An Insane Asylum Can Make You Crazy

An Insane Asylum Can Make You Crazy

Forgive the repeat of this blog but I wanted to announce that my new mystery, Hart of Madness, is now available in paperback and e-book.  Please check this website.

Hart Island is a small island located in the Long Island Sound,

off the coast of the Bronx, in New York City.

It has been a public mass burial ground,

a colossal “potter’s field” for a million souls since 1869.

The crumbling remains of its buildings once served as:

a Union Civil War prison camp,

a tuberculosis sanatorium,

a boys’ reformatory and . . .

a woman’s lunatic asylum.

1902, New York City: Nineteen-year-old Ruby Hunt comes home to her Park Avenue apartment to find her family murdered.  She is the prime suspect in these gruesome crimes but instead of being placed under arrest, Ruby is committed to an insane asylum for life.

The insane asylum is located on Hart Island, just off the coast of the Bronx.  The island has served as the city’s largest potter’s field since the mid-1800s.  Over a million lost souls are buried there.

Ruby’s life has irrevocably changed.  Her only hope is a kindly caretaker at the asylum and a handsome young rookie police detective with the NYPD.

Detective Liam McCarty is convinced Ruby is innocent and sets out to prove it with the help of investigative reporter Nellie Bly, whose experience in an insane asylum makes her the perfect partner. Time is running out, however, because Ruby’s treatments are becoming increasingly debilitating.  If Liam doesn’t rescue her in time, she will be scheduled for a lobotomy.

2016, New York City: A descendant of Ruby’s uncle is murdered and homicide detective Frank Mead soon realizes that the connection between Ruby’s case and his current murder is inescapable.  It won’t be the first time Frank has solved a cold case from the distant past to resolve today’s crime.

Digging into the Hunt family is no easy task.  Each relative has something to hide and unless Frank can uncover the killer soon, there will be more murders. Using the latest in forensic technology, Frank enlists the help of digital photo expert, Maggie Thornhill, to match photos found in an old suitcase passed down by Ruby’s descendants.  Along with handwriting analysis and ballistics, Frank is able to piece together the puzzle that spans over a hundred years.

 

 

 

Learning From Our Mistakes . . . Or Not

Learning From Our Mistakes . . . Or Not

When I wrote The Triangle Murders, I researched the details of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in NYC, in 1911, and blogged about it in past posts. I fictionalized a murder set against the backdrop of the actual fire and detailed the forensic analysis of the fire after the fact. I also blogged about heroines like Clara Lemlich and Frances Perkins who helped raise awareness of the deplorable conditions the garment workers found themselves in every day, as well as the changes Clara and Frances helped institute to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again.

Reading stories from several years ago of fires at garment factories, first in Bangladesh, India, then in Karachi, Pakistan, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/08/world/asia/pakistan-factory-fire-shows-flaws-in-monitoring.html?pagewanted=all, you’ll notice the lamentable similarities to the Triangle fire in this country.

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But first, back up to Saturday, March 25, 1911, and a few grim facts: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory occupied the top three floors of the 10-story Asch Building on the northwest corner of Washington Place and Greene Street in Greenwich Village. On the eighth floor, fire broke out in a scrap bin. Perhaps someone tossed a match or cigarette butt into the bin. Soon flames leaped out and caught other fabrics. About 180 people worked on this floor. They rushed for the exit doors, which were locked to prevent the workers from stealing, and the fire escape. Many were trapped.

For various reasons, the workers on the ninth floor of the Asch building could not be contacted.  It was estimated that 250 workers were on the floor that day.  For an exquisitely poignant description of the events, you must read ‘Triangle-The Fire That Changed America” by David Von Drehle.  https://www.amazon.com/Triangle-Fire-That-Changed-America-ebook/dp/B004RPY48I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1533148223&sr=8-1&keywords=the+fire+that+changed+america

Many of the workers were women and young girls, trapped by locked exit doors and only one poorly designed fire escape. Fire hoses reached only to the sixth floor, safety nets were unable to break the falls. To avoid suffocating or burning to death, the girls jumped nine stories to the pavement and their death. 146 of them. 

“My building is fireproof,” Joseph J. Asch insisted.  You might recall that the White Star Line directors made similar proclamations about the Titanic.

Fast forward to recent times.  On September 11, 2012 in Karachi, Pakistan, close to 300 people, many of them women and children, died in a factory fire, trapped behind locked doors and barred windows. “There were no safety measures taken in the building design,” said a senior police official. “There was no emergency exit. These people were trapped.”

A few months later, another tragedy occurred. Over 112 people, possibly seventy percent women, died in a fire at a garment factory outside Dhaka, Bangladesh.  Why?  Bangladesh’s garment industry, second only to China, has a notoriously poor fire safety record. Most of the workers killed were on the first and second floors and died because there were not enough exits.  One survivor on the fifth floor said he escaped by climbing out of a third floor window onto bamboo scaffolding used for construction workers.

Yikes. What am I missing here?  With today’s lightning-fast communications, surely most industrial nations got the message about safety in the workplace. Right?  Why must we wait for  a disaster to occur before we decide to act?

There must be a more effective way to learn from history, to take those lessons and apply them today. History is not just hard facts that inform us about our past. History is the measure of our past deeds, good and bad. If we don’t take those lessons seriously, as a human race, we’re doomed to repeat our mistakes

We can do better. We must do better.

Insane Asylums Can Make You Crazy

Insane Asylums Can Make You Crazy

Hart Island is a small island located in the Long Island Sound,
off the coast of the Bronx, in New York City.
It has been a public mass burial ground,
a colossal “potter’s field” for a million souls since 1869.
The crumbling remains of its buildings once served as:
a Union Civil War prison camp,
a tuberculosis sanatorium,
a boys’ reformatory and . . .
a woman’s lunatic asylum.

1902, New York City: Nineteen-year-old Ruby Hunt comes home to her Park Avenue apartment to find her family murdered. She is the prime suspect in these gruesome crimes but instead of being placed under arrest, Ruby is committed to an insane asylum for life.

The insane asylum is located on Hart Island, just off the coast of the Bronx. The island has served as the city’s largest potter’s field since the mid-1800s. Over a million lost souls are buried there.

Ruby’s life has irrevocably changed. Her only hope is a kindly caretaker at the asylum and a handsome young rookie police detective with the NYPD.

Detective Liam McCarty is convinced Ruby is innocent and sets out to prove it with the help of investigative reporter Nellie Bly, whose experience in an insane asylum makes her the perfect partner. Time is running out, however, because Ruby’s treatments are becoming increasingly debilitating. If Liam doesn’t rescue her in time, she will be scheduled for a lobotomy.

2016, New York City: A descendant of Ruby’s uncle is murdered and homicide detective Frank Mead soon realizes that the connection between Ruby’s case and his current murder is inescapable. It won’t be the first time Frank has solved a cold case from the distant past to resolve today’s crime.

Digging into the Hunt family is no easy task. Each relative has something to hide and unless Frank can uncover the killer soon, there will be more murders. Using the latest in forensic technology, Frank enlists the help of digital photo expert, Maggie Thornhill, to match photos found in an old suitcase passed down by Ruby’s descendants. Along with handwriting analysis and ballistics, Frank is able to piece together the puzzle that spans over a hundred years.

 

Hart of Madness. Now available in paperback and e-book. Check on this website.

Are You the Best Editor for Your Work?

Are You the Best Editor for Your Work?

Should You Hire a Pro?

A writer friend asked me whether it was really a good idea to pay a professional editor to read her manuscript.  My immediate response was yes, but the question made me pause and reflect on my personal experiences.

I have had all six of my novels (number six coming this summer!) edited by pros.  Here are my thoughts.

There is huge value to editors who “copy” edit, that is, they read for spelling, grammar, syntax, etc.  You always miss something: a comma where it doesn’t belong, the incorrect use of a semicolon.  In terms of the broader picture: the plot, characters, structure, tension, conflict, on and on, the pro can be very helpful. . . or not.

In The Triangle Murders, the professional editor I hired was so intrigued with the historic story that her suggestions would have made me totally change the book.  It would have become a historic mystery rather than a historic mystery that is solved today with modern technology.  She had her own vision for the book.  But who was writing this?

The editor I hired for my Civil War book, however, was extremely helpful.  He gave me an idea for a dynamite ending that I hadn’t even considered.  It totally changed the story for the better.

Before you consider hiring a pro, however, do your own self-editing.  Believe it or not, there is a lot you can do to improve your writing before it gets the going-over by someone else.  Some suggestions:

Edit in small sections at a time.  If possible, reread the section before and then edit the current 5 to 10 pages.

Also, read aloud (or to your dog or cat.)  I can’t emphasize enough how important this is.  You’d be surprised what you hear that you didn’t think you wrote.  Dialogue may sound stilted, tension weak, setting inappropriate.  Often I will come away from my reading out loud thinking, ugh, did I write that?

Some things to look for when you’re self-editing:

  1. Do you want to turn the page?
  2. Did you stumble over awkward phrases or clunky words when you read aloud?
  3. Were you confused by your own plot twists?
  4. Did punctuation mess up your reading?
  5. Were your characters boring, too flawed (yes, that’s possible) or totally unbelievable (unless you write Bourne thrillers)?
  6. Were there plot inconsistencies ie: a character appeared after she was murdered?
  7. Were there setting inconsistencies? It was hot as Hades one day, snowing the next?
  8. Did you get your facts right? Very important if you want authenticity.

You can be your own best editor.  But, just to be sure — reread, rewrite, read aloud.  And again x 3.

Now hire a professional for the final read.

Your thoughts welcome.

 

Launching Book 6: Hart of Madness

Launching Book 6: Hart of Madness

Hart Island is a small island located in the Long Island Sound,

off the coast of the Bronx, in New York City.

It has been a public mass burial ground,

a colossal “potter’s field” for a million souls since 1869.

The crumbling remains of its buildings once served as:

a Union Civil War prison camp,

a tuberculosis sanatorium,

a boys’ reformatory and . . .

a woman’s lunatic asylum.

 

1902, New York City: Nineteen-year-old Ruby Hunt comes home to her Park Avenue apartment to find her family murdered.  She is the prime suspect in these gruesome crimes but instead of being placed under arrest, Ruby is committed to an insane asylum for life.The insane asylum is located on Hart Island, just off the coast of the Bronx.  The island has served as the city’s largest potter’s field since the mid-1800s.  Over a million lost souls are buried there.

Ruby’s life has irrevocably changed.  Her only hope is a kindly caretaker at the asylum and a handsome young rookie police detective with the NYPD.

Detective Liam McCarty is convinced Ruby is innocent and sets out to prove it with the help of investigative reporter Nellie Bly, whose experience in an insane asylum makes her the perfect partner. Time is running out, however, because Ruby’s treatments are becoming increasingly debilitating.  If Liam doesn’t rescue her in time, she will be scheduled for a lobotomy.

2016, New York City: A descendant of Ruby’s uncle is murdered and homicide detective Frank Mead soon realizes that the connection between Ruby’s case and his current murder is inescapable.  It won’t be the first time Frank has solved a cold case from the distant past to resolve today’s crime.

Digging into the Hunt family is no easy task.  Each relative has something to hide and unless Frank can uncover the killer soon, there will be more murders. Using the latest in forensic technology, Frank enlists the help of digital photo expert, Maggie Thornhill, to match photos found in an old suitcase passed down by Ruby’s descendants.  Along with handwriting analysis and ballistics, Frank is able to piece together the puzzle that spans over a hundred years.

 

Watch for premiere summer 2018.

Conflict: A Crucial Element to a Story

Conflict: A Crucial Element to a Story

A young friend, beginning her first foray into fiction writing, asked me: “What is conflict in a novel?”  I thought I’d take a stab at an answer.

The simplified dictionary definition is: “A conflict is a struggle or an opposition.”Conflict comes from the Latin word for “striking,” but it isn’t always violent. Conflict can arise from opposing ideas. If your character is torn between two different desires, say, marrying a woman who lives in Boston, but dying to take a job offer in Saskatoon (where is that, anyway?) he’s conflicted.

Conflict is key to your characters’ relationships.  If everyone gets along beautifully and there are no differences of opinions, arguments, debates, fisticuffs . . . no screaming, pulling hair, beating up or murdering someone, well, there’s not much conflict.  And not much interest.

Conflict can occur within a person’s mind.  This is the most interesting of conflicts and defines the character’s character, if you will.  When a character confronts another character, there is drama.  When a character confronts his/her own self, there is drama plus.  Now, the stage is set for future interactions with everyone he/she meets.

In The Triangle Murders, my protagonist, Frank Mead is overwhelmingly conflicted about his relationship with his daughter, whom he feels he has abandoned after his wife’s suicide.  The daughter feels similarly.  However, circumstances bring the two of them together, creating not only conflict, but often tension.  There is great strain between them and the reader must wonder if it will ever be resolved.

Emotions play a large role in portraying a character’s conflict.  If a character keeps his emotions hidden, any conflicts he faces may stretch these hidden emotions to a breaking point.  As a reader we need to know what’s happening in his head – how this conflict is affecting him.  We also need to see how it manifests itself in his behavior.  Does serious money problems cause him to drink more, beat his wife and kids, or retreat further into himself?  How your character handles conflict makes him unique . . . or not.  Unique is better, by the way.

Conflict between characters can take many forms.  It can be job-related, school- related, socially-related, sexually-related, family-related, or other (everything else) -related.  Often all.  However, too many conflicts in too many places can cause the reader to get worn out.  Give your character, even a cranky one, at least one amiable relationships, even if it’s with another cranky character, please, or we won’t like him very much.

I like to find new ways to help my characters resolve their conflicts.  For instance, in Frank’s case above, he enlists his daughter’s help to solve an ancient murder.  They form a tentative truce to accomplish this, which may, or may not, last into another book.

My advice is to maximize the use of conflict in your story.  It is a great tool to keep readers turning the page.

As always, I welcome your feedback.