life.

Lonnie H. Athens, The Creation of Dangerous Violent Criminals, 1992

A Mobster's Regrets

How I could have put Cosa Nostra ahead of loyalty to my wife and my kids is something I will always have to live with. All my life, growing up, I thought that people who went to school and put their noses to the grindstone were nerds, taking the easy way out. I know now that I was the one who took the easy way that I didn't have the guts to stay in school and try. That was the tough road, which I didn't take.

Sammy "The Bull" Gravano in Jerry Capeci, Wiseguys Say the Darndest Things, 2004. Gravano was a hit man for John Goti Jr., the boss of New York's Gambino family. 

The Elements Of Literary Style

A writer's literary style consists mainly of the words he uses and the order he puts them in. That's called, respectively, diction and syntax. In terms of word selection, a pompous or insecure writer will use "multiple" instead of "many"; "impacted by" instead of "affected"; and "individual" instead of "person." Such a writer also uses many more words than necessary. Regarding syntax, an academic author might write: "A good time was had by all." A so-called "literary" novelist might say it this way: "By all, a good time was had." An author with readers will write: "We had a good time."

The First English Story of Space Flight

Bishop Francis Godwin wrote the first story in English of flight into space. His The Man in the Moon, 1638 had birds pull a raft through space to the moon. He anticipated Newton's theory of gravity and had the pull of the moon much lighter than that of the earth.

Lester del Ray, The World of Science Fiction, 1979

Saturday, October 16, 2021

"A Reader's Manifesto": B. R. Myers Exposes Mediocre Writers Posing As Literary Lions

     In his controversial analysis of what passes for modern literary fiction, B. R. Myers, in "A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose," uses the works of prize-winning novelists Paul Auster, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, David Gusteson, and Annie Proulix as good examples of bad writing. Since I find these "great writers" virtually unreadable, I'm a big fan of Myers' 2002 book. In his Preface, Myers lays out his basic intent and theme: "In late 1989 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 treat our own taste and perception instead of deferring to received opinion." Wow, what a refreshing and helpful idea! Finally, someone was saying that the problem isn't you, the reader--but them--the pretentious literary critics who have been for years pushing this rubbish on serious readers of fiction. Here are some passages from this honest and courageous book:

One way that contemporary writers like to lower our expectations for their work is to claim that something as inadequate as language can never do justice to the complexity of what they're trying to say.

You don't have to read anything published after 1960 to know at once what you're in for: a tale of Life in Consumerland, full of heavy irony, trite musing about advertising and materialism, and long, long lists of consumer artifacts, all dedicated to the proposition that America is a wasteland of stupefied shoppers. Critics like to call this kind of thing "edgy" writing, though how an edge can be maintained on either style or theme after fifty years of blunting is anyone's guess. This will always be foolproof subject matter for a novelist of limited gifts.

Anyone who doubts the declining literacy of book reviews need only consider how the gabbiest of all prose style is invariably praised as "lean," "spare," even "minimalist."

A thriller [genre novel] 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 a collection of trendy stylistic tics.

At the 1999 National Book Awards Ceremony Oprah Winfrey told of calling Toni Morrison to say she had to puzzle repeatedly over many of the latter's sentences. According to Oprah, Morrison's reply was: "That, my dear, is called reading." Sorry, my dear Toni, but it's actually called bad writing. Great prose isn't always easy but it's always lucid; no one of Oprah's intelligence ever had to puzzle over what Joseph Conrad was trying to say in a particular sentence.

The American literary press is faced with a clear choice. It can continue plugging unreadable new books until the last advertiser jumps ship, and the last of the stand-alone book-review sections is discontinued--as "The Boston Globe" was in 2001--or it can start promoting the kind of novels that will get more Americans reading again. 

Rape: A Serial Crime

The odds that any given rape was committed by a serial offender are around 90 percent.

Jon krakauer, Missoula Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, 2015

Agatha Christie on Marrying Well

An archeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she is the more interested he is in her.

Agatha Christie (1930-1976). Bestselling British mystery novelist who was married to an archeologist. 

Free Speech

Most people who profess to support and respect the constitutional right to free speech do so only when the speech in question doesn't, in some way, offend them. In reality, very few people, including journalists, truly believe in or understand the rationale for this basic constitutional safeguard against oppressive government. Perhaps the people who hate free speech the most are politicians. That's because they have so much to hide from American voters. It's been this way for a long time and seems to be getting worse because so-called journalists are now in the business of protecting these corrupt leaders.

Friday, October 15, 2021

How Many Psychiatrists Are Mentally Ill?

     Over the years, numerous studies and surveys have confirmed the conventional wisdom that people who enter the fields of psychiatry and psychotherapy were mentally and emotionally disturbed as children. A relatively high percentage of these mental health professionals develop drinking problems, suffer depression, become paranoid, struggle with anxiety, and eventually become suicidal. (Sigmund Freud, the father of psycho-babble and mind-talk, killed himself.)

     Authors Robert Epstein and Tim Brewer, in a July 1, 1987 Psychology Today article, wrote: "Mental health professionals are, in general, a fairly crazy lot--at least as troubled as the general population. This may sound depressing...but having crazy shrinks around is not in itself a serious problem. In fact, some experts believe that therapists who have suffered in certain ways may be the very best therapists we have."

     According to one group of researchers, while psychiatrists account for just 6 percent of all doctors, they make up 33 percent of the sexual crimes committed by doctors. This study also revealed that the percentage of sexual molestation offenses by psychiatrists is 37 times higher than that of the general public. It is not surprising that almost all psychiatrists are patients of other shrinks.

     In 2012, fifty-six-year-old Jackson Dempsey, a psychiatrist with offices in Medford, Oregon, served as the psychiatrist for Jackson County. Dempsey, who walked his dog on the national forest trails outside Ashland, did not like the mountain bikers who regularly sped past him on the downhill runs. He decided to wage a guerrilla war against the bikers.

     In June and July 2012, Dr. Dempsey strung nylon ropes across the trails in an effort to booby trap the bikers. He also littered the trials with nails, and placed tree branches in the bikers' paths. As a result of his clandestine work, three mountain bikers were injured.

     Police officers arrested Dr. Dempsey in July 2012 after a witness saw him setting a biker trap. A local prosecutor charged the shrink with assault and reckless endangerment, a pair of misdemeanor offenses.

     On May 1, 2013, Dr. Dempsey pleaded guilty in return for a 30-day sentence in the Jackson County Jail. Pursuant to his plea agreement, he apologized to the mountain bikers, his family, and the local mental health community. Dr. Dempsey resigned his position as the county psychiatrist. He was also prohibited, as a condition of his probation, from going near the national forest trails for a period of two years. He was also ordered to pay $2,400 in restitution to his victims.

     William Roussel, one of the bikers injured by a Dr. Dempsey trap, told reporters that he didn't believe that Dr. Dempsey's apology to the bikers was sincere. Another of Dr. Dempsey's mountain trail victims told a local TV reporter that, "I don't understand how someone with six to eight years of [advanced] education could...do this." There are at least two answers to that victim's question: Just because someone is well-educated doesn't mean this person is mentally sound (or for that matter, smart). Moreover, Dr. Dempsey is a member of a profession populated by nuts.

     In the fall of 2013, the Oregon Medical Board reviewed Dr. Dempsey's criminal case. While calling his behavior "dishonorable," and "detrimental to the community," the board chose not to suspend or revoke his medical license. (The board could have pulled his license and fined him up to $10,000.) In other words, Dr. Dempsey's behavior was anti-social enough to send him to jail but not bad enough to remove him from the medical profession. So much for professional standards.

     Shortly after being professionally exonerated by the medical board, Dr. Dempsey opened a private practice in Grants Pass, Oregon. 

Truth Is Often Stranger Than Fiction

In the course of a single week (July 2019) we learned that a recluse had died and was completely consumed by his dogs; a woman was arrested for living three years with her dead mother; a man murdered a woman and posted photographs of her body on social media; and a mother in a doctor's office published a video of her daughter licking a tongue dispenser and returning the tainted object to the medical supply cabinet. 

The Corpse That Wasn't Dead

     A coroner declared a 78-year-old Mississippi man dead at his home, but later, in the body bag, the man woke up. Both a hospice nurse and a family member called Holmes County Coroner Dexter Howard to say Walter Williams of Lexington had passed on February 26, 2014. As the mortician/coroner prepared the body for embalming at the funeral home a few hours later, the coroner witnessed what he described as a miracle--a leg moving from inside the zipped bag.

     The coroner watched Mr. William's chest rise and descend with every breath and called for an ambulance to take him to a hospital. He told the family the good news. [Sick people are put into an ambulance, and if they don't make it, end up riding in a hearse. Mr. Williams started out in the hearse and ended up in an ambulance.]

Nicole Hensley, "Mississipi Coroner Finds No Pulse, Then Man Wakes Up In Body Bag," New York Daily News, February 28, 2014 

Theme in Children's Literature

If an editor says your children's story is "slight," this may mean you have no significant theme. Don't blurt out your theme. Let it emerge from the story. If you must come out and say it, do it in dialogue, not narration. Avoid preaching. Children's stories should be explorations of life--not Sunday school lessons. Keep your theme positive. If writing about a special problem, offer constructive ways for your reader to deal with it.

Aaron Shepard, The Business of Writing For Children, 2000

The Pompous Writer

     Sometimes it takes courage to drop our pretensions, to choose use instead of utilize, rain instead of precipitation, arithmetic instead of computational skills. An idea expressed in simple English has to stand on its own, naked and unadorned, while ostentatious words sound impressive even when they mean nothing.

     Not all pompous writers are showing off or covering up their ignorance. Some are just timid, imagining that their ideas are flimsy or flawed or silly, even when they aren't. If you've done your homework, you shouldn't have to disguise your ideas with showy language. Be brave. Write plainly.

     The truth about big, ostentatious words is that they don't work as well as simple ones.

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

Thursday, October 14, 2021

The Fear Of Being Murdered By A Stranger

     Before I coined the term serial killer in the mid-1970s, such murders were referred to as stranger murders to differentiate them from murders in which the victim is killed by those he or she knew, usually family members.

     One reason that Jack the Ripper frightened those who heard or read about him when he was active [in 1888 London] was the notion that he killed strangers--leading to the idea that ordinary people out for a walk at night would now have to be afraid of any stranger who crossed their path. At that time, such murders were entirely uncommon in Great Britain and everywhere else. The great individual killers (as opposed to military ones) in history had been of the Bluebeard sort, those who killed their wives, one by one, or massacred their families. For most people the emotional components of intra-familial violence seemed understandable; most people, at some time or another, had considered raising an angry hand toward a spouse or a child, and could comprehend how, in a fit of rage, such an emotion could escalate into murder. But the emotional components of stranger murder seemed incomprehensible.

Robert K. Ressler, I Have Lived in the Monster, 1997

"Petty" Crime and the Quality of Life

A bored kid smashes your rural mailbox with a baseball bat. A careless woman at the supermarket lets her grocery cart roll into your car. Someone swipes a chair from your front porch. Thanks to a drive-by thief, your newspaper is not in its box. A neighbor's dog leaves a pile of himself on your freshly cut yard. You receive ten calls a day from con artists trying to get into your bank account. On the way to work you step around a drug addict passed out on the sidewalk. You can't sleep because the people living above you host loud parties (and fill your apartment with the smell of pot). If these are crimes at all, they're considered petty. Petty crimes. They are only petty, however, if they happen to someone else. In the American criminal justice system, the "petty crime" victim's perspective is all but ignored.

The Unfinished Novel

You've always wanted to write a novel, but you haven't been able to. Not yet, you haven't. Perhaps you've been too intimidated to even begin. (Who do I think I am?) Or you've started writing several novels over the years, each with abundant hope and enthusiasm, but you soon become discouraged when the characters in your head did not breathe on the page. Or maybe you keep pulling the same novel out of the desk drawer whenever you have some downtime, and you work on it again for a week or a month--you feel a feverish sense of urgency--and the novel keeps growing, year after year, but seems unwilling to resolve itself, and then, alas, the so-called real world summons you, or you lose confidence in your creative or organizational abilities, and you shove the manuscript back into the drawer and push your chair away from the annoying desk. Well, you should know that you are not alone. We've all done the same thing. Writing is hard, and it's harder for the writer than it is for anyone else.

John Dufresne, Is Life Like This? 2010

Anecdotes in Fiction

Little nuggets of economy and compression, interpolated stories--anecdotes that one character tells another within the body of a narrative--change the pace of that narrative and illuminate a character who is revealed by the content of the story, by the manner of its telling, and finally by what the reader concludes about the purpose that the anecdote is intended to serve. [Most readers, I suspect, could do without these often boring and pretentious breaks in the story.]

Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer, 2006 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Career Criminal

While the [amateur criminal] sees an opportunity and takes it, the professional criminal through the use of deceit and treachery, is able to create opportunities. This individual not only actively searches for crime to commit, the professional assembles teams of similar people and generates situations in which crime can be safely perpetrated in a controlled environment for maximum profit.

Gary "Gunz" Govich, My Life in The Russian Mob Until the Day I Died

The Media's Role in American Violence

      The validity of the copycat effect is undeniable. This human phenomenon, which is hundreds if not thousands of years old, is being accelerated by our brave new world of in-your-face, wall-to-wall news coverage. The media's graphic coverage of rampage shootings, celebrity suicides, bridge jumpers, school shootings, and the like is triggering vulnerable and angry people to take their own lives and that of others.

     This is not a statement the media wants to hear. Instead of facing up to their role in these events, the media, after a shooting rampage, a school shooting, or a famous suicide, engages in the "blame game." Are guns to blame? Is it Satan? Are parents, friends, schools, and drugs to blame? Or is the general public itself, conditioned now on a high protein diet of increasingly violent fare, to blame for wanting more and more? Of course, asking the question Who is responsible? deflects the attention away from the major socially reinforcing element in the mix: the media itself. Denying the clear evidence of the copycat effect is foolhardy.

Loren Coleman, The Copycat Effect, 2004 

The Eight Deadly Sins of Book Reviewers

There is the critical sin of covetousness, which may cause the book critic to seek fame at the expense of the author whose work he exploits. The closely associated sin of envy leads to the denigration of the work of others for the hidden purpose of self-aggrandizement. To indulge the sin of gluttony is to bite off more than one is prepared to digest, denying others the right to partake. To be lustful is to indulge an inordinate desire for the gratification of one's sense of power. The deadly sin of anger leads to the loss of one's composure and sense of balance during the inevitable exchanges of differing opinion. The deadly sin of sloth is to repeat accepted lies about an author or body of work because the critic is too lazy to dig out the truth.

Carlos Baker in Opinions and Perspectives From "The New York Times Book Review," edited by Francis Brown, 1964 

Was Crime Writer Raymond Chandler A Literary Novelist?

The fact that some genre writers write better than some of their literary counterparts doesn't automatically consecrate their books. Although a simile by Raymond Chandler and by the legion of his imitators is the difference between a live wire and a wet noodle, Chandler's novels are not quite literature. The assessment is Chandler's own, tendered precisely because he was literary. "To accept a mediocre form and make something like literature out of it is in itself rather an accomplishment." So it is. And there are a number of such accomplishments by the likes of Patricia Highsmith, Charles McCarry, Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, Donald Westlake, Lawrence Block, and dozens of others.

Arthur Krystal, The New Yorker, October 24, 2012 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Crime in Schools

The criminal delinquent praises virtually anyone who lets him do what he wants and reviles anyone who imposes limits. A group of adult inmates in a Minnesota prison brainstormed 77 ideas in response to being questioned about how schools could help eliminate crime. Their suggestions revealed a perspective unchanged from childhood, namely that schools should cater to the student and make few demands of him. Among the inmates' suggestions were "more spontaneity," "dump dress codes," "more rap sessions," "supervise kids and not teach them," "let kids teach some classes," "let students choose teachers." Additional proposals were offered, but most were directed toward giving students free reign while requiring little personal responsibility.

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

The Forensic Anthropologist

Forensic anthropologists, unlike medical examiners, cannot actually determine cause of death because they are not medical doctors. In a forensic case, it is the forensic anthropologist's job to determine from bones the race, ancestry, sex, and age of the deceased. [Physical stature can also be determined.] Through their examination of human remains, if there are definitive markers that seem to contribute to a person's death, like bullet fragments embedded in bone, then [the forensic anthropologist] can determine what is called the "manner of death." 

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

White on Black Crime

A white man shooting a black man is presumed racist. A black man shooting a white man is described as an indictment of society as a whole. A white man shooting a black man is put down to individual racism, but a black man shooting a white man is written off as a response to white racism...These assumptions are part of the unwritten stylebook of modern media coverage...Racism, like any form of xenophobia, is unfortunately indigenous to the human character. To privilege one form of racism over another is to justify and dehumanize its victims as deserving of abuse.

Daniel Greenfield, "The Racist Liberal System," Frontpage Mag. com, August 30, 2013

Bernard Shaw on Literary Critics

I have never been able to see how the duties of a critic, which consists largely in making painful remarks in public about the most sensitive of his fellow creatures, can be reconciled with the manners of a gentleman. But gentleman or no, a critic is most certainly not bound to perjure himself to shield the reputation of the profession he criticizes.

Bernard Shaw in Never in Doubt by Peter S. Prescott, 1986 

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Historic Jukes Family

Sociologist Richard Dugdale made a study of a family called the Jukes and wrote a book about them, The Jukes (1877). In attempting to prove that criminal characteristics are inherited, Dugdale studied the entire Jukes clan descended from the original sire in New York in the early nineteenth century. Two of his sons married their illegitimate sisters, and Dugdale traced the entire seven hundred descendants. All were either prostitutes or criminals, save for a half a dozen.

Brian Marriner, On Death's Bloody Trail, 1991

Jack Abbott's Prison Cell

     In the cell, there is a barred window with an ancient, heavy mesh-steel screen. It is level with the ground outside. The existing windowpanes are caked with decades of soil, and the screen prevents cleaning them.

     A sheet of thick plywood, on iron legs bolted to the floor, is my bed. An old-fashioned toilet bowl is in the corner, beside a sink with cold running water. A dim light burns in a dull yellow glow behind the thick iron screening attached to the wall.

     The walls are covered with names and dates--some of the dates go back twenty years. They were scratched into the wall. There are ragged hearts pierced with arrows and crosses everywhere. Everywhere are the words: "mom," "love," "god"--the walls sweat and are clammy and cold.

Jack Henry Abbott (1944-2002), In The Belly of the Beast, 1982

The Benefits of Writing

We [women] have come to think that duty should come first. I disagree. Duty should be a by-product. Writing, the creative effort, the use of the imagination, should come first--at least for some part of every day of your life. It is a wonderful blessing if you will use it. You will become happier, more enlightened, alive, impassioned, light-hearted and generous to everybody else. Even your health will improve. Colds will disappear and all the other ailments of discouragement and boredom.

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

Writing as a Process of Discovery

Many people think that writers are wise men who can impart to them the truth or some profound philosophy of life. It is not so. A writer is a skilled craftsman who discovers things along with the reader, and what you do with a good writer is you share the search; you are not being imparted wisdom, or if you are being imparted wisdom, it's a wisdom that came to him just as it came to you reading it.

Shelby Foote in Conversations with Shelby Foote (1989) by William C. Carter 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Ronnie Lee Gardner: The Last Man To Die By Firing Squad

     On the night of October 9, 1984, in Salt Lake City, 24-year-old Ronnie Lee Gardner was under the influence of cocaine when he held up a bar and killed the bartender, Melvyn Otterstrom, by shooting him point blank in the face. The twice-convicted robber netted $100 from the deadly hold up.

     Three weeks after shooting the bartender to death, police officers arrested Gardner at his cousin's house in Salt Lake City. Officers booked him into jail on the charge of capital murder. The judge set Gardner's bail at $1.5 million.

     On April 2, 1985, as Gardner was being escorted through the underground garage on his way to an upstairs courtroom, he managed to get his hands on a firearm someone had left hidden in the garage for him. The moment he displayed the gun in the courtroom, a guard shot him in the chest. Although wounded, Gardner shot a bailiff in the stomach.

     As the armed and wounded Gardner tried to flee the building, he encountered two attorneys and shot one of them in the eye. A dozen police officers surrounded the armed prisoner before he could leave the courthouse. When he dropped the gun, officers took him into custody. The lawyer he shot died a little later in the hospital. The bailiff survived.

     Ronnie Gardner was himself rushed to a local hospital where he recovered from his gunshot wound.

     In October 1985, Gardner pleaded guilty to both murders and was sentenced to death.

     Two years later, inmate Gardner broke a glass partition in the prison's visiting area and had sex with a woman who was visiting him. The other prisoners barricaded the doors and cheered Gardner and his partner on.

     In 1994, while still housed at the state prison in Draper, Utah, Gardner got drunk on alcohol he had fermented in his cell and stabbed a fellow prisoner named Richard "Fats" Thomas. Thomas survived the attack.

     Gardner's death house attorneys, citing their client's troubled upbringing, petitioned to have his death sentence reduced to life in prison. In 2010, the governor of Utah denied the commutation request. Gardner's lawyers appealed that decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. They lost.

     Out of legal remedies, Ronnie Gardner requested that he be executed by firing squad. He said he sought this method of execution because of his Mormon background. It had been 14 years since anyone in the country had been executed this way.

     On June 18, 2010, the state of Utah, pursuant to Ronnie Gardner's request, executed the 49-year-old by firing squad. He was the last condemned prisoner in the United States to be executed by bullet.

The Work Of The Forensic Pathologist

The reality is that only 10 percent of our cases are suspicious deaths or homicides. The remaining 90 percent encompasses natural deaths, accidents and suicides as well as a few undetermined.

Dr. Judy Melinek, 2018

Unequal Under The Law

When people can get away with crimes just because they are wealthy or have the right connections, the scales are tipped against fairness and equality. The weight of corruption then becomes so heavy that it creates a dent that forces the world to become slanted, so much so that justice just slips off.

Suzy Kassem, Rise Up And Salute The Sun, 2011

Robot Priests

In Japan and a few other countries, robots are serving as priests. They give advice, cite religious passages, perform funeral services and officiate at other religious functions. I guess if you can be spiritually inspired by a soulless machine, Father Robot is your guy--or thing. At least these computers of the cloth don't sexually molest children. 

Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules on Writing

     On August 20, 2013, the famed crime novelist Elmore Leonard died at his home in Bloomfield Village, Michigan. He was 87. In 2001, Leonard wrote an article for New York Times entitled, "Writers on Writing: Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle." In this now classic piece, Leonard set out ten basic rules "that I've picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I'm writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story." His ten rules:

1) Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long....

2) Avoid prologues. They can be annoying, especially following an introduction that comes after a foreword....

3) Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue....

4) Never us an adverb to modify the verb "said"...he admonished gravely....

5) Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words....

6) Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."...

7) Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly....

8) Avoid detailed descriptions of characters....

9) Don't go into great detail describing places and things....

10) Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he's writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character's head, and the reader either knows what the guy's thinking about or doesn't care....