creative non-fiction/ journalism

The news is so fraught with bad news and sensationalism that sometimes I forget that there is another side to news journalism. A wander through the Pulitzer Prize website will make that clear — and give you many hours of good things to read. All the winning entries from the last five years or so are available online, for example: the 2006 Pulitzer prize for investigative reporting went to three journalists at the Washington Post for their expose and pursuit of the Abramoff scandal. All the articles in the series are there.

I am thinking about this because I read a story in the LA Times today. It’s well written and very engaging, about a grizzly bear attacking father and daughter who were hiking in Glacier National Park.

What worries me is that this crosses the sensationalism line. The first hint: this happened in 2005. Why the big, two part story with photos and video now? It seems as though the journalist was true to the facts, but the tone is definitely ramped up. Also, the article doesn’t make it clear if either father or daughter survived until the very end. That’s good storytelling, of course. But is it good journalism?

I’m not sure. Thoughts?

in which I find I have more ego than I thought

Today, in between packing and running around, I checked over at Wikipedia to see if they had banished me yet, and had a look at the ‘discussion’ page. One king kind person made an argument for my notability; another scolded her soundly. Obviously, she said, finger wagging, you don’t understand the meaning of the word notability. A few publications do not notability make. We need secondary sources.

I mentioned this to a close friend who looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. Secondary sources? Secondary sources? What about the article in People Magazine? What about the mention in Entertainment Weekly? What about the New York Times Book Reviews review, and the Washington Post book review, and the articles in the English papers when you were short listed for the Orange Prize?

For a minute I was very disoriented, and then I did remember those things. But you know what? I never kept records. All I remember about the little article in People is: 1) really awful photo; 2) lukewarm praise; 3) I first saw it on a ferry on my way to Vancouver Island and I laughed out loud, so that everybody moved away from me. All I remember about Entertainment Weekly: they quoted the first sentence of Into the Wilderness, which was nice. I can’t even remember if either of these short pieces mentioned my real name, or if it was just Sara Donati.

But do I have those citations? Clippings? Anything. Nope. I do have the citations for the big book reviews and some of the Orange Prize and PEN/Hemingway award stuff. I put it here for posterity, in case my forgetfulness creeps up and grabs this stuff out of my head sooner than expected:

“Orange Prize special report” Guardian Unlimited (London),
Wednesday June 6, 2001

*this special report was notable for two things: another terrible photo, and the odds against my winning were pretty bad. Like, third from the bottom (of seven finalists). However, somebody with worse odds than me won, so I have no idea what that means. I do know that two of the five judges told me afterwards that I had been a very, very close second, and that they had fought for me and almost won. And that was comfort enough for me. Although the fifty thousand pounds would have been nice, too.

“The Orange Prize Challenge”The Independent (London), May 24, 2001

*I have no distinct memories of this article at all.

The Orange Prize (Britain)
2001 shortlist: Homestead by Rosina Lippi reviewed by Dylan Evans

Homestead (review) by Brigitte Frase The New York Times Book Review May 9, 1999

“PEN/Hemingway Award 1999” The Hemingway Review, Vol. 19, 1999: 155

“Shaped by Time, Place and Family: Fictions About Farthest Austria”
Review of Homestead by Carolyn See. The Washington Post May 29, 1998

So there. Even if Wikipedia doesn’t find me notable, I do have a career.

PS: I have a longer list of book reviews some place, dog knows where; that list includes all the academic stuff as well.

waiting room jitters

You know those old movies where the father is smoking one cigarette after another while he paces the waiting room? Sterile white hospital, a couple other tired looked men who need shaves.

Then the nurse comes out and announces whatever it is, and his face lights up. Gee, he sez. That’s swell. He’s happy; no reviewers around the corner waiting to spring details of the delivery or newborn on him with pithy commentary. Now they just have to go home and raise the kid.

For some reason I’m feeling very anxious Tied to the Tracks. I am more nervous about this book than I can remember ever being about any other book. There are some obvious reasons for that, but they are really too easy to be the whole story.

Now see, I’m not asking for sympathy. I have nothing to complain about; in fact, career wise, I’m pretty well off. It’s hard to get review space these days, so when I tell you there was a two line blurb in the Washington Post, you should remember that sometimes there really is no such thing as bad publicity. Because those two lines? Not nice. My agent called to paraphrase and it went something like this: run of the mill chiclitromance; completely predictable.

I don’t suppose you’re surprised to find out that the Washington Post is disdainful about anything that smacks, no matter how faintly of (whisper it) romance. Now, I don’t think the ending is completely predictable (there are a number of endings, and some of them go interesting places), but that’s beside the point. And what was the point again?

Oh yeah. To the WP, being able to predict the ending of a novel is a mortal sin, and thus am I cast into the fires of wapostian hell.

But Booklist loves Tied to the Tracks, and Booklist is all about librarians, and I hold librarians and libraries in much higher regard than WaPo, so I’m fine. Really. No need to worry about me, nosirreee.

Oh, and the person who went to Barnes and Noble and was told they didn’t have it? They do have it, or will. but I’m glad you’re calling Village Books. They are nice people, and deserve support. However, if you do try to buy it someplace and they don’t have it, would you send me an email and let me know? My editor needs to be kept in the loop on that kind of thing.

Finally: in a month or so I want to post about the theory of the Super Duper Magical Negroes (those litcriterati, such wags. such players with language). Because I have been thinking about this, and I have come to the conclusion that Curiosity is not a SDMN. Nor is Miss Zula Bragg. But I’d like to hear your thoughts on that.

Link via RydraWong via the Radiant Robyn Bender.

a bit of perspective from the Washington Post

[asa book]0618644652[/asa] This is from the review of Elinor Lipman’s new novel:

From The Washington Post’s Book World/washingtonpost.com

Elinor Lipman is a far more serious novelist than she pretends to be or is allowed to be by reviewers. (I learned a long time ago that to be taken seriously you need to cut back on the funny lines. I once all but won the Booker Prize for a novel from which, on Kingsley Amis’s advice, I had removed anything remotely mirthful. Alas, it was still “all but,” so I reverted to my old ways.) Lipman, declining to learn this worldly wisdom, goes on making jokes and therefore tends to get described with adjectives that are good for sales but bad for literary reputations: “oddball,” “hilarious,” “over-the-top,” “quirky,” “beguiling” or, worst of all, “summer reading.” The prose slips down too easily and pleasantly to allow her to rise into the literary top division, where the adjectives become “piercing,” “important,” “profound,” “significant,” “lyrical,” “innovative” and so on. Dull, in fact.

But up there at the top is where this enchanting, infinitely witty yet serious, exceptionally intelligent, wholly original and Austen-like stylist belongs. Delicately, she travels the line where reality and fiction meet. Reality being more oddball, quirky and chaotic than fiction can ever be, Lipman inures us to the truth about the way we live by making it up as she goes along, cracking jokes and pretending it’s all fiction.

I find a lot of sad truths about the literary establishment here. Or not?