Gone

My granddaughter S. went missing for a very short time several years ago. 

It happened on a Thursday during the first week of June. S. was a student at a wonderful public elementary school in the Clintonville neighborhood of Columbus. A picnic for the students, teachers, and parents was — and still is — annually held on the school playground during the closing hours of the last day of class. My son J. — her father — took an extended lunch hour from his job and dutifully presented at the time appointed. He was somewhat puzzled when he did not see S. among the students cavorting around the swings. J. approached S.’s teacher and inquired as to her whereabouts. The teacher asked another teacher, who asked another, who asked the school secretary, who asked the principal. Within the course of a few minutes, a hue and cry quietly started up, one that was on the verge of quickly rounding the corner to full-blown hysteria. J., having learned at his father’s knee how to react to an emergency, fought down the tide of his own rising panic and quickly called his neighbor to ask if S. was in sight. The neighbor advised that yes, S.  was on J’s front porch, bearing the look of someone who finds themselves in a situation resulting from an action that wasn’t entirely thought through prior to its execution.  

It was learned a bit later that S., being a somewhat willful child at that time, had concluded that she had experienced enough school for the year and decided to skip the picnic. She didn’t think to tell anyone about her decision, and with the skill of a Ms. Pac-Man circumvented the carefully maintained school security labyrinth which was in place to keep such a thing from occurring. She then walked the few blocks from her school to her home in order to jumpstart her summer vacation by a couple of hours.   

J. told the teachers that S. was at home. Those assembled collectively breathed a sigh of relief. As J. left the school to deal with the wayward S. he heard the name “Kelly Prosser” mentioned as the instructors talked among themselves. He wondered who she was. 

Kelly Ann Prosser in 1982 had been an eight-year-old student at a much-acclaimed alternative school in the same neighborhood as my granddaughter’s. The school year was barely three weeks old when Kelly disappeared while walking home. Her body was found two days later in a cornfield located in a quiet community contiguous to Columbus. She had been beaten, raped, and murdered. 

Several individuals were questioned by Columbus police detectives but no one was ever charged with Kelly Ann’s murder. J., who was four years old at the time, probably wondered why his parents held him and his younger siblings just a little more tightly and watched them just a bit more closely for the next, oh, thirty-eight years or so (and counting). For the teachers at Kelly Ann’s school, and virtually every school in the area., there was an additional nightmare a-borning. Whoever visited the horrors of Kelly Ann’s final hours upon her was, as far as anyone knew, still out there watching and waiting for another opportunity. While the safety of their students was uppermost in the minds of the teachers and administrators, I suspect that no one wanted to bear the burden of having another such act repeated on or after their watch. 

That fear carried over across the decades. The Columbus Police Department, for its part, never gave up on Kelly’s case. Decades passed. Forensic tools were created, improved, and sharpened. The Columbus Police  Cold Case Unit, announced on June 26, 2020, that the case had been closed. A DNA sample obtained from material originally gathered at the crime scene conclusively linked her attack and death to one Harold Warren Jarrell. He was no stranger to the criminal justice system. Jarrell had been arrested, tried, convicted, and incarcerated for abducting a little girl in 1977 from another Columbus neighborhood. He was released from prison after five years and had been walking among the innocent and unknowing for but a short time before Kelly Ann’s path crossed his. Jarrell for whatever reason was not considered a suspect in her murder at the time, and at some subsequent point left Columbus, drifting across the country with stops in Florida and Las Vegas among other places, more often than not attracting the attention of law enforcement before moving on rather quickly and without notice. He met his end at some point — how, where, and why is not immediately clear — and thus cannot face justice for Kelly Ann’s murder and the grief that ripples through time across the lives of her family members to this day. Investigations being conducted in other jurisdictions indicate that Jarrell’s horrible misdeeds continued. One can only hope that his end was slow and excruciating, one where any calls for help which he might have made were unanswered at least and mocked at best. 

It is people such as Jarrell who cause me to prefer the company of dogs and cats to people. That said, the tenaciousness of the personnel of the Columbus Police Cold Case Unit — with a mighty and timely assist from a forensic genealogical service named AdvancedDNA —  restores, at least partially, my faith in humanity.

I am well aware that in the majority of cases of sexual molestation and abuse the victim and the aggressor are known to each other. There is still a sizable group of opportunistic predators who randomly prey upon the innocent. There are tools available to combat them. Most if not all county sheriff departments now provide a sexual offenders’ database on their websites. There is also a smartphone app for iPhones named Offender Locator which I cannot vouch for, but I can for Truthfinder, an Android app that provides sobering information about sex offenders living and working within a given area.  You may want to consult this should you or a family member decide to move to a new neighborhood or take things a step further with that new acquaintance who might seem just a tad too friendly with your child. The writers and authors among you may also — and I am not making light of the problem by suggesting this, not at all — use this app as a means of obtaining inspiration for the truly wretched characters in your latest work in progress. The woods, as they say, are full of them. The lambs walk in sunlight and the wolves wait in darkness for one or more to stray into shadow. 

Be safe. Be well. Be alert. 

9+

Don’t Say It! Words We Love to Hate

By Elaine Viets

You know, some words and phrases are getting on my nerves. Most people would say it is what it is and at the end of the day, let it go. I know, right? But I’ve been doing some online research. There are certain sayings that tick people off. And readers are people, too. You don’t want to turn off your readers with annoying phrases. Just sayin’.
These outstandingly irritating phrases are garnered from various corners of the Web.
Think carefully before you use them in your writing. You may want to save them for your most hateful characters.

Just sayin’. The winner! Nearly everyone hates this redundant phrase. I mean, you’ve already said what you were going to say, right?

Literally. I confess I’ve used this one and thought it was pretty clever – the first time. Then I noticed that word in every novel I picked up – literally.

It is what it is. Arggh! This meaningless phrase is enough to send me screaming into the night. I admit I’m a little touchy these days, with the quarantine and all, but please don’t use it.

At this moment in time. What’s wrong with “now”? Can this pretentious phrase.

Everything happens for a reason. Usually said after some meaningless tragedy, and meant as consolation. If you don’t have that comforting belief system, this phrase triggers an urge to slap that person silly. Also avoid this phrase: Whenever God closes a door, he opens a window. I had a roommate like that. Very annoying.

Honestly. Often a trigger word indicating the person using it is lying. Use it carefully.

My bad. A cutesy way of glossing over a mistake. This phrase says, “I know I did something offensive and I don’t care.”

I want 110 percent. Right, boss. Except your math doesn’t add up.

No worries. Some people find this phrase a little passive-aggressive. In other words, when someone says, “No worries,” they’re really telling you that you should be worried.

At the end of day. As in, “At the end of the day, getting a new CEO won’t make any difference. This company is doomed.” This crutch will cripple any sentence.

With all due respect. The warm-up to an insult. “With all due respect, even in your prime you weren’t that good.”

That’s my list, and it’s pretty good, in IMHO (oops, there’s another one.) Now’s your chance. What tired words and phrases would you like to see retired?

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A Star Is Dead, my new Angela Richman death investigator mystery “will satisfy procedural and cozy fans who like a good puzzle,” says Booklist magazine.
Buy it here: https://tinyurl.com/yc6

5+

Word Play

Public Domain

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Unfamiliar words always catch my attention. Since words are a writer’s most important tool, I figure we can’t have too many in our toolbox.

Some words are just plain fun, either because of their sound or their meaning. Today, let’s play with several I recently ran across.

Lagniappe

TKZ’s own Joe Hartlaub used this term in a recent comment. What the heck is lagniappe, I wondered.

A quick Wikipedia search revealed the definition of lagniappe as “a small gift given to a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase” (such as a 13th doughnut on purchase of a dozen), or more broadly, “something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure.”

LAGNIAPPE example in Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain, Public Domain

Mark Twain collected the word as a souvenir during a journey. In Life on the Mississippi he wrote: “We picked up one excellent word – a word worth travelling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word – ‘Lagniappe.’ They pronounce it lanny-yap … When a child or a servant buys something in a shop – or even the mayor or governor, for aught I know – he finishes the operation by saying, – ‘Give me something for lagniappe.‘ The shopman always responds; gives the child a bit of liquorice-root.”

According to Wikipedia, the word origin is “from the Louisiana French adapting a Quechua word brought in to New Orleans by the Spanish Creoles.”

The use of unusual words in fiction can be a risk because the writer doesn’t want to pull the reader out of the story to check the dictionary. In olden days, we had find a Merriam-Webster and page through the thick volume. However, with instant internet access, looking up an unfamiliar word is easy. Sometimes, learning a new word is a value-added bonus in the book…like a lagniappe.

 

Matryoshka dolls – Dennis G. Jarvis, Wikimedia Commons

Matryoshka doll

Have you seen Russian nesting dolls, also known as Matryoshka dolls? Open the first doll to find a smaller second one inside; open the second one to find an even smaller third doll inside; and so on until the last and tiniest doll is revealed. Originally made as children’s toys, they became popular mementos for tourists visiting Russia.

The root of Matryoshka means mother or maternal. According to Legomenan: “the Matryoshka doll’s shape is round and elongated like an egg, a popular symbol of fertility and reproduction since ancient times. Like an egg, out of the Matryoshka stacking doll life emerges in symbolic form. The biggest nesting doll births the smaller ones, just as the grandmother or babushka gives life to the younger generations of her family, symbolized through the full family of stacking dolls of decreasing sizes.”

The Matryoshka doll seems a good analogy for mystery plots. The reader opens the first clue that leads to hidden information that leads to more clues until the most deeply hidden information reveals the ultimate solution to the puzzle.

 

Mondegreen

This is a mishearing of a phrase, often in song lyrics. Author Sylvia Wright coined the term after she misheard the words of an old Scottish ballad.

Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands
Oh where hae you been?
They hae slay the Earl of Murray,
And Lady Mondegreen.

There is no Lady Mondegreen. The actual words of the last line are “and laid him on the green.”

Check out this site for a funny collection of Mondegreens from popular song lyrics (some are R-rated).

Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven

Actual lyric: “and as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our souls.”

Mondegreen:and there’s a wino down the road – I should have stolen Oreos.”

 

Madonna’s Material Girl

Actual lyric: “we are living in a material world, and I am a material girl.”

Mondegreen:we are living in a Cheerio world, and I am a Cheerio girl.”

 

Crystal Gayle’s Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.

Mondegreen:Doughnuts make my brown eyes blue.”

 

Pat Benatar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot:

Mondegreen: “Hit me with your pet shark.”

 

Jose Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad:

Mondegreen: “Police have a dog.”

 

Gazump

Wikimedia Commons

Tracey, a TKZ reader in the UK, introduced me to this term. It is British slang for “when a seller (especially of property) accepts a verbal offer (a promise to purchase) on the property from one potential buyer, but then accepts a higher offer from someone else. It can also refer to the seller raising the asking price or asking for more money at the last minute, after previously verbally agreeing to a lower one.” – Wikipedia.

No one wants to be “gazumped” but it’s sure a fun word to say.

Working with words is a writer’s job but playing with words is our pleasure.

~~~

TKZers: What is your favorite unusual word? If you know the origin, please share that, also.

~~~

Four Books Four Bucks – All four books in Debbie Burke’s thriller series are on sale from July 7 to July 14. Buy one for $.99 or buy all four for the regular price of one book. 

 

Instrument of the Devil

Stalking Midas

Eyes in the Sky

Dead Man’s Bluff

8+

Freedom and its Limits

By Mark Alpert

Happy Fourth of July! Although many beaches are closed this year and many fireworks shows have been canceled because of the pandemic, we can still read and write. In the spirit of the holiday, let’s talk about what freedom means to writers.

When I was in elementary school, my fifth-grade teacher introduced me to a useful rule that summarized American freedom and its limits: “My freedom ends where your nose begins.” He understood that the raucous students in his class often felt a strong desire to punch one another in the nose, and he wanted to make it clear that the U.S. constitution doesn’t condone this kind of behavior. The general rule is applicable to adults as well, although I guess in the age of the coronavirus we should probably update it to “My freedom ends where your nasal airways begin.”

American writers are blessed with the freedom to write about anything. The First Amendment protects us against government censorship, and the courts have steadfastly ruled against virtually all attempts to block the publication of books and newspaper articles. Such attempts at prior restraint are anathema in our democracy; a century-long series of Supreme Court rulings have reaffirmed that the government can’t preclude the publication of anything unless it would surely cause “grave and irreparable” harm to the American public.

But what about defamation? Although government officials may not be able to stop you from publishing your book, can the targets of your criticism hit you with a libel lawsuit afterwards? Fortunately for writers, defamation suits are rarely successful. The 1964 Supreme Court decision in New York Times Co. vs. Sullivan established the current rule: if the plaintiff in a defamation suit is a public figure (usually defined as anyone involved in public affairs, including politicians, business leaders, and celebrities), he or she must prove that a false defamatory statement was made with “actual malice” — that is, the author or publisher either knew the statement was false or recklessly disregarded the possibility that it was false. It’s very difficult to prove reckless disregard (as opposed to proving mere negligence), so this court precedent shields authors as long as they’re trying to be truthful.

Personal aside: when I was a reporter at the Montgomery Advertiser in the 1980s, the newspaper’s libel lawyer was Rod Nachman, who had represented Sullivan in that landmark Supreme Court case. (L.B. Sullivan was a Montgomery police commissioner who’d sued the Times over inaccurate statements in an advertisement that ran in the newspaper in 1960.) Although Nachman had been on the losing side of the legal battle, I was awed to be in the same room with the man. Who could give us better legal advice about libel than the lawyer who’d worked on the case that had defined modern libel law?

For fiction writers, though, there’s another side to the story. Although novelists may have the freedom to write about anything, their readers have the freedom to ignore it. Your manuscript can be as wildly experimental and outrageous as you please, but no literary agent or editor will read past the first few paragraphs if the prose is baffling and the plot is nonsensical. Like all other Americans, fiction writers must respect the limits to their freedom, and those limits are defined by the tolerance of their readers.

It’s difficult to present hard-and-fast rules for novelists seeking to get published, because for every rule there are many exceptions, writers who managed through sheer brilliance to create dazzling books from unpromising premises. But I think most of the advice for beginning writers can be boiled down to two basic restrictions that authors should try not to violate if they want a sizable audience:

1) Don’t confuse your readers.

2) Don’t bore your readers.

At first glance, you might assume that following these two rules would be a cinch, but in practice it’s not so easy. In the writer’s mind, the characters of the novel may seem fascinating and the plot may seem crystal clear, and these convictions are often so powerful that the writer may not even recognize failure when he or she produces a manuscript that’s completely lacking in fascination and clarity. The best way to prevent these failures is to share your work-in-progress with honest, astute readers who are good at pinpointing problems. They can show you the passages in your book where the words on the page aren’t conveying what you intended. And over time you’ll learn to internalize that constructive criticism, so you can minimize the problems in your first drafts.

Once you get the hang of the rules, you’ll realize they’re not so limiting. The novel is perhaps the freest literary form, offering wider horizons than the short story and sidestepping all the theatrical considerations that constrain screenplays and other dramatic works. But even in poetry, which was governed for centuries by conventions of rhyme and meter, the best writers were able to use the age-old rules to express an infinite variety of emotions.

So I’ll end this post with William Wordsworth’s famous sonnet about finding liberation within a rigid rhyme scheme:

Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;

And hermits are contented with their cells;

And students with their pensive citadels;

Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,

Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,

High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,

Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:

In truth the prison, into which we doom

Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,

In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound

Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;

Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)

Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,

Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

3+

How Not to Write a Crime Report

If you want your book to bomb on the first page, you’ll write it like a crime report. Properly-written crime reports are boring narratives that tell “Just the Facts, Ma’am”. There’s no show, no dialogue, no plot, no characterization—not even red herrings—only a running exposition starting at A and ending at Z.

Crime reports are supposed to go that way. They’re neutral documents devoid of any soul or any sense of personal voice or individual opinion. The whole purpose of a crime report is to convey impartial details of the investigation and document evidence with links to supporting witnesses.

I’ve written lots of crime reports as a detective. I’ve written everything from prosecutor briefs to search warrant applications to wiretap affidavits to press releases. All had to be letter-perfect because they’re legal documents that’d bite your butt if you deviated outside the norm.

Crime reports follow a vanilla flow, and they’re intentionally templated. You begin by telling the end. Then, you prop-up the middle with point-by-point factual support.

Snoozeville…

I was a writing zombie after three decades in the legal report industry. That included my stint pumping out written judgments in the death business. I was so bureaucratically brainwashed that I knew nothing about active voice, nothing about dialogue voice, and nothing about developing my personal voice.

To say it was tough to deprogram and reprogram is an understatement. I knew long ago that I wanted to commercially crime write (true and fiction) in my senior years. Problem was—I didn’t have a clue how to do it. I had horrible habits to break, and I had no one to mentor me except for millions of words written by hundreds of authors who’d managed to successfully sell their work.

“Hey!” I said to myself. “Maybe I can learn something from them.”

So, I went on a year-long mission to break myself down and build myself up. John Grisham. Joseph Wambaugh. Frederick Forsyth. Agatha Christie. Ann Rule. Val McDermid. Ian Rankin. Michael Connelly. David Baldacci. Paula Hawkins and Fiona Barton. Even Stephen King and James Patterson. I studied them all and dissected how they honed their craft.

I made friends with the new wave of crime thriller writers. Some traditionally published. Some indies. Adam Croft. Louise Penny. Caroline Mitchell. Rachel Amphlett. Scott Pratt. Mel Sherratt. John Ellsworth. John Gilstrap. LJ Ross, Rachel Abbott and my BFF, Sue Coletta.

These women and men are talented in their own special way. They have their style, their voice, their storytelling angle, point of view, and their quirks and quarks. But, all have one common thing. They don’t write crime reports.

A crime report goes like this:

On Sunday, 01-11-20, 69-year-old Berndt Lankenau and his 64-year-old wife, Erika Lankenau, the owners of Shooting Sports Supply located at 3125 Island Highway North, were found murdered inside their gun store business. Both were observed lying face down on the floor and had been shot in the back of the head. Mrs. Lankenau suffered one fatal gunshot. Mr. Lankenau experienced two bullet wounds that caused his immediate death. No suspects have yet been identified. The motive appears to be a robbery turned into executions. Update to follow.

A crime story goes like this:

Prologue — Saturday, January 11th – 5:30 pm

“On the floor!”

Erika Lankenau and her husband, Berndt, stood in silent shock.

“Get on the floor! Facedown! On the floor!”

The owners of Shooting Sports Supply, a prominent Vancouver Island gun store, froze.

Erika’s mouth opened. No words came out.

Berndt Lankenau inched up his hands. His empty palms faced forward.

“You heard it! Get on the fucking floor! Right fucking now!”

“Wha… what is dis business?” Sixty-nine-year-old Berndt Lankenau asked in his German accent.

“Just do what you’re told and no one gets hurt.”

Erika Lankenau, sixty-four, bent her knees. “Do as ve’re told, Berndt. Do as ve’re told.”

“Listen to her, old man. Get your fucking face down on the floor or you’re dead.”

Berndt swallowed. He kept eye contact. Slowly, Berndt lowered and put his right hand on the floor. “Ve don’t vant no trouble.”

Erika lay in a prone position, her face on the cold concrete with her left arm stretched ahead. Her right hand felt for Berndt.

Berndt also obeyed. His arms surrendered beyond his head and his face was on the floor.

“One… Two… Three.”

Bang! Ba-Bang!

This excerpt is the opening from my work-in-progress titled On The Floor. It’s the fifth in my based-on-true-crime series and is about a shocking, sickening, and senseless double homicide I worked on as a detective. Who did it and why? I did not see that coming.

But, what I’ve learned about writing engaging crime stories (so far, and it’s something I’ll never stop learning) is there’s a lot to know. A big learning curve. It’s nothing like writing crime reports—probably the opposite.

Just writing effective dialogue is tricky. I try not to use dialogue tags, and I identify speakers with beats and prompts and hints. The main thing—as I see—is to keep the story rolling and not take the reader out of their suspension of belief/disbelief by wondering who’s saying what, yet not plug the manuscript full of “he said/said she” tags.

Active voice, in my opinion, is crucial to keeping the action flow. This was a tough switch because crime reporting is all done in passive style whereas polished crime and thriller storytellers prominently use active voice. I still fall into the passive trap and many times don’t recognize I’ve slipped.

Show vs tell? Crime reports are all tell and no show. Without getting too hung up about the biggest debate in fiction writing, I try to show what I can in exposition and then tell where it needs to speed things up. And, I believe effective dialogue “shows as it tells” if that makes sense.

Characterization never happens in crime reports. Never. It’s just not done because this brings in the writer’s opinion and that’s not allowed. Ever. Characterization is vital to crime storytelling, though. It’s what makes the reader care… or despise.

Plot? Plot is something I think should be present throughout every part of the story. Probably every word. Plot starts at A and ends at Z, but it’s best plot be subtle, subsurface, and not explained.

Plot might be the key to successful crime writing—above everything else—and plot is what a crime writer must meticulously plan/frame/weave their story into. Everything a crime writer does with dialogue, characterization, and showing & telling has to further the plot. Some might disagree with me about micro-planning, but I don’t want to get into a pantster vs plotter fight.

Point of view? Ha! Crime reports are the epitome of third-party omniscience. Even when the detective has to refer to themself (themselves?), the accepted report format manner is “the writer”. *shivers*

Grammar? Punctuation? Contractions? Tense? Alliteration? Simile or metaphor? Head hopping? Hooks and cliffhangers? Foreshadowing? And all the rest?

No one ever said writing in English is easy. That goes for crime report writers and crime storytellers. I struggle with plot, dialogue, characterization, show and tell, voice, and a whole lot of stuff. I still can’t master the almighty comma. Probably never will.

But, I try not to write crime reports any more.

And, I pay a storytelling editor to help me.

——

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective and forensic coroner. Now, Garry is an investigative crime writer and successful indie author with a based-on-true-crime series including In The Attic, Under The Ground, From The Shadows and Beside The Road. On The Floor is the next release.

Garry hosts a popular blog at DyingWords.net where he provokes thoughts on life, death, and writing. Connect with Garry Rodgers at DyingWords, Bookbub , Twitter and visit his Amazon Profile.

9+

It’s Launch Day!

By John Gilstrap

This is my 21st Book Birthday, and it is always exciting.  Hellfire is Jonathan Grave’s twelfth adventure. If you click the picture, you’ll go to a plot summary and (shockingly, right?) links to buy the book. They make wonderful gifts, remember. And Christmas is less than six months away. Just sayin’.

I frequently tell audiences–and I may have posted here in the past–that I consider myself blessed that I am one of precious few people I know who has been fortunate enough to live out pretty much every item on my bucket list. If you’d asked me when I was 12 what I wanted to do for a living, I’d have told you that I wanted to write novels.

And because it’s Launch Day, I need to beg the forgiveness of the TKZ family. Due to a shipping glitch, a couple hundred books that I was supposed to sign a week ago arrived at my doorstep today. My blog writing time has been taken from me in the best possible way. This, folks, is living the dream. Seriously.

BUT . . . So your time on this site today won’t be entirely wasted, I have a MS Word trick that I discovered a couple of years ago, but which many people don’t yet know about. Have you ever been frustrated when apostrophes face the wrong direction when you’re typing? It happens at the beginning of contracted words like ’cause instead of because. It also happens when you close a quote after an em dash.  Well, there’s a solution and it lies in the Ctrl key. If you type <Ctrl> ‘ and then ‘ your single quote will become an apostrophe at the beginning of your word. After the em dash, <Ctrl> ” then ” will change than annoying opening quotation mark to a closed quote.

Next, time, I’ll be more worth reading, I promise.

7+

Show Don’t Tell!
But Wait! I’m A Storyteller!

Note: I am unexpectedly tied up with some life-stuff in the last couple days (nothing dire; just confoundingly time-consuming). So I hope you don’t mind if I steal a little from myself and revisit an old topic.  But it’s an evergreen one, so let’s discuss anew!

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
― Anton Chekhov

By P.J. Parrish

I don’t remember the first time I heard this piece of writer advice: SHOW DON’T TELL. But I can tell you I didn’t have a clue what the heck it meant. I mean, aren’t writers storytellers? Isn’t that what this gig is all about?

Didn’t we beg for this when we were kids. “Daddy, tell me a story.”

Don’t we all still need this as adults?  “Man, I don’t want to think about anything today. What’s on Netflix?

Tell me a story. Make me forget the daily churn. Take me far from the madding crowd. Whisk me away to an exotic land.

Tell me a story.
In this century, and moment, of mania,
Tell me a story.
Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.
The name of the story will be Time,
But you must not pronounce its name.
Tell me a story of deep delight.

That’s part of poem by Robert Penn Warren, who knew a little something about storytelling. I’ve always loved that passage because it crystallizes our job as novelists. Tell me a story, in this century, and moment, of mania. 

I’m wandering off topic. Sorry. Less art and more craft, right? Okay, let’s talk about what’s wrong with telling. First off, we shouldn’t confuse the idea of good storytelling and the bad technique of mere telling. They aren’t the same thing.

When you tell your story, you allow your writer-ego to take center stage instead of your characters. You step in and function as narrator instead of letting your story emerge organically through the action, words, thoughts and feelings of your characters.

You might be saying now, so what? Isn’t the writer supposed to take charge? Isn’t the writer supposed to skillfully guide the reader through the story? Yes, it was the norm for most of literature until the 20th century.  Before then, most writers didn’t try to hide their god-like presence. But omniscience voice has become unfashionable and today’s readers seem to crave a personal bond with characters that can come only through a first person or intimate third point of view.

When I was reading up for this, I happened upon a great quote from one of my favorite old-guy authors Flaubert.  He believed that the ideal author should be “present everywhere and visible nowhere.”  Gustave was ahead of his time, I think.

But once again I digress. The concept of show don’t tell is hard to explain. The only way I’ve ever been able to do it is with before and after examples. But first…

A caveat: Not all telling is bad. Sometimes, you have to tell things in your story. Some things are best handled in plain old utilitarian narration:

1. Boring but necessary physical action

You don’t waste words on stuff like this : “He stared at the phone then slowly depressed the little red button to disconnect the line.” You write: “He hung up.” Also, you don’t write: “He slowly swung his bare feet to the cold wood floor, scratched himself, yawned, and got out of the bed in an existential funk.” You write: “He got up.”

2. Boring dialogue

You don’t write:
“Hello Joe,” he said. “Long time no see.”
“Yeah, it’s been about two months.”
“That long, eh?”
“Yeah.”
“What you been up to?” he asked.
“I was carving fishing lures, but the then the wife left me and I found myself living alone and eating and drinking too much.”

Write (tell) this: He hadn’t seen Joe for two months. He looked terrible, like he had been living on Big Macs and Jim Beam. Talk around the station was that his wife had left him and he was going crazy sitting at home making fish lures.

3. Pure description

This is where you the writer can step in and shine because it is you telling us (in your unique voice), what things look, smell and sound like. But usually, description works best and is more involving for the reader if you can filter it through a character’s point of view. Here are two examples. You tell me which one works best.

Third person POV detached

She looked at Louis. He was twenty-nine and bi-racial, his father white, his mother black. She knew he had grown up as a foster child and had made peace with his mother toward the end of her life, but that his father had deserted him.

Third person POV intimate
She turned toward him. God, she loved his face. Forceful, high-cheekboned, black brows sitting like emphatic accents over his gray eyes, the left one arching into an exclamation mark when he was amused or surprised. And his skin, smooth and buff-colored, a gift from his beautiful black mother whose picture he had once shown her and his white father, whom he had never mentioned.

4. Backstory
There are a lot of great posts in our TKZ archives about how to deal with backstory. But in terms of “show don’t tell” we have to concede that backstory is essentially telling. And that’s okay. Just do it well, be evocative and be brief because your reader wants to get back to the forward plot momentum. Example:

The first image that usually came to him when other people started talking about their childhood was a house. Other things came, too. Faces, smells, emotions, mental snapshots of events. But those kinds of memories were fluid, changing for good or bad, depending on how, and when, you chose to look back on them.

But a house was different. It was solid and unchanging, and it allowed people to say “I existed here. My memories are real.”

His image of home had always been a wood frame shack in Mississippi. It was an uncomfortable picture, but one he had held onto for a long time, convinced it symbolized some kind of truth in his life about who he was, or what he should be.

Notice that although this is TELLING (simple narrative), the reader is emotionally involved with the character. And it is short. The very next sentence takes us right back to the present plot.

Okay, let’s go to some specific examples. These are all from a workshop Kelly and I taught a couple years back. We spent three hours just on this topic. We still didn’t get to everything. But maybe seeing before and after samples will help you grasp the idea of SHOW DON’T TELL.

Number 1. The setup is a cop standing over a dead body in bayou country.

Shadows closed around him as the sun played hide-and-seek behind dark clouds. Thunder rumbled in the distance.

Impending rain scented the air. Spanish moss fluttered in a sudden breeze that carried with it the cloying acridness of the swampy bayou.

And at his feet in the vermin-ridden humus lay a young woman. A woman who, until a day or two ago, had hoped, planned, and dreamed. Maybe even loved.

Now she lay dead. Violently wrestled from life before her time. And it was his job to find her killer.

He started when, with a flap of wings, a snowy egret soared into the air twenty feet in front of him. As the regal bird disappeared from sight, Kramer couldn’t help but wonder if maybe it was his Jane Doe’s soul wafting to the Land of the Dead. The way the dove in Ulysses had carried Euripides’ soul.

Despite the day’s heat, a chill seeped through him.

Instinctively and unself-consciously, Kramer crossed himself and wished her soul Godspeed.

Here’s a rewrite of the same scene:

Shadows closed around him as the sun played hide and seek behind dark clouds. Distant rain scented the still air and Spanish moss hung like wet netting on the giant oaks. The cloying acridness of the bayou was everywhere.

Kramer wiped the sweat from his brow and looked down at the dead woman and drew a shallow breath.

She was the third young woman this year who had been left to rot in the muddy swamps of Louisiana.

With a sudden rustle of leaves, a snowy egret soared into the air twenty feet in front of him. Against the slanting sun it appeared little more than a ghostly white blur but still he watched it, oddly comforted by its graceful flight up toward the clouds.

Then, with a small sigh, he looked back at the woman, closed his burning eyes and crossed himself.

“God’s speed, ma cherie,” he whispered. “God’s speed.”

Why does the second one work better? Why does it hit our emotions harder? Because the writer got out of the way and let the character’s actions and words move the story along.

Example 2. This is the opening of chapter 1 and the setup is a woman overseeing a parade at Disney World. I think this writer does some good things here, and has a nice eye for detail. But notice first, how dull it looks on the page (see old TKZ posts on paragraphing and white space). And keep an ear tuned for places where the writer could have gotten out of the way — even though this is first person! — and let the character carry the tune:

Dorothy Gale got it wrong. Even as a kid, I didn’t understand why she was so hell-bent to hustle herself out of Oz to return to Kansas. Was she crazy? I ached to leave ordinary behind and devoured every magical Frank Baum book in the library. When I was nine, I vowed I’d find the Emerald City one day and I did. The Wizard—or rather Orlando’s theme park industry—set a shiny, incredible Land of Oz at the end of my personal yellow brick road.

Ten years ago, with a fresh college diploma—Go Terps—I’d found my niche and myself when I snagged my first job at Oz. Work felt like play in my fairytale world. And my disappointed parents stopped blaming themselves for those library trips when Oz promoted me to assistant department manager for process improvement. Tonight, we were rolling out a new parade, and for me, the excitement rivaled Christmas Eve.

Churning the humid Florida air, the dancing poppies whirled by in a swirl of red, plum, and purple, so far a flawless debut. Across the Yellow Brick Road, my boss Benjamin flashed me a rare smile and gestured to his stopwatch. The lilting music gave way to the recorded yipping of hundreds of puppies, and forty employees pranced by in shaggy-doggy costumes. Toto’s enormous basket-shaped float reached the corner, and excited children squealed, adding a thousand decibels to the noise.

“Slower, Toto,” I murmured into my mouthpiece. “Turn on three.” I counted and the basket’s driver, hidden deep inside the float, turned with inches to spare.

Here’s a quick rewrite.

The red and pink poppies danced in the humid Florida air. The lilting music gave way to the recorded yipping of hundreds of puppies, and forty employees pranced by in shaggy-doggy costumes. Toto’s enormous basket-shaped float reached the corner, and excited children squealed, adding a thousand decibels to the noise.

Across the Yellow Brick Road, my boss Benjamin flashed me a rare smile and gestured to his stopwatch. So far, it was a flawless debut. I pressed my clipboard to my chest and smiled.

God, how I loved it here.

My own fairy tale world.

My own private Oz.

“Slower, Toto,” I murmured into my mouthpiece. “Turn on three.” I counted and the basket’s driver, hidden deep inside the float, turned with inches to spare.

My own parade – every day.

Dorothy got it wrong. Even as a kid, I never understood why she was so hell-bent to get out of Kansas.

I think the writer got into the scene way too early and it’s way too much exposition “telling” backstory so early in the book. And I think you always save your best line for last. In this case, it was “Dorothy got it wrong.” The writer opened with it and as such, it’s not not bad. But I think it works better AFTER we know we’re at Disney World. Plus, I like the technique of ending a scene with your best line because it works as an emphasis of the point you are trying to make with your scene. And every scene does have a point, right?

Another example. The set up is an unidentified person creeping through a house after already finding one dead body. We do not know who this is, what gender, or why he/she is there.

In a large pantry off the kitchen, I found the maid. She, too, was dead. From the marks on her neck, my guess was someone had strangled her. As I completed my trip around the downstairs, I heard a noise from the front of the house, then a call of, “Police. Anyone here?” I took a deep breath and started toward the front room.

The cops met me in the hall with the obligatory order to drop my weapon and assume the position against the wall. I complied and a young patrolman named Johnson explored areas I preferred not touched by a stranger. However, I understood. I’d have done the same if I had found anyone during my search, and I wouldn’t have concerned myself about his or her privacy.

Once he finished, I showed my PI credentials.

In the rewrite, I turned the narrative into dialogue — which is a type of action and thus is showing.

In a large pantry off the kitchen, I found the maid. She was face up on the marbled floor, still dressed in her baby blue cotton uniform. I knelt and when I moved her thick pony tail, I saw a clothesline wrapped tight around her neck. She had no pulse. It hit me that I met her three times on previous visits and yet I could not remember her name.

“Police! Anyone here?”

I turned toward the voices, toward the long cavernous hallway that led to the living room. Before I could take a step, I felt a jab of steel against my temple and someone’s hot breath in my ear.

“Against the wall, lady.”

“But —”

“Shut up,” the cop said as he patted around my ass for a weapon. He found my gun, ripped it from its holster and roughly turned me around. I didn’t know the officer in front of me but I saw Sgt. Joe Highland standing in the doorway, trying not too hard to stifle his snicker.

“She’s okay, Jim,” he said. “Her name is Jenny Smith. She’s a local P.I.”

One more example but it’s one of my favorites. The setup is a TV anchorwoman looking forward to meeting her boyfriend after work. I like it because the writer was so close to getting it right. But he needed to focus in the special details and actions that show (ie illuminate) character.

Tonight, however, Corrie was looking forward to dinner with Jake.

Jacob “Jake” Teinman employed a wicked, take-no-prisoners wit. She found his sense of humor engaging, and delighted when he would elevate one eyebrow while keeping the other straight alerting his target to an oncoming barb. Corrie truly liked Jake, a lot, but experience taught hard lessons and she had qualms about the two of them as a couple.

They were awfully different — she: a public persona, trim, career driven, self-centered, frenetic and Irish Catholic; he: private, stocky, successful with a controlled confidence that drove her nuts, and Jewish. At least that’s how she pictured the two of them. She wondered if Jake’s version would agree.

She’d noted they’d been dating exactly one year and he had made reservations at “The 95th” just six blocks from the WWCC studios. It was sweet of Jake since he knew it was one of her favorite places.

Here’s the rewrite. Again, notice how breaking up big blocks of type make your story feel more urgent, more interesting. Don’t be afraid to paragraph more!

Tonight, Corrie was looking forward to dinner with Jake. And as she watched him come in the restaurant door, she smiled. It used to annoy her when people said how different they were. But it was true.

Jake…

Stocky. Dark. Jewish. Coming toward her with that confident swagger.

And her…

Tall. Blonde. Irish-Catholic. Sitting here wondering if he’d show up.

He kissed her on the cheek and sat down.

“You remembered,” she said.

He frowned. “Remembered what?”

“That this is my favorite restaurant.”

He glanced around before the puppy-dog brown eyes came back to hers. “Sure, babe,” he said. “I remember.”

So, in summary, how do you know when you’ve slipped into telling mode? Look for these pitfalls:

  • Narrating the physical movements without being in character’s head.
  • Use of too many “ly” words in action or in dialog (i.e. She said impatiently, walked slowly, yelled angrily.)
  • Use of stock descriptions, purple prose or lengthy descriptions of places (and people) especially those that have no bearing on the plot.
  • Too many adjectives and cliches.
  • Omniscient point of view. Don’t include details your character can’t see or experience. ie: a man who is pushed through a window would not be focusing on glittering shards of glass as he plummets six stories to the ground. Or this ratty old technique: “Little did Nancy know, as she loaded the Glock, that tomorrow it would be used to kill her.”
  • Here are the strengths of SHOWING:
    Action that uses the senses, stays within the character’s consciousness and uses words and phrases that reinforce the mood of the scene.
  • Strong verbs. (walked vs jogged, ran vs raced, shut the door vs slammed the door.)
  • Original images and vivid descriptions that are filtered through the character’s senses in the present.
  • One compelling adjective vs. a string of mediocre ones.
    Keep POV firmly in character’s head. (Establishes sympathy and connects emotionally.)

One last thought. It’s helpful to think of your story as a movie. Those of you who’ve studied script-writing know exactly what I mean, how you can convey the story ONLY through action and dialogue. (Unless you’re Stanley Kubrick doing “Barry Lyndon”). But for the rest of us, let’s just try to remember what Flaubert said.  Be present everywhere in your story and visible nowhere.

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How to Move From One Scene to the Next

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Terry’s helpful post on transitions got me thinking (always a dangerous thing). So today I’d like to add a few nuggets of my own.

Simply put, transitions are what take you from one scene or POV to another, or ahead in time within the same scene. Here’s an example of a location transition:

     John stormed out of the apartment. If the big man wanted a showdown, he was going to get it.
     Putting pedal to the metal, John tore across town, ignoring stop signs and pedestrians and at least one cop.
     Entering the office, John heard the receptionist say, “Good morning.”
     “Whatever,” John said.

We have moved from John’s apartment to his office—change of location.

Now an example of time transition:

     “You want to know why you’re being let go?” Stevenson said.
     “Yeah,” John said. “Fill me in.”
     “Sit down, and cool off. I’ve got some things to tell you.”
John plopped in a chair.
     “I want to tell you about my dad, and how he started this firm,” Stevenson said. “I need to start when I was a kid.”
     Half an hour later, John was ready to jump out the window. Stevenson hadn’t stopped talking the whole time.

We don’t get the entire Stevenson speech. Unless it’s crucial to the plot, we don’t need it. Time transitions are easy. Just add one line to let us know we’ve moved ahead within the same scene.

Now let’s look a little more closely at location transitions. I’m not talking about chapter breaks here, but moving to another setting within a chapter. When you do change locations, you can stay with the same viewpoint character, or shift to another POV. But you have to let the reader know what’s going on in the most efficient way possible.

There are three techniques:

  1. Narrative Summary

As the term suggests, you can get from one location to the next by summarizing the transitional stuff (rather than showing each beat). Unless plot or character material is necessary, just get us to the new location with as little muss as possible. This is the narrative summary from in the first example in this post, above:

Putting pedal to the metal, John tore across town, ignoring stop signs and pedestrians and at least one cop.

We aren’t shown the drive. That would involve description, action, perhaps John’s internal thoughts as he drove. But if none of that has any value to the story, don’t put it in. Use narrative summary to get us to the new scene toot sweet.

The pulp writers were especially adept at this. Here’s how Talmage Powell (1920-2000) did it in his Black Mask story “Her Dagger Before Me.”

     “All right,” I said. “I’ll do what I can to help you. This is murder. Contrary to what the public thinks, private dicks don’t like to get mixed in murder. If we have to wade through murder the cost is high.”
     “I know,” Phyllis Darnell said. “I’ll pay.”
     “I’m not worrying. After all, I’ll have the letters, won’t I?”
     I ushered her out, showered, and went over to Mac’s garage, where my coupe had been laid up with a ring job.

  1. White Space

Another way to move is by putting in a space break, like this:

     John stormed out of the apartment. If the big man wanted a showdown, he was going to get it.

 

    Entering the office, John heard the the receptionist say, “Good morning.”
    “Whatever,” John said.

White space is also how you switch between POV characters within the same chapter. Just be sure to identify the new viewpoint character in the first line:

     John stormed out of the apartment. If the big man wanted a showdown, he was going to get it.

 

    Gil Stevenson stuck his head out his office door. “Has Stone come in yet?”
    “No, Mr. Stevenson,” Peggy said.
    “Well, get him in here the moment he arrives!” He slammed the door and took a deep breath. This was not going to be one of his better days.

  1. Just Be There

Last week I wrote about the Bill Lennox stories by W. T. Ballard. For fun I re-read the first one, “A Little Different,” published in Black Mask in 1933. In one scene Lennox is in a cab being followed by a dirty PI. He gives the cabbie a fin ($5) to lose him.

     The driver grinned and turned sharply onto Vine, right on Sunset, left at Highland, crashing a signal. Finally, at the corner of Arlington and Pico, he pulled to the curb. “Where to?”
     Lennox said, “Take me to Melrose and Van Ness.” The driver shrugged and turned towards Western.
     Lennox got out at the corner and walked to the apartment house.

What happened between the driver turning towards Western and Lennox getting out? Driving, maybe some talk, arriving, pulling to the curb, etc. We don’t need any of that. Here’s a little secret: the reader fills in that stuff subconsciously and thus the pace doesn’t slow one bit.

And speaking of pace, how you handle transitions is a major way to control it.

The above examples keep the pace crisp. But suppose you want to slow things down a bit, give the reader a breather, and stick in some deepening of character? Just use the transition to add internal thoughts or, if you’re brave enough, a flashback.

Internal thoughts

     Putting pedal to the metal, John tore down the street. He saw a cop ahead and slowed. One thing he didn’t need was a ticket. One thing he did need was a drink. Maybe a quick stop at Barney’s would help. Sure. A little liquid courage never hurt.
     Of course it hurts, you dope. You know how you get. Two shots of Bushmills and you’re ready to give Mike Tyson his comeback bout.

Flashback

     Putting pedal to the metal, John tore down the street. He saw a cop ahead and slowed. One thing he didn’t need was a ticket. He stopped at the red light like an A+ driving student.
     Which he’d once been, in high school. That was before the accident. He and Tom Barker were out one night, John driving his dad’s Porsche. Tom wanted In-N-Out. John wanted Boone’s Farm Apple Wine.
     “We’ll get some guy to buy it for us,” John said. “Then we’ll go stuff your face.”

Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway) the skillful handling of transitions, and using variety in the technique, is a way to subtly enhance the fictive dream for the reader. And dreamers buy books.

Now let us transition into comments.

***

 

Tomorrow is release day for Romeo’s Stand, the fifth Mike Romeo thriller (the books can be read in any order). See the listing here!

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The Empty House

Photo by Rudy Rodouin from unsplash.com

Some of you — okay, both of you — have told me in the past that you like my stories about houses. Here comes another. It also happens to illustrate (as I have once or twice here) that Facebook isn’t always so bad after all.

I misspent my formative years in Akron, Ohio.  I was driving with a young woman one afternoon in 1971 when she pointed out a nice ranch-style house on a corner. “No one has ever lived there,” she said. I stopped the car for a few seconds and checked the place out. It displayed a well-maintained exterior with a nicely manicured lawn. That said, there were no curtains hung in the window and it gave off that psychic wheeze of non-occupancy that some houses do when they sit empty for a while. “What’s the story?” I asked.

The story as told to me was that the house had been built by a husband for his wife to her specifications. He had gone over the plans with her regularly and frequently brought her to the building site, making changes that she requested. When the house was finished she decided that she did not like it and refused to move in. He refused to sell it. They accordingly stayed in the home they were living in and never moved into the new one. The husband continued to maintain both homes. 

I would occasionally drive past that house to see if anyone had moved in. No one had. Time passed.  I moved from Akron in 1978 and rarely returned. Life went on. I would intermittently think of that house and that story but only in passing, such as when telling the tale to someone else as a bit of whimsy.

Fast forward. The world, as Roland the Gunslinger would say, moved ahead. My fifty-year high school class reunion resulted in a return trip to the city which had been known as the “Rubber Capital of the World” (due to the manufacture of tires, as opposed to what you were thinking!) but was now known as “Crakron” as the result of the illicit drug trade which had taken root. I began woolgathering and thought of all the times that I had driven past that empty house. I remembered what it looked like and the general area where it was but couldn’t remember the streets that formed the intersection where it rested. I mentioned the story to a few friends of mine who had lived in the area but no one knew what I was talking about. One friend even patiently drove me around the area for a couple of hours in an attempt to locate the house but to no avail. 

 I started wondering about the house again last weekend after watching You Should Have Left — a contemporary haunted house movie — and did what anyone does these days when they have a question. I went on Facebook. I went to a page devoted to Akron’s history and posted the story about the house. I also asked if anyone had heard the story and knew where the house was located. 

It only took a few minutes for me to receive several responses. There were some variations but the consensus was that the story I had been told wasn’t quite accurate. A man had purchased the house with the intent that he and his betrothed would live there after their wedding. She, as the story went, literally left him standing at the altar. He was devastated and retained ownership but not occupancy of the house until his own death, apparently hoping that the love of his life would return. She did not. Someone else purchased the house subsequent to his death, tore it down, and built a new one on the lot. 

I did an online search to find the name of the original owner but the available records on the website didn’t go back far enough.  Finding that information may well involve another trip to Akron and a physical document dive in a government office but I want to hunt down the name of the heartbroken owner and then pay him a visit at his last resting place. I’m going to tell him that whoever jilted him did him a  solid. Better to have one major hurt than experience a thousand smaller ones every day. 

There is a story everywhere. You just have to find it. There is also a country song for everything. There are two that apply to the story of the jilted groom from Akron. One is by George Jones and the other is by Trace Adkins. 

If you would like to share an unusual or eccentric story about your home town, we would be interested in reading about it. It can be an urban legend or one that is lesser-known, even if it is known only to you. Either way, please share it with us. Thank you.

 

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True Crime Thursday – Murderpedia

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Public Domain Review

Crime writers have—shall we say?—unusual research needs. We often joke that law enforcement could knock on our doors at any moment because of suspicious internet searches.

Recently, I ran across a site called Murderpedia. It claims to be the largest free database of serial killers and mass murderers around the world. It lists more than 5800 male murderers and more than 1000 female murderers going back hundreds of years in history.

It’s indexed alphabetically by both the killer’s name and by the country where the murder(s) occurred. Each entry chronicles the crime(s), method of death, and ultimate disposition of the case–hanging, firing squad, guillotine, life in prison without parole, etc. Additionally, there are photos, artists’ renderings, and illustrations to go with some stories.

At random, I chose a link to Bridget Durgan, an Irish housekeeper who was so horribly mistreated by her various employers that she vowed to kill them if she ever had the chance. In New Jersey in February, 1867, an opportunity arose. Durgan stabbed and clubbed her employer, Mrs. Mary Ellen Coriel, to death then set the Coriel house on fire, blaming the crime on robbers. Nobody believed her and she was found guilty at trial.

While in prison awaiting execution, Durgan revealed her sad life to the Reverend Mr. Brendan who published her story as a cautionary tale. The illustrated pamphlet was also likely sold to spectators at Durgan’s hanging.

Public Domain Review

Lurid pen and ink drawings show the mortally wounded Coriel still alive, lying on the floor near her baby, Mamey, and the wild-eyed Durgan standing over them. Durgan reportedly said she allowed Coriel to kiss her child goodbye before finishing her off.

Durgan was hanged in August, 1867.

After perusing the Murderpedia site for an hour (or three!), I was struck by the immense amount of work that had gone into researching and cataloging thousands of cases. Then I noticed the last update was in 2017.

What had happened to Murderpedia?

Down the rabbit hole I tumbled.

I found out that the curator/director was a Spanish criminologist and author named Juan Ignacio Blanco whose own story is nearly as strange as the cases he chronicled. In 1992, he investigated the triple murder of three teenage girls, known as the Alcasser case. He believed two men accused of the crimes were scapegoats who’d been set up by wealthy, politically-connected, Spanish power brokers to cover their own guilt and to divert attention from their other crimes, including pedophilia.

Blanco was branded a conspiracy theorist.

After he published a book about his findings, he was convicted of insulting and slandering officials in charge of investigating the case and served time in prison. His book was judicially seized in 1998 because it included autopsy photos of one victim without her family’s consent. Accusations swirled that Blanco and the father of another victim in the case had set up and operated a foundation that resulted in hefty profits to both of them.

Shortly before Blanco’s death from cancer at age 63, he appeared in a 2019 Netflix series that reexamined the Alcasser Murders.

Was Juan Ignacio Blanco a greedy opportunist who capitalized on a terrible tragedy or a courageous crusader against corruption seeking truth and justice?

Whatever he was, he left behind the vast library of Murderpedia, crammed with painstaking research that’s a fascinating resource for crime writers.

~~~

TKZers: What’s your favorite crime research rabbit hole?

~~~

 

 

If Hurricane Irma doesn’t kill Tawny Lindholm, a shady sports dealer will when she becomes the bargaining chip in a high-stakes gamble. The winner lives, the loser dies.   

Debbie Burke’s new thriller, Dead Man’s Bluff is now on sale at the introductory price of $.99. Here’s the link.

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