Why It’s Important to Leave a Sincere Review

Amazon is funny in the way they allow leeway to troll reviewers, and yet are hypervigilant when it comes to blocking any reviews from someone who might be connected to authors. I purposefully use the word connected – if you’ve ever emailed, Tweeted or interacted with an author online, Amazon seems to track this, and this becomes grounds for disqualifying a review and a reviewer. That’s fair, if only Amazon also rooted out the trolls.

They’re easy to spot: they leave multiple reviews on a single day, they’re all 1 star, and all of them have virtually nothing to say about the content.

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Although none of these “reviews” make any specific gripes about anything specific, I do want to respond to the grey highlights.

1. “A fondness for conspiracy theories…” If anyone knows my work they know the exact opposite is true. I often say I’m allergic to conspiracies, and tend to avoid them unless they deserve to be debunked. This discussion with Ed Opperman is a good example.

2. “He doesn’t bother with research…” This is one of the most popular criticisms. What malarkey. Each book has hundreds of links to research documents, interviews, videos, photos, news reports,. You’d be hard-pressed to find any true crime writing with more research, sentence by sentence, paragraph for paragraph, page for page, than the Rocket Science books.

3. “He lashes out at his victims…” There is some truth in this. I do interrogate the victims from all perspectives, including the perpetrator’s perspective, but try to maintain a compassionate and sympathetic view. Victims never deserve to die, or suffer, but we can occasional fathom mechanisms and dynamics that lead to criminals acting out in destructive ways. It’s important to understand this aspect to know how or why a situation triggered a particular crime in a particular individual. The notion that this analysis is ever “lashing out” is ludicrous. Troll

A final aspect I want to deal with here is the criticism that I’m not a widely published or prolific photojournalist, and that all my work is self-published.

Before I wrote full-time I worked as a freelance magazine journalist. Over the course of about a decade I published hundreds of articles in over 40 different local and international magazines, and at least a dozen different newspapers. So none of that qualifies as “self-published”. Most of the written work was published “as is” in magazines with virtually no editing and no need for editing. It was this circumstance – a long form magazine article – that led me to publish my first two books. Both books started off as a series of magazine articles.

More here: Nick van der Leek – Biography

In terms of pounding the streets and interviewing people in person, I’ve done that and am in the process of negotiating possibly two books – one with a prosecutor and another with the relative of a victim. So at certain times cases are researched remotely, at other times I do venture into the field. The entire Van Breda axe murder series involved travelling hundreds of miles to attend all the trial days, and staying at some expense in hotels and guest houses.

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I do have a publishing contract with a US publisher for one of my books. I’ve found it more practical, effective and efficient to self-publish, because in True Crime, time is of the essence.

If you’ve read any of the Rocket Science books and were moved by them [positively or negatively], please be moved enough to leave a review. More reviews lead to more sales, and more sales lead to more writing, and more books, and more books mean more choice – for you. MW-ER478_trolli_20160714084402_NS

2 Reviews – 1 Gets it, 1 Doesn’t

Some people wake up in the morning and check their notifications on social media. Since I have about 92 titles out there [including several series], and since I earn a living from true crime writing, I like to stay on top of the reviews. Am I hitting the mark with readers or missing it?

Are the Jerry MaGuire moments that I experienced while writing translating in people’s minds? Are they seeing some of the insights I’m seeing, is some of the obscurity around this case beginning to clear in their minds too?

Today was a pleasant surprise. A dude called Joshua found the signal in the noise and reflected on it. We’ll get to Joshua in a moment.

For true crime to be any good it has to be accurate. If any of the facts are wrong, if small details are slightly off, the whole narrative becomes unreliable. In this respect I sincerely value feedback from readers or critics who point out material inaccuracies.

One of the strong points of my books [and CrimeRocket] is the consistent quality and accuracy of the research. One can only be on top of a case by sitting on it day in and day out, and applying one’s mind consistently.  It can take a long time to unearth what’s hidden. As tough as true crime is, it becomes unnecessarily harder when conspiracies are added to the stew. They’re easy to foist away when they’re fresh. If, however, one comes to a case like the Ramsey case 20 years later, there are often so many myths and conspiracies, it can feel pretty daunting finding a tangible thread to draw on when the case is so littered with chaff and nonsense.

At this site conspiracy theories are avoided like the plague unless they’re considered serious and important enough to be debunked.

While precision needs to one of the highest priorities in true crime, what precision is not, and isn’t trying to be, is this:

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The “error filled” criticism suggests that the research is at fault, when in reality, the gripe seems to be about spelling mistakes. The Discovery Documents are rife with spelling errors, and a few factual inconsistencies too. Does that mean the entire file is trash?

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The above reviewer’s most useful contribution is in the color of the suitcase. He’s right. The suitcase Shan’ann traveled with to Arizona wasn’t a neon pink-orange as described in the first TWO FACE book [published in mid-September 2018], in fact it was black.

Of course, complaining about this in January, four months after the book was written [and with the benefit of the bodycam footage] is playing johnny-come-lately to this case, piggybacking on one set of data at one point in time in order to poke holes in another set, writing at another time. Not exactly fair, is it?

That said, it is worth mentioning, and it has been mentioned here several times. This issue was broached on November 25 [a week after the Discovery Documents were released] in this post:

Chris Watts moved Shan’ann’s suitcase from the bottom of the stairs to inside the master bedroom upstairs, leaving it at the doorway – why?

And again on December 4 in this post:

The Suitcase At the Bottom of the Stairs

And to some extent in this this post on December 6:

Shan’ann’s black suitcase was moved upstairs – what about the purple sleep mask?

What makes the reviewer’s point feel a tad disingenuous is the contention that the “errors” were made recklessly, rather than the fact that when the first book was written the color of the suitcase, as pointed above, was unknown.

When I described Shan’ann exiting Nickole’s vehicle in the narrative and entering the front door, I wanted as realistic an account as possible. So I went looking through Shan’ann’s social media for her suitcases and initially found this one.

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Ironically, this narrative description hasn’t been trumped by actual video footage from the doorbell camera of Shan’ann arriving at the door as she was recorded arriving. So we have to visualize that until the evidence is released [if it ever is].

The point of writing the first book barely a month after the crimes was to demonstrate [and test] how much we could know and extrapolate based on publicly available knowledge, as well as observation and insight.

In the scheme of things the color of the suitcase doesn’t matter as much as the suitcase narrative matters [where it was, where it moved to subsequently, and what was removed from it without the permission of law enforcement]. The suitcase is also an important marker in that theoretically it points to Shan’ann’s movements inside the house. She’s at the door, she removed her shoes, she enters and gets to the staircase. After that there is arguably no way to track her final moments.

The reviewer also seems to take great exception to the assertion in the first book that Shan’ann was a qualified nurse. Wasn’t she? What student loans was she repaying?

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The accusation that the book was published “too soon” misses the point. It was purposefully researched and written quickly and published first. This is one of the mission parameters of Rocket Science as per the TOOLBOX tab on CrimeRocket:

To deliver accurate, accessible  true crime narratives quicker, better and more effectively than anyone else.

The logo of TCRS depicts a journalist riding a rocket, holding a camera in one hand, blasting the latest story into the public domain. So to accuse Rocket Science of researching and/or publishing too quickly is like accusing Coca Cola of being sweet.

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As for the reviewer’s complaints about spelling, Dieter with a small letter is dieter, and like many in the news media, I took an executive decision and “corrected” the spelling. It’s true that Shan’ann and others spelled the dog’s name Dieter, but my own journalistic standards balk at the spelling. What can I say, sorry about that.

The spelling of Shan’ann’s name is a different story, but at least on this point the reviewer agrees.

The name of Thayer’s daughter was taken from audio interviews made to the news media following Watts’ arrest. Her name was not published in any news media, but was subsequently found on Thayer’s Instagram account.

The reviewer seems to care about these details, and of course they matter, but how they play into the material aspects of a triple murder are questionable. What about the big theories presented in the first book? What about the order of the crimes, the timing, the location, what about the core issues to this case?

The final point to make is about a regular accusation made by true crime critics of true crime writers. By writing a book about a case one is being “greedy”. I used to be a full-time journalist. Now I’m a full-time true crime author. I do it for a living. It’s work, it’s work I care about and I daresay harder work and longer hours for each dollar earned than most regular jobs. When folks working regular jobs receive their paychecks for work they did are they greedy too?

It’s tempting to think that the criticisms mentioned above aren’t even sincere, but rather that – for whatever reason – the reviewer simply wishes to score points. But it may be that they are sincere, which is a shame, because he completely misses the point of what these narratives are trying to do.

Far from just writing to pay the rent, I have a sense of mission about justice and true crime. And a few people do get it, like this guy.

More: Chris Watts: What Rocket Science got right – and wrong

“TWO POLLYANNAS is about victim blaming”

It’s time for some mythbusting around the increasingly popular myth that the TWO FACE series, and TWO POLLYANNAS in particular, is all about running Shan’ann Watts down. The writing is biased; Chris Watts is hero worshipped and Shan’ann deserved what was coming because of the way she treated him.

It’s not true.

It’s not even close to the premise of TWO POLLYANNAS. In fact the title doesn’t refer to Chris Watts or Shan’ann whatsoever. TWO POLLYANNAS is about the two poor little girls at the center of the tragedy, who have been overlooked in almost all coverage.

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Even so, the TWO POLLYANNAS title doesn’t refer to them either. It’s a much deeper narrative than that.

It shouldn’t even be necessary to say this, but I’ll say it anyway.

In true crime without exception no one deserves to die! The very reason we’re here trying to figure out what happened is because of a criminal act that has shocked us to the core, and we want to know why.

Even when we begin to find answers to why, that doesn’t mean we’ve found out that they deserved to die. Why is about motive. It’s why the murderer committed murder! 

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If anyone didn’t deserve to die in this story it was Bella and Ceecee. Who were they? Didn’t their little lives matter?  What were their personalities like? Who were their friends? What impact did they have on their parents as a unit, and on each parent individually? So that’s the perspective TWO POLLYANNAS takes.

What did the Watts household feel like from the inside, how did it operate, and what was it like to experience it? Well, we get that from the perspectives of Bella and Ceecee. TWO POLLYANNAS attempts to show what it was like being them behind closed doors and between Live posts to Facebook.

In every true crime case I’ve made an attempt not just to understand the merits of the crime and the case, but what was going on with the victim, the perpetrator and the true dynamic that existed between murderer and victim. Who were these people really, in life?

So, over the course of several narratives in a series, the issues of all the characters will need to be addressed, and addressed equally. So trying to fathom family dynamics isn’t about blaming anyone, it’s about fathoming family dynamics.

Family dynamics are difficult to get to, and they’re especially so when families won’t come forward and be 100% clear about what was going on. Also, some families will reveal more about their relatives, others will reveal less. It’s up to us then to look at what’s being withheld.

In the the Watts case in particular, the family dynamics isn’t speculation because we’re in the unique position to have a trove of Facebook videos in the public domain showing all four family members repeatedly interacting with one another. It doesn’t take long for behavioral and personality patterns to emerge. Access to them is one thing, but what do they mean?

What if it means that beneath the veneer of a fairy tale on Facebook, the Watts family weren’t quite as happy or functional as they appeared? This sounds like heresy, and some people are aghast to hear it. What? Cracks in the marriage? How dare you! But we do dare, because of the way the family was annihilated. Looking at the fairy tale isn’t the full story for why this crime happened. Looking into the cracks may reveal why it fell apart.

But some people just don’t like that. They want the fairy tale, and part of it is that Chris Watts had to be all evil, and his wife and children all good. Sadly, real life just isn’t like this because – guess what – no one is perfect.

One of the worst reviewed series I’ve written thus far is on the Steven Avery case. People absolutely hated the FOOL’S PARADISE books because it didn’t agree with the popular and mainstream premise in Making A Murderer that Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey were both framed, and as such innocent victims. There is an inverted fairy tale about murderers as innocents. In that story, people want to believe Avery and Dassey are innocent so that their own perceived victimhood is real.

If the innocence story is a fiction, however, then their victim story is a fiction too.

Unfortunately for those bleeding hearts who are desperate about proving Avery’s and Dassey’s innocence, they weren’t framed, and whatever you may think of Making A Murderer’s Sympathy Narrative [also known as True Crime Apologia in the mold of Paradise Lost], however strongly you may feel for Avery, the question around his guilt or innocence is by no means a mystery.

The law, evidence, and let’s be clear – common sense – produces a very different result to Avery’s and Dassey’s guilt than the payoff from the emotional story. That’s why the outcome of the case feels different to the conventional, popular wisdom. But true crime is more than about feelings, it’s about real people, real destruction of lives, real emotions and real reality. That’s the true in true crime.

In the Jodi Arias books, most readers wanted a black and white narrative where Travis Alexander was portrayed as the innocent victim whereas Jodi Arias was sketched as monstrous, and as a hideous murderess.

It should be obvious by now that to say Jodi Arias [or any convicted criminal] is guilty and a disgusting liar and a horrible human being isn’t only stating the obvious, it’s self-evident. How much time do we spend name-calling criminals before we get to the business of dealing with their cases and uncovering the full extent of their lies?

If name-calling and dancing on their graves is all we want to do, then do it, get it over with but don’t confuse that with research or reading or analysis. If you want to feel good about how bad someone is, if you love to hate, spend your time getting your kicks on social media. Every time someone says “monster”, “narcissist” or “psychopath”, like or retweet it, and that’s all the true crime effort you need to “understand” a case.

On the other hand, if you’re more serious about figuring out motive and method, the why and how of these crimes, then climb aboard the Rocket Science rocket and let’s see what we can find out. That’s different. That’s an intellectual journey.

Why would one work on a narrative fixating on the obvious [guilty! psychopath! evil monster!] unless to gloat about someone’s badness and rage about the victim’s goodness. Rocket Science is more sophisticated than that, alas. It tries to do the simple but supremely difficult thing of figuring out the more difficult stuff; why crimes happen, and who the people are that are involved. That’s all.

It’s because of the above that these three reviews below of TWO POLLYANNAS ring false. It’s not enough to shoot down the analysis [because it’s not sufficiently pro Shan’ann, or anti Watts], the writing itself must be seen as a cynical and dishonest effort to make money.

In the first review the indignant reviewer can’t even spell the name of the victim correctly.

I’ve read a lot of Nick’s books and I usually really enjoy them, especially all his books about the JBR case. This book left me with an uncomfortable feeling. I got the distinct sense that he is blaming Shannon for her own murder – as if she was so controlling and impossible to live with that she had it coming. How can he presume to know this so well if indeed it was true – and how does that justify what Chris Watts did? Simply a shocking road to take in my opinion, but in the end I guess it’s all about making money and selling books. Glad I read it for free.

The reason I resent schizophrenic reviews like this, is that they’re from regular readers who ought to know better. They ought to know by now that every aspect of the case is examined – the good, the bad the ugly.  That they wish to conveniently pick and choose their truth based on their own bias is especially out of place in true crime.

A lot of time was spent talking about how Shanann was racking up debt while Chris was working hard at his job. It repeatedly mentions her OCD, illness, and time spent on social media in a negative way. This was not just done from facts, even if the author would like you to think it was. The author seemed to be blaming her for a lot of the pressures on Chris…

This review is better, but it ignores the fact that effectively Chris Watts was for all intents and purposes the sole breadwinner in the household. If you buy into the MLM farce that Shan’ann was truly Thrivin’ and bringing in an income, I can see how you might find difficulty – and discomfort – with that assessment.

All the credit cards in the Watts household were maxed out, not because they were making enough money, but because they weren’t. The bankruptcy filing is adamant that there was only one source of income in the Watts household [in 2015], and the little money Shan’ann was bringing in was about to be diminished by her second pregnancy. In 2018 the credit cards were still maxed out, and now she was about to have a third child.

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The health expenses in the Watts household were all on the one side. Chris Watts had seemingly no medical issues or expenses, hell, he even exercised at home in a homemade gym.

What surprised me in researching TWO POLLYANNAS wasn’t just Shan’ann’s medical circumstances, but the children’s too. Both children were quite sickly. This assessment, which was researched prior to the release of the Discovery Documents, has since been confirmed by them.

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Fact is, one of Shan’ann’s surgeries [to her neck] cost over $100 000. Who was going to foot the bill for that? Putting aside for a moment everything else, the mortgage, the crippling credit card debt, the school fees at Primrose – if your partner had medical expenses of $100 000, and it was your job to pay for it, how would you feel about it?

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The actual state of the Watts family finances, even after the release of all the information, still remains a mystery.

And then there’s this.

Not only has the author nothing nice to say about a murdered woman and her children, what he says is simply not true. This isn’t true crime writing: it’s true fiction masquerading as true crime.

True crime isn’t about having good things to say about anyone. It’s about analyzing evidence and seeing what that has to say.  If you disagree, and you may, well that’s another story, but are you disagreeing from a position of  strength from an informed position, or weakness, based on little more than an emotional position?

The coverage on CrimeRocket is an extension of what goes into the written narratives. How much of the coverage on this site [out of 10] would you say is fictional, speculative, biased or not true?

Buy the TWO Face series at this link.

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First Review of TWO POLLYANNAS: “True fiction masquerading as true crime”

The first review has been posted for TWO POLLYANNAS and – oh dear – it’s a 1 star review. But does the reviewer have a point?

This book reads like a nit picky little old lady with a grudge. It’s hastily scraped together with bits and pieces of perceived reality that calls itself rocket science. My grandmother used to say if you’ve got nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all. Not only has the author nothing nice to say about a murdered woman and her children, what he says is simply not true. This isn’t true crime writing: it’s true fiction masquerading as true crime.

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And these are other reviews by “Don Pierson”:

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I regularly check my reviews and “Don Pierson” is definitely a new name on the review list. Since there were only three reviews of The Murder of Vincent van Gogh and SLAUGHTER I remember clearly who all three were. Ergo “Don Pierson” is Pauline, a former reader who has left 160 comments on CrimeRocket, more by far than any other reader.

And then yesterday, this one:

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Strange how we can discuss dishonesty, deceit and manipulation as an out-there-in-the- world-of-true-crime concept, but in reality, it’s right here with us. If I don’t like you, I do what I feel like to malign you, and my malice is completely forgivable – because it’s mine.

My response?