Fiction, Meet the Future

A few years ago, in the aftermath of a mass shooting, I began a novel. I needed a new character, a new theme and a new setting. I chose rural Colorado, and created a person named Cici. Gun control was the theme.

Gun control. The middle ground is drowned out, shouted down. The extremes - the "Cold, Dead Fingers" crowd on the one hand, the gun banners on the other, shout past each other with tirades that only harden. One is persuaded not of the need for additional gun control, but of the necessity to abandon social media for being, well, anti-social.

What happens if one extreme holds sway, and imposes their will on the other? Since only government has that capacity... What happens to the officers who are at ground zero, face the unenviable task of doing things the Founding Fathers were afraid of?

A More Perfect Union may not answer every question. It will make you think about how difficult this subject truly is.

"To Secure These Rights"

"Not might makes right, might for right." Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), The West Wing.

I admit it - I'm a little confused by the Women's March. I'm told that most women don't want to be viewed as an impersonal orifice, but then...the costumes.  It has something to do with rights, respect and privilege. I'm still kind of hung up on the costumes. Go figure.

It isn't my gig and, apparently, I'm not alone. The blogosphere is rife with guys wondering just what in the holy hell. Etc. "They have the same rights as men, maybe they even have certain privileges men don't get to exercise." Oh, woe is me, they add.

I flash to the Hallmark Channel in the run up to Christmas. You know the movies - the big city guy/girl sent to the small town to buy out and close up the restaurant/inn/cookie factory. The women are pretty, the men handsome and true love takes over. The company that produces these million-ish dollar little bits of fluff have no pretense to Casablanca or Citizen Kane. Still, they are hugely popular.

One of the ads that played periodically was a little vignette about a woman architect. She had a terrible time convincing her male...boss, I gather...to take her seriously in the darkly-photographed and uninviting big firm setting. In the final scene - bright office, lots of windows - she answers the phone. She has gone into business for herself. She has a huge smile and a cheery expression. I don't remember what I was supposed to buy, but it's a cute commercial.

But, then I'm probably not the main target demographic for this commercial. I don't think this company spent millions on shooting, prepping and placing this ad on several hundred prime time spots over Hallmark's busiest time of year for me to think it's cute. I think they know their audience all too well - women who have gotten, or are getting shitty deals at work and wish they could do that. The company is as much as saying "We get you. Trust us with your next purchase decision."

Now, boys. Many of us are free-market capitalists - at least I am and most of my friends are. What do you think of this business decision? What do you think it says about the marketing department's opinion on the number of professional women with money to spend who watch that commercial and feel like someone understands?

It isn't about funny hats, creepy costumes or hastily-painted signs. It's about respect. Don't think so? I've written four books on this subject. I've interviewed dozens of women to lend authenticity to my characters.

Respect is in short supply right now. We should change that.

What Does This Button Do?

"Emergency. Everybody to get from street." The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming." (1966).

https://youtu.be/SDjx8a7gZPo

Humor in writing is like...salt, or hot sauce. A little bit goes a long way. This is especially true when the underlying incident isn't all that funny. That creates a terrible dilemma for a writer.

Recently, a "missile  attack, this is no drill" warning was broadcast in Hawaii. Broadcast, in the 2018 style of cell phone messages and the like, in the manner of weather warnings and Amber alerts. Since the crazy little fat boy in North Korea has threatened same, the warning had a ring of authenticity. People took it seriously - can you blame them? There was panic, and more than a few folks called family on the Mainland to say they loved them...and good bye. Only after an extended period had passed was it called off. It hadn't been a good faith error. It was a screw up.

So, not funny.

Writers think differently. The words start to form sentences, paragraphs... Whole blogs, or scenes in a novel. People say things, events unfold and people are...people. They scream, they say earnest things in all seriousness...they make jokes. It helps relieve the tension. It helps gain a little bit of perspective.

But, writers need to be careful not to appear cruel. It is better to have characters point fun at themselves, or a trusted friend. Not at someone who suffers misfortune. Slapstick is fun (for a while) only if the understanding is that everyone is a willing participant. The Three Stooges was funny in large part because the eye pokes, head saws and face slaps turned on Moe as often as anything else. 

Two of us, both SWAT negotiators, were huddled next to a house, behind a shield wearing "full battle rattle." helmets, tac vests...and trying to get the attention of a man with a gun hiding in the home next door to where we were. We were using an ancient bull horn - another story - and getting no where. I was droning on about guaranteeing the guy's safety, no one had been hurt... Etc. I was getting no response. If you've ever tried to keep up a running conversation with someone you can't see, who is not responding at all, you know how tiring that is. My back-up, a woman SWAT member who is also a good friend, offered me helpful hints and suggestions, but I was running out of steam. Finally, she leaned over my shoulder and said quietly "Tell him - 'I'm an introvert. You're killing me.'" I started laughing, turned to tell her to shit up, and saw a guy in the window under which we had knelt, taking our picture. Eventually, the guy surrendered.

Now, if we'd had to kill the guy, or one of us had been injured it wouldn't seem all that funny. Finding humor in the pain of others is sadism. But...

Upon hearing about the missile non-attack, restraint was the order of the day. Because my writer's brain went immediately to a 60's, Alan Arkin's impossibly overblown "Russian" accent and a clutch of garishly-dressed Soviet sailors delivering their warning.

Glad it was a mistake. 

 

 

And They All Said "General...Who?"

General Tso's chicken, for tonight's dinner. Well, who, specifically, is General Tso, and why is his chicken dish so popular? The writer in me had to know.

Words, phrases...getting it right for even the most discriminating reader. Have you ever done this?

Some years ago, we were at a luxury resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. It is in the Yucatan, along the east coast just a bit south of Cancun. Life had been hectic. Life had been unkempt. So rather than do the typical (when I'm in charge) death march vacation, we sat by the pool, drank excellent margaritas and pina coladas, and read.

I had chosen a book by a well-known author... Well known - hell, his best-seller had found two-hundred fifty million buyers worldwide. So, with great enthusiasm (and something of a hangover) I tucked into his long-awaited sequel.

It was hideous. Aside from being something of a poor retelling of the movie National Treasure, it sported some amazing factual errors. One howler in particular had a Blackhawk helicopter settling onto its skid on the White House lawn.

Only, the Blackhawk's undercarriage has wheels.

So, writers do research. About everything. Including dinner.

The menu for tonight was General Tso's Chicken. I'll bite (I know, right?). Who was General Tso? I expected a Chinese warlord, maybe someone who hid in the hills ahead of the Japanese in the 1930s. Could be someone who was involved in the 1920s upheavals (Sand Pebbles, anyone?).

Well, it could have been anybody. What I wasn't ready to read was that it was nobody in particular. It was a dish cooked up (uh, huh) by a chef in the United States. It is a wildly popular dish that is fabulous, high in all of the bad things that make great food great and can be ordered - to be delivered - almost anywhere. In fact, at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, it is called Admiral Tso's Chicken.

Research, reading... It's what's for dinner.

Writing Guy

Writing Guy

Guy Fleegman (Sam Rockwell) : I'm not? Then what's my last name?

Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) : It's, uh, uh - -I don't know.

Guy Fleegman : Nobody knows. Do you know why? Because my character isn't important enough for a last name, because I'm gonna die five minutes in.

Gwen Demarco (Sigourney Weaver): Guy, you have a last name.

Guy Fleegman : DO I? DO I? For all you know, I'm "Crewman Number Six!"

Galaxy Quest (1999).

It happens all of the time. I need a character to deliver a line, make an observation or fulfill a function in the story and the reader thinks "Awe, too bad for them. They're toast."

More often, the character grows into something. In The Heart of the Matter, I needed someone to say "Yeah, I've seen that boat." The next thing I know his name is John, he's a former Navy SEAL and the story evolves with him in the middle. The widow of a police officer offers insight into her husbands demise and that's it. I lose control of my own character and she's Dr. STEM, with a million secrets. I'm struggling to find a name for Karen's mom - a subplot that is meant to fill in the blanks in Karen's complex personality. I meet someone in the ordinary course of teaching, her name fits my character perfectly (sorry, friend) and suddenly "Mom" is circling in a billion dollar Air Force plane issuing a critical order.

I don't really write characters. In a very real sense, they write themselves. So, today, some members of a writer's group to which I belong offered suggestions about a character. One, an editor who I trust implicitly, thought him an improbable presence. Point taken, so I make him something different and give him a work partner. And...

She is dark and brooding. She doesn't say much, doesn't miss anything and is clearly sizing Karen up. What is her story? What does she conclude?

She hasn't told me that, yet.

At Peace

At Peace

At Peace

2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 2:9 And, lo, the angel of the LORD came upon them, and the glory of the LORD shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 2:10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the LORD. 2:12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 2:13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 2:14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

 

The Gospel according to Luke.

 

To the men and women serving who are missing some, or all, of Christmas with their families - firefighters, police officers, doctors and nurses, dispatchers, EMT/Paramedics and all of those others behind the scenes, to the men and women in the military on bases, in the field or in the air or at sea... The miracle of Christmas is about peace, good will and hope. You are the ones guarding those aspirations, sacrificing so that we may celebrate in peace and freedom.

 

God bless, be safe. From all of us here at Bikecopblog, a very Merry Christmas.

On the Mend

On the Mend

Solstice.

At Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, England, the sun rises perfectly between two 4000 year old columns. In the Northern hemisphere, it is the beginning of deep winter. Many cultures recognized it as the beginning of famine, the last feast of plenty until spring. That was, of course, before Nathan Wales and Alfred Mellowes invented the refrigerator in 1916. But, I digress.

The Greer household celebrates it as a time of letting go, mostly of the bad things we've carried as unnecessary baggage. A work-related inequity? Gone. An aspiration overcome by events? Recalibrate. Weather permitting, we set a fire in our backyard chiminea, write out our bits of discarded woes and toss them into the flames.

Maybe it's an ancient urge. We - my wife and I - are largely of Irish descent (my distant relatives emigrated there from Scotland). I can envision the cold, damp and very long nights in huts, burning mud to stay alive, without enough to eat. Somehow, these privations make my petty cares about not being properly respected seem...well, petty.

I'm going to retire soon from the business of training men and women to be police officers and write. Maybe it's time to let go of any regrets, and remember just how amazing my career has been. The good times, the good people, the strength of character I witnessed from my coworkers every day. The incredible bravery my friends showed in the face of mortal danger. I think I'm going to discard the angst, and remember how much I care about the men and women still in harm's way.

What are you doing for Winter solstice this year?

Coco

Take Kleenex, that was the advice we got. Well, give me a break. It's a cartoon.

Yeah, bring Kleenex.

It isn't just the great music, or the gorgeously-drawn visuals. It isn't only the examination and celebration of a beautiful Mexican tradition, Dia de Muertos. It's not even (this is the writer in me) the vivid characters, compelling story and the stunning plot twist. 

No, it's the striking conclusion one draws through the tears. Human beings share deeply-felt qualities of family, possibilities and hope. The movie doesn't make a political point, it makes a universal observation. 

We came home and gave our spirit animals big hugs. See the movie, you'll understand why.