artwork for editor's note

A Law & Order Issue: Why?
Ellen Parker (Editor, FRiGG)

On Facebook one day in August 2009 I posted (apropos of nothing) a status update about what a little bitch Jack McCoy is on the TV show Law & Order. A bunch of writers posted lengthy comments in response. I realized, with a shock: Perhaps others share my unhealthy L&O obsession.

I blame my kid. A couple of years ago I came into the den one afternoon, and I saw my daughter watching something dumb on TV. “What is this? It looks dumb.” A courtroom scene, with Sam Waterston, in a suit. (Is Sam Waterston ever not in a suit?) He was raising his big eyebrows at the testimony of a female defendant (she’s fake-bawling), as if to say, You are a stone fucking liar and we all know it.

“It’s great,” my kid said. “I watch it at Dad’s.”

I’m thinking, Really? Isn’t this one of those dumb shows that has been on TV for decades but nobody watches them?

One of Those Dumb Shows That Nobody Watches

I sat down, and kept watching. I had to admit, the show did its work on me. I watched another episode the next day, same time. Soon enough I discovered there were two spinoffs of the original Law & OrderSVU and CI—that could also be found at various times on various channels. Every Sunday, Bravo would offer Law & Order marathons. Some Sundays I would watch seven hour-long episodes at a stretch. Soon I found myself getting pissed if I tuned in to Bravo or USA and a Law & Order episode WAS NOT ON. Shit, they’re playing The Closer? I hate that show! Why are they always playing other shows besides Law & Order? Nobody watches those shows! WHY THE HELL ISN’T LAW & ORDER ON EVERY SINGLE CHANNEL AT EVERY SINGLE MOMENT OF EVERY SINGLE DAY?

No Smiling!

There are many reasons for loving the Law & Order shows, and some of those reasons are mentioned in the comments by the writers in this issue. However, here I will briefly discuss one of the most important reasons to love Law & Order: no one on the show ever smiles—especially the women. I ADORE THIS. In Law & Order the recurring female characters have real, serious jobs—police detective, district attorney, judge, coroner—and in those jobs they dress like actual responsible professionals (no lace teddies! no spiky pumps!) and they do not have sex with their coworkers. (This is true to life. Millions of actual women have jobs in which they do not diddle any of their coworkers, not even once.) Best of all, not only do these women not EVER flirt with anyone in the office—they do not even smile. No smiling! In Law & Order there is no smiling!

(If any man ever passed A.D.A. Alexandra Cabot in the courthouse hallways and told her to “Smile!” she would give him a look so withering that he would crumple up dead. She is Darth Vader’s smart little sister who went to Harvard Law.)

Write Something Law & Order-like

Once I discovered that pretty much everyone in the world has at one time or another watched some iteration of Law & Order—although some, like me, have taken pains to hide the full extent of their viewing frequency—and I learned that the original Law & Order just celebrated its twentieth anniversary on television, I thought: How about an issue of FRiGG devoted to work by fiction writers and poets who, if not in full-out infatuation with the show, at least have more than a passing relationship with it?

Through Facebook and by inquiring among some writers I know, I assembled a group of writers who were willing to come up with stories or poems that referred in some way to the show. I didn’t have many constraints. The work could feature the show’s characters, actors, and/or episodes—but it didn’t have to. Contributors could opt to write one or more pieces that were related to the show only in their overall themes—but no Law & Order characters or plots were mentioned. (Several contributors did this and did it well: Roxane Gay, Arlene Ang, Jayne Pupek, Sean Farragher, and Didi Wood, with her oddly fascinating photos of dolls as cops, victims, sickos, and/or perps.)

The resulting collection of work is remarkable in its diversity—each writer’s work exhibits a completely distinct slant, point of view, and mode of expression.

Slipping into Cheeze?

The thing is, I happen to know that the two editors who work with me on FRiGG—Sean Farragher (poetry editor) and Dennis Mahagin (associate editor)—are not only skilled writers but they’re also big fans of the show … so (sue me!) I asked both of them to contribute. Normally I like to avoid using FRiGG as a vehicle to showcase its editors’ work (although, admittedly, in the past, we’ve run a lot of Dennis’s poems—but he wasn’t until recently a staff member); however, in this case I just couldn’t leave out Dennis and Sean. Over the years I have had good, long conversations with both of them about the fabulousness of the Law & Order shows—specifically (but not exclusively) vis a vis the coolness of Lennie Briscoe, the wondrousness of Mariska, and the apt grittiness of the New York City setting.

As I said, I tend to look askance at magazines that run the work of their editors. This kind of nepotism, as a general practice in running a literary magazine, is widely regarded (by many, including me) as being très cheezy (sic), and I won’t do it again; really, I won’t; at least not until enough time passes that maybe people won’t notice I’ve done it more than once.

Which Brings Me to Al Faraone

My next task was getting “buy-in” from Al Faraone, the artist who creates most of the artwork for FRiGG, and who plays a huge role in the look, feel, and personality of the magazine. I thought, as a native New Yorker, a father of four, a high school teacher, and a generally fairly clued-in guy, he would certainly have seen some of the Law & Order episodes over the past twenty years. So I told him I wanted to do an “all Law & Order issue” of FRiGG.

He says, “What’s Law & Order?”

I say, “You know: the TV show. Cops and perps. Courtroom dramas.”

“Never heard of it.”

Sigh. Hoo-kay. A slight challenge. I describe the show to him. I ask him to puh-leeze watch it. “Just turn on the fucking TV! It’s probably on some channel right now.”

A few weeks pass. “So, Al, did you watch Law & Order?”

“Law & what?”

Again, I describe the show to him.

He says, “I think I’ve got it. I’ll send you a cover.”

He sends me a sepia-toned cover showing the real-life 1930s outlaws Bonnie and Clyde standing next to their getaway car, an old Ford convertible.

“Al, this isn’t quite what I was picturing. The Law & Order shows are very modern. You know, current, real-life situations—stories ripped from the headlines.”

“But I’ve got a vision for the issue! I’m picturing a ‘crime noir’ theme!” He’s excited. “All the artwork is these 1930s pictures of cops and robbers! Pretty Boy Floyd!”

“Al,” I say. “No. No! We’re not doing that.”

I’m nervous.

“Al, I’ll send you some of the stories and poems. You can read them. You can see what the writing is like and you can get a feel for the sort of artwork we need.”

Long story short, he caught on. From then on the artwork he submitted was great.

Last but Not Least, Elaine Gulker

About mid-December, Al asks me to send more writing to illustrate. I tell him I still don’t have work from a bunch of writers.

“You’re kidding!” He’s mock-outraged. “These people are dropping the ball!”

The next day he sends me a story he’s written for the issue. I’m like, Ha ha, Al. You’re so funny. (He often whips out little jokey absurdist stories in e-mail and sends them to me—just because.) I’m thinking, I do not need any more fucking stories for this issue. But, OK, I start reading the story. It begins:

Dick Wolf shook his head. “That’s the kind of bullshit I don’t want.”

Right away I love it. I keep reading. A lot of it is hilarious. Al Faraone is actually a gifted absurdist writer. I tell him I love the story and I want to see more of Dick Wolf saying, “That’s the kind of bullshit I don’t want.”

He wrote the story under the pseudonym of Elaine Gulker. So when you see the name Elaine Gulker on the table of contents, it’s really Al Faraone.

In early January I said to Al: “I don’t know if I can run Elaine Gulker’s story. We have enough work already. This issue is packed. All the writers I asked to submit work came through—and how!”

He’s like, “What? You better run it! Elaine is going to be furious. You’re running work by all the other people on the FRiGG staff, so why not her? She’s fuming. This is the kind of bullshit she doesn’t want. She’s threatening to quit!”

So I’m like, OK, fine! What a baby she is. I’ll run her fucking story. But I’m never working with her again.