In Cold Blood and Rule Rules

Once in a while I go on a crime spree. I binge on true crime novels.

The best of the best is In Cold Blood.images

It reads like a novel. In fact, when I first read it, I didn’t realize it was nonfiction. Truman Capote spent over 6 years on that book. Some critics complained that he took a little too much “artistic license” with the story. The literary quality of the book, though, is what makes it so good and what made In Cold Blood the first of the genre we now know as True Crime.

If Truman Capote is the father of True Crime, Ann rule is easily its mother. She is best known for The Stranger Beside Me the story of the Ted Bundy serial murders. Incredibly, Rule had actually worked with Bundy on a crisis hotline in Washington in the 1970s, years before his arrest and probably during the time he was killing young college girls across the country.  That chilling story became wildly popular and was made into a mini-series.

Ann Rule went on to write many more true crime stories, my favorite is Bitter Harvest. It takes place in Kansas City and features a brilliant, but absolutely batshit doctor intent on poisoning her ex-husband and who eventually murders two of her three children by setting her house on fire.

Rule’s titles tempt you like a pulp fiction paperback: If You Really Loved Me; Heart Full of Lies; Every Breath You Take; Green River, Running Red…etc. And pictures are included. This is one of the bonuses of true crime. Actual photographs are usually found right there in the middle of the book. Readers get a glimpse of all the story’s players before, during, and after the horrible fate they meet. We know what’s going to happen as we gaze upon smiling newlyweds or a girl on vacation with friends. Rule writes about each of the victims and their families with depth and charity — both the innocent victims and the obvious dipshits alike.

Because we already know the outcome of these stories, there are no spoiler alerts in true crime. We read for the gory details. Readers read true crime not to be told a new story, but to make sense of grizzly stories that have already played out. The task of the true crime writer is to tell how the what happened. At this task, Rule rules.

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Evelyn Sibley Lampman wrote kick-ass YA books in the 1960’s

me1notes:

Long before there was dystopian YA this and that; long before YA tackled subjects like teen pregnancy, broken homes, drug abuse; way before all that there was Evelyn Sibley Lampman and she wrote kick-ass  books for kids, circa 1960.

evelyn

I’m showing her picture here which isn’t fair I suppose because her face will take you away.   Even if you look at the picture for a second you find yourself wanting to hear what she has to say. You will want to touch her re-cut man suit very lightly on the jacket sleeve to draw her attention; you will want to catch her eye out of the corner of your eye in hopes of sharing a half smile; you will want to put aside all the books you have heaped next to your bed and go searching high and low for her books in hope there is the wee-est chance she hovers still in the ether and your search will please her.

I want to tell you some things about Evelyn before I tell you about her book:

Evelyn was a child of Oregon. Her great-great grandparents were Oregon pioneers and she grew up hearing their stories as told to her by father who was a lawyer in Dallas, Oregon. She was a country girl. In 1929 she graduated from Oregon State University, moved to Portland and became a copywriter for radio. She won awards for her work. (Country girl moves into the city professional life with apparent ease).

In 1934, Evelyn married into a writing family.  Her husband was the Oregonian’s Fish & Wildlife editor.  Her father in-law was named Ben Hur Lampman and he ran the Oregonian’s editorial page.  Ben Hur was also Oregon’s first Poet Laureate (his name//his destiny).  So it sounds like this could have been a fine family for this smart talented woman to have married into. But the truth is, the sad part is (for me) after Evelyn got married she quit her job and was forbidden by her husband to even drive a car.

What would have happened if he had lived?  Who knows. But here are the facts: at 35 Evelyn was a widow and had 2 kids to raise.  So she went back to radio work and she had her husband’s suits sized to fit her. Someone on the interwebs said she may have been the first woman to wear trousers to work in Portland.  (That doesn’t sound right to me, but no doubt she was breaking stereotypes and making her own rules all over the place at this point).

Her first novel, Crazy Creek, was published in 1947 (or ’48, the info is varied) and is a YA story about pioneer life in Oregon. By the time her 2nd book was published – Treasure Mountain–  Evelyn was able to mothball those re-cut guy suits and focus on writing.

They say her books (40 or 50 of them depending on the source) are “meticulously-researched historical and science fiction novels for young adults”. Evelyn loved the Pacific Northwest, Pacific Northwest history and was particularly intrigued by Native Americans.  When she wrote about Native Americans she was sympathetic in her portrayal of their characters which was amazing for the time.

She was an author beloved by the teachers in my grade school.  In those first years of school Evelyn’s books were a frequent choice to be read aloud during ‘rest’ period. We couldn’t get enough of those stories, stories about courageous boys and girls who came across on The Trail (no need to preface that with Oregon). Her books encouraged us to be brave and curious like her characters.  She teased our imaginations and made us want to  be the Indians rather than the Cowboys. We began to think of the Other more sympathetically.  We created intricate make-believe Oregon Trail games.  We had clear visions of how we would have made it over the final hairy patch on The Trail, the Blue Mountains.  We envisioned ourselves running down the descent perhaps barefooted, certainly dirty and  hungry and maybe even orphaned.  (Please God, let us be orphaned!)

I found White Captives in the Big Blue Lincoln City book store in February.  I held it in my hands and went all dizzy with nostalgia and glee.  I hadn’t thought of Evelyn or her stories for many years.

white captives

I’m not going to tell you much about the book.  Swing by the Oregon house sometime.  You can read it for yourself.  It is a real life tale about Indians kidnapping two young girls off The Trail after they  murdered the girls’ parents and brothers.  Besides murder and kidnapping it’s a story about slavery, illness, hunger, anger, grinding work and being very alone in an alien culture.

There isn’t a lot of subtle beauty waiting to be exposed in this story.  Boys aren’t sneaking sly glances at the main characters.  No one rises above the horrific circumstances to become a  hero.  This is not the YA dystopic literature of the 21st century.  This is YA dystopia circa Lampman.  Read it and be amazed at the toughness and honesty and the pure adventure of it all.

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What we are saying when we recommend a book

It’s more, isn’t it, than just: hey I liked this one a lot, take a gander.  Yet again, it’s not much more than that.  When we recommend a book we are pulling back the curtain ever so slightly and saying:  hey, take a look at the book, take a look at me. It’s easier sometime than sitting down and discussing the significant milestones in your life with someone over a cuppa. The psychoanalysts might say we subconsciously recommend some books over others to friends and family without even knowing why. They could be right on that one.

The first book my niece has ever recommended to me was: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse.

Out of the Dust is a YA book written entirely in a series of free verse poems.   It is a book my niece says she read over and over as a very young girl.  My niece said: “ I don’t even know if I understood much of it at the time.”  Yet she continued to reread it.

As I read Out of the Dust I thought how strange that a 10 year old would love such a book.  It is relentlessly sad, overwhelmingly tragic. Out of the Dust is about a family of farmers living in Oklahoma during the depths of the Depression and height of the Dust Bowl storms.  The main character is a young girl named Billie Jo.  She introduces herself in the first chapter of the book by saying: “ As summer wheat came ripe, so did I, born at home, on the kitchen floor”.

In the telling of her family’s dust-choked life from 1933-1935 the only hint of metaphorical clarity and sunlight is the joy Billie Jo feels when she plays the piano.  But even then, the author takes that away from her in a tragic accident too sad to write about here.    Here’s one chapter of the book:

Broken Promise

It rained

a little everywhere

but here

March 1935

In the end, Out of the Dust is a story of how only the very strong and the lucky in our most vulnerable class -the very poor- survive in this world; an overpowering and unforgiving world in which they have little control.

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Janet & Janet Series and Tip and Mitten Series

Jack and Janet 1             Tip and Mitten 1
DoodleBuddy_Dan_by_Judy-jpg the basics:
Janet and Janet series
Tip and Mitten series

“Tip and Mitten” was part of the Reading for Meaning series.

As the series progressed we were introduced to “Jack and Janet”.

It was disconcerting later in life to find out that the rest of the world had been reading about Dick and Jane. Or a duck that was a duck.

Who’s Dick? Who’s Jane?  What sort of charmed lives had they been living? Apparently our school district could not afford Dick and Jane and had to settle for Jack and Janet. I’m pretty sure that Jack and Janet ended up in the 47%.

Jack’s on permanent Disability. Janet has a minimum wage job and still lives with her parents. Don’t know what happened to Tip. It’s a mystery.

I’m sure Mitten is just fine.

She always seemed to land on her feet.

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What Happened to Sophie Wilder?

sophie 1

Jude: this is the very first post

I finished What happened to Sophie Wilder last night. I liked it. I was a little distracted while reading it because I was trying to figure out if the characters were cliche or if the writer was being ironic. Or maybe I’m just to old now to romanticize the young adult, wildly witty student, too smart for college, probably smarter than all the professors. If not smarter, so much more cool than to play by the rules. No concern for grades or attendance. No parents to speak of, or if there are parents, no need to check in with them. No need to have jobs to pay for stuff. Or if they do have jobs, they are writers or poets or on scholarships (even though they never go to class). None of them work at Dairy Queen or in retail.  They all have seemingly singular relationships with each other and no other friends or relationships to be concerned about. I don’t think I’m expressing this very well, but do you know what I mean? Kind of makes me want to go back and read some of those brat pack writers from the early 90s. Maybe the characters in this book are in homage to them. I think I’ll pick up a copy of The Secret History (I loved that book) and see if it holds up.   way…about the story. It was a lot about creating the story. Two writers, Sophie and Charlie, when they’re together in college, create stories together. We get their history, then a picture of Sophie’s life after college when she becomes religious and quits writing. Even then though, she turns to the stories of the bible. During that time Charlie writes a novel and gets it published, but admits it’s not really a story, it’s a narration almost word for word of the people and events in his own life. Then when they meet up again, they pick back up on creating the (the) story. I think we get two versions of their future. Maybe like two alternative universes. Maybe, and probably more likely, one’s real and one is one of their creations (Charlie’s). Or maybe they both exist somehow. It seemed fitting though to have kind of a fantasy ending, one that was not just a replay of they way life is, but one created by a writer.

 

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