Introductions

I’m excited to welcome a new voice to the mix here. Our friend Janine Anderson has graciously volunteered to help us in our search for the perfect story. You probably know her already, but here’s some background.

Janine has spent 12 years as a journalist in southeast Wisconsin, covering suburban communities and the smaller cities south of Milwaukee.

She grew up in small-town Wisconsin and studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she double-majored in dance and found the creative techniques from dance courses a perfect counterbalance for the technical focus of her journalism studies.

Janine has won state and national awards for her work, including a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism for a 2005 story about a grandparents raising their grandchildren. This story about a man’s court battles over a murder he says he didn’t commit came out of her participation in the inaugural Mike Levine Workshop in 2009.

She loves journalism that helps build community through a better understanding of the people within it and the stories they have to share.

Janine is a reporter for the Kenosha News, and previously worked for Patch and The Journal Times in Racine, Wis.

Here’s some stuff she wrote she thinks you might like:

Call me

Charles Powell Jr., call Steve Frazier.

He wants you to pick up a phone and dial (262) 989-8585.

He wants to help you.

Hour of need

The request came out of nowhere.

Connie Cobb Madsen, coordinator of the Racine County Victim Witness Office, walked through the office Sept. 30 saying the same thing to everyone: You’ve got an extra room in your house. You can take her.

New judge, new rules

A new judge comes with new rules, and everyone who practices law in the felony courts is learning which ones come with Circuit Court Judge Gene Gasiorkiewicz, who took the bench in August.

Ties and coats are a must. No shorts. No flip-flops. No cleavage or short skirts.

No unapproved cups.

A shared grief

This is how you say goodbye to a friend, to a brother, to a cousin, to a boy you never even met.

You come outside, to the place where a bullet pierced his chest; to the place where he collapsed, at the end of a glass-strewn walkway; to the place where he died, by a rust-streaked pole with a crimped top.

Please help me welcome Janine.

Ammunition

Recently, Brandon Sneed posted a quote from writing guru Robert McKee on his website: “Convert exposition to ammunition.”

This is tremendous advice. Here’s what I think it means: Every story contains a certain amount of background information that somehow has to be worked in. Too often, writers do this in terribly unimaginative ways. Such as starting a section of the story this way: “John Quincy Smith was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, on July 11, 1947….”

Right about then, I throw the magazine on the floor and fall asleep. In the middle of the night I get up to visit the restroom, slip on said magazine, bruise my sternum, suffer acute mental anguish, and sue the writer for damages.

Anyway, back to the McKee quote. Exposition to ammunition. The quickest way to do the conversion is to take what could be BACKSTORY — the character’s early life — and make it FRONTSTORY. That is, beginning at the beginning, and moving forward, and not looking back.

You could also leave out the backstory altogether. I admire writers who have the courage to do this.

Would anyone like to share an example — from your own work, or someone else’s — where something that could have been boring exposition was converted into narrative fireworks?

 

 

Doubt

Baxter Holmes: Flames licked at the vinyl paneling and the plywood boxed around a stovepipe. They crept skyward, toward scattered clouds hung late in the frigid North Shore night.

Finally, near the roof of the two-story Colonial home in Hamilton, they found a way inside.

Christmas ornaments, family photos, and more were collecting dust in the attic, but the fire was blind to heirlooms that measured Michael Carter-Williams’s family through time. It saw only fuel.

Quickly, the flames swept into his upstairs bedroom, where they devoured the game jerseys in his closet that his mother had planned to frame: the one from the McDonald’s All-American Games, from the Jordan Brand Classic. Others, too. Gone.

But the flames also destroyed a nondescript piece of paper taped to the wall above the desk near the point guard’s bed, one that hung there for the past six years.

Farewell

Rick Maese: The secret was already weighing on him as the team bus pulled out of Washington and headed north.

Tal Bayer, coach of one of the District’s most unlikely athletic success stories, sat at the front, his pale bald head a beacon to his roster of two dozen teenagers. He called them his boys, and the physical expression of their relationship — cleats, gym bags, rugby balls — were strewn all over the bus.

Bayer liked taking his rugby players out of the city, where so many of their lives are defined by struggle. “Every mile you get away from D.C., away from school, from the pressures of home, you can see the kids open up,” he said.

It was early March, and the Pride rugby team was headed to Philadelphia for its first real test of the season. Bayer had been making these trips since founding the program 14 years ago at what was then Hyde Leadership Public Charter and is now Perry Street Prep Public Charter. Pride is one of the only high school squads in the country composed entirely of black players, an inspirational story that in recent years had intrigued documentary filmmakers and Hollywood screenwriters.

Bayer’s teams have visited more than 15 states, and his best players have been part of scrums in nearly a dozen countries. In a city where barely one in three black boys graduates from high school, Pride’s most impressive record has been off the field. More than 150 inner city kids have played for the team. Nearly all have graduated from high school, and more than one third have gone on to play in college.

To his players, Bayer has been far more than a coach. He has been a guiding force in their lives, the father figure so many didn’t have.

#womenatlength

Port Magazine heralded the “New Golden Age” of print publishing by featuring six male editors on its cover. Lots of folks took issue, including Alyssa Rosenberg, who wrote: “The choice of those particular six white men, most of whom represent legacy publications (GQ, the New York Times Magazine), suggests that Port has an amazingly conservative understanding of what constitutes the new golden age.”

Proof? Mark Armstrong at Longreads compiled a list of 21 Examples of ‘Serious Journalism’ from Women’s Magazines and Websites that includes some great stories.

But Amanda Hess fires back on Slate this morning, with an attempt to measure story investment (and risk?) as a means of measuring import. Here, she argues, women’s magazines don’t measure up.

It’s important to recognize stories by, for, and about women, and to celebrate the magazines that are dedicated to publishing them. From the annual ASMEs to the cover of Port, that doesn’t happen often enough. But the women’s magazine problem is not just a perception issue. “Serious journalism” defies definition, but a publication’s investment in storytelling—the time, money, and pages it devotes to narrative—is measurable. I’m not privy to the budget breakdowns of these magazines, but it’s not difficult to discern the editorial investment in a story just by reading it. And even the pieces that have been heralded this week as “the very best” of women’s magazines could invest a lot more.

What I’m wondering is whether quote-unquote serious female writers even pitch to quote-unquote women’s magazines?

Congrats

From The Mayborn:

DENTON (UNT), Texas — An article in TheWashington Post about a Manassas, Va., swimming pool salesman experiencing the unraveling of his decades-long success story during a summer of disappointments received the first place award in the first Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest sponsored by the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference.

Eli Saslow’s “Life of a salesman: Selling success, when the American dream is downsized” was published Oct. 7 in the Post.

The Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest, which was co-sponsored by The Dallas Morning News, is the newest writing contest offered by the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, which has been hosted each July since 2005 by the Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalismat the University of North Texas.

From its first years, the conference has held its Personal Essay, Book Manuscript and Reported Narrative contests to recognize extraordinaryliterary journalism and narrative nonfiction from writers who had not published their work. The conference and The Dallas Morning News launched the Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest to honor previously published work and to encourage narrative nonfiction storytelling at newspapers across the U.S.Long-form narratives published during 2012 were eligible for the competition.

“With the focus on narrative journalism that these awards represent, we hope they will encourage more compelling, important and interesting narrative stories that attract and retain subscribers,” said Jim Moroney, publisher and chief executive officer of the Morning News.

As the first-place winner, Saslow, a national enterprise writer for the Post, receives $5,000 and free registration to attend the 2013 Mayborn conference, which will be held July 19-21 (Friday-Sunday)at the Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center in Grapevine, Texas.

“It’s an honor to be recognized along with some of the writers I admire. It’s also heartening to see evidence of so many newspapers supporting narrative journalism,” Saslow said.

Kevin Merida, the managing editor of the Washington Post, said, “We’re honored to win two of the top three prizes in theBest American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest. These awards reflect not only the extraordinary gifts of Eli Saslow and Anne Hull but also the Washington Post’s unwavering commitment to ambitious narrative journalism.”

Kelley Benham, a reporter at The Tampa Bay Times, received the contest’s second-place award of $2,000 for “Never Let Go,” her personal account of the months following the birth of her daughter, who weighed 1 pound and 4 ounces when she was born more than 12 weeks premature. It was published in December.

Anne Hull, another writer at The Washington Post, was named the contest’s third-place winner and received $1,000. Her article, “Breaking Free,” traces a teenage girl’s climb out of poverty and her working-class neighborhood in New Castle, Penn., as she prepared for college. It was also published in December.

All three winning narratives will be published before the 2014 Mayborn conference in a print and e-book anthology, “The Best American Newspaper Narratives of 2012,” that will be funded by the Vick Family Foundation.

The contest judges were Maria Carrillo, managing editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk; Roy Peter Clark, a writer instructor and former dean at the Poynter Institute; Roger Thurow, a former foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal; Michele Weldon, assistant professor of journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School; and Mike Wilson, managing editor of The Tampa Bay Times.

The judges also selected three runners up and four notable narratives to be included in “The Best American Newspaper Narratives.” The runners-up are:

•John Branch of The New York Times for “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek,” published in December.

•Dan Barry of The New York Times for “Donna’s Diner,” published in October.

•Rosalind Bentley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for “The Nation’s Poet,” published in October.

The notable narrative winners are:

•Mark Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for “I Boy: A family’s challenge to understand gender,” published in December.

•Monica Rhor, formerly of the Houston Chronicle, for “Young Houstonians go from Homeless to College,” published in July.

•Louis Hansen of The Virginian-Pilot for “Girl Who Took Down a Gang,” published in December.

•Martin Kuz, formerly of Stars and Stripes, for “Soldiers Recount Attack,” published in May 2012.

Hello Out There

Has anyone else noticed that people don’t comment on this site as often as they used to? I’m wondering what’s changed. Is it because more people are instead posting their comments to Twitter and Facebook or their own websites? Or is something more at play?

Related question: Do you frequently visit this site without commenting? If so, we’d love to see you join the conversation.

Gone

Joshua Sharpe: This Father’s Day marks the 13th anniversary of the death of a Woodstock teen killed in a car accident. The man accused of causing the crash was believed to be in the United States illegally. There has been no trial in the case.

Dustin Inman was a 16-year-old Etowah High School student who spent his days, like many other Cherokee County boys his age, fishing, hunting and passing time with friends and family.

If he were alive today, he would be 29 years old, but Dustin’s life was cut short when he and his parents, Billy and Kathy Inman, were in a car accident in Gilmer County on June 16, 2000.

The Inmans were on their way to visit family in Hiawassee when they stopped at a red light in east Ellijay and a car barreled into them from behind.

Dustin died on the scene, and his mother was critically injured.

Billy received a concussion and recovered, but he said Thursday the wounds cut in his family’s lives will never heal.

Kathy sustained severe brain injuries in the crash and now uses a wheelchair.

Billy said her injuries have subjected her to changes in her brain’s activity, chronic headaches, seizures and numerous surgeries.

“People don’t realize we’re still dealing with this 13 years later,” he said.

Besides having to adjust to the new realities of their lives, the Inmans have spent the last 13 years searching for Gonzalo Harrell-Gonzalez, the man the Inmans hold responsible for their son’s death, and have led a passionate fight for immigration reform.