Sometimes you just have to take a break.

 

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Ah, summer. Beaches, vacations, rest, and relaxation. Right?

Right.

I had been looking forward to this summer to finish a massive edit/re-write for my novel based upon feedback I received from agents. However, as it often does, life stepped in. For over a year, I’ve been dealing with random and violent vomiting. (PSA: If you are vomiting a lot of bile after your gallbaldder is removed, do not suffer. Ask your doctor for sucralfate. It’s super safe and lines your stomach from the bile, and it has absolutely changed my life.) For over a year, I’ve had a lot of time to practice not being in control of everything. Ha! Everything but the essentials was put on the backburner, including those edits.

I’ll get back on those edits soon, now that my stomach is behaving itself, but I wanted to remind you in case you need to hear it–allow yourself to take a break. Sometimes your brain will berate you for doing it, but don’t wait until your body forces you to.

 

Unsolved Crimes: Richard Griener

Richard Griener Pekin Illinois

Dressed warmly for the winter weather in a gold-colored jacket, green rubber insulated boots, and a brown ski mask, 13 year old Richard William Griener left home for an afternoon of sledding on January 17, 1972. The boy headed toward a local park just four blocks from his house in Pekin, Illinois. He made it, for he joined some friends; however, the last time they saw him was around 5:30pm. Richard Griener was never seen again–alive or dead.

The entire area was searched multiple times, but zero evidence was found of Griener, not even the blue sled that he’d been carrying that day. At this point, experts believe he is dead, but the case is still considered active as they’re always looking for leads.

There was one lead–and only one lead–that was a plausible one. William “Freight Train” Guatney confessed to multiple murders of children during this time, including one that was kidnapped just 200 yards from where Griener was last seen. In the late 70s, fourteen children were found dead near various railroad switches and near towns with an ongoing or just-ended fair. Griener was never found, but he did have to cross a railroad switch to get back and forth from the sledding hill. Guatney, whose nickname came from his ability to mimic a train whistle, traveled by trains around the Midwest to make money helping out at state and county fairs. After his confession, he was found incompetent to stand trial and was committed to a mental institution, where he died.

Guatney may have been a lead, and Griener’s age was within Guatney’s preference, but there was one huge difference: the missing and murdered children attributed to Guatney all disappeared in the summer. Griener went missing in the winter.

If you have any information on this case, please contact the Pekin Police Department at 309-478-5300.

 

 

 

Unsolved Crime: Dalton Mesarchik

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Sixteen years ago, Dalton Mesarchik waited on his front porch in Streator, Illinois, for a church van to pick him up for Bible school. The church van never arrived, and seven year old Dalton never came home.

The next day, Dalton’s body was found floating in the Vermilion River, less than three miles from his home.

When Dalton’s sister left that evening, Dalton was still waiting on the porch. When she returned, she asked, “Where’s Dalton?” Their mother contacted church officials, only to discover that the van had not made its usual rounds that night–their normal driver was gone due to an illness in the family. Dalton had not been picked up for Bible school.

K-9 units indicated that someone picked up Dalton that night. But who?

Early the next morning, people went out searching neighborhood after neighborhood. There were no sightings until a fisherman found Dalton’s body in the Vermilion River. He notified police immediately, and upon investigation, they determined it was a homicide. Shortly after the body’s discovery, the murder weapon was found: a Benchtop Pro three-pound hammer.

Dalton’s immediate family members were cleared, as was the fisherman who discovered the body. Church members were cleared, even the 30-some registered sex offenders in the town were cleared.

Local police, state police, and the county sheriff’s office were stymied. The state police even set up a headquarters at Streator’s National Guard Armory. Who would want to kill a seven year old boy–and why?

For a few years, Dalton’s mother said that police were getting closer to making an arrest and that they knew who the killer was. However, no arrests have ever been made nor any pronouncements of who the killer was.

Unsolved Crime: Robert Bee

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When kids run away from home, they often return shortly after: they realize that it’s not as fun on their own. However, when a child has a great deal of freedom, few rules, and a questionable home life, returning may not be a huge deal.
Such was the case with 13 year old Robert Bee.
One warm November day in 2016, Bee ran away from home–allegedly to avoid a truancy officer. Running away was not unusual for him (nor was avoiding the truancy officer), but this time, Bee did not return home.
In fact, he didn’t return home a week later or a month later. Instead, his remains were found eight months later, already decomposed after a long winter, already disturbed by animals in the rural area his bones were found.
So what happened to Robert Bee? We still don’t know.
Bee, from the small town of Pekin in central Illinois, had some behavioral issues. His mom readily admitted that she may have been too lax with him, allowing him too much freedom for his age. Others in the community said that while he was high energy, he was a kind-hearted boy.
When he went missing, multiple stories cropped up. Did he spend the night at a friend’s house? If so, why didn’t he take his bike? Why didn’t he take his cell phone? Both were left at home, and it didn’t appear he took any clothing to run away for an extended amount of time, either.
Of course, the first place the police must look is within the home, and that’s where the case became muddied. Lisa Bee, Robert’s mother, was not exactly mother of the year. Her social media alone made that clear. She was also involved with a man who was violent–and against whom she took out an order of protection a month before Bee’s disappearance. Then, not even a month after her son went missing, she moved out of her home and to a town about an hour south.
While Bee’s extended family was prominent in the search for the boy, his mother was noticeably absent. Multiple state agencies searched for him as well as a missing-persons search group, but no one had any luck.
About eight months after Bee went missing, his remains were found two miles from his home. By remains, I mean just that. The elements had helped decomposition along as well as animals roaming the wooded area where he was found.
The remains elicited no further leads on the case, aside from this: the property on which his remains were found belonged to a woman who lives nearby. She is related to someone “who is involved in the investigation,” according to Pekin police detective Seth Ranney.
Over two years later, the case remains unsolved and no one has been charged with any crime.

Editing…send cake!

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As I mentioned in my last blog post, redefining my goals was a must as of late. I should have been hard at work on novel number two right now, while my second round of queries floated in the ether. But, due to some excellent revision suggestions, I’ll be focusing my time on edits for The Devil Inside Me.

If you’re in the same boat, I’ve rounded up a few articles, old and new, that provide advice on numerous levels of editing, including finding and using a developmental editor–something I’m currently deciding on. I hope that these provide you some help and direction as they have me. Let me know how your writing process is going!


A couple of primers on editing on your own from NowNovel and Autocrit are a nice supplement to EpicFantasyWriter’s awesome article on doing a developmental edit yourself!

Tips on finding a developmental editor from Jane Friedman and The Blurb.

And finally, a good reminder for us all from The Editors Blog–it takes time!

Goals: Revised and Resubmitted

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Ah, what a couple of months will do to that pristine list of goals I created for 2019. I even blogged about the pride I had in myself for meeting my 2018 goals. I was so sure that 2019 would be the same.

In late 2018, I submitted my manuscript for The Devil Inside Me to a little under 20 agents and small press publishers–and received full requests from five of them. Five! Excited does not even begin to describe my feelings. I had done my research. I followed tips from top people in the industry. My hard work was paying off. My plan for 2019 was to get an agent or publish with a small press, and I could see it coming to fruition. While I waited to hear, I continued writing short stories, started The Devil Before Me, and began work on a short story chapbook.

Then, slowly, one rejection arrived, then another, and still another.

I was buoyed by the next two rejections–which were R&Rs (revise and resubmit). They both had the same suggestions for edits, and I learned through my participation in a bootcamp class that if more than one agent is telling you the same thing, they’re probably right. And they are.

Where does that leave my list of goals? That, too, needed a revise and resubmit–to myself. I wanted to start right away with the edits. I took care of the easy ones, but the rest will require some undivided time and attention from me. Right now, that is a virtual impossibility. I will be switching from teaching full-time English to full-time Spanish for the next school year, and with that comes brand-new lesson planning. I am also on our bargaining team for our school contract. Our next meeting is from 3:30pm to 8:30pm, if that gives you an indication of time commitment.

So what to do? The logical part of my brain says wait until summer. The perfectionist in me screams, “You must start now!”

My answer arrived when I was fishing for something on C. S. Lakin’s website, Live Write Thrive. I found this blog of hers: “A Time to Write and a Time to Not Write.”

In it, she explains that writers will go through seasons, a time of writing and a time of not writing–and that it is perfectly fine and even normal to do so. I felt as if she were speaking directly to me when she said that “writers, like all creatives, can be obsessive.” I was feeling that I was failing at my writing if I dared shelve edits until summer break. However, with all the extra responsibilities currently on my plate, I’m often mentally exhausted when I get home at the end of the day, and my creativity is sapped. Lakin went on to say that occasionally her “brain feels as if it is going to explode or implode from all the heavy thinking.”

Yes, yes, yes.

I was able to make a compromise with myself after reading her article. The heavy edits I’m saving until summer break, but I’ll continue my other weekly writing commitments, like blog work and short story work. An additional benefit to this is the fresh eyes I’ll bring to my manuscript.

We can’t be afraid to re-align our plans. Pressing pause does not equal stopping, and it certainly doesn’t equal failing. Revise and resubmit those goals–for yourself!

“Anomalies” Hits the Press

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Read my latest short story, “Anomalies,” in the inaugural issue of Black Works, an online journal by Underwood Press. “Anomalies” is the most recent installment of my series re-imagining H. H. Holmes’ childhood. If you like it, check out the others!

“Downright Devilish”

“Diabolical”

“Fiendish”

True Crime: Aileen Wuornos

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Fifth in a series on serial killers!

I have to admit, watching Charlize Theron play Aileen Wuornos in the movie Monster made me feel a strange sympathy for the serial killer. I felt something similar after reading about Henry Lee Lucas too. Maybe it’s a teacher’s job hazard to always see the hurt, traumatized child in the adult, for, as Dr. Phil would say, I don’t ask why Wuornos and Lucas killed, I ask why wouldn’t they, given their formative years? Wuornos was convicted of killing seven men between 1988 and 1989 at point-blank range. She claimed self-defense: the men she killed either attempted to rape her or did rape her while she was working as a prostitute.

A few snippets from Wuornos’ early life:

  • Her mom was 14 when she married her dad, who was 16. They had a boy a year later, and then Aileen, a year after that.
  • Her mom, aged 16, filed for divorce when Aileen was barely 2 months old.
  • She never met her father, as he was jailed when she was born and committed suicide in prison.
  • Her father was diagnosed with schizophrenia and charged with sex crimes against children.
  • Her mother abandoned Aileen and her brother when Aileen was just 4. Their maternal grandparents took them in.
  • Her grandfather was an alcoholic who beat and sexually abused Aileen. He made her take her clothes off before a beating.
  • She engaged in sexual behavior with her brother.
  • By age 11, she was performing sexual acts at school in exchange for food, drugs, and cigarettes. Age 11. Age 11!
  • At 14, she became pregnant and gave the child up for adoption. The father? One of her grandfather’s friends.
  • Shortly after the birth of the child, her grandmother died and Aileen dropped out of school.
  • At 15, her grandfather kicked her out of the house. She began prostituting and living in the woods.

Mix together and bake for 20 years. What would we expect from her?

Wuornos appealed her conviction, but stopped all attempts in 2001, saying, “I killed those men…robbed them as cold as ice. And I’d do it again, too.”

Well, then. At least she’s honest. She continued:

“I have hate crawling through my system…I am so sick of hearing this ‘she’s crazy’ stuff. I’ve been evaluated so many times. I’m competent, sane, and…one who seriously hates human life.”

Can you blame her, considering what her first fifteen years of life were like?

She was found sane, but over the course of the next year, became increasingly erratic in her behavior. She was executed in 2002. Her last words were “I would just like to say I’m sailing with the rock, and I’ll be back, like Independence Day, with Jesus. June 6, like the movie. Big mothership and all, I’ll be back. I’ll be back.”

I’m no psychiatrist, but that would make me question her sanity.

Why is it that some people can be exposed to horrific early-life trauma and come out on the other side, but others, like Wuornos and Lucas, can not? Let me know your thoughts after you read up on Ed Gein, Henry Lee Lucas, Belle Gunness, and Robert Hansen.

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True Crime: Robert Hansen

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Fourth in a series on serial killers! Did you miss number one on Ed Gein? How about number two on Henry Lee Lucas? Belle Gunness was number three.

In 1924, Richard Connell wrote “The Most Dangerous Game,” a short story that has spawned numerous movie versions about human beings hunting other human beings. I don’t know if Robert Hansen read or saw a version of Connell’s creepy concept, but it sure would appear he was inspired by it. So inspired he packed his bags, moved to Alaska, and, in the 1970s and 80s, began hunting quarried women in a remote part of the Alaskan landscape accessible only by boat or plane.

Robert Hansen is the perfectly stereotypical serial killer. You’d never suspect him, for he was the shy, introverted type. He was a baker by trade, passed down to him from his Danish father. Married with two children, Hansen lived a quiet life. So when a woman went to police indicating Hansen had attempted to kidnap her, no one could believe it.

And no one did.

Hansen was questioned by police and admitted to meeting the woman, but he said she was trying to extort him. He also had an alibi courtesy of a good friend. And Hansen went free.

However, police began finding bodies strewn about the Alaskan wilderness. They turned to the FBI for help with profiling the killer, even though profiling was in its infancy. The criminologists suggested a white male who was an experienced hunter, had low self-esteem, and a history of rejection. Oh, and probably a stutter.

Robert Hansen ticked off all the marks–plus, he had a plane that could get him to the remote areas of the deadly Alaskan wilderness.

People still could not believe it was Hansen, and if it weren’t for a map hidden in his bedroom–a map where “x” quite literally marked the spots–who knows if they’d have found him guilty of the crimes so incredible that they seem ripped from the pages of, say, a short story.

Hansen would kidnap a woman, fly her to the wilderness, then release her. That was when his “game” began. He’d track and hunt the woman down, often violating her before killing her.

His map correlated with the bodies police found and gave them direction for finding even more bodies.

Over the course of ten years, Hansen “hunted” at least 17 women. Some estimates are upwards of 30. So why did he do it?

Growing up, it seems Hansen had a normal home life, though his father was somewhat domineering. Schoolchildren, on the other hand, can be cruel. Hansen was a small, slight, shy boy who stuttered. Raging acne appeared with puberty, and you can just imagine. Think Stephen King’s Carrie without the telekinesis. Boys taunted him, girls shunned him, and he began plotting his revenge early on. Was his overbearing father the extra ingredient that pushed Hansen over the edge? Or was it simply the overload of bullying for too many years? We’ll likely never know, as Hansen died in 2014 without any explanation of why he created his own most dangerous game.

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True Crime: Belle Gunness

belle gunness

Third in a series on serial killers! Did you miss number one on Ed Gein? How about number two on Henry Lee Lucas?

It used to surprise me that serial killers existed in the 1800s. H. H. Holmes, for example, shocked me with his continual insurance fraud. Apparently, it was all the rage. One of his contemporaries in Chicago, Belle Gunness, also discovered the lucrative business of insurance fraud, and used it repeatedly–on her husbands and even her own children. Read on, and you, too, will start thinking that Holmes and Gunness would have made a perfect pair.

In the 1800s, Norwegian immigrant Belle found her way to the Windy City. In 1893 (the year of the World’s Fair in Chicago), she and her husband, Mads Sorenson, opened a candy store. It would seem as though Belle and Mads had a run of bad luck, with a business and their home burning down and two children dying. It was luck, alright, devised by Belle to cash in on insurance policies. Yes, conventional wisdom says she administered strychnine to her own children.

Later on, Mads died. Surely the fact that he died on the day two insurance policies overlapped was mere coincidence. Surely.

Now a woman of some means, Belle took her remaining children to the small town of LaPorte, Indiana. There, she bought a 42 acre farm. Part of it burned down. I don’t need to tell you it was insured…

By 1902, she found a new beau, Peter Gunness. Gunness, who had two children already, sent one to live with relatives after the other mysteriously died in Belle’s care. It wasn’t long before Peter, too, was dead. There was some concern that Peter showed signs of strychnine poisoning, but the doctor ruled it heart failure.

Belle’s life was like that of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: her greed overtook her ambition. Rather than being content with the cash she already had, she continued on her murder-for-money spree. Now, however, she unknowingly borrowed from H. H. Holmes’ playbook: set up potential lovers. Belle’s version was to get men to “buy” shares of her farm. Once she had the money, the men disappeared. Rumor has it she burned them, buried them, and fed them to her pigs. Handy, those hog farms.

Belle’s fast-track train came to an end in 1908. A relative of one of her “investors” was suspicious and told Belle he was going to come check things out. Soon, the entire farm burned down. In it, Belle’s remaining three children perished, as did Belle.

Or so it seemed.

The missing man’s relative insisted they do a complete search. Eleven bodies were discovered on the farm property. The adult female body discovered in the fire? It likely wasn’t Belle.

Her farmhand, Ray Lamphere, was a prime suspect for arson and murder–that is, until he confessed that she faked her death. The woman’s body in the fire did not match up to Belle’s size.

Twenty years later, in 1931, a woman named Esther Carlson in California was tried for poisoning a man. In her possessions were photographs of children–children who looked very similar to Belle’s.

We know very little about Belle’s childhood. She grew up in a very poor town in Norway, but as to what trauma may have caused her willingness to kill, we’re left to our own devices to make suppositions. Or, perhaps worse, there was no trauma. Perhaps she, like Holmes, was likely born that way.