Unsolved Mysteries: Robert Wone

Since I’m planning on incorporating my true crime obsession into my social media presence, I wanted to start out with one of my favorite (in the most tasteful possible sense of the word) cases: the 2006 murder of Robert Wone. Technically, it should be “the unexplained death of Robert Wone” but most of my sources flat-out call it a murder. Still, I feel obligated to say that it cannot be definitively, legally, be considered a homicide. I spend an unhealthy amount of time mulling over unsolved mysteries, and this one of the ones I mull over the most often.

First, a caveat. The most suspicious individuals in this case (in my opinion), are three men in a polygamous relationship. At least two of the men were involved in some fairly heavy BDSM, and one of them had a room full of esoteric sexual novelties. This has had the unfortunate effect of making the investigation needlessly lurid at best and outright homophobic at worst, so I want to be clear that the sole reason I find the words and actions of these men suspicious is because a man was murdered in their house and their subsequent claims did not match the available evidence.

The short synopsis: On August 2, 2006,  32 year old lawyer named Robert Wone (by all accounts a very nice, responsible, civic-minded guy) was stabbed to death while spending the night at the home of his college friend, Joseph Price and Price’s two live-in companions, Dylan Ward and Victor Zaborsky. All three residents of the house claimed that Wone had been attacked by an intruder who entered and then fled. However, the evidence that was collected called this theory into question and cast suspicion on the residents themselves. Ultimately, all three men were indicted for destroying evidence and obstructing justice, but nothing could be proven. A wrongful death suit was brought against the men by Wone’s widow, which was ultimately settled for an undisclosed sum. No one was ever convicted of the murder and the case remains unsolved.

The long synopsis (where things get much, much stranger): Robert Wone had known Joseph Price from when they were in school together at the College of William and Mary, and by all accounts the two were close friends all the way through law school and beyond. Robert married a woman named Katherine Yu; Price entered into a relationship with a man named Victor Zaborsky, and later into a polygamous relationship with Zaborsky and a man named Dylan Ward. While Price was known to be romantically involved with both Zaborsky and Ward, I have never found anything to specify the relationship between Zaborsky and Ward. At the time of the stabbing incident, Price was a partner at a D.C law firm and Zaborsky was a 40-year old marketing executive. Dylan Ward was working as a fundraiser and had been through a varied academic career, holding degrees in foreign relations, culinary arts, and children’s literature. In the summer of 2006, he was also working on obtaining a masseuse license.

By August, 2006, Robert Wone had started a new job at Radio Free Asia in Washington D.C, close to the rowhouse shared by the three men. In late July, Robert decided he wanted to stay late at his workplace on August 2nd, to attend a law seminar and to meet the night crew. Rather than commute to his home in Fairfax County, Virginia, Robert arranged to spend the night in the guestroom at Prince’s house. At the time, a friend of the three men named Sarah Morgan was also renting the basement of the rowhouse, but she is reported to have spent the night at a friend’s.  The rowhouse had three stories and a basement, and the guest room where Wone was staying was on the second floor. Ward’s bedroom was also on the second floor, while Price and Zaborsky shared the master bedroom on the top floor. The only people known to have keys were the four residents, Joseph Price’s brother Michael (who also lived in DC), and a maid service.

As planned, Robert went to work, attended the seminar, and met the night crew at Radio Free Asia before taking a cab to Price’s house. He arrived, at earliest, at 10:32 pm (the timeline becomes tight in this case, so that’s why I’m trying to be precise). At some point between 11 and 11:30 pm, a neighbor heard a scream (later, the men’s defense attorneys would argue that it could have been later than 11:30). At 11:49 pm, Victor Zaborsky called 911 and reported that an unknown person had entered the house and stabbed someone. There is a transcript of the 911 call on the “Who Murdered Robert Wone?”  website below as well as a recording on Youtube (Robert Wone 911 Call). Zaborsky remained on the line with emergency services for five minutes until EMTs arrived. When the medics entered the home, they found Wone lying on the fold out couch in the guest room, dead from three stab wounds in his chest and abdomen. Next to the bed was a knife lying on a blood-stained towel. The three men who lived in the house were reported as quiet and seemingly calm. Zaborsky does not sound calm on the phone, but I think this can be taken to mean he simply wasn’t talking by this point.

Each of the residents was questioned separately by the police and all gave essentially consistent testimony. More disturbingly, none of them seemed especially concerned about Wone.

So, essentially,  a lot happened between 10:32 and 11:49 pm. The rest of this article will attempt to fill the gaps.

According to Price, Zaborsky, and Ward, Wone arrived shortly after 10:30 pm. Zaborsky was already upstairs in the master bedroom watching TV. Wone, Price, and Ward had a brief conversation in the kitchen. At some point, Price saw something–a spider or insect- on the back patio light that caused him to go outside and investigate. He later said it was possible he didn’t lock the door when he went back inside.

Shortly after this, each of the men got ready to turn in for the night. Price went up to the third floor and spent a few minutes watching TV with Zaborsky before turning off the light. Ward went to his room, took a sleeping pill, read for a few minutes, and then went to sleep. He said that he heard Wone taking a shower in the second floor bathroom. The time was now around 11 pm.

Price and Zaborsky claimed to have heard the back door chime, indicating someone was entering the house. They assumed that it was Sarah Morgan, thinking she had decided to stay the night at the rowhouse after all. Then, a few minutes later, they heard a “low scream”, raced downstairs, and found Wone bleeding from stab wounds.  At this point Zaborsky screamed, and this is believed to have been the scream heard by neighbors, The commotion woke Dylan Ward, who came out of his room to see what was happening.

Here we reach one of the thornier points in the narrative. Different sources have given contradictory information as to exactly where Wone was found. He was on the bed in the guest room when the medics arrived, but one account given to a first responder claimed that they had found him by the back door to the patio and then put him on the guest room bed. A variant on this story has them finding Wone “on the patio” implying that he was outside the house. Most later versions of the narrative have them finding him on the bed in the guest room. This is problematic for a lot of reasons, particularly because it adds some doubt as to where exactly the attack occurred.. Since the scenario with Wone being found in the bedroom seems to dominate most recent accounts of the story, I’ll be working based on that one, but that the men would change their story on this one point puzzles me.

So, the account continues, the Price and Zaborsky heard a scream, came downstairs, find Wone stabbed on the bed, and call 911. Dylan Ward was awakened by the commotion in the hallway outside his room. At some point between hearing the muffled scream from the guest room and calling emergency services, the men said they had heard the back door chime again, indicating someone leaving the house.

In the aftermath of Wone’s death, another lawyer friend of his assisted his widow, Katherine, when police were questioning her. According to this man, Price contacted him the next day to ask what the police wanted to know. The three house residents all got lawyers and stopped discussing the case.

From the beginning, the police were suspicious of the story. For one thing, there was no evidence of an intruder in the house, and if there had been, the intruder’s behavior was nonsensical. He or she would have had to have gotten over the tall fence that surrounded the property, found the unlocked back door, walked in undeterred by the chime, walked past the most valuable items in the house, gone up to the second floor and past Ward’s bedroom door, and entered the guest room and stabbed Wone to death as he lay on the fold out couch.

During the investigation, an autopsy was conducted on Robert Wone’s body and many pieces of evidence were taken from the house. I will summarize the highlights of what was discovered below.

From the Autopsy

  • The cause of Wone’s death was the three stab wounds in his chest and torso, some of which had pierced his heart and pancreas. Each of the stab wounds was clean and symmetrical, indicating that he had not been able to struggle. There were also no defensive wounds. The knife marks were not consistent with the knife found by the bed. They were more consistent with a cutlery set found in Dylan Ward’s room, from which a knife was missing.( More on that later). The medical examiner determined that the wounds should have bled more than the small amount of blood found at the scene indicated, and that none of the stab wounds would have been immediately fatal or incapacitating.


  • Robert had signs of hemorrhaging around his eyes, a sign that he had been smothered or suffocated, although this would not have been fatal.


  • Robert had six needle punctures in his skin on his neck, chest, foot, and hand, and these were believed to have been inflicted before he died. Robert did not have any medical conditions that could have explained this, and the ambulance crew that brought him to the hospital claimed that they did not make any of the puncture marks either. This led to the possibility that Robert had been drugged.


  • Except that….toxicology tests showed no sign of alcohol or any common drugs–including most paralytic drugs–in Wone’s system.


  • Semen was found in Wone’s anal and genital region. When tested, it proved to be his own. While there was no bruising or other signs of a violent sexual assault, this led many to speculate that one of Dylan Ward’s electrical sex toys could have been used on him.


From the Crime Scene

  • The bed and guestroom where Robert was found were remarkably clean. There was a small amount of blood that would have been beneath the body. It was not smeared at all, meaning the that the body had not been moved since the attack (another strike against the patio door story). A chemical reagent was used to test for more blood, and indicated that there might have been bloodstains on the walls and at various other points in the room. Very unfortunately, the test was done incorrectly, meaning that it could have reacted to materials other than blood


  • There was a knife from the house’s own kitchen and blood-stained towel next to the bed. As indicated in the autopsy summary above, the knife did not actually match the wounds on Robert’s body. Nor did it show any trace of the fibers from the T-shirt Robert was wearing. It did have blood on it, as well as fibers from the towel. When examined closely, it appeared as if the knife had been dipped in blood and wiped on the towel.


  • Several of Robert’s personal items were on a bedside table, including his

Blackberry with two unsent messages time-stamped at 11:05 and 11:07 pm. One was to his wife Kathy, and the other was to a coworker confirming lunch plans. If the times were accurate and the messages were written by Robert, this would mean that his death happened between 11:07 pm and (probably) 11:30 pm.


  • Drug-sniffing dogs were brought to the house, but the only drug that was found was some Ecstasy


  • Cadaver dogs alerted near the laundry machine in the house and a drain in the backyard, where a hose was running from the house. When questioned,  Price claimed that it had been set up this way due to an unrelated matter. Many people have taken this to mean that bloody garments were placed in the washing machine and that blood was rinsed down the outdoor drain.

My Conclusions

For the most part, I have concluded that the intruder theory is utter baloney. That is not to say that I haven’t gone down some dark alleys of thought to see if it might be possible. And it is possible, just not very probable. It should be noted that a neighbor did report that the day after the murder, there was an indentation in the cover of a child’s sandbox, as though someone had come through the yard and stepped on it. The most likely possibility–for a very weak definition of likely–is that a professional hit man had been hired to kill Wone and followed him to the house or knew he would be there. The point here is that if an intruder did kill Wone, they almost certainly entered the house with the  express intent to do so. I suppose a “robbery gone wrong/mistaken identity angle” makes slightly more sense if Wone really was attacked by the back door as in the initial report.  But if that really did happen, why would the SS3 change the narrative to finding him in the guest bedroom? So I don’t think anything like this happened.

There has been a lot of theorizing about a “fourth man” that may have been present that night–someone who contributed to Robert’s death and then fled the scene, leaving the other three men in the house to handle it from there. The most frequent name that comes up in this theory is Michael Price, Joseph Price’s brother. Michael Price was a phlebotomy student at the time, and he missed his class the night of the murder–the only time he is recorded as having done so. This is, at the very least, an odd coincidence. I have never found documentation as to exactly what hours his class ran, and 11 o’clock at night seems a little late for most college classes. Michael also had a bit of a criminal history and was later found to have broken into the rowhouse and stolen valuables. This is all a little strange to me, and makes a theory that involves Michael Price one worth considering. However, it seems unlikely that all three men would agree to cover for him, and maintain the charade for years. To me, it’s still more logical to link Robert Wone’s death to one or all of the people known to be in the house.

My thoughts about the needle marks and possible drugging can be divided into three broad theories.  One is that the Wone was in fact injected with a drug while at the rowhouse, and the toxicology screening did not test for this particular drug. This is entirely possible–toxicology tests are for specific drugs and they will not pick up what they don’t test for. Many people accept this theory, but I have some problems with it. For one thing, I find it unlikely that the men would have had access to an extremely rare paralytic or date rape drug and not have access to the more common ones that were tested for. Secondly, the puncture marks were in multiple places all over Wone’s body, and if the drug was needed to paralyze him, it seems like there would have been an intense physical struggle even to inject him.

The second possibility is that, despite claims to the contrary, these marks were left over from testing and/or treatment that Wone received from EMTs. Yes, the marks are described as “pre-mortem” but Wone would have been very recently deceased at this point. Also, ambulance crews treat badly injured and ill people every day. It would be surprising it they did remember everything they did to one patient when asked about it later. During some of my research, someone mentioned that multiple needle marks in different regions of the body is consistent with someone searching for a vein, and this fits better with attempts at medical treatment or testing then with drugging a conscious person.

One last theory about the needle marks that I have entertained is that they were inflicted by one of the three men in the rowhouse immediately after Wone’s death using an ordinary pin from the household, in an attempt to see gauge if Wone was actually dead or not. This is a little strange and far-fetched, and I prefer the EMT theory if any theory at all, but lots of things about this case are strange and far-fetched so I shouldn’t discriminate.

Warning: Here is where I go full Adults Only). I have always been a bit ambivalent about the sexual assault aspects of this case. One thing that has never been clear is exactly how much semen was collected from Wone–if it was only trace amounts, that would make it more likely that it was unrelated to his death. If it was a large amount, and recent, that makes it harder to dismiss. Most people who study this case read it as having a sexual motive, and this is not without reason. I think some kind of sexual assault is entirely possible, but I can’t help but wonder if maybe we’re all over-focusing on that angle. I’m not a medical expert, and I’m really not an expert in the intricacies of male genitalia, but I wonder if the ejaculation of semen could have been some sort of reflexive response to the suffocation? As an added note, if investigators suspected that one of Dylan Ward’s sex toys had been used on Robert, why not collect it and test if for DNA?

I don’t see any reason to think anyone but Robert Wone himself wrote the unsent Blackberry messages. The data from the Blackberry was erased  before it could be analyzed, but, given that Wone was wearing sleepwear and his mouth guard, I think it more likely that he fell asleep without sending the messages or did not realize they hadn’t been sent. If the men in the house could have manipulated the Blackberry, presumably in order to mess with the timeline, why not adjust the time stamp until even later? Also, would they really have known the details of Robert’s lunch plans? Tangentially related, but I think that Robert being asleep when he was attacked could resolve a lot of the issues with the possible drugging and the lack of defensive wounds. I’m not sure about Robert’s sleeping habits, but, speaking for myself, I am a very deep sleeper who takes a long time to wake up, and even after I do it’s usually a few moments before I can move all my limbs. Not saying I could sleep through three stab wounds, but it’s not outside of all probability to me.

I want to conclude by discussing the behavior of Price, Zaborsky, and Ward. I think at least one of them knows exactly what happened, and I think at least one participated in the assault that led to Robert Wone’s death. However, I want to clear up what isn’t suspicious about their actions. Getting lawyers is absolutely what anyone in their situation should do.  A guy is stabbed to death in your house,  you’re already raising a few eyebrows by having an atypical personal life, and the police are not making a secret of doubting your story–this is exactly what lawyers are for, and Price would have known this. Neither should the fact that the men appeared cold and arrogant to the investigators be taken as an automatic sign of guilt. The adage that people react differently to crises gets repeated a lot in true crime discussions, but it’s still very true.

Even allowing for this, there are things in their behavior I find problematic. Reports are consistent that none of the men expressed concern for Wone, and, with the possible exception of Zaborsky during the 911 call, little evidence of fear that an armed intruder had been in the house. The Trace Evidence podcast covered this case (the link is below), and the host mentioned something which somehow had never occurred to me before but is actually quite significant: the accounts given by the three men have Dylan Ward being awoken by the commotion in the guestroom and coming out to see what was going on. Price and Zaborsky apparently ran right past his room to the guestroom where they found Robert, and there’s no mention of either of them saying something in the spirit of “Hey, Dylan, you’re not also stabbed to death in your room, are you?” If they were operating on the assumption that an intruder was in the house and had attacked Robert, wouldn’t they check on Dylan or call out to him to see if he was okay?

I don’t think Joseph Price wanted to assault or kill Robert, or ever planned to. I think it most likely that whatever happened that night, happened outside his immediate control, or at least he did not plan on doing it in advance. The reason I think this is because the two men had  been close friends for years. Now, I realize that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, and that no one can ever know what even a trusted person will do. However, it is also true that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and in the decade-long friendship between Prince and Wone there was absolutely no indication of the kind of tensions that would lead to a murderous assault. It’s tempting to develop a theory based around two or more of the Swan Street three conspiring in advance to attack Wone, as that would solve some of the problems associated with the rapid timeline. However, the relationship between Wone and Prince and the less-then-perfect “cover-up” lead me away from this idea. If the crime was pre-meditated, it seems reasonable to think that an intelligent and experienced lawyer like Prince would have found more effective ways to divert suspicion from himself.

I should also talk about what is known about Victor Zaborsky’s actions that night. One point that seems to have been agreed upon is that the loud scream heard by neighbor’s was Zaborsky’s, not Robert’s. There is really no reason for  Zaborsky to scream and draw attention to the situation other than that he was genuinely shocked and terrified by something. That something was most likely the stabbing that had just happened in his house. Is it possible that Wone’s death happened without his approval or perhaps even knowledge? I have wonder what someone with more experience than myself in reading behavior would think of Zaborsky’s 911 call. To me, it sounded reasonably genuine (which does not even mean he was telling the whole truth, only that he was really upset). This is worth a whole separate discussion when it comes to assessing reactions to crime. Someone can be emotionally genuine without being truthful about the facts.

So I don’t think Price had a pre-meditated plan to kill Robert, I don’t think Zaborsky wanted the murder to happen, and I really have no idea how Dylan Ward felt about Robert. If any one of the three was not directly involved in the attack, my order of probability would run Zaborsky, Price, Ward.

Below are the two main things from the case for which I have no good explanation.

  • The murder weapon that was likely not the murder weapon. Why would anyone bother planting the kitchen knife in the guestroom? Why not just let the police assume that the intruder brought there own knife and left with it, like most intruders would do? The only way this makes a small amount of sense is if the kitchen knife was being used to deter or slow the search for the actual murder weapon. I still wonder about the missing knife from Ward’s cutlery set. Dylan Ward’s mother presented the missing knife after the indictment, saying it had always been in her possession. But how long had she actually had it?


  • If in fact large amounts of blood were cleaned up before the arrival of the EMTs, why would the men bother to clean it up? After all, wounds inflicted by an intruder would bleed the same as wounds inflicted by anyone else, and cleaning the scene would only make it look more suspicious. The only speculation I can offer here is that the men wanted to make sure none of their own blood, DNA, hair, or prints  could be associated with the blood, and had to clean it all up to err on the side of caution.

That was a lot of information, and I apologize for the wordiness. I also want to make it clear that I am only offering the known facts about the case and observations for discussion. I am very open to other interpretation and insights. I also invite you to check out the links provided below, and to research the case on your own.

Best of luck in all your endeavors (within legal and ethical limits),


–L.R. Gordan





This website hasn’t been active in a few years, but it has a lot of good information: Who Murdered Robert Wone? Among other resources, it contains a layout of the house.

An in-depth article from the Washington Post, Part One and Part Two

A lot of the physical evidence comes from this document: Affadavit for Dylan Ward’s Arrest

The Trace Evidence podcast covers the case in episode 12 and had a lot of good insights :https://www.trace-evidence.com/episodes/

There are also some good threads devoted to the subject on reddit if you search “Robert Wone.”: https://www.reddit.com/r/UnresolvedMysteries/

A Documentary, a Podcast, and a Dark Confession

First, I want to briefly discuss a surprisingly good documentary (well, more of a docudrama, since it features actors and fictionalized versions of real events). Earlier this year, Netflix released a film called The Most Hated Woman in America, about the life and death of outspoken atheist, Madalyn Murray O’Hair (this was before the Casey Anthony thing).  Although over 20 years old now, the case is one of those so bizarre in a “I couldn’t write this stuff” kind of way that I’m surprised it hasn’t received more media attention. The narrative cuts back and forth between Madalyn and her family after their 1995 abduction and her past as a single mother in 1960s Baltimore, where she became an increasingly abrasive advocate for religious freedom. Melissa Leo does a great job of portraying O’Hair at different ages, and together she and the writers manage to humanize someone who was by almost all accounts a difficult, unpleasant person. Vincent Kartheiser (smarmy Pete Campbell, for those who have watched Mad Men) plays her estranged son and the talented but somewhat underused Juno Temple plays her loyal granddaughter. Then there’s Josh Lucas as bitter former employee turned kidnapper, who projects a kind of menacing charisma and, in the scenes with Leo, creates an almost palpable tension. The narrative strikes the healthiest balance it can between “this woman has enemies? I can’t imagine why” and “okay, that shouldn’t happen to anyone.” I’m tempted to say more about it , but I have other things I want to get to without being too long-winded. So my suggestion is to Google the case to get the basic facts of the story, then watch.

I’ve also added Writing Excuses  to my ever growing podcast list. Each episode is a concise 15 minutes, full of great perspectives on writing. Then the hosts yell at you to get back to work at the end of each. Also, I checked out Last Podcast on the Left. It’s a sophomoric, tasteless comedy podcast about true crime and unexplained events, and when in the right mood, it’s hilarious. It makes me laugh, then feel ashamed.

So, the thing I’m really here to talk ab0ut today is the “dark confession” alluded to above. I’m a writer, and I hate world-building. In fact, world-building can go right over and stand next to cooking on my “it improves my quality of life but I still kind of loathe the process” shelf. I have a theory that some writers start by drawing a map–or perhaps just a tastefully decorated sitting room–and then people it with characters. That’s great, but it’s just not me. I’m more likely to stumble into a character who insists on being written about, sometimes with a filament of plot attached if they’re  being charitable. Then some other characters emerge from the shadows, and oh wait, two of them are fighting, and one of them is hitting the other with a chair. So, um, I guess my setting needs chairs now. I don’t really draw maps, and naming fictional cities, countries, rivers, and mountains makes me want to rip my eyelashes out. Every time I realize that a proper noun is required, I have to spend a good twenty minutes rejecting city/river/coffee shop names, all while my characters are getting impatient for the actual scene to start.

Now, at this point, you should all be asking, “But, L.R., why don’t you just use real world locations? They come with names, maps, and descriptions, no assembly required.” First of all, it is entirely possible that one day I will use a 100% real world setting, when the characters and plot seem to demand it. I think the reason that I’ve been using not-quite-real world settings (a few dimensions down settings?) is due to the fact that A.) I feel weirdly self-conscious about writing about real places, for fear of Doing It Wrong somehow, and B). as much I dislike flushing out my settings, I’m also very picky about them in some ways. I want every aspect of my story to feel like an organic part of a whole, and if my plot and characters can’t be plopped down into a real setting without feeling forced, then I have to come up with one that will fit them.

Now, I could get away with sparse world-building in my first novel, since the majority of the action took place in one city and the plot demanded only vague references to other places. Recently, however, I’ve been working on a project that is clearly going to demand more development in that regard, so I have to confront my distaste. How am I doing that? Here are some methods I am trying.

A. I already have some characters and loose plot points sketched out, so I’ve created a separate document listing every city/region/geographic thing I might need, with a few lines of description. I’m not trying for too much with these descriptions, at least at this stage. I start with something simple like “it’s near the ocean.” Then: “Because of this, it’s heavily dependent on maritime trade.” And then: You know what would totally ruin this place’s week? Some kind of embargo or blockade. This could be a point of conflict.” Then I start trying to think of how some of these things might be relevant to the characters and plot points I already have. The names usually come last, and yeah, I still hate coming up with them, but there are random generators.

B. I shamelessly copy, paste, and recombine real places and events. I did this in The Foreigner,  I’m going to keep doing it, and honestly I suggest everyone do it. This suits me, since I’ve never gravitated to fully invented languages and cultures–I prefer my characters to dress, talk, and be named like real people. So world cultures and history offer a near-endless yard sale of props.

C. Lastly, to come full circle, while I’m trying to keep my writing weaknesses from becoming a full handicap, I’m not going to develop them at the expense of what I really want to accomplish with my story, either. I’m going to write the book I want to read, and I’m only going to develop the setting as much as I need to make the story that needs to be made. I’m going to expand my comfort zone, but not abandon it.


What about everyone else? Does anyone else struggle with some of these same issues, and if so, how do you deal with it?

On Introverting Badly, and Why No One Should Care (plus some links)

When you’re writer–or even just someone with basic awareness of their social surroundings–it’s difficult to avoid references to personality typing. A given scroll through the recommended pins for my pinterest board will reveal several infographics about the various Enneagram,  Myers-Briggs,  and Big 5 categories that a person might fall into (the last is, in my opinion, the most likely to be accurate, not that it matters much at the moment). Now, I accept that personality typing is not and never should be an exact science, but the topic intrigues me enough that I’ve learned more about the ingredients of personality than I probably ever needed to.

One pair of opposites that comes up a lot is the introversion/extroversion gradient, and where it’s mentioned, a flurry of what I can only describe as “introvert apologia” is never far away.

Now, I am without a doubt an introverted person. Typically, my idea of a great night involves me, my cat, and a Jane the Virgin marathon on Netflix (although I should add that not all nights are typical ones). My amazing fiance was gone all last weekend, and so I sat at home listening to nothing but some new podcasts and the rain on the roof and it was the best weekend ever. I do not regret being this way, and I am in total agreement with the basic premise of every “misconceptions about introverts” post, that is, that there’s nothing wrong with being one.

However, I have some points of contention with how introversion and extroversion are discussed and how these constantly repeated truisms are becoming accepted as gospel. So I thought I would share some of my own observations just to add some perspective to the topic (not to pick fights with anyone).

First of all, introversion and extroversion are matters of degree, not type. Even though most psychology texts essentially state this, the public interpretation seems to tend towards polarization. For instance, take the x000 “how to care for your introvert” things I see bandied about pinterest and Facebook. “Respect boundaries” “avoid passing judgement” “don’t interrupt” “don’t spring things on the person at the last minute.” Excellent advice, all, but mostly indistinguishable from basic courtesy. I’m willing concede that having these guidelines violated might be especially troubling to an introverted personality, but am I really supposed to deduce that an average extrovert loves being interrupted, enjoys having important information dumped on them at the last conceivable second, and sits around itching for someone to disrespect their boundaries?  Introverts, extroverts, and the many, many people who fall somewhere in the middle are all, you know, people, and are not that fundamentally different from one another. We’re discussing variations in the human personality, not two different species.

The other point that I want to address is that, while there is nothing wrong or even unusual about being an introvert, to put it baldly, there is nothing special either. For myself, I do not believe that being an introvert makes me any smarter, any kinder, any more responsible, or any more loyal than I would be if I was more of an extrovert. These are all separate qualities independent of my preferred Friday night activities. Some of the things that seem to come up over and over again in descriptions of introverted personalities are “liking one-on-one interaction” and “having few but close friends,” and neither of these are especially true of me. One- on-one conversations are actually the most tiring type of socialization for me, because I have to carry the burden for a full half of the conversation rather than distributing it evenly among, say, three to five people. And, although I certainly have some great friends, I still think that “gets along with almost everyone but doesn’t really have a  BFF” is a better description of me than “having few but close friends.”

Happily, as far as I’m concerned, none of this matters. The vast majority of people have both extroverted and introverted qualities, and neither extreme represents some sort of elite secret society with stiff standards for admission. Act as you see fit (with the standard legal and ethical qualifiers).

In absence of a snappy conclusion that isn’t a retread of what I’ve already written, I’m going to switch gears and turn to my fall back topic: Things that I Find Interesting that You Should Check Out.

I’ve discovered a great new podcast (shocking, I know):  The Strange Matters Podcast . It covers anything that qualifies as a strange matter (unsolved crime, theoretical science, claims of the paranormal) and does it in a very informative and entertaining way. Don’t worry, I’m a strong skeptic about anything paranormal, but I’m still curious enough to enjoy hearing about it. They cover a wide variety of interesting cases and I can’t believe it took me this long to stumble across them.

Recently, HBO aired a documentary called Mommy Dead and Dearest. The story is as morbid as it sounds, and it’s well worth watching.  The Brain Candy Podcast (another good one!)  discussed the documentary in a recent episode. Before watching, though, I suggest reading this article about the case first. It deals with a likely case of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, and it is one of the most fascinating and disturbing things I have ever read.

That’s all I have for now. Best wishes to everyone!





June Update: Podcasts and Mayhem

So, I have been doing things for the last four months, just, err, not updating much. What I have been doing is going back to school to get a Master’s in Health Services Administration (I have been loving my classes, but I have a sneaking suspicion I was the oldest student in each of the ones I’ve taken). Also, I’ve been planning my wedding this summer. But enough about that and onto the important stuff: addictive podcasts.

I’m late to a lot of parties, including the podcast one. But hey, I seem to be having fun anyway. Last year I started listening to a lot of mystery and true crime podcasts such as Serial and True Crime Garage and within the last few months I’ve discovered Alzabo Soup, a show hosted by two long time friends discussing the works of science fiction author Gene Wolfe. Niche audience? Sure. But it’s great fun to listen to, and if you’re not already familiar with Wolfe’s works, AS is a great introduction. I’ve also made the leap to fictional audio dramas. I recently binge-listened to the first season of Homecoming over a week of walking at the gym, and I’ve started on The Black Tapes, an X-Files-type series that follows the same format and tone of the non-fictional Serial. It’s great for listening to with the lights out and the windows open on a windy night. Then there’s Alice Isn’t Dead, which is made by the same folks that made Welcome to the Night Vale. I have not yet listened to WNV, but it seems to be well-known and popular among the people that follow this sort of thing. Alice Isn’t Dead is best described as Twin Peaks after about six Monster energy drinks, and so far it’s fantastic. Now,this one is best listened to while driving down a long, desolate stretch of road late at night, but don’t wait around, just start listening.

Also, never fear, I have been writing, too.

Hope everyone is well. I’ll try to update more frequently!

Welcome to the Night Land

When even the fans of a particular book have been known to describe sections of it as “virtually unreadable”, there is, at the very least, something worth talking about. And someone  really does need to remember William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, a rather obscure book first published in 1912 by one of the early masters of the genre now most often referred to as weird fiction (also the “dying earth” subgenre, if genre classification is your thing).

What happens in it? Well, a young man in the 17th century falls in love with a young woman, but she dies. The grieving fellow then falls asleep one night and wakes in the body of a far-future incarnation of himself. This incarnation lives inside a gigantic pyramid (called the Last Redoubt) with the remnants of the known human population. Outside, the sun has gone dark, monstrous living forms  called Watchers creep ever closer to the Redoubt, and strange beings scuttle across a landscape lit only by volcanic fissures. Future Narrator hears a telepathic call for help from none other than the future incarnation of his lost love, and, like any good protagonist, he sets off across the nightmare-riddled terrain to find her.

Yes, there are sections that are more or less unreadable, but I’m encouraging you to well, read it. For one, you can honestly tell your friends that it’s like nothing else you’ve ever read. For another, I think there are some legit writing lessons to be gained here, although if you try to copy the style you have probably learned the wrong ones. One that we can appreciate is that what isn’t seen or described in detail can be a lot more unsettling than what is. Take, for instance, the House of Silence, one of the many sinister places our narrator glimpses from the top of the Last Redoubt before setting off on his journey. Lights burn inside it and always have. No sound escapes it, and no one that enters ever leaves. The reader never learns what the House of Silence is or what’s inside it, and doesn’t need to. Its pall has been cast across the entire narrative, and no amount of explanation in the world could imbue it with more dread than it already has. (Obviously, this is a a really important  lesson that anyone attempting to write on the edges of the horror genre should know, and WHH is not the only one to learn it from, but I think we can mostly agree that the early writers did suspense better).

One day I’ll re-read it, but I’m not quite that bedridden at the moment. According to the Wikipedia entry, an author named John Stoddard has essentially re-written the novel as The Night Land, a Story Retold,  in a more palatable style.   I have not yet read it, but I already want to give this man a cookie because someone needed to do it.  Hodgson himself also wrote The House on the Borderland, which some readers might find a bit more accessible, but which never personally resonated with me as much as The Night Land did.

Oh, and there’s a website. Complete with fanfic, naturally.

Writing Lesson From How I Met Your Mother: So Many Ways to Tell a Story

Below, I discuss spoilers for Season 3, Episode 7 of How I Met Your Mother (I mean, it aired back in 2007,  but I’m sometimes really  late to the TV party myself so I’m trying to be courteous. Seriously. I watched my first and so far only episode of Gilmore Girls three weeks ago).

As popular and well-known as How I Met Your Mother was, and for all the flaws it did have, I still don’t actually think it gets enough credit for some of the clever narrative techniques it employed. One of my favorite episodes is “Dowisetrepla”, and what makes it memorable isn’t what the episode is about. To paraphrase Roger Ebert, it’s how it’s about. All that happens is that my favorite fictional couple, Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshal (Jason Segel) buy an apartment, despite the fact that Lily is neck-deep in credit card debt and hasn’t been able to bring herself to tell her husband. He finds out. They fight. Then they make up.

Now, here’s the thing. We never actually see the fight. What we see instead is three of their friends stopping  by their apartment and concluding, ominously, that a fight happened. A water bottle with the label peeled off? Lily peels the labels off things when she feels guilty about something. An empty quart of ice cream? Marshall eats when he’s mad! The calendar on the wall is crooked because someone slammed the door! By using this technique, the writers actually accomplish several things. For one, they avoid boring the audience with things the audience already knows. We know why Lily and Marshall are fighting. We know, or can safely assume, that Marshall is shocked and angry and that Lily is guilty. We don’t actually need to waste five minutes of screen time hearing them verbalize these feelings (and perhaps becoming less likeable in the process), when we could be watching the impromptu film noir parody instead. Secondly, it gives the other three members of the main cast something to do in a story line that mainly hinges on Lily and Marshall’s actions, and do it in a very funny way that still conveys the main plot points. We know exactly what we need to know about the argument without seeing any of it.

I still haven’t discussed what “Dowisetrepla” means, and I’m not going to here. If you don’t know, you’ll have to watch it and find out. If you just plain don’t care, that’s fine too, and probably healthier.

My point here? There are a lot of ways to tell a story or script a scene. If a blow-by-blow account of events in your story just isn’t doing it for you, you might want to explore an less conventional approach. Narrate the same scene from a different character’s point of view, or summarize what happened by showing the impact (“In the end, she got the house, I got the car.”)  You can even skip to the next part of your story and include the missing scene as part of a character’s flashback at a point when it has new relevance (Mad Men has also made at least one good use of this technique). Step outside the stubborn scene or plot point, figure what really needs to be said, and try new ways of saying it.

Best of luck with that!

Come Share in My Sudden and Likely Short-Lived Enthusiasm

So, I have this yen to do some kind of serialized online novel. As in, I put up a new chapter every week or so and anyone who follows this thing screams encouragement for me to continue.

I have a few ideas, but I’m still at the really, really early stage where I’m about 98% enthusiasm and 2% structure (if only that were all that was required).  So this thing could be any genre, or several genres, and go on for as long as I feel necessary.

Of course, this could all be a temporary madness on my part. Alternatively, it could be an exercise in forced creativity. After all, nothing motivates productivity like deadlines and an enthusiastic audience (or at least an imagined version of the same).

I should note here that any future projects I undertake will not be a sequel to The Foreigner, or anything related to The Foreigner. I have never seriously wanted to do a multi-book series, for several reasons. Prime among them is I don’t want to be locked into a very long project past the point where I myself tire of it. Plus, I have read too many series, some of them written by fantastic authors, that simply start to collapse under their own weight after Book 4 or 5*, and you can almost feel the writer’s enthusiasm waning. And I I really don’t see a reason that I would be any different under the same circumstances. Plus, in the case of The Foreigner, does anyone really want to see me do more horrible things to Adeline Rook? By the end of book, I sort of got the feeling she could use a  break and perhaps a nice long bubble bath. If anything I write in the future has a connection with my first novel, it will be a blink-and-you-miss-it reference that will have no bearing on the reader’s understanding or enjoyment of the story (hmm…..)

So what I’m talking about here is leaping into some new story and seeing if it holds anything that interests me. And I’m excited about it. I just have to see if I can make the excitement (and a plot) last.

Suggestions welcome, but no promises!

*Here, I’m not really talking about one-shot novels set in the same universe with the same characters (i.e a lot of mystery and detective fiction), but books in series with an overarching plot that demands an endgame.


True Crime Book Recs

One of the things that people are surprised to learn about me is that I have a near addiction to true crime and unsolved mysteries. I am a constant lurker on the Unresolved Mysteries reddit forum. I watch episodes of Disappeared and BrainScratch on Youtube to unwind in the evening,  or else check in on the crew at Thinking Sideways. (Yes, I know, questionable life choices).

The best true crime is, in my opinion, about something more than the just crime itself. It should use that crime as a way of introducing the reader to another time and place, and to figures as well and vividly rendered as any fictional character. I tend not to be especially interested in serial killers or large-scale, multiple crimes—I’m much more apt to be fascinated by isolated cases where, between one moment and the next, something went very wrong.

Today, I’m sharing a partial list of some of my favorite true crime books. Please feel free to share some of your favorites in the comments, although I expect I don’t have too many crime junkies following this blog.

Midnight in Peking by Paul French This is one of my absolute favorites and the one that first comes to mind when I think of the above criteria. It centers around the murder of a young Englishwoman in Old Peking (or Beijing), shortly before the Japanese invasion of China, and is a fascinating look at a time and place with which most readers are unfamiliar.

Murder in the Stacks by David DeKok  A little known case from 1969, in which a graduate student at Penn State was stabbed to death in the campus library. It’s a terribly overlooked case, and the author does an excellent job of researching the life of the victim and the lives of all the other principle players involved in the case, as the well as the social and political mood of college campuses in the late 1960s. He examines several possibilities, and ends up presenting a plausible suspect and summary of what really happened in the silent stacks  that November afternoon.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. If you can stomach another title with the word “midnight”, you will discover another fun, engrossing, atmospheric read. I almost didn’t include this here for a few reasons. One is that it is questionable whether it qualifies as true crime since it there isn’t really that much crime and it is possible that there is not that much truth, either. Berendt is open about altering the names and descriptions of several individuals that feature in the book, and I’m not the first person to comment on the relative implausibility of an outsider being so readily invited to share so many of Savannah’s secrets. While the narrative is centered around a shooting death in the home of a prominent Savannah antique collector (which may or may not have been self-defense), the real reason for the book’s existence is not so much this event as are the many side stories, full of scandals and colorful characters. Also, this book was a popular bestseller in the 1990s and I figured it had been recommended to death and back by this point. Then I remembered just how enjoyable it was to read, and realized that it needed to be on this list anyway.

Cases that Haunt Us by Mark Olshaker and John E. Douglas, and Law and Disorder by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. I’m putting these two together because they share the same authors and cover some of the same material, These are fantastic primers on several controversial murder cases, both historical and modern, in which the authors apply their considerable experience and expertise and share their own conclusions. These are definitely more graphic than many of the other books on this list, delving more deeply into forensics and criminal psychology, and should in no way be mistaken for light reading. However, I heartily recommend them to anyone with a serious interest in true crime, so long as they have a reasonably strong stomach.

Shadow on the Mountain by Stephen Singular and Joyce Singular. I’m actually in the process of reading this one, but so far I’m liking it too much not to share. Here, the setting is Aspen, Colorado, and the crime is the murder of the well-connected heiress and philanthropist, Nancy Pfister. The story of Nancy’s life, in which she traveled extensively, rubbed elbows with celebrities, and made more than a few enemies, is incredible enough, and things only get more dramatic after her bludgeoning death turns into a murky legal drama involving three suspects, two of them a married couple.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale. It’s been a few years since I read this, and writing about is going to make me want to check it out of the library again. In the year 1860, Jonathan Whicher, one of the earliest English detectives, was tasked with investigating the murder of a young boy and became embroiled in the cloistered lives of a well-to-do Victorian household. It soon becomes apparent to both Whicher and the reader just how implausible it was that young Saville Kent was killed by anyone other than a member of his own family.  His suspicion of Saville’s teenage half-sister brings nothing but disgrace to Whicher and the case is nearly forgotten, until, years later, a killer’s confession shocks the nation.

Dead Mountain by Donnie Eichar…and another “mountain” title. This might be cheating a bit since this book delves more into a mysterious event that in all likelihood involved no crime at all, but I feel this is the best place to mention a book that deserves mentioning. It was written as an attempt to explain the sad and unsettling Dyatlov Pass Incident of 1959, and is by far the most thorough account I have read about it. It’s the story of nine hikers who died in a mysterious accident in the Ural mountains, an event which has attracted conspiracy theorists and fringe researchers ever since. Eichar lays bare the facts, introduces the reader to all the main players in the story, dismisses the more outlandish explanations, and turns it all into a riveting read.

Most of the books by Ann Rule. You can walk into any given used bookstore and find a few shelves full of paperbacks written by her, and the same goes for most public libraries.  Small Sacrifices, Bitter Harvest, A Heart Full of Lies, and In the Still of the Night stand out as particular favorites. Each of her books is devoted to a murder case, but she has also written some compilations in which she explores several different cases. As far as I’m concerned, she’s everything a good crime writer should be. Rule focuses on the facts and is never especially lurid, while demonstrating great empathy and insight towards everyone involved in one of her cases. Best of all, her books are almost always compulsively readable, indistinguishable from the best sort of fiction.  She passed away in the summer of 2015, but still has some great interviews up on Youtube, where she talks about her writing career and always comes across as a very sweet, likable person.

Now just promise me you won’t read anything that claims to prove the identity of Jack the Ripper. Well, you can read it, just don’t take it seriously.


A Few Favorite Writing Books

I’m going to be open about the fact that I’ll be sharing a lot of recs, random trivia, and assorted oddities here. I really don’t feel compelled to talk much about my personal life, not because I’m guarding any deep, dark secrets but because doing so simply does not interest me, and probably would not interest that many people reading this, either. Right now, I want to keep the focus on the writing life, and there’s only so much to say about my writing life at any given point. So…have some books.

Robert’s Rules of Writing: 101 unconventional lessons every writer needs to know by Robert Masello

First of all, there are actually 102 lessons. The last one is “break the rules.”  Masello’s guide is witty, refreshing, and often hilarious. It’s unashamedly self-contradictory (Rule 30: “Pile it on!” Rule 31: “Reduce clutter.” It’s great to be told that in some circumstances it is totally fine to tell rather than show. It’s also great to be to be told to “Stop reading” while deep in a writing project, or at least to stop reading things that are too similar to what you’re writing. Most of all, it’s incredibly fun to read. Apparently, Masello has written several thrillers, too, which I have not yet read, which you can see on his author page.

Plot Perfect: How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene by Paula Munier

A fantastic read with lots of great examples to support its points. (You may want to read The Maltese Falcon before this book to avoid spoilers, if you have any interest in reading it at all. The author really likes The Maltese Falcon). There are some great tips here for starting or structuring a novel, from building a complex character through their contradictions to plotting a novel based on its pivotal points.  I’m particularly fond of the index card trick for plotting discussed on page 94, and even if you don’t find some of the techniques here especially useful, the book will at least help make you more aware of the sort of story you’re trying to tell.

Steal This Plot: A Writer’s Guide to Story Structure and Plagiarism (Classic Wisdom on Writing) by William and June Noble

Yes, please. Actually, I think I’ll steal two or three and then throw them in a blender together. And then maybe add a shot or two of tequila, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I often find that books and articles discussing the “29 basic plot templates” leave me cold, and not because I particularly disagree. Almost all stories do tend to be about one of those 29 things (revenge, transformation, the riddle, etc.), but I do not think that stories are or should be only about one of 29 things. In fact, as I sit here writing this I can readily invent one in which there is an underdog main character involved in a bitter rivalry with another character, but then the rivals have to team up to rescue a third character. In the process, they develop some sort of love, romantic or otherwise, for one another. Except it’s a forbidden love. One of the two (probably the original underdog) goes through a process of maturation, while the other heads down the road of wretched excess. Meanwhile, what about the character in need of rescue, whom we have sadly neglected up to this point? Would it be too much to suggest she is trying to escape while this horse hockey plays itself out? And nothing about what I just wrote sounds terribly original or unusual, so you see my point.

But the approach that William and June Noble take here is fantastic. Instead of attempting to reduce plots to one of 29 templates, they celebrate the diversity that any one of these basic ideas can render. They draw on numerous literary examples (really, this book could do the job of several Cliff Notes books), and provide some great inspiration regarding just how much can be done with a single plot as a starting point.

So go ahead. Steal a plot. Just, you know, add some stuff.

Your First Bestseller: How to Self-Publish a Successful Book on Amazon by Mike Fishbein

I found this at the exact moment I needed it. While not as entertaining of a read as some of the others on this list, it is incredibly useful for anyone trying to self-publish. Fishbein has written an easy to follow guide that covers just about everything the would-be author needs to know, from book covers to marketing to the actual process of self-publishing. Since the whole process can be very intimidating, I find it very reassuring to have this concise, straightforward booklet at my side.

MASTER LISTS FOR WRITERS: Thesauruses, Plots, Character Traits, Names, and More  by Bryn Donovan

This one doubles as a prompt collection if one is desperate—I can go through the lists and choose one from column A, one from Column B, a few from Column C and it’s enough for the root of a story. All of the lists are long and highly specific (Ways to describe eyes! 100 interesting settings for scenes! Motives for murder!). The only problem is that you may find yourself spending more time reading through the lists than on the actual writing. Enjoy, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!

On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King

Most people are familiar with this one, but it’s worth recommending again here. I’ve actually only read a handful of Stephen King novels, and while I don’t dislike the author, none of his work has stuck with me enough for me to really consider myself a fan (note to self: I still really must read The Stand at some point). But this memoir is pure gold for any aspiring writer. His “finding the fossil” analogy for developing a story is as good as any I have come across to describe the writing process. I say this as someone who has chased a lot of false fossils in the past months. Enough to construct an entire false fossil Diplodocus, to be honest.

Please feel free to share your own favorites. And yes, I know I should have read Bird by Bird by now. I just haven’t yet.