Folsom's 93

The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison's Executed Men


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Win a Copy of Folsom’s 93!

Who doesn’t love a giveaway? 

Folsom's 93

To enter, all you have to do is LIKE my Facebook page, then leave a comment here. It’s that easy! I’ll randomly choose a winner Sunday, June 30th, at 8 p .m. MST. Open to U.S. and Canadian residents only.

About the book:

“A trip back in time to the hard-boiled early 20th-century California that inspired the novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, Folsom’s 93 gives a fascinating glimpse into the real-life world of yeggs, confidence swindlers, holdup men, murderously unhappy husbands, and seemingly unmotivated killers who booked a date with the hangman. Illustrated throughout with authentic and haunting prison photographs of each of the 93 condemned men,Folsom’s 93 brings the crimes and punishments of a vanished era into sharp and realistic life.”

Thanks for entering and good luck!


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Not Bad for a Monday

It’s The Husband’s birthday today, but it was me who received a pretty damn good present today. (I basically sent them to myself since I paid for them, but hey, I’m still excited).

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On top of that, my publisher spotted the book at the Barnes & Noble in Fresno over the weekend.

Folsom's 93 in the wildThey also appear to be in stock at the two Sacramento B&N locations. Can’t get there? Amazon  or Barnes and Noble online can help you out!


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The Wait is (just about) Over + Save the Date(s)

Folsom's 93

It looks like Folsom’s 93 is finally in stock at Amazon! Those who pre-ordered should be receiving their copy within the week. The Kindle version will be available July 1st for $7.99.  

Also, for those in the Sacramento area, I will be at the Folsom Prison Museum July 20th from 10-4 for a presentation and signing. On July 24th, catch me over at Time Tested Books at 1114 21st Street (time TBA–evening)

I’ll keep you posted with other tour dates in Northern California, including Fresno, San Francisco, as well as events in Colorado.

Thank you to everyone for your patience and support!


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How the Book Began

This is Tom.

I met him when I was about two-years old, shortly before he passed away in 1979. Growing up, I knew very little about my great-great uncle; only that his wife, my aunt Betty, loved him beyond measure. She often referred to him as, “My Tom.” They did after all, spend forty-two years together. Their relationship, however, wasn’t exactly conventional. They met in 1937 (incidentally, the year of Folsom’s final execution) when she was seventeen. He was forty-six . . . and married. After Tom’s wife refused to grant a divorce, the two carried on an affair until 1968 when Tom’s wife died and the pair married.

Little is known about Tom except that he was a bookie, a self-described professional gambler, and that he had a “heart of gold.” I also know that during prohibition, he and his father smuggled bootlegged liquor to the Hearst Castle. My grandmother recalled a story he told about the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Apparently, Tom’s father or brother, was the fire chief of the city. They enlisted Tom, a then-teenager, and his friends to help in the aftermath. With the streets in ruins, it was nearly impossible for horses and carriages to navigate the city, so on roller skates, the boys collected bodies and brought them to the morgue.

After forty-two years together, it’s odd to not have some recorded family history, but they weren’t the most forthcoming duo. Much of that had to do with the fact that Tom had a wife. Another, was Tom’s chosen “profession.” His circle of friends and acquaintances included Bugsy Siegel and he even become a silent partner in the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas with the legendary bootlegger and gambling entrepreneur, Anthony Cornero. Despite the ties to organized crime, Betty was always quick to point out that Tom “never crossed the line” into that world.

Sometime in the ’40s, Tom made a trip to Folsom prison to collect money from an inmate. You couldn’t hide from a bookie in prison. I don’t know if Tom got what he came for, but he did leave with a box of mug shots. “The warden gave them to him,” Betty later said. They were placed in a closet and stayed there until the early 1980s. Tucked in with the pictures sat a 40-page text chronicling the history of Folsom from the early 1880s to 1943, presumably when it was written.  Betty (who had a flair for drama) showed them to me and the family on one of our trips to see her in California in ’88 or ’89.

These photos were freaky and awesome at the same time.

We warily looked through the pictures, fearing somehow, the fiendishness of the subjects would rub off on us. Some had on bowler hats, others bowties. A few had their hair smoothly slicked back, while others appeared disheveled and unkempt. The pictures spanned a number of years, as evidenced by the mens’ evolving fashions and mustache styles. Some mug shots depicted a friendly, neighborly-looking kind of guy, or even a schoolteacher. Others fit the criminal stereotype with their shifty eyes and menacing stare. Many looked downright surprised or stunned, not unlike a typical driver’s license photo.

The pictures and document remained with Betty, but she supplied us with copies of the text. As I grew older, I stored Betty’s unusual treasure in the back of mind, recalling every so often that my great-great uncle visited Folsom prison once and brought back creepy photos of inmates.  So anyway, that’s how the book began and with any luck, it’ll be available next spring from Linden Publishing.

I owe Tom a debt of gratitude for hanging on to these antiquities, because without them, I’m not sure these stories would have been told.


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Can I Get a Woot-Woot?

This morning, I completed writing all 93 stories. I am by no means finished with the book, but I am one step closer. It felt like a milestone I needed to brag about.

My husband, ever so patient, supportive, and understanding, asked with hopefulness: “So, this means you’ll soon stop talking about executions at the dinner table?”

Of course not. It just means I have a entered into the land of revisions where I will trudge through the muck of rogue commas, swim through a sea of extraneous words, and fight off swarms of killer (yet inactive) verbs. That’s all.

I’m lucky I belong to a fabulous critique group whose members have traversed this treacherous land before me, so I know I won’t be journeying alone.

So tell me . . . what’s the best revision and editing advice you’re ever received?


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The Ink is (nearly) Dry

It looks like my book may finally have a home. I will be working with Linden Publishing/Craven Street Books to publish Folsom’s 93! Right now, the scheduled release date is spring of 2013, which gives me until next spring to have a finished manuscript. Plenty of time, right? Geez, I hope so. Wish me luck—I have a book to finish!


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Why Back Matter Matters

First of all, you may be wondering what in the world is back matter. Well, it’s all the stuff following the main text of a book that usually consists of the index, epilogue, afterword, etc. I recently attended a workshop at the Northern Colorado Writers Association about back matter, taught by Natasha Wing, a children’s book author. Natasha routinely includes back matter in her books; anywhere from an activity or lesson, to maps or a glossary.

As I learned in the class, back matter is ideal for nonfiction, particularly, historical nonfiction like Folsom’s 93. In the course of researching for the book, I have accumulated nearly 900,000 words of notes. Obviously, it will need to be molded into a readable, coherent form of nonfiction, but what happens to the fascinating stuff that doesn’t make it into the book? If you’ve been a regular visitor to my site, you already know that I’ve shared many of these things on my blog. But there’s so much more.

I plan to have sidebars throughout the book, but that still is a fraction of what I have. I’d like to talk about Folsom’s cemetery, Folsom prison today, the Folsom Prison Museum, and the current status of the death penalty . . . to name a few.

Back matter consists of, but is not limited to: maps, bibliography, photographs, afterword, appendix/addendum, author notes, epilogue, acknowledgments, index, timeline, and glossary. These give the reader an opportunity to learn more about the subject matter and all in one place. It authenticates you as a researcher and as a professional; that you are an expert in your field. According to Wing, it also increases the value of the book, which is always a good thing.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to include everything that I’d like to in Folsom’s 93. So any leftover Folsom tales and tidbits will be found on my blog. No matter what you’re writing, keep everything! You never know when it can become back matter that matters.


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So you say you’re innocent, huh?

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I’m often asked if I believe any of Folsom’s 93 were innocent. “Absolutely,” I usually reply, but can I prove it? Possibly, but when we’re talking about crimes from well over a hundred years ago, original evidence is long gone. Early investigation methods didn’t include the use of crime scene tape, latex gloves, or handy Ziploc bags to preserve and protect evidence. And DNA? Forgetaboutit! That technology came in the mid-1970s. Universal fingerprinting didn’t come along until the 1940s and before that, correctly identifying suspects by their prints oftentimes proved to be unreliable and inaccurate. At the turn of the 20th century, “beyond a reasonable doubt” didn’t exist and a few of the 93 hung by the threads of circumstantial evidence.

Little could separate the guilty from the innocent: a strand of hair resembling the victim found on or near the suspect, association with known criminals, or the color of your skin . . .

Not surprising, many of Folsom’s condemned minorities were doomed the moment of arrest; referred to in the newspapers as the N-word, half-breeds, or ignorant. Even their court-appointed attorney didn’t always have their client’s best interests at hand, or they themselves experienced backlash over representing a minority. The language barrier provided another opportunity for the law to take advantage of a foreign-born suspect, especially since interpreters were few and far between. Investigators easily manipulated an interrogation or testimony by using words the accused couldn’t comprehend.

Judges also didn’t sequester juries to the extent they do today, nor were the juries protected from “tampering.” After the selection of the 12 peers, newspapermen often printed the full names of the jurors in the next day’s issue. Jurors were even often caught dozing off, or snoring away during the trial. Did the judge reprimand the sleepy juror? No.

For some, the appeals process didn’t offer much hope either. Defense attorneys often bowed out after a jury found their court-appointed client guilty. The condemned man had only the hope that the governor would heed his plea for clemency or pardon.

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Throughout the course of my research, I struggled to see how some of these men could be found guilty. I think it’s ignorant to assume they each received a fair trial and due process of the law. Today, technology has aided investigators when solving crimes and in many cases, free the wrongfully convicted.

 The Innocence Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to proving the innocence of those convicted of a crime they didn’t commit. Since its start in 1992, the organization has exonerated 268 people, including 17 who sat on death row. Despite the advances in crime investigation, it’s apparent these methods can’t always stop innocent people from going to prison and for some of Folsom’s 93, this potentially life-saving technology came too late.


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The Punctilious Proposal

Ask most writers and they’ll tell you that writing a book proposal ranks up there with having a root canal. They run in the same circles with synopses and query letters, also likened to painful dental procedures.  There are endless how-to books on writing book proposals, all varying in some way or another, all insisting their format is the best one to follow. The anxiety of picking the correct format could easily be compared to picking the right door on Let’s Make a Deal.

I’ve been told by some in my critique group that a book proposal is unnecessary for Folsom’s 93, as it is creative nonfiction. I have also been informed of the converse; all nonfiction requires a proposal—before the book is even finished. What is a writer to do?!

Well, I wrote one. And I have rewritten the damn thing more times than I care to share, over the course of a year. I’ve added to it, deleted stuff, changed it, altered it, and contemplated burning it. But I know like a phoenix, it would continue to rise from the ashes . . . and haunt me until I got it right.

On March 11th and 12th, the completed and newly revised proposal will make an appearance at the annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference where I will be pitching it to an agent. As a member of the NCW and part of the conference’s creative team, I will have lots of other things to keep my mind off of the proposal. Informative and creative workshops await me, including How to Build an Effective Platform by the very agent I will be pitching to.

In the meantime, wish me luck and for my fellow proposal writers, I feel your pain.