Tag: current events

Inspiration can come anywhere and at any time

Part of my morning ritual is to check the internet for the latest news as I drink my first cup — or three — of coffee each morning. This morning was no different. Part of that included an online conversation about the verdict in the Kate Steinle murder case yesterday. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a 45-year-old “undocumented alien” was acquitted of murder and convicted on a much less serious weapons charge. There is another post, or two, in what happened with this case, but this isn’t it. However, the discussion of the jury’s verdict brought to mind another murder case, this one from the DFW area, more than 30 years ago. That, in turn, started the story wheels in my mind turning. In other words, current events led to inspiration for a new story.

And that sound you hear is my head beating against the wall because I do NOT need another plot running loose in my head right now.

The local case made an impact on so many of us living in the area at the time because it was so sensational and, at the same time, something we realized could happen right next door. The set up was simple. Two families had lived next door (or nearby) one another for some time. The wives were supposedly good friends. However, one of the wives, Candace Montgomery, was having an affair with the other husband. When the husband’s wife, Betty Gore, found out, she confronted Montgomery. They argued in the laundry room of one of their houses. During the course of the argument, Gore allegedly went “shh, shh” to Montgomery and that triggered her repressed memories of being abused when she was younger. The defense went on to claim that was why she picked up an ax and gave Gore something like forty whacks. There’s more, but you get the gist. If you want to read more about it, you can find the whole gory details here and here.

Montgomery was arrested and charged with capital murder. When the case came to trial, Collin County District Attorney Tom O’Connell tried the case. If I remember correctly, when it came time to submit proposed jury instructions to the judge in the case, no lesser included offenses were submitted. So, when the jury retired to begin its deliberations, it had one decision to make: did the evidence support the charge of capital murder or not? They decided it did not. Because there were no lesser included offenses included, Montgomery walked. The community was outraged. O’Connell wasn’t DA for much longer and Montgomery was free to leave the area and start her life over, leaving Gore’s family and children to pick up the pieces.

I haven’t thought about this case in years and years. But now, it is alive in my mind and I can feel the muse working to figure out how to turn the circumstances of the case into a story that would be uniquely mine. I hadn’t gone looking for inspiration this morning but a short conversation about one of yesterday’s headlines was all it took. Sometimes, your muse will grab a random encounter and turn it into a story for you.

Here’s the thing. Inspiration can come from anywhere. Learning to recognize it and control it so it doesn’t derail your current work in progress is the key. Here’s hoping I can manage to do just that because I have a feeling this latest bit of inspiration will be fun to write — once I get to it.

When Justice Is Not Done

Over the last few days, there has been a great deal of press surrounding the sentence handed down by Judge Aaron Persky in the rape case against former Sanford University swimmer Brock Turner. A jury found Turner guilty of “three felony counts: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person, sexual penetration of an intoxicated person and sexual penetration of an unconscious person.”

The facts are pretty straightforward. On Jan. 18, 2015, two graduate students discovered Turner on top of an unconscious woman. The location was outside the Kappa Alpha fraternity and it was approximately 1 AM. The victim has admitted she was drunk at the time and, she “described how she found herself on a gurney early on the morning of Jan. 18, 2015, facing injuries, rushed treatments and photo documentation of her wounds. In the aftermath of the assault, she said she has struggled with extreme depression. She eventually had to quit her job, and she said it took eight months for her to begin talking about the assault.”

Let me say right here that there is a difference between Turner going out and hunting a woman to rape. He didn’t break into her house nor did he beat her into submission. Yes, the victim was drunk and yes, Turner had been drinking as well. However, this goes beyond a he said, she said situation when you are caught with your pants around your ankles, metaphorically speaking, and you are violating an unconscious woman.

When addressing the court before sentencing, the victim asked that Turner be sentenced to at least one year in prison, citing, among other things, his apparent lack of remorse. I can’t imagine what she must have felt when she heard the actual sentence. Judge Persky decided the appropriate punishment for the offense would be six months in the county jail and three years probation.

Before handing down the sentence, the judge – and I use that term loosely – said that it had been a “difficult decision”. He looked at things like “Turner’s intoxication, character letters submitted to the court, adverse collateral effects stemming from high media coverage and the defendant’s apparent remorse.”

Read that again, paying close attention to the “adverse collateral effects stemming from high media coverage.” Pardon me but shouldn’t there be adverse collateral effects when someone rapes another person? It doesn’t matter that she was intoxicated. She did not have the capacity to give consent. His own intoxication might – MIGHT – be a mitigating factor but even there I’m not convinced. Intoxication isn’t a mitigating factor in DWI convictions. So why in hell should it mitigate anything in a rape case?

I’ll come back to the character letters in a minute.

Let’s look at the defendant’s apparent remorse. I bet he was remorseful when that guilty verdict came down. Poor entitled kid probably never had to face any real consequences before in his life. Unfortunately, he still isn’t. Oh, he’ll have to register as a sex offender and he won’t get to do everything he had planned but big whoop. There are folks sitting in jail right now, facing stricter sentencing for relatively minor cases than what he faces for raping a woman.

He made the choice, whether he was intoxicated or not, to rape the victim. Now he is getting nothing more than a light slap on the wrist, ala Affluenza Teen and it makes me sick.

What makes it worse is the fact that the judge bought into the “good boy led astray by his surroundings” argument. A “good boy” doesn’t do what Turner did. A “good boy” knows when to keep his zipper zipped.

Making it worse is the response of Turner’s father after the sentence was handed down. After parts of it were leaked to the press, the entire letter was released by the court.

As it stands now, Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan 17th and 18th. He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile. His every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression.

Poor baby. Maybe he should have thought about that before he drank and especially before he raped his victim. Note that Daddy Dearest doesn’t mention any concern here about the victim. Oh, he gives lip service during his letter to the judge about how full of remorse his son is but is he really? Or is he sorry that he got caught and now has to pay for what he did, even if said payment isn’t anywhere near what it should be?

These verdicts have broken and shattered him and our family in so many ways.

What did he expect? That they could click their heels together and everything would go back to the way they wanted? His son raped a woman. He should be made to pay the price. Yes, it is painful to know your child could do something like this. Yes, it is hard for any parent to admit their kid is anything but perfect. But now is the time to teach your son that he has to admit his mistake and take the consequences, not find excuses for what he did.

His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. This is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.

And this is where the outrage really comes into play. What sort of mindset lets a parent, lets anyone, make this sort of statement? “2o minutes of action”. No, it was rape. He son had sex with someone without her consent. He took advantage of her and he broke the law. That is not “20 minutes of action”.

There’s more, including saying what a good thing it would be to let his son go to high schools and colleges to talk about the evils of binge drinking and casual sex. I can see it now, “Yes, I raped a woman and look at the price I had to pay. I was sentenced to six months in county jail and three years probation, less than you’ll get if you are caught doing X, Y or Z.” Big deterrent that will be.

I don’t know who I am angrier at right now: the judge or the father. One basically patted Turner on the head and sent him to his room without dinner. The other is telling him how he is the victim in this scenario. Both are wrong and both need to think long and hard about what they did.

I have to wonder what the judge’s record is when it comes to sentencing other rape defendants. How does someone go from being tough on sexual predators and sitting on the board for Support Network for Battered Women to handing down such a lenient sentence? Could it be, as this article says some people are asking, that other influences were at work besides those cited by the judge? Was he swayed by his own days at Stanford and his loyalty to the university? I don’t know but, as the article notes, some of his comments do lead to the questions being raised.

As for the father, I understand wanting to protect your son and keep him out of prison. But to call what his son did “20 minutes of action” is beyond belief. If this is the sort of reasoning he has used raising his son, maybe it’s no wonder Turner acted as he did. You might not call it “affluenza” but the lack of sufficient consequences for his actions could explain a great deal.

Lost in a lot of the discussion has been the victim. She was a great deal more merciful where Tucker’s possible sentence was concerned than I would have been. She admitted she had drunk too much that night. Yet she had much more to say. Read it. Read it all. Then tell me if Tucker deserved the leniency the judge showed.

Here is an extract:

One more time, in public news, I learned that my [buttocks] and vagina were completely exposed outside, my breasts had been groped, fingers had been jabbed inside me along with pine needles and debris, my bare skin and head had been rubbing against the ground behind a dumpster, while an erect freshman was humping my half naked, unconscious body. But I don’t remember, so how do I prove I didn’t like it.

I thought there’s no way this is going to trial; there were witnesses, there was dirt in my body, he ran but was caught. He’s going to settle, formally apologize, and we will both move on. Instead, I was told he hired a powerful attorney, expert witnesses, private investigators who were going to try and find details about my personal life to use against me, find loopholes in my story to invalidate me and my sister, in order to show that this sexual assault was in fact a misunderstanding. That he was going to go to any length to convince the world he had simply been confused.

I was not only told that I was assaulted, I was told that because I couldn’t remember, I technically could not prove it was unwanted. And that distorted me, damaged me, almost broke me. It is the saddest type of confusion to be told I was assaulted and nearly raped, blatantly out in the open, but we don’t know if it counts as assault yet. I had to fight for an entire year to make it clear that there was something wrong with this situation.

Something was, and still is, very wrong with this situation. For once, I wish I lived in Palo Alto and could vote in the upcoming election. The judge is unopposed in the primary but, come November, here is hoping the people voice their displeasure at this miscarriage of justice.

Ten Years Later — updated

(I wrote the following post for Mad Genius Club 4 years ago. It doesn’t seem possible that I have been blogging over there that long — longer really — or that it has been 14 years since the terrible events of that infamous September morning. As we reflect on what happened that day, on its causes and its effects and on what still needs to be done, we should also reflect and take a moment to thank those men and women who dedicate their lives to keeping our country safe, to their family and loved ones who watch them leave and wonder if they will return and we should also remember those who have given their lives for our country. And now, to that original post.)

Ten years ago today, they say the world changed. I’m not sure the whole world changed, but my piece of it did. For the first time in my life, I understood how my parents’ generation felt when they heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Gone was the sense of safety of living in the United States, secured by oceans on two sides and allies on the other two sides. We’d been attacked, not by a military force but by fanatics who didn’t care about the innocents they killed in an effort to make their statement.

I know some of you are wondering what this has to do with writing. After all, Mad Genius Club is a blog about writing and the publishing industry. There is no simple answer. But there are answers and I’ll try to explain.

There’s a thread that’s been going on in one of the email groups I belong to where someone asked if our writing is influenced by world events. You can imagine there were folks coming in on both sides – some saying yes and others saying no. For me, I have to admit that I really hadn’t given it much thought. I knew the events of 9/11 affected me, but I hadn’t really taken time to think about if they had influenced my writing.

I still didn’t think much about it until the list of free titles available from Amazon crossed my desk the other day. I didn’t know whether to be thrilled or appalled to see all of them that dealt with that horrible day. I truly believe we need to remember what happened that day and do all we can to make sure it never happens again – here or anywhere else. One way to do that is to write about it.

But what appalled me were the number of books that had clearly been written just to cash in on the ten year anniversary of that horrible day. We’re not talking books that have been out for months or years and are just now being made free as promotions. No, we’re talking books that have never been available before. Books I couldn’t bring myself to download.

Look, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for authors using events, real and imagined, in their books. But to use a tragedy like 9/11 or the Holocaust just to sell books is more than I can stomach. Releasing those books so close to the anniversary of that horrible day without thought or concern about what it would do to those who survived or those who lost loved ones makes my blood boil. There are some lines I simply can’t step over.

That said, I will fight for these authors’ right to publish such books, whether I like them or not. That freedom of speech is one of the things that makes this country what it is. Within certain very limited provisions, we can write what we want, when we want. The fact that so many of us have different views on what and how we write is in the best interest of the reader.

On 9/11, I slept in later than I usually do. As I stumbled into the kitchen for my first cup of coffee, I turned on the TV. There are three things I do every morning: drink coffee, read the paper and watch the morning news. So there I was, coffee cup in hand, staring in disbelief as the second jet crashed into the Twin Towers. It had to be a nightmare. There could be no other explanation. Numb, praying for those people who were obviously trapped in the towers, I sat and watched, just like so many others that morning.

The images from that day are indelibly etched into my memory. So are the emotions. The shock, the fear, the anger. But so is the feeling of solidarity, of needing to do something as I stood in line at the local blood bank waiting hour after hour to donate blood in case it was needed. Hundreds of people turned out that day, too many for the small center to handle. No one wanted to go home. This was something they could do. Something they had to do.

Those who were turned away made appointments to come back the next day. Then they left, only to return later with water and food for those of us still in line. A couple came back with radios and TVs so we could watch the latest. No one asked them to. Everyone thanked them. We were all pulling together and it was happening across the country.

The emotions I felt that day were so strong. So were the reactions of the people I saw. The only day that had come close to it was the day when the American embassy in Tehran had been taken over, beginning more than a year of nightly reports about what was happening, reports that became ABC’s Nightline. Back then, I was attending Texas Tech. A number of my classmates were former Air Force officers. As we sat in the break area of the law school after the news broke, each of them were doing what was necessary to make contact with their former C.O.’s, doing what they felt was necessary – offering to return to the service of their country.

As I write this post, I realize there is one thing about 9/11 that has influenced my writing. After feeling so deeply, after seeing others do the same, I became more aware of how my characters should feel and react. I hope I am able to write characters who are no longer cardboard cut-outs. Emotions are what make us human and are what drive us, for good or bad.

I’m not a subscriber to the idea that you have to suffer for your art. Hell, I do my best to avoid suffering – at least in the way it is used in that sentence. But to be a good writer, you have to not only know what the emotions are, you have to know what they feel like – whether you have experienced them yourself or know someone has. More than that, you have to be able to express those emotions in your writing in such a way your characters don’t appear to be cartoonish or cardboardish.

I remember the feeling of helplessness as I stood in line at the blood bank, wondering if my son was all right. He was at school that day. When the district announced parents could come get their kids, I called my ex-husband to see if he was going to pick our son up. (It was his week to have the kid) I wanted to go so badly, just to be able to see for myself that my son was all right. I wanted to be the one to explain to him what had happened and to reassure him that I would do everything in my power to make sure nothing happened to him. I might not have been able to pick him up – my ex did that – but I did get to talk to him afterwards, to explain what happened and what might be happening over the next few days and weeks.

I can channel those emotions into my characters. It’s easier to write about the mother whose child is in danger. I understand the fear and anger and the need to protect. I can write about the everyman who feels helpless as he watches some disaster – be it natural or manmade – unfold before him. It is up to me now to hone my craft so I can write it in a believable way.

But for all of that, 9/11 reminded me of something I hadn’t really forgotten but had, like so many others, taken for granted. It reminded me of how much I love this country. I honor and thank those who willing put their lives on the line every day to protect it, be they police officers, firefighters, EMTs, soldiers, whatever. I thank their families for supporting them. Most of all, I thank God for the fact that I live here, in a country where I can write what I want and not have to look over my shoulder in fear that the thought police will be there to arrest me.

That son I worried so much about ten years ago is now a young man. One year ago today he signed his contract with the Air Force. It was his choice and one I am very proud of. It’s also one that can’t help but scare me some as well. And that is yet another emotion I can channel, if I dare.

In closing, and on a very non-writer note, I offer up a prayer for all of those who lost their lives a decade ago and I pray we never again see another 9/11, here or anywhere else.

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