book review--Stewart Brand's "Whole Earth Discipline"
My most recent cover story for the LA Weekly (about Mike Goodwin, above, the alleged murderer of race car driver Mickey Thompson). It's a great story but hard to do. Everyone had an agenda and hardly anyone, I thought, completely told me the truth. Worst of all the story took me longer to research and write than any other story I've ever written. A teenage dropout flipping burgers at McDonalds wouldn't accept my hourly wage on this story.
trial update #1
trial update #2
trial update #3
trial update #4, Nov. 28, 2006, by John Bradley, Justice On Trial
trial update, Dec. 3, 2006, Court TV
trial update, Dec. 22, 2006
I need not have been so craven. My editor, Michael Parrish, realized what was going on and cut out the introduction entirely. It helped the piece enormously (and helped strengthen the waivering instincts of a young and more than a little unsure writer). I later discovered that Parrish had done precisely the right thing in cutting the introduction. A month or so after the article came out, Bnai Brith, parent organization of the Anti-Defamation League, held a large public meeting in San Francisco to discuss Nazism to which they invited Holocaust survivors, Jewish politicians and the public in general. In the meantime they'd made hundreds of copies of my article which they handed out to every attendee and publically thanked me from the stage for writing the piece. At the same time, if you dialed the White Power telephone number of the American Nazi Party in the month following the publication of my story you got a recording saying, "The National Socialist White Peoples Party as featured this month in San Francisco Magazine."
To me that was the best result a writer could have hoped for. Jews and Nazis liked the piece equally, Jews because I exposed the Nazis in their own words and Nazis because I'd faithfully reported what they'd said without putting any slant on the ball at all.
Waiting For The Lede To Smile Demurely in a Neglige
I'm not so sure. Oftentimes, I've found, when I'm really ready to write my story (knowing my material well enough that I'm totally in command), the lede just pops into my head without warning. I'll be waking down the street (thinking of nothing in particular) when suddenly the lede arrives. Then it's time to write. Before then, you just spend a lot of time in front of the computer (or type writer or legal pad) spinning your wheels.
Another thing, you cannot will good ledes in existance (by lede I mean more than an opening sentence, I mean the whole beginning to your tale, the thing that implies everything else, that sets the story in motion). You have to wait for the lede to come to you. So walk around, try writing the story in your head (much quicker than using a pencil or keyboard), play with various modes of organization. Then one day when you're standing there watching the squirrels run down the power lines the lede will suddenly come to you as a willing maiden. At that point, the hard work is over. All you have to do is do the deed--write it down, polish the transitions, correct the spelling and submit the expense account.
Writing with attitude
One proviso. While it's great to have attitude (by which we mean a passionate point of view), we don't want so much to hear your attitude as that of the people you're writing about. It takes a lot of research, but you'll know you've hit the jackpot when you can say with certainly not only what your characters did, but also how they felt about it.
Ragtime isn't a non-fiction novel but it easily could have been
Beheading on Mount Baldy
Nabokov, it will come as no surprise, had the most illuminating remarks about narrative. Paraphrasing E.M. Forster, he wrote that "the term 'narrative' is often confused with the term 'plot,' but they're not the same thing. If I tell you that the king died, and then the queen died, that's not plot, that's narrative. But, if I tell you that the king died, and then the queen died of grief, that's plot."
How Can You Waste Your Time Writing About Murder While Ignoring Global Warming, Nuclear Proliferation and the Need to "Level the Playing Field?"
Should a writing instructor ever sleep with with an attractive young coed who shows up on his doorstep with a bottle of Merlot in hand?
I don't know how much it takes to change Roy Peter Clark's life but his recipe for inspired writing is about as appealing as a liverwurst milkshake.