Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Someone Murdered Somebody in Brentwood

by Holly West

We finished watching O.J.: Made in America last night. A few things about it surprised me, including the fact that it's about eight hours long. I don't know where I've been these many months since it was released, but I thought it was a standard-length documentary film.

Not that it matters. I just point it out because others might not know, either.

It's important to note that the documentary is not just about O.J. Simpson and his murder trial. It examines race in America and Los Angeles and how it intersects with who O.J. was, who he became, and who he is now. It's a complicated story that at least deserves the eight-plus hours it takes to tell. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

This post is likely to be a bit random, because my thoughts about O.J. Simpson and the murders of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman are, to an extent, random. In 1994, when the murders happened, I was in my early twenties and living alone in a one-room bachelor apartment in the Wilshire District of Los Angeles. My boyfriend was black. The world was captivated by the O.J. Simpson trial and Los Angeles was obsessed with it, but my memories of my life then, including the O.J. Simpson trial, are random, as memories often are.

Random Thought #1

I'll begin by saying that on June 12, 1993, I had a frightening dream culminating in this image: SOMEONE MURDERED SOMEBODY IN BRENTWOOD was scrawled in blood in the center of a street. That's all I remember. The dream itself was random--at the time, I don't think I'd ever been to Brentwood, though I'd lived in Los Angeles several years by then. There was also no event that prompted the dream. All I know is that I awoke with serious case of the heebie-jeebies and a racing pulse.

On June 12, 1994, a year to the day after I had that dream, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered in Brentwood. It's possible I'm exaggerating for effect here, as I'm not 100% sure of the date of my dream, but I do know it was in mid-June the year before. So let's just say it happened on the same day. When I heard about the murders, the dream was the first thing I thought of and I still think of it whenever the subject of the murders comes up.

Random Thought #2

I mentioned above that my boyfriend at the time was black, and about ten years older than me. I loved him, but even then I knew things weren't destined to work out between us. I'm paraphrasing now, because I don't remember exactly how the conversation went, but in reference to O.J. Simpson's trial, he told me he thought maybe the jury should let O.J. off because he was black. Like maybe O.J.'s guilt or innocence was less important than balancing the scales of justice in favor of blacks, for once.

This conversation isn't why we eventually broke up, but I was surprised he'd suggest such a thing. I wasn't a football fan, but I'd grown up seeing O.J. on television and I liked who I perceived him to be. I didn't want it to be true that he killed Nicole and Ron, but I wasn't prepared to throw reality out the door just because I wanted him to be innocent. To me, an acquittal of O.J. Simpson just didn't seem an appropriate response to racial injustice.

Now, having watched O.J. Simpson: Made in America, I realize how clueless I was as to what was going on at the time and to the events (like the Rodney King beating) that led up to O.J.'s eventual acquittal. Granted, I was young, and as a white girl raised in small town Whiteville, I had only the vaguest notions of what racial injustice actually meant. There's no question I accepted it as truth, but I didn't have an understanding of how it plays out in every day lives. I still strive to understand.

Random Thought #3

Around the time of the trial, my mom was having a conversation about it with some coworkers and one of them (a white male) said something along the lines of "that's what Nicole gets for being with a black man." Horrifying, right? My mom set him straight, but I'm still furious when I think about it.

Random Thought #4

There is very little doubt in my mind that O.J. Simpson killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Reliving the trial through O.J.: Made in America hits home just how much evidence there was against him. He's no hero of mine, especially since we also know he routinely abused his wives and probably others. And yet, there's still a part of me that wishes it wasn't him that did it.

Random Thought #5

There were aspects O.J. Simpson's story that reminded me of Donald Trump and the times we're living in now. I'd have to watch it again to be more specific, but just know I saw some similarities/parallels both in behavior and attitude between the two men.

Final Thoughts

It's always difficult for me to write about race because it's a complicated subject and I wonder if my voice is relevant to the discussion. I'm also afraid of saying the wrong thing. I'm aware this blog post isn't any sort of detailed examination of the subject, but I'm not sure I'm prepared (or qualified) for an in depth discussion. I might not ever be. I only want to say that O.J.: Made in America was important for me to watch and I think it's important for others to see, too.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

New Environment

J David Osborne here. I'm housesitting for Scott in beautiful Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. I'm taking care of his dog, this wonderful cockapoo named Sapphire. She's an energetic pooch (she's a puppy). There are also cats, creatures I am not entirely familiar with, who seem entirely indifferent to my existence in their space, save for an incident last night where the orange one decided to knock my books off the shelves while maintaining a very cat-like eye contact.

I'm adjusting to the city just fine. The first few days were tough for me: I'm a kid from Oklahoma, and I've spent the past three years in Portland, Oregon. Portland's got the trees and Oklahoma has the sky, but neither of those environments are enough to prepare someone for the sudden culture shock of New York City.

I had to start off slowly. Little trips here and there: the bodega around the corner, the five minute walk to the grocery store, etc. Before I knew it I'd gotten on the subway. The F train was gone (who stole the F train?) replaced by the D, and so I took the G too far and ended up even farther from my destination (Uptown) than I'd been when I'd started. I corrected it and got to my destination. The lights, the push of people, the horn-honking: I can see how this place could be intoxicating for some. It's easily the most alive place I've been, save maybe Paris.

I've seen friends, I've eaten good food, but mostly I've been thinking about this strange thing that happens when we change our geographies. I know I'm not alone here, but perhaps this feeling is more acute in my dumb brain: any time I move to a new spot, it takes me a long time to adjust. It feels like my brain is trying to fit into a new mold and not quite making it. Overtime, the brain sags down into the mold; things right themselves.

I write in a lot of my books about how architecture and one's surroundings affect their output and their outlook on life. This new experience makes me wonder if there really is something to the idea that there's a thing called a "New York writer." I mean, how can there not be? There's also something called a "Portland writer," and an "Oklahoma writer." We're all products of our environment, for better or for worse.

Anyhow, tune in next week for guest author David Bowles, who writes about his new collection of short stories Chupacabra Vengeance, out this Wednesday from Broken River Books. I'll be fine here, I think. For a few weeks, at least.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Big Love

Tissue paper hearts tucked away in well-loved books. Heart-shaped boxes, at one time teeming with candy, now empty and set on a shelf. Pink. Red. Cupid. Love.  February 14 has come and gone. Safe in our rear-view mirror. The Valentine sweet rush has faded to a drowsy sugar crash.

I’m not a romantic. When my husband bent down on one knee to ask me to marry him, on a pier, under the moon with water gently splashing the sand below, I nailed him in the chest with my fist, pushing him to the ground like a turtle stuck on his back and covered my face. “Yes. Cut it out!”

My septic heart can’t even enjoy the sweetness of young love for long. My daughter, ten-years old, received a chocolate rose with a sweet note from a lovely young man, also ten. This boy has given my girl chocolate for Valentine’s for the past three years. Christmas presents and Halloween candy, too. Just a treat to let her know he thinks she’s special. Aww.

Blech. For some reason, romance has always seemed manipulative to me. Dishonest. Like the lover with the roses in hand is trying to trick me. Trick or treat? It’s a costume or a mask, romance is not real. It’s an imagined version of ourselves presented on a platter. To entice. Woo. Lure.

Valentine’s Day is a pastel knockoff of Halloween. You act differently than you do most of the year and give out candy but you don’t get to dress up in zombie masks, hang reapers from your oak tree or generally scare the hell out of people. Maybe, we paint over all the pink and start calling February 14th Second Halloween.

There are other types of love that are way better than the idealistic, starry-eyed, Valentine’s kind. “The Body”, by Stephen King, illustrates the painful path away from childhood for a group of forever friends, the insane adventure as well as the ugly, life-changing reality.

It. Goonies. Stranger Things. See the connection? Love of friends. Sure, there are romantic threads through lots of great stories. Romance is a catalyst. A starting point for, hopefully, a long and diverse tale.

My dad is suffering from cataracts and is almost blind. He’s completely deaf and because of his rheumatoid arthritis can’t use his hands to grip. Also, due to the RA, he has a hard time swallowing and can’t keep weight so he comes in at a whopping 100 pounds.

My mother survived stage three kidney cancer. She kicked breast cancer’s ass, as well, and recently had a cyborg pelvis put in to replace her own, wonky structure. She too is a wisp, 98 pounds soaking wet. Still, as they bump into each other inside their tiny kitchen, fetching treats for their new kitten, they are laughing and patting each other’s hands.

“We may be falling apart but at least were doing it together,” my mom grins and stares at the wall, thinking it’s me. It’s not romantic but its real and deep. It’s what comes after the beginning.

Romance is like candy. It’s a delicious treat every now and again but a steady diet is sure to play havoc with your brain and body. Cupid’s big day feels a little forced.

Sitting side by side at the doctor’s office, holding hands during a terminal diagnosis. Standing beside each other, weak and full of grief, while saying goodbye to a dying parent. Loving each other through the ugly. Real love. Epic love.

On this February 14, my husband waited for both girls to return from school and they all whisked out the door to pick up a surprise for me. When they returned, arguing about who chose the best present, they screamed Happy Valentine’s day.

My little one gave me a sweet crystal bear holding a red heart. Not surprisingly, I find this knick-knack on her bed side table more often than my own. My husband gave me the world’s biggest Hershey bar because he is very wise and my oldest passed me a pink and red card with a lovely lesbian couple on the front. Yup, we’ve got a big future ahead of us. I’ve got epic love.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

I Really Made That Mistake Eleven Times?

I got the copy edited manuscript for Another Man’s Ground four days ago. This is the stage when a person of exacting standards and keen grammatical skill scrutinizes every word, punctuation mark, and fact in 338 pages of text. This person is my best friend.
I’m reading through everything – accepting changes, evaluating suggestions, answering questions. I’m about halfway through and so far, it’s become apparent that I don’t know how to punctuate around an em dash. And that I miscounted the number of days that transpire between two significant plot points. And that I call one character different names in different chapters (Bill or Lee – pick one!).
This might sound like painful reading, but I love it. I am very, very picky about details and grammar, and I enjoy delving back into my book at that level. It’s great to have a copy editor who has the same (or greater) level of obsessiveness as I do. I also appreciate not looking like an idiot when the book comes out.
And if a book copy editor can keep a writer from looking stupid, that’s nothing compared with what a newspaper copy editor can do. Having a fictional character with two different names is one thing, but imagine spelling the name of the city’s mayor wrong. On the front page. Or mixing up the numbers of a phone hot line that the copy editors catch because they called it right before deadline and discovered it went to somebody’s Aunt Marge and not the animal shelter featured in the news story.
I don’t think I ever spelled the name of a politician in one of my cities wrong, but I did once spend an entire breaking police story writing that a priceless Aston Martin was stolen from an airplane hanger. Now, a “hangar” is where you park an airplane. A “hanger” is what you put a coat on. Thankfully, one of the best copy editors in the business caught it, and my front page story ran error-free.
Who can ask for a better friend than that?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Chekhov’s and Chandler’s Corollary: Character

Scott D. Parker

A writer’s trope, attributed to famed playwright Anton Chekhov, goes something like this: if you show a gun on the mantle in chapter 1, then that gun better go off in some future chapter. It’s the art of foreshadowing.

Another trope, likely attributed to some nameless pulp writer, is that if your story is mired down, have a guy show up in a room with guns blazing. Then your characters have to react to the gunslinger. Okay, so I just looked that up and the quote is attributed to Raymond Chandler. The official quote is this: “When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” Some websites call this Chandler’s Law.

Well, I think the two authors might be interested in knowing a new corollary might now exist: Chekhov’s and Chandler’s Character. I could go with CCC but that reminds this historian too much of the Civilian Conservation Corps from the 1930s.

You see, earlier this week—on Valentine’s Day no less—I was hitting a wall. I was in a necessary exposition chapter, but as I’m writing this novel with my pants on, I wasn’t too sure what would happen next. If I followed Chandler’s Law, I’d have a gunman enter the room. My novel is a western so that’s not too difficult. Instead, however, I created a brand-new character. She walked into the scene—literally—and she solved everything.

In one fell swoop, I had a new character with whom my two railroad detectives could interact. Because she’s a lady, my titular hero, Calvin Carter, a ladies man if there ever was one, suddenly had to make sure his tie was straight and his charm offensive in place. Having Carter charm the ladies is one of the great pleasures of writing the character.

Most importantly, however, Aurora Ashe was able to link the story Carter had experienced up to that chapter and the rest of the story. (I have a decent idea of the ending, but nothing close to 100%.) Her presence unlocked the door that allowed me to walk through it, fingers flying across the keyboard, words magically appearing on the screen. It was rather liberating. The word count reflected the change, too. On Monday, I only eeked out 1274 words. Valentine’s Day was 1591. The 15th saw 2456. With her on stage, I was again on the fast track to the end of the book.

Have y’all ever had that happen in your writing, when a brand-new character you never saw coming suddenly takes over and clears the cobwebs for you?

Friday, February 17, 2017

San Diego Comic Fest!

On Sunday I'm going to be at San Diego Comic Fest to promote Black Sails, Disco Inferno while participating in a fun panel alongside fellow San Diego area writers Tone Milazzo, Indy Quillen, Chad Stroup, Israel Finn, and Lara Campbell McGehee. If you've got a pass, you can come hang out at the Kirby Cafe with us and listen to us discuss the business of writing as authors who, like most people, aren't cashing James Patterson checks.

I've never been on a live panel before, so it'll be a lot of fun. More info on Comic Fest here.

I've been working on my notes for the panel, and I obviously can't get into it here, two days before the real thing, so I'm going to leave you with this video of the band I'm seeing tonight and wish you a happy weekend. Hope to see you Sunday!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

George Saunders

Perhaps George Saunders is a writer more talked about than read, as the saying goes. David Foster Wallace.Virginia Woolf. Thomas Pynchon.

Saunders's shorts have won many awards. Hell, maybe all the awards. And now his debut novel is out, and it hardly seems as if he's a debut novelist. He's already been the literati's poster boy for years, and I've enjoyed many of his stories so far. Nice to see LINCOLN IN THE BARDO getting love.

The AV Club liked the book

Vulture liked the book and talked to Saunders

My Goodreads friend Faith liked it

NPR said it was bizzare

UPDATE: Keith Rawson said a thing