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.

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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.

Homicide School for Writers

In August I attended Sgt. Derek Pacifico’s Homicide School for Writers. Sgt. Pacifico is a patrol supervisor and former homicide detective, a 21-year-veteran with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. He trains homicide detectives across the country.
Sgt. Pacifico culled a fantastic two-day seminar from the two-week course his gives to cops. It was informative, fast-paced, and a lot of fun. Thanks Derek!
We learned how cops become cops and get trained. How they become detectives. Radio codes and channels. How cops talk. How they manage crime scenes. How to interpret blood spatter and tire tracks. Plus many other types of evidence found at any crime scene, including homicides and some that to the untrained eye might seem like homicides but are not.
The slideshow included lots of photos and illustrations from actual cases and a few from police training scenarios created by Sgt. Pacifico so cops could walk through and get quizzed on what they had learned.
So we got training usually only given to homicide detectives. Only two percent of cops are homicide detectives. So 98 percent of cops don’t know the specialized homicide stuff in that course. We can definitely keep it more real as we write our stories, both fiction and nonfiction.
Sgt. Pacifico covered some keys to getting homicide confessions. Another course for writers will go in depth into interview and interrogation techniques. To find out about this fast approaching October 6th seminar, visit Sgt. Pacifico’s website:
http://pacificop.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/police-interrogation/
Discount early bird price is available through this Friday, so check out the course right away.
Inspired by the Homicide course, I did what Albert Einstein called a thought experiment:
Can you tell which curved tire tracks are from the front tires and which from the rear tires? I can after taking Sgt. Pacifico’s course, and remembering that this week I was able to solve a mystery: Why does car sickness effect passengers more than drivers?
The driver is on the outside of a right turn and will feel the centrifugal force, so they’ll slow down when they feel the discomforting torque. A left turn is different: the driver is on the inside of a left turn; the person riding shotgun is on the outside of a left turn, so they travel a longer distance in the same amount of time – they get whipped around.
People in the backseat follow the front passengers and they get jerked into the turn late and more abruptly, like a wild mouse ride at a carnival. So the shotgun and rear seats really do shake up passengers more than the driver, and this compounds the gap between the driver’s control and anticipation and the passengers’ lack of both.

A New Challenge Stimulates

I visited an emergency room early last week. As a patient.

While washing dishes I broke a ceramic bowl. One instant I was holding the bowl; the next instant I was holding my wounded hand, gashed palm pumping out blood.

I got lucky in two ways. A plastic surgeon that specializes in hands walked through the emergency room, saw me elevating me newly bandaged hand, and examined me. Dr. Omar Ahmed let me know the other way I was lucky: I just missed cutting the major nerve in the hand and one of the two arteries that supply the hand. If I had nicked the nerve, Doc said, “I would be digging in you for quite a while tonight [to do repairs], and your hand would never fully recover.” My heartfelt thanks, Dr. Ahmed, for cleaning and sewing me up, as well as buoying my spirit and answering all my questions.

For a couple of days I couldn’t do a thing with that hand but keep it elevated and dry. I spent most of the next day in bed. Writing longhand was no option all week. Typing came back quicker, but I do it carefully. This has renewed my interest in voice recognition software, which a grant writer recommended for productivity back in the spring.

Although I took my outpatient hospital visit as an opportunity to do research – every experience is a chance for a writer to gather material – it took me aback in terms of writing. Then it took me onward. I had taken for granted my physical abilities, once again. Just removing the child-proof cap on my antibiotics is a major challenge one-handed.

This obstacle to writing is not an obstacle at all, just a hindrance. The real obstacle was my inertia. The real challenge is my desire, my commitment.

I soaked up knowledge and experiences this summer and took a decent amount of notes, but I owe it to my readers and myself to put more into this blog and toward finishing my novel. This reminded me, in a smaller way than some occasions, of my mortality. I have larger challenges that are more important and I decide if and when I take up those challenges.

I’ll be hosting a one-day writing workshop in Los Angeles on September 24th led by Bruce Gelfand, an excellent coach of writers, be they poets, novelists, or memoirists. Send me an email for details.

Exercise your writing muscles every day

Exercise your writing muscles every day. Just as you should exercise your body regularly by walking, swimming, gardening, or your favorite activity, you should keep up your writing fitness by putting together words of some sort every day.

It can be in your special niche or unrelated. Nothing is totally unrelated, but variety can feel refreshing. If you work in fiction, do an occasional poem or song lyric or essay. Think of it as cross-training for a writer.

writing it down, when it comes to mind

I’ve taken my own advice, or the advice of many authors that I have also found true myself, and jumped out of bed to type these words. If left for the morning these words would have fled in the night, either floated away like motes of dust or soaked into the hardwood floor like evanescent moisture.

The musings of Ray Bradbury and Steven King tell the tale, yet I need to say it for myself. The writing life and my motivation for pursuing it are both more mysterious than any suspenseful story I will write or read. Why is perhaps a ridiculous question – or perhaps the most fundamental: because I feel a craving, a persistent desire. How is a question I pursue in the hundred or so books on writing I have purchased, borrowed, consumed, and in as many workshops, seminars, conferences, and meetings of writing groups and associations. Where and when: wherever I am and whenever my subconscious sprouts with the product of my reading, sensing, and feeling: my seeds, fertilizer, compost, and earnest turning of the soil.

I have my old copy of Elements of Style. I have my recent copy of On Writing. I stir in the subconscious priming lessons of How to Write While You Sleep. And I prepare to drop off into the little death, when epiphany roils my mind and hence my body. So I “pen” these words, which say nothing and therefore are prapancha. Which is the old Buddhist word for bullshit.

The English word is also apt. Bullshit is fertilizer. Nature does not have “trash.” Everything gets recycled. So I produce my verbal recyclables and organic worm poop and hope they provide myself and other readers with raw materials for new designs, compost for new growth, some fodder for creativity.

Good night.