Friends, paid content and crowdfunding

Back last fall I tried a crowdfunding experiment to see if I had enough interested readers willing to pay to read a series about a sexual assault trial. Sexual assault is a huge topic these days and I had done a previous but very different series in 2015, which was well received. Given that I have a decent mailing list and a small but devoted social media following interested in true crime, I thought I’d give crowdfunding a try to see if it might work for journalism.

Unfortunately, things did not go at all as I had planned. I wanted to find 500 readers willing to pay $10 each but instead, my very generous friends started chipping in $100 here and $50 there. This was vaguely embarrassing as I didn’t want my friends supporting me. I wanted readers to pay a fair amount for a product they valued.

I had also hoped that a legacy publisher might chip in, but the idea of crowdfunding an article wasn’t something accounting departments could wrap their heads around. In the end, the Walrus magazine made a generous offer to buy the new series in the conventional way and I put a halt to the crowdfunding campaign.

Because it was an “all or nothing” campaign — which means no one gets charged unless and until the funding goal is met — my friends didn’t end up paying a cent.

I have now embarked on a new crowdfunding campaign, but with some modifications to avoid past mistakes. I’m out to reach people willing to pay a minimum of $10 to read in-depth coverage of a trial that interests them. So far, I haven’t told any of my friends so unless they read my blog or newsletter they don’t know about this.

This time around, I’m not doing an “all or nothing” campaign because I’m hopeful that once the trial gets going and people see how interesting it is, they will want to pay for coverage. I’m trying to keep my options open.

The  goal for this pre-trial period is to build momentum so that the first two days are funded before the trial begins and I can guarantee at least two days of coverage.

If this model works, I will be thrilled as it will be a win/win situation both for me and interested readers.

Please check out the campaign if you want to read about this trial. If I didn’t think it were going to be very interesting, I wouldn’t be so keen to attend.

Trial Funding – Click Here

Casefile podcast looks at Jennifer Pan case

The Casefile podcast has just done a two-hour-plus episode on the Jennifer Pan case. I listened to it as I usually listen to podcasts — while making dinner or walking the dog — and it was pretty good.

Although I knew the case fairly well — from the Toronto Life article linked above and the book, A Daughter’s Deadly Deception by Jeremy Grimaldi — it was fascinating to hear the audio from her police interviews. Afterwards, a little bit of googling led to the discovery that all 10 hours of the interrogation played at trial is available on Youtube. Here’s part one:

What else can I tell you? Casefile’s a pretty decent podcast with very few bells and whistles. The narrator, an anonymous Aussie, tells the story of various murder investigations. Whoever writes the scripts does a really good job though not at all the type of writing that calls attention to itself. They make telling complicated crime stories look really easy.

The Pan episode was a bit of an exception because there’s often no additional audio at all — just the narrator telling you about various murders, some of them among the world’s most notorious and others far less well known with an emphasis on Australian cases. One of the best episodes was about the Sherri Rasmussen murder, a Los Angeles cold case that I first read about in Vanity Fair a few years back.

 

New series on a sexual assault trial: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

In 2015, I wrote an eight-part series on a sexual assault trial for the Walrus magazine. It generated so much interest the magazine asked me if I could do another series. I proposed a very different but equally interesting sexual assault case.

The new series, called Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, is now in progress. Here are the links:

Part 1: She says he raped her. He says he never touched her. At least one of them is lying

Part 2: “I was stupid, I was young, I was ignorant—and that’s all I admit”

Part 3: Why can a witness remember many details yet be so vague about the sexual assault itself?

Part 4: The verdict arrives. And so does Marie Henein—best known for representing Jian Ghomeshi

Part 5: Post-verdict

Part 6: The appeal

As of Jan. 27, 2017, I am awaiting a court ruling to see what happens next. Sign up for my newsletter to ensure you don’t miss the appeal decision and the epilogue of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

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I just heard the most awesomely spectacular rumour

In which, I check out a rumour

Earlier today I was checking the referral stats for my website, which, among other things, sometimes tell me the search terms people use to find this blog. Usually, these are predictable and obvious, but the search words that caught my eye today were just the opposite. They were “Wow!”,  “Holy Shit!”, “”Stop the Presses!” search words.

The words formed a full sentence with a subject (a person), a verb and an object (another person). That sentence fell into the outrageous rumour category. (And just for the record, the outrageous rumour in question has nothing whatsoever to do with my book or anyone in it.)

Now, you should know that when it comes to rumours, I almost always err on the “no way” side of things. I am the unfun person in the room who dismisses rumours, who tells the dinner party, “Sorry folks, not true.” And usually, I am right because most rumours — especially rumours like this one — aren’t true. Or only a teeny, tiny uninteresting part of them turns out to be true.

But there are occasions, very rare ones,  when my “no way” stance has led me to be outrageously wrong, when the the crazy rumour turns out to be true. Angelina Jolie, I’m looking at you.

Despite the odds, I felt I should check this rumour out. So I texted a friend who would be in the know about stuff like this. But he hadn’t hear the rumour, which he nevertheless dismissed as impossible. (See text message exchange at the top of this story.)

I told him to google the name of the subject of the rumour and look at Google’s related searches. I wanted to check that he got the same results I did. He did. In its related searches, Google had the name of the subject followed by the name of the object as its top result.

This showed people were googling this rumour. And I am unlikely to be the only media person who has heard it by now.

My friend agreed the google results were weird and then said he had to go. I took the hint.

Now, if I were Buzzfeed, I’d just put this crazy rumour out there and say, “Okay everyone, you decide.” But I’m old school so I’m not saying anything except that if this is true, it’s going to be extremely entertaining. And if it’s not true, well, it amused me for an hour or two and gave me something to blog about.

The Fall Guy by James Lasdun, a fun short read

A fun thriller to read in an evening

I like good short books that you can read in afternoon or evening. And I also like psychological thrillers. The Fall Guy falls into both those categories. I highly recommend it.

But that’s not what this post is about. I wanted to talk a little bit about the reviews for The Fall Guy. In general, the professional reviewers liked it. And although I often find that reviewers over praise a lot of mediocre stuff, especially mediocre, literary-wannabe stuff, I’m totally on board with them in this case. (For the record, here’s one example of egregious over praising in the thriller category.)

For all their flaws, Average Joe reader reviewers at places like Amazon and Goodreads almost always call the critics out for over praising albeit often for what I find to be the wrong reasons.

Average Jane, for example, frequently gets shirty if a book isn’t the type of thing she likes. Such was largely the case for The Fall Guy, which has lower-than-deserved reader reviews.

No, it wouldn’t

Average Jillian provides a classic example. She wants another book from the one that was written. She doesn’t appreciate that The Fall Guy is all about its unreliable narrator and his perspective. The reader has to do the rest of the work and imagine what the two main characters are really like. That’s the whole point. We don’t get to see them from any other perspective than the narrator’s.

This idea that you can and should know everything is one I encounter in the real world. People believe they can know the unknowable and get frustrated when they can’t.

In the case of the The Fall Guy, it’s the mystery and unknowing that makes it so good. And it’s a fun, quick read. Have at it.

Thanks to DNA, an alleged serial killer is arrested 20-plus years later

I first heard about the Claremont serial killer listening to the Casefile True Crime podcast.It’s Australian so they cover a lot of crime from down under including this series of murders in Perth.

The man arrested is 48-year-old Bradley Robert Edwards, who was taken into custody just before Christmas. Aussie news outlets don’t have much information on him at all. It’s pretty much a solid chorus of interviewees saying, “He’s such a great bloke,” “I never suspected anything,mate” and “Went to school with his brother.”

This is precisely the type of case that interests me because Edwards managed to fly under the radar.

After an arrest like this, people almost always come forward to say, “He wasn’t really such a great bloke” or “He was kind of weird.” But that hasn’t happened yet here.

BTW, the Claremont serial killer case was also Australia’s biggest and most expensive criminal investigation and a failure until they did DNA testing on some decades-old evidence.

The Bad Seed, psychopaths, and nature vs. nurture

Eight-year-old psychopath, The Bad Seed

In The Bad Seed, an eight-year-old girl with great parents is a successful serial killer

My new year’s resolution did not include weekend blogging, but there’s something to be said for writing while it’s fresh so here goes.

Last night I watched The Bad Seed, the screenplay of which was written by Maxwell Anderson, who wrote Anne of the Thousand Days.

I am extremely interested in the nature vs. nurture debate, and have been for a long time. I remember when my high school biology teacher told us about twin studies involving identical twins separated at birth, I found it strange that there would be enough identical twins separated at birth to conduct this type of study, but back then I only questioned that type of stuff in my head. I couldn’t take to Twitter to express my skepticism and Mrs. Marks was not a huge fan of mine so I didn’t bring it up in class.

Years later when I was living in Germany, however, I heard a report on the BBC World Service about how most of those twin studies were, if not bogus, severely flawed. I kicked myself for having never having looked into it further but I digress.

The pendulum swings regularly in the nature/nurture debate. Back in the seventies, it was all about environment. It wasn’t unusual for women to choose to be gay so they wouldn’t have to deal with men. Nowadays, you’re supposed to be born gay and that’s that.

The proverbial pendulum is now way over in the nature zone. Everything’s brain chemistry, brain wiring and genes and DNA. The media credulously gobbles up nonsense about a neuroscientist diagnosing himself as psychopath based on MRI scans.

The Bad Seed by William March was kind of a precursor to this current phase. It even uses the words “brain chemistry” at one point. Its basic thesis is that murderous tendencies are inherited and can skip generations so that even an eight-year-old girl with wonderful parents can be a successful serial killer. It’s beyond ridiculous, but it’s fiction so let’s give it a pass.

What isn’t fiction, however, is Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us by Robert D. Hare, considered one of the world’s leading experts on psychopathy. In his non-fiction book, he uses the fictional little girl from The Bad Seed as an example of a child psychopath with good parents, presumably because he couldn’t find such a person in real life where psychopaths are invariably bred in dysfunctional homes.

 

 

About those New Year’s Resolutions

January 6th is about the time my New Year’s resolutions start to die. At lunch today, I ate a giant Italian cream puff, or more accurately cream horn, from the new branch of Forno Cultura in First Canadian Place.

You should definitely go there unless you have New Year’s resolutions that would make it a bad idea. The coffee is delicious. They have amazing breads and the mini ricotta turnovers and petits palmiers are a healthier option to the cream horn.

What else? I’m still listening to the audio book of Wolf Hall, and it is fantastic. I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Anne Boleyn. As a kid, I remember watching a PBS series on Henry’s wives and then going to see the movie, Anne of the Thousand Days. Genevieve Bujold and Anne’s tower soliloquy made a big impression on me. (Watch the soliloquy starting at 1:57)

For some reason though, I never researched it until today. I learned the movie was based on a play by a guy called Maxwell Anderson, who seems to have led quite the life. Now, I’m reading all about him.

No, Christina Noudga does not carry a torch for Dellen Millard

Christina Noudga (2015)

Earlier today, I read a comment on Facebook about how Christina Noudga is still carrying a torch for Dellen Millard. (If you don’t know who these people are, I recommend my book, Dark Ambition.)

I don’t understand this type of thinking at all. It seems reductive and sexist. All women can think about is looove type thing.

It also flies in the face of what happened at Millard’s trial. Sure, there were times when Noudga’s evidence played in Millard’s favour, but only when it worked in Noudga’s favour as well. Her infamous blow job testimony is a good example of this. By claiming that Millard seemed sad that night, and that she was in no position to talk because her mouth was full, Noudga bolstered her story that she and Millard didn’t discuss why they were moving giant trailers and livestock incinerators in the middle of the night. That helped both of them.

In contrast, Noudga never had anything helpful to say about Millard that went against her own interests. And she had some pretty damning evidence to give about him when it didn’t hurt her own case.

For example, Noudga said her ex-BF bought the incinerator to burn materials from his aviation company. This did not help Millard, whose stated position at trial was that he was planning on getting into the pet carcass disposal business. If she were truly out to help Millard, the love of her life, she would have told the pet story. She didn’t

Noudga also stated in court that she loathed Millard, and that “he had (her) arrested.” While she couldn’t muster up any remorse or empathy for the Bosma family, it was crystal clear that she felt pretty sorry for herself and was furious about the four months she had spent in jail and the humiliation she had endured after her arrest.

It wasn’t much fun for Noudga to learn about her boyfriend’s infidelities either. She had long been suspicious he was cheating on her, but the evidence at trial confirmed it. Texts showed him arranging dates with his ex-fiancee and flirting with his realtor side chick.

All these things considered, there really are zero grounds for claiming Noudga’s still in love with Millard other than a general belief that women can never let go.