the next writer in the series: may 1, 2018

I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.

On the first of each month,
a guest writer
shares
how he or she spends the day.

May 1, 2018: Elle Johnson

Cool things are happening in TV these days. Think Rectify–a literary series I love. And The Leftovers. Elle Johnson is an Executive Producer on the Amazon original series Bosch, which is based on Michael Connelly’s detective novels. At a recent Writing by Writers workshop, I heard her read this:

ICE

My father stands at the bottom of the hill, stamping his feet. Waiting. He looks like a hangry grizzly bear. He is wearing a floor length sheepskin coat, dyed a hypnotic slate-grey. Inside the coat is full of lush black curls. The lifties all turn and stare at my father—a six foot three black man with gold incisors and a toothpick defiantly sticking out the side of his mouth, and a pair of oversized oval black sunglasses that unapologetically shield his eyes day and night.  His face is permanently stamped with an expression that can only be interpreted as “kill whitey.”  If these people only knew that beneath the sheepskin coat, in a worn brown leather holster, there is a shiny snub-nosed Colt 35 Revolver and a badge. If they only knew that he made the coat himself. Bought the material, found the pattern, stayed up all night for months sewing the pieces together by hand so that he would have something fly to wear while waiting for me at the bottom of the hill.

I am wearing a smaller version of my father’s coat. The coat is not really great for skiing, but then again I am not a great skier. But I am warm. And my coat is a conversation starter, which is important to me because I am always alone, the only black kid on the slopes.

My father takes me skiing every winter, ever since I won that first gold medal off the bunny run at Killington. My father was hooked. Pretty soon this was our thing. We spend the weeks before a trip talking about the snow and the conditions. He shows me how to wax my Billy Kidd skis, but then never makes me actually do it. He adjusts the binding on my ski boots then pays to have the guys in the chalet do it right. He waits in the snow, in the sun, and the rain.  But he refuses to ski with me. My father’s family is from Bermuda and he grew up in the South Bronx. He doesn’t know from skiing. And doesn’t want to learn. Not if it means taking the toothpick out his mouth or the sunglasses away from his eyes. Not if it means he can’t wear his sheepskin coat. Not if it means falling, being the only black man on the white slope. My father is too ice for that.

In her own words…

Elle Johnson was born and raised in Queens, New York. She graduated from Harvard College where she squandered her parents’ hard earned money when she studied art history. After four years of higher education she realized she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life and embarked on a series of adventures that inspired her to start writing. She rode a bicycle from San Francisco to Boston to raise money for Save The Children and OxFam America. She worked at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. She was awarded a Rotary Fellowship to study screenwriting at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.  Then–with several scripts, short stories, and a play under her belt–she returned to New York where she was promptly hired to clean apartments, paint houses, and sell tickets at a theater box office while she practiced her craft. It wasn’t until she moved to Los Angeles that she landed a job at Sony Animation–as an assistant. She stuck it out in LA but returned creatively to her roots in New York where her family had strong ties to law enforcement. Her father was a Parole Officer in Manhattan and her uncle was a Homicide Detective in the Bronx. She landed her first TV writing job thanks to a script about her uncle’s most important homicide investigation–the murder of his own 16-year old daughter, Karen.

Since then Elle has written many of her family’s crime stories into episodes of such television dramas as HOMICIDE, LAW & ORDER, and CSI: MIAMI. One of the highlights of Elle’s career came on A&E’s scripted detective series THE GLADES where she researched, wrote and produced an episode set in the world of NASCAR that featured nine actual race cars, four champion drivers (Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Brian Vickers, and Joey Logano), and one monkey.

In addition to police procedurals Elle has also written for a number of character driven television series such as Lifetime’s critically acclaimed civil rights drama ANYDAY NOW, CBS’s GHOST WHISPERER, TNT’s SAVING GRACE, and Freeform’s groundbreaking series THE FOSTERS.

Elle is currently writing a memoir about her cousin Karen’s murder titled, THE OFFICER’S DAUGHTER. She has workshopped this memoir at Sirenland with Dani Shapiro, the Cuba Writers Program with Alden Jones, and most recently Samantha Dunn at Writing by Writers Bootcamp. This memoir was  also a finalist for UCLA’s 2015 Allegra Johnson Prize in Memoir Writing.

Come back on MAY 1st to read how ELLE JOHNSON spends her days.

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