Just finished reading Telling True Stories: A nonfiction writers' guide. It's a compilation of essays from tried and true authors, screenwriters, and magazine journalists.
One good example of the stellar advice the book offers comes from contributor Gay Talese. "The fiction writer, playwright, and novelist," he writes, "deal with private life. ... The nonfiction writer has traditionally dealt with people in public life, names that are known to us. The private lives that I wanted to delve into as a young writer at The New York Times would not often be considered worthy of news coverage."
Talese's quest, he says, is to learn something about people who tend to be ignored, and bring those people alive for the reader.
Telling Tue Stories emphasizes that the book is the idea, but turning it into a compelling story is the key. Sticking to the story line -- the original premise -- is also key.
DeNeen L. Brown, a feature writer for the Washington Post, says in the book that beginning to read a story should feel like one is embarking on a journey, starting toward a destination. It's the writer's job to "decide what larger meaning the story represents and lead the reader to that." Sounds easy enough. It's not, which is why I'm passing along these tidbits and suggesting those wanting to become better nonfiction narrative writers read Telling True Stories. It's definitely worth the read.
Wednesday, January 30
Posted by Cathy Scott at 1:12 PM
Monday, May 21
A friend and sometime-editor of mine (when I freelance for Las Vegas CityLife) has written one of the most unique books to come out of Las Vegas in decades.
When Matt O’Brien first told me a few years ago that he was writing about life in the storm drains of Las Vegas, I thought, What? When it rains and water rushes through the drains, nothing can survive in there. Still, he pursued the story. It turned out to be a sound decision.
The result is Matt’s five-year, hands-on study of a different kind of Las Vegas underworld -- this one not connected to the Mob. His book, set to be released June 1 (but available now on Amazon.com), is titled Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas.
Matt’s interest in the network of storm drains and channels in the Las Vegas valley was piqued after Timmy “T.J.” Weber raped his girlfriend’s daughter and killed his girlfriend and one of her sons, then fled, literally, underground. Weber was caught a few weeks later. He was eventually convicted and now lives in a Nevada state prison. The Weber case was the impetus for Matt’s book.
Here's what Publisher's Weekly wrote about Beneath the Neon (Matt's first book and, no doubt, not his last): “Continually contrasting the sparkling casinos above with the dank, cobwebbed catacombs below, the observant O'Brien writes with a noirish flair, but his compassion is also evident as he illuminates the lives of these shadowy subterranean dwellers.”
If you're looking for an inside look at a different kind of Vegas story with a narrative style that's a departure from the usual true-crime fare, this book is for you. To read an excerpt, go to Matt’s Web site at www.beneaththeneon.com. You will not be disappointed.
Posted by Cathy Scott at 8:47 AM
Sunday, April 22
Winning photo of Iraqi girl, mother and brother.
Russell Klika, a photographer I worked with in the early ‘90s for about 18 months, has won First Place in the coveted Military Photographer of the Year contest for a portrait of an Iraqi girl.
The award was not a surprise. He'd won his share in San Diego when we worked together at the Vista Press, a daily (and now-closed) newspaper in north San Diego County. In 1992, Russell and I traveled to Los Angeles to cover the L.A. riots. It was an adrenalin-packed, no-sleep assignment in the days following the acquittal of the officers involved in the Rodney King police beating.
Klika is one of the best photogs I've ever worked with. He’s up there with Clay Myers, a Best Friends’ magazine and website photographer I worked with on the streets of New Orleans as volunteers rescued pets left behind in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (also a sleepless, nonstop assignment). Watching veterans work in the field like these two is a sight to see. My job is to simply step out of their way as they do their work. It's equally amazing to see the photos afterward.
Combat Photographer and Army Staff Sergeant Russell Klika (left)
Russell and I once went on assignment about 250 miles off the San Diego shore. It was in 1992 and it was just after the USS Kitty Hawk had come out of mothballs a new and refurbished ship and returned to her homeport of San Diego. We flew out of Coronado’s North Island in a P-3 radar plane and landed on the Kitty Hawk, missing the first wire and catching the second. The force -- of going from who knows how fast to zero -- threw us forward, because the seats were fixed backward, in a 14-seater with nothing but servicemen aboard, and Russell and me.
After we landed, my face must have been green, because one of the airmen looked at me, then asked Russell, "Is she OK?" Russell peered at me from his seat, then said, "No."
I barely remember deplaning and walking across the tarmac and into the ship, and then to the bridge (basically from where the ship is steered). When we made it onto the bridge, the fleet commander was waiting to give us a tour and brief us on training exercises at sea. As soon as he saw me, the admiral barked at one of his men, “Get her down to sickbay” (whereupon a medic put a Dramamine patch behind my ear and in no time I was fine). Russell laughs when he says, "I still tell that story."
Seeing Russell’s photos again takes me back 15 years to those assignments at Camp Pendleton when Marines returned from deployment in Operation Desert Storm, and, as a pool reporter and Russell as a pool photographer, following then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher around the base for eight hours. Or of the man with a pipe during the L.A. riots threatening a SWAT officer and Russell was the only photographer there to catch the moment. We also went into makeshift migrant camps in the back country of San Diego's North County to interview workers, both of us only able to speak broken Spanish.
Russell's images and my stories always seemed to pull together and compliment the other for a decent news package. It’s nice to know he’s back at work capturing those moments, this time as a combat photographer.
To see more of Russell's photos, go to: Russell's Homepage
Sunday, March 4
My good friend Paulette Frankl, a courtroom artist, has penned a quintessential biography titled LUST FOR JUSTICE about J. Tony Serra, a civil rights attorney who has been named one of the greatest trial lawyers in the country.
I met Paulette during the first Binion trial when she sat, day after day, sketching in court, and again during the retrial in the case against Sandy Murphy and Rick Tabish, when Serra represented Tabish and essentially was responsible for their acquittals. It was something to see Serra in action and, about as simplistic as an attorney can be, tear down the prosecution's case.
Paulette, who has an artist's studio in Santa Fe, N.M., has captured, in her words and sketchings, Serra both in and out of the courtroom. To read about the book, go to: http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/rights/display.cgi?no=4208
LUST FOR JUSTICE: J. Tony Serra, A Radical Lawyer in Perilous Times is expected to be published by the end of 2007. I'll keep you posted.
Other links: Cover Story
Publisher's Marketplace rights offering
Posted by Cathy Scott at 7:07 AM
Saturday, August 19
While in Reno last week for a training class, I ventured out one evening to Virginia City, the former home of Mark Twain, who, beginning in 1862, worked as a reporter and editor at the Nevada Territorial Enterprise newspaper.
It was a step back in time. I walked into the first floor of the brick building, then made my way down the worn stairs to the basement that a century and a half ago housed the dark and dank pressroom. It also once served as a newsroom where Mark Twain worked. His desk is still there, in a corner of the office (see above photo I took while I was there).
Twain spent 28 months as a newsman in Virginia City, once a bustling silver-mining town. That's where Twain -- whose real name was Samuel Clemens -- first began using the pen name "Mark Twain." When he had a slow news day, he and his colleagues would invent stories, then run them in the paper. Twain openly admitted it. "The seemingly tranquil Enterprise office was a ghastly factory of slaughter, mutilation and general destruction in those days," he once wrote.
He had a wit that translated well on paper. He sent a cable from London to the American press stating that "reports of my death are greatly exaggerated" after his obituary was erroneously published in a newspaper. Then, in an 1863 edition of the Territorial Enterprise, after a day that brought only minor scuffles, Twain wrote, "We pine for murder -- these fistfights are of no consequence to anybody."
Still, he was a well-respected journalist, author, American humorist, writer, and lecturer. Fellow author William Faulkner was quoted as saying that his friend Twain was "the first truly American writer, and all of us since are his heirs." And Ernest Hemingway wrote, "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. ... All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since."
Twain was born in Missouri, as was my father, James M. Scott. He had every book Twain ever wrote. He loved talking about the Mississippi and riverboats and quoting passages from Twain's books. My dad too spent time as a child on the river. Twain died in 1910, a year before my father was born.
While in the office of the Enterprise, I stood in front of Twain's desk and looked at the journals with the newspaper's name etched onto the leather-bound covers. I stood in front of the lawyers bookcase that had a sign on it that said "Enterprise Morgue," a common newspaper term for the newspaper archives. The bookcase was stuffed with yellowed papers. I tried to imagine what Twain's newspapering days must have been like. He didn't have the benefit of a computer. The paper was set in lynotype, painstakingly, letter by letter. Even so, the Enterprise managed to publish the paper on a regular basis.
I drove to the cemetery at the end of town, then walked the grounds. Rest in peace, Mark Twain, I thought to myself, even though he's not buried there. I noticed the headstone of James F. Brown, who was originally from Ireland and died in Virginia City in 1882. Brown's epitaph reads, "After a fitful fever, he sleeps well."
As does Samuel Clemens, a k a Mark Twain.
Novelty shops, candy stores, and restaurants now occupy the storefronts along the wooden sidewalks of Virginia City. But to me, the best place is the historical office of the Territorial Enterprise and the walk down the same steps Twain took to the basement newsroom.
Rest in peace, indeed.
Story and photo by Cathy Scott
Posted by Cathy Scott at 8:55 PM
Monday, November 14
I've just returned from a two-month stint as an embedded reporter covering the rescue efforts of Best Friends Animal Society. The rescues and the reunions of people with their pets are compelling stories. They're included at http://news.bestfriends.org/index.cfm?page=specialreports&mode=cat&catid=04061773-BDB9-396E-9001EF6EC01318A4&stid=2 and at http://www.lvcitylife.com/articles/2005/10/22/local_news/news03.txt. An agent is working on a book deal. I'm still coming down from being gone for so long. More later. ... Cathy
Posted by Cathy Scott at 10:48 AM
I've just returned from the Gulf Coast as an embedded reporter covering the rescue efforts of Best Friends Animal Society. The rescues and the reunions of people with their pets are compelling stories. They're included at http://news.bestfriends.org/index.cfm?page=specialreports&mode=cat&catid=04061773-BDB9-396E-9001EF6EC01318A4&stid=2 and at http://www.lvcitylife.com/articles/2005/10/22/local_news/news03.txt. An agent is working on a book deal. I'm still decompressing from being gone for so long. More later. ... Cathy
Posted by Cathy Scott at 10:44 AM
Sunday, September 4
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary (www.bestfriends.org) has sent its first team of volunteers to St. Francis Animal Sanctuary in Tylertown, Mississippi, about 100 miles from New Orleans, to help rescue and care for the pets of victims of Hurricane Katrina. I've volunteered to go -- but don't yet know when I'll be leaving -- and will keep a journal while I'm there.
Posted by Cathy Scott at 11:35 PM
Wednesday, August 31
No hints of fresh bickering between rival rappers were observed before the early morning Sunday shooting of gangster rap producer Marion "Suge" Knight, Miami police have said. Suge was shot in the upper right leg at a party the day before MTV's Video Music Awards hosted by rapper Kanye West. Witnesses said Knight was shot while sitting at a table in the VIP room at the Shore Club when a man walked up and opened fire. But that's all witnesses are saying. They're not talking, reportedly because they don't trust the police. Suge's not talking either (no suprise there). And members of his entourage aren't talking (certainly no surprise there). No shells were found (but it's assumed people at the party trampled over them). Eventually it will come out as to who was behind the shooting.
Posted by Cathy Scott at 7:11 PM
Posted by Cathy Scott at 7:07 PM