Sunday, August 4, 2013

Another Year Has Come and Gone


Well, today is August the 4th -- the anniversary of the Lizzie Borden murders. And, still, after one-hundred-twenty-one years, no one has been convicted of the murders. In fact, aside from Lizzie Borden, no one has ever been arrested and charged with the murders. And, she was acquitted.

Was she guilty? Was she framed? Or, was she merely in the wrong place, at the wrong time? We may never know. Although, there have been some tantalizing suggestions that the descendants of Miss Borden's attorney have found files regarding the case; and they may (or may not) release them in the future.

The facts of the case still remain.

On the morning of August 4th, 1892 the quiet, residential neighborhood -- only a few hundred yards from busy, commercial streets and the police station -- was shattered when the cry of murder went up. The police focused quickly on the only other two people at home at the time: Andrew Borden's youngest daughter, Lizzie; and the maid, Bridget Sullivan.

The police (as so many others, after them, have) contended that since they were the only two surviving people within the house and yard -- and because of the house's rather peculiar layout, and close proximity to the street -- that it had to be (in today's' vernacular) an inside job. But, was it?

Throughout the years, authors and armchair detectives have put forward numerous theories:

That Lizzie suffered from a rare form of epilepsy that causes periods of 'brownouts', when the person might do things they've been thinking about, or dreaming -- things they would never consider doing when completely conscious. Which could explain Abby's death, but not Andrew's -- since Lizzie was certainly completely in control when he arrived home.

That Lizzie and Bridget were involved in a lesbian relationship, and were caught in a compromising position by Abby, Lizzie's stepmother, causing the two of them to kill Abby. And then they had no choice but kill Andrew. Okay, except that Bridget was outside washing windows when Abby was murdered. Andrew was seen arriving home about 10:40, and was dead by 11:00. And both women were completely free of blood, or even evidence they'd washed.

One story insists that the murders were committed by Lizzie's ill-legitimate half-brother, William. And, that while she didn't expect him to murder anyone, she did help arrange for him to meet with his father about securing some sort of inheritance. Again,
I could see this…until they keep talking. This person says that the father and son argued, that William (who apparently always carried a hatchet with him in a bag AND spoke to it) killed his father, and when Abby heard them, he chased her upstairs -- cornering and killing her in the guest bedroom.
The trouble with this theory is that EVERYONE who saw the bodies stated that the blood around Abby's body was thick, dark and had begun to separate; while Andrew's blood was bright red and still dripping. Even without the report of the couple's stomach contents -- which completely supported the fact that Abby had been murdered an hour to an hour and a half BEFORE Andrew -- it makes no sense. It might have been the very dawn of forensics, but you still can't argue with science.

Although Lizzie was imprisoned for nearly a year, tried and acquitted, she suffered for the rest of her life. She was elated at the end of the trial, only to learn that there was a great difference between being found not guilty and innocent.

So why was she acquitted? Was it because the jury (all men) didn't believe she did it -- because she was a God-fearing woman? Or, could it have been that these twelve Victorian men just couldn't wrap their heads around the idea of a mere woman carrying out -- with or without help -- such a brutal murder?

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

If It's Worth Doing, It's Worth Doing Right

Several years ago, I read and reviewed, what was described by the writer, as a short story. What it was was a confusing, tangled mish-mash of ideas. And, side from the bad grammar and punctuation; the lack of structure; or consistent 'Point of View'; there was a plethora of misspelled words, (Something that is really inexcusable in this day of 'Spell Check').

My first response was to 'just back away'. I was relatively new to reviewing and reluctant to say anything 'not-positive'. However, since the point of the website was to encourage and improve writing, I swallowed hard and reviewed the piece.

I explained how important every aspect of writing was. Good grammar, punctuation, and structure were all necessary to produce a good novel, short story, essay, or whatever. I went to great lengths to explain how difficult some of these tools were to learn - but how they were crucial to good writing.

I mentioned how the site offered review groups, references, and a variety of classes - all there to help guide writers. I also pointed out that while they didn't advertise the fact, there were agents, editors, and publishers on that site. I advised the author to always put his best foot forward, because you never knew who might come across his writing. And, I did this all in the gentlest of terms.

I ended offering my help answering any questions the writer might have - noting that I, in no way knew the answer to every question; but I was sure I could find the person or persons that could.

The reply I received astounded me. This 'writer' told me that his ideas were the important thing - the point of his writing. He couldn't be bothered with the mundane 'housekeeping duties' like proper sentence or paragraph construction, grammar, or punctuation. Let alone the tedious aspects of plot construction, character development, or POV. He didn't have time for those things.

After one of my 'world famous' rants to a friend, I just let it go. Or, I thought I had - until something similar happened to me yesterday afternoon which was basically a rehash of that experience. This person didn't 'get' punctuation or POV; and didn't have time to work on it. And, (and this really pushed my buttons) even thinking about it, was ruining writing for them.

This is what I don't 'get' - why it is so many individuals nowadays can't be bothered to do things correctly? When did people start actually believing (not just thinking it now and then) that their time was too important?

The idea that people are entitled to get whatever they want, instantly, with little or no effort has to end.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Baby Steps

I was 'Instanting Messaging' with an online friend a while ago. I was, once again, encouraging her to take the leap and submit.She insisted that her 'Baby' wasn't quite ready.
 It reminded me about when my girlfriend's oldest child started kindergarten.

She was sure that her son was going to be miserable without her. After all, he'd gone to work with her since he was born. She was lucky enough to own her own business. Plus her office staff consisted of her father, sister, and me.

She worried about leaving the little boy at school -- convinced he would end up in therapy for years. She -- who never agonized over anything -- had, well, basically turned into me. And I'm a born worrier. I might even have some kind of worry-record.

After weeks of anxiety, the day arrived. She pulled up in front of the school as if she was going to her own funeral. She spent twenty minutes talking to her son about how much she and daddy loved  him. And how it didn't matter if he didn't make friends right away.

Finally, traffic was backing up and other parents -- cold, hard, heartless parents -- were anxious to drop their off-springs off and get on with their own day. After the fourth or fifth angry honking spasm, she accepted that the time had come.

Defying precedent, she took him from the car, and left in, blocking a good portion of the driveway, and led him up the steps, through the double doors, and into his classroom. Maintaining her hold on his hand like grim death, She explained how nervous 'he' was, presented the teacher with a sheath of notes, telephone numbers, and her schedule for the next month.

A teacher's aide helped the kindergarten teacher break my friend's hold on the boy and took him to a group of kids sitting on the floor playing. With her heart fit to break, she was backing slowly in the general direction of the door, when she realized she hadn't given her child a final kiss. But, from the faces of the teacher and her aide, she was pretty sure they were considering calling security.

So, in a tenuous voice, she called to him, once again assuring him that she loved him and would be back for him soon. And, as she backed into the door-frame, because her eyes were fixed on her son, he gave her a half-hearted wave over his shoulder and went on playing with his brand new friends.

The moral of the story is 'sure, we're all scared when confronted with something new.' But, until you take that first baby step, we're just stuck in that carpool line.

So, grow up and submit that manuscript. Who knows? You might realize your dream.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Fiction and Facts -- Writing a Fact Based Novel

There have always been historical occurrences that seem to mesmerize people. Throughout recorded times, random events over-lap, causing something that seems to change everything.

News of the Titanic sinking had people on both of the Atlantic incredulous. Everyone who was out of diapers at the time, remembers when Kennedy was shot. No, let me correct that -- they remember where they were when they heard President Kennedy had been killed. And half a century later, the attack on the Twin Towers became the current generation's 'historical mile-marker'.

In the same way, on a much smaller scale, horrific crimes have grabbed the spotlight. 'Leopold and Loeb', Son of Sam', 'the Zodiac Killer', 'the Uni-Bomber', and the Lindbergh kidnapping are only a few of the events that captured the twentieth century public's attention.

The nineteenth century had its own share spectacular crimes throughout the years between 1801 and 1900. However, the ones that are probably best remember -- because of their extensive coverage in the then emerging 'yellow press' happened near the end of the era.

In 1888, a murdering psychopath, the gutter press named Jack the Ripper, slashed his way through the east end London slum of Whitechapel -- leaving, at least five prostitutes -- not just murdered, but mutilated, as well. Four years later, across the Atlantic, the mill of town of Fall River, Massachusetts experienced its own horrific mutilating murders.

On the morning of August 4th, 1892, the cry of murder echoed in the streets of Fall River. At first, it was believed that only the wealthy business man, Andrew Borden, had fallen victim to an axe-wielding murderer. A short while later his second wife, Abby Durfee Borden, body was discovered in an upstairs bedroom.

Only five people resided in the extremely modest home on Second St.: the owner, Andrew Borden and his current wife, Abby; Andrew's two surviving daughters from his first marriage -- forty-two year-old Emma and her thirty-two year-old sister, Lizzie; and the housemaid -- twenty-five year-old, Irish immigrant, Bridget Sullivan.

At the time of the murders, the older daughter, Emma, was away -- had been away for almost two weeks. Mr. and Mrs. Borden were deceased. That left only the second daughter, Lizzie; and the little housemaid, Bridget, alive, in residence, and somehow spared brutalization. And, because of the rather strange arrangement of rooms in the little house, suspicion soon center on Bridget and Lizzie.

Lizzie was arrested after only three days of what the police claimed 'extensive' investigation. She was held for over ten months, before she was tried and found 'not guilty'.

No one else was ever prosecuted and Lizzie spent the remainder of her life beneath a veil of suspicion that she had 'gotten away with murder'. Over the years, many writers have put forth their own theory of the murders. And now, it's my turn.

I've always been fascinated by this mystery. I can understand how pent up frustrations could bubble up, and end in a blood-bath. After all, it happens much more often than any of us would truly like to admit.

I've read just about everything written about Lizzie Borden. I've watched the serious movie (the one starring Elizabeth Montgomery -- that stayed very close to the known facts -- as opposed to the Scream Queen rip-offs) and TV documentaries; and I've thought a lot about everything I've read.

It was only natural that I'd form my own 'pet' theory.

As a writer, I get to make up all kinds of things; heroes and villains, new worlds, and exciting plot lines. But, this was different. Oh, I still get to mold characters and manipulate story lines. However, this time I had to stay within certain parameters.

Make no mistake, 'Sisterly Love' is a novel; but I've gone to great length to stick as close as possible to the known facts of the case. I've just chosen to interpret them in a unique way.

Anyone who knew anything regarding the murders is long dead. Although, there are tantalizing rumors that Lizzie's defense attorney left some papers that may reveal new information -- if his heirs decide to release any of them.

We will probably never really know what happened that morning.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Well, I Had The Time Of My Life


June 5th, 2013

Well, as you can see - I've been Missing In Action for about a year now. The truth was I just didn't think anyone was out there.

Oh, and there was that part of me not knowing what to write about as well.

However, last weekend I took a giant leap - at least for me - and attended Arizona Dreamin', a Romance Writers and Readers convention.

It wasn't easy for me. I'm not agoraphobic - but I'm not thrilled about crowds--even with people I know. I interact with an extremely limited number of people; and spend a lot of time alone. (Not that the dogs allow me much quiet time.)

I had registered last June, in a flush of enthusiasm from the release of my first book,  'Leap of Faith'. It had seemed like a great idea back then. But, somewhere about the end of March, I started getting a bit anxious if I thought about it.

As April waned, I started asking myself 'What the hell were you thinking about?' more and more often. Was I crazy? I didn't know any of these people; and they'd all probably been BFFs for 'like forever'!

The thing was I wanted to meet my publishers and 'sister authors'. And, after all, they'd have to at least speak to me, right?

They would, wouldn't they?

Everyone was great! I can't say that enough. I met about a hundred women; and they were all pleasant, and had a story to tell.

To tell you the truth--I don't know what I was so worried about.

Oh, and I've already registered for next year.

And I can't wait!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Save The Tigers

Today's blog is personal.  A few weeks ago, David passed on something he'd heard on the radio -- that the Times Picayune had announced that in order to try to avoid being forced to shut down completely, it would be publishing newspapers only three times a week.  The news filled me with such sadness I couldn't work the rest of the day.

The strange thing is, I no longer live in New Orleans, and - as much as it disappoints my mom - I have never been a newspaper reader.  I've always had the vague idea it was a kind of backlash of almost growing up in the newspaper business, or it could be that I was just the 'first wave' of new times.  The bottom line was a newspaper company two-thousand miles away 'down-sizing' had no real effect on me.

This morning, David forwarded the article that announced that thirty-two percent of their current employees are to be laid off as of September 30th, 2012.  Half of the newsroom staff had received layoffs, while remaining newsroom employees received offered to move to Nola Media Group - a new company formed to operate the newspaper using a 'digital strategy'.

I am sitting at my computer fighting back tears.  Three generations of my family worked at the Times Picayune.  My uncle managed the advertising department, my father's first job after getting out of the army following World War II was there, and a number of years later, he met my mother there.

While I didn't run wild in the place, I grew up there.  I can remember the smell of the ink, the noise of the presses, and the hot lead type coming out backwards.  It was a fascinating place, bustling with activity--with life.  And now it's dying.

The Times Picayune was founded in 1837, making it one-hundred and seventy-five years old, this year.  It is a historic institution.  It is one of the oldest papers in the country.  But soon it will only publish on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.  And even then, they make no promises about how long that will keep them operating in print.

The fate of newspapers (as well as traditional publishing houses) has been on the horizon as far back as the seventies.  As with so many other things in our world, computers changed everything.  I took fewer people to actual run the presses.  Paper costs sky-rocketed.  However, the coup de grace came with the new millennium and tablets, smart phones and apps. 

Now, I'm about to have my first book 'e-published' next week, so how can feel like this?  I can't give the answer.  I only know I feel as though the last tiger is dying.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Redefining Freytag's Pyramid for the New Millennium

Remember old Freytag and his pyramid?  He designed a diagram to help writers visualize how their story lines need to progress.  It's just a simple triangle that illustrates how we should move from the beginning of our tales . . . all the way to the end.

See - it's very simple and straightforward.

It can really help writers working on sharpening their skills, to see how to structure their stories (or novels).  The problem I've been finding is that people seem to be taking it too literally. 

Think back to when we first learned about the pyramids of ancient Egypt.  That's how we pictured them - with straight sides.  It wasn't until somewhere in high school or college, when we found out they were really built out of large squares of stone - and looked more 'chunky'.

It's not quite a stack of square blocks.  Instead, it shows how the plot builds; then there's a bit of resolution; before the plot continues to intensify.  The reader needs little breaks - little respites - sprinkled in the mounting tension.  Equally, once the main obstacle has been met and conquered, you want to gently present resolutions to all the subplots; and perhaps, throw in one or two new obstructions.  Otherwise, you let the reader down too quickly and that leaves them unsatisfied. 

Leaving your readers hungry is not the same as leaving them wanting more.