book reviews, family

Repost: 20 years… or things I have in common with Pat Conroy

This is a repost. I composed this on December 7, 2013, when we lived in Texas. A lot has changed since I wrote this post. My father died in July 2014. My husband now has contact with one of his daughters and they have done a lot of reconciliation. This post was true as of 2013, at least from my perspective. It’s now 2023, so please bear that in mind… I’m just reposting this because it includes a book review. Incidentally, I believe Pat Conroy’s daughter, Susannah, eventually came around, too.

Yesterday, was my husband’s daughter’s 20th birthday.  Surprisingly enough, we didn’t talk about her.  We usually talk about my husband’s kids on significant days like their birthdays or on Christmas.  I don’t know if he thought about her at all, though I did, in a fleeting way.  I have only met her once, but she’s still my husband’s kid and he loves her, despite her painful rejection of his affections. ETA: My husband’s daughter is a totally different person since she got away from her mother.

I don’t like my husband’s kids.  I liked them when I met them and I know they’ve been used as pawns and were lied to.  But that doesn’t change the way they’ve behaved.  I never had enough time to get to know them and understand why they are the way they are.  I’ve only seen the aftermath of their actions, which were devastating and deeply painful to their father and to me, simply because I happen to live with and love their dad.  And so, as curious as I am about them and as sorry as I am that things are the way they are, I don’t want to know them. ETA: I’m glad I know younger daughter better today.

Curiously, as I write this, I am also thinking about Pat Conroy’s latest book, The Death of Santini.  Pat Conroy and I share some common experiences.  We are both children of alcoholic, abusive military officers.  Pat and I were both born and raised in the South.  We have lived and spent time in some of the same places.  We both have Celtic origins.  And like my husband, Pat Conroy has a daughter who doesn’t speak to him. 

Conroy’s daughter, Susannah, is a product of his second marriage.  She was born in Italy, where Conroy and his second wife, Lenore, were living at the time.  If you read Conroy’s novel, Beach Music, you get a sense of her.  It seems to me it was around the time that novel came out that Susannah quit talking to her father.  I’m sure the book and her parents’ divorce had a lot to do with that decision.  As I don’t know what it’s like to live with Pat Conroy, I can’t say whether or not the decision was ultimately justified.  I will say that based on what Conroy writes in The Death of Santini, his second wife had things in common with Bill’s ex wife.

Conroy’s latest book also deals a lot with the divorce and death of his parents.  He adored his mother, though admits that she was a very flawed person.  Conroy’s books always feature a beautiful mother figure who is both vain and ambitious.  He had a complicated love/hate relationship with his fighter pilot father, whom he alternately describes as a heartless tyrant and a comical, larger than life, hero of a man. 

While my own parents aren’t quite as vivid as Conroy’s parents apparently were, I am familiar with the roles.  My dad was an Air Force navigator who had ambitions to be a pilot and once told me that had he done it over, he would have joined the Marines and been a fighter pilot.  My mother is a beautiful, classy woman who always seemed to aspire to better living.  Without benefit of a bachelor’s degree, she ran her own business for about 30 years and played organ for local churches.  They are still married and will celebrate 56 years of marriage three days after Christmas.  Or… maybe my mom will remember it. My dad has pretty severe dementia these days.

Conroy’s book has him sort of reconciling with his parents.  I don’t know if it really happened the way he describes it, though it makes for a hell of a story.  It’s unlikely I will reconcile with my dad because my dad is not in his right mind and lives about 1500 miles away from me.  I mostly get along with my mother, when she’s not in a mood. ETA: My mom is a totally different person since my dad passed.

I have three sisters, too.  They are much older and we’ve never been very close.  I have a cordial relationship with two of my sisters and pretty much avoid talking to the third one.  Like me, Conroy has a sister who is at odds with him.  However, my sister is not quite as brilliant or batshit crazy as Conroy’s apparently is.  Carol Conroy is a poet and, reading her brother’s book, I’m led to believe that she’s brilliant.  I see on Amazon.com that she has one book currently available called The Beauty Wars and on the book’s cover, she’s called Carol “Yonroy”.  I don’t read a lot of poetry, but somehow I don’t doubt that Pat’s sister is talented… though not nearly as famous as he is.  She might deeply resent that. 

On the other hand, Conroy seems to have a mostly convivial relationship with his brothers, two of whom worked at “Bull Street”, which is where the state mental hospital in South Carolina was located. I am familiar with that complex because I, too, worked there when I lived in South Carolina.  It was when worked for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) as a graduate assistant.  I want to say the state mental hospital had been relocated by that time… I think it’s now on Farrow Road.  But the buildings are still there and if you read Conroy’s novels, you will read his references to it.  It’s where they used to send the crazy folks. 

Pat Conroy’s youngest brother, Tom, had schizophrenia and spent a lot of time on “Bull Street”.  He spent a lot of time as a crazy derelict, wandering around Columbia, getting into legal trouble, and eventually taking his own life.  Pat writes about this in his book and it was eerie to read, since his brother killed himself by jumping off the 14th floor of the Cornell Arms apartment building, which is just kitty cornered to the South Carolina Statehouse.  I used to walk and jog around that area a lot and I know just where that building is located.  Tom Conroy died in August 1994, just months after I finished my college degree at Longwood College and only a few years before I would matriculate at the University of South Carolina, where Conroy (after earning a degree at The Citadel) and his siblings also studied. 

In one part of his latest book, he writes about delivering a eulogy for James Dickey on the campus at USC… in the Horseshoe, where he could easily see the building where his brother died.  I spent a lot of time on the Horseshoe, a beautiful, historic, lush part of campus.  And when I was a student at Longwood, I had a couple of professors who earned their doctoral degrees at USC.  One of my professors studied under Dickey and went drinking with him.  

Though I didn’t study English at USC, I often felt a tug toward that department when I would see writers come to speak there.  Pat Conroy spoke at USC in 2000; he was a last minute replacement for the late Kurt Vonnegut, another favorite writer who had to cancel because of a house fire.  I would have gone to hear either of them speak, but I was delighted that Conroy visited… I even flunked a healthcare finance exam so I could attend.  Granted, I probably would have flunked the exam regardless, but Conroy gave me a good reason to quit studying.  In the grand scheme of things, passing the exam ultimately wouldn’t have made a difference in my life.  Technically, I got a D on the exam, but ended up passing the class with a suitable grade.

Anyway… this post has rambled on long enough.  I just wanted to put in words these thoughts, which don’t really belong in a book review, but are still in my head.  I really feel a kinship with Pat Conroy, not just because he’s a southern writer, but because his life has many parallels to mine.  And we both share a love of ribald humor.  If you’re a Conroy fan, I recommend reading his latest non-fiction effort.  In fact, I would say that as much as I like his novels, his non-fiction books are far better in my opinion.  But I guess he had to become famous by fictionalizing his life story in several novels before people would care about the real story.

And below are the comments on the original posts…

AlexisAR

December 10, 2013 at 8:29 AM

I took a class in regional literature last year. The only thing of value I took from it that I didn’t have going into it was exposure to Conroy’s writings. I’m not a southerner but enjoy his works nonetheless. 

Replies

  1. knottyDecember 10, 2013 at 3:16 PM Most of Pat Conroy’s books are basically the same story. But he has such a way with language that his novels can be a joy to read. I didn’t like his last one, South of Broad, so much, but the others are very entertaining. I love his non-fiction books even more, though. He has led a very interesting life. I imagine he’s not too easy to live with, though.

The Author

January 22, 2019 at 4:32 PM

Pat Conroy’s brother didn’t jump from the 14th floor. I lived there at the time and was with a friend on that floor at the time and actually saw him fall past the window. He may have jumped from the 15th floor as he was helping a wheelchair-bound tenant there. But more likely the roof, as it was easily accessible at the time. After the suicide they made it virtually impossible to access the roof.

Replies

  1. knottyJanuary 22, 2019 at 5:02 PM Interesting… and very sad. Thank you for commenting. This post gets a surprising number of hits. Pat obviously meant a lot to many people.

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book reviews, law, true crime, Virginia

Reviewing Anatomy of an Execution: The Life and Death of Douglas Christopher Thomas, by Todd C. Peppers and Laura Trevvett Anderson…

Recently, I mentioned that I would be reviewing an honest to God book, rather than a Kindle download. Thanks to a snowstorm and concerted effort, I’ve just finished reading that book, Anatomy of an Execution: The Life and Death of Douglas Christopher Thomas. It wasn’t easy to read this well-researched 2009 book, written by Todd C. Peppers and Laura Trevvett Anderson. Not only was the subject matter difficult and depressing, but the print was also very small for my 50 year old eyes. I ended up investing in a book light to help me with the process. Even with multifocal contact lenses, I still have some trouble with fine print!

In any case, I did finish the book this afternoon, and I’ve been very eager to review it. Based on hits on previous true crime blog posts about Jessica Wiseman and Chris Thomas, I know people are still interested in reading about this 1990 murder case out of Middlesex, Virginia. On December 17, 2022, this blog received a huge influx of hits. Someone linked an earlier blog post mentioning Jessica Wiseman on Reddit. The post in question wasn’t even just about Jessica Wiseman. It only mentioned her case in relation to another true crime case out of Wisconsin.

I decided to seek out more information about the murders and, sure enough, discovered Peppers’ and Anderson’s book. Anatomy of an Execution is not available on Kindle, although the printed version is available through Amazon Prime for $29.95. I don’t often read actual books anymore. Kindle makes reading after lights out easier, plus the print is larger and more adjustable. I also like Kindle books because it’s easy to share passages and make notes. Nevertheless, I was so intrigued by this murder case that I decided to order the physical book, even though it meant temporarily being a Luddite. It arrived a few days ago and I quickly devoured it.

Who are Jessica Wiseman and Chris Thomas? Why is there a book about them?

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in Gloucester County, in the Middle Peninsula of Virginia. Gloucester is adjacent to rural Middlesex County, which is just north. On November 10, 1990, I was a freshman at Longwood College (now Longwood University). It was just before Thanksgiving break. On that night, a horrific murder took place in Middlesex. A 14 year old girl named Jessica Wiseman, and her 17 year old boyfriend, Chris Thomas, murdered Jessica’s parents, James Baxter and Kathy Wiseman. The two thought they were in love, and Jessica’s parents– specifically her father– had forbidden them to be together. Chris took a shotgun from his uncle’s house and snuck over to Jessica’s house in the middle of the night. Then, together, the two made the worst decision of their lives.

Jessica had greased the window in her bedroom, to make sure it didn’t squeak as Chris climbed through it on that fateful November night. Even as he entered Jessica’s bedroom, Chris didn’t think he’d actually go through with the plan to commit murder. Jessica was determined. She had spread drug paraphernalia on the floor, to make it look like a drug deal gone bad.

As Chris stood by, Jessica warned him to shoot her daddy before he woke up, lest he kill Chris. Chris fired, and J.B. Wiseman died instantly. Then he shot Kathy Wiseman, but she got out of bed and staggered into Jessica’s bedroom. That time, Jessica fired, and Kathy Wiseman died. In a tragic display of misguided chivalry, Chris Thomas confessed to killing both parents. Because he confessed to firing the shot that killed Kathy Wiseman, Chris Thomas was charged with capital murder, which made him eligible for the death penalty.

I’m not sure if I was aware of the Wiseman murders when they happened. That was before everyone was online, and I was busy with college. I read the local newspapers a lot in those days, and I do remember that Jessica Wiseman and Chris Thomas were frequently reported about in the newspapers. The case had caused quite a scandal because, at that time in Virginia, no one under the age of 15 could be tried as an adult, regardless of how serious their crimes were. Jessica Wiseman was fourteen years old when she convinced Chris Thomas to murder her parents. She spent just under seven years in juvenile hall, and was released on July 26, 1997, which was her 21st birthday. Chris Thomas, by contrast, was tried as an adult. He was executed on January 10, 2000. He was 26 years old when he died.

Who are Todd C. Peppers and Laura Trevvett Anderson?

At this writing, author Todd C. Peppers is a lawyer and a visiting professor of law at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. He is also on the faculty of the Department of Public Affairs at Roanoke College, in Salem, Virginia. He’s written several books besides Anatomy of an Execution, and specializes in the Death Penalty, Judicial Behavior, Supreme Court History, and Torts.

Co-author Laura Trevvett Anderson taught special education at Clover Hill High School in Midlothian, Virginia, part of Chesterfield County. For two years, Chris Thomas was one of her students. Anderson formed a special bond with her former student. She served as his spiritual advisor before he was executed on January 10, 2000.

Chris’s tragic story…

Chris was born to Margaret and Billy Thomas, a couple who met in 1972 at Donk’s, a pool hall and concert venue in nearby Mathews County. Donk’s is another name that everyone living near Gloucester knew of, back in the day. Sadly, although the two got married, they were not a love match. Billy was abusive to Margaret. She was also a lesbian. The two got divorced in the months following Chris’s May 29, 1973 birth.

Because of Margaret’s lesbian lifestyle, and the fact that she worked as a prison guard, she decided to have her parents adopt Chris. Then, she moved to Chesterfield County, a suburb of Richmond, Virginia. Consequently, for the earliest years of his life, Chris Thomas was raised by his grandparents, Herbert and Virginia Marshall. Peppers writes that Margaret was jealous of her son, because her parents provided better for him that they had her when she was coming of age. Margaret also had siblings nearby who helped raise Chris in his early years.

In 1985, when Chris Thomas was about eleven years old, he experienced a trifecta of tragedies. His grandfather, Herbert, died of a brain tumor. A few months after that, his grandmother died of ovarian cancer. He also lost his favorite uncle, Winfrey. Chris went to live with Margaret and her lover, and her lover’s children, in Chesterfield. He hated Chesterfield because it was too urban for him. Chris loved to hunt and take solitary walks. He couldn’t do that in Chesterfield, which is much more populated. Chris also resented his mother’s lifestyle, and the fact that she helped raise her lover’s children, but hadn’t been raising him. Chris found a friend in Laura Anderson, a very dedicated special education teacher. With her help, his grades in school improved. But he was still miserable in Chesterfield, and eventually went back to Middlesex.

Chris went to live with his Uncle Herbert and Aunt Brenda Marshall. Herbert had been abusive to Chris when he was younger. He’d even told Chris that he was the reason his parents had died. Nevertheless, Herbert and Brenda provided him with a home in Piankatank Shores, a housing subdivision in Middlesex. Jessica Wiseman also lived there with her parents, along with her grandparents and great-grandparents. Jessica was reportedly a spoiled girl, whose grandparents and great grandparents provided her with everything she could want. She even had her own golf cart for getting around the subdivision. When she wrecked it, they bought her a new one. She had her own bedroom in each of their homes, too.

Chris was a good looking kid, who’d had a number of “girlfriends” younger than he was. Jessica caught his eye, and it wasn’t long before they were spending all of their time together. Chris was also getting in trouble with the law– committing petty, non-violent crimes. Without Laura Anderson’s committed mentorship, Chris’s school performance plummeted. He didn’t care. Neither did Jessica, whose family members didn’t seem interested in instilling a sense of responsibility within her. She and Chris were sexually active, and Jessica worried about pregnancy. She wanted Chris to marry her, but her father, who worked as a truck driver, forbade it. That was when she came up with her plan to murder her parents. Sadly, Chris Thomas let her talk him into helping her with her plan. He paid for that mistake with his life.

My thoughts on the book

I found Anatomy of an Execution a fascinating read on so many levels. Again, I grew up in Gloucester, Virginia, and some of the judges and lawyers involved in the Wiseman murders were from my hometown. Although I was never unfortunate enough to meet any judges or lawyers from Gloucester in an official capacity, it was impossible to read our local newspaper in the 80s and 90s and not see the names of the people who worked on this case. Peppers does a great job of telling Chris Thomas’s story, starting from the tragic beginning.

This book is extremely well-written and researched. There are some typos in the book, as well as a few very minor fractured facts. Peppers refers to Clover Hill as being in Richmond, for instance, when it’s not. I used to drive past Clover Hill on my way to Longwood and had a roommate who graduated from there. Richmond is its own city. However, this is a very minor quibble, in my view. Peppers has jam packed Anatomy of an Execution with information, as well as notes for further research. Chris Thomas’s case is also very poignant. Peppers and Anderson do a fine job of humanizing Chris Thomas and other people on death row.

There was a time when I was in favor of the death penalty. Gloucester County and its environs are chock full of political conservatives, so it’s hard not to go with the locals, especially when you’re a teenager. I have since become more of a (GASP) liberal, and for the most part, I disagree with capital punishment. It was amazing to me when Virginia abolished capital punishment in 2021. I never thought I would see the day.

Anatomy of an Execution was published in 2009, when the death penalty was still legal in Virginia. I’m sure Peppers was as surprised as I was when it was outlawed, as Peppers makes it very clear how very eager Virginia politicians and lawmakers were to maintain it. Peppers is very thorough as he explains the history of capital punishment in Virginia and the many injustices defendants faced in capital murder cases. I found it all fascinating and even wound up looking up a lot of the people involved in this case. Many of the main players are now deceased.

Thomas’s defense lawyer, Damian T. Horne, and his now wife and then co-counsel, Sydney West, are still living and have moved to New Mexico. Peppers doesn’t seem to think much of Horne or West, neither of whom were experienced enough for the case. But he also points out that back in the early 90s, Virginia only paid $600 total to criminal defense lawyers who represented indigent clients.

Chris Thomas’s original lawyer, the late Benton Pollok, was very experienced and had a passion for criminal law, but he had to be replaced due to a conflicting case he was handling involving a private client willing to pay him for his time. The late Judge John Folkes (from Gloucester) apparently didn’t like Pollok, and would not work with him to reschedule the court appointments. Consequently, Pollok was forced to withdraw from the case. Ironically, Pollok had to sue the his “paying client”, who wasn’t so eager to pay him, after all. If Chris had been able to keep Pollok as his lawyer, it’s likely he’d still be alive today.

I also shook my head as I read some of the letters exchanged between Chris Thomas and Jessica Wiseman. It’s pretty plain that Jessica manipulated the hell out of Chris. No, he shouldn’t have committed murder and he absolutely deserved punishment. But he was just a kid when he committed his crimes, and he did not have good counsel. His story is tragic and poignant. It’s a good reminder of how young people can get caught up in terrible situations that lead to their destruction. It’s crazy to me that Jessica spent less than seven years locked up in juvenile hall. She’s out now, has changed her name, and is free to live her life. Meanwhile, her former boyfriend is long dead, and people are haunted by his memory.

Final thoughts

I highly recommend Anatomy of an Execution to anyone who wants to know the whole story behind the Wiseman murder case out of Middlesex, Virginia. I only wish the type in this book were a bit larger and/or it could be downloaded on Kindle. I’m definitely not sorry I took the time to read this book. I especially enjoyed reading about the former Virginia State Penitentiary. He also writes about the former death row in Mecklenburg, where Chris spent most of his years on death row (and where a different former college roommate’s father used to work). Chris was later moved to Sussex I Prison in Waverly, Virginia, where death row was moved in 1998 and remained until the death penalty in Virginia was abolished in 2021.

Peppers writes about how local eighth graders were allowed to visit the Virginia State Penitentiary when it was empty in 1991. I wonder if Peppers knows that other schools took students there to visit it before it closed. I have mentioned before that my government teacher took our class to the Virginia State Penitentiary in the spring of 1990, before all of the inmates were moved. We saw one of the cell blocks, as well as the death house. The electric chair was still in use at the time. Some of my classmates even sat on it! I think that’s when I started to change my mind about capital punishment. I’m glad I changed my mind.

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book reviews, celebrities, royals

My long awaited thoughts on Prince Harry’s “tell all” book, Spare…

Smirk…

I doubt many people have long awaited my thoughts on anything, let alone Prince Harry’s “tell all” book, Spare. I do have a few die hard regulars, though, so here’s my promised review of Harry’s controversial tome about life as the “spare” to the heir of the British crown. At this writing, Prince Harry is currently sixth in line to the throne. When Harry was born to the Prince and Princess of Wales, Charles and Diana, September 15, 1984, he was third in line. Charles had famously joked about having an heir and a spare. Harry’s older brother, Prince William, and his lovely wife Catherine, now have three darling children, so the “spare” has lost some status… in terms of his royal rank, anyway.

For me, personally, it’s been awkward watching the fallout of their exile from the kingdom. I have never had a problem with Prince Harry. Before I read Spare, I didn’t know that much about him. I didn’t have a problem with Meghan Markle until I started paying closer attention to some of her behaviors. Regardless of how I might feel about either Harry or Meghan, or the two of them as a couple, they’re basically competent adults who should be allowed to chart their own course in life. My main issue with Harry and Meghan is that their actions don’t correspond with what they say. I kept hearing them talk about being hounded by paparazzi, and yet they seem very determined to be in the public eye.

Writing a tell all book about the secretive British Royal Family seems counterintuitive to the idea of avoiding the press. Harry has repeatedly expressed disgust for the press, and yet here he is, courting the press with a book that the Palace clearly didn’t want him to publish. My initial thoughts were that Spare was going to be a heartfelt “fuck you” to the British Royal Family. For the same reason, I have avoided watching their Netflix series. But then, although I continue to pay for Netflix, I hardly watch it anyway.

Originally, I wasn’t going to read Spare. I’ve grown tired of hearing about Harry and Meghan, and their constant complaints about the British Royal Family. I changed my mind when I happened to catch a video of CNN’s Anderson Cooper talking about Spare. It’s not even that I’m an Anderson Cooper fan. I just thought his comments about the book made it sound like something I’d want to read. So, on January 10th, I joined the many thousands of people who bought Harry’s book.

I finished reading Spare yesterday. Today– January 18, 2023– marks the third anniversary of the day when the Palace released the statement telling the world that Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, would be “stepping back” from their official roles representing the Queen. For three years, Harry and Meghan have lived outside of the United Kingdom. The couple currently make their home in an expensive mansion in exclusive Montecito, California, where they live among A-list celebrities. They have two beautiful and reportedly healthy children. They also have gobs of money, even though the Palace has cut them off, as Harry bitterly complains. Still, as I read Spare, I found myself empathizing with Harry. He’s clearly a very troubled man. Trauma is a bitch for anyone, regardless of their station in life.

So… about the book…

Hiring a competent ghostwriter is one thing that Prince Harry did right when he decided to publish Spare. I think Pulitzer Prize winning author and journalist, J.R. Moehringer, was the right man for the job. Moehringer seems to have a penchant for sentence fragments that ordinarily would have annoyed me. I get the sense that he used that style to capture the essence of Harry. By many accounts– apparently even Harry’s own– Prince Harry isn’t a reader. Although he went to “fancy” private British boarding schools, he does not excel at academics.

Harry was forced to act in the Shakespeare play, Much Ado About Nothing, to satisfy a graduation requirement at Eton College. It was an activity Harry didn’t particularly want to take part in, as he doesn’t share his father’s love of Shakespeare. Harry was much more a fan of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, a much shorter and more readable book with characters that were relatable to Harry. It’s been many years since I read that book myself, but it seems kind of inspired that Harry would relate so much to an American novel about an “odd couple” navigating life in 1930s California. So, although some readers don’t care for Moehringer’s fragmented writing in Spare, I think it makes sense. In fact, as I read the book, I could practically hear Harry in my head.

I found Spare very engaging and readable. At times it was funny for the right reasons. Moehringer manages to capture a charming and humorous side of Harry that makes him seem likable and “regular”. Other times I laughed for the “wrong” reasons. I went over some of them yesterday, in my post about why Meghan Markle makes my “N” chimes sound. There were more examples that I didn’t include in yesterday’s post. Sometimes, Harry just seemed incredibly naive and immature to me, especially given that he was an officer in the British Army.

Harry relates a story about taking Meghan to meet Fergie. She supposedly doesn’t know anything at all about the British Royal Family. Harry tells Meghan she must curtsy to the Queen and call her “Your Majesty” and “Ma’am.” Fergie demonstrates the curtsy once, and Meghan tries it. Then, when the big moment arrives, Meghan performs perfectly. Harry acts all amazed about this. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that maybe Meghan isn’t being truthful about not studying up on the British Royal Family.

It’s not like Meghan hasn’t told a whopper or two, since she first arrived on the royal scene. But, I suppose that’s what makes Harry so appealing to her. He takes her at her word and never questions her. I think Harry’s apparent blind loyalty to Meghan is what seems to upset Prince William so much. William is the heir to the throne, and his station in life depends on maintaining the status quo. Some British people would like to see the end of the British Royal Family, so their survival depends on people toeing the line. Meghan hasn’t been obeying protocol, so of course that upsets the powers that be.

Harry is firmly on Meghan’s side, and doesn’t seem to think she can do wrong. That even applies to her curtsy, which she apparently learned on the fly, just before meeting Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. As frustrating reading as that might be for me, I think it’s an authentic aspect of Prince Harry’s personality. So kudos to Mr. Moehringer for managing to capture that so expertly. His role as a ghostwriter is to make the book seem like it came straight from the source. I think he succeeded.

And the content?

There are some parts of Spare that I genuinely enjoyed reading. I found Harry’s descriptions of exotic places in Africa enchanting, especially when he meets wild animals in Botswana. I liked reading about Harry’s Army training, especially since my husband is an Army veteran. It was fun sharing some of Harry’s insights with Bill, who could relate and expand upon Harry’s comments. There are some aspects of military service that transcend all nations.

Other parts of Spare were more annoying to me. As I mentioned yesterday, I find some of Meghan’s behaviors triggering and all too familiar. Like, for instance, before Harry and Meghan were married, and Meghan was showing Harry how to roast chicken. He’d never done it before, nor had he ever been exposed to the music of Nina Simone or, one of my favorites, James Taylor. During that evening, Meghan evidently made a comment that came across as an offensive “crack”. Harry describes it thusly:

This was a passage that triggered me, mainly because my husband’s ex wife tried to convince him that he “hated women” and needed intensive therapy. Now… I’m not saying that either Bill or Harry didn’t need therapy. In fact, for as long as I’ve known him, I’ve encouraged Bill to speak to someone besides me about his trauma. I’m happy to report that he finally did seek therapy from a Jungian analyst. But it was entirely in his own time, when he was ready to do it. He chose his own therapist and therapeutic model. It’s been very successful and rewarding for Bill.

When I read the above passage, I hear Harry taking all of the blame for what happened in that situation. Meghan implies that Harry is a damaged soul, and if he doesn’t seek therapy, she’s going to dump him. It was the same threat my husband got from his ex wife. Of course, in Bill’s case, Ex’s decision to dump him was a huge blessing. But, at the time, Ex’s declaration that he was a dangerous misogynist was not only totally untrue, but extremely damaging and traumatizing for Bill. She really had no right to do that. Neither did Meghan have the right to insist that Harry see a therapist.

I think Meghan knew very well that Harry was, and still is, totally smitten by her. I have a hard time believing that if the situation were reversed and Harry felt that Meghan was disrespectful to him, she would take kindly to being ordered into psychotherapy. Therapy works best when it’s approached voluntarily. Ideally, people should seek therapy as a means of helping themselves, not because they’ve been threatened or bullied into treatment. Moreover, when a person is coerced into seeking mental health care, it can set up a narrative that the person is somehow “unstable” or even “sick”, which can later be weaponized.

Therapy probably has been helpful for Harry, if only because the therapist told him that she thinks part of Harry is trapped in 1997, which is when he lost his mother, Diana. He’s obviously still traumatized by losing his mother at such a young age. The trauma was such that he’d forgotten a lot of things about his youth. Harry reports that therapy has helped him recover some memories, some of which have been pleasant. Therapy has also helped Harry cry, which I’m sure helps him process his 25 years of profound grief. For years, Harry believed his mother was still alive, but in hiding. Now he accepts the truth.

Some of the sob stories kind of made me queasy…

I know some of my readers follow my personal Facebook page. They’ve seen some of the passages I’ve shared there. Yesterday, after noticing how many times Harry found Meghan “sobbing” and inconsolable, I decided to share brief snippets related to the sobbing incidents with friends. Most of my friends got where I was going with sharing about all the sobbing. I had some trouble reconciling the reports of Meghan’s “sob stories” with Meghan’s image of being “tough”, independent, and assertive. There were so many “sob stories” that I don’t want to share them here. Suffice to say, it was very noticeable and bordered on oversharing.

I think I might need to hurl, too…

Early in their relationship, Meghan got food poisoning because she ate bad calamari. Harry writes about holding her hair while she vomits. I’m sure that sharing this anecdote is supposed to convey Harry’s deep love and concern for Meghan, but again, it verges on oversharing. Ditto to Harry’s long winded stories about getting frostbite on his penis, as well as the disclosure that he and William were circumcised. On the plus side, it was the first time I’d seen the word “todger” used outside of the Monty Python number, “Penis Song”.

There’s also some controversy over Harry’s discussion of his military service in Afghanistan. Harry claims that he killed 25 members of the Taliban. Sharing that number was probably ill advised, especially if he’s truly concerned about his and his family’s personal safety. On the other hand, it really is too bad he couldn’t stay in the military. It seemed to suit him.

Some of Harry’s complaints are valid…

Even though he’s currently sixth in line to the throne, Harry was expected to ask his grandmother’s permission to marry the woman of his choice. Somehow, in spite of his upbringing, no one ever explained to him that Queen Elizabeth had to approve of his wife. When Harry awkwardly approached his Granny, she left him unsure of whether or not she’d actually approved of the union, even though she had clearly said “yes” to his request. That’s certainly a dilemma that most “normal” people never have to face. I do wonder, given what’s happened, if Queen Elizabeth II ever regretted giving Harry her permission to marry Meghan.

A lot of people might have some trouble mustering much sympathy for Harry and Meghan, but I do think there is some validity to some of their complaints. Besides the obvious lack of privacy and safety risks faced by all famous people– not just the Royals– Harry makes the case that he was kind of infantilized. At the end of his book, he writes:

At another part of the book, he writes:

Here’s this guy, who from birth, was expected to support the monarchy and raised to do what he was told. For that privilege, he enjoyed every material luxury he could ever want. When Harry dared to try to make decisions for himself, he suffered reprisals. Harry was essentially cut off from all he knew, with no room for compromise. Making matters worse was the fact that people who weren’t in the family got a say– the Bee, the Wasp, and the Fly, three advisors to the Queen, were heavily involved in the decisions regarding Harry’s and Meghan’s departure from official service to the Crown.

It reminded me of my husband’s former stepson, who at age 21, demanded that Bill continue to send him $850 a month in “child support”. He sent Bill an email demanding “timely payments” of the money. Legally, Bill wasn’t even his father, and he had a perfectly just cause for cutting off the support. When it was clear to former stepson that Bill wouldn’t acquiesce to his demands, the young man made one last pathetic plea for a final payment of $500, with the promise that he’d never “bother” Bill again. It was very embarrassing and heartbreaking for Bill to get that email. And, on some level, I’m sure it was humiliating for ex stepson to send it. That incident taught me that “helping” adult children too much often does them a disservice.

Likewise, Harry sounds humiliated as he complains about being financially dependent on his father. I don’t think Harry had a choice in the matter, even though he says he “agreed” to support the monarchy. The monarchy clearly expected Harry to loyally support it by all means. Because Harry’s life was mapped from birth, he was not taught certain essential life skills. That’s a poor reflection on his family. They should have prepared him better.

However, Harry is now a 38 year old man, a husband, and a father of two. Many people are ready for him to grow up and take responsibility for himself. Yes, he’s missed out on learning a lot of skills he should have learned decades ago. It’s past high time for him to pull himself together and catch up with his peers.

I, for one, am ready for Harry to stop complaining about money. Even if his father cut him off, his mother left him millions. He and Meghan could certainly buy a home somewhere less expensive than Montecito and live life independently. Hell, they might have enough money left over to pay for the security they say they need. They could live almost anywhere. That’s a freedom that most people will never know. And while writing this book is going to potentially cost Harry his family, it will also make him a lot of money. So now is the time for Harry to learn how to manage his affairs and act like the grown ass man that he is.

A lot of people seem to think Harry is a bit “thick”. Some have even called him stupid. I don’t think Harry is stupid. To me, he seems gullible, naive, and surprisingly immature about some things. For instance, he used up all the laughing gas intended for Meghan when she was giving birth to Archie. Besides being immature, that seems pretty inconsiderate to the woman whose hair he’d once held back as she puked up British squid. I’m sure Harry presented that anecdote to be funny– just as he wrote extensively about his frostbitten pecker. But even though it was kind of funny, it also revealed a childish, sophomoric aspect to Harry’s personality that may later prove to be embarrassing. Hopefully, he will evolve some more in that department, too.

Overall

Spare was worthwhile reading for me. I think the book will help me spawn a lot of content, if nothing else. I have mixed impressions of Harry’s story. Overall, I think he needs to grow up and get wise. But I also have some empathy for him. His situation is very unusual, and perhaps it does present a case for doing away with the British monarchy. Or, at least, maybe some changes need to be made in the way the highest royal family members raise their children.

Harry’s situation is unique, in that he lost his mother at such a young age, and she was an extraordinary woman who was world renowned. Her death was, in part, directly caused by being hounded by the press. But it also happened because Diana’s driver was drunk, and drove recklessly at excessive speeds. Diana also wasn’t wearing a seatbelt when the car crashed. Harry seems to overlook that part of the story as he blames the press for all that is wrong in the world.

In any case, I recommend Spare to the interested. I will probably seek out more books written by J.R. Moehringer. He did a fantastic job writing Harry’s story.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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blog news, book reviews, business

Why reposts can really pay off handsomely…

Reposts can really pay off handsomely… I know this to be true. I’m sure some readers wonder why I recycle content. In fact, I’m reminded of Sting, one of my favorite musicians, who is quite adept at the rehash. Listen to his songs– often, you’ll find snippets of older songs within them. Sometimes, he reuses lyrics from another song, or maybe a riff. He’s also been known to completely redo his songs, even bonafide hits like “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.”

“Don’t Stand So Close to Me” circa 1981…
Rehashed and revamped in 1986…
And yet another revamp… totally different.

It can be a good idea to revamp and rehash. Yesterday, I was reminded why, as I looked at my Amazon.com SiteStripe, not expecting any surprises. I have been an Amazon Associate since 2004. After all of those years, I don’t think I’ve so much as made $200 in commissions. I tend to get $10 payments every few months. My purpose in blogging isn’t to sell things, so it doesn’t bother me that I don’t make much money. However, it is nice when making money happens.

Lately, I’ve written more fresh book reviews. However, since I moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress, I’ve been reposting old stuff. Old book reviews are very interesting to some people. Lately many people are hitting my review of Going My Own Way, a 1983 book written by Bing Crosby’s son, Gary. Some have also read my reviews of Debby Boone’s 1981 memoir, So Far, and Debby’s sister Cherry’s book, Starving for Attention.

The biggest surprise, though, was revealed yesterday. Within the past couple of days, someone visited my review of Dian Hanson’s 2011 book, The Big Book of Pussy. The person who visited used my Amazon.com link to purchase a copy of the book. Provided they keep the book (and I’m not holding my breath), I’ll get a $22 commission in March. That’s pretty cool!

I bought The Big Book of Pussy completely whimsically about ten years ago. It’s one of a trio of books I own by Hanson. I first noticed Hanson’s 3D photography book, The Big Book of Breasts, in 2009. It was when we lived in Germany the first time, and I was on a day trip to Munich. I was walking past a bookstore when I noticed Hanson’s book in the window. When I moved back to the States, I ordered it from Amazon.

This book isn’t as scandalous as it seems…

Amazon was doing its usual “suggestive selling”, and they also recommended The Big Book of Pussy and The Big Butt Book. Since I was ordering anyway, I decided to get those books, too. Then, I reviewed all three of them for the now defunct product review site, Epinions.com. Hanson also wrote books about legs and penises, but I decided not to order those. When we moved back to Germany in 2014, I left most of my books in storage. Dian Hanson’s books are big coffee table affairs, and we had limited funds for shipping our household items. Three big books that I don’t look at often would have taken up valuable space and weight.

At some point, Hanson’s artsy body part books went out of print, even though people are clearly still interested in them. I see that reasonably priced and sized “little” versions are available of her books, but not the big ones like I own. Now, I kind of wish I’d brought them with me, because there’s obviously a market for them. In fact, sometimes I catch myself missing other items I have in storage. I wish we had our curio/china cabinet, for instance. I also wish I had my karaoke disc collection, my photo albums, and my mom’s piano. Of course, mom’s piano is extremely heavy, and I don’t play well at all. But I could learn!

I know that sooner or later, we’ll eventually reunite with the rest of our belongings. I just don’t know when that will be. Right now, Bill wants to buy a house in Europe somewhere and settle here. If we do that, it will mean going to the States temporarily to settle our affairs. If we don’t, we’ll just move back home somewhere.

I do appreciate it when people make purchases through my Amazon links. I don’t expect people to do that, but it’s really nice when it happens. It’s a great feeling when someone finds one of my posts useful, especially when it’s a review. I wanted to share this news on Facebook but, given the recently draconian bot discipline over there, I thought better of it. I’m afraid someone might report me for being too “suggestive” when I crow about selling a rare copy of The Big Book of Pussy. Story of my life… I can’t be completely transparent to most people about exactly where I met Bill, either. 😉

Anyway, if you’ve made a purchase through my blog, thank you very much. Especially if you’re the one who bought Hanson’s rare book, which is going for a lot more than I think it’s worth. I hope the book turns out to be all you hope it will be! And if it doesn’t, and you return the book, I’ll understand. Still, I’ve definitely learned that reposts can pay off handsomely. Oh… and sex sells!

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book reviews, true crime

A review of Click Click Click: From the Say My Name Series, by Karen DeVanie and Anne Varner…

A couple of days ago, an old college friend of mine sent me a private message on Facebook. Initially, I was a little concerned, because the message began with the words “Click Click Click,” and an unfamiliar link. I was afraid she’d been hacked. It turned out my friend had sent a link to Amazon.com, where a book titled Click Click Click: From the Say My Name Series was for sale.

This book, written by sisters Anne Varner and Karen DeVanie of the Sugar Coated Murder podcast, is a “true crime” account of a notorious murder that happened in my friend’s hometown in February 1990. I have written about this murder a couple of times in this blog. My old friend wanted my opinion of the book. She wrote that she found the writing “amateurish”. She hoped I could offer an unbiased opinion, since I’m not from her hometown and don’t know the people involved.

I already had big plans to start reading Prince Harry’s book, Spare. However, I’ve noticed that a lot of people have been hitting my two links about the murder of seventeen year old Raymond Trent Whitley, perpetrated by Whitley’s classmates, Frederick “West” Greene and Michael Jervey. Click Click Click, only consists of 133 pages and promised to be a fast read. I told my friend, who had also been a high school classmate of Trent’s, Mike’s, and West’s in tiny Franklin, Virginia, that I would read the book and write a review. True to my word, I’m now working on the review, as the book was a very quick and easy read. I’m sad to say, my friend was right about the writing.

First thing’s first…

I am not from Franklin, Virginia. Although I am from Virginia, I have never so much as visited Franklin. I don’t have a connection to the city or this case, other than knowing my friend, and meeting West Greene once, when my friend brought him to visit our alma mater, Longwood College (now Longwood University). At the time, West was a cadet at Virginia Military Institute, the military college my father, uncle, and several cousins attended. The fact that he went to VMI is probably the main reason I remembered West Greene. I remember my friend really liked West. Indeed, he’d seemed like a nice enough person when I briefly met him that one time.

It later came out that West, and his friend, Mike Jervey, had murdered their classmate, Trent Whitley, over an insult. My old friend was devastated when she heard about it. I remember her on the verge of tears, saying over and over again, “How could he do that?” She was absolutely gutted.

In 2013, I randomly decided to write a blog post called “Crime blasts from the past“. It was a post about several cases from my youth that I recalled. I remembered West Greene and wrote about him, never dreaming that my old friend would find the post and comment. Then, we hooked up on Facebook, and she told me more about how this case had affected her hometown, a place where “everyone knows everyone else’s business.”

Now, Jervey and Greene are out of prison, which has rattled many people from Franklin.. That’s probably why I keep getting hits on my blog posts about this case. Obviously, there was interest in a book to be written about Trent Whitley’s murder so long ago. Enter Anne Varner and Karen DeVanie, two sisters who happen to originally come from Franklin, Virginia and run a true crime podcast that marries murder with their love of baking sweets.

What happened?

According to Click Click Click, back in 1988, 16 year old Michael Jervey was in a bad way. His father had not been well, and in spite of visits to doctors, the cause of illness was elusive. Mr. Jervey finally went to Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, where he received a cancer diagnosis. Mike’s father spent a few weeks hospitalized. He never made it out again. Mike blamed his mother for not telling him about his dad’s illness. Her reticence caused Mike to lose precious time with his dad before he died. The young man was angry and reclusive, until he paired up with West Greene, a popular classmate whose father had been a prison warden.

West Greene and Mike Jervey reportedly became obsessed with the idea of killing someone. Based on Click Click Click, the two had an unwritten “list” of people who had crossed them and could be candidates for killing. They would strike names from the list if a person unlucky enough to be on it sincerely apologized. If they didn’t, they were “fair game” for murder. Say someone made a joke at the boys’ expense, or somehow embarrassed them in another way. They might end up on the list. But if they somehow made amends, they would be safe… at least until the next perceived slight.

Supposedly, no one else was any the wiser that these two guys were planning violence, but my friend tells me that actually, there were a few people who knew about the plot. Evidently, no one chose to do anything about it, or take the warning signs seriously. Then, on February 23, 1990, Jervey and Greene lured Whitley to a construction area and shot him in the head.

Varner and DeVanie include graphic details about Whitley’s brain matter splattered all over Jervey’s pants, and the blood stains in the trunk of his car. They had wrapped Trent Whitley in a stolen tarp and used the car, a gift from Jervey’s mother, to take Whitley’s body to Jervey’s family’s farm. That was where Greene and Jervey buried him in a shallow grave. For two years, no one knew what had happened to Trent Whitley. It wasn’t until Jervey had an attack of conscience and confessed, that the authorities finally found his body. Then, Trent finally got a proper burial.

My thoughts on the book…

I think Click Click Click could have been a much better book than it is. It appears that Mike Jervey contacted the sisters after they did a podcast about “his case”. More than once, they write about the email. Below is a screenshot.

Yikes!

Apple describes the sisters’ podcast as “comedy”, and it gets very good ratings. At this writing, Sugar Coated Murder scores a 4.9 rating out of 5 stars. Personally, I have a hard time with the idea that murders can be considered comical, but I will admit I haven’t listened to their podcast. I got the sense that Varner and DeVanie tried to frame their book the way they do their podcast. I don’t follow Sugar Coated Murder, so I was confused.

The book starts in a dramatic way, as if it were more of a novel than a true crime book. Honestly, at first, I felt like I was reading the script for a very watered down Lifetime movie version of a true crime case. I have nothing against using an evocative style in a true crime book, but it wasn’t immediately clear to me who these women are, and what their connection to Franklin is.

The sisters mention their “momma”, and the locals in Franklin, writing in the first person plural, as if they’re part of the story… which they kind of are, since they’re from Franklin. They write about their “daddy’s” pharmacy, the paper mill, the community college, other crimes from the past, and how Franklin is a little town where everyone knows each other. Those details aren’t totally useless, but the sisters initially failed to connect them to the crime story.

Because I am not familiar with the sisters’ podcast, I was confused about why “they” were in the story, initially writing as if they were directly involved. Especially since they wrote that they’d left Franklin by the time this crime occurred. I was expecting a book only about the crime, not the authors’ personal connections to Franklin. Now I think they were simply explaining that they’re from the tiny community, and what life is like there.

As the book continued, it became more obviously about Mike Jervey, and it seemed to be mostly from his perspective. Mike Jervey’s perspective is valuable, of course, but it’s just one perspective. My friend assures me that Trent Whitley was no angel, but he certainly didn’t deserve to be murdered. Other than a somewhat sympathetic description of Whitley’s yearbook photo and graduation cap and gown, I didn’t get a sense that the sisters gave his perspective much thought. Trent Whitley was the victim, but the book really seemed to more about Mike Jervey. I didn’t understand why I, as a reader, should have sympathy for Mike, other than the fact that he lost his father at a young age.

Other issues…

Although the book credits Michelle Morrow as the editor of Click Click Click, I spotted a number of proofreading errors. Below is a screenshot of one that immediately comes to mind.

Do you see what I see? This bit was about an unrelated crime, as someone tried to steal the STEEL cash register in the authors’ father’s pharmacy. Not sure what it really had to do with Trent Whitley’s murder.

Later, they refer to the South as “the south”. The South is a specific region, making it a proper noun. Proper nouns are typically capitalized. But then they refer to a “Southern” county, capitalizing the adjective, when it should have been styled lower case. There are numerous little glitches like this, even though this book supposedly had an editor.

The authors also refer to Frederick West Greene as “Fred”, rather than “West”. I happen to know that “West” was the name he went by in school. I don’t know if there was a specific reason for using the different name, but based on the Amazon reviews, I wasn’t the only one who noticed.

But… I did learn some new things about this case…

First off, Trent Whitley was born June 19, 1972, which is the day before I was born. He was born in Franklin, which is a mere hour’s drive from my birthplace. Like me, he was a Gemini, a fact the sisters mention.

Secondly, I liked that the sisters wrote about the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility, popularly known as The Body Farm, a term coined by crime fiction novelist, Patricia Cornwell. After Jervey confessed to the crime, he told investigators where to find Trent Whitley’s body. They weren’t able to find it based only on Jervey’s description. They contacted an expert at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, who told them to consult a botanist– a person who is an expert on plants. The investigators contacted a botany professor at the local community college, who spotted differences in the vegetation on Jervey’s family’s farm. With the professor’s help, investigators found Trent Whitley’s body, and his family was able to properly and respectfully lay him to rest. I wish the sisters had commented more about that process.

And finally, Discovery Plus contacted the sisters about presenting this case on television. They were excited about the prospect of going on TV, but the deal never came to fruition. After reading this oddly titled book, I think I can understand why the show never happened.

Again… maybe I should listen to their podcast. Their storytelling abilities might come across better in that medium than it does in this book.

Anyway…

Based on the number of people who continually hit my blog posts about this case, I have a feeling that Karen DeVanie and Anne Varner will sell a lot of books. Obviously, Trent Whitley’s murder is still interesting to many people. I probably would not have read this book if not for my old friend’s request for my opinions. However, I can see that people who are from Franklin, especially, want to know more about this trio of young men whose lives were tragically and irrevocably altered (or ended) by a violent, gruesome true crime.

I do think this book could be much better than it is. It really needs better editing. I also think the sisters should have collected many more facts about the case and presented more of them, rather than endless minutiae about life in Franklin. “Comedy podcasts” about murders, combined with baking sweets, seems like a bizarre concept that wouldn’t appeal to me. But… I also admit I haven’t listened to the podcast. I might change my mind if I ever did take the time to listen to it. It’s hard to imagine that I’d want to do that, though.

I’ve written about true crime cases myself. Some people related to victims have left me angry or distraught comments. None of my posts were “comedic” in nature. I wonder how a “comedy” podcast comes across to family members of murder victims. I guess people have conceived stranger podcast concepts than that. In any case, I don’t think I would recommend Click Click Click, except to those who want to read all there is available about Trent Whitley’s murder. But, at least it’s not a super expensive title on Kindle.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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