The failure of the “stranger danger” rule – Adrian Gonzalez, suspect in Madyson Middleton’s death was “a nice kid”

Update, July 29, 12:54 p.m. PST : The 15-year-old suspect accused of sexually assaulting and and killing Madyson Middleton has been identified as Adrian Jerry Gonzalez. Gonzalez will be charged as an adult. The charges include “one count of murder that includes special circumstances of lying in wait, kidnap and sexual assault, and other counts related to sexual offenses and kidnapping,” according to NBC Bay Area.

One of the main pieces of advice parents give children from a very early age is “Don’t talk to strangers.” We also tell them more specific things, like, “If a stranger asks you to help him find his puppy, run away,” or, “If a stranger picks you up, yell and scream.” The operative word, so often, is stranger, because it’s very clear and obvious to parents than any stranger who tries to lure your child away should be avoided at all costs.

It’s more difficult to explain to a child that even people you know and trust can pose a threat. In fact, it’s something many parents don’t say, because the idea is so reprehensible. We don’t want to believe that the nice kid next door or the nice check-out guy or the friendly camp counselor could be a predator. And, of course, we want our children to be happy, and we don’t want them to live in fear that someone they know might hurt them. But the arrest today of a suspect in Madyson Middleton’s death had nothing to do with strangers, or with any of the transients and drug addicts who are known to linger near the apartment complex where Maddy went missing.  The suspect, a 15 year old yo-yo enthusiast whom Madyson Middleton knew and, according to police, probably trusted, allegedly lured Maddy into his apartment, where he sexually assaulted and strangled her. The suspect’s identity is a stark reminder that danger to children doesn’t usually come from strangers. While those cases do of course exist, often with terrifying outcomes–as in the cases of Jaycee Dugard, Elizabeth Smart, and Michaela Joy Garecht–more often, when children are abducted, assaulted, or killed, the perpetrator is a friend or acquaintance.

Arrest of teenaged suspect in the murder of Madyson Middleton. Photo via KSBW News

The suspect lives in Madyson’s apartment complex, the Tannery Arts Center. The suspect’s own instagram feed is populated with photos and videos of him yo-yoing, joking around and skateboarding with his friends (including girls his own age), and a variety of nature and urban shots taken around Santa Cruz and Northern California. All in all, he seems like “a regular kid,” just as he was described in news articles by several friends and neighbors, including Kirby Scudder, a resident of the Arts Center who was dating the victim’s mother, Laura Jordan.

While his posts are sometimes melancholic, there is nothing in them that seems out of the ordinary for a teenager. Two days ago, he posted a video himself playing the piano, with the words, “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had,” lyrics from the song Mad World.) Lyrics which wouldn’t be alarming, were it not for the fact that he posted them on Sunday, the day that Madyson was murdered. According to SFGate, who cites an unnamed source, “the boy told police that he had been contemplating suicide and that he had killed the girl to see how people would react.” The same source “said surveillance video showed the teenager placing Madyson’s body into the bin several minutes before her mother, Laura Jordan, called police at 6:08 p.m. Sunday.”

Even though he seemed like “a regular kid,” for adults paying attention, there might have been warning signs, such as this caption on an ordinary Instagram selfie (below) taken on a city street: “Wears all black to try and look powerful and hide the crippling anxiety. Towards the future and the constant worry that i’ll never find someone who loves me.”

Adrian Gonzalez

Gonzalez also recently posted a photo of Nid Vizzini’s semi-autobiographical YA book, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” opened to Chapter 15. (Although the book’s title isn’t visible, a search of the opening lines of text led to an excerpt from Chapter 15 of It’s Kind of a Funny Story.

Adrian Gonzalez reading - It's Kind of a Funny Story

Vizzini committed suicide in 2013. ) The book is about a teen’s battle with depression. According to Today,

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” recounts how a 15-year-old landed in a mental facility after repeatedly attempting suicide.

In light of the horrific assault on Maddy, one has to wonder if Gonzalez was expecting his Instagram account to be studied after his arrest, and if he wanted to create a narrative about his depression as a kind of defense or rationalization of the act he was going to commit. Because, in the end, of course, he didn’t choose suicide. Instead, he chose to take the life of an 8-year-old girl. And he didn’t seem to attempt to evade arrest. He hid the body in his own apartment complex, and he hung around the dumpster while police were searching, repeatedly asking about the status of the search. Is it possible that he wanted to be caught? Part of the text that the book was open to in the Instagram photo reads as follows:

I’m young, but I’m already screwing up my life. I’m smart but not enough—just smart enough to have problems. Not smart enough to get good grades. Not smart enough to have a girlfriend. Girls think I’m weird. I don’t like to spend money. Every time I spend it, I feel as if I’m being raped.

In another photograph posted on Instagram just one week before Maddy’s murder, by an artist who was doing a demonstration for children at the center, the suspect poses for a demo on how to draw caricatures. One can’t help but wonder if Maddy was among the children watching the demonstration that day. (Note: I found this photo by doing an instagram search for Tannery Arts Center, and the boy in the photo looks very much like Instagram user AwkwardYoYoer. No one is identified in the photo, so while it looks like a clear match to me, I can’t be 100% certain).

While cases that garner the most media attention tend to be stranger abductions, and while those do, of course, happen, the vast majority of crimes against children are committed by people they know. In this case, telling Madison to stay away from the transients who lurk in the alley behind the Tannery Arts Center would have done no good. And while the mother was quickly called into question for not being with her at the time of her disappearance, and her judgment might certainly be lacking, it turns out that keeping a closer eye on the child may not have saved her in this case. Of course, if she were never alone, no one could have taken her. But this was a child who, according to police, willing went into the suspect’s apartment, where he raped and murdered her. Given the nature of the apartment complex and the sense of “community” that was apparently shared by many of the residents, if the suspect was intent on harming a child, he probably would have done so sooner or later. Tannery Arts Center, from the website and the photos and the ordinary instagram feeds of its ordinary residents, looks like a happy place. A place where kids paint and dance and skateboard and hang out together. A place where you know your neighbors. A place where, despite the seediness of the streets outside, a family can feel safe. In this photo from the center’s Instagram feed, you can see kids doing art. Other photos show folks dancing together, eating, having a good time, kids writing bad teenage poetry–just as teenagers are supposed to do. It looks pretty much idyllic.

A photo posted by Matt Bachtel (@doom_squirrel) on

So how do parents protect children from predators? What could have been done differently? A hard-and-fast rule, such as “NEVER go into anyone’s apartment without my permission,” might have helped. However, in a situation in which the child feels so comfortable, when the alleged perpetrator is a kid himself, someone she knows as a fun, nice kid who does yo-yo tricks, someone who is known and liked in her community–even that rule might have been disregarded by a child in a moment of weakness or forgetfulness.

Perhaps a buddy system could help. Even so, in a heartbreaking case like this, one thing we need to ask ourselves is how we are identifying troubled teens. How do we notice the ones who are capable of committing such a crime? What are the warning signs? If we can’t allow children to trust other, older kids in their own tight-knit community, how are we to make them feel safe?

Read the full reporting on the Madyson Middleton case in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

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5 Writing Habits You Need to Cultivate Now

Develop these 5 Writing Habits for a More Productive Writing Life

Writing advice columns will often tell you to write every day, write a certain number of words a day, keep a journal, or find a writing group. While all of those practices are good, they may not work for you. During my 15 years as a professional writer (I count my years as a “professional” from the date of my first book publication), I’ve noticed a few writing habits that help me be productive and keep my writing practice fresh and lively. After all, when writing is your job, it can begin to feel like a job. That said, it feels like a job I’m very fortunate to have. Just like with any other job, though, I have good days and bad days, days when I can’t wait to get to work and days when I’d rather be hiking or sunning or running off to the movies.

On those days, good writing habits are key. (For an interesting look at habit formation on an individual, corporate, and cultural level, read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. For a more personal take on the importance of habits from a writer’s perspective, read Gretchen Rubin‘s Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives).

Click the play button below to listen to my five minute podcast on 5 Habits of Highly Productive Writers

For more podcasts like this and help for writers, visit Bay Area Book Doctor.

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Modern Standing Desks for the Minimalist

Beautiful and Functional Standing Desks for the Modern Minimalist Home Office

(and great standing desk options for short people)

Because I spend most of my working time on my computer, writing books and running a small press, I’ve been on the lookout for a standing desk that looks good, is simple, and isn’t too expensive. To complicate matters, I’m quite short, just 5’2″, and most of the standing desks seem to be better suited to taller people.

First, the not-so-pretty but functional hack

One popular standing desk hack, the Ikea Lack side table hack, seemed like a good option, because I already have an Ikea Lack table that’s just sitting in the storage closet. However, when I tried putting the Lack table on top of my desk, it felt as though I was looking up way too high, like when I go to a party filled with tall people and I’m not wearing serious heels. Also, there was no way I could type from that angle.

So instead, I put the Ikea Lack table on my coffee table, and it worked just fine. It’s the perfect height for typing, not difficult for viewing the monitor, and best of all, I can take in the canyon view outside my living room window. Also, this particular Ikea table seems to be made of cardboard or something, so it’s no heavier than a magazine. So, here’s my inexpensive standing desk for short people, using the Ikea Lack side table:


All you have to do is set your $20 table on top of your existing coffee table, and you’re good to go. Unfortunately, while this is a great solution for my laptop, which I use for writing, it doesn’t work for my big Mac desktop, which I use for publishing and web design.

However, did I mention? I’m a grownup, and I like grownup furniture. When it comes to my writing space, I like it to be not only functional, but also attractive.

You can find a number of standing desks online, but most of them are ugly metal things that look better suited to an afternoon with your gaming buddies from Best Buy (nothing against gaming or BestBuy, but I’d like something a bit more elegant). Which brings us to…

Elegant, minimalist, modern wooden standing desks for grownup people who like for things to look nice


The most attractive and adaptable standing desk that works for both desktops and laptops is Readydesk. According to creators Ben Larson and Joe Nafzier, who made a Kickstarter campaign to get the desk to market, “Readydesk is lightweight, strong, ergonomic and beautifully designed to setup without tools.” Readydesk consists of four interlocking pieces of plywood–two sides plus two shelves that can be arranged at various heights to fit your equipment and your stature.

Readydesk weighs about fifteen pounds, which means you can’t carry it around town but if you need to move it occasionally to different areas of your home or office, it’s not difficult. At $169, it’s more far more affordable than purchasing a new standalone desk, and, if you’re into the design of your office space/writing space, it allows you to stay modern and minimalist instead of adding ugly contraptions and changing the footprint of your floorspace. You can also purchase additional shelves.

Upstanding Desk

Very similar to the ReadyDesk, differing mainly in style, is the Upstanding desk. Whereas ReadyDesk is all curves, Upstanding is a right angle sort of thing. Also made of wood, also highly adjustable for short people and tall people alike, also really, really good-looking, and similarly priced at $199, and funded through Kickstarter, the Upstanding desk will suit folks who like the ReadyDesk but want something with a deeper lower shelf, as well as sides to keep things from falling off. A great feature of Upstanding is that it has grooves to hold your iPad and other devices. The Standard version of the Upstanding desk is 29″ wide, but you can also buy it in double wide, if that’s how you roll. The website warns customers that the boxes are heavy and shipping is expensive, “but it’s totally worth it.” If you’re good with a handsaw, you can order the Upstanding desk plans and build the whole thing yourself for $49, but that sort of seems like kind of a lot of trouble, right?


Another great option for laptop users is StandStand, which also was born on Kickstarter, and which, like ReadyDesk and Upstanding desk, is made of wood and sits atop your current desk. At under two pounds and foldable (it fits in your laptop case), StandStand is very portable and inexpensive. While not quite as versatile ergonomically as the previous two options, it does come in three sizes: 9″ (for short people like me), 12″ for regular folks, and 14″ for the giants among you. It’s $69 in Baltic Birch and $99 in Bamboo, and while the top is too small to hold your desktop, it can support a lot of weight (enough to sit on, if you want to). It’s also made in the US of sustainable woods. The StandStand blog, complete with images of happy hipsters building these babies in their woodshop, will make you fall in love with the product, and this video will make you fall in love with its dreamy creator, Luke Leafgren. In the video, Luke takes the StandStand to the cafe and elsewhere, because when you look like Luke Leafgren, you can get away with that sort of thing.

Even the StandStand packaging is fun. See the smiley face and the bright yellow, look-at-me accents? That design and marketing team has some smart people, for real.

If I only needed a desk for my laptop, I’d definitely buy the StandStand–and I may still purchase one. But since I spend half of my time on my desktop, I think I’ll just use the Lack for now for my laptop and get the ReadyDesk for my big Mac (the computer, not the sandwich). It’s really a close call between ReadyDesk and Upstanding, but ReadyDesk comes in at a slightly lower price point, and Upstanding’s “Wait! Our shipping is seriously expensive warning!” before you even add the product to your cart  might be scaring some people off.

I’ll post photographs and a review after my ReadyDesk arrives and let you know how it works out.

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First Lines in Fiction – Black Glass

Black Glass, by Karen Joy Fowler

Great First Lines in Fiction

First published in 1998, this book of short stories by the author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is just as rich and complex and strange as it was seventeen years ago. If you’ve read it before, it’s worth revisiting, and if you haven’t, it’s time to discover the short fiction of Karen Joy Fowler.

The best fiction sucks us in by presenting opening lines we simply can’t walk away from, because they raise so many intriguing questions, and we can’t leave until we have the answers. For this reason, I often begin fiction writing workshops with a study of the opening paragraphs of novels and stories.

What a first line shouldn’t be: boring or overwrought. Nothing is more irritating to me as a reader than when the writer uses the first line to show off, rather than to start a story. Anyone can show off, but it takes something more to let the reader know, in the very first line, that a)you can tell a story and b)you’re about to do just that.

What a first line must be: clear and suggestive. Clear because the reader should not be trying to untangle words in your very first sentence.  Suggestive because the line must suggest a character, or a place, or a situation, or a problem, or some combination thereof.

Here are a few of the first (or almost-first) lines from Black Glass:

From The “Elizabeth Complex”:

There is no evidence that Elizabeth ever blamed her father for killing her mother.

From “Shimbara”:

At the top of the cliffs was a castle and, inside the castle, a 15-year-old boy. Here is where it gets tricky. What is different and what is the same?

Here is the opening of “Letters From Home:”

I wish you could see me now. You would laugh. I have a husband. I have children.

To whom is the narrator speaking? And why would this person laugh at the notion of her having a husband and children?

We have to know. And so we read on. That’s exactly what great fiction urges us to do.

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What to do when your static front page doesn’t load

If you’ve arrived at this post, it’s probably because your wordpress site is driving you nuts. Suddenly, your static front page only shows up when you’re logged in. When you’re not logged in, and you type in the address of your wordpress site, the static front page doesn’t load. The page that shows up to visitors isn’t the one you’ve indicated in your settings.

I don’t usually post about wordpress issues, but as a writer and small press publisher who does all of my web design myself, I deal with wordpress issues on a regular basis. (I know, I know: hire someone. However, I like to get under the hood and see how things work, and just hiring someone to do it means a learning opportunity lost). The static front page problem had me stumped, and I spent two full work days trying to figure it out, reading support documentation for my wordpress theme, uninstalling plugins, changing themes, resubmitting my google site index: you name it. I even tried to mess with functions.php and other files, but nothing worked.

Finally, I came upon this post in the wordpress support forums. Because the problem is so difficult to figure out, and because this solution worked beautifully and got my correct front page up and running immediately, and because the solution was buried in the support forums and not too easy to find, I’m posting it here. If your static front page is broken, this may very well help. Please note that I am not a wordpress expert. This solution was presented by Jackie McBride at, who credits for the fix. It takes just a couple of minutes to implement, and voila, your wordpress front page will show up as needed. Thank you, Jackie and inmotionhosting!

Jackie McBride
Posted 9 months ago #

You might need to reactivate the plugin for the following to work. Credit is given to

“Step 1.Log into the WordPress Dashboard
Step 2.
Setting WP Super Cache
Hover over Settings, then click WP Super Cache
Step 3.
Delete cache WP Super Cache
On the WP Super Cache Settings page, click Delete Cache
Once you are done clearing your WordPress cache, you should see any recent changes that you published. The caching plugin should then cache the latest version of your page when the site is visited again.”

So, I did this just as Jackie outlined here. I installed the WP Super Cache plugin and deleted my cache. I logged out to check if my front page was working. And voila, there it was. The problem seems to arise when you delete the WP Super Cache plugin. So once it’s installed, you may be better off leaving it be.

Good luck! I hope this helps. For any other wordpress issues, please go to

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