• podcasts,  True Crime

    Podcast Unravels the Mystery Behind the Kristin Smart Disappearance

    I think I first heard about the Kristin Smart case back in the late 90s on the TV show “Unsolved Mysteries.” She was a 19-year-old student at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo. The Friday before Memorial Day weekend, Kristin was ready to unwind and blow off some steam. She attended a party thrown by a local fraternity, and after walking back towards her dorm with a few other students, was never seen again.  

    24 years later, we still don’t know what happened to Kristin. But according to recent news reports, the mother of Kristin Smart has been told to prepare for new and breaking details about the case. When I learned that a new investigative podcast does a deep dive into Kristin’s life and the theories surrounding her disappearance, I knew I had to check it out. I was pretty surprised with what the podcast uncovered. And I’m only on Episode 3.

    I’m not going to get into too many details, because I recommend you check out the podcast “Your Own Backyard; The Disappearance of Kristin Smart” yourself, especially if you liked Payne Lindsey’s coverage of Tara Grinstead’s disappearance in the “Up and Vanished” podcast.  

    But here are a few things I didn’t know going into the podcast:

    Investigators have always had a suspect in the case, a young man who was supposedly the last person seen with her on that walk home. That young man had a black eye in the days following her disappearance, and he gave three different explanations as to how he got that bruise. When cadaver dogs were taken through the Cal Poly dorms days later (because it took campus police almost a week to report her missing), they hit on the corner of the mattress in the dorm room belonging to this young man who was the last person seen with her. Unfortunately, by that time, the rooms had already been thoroughly cleaned by college janitorial staff because students had gone home for the summer.

    There is so much more circumstantial evidence that points to this suspect, and the host of “Your Own Backyard,” California native Chris Lambert, covers it all. He was in elementary school when Kristin first went missing and has grown up driving past the billboards featuring the young girl’s smiling face. He interviews her family, her closest friends, and scores of young women who knew the suspect in the case and are not surprised that he may have taken advantage of a young intoxicated college girl leaving a party. In fact, most of the women won’t use their own names in the podcast because they fear retribution by the suspect.

    I have a feeling Lambert’s reporting may have put the final pieces of this puzzle together. I plan on finishing the rest of the episodes this week to find out more.

  • Lifestyle

    Five Days of Meals on the MyWW Purple Plan

    My weight has fluctuated ever since I graduated from college. Once I got into the routine of lunching with co-workers, eating take-out after a long day of work, and later, trying to make healthy meals for my family as an exhausted young mom, it’s not hard to see why it’s been a struggle. At the beginning of 2018 I was fed up once again. I had let myself get to a point where I was living in leggings and oversized sweaters, and reaching for every carb imaginable to combat stress and a busy schedule. Pizza and sweet treats were my biggest downfalls. I decided to join WW after I heard about their Freestyle program, and while it was hard in the beginning, once the weight started falling off me, I stayed the course logging in my foods on the app on my phone and trying not to go over my daily budget of 23 SmartPoints. I liked that I could eat foods like lean chicken, turkey, eggs, beans and non-starchy fruits and vegetables for 0 points toward my budget. Within four months, after careful tracking and a regimented workout schedule of five days a week, I reached my goal weight.

    But last year, after maintaining for about a year, I started to backslide. I would go one day without tracking what I ate, thinking it was fine if I cheated a little, and before I knew it, one day would turn into four days out of the week where I couldn’t remember what I had eaten. I told myself I would just have to pull it together and be more disciplined. When WW switched up their program last year, creating three individualized programs to meet different people’s preferences, I stuck with Blue because it was the same as the Freestyle I had been using. But over the holidays, as I cheated with all the alcohol, baked goods and cheesy foods, I realized something needed to change. I couldn’t button my pants any longer. My weight was only five or six pounds away from my heaviest weight again. And I felt miserable.

    I looked over the MyWW plans again and the Purple plan caught my eye. At first, I was nervous when I saw that I would only be allocated 16 points a day to eat. I was having trouble sticking with Blue’s 23 points at that time! Then I noticed the list of zero-point foods on the Purple plan was much larger than that of the Blue plan. I wondered if I could be savvy enough to mix the zero-point foods on the Purple plan with foods I liked in order to feel more full. On the Blue plan (which was basically low-carb) I often went to bed with my stomach rumbling, and no amount of stuffing fruits and vegetables in my face could help it. Then I would sneak into the pantry and sabotage myself with handfuls of chips or cookies to satisfy my hunger.

    The Purple plan offers zero-points for things like brown rice, potatoes, whole-wheat pasta, plain popcorn. These were all foods that I had missed on the Purple plan, and foods I knew would probably help keep me more full if I mixed them with the right things. I noted you still have to measure the amounts and use these foods sparingly, which I was willing to do. So on New Year’s Eve I officially switched to the Purple plan on my app.

    I’m happy to report that as of tracking one week on this new plan, I’ve lost three pounds and I already feel much better. I will try and stick to this plan for a few more weeks and make sure it continues to work before I make a final decision, but as of now, I’m a pretty happy camper. I’m listing five days of what I ate below to give you an example of what foods are working for me.

    Jan. 2, 2020

    Breakfast: 16 oz. black coffee, 4 tsp. Coffeemate fat-free powdered creamer, 2 tsp. sugar, an omelette with two eggs and one slice of reduced fat provolone cheese, 1/2 cup roasted sweet potatoes

    Total breakfast points: 5

    Lunch: Two Falafel “meatballs,” 3 Tbsp. black olives, one mini Persian cucumber, 2 cups lettuce, topped with a dollop of Fage nonfat greek yogurt

    Total lunch points: 3

    Dinner: 1 cup of slow-cooker minestrone soup, two slices of Food for Life Sprouted Grain Bread, 3 oz. deli turkey, one slice of reduced-fat provolone

    Total dinner points: 8

    Snacks: 1 small mandarin orange

    Total snack points: 0

    Total daily points: 16

    Jan. 3, 2020

    Breakfast: Two Falafel “meatballs,” 3 Tbsp. black olives, one mini Persian cucumber, 2 cups lettuce, 16 oz. black coffee, 4 tsp. Coffeemate fat-free powdered creamer, 2 tsp. sugar

    Total breakfast points: 5

    Lunch: 1 cup of slow-cooker minestrone soup, one slice of Food for Life Sprouted Grain Bread, 3 oz. deli turkey, one slice of reduced-fat provolone

    Total lunch points: 6

    Dinner: Flank steak fajitas (no tortilla), 1/2 cups roasted sweet potatoes, 1/4 of an avocado

    Total dinner points: 6

    Snacks: 1 apple, 1 container of Fage nonfat greek yogurt with frozen unsweetened cherries, two Honeymaid chocolate graham crackers

    Total snack points: 1

    Total daily points: 17 (I dipped into my 21 weekly extra points WW gives me)

    Jan. 4, 2020

    Breakfast: 16 oz. black coffee, 4 tsp. Coffeemate fat-free powdered creamer, 2 tsp. sugar, 1/2 cups fresh raspberries, spinach and cheddar frittata

    Total breakfast points: 5

    Lunch: 1 cup slow cooker minestrone, mixed salad greens with 1 tbsp of Kraft Zesty Italian Dressing, 1 chocolate pumpkin muffin

    Total lunch points: 5

    Dinner: 1 link of Aidell’s Italian-Style chicken sausage, 1/2 cups fresh mushrooms, 1 cup broccoli, 1/2 cup whole wheat pasta, 1/8 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

    Total dinner points: 7

    Snacks: 1 apple, 1 container of Fage nonfat greek yogurt with frozen unsweetened cherries, two Honeymaid chocolate graham crackers

    Total snack points: 1

    Total daily points: 16

    Jan. 5, 2020

    Breakfast: 16 oz. black coffee, 4 tsp. Coffeemate fat-free powdered creamer, 2 tsp. sugar, 1 container of Fage nonfat greek yogurt, 2 Honeymaid chocolate graham crackers, 3/4 cups frozen unsweetened cherries

    Total breakfast points: 4

    Lunch: 1 cup slow cooker minestrone, 1 Babybel mini cheese wedge, 1 mandarin orange

    Total lunch points: 4

    Dinner: 2 homemade italian meatballs with marinara sauce, 1 cup whole-wheat pasta

    Total dinner points: 6

    Snacks: 1 apple, 3 pieces of Oh Snap Pickling Co. carrot sticks, 1 slice of Food for Life Whole Grain Sprouted Bread

    Total snack points: 2

    Total daily points: 16 points

    Jan. 6, 2020

    Breakfast: Omelette with two eggs, cooked spinach, olive oil and reduced fat provolone cheese, 16 oz. black coffee, 4 tsp. Coffeemate fat-free powdered creamer, 2 tsp. sugar

    Total breakfast points: 6

    Lunch: 1 Morningstar Farms Garden Veggie Burger with pickle chips and two slices of lettuce, one chocolate pumpkin muffin

    Total lunch points: 6

    Dinner: Slow cooker Southwest Chicken, 1/2 cup brown rice, 10 Blue Diamond lightly-salted almonds, two Hot Cocoa Hershey’s Kisses

    Total dinner points: 5

    Snacks: 2 mandarin oranges, 1 container of Fage nonfat greek yogurt with unsweetened frozen cherries

    Total snack points: 0

    Total points: 17

    As you can see, I like to make large batches of things like slow cooker meals, salads and soups and eat them repeatedly for easy meal planning. I also gravitate towards the same snacks. Having eggs in the morning usually keeps me pretty full right off the bat. I also had a lot of FitPoints I accumulated during these days that I didn’t really dip into. During this time period, I exercised all five days with elliptical training, walking and jogging.

    I hope to continue to follow this plan. So far, it is working well for me and I’m loving being able to rotate in the whole grain pastas, rice and even oatmeal, which I haven’t tried to eat again yet. I’m also not drinking any alcohol during this initial period which helps keeps extra calories at bay.

    Let me know if you have any questions!

    -Renee

  • Creative Writing,  podcasts,  True Crime,  writing inspiration

    My Top Five True Crime Posts

    Round-ups are some of my favorite posts to read, and hopefully this one will be no exception. In this post, I’ve gathered up my top five posts all about true crime–whether it’s discussing theories behind the addiction to missing people or specific cases that have stuck with me over the years.

    Situational awareness. A glimpse into the dark side of humanity. The adrenaline rush. In this post, I take a deep dive into Three Reasons Female Writers are Addicted to True Crime.

    The Case of Mike Williams. This story out of Florida intrigued me from the moment I learned about it, from the shifty wife to the “best friend” who sold him a hefty life insurance policy before he went missing, to the theory that Williams fell into a lake during a fishing trip and was eaten by alligators. Nope and nope. The update post shed light on recent developments.

    Why I find the Parcast podcast Unsolved Murders is so intriguing.

    As a mother, this case haunts me. Hopefully the loved ones of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman can find closure soon.

    Who was in the Polaroid? This case fascinated me so much that I wrote an award-winning suspense short story based on the events.

  • Creative Writing,  freelance writing,  writing advice,  writing inspiration

    My 2019 EOY Writing Wrap-Up

    It’s Dec. 31, and a lot has happened with my writing this year. Because I’m such a fanatic about listening to EOY wrap-ups from other entrepreneurs I follow, I thought it might be a good time to go over some of the accomplishments and setbacks I’ve experienced this year. Let’s get right to it.

    2019 started with a bit of a quandary. To be honest, I was working in a job that made me question my skills and talents on a regular basis. I think a lot of it was that it was a structure (the company was a nonprofit organization) that didn’t have a lot of built-in support for my position, in addition to converging project management timelines, which have never been a strong skill set for me. By spring of this year, I was feeling unaccomplished, unappreciated and my self-esteem was so low that I was having a hard time writing creatively, despite the fact that I had a lot of projects in the pipeline.

    In May I was approached by a local magazine I’ve freelanced for frequently in the last 10 years, and when I had the opportunity to interview for the editor position, I jumped. Even though the job would bring its own set of challenges, I knew most of the people that worked there already and knew the tone and style of the publication like the back of my hand.

    However, because I’m always so concerned about not burning bridges in the publishing industry, I gave a long notice to my job and had the first magazine deadline overlap with my last two weeks at the job I was leaving. My editorial job is remote, but juggling e-mails, phone calls and planning meetings while trying to introduce myself to the writers and photographers and work on transitional documents proved to be quite challenging. The first deadline of the magazine also coincided with our annual family vacation (which we had booked with some family friends at a beach house in Florida) so I felt like I was editing stories and proofreading pages almost the entire time I was on vacation. That was a tough time and I still feel like I never got a proper vacation, although I did get an extra paycheck out of the overlapping job duties I did for two weeks. I’m not sure it was worth it, though.

    Here is a breakdown of everything related to writing/publishing I worked on this year:

    Since August, I’ve produced six issues of the magazine I work for, Lake Norman CURRENTS, and one newcomer’s guide that the company also produces for that magazine. I’ve personally written two advertorial articles, six Editor’s Letters and 23 feature articles ranging from 250-650 words and 11 business profiles, in addition to various calendar of events sections and product spreads.

    For WOW! Women on Writing, I wrote 26 blog posts, interviewed 13 writing contest winners and finalists, helped judge two flash fiction contests, and wrote one e-zine article in October about my experience attending MurderCon.

    For Writer’s Digest, I helped judge one of their self-published book contests, which required me to read and review 22 books.

    Writing Contests: I didn’t have any luck with writing contests, but I entered six short story contests and two creative non-fiction contests. I also entered two pieces in literary journals, where I received one rejection and am still waiting to hear back from the other. I also published my young adult novel, Between, on Wattpad back in August, and it has received almost 500 reads at this point.

    I’m also in the process of developing a true-crime podcast, and have purchased some of the equipment already and have my first episode’s script written. I hope to get that off the ground by the end of January, so stay tuned!

    I’ve been feeling a bit discouraged, because I had wanted to accomplish more with my creative writing last year, but considering I’ve made slightly more money in my actual career this year, and produced a heck of a lot of valuable and helpful content and human-interest stories, I think I can settle back and give myself a much-needed pat on the back. I’ll do a future post soon on some of my goals for this coming year.

    How did you do with your writing projects this year? I’d love to hear some of your accomplishments, goals, and “never doing that again!” stories!

  • Creative Writing,  freelance writing,  Lifestyle,  writing advice

    A New Decade of Writing

    It’s hard to believe we’re about to conclude another decade. I’ve been reflecting on this a bit, and marveling about how far I’ve come since I graduated from college, with a stack of credit card bills and student loans to pay off, and working two jobs so I could support myself. And even then there were plenty of days where I was eating pasta with plain tomato sauce for almost every dinner. If I wanted to get fancy I would throw some feta cheese on top.

    Back then, I never dreamed I could make money writing from home, and that research for a million different topics would be right at my fingertips. I took any and every job that came my way, even when it had nothing to do with my communications degree that had a concentration in print journalism. Slowly, I worked my way into the industry, starting with a job cranking out press releases and editing a university alumni magazine for a small public relations firm to freelancing for websites and regional print magazines. I’ve now been writing professionally for almost 20 years, and have my dream job of being a magazine editor while still writing creatively on the side.

    The last few years have been good to me–by keeping me employed while opening up different paths that are better suited to my skills. I’ve been able to develop long-standing relationships with other writers and editors, and we all help keep other encouraged (and employed) at the very times we need it most. (I encourage you to check out my latest post over at WOW! Women on Writing on why you should be networking over on LinkedIn.)

    I’m also ready to fulfill a dream I’ve had since I was a child dreaming of a being a DJ on a radio station. I will be venturing into the podcasting world, combining my love of missing persons cases with a journalistic approach. I’ve purchased the equipment and am preparing the content as we speak. I’m blessed to be able to follow my passions, wherever they may lead me.

    I’m happy to be a part of this community and feel many more great things ahead in 2020. Cheers to you, my friends, and thank you for continuing to read and support my work.

  • Book Review

    Book Review: Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

    I can’t remember exactly how I stumbled upon the powerhouse that is Rachel Hollis. It may have been on Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love podcast. Lately, I’ve been finding so many interesting people on podcasts! Anyway, I was inspired by Rachel’s story. She graduated early from high school, decided not to attend college, and instead headed to Los Angeles to conquer her dreams and marry Matt Damon! The last part didn’t really work out but she did find a man of her dreams (David Hollis) and kicked off a successful career in event planning, wedding planning, and is now an entrepreneur, author, motivational speaker, and creator of Chic Media.

    After following Rachel on social media, I kept hearing about her latest book, Girl, Wash Your Face. The title intrigued me. When I heard that it was a motivational book geared towards women I was also intrigued. I was going through a slump in my life at the time where I felt like I sucked as a writer, in my professional career in marketing, and generally in life.

    So I picked up the book one day while in Target. And I’m glad I did. Rachel’s writing voice is just like the voice you hear on her blog, Instagram feed, and in clips from her conferences and speaking engagements. She is authentic. She is blunt. She is encouraging. She made me feel like I am worthy of my dreams, and anyone else’s opinion of me isn’t my business. Wow.

    The book basically follows 20 different lies she tells herself and why they aren’t true. Most of these related to me (although instead of wanting to marry Matt Damon, I may have had my eye more on his buddy Ben Affleck). These lies include things like “I’ll Start Tomorrow” or “I Am Defined by My Weight” or “I Need a Hero.” I think I especially loved the chapter titled “I Need to Make Myself Smaller.” It actually inspired this blog post over at WOW! Women on Writing.

    When I got to the chapter on “I’m a Terrible Writer,” these words struck me the most:

    When you’re creating something from your heart, you do it because you can’t NOT do it. You produce it because you believe your creation deserves to be out in the world. . . But you can’t MAKE people like or understand it.

    I feel like this a lot. Sometimes I feel like people think I’m strange because I’m obsessed with true crime and missing persons cases. But that’s where my passion lies, along with writing literature for teens. Since I read Girl, Wash Your Face, I have been so productive it’s not even funny. I’ve written a new short story and submitted it to a contest. I dragged an old YA manuscript out and have been line editing it so I can start querying agents. I picked myself up after an abysmal critique from a freelance editor on a second YA manuscript and am trying to figure out to make the opening sing and not bore people. I’m seeking out opportunities in professional development to help me succeed in my day job in theatre marketing. I’m ON FIRE!

    So if you need a good dose of motivation, I recommend you check out this book. It worked for me, and I’m passing it along to a friend I’m seeing tomorrow night. I hope she enjoys it as much as I did.

  • Lifestyle,  Travel,  writing inspiration

    Reading, Travel, and the Inspiration for a New Story

    Normally I try to reserve Mondays for book reviews and I’ve read a lot of great ones in recent months! Of course I snatched up The Perfect Couple from one of my favorite authors Elin Hilderbrand when it became available in June. I read it over vacation and it was the perfect escape. I also finally finished Wild by Cheryl Strayed (it had been on my Kindle forever) and checked out the motivational book Girl, Wash Your Face by one of my new favorite motivational speakers/entrepreneurs, Rachel Hollis. I’ll try to get some of these reviews put up in the next few weeks.

    But for today, I’ll try to provide an overview of what I’ve been writing about the past several months. I’m working on revising my contemporary young adult manuscript, Under My Skin, and am putting the final tweaks on another manuscript, Between, before I finally start shopping it around to agents! A few months ago I entered a short story I wrote, “The Name You’re Not Supposed to Call Women,” in the 2018 Women’s National Book Association Writing Contest in the Young Adult Category. Imagine my surprise when I received notification that it won an Honorable Mention (fourth place). I am so proud of this story, as I wrote it to help process an experience I went through in my late teens. You can read the final version here.

    I had a wonderful family vacation in July on the gorgeous Anna Maria Island off the Gulf Coast of Florida.

    I’m still dreaming about that place, and grateful that a visit to the The Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Fla. inspired yet another short story, “The First and Last Time I Ever Saw a Clown Cry.” I entered it in a flash fiction contest and anxiously await the results. Here is a snippet from it:

    I don’t remember exactly when the first hints of smoke hit us, or when Mother and Father realized we were in trouble. Father scanned the crowd until he spotted the grotesque orange and red flames shooting up one wall of the tent. Soon, screams of “FIRE” were reverberating throughout the crowd. The band stopped playing. Throngs of people began thundering up and down the rows of metal bleachers while trying to figure out the quickest exit. I clutched Mother’s arm as she tried to talk to Father over the mayhem. We couldn’t get down the stairs of the bleachers fast enough and were crushed from behind by the people trying to force their way through the crowd.

    Tomorrow, I’ll be at WOW! Women on Writing blogging about the importance of seeking out professional development in your career. Be sure to stop by and check it out!

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Book Review

    Book Review: Crossing the Line by Ellen Valladares

    When I got the e-mail about Ellen Valladares and the blog tour for her new YA novel, Crossing the Line, I jumped at the chance to review the book. A teenage girl ghost from the 1980s? A mystery? A young journalist as the protagonist? I couldn’t not check out the book, as these are themes near and dear to my own heart.

    Thanks to Crystal Otto with WOW! Blog Tours for offering me the chance to participate! You can check out an interview with the author here.

    About the book:

    Laura, who died thirty years ago, enlists the help of a tenacious high school reporter named Rebecca, who is very much alive. Rebecca, although skeptical and conflicted by her supposed encounters with a spirit, determines to learn the truth about Laura’s tragic death. As the clues unravel and their worlds collide, Rebecca finds herself at a dangerous crossroads.

    Laura, now pulled back into everything she left behind when she died – her old high school and memories of her life and death—has been in training for this exact moment. And nothing means more to her than succeeding at her assignment.

    It is her one chance to make sure that what happened to her does not happen to anyone else, and especially not to her new friend, Rebecca.

    About the author:

    Ellen Wolfson Valladares is an award-winning writer/author, workshop facilitator, community volunteer, and mother. A native Floridian, she grew up in St. Petersburg and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Florida. She has worked as an editor, public relations professional, and freelance writer. Her first book, a children’s novel entitled Jonathan’s Journey to Mount Miapu, received several awards, including a Mom’s Choice Gold Award and the 2009 Coalition of Visionary Resources Visionary Awards Book of the Year award. She also has a meditation CD, entitled “Healing and Manifestation with the Archangels.”
    Today, Valladares continues to work as a freelance writer. She also enjoys coaching high school students working on their college essays and helping other writers realize their dreams. She has been married to her husband, Manny, for 30 years and they have two sons, Gabriel and Michael, two dogs, Flash and Chili Pepper, and a crazy cat named Zelda. They live in Weston, Fla.

    Paperback: 300 pages

    Genre: Fiction/Young Adult

    Publisher: WiDO (March 2018)

    ISBN-13: 978-1-937178-99-4

    Review:

    This book had everything I enjoy in a novel–relatable characters, paranormal elements, mystery, romance and a time period the features the  music and fashion I adored.  But Crossing the Line turned out to be so much more than that.

    I knew from the opening pages that there was more to Laura’s death than met the eye. Through alternating chapters, the reader is able to learn more about the character of Laura, and her murder at the hands of a female classmate. Throughout the course of the novel, Laura is a student at “The Academy,” or how the author presents the Afterlife. As she learns various ways she can reconnect with the living, she also receives a mission that requires her to reach out to a modern-day student at her former high school, Rebecca.

    When Rebecca first makes contact with Laura through a Ouija Board (remember those?), she is understandably frightened. But through her sleuthing skills and help of her journalism teacher, she starts to investigate Laura’s death and her long-standing feud with the girl who murdered her, Katie.

    Valldares is a masterful writer and plotter, and I enjoyed reading the story through the alternating chapters of Laura and Rebecca’s voices. She skillfully tied the characters of the early 1980s to present day (I won’t get into too much here but there were plenty of surprises on that front!) and I could easily understand how a teenage boy could could cause friction among two female students. The mission Laura is on is also woven into the novel in a way that flowed seamlessly.

    And not to give too much away, but I was also glad to have the chance to hear from the character of Katie herself, but I won’t reveal exactly how.

    I look forward to sharing this book with  my own teenage daughter. I know she’ll love it.

     

  • podcasts,  True Crime,  Uncategorized,  writing inspiration

    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.

  • writing inspiration

    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 . . .