Fred Dickey writes the Monday column “The Way We Are” for U-T San Diego. Today, he also has a feature story in the SD In Depth section about a La Jolla construction manager now in prison for the 2014 drunken-driving killing of a promising marine biologist. In today’s Back Story, Dickey discusses that story and his journalistic background.
Q: How did the idea for the SD In Depth package emerge?
A: I was curious how a person with no criminal background would adjust to a conviction and prison sentence. I chose Christopher “Chip” Stockmeyer because he apparently was an upstanding citizen — except for alcoholism, that is.
I originally was going to mention Rachel Anne Morrison mainly as the victim of the crime. However, the reality of who she was and the obscenity of her death crashed down on me. What an amazing young woman this was whose life was stolen from her — the depressing finality of “forever.” I expanded the story because I thought it was my responsibility to “speak” for Rachel.
Q: How did you research the case, and how did you gain access to the people involved?
A: I first had to gain the cooperation of Stockmeyer, who was acclimating to life at Chino state prison. He wanted to publicly express remorse and somehow make amends for his crime.
This story required much more work than a column: more research and fact-checking, along with trips to the courthouse to check the criminal case and time spent chasing down people, including Morrison’s family members, who just wanted their memories to be given a rest.
Q: Why did you choose “The Way We Are” as the title for your weekly column?
A: Well, the title says it all — the way you and I lead our lives and the wonderful, colorful, frightful and amusing twists we put on them. My mantra is, “Every life is an adventure.” That might sound overblown, but it’s true. Look at your own life. I rest my case.
Much of our work is covering those we call “newsmakers” — politicians, socialites, tycoons, jocks and other often boring people who affect our lives, whether we are grateful or not. In my column, I explore more interesting folks — those you have breakfast with and pass on the street — and the things we of the citizenry experience every week.
Society, by its controlling nature, wants to herd us into a teeming mass like cattle after a stampede. I like to recognize the outliers and contrarians who struggle to escape commonality by defying the herders. I also appreciate those good and kind people who, by overcoming adversity, show virtue and mettle that otherwise might pass unobserved and unappreciated.
Q: What is your journalistic background?
A: Early on, I had to decide whether to be a writer or an editor, a worker bee or a boss. It occurred to me that the only way to protect myself from the blockheads who wanted to be my boss was to be theirs.
Editorially speaking, I became the leader at papers in San Jose, Oakland and Anchorage, Alaska (now that was an adventure). Finally, I decided to turn to writing. I took a pay-the-bills editor’s job at the San Diego Union in the 1980s and ended up writing four novels. Two sold quite briskly and actually made money; the other two, victims of a corporate merger, still repose on a publisher’s shelf in New York.
But, you know, fiction is overrated. No plot could be more interesting than the lives of real folks I write about every week.
I then became the main freelance writer (so they told me) of the Los Angeles Times Magazine. I chose what I wanted to write about and the pay was great. But then the magazine closed because the Times started losing money on it, which meant I did, too.
My column with the U-T began in April 2012.
Q: What would you like to say about yourself?
A: Ah, you don’t want to hear me brag any more than my wife does. And I’m certainly not going to confess anything.
My philosophy and advice to people is: Do what you should do, don’t do what you shouldn’t do and you’ll usually be fine. Of course, if you don’t, I will be grateful for the column it might provide.
I love “little people” because they’re often bigger than we think. And I thank you for tolerating me. That in itself is really big of you.