Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Ride-Along

CRAFT : We are living in interesting times. How has the social unrest and societal perception shifts changed your work?

From Frank

I don't know that it has changed my work, per se. Or if these times are responsible any more than me getting older or more experienced as a writer. But there have been changes.

I use less profanity in my writing than I used to. I don't know if my speech has changed but I do know that I've migrated to a less is more approach to profanity use in my fiction. Now, given that much of what I write is gritty, even dark, stuff, my threshold is probably considerably lower than some authors out there. But I've noticed that people are very accepting of things like profanity, violence, or sex in a book, TV show, or movie if it seems organic to the story. If it's gratuitous, not nearly so much.

And that's cool. It's how it should be. And I'm the same way, believe it or not. Some, if organic, has an impact, and that's the point, right? 

Also, there are a few words that I've come to avoid altogether. I'm sure anyone reading this can surmise what some of these nuclear words are - the 'n' word is the best example. I won't say I never use these words anymore in my writing but I will say that I won't unless it is absolutely critical to the story.  For a while, I'd argue with myself that it was okay to use such terms if was in keeping with the character. But I've migrated away from that stance for the most part. At present, it's gotta be not just a character who has a deep-seated need to say such things, but a story impact need as well. That's a change, because eight or ten years ago, I was pretty casual with characters using slurs. 

That change is partially a response to the same less is more dynamic I mentioned above but mostly in response to my increasing awareness of everything to do with race in our society. It's an awareness level that I think we've all experienced.

Part of this question is about social perceptions. One of the things that has bothered me is how polarized those perceptions seem to be amongst people. For instance, I don't see a conflict in my ability to see the law enforcement profession through the prism of my experience and say that the majority of cops I knew or even interacted with were dedicated, hard-working men and women trying to do the right thing every day... while also saying that I firmly believe we need police reform in this country. 

Unfortunately, this is too nuanced for some. You have to either "back the blue" or call for us "defund the police."  If you don't "take a side," then you're a "coward" who is either "enabling the liberal agenda" or "assisting racist institutions."

Sorry to be crass, but that's bullshit. Some things in life are cut and dried. Most are more complex than that. And dealing with complexity requires a clear and open mind, and it requires people to LISTEN TO EACH OTHER.

I don't mean wait your turn to speak, or listening with the intent of savaging whatever point is being shared, or searching for any piece of the opposing argument that somehow validates your own belief. I mean truly listening.

Because there are points to be raised by all sides of the discussion.

Because a complex and longstanding problem takes a fuller understanding of the dynamics in order to fix it.

Because, you know what? Listening is the human thing to do.

But I don't see much listening going on and that frustrates me. So, since I'm a writer, here's what I'm doing about it.

I'm writing a book.

It's called THE RIDE-ALONG. The premise is simple. There's a good cop who bleeds blue. There's this good citizen, a teacher who is a member of a police reform movement that is gaining traction. She goes on a ride-along with him one night. Sparks fly (not the romantic kind - the argumentative kind) but they find a form of detente early on. And throughout the night, they both learn from each other. They listen.

Now, because this is a novel and because I am who I am, there is more. Things happen after the bulk of the listening takes place. But that's for another discussion.

My point is that since I'm seeing so little of it in the world around me, I decided to write a book about how this kind of listening might actually happen.

I'm in the first draft of this novel but it is moving along well. Whether it sees the light of day or not is anybody's guess. But when the officer in this story is able to share some of the reality of policing with a citizen who never saw it before, it is catharctic. And when that citizen shares a reality with that officer that he's never considered, one that forces him to question his own preconceptions, too? Well, that is is catharctic, as well.

If anyone else ever reads it, maybe it'll be the same way for them.

******************BSP ALERT**********BSP ALERT*************

If this post was too heavy for you and you want to read something less so... well, then this forthcoming anthology maybe isn't for you. But if you're looking for a great lineup of crime writers, a cool premise that loosely connects all of the stories, then The Eviction of Hope is exactly what you want. 

It’s eviction day for The Hope Apartments. The residents have known about it for over a year. It’s too bad they ignored all the warning signs.

More than a century ago, developer Elijah Hope constructed a state-of-the-art hotel. As the generations passed and tastes changed, The Hope spent two decades as an underutilized office building before conversion into a low-income housing project.

Rundown by years of human occupation, The Hope has become a hollow shell of its once great self. It is home to drug addicts, petty criminals, and those hiding from others. The city has long turned a blind eye to The Hope as surrounding neighborhoods gentrified and pushed their disaffected in its direction.

But now The Hope is preparing a return to its original glory. The current owners plan to convert it into a boutique hotel. The only thing standing in their way is the eviction of over one hundred units.

Each resident knew this fateful day was coming, yet most chose to believe it would never arrive. They ignored the posted signs, the hand-delivered warnings, and even the actual notices.

Many stayed until the bitter end.

These are their stories.

My contribution to this Colin Conway-edited anthology is “The Rumor in 411,” a story of loyalty and the power of rumors.


Susan C Shea said...

I really enjoy your post today and agree - the false dichotomy between supporting police as is and coloring all cops with the same negative brush is unproductive. What I'd like to see in a novel written by someone who knows - ahem, you - is how the good cops can break away from the prevailing cop culture that says you keep your mouth shut if a bad cop does a bad thing. We need reform from inside that culture. I don't think it can be successful if it's imposed from outside. Keep writing - we're listening!

Frank Zafiro said...

Thanks, Susan!

Josh Stallings said...

I read this, head nodding, saying yes yes yes. You said so much I’ve been thinking, only clearer. In YouTube world, the piece on any subject Pocket knives to crockery repair, the biggest eye-ball attracters are the “best of ten” lists. They leave no time for nuance. And this true of all social media. Algorithms built to detect strong bias don’t foster conversation, I look forward to reading a book where people talk... and some stuff blows up.

Frank Zafiro said...

Thanks, Josh - I hope I make it worth your time!