Sunday, January 31, 2010

Is Venus Less Violent Than Mars?

Are Women As Violent As Men: Stereotype or Fact?

Recently on the news, it was determined by various organizations that the distribution of emergency relief supplies to earthquake victims in Haiti are being assigned to women since they are by nature, less violent and combative.  It was explained that because women are natural caregivers and nurturers, they are better suited to perform the chore.  After browsing some sites, I cannot argue whether women are less inclined to commit violent crimes or not, but it is apparent the reasons vary and so do the punishments. 

My nagging curiosity lead me to a list of female killers ranging in motives from greed to delusional, as well as psychopathic.  None of them killed as part of a team, but simply for their own reasons.  Not surprising to this author, the historical character of my latest novel (Dandelions In The Garden) made the cut!  Below is a list of notable females who committed unfathomable crimes.  These women were caregivers, mothers, daughters and wives.

Attentive pediatric nurse, suffering from bizarre Munchausen by Proxy syndrome, maims and murders many babies before the hospital understands the problem.
This adoring mother and pious Christian grandmother had a secret habit -- she poisoned her husbands, boyfriends, elderly people in her care and even her mother. The amazing thing is how long this Black Widow serial poisoner got away with it.
Depraved woman traps mentally handicapped man so she can use him as slave and kill him for insurance.
This legendary countess is remembered for murdering women for fun and bathing in their blood to make herself more beautiful. Was there any truth to this heinous legend or was this a story concocted by her powerful political enemies?
Steven Beard, a retired television executive, was startled awake to find his innards lying where his belly should have been.  Conscious but bewildered, he reached for a phone on his nightstand and dialed 911 for Austin, Texas.  Who would have guessed that his wife Celeste had manipulated her lesbian lover into being the "hit man"?
The story of a desperately lonely overweight woman who lets herself fall into partnership with a man who murders women for money. The so-called Lonely Hearts Murders, entwined in voodoo magic and kinky sex, becomes one of the most sensational cases of the 1940s.
This classic has to be one of the most enduring murder mysteries America has ever produced.  The bloodiness of the acts is startling. Along with the gruesome nature of the crimes is the unexpected character of the accused, not a hatchet-wielding maniac, but a church-going, Sunday-school-teaching, respectable, spinster-daughter, charged with parricide, the murder of parents, a crime worthy of Classical Greek tragedy. Many people believed she killed her father and stepmother, but recent forensic research suggests that she didn't.
Murdered between 15-21 of her close relatives by arsenic poisoning. Why? For money, personal dislike or they got in her way over something she wanted.
New York classic story of a black widow and a psychopathic ladies man who create havoc in their community with pedophilia, arsenic poisoning and bad parenting.
Tragic crib deaths appear to be the reason that Kathleen Folbigg's babies died, but then her husband finds her terrifying diaries.
She connived her way into becoming a New Orleans cop, now she sits on death row for executing three people, including another cop.
A pair of elderly women seemingly pulled from the script of Arsenic and Old Lace stand accused of the insurance-motivated murder of two Los Angeles vagrants.
Former surgical nurse with a need for money and an obsession for extravagant shopping sprees kills several women and uses their assets to get her hair done and buy hundreds of dollars of goods.
Arsenic Anna: Sweet young woman lures older benefactors to their deaths.
Headmistress of exclusive Madeira School for wealthy girls kills her unworthy lover, Dr. Herman Tarnower, the famous Scarsdale Diet doctor.
Marie Hilley is a mystery.  Marie murdered her husband, but it didn't stop there. She poisoned her daughter and other close relatives. Her murderous escapades undermined what should have been the most sacred of family relationships. When it appeared she would finally be brought to justice for her crimes, she disappeared and began life anew with an assumed identity. One persona after another, discarded when it no longer suited her needs.
Texas pediatric nurse takes over the care of babies and murders them by injecting one after another. Almost as criminal is how the hospitals and staff ignored the problem until Genene's shift became known as the Death Shift.
Katherine Mary Knight, though not the first person to skin and eat her lover, was arguably the most depraved monster in Australia's grizzly homicidal history.
Eighteen-year-old Judith Neelley lured teenagers to a horrible death, but only after they had been raped and tortured.
No one suspected that the sweet-faced, grandmotherly lady was systematically drugging and killing her frail boarders and burying their remains in the yard she so lovingly tended. She got away with murder for years.
In 1997, a Texas court found Darlie Lynn Routier guilty of probably the worst of human crimes: killing two of her natural children in cold-blood.
Did Madeleine Smith poison her lover? A Victorian mystery.
South Carolina woman drowns her children in her car so that she will be more "marriageable" to the boyfriend who rejected her.
The real story of lust, greed and murder that inspired the great film noir classics Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Body Heat.
Marybeth Tinning was a familiar sight in Schenectady's trauma centers. She usually came running into one of the city's emergency rooms, confused and hysterical, typically with one of her eight children cradled in her arms, either dead or near dead.  All eight of Marybeth Tinning's children died suddenly and usually without any rational explanation.
Texas's controversial murderess
Attractive and sexy heiress Carolyn Warmus goes after her man and murders his wife.
Female killer preyed upon truck drivers.
Woman drowns her five children -- one at a time after her husband goes to work. Is she psychotic or a monster? Incorrect expert testimony causes murder convictions to be overturned.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Prickly Thorn With Twilight: Mormon Overtones

I just can't seem to get this thorn out from under my skin!

Since I began writing "Dandelions In The Garden," a historical novel based on the life of Elizabeth Bathory, also referred to as the Blood Countess, I've been asked for my opinion on "Twilight," and Meyer's depiction of vampire lore.  First, I'll give a bare bones background on my main character.  Elizabeth Bathory is often connected to vampire lore and the mythology of Transylvanian and Romania.  She is a descendant of Vlad Tepes, the Impaler, who is credited for being the inspiration for Bram Stoker's novel Dracula.  In addition to her lineage, it is widely believed that Elizabeth had a fetish for blood and torture.  She was rumored to bathe and drink the blood of virgins believing it prevented the aging process giving her eternal beauty and quite possibly immortality.  During her reign, it was recorded that over 600 young women went missing from the region.

To get straight to the point, my problem with the Twilight Series is mostly a theological one.  Vampire history and lore is established and stems from a cultural base that should not be absent when writing on the subject.  Despite the modern content, I believe it is the duty of a responsible writer to take the historical mythology into consideration, and then create the conflict or spin.  Anne Rice does this beautifully in her novels.  She shows a respect for the lore, how it came about, and how it still affects beliefs and struggles, including superstitions and practices, which are still apparent today.

I don't have a problem with the writer of Twilight being Mormon, nor would I have a huge issue if she at least made one of her characters Mormon.  In fact, that would make much more sense and frankly, a better story.  However, her characters do not display or express beliefs of any kind, but that doesn't mean Joseph Smith's LDS teachings do not present throughout the descriptive language and practices within the story.  In this case, the word "imprinting," is appropriate.  Meyers imprints LDS propaganda all over the place and upon her characters.  She admitted during an interview, "Unconsciously, I put a lot of my basic beliefs into the story."  If your characters have the same general beliefs as the writer, than sure, do it.  However, if it is not made known or revealed to the reader through the story, than it is confusing to unconsciously insert such beliefs and in my opinion, a very lame practice of the craft.

For anyone familiar with the Book of Mormon it is easy to discern the deeper theological themes woven through the story, from the Mormon re-interpretation of the Fall of humankind, to the overcoming of natural man.  Meyer states that, "The concept for the 'Twilight Saga' series came in a vision."  She openly admits she's never read a vampire book or watched an R-rated movie and that her experience with sexual tension is a natural byproduct of her strict Mormon upbringing.  Even the marriage ceremony in the book is indicative of the temple sealing ceremony that takes place in the sacred room within the Mormon Temple.  (See more by clicking on links below).

And if you're still not convinced that the Book of Mormon doctrine greatly influenced not only the themes, but word by word descriptions, take a look at this passage and decide for yourself.  Remember, LDS members have a celestial concept of the afterlife and strive to be God-like.

“His white shirt was sleeveless, and he wore it unbuttoned, so that the smooth white skin of his throat flowed uninterrupted over the marble contours of his chest, his perfect musculature no longer merely hinted at."
Mormon passage: (compare with)

“He had on a loose robe of most exquisite awhiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant. His hands were naked, and his arms also, a little above the wrist; so, also, were his feet naked, as were his legs, a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare."
My issue is the lack of awareness by the author and the ignorance of history as it applies to lore and mythology.  She is obviously very schooled in the verse and practice of Mormonism and took liberty to do her own imprinting.  I was taught that it is crucial for a writer to be aware of what they are doing both thematically, descriptively and when developing character and plot ay all times.  For an author to be unaware, well, I'm sure most writers would agree with me, it's just bad practice, craft, and writing.


Big Vampire Love:  What's So Mormon About Twilight
Twilight Saga:  Mormon Theology
Twilight Vampires and Mormons
Twilight Author's Mormon Faith:  A Big Influence In Books and Film

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Warning: May Contain Dirty Little Words

Warning: May Contain Dirty Little Words

A hundred miles south of L.A., a school district is meeting to decide whether or not to ban the Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.  What?  That was my reaction too.  If a dictionary can get banned from a public school in the United States, then all books are in serious trouble.  Apparently, the book was immediately removed from classroom shelves when the content was deemed "age in-appropriate" for classes kindergarten through eighth grade.

The hysteria began with a parent complaint.  Supposedly, a man's child came across the words, "oral sex," while perusing the book.  However, the Superintendent claims this is not the sole reason for the removal, but after further investigation by school administrators, collectively the group discovered a number of referenced words they found offensive.

I imagine the book is full of offensive words all clearly defined so each student will learn the meaning and choose to use it or not.  If we print only the 'good' words, will this stop the use or rather, misuse of offensive words?  I think not!  To simply deny access to information is not education or responsible parental protection.

Did the powers that be or rather make decisions for our education flunk government class?  There is something called the First Amendment that seems to be an appropriate card to toss upon the table in this situation.  It's the English Dictionary!  Are you kidding me?

Secondly, I must agree with the Huffington Post.  If we're burning the dictionaries then we should examine the curriculum for seventh grade America history and just skip over that offensive section about the Bill of Rights.


Monday, January 25, 2010

The Creeping Pestilence of Clichés

Recently, I reviewed a story and in my comments I referred to the use of clichés. It got me thinking about what is a cliché and how as an author and book reviewer, I use and address these dratted buggers.

Clichés crawl into everyone's work and articles. Even the best selling author Dan Brown littered his novel the Da Vinci Code with clichéd descriptions. I ask, no, I yell, "Where was his editor!" I say, shame for not killing them with a red pen. The clichés in his story telling are so abundant that if stripped, I'm not certain much would be left on the page. If nothing else, I suggest using the novel for a fun twist on an old drinking game. When you read a cliché, DRINK! You'll need a liver transplant by chapter two.

Anyhow, by definition, a cliché is not merely a phrase used by lots of people, but a phrase that conveys some sort of idea or message. A cliché is an overused metaphor.

Here's some advice on how to test if something is a cliché:

1. Read the first half of the sentence, then ask, "do I know how the sentence ends?"

Example, "The gene pool could use a little chlorine." Is not a cliché because when asked, "The gene pool could use what?" The entire room doesn't groan in unison the answer.

Example, "At the crack of...." most people will immediately say, "dawn." Therefore, the phrase is cliché. Need another example? "Stubborn as a...?" mule most likely.

Clichés are familiar and immediately conjure images. They're easy to pull from and even tempting to write down when a writer becomes tired or hurried. They often appear in early drafts when writers are trying to keep the flow of the story moving and run out of creative, original metaphors to describe a character's physical attributes, movements or even surroundings. This is fine, but get out your red pen and strike through when editing. This is the time when you should slow down, re-think and insert something a bit more original. Don't be afraid to hurt your own feelings. Every writer does it. We all make the mistake, but a good writer makes the corrections, or at the very least, tries to recognize these creepy little bastards.

Anti-cliché Some good advice is to exterminate these pests by using the anti-cliché. Here is an example I pulled from another site:

"A really dumb cliché like what goes around comes around deserves to be mistreated. The anti-cliché is a cliché that is twisted into a different shape, but is still recognizable. For example, you could take what goes around comes around and change what comes around to probably should, to make what goes around probably should. The meaning is significantly changed, but it is better to be thought of as cantankerous than as a bad writer."


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