On The Trail

From Tuesday’s Washington Post: Katherine Harris, who is trying to become a U.S. senator, says she is writing a tell-all about the many people who have wronged her. This includes, but is not necessarily limited to: the Republican leaders who didn’t want her to run, the press that has covered her troubled campaign, and the many staffers who have quit her employ, whom she accuses of colluding with her opponent.

She is vague about what, precisely, makes her a victim, but she says she has it all documented.

“I’ve been writing it all year,” she says in that kittenish voice. She often smiles and cocks her head as if she’s letting you in on a secret. “It’s going to be a great book.”

17 Days To Nieman

Calvin Trillin, who, by the way, is a keynote speaker at this year’s Nieman, in American Stories: I sometimes described what I was looking for as a story that had a beginning and a middle and an end. After a while, I had cause to recall how often people who are about to tell a story in front of the fire say, “I don’t know where to begin.” Looking back through some of the stories I’ve told over the years, I notice that I have sometimes been so conscious of trying to puzzle out the beginning that I state explicitly where it is. A story I once wrote about a couple of teenage boys from South Texas who were found with half a million dollars of cash in the trunk of their car began, “It came to light because of a bad left turn.” A story I once wrote about a Louisiana woman who jousted for years with a lawyer for the state bureau of records over the question of whether her parents should have been identified on her birth certificate as “colored” or “white” began, “Susie Guillory Phipps thinks this all started in 1977, when she wanted to apply for a passport. Jack Westholtz thinks it started long before that.”


The challenges of writing an intimate story on Kirby Puckett’s last years were many. Says Laurie Hertzel: how do you profile someone who is already dead? how do you profile someone who is recently dead, and whose friends and families are still grieving? how do you profile someone who is recently dead and whose will is still in probate, being contested by fiancee vs ex wife? how do you profile someone who is recently dead and who has been written about endlessly — long magazine pieces, long newspaper pieces, books?

Check out the their series on Kirby Puckett let’s talk about this.

“Late on a gray afternoon in April 2003, the door to courtroom 1053 of the Hennepin County Government Center swung open and Kirby Puckett stepped outside.

“With his well-groomed attorneys shielding him from a pack of reporters and photographers, he hustled down the hall. There was no smile, no good-natured banter.

“After a nine-day trial in which he was acquitted of groping a woman in a restaurant men’s room, the greatest ballplayer ever to wear a Twins uniform was emotionally whipped.

“On the verge of tears, he rode down the elevator in silence to meet the media.

“Rarely had Puckett struggled to find words. But on this dreary day in Minneapolis, they came hard. As the herd of reporters surrounded him, he spoke softly.

“I just want to go home,” he said.

18 Days To Nieman

For a man to write well, there are required three necessaries: to read the best authors, observe the best speakers, and much exercise of his own style. — Ben Johnson

There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily. — Trollope.

When you can with difficulty say anything clearly, simply, and emphatically, then, provided that the difficulty is not apparent to the reader, that is style. When you can do it easily, that is genius. — Lord Dunsany.

Practice is nine tenths. — Emerson.

19 Days To Nieman

Roy Peter Clark in Writing Tools: Reports convey information. Stories create experience. Reports transfer knowledge. Stories transport the reader, crossing boundaries of time, space, and imagination. The report points us there. The story puts us there. …

The tool sets to create reports and stories also differ. The famous “Five Ws and H” have helped writers gather and convey information with the reader’s interests in mind. Who, what, where and when appear as the most common elements of information. The why and the how are harder to achieve. Used in reports, these pieces of information are frozen in time, fixed so readers can scan and understand.

Watch what happens when we unfreeze them, when information is transformed into narrative. In this process of conversion:


WHAT becomes ACTION. (What happened.)



WHY becomes CAUSE or MOTIVE.

HOW becomes PROCESS. (How it happened.)

‘But I live here. This is a big thing.’

From Saturday’s NYT: It’s not every day that a great big rock shows up on your block.

But it happened on Vanderbilt Avenue in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The rock is jagged, seven feet tall, very roughly nose-shaped, and covered with a fine, tawny dust. A contractor digging a sewer line yanked it out of the street bed on Tuesday and plunked it down at the curbside near Park Avenue.

Since then, life on Vanderbilt Avenue has been subtly transformed. Adults study the rock. Children trace shapes in its dusty face. Its gravitational force seems to have slowed life a notch. For those who have come to love the rock, it is a reminder that under the crust of the city lies the entire planet.

Of Love And Chainsaws

Ramsey Al-Rikabi in court: Early on the morning of Oct. 20 of last year, Marie Jedraszak, during a fight with her husband, walked outside to the garage, plugged an electric chain saw into an orange extension cord, and brought it back into the house.

Police later found her husband, Edward, walking along the road with a gash in his right elbow, deep enough to expose the bone. They found blood splattered throughout the house and a bloody chain saw on the bathroom floor.