Listen in: True Crime Factor

I had the honor of speaking about stalking on True Crime Factor's podcast.

"Microphone," Jager McConnel, on Creative Commons

"Microphone," Jager McConnel, on Creative Commons

It's wondermous to have not only survived the crime, but to also have opportunities to talk about it. Each experience taught me something, and resulted with good things. What I appreciated most about this latest opportunity was being able to educate more in-depth on the "how it works" part of the crime. 

Stalking is an incredibly hard crime to identify. The victim must describe and have air-tight proof why seemingly innocent actions (from their resident bully) are so frightening. In the podcast, I lay out examples for how this manifests, including how easily these attacks can be explained away.

Also included is the amount of detailed, grueling work necessary to collect evidence and build a case against my stalker (not to mention why airtight stalking laws are critical), ultimately leading to working with the police for my stalker's arrest

Reasons, not excuses: reasons!

Someone (me) went quiet on the blogsphere for a spell. Left you hanging right in the middle of the account of my stalker’s latest arrest.

Mea culpa. I am at fault.

I have great excuses for the word void. None of which are the least bit defensive. In fact, let’s just not call them excuses, but really great and valid and legitimate reasons for not writing. For example: in November, I jumped into a little competition called NaNoWriMo. That’s National Novel Writing Month. The premise is you have 30 days to write a novel, which is defined as 50,000 words.

I used NaNoWriMo to jump-start to continue writing a memoir about being stalked by my next-door neighbor. There was a lot of work that needed done, that I’d procrastinated, that piled up. It was literary housecleaning. Organizing old blog entries into a Word doc. Digging through old emails, copying-and-pasting them in between the blog entries—editing would come later … except for the few random notes jotted in between the content. Reminders of this and that, to include later. Notes: ask my friend Pat about this stray detail, or to bug my dad about another detail.

Leading to more sorting through some embarrassing, and some good, journal entries. More copy-paste, throughout the growing manuscript. Chucking snippets catastrophically throughout. Adding more notes, while jogging more memories. Asking myself, Was I really that bad off? (Answer: yes.)

The work went well and I won NaNoWriMo, finishing ahead of schedule and over the word count. A (painfully awkward) draft of 85000 words now needs editing with a flamethrower.

However, there are consequences. You’ve heard them before. After burning myself out on Round One of the stalking memoir, went into Round Two knowing full on well that I needed to pace myself. Otherwise, the memories are too painful. To a point, I followed those self-imposed rules, then got on a roll, then conveniently forgot my limits, and consequently … needed a three-week writing break.

Who never learns? I never learn.

However, what prevented total burnout was another change to those writing habits. Socialize more. Talk to real and (somewhat) healthy human beings without getting completely enmeshed with reliving the Dark Years.

During the NaNo sprint, found and joined a series of writing groups. Full of other writing-nerd introverts who also realized their need to break out of writing’s silent isolation. Besides remembering how to use the speaking part of our words, writing in a group motivates us to continue writing. We no longer wonder if the outside world is having fun without us. Now, we’re somewhat out in it!

Nearly everyone in the writing groups (but me) is drafting sci-fi novels. One of the guys is getting published soon. Another writer has a stack of notecards with scribbled notes about the Civil Rights Movement. I deflect when they ask what I’m writing—saying something witty like, “it’s not as cool as sci-fi” and or simply “a memoir.” It's not dodging the truth. For a group of strangers, it’s too distracting to dump a huge life experience on them. People don’t know what to say. Or feel like they need to offer sympathy. Or sometimes, it triggers secondary trauma. It’s awkward. For all of us. Especially while realizing one moment of soul-baring accidentally triggered some poor innocent’s public meltdown.

Regardless, it’s good getting out of the house. We meet in noisy coffee shops and pubs with cozy roaring fires. Sitting at long tables, frowning into glowing laptops. Realizing that every bellowed moan and grunt needs to be toned down a notch. During breaks, we pretend to socialize while taking nervous, sidelong glances at our glowing laptop screens. Wanting to get back to work.

Which leads us back to my stalker's recent arrest. And me leaving you hanging. Next week. I'll have it next week. 

Back to frowning at a laptop ...

One day, my novel will join this bookshelf.

One day, my novel will join this bookshelf.

My stalker's update? Arrested again ...

Actually, I completely forgot about setting up a Google Alert on my stalker’s name.

Which means that the email triggered by that Google Alert, announcing my stalker’s arrest—after waking from a good night’s sleep ... head still stuffy from a light head cold ... groggily checking email—was a complete shock.

Seeing her name in my Inbox.

Quickly moving from blinking away the Sandman, to fully alert.

It’s now been four years and two months since my stalker's last court appearance with me. After her release from jail—which was inevitable, regardless of her being found innocent or guilty of stalking me—I had no idea where she landed. The legal system doesn’t dole out tracking devices for these perps. Although victim resources do exist, like the VINE (Victim Information Network), information tends to be reactionary, limited to the crime that directly affects you. The last VINE notification came the day my stalker was released from jail. After that, I was on my own. Which is why I set up the Google Alert: it was the only way to proactively keep one step ahead of my nemesis.

But, as you all know, if you keep your life off the Internet, even Google Alerts have limits. Which meant reigning in the worrying part of my brain. Simultaneously acknowledging the tension—would my stalker hold to her agreement to leave me the fuck alone forever? Or, one day, on a lark, once again make me her personal chew toy? What if we accidentally ran into each other in the store, a festival, while taking a casual stroll—

Those what ifs could consume me. A continuation of the hell my stalker inflicted, if I let it. Moving on from being stalked isn’t a matter of just letting it all go. It’s not that easy. Stalking has been called “murder in slow motion.” The destruction, can continue long after the actual event. This graphic describes it well (which I posted despite the typo … which tells you how strongly I feel about the description, because you know how typos bug me beyond belief):

It's like that.

It's like that.

How, really, can any victim shrug off someone gleefully trying to destroy every part of their lives? Do memories of evil ever really fade? At that, stalkers rarely back down from their attacks, even after a courtroom rebuke. Would I ever fully get assurance that the stalking was over?

For the sake of reclaiming a normal life, balance was and is necessary. I could let the thoughts consume me, inadvertently allowing her to continue her torment by forcing me to live in The Land of the What If? After my stalker’s release from jail, muting those worries became a daily … wait … no: an hourly fight. After a freakish amount of hard mental work, I can silence anxiety and walk back into normalcy. It’s under control. 

Some days, though, reminders are more visible, and the mental restraint needs to start all over again. Usually while driving on sunny days. After pulling down the sun visor. Seeing the photocopy of my stalking order secured on the flip side, there for safekeeping and fast grabbing. The police tend to need evidence fast. And again, if we cross paths again, my stalking order is always with me. For proof. Despite four years of peace, that stalking order will never leave my car. On one hand, it's because I just don’t know what’s going through that terrible woman’s head. On the other hand, I just like being prepared.

Which is why having answers about how my stalker landed would be a load off. Cold hard facts. That’s all I’m asking for.

Which is why I immediately clicked that Google Alert, without questioning whether the link was safe. I needed to know why my stalker was arrested. What would happen. Now.

To be continued …

Stuff gets in my eyes

The conversation with M, age 10, went a little like this:

M (holding up notebook): Guess what this is.

Amy: Your journal?

M: Not just any journal. It's a journal about stuff I get in my eyes.

Amy (realizing this kid has hit on a gold mine of awesome): What did you get in your eyes today?

M: Nothing today. But yesterday, it was toothpaste.

Later on ... M is scribbling in her journal. 

Amy: Did you get something in your eyes?!

M: No. This is a different journal.

Amy: Oh.

"Toothpaste," by Kristopher Avila, on Creative Commons

"Toothpaste," by Kristopher Avila, on Creative Commons

Want to write your own true crime story? Take a writing class.

I’ve been writing about my experience of getting stalked by a neighbor. Many readers have asked how to write about their real crime experiences. This post is one of a series of posts, answering those questions. Click for an overview of topics: Want to write your personal true crime story?

Writing looks easy when you’re an outsider. In fact …

… somewhere in the back of your head, a faint buzzing reminds you about something about writers hammering countless revisions like a desperate kick boxer, despair over writer’s block, followed by the hot tail of alcoholism, something about Sylvia Plath sticking her head in the oven, and …

… you might want to give me a wink and a noogie, when I try to tell you about the training and hard work involved, because you know that you’re excluded from the writer experience. In fact, you’ve read others’ writing (garbage, all of it) and know you’ll do better. For your piece, it’ll be as easy as tossing words on a page: all of them magically falling into place like Darwin’s monkeys recreating Shakespeare on typewriters. Then—BAM! Novel. Easy.

If you’re feeling just that cocky, reread that first, non-italicized paragraph. Writing looks easy because you’re seeing a polished finished work that’s had multiple revisions (and you’ll still find typos of the worst kind), crafted under too many hours in a darkened room, with quite a bit of education to get it to that publishing point.

That education doesn’t come in a vacuum. It includes quite a lot of basic writing skills that you might get by reading a book, but is better gotten in a class.

The reason why I’m putting getting a good education at the end of my blog series on writing your own true crime story, is because you first need to work through the process of deciding, “Am I or am I not going to follow through with this?” Tips in previous posts, like being a good reader and the cranking away at NaNoWriMo are just prep work to help identify your direction. After going through those exercises, if you decide the cost is too high, and never really had the writing skills any way, you’ve just saved yourself some money.

However, if you decide, dammit (slamming fist on the table), you’re a gonna do it, then it’s time to knuckle down and learn writing mechanics. This is a good decision: your experience deserves to be presented in the best possible light, and you're going to learn to do it right.

So, the first class you need to take is grammar. Don’t give me that look. It’s for your own good. In fact, you might even learn to enjoy your native language, and gleefully join the inner circle of word nerds. We play such ferocious Scrabble games.

If you’re not swayed by peer pressure, think of grammar and punctuation as nails that hold your house together: without them, you’ll struggle to write a series of a good sentences. In fact, you’ll learn how to make those sentences reasonable, and keep them from running off at the mouth. Then there’s the run-on’s opposite, the sentence fragment. At their worst, frags cause confusion and hijack your story, but, at their best, can cause the right kind of jarring discord for a frightening passage. 

You’ll learn that commas have their rules, but they can be slippery as hell. They dart here and there, easily interchanging between dashes and parentheses, depending on what you want the sentence to convey.

Then there are word use basics. If you cannot tell the difference between their (pronoun)/they’re (contraction of “they are”)/there (location), phase (process of change)/faze (disturb someone), or why I is the subject of a sentence, and me remains at the object, I can guarantee, at the best, your poor editor will fall into a blind rage and stab you repeatedly. Sure, you can count on an editor to find goofs. However, editors are human, and prone to mistakes. If an editor misses a major edit, like the moat/mote gaffe in the Twilight saga, worst case, your work ends up on a raging snarkfest on NPR, much to the delight of other well-educated writerly masses. We can be jerks that way.

(Confession: I have no problem editing typos in dinner menus, signage, and library books, one of which was a nice book on the history of astronomy. I justified the markups by telling myself that if National Geographic had truly wanted their multi-colored coffee table book to remain pristine, they would have hired a better editor. After finding the third typo, frustration completely thwarted my ability to concentrate while reading about the universe. Consequently, I still think the world is flat.)

If you already have a writing background, you can brush up with a bit of reading. I’m looking at my bookshelf, and see Woe is I, and then there’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, and you can’t go wrong with anything by Peter Elbow.

And while we’re at it, a live writing class is also within your best interest. A writing class takes your newfound grammatical prowess a step further, and shows you how to throw all that grammar/punctuation stuff together into a cohesive story. You also get feedback from your classmates, which is critical to evaluating necessary rewrites. Sure, you can attend a writing group and, if it’s a good group, you can pick up these skills from the hive mind. But it’s hard to find a good group, and you need those live critiques, so take the class.

In college, I was fortunate enough to take a writing class with an absolutely terrifying, fire-spitting writing professor. Our first week of class, the prof had a massive tangent about the day she was restrained and interrogated by FBI agents (while outrageously pregnant) for refusing to disclose where she’d hidden the aliens (the south of Texas sort, not the outer space sort … she wasn’t that crazy). Her spitting rage overlapped with the purpose of her writing class: as long as it wasn’t involving the FBI, we must always tell the truth in our writing.

Her arms flailed as she bellowed, “You always tell the truth when you write. Not what other people expect you to write. But what you know to be the truth of your experience. If you are writing about a lake and you write about the verdant surroundings and the placid blue, but in your heart you hate lakes because your brother drowned in a lake, but you insist on writing about the beautiful surroundings, then you are a LIAR!!” and she really did scream that word, and she really did lecture in run-on sentences, “and I shall know you are a LIAR and I will find my brightest red pen and write LIAR in the margins of your pathetic paper and flunk you.”

Unabashed fear of that prof pushed me to produce writing of the worst kind of honesty, and clarity. To this day, I hear her clearly screaming LIAR when I even think of writing half-assed platitudes. Including writing the cringe-worthy embarrassments. Stories I don’t like admitting in polite company. Blatant failures. Unexpected humor. Chronically loyal friends.

So, get to class, already.