Saturday, May 19, 2018
#Giveaway The Gene Police By Elliott D. Light
The Gene Police
By Elliott D. Light
Before the words “white supremacy” filled the airways, before we learned of American Nazis and the alt-right, before there was a Muslim ban, before we considered building a wall or knew what DACA stands for, there was eugenics—a pseudo-science that promoted the belief that a race could be improved by controlling who was allowed to mate with whom.
It was eugenics that compelled white doctors to inform Carl and Betty Langard that their new born baby had died. And it is the cruelest of circumstances—the murder of Jennifer Rice—that fifty years later leads Shep Harrington to search for Baby Langard.
As Shep soon learns, the quest brings him to the top of a slippery slope with an ill-defined edge. Question begets question, and the slide down the slope proves inevitable: What happened to the baby? Who took it? Why was he taken? And who killed Jennifer Rice?
When Shep learns that Baby Langard was born at a hospital run by Alton Nichols, a famous Virginia eugenicist, he is drawn into the dark history of the American eugenics movement and its proponents—the so-called “gene police.”
About the Author
I am a retired patent attorney living in Florida with my wife, Sonya, and our feline, Tsuki. I spent most of my life in the Washington, D.C. area. I grew up in McLean, Virginia before the beltway was constructed. Some of my classmates in grade school lived on nearby farms. McLean had a small town feel to it. Gossip spread without the Internet. Party lines were common. Secrets were hard to keep.
When I was in my early thirties, my life pivoted when I was accused of a crime I didn't commit. My defense counsel and I discussed plans for my likely indictment and possible imprisonment. I could expect to be handcuffed and paraded in front of the media. This experience with the so-called justice system ended after a two year ordeal without an indictment and without going to trial. Even so, it could have ended differently.
Sadly, I will never fully believe that prosecutors, investigators, or the government are as interested in the truth as they are in getting a conviction, an attitude that I share with the semi-fictional Shep Harrington.
Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/hSPDXiuQ4Po
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GIVEAWAY: The author is giving away 3 signed books! Get the details and enter the giveaway here
ONE STORY – MANY PLOTS
I’m often asked if I know how a story will end before I start writing it. The answer varies, but the truth is that the ending is not as elusive as the beginning.
So why is that? The answer lies in the structure of a novel, a subject that fascinates me but may sound like Wha Wha Blah Blah if discussed among readers who just know what they like and what they don’t. The short version is that the first sentence, the first chapter, and the first part of a book must function to hook the reader, raise questions that will be answered, identify the main characters, set the time and place, establish motives, and, above all, confront the protagonist with a life changing or potentially life changing problem that he or she is compelled to attempt to solve.
That’s a lot of work for the beginning. A beginning that fails to perform any one of these tasks may give the reader an excuse to put the book down, work on taxes or the latest Roku puzzle and move on to something else.
So how does a writer find the beginning? In her insightful book, Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story, K.M. Weiland observes:
“Examine your story. Where does it truly begin? Which event is the first domino in your row of dominoes? Which domino must be knocked over for the rest of the story to happen? That scene will likely be your best starting place. Cut everything that precedes it and reexamine what’s left. Does the story still make sense? Does it open with a moment that appropriately introduces your character (preferably by showing his personality, not just explaining it)? And, most importantly, is it lean and gripping? If the answer to all these questions is “yes,” you’ve found your opening.”
Moreover, Weiland advises how writers should treat characters:
"In order to be good to their readers, authors have to be willing to be pretty nasty to their characters. One of the first things any novelist learns is to raise the stakes. Think of the worst possible thing that could happen to the character, then make it worse."
Armed with a story idea and guidance on how to construct a great beginning, I typed the word “Outline” and stared at the blinking cursor. My story had an amateur sleuth, a murder, a cast of participants, a pretty cool background story, and a possible ending. And yet the cursor continued to blink. Something was missing: the plot.
A lot has been written about the difference between a story and a plot. For my purposes here, I will distinguish the two concepts this way: A story is a concept built around a set of discrete events. A plot is how those events are presented to the reader. A writer can convey the story though any one of a number of plots. The selection of the plot will determine how the story unfolds in time and what the characters have at stake. Some plots will produce a more “lean and gripping” story than others.
Let’s look at our choices for a good plot in a murder mystery in which Arnold appears to the ideal family man with a loving wife, three kids and lap-loving cat. His wife, Janet, teaches at the university and is well liked. Together, they enjoy a nice home, a nice car and a rich social life. The problem is, Arnold is a serial killer.
One night Janet sees a man she thinks is Arnold walking behind a small group of co-eds. She follows the man but he disappears into the shadows. The next day, a young woman is found dead. The police report that the Campus Stalker is responsible for the deaths of a dozen young girls throughout the state.
Janet becomes convinced that Arnold is the Campus Stalker and kills him. She is arrested and tried for murder. The serial killings and the murder of Arnold are investigated by John, the protagonist of our murder mystery
That’s an interesting story but what is the plot?
A plot can be constructed in which the reader will see Arnold’s murders in real time through John’s eyes. John also interacts with Janet and her reasons for suspecting that Arnold is the killer. But John does not realize how her frustration with the police for failing to catch him or even believe that he’s a suspect has driven her to the decision to kill Arnold.
A different plot could focus on Janet. In this plot, the reader only learns about Arnold through the investigation into his murder by John and by his interactions with Janet. The murders are described largely through her perceptions. To make things more interesting, in this telling of the story, Janet has a drug problem, a paramour and is the beneficiary of an insurance policy. Her description of the facts isn’t reliable. The reader may not be able to determine if Arnold really was the Campus Stalker until the end. John has to sort through the fog of her memory to figure out what really happened.
John’s stake in the investigation will depend on who he is. John may be a law enforcement officer, a detective, a reporter or even a shrink who has an obligation to find the truth. Alternatively, he may be a friend of either Arnold or Janet, a relative of one of the serial killer’s victims, or someone falsely accused of a similar crime. His stake in the outcome of the story will also depend on the arc our mystery follows.
Sometimes the plot will just present itself. No choices. No options. But if you find yourself looking at a blinking cursor, it may be because you right brain is still playing “what-if” with your story concept. That’s when you have to choose. As the Lovin’ Spoonful noted, it’s not easy:
Did you ever have to make up your mind?
And pick up on one and leave the other behind?
It's not often easy and not often kind.
Did you ever have to make up your mind?
Did you ever have to finally decide?
And say yes to one and let the other one ride?
There's so many changes and tears you must hide.
Did you ever have to finally decide?
Elliott Light, a lawyer and an engineer, is the author of the Shep Harrington SmallTown® Mystery series. His newest book, The Gene Police, will be available May 15. Visit his website at www.smalltownmysteries.com or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
I arrived early and found the bowling alley mostly deserted. I tossed the case file on the table and sat down. Chester Atkins brought me a cup of coffee, grunted a “howdy,” and departed. A few minutes later, the Reverend Billy Tripp ambled up to the table and lowered his massive posterior into the chair across from me. I will admit that the first thought that crossed my mind was how much weight the old wooden chair could hold.
“So how’s my favorite atheist?” he asked.
Billy was not really an ordained preacher, but a paroled felon who, by accident or providence, had gotten on the wrong bus and ended up in Lyle. The townsfolk thought he was their replacement minister, and he played the part. That was sixteen years ago, and he’s been playing the part ever since. When he’s not fretting over his hook ball, he is a voracious reader. He might be as close to an intellectual as Lyle has to offer.
I offered him a coffee or beer but he waved it all off. “Just need to tie my shoe. Takes me a while to get my leg up so I can reach my foot.” He tugged on his pants leg with both hands and forced his left leg across his right knee. “So I hear you’ve got yourself another murder investigation,” he said affably. “Last killing prompted questions about chimpanzees, the treatment of animals, and the Great Chain of Being. I thoroughly enjoyed that exercise. Any moral underpinnings of this killing that we can chat about?”
My Aunt Sarah joined us. “I thought you were done with investigating murders. Now you got Doc in a state. Like old times.” She turned to Billy. “What’s up with you?”
“Shep was about to tell me if the murder he’s investigating has an ethical component that is worthy of discussion,” replied Billy.
“Eugenics,” I said.
“Ah yes, the science that was supposed to provide a rational basis for racism. Being prejudiced is such a nasty state. But if it can be couched in scientific principles, we can be free of the moral burden that comes with hating someone who might be a different color or religion.”
“I doubt most people have ever heard of it. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you have.”
Billy pursed his lips. “Well, you might be surprised to learn that, in prison, I was once a member of a skinhead group called the White Brothers.”
“I’ll go out on a limb and guess that that’s not the name of a bowling team.”
“Nope.” Billy lowered his left leg, then repeated the shoelace tying process with the right leg. “We were dedicated to beating the crap out of non-whites. I never really understood why, but when you’re young and in prison for the first time, feeling safe is more important than loving your fellow man. Predictably, there was a brawl. I watched as these men punched and bit each other for no discernible reason. Since I didn’t join the fight, my membership in the White Brothers was short-lived. I got to know some of the older inmates, and one them told me about eugenics. I found some old books in the prison library and read them.”
“It wasn’t all about racism,” said Sarah. “I mean do you really want a jailbird with six kids he can’t support having more? That’s someone that needs to be neutered like an old tom cat.”
“I’m sure most people would agree with you,” replied Billy, “but the argument is without merit. It always comes down to who decides and what the criteria are. Three crimes? Two kids? Four kids? I think history shows us that giving that power to the government produces lots of unintended consequences.”
Sarah glowered at him, “Jesus, you don’t have to get all preachy,” she said standing. “I was just saying.” She managed one more dismissive stare for each of us, then turned and walked away.
Billy dropped his right foot to the floor but didn’t stand up. “To Sarah’s point, not all eugenics was about race. But keeping the race pure for the good of the species seems to be one modern invention we could have lived without. I guess that’s universally accepted, because we don’t teach it in school anymore. Of course, another reason for not teaching it is that history is written by our elders, and by today’s standards, their views on race would seem bigoted. Get a copy of The Passing of the Great Race published in 1916. It was a best seller, so it reflects the beliefs of its time. Some still believe it.”
“We never talk about it,” I said.
“I would like to say that we’ve learned from our mistakes, but since we don’t teach our children about our role in the development and practice of eugenics, it’s hard to be optimistic.”