The Evil Corpus Delecti


I am haunted, disturbed, angry, frustrated. So, I write.

Last evening, I finished watching the documentary series, The Keepers. Although you’ll end up suffering from the same emotions I have right now, I think it’s important that people know the extent to which such evil can be promulgated, executed, and, yes, covered up. So I think you, too, should watch the series.

Just a few years ago (2014? Can’t remember for sure) in Baltimore, a middle-aged woman began to remember things that she had suppressed from her childhood and teen years. Once her memory began to regenerate, the horror of rampant sexual abuse and terrorizing threats grew to vivid images and recollections.

Meanwhile, high school contemporaries renewed old friendships in a focused effort to find out what really happened to their favorite teacher, Sister Cathy Cesnick, whose brutal murder was never solved.

The woman whose memories were surfacing filed charges against Father Haskell, who had been the counselor for the Catholic girls’ Keough High School. She was listed in the suit as “Jane Doe.” Soon, another woman also filed charges and she was named “Jane Roe.” Eventually, all these women found each other and pursued an intense investigation, meeting opposition at every turn.

Father Haskell had abused altar boys in his first parish (only one man came forward with accusations,) so the Baltimore diocese transferred him to Keough as the school’s guidance counselor. At Keough, he would call a girl to his office over the loudspeaker and abuse her there in every vile way. Sometimes he had a police officer in the room, guarding at the door and watching the abuse. Sometimes, the police officer would participate. Both the officer and the priest displayed their guns and explained the pain they could cause the girls with those guns.

Sister Cathy Cesnick was loved and respected, both as a teacher and a caring person, by her students. Because of the kind of person she was, she began to suspect things weren’t right when certain girls were repeatedly called to Haskell’s office. She hinted at suspicions to close family and friends. Soon after, as she went to a local store one night to buy a gift for her sister, she disappeared. Her mud-spattered car mysteriously reappeared, parked in the street near her apartment.

“Jane Doe” also remembered Father Haskell taking her to a woods shortly after the nun went missing, right to the body of Sister Cathy (who had not yet been found by authorities) and told her that’s what could happen to her if she ever told anybody anything. She remembered wiping maggots off Sister’s face.

Can you imagine how horrible all this must have been for a 14-year-old girl? No wonder she suppressed those sordid memories.

The documentary gives dates and facts and names. The women interviewed police, FBI, filed FOI (Freedom of Information) forms, and plodded through everything possible. They were stonewalled at every turn. Even though Cathy’s body was eventually found and the murder never solved, the police could find no records in their evidence room when the women tried to retrieve them. NONE!

Eventually, the women tried to bring what they had to court, but the Archdiocese of Baltimore also came to court, fighting—and winning—the battle to increase the number of years after the crime was committed for sexual abuse victims to be able to press charges.

Bottom line:  Father Haskell and several Baltimore police officers repeatedly sexually abused young teen-aged girls and obviously—since Haskell showed Jane Doe Sister Cathy’s dead body—were involved somehow in the nun’s murder. And the Baltimore Police Department and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore are blocking every effort by the victims to solve Cathy’s murder and to receive some kind of closure/relief from knowing that the perpetrators are caught and being punished. (Haskell died several years ago and hopefully is reaping his rewards.)

How can we continue to let this happen? Because–as long as we keep quiet–we ARE letting this happen.

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The Anatomy of Goodbyes


Goodbye! How often do we say that? A simple salutation in reverse, we say it at the end of every phone conversation, after every meeting and/or get-together, party, church gathering. Every time we meet someone for whatever purpose or happenstance and then part, we say goodbye. Without even thinking.

So what is “goodbye?” It’s a farewell, of course. It’s a wish for good things to happen to those whom you’re saying it. A little on-line research explains that people have said goodbyes to each other for hundreds of years. The word “goodbye” is a contraction of God be with ye.

The word origin and history for goodbye goes back to the 1590s, from godbwye (1570s), itself a contraction of God be with ye (late 14c.), influenced by good day, good evening, etc. Bottom line, the term is a well-wisher for the most part. But have you ever used the term loudly, angrily, and forcefully as you slammed the telephone receiver (of yore) on marketers or someone you have no intention of wishing well? (My biggest objection to cell phones, among several, is that we can no longer slam down the receiver!)

Which brings me to the different types of goodbyes. We’ve already mentioned several occasions—primarily casual times—in which we use the term. But there are parameters for goodbyes:  the casual ones become emotional based on the distance, in time or miles, that will separate the well-wisher from the “wishee.” The longer the distance, the more difficult the goodbye.

And that goodbye is eased or exacerbated by the closeness, or lack thereof, of the person to whom you’re saying goodbye. In other words, if someone with whom you’ve worked for many years retires and moves to another state, that’s a sad goodbye. And you miss them, their daily conversation, their presence in that chair. But if your son and daughter-in-law close shop here and move to Florida, that goodbye leaves a vacuum, an emptiness in your circle of everyday life, a yearning for… for them.

That’s the place, the situation, the dilemma(?) I am in now. This isn’t a last-minute decision for them. They’ve been planning it, openly, for five years now. I have a standing invitation (and a room with a view!) to visit them at any time. But… it’s another goodbye. I didn’t realize how much it was affecting me until I mentioned on FB that I was in a wild cleaning frenzy:  had my guest room carpet and living room furniture cleaned, my Oriental carpet sent out for cleaning, my draperies cleaned, doing my windows and all the bed linens/blankets/comforters and kitchen cupboards myself. A friend discreetly emailed me that all that activity fit the “nesting instinct.”

OMG!! At my age?!

The absolute worst of all goodbyes, of course, is the final one. Lord knows, I’ve personally experienced far more of them than I ever wanted.

But, for today, for this final week when my kids will be in town, I am enjoying their proximity, the feeling that they’re just a half hour away, and later… they’re just a phone call away. I still have one son in town and I feel blessed with that. And I have my grands nearby.

Oh, and I have an almost totally clean house, although I still have some of my windows and hardwood floors to clean. Want to come over and help? We could work together, have a good time… and then say goodbye.

Publishing


One of the touchiest subjects in the writers’ world today is publishing. Once you write a story—a book-length piece, either fiction or non-fiction—do you self-publish it or send it out to a regular publisher? And, a sub-set question to that is: do you send it to one of the “Big Five” publishers or to one of the smaller presses?

There are those who subscribe to the persuasion that if you’re not published by one of the Big Five, you’re not really published. Some of those believers are more pompous/elitist than others.

But, back in the 1980s, something changed. Digital happened! Many people jumped on that wagon, but many of the writers who had been published by the Big Five continued to submit their work to those publishers and many to this day struggle to continue submitting to them, even as their rejection file grows thicker and thicker. As the digital process became easier and more popular, the Big Five began to falter and some have actually failed. (Those who used to work at Kodak may see a familiar pattern here.)

In the mid-1980s, I belonged to a good-sized on-line writing and critiquing group. As is usual, some were excellent writers and some were just good. A couple of the better writers decided to partner a new business (Writers Club Press), a print-on-demand (POD) publishing company, and asked the rest of us to join many others by submitting our work to them. I honestly don’t know how selective they were—whether they rejected some or not. But my children’s book, Luvella’s Promise, was accepted and they even let me design my own cover. (I wanted my mother’s picture on it.) Each of us being published by Writers Club paid some money to cover the set-up expense (they were starting from scratch), but they formatted the books, published each copy as it was ordered (the absolute beauty of POD technology), handled all orders, distributed the books, and paid us, the authors, our royalties—the whole, same process that every publisher follows.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Digital publishing has survived and flourished. Think Kindle, Smartphone, I-phone, tablets, notebooks… We’re surrounded and loving it. And to satisfy the demands of all that technology, the number of smaller, independent presses have multiplied, actually grown exponentially. Also, the availability of the POD process to everyone has opened the doors wide for self-publishing.

Self-publishing has become so popular that writing groups, made up of people who always liked to write so decided to do it, are springing up all over. Many of these don’t even try to submit their stories to publishers of any kind; they just follow the steps in whatever program they choose and self-publish. Memoirs are a popular self-publishing venture, which retired people write and then give the books to their families. The problem with self-publishing is that some of the “authors” are not writers. They have poor grammar, incorrect punctuation, no organization… no evidence of writing skills. And that spoils the business for those who study the language, edit the work, understand the process; in other words, write!

Recently, the author of the Rochester Reads book, Enchanted, spoke at one of my writing groups. (If you haven’t read the book yet, I encourage you to do so.) She said she understood that many writers today struggle with the publishing decision when they’ve completed their manuscript. Her advice was that self-publishing was very expensive and writers rarely earned enough money on the sales of their book to pay those expenses. But, she said, although her book was published by Harper Collins, she encouraged everyone to submit to a small press.

She said that they frequently market your books more than the traditional publishers do. In fact, she said, Hawthorn Press produced a best seller. The other independent publisher she mentioned is the Forest Avenue Press. Both of these publishers are in the Northwest, but of course, in our digital world, that is not a problem for us in the East.

Bottom line, if you want to have your work published, learn the writing trade. Know your language. Do your research. Keep your dictionary and thesaurus at your elbow and get to work… the long, arduous journey of creating a world that will pull the reader away from the everyday and into your reality.

Yesterday


Yesterday, Vella Meadows’ children, Richard, Casey, Donna, Carol and Joanne, gave a wonderful party to celebrate Vella’s 97th birthday. There were family, relatives, and old friends there. And among the old friends were the former residents/neighbors of West Parkway.

For me, that was priceless. Everyone has long since moved away from the street, but yesterday those of us who were at the party went down through Memory Lane, through the yesterdays of our lives. We laughed a lot; a couple of us cried a little; but oh! We had so much fun.

First of all, eight different adults came to me, one at a time, and just stood in front of me, smiling, questions in their eyes: “Do you recognize me?” It was a real challenge because I hadn’t seen them since they were children (except for one). And I passed the challenge in all but two cases.

We ended up all sitting at the same table, except for the Meadows. They stayed with us a lot, but had to circulate and play hosts, which they did expertly. But at one point, Casey confessed that when he delivered papers as a kid and his bike had a flat tire or something, he’d grab one of my kids’ bikes (which he said were always lying around the yard. Wait till I call them on that one!), finish delivering his papers, and leave the bike back where he’d found it.

Joanne took me aside and tearfully apologized for not being at Mary Kay’s funeral. She said, “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Baier. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t. I tried writing notes to you and I was such a mess, I couldn’t do that, either.” I hugged her and said it was okay. Because it is okay. We all grieve in different ways and that’s just the way it is.

Later, Patty Noonan and Joanne and I laughed about the things we did together. We’d have our tea parties. I’d bring my bone china cups and saucers down from the cupboard and made tea that we all hated, but we sat there and pretended we were high society. I told them how I really laughed at some of our conversations then. They were so cute.

Another time, they let me ride someone’s bike with them. I told them I could only turn right, and the devils turned left off Bennington Drive, leaving me going straight ahead and laughing hysterically all by myself.

Patty said she remembers a time when one of her paper customers hadn’t paid her for quite a while. (People didn’t realize—or didn’t care—that the paper carriers had to pay for the papers whether they got paid by their customers or not.) She said that I went with her to that home and marched right up to the front door and explained the situation to that customer. I guess I’ve always been a soldier for the little guy.

They said—proudly—that Mary Kay, Patty and Joanne were the first girl paper carriers in our area. (Hmmm. Apparently, I was into feminist training even back then.)

What was the greatest treasure of all that those girls gave me—and they never knew it—was that they let me play little girl with them. Granted, they were bored stiff by the time they came to me, saying they couldn’t think of anything to do. But those tea parties and that bike ride (I only did it once!) and our many conversations are still, and will be forever, in my heart.

As we wound down the party, the photos, and the story-telling, someone said, “You know, we really had a nice neighborhood. Everyone played together, was nice to everyone else; neighbors helped each other. It was really like one big family.”  And the circle of former neighbors all agreed.

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First row, from left: Sue Middleton, me

Second row, from left:  Carol Meadows, Mary and Patty Noonan, Donna Meadows, Joanne Meadows. And the big guy in back is Casey Meadows (yes, he’s standing on something.)

Writing a Book – External Part II (Continued from Internal – Part I)


At this point, I know essentially what the story will be about. And I know most of what I need to regarding the characters and general plot before I start to write it. I particularly like to write historical stuff. And that means research. Lots of research.

It’s important for me to learn about the clothing of the time, transportation, money, cost of products, the music (and dance if it’s involved in the story at all), the vernacular, the work available to people, technology or lack thereof. I also need to understand the general educational level of that time and even some of the subjects studied, if that comes up. (As it did in my mid-grade novel, Luvella’s Promise.)

If the setting of the story is not in my current home town, then I must go to the place where everything occurs and learn about that territory. Homes, work, shopping areas, churches…everything is very likely different there from where I live, especially if I go back years in history.

For my YA novel, Prison Break (working title), the setting is 1929’s Auburn, NY, which is also my original home town. So much of my research was in my head from having grown up there, but I still had to learn about prison conditions (which contributed to two major prison riots in 1929), traditions, operations…the whole nine yards. After the prison received approval from Albany (our state capitol), I was allowed to visit and was escorted from the front entrance, from one small hall to another at a time through locked bars each time, and to the administration building. I was not allowed into the prison population at all, and I did not request to be. Those sliding bars locking and bolting in front of and behind me in a safe area were enough!

For my YA novel, The Heartbeat of the Mountain, to be released in a few months, I went to the settings of that story in Muncy Valley, Dushore, Eagles Mere, and Forksville, PA. For Luvella’s Promise, the prequel to Heartbeat, I additionally went to the Wyalusing (PA) Council House, a small museum for the Delaware Nation, of which the Muncees are a tribe, in the House’s very early days. My mother and I were even invited to attend a Pow Wow (we graciously declined) and I was, for years, on their mailing list.

The evidence I discovered on that trip showed me I had another story and that’s how Heartbeat was conceived.

Researching can be exhausting sometimes, but it never fails to excite, inform, and entertain. And for my story to have a solid foundation and be believable, I firmly trust in reliable research.

NOW. I have to put butt to chair and begin the writing process. I’ve tried several ways to outline:  using Goal, Motivation and Conflict charts (described in detail in the book of that title by Debra Dixon), the regular old-fashioned outline, chapter by chapter (which I find dangerously leading to writing in episodic fashion), and what I’ve settled on is a simple, but detailed, synopsis. That’s what works for me. I simply enlarge on each stage of the synopsis, filling in dialogue, conflict, personality development and so on. If you write, you know these processes are the hardest part and take a long time.

I am not a novel-a-year writer; I take a few years to complete each novel. But I must say, I do like the stories once they’re out there in the world.

Writing a Book—the Internal Part


Those of us who write books/novels know it is not an easy process. Actually, it’s not a process at all; it’s a series of processes; a conglomerate, if you will.

I usually begin my conglomerate internally. I see something, or hear something, or read something that triggers a thought methodology. It begins with, “Oh, what a neat place for a murder;” or “What an interesting character flaw;” or maybe “What a perfect setting for a tryst of some sort.” From there, my mind takes off.

The embryo of an idea invades my brain, infiltrates it, snuggles into all the crevices and crannies. It leaps across synapses, exploring, roaming, and copulating so that the ideas burst into growth and permeate the sphere of my head. At times, the noise is…awakening!

At this point, my head is relentless, especially when I’m walking or going to sleep or slowly awakening in the morning. All those ideas, thoughts, plot points, concepts want their freedom. So this is when I have to assemble them in some sort of plot-line order. I do this best while I’m walking. At first, I just decide the journey of my protagonist, and often, of my main antagonist, whose journey is so frequently intertwined with my hero’s/heroine’s. As I do this, I find the need for another character or scene or conflict or any number of other issues, all to support the protagonist’s goals or to add conflict or interest or tension.

It’s rather a pyramid-building scheme. I have to keep adding ideas, conflicts, characters, situations until there is a solid foundation on which I can build a convincing story. Then, as my (still in my head) protagonist pushes through his/her life, conquering this barrier, overcoming that obstacle, I see a story blossom. I see the bulk of supporting characters, scenes, evidence and conflicts that can build into a story. And I see the denouement, the self-realization, the tip of the pyramid, and satisfactory (glorious, at this point) ending.

During this whole process, I may have jotted down names, character descriptions and backgrounds, and other minutiae in a file so I wouldn’t forget the nitty gritties. But at this point, I must begin my External part of writing a book.

That, and all its fun parts, I will discuss in my next blog.

Where is America the Beautiful?


A good friend of many years emailed me, among others, the other day and asked how we could change the mood in our country after the election, no matter who wins it. And I agree with him. How can we release the hate, the violence in our hearts, the antipathy that has been generated in large doses during this campaign season?

This is my 18th or 19th presidential election, and never… NEVER… has there been this much division and/or outright hatred. I don’t remember any violence, other than some painted messages in a recent year’s local election. Even when Jack Kennedy, an Irish Catholic, ran for the presidency, there was none of this hateful rhetoric, the name-calling, the blatant–and unfounded–accusations of illegal activity. The campaigns, from both sides, were run with mutual respect and common decency.

I could say the current feelings all began with one candidate’s outrageous statements encouraging bullying and violence but that’s (letting our feelings interfere) exactly what I propose that we run away from. As fast and as focused as we can.

We have to forget the diatribes, the heated accusations and allegations and insinuations of these past few months. We have to sit back, relax, take a deep breath and think rationally. We have to behave as we were brought up to behave, be polite to strangers, kind to neighbors, helpful to those in need.

These are not unattainable goals. These are behaviors that are, or should be, basic to all humanity. And if we don’t all work together to achieve normalcy and peaceful coexistence again, I truly fear where it will end. We must be civil. We must be understanding. We must be cooperative. (Are you listening, Congress???)

We must be American. Oh, please, let’s go back to being great.

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