The Saturday Writing Quote — a two-fer

When I spotted this observation by Carolyn Wheat while rereading her terrific book, How to Write Killer Fiction, I immediately knew I had to pair it with the classic advice from a master, E.L. Doctorow:

“Writing the middle of a novel is a lot like driving through Texas. You think it’s never going to end, and all the scenery looks the same.”

– Carolyn Wheat

“Writing a novel is like driving at night. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

– E.L. Doctorow

Wishing you a terrific journey in 2012!

News and more news!

One of the many things I love about living in a small community is that people seem genuinely interested in hearing what you’re up to, especially something as wild and wonderful as writing a book. I’m delighted to share these newspaper articles and interviews: 

“Attorney Weaves Writing Career Around Her Job,”  in The Daily Inter Lake,

“Local Lawyer Publishes Crime Book,” in The Bigfork Eagle, and

“Bigfork attorney pens book to help crime writers,” in The Missoulian.

Thanks, reporters and editors!

Update – Huguette Clark and undue influence

I promised updates to my earlier post about Huguette Clark, the copper heiress with the $400 million fortune who died last spring at 104.

Her long-time accountant and lawyer face challenges to their management of her assets, including claims that they engaged in tax fraud resulting in $90 million in unpaid federal gift taxes and penalties. Both men deny the claims. The accountant resigned his position in mid December.

Last Friday, a Manhattan Surrogate’s Court judge held that there was enough evidence to support the claims to suspend both men from further management of the estate.

A couple of notes on terms: The Surrogate’s Court is New York State’s name for the courts that handle cases involving probate of wills, administration of estates, and adoptions, and share jurisdiction with other courts over guardianships. The Surrogate’s Court website has a very helpful FAQ section answering questions about estates and court procedures. Some states call this simply “probate court,” while in others, the cases are handled by the “court of general jurisdiction,” the main trial court, rather than by a specialized court.

Books, Crooks & Counselors discusses the primary role of the public administrator, as the official who takes charge when a person dies with no immediately known will, heirs, or executor and handles the estate until heirs can be found– or if none, to closing. (The executor is also called the administrator or PR, for personal representative.) This case highlights another role of the public administrator: to investigate and prosecute alleged mismanagement by executors and the lawyers and accountants they hire to help administer estates. Of course, the potential heirs have a big role, too–as here, where relatives named in an earlier will but cut out of a later will are challenging it.

Stay tuned.

(The original reporting on the story of Huguette Clark was done by Bill Dedman of See the two-part story and a photo gallery here: )


Books, Crooks and Counselors – update – Death Penalty

The sentencing chapter of Books, Crooks and Counselors answers writers’ questions about the death penalty. Last week, the Death Penalty Information Center released its year-end report showing that 78 people had been sentenced to death in 2011 and 43 had been executed–compared to 224 sentences and 85 executions in 2000.

According to an NPR report, the DPIC executive director says that the majority of Americans are opposed to or ambivalent about the death penalty. They are concerned about wrongful executions, unfair sentencing–highlighted by debate over Georgia’s execution of Troy Davis–and the expense of the legal process surrounding the death penalty.

A Gallup poll taken in October showed that 61% of Americans favored the death penalty for murder, the lowest support since the early 1970s.

Illinois abolished the death penalty, Oregon recently imposed a moratorium, and bills to ban it have cropped up in several state legislatures, including my state, Montana.

Again according to NPR, the director of the National District Attorneys Association–the prosecutors–says a big factor in the change in support is a change in the alternatives. Years ago, a life sentence often meant 15 to 20 years. Now, all 50 states and the federal system offer life without parole, meaning death in prison. The director also points to the drop in murder rates, now back to 1960s’ levels.

I’ve long thought that life without parole is a far worse sentence than the death penalty. Once you’re dead, you’re done–at least on the earthly plane–with no more guilt, fear, or shame. And no more potential regret, rehabilitation, or forgiveness. Knowing you’ll die in prison, never to walk free, seems far worse to me.

(Photos: Old Montana Prison, Powell County Museum & Arts Foundation. Handcuffs:

Library Journal review of Books, Crooks

The first professional review of Books, Crooks and Counselors is in, and I couldn’t be happier! From the starred review in Library Journal, Dec 15:

“Budewitz, an attorney-at-law who has been published in mystery magazines, wrote this book to help crime writers wade through the time-consuming and often confusing process of legal research. She provides an insider’s perspective on often overlooked legal concepts and pinpoints common errors writers make when incorporating criminal and civil law into their fiction. The book covers 160 topics, including proper legal terminology, realistic courtroom behavior and dialog, proper procedure (both at the state and at the federal level), and the legal system as a whole. The frequently asked questions featured in each chapter are also arranged by topic within the table of contents, enabling readers to pick and choose the legal aspects most relevant to their writing. The final chapter offers guidance on conducting legal research, and the “Book Links” section references useful URLs listed throughout.

VERDICT: Budewitz’s material is straightforward and user-friendly. Her content will help shave off hours of research time and enable writers to focus more energy on craft, plot, and character development. Highly recommended for aspiring writers of crime fiction.”

Wrongfully convicted – or wrongfully released?

The headlines read like fiction: Man released after decades in prison. All across Montana, people are debating the case of Barry Beach, released in early December after nearly 29 years in prison for the 1979 murder of a 17-year-old girl–a murder he says he didn’t commit.

Beach has fought years for a new trial, arguing that a confession he gave police in Louisiana a few years after the murder was coerced, and that new evidence shows Kim Nees was murdered by a group of teenage girls, at a party spot on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in northwest Montana. His 2007 request for pardon or parole was denied. In 2009, the Montana Supreme Court ordered a hearing to allow him to present newly discovered evidence. That hearing was finally held in November 2011, and included testimony by a woman who as a ten-year-old, heard the murder occur. District Judge Wayne Phillips ordered a new trial.

Beach’s cause has been supported by many Montanans, as well as Centurion Ministries and the Innocence Project. Beach, who’s white, is also supported by an Indian-owned newspaper in Fort Peck.

Sadly, the young reporter, who’s interest in the story was spurred by a 2008 story on Dateline, has reportedly been threatened because of his articles investigating the case.

Beach was released without bond, a decision the state opposed, although Judge Phillips pointed out that a man who went to prison at 21 would not have the assets to post bond. He did impose a long list of conditions.

A new trial date hasn’t been set yet. I suspect pretrial publicity may make a fair trial impossible in Roosevelt County, population just under 11,000, where the murder occurred, and that the trial will be moved to another county.

Life outside prison isn’t going to be easy, though Beach says he’s enjoying it. I’ll try to post updates on major events. Murder cries for justice–and so, if proven, does wrongful conviction.

(Sorry the email subscription option isn’t hooked up yet — soon — meanwhile, try RSS, and check back!)

Books for the writers on your list

Hannukah, Christmas, birthdays, Fourth of July–any chance to give a writer a book! Some of my favs:

Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (Harper Perennial, 2006) A lovely book.

Bryan Garner, Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3d Edition (Oxford, 2009) Garner takes on usage fearlessly, analyzing what changes are acceptable and what aren’t. He tackles common words and errors as well as more technical distinctions. Essays are interspersed with word entries, all highly readable. Word wonk heaven.

Donald Maass, The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great (Writers Digest, 2009) The title says it all.

Elizabeth Lyon Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore (Perigee, 2008) Lyon shows fiction writers how to think differently about their work. Terrific discussion of “inside-out” and “outside-in” revision, revising for genre, use of structure, and characterization.

Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets (Univ. Of Nebraska Press, 2005) I read this on a 60 mile backpacking trip through the Bob Marshall Wilderness, but it’s great for the couch, too.

Mark Doty, The Art of Description: World into Word (Graywolf Press, 2010) A poet’s POV, from the Art of … series

Christina Katz, The Writer’s Workout: 366 Tips, Tasks & Techniques From Your Writing Career Coach (Writers Digest, 2011) What I’m asking for!

And don’t forget, Books, Crooks and Counselors!

What’s on your list?


Huguette Clark and undue influence

Writers ask me a lot of questions about wills. One of the most common: “what is undue influence?” Short answer: using a confidential relationship or position of authority to induce the testator (the person making the will) to leave his property a certain way or to take unfair advantage of him. A judge can invalidate the entire will or a specific provision.

Like many Montanans, I’m fascinated by the story of Huguette Clark, reclusive daughter of Copper King William Clark.

Her obituary reports that when she died in May 2011 at 104, relatives claimed they had been prevented from seeing her for years, and accused her lawyer and accountant of plundering her estate. (Both are now under investigation by the Manhattan DA’s office.) A will signed in April 2005 left most of her $400 million fortune to her nurse and charity. Now her nieces and nephews have filed a will signed just a month earlier leaving much of money–or what’s left of it–to them.

No doubt the will contest will focus on claims of undue influence. What was her physical and mental condition when she signed the later will? Does the asset distribution demonstrate mental unbalance or influence? What was her relationship with the beneficiaries? Is there evidence of other misdeeds that might have unduly influenced her–like being intentionally isolated from her family? Do the gift of a $10,000 dollhouse to her lawyer’s granddaughter or a $1.5 million security system to the Israeli settlement where his daughter and her family live show a pattern of plunder–or an authentically close relationship? Proof that the lawyer and accountant stripped millions from her accounts during her life, with the potential for millions more in administrative fees after her death, could further support the claims of undue influence.

Hugeuette Clark’s fortune was gilded with copper, though she never lived in Butte, Montana, “the richest hill on earth,” where most of it came from. According to an investigative series by Bill Dedman of in 2010, she lived in a NY hospital the last twenty years of her life–despite owning a $24 million Connecticut estate, a 42-room apartment on Fifth Avenue, and an oceanfront Santa Barbara estate that she hadn’t visited in more than 50 years. She died surrounded by her childhood doll collection.  

It may be that Huguette Clark never recovered emotionally from the death of her older sister in 1919, the scandals that still trail her father, her own divorce in 1930, or a host of other rumors and potential embarrassments.

From life’s tragedies, writers draw inspiration–for the emotional trauma, the telling details, even the ways the law can serve–or be abused.

(Photo of nine-year-old Huguette, right, with her father and sister Andree, taken about 1915, from the Montana Historical Society Photo Archive. Later photo from the Associated Press.)

(The original reporting on the story of Huguette Clark was done by Bill Dedman of See the two-part story and a photo gallery here: )