Friday, June 29, 2012

Why I felt compelled to write LOST GIRLS

By Caitlin Rother

First I have a confession to make. After writing Body Parts, a book about serial rapist-killer Wayne Adam Ford, I really didn’t think I’d ever be able to stand getting into the head of another man like him, let alone one who had molested, raped and killed teenagers. I also have a standing rule: I cannot and will not write stories about young murdered children. I just can’t stomach it.
But on March 4, 2010, the day after John Gardner was arraigned for killing Chelsea King, and the same day he quietly told his attorneys he could lead them to Amber’s body (which remained a secret for six weeks), I got an e-mail from an editor from The Daily Beast, asking if I’d be interested in covering this case for them.
I said yes, and spent fourteen hours researching and writing the first article. The following week, I wrote a second one, which was difficult because District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis had issued a “gag order” e-mail, and the judge had also put an actual gag order in place. But, after watching my own community reeling from the emotional fallout of this case, I was feeling it too. I felt in my gut that I really wanted to tell this story – both sides of it, and very much in-depth.
For me to move forward and get past my own rule, I had to convince myself that Chelsea and Amber weren’t children, even though some folks might disagree. Still, because of their age and out of respect to their families, I knew I had to be extremely sensitive and thoughtful about how I wrote this book.
Following my usual methodology, I read every article and collected every piece of information I could, trying to determine if I could go further than the mainstream media. With the crazy amount of coverage, I was a bit worried at first. However, after a long series of calls and e-mails, I was able to persuade John Gardner’s family to open up to me. They were paid no money for telling me their story, they did it because they wanted it to be told accurately and in full detail, not in sound bites, and not taken out of context by the media. 
Knowing that I could tell the back story of how Gardner evolved into the man who could commit these heinous acts, I felt I could go deeper than any reporter had gone before me. And despite the dark subject matter, the investigative passion of revealing new facts energized me. I felt this book was more important than some of my earlier works because people are so scared of losing their children to sexual predators, and I felt we could all benefit from knowing why this happens. We, as a society, seem to have so little understanding of these men and how to deal with them. For some, I believe, it is just too repulsive and difficult a subject to ponder, but burying our heads in the sand won’t stop these crimes from occurring. For me, this was an opportunity to educate ALL of us.
The Gardner-Osborn family and I share a hope that this book will help educate people by delving into the factors that contributed to making John Gardner into a man who could not control his sexual and homicidal compulsions, and by casting a spotlight on the flawed system that allowed him and predators like him to roam free to prey on children, teenagers and grown women.
Although they’ve since become pessimistic that anything they say will help, I’m still hopeful that the idealism that drove me into journalism years ago was right and true, and that this story will give unprecedented insight into all the facets of a sex offender like John Gardner—the sweet, nurturing, loving and goofy guy his family once knew, the guy who seemed friendly and normal to people at the dog park, as well as the angry, manipulative and violent man who brutally raped and killed these poor girls.
I hope that we, as a society, can find ways to help people like him before they get to a breaking point or to stop them from doing harm after they’ve reached it. And I hope that with this book, we can learn something that will help protect us and our families from falling to the same fate as Amber Dubois, Chelsea King and Gardner’s third victim, Candice Moncayo, who lived to deliver a powerful victim impact statement to him during the sentencing hearing.
I did try to speak with Candice, as well as Chelsea’s and Amber’s parents, so I could pay a more personal tribute to each victim by hearing their stories directly rather than piecing them together from other sources, but they chose not to be interviewed. (I can’t tell these stories without writing about the victims and their families – they are why we tell these stories in the first place.) Instead, I respectfully crafted their stories from their own words in public comments to the media, public records and details I collected from interviews with law enforcement and other sources.
I understand that this was an enormously traumatic event in these families’ lives, and I hope they will understand that I had only good intentions in writing this book, that my goal was to educate people and to help prevent tragedies like this in the future. Some victims and their families have cooperated fully with me in my previous books, they have told me they found relief in doing so. They have also thanked me for my sensitive approach. But I can also see that others might find it too painful to do the same. I’m sure these events are still fresh in the minds of Chelsea and Amber's families, and that they are still grieving.
Nonetheless, I think we all want to change the system in a positive way, to save lives and to keep this from happening again. This is my way, and I hope they find some peace and success in theirs.
My hope is to continue my public education efforts at my upcoming book talks and signings. If you'd like to engage in the discussion, come hear how I put the book together or buy a signed copy, please join me at one of these upcoming events: 
Launch: July 5 at 6:30 pm at the Mira Mesa Barnes & Noble 
Or: July 7 at 3 pm at the Encinitas library, July 11 at 6:30 at the Oceanside Barnes & Noble, or July 21 at 3 pm at the Rancho San Diego library.

New York Times bestselling author Caitlin Rother, a Pulitzer-nominee who worked as a investigativer reporter for nearly 20 years, has written or co-authored eight books: Poisoned LoveDeadly Devotion/Where Hope BeginsMy Life, Deleted, Body Parts, Twisted TriangleNaked Addiction, and Dead Reckoning. Out on July 3 is Lost Girls about the murder of innocents Chelsea King and Amber Dubois by sexual predator John Gardner. For more information, please check her website,

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Fourth Dimension

By: ZohrehGhahremani

A friend and I were having tea in the backyard when we both spotted a little bird perched on the fence. In his beak, he had the end of a cord tied to my climbingrose and kept on pulling. Naturally, he couldn’t succeed and each time he took a few steps back, he lost his grip. But the little fellow wouldn’t give up.

“I wish we had a video camera to tape this,” my friend said.

When the bird finally gave up and left, I cut a piece of the cord and loosely tied it to the fence for his next trip. The following day, the cord was gone and I imagined how he had carried it to be used in building a nest.

That little bird’s perseverance is just an example of the love all creatures manifest for their homes. While man has proven to be the epitome of homebuilders, he seems to have lost sight of what a home is for. It may be the place for peace and security for other animals, but our homes need to entertain and accommodate many guests. Then again, isn’t it this same aspect of life that makes life more meaningful?

The best reward of my success has been the chance it gives me to visit book clubs and meet people. Book discussions have brought me to many lovely homes, each with its own unique ambience. I am deeply touched as each host adds a “Persiantouch” in honor of my “Poppies” and admire the variety of their unique touches.If a writer has to finally leave her cave and come out to meet readers, I can’t think of a better way for it. I recently had another chance for such experience and suddenly realized that, when it comes to size, there are four dimensions to a home.

The address I had for this book club was closer to downtown San Diego, where I am less familiar. I printed the Google directions and drove to a nice neighborhood in San Diego. On a secluded side street of the peaceful neighborhood, I found number 4136 and climbed the few steps onto the front porch of a “craftsman house.” The door opened before I had a chance to ring the bell and I was met by the hostess and greeted by many readers. This was a familiar prelude to yet another book club meeting and their warmth reassured me of the good time ahead.

Following the initial introductions, the guests were ushered outdoors, where lunch would be served before beginning our book discussion. The sun was out, but the warmth that met us had little to do with it. The walled-in area was what Californians call an “Outdoor Living Room”. Over the years, I’ve seen and admired a variety of these, yet this one seemed to have an extra measure of ‘living’.

From the open verandah that offered a cool spot for a glass of wine to the beautifully set table under the umbrellas, the place shamed one into relaxation! Here, life became less serious and joy was the only choice. Even the hummingbirds held their own feast around a lovely bird feeder. I took in a deep breath and savored the scent of fresh gardenias.

The high walls reminded me of back home, where one could forget the city and enjoy privacy day and night. Indeed this small area was where there was life. M ywriter’s imagination could picture the hosts enjoying starry nights, when theonly light came from flames of the corner fireplace, or the moon above. Between pink hydrangeas and climbing vines, I saw more gardens here than I had seen in acres and acres of some neighborhood lawns. I could hear children running around and laughing at a Sunday barbecue. While our hosts went around to make sure their guests were happy, the garden grew bigger and bigger. Indeed there’s a fourth dimension to a home as it is love that decides its ultimate size.

Fo ra few days now the thought of that cozy backyard has stayed with me. How lost we are in our search for bigger homes, paying attention only to numbers. We each come to this world with a space within us and it can only expand if we share affection and let others into our hearts. How easy it is to neglect the fourth dimension.

I clip my roses and notice a new bird’s nest on our lemon tree. My daughter would know what kind of bird built this. To me, they are but little artistic nests for creatures that only need a place for a short while. Birds don’t ask for more, don’t need a larger space and never seem to stay long. In fact, the size of a nest often indicates to that of the bird. It’s us humans who need a bigger space to rest our caged souls.

I bring a few roses inside. I need these on my small kitchen table to expand the space. When we first moved in, I thought the kitchen was too small. But we no longer need a bigger one because as the years go by, this kitchen seems to grow.

The yellow roses look lovely on our table. My husband offers me a cup of coffee,Toby settles at my feet, and I suddenly realize ours is the biggest home in the universe.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

On the Road With Annie Nakamura

On the road with Annie Nakamura
Part IV of a series

In three previous blogs (October 2011, January 2012, April 2012), I told the tale of Annie Nakamura’s request to be taken on one final road trip and to be buried in one of two locations--either on Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Forest in Washington or at Anza Borrego Desert.  Our decision was to “leave a little bit of Annie” in some of her favorite spots.  Four fellow travelers—Kawa (aka Ann Kawasaki), Janet, Don, and I began the journey on October 8, 2011.  The trip took us north on Interstate 395 on the eastern interior of California to Hurricane Ridge where we buried a portion of Annie in an idyllic spot on Hurricane Ridge.  We four then traveled to San Francisco, one of Annie’s favorite places on the planet, where she was buried in the backyard of dear friends—Kei and Dan—in a poppy patch.  Janet left us to return to Hawai’i, and the remaining intrepid road warriors began our trip southward to San Diego.  We three make stops at three Missions along the way; Bakersfield; Death Valley; Kelso; and Joshua Tree National Park.

Friday, October 21th:  We begin our trip to Anza Borrego with yet another meal to commemorate Annie’s love.  The restaurant is DZ Akins where the portions are huge, the crowd lively, and the atmosphere bursting with energy—great way to start the day.

Our first stop is in Boulevard in the Inland Empire area of San Diego—an area that has been hit hard with the mortgage bubble blow-up.  Annie loved chocolates, and it was a yearly ritual to send her chocolates for Christmas; she in turn would send us Big Island Candy chocolates that her and Kawa’s friend, “Icky” owns in Hilo.  We purchase some fine chocolates at the Wisteria Cottage Chocolate shop to enjoy and bury with Annie.

We drive down to Ocotillo where we leave a crane in a 15 foot ocotillo.  We stop at the Vallecito Stage Station where volunteers Stephanie and Otis provide us a special tour of the station and the adobe house—Annie is given a seat of honor at the dining room table. Stephanie gives us a tour of the station; we taste a piece of mesquite pod—sweet and flavorful.  Small wonder that the natives used it extensively as a food source, pounding it into a fine powder.

Next stop, Borrego Springs where we consume “pasties” that I made the evening before.  It is a tolerable 90 degrees, and a small rodeo/Borrego Springs Day is being set up for the weekend.  We decide to mosey further up another area to search of a suitable resting place for Annie.

Never a heat-seeking lizard-type, Annie preferred the cooler climes of places like San Francisco, but in her latter years, warmth and sun were what she craved because of the pain.   The choice of Anza Borrego, however, was less about finding a “location in the sun,” but another typical Annie desire not to be a burden.  Thus, the choices of Hurricane Ridge (her first choice) OR Anza Borrego were a matter of convenience for Don and me.  Since we live in San Diego, road tripping to Anza Borrego would be less of a trek than Washington.  In death and in life, Annie’s wishes were our command.  That Kawa, Don, and I simultaneously came up with the idea of scattering Annie at various locations says something about the person we all loved.

As we traveled up into the mountain range near Borrego Springs, we stopped at a small overlook.  There was a monument with the inscription:  A View Forever dedicated to a national park ranger.  With a stunning view overlooking Borrego Springs with the Salton Sea in the distance and the mountains behind, a mere glance amongst us, and we knew instantly that this was the spot.

At a marker describing the “King of the Hill” (local mountain goats that reside there), we scattered Annie’s ashes to the wind and around the monument.  Annie will now be the “Queen of the Hill” overlooking “A View Forever.”  A small altar with a crane, the Wisteria Cottage chocolates, dried apricots, and almonds (all of Annie’s favorites) are buried with her.  At the 4,000 mile mark of Annie’s road trip, the final promise has been kept.  From freezing snow to dry desert heat, Annie is everywhere she wanted to be.
As we drive to Julian, we experience an “Annie moment”—getting lost and driving around in a huge circle.  We manage to find Julian and then to drive to the Pala Mission—one of the “unofficial” California missions.  Our road trip has become a “Mission tour” as well—how appropriate since we can now claim “Mission Accomplished.”

The trip ends as it began—with a sumptuous meal.  We dine at C Level that has a spectacular view of downtown San Diego.  With another great meal under our belts--compliments of the “Annie Foundation”--we have completed our mission with great joy and satisfaction.

To be continued.

Judith Liu
June 16, 2012

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Retreat into the New

 By Divina Infusino

I finally attended a writer’s retreat. Most of the writers I know, including some in SDWW, have flown to far flung places to extract themselves from their everyday lives, focus on their latest projects, receive feedback and just generally recharge their creative batteries.

This retreat, on a lake in the Midwest, was my first. I was a little unnerved, even though, and perhaps because, I actually knew most of the women attending. This was a formidable group. A Pen Award-winning lyricist and librettist whose show ran on Broadway for 137 performances; A former, highly successful Hollywood screenplay writer and an acclaimed playwright (Chicago’s Steppenwolf performed her plays); an author and former section editor at a major daily newspaper, and myself. All accomplished, ambitious, and, except for the librettist, in transition.

The screenwriter was tackling a memoir of her emotionally chaotic life. The journalist, who functioned for years as the observer, was pushing herself to write a personal essay. I was mulling over an animated story.  Each person was edging into a new genre. Each wondered, “Am I on the right track?”

It was ironic that these women who had achieved so much in their careers fretted about venturing into a different form of writing. Like most people who do one thing long enough, writers can fall into habits. They get accustomed to writing for a specific medium, audience, outlet, or in a certain style. Veering from their safety zone can feel like returning to “Go” on the Monopoly board. Do I really need to start over? The answer I discovered from listening to these women read aloud their writing, and reflecting on my own, was yes and no.

The screenwriter brought her sense of drama, characterization and manic passion to her prose just as she had to her plays and scripts. The newspaper editor maintained her elegant, economical style, even as she moved away from the conventions of journalism and revealed more about how she felt, not just what she thought. I realized that the awareness of visuals and sense of imagination that I have brought to other forms of writing propelled me in the animated tale as well, even though the two main characters are animals.
The experience demonstrated to me that many of us have our “original” writing form, the one that announced itself early on, that bubbled up from within us and kept on bubbling. Exploring a new area of writing feels rather like moving a diving rod around familiar territory. It brings to the surface new reservoirs of inspiration.

I now understand why so many writers attend regular retreats. This was a time to surrender to the stimulation of inspired company, the encouragement that arises from mutual support and the undulating waves of the spring-fed lake.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Discovering My Own Gold Mine on the Trail of ’98!

By Georgeanne Irvine

When I was a child, I vividly remember my mother telling me that my grandfather, Pete—a young immigrant from Norway who herded sheep in Montana—had blazed the trail of ’98 (as in 1898) and sought his fortune in the Alaska (Klondike) Gold Rush.   She mentioned he rescued miners who were buried in the Chilkoot Pass avalanche; shot some extremely dangerous rapids in a supply boat not once, but twice; and survived a serious bout of typhoid fever.  I thought it was cool to have such an adventurous grandfather but never took the time to learn anything more about that dramatic period in his life…until NOW! 

Midsummer, I’m going on my first trip Alaska as an enrichment lecturer for Silversea Cruises, thanks to a recommendation from one of my Writing Women colleagues.  One of our stops is Skagway, a gateway city to the Gold Rush. My specialty is animal stories based on the books I’ve authored. Until yesterday, all the topics for my four, one-hour presentations were wildlife-related tales, but now I’ve had a change of heart.  My sister, who just returned from Alaska on Wednesday, reminded me that she found a very special Alaska story among a treasure trove of unpublished manuscripts written by my Grandma Lillian: a five-page narrative about my grandfather’s experiences on the Trail of ’98!   Not only that, but we also have a handful of photos of Pete on-site during the Gold Rush—what an incredible discovery!   All of a sudden I’m excited to learn as much as possible about that moment in history.

So far, I’ve bookmarked dozens of articles and websites about the Gold Rush as well as searched and downloaded 15 historical public domain photos of the miners, rescuers at the scene of the Chilkoot Pass avalanche, mining towns, and more.  In addition, I’ve ordered three Alaska Gold Rush books online—I doubt I’ll have time to read all of them before the trip, but I can at least skim the text and look at photos. Also, I’m having the family Gold Rush photos restored and scanned.

In reading Pete’s firsthand account, it was fascinating to corroborate his story with all the other information I read.  I was mesmerized by Pete’s encounters with famous con artist and gangster Soapy Smith as well as details about what happened the morning an avalanche rained down on miners hiking up the Chilkoot Pass, pictured below.  (Photo is Copyright Public Domain.  Source is Library and Archives Canana/E.A. Hegg) 

 In Pete’s words:
It was a mild Easter morning when a man stuck his head in the flap of our tent and yelled, “Snow slide!  Snow slide up yonder!”  It had been snowing for several days and right then it was coming down in big rags.  We were cooking our dinner but this brought us up with a start.  This new snow on top of what we already had spelled danger.  Being we were camped well above Sheep Camp, we were some of the very first to get there. 
The trail was so packed with people it looked like a black ribbon snailing its way up.  The slide made quite a gap in the human trail and we knew there must be quite a few hundred people buried under those tons and tons of white snow.  We looked at each other wondering what to do when Soapy Smith stepped out.  “Don’t stand there gaping, “ he shouted. “Begin to dig them out at once!” They didn’t all fall in line.  “For Christ’s sake, begin to dig!  It’s the only humane thing to do,” Soapy shouted.  It did look pretty hopeless, I will admit.  Soapy took a verbal vote and most of the men agreed with him, so most of us dug in.
          I was assigned to the cable station, which became the life-saving station and morgue.  I was shown how to treat the men who showed any life at all.  I don’t recall how many we were able to bring back to life, but I do know there were 83 dead ones and of these, Soapy appointed himself administrator. We all knew that all these fellows had a nice wad of money, and what became of it nobody knew but Soapy.

I was absolutely thrilled to find lots of information about Soapy online, including a photo of him.  Poor (or perhaps I should say rich!) Soapy met his own fate in Skagway three months later in a gunfight known as the Shootout on Juneau Wharf.

Now, I’m enthusiastically waiting for my Alaska Gold Rush books to arrive.  I’ve also looked online to see what children’s books already exist about it.  I’m so inspired by Pete’s story that I just might write another one based on his recollections.

I can’t believe this fantastic story material has been sitting in my family archives for all these years.   Although I could certainly beat myself up for taking so long to pay attention and "mine" this golden opportunity, I’m embracing it now.   The sky is the limit—let the fun begin! 

Oh, and in case you’re wondering why I continually refer to my grandfather as Pete, that is what we all called him.  Although he lived to be 94 years old, he always thought he was too young to be called Grandpa!

San Diego native Georgeanne Irvine has devoted more than three decades of her career to raising awareness about animals and wildlife conservation. By day, she is associate director of development communications for the San Diego Zoo, where she has worked for 34 years. George is also the author of more than 20 children’s books, plus numerous magazine, newspaper, and Web articles. George’s most recent work is the coffee table book, The Katrina Dolphins: One-Way Ticket to Paradise, which is a true story about 8 dolphins from an oceanarium that were washed out to sea during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and dramatically rescued a few weeks later.