"...everything in life is writable...if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."..... Sylvia Plath

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Digging Deeper

     I know I'm vacillating back and forth, but I honestly don't think that's a bad thing. After all, I'm not in a hurry. I mostly started writing my memoir to see if I could do it and because I simply love the process and activity of writing. When I thought I was finished, after several re-writes, I queried a handful of agents. Several of them requested I send them my MS but that's as far as I got. There were no real takers. Fortunately though, I got valuable feedback. The majority said my writing was good, but the one remark that stood out loud and clear was that I needed to dig deeper.

     OK, so I need to dig deeper. Now that shouldn't be too hard should it? Alas, I was wrong about that. It was very hard. I didn't know where to start. In fact, I was somewhat confused about what that meant and how to do it. I went back to the journals and the how-to books to find the answer. Some were helpful, like Stephen King's and a couple of others, but most were not.

     I finally realized it was up to me to find a way. So I began sitting with a scene for hours, first thinking about it, then picturing it, and finally feeling it, trying to get to the soul of it. I would ask myself How did I feel when this happened? or ...when he of she said this or that to me? I was working on my first three chapters, 'cause those are the ones most agents ask for. I was actually making a modicum of progress, but it was taking forever. Finally, I decided to hire a content editor.

Best idea I've had in a long time. She was great. She pointed out all the places I needed to reveal more about myself, about my feelings, my motives, my thinking and so on. She also included suggestions and asked questions that got me thinking. I printed out all her edits and re-read my first three chapters, referring to her notes and making changes as I went along.

When I finished, I was delighted with the result. My chapters may not be perfect, or even salable ( I'm not a publisher), but the pages have come alive. 

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

More research on the Purple Gang

 After doing a little more research, I found this: "Detroit's Infamous Purple Gang was one of the most notorious organized crime groups of the 20th century. The gang  evolved from a juvenile street gang through their rise to power and eventual self-destruction. They exemplify the dark side of the  Prohibition-era in Detroit history. Detroit had a gold rush atmosphere and a thriving black market during the 1920s that attracted gangsters and unsavory characters from all over the country."

Detroit News July 16, 1999
Article by Paul R. Kavieff:  http://apps.detnews.com/apps/history/index.php?id=183#ixzz2KEgZFLa4

Rum running
"With the advent of Prohibition in Michigan on May 1, 1918, the young delinquents quickly graduated from nuisance types of street crime to armed robbery, hijacking, extortion, and other strong arm work. They became notorious for their high profile manner of operation and their savagery in dealing with enemies.

     The four Bernstein brothers, Abe, Joe, Raymond, and Isadore (Izzy), soon became the recognized leaders of the mob. The Purple Gang was never a tightly organized criminal syndicate but a loose confederation of predominantly Jewish gangsters. By the early twenties, the Purples had developed an unsavory reputation as hijackers, stealing liquor loads from older and more established gangs of rumrunners. The Purple Gang always preferred hijacking to rumrunning and their methods were brutal. Anyone landing liquor along the Detroit waterfront had to be armed and prepared to fight to the death as it was common practice for the Purples to take a load of liquor and shoot whoever was with it. In the early years, the Purple Gang preyed exclusively on other underworld operators, insulating them from the police.

     The young Purple Gangsters came under the tutelage of two older and established Detroit mobsters in the early twenties named Charles Leiter and Henry Shorr. These two men operated a legitimate corn sugar outlet on Oakland Avenue known as the "Oakland Sugar House." Leiter and Shorr became the mentors of the Purples using the younger men for strong arm work, extortion of local businesses, and to muscle in on the alley brewers to whom they sold bootleg supplies. As a result, the Oakland Sugar House Gang was born, in reality only an early phase of the Purple Gang's evolution.

     With their numbers swelled by the influx of mobsters from other cities who came to Detroit to cash in on the golden harvest of Prohibition, the Purple Gang prospered. The mob soon branched out into other rackets. During a period of strife in the Detroit area cleaning industry, the Purple Gang was used as terrorists by corrupt labor leaders to keep union members in line and to harass non-union independents. This conflict became known as the Cleaners and Dyers War. Bombings, thefts, beatings, and murder were all methods employed by the Purples to enforce union policy. They were paid handsomely for their services. The labor war ended with the Purple Gang Trial of 1928 in which all of the Purple Gangster defendants were eventually acquitted. The gang emerged from the trial unscathed and became the dominant power in the Detroit underworld. The Purples ruled the Detroit underworld for approximately five years from 1927 to 1932.
In September 1928, Purple Gang defendants were found not guilty of extortion in the "cleaners and dyers war." This photo shows the prosecutors, defense lawyers and defendants during the trial before Judge Charles Bowles.
     The gang rose to underworld prominence rapidly after a machine gun massacre at the Milaflores Apartments in March of 1927. Three imported gunmen suspected of killing a Purple Gang liquor distributor were butchered in the ambush. Fred "Killer" Burke, famous for his role in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929, was hired by the Purples as the machine gunner. Two other notorious Purple Gang gunmen also participated.

     During the late twenties, the Purple Gang reigned supreme over the Detroit underworld, controlling the city's vice, gambling, liquor, and drug trade. They also controlled the local wire service which provided horse racing information to all of the Detroit horse betting parlors and handbooks. The gang even became the suppliers of Canadian whiskey to the Capone organization in Chicago. This arrangement was made after Capone was told by the Detroit underworld to keep his operation out of the city. Capone thought it more prudent to make the Purples his liquor agents rather than go to war with the gang.

     For several years the Purples enjoyed almost complete immunity from police interference as witnesses to crimes were terrified of testifying against any criminal identified as a Purple Gangster. Jealousies, egos, and inter-gang quarrels would eventually cause the Purple Gang to self-destruct.

The "Collingwood Manor Massacre" in 1931 took the lives of Hymie Paul, Isadore Sutker and Joe Lebowitz. This illustration from the old Detroit Times shows how the bodies were found in the apartment.
     In 1931 an inter-gang dispute ended in the murder of three Purples by members of their own gang. The three men had violated underworld code by operating outside the territory allotted to them by the Purple Gang leadership. Three members of the "Little Jewish Navy," a group of Purples who owned several boats and participated in rumrunning as well as hijacking, decided they would break away from the gang and become an underworld power themselves. The three men, Hymie Paul, Isadore Sutker aka Joe Sutker, and Joe Lebowitz, were lured to an apartment on Collingwood Avenue on September 16, 1931. They believed they were going to a peace conference with Purple Gang leaders. In reality, they were only going to their deaths. After a brief discussion, the three unarmed Purples were shot to death by the Purple Gangsters they had gone to meet. A bookie named Sol Levine, who had transported the three men to the fatal rendezvous, was arrested soon afterwards and was quickly frightened into becoming a State's witness. Levine had been allowed to live because he was a friend of Ray Bernstein. The State had a live witness to the murders and Levine's testimony was devastating. Three of the four Purples involved in the incident which became known as the Collingwood Manor Massacre were quickly arrested. Irving Milberg, Harry Keywell, and Raymond Bernstein, three high ranking Purples, were convicted of first degree murder in the Collingwood Manor Massacre and sent to prison for life.

     Although the Purples remained a power in the Detroit underworld until 1935, long prison sentences and inter-gang sniping eventually destroyed the gang's manpower. The predecessors of Detroit's modern day Mafia family simply stepped in and filled the void once the Purple Gang self-destructed.

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Back to the drawing board

Had to readjust my New Year's Resolutions a bit. I decided to re-write my entire first memoir....all twenty two chapters. Based on lots of good feedback from agents, I radically changed the format of the first six chapters and carefully crafted some of the chapters. This, of course, has left my new memoir sitting on a corner of my desk, but at least I'm writing....lots, and every day. And, I have continued to write articles, and keep up my four blogs and the one for the Louisville Bed and Breakfast Association.

My focus, in the re-write, was on going deeper with my story, especially in terms of the narrator and how she changed over time. I also tried to emphasize and develop some of the conflict that arose between her and other characters. I've had to look at this work as you would a work of fiction and make sure all the major parts; such as, character development, dialogue, plot, story arc, etc are well crafted. This is no easy task, especially for a memoirist who isn't used to applying fictive techniques.

Anyhow, I will be back to my second memoir soon. I first want to send out more queries on the re-write. I only sent it to a small group the first time. I got good feed-back and a lot of good suggestions for making the work better.  Thanks to all the agents who were so positive. It gave me hope.

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