"Made in the Shade" A package on Southern writers: profiles, interviews and an 11-state directory of writers you may never have heard of but are worth your time. Appeared in Creative Loafing chain.
"Mass Appeal" A day-in-the-life profile of a telegenic parish priest in Miami. Published in Catholic Digest, reprinted in the St. Petersburg Times
"The Liberation of Tam Minh Pham" How the first West Point graduate from South Vietnam disappears after the fall of Saigon, only to be rescued by his classmates two decades later. A cover story in The Washington Post Magazine
Murray, reporter, writer, teacher, coach, died Saturday, Dec. 30, of heart
failure. Five days earlier, the Boston Globe published what would be his last
column, one that captured the spirit of a man who despite a lifetime of
achievement never stopped saying--or believing--that he remained, at 82, a
student of the writing craft he so loved.
Poynter Online posted an obituary tonight of this influential figure and beloved mentor and friend.
Quotes about writing are like diamonds: they reflect so many different facets of the craft. So it was fun yesterday to type up quotes that came my way last spring at a National Writers Workshop in Portland, Ore. (Scroll halfway down to find sites and dates for 2007.)
I hope you'll check them out and either leave a favorite quote as a comment to my "Chip on Your Shoulder" column or on this blog.
I'm posting an email that arrived in my inbox, with the writer's permission.
Hi Mr. Scanlan,
I'm a regular reader of your blog and frequent browser of the Poynter Web site. I'm just wondering everything is OK with you and your wife. I haven't seen an update in more than a week. Send us an e-mail or a little post telling us you're OK. I don't know why, exactly, that I'm feeling uneasy, I've never met you in person except for shaking your hand at a writer's conference in Portland last year, but I'm worrying like a parent does for his child who's off at boot camp. Haha. Sorry:)
I appreciate the subject line of your email, but I think I'd be happier with the mechanic tag. I have enough trouble inspiring myself. Thanks so much for your interest and concern. I'm going to answer this personally and then post it, if that's okay with you.
Things are fine; just got swallowed up by life. The Delaware trip went very well, providing a chance to visit Kathy's family and the opportunity to get confirmation of my earlier post about the value of providing stories free, in our case, in the newspaper and podcasts, generates interest in a book.
We had two signings and a combined reading/signing. At every one, people came up and said they had read our Christmans novel, "The Holly Wreath Man," in the Wilmington News Journal where it appeared last year or listened to it online; in two cases, people said they had printed the newspaper or web version out and stapled them together in a collection. They still wanted the book.
We returned home just for the last Institute week of the year--monthly gatherings of Poynter's remarkable faculty and staff,some from around the country, most of us from the Tampa Bay area for meetings, presentations and in this case, culminating with a Wellness Day. Coupled with my birthday, holiday card penning, shopping (man, even I think is too much information), I haven't been at the computer much.
Even so, Nick, it's striking how your email has kick-started me into blogging. Maybe writers dreamed up a Muse because it made them feel less alone, especially when writers wonder if anyone will ever read their work, will it sink like a stone in a pond, whether all the effort is worth it. I certainly feel this way about the textbook I'm revising. In any case, thanks so much for asking.
Okay, now here's a dilemma. Should a blog post end with the sentence above, which feels like a natural conclusion? Or can a blogger keep thinking out loud?
At the risk of losing folks, let me return to the subject of the second graf: developing an audience.
At a Barnes and Noble in Tampa for "The Holly Wreath Man" last Saturday, I asked Julie, one many generous staffers, what sold books. "Titles? Genre?"
"The Holly Wreath Man" experienced a similar fate as Peter Watts, who discovered, "One of the two major book chains in the US (either Barnes & Noble or Borders, don't know which) didn't order any copies of Blindsight at all. Nada."
Our publisher told us that Borders passed on our book last year. But we keep reminding ourselves that getting that story into print was the dream and anything that follows is icing. And there's another plus for writing a seasonal book; even though it only sells once a year, there's no reason it can't be out there for many years to come.
So how do you generate word of mouth? Can you cite instances where you've done so or when you've been influenced by same?
The other day, I wrote in "Chip on Your Shoulder, about author Cory Doctorow's approach to selling his science fiction books by providing free downloads at the same time the printed version is on sale. Newspapers, of course, are doing the same thing, offering online versions of their paper for free, while charging for the ink on dead trees product.
My wife, Kathy Fair, and I are engaged in a similar experiment; we write newspaper serial novels, the first of which is now a hardcover book, but which are available free online. Like Doctorow, we're, in effect, in the freebie business, but banking that print and online newspaper readers will win become an audience eager to buy our story in book form.
We'll get a sense of how that experiment fares this weekend. Kathy and I
are flying to Delaware today to appear Saturday at The Holly Festival in
Milton, the town that provided the inspiration for our newspaper serial and book, “The
Holly Wreath Man,.” and do three signings at bookstores in the tiniest state. Delaware is said to have three
counties, two at high tide; it's dotted with places called Dagsboro and
Gumborow, and Little Creek, where the calendars seemed to stop in 1938 and captivated my imagination about forgotten history.
It’s also where Kathy’s family
lives, and where we met 30 years ago, so we’ll have a nice reunion.
Jenny Maher, a reporter for the The
Delaware State News, where I worked in 1975-1977 and wrote the true story behind “The Holly
Wreath Man,” published a generous advance,
And as it turns out, we'll have a new story for the freebie experiment. Starting today, our hometown paper, the St. Petersburg Times, is running a web-onlyof our newest serial, “Mystery @ Elf Camp,” along with podcast recordings of each
chapter..The Times, owned by The Poynter Institute where I teach, teased to it today on the front page and Floridian front.
Will Delawareans (excluding family and friends) who had the chance to read "The Holly Wreath Man" in print or listen to it in podcast form still want a book?
Will they, as Doctorow says of his sci-fi audience,"treat books as markers of identity and as cultural artifacts of great import?" Or will they, as often happens, stop by a bookstore table where Kathy and I preside over stacks of "The Holly Wreath Man," and say, "Oh, I read this in the paper" and move on.
In the parlance of serial narratives, we've left you with a cliffhanger. Stay tuned.
Today is the 65th anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941 sneak attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese air forces, which wreaked havoc on America's Pacific fleet and killed more than 2,400. Pearl Harbor is the default comparison with the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists attack, which left nearly 3,000 dead.
This year, The New York Times has marked what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called "a date which will live in infamy," by unearthing a 64-year-old series that describes, in vivid, arresting detail the herculean salvage effort to rebuild the shattered battleships resting in the Hawaiian harbor like bloated corpses.
There was just one problem with the series; written one year after the attack by Robert Trumbull, then a Honolulu stringer for the Times, who ended his career in 1979 as senior foreign correspondent; until now his enterprising work never saw the light of day. Navy censorship that reached as high as Admiral Chester Nimitz, the man in charge of allied forces in the Pacific, made sure of that.
This is a fascinating multimedia package, merging the products of a vanished hot type era with today's digitized audio slide shows. The stories are a journalism artifact, one reflecting the realities of a far different era when military censors ruled with scissors and dispatches bore hyperbolic trace amounts of jingoism more than offset by reportorial bravery in pursuit of the facts.
Consider the second (nut?) graf of the series' opening story: "Its first full telling in this series of articles reveals the
greatness of American industrial ingenuity, which has reached at Pearl
Harbor a historic flowering."
But the series is also a tour de force of enterprise reporting, produced at lightning speed, especially compared to contemporary projects that consume many months.
"We have spent a full week on the story," Trumbull writes his managing editor, Edwin L. James, of the round-the-clock effort he put in along with Chicago Times reporter Russ Wheeler who had also jumped on the story. "Legging around by day, writing at night--all night a couple of times."
They even donned diving suits to gear to examine the capsized hull of the belly-up battleship "Oklahoma." In addition to Trumbull's series, the Times also published the six decade-old exchange of letters and telegrams between its reporter and his bosses back in New York City--correspondence that sought mightily, but in vain, to reverse the government's spiking of the story.
From the remove of the present, the Navy decision seems clearly capricious, or at the very least smacks of the censors' version of Catch-22; Navy officials maintained it wasn't fair for Trumbull and Wheeler to scoop other reporters when the order of the day, like ours, was to spoonfeed the pack with press releases. They also cited security issues, although the Times said it would gladly submit to the censor's eraser. Six decades ago, the frustration of Times editors is on full display, as the paper's correspondence reveals.
On Dec. 24, 1942, a clearly exasperated ME James telegraphed Washington Bureau Chief Arthur Krock to "tell the Navy people that when a story is held up because it might give information to the enemy we have no complaint, but when an exclusive story is held up until it can be handed out to everybody we register a most distinct complaint and ask what the hell is the use of having special correspondents everywhere."
Journalists, historians, WWII veterans and buffs will no doubt feast on this blast from the past. But it's also an object lesson for anyone interested in understanding that the current sparring between the press and the government over today's war news is just another telling of a very old story.
Only after posting this, does it occur to me that perhaps the greatest irony of this act of censorship is this: Trumbull's story was good news, a positive report about rebuilding a shattered fleet at a time when America's prospects for victory were slim.
"It's a story that should make the country feel proud, and one that will wash away a few bad tastes" Trumbull wrote his editor in what now seems an eerily prescient letter. "I hope you will do something to get it out of the ice-box."
Cory Doctorow, sci-fi author and co-editor of Boing Boing, online destination for all things weird and wonderful online, is a pioneer in many ways.
On December 1, Forbes.com published "Giving it Away," Doctorow's account of the counter-intutitive way he markets his books: he offers them as free downloads while at the same time they are published as hardcover books. Not only does he not mind giving them away, he's convinced he gains much more, in particular a loyal audience, many of whom do buy his books.
There are marketing lessons here for newspapers clinging to traditional audiences and desperately seeking ways to lure new ones, as I point out in a centerpiece column inspired by Doctorow's piece and posted tonight on Poynter Online.
The column focuses on the literary tools that make good explanatory journalism possible.
But there's a tangent, relating to its relocation, that I think says something valuable, to me at least, about blogging. Had I read Dan Vergano's piece in USA TODAY that answered many of my questions about the poisoning of a Russian spy, and thought, "This could be a column," there's a good chance I would have come to a full stop. I had other work and writing to do today, and a column wasn't part of it. But a blog, now that's a different breed. A link here, a comment there, hunt up a visual, run spell-check, and publish. Five minutes, maybe ten, then move on.
Instead, as so often happens, reading and thinking start an associative spin in my brain, taking me down hyperlinked paths that I want to share with others. Time seems to stop, or my awareness of its passage, fades away in the flow state I have entered. More research, composing, fiddling, posting, revision, reposting. The time spent and length of the item both grow. Now I've spent an hour, even 90 minutes. And what seemed like a cyber-scrap now felt more substantial, not a full-course meal, maybe more like the Subway club sandwich I had for lunch--a satisfying and health stack of protein, grains and veggies.
In the end, I realize, once again, that it's all about the value of lowering one's standards, at first, and then, finding out when it's over, that you've raised the bar fairly high. For my readers' sake, I hope l made the vault.