Author Topic: Please help with my revised version of my truecrime "23 mins. till Death"  (Read 5616 times)

Offline Annieashley

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After twenty-five years, I have finally decided to tell what N.B.C., Good Morning America, The National Enquirer and other News sources did not report.  Things that weren’t reported about the disappearance of Billy Staton and Letty Castro because they weren’t known—at least not to the rest of the world. The following is an excerpt from my novel “23 Minutes to Die”
                             *********************************
   
With her heart throbbing in her ears, she crawled on her hands and knees, frantically scrubbing. She rubbed harder and harder. The soapy brush was not cleaning the spot. Spot? The whole house was covered with it. Blood was everywhere. “It’s not getting clean! Maybe the rented carpet cleaner will work. Keep scrubbing,” she told herself. “Maybe a different cleaner will help.” Back on her hands and knees, she rubbed and scrubbed until she was out of breath.  “If I can just clean long enough, it will be like nothing ever happened. No one will ever know.”

At last, choking back a sob, she curled up in a corner and rested her aching back. When it got dark she said to herself, “I can’t stay here.” Exhausted and with labored breathing, she rose and walked out into the hot, humid, South Texas night.

                             *********************************
“Tuesday evening, July13, 1982.
It was my sister’s 16th Birthday. That’s the reason I remember the date so well. We always did something for her Birthday, but this year our church youth meeting fell on her special day. She was there that evening but the person I remember that night was Paul Wolf.
While the rest of the country watched  and wondered “Who shot J.R.?” on "Dallas," Paul Wolf and I sat on the lawn in front of the Church of Christ building in La Feria Texas. Paul was my step cousin’s husband. “Who shot J.R.” was the last thing on our minds that evening. 
The July breeze blowing off the Gulf of Mexico was pleasantly warm. We were at a young people's meeting. The other people, being out of school for the summer, were happy and carefree. But twenty-year old Paul, married for less than a year to Sherry Zieglar Staton Wolf, took his role as provider and protector seriously...And anyone could see that he was devoted to Melanie, her two year old daughter. He would carry Melanie around on his hip, and he called her his "little baby girl." He had worked for hours on a wooden rocking horse that he built for her. Melanie called Paul "Daddy." She called Billy Staton, her biological father, “Billy."
Paul stared off into the distance. Tears trickled down his suntanned face.

"Why is Melanie so afraid of Billy?" I asked.
"Dr. Dean thinks she's being sexually molested," Paul said.
"Do you think she's being molested?" I asked.
He plucked a blade of grass and began to shred it with his fingers.
                                                                                                                                                                       
"Well-you should see how she acts toward Billy. You would see what I mean. Dr. Dean told Sherry and me to use a tape recorder to document the way she reacts to him." He paused for a moment. "We just don't know what to do. Judges won't listen. Lawyers won't listen..."
"Have you tried talking to Judge Vegas?" I asked.
"It didn't do any good. Nobody will help us."
(Judge Vegas later said,” I wish I had paid more attention to Paul and Sherry)
Paul went on, “Whenever Billy comes to pick her up she screams,’ don’t let them take me, Daddy.'"
 He pushed back the lock of hair that kept falling across his forehead. "What can we do? We can't get anyone to listen to us. Melanie clutches my leg every time Billy comes to pick her up. I just can't take it anymore."
He hesitated a moment, then went on,” Billy thinks that just because he has a piece of paper from the judge-just because he has visiting rights every other weekend-it doesn't matter whether Melanie wants to go with him or not. He's going to take her, no matter how she feels or how scared she is."
"When does Billy get her again?" I asked.
He gazed toward the orange and pink sunset, but I knew he did not see it. He absently
said, “Friday. He's coming again-Friday."
                                      ************************************
Saturday, July 17, 1982.
 When Billy and Letty, his live-in girlfriend and fiancé did not show up at Billy's sister place on South Padre Island, Billy's family was worried. Billy’s sister called Sherry.
“What time did Billy and Letty leave your house yesterday?” Elaine asked into the phone.
“I haven’t seen them. They never showed up.” Sherry said.
“What do you mean, you haven’t seen them? I was at Billy’s house yesterday, just before he and Letty left. They were going to pick up Melanie. You must have seen them.” Now Elaine was sounding a bit accusatory, Sherry thought.
“Elaine, for the last time I did not see them! He didn’t even bother to come by or call.” Sherry let her voice trail off, as if to say “typical of him”.
Hanging up the phone, Elaine turned to her brother, Gilbert. “Now this is strange. It just isn’t like Billy. He and Letty were supposed to go with us to the beach.” She thought for a moment. “Maybe he had car trouble.” She said.
“Nah, the way he pampers that TransAm of his? It runs like it just came off of the assembly line.” Gilbert said. He was silent for a minute, thinking.”Maybe they eloped. You know how Billy hates to get dressed up. Maybe he convinced Letty to skip the wedding,” he said.
“Are you kidding? And make Letty miss the chance to wear that wedding gown she and her sisters have been working on for months?” Elaine said.
"I'll tell you something," Elaine said. "Something is wrong. Something is definitely wrong, and it has something to do with Sherry. You know how weird she’s been acting lately.” Looking at Gilbert she added, “Billy would not just disappear like this.”
                                              **************************************.
Sunday, July 18, 1982
Parking my red Thunderbird in the church parking lot, I jumped out quickly. I was late for Bible Class. I practically ran up the sidewalk. Then I saw Sherry. She was wearing my dress again. The one I had lent her to wear to someone’s wedding, and she never returned it. Although she was six months pregnant, she really did look pretty in my dress. It hung just right, soft and flowing, on her petite body. I was rushing past Sherry on my way to class and almost didn’t notice her.
“Oh, Hey, Sherry,” I called out.
She actually jumped. Then she quickly shifted her eyes away from me.
“Oh, Hi, Annie.” she said.  I thought I heard a nervous quiver in her voice.
Something was wrong with Sherry that morning. But, I also knew she was Miss Drama Queen. There was always something going on with her. Throughout class, she was uncharacteristically agitated. Usually appearing cool and calm, she seemed on the verge of panic. It wasn’t that she was biting her nails down to the quick again. She did that all the time. She had tried all kinds of remedies, including Tabasco sauce under her nails. She kept fidgeting and she was…well, jumpy. Still, I thought little of her unusual behavior. After all, I had known her since she was five years old. I was accustomed to what I had come to think of as “just Sherry’s spoiled behavior,” her way of getting attention.
After Worship service, I watched as Melanie, her ruffles and frills bouncing, skipped and jumped across the lawn of the church building. As I watched, I said to Sherry’s Mother, Genell, “I see that Melanie didn’t go with Billy this weekend.”
She explained that Billy hadn’t even come by and how relieved they were.
“But, I thought that Billy’s father was adamant that Billy pick her up every time he was supposed to.” I said

“He was, That’s why it’s so strange. Maybe Billy is getting tired of taking care of a two year old.” Genell offered.

Whatever the reason, Melanie seemed in great spirits. Even though Sherry was just a step cousin, I considered her my cousin. Her Mother and my uncle were married when she was five and I was eight. Sherry was always feigning some kind of disaster. Once she had to be rushed to the emergency room because she was sure she had an ameba. (A local girl had died of one when she had been exposed to it in a body of water about an hour away from where we lived.) Or, she was screaming,
 “Oh! Oh! My head! I have a brain tumor!”
 And on and on it went. She had been to the emergency room so often she was practically banned from it as an “Overdose Eddie.” (A name the E.R. staff calls a person who comes in for made-up ailments.) Since the birth of Melanie, Sherry seemed to have matured and we grew closer.
 Melanie called me Aunt Annie and I spent quite a bit of time with her. I was well aware of her dislike for her biological father and step-mother to be. She told me often enough. Apropos of nothing.
 “Why, Melanie?” I asked her. She answered in a very grown up voice, that they were “mean”. She said that they locked her in a room.  Locked her in a room?

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yes, Aunt Annie. It is a long house. They locked me in a room way away from them. It didn’t matter how much I cried. I had to sit in the room all by myself.” she said.

 It was true that they lived in a mobile home with one bedroom on one end of the house and another one on the other. I could tell she was really upset. She told me that she was “never, ever going again!” I knew better. Sherry had been to court 3 times in the last 6 months to try to resolve the custody problem. This was quickly becoming a huge custody war. After explaining Melanie’s reaction and what Dr. Dean said, Sherry begged the judge to let a court mediator come at the appointed time and help with the visitation. Maybe that would help the transition.
“No, I don’t see that as necessary” the judge answered unconcerned.
“Well, could Billy come to our house, or we meet at a mutual place until Melanie feels comfortable with him?” Sherry asked.
The judge was now angry. How dare this little wisp of a girl, question his almighty authority? The answer was a bellowing “NO!” Furthermore, Sherry had better have Melanie ready at the appointed time (for Billy’s visitation) or he would throw Sherry in jail for contempt of court and put Melanie in foster care. If she didn’t believe him, he challenged, try him.
Her head held high, Sherry’s high heels click-clacked out of the court room and down the corridor of the Court House. The judge may have given this skirmish to her ex-husband, Billy, but the war was far from over. Did they think that Melanie was a piece of property that the state could just decide to mail or drop off or send where ever they deemed convenient?
     
     **********************************************
July 16th 1982

He was trembling so badly that steering the car was almost impossible. His sweaty, bloody hands kept slipping off the stick shift.

“Come on! I thought this was a TransAm! Is this as fast as it will go?” He shoved his booted foot onto the accelerator, and the car shot forward. “No—slow down—slow down… nobody knows…It won’t be long now…It’s almost over.Ugh! The smell in this car. What a mess! Blood and hair everywhere. I’ve got to get rid of this… Wait…Wait…All right. Yeah, this is good right here—the perfect spot. It’ll never be found.”

Grinding to a halt, he sprang out of the car. “Oh! No! Where’s the rock? That big rock I had. There it is. It’s all working out. Everything’s gonna be all right.”

“Easy does it… Put the car in neutral. It’s still idling. Now, just to send this baby flying into the water. That water is so deep this car will never be seen again.”
Kneeling down beside the open car door, he kept one hand on the brake on the floorboard, and placed the rock on the accelerator. “Shift her into drive and she’ll go sailing. I’ll be like Bo on the ‘Dukes of Hazard,’” he thought frivolously. But he didn’t feel like laughing.

He pressed in the clutch and shifted the car into gear. Then he released the clutch, and the car lurched forward; but it didn’t go sailing. He held his breath as he watched the vehicle lumbar slowly down the steep embankment. When it caught on a concrete standpipe and landed with only the front end submerged in water, his stomach lurched into his throat. He felt the world closing in on him. His stomach started heaving. Oh, No! The rear end of the car still jutted up out of the water. It can still be seen! This was not supposed to happen! I didn’t plan it like this. Why couldn’t it have sailed across and then sunk like it was suppose to? Like it does in the movies? Why?

Kicking viciously at a dead branch, he felt all the adrenaline vanish from his body. He bent over as the last thing he ate tried to come back up…it had been a long time since he ate anything…His forehead broke out in a sweat and he hugged his body as a chill washed over him. His mouth felt like it was stuffed full of cotton. Wiping his mouth on his dirty sleeve he kicked viciously at a dead branch. All of the adrenaline vanished from his body and he was suddenly exhausted. Stumbling, he sank down on a large log. Putting his head in his bloody hands, he wept.

                                 *********************************

Days turned into weeks and there was still no sign of Billy, Letty, or the car that they had last been driving, a white TransAm. Dozens of people searched up and down water ways, and brushy, thorny areas. With temperatures hovering around the 100 degree mark, one searcher said there was not a hair on his head that was dry. Hour after hour the search continued. The rescue workers were exhausted. 

Paul owned and farmed hundreds of acres of land. Everyday, when he stepped outside his door it seemed the Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter was whirling overhead. Most of us had never even seen a helicopter. Now it seemed as if it were following him. Stalking him. Trying to go on about his day, Paul continued to drive his cotton picker. No matter which block of land he was picking he could see the helicopter.  Hovering nearby, and then flying away. But it always came back. Always. With his hand trembling he reached inside his front pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
Billy Staton and Letty Castro disappeared on July the 16th 1982. Three weeks later,   
A crop duster (a pilot who sprays crops with different chemicals from a small plane)
was flying over  an Animal Refuge on his way back to his airstrip. It was an area thick with overgrowth, foliage, vines and bodies of water. The pilot just happened to look down at a body of water. “What was that?” he thought. He flew the plane back around. He squinted and looked out the side window of his aircraft. “It’s a car! In the middle of the water. It looked like the back end of a vehicle jutting out of the water.” Rushing back to the airstrip, he jumped out of his plane and called the local police.
Everyday, the local news announcers plead with the public to come forward with any information they might have. Well, this was a big piece of information.  One week later the local police had still not bothered to check on it. 
                                  ************************************

Texas Ranger, Bruce Casteel, sat down to supper when the phone rang. A car had been discovered. In the animal refuge, partially submerged in water, the back end of a car was jutting out of the water. Arriving at the scene, he held onto a rope as he climbed down the embankment. Looking over the car, he could see the car had been set on fire. The whole car looked to be gutted. After finding the car, Bruce was sure that Billy and Letty were dead. They were now looking for their bodies.

                                  ************************************
January 1994

 “Aunt Annie, Uncle Simon spent the night at Nana’s and Poppa’s last night.” Melanie said to me as I drove her home in my trusty red thunderbird. Melanie now lived with her grandparents.
“He, did?” I asked. “Did y’all have fun?” not thinking much about Uncle Simon. After all, I had known him as long as I had known Sherry and he seemed crazy about  Melanie

 Melanie continued, “Do you think he has a problem or something?”  She went on to describe what had happened. Dr Dean was right. Melanie was being sexually molested. I just heard about it in vivid detail.
 At that moment I knew I could kill someone. I could kill Simon.

SuzieHarris

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Re: Please help with my revised version of my truecrime "23 mins. till Death"
« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2008, 05:08:11 AM »
Brilliant. Loved it. I want to read more.

I don't know the case being British, but it sure held my interest. Let me know when it's pubished, I'm hooked!

Suzie x

Offline ma100

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Re: Please help with my revised version of my truecrime "23 mins. till Death"
« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2008, 05:27:38 AM »
Hi Annie,
You have a good story here but I think you are telling to much instead of showing. You also use asked as a dialogue tag whe you have a question mark. I also picked upon your overuse of 'it there was'. I have taken a paragraph to show you what I mean because my waffle is not clear. Please don't take this as negative because I do all these things myself and have to go back over what I write. Red overuse , blue repeats and bold the amount of times you use she. Some action and description would illiminate some of them.

I really hope this helps :)

Good story and I am looking forward to more
Ma

Something was wrong with Sherry that morning. But, I also knew she was Miss Drama Queen. There was always something going on with her. Throughout class, she was uncharacteristically agitated. Usually appearing cool and calm, she seemed on the verge of panic. It wasn’t that she was biting her nails down to the quick again. She did that all the time. She had tried all kinds of remedies, including Tabasco sauce under her nails. She kept fidgeting and she was…well, jumpy. Still, I thought little of her unusual behavior. After all, I had known her since she was five years old. I was accustomed to what I had come to think of as “just Sherry’s spoiled behavior,” her way of getting attention.
After Worship service, I watched as Melanie, her ruffles and frills bouncing, skipped and jumped across the lawn of the church building. As I watched, I said to Sherry’s Mother, Genell, “I see that Melanie didn’t go with Billy this weekend.”
She explained that Billy hadn’t even come by and how relieved they were


Offline Annmarie

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Re: Please help with my revised version of my truecrime "23 mins. till Death"
« Reply #3 on: September 06, 2008, 12:23:26 PM »
Hi Annie,

You've got  a powerful topic! But why in the world are you doing it as fiction? This has the power to approach  good true crime, where we get to understand not only what happened, but the complexities of the people it happened to and the world they lived in. I assume you've read Capote's "In Cold Blood," because nobody writing a story based  on a true crime case can  neglect to read it. After looking at your excerpt, I was reminded of In Cold Blood, in that you've got a compelling story in what sounds like an interesting setting (south Texas).

This excerpt, I'm afraid, confused me a lot. The scenes moved very quickly and jumped in time, particularly when you left out July 16, the day they disappeared, then flipped back to it so fast. That doesn't make sense  to me, because the  day the crime happened and how it really happened is supposed to be a big part of the mystery, that's part of what the entire book is there to unfold. The other big goal of a mystery is to find out why people commit crimes. Why do they succumb to their darker natures? This is complex, but the way you've laid out these extremely short scenes, it felt like you've told the whole story already. The people are introduced too quickly, the topic of molestation is dropped in as if it doesn't  mean much:

Quote
"Why is Melanie so afraid of Billy?" I asked.
"Dr. Dean thinks she's being sexually molested," Paul said.
"Do you think she's being molested?" I asked.

No reaction from the Annie character at all? If I was told the same thing, I'd be furious, shocked, disgusted. The "I" character calmly asks a question instead of reacting in a way I would think most of  us would react to news of a 2-year-old possibly being molested by her father, one of the worst crimes there is. Also, the 2-year-old Melanie's dialogue was implausible. Then the end section in 1994 made me even more confused -- Melanie is 14 years old now, right? She's being molested again? (Or is she lying?). All of this stuff moved way too fast. I didn't know who or what to focus on.

My instinct after reading the whole  thing was ---- slow down. Focus the story. The first paragraph was a hook, though we don't know who the "she" is. After that paragraph, sit back and begin the story. Build it more slowly, let me get to know who these people are so that I care about what happens to them. Show me that intriguing south Texas setting. If you want a tip on how to do this masterfully, look at In Cold Blood. That book is also wonderful for character sketches, getting us  to know who the characters are by showing us how they function in the world they live in.

What I'm saying is, the story is very intriguing. I just don't feel like  it's being told the right way.  Draw me in, lead me down the twisted  paths of these people's lives. That's great crime fiction and nonfiction.

I agree with Ma that the language needs a lot of editing to eliminate the passive voice, repetitions and so on. But that stuff is saved for the last draft. First, I think you should be sure you've laid out the whole story in the most effective way.

Hope this helps,

Annmarie  :)
Work hard. Believe. Take a chance.

Offline Annieashley

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Re: Please help with my revised version of my truecrime "23 mins. till Death"
« Reply #4 on: September 06, 2008, 01:53:33 PM »
Thank you for your reply. This is a condensed version which was written to fit a specific format. The actual book, I think will be clearer. Thank you for mentionining the 1994--it was a misprint and should've been 1984. It is a true crime but for legal reasons and because I am under contract I had to change some things. It is written in the form of "creative nonfiction." Anyway, I can see why it might be confusing and thank you for pointing that out. The full length edition will be much clearer. Thanks again! Isn't it strange how fact is stranger than fiction? That dialogue between Paul and me is almost verbatim--He was so upset I tried to remain as calm as possible. Melanie actually did speak like that--she was such a mature little thing--I have 2 children and they never acted as grown up as she did at the age that she did. Thanks again!
Sincerely,
Annie Ashley
« Last Edit: September 07, 2008, 08:06:25 PM by Annieashley »

Offline Annieashley

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Re: Please help with my revised version of my truecrime "23 mins. till Death"
« Reply #5 on: September 07, 2008, 07:52:18 PM »
 Thanks, Ma, You are so right! I do the exact same thing on the air with the word "and "
as a filler--over and over.
While this was helpful, I actually need help knowing where to go next in my True Crime, I have done the backstory, the description, settings, a lot of the character development.
I am past the killers confession and approaching the second arrest--of the person who still maintains her innocence. For some  reason I have lost momentum and direction. What do you do when you reach that point in a book? Especially when you are way past your deadline?
Thanks.
Annieashley
« Last Edit: September 07, 2008, 08:05:39 PM by Annieashley »