Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Finding Story in Facts

I woke up this morning thinking about someone I once knew. Let's call him Dave. We worked at the same company for quite a few years. Dave was an imposing man, both in size and personality. He presented himself as a man's-man-ladies' man. Golfer, drinker, joker, talker about his exploits; flirter, flatterer, self-reporting player of the field. I had my doubts that he actually liked the company of women. I would say he was sexist, oh and racist, too. It went with the good old boy persona.

Eventually, Dave had a serious illness and had to retire on disability. He began to play bingo regularly. The games were held in a storefront in a rundown shopping plaza. It was hard to imagine the Dave of old in that place. Spending time with people he would have joked about before.

One day he came in the office and told a story about bingo. A young woman he'd met there turned up pregnant and unmarried. Dave was organizing a baby shower for her.

I was so surprised at the changes in Dave. Through his illness, he lost almost every source of personal identity, yet after a long, hard time, he emerged a nicer person. A man who would plan a baby shower for someone he would have sneered at a few years earlier.

Story-telling hinges on change. Without change, it's an anecdote, not a story. It's apt to be boring. But through the changes we see in a character, whether because he or she gains greater self-knowledge or because of the changes in his or her circumstances, we are made to reflect on ourselves. If I had gone through such an illness, suffered those losses, how would I have reacted? Would I have turned inward or would I have sought out a new world, new people, a new identity?

Dave's life could be a novel. It would be a rich and complex book about a complex character. He was transformed by adversity, and that intrigues. Transformation is the root of story. Bingo.

Friday, March 15, 2013

In the Act of Getting Out There!

Thanks to Pam Kelley and her blog, http://readinglifeobs.blogspot.com/2013/03/new-books-from-north-carolina-authors.html, for helping to get UNTIL PROVEN into the wider world!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


That is the question I am asked at every reading of UNTIL PROVEN: A MYSTERY IN 2 PARTS. Good question.

Since I was 12 years old, the Rinaldi murder and trials have fascinated me. My father was a friend and supporter of Frank Rinaldi when Frank was wrongly accused of killing his wife, Sheila.

I always believed I would write about the murder and the trials one day. I didn't anticipate writing about them twice, once in fiction (UNTIL PROVEN) and once in non-fiction, (TIME OF DEATH). But I have done so, and now I look at the two accounts to see what I can learn about the connections between story, fact, fiction, and how they weave in and out in my life.

When I talk about the 2 books, I tend to stress the differences: characters who were insiders vs. real people who were outsiders; old money vs. little money; power vs. none; a young likable mistaken witness vs. a questionable witness who should have been a suspect.

But it must be the similarities that compelled me to write the two books. If I needed to use one word to describe the ways the two are alike, that word would be elusiveness. Truth is elusive. Facts are elusive. Justice is elusive.

For me, it is TIME OF DEATH that provokes questions, anger, indignation . . . and UNTIL PROVEN that takes the answers as far as they can go. If they can't go as far as we wish they would--well, my friends, let that be the answer.

Please read my books and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


TIME OF DEATH is now for sale as an ebook. (See note, below.) It is the true story of a murder that took place in Chapel Hill in 1963, when I when I was 12 years old. My family became involved because my father was a friend of the man accused of murdering his wife, Frank Rinaldi. Daddy and others stood beside Frank through a long ordeal that--in a second trial--ended with Frank being acquitted. But his life was forever changed. Wouldn't yours be?

In a much different way, my life was as well. At ages 12, 13, 14, I was impressionable. I learned a lot about loyalty to a friend, about the imperfections of the judicial system, and about hope. I wonder sometimes why I didn't become a defense attorney. It might have been a logical extension of the impact the Rinaldi trials had on me. Instead, I became a writer.

I knew for many years that I would eventually write about the Rinaldi case. It came out in fiction in my book, UNTIL PROVEN: A MYSTERY IN 2 PARTS. But UNTIL PROVEN is fiction. Fact was the seed-thought, but from there, my characters took on a life of their own, as fictional characters do for a writer. Their stories followed to logical conclusions that have nothing to do with the facts of Frank Rinaldi's experience.

Even so, I found that I wasn't through with Frank's story. It represented too much of importance to me. Facts may be found in who-what-when-where but the fifth question in that list is why. TIME OF DEATH provides facts as they were understood by people who were there. The district attorney who tried Frank twice had to provide the jury with a why: why would Frank have killed Lucille? Those who believe in Frank's innocence will tell you that the prosecutor had to make up the answers to that question because there no evidence that Frank did what he was accused of. Thus, in a court of law, fact may produce fiction.

For me, the questions why are, why was Frank charged? Why was he tried? Why was he convicted in the first trial? These are unanswerable questions in many ways, but I worked hard to make sense of what happened and why, in the context of the time and place. I strive not for fiction, but for a different kind of fact.

Note: if you have a computer or tablet or smartphone, you can download free software for Kindle, Nook or Kobo and then buy an ebook from Amazon (for Kindle), Barnes & Noble (for Nook), or kobobooks.com (for Kobo). TIME OF DEATH is shorter than book-length so it would be a good first e-read for you!

Friday, January 11, 2013

In the Act of Discovering 2013

If you saw my last post, you know that Time of Death is coming soon. The list of things to do is shorter. I've seen the first version of a cover design and that's an exciting thing to me. Makes it realer, somehow, and I'm so glad I have the talented Kelly Lojk to do the design for me.

And I kept my only New Year's Resolution: I sat down on 1-1-13 and began reworking, rewriting and reimagining the mansucript for a novel, STONE SOUP. It is set in a fictional mill town in North Carolina, Black Haw. Black Haw is mostly my mother's hometown, Lindale, Georgia, if it were set on the just a few miles from my house.

If you've read my book, UNTIL PROVEN: A MYSTERY IN 2 PARTS, you may remember that Eden lives in Black Haw in its 21st Century artsy Newer South incarnation. The action of that book is almost all in Piedmont and Piedmont is also a setting for parts of STONE SOUP.

It is fun to create a landscape, complete with towns, rivers, railroads, a university . . . whatever you need! It helps with characters, too, to have a clear vision of where they live and what they see when they look out their windows. It makes me realize how much what I see out of mine shape me. Is it a southern writer thing to be a bit obsessed with landscape? I'm in good company, that's for sure.

By the way, if you haven't read UNTIL PROVEN, can you explain yourself?