#Row80 Check In 7/31/11

Sunday, July 31, 2011

As some of you know, it's been a rough week. Turns out my doxie Sammy didn't have a bug. He took a turn for the worse Thursday afternoon, and after a series of blood work and x-rays, a foreign body was discovered. He had surgery on Friday, where the vet found a lot of his bedding (an old towel, because they chew everything up) wrapped in his intestines like rope. She spent over three hours getting it out. There were also ulcers on his bowels from the mess going on inside him. He made it through surgery fine, but we're not out of the woods yet. There are chances for infections and other setbacks, so we're keeping our fingers crossed.

We went to visit yesterday, and he was happy to see us as well as his bestie, our other mini doxie Maggie. Seeing him after the surgery helped.

Needless to say, the worry didn't play well for my writing. I was feeling down anyway, so Sammy's issues were like icing on the cake. I feel so guilty because I knew he was chewing up the bedding, but I didn't realize how much he was actually eating. I found scraps around, so I just assumed the vast majority was being left out. Should have known better.

I did manage to get a fair amount of editing done on Light and Dark. I'm working on some of the more in depth suggestions from my critique partner as well as really focusing on 'show, don't tell.' And dialogue tags. Those are a biggie of mine.

The Prophet is still stalled. It's an exciting idea I know I can write, but I'm having trouble getting started. I have notes all over the place, and it's like I've forgotten how to organize. Hopefully I get that straightened out soon.

Just wanted to say thank you for all the support on Twitter and Facebook this week. Having you guys to talk to has really helped, and it means a lot:)

Special thanks to the wonderful Tiffany White for pimping my blog on Jenny Hansen's great post. Check out Tiffany's post about the Texas Kiss and Kill Murders - a creepy true story!

And if you're looking for new blogs or a place to promote, stop by the Red Dress Club's Weekend Link-Up.

How did your week turn out?

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Body Snatcher?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

You're shaking your head, right? Let me explain. If you've read Tess Gerritsen's The Bone Garden, you'll get it. Part of the book takes place in 19th century Boston where a young Oliver Wendell Holmes and his colleagues are attending Harvard Medical School. Cadavers are in short supply around the country. In the book, a shady secondary character is a “Resurrectionist,” a person paid money by (usually) well-meaning doctors wanting to further the medical field.

Remember, Oliver Wendell Holmes was the genius (and I say that with all sincerity) who discovered that doctors washing their hands would prevent thousands of deaths from infection. That the idea was common sense is still mind boggling to me, but that’s another story.

In the 19th century surgery was still regarded as somewhat taboo and certainly feared. The idea of medical students carving into dead bodies was ghastly, and it was something no one talked about. Most Victorians believed being dissected after death would keep you from heaven, and there were strict laws preventing human dissection. Only the bodies of hanged criminals were given to the universities.

But as the medical profession grew and more students flocked to schools like Harvard, dead bodies became precious commodities. Poor refrigeration methods meant bodies didn’t stay fresh for long. Many medical professionals believed the process was a necessary evil offset by the benefits of anatomical study. Resurectionists were so good at their ‘profession’ they became indispensible to doctors and were often kept out of jail by prominent physicians and surgeons.

Ressurectionists worked in teams, targeting new graves because of the unsettled earth. They sent spies—usually women—to funerals to plan for the body removal.

“Typically, a member of the gang, or his wife, would spend the day loitering in a likely graveyard waiting for a funeral…At night, two members of the gang would appear and, after carefully laying a sheet on the ground, would uncover the head portion of the grave, dumping the loose dirt on the sheet. The body would be pulled from the coffin head first with ropes, the shroud stuffed back in the grave, and the dirt carefully replaced.” – Body Snatching: A Grave Medical Problem, p 401

The mass graves the poor were buried in were a favorite target for Ressurectionists. These graves were open until they were full of coffins—a body snatching smorgasbord.

They crept out in the dark of night, sneaking into the cemeteries while looking over their shoulders for police and occasionally, the ghosts of the dead. In The Bone Garden, the Resurrectionist is a cad who keeps the corpse’s jewelry and isn’t fazed by the many young people he’s digging up. He doesn’t think about their families—only his wallet. His accomplice is the books protagonist—a medical student. He despises the job, but he’s desperate for money to stay in school. It’s through his eyes we see the callous treatment of the dead.

Body snatching may have taken place at night, but it was no secret. It was common for families of the deceased to watch over their graves. Families with means did everything they could to keep the greedy at bay, building elaborate fences. An iron bar structure known as a Mortsafe was built around the coffin. Some even built fortified stone houses to keep the snatchers away.

But most people didn’t have a lot of money, so they had to get creative. Many snatchers would dig a tunnel to the coffin, bust the side and use a rope to dislodge the body. So a miserable-looking wooden plank (pictured above) was bolted to the coffin floor and the metal collar fastened around the deceased’s neck. When the snatchers broke through the coffin, the body would stay firmly in place.

As the demand for cadavers grew, so did the profits. And the competition. The fresher the body, the better. Some intrepid snatchers didn’t want to waste time waiting for the families to turn their backs or figure out a way around the various contraptions to protect the dead.

Two body snatchers from Edinburgh, Scotland delivered wonderfully fresh bodies and made lots of money. In their quest for comfy living, they murdered at least 17 people.

What’s worse, anatomist began to recognize the bodies the men were delivering but kept silent. Eventually Burke’s ego grew too big for his britches, and he made a mistake. On Halloween night in 1827, he met a woman at a bar and coerced her into drinking with him in his lodgings. He killed the woman by suffocation so there were no marks. But Burke was so drunk he did a poor job of disposing of the body, and she was discovered the next day. Burke was made to stand trial, and from then on stealing bodies for science was known as ‘Burking.’

Eventually laws were created to protect the dead that allowed for unclaimed bodies and those of volunteers to be donated to science. But in many cemeteries across the world, the leftovers of body-snatching fervor can still be seen.


#Row80 Midweek Check-In 7/27/11 and Doggie Sickness.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My poor, sick puppy.

What a day! As some of you following me on Facebook know, one of my dogs got sick on Sunday. What is it about dogs and getting sick on the weekends? Anyway, he was throwing up so we had to go to the vet. She thought he got into something, gave him fluids, etc. So on Monday I'm suddenly sick as a dog - literally. I never get that kind of sick. And I forget to give Sammy his meds, then Rob feeds him regular dog food instead of hamburger and rice. He keeps it down though, and I think we're all good, so I gave him some more yesterday. Starts throwing up again. Back to the vet today, same old, same old.

Now, Rob laughed at me when I said I was sure the dog got me sick. But guess what? The vet said that's probably exactly what happened and gave Sammy another antibiotic. So a big raspberry to my hubby!

Oh, and then our Internet went down today, and it turned out to be a broken modem. Our provider couldn't get out until Wednesday, so I hauled my butt over to the other side of town and exchanged it.

It does pour when it rains.

As for #Row80 ... meh since Sunday. My mom's been visiting, so I haven't had as much time. I have gotten through quite a bit of my critique partner's edits on Light and Dark, so I'm feeling good with that.

The Prophet, you ask? Yeah, not so much. It's suffering as of late, but I plan to cure that the next few days. Grace went to visit Mamaw and Papaw, so I'll have blissful silence.

Things are going awesome on the blog side. My comments and followers are growing, so thank you guys!

I want to give a shoutout to Jenny Hansen's Microsoft Word Party post over at More Cowbell. Tons of great tricks about Microsoft Word with easy instructions. Thanks, Jenny!

And for laugh out loud funny, check out Piper Bayard's post, A Time To Receipt.

How are your #Row80 goals coming? Happy writing!

Tempting Tuesday: The Rush to Self-Publish

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Okay, so maybe the stakes aren't that dire yet. I'm still in the editing phase and will be for a while. Yet decision time is slowly creeping up on me.

Self-publish or attempt to go traditional?

There's no right or wrong answer. It's all about figuring out what's best for myself. Yeah, that's the problem. What's best? Even though self-publishing and ebooks have lit a fire this year, it's hard to believe traditional publishing won't recover, albeit with adjustments. If you're lucky enough to get an agent, you've got someone to deal with the legal mumbo-jumbo, and a great source for marketing ideas. Yes, newly signed authors with publishing contracts still have to do most of their marketing themselves, but an agent - at least a good agent - will lead them in the right direction.

But they also take a chunk of money. I've read stories about new writers making very little their first years. And when you see the numbers midlist self-publishing authors are putting out, and you wonder why in the hell you're even considering traditional. Why should I give up all that money to pay someone else?

Because that someone else can help me get my foot in the door and a contract gives me the seal of approval from the New York biggies.

But what if, no matter how many good reviews or support from the agent, the book tanks? Then what?

Some, like the awesome Kait Nolan, went the self-publishing route and signed an agent through that success. That idea is very appealing, but there's the whole money up front thing that I struggle with. No way would I self-publish without paying a professional cover artist and editor. And that would probably cost between $2000-$3000. That's a lot for a stay at home mom.

Roz Morris at Nail Your Novel had a great post on this recently, called Self-Publish First, Seek Agent for Second? She thinks it's a good plan if you have a book ready.

And who do you trust as an editor? How do you find one that will charge you a fair rate and do a stellar job?

I don't know the answers yet. I'm still waffling on what route to take, although I'm leaning strongly toward querying first. I think the experience will be valuable, regardless of what happens. It's just a matter of whether I want to invest the time and money in the wait.

In short, my head spins every time I think of this. So much information coming out almost daily makes it hard to find the answer. Laura Pauling is doing a series of Wednesday posts about the subject, and she features a lot of great links.

Manic Monday: Interview with Matt O'Brien, author of Beneath the Neon

Monday, July 25, 2011

I first heard about the people living in the Las Vegas storm drains last summer, when I was researching for Light and Dark. A Google search led me to several newspaper articles profiling Matthew O’Brien’s book, Beneath The Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas. O’Brien spent a summer exploring the many flood channels that run underneath the city and getting to know some of the residents who call the tunnels home.

In the summer of 2002, Matt O’Brien, then editor of Las Vegas CityLife, explored the storm drains with reporter Josh Ellis. In 2004, Matt took a sabbatical from CityLife and set out to explore more of the drains on his own. Those stories became Beneath the Neon.

The book is heartbreaking, humorous, informative, and at times, scary. It also gave me a whole new world to explore in Light and Dark, so I nervously contacted Matt about an interview.

He was nice enough to talk with me about Beneath the Neon, and I’m really excited to share the interview with you.

Hi Matt! How are you?

I’m good. How are you doing? Thanks for reaching out to me. I enjoyed reading over your blog.

(I’m happy we aren’t Skyping because I’m blushing to my hair).

Thank you. I’m just plugging away.

Well, it looks good. Reads well.

Thank you. I have to tell you, I found out about Beneath the Neon by accident. I Googled Las Vegas tunnels, thinking there would be historical references for the mobs. I was blown away.

A lot of people locally still don’t know about them even though the book received so much attention. But now that it’s become a little more common knowledge, I get the occasional email from people wanting to know what they can do to help. Seems like people are a little more sympathetic toward the cause. Just not a lot of people understand this is going on in Vegas.

I know the Vegas housing market has gone down in recent years. How has it affected the homeless?

The people who live in the tunnels live off the excess of the city. When the city is doing well, they dumpster dive, panhandle, credit hustle. With more tourists, they seem to do better, and they seem to be suffering in this economy.

You interviewed some really interesting people in Beneath the Neon. Have you been able to keep track of them? (I asked about a man called Lawrence, a talented writer trapped in the tunnels by his own demons.)

I only saw him once, when I was working at CityLife, probably a year or two after the interview. He came by the newsroom to say hello. I’ve been by his camp, and it’s obvious he’s not living there. Lawrence, like a lot of people you meet in the tunnels, you just have no idea what’s become of them. Some are dead, some are in prison, some have moved to a different place in the drains, some are on the streets, and then hopefully a few have fought their way out and are living in an apartment or at least in a weekly motel above ground.

Two of my favorite interviews in Beneath the Neon were Harold and Gary. Have you seen them recently?

I saw Harold maybe a year or two after our interview. He’s still living in the same area of the tunnel system. Gary—one of the best things to come out of the book was that I started a community project called Shine a Light. It’s a collaboration between myself and HELP of Southern Nevada. I take their social workers into the tunnels, and they offer housing, drug counseling, and medical attention to the people down there.

Gary was in prison for a little bit. He got out about year ago and had a heart attack. He went into the big public hospital here. I picked him up and we were able to get him into HELP of Southern Nevada’s program. He’s been housed for about a year. He’s got a cell phone and stays in touch.

That’s awesome! It’s got to be a good feeling. And Shine a Light – when did you start that?

Part of the reason I wrote Beneath the Neon was to call attention to the fact that people were living down there and hoped that something would be done about it. So in the spring of 2009 I reached out to HELP of Southern of Nevada and we started collaborating then.

You spent hours exploring the drains. I can’t imagine going through all that information to create such a cohesive book. Can you tell me about your process?

So it is cohesive? That’s good to know. (laughs)

One of the best things about the book is that Matt’s voice comes through loud and clear. I feel like I’m sitting next to him while he’s telling the story rather than reading another nonfiction book. He’s happy to hear this.

It’s challenging. I’d have two to three hour-long conversations with people, and then I’d go home and have to transcribe them. I’d go through the tapes, figure out the best stuff and polish to where I thought it would work.

How long did the whole process take, from research to having it ready for your publisher?

It was a bit of a strange process. I took a sabbatical from CityLife in summer of 2004. I just explored, and when I found really good stuff in a tunnel, I’d work on the rough draft before going back out. I spent that whole summer exploring and working on the rough draft. Sent it the editor, he gave me some feedback. I reworked a second draft, and then tried for final draft form with the third one. Took about two-and-a-half years to get into form.

When you first go into the tunnels, you’re nervous, and I don’t blame you. Is it scary every time you go in?

When Josh Ellis and I first went down into the drains, it was horrifying. I was paranoid. We’d seen some pretty crazy stuff in broad daylight here in Vegas. We had no idea what went on in a darkened tunnel. We were heavily armed. Every little noise was horrifying. Now, I’m more calm and controlled but there’s always tension. Going into a storm drain, you never know what to expect.

Were most of the people you spoke with willing to talk, or did you have a lot of resistance?

I talked to about fifty, sixty people, and there’s about seven or eight interviews in the book, so a lot were left out. People would tell me “you’re in the wrong place, get out of here.” One guy said, “I have a gun, I’ll shoot you. You don’t know who I am.”

Wow! (I don’t tell Matt this, but I would have wet my pants at that point.)

No one physically attacked me, but my worst fear was to be in the tunnels and a mad man come charging out of the dark and I’d have to defend myself on his turf. Nothing like that happened. Most people were really respectful and kind. They don’t want to do anything to get kicked out of one of their few options for a home.

Your second book is My Week at the Blue Angel. Can you talk a little bit about it?

The Blue Angel is a collection of creative nonfiction stories set in off the beaten path Las Vegas. Weekly motels, trailer parks, low rent apartments. Two stories take place in the flood channels. They’re the original pieces Josh Ellis and I wrote that served as background for Beneath the Neon, but they’ve been reworked a bit.

The title refers to one of the stories in the book. I checked into one of the seedier, more poetic weekly motels and stayed a week.

What are you doing right now? Are you still at CityLife?

No. I left about three and a half years ago to be an independent author and journalist. I live off my book royalties, freelance writing, consulting work and the occasional drug deal. Just kidding, mostly, about that last thing.

I’m working on a novel. It’s urban/alt lit. Set in off the beaten path Vegas, has national and international themes. Sort of my take on the recession. It’s a bit of a hybrid between journalism, memoir and fiction.

Do you have any advice to writers just starting out?

Make sure you’re into it for the right reasons—you love writing and the researching process. Make sure it’s something you feel you really need to do. It’s a commitment. A lot of times you’re not going to make much money and might not get published. It can be a challenging profession but a rewarding one if it’s something you’re passionate about.

Last question. What’s your dream exploration?

During my research for Beneath the Neon, I’ve been very curious about the quarries of Paris where there’s a lot of artwork and underground raves, films shown down there. If I ever make it to Paris, one of the things I would want to do is go into the quarries and check them out.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.

Thanks for the call and the interest in my work.

*Matt also took the time to ask me about my book, which I thought was very cool. I blabbed on about it, and he said he hoped to see it in book form some day soon.

For more information about the people living in the Las Vegas storm drains, see my previous post.

To buy a copy of Beneath the Neon, My Week at the Blue Angel, or to donate to Shine a Light, click here.

#Row80 Update 7-24-11

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Happy Sunday, everyone! This has been a pretty good week. I finished my run-through of Light and Dark and was really happy to see the last third of the book was much stronger than I thought. As I said on Twitter, it doesn't suck. Yay!

All the chapters are ready to go to the critique partner, and I'm about halfway done with her changes. I'm in good shape to have the first full edit done by September.

As for The Prophet, I took more notes and started character worksheets. Have to say, I'm really excited about this book, especially the villan. As dark as Light and Dark's bad guy is, The Prophet will trump him. He's even more twisted and disturbed.

I've also been doing well with my blog posts. Exceeded my goal of at least three this week and gained several new followers. The SheWrites Blog Hop has been a lot of fun and a great way to meet new bloggers.

I want to give some shoutouts to my blogger friends this week. Huge thanks to Tiffany White at Tiffany White's Ooo Factor. She gave me some great linkage in her Friday post, and I can't thank her enough. If you haven't been to her blog, check it out. Tele-Tuesday and What to Watch Wednesday are two of my favorites.

If you're still deciding on Google+, check out Amber West's A Day Without Sushi. Her post on Google+ is full of great information.

One of my favorite posts this week was from Jenny Hansen at More Cowbell. Remember to appreciate the little things in life and not get caught up in the stress of the writing world.

Last but not least, drop by my good friend Catie Rhodes blog, Full-Tilt Backwards Boogie. Her freaky Friday posts are always full of shivers and chills.

How did you guys do with your #Row80 goals this week? What were some of your favorite blog posts?

#FridayFlash - The Gathering

Friday, July 22, 2011

Stuck somewhere between deep sleep and grogginess, Sarah could feel the atmosphere in the room changing. The air thickened until it felt heavy. She shivered beneath the blanket. Every breath she drew was strained and loud. Silence popped in her ears.

The sense of unease prodded her subconscious, forcing her to wake up. Sarah didn’t want to. She knew what the gathering tension meant. She put her hand over her eyes, determined to ignore the pressure.

The dark room wouldn’t be ignored. An invisible presence rushed over Sarah, its energy skimming across the blankets and wrapping itself around her head. Its weight pressed her down, and she couldn’t move. The thing she could never name hovered, unintelligible words ringing in Sarah’s ears.

Then she was released. Sarah sat up and screamed. She fumbled for the light switch, her heart hammering and her stomach turning with nausea. Light flooded the room, and she searched for the source of the intrusion.

There was nothing. Her mother’s quilt rack, laden with colorful quilts that were never used, sat in one corner, a rocking chair in another. An antique school desk served as a bedside table. A glass lamp sat on a top, along with the book Sarah had discarded hours ago.

“What’s wrong?” Her father’s voice called from across the room. Her parents lived in the country, surrounded by farms and kind neighbors. An intruder was the last thing her dad would be worried about. He was used to Sarah’s ‘episodes,’ as he called them. They happened every time she visited.

“Something moved across me,” she answered. Her voice sounded ominous in the quiet guest room.

“Probably the cat,” her mother answered. “You know he roams around all night.”

Sarah glanced at the bedroom door. It was open an inch, nowhere near big enough for her parent’s eighteen-pound black and white cat to squeeze through.

“Little Bit?” Sarah called. “Come here, kitty, kitty. Come snuggle with me.”

No answer. The cat wasn’t in the hall. The only thing Little Bit liked to do more than eat was talk. He would have chattered back.

“He’s probably downstairs,” her dad said. “You scared him. Go back to sleep.”

Sarah kept her mouth shut. The cat wasn’t downstairs. He would have been lounging in the hallway, complaining about Sarah making so much noise.

She pulled the blanket up to her nose. The room was still, benign. That meant nothing. Whatever visited her came and went as it pleased.

Sarah had sensed the presence of spirits in the old farmhouse since she was a child. It was nothing to feel the bed sag as though someone were sitting on it only to find there was no one. During a miserable bout with the flu, a woman wearing an old-fashioned gray dress had sat with Sarah. She didn’t speak, but her company was calming. Sarah’s mother insisted the woman had been a fever-induced dream.

But this was different. Whatever this energy was wanted Sarah’s attention. It grew bolder with each visit, gathering more energy and leaving the room a suffocating tomb.

Tonight was the first time it had touched Sarah. She knew it wouldn’t be the last.

**based on true experiences**

Comments welcome!


SheWrites Blogger Ball #5

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Welcome to the SheWrites Blogger Ball!

Hello all you She Writer's! I'm Stacy, and I'm currently editing my suspense thriller Light and Dark, as well as mapping out a second book, The Prophet. I'm a SAHM mom with a precocious five-year-old, so my writing time is always jammed in between play time. I love to read and blog, and my topics tend to range from the macabre to the silly. Hope you enjoy!

Thriller Thursday: Dead Body Walks Out On Autopsy

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I just finished reading Tess Gerritsen’s fantastic book, Vanish. Dr. Maura Isles is a Boston medical examiner swamped on a hot summer day. Before leaving the office, she hears something moving in the morgue. It can’t be, can it? But it was. A drowned woman mistaken for dead had come to life and was shuffling around in the body bag.

Can you IMAGINE?

Naturally, I was hooked. And then I got to thinking, is that really possible? Surely mistakes like aren’t made any more?

And then I remembered the case of the coffin lady. Remember her? Fagily Mukhametzyanov from Russia woke up in her coffin, surrounded by friends and family mourning her. She went into shock and died 12 minutes later in the hospital from a heart attack. She’d collapsed at home after having chest pains.

Seriously? Obviously she wasn’t embalmed. But how does she pass through various doctors and funeral services without being discovered? I realize their practices are different, but come on! Nobody heard the poor woman? Even if she wasn’t conscious, she was breathing.

Oh, there’s more. In 2009, an eighty-four year old Polish woman woke up in a morgue. She’d fallen unconscious at home, and a doctor pronounced her dead.

According to a police spokesman, a funeral company took the body to the morgue. Several hours later, a worker noticed the bag containing the body moving. The woman went to intensive care and survived.

And there’s even more. In 2010, a premature newborn declared dead in Mexico woke up inside her coffin. The parents heard a strange noise during the baby’s wake. When they opened the casket, the baby was crying and very much alive. The doctor was investigated for negligence.

In 2007, a Venezuelan man woke up in the morgue in excruciating pain because medical examiners had cut into his face. Carlos Cameio, 33, had been declared dead after an accident. His wife came to ID the body and found him moved to the hallway, alive.

A happy ending, at least.

It’s happening in the U.S., too. In 2005, Larry Green was hit by a car in North Carolina and declared dead. He was put into a body bag and sent to the morgue. The medical examiner didn’t notice he was alive until two and half hours later. Green is suing North Carolina Medical, claiming the mistake led to injuries from which he might not recover.

And in a suburb outside Boston, a young woman was found dead in her tub. Empty pill bottles were found beside her, so it was assumed her death was an accidental overdose. She woke up in the morgue a few hours later.

I wonder if this is where Gerritsen got the idea for Vanish? Takes place in Boston, the woman drowned, had barbiturates in her system, etc.

According to Jonathon Turley, Lexis-nexis shows there’s case after case of this happening. In Colorado, the ink on a boy’s death certificate hadn’t dried when they noticed he was moving. In Georgia, a man hit by a car spent the night in the morgue refigerator before someone heard him moving. In NYC, the pathologist was about to make his first cut when the corpse woke up and grabbed the doctor. Doctor keeled over, dead from a heart attack. Gerritsen mentions that one in Vanish, by the way.

I could list more cases, but you get the point. It sounds like the stuff of great horror stories, but these are real people going through this terror. How are mistakes like this made? According to Gerritsen’s character Dr. Maura Isles, people who are in very cold water can look dead and have an extremely slow heartbeat. Certain drugs can mask vital signs and make it difficult to hear a pulse.

Gerritsen is a doctor and was a practicing internist before leaving to write, so I assume she knows what she’s talking about.

But can that really explain all of these mistakes? In Vanish, Isles talks about caskets being dug up with claw marks. That’s not a fun fact Gerritsen made up. People have feared being buried alive for centuries. In the Civil War era, they installed “coffin alarms.” A bell was attached to the headstone with a chain leading down into the coffin to a ring on the finger of the deceased. If you woke up and found yourself stuck in a casket, you could pull on the chain.

I’d hate to be the graveyard caretaker and hear the bells ring.

In Vanish, Dr. Isles says that some casket makers sell coffins equipped with emergency transmitters. I couldn’t find any confirmation of that, but after reading case after case of mistaken death, I’m hoping they exist.

What do you guys think? Have you heard any plausible explanations for this?


#ROW80 Midweek Check-In 7/20/11

The last few days have been a bit rough as I got back into the swing of things after our mini-vacation. But just like Domo, I'm feeling good today:)

Yesterday I was able to edit up to the midpoint of Light and Dark, which was an accomplishment. I've had to move some scenes, cut some scenes, and write some new scenes. I'm rewriting today, but I'm still on pace to have the first edit done by September.

The rewriting is a bit frustrating, but it must be done. Still, it's hard not to want to kick yourself for not getting it right the first time.

As for The Prophet, I'm slagging on that. Haven't done much since I wrote a bunch of notes in the car on the way to Minnesota. Oh, and on a napkin at Arby's. But things are shaping up, and I plan to start the outline tomorrow.

I've also got to get my interview with Matt O'Brien (author of Beneath The Neon) transcribed. He explored the Las Vegas Storm Drains, which play a prominent role in Light and Dark. I'll be posting the interview on Monday.

Blogging is going well. Have to thank Catie Rhodes at Full Tilt Backwards Boogie for the wonderful shout-out today!

On another note, the heat is STIFLING! Yes, I capitalized it because it's that bad. Heat index of 114 today. I'll be doing my exercising indoors!

How are you all doing with your #Row80 goals?


Tempting Tuesday, 80s Style: License to Drive

Monday, July 18, 2011

There are a lot of classic 80s movies: Back To The Future, Can't Buy Me Love, Ferris Bueller's Day Off...the list goes on. But none hold a special place in my heart like License to Drive. Corey Haim (RIP) was my first real celebrity crush. After seeing The Lost Boys (you can read Tiffany White's great post on it here), I was totally in lust with Corey Haim.

I remember waiting at the theater to see License to Drive with my best friend and feeling so nervous you'd think I was meeting the boy in person. And when the movie finally came out on VHS (remember those?!), my friends and I wore it out. Literally. I had to replace my copy.

For those of you who haven't seen this hilarious movie by "The Two Coreys," as they became known, it's about a sixteen year old who fails his driving test and then lies about it to his parents. The movie opens with a crusty bus driver keeping his students chained to the bus. Its windows are so dirty they can't even see out of them; the bus is their purgatory on wheels. Corey Haim's character, Les, breaks out of the bus and snags a hot car with a hot chick, then wakes up to find himself stuck in yet another boring driver's ed lesson.

Enter Corey Feldman, the wisecracking best friend, a role Feldman excelled at. He can't wait for Les to get his license so they can go out. Les's also trying to impress the beautiful Mercedes (Heather Graham), the hot chick from his dream who likes older guys and is clearly out of his league.

One of my favorite scenes is early on, before Les fails the test. His Dad (played by Richard Masur) picks him up in his grandfather's Caddy, and Les talks him into letting him drive down the block and offer Mercedes a ride. Just down the block, he assures his father. So Dad gets out of the car, loaded with diapers and other baby paraphernalia, and waits. Except Mercedes is going to a friends, and Les drives off, leaving Dad stranded. The scene culminates when Les finds Dad, dragging the baby stuff and puffing like a dragon.

And who could ever forget the nasty lady at the DMV, with her horrible makeup and yellow teeth telling Les he'd failed the test?

"God giveth and the DMV taketh away."

Of course, Dean (Feldman) talks Les into driving without a license, in his grandfather's expensive Caddy, no less. The night is spent with a drunken, passed-out Mercedes in the back while Les, Dean, and their nerdy friend go from bad adventure to worse. At one point, a drunk steals the Caddy and then the boys have to chase him down driving the bum's tiny VW Bug. The chase nearly destroys his grandfather's precious car, and after Les recovers the caddy, he narrowly avoids a DUI.

Of course, the movie wouldn't be complete without a mad rush to the hospital. Les's mom goes into labor, and he's the only one who can drive. The Caddy is so damaged it can only go in reverse, and the result is a harrowing and comical trip through Los Angelas.

And don't forget the soundtrack! It's one of my all-time favorites, featuring The Breakfast Club, Belinda Carlisle, New Edition, and Billy Ocean.

With classic 80s humor, great music, and both Corey's at their acting best, License to Drive is a great comedy that still holds up to today's movies.

The original theatrical trailer:

Fun License To Drive Facts:

The production went through NINE 1974 Cadillacs during shooting.
Neither Corey has his license when shooting began; Corey Haim had to pass his test in order to shoot the driving scenes.
Ben Affleck allegedly tried out for the role of Les.
Heather Graham was worried about kissing Haim because docs were afraid he had mono.
Corey Feldman originally auditioned for the part of Les.


Manic Monday: Q & A with Laura Pauling

I ran across Laura Pauling's blog a couple of months ago and instantly became a fan. Her posts are fun, and Laura is extremely considerate of other writers. After one of my first comments, she emailed me personally to further answer my question. For a busy mom, blogger, and writer, I thought that was pretty impressive. Laura writes Middle Grade and YA, and is in the middle of the querying process. She's also learning all she can about self-publishing, which she shares on her blog every Wednesday.

I'm very grateful Laura took the time to answer my questions, so enough of me. Here's Laura!

Q: Tell me about what got you started writing. Have you always wanted to be a writer? Did you write in school?
I was a stay-at-home mom in need of a creative outlet. Need I say more? Quilting got tedious (and I kinda sucked at it). Scrapbooking was too expensive (and I always fell behind). I think that after loving to read my whole life, creating stories was the obvious next step.

Why Middle Grade and Young Adult? What is it about those genres that draw you?
Powerful Middle Grade stories like Where The Red Fern Grows and Bridge to Terabithia affected me and stayed with me much longer than any adult books I’d read. And I love the fast paced plots and the more powerful literary YA.

You were a teacher - how did that influence your writing?
I can’t say it influenced my writing other than choosing to write MG and YA. I had to read children’s literature books in college and teach them and recommend them so…

You've gained quite a following on your blog. What's your social media secret?
Ha ha! Thanks for the compliment. But I’m still a mini-blogger in the world of social media. I don’t have any secrets except see what posts bring more hits and steer in that direction. I try and keep my blog unique, useful, and updated. I help promote others. And I work hard but don’t let it take away from my writing.

Have you attended any writing workshops or conferences? If so, how have they helped?
The main conference I attend is the New England SCBWI, invaluable for networking, talking shop, and leaving inspired. But most of my growth in craft comes from reading books on writing, studying published books, and practicing.

One of your recent Wednesday posts was on the constant changes in publishing, which I loved. Since you're in the query process, are you to the point of considering self-publishing?
I am seriously considering self-publishing but not with the MG book I’m querying. My series of blog posts on the changes in the publishing industry are a result of my research. The changes happening are fascinating. And as writers, we all need to be informed and make the decision best for our career goals.

How has the query process been? In my opinion, one of the pros about querying is the potential for feedback from agents. Have you received any?
The query process? Exhilarating. Exhausting. Time-consuming. Exciting. Discouraging. Encouraging. It’s all those things combined. I receive more quality feedback from agents/editors at NESCBWI. But a form rejection is powerful feedback. Of course, not the kind we want. ☺

How do you juggle writing time with family time?
I write during the day when my kids are at school, and I read/write at night after they are in bed. When they were younger, I wrote during naptimes and Barney. (Yay for Barney!) (Now my kids sing gory spin-offs of the Barney song.)

What's your favorite thing to do with the family?
We love to have cook-outs during the summer at the lake, cross country ski in the winter, or just hang out and play Apples to Apples. Of course, there are many times when we are all reading. (And my husband sleeps with a book in his lap.)

Is writing your escape, or do you view it as a job?
I totally view it as a job. One hundred percent.

E-reader or Paperback?
I prefer paperback but I have an e-reader. I buy the format that is the least expensive. If I know I’m going to love a book, I buy the print copy.

What are you reading right now?
I am gobbling up self published books as research. Addison Moore’s Ethereal and Tremble, Megg Jensen’s Anathema, and I have several others on my Kindle. I also can’t wait to read Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma. This list could go on forever. Seriously.

If you could only have one book to read for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Impossible to answer. Instead I’ll tell you that if I could only have one flavor of ice cream for the rest of my life it would be chocolate peanut butter.

And finally, what advice can you give to new writers?
I used to dislike the advice read, read, read, and write, write, write. But in hindsight, it really is the best. But, for something more concrete, I’d say read Save the Cat by Blake Snyder and start breaking down published books for structure. If you’re struggling with first chapters, find openings you love, break them down, and apply to your own writing.

Hey, thanks for having me!

Thank you so much, Laura! Good luck on your query process, and I look forward to your Wednesday posts. Like many of us, I'm trying to decide whether to self-publish or query, and your posts are a great way to gain a better understanding of how things are changing.


Harry Potter, Exciting News, and #ROW80 Check In 7/17/11

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hello, all! I've been absent on Twitter the last few days because I was out of town. Rob, Grace, and I went up to Saint Paul to stay with a friend and had a great time. Hit the Mall of America and the Nickelodeon theme park, Saw the Science Center, Children's Museum, went to the NKOTBSB concert (Grace's first concert, she loved it) and then to the Minnesota Zoo.

We capped it off by seeing Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows Part 2 yesterday. No words can describe the experience. I had high hopes for the movie, and it exceeded my expectations. It was a beautiful ending to the series, and they did the book an incredible justice. Every one of the actors was suburb, and I'm already scheming as to when I can see it again. It's hard to believe this was the last movie, and it's been fun watching the actors grow into well-rounded adults.

On the #ROW80 front, I have to think everyone who commented on my last post. Your thoughts helped me so much with my plot issue, and I did manage to get it worked out. It means a lot to have an online community to go to when I run into walls.

I haven't gotten a lot of writing done, but I knew I wouldn't. But with the plot issue solved, I know the scenes I need to work on and feel like I'm back on track. I also managed to get some more plotting done for The Prophet, and I'm very excited about what I've got planned for it.

And my exciting news? The wonder Jenny Hansen held a contest at her blog this past week, and I won! I get to choose one of Margie Lawsen's lecture packets, which is awesome. If you haven't checked out Margie's deep editing analysis, you should. Really opened my eyes to some of my strengths and weaknesses. I haven't decided which packet to choose from, but I can't think Jenny enough.

Hope you all had a great week, and don't forget to check out the blog tomorrow. Laura Pauling will be answering my questions!

Thriller Thursday: The Haunting of Stacy Green

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dedicated to my brother, Kevin Messenger. 1959-2005. We Miss You.

I debated about this post, especially the title. This is a personal story, and I don't want people to think I'm making light of it or using the story to gain attention. That's not the case. I really just want to share it with you because it's a part of who I am.

I've always 'sort-of' believed in ghosts. I grew up in an old house and had all kinds of experiences my parents brushed off.

Throughout the years, I heard footsteps in the house and felt the smothering sense of the air growing heavy around me until I thought I would explode. I’ve felt the bed move as though someone were sitting on it (I convinced myself that was just me until my parents mentioned years later they’d had similar experiences in different rooms). Last but not least, one night about seven years ago I was asleep in the guest room (my mother has taken over my old room) and out of nowhere something rushed over my face bringing with it a gust of air. I felt it move over me.

I jumped out of bed and ran into the hall. Mom chastised me and said it was the cat. Not bloody likely. That cat was a wailer and would have been in the hall yelling at me for scaring him.

My friends say I’m sensitive. My husband says I’ve got a big imagination. I never knew what to believe until the night after my brother was killed.

I have to give you some back story here. In June of 2005, I was 12 weeks pregnant. We’d tried for five years, and due to a genetic issue that increased my chances of having a Downs Syndrome baby, we had only conceived once, which ended in miscarriage. That devastated me, and I lived in a deep depression for weeks. So when I got pregnant the second time, only my parents and one of my brothers knew. On June 7, 2005, my husband and I went to the University of Iowa for prenatal testing to would narrow down the odds of our unborn child having Downs. That day, my brother Kevin called my mom to see how I was doing and to ask when we’d get the results. He was worried about me.

He died in a car accident that night.

I didn’t find out until the next morning. I was stunned. You think something like that can’t happen to your family, and then it does. I won’t go into to details, but he never stood a chance. It was horrific and could have been prevented.

I rushed to my parents home two hours away and went to the funeral home with them. I sat in stunned silence while they made arrangements along with my sister-in-law.

You can imagine the grief of the rest of the day. I went to bed—in the guest room—exhausted. Empty. Worried about my test results and feeling guilty for thinking about something other than my brother’s death.

I became trapped in a horrible dream. My brother stood at the foot of my bed staring at me with an expression I’ve never been able to fully describe. He wanted to tell me something. He leaned forward but didn’t speak. In the dream, I jumped out of bed and ran out of the room. He followed me room to room, the same pleading expression on his face. I couldn’t think straight. I’ve never been so scared—not even in real life.

A terrifying sound woke me. It was the weather radio signaling an upcoming storm. My mother and I both woke and went down to the kitchen. She could hardly talk; I was shaking. The dream had been so vivid, so real. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

I told Mom about it, and I can still see her sitting there in her old nightgown, pain radiating from her.

“He didn’t look like himself, though,” I said. “His face was puffy, and he didn’t have a mustache. And he was wearing that burgundy shirt and khaki pants he wore at Xmas.”

My mother turned white. “That’s what he’s going to be buried in.”

After an hour of talking, I explained it away as coincidence. The last time I’d seen him he’d been wearing that shirt. My mind just filled in the blanks. Still, I couldn’t shake the realness of it all.

The next day was the viewing. Nothing could have prepared me for the pain of that experience, let alone what I saw. I remembering stumbling to the casket and nearly collapsing. Not only was Kevin wearing those clothes, but his face was swollen and puffy from the trauma, and he didn’t have a mustache.

Kevin was eighteen years older than me, and I’d never seen him without a mustache. Ever.

Barely able to stand, I asked his poor wife about it. Why didn’t he have one?

“He was trimming it a few days ago and messed up,” she said. “I told him to shave it off.”

There’s no way I could have known that. The mustache sealed the deal for me. For whatever reason, Kevin had come to me the night before. I was convinced he was trying to tell me something, but what? He and I weren’t that close. He knew about my pregnancy because he shared the same genetic condition and Mom had told him. I hadn’t seen him in months. Why me? Why not my older sister? The two of them were very close.

I got my answer later in the day. While sitting at Mom’s kitchen table going through pictures and trying to decide which ones to share at Kevin’s funeral, I got a call from the U of Iowa. Our tests results were back. The Downs screening isn’t absolute, but our odds had drastically narrowed. Our baby was very likely fine.

And then it hit me: that’s what Kevin was trying to tell me. He’d asked about the test the day he was killed, he’d told Mom how worried he was that I wouldn’t be able to handle bad news. I don’t know how, but he was trying to let me know that everything was going to be okay.

I know this in my gut. No one will ever convince me otherwise. The clothes, the mustache, the test results—too many things to be a coincidence.

All the years I joked that I wanted to have a “real” ghost experience, and it’s my own brother. My family will never get over his loss, but I am so grateful to him for coming to me the way he did. After the experience, I believed in the test results. My anxiety about the baby went down, and I was able to relax and enjoy my pregnancy. I wouldn’t have done that had Kevin not visited me.

You don’t have to believe. Most never will until they have their own experience. I just wanted to share mine with you.

My daughter Grace was born 12-26-05. She’s perfect☺


#ROW80 Midweek Check-In

What a week this has been! I started out like a house afire on Monday, getting through blog posts and brainstorming my next book, The Prophet.

I wrote two new scenes for Light and Dark that were needed to fill some plot holes, so I was feeling great. Until yesterday.

I hit a huge stumbling block. A key element of my book is the Las Vegas storm drains. I'd researched them and was unable to find a build date, so I went on the assumption (stupidly) that they were fairly old. I found out yesterday they were built in 1990, so one of the key scenes I've created for them won't work. Oh, and that scene is also one of the book's turning points.

I sank like a stone yesterday (apparently today is cliche day). There may have been a few angry tears, too. Now I'm in recovery mode. How can I fix it? There has to be a way. I don't want to go into the details of the book, but I basically have to use some creative license to get from Point A to Point B (the tunnels).

And that's nerve-wracking. Creative license is okay, right? It's not like the storm drains are the Statue of Liberty or something. If I jimmy some things around I'm not going to have it bite me in the ass. Someone please reassure me here. I'm a stickler for details and this is difficult for me.

So as far as the book goes, I'm still spinning a bit trying to figure out how to fix this one teeny thing that affects everything. And kicking myself for not stopping to think about this a long time ago. Stupid, stupid.

On the blog side, I've already got my post for tomorrow done, which is good because we're heading out of town tonight. I'm not going to have much time the next four days for any real writing.

I'm scrambling today trying to get this sorted out so I can enjoy my vacation without obsessing over the book. Hopefully I'll get it figured out.

Happy Humpday to you guys:)


Tempting Tuesday: A Vase That Changes Colors & More

Monday, July 11, 2011

Yes, you read it right. Ok, I suppose the vase itself doesn't change colors. THe lights inside it do.

The Color Illuminating Vase
"This is the vase that can be customized to illuminate in 300 different colors."
Yes, really. You'd never have to buy another vase! A bunch of LED lights work their magic and "cast a solid hue or transition seamlessly through the colors in two- or eight-second intervals." It's cordless, battery operated, and holds water like a regular vase. Seriously, this is pretty cool. I like red in my kitchen and purple in my bedroom (yes, I like color) so this little ditty would rotate nicely.

Pros: A vase that changes colors! Need I say more?
Cons: How long do batteries last? I'd be willing to spend the $80, but I'm not going to spend a fortune in batteries.

The Always Cool Pillow
A pillow that regulates your head and face temperature no matter the pillow case. The specs say it creates an optimal sleeping climate by preventing overheating. Developed by NASA to help astronauts adapt, this thing's got a 300 thread count hypoallergenic cover.

Can you imagine? No waking up with a sweaty head (especially in the spring and fall here when the temperature fluctuates so much). No sweating means not waking up with oily skin and feeling yucky. That means better skin over all.

But does it really work? Hammacher Schlemmer says so, and NASA's name has to be good for something.

Pros: All night comfort
Cons: Retails for $89.95. Hard for me to spend that kind of money on a pillow.

The Elliptical Machine Office Desk
This one really blew my mind. It's a desk that doubles as an exercise machine. Those of us that are on our butts all day at home can exercise without getting up! According to the specs, the average user can burn about 4,000 calories a week. Not too shabby. Padded seat, adjustable backrest, all sorts of bells and whistles to measure distance, rpms, calories, etc. You can even use it as a chair or work out while standing. Amazing.

Pros: Working out and getting your work done at the same time.
Cons: How much work can you get done while your exercising? I'm not sure I could write while I'm jiggling all over the place. And the cost: 8,000. I'd rather put in new windows and a new deck for that.

What do you guys think? Do you know of any gadgets that would make life so much easier?

Manic Monday - Blog Awards. Tag, You're It!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I've won some awards! The lovely Lyn Midnight has given me the Irresistibly Sweet Blogger Award - smooches to her. Lyn is a sweet girl who's given me a lot of blogging tips. She's also funny and constantly positive. If you haven't been to her blog, you should. Her posts are fun, and she never takes herself too seriously.

Stacy Jensen has given me the Stylish Award. That's pretty awesome because I struggled for days over the layout of blog and finally decided on simple, lol. Stacy has a great name (of course), and she does an awesome job on her blog. Her topic range from writing to every day stuff, and it's always enjoyable to read.

Lyn changed the rules and decided to call this the Tagawards, so I'm following her lead. I want to pass on the Irresistibly Sweet award to the following ladies. They're fun and helpful and always willing to support another blogger. Thanks for allowing me to call you a friend!

Catie Rhodes

Donna Galanti

Tiffany White

Amber West

Karen Taveres

Jessica R. Patch

Amy Romaine

Anne-Mhairi Simpson

Now, onto Lyn's newly-created questions:

If you were a vampire, which celebrity would you first sink your teeth into?

Johnny Depp, hands down. He's still gorgeous, a great dad and good all-around guy. One of the best actors of his generation. And did I mention gorgeous?

What's you're middle name? Not your REAL middle name. Your middle name.
Strawberry, my favorite fruit.

You’re stranded on an island. There’s a monkey with you there, but he’s not too chatty. You also have a ball at your disposal. A ship passes by, but it’s daylight. How will you attract their attention?

Moon them.

What are you secretly afraid of? And what are you REALLY afraid of?
Getting old. And tornadoes.

Describe your best friend in five words.

Intelligent. Quirky. Fun. Driven. Complex.

What’s the last movie you watched? Was it good? (Fishing for recommendations.)

Transformers 3. Great summer entertainment.

And because there are rules, I'm supposed to tell you some additional things about me. I'm too lazy, though, so I'll just refer you to this post.

About bloggers ...

How did you meet #1?
We had chatted on Twitter, and then she read a FlashFiction post of mine (The Prophet) she really liked. She messaged me, and the rest is history!

What did you and #2 last talk about?
How busy we are and her editing process.

Would you want to be stuck on an island with #3?
Definitely! We could talk movies and television. Tiffany co-writes a great Wednesday post with Amber, called Worth A Watch Wednesday.

Does #4 remind you of someone?
Her Twitter picture always makes me think of Drew Barrymore

What was your first impression of #5?
Her twitter picture reminds me of my hubby's old boss, lol. And she's a sweetheart.

From 1-10, how cool is #6?
Definitely a 9. Jessica is always positive, and her blog is about faith.

Why did you tag #7?
Because she's one of the first Tweeters I chatted with.

Do you want to thank #8 about anything?
Yes. She was one of the first Tweeters to help me with my blog. A.M. gave me a ton of advice that's been really helpful.


#ROW80 Update & Why Critique Partners Are So Important.

This week started out rough and ended well. I had to face facts that a scene I thought was fairly solid didn't work and come up with an alternative. At first I was pretty down because I'd spent a lot of time working out that scene, having already dumped its predecessor. I had a couple of days where I questioned my abilities and had a pity party. Thanks to my critique partner, I was able to pull myself up.

If you don't have someone to at least bounce ideas off of, you need to get them, stat. A good critique partner won't try to write you book, but they won't hesitate to say a scene didn't work. A good critique partner will also help you figure out what's wrong with the scene (or scenes) and brainstorm ideas to fix it. Without a critique partner, I wouldn't have known anything was wrong. I've read the book so many times my mind processes things as though they're perfect. I'm so thankful she was there to say "this isn't working."

As for my #ROW goals, I'm happy with how the week turned out. I've been able to edit three chapters of Light and Dark and work through some important issues. I also wrote 1000 words of a new scene today.

The edits are moving along nicely. If I stay at this pace, I should have the first round done by my goal of Sept. 19.

I also kept up with my blog posts and definitely RT'd a lot of blogs. I was able to spend some time commenting as well.

This next week is going to be shortened as we are going out of town on Wednesday afternoon, but I hope to get in my blogs and through another chapter before we leave.

How did your #ROW80 week go?

And if you haven't joined the challenge, you should. More about it here.

Friday Flash Favorites!

Friday, July 8, 2011

I wasn't able to post any of my own Friday Flash today, but I've read some really good ones this morning and wanted to share them with you.

I'll update the post later in the day as I read more. Happy reading!

Kate's Wings by @FARFetched58

Unsweetened Murder Part 3 by David Robinson @DW96

Displacement Anxiety by Jeffrey Hollar @Klingorengi

The Journey by Janelle R. Jensen @Janelle_Jensen

Second Chance by Tania Dakka @TaniaDakka

A Dutiful Gardener by LM Stull @LMStull

Immaculata Dentata by @dijeratic

Sinful Flash Fiction: Lust by Rebecca Clare Smith @jocastalizzbeth

Xeric (a poem) by Anne Michaud @annecmichaud

Caldera Rats by Aidan Fritz @Xeroverse

Thriller Thursday Murder In The Midwest: Two Adults And Six Children Found Dead

Thursday, July 7, 2011

On June 10, 1912, the sleepy little town of Villisca, Iowa was changed forever. Josiah Moore, his wife Sarah, their four children (Herman, Katherine, Boyd, and Paul), and two friends were found murdered in their beds, their skulls crushed. Lena and Ina Stillinger had gone to church with the Moore’s and had been invited by Katherine to spend the night.

The crime has never been solved.

The bodies were discovered when a neighbor realized the Moore’s hadn’t started their outside chores. Josiah’s brother was called, and he found the broken bodies of Lena and Ina Stillinger in the Moore’s parlor.

The Villisca Axe Murders may be one of the most mismanaged crimes in history. Word of the bodies spread like wildfire, and police soon lost control of the scene. Historical accounts claim more than a hundred people walked through the house to gape at the bodies before the National Guard arrived.

All hell broke loose in the town. Residents took up arms, suspecting one another. Reporters and private detectives flocked to the town while law enforcement agencies from neighboring counties and states assisted in the investigation.

Here are the facts, as stated by the official site of the Villisca Murders:

• Eight people had been bludgeoned to death, presumably with an axe left at the crime scene. It appeared all had been asleep at the time of the murders.
• Doctors estimated time of death as somewhere shortly after midnight.
• Curtains were drawn on all of the windows in the house except two, which did not have curtains. Those windows were covered with clothing belonging to the Moore's.
• All of the victims faces were covered with the bedclothes after they were killed.
• A kerosene lamp was found at the foot of the bed of Josiah and Sarah. The chimney was off and the wick had been turned back. The chimney was found under the dresser.
• A similar lamp was found at the foot of the bed of the Stillinger girls, the chimney was also off.
• The axe was found in the room occupied by the Stillinger girls. It was bloody but an attempt had been made to wipe it off. The axe belonged to Josiah Moore.
• The ceilings in the parent's bedroom and the children's room showed gouge marks apparently made by the upswing of the axe.
• A piece of a keychain was found on the floor in the downstairs bedroom.
• A pan of bloody water was discovered on the kitchen table as well as a plate of uneaten food.
• The doors were all locked.
• The bodies of Lena and Ina Stillinger were found in the downstairs bedroom off the parlor. Ina was sleeping closest to the wall with Lena on her right side. A gray coat covered her face. Lena, according to the inquest testimony of Dr. F.S. Williams, "lay as though she had kicked one foot out of her bed sideways, with one hand up under the pillow on her right side, half sideways, not clear over but just a little. Apparently she had been struck in the head and squirmed down in the bed, perhaps one-third of the way." Lena's nightgown was slid up and she was wearing no undergarments. There was a bloodstain on the inside of her right knee and what the doctors assumed was a defensive wound on her arm.

The murderer—or murderers—left behind a load of forensic evidence. Had the crime happened today, perhaps it would have been solved. Fingerprinting was in its infancy, and DNA testing unheard of. Even if the scene had been properly processed, authorities probably wouldn’t have been able to use the evidence.

Still, there are suspects. Many point to Frank F. Jones, an Iowa State Senator, as the murderer. Victim Josiah Moore had worked for Frank Jones for years. When he left and started his own implement company in 1908, Jones was furious. Moore had stolen the John Deere franchise from him. Rumors also floated around that Moore had an affair with Jones daughter-in-law, and his son was accused of being a co-conspirator. They were never arrested.

Sounds like great motive to me. Big financial loss and dilly-dallying with another man's woman? Never gets a good reaction.

William Mansfield from Illinois was suspected of being hired by Frank Jones to commit the murders. One investigator put together a case to bring to the grand jury, pinning not only the Villisca murders but several other axe murders on Mansfield. Insufficient evidence was found. He was released.

Rev. George Jacklin Kelly was also a suspect. He was a traveling preacher and had settled in Macedonia, Iowa. In 1917, he was arrested for the murder of ONE of the victims (but experts argue they were committed by the same person). Kelly attended the church and children’s program the day before. He left town early on the 10th.

Kelly confessed, but it was withdrawn before trial. The Villisca site calls his confession a “mockery of law enforcement practices at the time.” Kelly’s first trial was a hung jury; he was aquitted in the second.

This one makes me wonder. Sometimes it's often the least likely people who turn out to be the bad guys. Confessions are still coerced, and I can only imagine how easy it was to do back then with no video equipment and a town out for blood. But why did Kelly leave so early in the morning the day of the murders? Combined with his seeing the family the day before, that's suspect.

Murders like this are usually rage killings. Was Kelly angry at the Moores? We'll never know.

The third school of thought is that someone unknown to the area killed the Moore’s and Stillinger girls - a serial killer. The case against Mansfield actually supports this theory. 22 other murders had been committed in the Midwest around the same time. A federal officer assigned to the Villiscia murders believed Henry Moore (not related) was the killer.

He’d been convicted of the murders of his mother and maternal grandmother in Columbia, Missouri just months after the Villisca murders. His family was killed in the same manner. Other axe murders were also being investigated: family in Colorado Spring, Colorado was bludgeoned to death. A family in Monmouth, Illinois was killed, and then a family in Ellsworth, Kansas. A week before the Villisca killings, a man and his wife were murdered in Paola, Kansas. The similarities in the cases were undeniable. The case against him was never proved, however. Perhaps modern day science could have solved it.

Others were investigated, but again, no charges.

Another strong possibility. But are the similarities really the same? Were the nuances of the crime committed? Did the investigators look past the bludgeoning and look at the details of the rooms? Were the windows covered? Were the victims faces covered?

By the way, that's usually done by someone who knows the family, a sign of remorse. Even if Frank Jones hired Mansfield, the guys didn't know the family. Reverend Kelly did. He knew all the victims.

Of course, covering the bodies could have also been part of some weird M.O. Or perhaps the murderer couldn't stand to see what he'd done. The time taken in the house suggests callousness, something I'm not sure the Reverend had. And was this the murderer's first killing? His only? Behavioral analysts of today might be able to tell, but the details are lost to history.

The Villisca House is a now a tourist attraction on the National Registrar of Historic Places. Stories about it being haunted abound. The official site of the murders says paranormal investigators have gathered visual and auditory evidence of a haunting. Objects move, psychics claim to have seen spirits.

If ever a place was likely to be haunted, the Villisca House would be it. The only surviving witness to a terribly tragedy, it alone knows the murder’s true identity.

The Villisca Axe Murder House

Tempting Tuesday: Three Must-See Summer Movies

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

We’re talking about summer movies today on Tempting Tuesday. There are quite a few coming out I’d like to see; some will be blockbusters, some critical winners. Here are three I’ve put on my must-see list!

Horrible Bosses

Have you seen the previews for this? If not, here's the trailer. This movie looks hysterical. Starring Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Keven Spacey, Jamie Foxx, and Colin Farrell, it’s packing an all-star cast.

Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day are three guys sick of their nasty bosses, played by Aniston, Farrell, and Spacey. This looks to be another great comedic turn by Spacey. He plays an egotistical, uptight tyrant who enjoys torturing Bateman. I’m also looking forward to seeing Aniston in this movie, because she’s something other than the girl next door. She’s Day’s boss, a maneating dentist who practically dry-humps Day every chance she gets. And then there’s Farrell. Looking like a redneck used car salesman, he assigns Sudeikis the task of firing people that offend him, including a handicapped man and an obese woman he calls ‘Fat Joanne.’

Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day don’t have the guts to face their tormenters on their own, so guided by Jamie Foxx, they enter into a plot to kill each other’s boss. I’m not quite sure how they justify that, but I want to find out.

They meet with trouble at every turn, and the bosses are formidable targets. With a unique plot, Horrible Bosses looks like it’s utilizing its star power well with all the actors delivering strong comedic performances.

Horrible Bosses opens Friday, July 8. Will you see it?

Cowboys and Aliens

The title alone peaked my interest. Add in Harrison Ford, and I’m hooked. The movie also stars Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, and Paul Dano.

Craig wakes up in the desert with no memory of who he is. He stumbles into a town called Absolution. Controlled by Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford), the town doesn’t like strangers. Ford sets out after Craig, but his plan is interrupted with the arrival of fire-wielding aliens from the sky.

Prisoners are taken during the attack, including Ford’s son. The town bands together and turns to Craig for help. His memory returns in bits and pieces, and he realizes he has information that could save the town from the aliens. I’m assuming this relates to the weird-looking metal wristband he wears.

Olivia Wilde is a bit of a mystery. She’s Craig’s love interest and is eventually revealed to have survived a previous alien attack while the rest of her town was destroyed. I wouldn’t be surprised if she turns out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

What looks cool about this movie is that it’s set in the Old West. As far as I know, that’s a new twist on the whole alien invasion plot. Gunslingers fighting futuristic technology they know nothing about? Bring it on. Of course, the metal device on Craig’s wrist is some sort of weapon, and I have a hunch that once he learns how to use it, he’ll be kicking some alien butt.

Directed by Jon Favereau, Cowboys and Aliens opens July 29. What do you think?

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part Two

I’ve saved the best for last. If you haven’t seen the movies, you should so you’re ready to watch this one. Just seeing the last two movies will shortchange you of Rowling’s plotting brilliance. And yes, I think she’s brilliant. Anyone who could create a world like Hogwarts and build her books from a simple mystery to more complex ones as her characters (and main audience) grows is pretty damned smart to me.

Deathly Hallows is the ultimate must-see summer movie, and not just because we get to watch Harry and Voldemort face off, but because it’s the final in a series of movies that have done a remarkable job sticking to the books. There have been ups and downs, but the HP franchise has done a solid job bringing Rowling’s amazing world and characters to life. The last two movies—The Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows, Part 1—were awesome adaptations of two great books. If you’ve not watched Harry Potter, you’re missing out.

I won’t say too much about Part Two as I know there are a lot of people who haven’t read the book. And that’s a shame, because it’s her masterpiece. She weaves her plot and subplots together seamlessly, and after six books of dropping clues, doesn’t disappoint with the final battle.

I will tell you there’s a dragon, deaths, and tears. Bring Kleenex. And not just because of losing some of the characters, but for the bittersweet experience of seeing the last movie. For people like myself, who’ve been watching since The Sorcerer’s Stone, we’ve watched Radcliffe and Co. grow up. They’ve kept their heads in a world of craziness, and it’s kind of like a proud mama watching her babies go off into the real world. I’ll miss seeing them together, and I’ll definitely missing waiting on the next Harry Potter movie.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows opens July 15. Don’t miss this one!

Honorable Mention: Captain America.

I’m not usually big on superheros, but this one looks interesting. Chris Evans stars as a scrawny dude getting his butt kicked. He’s picked by the military to be part of a scientific experiment to create super fighters. He ends up being the only one left and sets out to defend the country. The acting looked strong in this one, and it’s probably going to be one of those action/feel-good movies.

What are your must-see movies this summer?

Manic Monday - The Ungrateful American

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Manic Monday, and Happy Fourth of July to the Americans. Today's a day that's been watered down like every other American holiday. The true meaning—the beauty of winning our independence and being blessed to live in such a great country—is symbolized by fireworks, bbqs, and beer. Lots of beer. Why is it that Americans party on every holiday? And why is it that every holiday teems with excess? I know it's not just the US, but we seem to have the market cornered on greed and materialism.

Take Christmas for instance. A holiday that for the religious symbolized the birth of Christ and for everyone the good will of men, is something many of us dread because of the amount of MONEY that's spent on it. Our kids are spoiled, and we perpetuate the idea that to show love you must give gifts—and more gifts than the previous year. We get together with family members out of duty in many cases. Is that what it's really about?

Today will be more frivolous. And make no mistake, thousands of towns and cities will have heartfelt celebrations honoring those before us who sacrificed so much to give our generation the wonderful gift of freedom.

But how many of us will stop to think about that gift today while we're running around, cooking, drinking, swimming, socializing, etc.? How many of us will see the day as more of a hectic family or social event other than the celebration it should be?

Don't be an ungrateful American. Take a minute from all the hubbub to smell the summer air, listen to the birds, and be grateful you have the amazing opportunity to celebrate Independence Day however you want to.

Jane The Ripper

Friday, July 1, 2011

Note: Yesterday's post was so popular I had to play with the idea. This was just an option I came up with. Hope you enjoyed, and happy Friday!

Genre: Mystery/Historical Fiction


Nari pushed open the trap door and climbed the last steps into the attic. Afternoon light filtered through one of the old windows, illuminating the inches of dust. The smell of mothballs assaulted her.

Ten years had passed since she’d last been in her grandmother’s attic. Nari had won a game of hide and seek with her cousins by sneaking into the forbidden area and accidently locking herself in. She’d been too scared of her grandmother’s wrath to ever return.

“How in the hell did I not fall through the floor?”

The attic had never been finished, with several floorboards missing and insulation exposed. Nari wiped her forehead. The cool fall air outside did little to cool the unsealed room.

She crept around the junk, hopping over the dirty insulation. The old chifferobe should be in the corner, unless one of her greedy cousins had already pilfered it. Nana James had only been buried a few days, and the twins were eager to snag everything they could before anyone could sort through Nana’s effects.

The floor was covered in a thick layer of dust and grime, and she didn’t see any footprints. Hers would be the first.

“Mom’s just going to have to deal with it. I’m not looking for shit to sell,” Nari muttered. She’d spent the morning reassuring herself she wasn’t like the boys—all she wanted was to find the thing that had haunted her since she was fifteen.

Still, she felt like a thief. But she wasn’t stopping. Nari had waited long enough.

A set of old, mahogany French doors lie in the middle of the room. From their faded appearance and the tarnished brass fixtures, Nari guessed they were original to the old farmhouse. She stepped around them. A black spider scuttled out from underneath the doors and scrambled to decayed cardboard box.

Nari shivered. God only knew how many of those little bastards were hanging out up here.

The dark corner was blocked by boxes and copious amounts of junk. Nari was amazed at some of the things her grandparents had kept: faucet fixtures, a worn out set of fireplace tools that still stunk of ashes, half of a Lionel train set. Grampy James had even stashed a rusted Radio Flyer wagon up here.

She began clearing a path. Within minutes her shirt was damp with sweat and her hair hung limp. The humidity was almost unbearable.

But she could see her quarry.

The chifferobe had been in Nari’s family for generations. Grampy had said it had made the journey from England with her great-grandfather. By the looks of the large piece, she could believe it. Made of solid oak, the chifferobe’s finish was faded. The bottom had several scuffs, and the wardrobe door didn’t latch.

This was the temptation that had caught her eye as a teenager. What sort of treasures could have been hiding in there?

Now she knew there were no treasures, just a frightening mystery. Or the ramblings of an old man.

Nari pulled open the sagging door, praying no creatures would emerge. The box of letters remained where she’d left them, the lid still on.

She knelt down and pushed it aside. Dust swirled in her face. Her eyes watered and she pressed her nose against her forearm. Last thing she needed was to sneeze all over the letters. They were yellowed with age and brittle to the touch. A sneeze would probably destroy them.

The thing she sought was all the way at the bottom, right where she’d stashed it. The leather journal had originally been at the top of the pile, but Nari had feared the twins would find it. They didn’t deserve to know the family secret.

“It’s probably bullshit.” She gently moved the letters aside and felt around for the journal. “Carson James was ninety when he died. His mind was probably mush.”

But she had to read more. The journal’s first entry had rattled in her brain for ten years. She needed to know why Carson had believed such a heinous thing.

Nari felt the soft leather beneath her fingers. She pulled the journal out and carefully opened it. Carson James had died in 1956; the journal was over fifty years old and the binding had torn.

She didn’t bother to read the first entry again. Nari looked only at the last sentence, the one she’d never forgotten.

My mother was Jack the Ripper.