Friday, October 27, 2006

Grisham's new book focuses on conviction of innocent man

I just finished John Grisham’s The Innocent Man. I have a stack of books people have sent me, but I bought this one in hardcover.

As I read, the book made me think of a young man here in Florida. He was convicted of felony murder years ago. Although he played no direct role in the crime, he received a life sentence. I blogged about the case for over a year on a site that is no longer public.

Grisham tells the story of a man from Oklahoma, Ron Williamson. Williamson was a promising baseball player whose dream died because of drink, drugs and lack of discipline. He suffered from mental illness, and was railroaded by a prosecutor who had no real evidence but managed to create a case anyway.

The book gets a bit tedious in places, but overall it’s a good read. Grisham’s narrative reflects some of the same conclusions I came to as I blogged about the Florida case.

Our criminal justice system needs a complete overhaul. Those with money have a good chance of escaping punishment.

Those who don’t have money end up with public defenders and harsh sentences.

In my opinion, there’s a lot of law but very little justice.

Friday, October 20, 2006


I was speaking at a writing/publishing seminar arranged by my publisher at Borders Books. The place was packed, and everyone there had an interest in some type of writing, with the majority of those present interested in fiction. My topic was “Research and Fact-Checking.”

Someone asked how we go about writing a book. Besides my publisher Frank Gromling, founder of Ocean Publishing, poet Michelle Leavitt (Powow River Anthology) and novelist Victor DiGenti (Windrusher series) were part of the speaking team that day. So each of us offered our own perspectives.

I shared the story of an interview with Nicholas Sparks. Years ago, I did an article about him for a now defunct Internet site. But I remember what he told me. He said when he starts a new book, he sketches it on a single page. He goes from there.

I have come to realize that I’m a spurt writer. Often I hop from document to document. I may have a poem open and an article for a magazine in addition to the file for my new nonfiction book.

I do prepare an outline for a book, but it’s a loose one and basically covers the points or topics I’ll write about. When the rough draft is ready, I print it and edit the hard copy. There’s an amazing reaction to seeing a 50,000 word document printed. For one thing, it just looks so big compared to a manuscript of 50-60 poems.

Ironically, poems are the hardest to write. They take longer. They have to cook longer, in my opinion.

Articles and essays are the most immediately rewarding. For one thing you get to see them in print quicker. I usually take an essay through five or six drafts.

I tend to think and compose within the writing process. I start out with one perspective and it may change, it will definitely deepen, and it will morph into something else entirely as the writing process progresses.

Victor DiGenti gave a great tip to fiction writers. He does a resume of each of his characters.

Many of the questions asked that day rested on self-publishing. I’ll write about that next time.

Each writer develops his or her own process. It's like voice: every writer has a different one.

What’s up: I’ll be reading with Dorothy K. Fletcher and Rize Cole at the Library of Congress for Poetry at Noon on December 5. A new essay will be out soon in Christian Science Monitor, and a story about a young writer who won a national award is forthcoming in the Florida Times Union. A sonnet is part of the new Letters to the World anthology (Red Hen) from the WOMPO poetry group online. The group was started by Annie Finch in 1997. And I’ll have an essay in the hardcover book Faces of Freedom edited by Rebecca Pepin.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Another Goodman novel coming soon

A couple days ago, I was talking to a friend about novels. I mentioned how much I enjoyed reading Carol Goodman’s books. So when news of her new novel The Sonnet Lover came, I pre-ordered the book.

Goodman usually works mythology and poetry into her books. I’ve read each of her novels, and her voice and style have steadily grown stronger and more distinctive.

There’s an interesting interview at Beatrice. I'd like to interview her--I think she'd be very interesting.

This author is a born storyteller, but she’s literary without being oppressively literary. The books entertain, and they also make the reader think. She’s very good at weaving several subplots into the main plot. Her last book included fine sonnets by her husband Lee Slonimsky. I’m awaiting her new book to see the tie-in with the title.

Otherwise, autumn is always busy for a freelancer. Exciting speaking events coming up include my reading with two other Florida poets at the Library of Congress. I’ve never been to Washington, so doing poetry there and being able to see the capital will be a treat. I’m hacking my way through my nonfiction book, trying to decide where to go once it’s finished. And as always, tinkering with my poetry manuscript in the last stages of the final edit. Well, the almost final edit. I feel like my poems are never really finished.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Resources for news in a Florida classroom

Every day my high school senior comes home and regales me with stories. It’s one of the highlights of my day, sitting down around 4 p.m. with her. As she packs in the food, I listen, appreciating not only her storytelling skills but her perspectives as well. I also appreciate the blessing of thin people who can eat multiple servings of carbs and never gain a pound.

Today, it came as a complete surprise to me when my daughter told me she isn’t allowed to use the Internet or newspapers either as a resource for her honors history class (American Government). The only acceptable source is television news.

You can imagine my surprise. For one thing, there is no better resource for information about politics and world affairs than the Net, provided you go to reputable sites. For another, television news is often skewed politically one way or the other. For yet another, there isn’t an anchor who bears the charisma of the old guard, all of whom are gone now. The possible exception to this is a fellow named Shepard Smith. He does a show on Fox News. It’s straight news, with no commentary or as best I can tell, no advocacy platform. I don’t watch it very often, because I don’t watch much TV anyway.

I am around a lot of teens and college students, courtesy of my daughters. I have come to one conclusion and I don’t need a survey to back me up.

Young people get their news from the Net mostly. If they’re watching TV, they aren’t watching news. Young people will also read the Entertainment section in the newspaper. Young people in Jax will read the Sports section because this is where the Jags live.

As for omitting newspapers as a news source, that is an intellectual ripoff because print media often provides more in-depth coverage than the Net or TV. What about magazines? What about books? With elections pending, books will multiply like Florida lovebugs in September, and believe me, those little bugs are everywhere right now. When I sit outside with a cup of coffee, I check it to make sure there aren’t a couple of those flighty critters swimming around in it.

It’s a teacher’s call on how to run a class. It’s my call to comment on that and anything else of interest. Freedom to opine is a small perk (all the perks are small) of being a freelance writer in a free country.

Come to think of it, that freedom began with newspapers long ago.

A few of my many favorite links:

The Drudge Report

Time Magazine

Google News

NewsLink (includes links to newspaper, TV, radio)

Christian Science Monitor