Is This Just Mercy?

I grew up trusting the police, the courts and the justice system. In elementary and high school civics classes, I learned a lot about the American system of justice, the importance of telling the truth and that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

I loved watching court dramas on TV. Some of my favorites were Dragnet, Judd for the Defense and Perry Mason. I believed the police always told the truth, the lawyers did their best for their clients and the innocent always went free.

Fast forward to today. I just finished reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson* which was published in 2014. Bryan wrote about his experiences defending death penalty cases in Alabama from the 1980s until now. The stories he tells are heartbreaking.

For the most part, his clients are sitting on Death Row because they are poor, African-American and have had bad to abysmal representation in court. If they weren’t so poor, they could have afforded a lawyer who would have attempted to represent them, if for no other reason than to keep getting paid. And, if they weren’t African-American, having an all-white jury in Alabama might have been a plus.

In Just Mercy, the author doesn’t just talk about legal motions so much as tell stories. And the stories are heart breaking. There’s Walter McMillian, who was on death row for six years after being convicted of murdering eighteen-year-old Ronda Morrison, a clerk, working in a dry cleaners. It didn’t matter that he had numerous witnesses, one of whom was a police officer, to the fact he had been attending a church fish-fry many miles away at the exact same time. In Walter’s case, Sheriff Tom Tate and other law enforcement officials and witnesses were so determined to convict him that they committed perjury and fabricated evidence.

At one point, when Walter protested his innocence, Sherriff Tate replied, “I don’t give a damn what you say or what you do. I don’t give a damn what your people say either. I’m going to put twelve people on a jury who are going to find your goddamn black ass guilty.”**

Then there’s the story of Michael Lindsey. In the spring of 1989, several other of Mr. Stevenson’s Death Row clients asked him to help Michael. He was scheduled for execution in May. After that execution, they asked that he help Horace Dunkins, who, even though he was mentally retarded, was scheduled to be executed in July and then Herbert Richardson, who had gotten P.T.S.D. in Vietnam, and who was scheduled for August. Everything was happening so fast—so many executions and not enough time for good defenses.

There are also a number of stories of people who were exonerated and freed from prison after tremendous amounts of work. This would have never happened without both the resources Mr. Stevenson was able to bring to bear, such as first-class criminal investigations, and his own brilliance in presenting the evidence so convincingly that courts could only decide in favor of his clients.

If you’re interested in how our justice system really works and like sitting on the edge of your seat until you find out the verdict, this is the book for you!

* Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, 2014, Spiegel & Grau, New York.

**Wikipedia: McCarthy, Colman (October 10, 1995). “A Matter of Death and Life”. Review of Circumstantial Evidence: Death, Life, and Justice in a Southern Town by Pete Earley Bantam. Retrieved December 14, 2017.

Aspirations and Efficiency

This past December my Deadwood Writers Voices editor, John McCarthy, asked us if we were thinking ahead into 2018 and would we like to share what was on our minds for our writer’s life. There was also a post by Robin Covington on her Facebook page asking if we could pick one word to carry us through the new year what would it be. My word was efficiency. To reach my goal, I’m combining the answers to both questions because I find that I need one to go with the other if I’m going to make any progress in my career.

The answer to the first part is:

  • Dive deep into A NEW LIFE, book 1 in my Leeti vampire series, and see what needs to be done so it’s ready to be published.
  • Write on a schedule instead of when I feel like an idea is brewing.
  • Continue to develop new stories in a loose format so when I’m ready I can start writing the novel.

To help with the points above, I asked the same person, Robin Covington, what she used as an organization tool. She had mentioned Erin Condren’s Life Planners. What’s great about them is that an individual can customize it for a particular use. Plus, bonus, the planners, are made in America. In my case, writing. Here’s the link What it’s going to help me do is narrow my focus on writing while the appointments and scheduling for my family are on the periphery of this schedule.

In my twenties, I used Franklin Covey’s planning system, but I don’t think that style works for what’s happening in my life. I need more visual space to plan my day to day tasks. And I don’t want it to be on the computer. I want to be able to spread it out, look at it, touch it, get a feel for what’s happening next. I won’t stop using my computer schedule because I love being able to get a notification telling me that I better get on my way to make my appointment on time. But having something that is not digital helps my creative side and allows me to get down on paper the ideas of the sexy heroes and heroines I’m writing into stories. And one thing I did learn from Franklin Covey was how to prioritize a full schedule and strive to reach my life goals.

For the first point, regarding A New Life re-reading and editing content, I also need to tackle the grammar errors for publication and make sure the storyline is consistent. With all the things listed above scheduling is essential. If I tell myself I’ll set aside some time for the next day, if I’m not being specific in my listed tasks it won’t get done. I’ll sit down and read or go shopping.

Writing on a schedule seems natural enough, the dates and times and all. It’s the other things that get in the way that hinder the process. So, scheduling the time to write is what’s got to happen.  I’m used to free-writing on Tuesday’s. It’s my day off from making coffee and I have a significant amount of time. What should I do, I write it on the schedule. Appointment. Write on the schedule. Cello lessons for Kid #1. Write it on the schedule. My hope is, the time I set aside to write is productive. I still want to read as many romance novels as I can, but with my hours laid out, it will be easier to focus my ideas and get things done.

Marketing Hot Blacktop is something I’ve been doing throughout 2017, but I don’t think I’ve been as consistent as I can be. I could be using Facebook more efficiently plus all the other media platforms. I need to plan time to watch some tutorials. I need to link my Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat accounts to ramp up my marketing presence. Each one is part of my story, and I need to use them the best that I can. Here’s a helpful video I’ve watched regarding scheduling for a marketing focus by author Hildie McQueen.

And for the developing of stories, this planner system will allow me to add pics and fun notes about characters I’m developing, story ideas, arcs, and other tidbits. There are extra pages to use just for this purpose.

Now I have a plan. Here’s to being more efficient in 2018. Happy writing!

First Impressions of Not a Hero & End of Zoe

I’ve been waiting a long time to play Not A Hero, an expansion pack, or DLC, to Resident Evil 7Not a Hero was originally scheduled to be released in spring 2017, but the add-on got pushed back to December because the production crew felt the game wouldn’t meet the expectations of the fans.  While I was anxious for answers to mysteries presented at the end of Resident Evil 7, I was also patient enough to wait for them.

My most burning questions centered around the soldier who claimed to be Chris Redfield, a veteran hero of the Resident Evil series.  Was it really him?  If so, why would he be working for a company calling itself Umbrella — the corrupt pharmaceutical company responsible for creating genetic-altering viruses and horrific monstrosities?  What was the meaning behind the DLC title, Not a Hero?

Early on December 12, I loaded up Resident Evil 7, eager to play the DLC that I expected had been automatically downloaded the day before.  I was surprised when I didn’t find Not a Hero listed among the menu options.  The only new title present was End of Zoe, a secondary DLC title scheduled to be released the same day.  I immediately shut down the game and searched for Not a Hero on my main gaming hub, the Steam Network.  It wasn’t listed there either.

I searched for answers online, and found one forum that seemed to indicate the add-on would only become available upon completion of the main game.  Not seeing any other option, I proceeded to play through Resident Evil 7 in its entirety.  This took almost the whole day because I kept taking breaks at various points.  The last thing I wanted to see after the closing credits was an ad for Not a Hero explaining how to download and install the DLC.

I was a bit aggravated to see that the desired title was now listed on the Steam Network.  I don’t know if it was made available at some point during the day or if my playthrough of Resident Evil 7 unlocked it.  In either case, I proceeded to install it with the intention of playing it the next day.

I woke up around 2AM on December 13.  Rather than try to get back to bed, I chose to begin playing Not a Hero.  I learned in the first few minutes of gameplay the main character is indeed Chris; he is voluntarily working with a new company called Blue Umbrella dedicated to fighting the horrors created by its namesake.

Not a Hero largely has Chris pursuing Lucas Baker, a sadistic madman and budding bioterrorist who had escaped capture during Resident Evil 7.  The DLC, as with the base game, is told from a first-person perspective, with the player experiencing the world through Chris’ eyes.  Despite checking out trailers and tidbits on what to expect, I went into the game largely blind.  I was very eager to uncover whatever mysteries and dangers awaited me.

Unfortunately, the lack of knowledge worked against me in several instances.  I acted like such a noob during the first few hours of my playthrough, it’s a wonder I didn’t get killed more than four times.

I believed I had a pretty good arsenal at my disposal to begin with.  A pistol, combat knife, shotgun, and several grenades seemed like they would be a good defense against the creatures lurking in the mines.  I changed my mind when I first encountered a variant of the monster that could regenerate and wouldn’t go down so easily.  I initially ran from it, then realized I had to go back in to retrieve a key needed to get to a soldier that Lucas had captured.

Trying to rescue said soldier didn’t go so well.  I unlocked the cell door and approached him.  The cave soon filled with poisoned air and started a death trap that Lucas had put together specifically for his prisoner.  Rather than take an air filter that the doomed soldier offered to Chris, I stupidly tried to make a run for it even though my oxygen reserves had fallen to 5%.  I was pretty much dead in an instant.

Once I retrieved the air filter and installed it, I was left with the problem of how to take out the regenerating monster in the cave where the key had been.  After futilely trying to find special ammo that would stop the creature from healing, I cheated and looked online for tips.  The answer was simple: go back to the main cavern and go through the green door to find a night vision filter and the needed ammo.

Upon going through what I thought was the right door, I found myself in a pitch-black tunnel.  But I didn’t let that deter me, nor did I think I was in the wrong place.  I blindly stumbled through the tunnel and proceeded to set off a variety of pressure-plate traps and tripwires.  Surprisingly, I didn’t get killed during this determined search for items.  I had just enough healing items to make it through in one piece.

I don’t know how long it took me to determine that the door I’d gone through was blue, not green.  Once I figured that out, finding the items I needed was a cinch.  The next challenge was to find my way back to the main cavern.  I found that turrets had been set up in the tunnels I’d used to get to this point.  Initially, I tried shooting the turrets to take them out — which didn’t work — and inadvertently used up the special ammo I’d collected.  My answer on how to conquer the turret obstacle was to run past them to minimize the damage.  Death #2.

When I loaded the last save point, I was given a tip on the loading screen to find an alternate route back to the main cavern.  Once I got through that segment, I returned to the blue door.  Finding my way through these tunnels went much smoother.  At least until I reached a room where another soldier had been taken prisoner by Lucas.  This area was loaded with laser tripwires and explosives.  My first not-so-brilliant idea was to lob a grenade into the room to neutralize the bombs.  Death #3.

Upon closer inspection, I found that it was possible to get through the room without setting off the tripwires.  I carefully navigated my way to the imprisoned soldier and initiated a conversation with him.  The next thing I knew, I heard Lucas taunting Chris over the intercom before the tripwires started rotating in my direction.  Death #4.

On my third try at this, I discovered that I needed to cut the power for the room before talking to the soldier.  This still didn’t save the guy, as he’d been outfitted with a collar bomb that was shortly detonated remotely.  Soon after the soldier was killed, Lucas activated an explosive he’d strapped to Chris’ arm at an earlier point in the game.  I was given a time limit to find some liquid nitrogen canisters to temporarily neutralize the bomb and remove it.  Death #5 occurred because I didn’t make it before the clock ran out.

Similar follies plagued me through the remainder of the game, and I believe I died a total of nine times.  While I was happy to make it through Not a Hero, I was left to reflect on my disappointment with the story.

It hit me, once I finished the game, that Chris is starting to develop a reputation for failing to save the team members he’s working alongside.  The same premise was used in Resident Evil 6 and the recent anime film, Vendetta.  At the very least, I would have liked to see this point addressed in Not a Hero — either through some inner monologue from Chris or through a philosophical debate between him and Lucas.

I feel that Chris’ failings is the meaning behind the DLC title.  It is possible that on some level he no longer views himself as heroic.  I have to wonder if this storyline is building toward something big.  I see two possible outcomes to this scenario: either Chris decides to throw in the towel and retire out of shame, or he encounters a situation that redeems him and possibly has him sacrificing himself for the greater good.

My dissatisfaction with Not a Hero was surpassed by the other DLC, End of Zoe.  The secondary game focused on Lucas’ sister, Zoe, who is infected with the virus present in Resident Evil 7.  The basic plot is that her Uncle Joe – an ex-marine – finds her and strives to locate a cure for her.

Joe is essentially a character who relies largely on his fists to take down the creatures standing between him and the means to save his niece.  My main nitpick with this scenario is the excessive number of locations where you can save the game.  In one area, I could barely take twenty steps before coming to another room where I could save my progress.

As with Not a Hero, I played End of Zoe on the easiest difficulty but didn’t find it nearly as much of a challenge.  Despite playing as a character whose specialty is unarmed combat, I didn’t die once during my first playthrough.  I feel that perhaps the easy mode was made too easy.  I hope that the medium and hard difficulty settings will put End of Zoe on par with the other DLC.  I would hold the secondary game in higher regard if that’s the case.

Overall, I feel that Resident Evil 7 and its add-ons opens up some interesting doors for the future of the franchise.  I look forward to whatever story comes next.

Choose Carefully

“You have a choice each and every single day. I choose to feel blessed. I choose to feel grateful. I choose to be excited. I choose to be thankful. I choose to be happy.” – Amber Housley

Happy New Year! It’s time for New Year’s Resolutions. Choose carefully.

Resolve to lose weight because you want to be healthier, not because your crotchety Uncle Theodore called you fat. He’s not exactly thin.

Choose to clear your closet of unwearable clothes to ditch the clutter, not because your nosy mother is coming for a visit.

Resolve to put aside more money toward retirement because you realize your current strategy falls far short of a worry-free post-employment life, not because you’re trying to keep up with the neighbors.

Choose to socialize more with family and friends because you miss their company, not because you’re sure they’ll gossip about you if you don’t.

Resolve to finish your 70,000-word manuscript because the story continues to invade your consciousness. Don’t complete your manuscript to prove to your friends that you’re a writer. Poets, columnists, songwriters, people who create short stories are writers, too, not just those authors with best sellers.

Whatever you decide to resolve to do or change, remember to do it for your personal reasons, not because someone told you what to do.

I’ve resolved to read at least twelve books in 2018 because I wish to learn the techniques of other writers in various genres.

I’ve resolved to complete my manuscript because my story keeps invading my consciousness.

I’ve resolved to enter the Writer’s Weekly short story contest again because several of my non-winning entries led to me winning other contests.

I also choose to be happy with my results, regardless of what others think.

What are your resolutions and why did you choose them?



Editor’s Log: Brain Training – Commitments not Resolutions for 2018

Have you every wondered why it was so hard to do something that you want to do, but seem to avoid doing it? For example, wanting to write for an hour to get started on that story–suddenly the dishes need hand washing, the trash cans need clearing out, and the dogs need walking. While completing these chores, the plan to write is still present, but never happens.

I listened to a scientist on NPR talk about how the brain builds connections that solidify the habits we engage in. The brain wires and rewires, in part, based on what we focus on doing. Spend lots of time doing the same things in the same way, and the brain records those practices. This might explain why habits are so difficult to change.

There is hope. The brain is adaptable. We just need to plan reasonably and patiently what is to be accomplished, or what new habits to create. Using the above example, writing for an hour in a day might not be where the person’s can find success. Start with 5-10 minutes of dedicated writing. This goal is easier to accomplish than the hour. If you write longer once, celebrate the moment with a fist pump. Then get back to it. At some point, in a week or month, add 5-10 minutes. Again, keep it “easy”–writing is never easy 😉 This repeated practice can lead to the brain recording new habits.

Keep the rules and boundaries simple and limited. Less is more. It’s not important that you write in the morning, use a specific journal or word-processor, or sit at a certain cafe table because that is most conducive to your writing. Those restrictions can be obstacles to the important outcome: Just write. When those conditions are available–great–just do not allow them to get in the way.

Failure is not an end, it’s a growth opportunity. If I write everyday and then I miss two days, stopping is not an option. Reflect on what caused the lost practice. What it just chance or some obstacle that needs to be addressed. Next: Jump back in.

As you create your writing resolutions, what are you willing to do that is already in your habits? What will take some brain growth over time? Be intentional and reasonable so that success will come.

Here are some writing commitments shared:

Wendi Knape

  1. Dive deep into A NEW LIFE, book 1 in my vampire series, and see what needs to be done so it’s ready to be published.
  2. Write on a schedule instead of when I feel like an idea is brewing.
  3. Market HOT BLACKTOP more.
  4. Continue to develop new stories in a loose format so when I’m ready I can start writing the novel.

John McCarthy

  1. Expand promotion of my book: So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation
  2. Read at least 12 books this year.
  3. Write 1-2 short stories.

What are your Writing Commitments for 2018? Share them in the comment section.