All posts by reneelroberson

Book Review: Ashes in the Ocean by Sebastian Slovin

Today I’m hosting author Sebastian Slovin in support of his touching memoir, Ashes in the Ocean: A Son’s Story of Living Through and Learning From His Father’s Suicide, during his blog tour with WOW! Women on Writing.

Here’s what you need to know about the book:

Vernon Slovin was a legend. He was one of the best swimmers in his home country of South Africa, and for a time in the world. He prided himself on being the best. The best in sports, business, and life. He had it all, a big home, athletic prestige, fancy clothes and cars, and a beautiful wife and family. Everything was going his way until it all came tumbling down. He lost everything, including his own life. In the wake of his suicide he left his wife and two young children.

In this riveting memoir, Vernon’s son, Sebastian Slovin chronicles his experience of living in the shadow of a suicide, and his journey out of the darkness and into the light. Slovin shares his quest to uncover why his father took his own life. A pilgrimage that led him around the world and eventually back to himself.

Ashes in the Ocean is a powerful story about facing one’s fears and choosing a different path.

Paperback: 222 pages
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Nature Unplugged (March 2018)
ISBN-10: 978-0-692-05119-1
ISBN-13: 978-0692051191

About the Author:

Since he can remember, nature has been a central part of Sebastian’s life. He was fortunate to grow up in the beach community of La Jolla, California, and spent his childhood mixing it up in the ocean. As a young boy, he lost his father to suicide, which would later deeply inspire his path in life. As a young adult, he had the opportunity to travel extensively and experience many of the world’s great surf spots as a professional bodyboarder. Through his travel, Sebastian developed a deep love and appreciation for our natural world, and at the same time was drawn to the practice of yoga.

His love for yoga led him to study at Prana Yoga Center in La Jolla, California, and his passion for nature eventually led him to pursue a BA in Environment and Natural Resource Conservation at San Diego State University. He also holds an MA in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego.

He lives with his wife Sonya in Encinitas, California. He and Sonya have a business called Nature Unplugged, which focuses on cultivating wellness through healthier relationships with technology and a deeper connection to nature. When he is not writing or working on Nature Unplugged, Sebastian enjoys swimming, bodysurfing, surfing, and stand-up paddling (pretty much all things) in the wild Pacific Ocean. Find Sebastian Online:

Website: www.sebastianslovin.com

Amazon Author Profile:  https://www.amazon.com/Sebastian-Slovin/e/B078XN8XZL

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SebastianSlovinAuthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sebastianslovin

Review:

From the opening pages of Ashes in the Ocean, I was pulled into Sebastian Slovin’s personal and heartfelt memoir. My heart raced as I read through the description of a popular annual swimming race in California and how Vernon Slovin would deliberately enter the heat of the race with the younger competitors just to challenge himself. I could easily picture his beautiful young family cheering him on from the cliffs above. The scene is the perfect way to introduce the determined, physically fit man constantly seeking perfection and the acknowledgement that he was the best at anything he set his mind to.

There are some people who are born to be one with the water, and Vernon Slovin was one of them. He passed this legacy down to his son, Sebastian. The description of the ocean waves and pristine beaches in picturesque La Jolla, California throughout the book made me want to transport myself there—as did the later chapters featuring beaches in Australia and South Africa.

Because his father’s suicide occurred when he was only six years old, it was many years before Sebastian had the context in which to explore the dynamics in his father’s personality that would lead to such a catastrophic end. For years he and his mother and younger sister struggled to pick up the pieces, to survive without the sheltered and prosperous world Vernon Slovin had tried to insulate them in.

Although he was young when his father took his own life while staying with family in Australia, Sebastian grew up hesitant to discuss “the elephant in the room” with his mother for fear of opening up old wounds. He also feared, deep down, that because of his genetics and history of his father’s mental illness he too would have no choice but to succumb to a suicidal end.

Once in high school, though, Sebastian continued to cycle through the emotions many deal with after losing a loved one to suicide—confusion, guilt, and anger. To help process his lingering questions, Sebastian embarked on personal research project in the hopes of filling in the unanswered questions he had about his father’s life and death. With much of the dogged determination his own father had possessed, he met with his father’s former swim teammates, friends, and business partners. With each e-mail, conversation, and long-distance correspondence, he learned more and more about the competitive swimmer who was recruited from South Africa to compete at the college level in the United States.

Vernon took the same skills and drive that made him successful in swimming and translated that to his business life. During one of Sebastian’s interviews with one of his father’s friends, he started to understand that his father had an almost unhealthy obsession with “winning” and achieving his goals. He would shut out everything else while he worked to achieve them. Because of this obsession, he didn’t know what to do when he failed, which he ended up doing in his career as a stockbroker.

It’s clear both the legacy of his father and the shadow of his death affected Sebastian in more ways than one. He shared the same passion for water, and competed for many years in professional bodyboarding at beaches all over the world. When he discovered yoga, he became convinced he had to be the very best teacher and took all the certifications necessary to become a master instructor. It was only while sidelined after a serious hip surgery (where he re-injured himself after trying to get back in shape too quickly) that he realized he was following directly in his father’s footsteps once again.

Sebastian’s memoir is a thoughtful exploration of the deep ties we have to family and how we must shape our own destinies, regardless of what we think are the legacies left behind for us.

A Writer’s Relationship with Food–Finding Success with Weight Watchers

For me, there are certain things that have always helped me curate my identity as a writer. A warm cup of coffee, maybe a muffin with little dab of butter or a bagel, more coffee in the afternoon (if I really need a pick-me-up, Starbucks), etc., etc. Part of my writing life is visiting great restaurants and coffee shops and snapping photos of indulgent foods and drinks to share on social media. But then my clothes started getting tighter and the photos that had my face in them disappointed me. Why did my face look so swollen? Why did my tops look so tight on me? Why were there so many pairs of pants in my closet that I was having to set aside in favor of stretchy leggings?

My relationship with food had gotten out of hand. Although I make it a point to get my “butt out of the chair” as often as possible and exercise 4-5 days a week, I still wasn’t happy with the person I was seeing in the mirror. I tried to figure out what I wanted to do about it as the holidays rolled to an end.

I’ve tried MyFitnessPal in the past, and had success with it. The app is easy to use but tracking each and every single calorie I put in my mouth (as well as exercise minutes) grew tedious and I fell off the wagon after a few years. I considered the Whole 30 program. I know so many people who have done it and had great results, so I stocked my pantry with a few Whole 30-approved items like coconut oil and ghee and ordered a cookbook full of recipes that looked tempting. But then I thought longer and harder. I wasn’t really having any health issues like food allergies, inflammation (besides persistent reflux) to prompt me to take a bunch of foods out of my diet. I didn’t want to lose 15 pounds in a month and then gain it all back after I reintroduced foods.

I explored my options, and then saw an ad for the new Weight Watchers Freestyle program (yes, the one Oprah has been raving about). I liked the idea of all the Zero points foods, such as raw fruits an vegetables, eggs, Greek yogurt, skinless chicken breasts, shrimp, beans, etc. I also liked that I didn’t have to track every single calorie. If you eat a Zero point food you can track it but it isn’t mandatory like it would be on MyFitnessPal. Plus, I didn’t have to radically cut things out of my diet like alcohol, sugar, flour, dairy, etc.  Plus, you can eat out if you want, since Weight Watches has a great database of restaurant foods and how many points they equal.

Without giving it too much thought, I dove in, signing up for the online version. The bonus is that I can get two-months worth of membership back if I lose 10 pounds. That’s an incentive!

At first I was crabby, I’ll admit it. I was sad about giving up so much sugar and carbs. Then as the days went out, I realized how addicted I had been to sugar and carbs. The amount of cream and sugar I was dumping into my coffee daily (not to mention those loaded Starbucks drinks) had probably put 10 pounds on me alone. I started allowing myself one teaspoon of sugar in my coffee per day and using stevia for the rest. I began eating way more fruits and vegetables (and eggs) because they were zero points. In my first week alone, I lost 3.7 pounds. And I was eating great food–just much smaller portions and more lean protein and vegetables. It’s not rocket science, I know. You just have to be motivated and I finally am. The app is super easy to use and I can easily scan barcodes to see how many points that item is worth. The other day I was in the grocery store and got to the check-out line starving. I quickly scanned a LaraBar to see how many points it had–couldn’t be that bad, right? 11 points! Out of my daily 23? No thanks. I went home and ate some grapes for zero points and was just fine.

 

I have done so much more cooking at home and meal prep and my family keeps telling me that although they didn’t think I needed to lose weight, I look great and seem to have more energy. The weight watchers app has so many simple and tasty recipes I really don’t feel deprived at all.

In the past 11 days, I’ve had pizza, wine here and there, small amounts of dessert, and am still losing the weight.  I can’t wait to see where this journey takes me. It would be nice to reach my goal of 10-15 pounds by swimsuit season!

True Crime Wednesday: The Disappearance of Mary Shotwell Little

This case caught my eye in a recent round-up article of mysterious disappearances, mainly because it involves my home state of North Carolina, and the numerous theories that swirl around it.

Mary Shotwell Little was a young 25-year-old newlywed and secretary at a bank in Atlanta, GA. On Oct. 14, 1965, the night of her disappearance, her husband Roy Little was out of town for work training but planning to return the next day. Mary had plans to throw him a welcome-back party, and after work, she shopped for groceries and arranged to meet a co-worker for dinner at the Piccadilly Cafeteria at the Lenox Square Shopping Center. The next day, Mary didn’t show up for work and never called in, which was unusual for her. Her boss spoke with the colleague she had dinner with the night before and found out Mary left the cafeteria around 8 p.m. in good spirits. Security guards couldn’t find Mary’s car, a 1965 Mercury Comet, at first but then located it in the parking lot of the shopping center.

There was something unusual about the car, though. It was covered in a layer of red dust, as if it had been driven on a dirt road. Police found bags of groceries were found in the backseat. A pile of folded undergarments, speckled with blood, lay between the bucket seats, and a single nylon with one cut in it and a bra were on the floor. Mary’s coat, purse, keys, jewelry and dress were never found.

On the day following her disappearance, Mary’s credit card was used at a gas station in Charlotte, NC, which also happened to be her hometown, and then 12 hours later in Raleigh, NC. Investigators thought that was odd because the two cities were only about 3- 3 1/2 hours apart–so why would anyone wait so long in between credit card purchases? They were both signed “Mrs. Roy H. Little Jr.” Attendants at both gas stations told investigators they had seen a woman who appeared to have a head injury with blood on her head and legs with two unidentified men, but she kept her face hidden.

There are many theories about what happened to Mary, although none have ever been proven. Of course suspicion fell first on her husband, Roy, as it often does when a woman vanishes. He reportedly came across as cold and unconcerned when she went missing and refused to take a lie detector test on many occasions. But although many of her friends didn’t care for him, she seemed to be happy in the marriage and he had no motive to bring her harm.

There is also speculation that Mary staged her own disappearance, due to the carefully staged items (and small amount of blood smears) in her car, but that hasn’t been proven, either.  A woman did report that a man tried to accost her in the Lenox Square Shopping Center just a few hours before Mary would have been heading to her own car after dinner.

Co-workers told investigators Mary had taken several calls at work that seemed to be from an old suitor, whom she told she was married and no longer available. She also received a bouquet of flowers from a secret admirer that so that was also a little unsettling. Had someone been stalking her?

There were also reports of a sex scandal at Mary’s office that she knew about, and an F.B.I. agent had been sent in to investigate it. But although Mary had knowledge of it, investigators couldn’t tie those claims to her disappearance. It is a strange coincidence though that 18 months after Mary went missing, a female co-worker named Dianne Shields was found murdered, sexually assaulted and left in the trunk of her car. No link could ever be found between the two cases, though.

According to this recent article in The Charlotte Observer, a retired area detective has been spending time trying chase down a story that an inmate told two F.B.I. agents in 1966. He claimed he had been acquainted with two men who told him they had abducted a woman and killed her at a house in Mount Holly, NC. And . . . they were each paid $5,000 to do so.

And the mystery deepens, indeed.

Who Was in the Polaroid? The Case of Tara Calico

Sometime last year I came across a video on the case of Tara Calico, who vanished from her hometown in Belen, New Mexico after heading out on her daily 34-mile bike ride on her mother’s Huffy (Tara’s bike had a flat tire and needed to be repaired). The year was 1988 and Tara was 19 years old. Her mother knew she wouldn’t be gone too long because she had an afternoon tennis date with her boyfriend.

Witnesses saw a white pick-up truck following closely behind her as she took off, and although she had only planned on taking a short ride, she never came home. After the initial 24-hour waiting period, police traced her route and found her Boston cassette tape lying by the side of the road about three miles from her home. Tara was described as outgoing, studious, and hard-working. She was attending a local  college and working part-time when she vanished, so her family believed immediately that she wouldn’t have left on her own.

Some time later a Walkman believed to have belonged to Tara was discovered about 19 miles away at a local campground, along with what looked to be bike tracks or scuffle marks.

About nine months after Tara vanished, a woman came across a Polaroid photo in the parking lot of a grocery store in Port St. Joe, Fla. A white cargo van had been previously parked in the spot where the photo was found. The photo showed a young woman and an even younger boy both bound and gagged on a bed with some striped sheets.

Alburquerque Journal

The picture appeared to have been taken in the back of a white Toyota cargo van with no windows. When Tara’s mother saw the picture, she insisted the girl, who had a V.C. Andrews novel placed beside her, was Tara. Andrews was Tara’s favorite author. Other people speculated the boy with Tara was Michael Henley, a nine-year-old boy who had gone missing in the New Mexico Zuni mountains in 1988, but his remains were later found near the area where he went missing two years later.

The case has never been solved, but with the renewed interest of the former sheriff, Rene Rivera, and an old classmate of Tara’s, Melinda Esquibel, closure could be on the horizon. There are rumors in the town of Belen that  two teenage boys were possibly involved in the abduction and subsequent murder of Tara, and that parents of the boys helped cover it up.  When Esquibel began working on  documentary of the case, the sheriff’s office in Valencia County gave her access to what little files existed on the case. What she found was in shambles and it was evident files had gone missing over the years. She began her own investigation that has been turned into a podcast, Vanished: The Tara Calico Investigation. I just started listening to the podcast and am curious to see what unfolds.

A lot of the fiction I write is inspired by true crime stories, and the Tara Calico case is no different. After hearing the initial story, I envisioned a young woman and boy held in captivity together for several years, and what would happen when they finally got the courage to escape. I wrote a short story called “The Polaroid,” and recently found out it placed first in the Suspense/Thriller Category of the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards.

True Crime Wednesday: The McStay Family Murders

The story of the McStay family intrigued me from the time I first heard about their sudden disappearance from their California home to the discovery of their bodies in the desert in the fall of 2013.

By all accounts, Joseph McStay, age 40, and his wife Summer, age 43, were happy and living the American dream. They had recently moved to a home in the suburbs of Fallbrook with their sons Gianni, age 4 and Joseph Jr., age 3, with plans to renovate it. Joseph ran a successful decorative water fountain business and he and Summer doted on their two young children.

In February 2010 Joseph’s father Patrick received an e-mail from one of Joseph’s business partners who was concerned because he hadn’t heard from Joseph. After Joseph’s brother visited the house and saw no signs of the family, Patrick called the local sheriff’s department and asked for them to do a welfare check. The detective who visited the home noticed two dogs in the backyard with a large bag of dog food, and signs that the family may have left the home abruptly. There was evidence of paint cans where Joseph and Summer had been painting along with food on the counter and bowls of popcorn on the couch. Family members were concerned–as Summer loved her dogs and would have never left them unattended in the backyard for days. The last time anyone had heard from the family had been on Feb. 4.

After several days, the sheriff’s department learned that the family’s Isuzu Trooper had been towed from a strip mall in San Diego, not far from the border of Mexico. Video surveillance on Feb. 8 during that time period showed a shadowy family of four making their way across the border checkpoint, but no one could ever confirm if it was the McStays or not. Authorities believed for the first few years that the McStays had traveled to Mexico during that time period and never returned. But the McStays had more than $100,000 in their bank accounts when they disappeared and it was never touched.

In November of 2013, a motorcyclist in the desert found a set of human remains buried in Victorville, Calif. The bodies were later determined to be those of the McStay family, and it was clear they had died violent deaths, including blunt force trauma. Not long after, police arrested Chase Merritt, Joseph’s business associate in the fountain business who had also been the one to notify Patrick McStay of the missing family. Merritt was also the last person known to be in contact with Joseph–they met for lunch the afternoon of the family’s disappearance.  He also had borrowed $30,000 from Joseph to cover a gambling debt. Merritt is still awaiting trial, as he keeps firing his counsel and has attempted to represent himself a few different times. He has a criminal background and apparently wrote thousands of dollars worth of check’s from Joseph’s business accounts in the days after the disappearance.

While this all seems shady, I have to wonder what exactly went down. Had Joseph discovered Merritt was embezzling money and confronted him? Or was he about to make the discovery and Merritt tried to head him off? Why kill the whole family? The police didn’t see any signs of violence when they examined the home, although there were fresh coats of paint on the walls where they assumed Joseph and Summer had been painting. But by the time they arrested Merritt in 2014 another family was living in the house and they couldn’t do the usual testing for blood spatter, etc.  Too much time had passed. There also wasn’t any blood in the Isuzu Trooper, which Merritt must have driven to the border checkpoint in an attempt to throw a wrench in the investigation. His DNA was found in the car, possibly from a skin or sweat transfer, but that could easily be explained away by a criminal defense attorney. Investigators are looking into the idea that Merritt may have had help in committing the crime.

So where did the murder take place? A sledgehammer, most likely the murder weapon, was found in the shallow graves of the bodies. That would cause cast-off that was never found. The bottom line is–the story is heartbreaking. A loving mother and father and two very young children lost their lives over what–money? I’m just hopeful that if Merritt is the one responsible that he is convicted and given the harshest punishment possible for the senseless deaths of the McStay family.

 

True Crime Wednesday: What Happened to Zachary Bernhardt?

Zachary Bernhardt was 8 years old when he disappeared on Sept. 11, 2000. One can only hope that he is alive and well today at the age of 25 years, possibly with no memory of who he is. But there are many that believe he met with foul play years ago.

The story is an odd one, and you pretty much only have the word of one person about what happened that night, and that’s Zachary’s mother, Leah. A single mom who often had trouble making ends meet, she told investigators she had insomnia that night and decided to take a swim in the apartment complex’s swimming pool between 3 and 4 a.m., leaving Zachary alone with the door unlocked.  When she returned, she immediately took a shower and then checked on Zachary, only to discover he wasn’t in his bed. She called police around 4:47 a.m. The phone call was odd, based on the recording played on the episode of “Disappeared” I watched. She sounded distraught, told 911 that is was “her fault” he was gone, and that he was a very well-behaved boy.

 

Right away, investigators had a few problems with her story. For starters, who goes swimming at 3 a.m. fully clothed, without even putting on a bathing suit? And why leave the door to your apartment unlocked when you know your 8-year-old son is in there sleeping? A few neighbors also stated that they noticed Leah’s car had left around the time she went swimming and returned later in the early hours of the morning before she made the call.

Leah and Zachary had a history of moving around a lot, and were reported to have been facing eviction at the time he went missing. Despite a massive search, no evidence of what happened to Zachary was ever found.

Investigators thought there might be a break in the case in 2001 when a nearby resident, Kevin Jalbert, told an acquaintance he was looking for a child to abduct and that he had abducted and killed many children before. When police questioned him about Zachary, he pointed at the wrong apartment and his description of the boy’s pajamas conflicted with information from Leah. He had a history of lying to people in order to get attention, though, which made him less than credible.  There was no physical evidence to tie Jalbert to Zachary’s disappearance, but he is serving 40 years in prison now on child pornography charges.

Another odd thing? On New Year’s Eve 2001, a 5-year-old boy was abducted from the same apartment complex and found alive in a dumpster ten hours later. He told police a white man with stringy hair had taken him. Despite thorough investigation, the police couldn’t find a connection between Zachary’s case and the New Year’s Eve abduction.

At some point, although Leah’s family members are still spearheading the search for Zachary, Leah herself stopped cooperating with the investigation, moved to Hawaii, got married, and changed her name. She appears to no longer be looking for her son that disappeared all those years ago.

True Crime Wednesday: The Disappearance of Bear Diaz

As a mom, this case is a hard one to wrap my mind around. Imagine if your child was frail from being ill and he went missing late at night after you dropped him off at home. That’s what happened in the case  of California resident Elijah “Bear” Diaz on Aug. 29, 2015.

Bear was a member of the Barona Band of Mission Indians. Because of this, he was receiving a monthly stipend from the casino on the reservation. The money enabled him to live comfortably and even purchase his own house. But he had been in poor health for awhile due to living with Type 1 Diabetes. He had a serious foot injury and had to walk on crutches. His mother, LeLanie Thompson, had been driving him whenever he needed to run errands and go to doctor appointments.  When I watched the “Disappeared” episode featuring Bear’s case, his mother shared that her son had been very trusting and opened his home to many people–you never knew who you would find crashing on the couch or sitting around Bear’s flat-screen TV playing video games.

On the night of Aug. 29, 2015, LeLanie dropped Bear off at home in El Cajon around 10:30 p.m. She received a text from him a little later before she turned in for the night. She went back to his home the next afternoon and discovered he was missing. LeLanie had a bad feeling and immediately contacted the police, but they were hesitant to act right away because of his age and the fact that he hadn’t been missing long. When they did search his house, Bear’s crutches were missing, along with the comforter on his bed,  a backpack containing about a week’s worth of insulin, and Bear’s 50-inch TV. His glasses were left behind.  LeLanie knew then that someone had to have taken 110-pound Bear out of the house.

His cell phone was turned off on Aug. 30 and never turned back on. Police searched an area near Santa Ysabel where a cellphone signal had been traced but found nothing. They also conducted a luminol test in his home but didn’t detect any blood.

Bear’s family has come to terms with the fact that he is no longer alive. Now they are simply looking for answers. In a recent Facebook post on the Bring Bear Diaz Home page, LeLanie told of how she decided to let the second anniversary of Bear’s disappearance go by as quietly as she could, with the exception of a scheduled haircut. In the Native American culture, one cuts their hair when a loved one passes on. She says her heart is telling her that he is gone. She said:

All I can do is to find peace, embrace love, and hold on to joy… Bear would want me to. He loved me so strongly, I simply need to hold tight to my memories, and keep moving forward. Counting my blessings, and reaching for the full moon.

Please contact the El Cajon Police Department at (619) 579-3311 with information about this case.

Book Review: Skinnytaste Fast and Slow

I don’t know about you, but I discover many great recipes on social media channels. Someone will share a recipe or I’ll see one of those cooking videos that makes preparing a dish look so easy that I’ll seek out the blog or Facebook page it originated from. That’s how I found Gina Homolka and Skinnytaste.

 

I can’t remember which recipe of hers I tried first, but I love how she uses real food ingredients in her dishes and includes the Weight Watchers points for anyone who may be on the program. She also has many slow cooker offerings. I’ve saved many of her recipes and cooking videos on Facebook and Instagram, so when I came across the Skinnytaste Fast and Slow cookbook a few months ago while browsing in our local independent bookstore I made an impulse buy. It didn’t disappoint. Skinnytaste Fast and Slow: Knockout Quick-Fix and Slow Cooker Recipes includes 140 dishes that can be made in a slow cooker, in the oven or on the stovetop.

At the beginning of the book, Homolka explains her cooking philosophy–she loves eating decadent and savory foods but doesn’t want to sabotage the results of her fitness routine. That’s what led her to experiment with different dishes that could be full of flavor but still healthy. She also gives tips on how to successfully get dinner on the table even in the midst of a hectic schedule. For example, stock your pantry with seasonings and spices, baking products, canned and jarred goods, prep for the week with meal planning (she also sells her own meal planner to help with this), how to freeze certain dishes, etc. She also provides advice on how to prepare delicious meals quickly and slow cooker secrets. Plus, there’s a handy chart with a month full of meals to get you started.

I’m still working my way through the cookbook but so far we’ve loved pretty much everything we’ve tried and I haven’t even attempted any of the breakfast or dessert recipes yet!

Some personal favorites out of Skinnytaste Fast and Slow:

Slow Cooker Beef Ragu Pappardelle (we served this to some dinner guests a few weeks ago and they loved it)

Chicken and Zucchini Noodles with Black Bean Sauce

Zesty Lime Shrimp and Avocado Salad

Slow Cooker Lasagna Soup

Excited to try the Lasagna Soup from @skinnytaste tonight. #healthyeating #comfortfood #skinnytastefastandslow

A post shared by rlroberson (@rlroberson) on

Easiest One-Pot Pasta and Broccoli

Chicken Scaloppine with Broccoli and Melted Mozzarella

WOW! Women on Writing Round-Up

I’ve written for WOW Women on Writing’s blog, The Muffin, for awhile now, and periodically I like to do a round-up of my recent posts, which all revolve around the writing life. Here are a few from the past few months–hope you find something useful!

Going “There” with Your Writing

Because it’s National Novel Writing Month (no, not participating this year!) I’ve noticed all the writing trade magazines and websites are chock full of inspirational articles on how to write a great plot twist and craft a page-turning dilemma. One such piece of advice centered on writing what scares you—you know, dig into those deep, dark fears a la Stephen King It style.  Read more . . .

How Mysteries Inspire Our Writing

Pexels.com

I’ve always been a fan of mysteries. I read them as a child and then ventured out into reading authors like Mary Higgins Clark in my teens. Nowadays, I prefer more of the true-life mysteries. When revamping my writing blog a few months back, I decided to dedicate one day a week to writing about missing persons or homicide cases and offering my own theories about what might have happened. Read more . . .

The Stories Behind the Authors

This seems like a busy time of year for authors! I follow a lot of them on social media, and have seen more posts about book release tours than usual. Sioux also wrote about one a few days ago. I got to attend a special event with one of my literary heroes, young adult novelist, John Green, last week. Read more . . .

When the Flood Gates Open

If you’ve read any of my posts over the last year, you know that I’ve been somewhat blocked in my creative writing. I have a few different manuscripts that I’ve been tinkering with, but those often get put aside due to my paying freelance gigs. But in my last post, I put down in writing that I was revamping my personal blog so that I could get back into a regular writing schedule. Read more . . .

True Crime Wednesday: The Disappearance of Baby DeOrr Kunz

I love the show People Magazine Investigates on the Investigation Discovery channel, and the case that aired this week is a difficult one because a 2-year-old child was involved. There are so many unanswered questions about the case and finger pointing that it makes coming up with theories difficult, especially because you want to be sensitive to the parents who are still looking for answers. On the other hand, there are far too many cases like Susan Smith and Casey Anthony (even though she was acquitted of charges) that prove a parent can indeed know something happened to their child and then lie to investigators about it.

Photo courtesy of East Idaho News.

Here is what we know. On July 10, 2015, Jessica Mitchell and Vernal DeOrr Kunz took their 2-year-old son DeOrr on a camping trip with Mitchell’s grandfather Robert Walton and a friend of the grandfather, Isaac Reinwand. Then the story gets a little murky. The parents (who were high school sweethearts who had married other people and then divorced and reconnected to have baby DeOrr) said they walked up a trail only a few feet from the campsite. They left DeOrr in the care of the grandfather when they did this. Then Vernal said he saw some minnows in a stream that he thought his son would like to see, and he and Jessica returned to the campsite to get him. The grandfather (who is in poor health and tethered to an oxygen tank) claimed he thought the toddler was with them.  From one report I read, the parents were probably gone 20 minutes or so. But that’s more than “a few feet away from the campsite.” There are also discrepancies on how long they waited before they called 911. I think on the episode Jessica said he had been missing for an hour but I can’t be positive on that.

There was a reservoir nearby that was searched but the dive team didn’t find anything. Jessica told police they had been at a nearby gas station that morning and she noticed a man looking at DeOrr in a way that made her uncomfortable. Investigators tracked down the man and determined he had nothing to do with the disappearance.  The four people at the campsite couldn’t seem to get their stories straight, either, they all had different recollections of who had cooked breakfast that morning, how long DeOrr had been missing before they called for help, etc. The parents both ended up failing polygraph tests which didn’t help their case.  The friend that was with the grandfather had a criminal background (theft, I believe).

I think at first their local community rallied around them, but now that investigators have said none of the four people on the trip can be cleared in the case that support has wavered. Jessica and Vernal are no longer together, and have taken to saying they don’t know if the other had anything to do with DeOrr’s disappearance. Jessica stated that she feels DeOrr was kidnapped by someone that was in the area on that day. It also came out on the “People Magazine Investigates” episode that Jessica had two other children from a previous marriage but had given up custody of them before she had DeOrr. And the fact remains that no trace of him has ever been found and only four people truly know what happened that day.

It is heartbreaking to see the photos of this adorable little boy and know that something tragic likely happened to him, whether it was an accident or not. If it was an accident, I hope that whoever is responsible does the right thing and comes forward so that the extended family can finally get some answers.