I’m a Recovering Crime Writer, Not a Lawyer.

I’ve been watching one of those social-media explosions, lately. Let’s see if I can even find video without commentary attached…

There is more video than this, but a huge number of the copies I’ve seen include people speculating about what happened, so I’ll let you look them up yourself.

She was 19 years old (note for people outside the US: two years below the legal drinking age.) and at some point the following day, (many, many hours later) she was found dead inside a hotel freezer in an “unused” portion of the building which was under renovation. (And that’s pretty much everything anyone can agree on.)

In the beginning, the police seemed to be leaning toward this being an accidental death.

And then, Kanneka’s mother took her story to social media (I actually heard about this on Twitter, before it got to mainstream news in my area), and the internet rose up in support of a more thorough investigation.

The manner of death is now undetermined. (Manner of death is a check-box. Multiple choice. Five options. Natural, Homicide, Suicide, Accidental and Undetermined. It is not the same thing as cause of death, which could be Alcohol poisoning, hypothermia, asphyxia, etc.)

And on the internet–you’ll see what I mean, if you look at many of the videos–the theories of how and why Kanneka died run from the reasonable to X-Files worthy material.

My opinion? Doesn’t really matter a lot, but I think unlikely that Kanneka was murdered for her organs, and it’s also unlikely that her death was faked by sex-traffickers.

I still think there’s an excellent chance she was murdered.

Oh, no. Not in the way you’re thinking. I don’t think anyone pushed her in the freezer, or locked the door, or edited themselves out of the surveillance footage.

What I believe is that this death may have been the result of a felony.

Felony murder is the idea that you are responsible for the deaths that occur while you are committing a felony, or as the result of a felony. And–in the United States–it’s more or less first degree murder.

So, imagine that you are the get-away driver in a bank robbery. You never set foot in the bank, you never point a gun at anyone. Maybe your accomplices inside the bank don’t even have guns. The bank guard turns and shoots your buddy Steve. Steve dies as a result of your felony, so… guess who’s going to jail for murder? Just a hint: not the bank guard.

So, now that you have the general idea…

Imagine that you are a drug dealer in a hotel party. Selling illegal drugs is a felony. (Selling any scheduled drug without a license is, too.)

(As is Conspiracy, by the way. Someday, I’ll have to talk about my deep and abiding hatred of conspiracy.)

So, here we are… Down to the toxicology report.

If what we’re looking at is purely alcohol intoxication, then, maybe it’s an accidental death.

If, on the other hand, there’s anything else causing that intoxication… If she was sold or given drugs… If there were drugs at the party, and that’s the reason nobody called the police or the front desk when she first went missing… if any number of things happened,… that’s a death as the result of a felony.

Revising, and the Blog

I hit a chapter that needs to be re-written today. Needs? Well, let’s be honest here! I’ve changed the character’s plot line so much since I wrote it that with all of the deleting… and adding… and remembering that she’s spent the day running for her life (not making jelly sandwiches for her brother) that it’s just easier to rewrite than it is to edit. There’s nothing wrong with the chapter, in itself.

So, I made a list of all of the charges against her… all of the subtext… all of the history… and off I go.

I also took a little time to make a chart of the revision (basically squares to represent each chapter) and I think… I think I’m on schedule.

In blog-y excitement for the day, I’m working on finding a social media plug-in that will work without over burdening my poor hosting account. I’ve cut out a lot of the unnecessary stuff, lately, and I’ve seen some increase in speed. I’m still back to tweeting and Google+ ing the posts by hand, and… mostly, I don’t remember.

I’d also like to find a more professional wordpress theme at some point. Something with a little more style. Seems like all my friends are upgrading, some days. (any pointers would be appreciated. Most of what I know, right now, is that I’d like something else. You know. Not this. And that the header should be narrow enough that people don’t have to scroll down to start reading.

I may also start with a holidays-only podcast. Something to get my foot through the door, and maybe put up on this website, first.

Perfectionists Anonymous

There should be a twelve-step programme for perfectionism.

It wouldn’t be all that popular though, because a perfectionist hits rock bottom, looks around, and thinks “I can do better.”

Then, he gets the shovel.

One of my grade-school teachers (the one who was thrown out of the Marines for being too mean) tried to cure me of that, once. She kept me after school to work on a project. No, not after that school day. After the school year.  

I sat and glued crepe paper to an American flag for… well, I’m pretty sure it was as long as she intended to be there. By the time I was finished with it, I had a patriotic monstrosity weighing in at ten or fifteen pounds, and assurances from one of the older kids that he still had his.

By the end of the day,  I’d pretty much learned that the Marine Corps does not care about the quality of crepe paper flags, and that the whole process was more or less intended to waste my time. 

But the lesson about perfectionism? Well, that didn’t take.

Maybe that has to do with all the other places where I was being patted on the head for that very same perfectionism.

There’s a point at  which you just have to be done, and that’s probably my missing puzzle piece. I miss that point coming and going, and then, I wind up rearranging things.

So, how do you tell when things are “done enough?”

I Am In The Wrong Line of Work

I came across these paintings on display in a public building, yesterday. Aside from the obvious–why are the winter-y holiday-y paintings up this early?–I would like to point out the price tag on some of these suckers.

Okay, so that probably doesn’t add up to minimum wage, either, but there’s a very direct-to-consumer model going on here that feels very… immediate.

The paintings themselves are actually pretty nice.

Sort of a cross between Grandma Moses and Thomas Kinkaide going on here. Not really my style, but since I’m in the habit of taking pictures, I might as well pass these on.

I’m not 100% sure on the cost of wall space here. Whoever’s in charge of that made themselves pretty scarce. But it does get some decent foot traffic.

 

(I think we decided this one is Providence, Rhode Island.)

They are for sale, and if anybody wants to buy one, I’ll chase down some contact information for you. (Unfortunately, the artist’s name isn’t as clear in the tag picture as I thought it was.)

Jumping in Front of the Bullet (Journal)

I got started on a bullet journal, yesterday. It’s a writer-specific thing with room for word sprints that I’ve had lying around for a while. I finally decided to get started at least in part because I have a revision I really, really want to finish.

My general goal? To start sending out queries on January 1st.

Except, you know… January 1st is a national holiday (I think. Maybe it’s the 31st.) So, that’ll be more of a drop something in a mail box situation. (Or email box.)

So, here I am, happily dividing remaining chapters into remaining weeks, and coming up with as much of an answer as I’ve ever had.

The plus side of the Writing Sprints Journal is that it really works. (Well, anyway, I now have clear goals, and I already knew the writing sprints thing worked.) The downside? Well, it actually looks like a book which has the tendency to make me feel a little anxious writing in it. (No, that’s not rational. **Cringes, waiting for childhood librarian to strike her dead**) Which is pretty much why it’s been sitting on my desk for four months.

It’s a looking at a big project in small chunks thing, and you all know how much I love those.

Broken down into chunks, the big project amounts to a couple of chapters per week (which is more than I’ve been doing, but do-able.) and then writing a query letter and **vomits a little** synopsis.

Oh, yes. There’s a definite benefit to being clear about what I need to do, and knowing that I can actually do that.

Waiting for The Cinder Block of Internet Dismay

Do you ever look at that SEND button, and know–even before you push it–that what you’re saying is probably more controversial than you know?

I’m pretty good at self-censoring the political content. In the first place, it just doesn’t travel well. After all, does someone in Britain or New Zealand really care that I hold my local city council personally responsible for the water main break the other day? I mean, if someone had employed the judicious use of condoms, their son would never have hit that pipe with a backhoe, but you pretty much have to be from my town to care. Definitely my state.

In the second place, that’s a slippery slope into a rant–FREE CONDOMS FOR EVERYONE (except the nuns, that would be a waste of taxpayer money)–and do I really want my website to be the no-holds barred, ultimate fighting championship of the world?

Not really.

I spent plenty of time stuck between the republican, the democrat, the dentist and the gynecologist at family gatherings, and I have no desire to relive the experience.

Maybe I’m still left with that feeling of the futility of talking about it.

After all, the only consensus anyone ever came to was a preference for patients with big… mouths.

Okay. Yes. Moving right along.

Every now and then, the urge to say something overcomes me, and I say it, and then, I wait for the backlash. Most of the time, the backlash never comes, either because I don’t have that big a following outside my immediate sphere of internet influence, or because everyone in the whole entire world agrees with me.

Every now and then, though, there’s something I know touches on the political, and I still wind up saying it because someone’s in danger (right now, at this moment), or because I just don’t have the sense to keep my mouth shut.

So, you say the thing that everybody’s been dancing around for political correctness’ sake, and hold your breath.

There’s that feeling that you’re about to be hit by the great cinder block of internet derision.

Yesterday, I heard the story of a girl whose brand-new college roommate is in an abusive relationship. There are two elements that I should point out here: American dormitory rooms (including the one these girls are in) tend to be about 15feet x19feet with the bathroom down the hall. And the college semester started about a month ago, so they have known each other for about a month.

Well, there’s what’s really happening. Then, there’s the fraction of that the girl’s willing to tell a roommate she’s known for a month. And then, there’s the fraction of that the roommate is willing to tell her mother.

The mother was asking what to tell the daughter.

Uhm… Gee… what would I tell my daughter?

GET. THE. FUCK. OUT.

NOW.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe the other girl should be safe, too. Hell, I’ll even say I think she should dump the bum, if half the story is true.

But sharing a 15×19 room with someone who’s in that kind of situation is not safe, and it’s certainly not conducive to learning to spend your life wondering what’s going on and if your roommate is going to come home.

There’s a difference between “supporting” someone in a bad situation and putting yourself in the line of the bullet.

And nothing says “I’m concerned for your safety” like… well, “I’m concerned for my safety.”

I also included information on how to switch roommates, in case that’s the problem. Not everybody is aware that changing is an option, and I happen to believe that the girl who’s the very first person in her family to go to college deserves the same safety as the girl whose mother just picks up the phone and calls the dean.

So, I’m sitting back and waiting for the cinder block.

But as of right  now, I get a few extra rep points on that forum (it’s one that’s visible to the public, not a private forum), and some very quiet murmurs of agreement.

 

Naming Names

I’m completely negligent in naming characters. I just… uhm… don’t do it until the bitter end, and even then, I’m never happy about it. I have a whole manuscript in which the character’s names are TKMC, TKvillain. Tksomebodyorother. I intended to fill in real names at the end, but the end never came on that one.

My first manuscript was a delightful mess of names chosen on statistics. Want the serial killer to remind readers of someone they know? Well, why not pick from the list of most-used names for the guy’s decade of birth? Hello, Joe Smith!

I have a fixation with names in real life. If I ever had a kid, we’d probably just call them by the last 4 digits of their social security number until they’re old enough to decide for themselves.

So, I ran into the first names I really remember in terms of culture and circumstance about the same time. The first was a friend who was named after her father and her mother. In the sense of her name was (Father’s Name)(Mother’s name) no spaces. Now, there’s a paradigm. On the one hand, you have the “My kid is going to know who her parents are” philosophy, which does not come from stable cultures and stable homes. And on the other? Well, I never knew anyone who was named after their mother, before. I knew plenty of thirds and fourths, and more juniors than you could shake a stick at, but none of them were named after a woman.

About the same time… maybe just a little later… I ran into a girl who was allowed to choose her own name.  It was a legal name change. You see… she was one of those little girls who was named after her father. The feminine version of his name. And unfortunately, he committed a few crimes, gained notoriety, and ultimately was committed to the state hospital with no expectation of ever being released. Well, you know grade school kids are gonna mention it, if a classmate is named Tedda Bundy or Charlene Manson.

Culture plays a role in this. There are very few Amish kids, for instance, who are named Stargate Warhammer.

As does social support structure. Yup. Your friends and family have opinions. And the more important your family and friends are to you, the more likely you are to listen to them. On the other end of it, we have the people who don’t care that their grandmother can’t pronounce the new baby’s name, or who simply don’t care. I’ve run into people who have completely refused to tell anyone their baby-names in advance for fear of feedback.

I happen to think social support structure is important. My family’s naming structure? (Well, for boys, anyway.) The first name is whatever you want, but the middle names are the two grandfathers. I also note the number of kids named Stargate Warhammer who wind up on missing posters or in foster care.

And age. Not many 30 year olds are naming their kids Justin Bieber Smith, and not many 15 year olds are naming their kids Elvis.

The perfect name for a human being is something you can envision on a business card, or an office door. Would you turn around and walk back out, if that surgeon were named Stargate Warhammer Smith IV? Okay. New name. And it should travel well. If it’s a name in the United States, but a graphic sex act in 23% of the non-English Speaking world, you might want to change. And yes, you should take your free babysitters‘ support structure’s opinions into account.

The perfect name for a fictional character? Well, aside from having a character who is actually, literally, named after a graphic sex act. (Do NOT name your kids after my characters, people) I think Stargate Warhammer is a pretty good choice.

Pondering Patreon

I’m not signing up, just yet, but Patreon has been on the edge of my radar for a while, now.

For those of you who don’t know, Patreon is a platform that allows people to support the creatives they love by pledging various amounts of money per (well, thing created, or month, or… well, you get the picture.)

In exchange, the creatives produce “things” for their patrons, beginning at one end with access to patron-only content (think stories, music, or comic strips) and progressing to bigger, more extravagant rewards as the money goes up. (Think private performances, real-live art, physical, signed copies of books, and sometimes out-takes that never made it into the finished manuscript.)

And in theory–if you’re good enough, or lucky enough–you get paid enough to live, and work on your art, and so forth.

So, getting serious, here.

The first time I heard of Patreon, it was from a rock star. Who had just published a New York Bestselling memoir. Who, even several years later, is making 38,000 dollars per thing.

Well, obviously, her variables do not apply to me.

I’m an introverted writer, and my tits are strictly indoor tits, and by the way, I don’t have a pre-mustered army of fans behind me.

So, I went in search of lab rats. early adopters who are biologically similar to myself.

That’s easy enough. I headed off to Twitter, and made a list. And every time someone mentioned using Patreon, I added them to the list.  Okay. So, there aren’t all that many, and they’re probably not a cross-section. It’s an on-again, off-again hobby. (If you know anyone else who should be on the list, or if you have a Patreon, yourself, send me Twitter handles.)

And now–thank you, hurricane–my teacher Holly Lisle is joining Patreon. Here’s a link, so you can get the scoop straight from her.

That’s another not-my-variables situation, but I’m hoping we’ll hear the inside story of how it’s working, and what she thinks. (You know, assuming she isn’t blown all the way to Canada by the next hurricane.)

As of right now, though… the conclusions I’ve reached are:

  1. It helps to have a ready-made fan base
  2. Having a means of reaching out to people who are not fans yet is imperative. (That would be the people at your show who just turned up for the buffalo wings. I’m not really sure where a writer pulls in spectators.)
  3. Most people are starting way too early, and probably wind up with one or two family members or close friends sending them a buck now and then.
  4. Rewards should be really well thought out, and consist of multi-disciplinary content.
  5. If you have a friend who can be talked into jumping, maybe watch them hit the ground before you leave the window, ’cause you only get one chance at the grand opening.

 

So, any thoughts on Patreon or other pay-the-artist platforms? Tips?

And, again, if you know anybody who’s doing it, send me a message, or leave a comment, and I’ll add them to my List of Glorious Fame.

Ex Post Facto Foreshadowing

I’m trying to find the perfect place to put a little, tiny sliver of foreshadowing. I know the chapter. In fact, editing that chapter was when it occurred to me that now might be a good time to hint that the two cultures in my fine book are more dependent on each other than my main character thinks they are.

I can’t quite seem to get the foreshadowing piece hammered flat in the rest of the chapter.

I printed out another copy of the chapter, and identified the place where I think my foreshadowing goes. (And by the way, have I mentioned that my printer takes high-capacity, ultra-economy sized cartridges? Yeah. There’s a reason for that.)

All I really need is a couple of lines, but smoothing out the parts around those two lines is tricky.

And one of the characters–who is about twelve–always seems to wind up sounding like a 50 year old business man.

So, what about you? Do you like foreshadowing? Will you do my homework for me? Oh, wait. No. I meant… does it come smoothly at the beginning or do you find yourself tetris-ing it in at the end?

No, Really… If you could do anything….

I ran into this TED Talk the other day.

And even though it was nested in among such gems as “Your Vagina is Not a Car,” a highly intellectual search for hidden meaning in Kubrick’s version of The Shining, and assortment of official and unofficial music videos, it stuck with me.

If you ask teenagers what they want to do when they grow up, about 80% of them say they want to be one of three things: Doctors, Lawyers, and Engineers. (Well, I think it said engineers. I’ve dated enough of them that there’s a semi-permanent censorship bleep over the word.)

And if you then ask them No, really, if you could do anything in the whole world you wanted, what would it be?

Uhm… well, about 80% (of the total, not just the Doctors, Lawyers, and whatevers) change their answer.

Okay. So 4 out of 5 people –already, in high school–are planning on doing something other than what they really want to do.

Or maybe… they have no sense of how to get from where they are to where they want to be.

I find myself looking around at the people I know–and people I think of as successful–and wondering which one is the happy one? If I have five people lined up, which one is doing what they actually want?

Remember that lecture from college? Look to your left… look to your right… One of those people won’t be here by spring.

This is more… well, add in the person in front of you… and behind you… and all four of those people will be spending their lives doing second-choice jobs in pursuit of stability and money.

And maybe I am the happy one. Maybe, even though I haven’t reached my goal–the fact that I’m still in motion counts for something.

Maybe the fact that I haven’t arrived at a destination I never wanted to get to in the first place matters more than I think.

And either way, so I’m in a job I don’t love, but somehow, maybe… I’m a little less alone than I thought I was.

After all… if 4 out of 5 people could do anything–anything in the world they wanted–it wouldn’t be what they are doing.