Monday, October 26, 2009

New local author with a two book deal

ONE OF MY FRIENDS from an old writers’ group, Stephen Brayton, called the other day to let me know he had received a two e-book deal from Echelon Press. Echelon, if you don’t know, is one of the leading up and coming book and e-book publishers in the United States. In the short time it has been in existence it has developed a great reputation as a discoverer and developer of new talent. Echelon publishes some of my good author friends, Luisa Buehler, Michael Black, Mary Welk, Mrlis Day, and Carl Bookins.

Both of Stephen’s books sound like winners: Beta: Private Investigator Mallory Petersen, a fourth degree black belt with her own taekwondo school in Des Moines, Iowa, splits her time between teaching martial arts and her often inane cases. When she accepts a case to find Cheryl McGee’s kidnapped eight year old daughter, Mallory is pulled into the dark underworld of child pornography.

Night Shadows: Harry Reznik, a cynical hardworking homicide detective with a newly pregnant wife reluctantly partners with federal agent Lori Campisi to solve a string of gruesome murders. Campisi is a stolid, almost emotionless member of a special FBI department dedicated to pursuing cases outside the mainstream. She convinces Harry that the murders are being committed by Shadow Creatures: malevolent beings let loose in our dimension through the powerful magic of an ancient book.

He’ll send me a link to his new website when he gets it up and going. While I’m at it, don’t forget Tim Gilbert and his website where you can download his free thriller.

Now, bring on the Yankees; go Phillies!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Free thriller to download

A GOOD FRIEND of mine, Tim Gilbert, has wrintten a thriller, Damage Control, which you can download free from his site. Shades of a financial scandal when a celebrity money manager adds a new client to his roster of Hollywood stars: A Mexican drug cartel! Check it out at this link, then let Tim know what you think of it.

By the way, I’ve received several queries about when my new ovel, End of the Line will be available. The latest I have heard from Five Star is that the galley proofs will be ready in January, which leads me to speculate that it will be late spring or early summer. Keep a lookout for it and I’ll let you know as soon as I have anything definite.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A brief moment to celebrate the great game of baseball

MY FAMILY IS FROM Philadelphia so naturally I grew up a die-hard Philadelphia Phillies fan. It wasn’t always easy living in Iowa and rooting for a team that for most of my life was a baseball doormat. Last year, of course, was great. I reminded my friends that I was a fan of not just the Philadelphia Phillies, but the World Champion Philadelphia Pillies. I had to add that because it was not often that I got to think of them that way. Now, I may be able to extend that title. Is there a dynasty in the making? Who knows, but it is a fun ride. Bring on the Yankees…or whoever the AL sends! Yo, Adrian, it ain’t over yet!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Brief outline of criminal procedure for the writer

DO YOU REMEMBER the old Perry Mason television programs? Some of the most vivid memories of those shows were the courtroom scenes where Perry would artfully get the real culprit to confess on the witness stand. Pretty exciting courtroom action, but did you know that none of those scenes were at a trial? They were actually at what is known as a preliminary hearing.

Let me give you a short primer or how a criminal case is handled by the courts:

After the arrest and booking, the suspect is given an initial appearance where the judge formally informs the defendant of the charges against him and his rights. The defendant does not plea to the charge at this time. The judge will then set bail or release the defendant on his promise to appear for further court dates.

That is followed later by a preliminary hearing where the prosecutor must present enough evidence so that a judge can determine if there is probable cause to send the defendant to trial. Sometimes the preliminary hearing is replaced by a grand jury where the grand jury determines if there is probable cause for a trial. If the grand jury determines there is enough evidence to try the defendant it will issue an indictment which is a written document formally charging the defendant with a crime. If a preliminary hearing is used in place of the grand jury, the formal charges will be prepared by the prosecutor in a document called an information.

Once the indictment or information is filed, the defendant is brought before the court for an arraignment where he is again informed of the charges and now asked to enter a plea. If the plea is guilty, there is no trial and the court can proceed to sentencing. If the plea is not guilty a trial date is set. If the defendant refuses to enter a plea the court will enter a not guilty plea on his behalf.

With a not guilty plea and no disposition of the case through plea bargaining, the case will proceed to the actual trial where the defendant will have the option of being tried by the court (a judge only) or by a jury.

I hope this clears up some of the procedural questions writers have when writing about criminal court activities. There is obviously more detail, but this should suffice for most writing situations.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Getting facts straight: The Dying Declaration

RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH is a mantra that writers hear all the time but sometimes ignore. I was at a conference the other day when one of the speakers was commenting on the pope’s environmental statement. At a papal Mass, Benedict gave a homily extolling the virtues of the environment. The reporter covering it noted that the pontiff so wanted to underscore his position that he even wore green vestments!

Well, as any Catholic would tell you, the color of the vestments worn at Mass are dictated by the liturgical season (Christmas, Lent, etc.) or the specific feast day, not the particular message the priest wants to give. Green is the most often used color which denotes “Ordinary Time,” in other words, nothing special that day on the Church calendar.

I’m also reminded of the film Kramer v. Kramer where Dustin Hoffman played the role of a father trying to win custody of his son. He was insistent that his son, Billy, not be involved in any of the court hearings. After the judge granted custody to the mother, dad wanted to appeal. The response by his lawyer was something to the effect that if he appeals it will be necessary to call Billy as a witness. Now as anyone who has taken business law knows, there are no witnesses in an appellate court, those courts rule on a written record and oral arguments by lawyers.

And, of course, we have all heard the stories of authors who get razzed by readers because they have a car traveling the wrong way on a one-way street, or is a four-door model when the company only produced a two-door.

So I am not surprised when I see writers missing the point concerning rules of evidence, especially that rule known as the “dying declaration.”

There is much confusion about what this means, so here is a small primer. The rule is actually one of the exceptions of the rule on hearsay. Hearsay, itself, is not well understood but suffice it to say that it is a statement made out of court that is being repeated in court to prove the content of the statement. Let me give you a quick example:

If a Bob says in court, “John called me and told me that Tom was coming over to beat me up,” that would be hearsay if it was offered to prove that Tom wanted to beat Bob up. On the other hand, it would not be hearsay if Bob was using it to explain why he threw the first punch at Tom; because then it would be offered, not to prove Tom’s intent, but to show what motivated Bob to act as he did. Got it? Well, it’s hard and I admit it.

The dying declaration then is a statement by a person dying – now dead – repeated in court to prove that what was being said was truthful, classic hearsay. However, the dying declaration is an exception to the hearsay rule (get out your books, it’s rule 804(b)(2) in the federal rules) but only a limited one. Under the rule it is only applicable to show what the dying person believed to have caused his impending death – nothing more. So it does not relate to property rights or any other matter. It is used primarily prosecutions for homicide or civil actions in which the liability for the death is at issue.

Some states may have slightly different versions of the rule, but if you are writing about it keep in mind what it is and what it is not. It will not dispose of the family farm, trip up a crooked accountant or expose fraud in the boardroom – not in court anyway. And if you have a question or two, there are a few good lawyers around who might answer your questions if you’ll name a character after them, perhaps a distinguished judge.

And, least I forget, Happy Columbus Day!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Newbie Guide to Getting Published

ANYONE THINKING about writing a book would be wise to check out Author J. A. Konrath’s website: In addition to the usual self-serving material authors put on their web pages, Joe has included information and links that will be helpful to any budding or established author.

The highlight of the site is a 700+ page downloadable (free) book: The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing Book. It’s an easy book to peruse while on-line and easier still to print off only those pages needed.

Some of his tips include the six things you should never put in a query letter, the 19 mistakes new writers make, what agents want, and five ways to look like a pro. One example of a no-no is using a fancy font for you query letter. He wrote, “I tried sending a query once using an exotic, calligraphy font, because I thought it made me stand out and appear intelligent. The agent returned it asking, ‘Next time, submit in English.’”

Check out his website. Even if you don’t find his tips helpful, you might want to pick up one of his books. I’ve read several and enjoyed each one.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How will new FTC rules affect book reviews in blogs?

THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION voted 4-0 on Monday to require bloggers to clearly disclose any payments or freebies they receive for reviewing products. Many bloggers routinely review books that are sent to them by publishers. Apparently, under this new rule (81 pages of legal twaddle), these reviewers will need to disclose that they have received a free book in order to comply with the new rule, as if the reader wouldn’t know that if you want your book reviewed you need to provide a copy to the reviewer.

Oddly, if the reviewer returns the book, the new rules don’t apply. The rule seems to be aimed more at bloggers who review such products as computers or toys and who are allowed to keep the product reviewed. Most traditional journalism outlets either pay for the product or return it after it is tested.

There is no formula how the disclosure must be made other than it must be "clear and conspicuous."

What effect this might have on book reviews remains to be seen. I’ve reviewed some books on this site but they have all been purchased from regular retail outlets. However, if anyone would like to give me something I’d be happy to review it and, of course, make the proper disclosure.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Thoughts on the Papal visit of 30 year ago

ONE OF THE HIGHLIGHTS of my life occurred 30 years ago when my wife and I – along with about 350,000 others – attended the Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II at Living History Farms just outside Des Moines.

We were living in Davenport at the time and drove in for the event. After spending the night at my mother’s in Windsor Heights, we walked (and walked) to Living History Farms early the morning of October 4, 1979. I remember it as a cold, damp and drizzling day, but no one at the site seemed to mind. We found a place near a bunch of kids holding a sign saying “We Lutherans Love John Paul Too!” and settled in for a long wait.

Mid-afternoon there was a sudden clearing of the clouds and the sun shown through just as the presidential helicopter carrying the pontiff circled overhead and landed. Out came JPII and the rest, shall we say, is history.

This past weekend the diocese of Des Moines, as part of a celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the trip held a symposium on land use and stewardship at Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines. The weekend kicked-off with an interdenominational prayer service at the site of the pope’s mass at Living History Farms.

My friend, Kathie Obradovich, political columnist for the Des Moines Register, asked in her column this weekend if a return trip by the current pope would result in the same excitement. “Pope Benedict XIV filled Yankee Stadium in New York City last year, but could he attract a crowd six times that size in Des Moines?” she asked.

We’ll probably never have another pope visit Des Moines, so that question will never be able to be truthfully answered. But I have a feeling he would; people today seem to be searching for something more than the here and now. The pope represents that. And so if he does come, I’ll look forward to seeing my 350,000 friends again.

Updated Calendar of Crime from the MWA

Thanks to the Mystery Writers of America comes the updated calendar of mystery conferences:

October 30 – November 1: The Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave: A celebration of “small town” mysteries. Manhattan, Kansas. Guest of honor is Earlene Fowler and J. M. “Mike” Hayes is the toastmaster. For more information the website is here.

November 7: Bodies and Buckeyes, Embassy Suites, Columbus, Ohio. Lee Lofland is the keynoter. Sponsored by the Ohio chapter of Sisters in Crime. For more information the website is here.

November 13-15: New England Crime Bake: 8th Annual Mystery Conference for Writers and Readers. Hilton Boston/Dedham, Dedham, Massachusetts. Guest of honor is Sue Grafton. Sponsored by New England Sisters in Crime and the New England Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. For more information the website is here.

February 26-28, 2010: Sleuthfest, Hilton Deerfield Beach, Boca Raton, Florida. Guests of honor: David Morrell and Steven Cannell. Sponsored by the Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. For more information the website is here.