Tag Archives: True Crime

Think twice before leaving a bad review

hurt feelings cat

When one exposes one’s “art” to the general public, one takes the chance that some of the public won’t like said art. In fact, some of them will be loud about it … and mean.

I’ve heard artists from all mediums say they don’t read their reviews, for this very reason—some people are needlessly cruel. They’re not leaving constructive criticism, they’re just trying to tear the artist down so they can feel superior.

I try not to read my reviews but, once in a while, some scary part of myself drags me to my Amazon page and forces me to read what strangers are saying about my books.

hurt feelings

I’d like to be cavalier about it but, as a matter of fact, your words did hurt.

Most of the time, the reviews are friendly and glowing, but once in a while, someone posts a review that really hurts.

Those seem to be written by other writers, or by people who fancy themselves to be. They generally bash my writing style, implying that they coulda woulda shoulda done a better job. I don’t know if they’re professional writers, because they never say. However, I’d like to think that the pros don’t leave bad reviews for their peers, because they know better. They know how it feels to get bashed for their hard work.

My wide-eyed wanna-be” theory brings small comfort, however, when I see how much thought and effort some of them have put into their well-written criticism. They felt so strongly that they went out of their way to publicly trash me. (Should I be flattered?)

I’m addressing one particular review of Fear of Our Father, a book which has received over 100 reviews on Amazon—75 percent of which give a four- or five-star rating (mostly five-star :-D). It’s still on bookstore shelves almost three years after publication, and has had a few TV shows based on the story. So it must not suck that badly.

hurt feelings dwight

But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that 75 percent of the reviewers have wretched taste. If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be more helpful to offer useful suggestions on how to improve next time, instead of being nasty about something that cannot be changed? Or are these reviewers actually more interested in sharpening their pithiness on my back?

Plus, how about a little credit for what I did accomplish? I wrote a book that hit #1 on Amazon’s True Crime list. Do you know how hard it is to do that? Only frustrated writers who want to take the piss would try to make another writer feel bad about their accomplishments.

I’m specifically talking about a review that said my co-author, Stacey M. Kananen, should have hired a ghostwriter, instead of letting a friend write the incredible story of how she was unjustly accused of and tried for murdering her parents. (Her story is similar, in some ways, to that of Steven Avery in Making a Murderer.) Fear of Our Father could have been so much better, the reviewer implies, if only a more capable writer had been assigned to the task. (Isn’t that the case with every book?)

For the record, I’m not just some random friend of Stacey’s who thought, “Hey, I’ve got a computer and I took an English class once. Why not try my hand at writing a book?” I’ve earned more than a few impressive writing credits. And, yes, of course it would have been a better book if I wrote it later in life, with more experience and maturity. However, Fear of Our Father dropped into my life exactly when it was supposed to.

I “just happened” to move to Gulf Coast Nudist Resort right before Stacey and Susan did. I “just happened” to work with her and Susan in the resort’s office. I “just happened” to witness the story leading up to Stacey’s murder trial (which aired on national television) as it unfolded.

hurt feelings proud

And, I “just happened” to be a professional writer, with an award-winning background with MSNBC News, and three previous (albeit self-published, but well-reviewed) books under my belt.

This story fell into my life as an assignment from the Gods, and I took it that seriously. Someone needed to be there to witness and tell Stacey’s story, and who better than an objectively-trained, supportive friend, who “just happens” to be a professional writer?

I watched the tale unfold over the course of seven years. That’s how I know the subject matter well enough to properly tell it. I am Stacey’s friend and she is mine. She trusted me enough to confide horrifically intimate details, knowing that I would tell it like it is, while displaying respect and compassion for her entire family—even those who turned against her. A stranger would have never been able to do justice to their story. And, if the Gods had wanted a “more capable” writer for the task, they would have assigned one.

Of course it’s not my greatest, all-time writing achievement, because I’m not dead yet, but it’s my best so far. Artists—or, for that matter, all beings—are constantly striving to improve. Does it really help to be nasty when pointing out the flaws in someone else’s honest creative work?

mirror girl

I’m not saying I’ve never done the same—after all, the Internet’s offer of anonymity is seductive—but I haven’t done it since I became a grownup. All it accomplishes, really, is to point out who the critic is actually talking to. —>

In closing, here’s you some dogs, to illustrate how it feels when someone tries to tear you down, instead of offering helpful, uplifting, constructive criticism. (In other words, I’ll continue to strive to become a better writer in spite of your words, not because of them.)

snarly dogs

lisa author shotLisa Bonnice is an award-winning, best-selling author and editor/manuscript doctor (and former stand-up comedienne—is there anything she can’t do???). Her current passion-project is a series of metaphysical comedy novels. The first in the series is Be Careful What You Witch For!, a modern-day fairy tale about Lola Garnett, a bored housewife, mom and office drone who wakes up with unexpected psychic abilities, and no instruction manual, and Twink, the reluctant, sarcastic faery assigned to assist and educate her.



Why “Fear of Our Father” was originally titled “Sink or Swim”

Fear of Our Father, the book I co-authored with Stacey M. Kananen, is doing extremely well in sales! We’re way up there on the Amazon Best Seller lists (at this moment we’re #10 on the Hot New Releases page) and we’re getting lots of great feedback and reviews from readers.

In fact, we even received this impressive blurb from Marti Rulli, author of Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour: “A gut-wrenching story…Brace yourself…Fear of Our Father reveals one complication after another. If ever a story existed to change your conviction that there’s no such thing as justifiable murder, Fear of Our Father is it.”

Stacey Kananen in third gradeAll of that is very exciting, but I want to take a moment today to talk about the book’s original title. When we first pitched it to Berkley Publishing, the book was entitled Sink or Swim. We were basing the theme around an incident that happened when Stacey was a child. She was in second grade when her abusive father took her by boat to a floating deck at a local lake and left her there—for his own amusement—to swim ashore or drown. He really would have let her die. Of that, there was no doubt.

More than survival instinct was at play here. There was deliberate choice: sink or swim. Six-year-old Stacey defiantly chose to take a chance and swim for shore. She decided, then and there, that he couldn’t kill her, no matter what. This survivor’s spirit is what helped Stacey to carry on through the most amazing true story you’ll read this year.

While Fear of Our Father is an incredible “True Crime” story—really, it’s a stunning page-turner that you won’t be able to put down—our purpose for writing it was to be an inspiration for pretty much everyone who is living through hard times. But, specifically, it’s a story of survival of the most difficult kind—unrelenting domestic violence and abuse, which eventually results in murder and betrayal. It’s because of the story’s readability in the “True Crime” genre that the publisher retitled it.

CassadagaWhile doing research for the book, Stacey and I took a trip to a “spiritualist camp” in Cassadaga, Florida, where her father used to drag her so he could get psychic readings regarding hallucinations he was experiencing. He had been burning a charcoal grill in the house, for heat, and the noxious fumes caused him to feel that he was getting messages about a phoenix bird, rising from the ashes. The psychic told him that he needed to go to Arizona, “to find his people.” That advice, unfortunately, was the cause of one of the most horrific weeks of Stacey’s entire life.

I wanted to see what Cassadaga looks like, so she and her partner Susan and I went for a visit. It’s a quaint little town with a lovely hotel and a cute gift shop or two. Stacey bought me a souvenir in the form of a little tile that says, on one side, “You can change the world,” and on the other, “Your imagination is limitless.” I have it on my desk to this day because that really is the spirit in which we wrote this book. We want to change the world. We want to help people who are still swimming for shore. We have big plans, and our imagination is limitless. Check out the Spectrum of Light Transformation Center’s website to see what I mean.

So please, by all means, pick up a copy of Fear of Our Father. It’s an incredible story. If you want, post a picture of yourself with your copy on our Facebook page, where we’re gathering photos of readers. And be sure to leave a great review on Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, Goodreads, or any other place you prefer. Help us get the word out, because “You can change the world.”

Fear of Our Father: http://www.fearofourfather.com
Stacey Kananen’s father violently and sexually abused his entire family. He vanished in 1988 and 15 years later his wife went missing. Stacey’s brother had killed both parents. Stacey cooperated as a witness until he told police that she helped him with the crimes. She was arrested and her trial, which aired on CNN’s In Session, ended with a not guilty verdict after her attorney proved that she had been railroaded. And this paragraph doesn’t even scratch the surface of the whole story.

Spectrum of Light Transformation Center: http://spectrumoflightcenter.com

Emmy nominated BBC Documentary
(featuring an interview with Stacey M. Kananen):
America’s Child Death Shame

Investigation Discovery series Catch My Killer
(an exploration of the Kananen family’s story)
Episode title “The Dearly Departed”

Tampa Bay Times article:
Hudson woman finds new life after years of abuse, allegations of murder

“Fear of our Father” on Investigation Discovery

Last September, my co-author Stacey M. Kananen and I traveled to Orlando to participate in our very first (and hopefully not our last) national television show based on Stacey’s incredible life story and our upcoming book, Fear of our Father.

orlando et al 017

Stacey being hooked up to her wireless microphone.

We’ve had to keep quiet about it until an official airdate was scheduled, and you better believe that was hard to do! The show, which will air March 3, 2013 on the Investigation Discovery channel (also known as ID), is called Catch My Killer.

The show is about cold cases, and they were interested in featuring the Kananen family’s saga because her father was “missing”– buried under the garage floor of the family home–for fifteen years before police discovered that he was dead, killed with a single bullet to the head.

While the reason for  the book’s existence is sad and horrifying, participating in the taping of this show was an incredible experience. In case you’re not familiar with Stacey’s story, here is a synopsis (from the book cover):

Even after a childhood of abuse and fear, Stacey M. Kananen was shocked when her brother, Rickie, admitted his guilt in the cold-blooded murder of their terrifying father, and years later, their helpless mother. But the greatest shock was to come—when he claimed that Stacey had helped him.

In 1988, when Rickie and Stacey’s father, Richard Kananen Sr., apparently left their home in Orlando, Florida, the family was so relieved that they never reported him missing. Fifteen years later to the day, their mother disappeared. When police became suspicious, Rickie admitted to Stacey that their father’s body was under the cement floor of their mother’s garage, and their mother was buried in Stacey’s own backyard.

Overwhelmed by grief and horror, Stacey’s brother convinced her that they should commit suicide. After a failed attempt, she woke to discover her brother arrested—along with the realization that he had probably never intended to kill himself at all. But his betrayals were not yet over: On the eve of his trial in 2007, he suddenly claimed Stacey had been in on it, and she found herself charged with murder with a gung ho rookie detective who was convinced she was involved.

This is the tragic and triumphant account of one woman’s struggle to overcome her past, clear her name in what would become a dramatic public spectacle of a trial, and finally escape the nightmares that had haunted her entire life.

Susan Cowan, during her interview.

Susan Cowan’s interview.

I haven’t seen the show yet, but the production crew was so professional and easy to work with that I’m sure they did an incredible job piecing together all of the interviews with the dramatization of the crimes and Stacey’s trial.

They asked Stacey the hard questions, the same questions that you would want to ask, and she was forthcoming with her responses. It was difficult for her to, once again, relive the abuse, the murders and the trial but she came through like a champ.

The crew gets some "B-roll" footage of Stacey and Susan looking at family photos.

The crew gets some “B-roll” footage of Stacey and Susan looking at family photos.

We’re hoping for some big things as a result of this book. Stacey has already been featured on an Emmy-nominated BBC documentary, America’s Child Death Shame, and our fledgling advocacy program, currently called Amnesty From Abuse (that could change, as the program evolves) is an exciting new and holistic way of working with dysfunctional and abusive families.

Stacey’s reasons for writing a book are sort of contradicted by the fact that it’s being published in the “true crime” genre, but the story is so compelling that it’s so much more than just an autobiography. Our intent is that the book will bring attention to the fact that we, as a society, still have not come up with a workable solution to the overwhelming amount of domestic violence that still takes place in our country, where we like to think of ourselves as enlightened and evolved. In some ways, we still have a lot of work to do. I, for one, am thankful that Stacey is willing to set aside her desire to live a private life and step into the public arena in this way.

Fear of Our Father is available for pre-order now. The official publication date is June 4, 2013.

Fear of Our Father update

It’s been a while since I posted an update on my newest book, Fear of Our Father—a true story of abuse, murder, and family ties, co-written with Stacey M. Kananen to be published by Berkley Books, April 2013. Maybe it’s time to do that.

Stacey is the survivor of years of heinous abuse at the hands of her father. When her older brother confessed to murdering both parents, he decided to take her down with him and she was arrested and tried for murder. Fear of Our Father tells the harrowing story of how she survived.

The original title was Sink or Swim, but Berkley suggested Fear of Our Father and we saw the wisdom in that title change. It’s a little more gruesome than we had in mind, but it certainly tells the story better than our working title.

Right now, we’re working on rewrites with our editor, gathering author photos and approving the cover design. Once the manuscript has been completely edited, Berkley’s legal team will give it a thorough once-over and then we’re on our way to the actual publishing process.

I never thought of myself as a “true-crime” author, and that’s not how we envisioned the book being published, but that’s the genre that Berkley has chosen for us, and so it is what it is. Many people still think Stacey got away with murder. I know that she is innocent. This book is intended to tell her side of this incredible, mind-bending story.

It seems that the Universe is on her side, because things are going very well for the book. We have a foreword written by Stacey Lannert, and two famous best-selling authors have agreed to write promotional blurbs for us. (I don’t want to name them until that’s a fait accompli.) In addition, the BBC documentary that featured Stacey’s story, America’s Child Death Shame, has been nominated for an Emmy award!

Other huge news is brewing, but we’re not at liberty to discuss it yet, so watch this blog for the big reveal in the next couple months! In the meantime, you can pre-order your copy of the book today, on Amazon.com.