How to Write Effective Reports

Going to thrift stores is terrific fun because you never know what you’ll find. Recently, I stumbled across what is, in my experience, a unique how-to book: How to Write Effective Reports.

I know, I know… the title alone sells the book. No doubt.

But what makes How to Write Effective Reports unique — and, I suggest, brilliant — is the method it uses to teach the reader how to write effective reports. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book for report writing.

See? Brilliant.

Here, without further comment, are the cover and some of the first pages in the book. Enjoy… and get ready to learn how to write effective reports! (Click on the photos for larger versions.)

How to Write Effective Reports

Continue reading “How to Write Effective Reports”

The Decline of Detroit, Documented

Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy one week ago today, becoming the largest city in America to do so. In 1950, Detroit’s population was 1,849,568. In 2010, the U.S. Census measured it at 713,777. That’s a mind-boggling drop of more than 1.1 million people (61.4%) over 60 years.

Interesting historical note: Detroit’s population grew even faster than it has declined: in just 20 years, between 1910 and 1930, the population increased by 1.1 million, jumping from 465,766 to 1,568,662.

Highland Park Police StationThe loss of population has left the city with thousands of abandoned buildings. Photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre have documented this phenomenon with a series of beautiful and heartbreaking photographs. Some are available at the Deserted Places blog; you can see more at Marchand and Meffre’s own website.

Two photos in particular caught my eye, both taken at the abandoned (and since demolished) Highland Park Police Station, which was closed in 2001. (Technically, Highland Park is a separate city from Detroit, but it’s entirely contained within Detroit.)

Continue reading “The Decline of Detroit, Documented”

The Ghosts of the Cold Springs Resorts

Stony Valley Rail TrailCoal was discovered in the Stony Creek Valley in northern Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, in 1824. Before long, there were several active towns in the area and by 1851, the Schuylkill & Susquehanna Railroad had completed a rail line through the area. (Some sources say it was the Dauphin & Susquehanna Railroad.)

Around the same time the S&S rail line was built, a 200-room hotel was constructed and the area became a sort of summer resort. By the 1880s, a second hotel was added, according to, along with features like a restaurant, bath house, bowling alley, and more.

According to an Aug. 13, 2009, article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “A resort hotel was built at Cold Spring, where mineral springs thought to have life-enhancing properties flowed. Wealthy ailing Philadelphians would come here to take the waters.” The same article reported that the area’s “48-degree waters attracted visitors as early as 1775.”

Continue reading “The Ghosts of the Cold Springs Resorts”

The Art of Character by David Corbett

The Art of CharacterNovelist David Corbett (author of Do They Know I’m Running?, Blood of Paradise, Done for a Dime and The Devil’s Redhead) is a great teacher. I can say this from first-hand experience, because I took one of his classes (“Writing Crime Fiction”) at So if you get the chance to take a class with David, I highly recommend it.

But if not, you can try his new book (just out today!), The Art of Character. When I first about the book a month or two ago, I pre-ordered it immediately.

But you don’t need to rely on my endorsement. No less a writer than Edgar winner Megan Abbott (author of Dare Me, The End of Everything, etc.) says this about The Art of Character: “Indispensable. Few are the writer’s guides that are written as beautifully, cogently, and intelligently as a well-wrought novel. This is one of those books.”

Corbett explained why he believes The Art of Character is helpful in this blog post at Murderati: “Few if any of the books on writing I reviewed, even the ones I admired, offered any real guidance on how to conjure that organically whole yet emotionally complex hobgoblin we think of as a fully realized character.”

At Jungle Red Writers, he was interviewed by Deborah Crombie, and explained how the book came to be.

I can’t wait to dig into The Art of Character, and I know that my writing will be much better for having done so.

The Innocent Man by Pamela Colloff

Texas Monthly November 2012Every year, columnist David Brooks of The New York Times presents his “Sidney Awards” to examples of fine journalism. (I’m unclear as to the relationship, if any, between Brooks’ Sidney Awards and the Sidney Awards presented monthly by the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Each has led me to reading some tremendous articles, so I’m grateful for both.)

Brooks gave one of his awards this year to Pamela Colloff for her incredible piece “The Innocent Man” in Texas Monthly. Brooks describes it this way: “If you start reading ‘The Innocent Man’ … you will be propelled along by indignation at the arrogance and stupidity of the entire law enforcement system.”

I think he overstates it a bit — “the entire law enforcement system” is not arrogant and stupid. There are many, many good and honorable people working in law enforcement.

Nonetheless, I strongly recommend reading “The Innocent Man.” It paints a frightening picture of how bad police work (intentional or not) and prosecutors who are determined to win, rather than to be agents of real justice, can be just as destructive as the most deranged criminal.

Here are part one and part two of Colloff’s two-part series.

Dan O’Shea Says Cities Have Ghosts

Dan O’Shea, author of the upcoming novel Penance, has put together a great post about some of the ghosts haunting Chicago. The post was inspired by the great-looking cover of Penance.

Dan focuses on two man-made disasters I was unfamiliar with: the 1903 fire at the “absolutely fireproof” Iroquois Theater, and the 1915 sinking of the SS Eastland, which was carrying 2,000 employees of the Western Electric Company to a company picnic.

Incredible stuff, well worth reading.

And here’s a high-resolution look at that killer cover.

The Case of the Missing DA

Ray Gricar, the District Attorney in Centre County, Pennsylvania, disappeared in April 2005. His county-issued laptop computer and hard drive were later found, separately, in the Susquehanna River. But Gricar has never been found. It’s a fascinating case with many twists and turns. Reporter Sara Ganim of the Harrisburg Patriot-News has put together this terrific analysis.

Was Gricar murdered? Did he commit suicide? Was he able to simply disappear? Or, perhaps, is he in the federal witness protection program? Ganim talks to the people who are in the best position to offer educated guesses, and the result is a truly compelling story.