New Frontier

Wil Haygood: TEIGEN, Mont.

Cattle ranchers in the high plains of central Montana sometimes come across square rock formations just beneath the ground’s surface. They have no doubt about their origins.

“They’re the foundation of old one-room schools,” says Dan Teigen, pointing to a spot where he recently made just such a discovery.

Teigen’s family settled in these parts more than 100 years ago. The dot-size town carries the family name. There’s little in Teigen now but the husk of an old hotel and the huge Teigen ranch that sweeps up and around the McDonald Creek Valley.

Among those who came here over the years were the descendants of Irish, German and Scottish immigrants. Their families continue to populate the spare landscape between the towns of Roundup, Grass Range, Teigen and Lewistown.

But one group that never settled in any numbers here, or in any part of Montana, were blacks. There has never been a black schoolteacher, mail carrier or law enforcement officer in any of these towns. As those school foundations attest, there is history here, but no black history — no frayed emotions over the flapping of the Confederate flag, no sit-ins for voting rights, no debates over the duties of the Talented Tenth.

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A Consumer Problem

If there’s any question about why things are what they are, and why that’s scary, read this: The difference between print dollars and digital dimes — or sometimes pennies — is being taken out of the newsrooms that supply both. And while it is indeed tough all over in this economy, consider the consequences.

New Jersey, a petri dish of corruption, will have to make do with 40 percent fewer reporters at The Star-Ledger, one of the few remaining cops on the beat. The Los Angeles Times, which toils under Hollywood’s nose, has one movie reviewer left on staff. And dozens of communities served by Gannett will have fewer reporters and editors overseeing the deeds and misdeeds of local government and businesses.

Aesthetics

I used to think boring your audience was the greatest sin a storyteller could commit. Maybe I still do. But here’s another one that may be just as bad: confusing your audience.

Look. Sometimes we like to get fancy, to play around with the structure a little, to dabble in the second-person, to try a new voice, to play with the order of scenes. Sometimes this works (21 Grams, Memento, Michael Clayton). Sometimes it’s infuriating (Donnie Darko). All I’m saying is that when you make a decision to tell a story through any other method besides third-person beginning-middle-end, you’re making your own job more difficult. Which is OK. Difficult can be good. It just means you have to work twice as hard to keep your audience under your spell, to keep their eyes where you want them. Remember that. One time I wrote a story backward, with each successive scene happening earlier in time than the one preceding it. One person really loved it. Everyone else was confused. Maybe it was sorta cool. More likely it was pointless.

Innovative structure and experimental voice are two roaring chainsaws. Leave them alone until you really know what you’re doing.

The Coach Comes Out

Bill Reiter: CHARLOTTE, N.C. | Before hitting the links, Marty Schottenheimer offers a warning.

“The coach in me always comes out,” he says, his big blue-grey eyes bearing down with a sudden intensity. “I can’t help myself.”

Then he’s out the door, shaking hands with people who call out, “Coach! Coach!” as he steps into a golf cart and zips off, past the tennis courts, toward the driving range.

This is where a man goes after 20 years as a NFL head coach, after 200 regular-season wins but none of the rings that matter. He heads to this stunning spot on the water at least twice a week, figuring things out day after day on strips of undulating green beauty so tough to play it makes you cringe to look at it.

What A Fantastic Job We Have

Some stories cry out for narrative. Others don’t.

Like this story from Doyle Murphy about … ah … read it your damn self: A Newburgh firefighter became an ad hoc surgeon Friday, called upon to use a pneumatic saw to cut a piece of steel pipe off a 73-year-old man’s penis.

Firefighters were dispatched to the Newburgh campus of St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital shortly after 9 p.m. for a public service call, Assistant Fire Chief Scott Mandoske said. Hospital personnel asked them for tools to cut off a ring. The fire department has a ring cutter used to clip wedding bands from swollen fingers, but firefighters learned that wouldn’t be enough. The pipe was an inch long, an inch in diameter and made of quarter-inch-thick steel.

(I’ll let Doyle’s story bury the latest circulation numbers.)

I Will Vote

Check out Scott Anderson’s series on first-time voters.

From Part I: It was September 1975, and Luis Granados entered the United States under a cover of darkness.

He was 26 years old, living a dead-end life in Mexico City.

“I decided to just go, because some of my friends started getting married,” he said. “I was single. I felt left out. I just took off. With no money or nothing — not even a penny when I came.”

He was young, with long black hair, a strong will and empty pockets.

Now, at 60 years old, Granados is voting for the first time.

The Party Block

Sean Daly: On a Party Block, a neighbor is always outside, drink in hand.

On a Party Block, this neighbor might be you. But more than likely it’s Chuck, a great guy — two tween kids, attractive wife, solid short game — who keeps a cold case of Miller Lite on call.

On a Party Block, you’re not allowed to stroll inside your house after a brutal day at work. Not even on a Tuesday. Don’t even think about it. Instead, upon pulling into your driveway, you sling your bag onto the roof of your Mazda and have a laugh with Chuck, who immediately offers you an adult beverage.

On a Party Block, Chuck does not take rejection well.

So you say, sure, Chuck ol’ pal, one beer won’t hurt . . . and before you know it, five more neighbors have wandered over, someone has busted out beach chairs, AC/DC is cranking from a radio, 15 kids the same age as your own are playing ghost in the graveyard and Chuck’s wife, Lisa, is offering to make a Publix fried-chicken run . . . and you and your briefcase STILL haven’t made it inside your house. On a Tuesday.

Dying, Sorta

Blaine Harden: TOKYO, Oct. 24 — Due to a shrinking population and an expanding Internet, the decline and fall of newspapers in Japan is all but guaranteed.

“I am in a dying industry,” laments Kenichi Miyata, a senior editor and writer at the Asahi newspaper, a national daily with a circulation of 8 million. “Young people do not read newspapers, and our population is getting very old very rapidly.”

But something unexpected is happening en route to the ink-stained graveyard.

The Surrogate

Leonora LaPeter Anton: She’s walking up the sun-streaked sidewalk in front of her doctor’s office, trying to be positive.

I have a baby inside me, Carolyn Zinn tells herself. Ten days ago, a doctor placed two embryos in her uterus. I must have at least one growing in there.

But as she nears the beveled glass door, her confidence drains away. In the last week she has taken a dozen home pregnancy tests, and every one has been negative.

Now she is at the doctor’s office to get the official word. What if it’s negative too?

Try not to think that way, she tells herself. Think about all the times you’ve succeeded, all the life you have given.

Carolyn wants to be pregnant. She wants to give birth. She wants to watch the faces of the parents as they cuddle the newborn she has given them.

She’ll be 40 this year. This may be her last chance.

Please Lord, she says to herself, opening the door.

Just one more time.

Dr. B

Libby Copeland: Jill Biden still teaches Monday through Thursday back in Delaware in the frantic last days of the presidential campaign.

Her students may know who she is, or they may not. She tends to think not. They are busy people, community college students, many of them holding down jobs and raising kids while they put themselves through school. And if they’ve Googled her and figured out who she is, they’ve mostly been too polite to say. When asked if she is Joe Biden’s wife, Jill always has told her students she is his “relative,” and let the question drop there. She is their English instructor, and that’s the most important thing.

Of course, the Secret Service has made it slightly more difficult to remain undercover. The officer dresses down, but still.