Monday, June 28, 2010

The History of the Model-T

A video of the history of the Model-T and how it revolutionized transportation and production with the first full scale assembly line. Those things were better than Hummers for getting around!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Black Widow Louise Peete

Lofie Louise Preslar, born in Bienville, Louisiana, a very personable woman who people loved. She was also one of America's leading "black widows". She was the Southern Belle daughter of a wealthy newspaper publisher. She attended the best private schools in New Orleans, where she became notorious for her sexual escapades which got her expelled. Following that illustrious beginning she embarked on a life of pleasure and murder.

She married traveling salesman Henry Bosley in 1903, and traveled with him. In the summer of 1906, Henry caught his wife in bed with a local Texas oilman and grief-stricken, killed himself two days later. Louise sold Henry's belongings and moved to Shreveport, where she worked as a prostitute until she could afford a trip to Boston. There she continued as a prostitute. She became popular as a girl who would make house calls. But on the side she lifted the jewelry of the wives of her wealthy clients. Eventually her larceny was discovered and she fled to Waco, Texas. There she met Joe Appel, another wealthy oilman, a flamboyant character who wore diamond studded rings, belt buckle and even the buttons on his clothes.

One week after they met, Joe was found dead with a bullet in his head. His diamonds were missing. Called before a special grand jury, Louise admitted shooting Appel down - in "self-defense." The oil man tried to rape her, she claimed, and she was forced to defend herself. The missing jewels forgotten, members of the jury applauded her. They also set her free.

By 1913, running out of luck and money, Louise married local hotel clerk Harry Faurote. Her flagrant adultery soon drove Faurote to hang himself. Moving to Denver in 1915, Louise then married Richard Peete, a door-to-door salesman. She bore him a daughter in 1916, but Peete's meager income wasn't up to her standards, and she took off alone, for Los Angeles, in 1920.

Shopping for a house to rent, Louise met mining executive Jacob Denton. Instead of leasing her the house, she persuaded Jacob to retain the property, and Louise would come in as a live-in companion. After several weeks Denton refused to marry her. In response, Louise ordered Denton's caretaker to dump a ton of earth in the basement saying she planned to "raise mushrooms" - Denton's favorite delicacy - as a treat for her lover.

Denton disappeared on May 30, 1920. There never were any mushrooms. Louise had numerous explanations for curious callers. First, she told all comers that Jacob had quarreled with "a Spanish-looking woman," who became enraged and chopped his arm off with a sword. Although he managed to survive, she said, poor Jacob was embarrassed by his handicap, and had gone into seclusion. Pressed by Denton's lawyer, she revised the story to include an amputated leg; the missing businessman would return once he was comfortable with his artificial limbs.

Most incredibly, these tales kept everyone at bay for several months, while "Mrs. Denton" threw a string of lavish parties in her absent lover's home. It was September by the time Denton's lawyer grew suspicious enough to call the police to search the house. An hour's spade work turned up Denton's body in the basement, with a bullet in his head.

Detectives started hunting for Louise, and traced her back to Denver, where she had resumed a life of wedded bliss with Richard Peete. Convicted of a murder charge in January 1921, Louise was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment. In the beginning, Richard corresponded regularly. In 1924, when several of his letters went unanswered, Peete committed suicide.

San Quentin's warden, Clinton Duffy, once described Louise Peete as projecting "an air of innocent sweetness which masked a heart of ice." Apparently she liked to boast about the lovers she drove to suicide, especially cherishing Richard's suicide, proof that even prison walls couldn't contain her fatal charm.

In 1933, Louise was transferred from San Quentin to the prison at Tehachapi, and six years later on her tenth attempt to win parole, she was released.

Her release was due to the intercession of a social worker, Margaret Logan, and her husband Arthur. Paroled to the care of a Mrs. Latham, in Los Angeles, Louise was allowed to take the name "Anna Lee," after her favorite movie star.

She found employment at a servicemen's canteen in World War II; in 1942, an elderly female co-worker vanished inexplicably, her home discovered in a state of disarray. Detectives called on "Anna Lee," the missing woman's closest friend, and they were told the woman had died of injuries sustained in a fall. The police bought the story, never bothering to check out "Anna's" background or obtain a death certificate.

The kindly Mrs. Latham died in 1943, and Louise's parole went to the Logans. She married elderly bank manager Lee Judson in May 1944, and on May 30, Margaret Logan vanished without a trace, Louise telling Margaret's aged husband that his wife was in the hospital, unable to receive visitors. By late June, Louise persuaded the authorities that Arthur Logan was insane and he was committed to a state hospital, where he died six months later. With typical lack of feeling, Louise donated his body to a medical school for dissection.

Louise moved into the Logan home with Judson, but in short order, her husband discovered a bullet hole in one wall, a suspicious mound of earth in the garden, and an insurance policy naming Louise as Margaret Logan's sole beneficiary. He never told anyone.

By December 1944, Louise's parole officer had grown suspicious of the regular reports, submitted over Margaret Logan's shaky signature, that contained such glowing praise for their charge. Police invaded the Logan home shortly before Christmas, prompting Lee Judson to voice his suspicions at last. Margaret Logan's body was unearthed in the garden, whereupon Louise offered another of her patented fables. In this story, decrepit Arthur Logan had gone suddenly insane, beating his wife to death in a maniacal rage. Terrified of attracting suspicion due to her background, Louise had buried the corpse and stalled for a month before having Arthur committed to an asylum.

Louise was charged with Margaret Logan's murder, her husband booked as an accessory. Acquitted on January 12, 1945, Judson took his own life the next day, leaping from the thirteenth floor of a Los Angeles office building. Louise, it was observed, seemed pleased with his reaction to their separation.

Convicted of first-degree murder by a jury that included eleven women, Louise was this time sentenced to die. Her appeals failed, and she was executed in San Quentin's gas chamber on April 11, 1947.

Evil Diva

Time Monday, Jun. 11, 1945

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Serendipity and creativity

Serendipity is defined as good luck in finding unexpected and fortunate discoveries. In writing, for me, this means stumbling across things unexpectedly that help push a story forward. I recently finished my first historical novel, COLOR OF SHADOWS AND SMOKE and have begun research on a second historical, this one called A PLACE OF SILENCE, set in the early 30s, still during Prohibition. While researching the Depression in my local library I came across a book titled THE ORPHAN TRAINS: PLACING OUT IN AMERICA. Since it was in the section dealing with the Depression I was intrigued and pulled it out, along with a massive pile of other books to look at. Between 1850 and 1930 200,000 children and several thousand adults where set out west, purportedly to find homes for the urban poor. The west was in desperate need of more bodies to help on the farms and industries and agencies like The Children's Aid society saw this as a way to find places for these children.

The moment I read that, I knew the main character in A PLACE OF SILENCE would be just such a child. He would be a boy from a desperately poor family barely able to survive in some eastern city, perhaps Philadelphia or New York. So he was ripped out of his home and shipped west with a trainful of other children, some true orphans, other like him, from families simply too poor to manage. I immediately had to wonder what such a life would be like. Would you imagine your parents had abandoned you? Might you see it as a great adventure? At that time there were no laws controlling the use of children in labor. They were often working in mines or factories, toiling away for 12-14 hours a day for pitiful salaries and no assistance if they were injured, something like the trafficking in children that occurs today. But back then there were few people interested in the plight of children such as that.

But I would never have known about this if I hadn't started browsing the racks, just checking out intriguing titles and taking a closer look when I found one that interested me. I do much the same thing online. I will do Google searches on one subject then find links within the pages I'm researching that take me off in a whole other direction. Often fascinating ones, and sometimes they too can trigger that feeling of Eureka when I stumble onto some fascinating facet that can turn a whole plot on its ear.

I highly recommend it during your next trip to the library. Just find a section, perhaps in a section devoted to your city's history, or a period linked to whatever novel you are working on. Just scan the titles, see what jumps out at you and take a look.

You never know, you just find the magic key to making your novel one degree better.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I need a backbone

Anyone familiar with much of my work will know my characters are almost always heavily flawed. Some people have come out and said they don't like them because they're not 'nice' enough. My problem? I want to write even darker more flawed characters in darker stories. I've set out to do it a couple of times, but each time I go soft and pull back. My characters turn out flawed, but not as hard as I wanted originally.

I have no one to blame but myself. I rush to get my rawest, often unfinished first draft into the hands of my beta readers, then I let their comments influence where the story goes. It's certainly not their fault. They're doing exactly what I have asked them to do. I need to stop asking it. Instead, I need to wait until the draft has gone through some polish before asking others to look at it.

Ultimately, I need to grow a set and start trusting my own judgment. I have 9 novels published, with a few others in the chute. Isn't it time I trusted myself? Write my story the way I want it written? Let it stand or fall once it's done, not water it down during the first draft because my own doubts leave me unsure of my ability to finish such a book with a strong, if unpopular ending.

In one novel, I waffled and eventually softened my main protagonist's rough edges. I made him nicer. I put him safely back in his flawed hero-with-a-heart-of-gold instead of the truly flawed character who screws up at the end, whose flaws lead to tragedy.

So how about you? Have you ever pulled back from where you wanted to go with a character or storyline because you were told it was too unlikable? The character too nasty?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Critique-al Condition by Steve Liskow

When you love your WIP above anything except double fudge brownie ice cream, it’s time to have someone else give you objective feedback. The best way to do this should be to join a writing critique group, but my bitter experience is that finding a compatible group is slightly easier than winning the Powerball by picking Roman numerals.

I’m convinced that groups work better if all the members write similar material. “Literary” writers, who believe that Toni Morrison works harder to finish a book than Tess Gerritsen or Jennifer Crusie, sneer at genre writing. Somehow, they also cherish the illusion that “literary” automatically means “good.”

Feedback tends to focus on two main questions. The first is “Does this scene work?” Most people will probably agree on any particular sample. The second question is “Does this scene work HERE?” and it can generate sparks among the different genres and camps.

Sci-fi involves a different world that needs explanation at the beginning. Romance writers often introduce their protagonist with a blow-by-blow history of a love life going down in flames. On the other hand, mystery writers build tension by holding back on the revelations, so they tend to view the other approaches as an information dump.

The logistics of group meetings makes work on poems, essays, or short stories easier than dissecting a novel, but a chapter-by chapter approach won’t help on the second question. That may demand more time than the average group member has at hand, but our early schooling probably taught us to examine a novel in small chunks so we sometimes miss the full effect.

You don’t admire a painting by looking at all the red, then all the blue, then the green. Moving a scene or even a few lines of dialogue can change the rhythm of a piece. It can make information clearer, too—or give away a clue too soon. Move the punch line to the middle of a joke and see if it still gets a laugh.

Beyond these basics, everything else is subjective. I wrote Who Wrote The Book of Death? in present tense, which some agents and editors dislike. Others dislike first person POV or lots of description. My writing has a staccato rhythm and throwaway fragments to convey voice and attitude, but some readers try to “correct” it instead of seeing the content. My own invisible drummer makes it hard for me to read “older” styles and rhythms comfortably.

A really valuable reader “gets” your style and sees the choices you don’t even remember making. Right now, three women understand my stuff well enough to spot the real damage and make me apply triage. They are the best asset a writer can have: a reality check.

I send them chocolate and valentines.

Steve Liskow's first novel Who Wrote The Book of Death?, was published in May by Mainly Murder Press, and "Stranglehold," which won the Black Orchid Novella Award, appears in the summer issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

Visit his Web site here

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Stephen Jay Schwartz

Sometimes a debut novel comes out that just blows you out of the water. Or as a writer myself, one I wish I had written.

I'm always on the look out for new books set in Los Angeles. I'm a noir reader who likes dark fiction and I've found few places that lends itself to that more than the city of Angels. Having lived there eight years I have personal experience with the dichotomy of the place. At once filled with glitter and glamor, it is also home and birthplace of many of the most violent gangs in North America, if not the world. From the days of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald writers have explored the dark side of this fascinating city.

It's hard to think of Los Angeles without thinking about the LAPD. The police force of Los Angeles has always had a big role in the character of the city, from the boundless corruption in the early part of the 20th Century to the violence and riots that threatened to tear the city apart. Even today there is a simmering tension in the dark Angel.

In Boulevard we meet one of the members of the thin blue line, LAPD homicide detective Hayden Glass, who's a member of the elite Robbery Homicide division that handles all the high profile murders. But Hayden has a secret he's desperate to keep -- he's a sex addict who cruises the very boulevards he's supposed to be policing, picking up street walkers and going to massage parlors for sex. His marriage fell apart because of his addiction. But now he might not be able to keep his secret much longer. Someone is targeting people Hayden knows and only he sees the connection in the victims, since he can't reveal his addiction which is what ties them together.

An excellent novel. Schwartz is a wonderful new voice in dark Los Angeles fiction and I can't wait to read more from this up and coming author.