Independent Writing from an Independent Mind

Open discussion about writing and reading

Tag Archives: literary

Why it is good for authors to meet up…

I have been involved with an authors’ meet up for some time now.  It is a very off and on thing and as all groups go it has some falling outs with the members, mainly over structure of the group and what we are to do.  Personally, it is very hard for writers to put much structure into any such group unless they are all of the same genre, mindset and caliber.  Our group, the Bangkok Writers Guild, is a very informal group made up of mainly expatriates.  Some of us are very satisfied where we are in our status whereas others want to hit it big – have a blockbuster to make their name, so to speak.  Personally, I don’t feel the need to do this because the books that I have written are unique in their own right.  You won’t find many books debunking the Vatican Islam Conspiracy, nor will you find many books on bawdy Southern humor either.

That being said, if you plan to join such a group as ours I think you will find a great camaraderie with your fellow authors.  There is much to be learned from them and there is much to teach them as well.  For instance, unless you are in a major city full of authors and author wannabes, like New York City, per se, then your group will most likely be a rag tag group like ours.  But this is great!  We have writers in our group who are non-published, self-published, vanity published and traditionally published.  The whole gamut is run in our own membership.  So if one of us wants help with marketing, typesetting, illustrations, cover design, getting an agent, editing, finding a POD publisher, getting blurbs and book reviews – you name it – it is all right here in our group.  For an author there is no better master mind group than a group of other authors.  I have personally found a wealth of experience in our own people.

If you are not in a group already and you are serious about learning the business of being an author, whether you plan to self publish or land a contract with a publishing house, I recommend finding a group to build a nest in.  Participate in the discussions.  Learn what you can and impart your own knowledge as well.  And if there isn’t a group around you then try to put your best foot forward and start one yourself.  Use the leverage of others’ knowledge and experience to make you better at the business of writing.  Open your mind to it and you will see there’s lots of help out there for you.

I would love to hear from other writers’ experiences in writers’ groups. Do you have any experiences you would like to share?

Why I as an Author do Book Reviews

As many authors and readers already well know I have been a book reviewer for BookPleasures.com for a few years now and I also write reviews for many international publications.  Though my reviews have had thousands of readers around the world I still have had one or two people, including fellow authors, refer to my book reviewing as a “hobby” of mine.  But in fact I don’t and have never before considered my reviewing books as a pastime.  The reviews I produce are as much for my growth as a writer and author as they are to help the potential reader made an informed decision about a book.

Why do I say that?

Simply put I use the review process as my own exercise for improvement in the craft of authoring books.  And I recommend to any author who could commit the time and effort to get into reviewing as well.  Here’s a list of the four main reasons I am so into reviewing other authors’ books:

1) I grow technically as a writer – When I review another author’s work I am constantly learning from their style, the structure of their product as well as their editing and content.  I compare this to works that I have produced in the past and also see which ideas that might work on projects that I will undertake or are currently working on.

2) I grow as an author in the broader sense – There is so much to learn about the themes presented and how authors get their message across.  This is very important because you not only have to find a voice when you write but you must also have something to say in the first place, otherwise you are you are simply rehash and not interesting.  Then what’s the point of writing at all?  This is all about learning how other authors find their own message and deliver it in a way that is unique to their style and personality.

3)  I grow intellectually and personally – I learn the lessons of the books I am reviewing and internalize these lessons.  I look for the parallels in my life and seek the wisdom in the writing.  I want to know exactly the point, the raison d’être, the author had in writing the book and how the book can make its own change in the world.  I always try to pinpoint the connections I have found with my own life or the lessons I have learned and make these examples available to the book’s potential reader as well.  And these lessons aren’t only found in non-fiction books either.  Even fictional books that many would consider that are just for entertainment purposes have these lessons.

4) I promote the art of writing – There are so many books published out there annually, I have heard between 200,000 to 250,000 new titles every year, that it is incredibly difficult for the worthy books to be sorted and found in this huge pile.  This means that it is very hard for authors, especially new authors, to find their audience and be heard.  I consider it my duty as a reviewer to try to help the curious reader to know what they should expect from the books that I review and I try to make sure that deserving authors will find more of a readership through my efforts.

Though books are readily available in today’s world, many readers everywhere take that availability for granted.  But to someone who has written a book, we “know it don’t come easy,” to paraphrase Ringo Starr.  Authors spend a good part of their lives in researching their books, making business plans, outlining the scripts, doing the actual writing, editing, publishing, etc., and quite honestly much of the time it is a thankless job.  A well written, solid review is my way of saying thank you to all the other authors out there who have written the books that have made me what I am today.  This is why I would like other authors to consider writing reviews every now and then.

Where can authors post their reviews?  Of course, many places, but just a few:  Their local newspaper, a literary magazine, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Gather.com, their own blog, an online book club (Shelfari, GoodReads, WeRead, LibraryThing, etc.) or on some other form of social media such as Facebook, Gather.com, etc.

Honestly, if you are a writer doing a few reviews here and there is an excellent way to pay it forward.  Get the conversation started… Remember, what goes around comes around!

Not all my Readers are Crazies!

thou-shalt-not-bear-false-witness1I was pleased today to see a well thought out reader’s review on my book Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness. Up until this point I get lots of e-mails about my book but have had not so many reviews. That isn’t so curious for me due to the fact that it is easier for someone to go to the Gary Dale Cearley website and send me a message through the contact form than it is to put your thoughts on the book at one of the book sites like Amazon, Shelfari, GoodReads or AuthorsDen.

Anyway, I quite often get “hate mail” from “Christians” who support Jack Chick, Alberto Rivera and their Vatican Islam conspiracy. This amazes me to be quite honest…

I would never have suspected that people who are presented with the truth about a subject would shunt the truth rather than reading it for themselves and trying to understand where it is coming from. Take for instance this guy Thomas Richards, the one who branded me a “Jesuit coadjutor” and a “Vatican shill”. Now for his own part, Mr. Richards is apparently a follower of that nut job Tony Alamo. This Richards guy keeps trying to pretend that he has read the book but at the same time he knows nothing of it at all, other than I had an interview with a professor at the University of Bethlehem, a man who is a Muslim but works at a Catholic University.

Nonetheless, I hear from these guys every now and then who are telling me that I am going to Hell and that my soul cannot be saved at this point. Oddly enough they are coming from everywhere. I have had folks write in from the United States (several regions), the United Kingdom, India, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Belgium, Germany, etc., none of who seemed to have even cracked the book’s cover.

Many of my friends told me that I would have all this ire from the Islamic community but I sensed early on this would not be the case. Muslims would have no problem with what I wrote in the book. It is aimed like a dagger at Jack Chick’s sadistic world of hateful biblical tracts.

I have news for all of my hate mailers…

The controversy isn’t inside the covers of my book. The true controversy is what my book refutes. If you’d read it you would know that.

Now I have a request for them…

Don’t send me an e-mail or contact me in any other way to tell me that God is displeased with me and that I am going to Hell until AFTER you have read Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness! You only make yourself look a fool, like Richard Thomas did.

Insanity and Fratricide: The String to be Snapped

I recently read about a tragic case of fratricide in Ohio in which the murderer, Larry Evans, Jr., killed his older brother, Brian Evans, a local policeman.  The family, and many in the town, have been in shock over this case.  I recently read and reviewed an excellent book by author Robert Paul Blumenstein, Snapping the String, that centered around a case of a man who’d been trapped in an institution for criminally insane.  I was a bit more than curious to see how Robert would view such a case so I asked him for a short interview.  Here is what he had to say…

rpb-author-photo-48473a-2

Robert Paul Blumenstein, author of Snapping the String


In Snapping the String your main character was confined, albeit unjustly, for years in an institution as criminally insane.  Larry Evans, Jr., the subject of this article, will also go to such an institution but at the end of the article hope is held out for Evans that he will be freed and not spend anything near a life sentence.  As I have come to learn Snapping the String is a loose metaphor for purgatory.  Would Evans’s sentence be comparable to purgatory and why?

You are correct to identify the “purgatory” metaphor in Snapping the String.  As far as Larry Evans, Jr. experiencing a similar type of purgatory, yes, he will experience that same effect.  Let me give you four examples of similar scenarios that have already passed through the Larry Evans, Jr. sentencing phase and you might see why I feel this way.  However, not all these cases received a “guilty by reason of insanity” verdict and didn’t even necessarily pursue that defense.

First, consider John W. Hinckley, Jr. with his botched attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan.  In the public’s mind, there was very little doubt that Hinckley was mentally ill.  Unlike the Evans trial, no one cursed the defendant or screamed out for justice in the courtroom during Hinckley’s trial.  In fact, the public seemed quite satisfied overall with the outcome.  And recently, even more incredibly, we’ve seen some leniency demonstrated by Hinckley’s mental facility granting weekend visits to Hinckley’s wealthy family.  Imagine that, after shooting a president!

Consider Charles Manson, though he was not deemed insane, hasn’t society decided that he is just that?  Generally, the public breathes a collective sigh of relief every time he’s denied parole.  No one’s complaining about him remaining locked behind bars.

Third, let’s consider Mark David Chapman, John Lennon’s killer.  He certainly played the “troubled” defendant card during his trial.  Yet, when he was sentenced, Yoko Ono asked that he not be sentenced to death.  Here we see sympathy exhibited by the victim’s family.  (Interestingly, it was unlikely that Chapman would have been given the death sentence regardless Yoko’s plea for mercy.)  Chapman is serving a twenty year to life sentence in New York’s Attica Prison.  He’s recently been denied parole after twenty-eight years behind bars.  He told the parole board that he’s sorry and “I’m a changed man.”  Is he trying to tell us that he’s now “well?”

My last example involves a late friend of mine.  He, his wife, and two young daughters were brutally murdered by a crack head.  Ricky Gray (the murderer) claimed he was abused as a child and was “high” at the time of the killings.  Therefore, he couldn’t be held responsible for his actions.  The jury didn’t buy it.  He was sentenced to death for each slaying.  And more than likely this “insane” crack head will die as Virginia has executed more people than any other state in the union with Florida and Texas vying to unseat the Commonwealth from her venerable status.

All these cases have involved people who committed heinous criminal acts.  Hardly anyone would dispute the fact that each one of these criminals exhibited to the world that they were “crazy.”  That’s just public opinion, though.  What about the institution of mental health?  Do they do any better of a job determining that these killers are insane than public opinion?

Larry Evans, Jr. will experience a “pugatorious” wait while incarcerated in the secured forensic unit of Ohio’s mental hospital.  I have a feeling the public will make it a long stay.

This murder case is similar to the one in your book in that the victims were family and the judicial system sent the accused to a mental institution.  But that is where the similarities end.  In the Evans case there were witnesses and the defendant was obviously and admittedly guilty.  Evans’s defense attorneys were not public defenders, but were privately hired.  Do you feel that had your protagonist had this kind of representation that he would have fought and won his battle earlier or conversely if Evans would have had a public defender he would be standing trial rather than getting an insanity ruling?

Before I answer that, I want to say that there is a fundamental difference between the incarceration of Peyton Stephen Costello and Larry Evans, Jr.  Larry Evans may have in fact manipulated the system to escape facing the harshest sentence for his crimes whereas Peyton was manipulated by the system to receive a harsh sentence for something that he did not do.

Also, remember, Gary Dale, less than one-half of one percent of people charged for the crime of murder have received a “guilty by reason of insanity” verdict.  It’s little used with little success by defense attorneys.  Recently, a preacher’s wife in Texas murdered her five children and used that defense successfully.  I think she was a product of the media to show how she had been driven insane by her domestic circumstances.  The public bought it.  But what about the Smith woman in South Carolina who drowned her two children in an abandoned rock quarry and later copped the insanity plea?  The public didn’t buy it.  Ironically, a reporter uncovered the fact that the white woman had a black lover and wanted to get out of her then current domestic situation in order to be with her lover.  No, the public really didn’t buy that one!

And so, Peyton faced a similar situation.  He was a hippie, living in the year 1968, experimenting with LSD in a very conservative Richmond, Virginia.  My point in Snapping the String was that the public wouldn’t have bought Peyton spitting on the sidewalk.

Also, we see Catherine, Peyton’s sister, has already been convinced by the police that Peyton was guilty, and the mental institution convinced her that he was insane.  His situation was hopeless.  I was a hippie in 1968 living in Greenville, South Carolina.  I was considered insane just for getting up in the morning and pulling on a pair of bell bottom pants.  Can you imagine how the world would have viewed Peyton?  Sure, if Peyton would have renounced his peace symbol, cut his hair, and showed up in court with a team of competent lawyers, he might have been found innocent.  It really becomes the reason to leave him there in the institution.

union-grove-fiddlers-convention-1972-2

Robert Paul Blumenstein many years ago at the Union Grove Fiddlers Convention

I know nothing about the competency of public defenders.  The example in Snapping the String is just a dramatic device.  A lot of them stay in the public defender’s office well after they are able to move into private practice.  The folks I’ve known are very dedicated to serving a disadvantaged population.

Can there be atonement for someone who is criminally insane?  Why or why not?  Is keeping these people away from the public enough?

That’s a tough question.  Punishment, in the American justice system, has never really been based on atonement, though recent attempts in the law at “restitution” try to establish this principle.  Punishment in America is based on vengeance.  I believe Chief Messer’s comment drives this point home.  Somehow, in his mind, Evans’ incarceration in the mental institution will be a holiday.  Perhaps Chief Messer ought to read Snapping the String.

I guess, Gary Dale, you’re really asking me if a person can be healed of being a criminal?  Under current methods of treatment, I’d say that is unlikely.  Keeping someone doped up and pacified is hardly atonement, much less healing.  Then, the inmate’s release is just as problematic.  How can you track that person to make sure he keeps it clean?  Perhaps one of my favorite films is A Clockwork Orange. It drives home the frustration of society’s attempt to rehabilitate the criminal.  I think Chief Messer should see this film after he finishes reading Snapping the String.

I think it is absurd to pass a law striking down the “guilty by reason of insanity” plea.  And as far as Messer saying that the victims and the victims’ families were dealt a double-whammy by this verdict solely based on this type of plea is also absurd.  Messer represents the “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” mentality.  This man would only be happy to see Evans squirming at the end of rope.

So, what’s the answer?  There really may not be one.  It’s unlikely that we’ll ever be able to see real reform in the criminal justice system.  This notion of treating a criminal as a “sick person” seems to be heading in the right direction, yet now, nothing is being held out that indicates that we will abate the problem of criminal rehabilitation during our lifetimes.  Even pedophiles that have been “chemically castrated” have been known to commit more sex offenses against children.

But for now, I favor keeping these people locked up, and in some cases, for good to protect us from them committing such injurious acts against society ever again.  So, Messer has that part of the principle right, it’s the “forget about them” part that doesn’t work.  What about the wrongfully accused?  What about Peyton Stephen Costello in Snapping the String? What if it had worked out that society did forget about him?  Peyton was innocent.  Here in Virginia Ronald Coleman was executed for rape and murder and exonerated posthumously.  An innocent man died at the hands of the state.  What about Ronald Coleman and his family?  Aren’t they victims, too?

It is interesting that the one of the advocates to stay the execution of John Wayne Gacy for the murder of 33 young boys and men was an agent for the FBI.  His reason?  By killing John Wayne Gacy, we lost our opportunity to study the psyche of a serial killer.

Vatican Islam Conspiracy in the Wikibin?

I was just referred to a page on Wikibin where the Vatican Islam Conspiracy had been removed for whatever reason from Wikipedia.  One of my friends Googled my name to see what came up and saw this.

I often Google my own name to see what’s out there on the web about me that I might not have put myself but more often than not a friend or acquaintance let me know what they see.  This one link in particular makes me wonder, and it is not out of a feeling of self importance but rather a feeling of alarm that I get when I run across these idiots who promote this fake testimony.  Why would Wikipedia nix something like this which in a way de facto lends the Vatican Islam Conspiracy creedence by taking away information that proves its falsehood?

More and more we see people promoting this many new places on the internet, including on YouTube where a plethora of videos of religious and non-religious conspiracy theorists re-spin this tale over and over.

Anyway, I imagine as this story grows it will be back.  In the mean time, I made my own Squidoo lens on this back in 2006 so the information will still be there.