The Walking Dead Isn’t About the Zombies

A fan webcast was talking about Season 8, so for close to a decade I’ve heard Walking Dead fans say that WD is NOT ABOUT ZOMBIES.

WD is about the people. About the relationships. About overcoming adversity and grief and horror. WD is about being human.

I finally get it. I got it by rethinking favorite (and non-fave) shows and films and plays and books.

Jaws is not about the shark. It’s about salt of the earth people in a small town expanding their sense of community and individuals transcending their instinct for self-preservation to protect everyone.

Star Trek is not about space. It’s about people of all races, genders, even species, learning about each other and treating each other with respect and dignity.

Jurassic Park is not about the dinosaurs. It’s about humility (instead of hubris), environmental consciousness and scientific ethics (even if we can, maybe we shouldn’t), and about family (even if you don’t have one).

Mad Men isn’t about advertising. It’s about combat veterans understanding the stupidity of war metaphors, about sexual license existing in the most prudish society, nostalgia for cancer sticks, boozy lunches, and history lessons in (or nostalgia for) racism and sexism.

So, enough already. Let’s bring it back around to women’s mixed martial arts, now that women warriors are being recognized and paid. All you anti-sports or apathetic-about-sports people need to realize that women’s MMA is not about women beating each other’s face bloody. It’s about overcoming childhood trauma, coming out of the closet, recovering from injury or homelessness. Most basic of all, it is about overcoming the disbelief that women can be strong and tough and determined. It’s about the beauty of the human spirit.

Remember this as they beat each other’s face bloody. Also remember that the blood doesn’t mean they have a brain-eating virus.

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Very Zen

In the months I have shared my car through Lyft (I’ve given 1,005 rides as of this posting) I’ve rediscovered my love of driving. I lost that enthusiasm during fifteen years of commuting 25 miles across Los Angeles and back, anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours each way depending on day of the week, time of day, Dodger game, Laker game, traffic accident, or natural disasters.

Natural disasters would certainly include the windstorm a few years ago that blew down thousands of trees across the county, literally on every block in some neighborhoods. However, a single tree across a canyon road forces the miles long caterpillar of cars to reverse back downhill to join the already numerous hordes on alternative routes.

Sadly, yes, this is from personal experience crawling halfway up to Mulholland Drive only to U-turn and start over.

When I commuted not only did I drive, I also fretted about non-driving stuff: getting to work on time; tasks for current projects; follow ups for completed projects; presentations; planning sessions; emails; phone calls; interviews; meetings; canceling meetings; shopping lists; household repairs and chores; and various other concerns ad nauseam.

Now while getting Lyft riders to their jobs or flights or events or friends I of course still deal with traffic, but I don’t pile my psychological stuff on top. I navigate, drive, and enhance the riders’ experience by being friendly, chatting, keeping quiet, or playing music depending on the rider’s needs.

With my rediscovered Zen mindset in the background, I reread a favorite novel of mine with my book club. (In this particular club we recommend a book only if we have read it in its entirety. We all read each month’s selection and discuss.)

The Cold Dish by Wyoming resident Craig Johnson introduces protagonist Sheriff Walt Longmire. I enjoy the camaraderie of Mr. Johnson’s sparkling characters, seeing in my mind’s eye the New West and the old (and young) Cheyenne. I read the first six of the Walt Longmire Mystery series and now need to catch up on the latest books.

I also enjoy the TV series, currently on streaming Netflix. The creators/producers have changed a lot for the medium of episodic television, of course, but have translated the characters and ambiance very well.

After I reread The Cold Dish for pleasure, I inspected certain parts analytically. At first I thought Walt (as protagonist and first person narrator) states the theme in the Epilogue in his thoughts about revenge, and I took issue with that character’s conclusions. Then I found the real theme at the end of the Epilogue and realized that Lonnie Little Bird repeats the theme throughout the book.

Lonnie emphasizes his statements with a follow up sentence: “Um-hmm, yes it is so.” As I read for pleasure I saw this as an idiosyncratic and humorous speech pattern marking Lonnie’s character. During analysis I recognized this as another version of an oft-heard Japanese phrase.

Shikata ga nai is usually translated in English as “It can’t be helped.” It is invoked to express resigned acceptance of a sad situation. In mundane matters its equivalent is “No use crying over spilt milk.” In serious matters, like death in the family, its equivalent is “They’ve gone to a better place.” My parents’ generation reiterated this stoic phrase as they faced their World War II internment in desolate mountain and desert camps from Wyoming to Arizona to Arkansas.

Shikata ga nai is proactive, not passive. Accept the situation and deal with it. Say it with the serenity to accept the things you cannot change. Lonnie says, “Um-hmm, yes it is so.” Our current zeitgeist version: “It is what it is.”

Some folks recoil upon hearing “It is what it is.” They feel it says nothing, adds nothing to a discussion.

I like this phrase. It is an acceptance of what exists, an acknowledgement of the real, the here and now. It is a concise rephrasing of the Buddhist adage “The meaning of life is in its meaninglessness.”

Life happens. Often we cannot reason logic in an event, but we can make sense of it, literal sense of the experience. It just is, like a fumbled punt. Like desert sand blowing through shrinking boards in a camp wall. Like an accident, or a crime, or a war.

Like the extra Canadian goose on one side of the flying V. Or the speed of traffic on an L.A. freeway.

Rachel Scorpio Has A Very Cool Name

We can get to know a person quite well in one conversation. First impressions count. Impressions go beyond the surface. We all tend to judge a book by its cover, a person by appearance, but for most of us our impressions go deeper. (For a cogent explanation of why, see Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink.)

Remember the name Rachel Scorpio. I am quite impressed by this young actor’s centeredness and down-to-earth confidence. She considers tenacity the key trait for success in the entertainment industry and understands the calm focus required to do the work.

I am reminded of meeting Harley Jane Kozak before her first significant roles, before I would see her on screen. Authenticity, sincerity. Intelligence, humor. Quiet yet palpable charisma. Likability that we now see pop through the camera.

As with Harley Jane Kozak and Keira Knightley, Rachel Scorpio starts with a cool, memorable name. (Family from Caserta, I believe). She also has the cool demeanor to walk the walk, and she has her team in place. I’m sure she will have a fast rise and an extended acting career. You can’t see her now, in August 2015, but maybe in 2016, probably 2017. Keep watching.

reflections on a memory

One person who heard my reading of a vignette, part of an intended family epic novel, asked me if it was fiction or nonfiction. “Fiction,” I said. A precise answer for the form, a direct response to her choice of words. I wrote the character’s thoughts from my writer’s imagination and years of perspective.

However, in reflection I think she might also been asking if the vignette’s events actually happened.

The setting, the actions, the few words spoken – all are exactly as I remember them.

A lifetime ago, I was that twenty-something-working-stiff-with-four-years-of-college. I remember working that gardening job in Pebble Beach, mostly low-stress duty working with plants more than people. Back in the now-forgotten-days when West Coast landscapers and yard and park maintenance workers were mostly Japanese Americans, so much so that the term “Japanese gardener” was redundant.

Most of us now alive were not yet born in those days of California de facto segregated churches and clubs, and exclusive housing. In the days before black folks migrated from the South to work at World War II munitions factories in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, “exclusive” housing in California meant neighborhoods closed to Orientals (a more polite term than other words in common use). Realtors and sales reps used the code word “restricted” for no-Jews housing or membership. Most black kids today don’t realize “ghetto” was the word for a part of a European city to which Jews were restricted.

Many of us now couldn’t imagine it, not in these days when Asian Americans make up half of many ritzy neighborhoods and everybody eats at Canters. Lox, eggs, and onions 24 hours! (Substitute tomatoes for the onions as needed.)

I remember many little or not so little slights over the years delivered by people of other colors, most what we generally call white, but also various other races. Those incidents were rare enough that I was always shocked.

The incident in this vignette did not come close to an actual threat to livelihood, much less life, and being innocent I felt no fear in the moment. I didn’t feel much of anything in the moment except surprise. Over the next minutes and hours, with reflection, I felt embarrassment and anger. Then I felt a touch of fear. After all, how many people have been innocent victims of revenge over perceived crimes? Of merely perceived errors in manners? Almost every Chinatown in the western states was burnt to the ground in the 19th century and lynchings occurred in many black communities.

Shootings still occur; I guess this is still the Wild West. The white supremacist that shot several Jewish kids a few years ago later that same day gunned down a Filipino letter carrier (a friend of a friend).

What if the pink- and red-faced man did not have a more observant companion to find whatever he thought I had stolen and carried down the hillside? What if he had actually accused me and later been too embarrassed to admit he simply misplaced the item?

A lot of what-ifs, enough for me to make into another story. One far more fictional, but not far fetched.

My Pet Peeve In Sports Reporting

My pet peeve in sports reporting cropped up most often several years ago at the Los Angeles Times, formerly one of my favorite sports news sources. I suspect it had something to do with the Tribune Corporation acquisition, but then I wasn’t on the inside. I was a customer, a subscriber. Anyway, I saw a trend – which I saw as an epidemic – of a bad story format.

Even casual readers of newspapers, eZines, and blogs know – at least subconsciously – to expect a hook, a headline, the why-should-I-read-this opening that gives us the punch line, the climax, the point. If it were fiction or TV drama it would be a spoiler. We want to know the result up front and then settle in and read the rest of the article – or as much as we have time for – to get the rest of the story.

So several years ago I read a lot of game summaries that irritated me to no end. The first paragraph summarized the climax and the next several paragraphs unfolded the full drama and denouement. So far so good, but the next section would jump back a bit, play out the previous part of the game, jump back again and play out another bit, jump again, and again, and so on.

The baseball summaries done in this fashion were the worst. If the drama was in the ninth inning, for instance, after the nice climax story came the setup in the seventh and eighth innings, then the fifth and sixth innings, then the third and fourth, and finally the first and second. Talk about anticlimactic. Just like a movie with too many flashbacks, a game summary like this takes the reader out of the story.

The reason we watch sports is to watch the development of the game. What happens early influences what coaches and players do late. A pitcher uses more breaking balls the second and third times through the order. A manager intentionally walks a guy who’s three-for-three in the game. An offensive coordinator abandons the run behind by two touchdowns. It’s the story of the game that should be the story of the article.

If the early stages didn’t factor in the victory, don’t bother going back and detailing every indecisive inning or possession. (That’s covered by box scores and drive charts.) Just leave it out, or better yet, summarize how it all brought the game to the climax. And please take us there from the beginning, even if you zoom through it.

Learn About Police Interview & Interrogation; Upcoming CCWC 2013

For crime writers, both true crime and fiction, knowledge garnered from LEOs is gold. I collected hundreds of nuggets in Sgt. Derek Pacifico’s two presentations at the California Crime Writers Conference (CCWC) two years ago.

Pacifico is a 22-year veteran of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and a veteran homicide detective. Recently retired from the Sheriff’s department, he continues to run his own respected company, Global Training Institute, to train police officers and detectives across the country in investigative techniques, including homicide investigations.

At the CCWC 2011 Pacifico gave presentations on interrogation techniques and crime scene investigation. Both were dynamic, informative, and entertaining. Afterwards a few of us writers convinced Pacifico to put on a full seminar for writers. In a matter of a few months the veteran trainer had boiled down his two-week-long workshop for cops to a two-day seminar for scribes, Homicide School for Writers. Pacifico had a new business in Crime Writers Consultations.

I attended that first seminar at a San Gabriel Valley hotel. Comprehensive, engaging, by turns sobering and hilarious, the course showed us many ways that we could bring greater authenticity to our writing. I highly recommend this workshop to all writers who deal with crime and law enforcement topics.

You can see a bit of Derek Pacifico teaching cops at www.globaltraininginstitute.com. No sound, but you can see how he services police departments across the country. BTW, if you’re wondering what we didn’t get from the two weeks cops spend with Pacifico, how about two days (?!) covering Miranda rights. Boring even for cops, but can mean the difference between a conviction and a case thrown out on a technicality. We writers have more leeway.

Read about Derek Pacifico at http://crimewritersconsultations.com/pdf/emmy_magazine.pdf. Listen by signing up for a free teleconference, The 5 Stages Of Police Interview & Interrogation (on Saturday, March 9th) at http://networkisa.org/#/police-interview-telecon/4574175369. I’ll be listening – this is fun stuff.

If you can get to Chicago March 29 & 30, 2013, you should attend Writers Homicide School in person at Tribeca; otherwise, you can watch and participate in the webinar – at a great low price with no travel costs. (I prefer to attend such events in person, but webinars are cost effective and time efficient. The webinar description says you will be able to ask questions online.)

Please let Derek know that you heard about this through my blog, as it might help him in his marketing. Feel free to tell your fellow writers about this great research resource. I know you’ll have fun.

Another California Crime Writers Conference is coming up this summer in Pasadena, CA, June 22-23, 2013. Sisters in Crime – Los Angeles (sistersincrimela.com) and Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America (www.socalmwa.com) co-sponsor this fantastic event every two years. Outstanding authors give keynote speeches – this year the Saturday keynoter is Sue Grafton and Sunday’s is Elizabeth George. Breakout sessions always include cops and scientists, agents and publishers, and there are plenty of chances to mingle. Hope you can join us. (I’m a member of SinC-LA.)

A story that only you can tell

A couple weeks ago Oscar Hokeah blogged about a feeling he had that there was a story that he had to write, that only he could write. I drafted my immediate reaction to this, but found I was writing two different thought processes and both were overlong for a comment. (Besides, I wanted to come back later, to get some distance, and comments seem best if done as a quick response.) So here is one of my thoughts on this question.

A story that only you can tell. That could be true in two ways. Could be a story that only you know. Could be a story that only you can write. Either or both could be true.

If you were alone, the only human present, then only you know the story.

If other people were present but you alone were aware of a salient aspect of the story, only you know the story that covers that aspect.

If you welcome a story from your imagination, only you know the story.

However, some other people have similar stories, maybe a lot of people. Maybe tons of people. So what really counts is that you are a writer. Not a court reporter, nor a stenographer. Furthermore, for YOUR story, you are THE writer.

If you or I wrote a story about long line fishermen who go out to the Grand Banks and die in a storm, neither of us would write A Perfect Storm. Each of us would create a different cast of characters, even if only difference in nuance. Only Sebastian Junger could write the story he wrote.

If you or I wrote about Navajo Tribal Police officers, we wouldn’t write the same stories as Tony Hillerman. Not if we were true to our own voices. Not even if we consciously copied; we could only imitate.

You can write any story and it is your story. Only you will write your stories. You might start with someone else’s life or experience, or just an idea. Once you begin writing, the story is yours. You are expressing your life experience and your craft as a writer, using that wonderful, strange engine of creativity, your subconscious.

Any story becomes a different story in another writer’s hands. “Write what you know” means write what your subconscious knows. Did Mark Twain know riding a raft down the Mississippi with a black man escaping slavery? His subconscious did. Did Ray Bradbury know life on Mars? His subconscious did. Your subconscious knows a lot of things that don’t show up in your external reality. It’s all realized in your subconscious, and you can take us readers along for the ride.

Write the story. Write your story.