Thursday, July 10, 2014

"The Corruption Of Innocence, A True Story Of A Journey For Justice" by Lori St. John

Today I welcome attorney and author Lori St. John to talk about her book The Corruption Of Innocence, A True Story Of A Journey For Justice.

Madame Perry: Welcome to Madame Perry’s Salon, Lori. We met last year at Book Expo America and I was delighted to see you again this year. I believe you are on another book tour at the moment.

LSJ: Yes, it was lovely to meet you last year at the Book Expo and again, this year. I am promoting my book in Australia and Japan where future publication and speaking opportunities are opening up for me to share my life’s work.

MP: The Corruption Of Innocence is a powerful non-fiction legal thriller documenting your steadfast resolve to prevent the execution of an innocent man. The story begins when you are at a crossroads in your life after years of marriage, motherhood, and a career as a CPA. Shortly after you began working as a volunteer for Centurion Ministries you are assigned a case that took you halfway around the world and set in motion a journey of discovery you could not have expected. Did you have even the slightest clue in the beginning of the effect this case would have on your life?

LSJ: I had no idea what I was about to embark upon in this journey. At the time I was simply a volunteer looking to do something meaningful to serve others. Some of our most rewarding gifts in life are when we step out of our comfort zone and follow our heart through a mission. Had I known the extent of the battle I came to take on I would have possibly run the other way. However, it is these moments that define us by challenging and inspiring in us an inspired purpose. As you know, this case consumed my life for almost four years and took me on a roller coaster ride through a very powerful and corrupt legal system.

Lori St. John And Sister Helen Prejean
MP: Joseph Roger O’Dell, III had been arrested and convicted on charges of rape and murder. Though he had a criminal record prior to this, it seemed that even an armchair detective who never got closer to a crime scene investigation than a television set could have ruled him out in the beginning. Why do you think he was pursued and evidence pointing in other directions was ignored?

LSJ: This is not unusual in cases in wrongful convictions. In the United States, the National Registry of Exonerations reports 1,281 known exonerations during the last quarter century, with over 363 documented cases in which DNA was used to exonerate the innocent. This is significant. I have said, and will continue to state, that as long as we fail to address the core issues in cases of wrongful convictions we will continue to see them unfold in our country. Truth, integrity and accountability are essential components to a fair and just system. It is not unusual for prosecutors and/or Governors to seek higher political aspirations, as in the O’Dell case, where the prosecutor was seeking a judgeship nomination and the Governor sought a seat in the Senate. A wrongful conviction would look bad on their political belt. It has been documented that once the police focus on an individual, and there is a heinous crime being publicly debated, the government is pressured to solve the case. Sometimes truth is not at the core of the game. It should be. Whether a prosecutor or defense attorney, our system is designed to discover the truth- but only if we share ALL evidence, don’t intimidate witnesses and if we afford indigent defendants competent defense attorneys. It was clear in the case of Joseph O’Dell that the truth was not an issue in an otherwise wholly circumstantial case, and that personal motives by those in authority took precedence over justice.
MP: Among the harsh tragedies in this story seems to be that O’Dell was doomed on all sides. His own attorneys appeared to not be working in his best interest, the justice system didn’t seem to keen on getting the actual facts straight, and even family and friends were out to condemn him. It’s amazing he had the strength to continue fighting for himself. Can you explain how he managed even a tiny glimmer of hope through this?

Joseph Roger O'Dell
LSJ: You touch upon something quite compelling. That fact always amazed me as I walked the journey with him for almost four years. When you are innocent you never give up hope. Faith is what carries you through the hell you live on a day to day basis. It is the only thing that can
sustain the human mind through such mental torture. I was astonished at the roadblocks which challenged Joe every step of the way; not incidental roadblocks, but massive and continuous roadblocks strategically placed in the path of justice. It was mind boggling to me, a novice prior to my having studied the law and litigating as a criminal defense attorney myself. I have always thought it was not only O’Dell’s innocence, but mine, that drove this case to international proportions. I, too, always believed the truth would prevail. 

MP: During the time you worked on this case, you also were attending law school and expanding the reach of your battle against the justice system. Your commitment develops into an international cause in which you and O’Dell receive public support from Sister Helen PrejeanMother Teresa, the Pope, and both the Italian and European Parliaments. How did it feel to bring together such high profile support?

LSJ: I was functioning on pure adrenaline during that time, simply fighting with all I had to get the world to listen when the prosecutor threatened to sue the newspaper, ultimately shutting down the only median to expose the truth in the U.S.. It seemed logical to take Joe’s cause to the world. I did not look at it in that form at the time. In retrospect it was quite amazing the way it unfolded. I believe that when you have truth in your pocket and are authentic, an inspired woman on a mission is a force to be reckoned with, as the Richmond Times Dispatch wrote when they referred to my tenacity.

MP: I’m certain I am one of a huge number of people with great respect for the hard work, perseverance and sacrifices you made on behalf of Mr. O’Dell and your belief in his innocence. As I continued reading I imagined times when you were utterly overwhelmed. Still you could have pulled back and handed the work over to someone else, but you didn’t. How did you manage to keep the strength, of body and mind, to continue for so long?

LSJ: Thank you so much for you kind words. It was not easy, and yes I was overwhelmed to say the least. In the end I was mentally and physically exhausted. But as I mentioned earlier, when you are on a mission you will embrace both support and challenges equally. You don’t give up. I was determined not to give up because what I saw was so very unfair and was a distinct concerted effort to dust the truth under the carpet of the grave. The harder the opposition fought me, the harder I fought back, the greater my perseverance allowed me to find strategic ways to sustain the battle. More than once I felt I was “chosen,” so to speak, to do this work, as I did not know where my strength came from. I was simply a vehicle of justice for O’Dell and the hundreds of others who have been wrongly imprisoned for decades and decades of lost years.
Lori St. John In Front The Vatican
MP: It has been such a pleasure to have you here. I wish you much continued success, and hope you’ll return.

LSJ: Thank you for having me and for caring about this issue.
It is in fact a worldwide issue, not contained to the United States. It is my goal to continue to pursue my mission to expose the backstory of this highly controversial case, both to inspire and to educate others with the knowledge and experience I acquired over the past quarter century. Thank you using social media to reach millions of people around the world. Together we make a difference.

MP: This interview was more difficult for me than most because I wanted to ask questions to share the intensity and magnitude of the entire story without giving too much away. After interviewing many authors of true crime books I was accused once of glorifying criminal actions. I was grateful for the question so I could explain that though I'm rather curious about human behavior I had quite another motive. The authors reveal, in every book, incidents where people had an opportunity to intervene and prevent a crime but did not. A frequent excuse is not wanting to get involved, yet I believe strongly that if you see something, or know something, you are already involved.

The Corruption Of Innocence has a similar lesson. Many people had the opportunity to stop this heinous miscarriage of justice before it went off the rails, but did not. Many had the opportunity to do what was right morally, but chose to do what took the least effort.

Joseph Roger O'Dell III was an average man who went about daily life as a middle class American. He worked, had dreams of better things but dealt in reality, made some bad decisions, had regrets and still maintained a measure of optimism. In other words, he was a real, feeling human being, and he mattered.

Lori St. John did not have to spend years of her life researching law, taking apart the case against O'Dell, knocking down brick walls and going where she wasn't wanted in order to stand up for an innocent man whom she'd never met. Beautiful, intelligent, talented, and from an upper class background, she surely could have enjoyed those years playing tennis, lunching with the ladies, being a trophy wife and such. Once you've read The Corruption Of Innocence you will understand why I am one of the vast number of people who greatly admire and respect Lori St. John, and why I wanted all of you to meet her, too. 

Please follow Lori St. John on and

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Troy Blackford - Book Signing with Nobody There

I'm a Troy Blackford fan. Do you think he would visit Madame Perry's Salon?

Blackford is undoubtedly a good writer, and I appreciate people who can amuse themselves, just as he is doing here.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Author BA Goodjohn Skillfully Enchants And Haunts Us In "Sticklebacks And Snow Globes"

Welcome again to my salon! Lately I've read some marvelous books where the authors let the story be told in a refreshingly different way. One that I'm about to share had me hooked before I realized the clever technique used. It is an honor to introduce you to BA Goodjohn.

Madame Perry: I am so delighted to have you here at last. Come in, take a comfortable seat, and let us talk about your work.
BA Goodjohn: Thanks, Jennifer. Don’ t mind if I do.

MP: Sticklebacks And Snow Globes, set in the 70s, is about a group of working class girls growing up in the UK. The story is rendered mainly through the point of view of children. They may not understand adult talk and problems, yet they know it has power over their lives which they can not control. Their knowledge of adult affairs is gained empirically and from rumors, and some deal in adult situations. How did you decide to write from the children’s perception instead of the adults?
 BA Goodjohn

BAG: I wrote the first chapter as a short story, and the predominant perspective was Donald’s, a thirty-something male. I found it interesting to inhabit this man’s body—I can’t write a character unless I somehow become the character: I have to want what he wants, be scared of his monsters, lust after his loves. If he’s addicted to something, I have to somehow feel that same need at the same intensity. If I can’t become the character, I can’t write the character. So Donald—a little overweight, scared, and living a “ghost note” of a life—was tough: I’m a skinny woman who at times is far too stoic for her own good. But when I got to Tot, his daughter, the writing wasn’t tough. I could sense her almost comfortable isolation and the ease with which she deals with her own adversities. She felt like a loose jacket draped around my shoulders.

When I finished the story, I discovered Tot wasn’t finished with me. She kept reappearing—in the cereal aisle of Kroger, on the sofa as I watched tv. She had more to say and I found it easy to assume her voice. I was intrigued by how Tot might react to the events of my own life—both past and present. So a revision of that piece of fiction became the first chapter—not of Donald’s story, but of his daughter Tot’s.

MP: Were any of the characters or situations based on people that you knew?

BAG: Yes, everything is based on people and places I have experienced (which scares the s*#t out of my mother—she’s convinced someone will sue!). But I don’t know how I could write in any other way. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not memoir—it’s absolutely fiction. However, the landscape in which my characters move is very real: Stanley Close is the road I grew up on; the dump is the dump at the bottom of my parents’ garden; the hedge around Tot’s garden is the hedge around the garden of my best friend’s house; But the characters are all composites—fashioned from the ragbag of my past—and their situations are the stuff of imagination. And yet the “situations” are real in so far as they are real to my characters: Tot and Stacey are best friends. Tot’s mother is ashamed of living on a council estate. Mr. Damson has lost his job. Once the characters—ragbaggers or not—are on the page, they live real lives.

MP: I especially like the way the story feels it is being revealed rather than narrated. What writers do you believe had the strongest influence on your own style.

BAG: Carolyn Chute is by far by biggest influence. I first met her work in an undergraduate fiction class. We were looking at her short story “Lizzie, Annie and Rosie’s Rescue ofMe with Blue Cake” and I was excited by how Chute used child voice. I realized that if you could get that child voice dead right, you could take a reader back …maybe not to her own childhood, but definitely to a real place in her memory: she’s back in the sandpit, on the sofa watching cartoons, at the dining room table forcing down cold cabbage and fatty bacon. It’s like time travel. Or it’s like one of those girls’ nights out when you all have a few drinks and start doing the “do you remember when” thing. They’re always fun. I think we can’t help ourselves but look back. Even if looking back is difficult.

MP: You have an impressive list of awards for your poetry and fiction. Do you enjoy writing in one style more than another?

BAG: I’m blessed to be able to do both, and I prefer whichever one is working best! For me, poetry is the miniature…like an exquisite meal served in one of those Japanese Bento boxes: the words are carefully arranged inside the poem’s container. It’s tiny and meticulous...but it has to be satisfying. The Bento box demands the care and attention of both the preparer and the consumer. I think the same can be said of a poem. So if the poem is the Bento Box, fiction is like one of those huge pot luck suppers! Everyone turns up with the best thing he or she can create in the kitchen--macaroni cheese, tuna casserole, strawberry cake, summer vegetables in aspic, pound cake—and somehow by the end of the evening, the partygoers are full and have had a great time. If you’re the organizer, you’re bricking it because you’re worried everyone is going to bring chicken and raw vegetables and there’ll be no mayonnaise. That’s how I feel when I’m writing novels. My characters are all turning up, and I’m hoping we’ll end up with the magic mix of dishes that create good story. I’m hoping one of them will bring the mayonnaise !

So I teach, and therefore the academic calendar tends to govern my writing. During the semester, poetry—given its “Bento-ness” works well: I can write in short bursts. I can snatch an hour or two here and there, and return to early drafts. The precision of formal poetry (I love the sestina and the sonnet) allows me to move in tight and to focus for a hour or two on language and on the strange and wonderful energy words create when they bump against each other in the tightness of the line. Once the summer break arrives, I feel able to stretch out and consider the marathon of fiction: the summer affords me the time to let my characters form on the page and to ask questions of them. I can play the “what if” game with each of them and that takes time. I might end up writing for a few days straight but keep only one or two paragraphs. I may keep nothing. I may keep it all. That kind of creative uncertainty demands time.

MP: I see on your blog that you have a novel, The Beginning Things, and a book of poetry, Love, Love – all that wretched cant, ready for publication. What bit of sneak preview can you share with us and when will we see them?

BAG:The Beginning Things will be coming out in May 2015. Underground Voices, a great independent publisher in Los Angeles, read the manuscript, loved it, and wanted to publish. I’m all for first-rate small publishers, so, of course, I said yes. Do you remember when I said that Sticklebacks and Snow Globes came about because that short story’s child refused to shut up? Well, The Beginning Things came about because even after I gave Tot an entire book to run around in, she still wasn’t finished. But I need to be clear on this: The Beginning Things is not a sequel: I hate sequels! However, it does deal with Tot and her family. Four years have passed and twelve-year old Tot, in the absence of role models, is struggling to make sense of love—both romantic and sexual. Her grandfather, Dan, has recently moved in and is struggling with his own bad decisions. Both have much to learn…and—unbeknown to them—much to teach the other.

MP: Thank you for sharing generous samples of two forthcoming works. Because I read them several times, and was quite speechless after, I'd like to go ahead and say how glad I am that you could visit.  Please visit again, soon.

In the Amazon carousel widget (top left) I have included Sticklebacks and Snow Globes. Dear readers, I believe you'll also love her website where our author has been keep many of us in tears from laughing over a 'catfish' experiment. It is pure gold!


Previews (just for us!)

Two weeks ago, in the hangover of bad news, Dan had stood in the doorway of his granddaughter’s bedroom clutching a portable record player, a man bearing gifts. Today, he stood by her window holding a vodka bottle by the neck as if it were a wild animal: unpredictable, irresistible, dangerous.
“You could tip it away, Dangrad,” Tot said again.

She stood on her bed, gathering up the snow globes from the shelf, and dropping them one by one, allowing each time and space to settle on the pink chenille bedspread. He watched her sit cross-legged on her pillows to arrange the globes in two neat rows. They were snapshots, strange events caught inside glass, each dome home to a frozen object: castles, animals, cartoon characters, pop stars. One was home to the moon and the Gemini spacecraft. Another contained a blue unicorn pawing at a rock. Each scene waited for snow, however unlikely, however impractical. She picked up the globes in quick succession and shook them hard until the entire bed was a flurry of obscuring snow.

“Dad drank,” she said. “Not much, but he drank.” She picked up the unicorn globe and spun it in her hands until the snow was an eternal blizzard around the blue, horned creature inside. “Mum used to tell him he had a P.R.O.B.L.E.M., but dad said the only problem was her.”

Dan fiddled with the curtain. “It’s not a problem, Tot. Just a drink now and then. It helps me sleep.”

“It’s blue,” she continued, “because it’s a unicorn and that’s okay. If it was just a horse, I wouldn’t like it being blue. But unicorns are magic. They can be any colour they want. This one has green hooves. Look.” She held it up for him to see.

“I’ll keep the bottle on top of the wardrobe. Inside the piano was stupid. I didn’t think.”

She handed him the unicorn globe and he took it, putting the bottle down on the rug. “You can wish on it,” she said. “You just close your eyes, wish, and shake it hard. If the snow falls on the bits you thought it would, your wish comes true. It’s my magic.”

He looked at the globe. The unicorn had one green hoof up on a rock, the other lifted in air. The rock was wide and low. That’s where the snow would fall. On the rock. He put the globe down carefully on the bedspread.

She picked it up before standing and—catching her balance for a moment—returned the unicorn carefully to the shelf. He helped, handing her the others one-by-one. As she reached up towards the ledge, her sleeve fell back, revealing a line of tiny, round purple bruises, each one fading into brown around the edge like an old flower. He took her by the wrist, pulling her arm out straight and pushing up the sleeve of her cardigan.

“How did you do this?” he said. He gently pressed one of the bruise-flowers with his finger. “Does it hurt?”

She looked at him for a long moment, saying nothing.

“How did you do this?” he repeated.

“I didn’t. You did.”

“Me? When?”

“When I asked you about the boy in the woods. When you were in bed.”

“Why would I do that? What boy?” Dan couldn’t understand what she was telling him. “That Keesal from number seven? Did he do this?”

She shook her head. “You did it,” she said again.

“I don’t understand,” he said, tentatively matching his fingertips to the bruises on her arm. “Why would I do this?”

She retrieved the unicorn globe from the shelf and held it out to him “Shake.”

He took the glass ball, closed his eyes, and shook it. When he opened his eyes, the rock was bare, the unicorn’s back legs lost inexplicably in a drift of silver snow.


The poetry manuscript is currently doing the contest rounds. No takers yet, but my hope is it finds a home soon. One of my favourite poems in the collection is called “Association Time at the Blue Ridge Women’s Correctional Facility” and is published with SouthernWomen’s Review (Volume 7, Issue 7)
I wrote it for a good friend who died from complications following an operation for appendicitis. We shared much: she was an alcoholic, an addict and an inmate. I was not an inmate—purely through good fortune.

Association Time at the Blue Ridge Women’s Correctional Facility

For Vicky 1962—2010

Deaf Brenda’s telling us about the time

her husband smacked her with the cockatiel’s

cage stand, how sound closed down that night,

and yet her memory holds the parrot’s scream.

She recalls slow feathers—tiny gray curls—

landing on her yellow fun-fur slippers.

We lean in: she’s telling our story and we love

how they all start happy with sass and drinks.

She threw his sorry arse outside, piled furniture

against the door, then took her whiskey

and the kids to bed, slept sound despite

the ricochet of words against the trailer’s siding.

There is no recollection of clubbing him

with the iron, but there it was –bloody

and shining—on the deck. “What can I say?”

she said, her yard full of police and plastic toys,

her hands already clasped behind her back.

“Drink brings a crazy bitch to fuck up my life.”

My turn for tales, but I’m just here for plain old

DUI. So I tell the girls of Rita, Patron Saint

Of Suffering, whose mouth was home to bees

that buzzed behind her teeth, but left her tongue

unstung, a saint I’d forgotten till Deaf Brenda

described her tinnitus as bee song.

The rec room hums and we’re all lost

to joining drunken dots of our own

blacked-out biographies. We’re haunted

by mouths that have always swarmed with bees,

homesick for a time when we were too blessed

—or young—to know the treachery of swallowing.