Monday, September 15, 2014

Fascinating Movie Find: I Passed For White

I'm an old movie buff, so when my writer friend, historical fiction author Michele Stegman, asked if I'd ever heard of the movie I Passed for White, I was flabbergasted, because I hadn't! I said, "I've seen Imitation of Life, but not that one." Though I was thinking to myself, she must be mistaken, because I know my movies, Michele assured me that she'd seen it as a kid.

Not long after our conversation, I looked it up, and sure enough, I found I Passed For White, with a trailer available on Youtube! I was even more surprised to find that this film stars one of my favorite actors, heartthrob James Franciscus, in one of his very early roles.

The movie is based on the memoir of the same name by Reba Lee (a pen name), as she told it to Mary Hastings Bradley, a prolific author of mysteries, travel books and short fiction.

Wikipedia provides the information about the book from its dust jacket:

Reba Lee is a young Negro woman whose skin is almost white. Brought up in Chicago's vast colored neighborhoods, she knew quite early that something made her different from her darker family and schoolmates. Finally, grown-up and with a job, she ran away from home to another city and passed herself successfully as a white girl. Now began a difficult and tense, although fascinating, life for Reba. Intelligent and quick-witted as well as beautiful, she soon made a circle of friends for herself; listening, watching, imitating, she began to learn the knack of living in a white world, and outwardly at least, she was as assured and poised as any of the people she met. And then she met a man and fell in love with him and he with her. They were engaged, married.
 Fighting to keep her hard-won happiness, the secure happiness of being a white woman married to an attractive white man, Reba kept at bay the strain of a life of constant lying and an ever-present sense of danger. Until, with the knowledge that she was pregnant, came the enveloping terror that the baby might be dark-skinned. "Reba Lee", naturally, is a pen name. Mary Hastings Bradley, well known in America for her mystery stories and travel books, has set down Reba's story as it happened, simply and with its considerable natural suspense, making only the changes necessary to protect all of the people concerned.

After reading the dust jacket description and watching the trailer, I'm dying to read the book and see the movie!

Are you familiar with either one?  Also, have you ever known or heard of anyone who "passed for white"?  Not necessarily black to white, but anyone of a non-Anglo group who passed for Anglo.

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Reprinted from September 10, 2012.

Monday, September 8, 2014

On Writing Right


Stephen King is extraordinary, a master storyteller. Back around 1986, I read my first Stephen King book, Pet Sematary, a gripping novel that kept me up late at night turning pages. When I'd force myself to go to sleep, I kept the lights on. Even after I finished reading it, I slept with the lights on for two weeks afterward.

Well, I'm glad to report that over 20 years later, I'm finally reading my second Stephen King book! One that won't scare the living daylights out of me, but will allow me to sleep with the lights out. Today I started King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Although his horror novels scare me too much to read, he is a true master of the craft and I'm looking forward to what I'll learn.

In his Second Foreword, King states that his book is short because "most books about writing are filled with bull****." He notes that one "notable exception to the bull**** rule is The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White." He goes on to say that there is little or no detectable bull**** in that book.

After reading Mr. King's statement about books on writing, I thought I'd share a few of my favorites--and they're short with no detectable waste products:

The Elements of Style is a must read for anyone who's serious about writing. Before even starting a novel, read and re-read Chapter 5: An Approach to Style. It'll save you from many common mistakes of first time authors.

On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel that Sells by Leigh Michaels is an excellent writer's resource. Even if you're not a romance writer, Ms. Michaels offers helpful advice that can apply to all genres. In the appendices, she includes helpful information on crafting query letters, synopses, and cover letters.

Robert's Rules of Writing101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello provides useful instruction pertaining to novels, screenplays, stage plays, memoirs, periodical articles, and non-fiction. Each rule (ranging from 1-3 pages) is jam packed with excellent advice that will improve your work--and leave you feeling like you can write anything!

What are some of your favorite books on the writing craft?

Reprinted from April 15, 2010. I have since completed the book and I highly recommend!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Anne Lamott: Avoiding Perfectionism

Anne Lamott
"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life...I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it." Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life


"It doesn't have to be perfect..."
All non-perfectionists can now breathe a sigh of relief! Don't you love Ms. Lamott's wise words on avoiding it?

In her wonderful book on writing she shows us that perfectionism is detrimental, because when striving for it in our manuscripts, we try not to leave too much of a mess to clean up.  But she points out that the clutter we leave behind can hide precious treasures that we'll discover later. And those treasures can be put to good use by providing more material to work with once we go back to revise and edit.

Being too tidy, according to Ms. Lamott, suggests that something is as good as it's going to get. In a previous post here, not looking back when writing a manuscript was discussed.

The important thing is to finish.  Plow ahead, make a mess! Don't worry about every little detail or whether or not it's polished enough.  That comes later, at revision time.

Have fun with that first draft; avoiding perfectionism allows a really great story to unfold!  Do you struggle with perfectionism? Thanks for visiting and have a great day!

Reprinted from March 28, 2011

Monday, August 25, 2014

Inside the Mind of a Murderer

"Every unpunished murder takes away something from the security of every man's life." Daniel Webster

I recently read an excerpt from Michael Capuzzo's new book, The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases. The section I read (featured in the August 2010 issue of Reader's Digest) focused on a woman who murdered her live-in boyfriend after finding out he'd found a "decent girl" to bring home to mom and dad.

I thought the information provided would be useful to anyone developing a character who just happens to be a murderer.

The victim, 24 year old ladies man Scott Dunn, had moved from his well to do home in Philadelphia, to a small West Texas town in hopes of turning his troubled life around. But his real troubles began upon meeting waitress Leisha Hamilton.

A year after Scott's murder, his father, James Dunn, was put in contact with Profiler Richard Walter. By this time the unsolved murder had become a cold case.

Dunn explained the first time he heard from Leisha. She'd found his name on a phone bill and thought he needed to be contacted because Scott had been missing for four days and she was concerned. Dunn had never heard about her. The only girl Dunn knew anything about was Scott's soon to be fiance, Jessica. Leisha claimed Scott had vanished without a trace, only leaving behind his car. And she hinted in subsequent conversations that since she was closest to Scott, she should get his car. Hmm...

Leisha Hamilton
Dunn had recorded Leisha's cold, atonal voice, and played it for Walter, saying he'd never heard anything like it. After Scott's disappearance, police regarded it as a missing person's case. Dunn pushed for a luminol test in Scott and Leisha's apartment. Luminol detects blood as diluted at one part per million. Even after rigorous cleaning, when the chemical is sprayed on walls in darkness, they'll glow blue for 30 seconds. The walls in the apartment glowed blue like they'd been spray painted. DNA tests confirmed the blood as Scott's.

According to Profiler Walter, "the careful cleanup speaks to an elaborate plot. The murder was purposeful, not recreational." Recreational is choosing a random victim for sadistic pleasure. But a carefully organized crime, cleanup, and body disposal indicate a power assertive, or PA killer. "The killing is all about power--incapture, restrain, torture, kill, throw away, 'I win, you lose' kind of power."

Upon examining Leisha's personality, Walter found her very bright, sexy, flippant and manipulative. She had a long list of lovers, husbands, and one night stands, as well as five children--all by different fathers. She claimed only to love the ones conceived in love. Hmm...

The end for Scott came the day Jessica called and Leisha answered the phone. Walter says, "If anything is going to get you killed, it's to reject the psychopath and say, 'I'm better than you are.'"

Before Scott disappeared, he was seen sick, leaving a party with Leisha. Walter believes at that point, Scott was poisoned. He speculates that Leisha then called on neighbor Tim Smith to help murder Scott. Smith had sent Leisha fawning love letters saying that if Scott weren't around, they could be together.

Walter says this is classic setup for a female PA killer. She'll enlist trickery to disable a stronger male and/or acquire a sympathetic and weak accomplice.

But calling attention to herself was Leisha's biggest mistake. She called Scott's father. She also played the coquette with detectives on the case calling them with new information and pretending to be afraid of Smith. But she moved in with Smith in order to set him up to take the fall. Walter says, "The need for stimulation is quite insatiable for a psychopath, the ego gratification to prove they're smarter than anyone, the gotcha."

In a later meeting with Leisha, Walter says, "I've noticed you seem to have a great ability to attract men...But for the life of me, I can't figure out what they see in you. Can you explain it for me?" After a startled silence, she smiled and said awkwardly, "Well, I don't know," then excused herself to get back to work.

When a detective with Walter asked why he called her a dog, he said, "Leisha thinks she is smart enough to outwit everybody. What we must do is make her feel insignificant--unimportant. This will drive her crazy, and she may well make a mistake."

Walter later received from a detective a pencil sketch by Leisha of the murder scene. The drawing had been given to the detective by an ex-boyfriend she took up with after Scott. The drawing documented the torture of Scott Dunn. It indicated that she'd chained him to a pallet. At the bottom of the picture was a key depicting handcuffs, a needle, a knife and a gun. Also shown were fists and a blunt instrument.

"This is classic," Walter said. "She drew this to memorialize her achievement." She'd also made other dramatic changes classic to post murder behavior. Walter says killers use murder to to stimulate personal growth. "It was a very dark self-help movement--'I'm Okay, You're Dead." Since the murder, she'd moved on to two more boyfriends and had a child by the last one. She'd also gone to nursing school, while continuing to work as a waitress, and graduated at the top of her class.

Walter says,"If you're accused of being a murderess, how do you cleanse yourself of all suspicion? You become a healer and dress in white."

Leisha was eventually convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Phew! One less murderer roaming the streets.

Hope this information is useful in any future fictional character development you're working on. And be sure to read Capuzzo's book! I'm looking forward to reading the whole thing. How about you? Do you have a true crime work you'd like to recommend?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Reprinted from August 9, 2010

Monday, August 18, 2014

A barbecue competition is like going to a family reunion, only you get to pick your relatives." Judy Fry, The Frying Pan

If you're not from North Carolina, you may not appreciate NC barbecue.  I lived in the Tar Heel State for about 15 years and never liked it's version of BBQ as much as Ohio's, but it is tasty.

My husband, who grew up in NC, really loves it!  And my kids, who are picky eaters, actually like this version I cooked in my crock pot the other day. If you find it strange, douse in your favorite BBQ sauce and you'll love it!

This recipe is from my Slow Cooker Recipe Book that came with my GE crock pot. Hope you like it!

North Carolina Barbecue

3 lbs boneless pork butt, shoulder or blade roast
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomato
1/2 cup vinegar
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T sugar
1 heaping T red pepper flakes
1 T salt
2 t black pepper

Combine all ingredients in crock. Cover and cook on low 8-10 hours. Pull meat apart with fork when done.  Makes about 3 pounds of BBQ. Great Served with baked beans and cole slaw.

What's your favorite BBQ? Thanks for visiting and have a great weekend!

Reprinted from April 8, 2011