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Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

I haven’t read much the last few days because I’ve been ranting to my friends about Florida Gov. Rick Scott using “emergency powers” to make immediate deep cuts to programs that serve tens of thousands of developmentally disabled residents. The story hit the headlines across the state on Friday, but this was no  April Fool’s joke.  If you don’t already know the dastardly details, look up Kate Santich’s stories on orlandosentinel.com http://tinyurl.com/4ytas2z

Before I go any further, I’m not objective about this. I know social workers whose clients’ quality of life and care are going to be seriously affected because of the budget cuts. Scott is going after the most vulnerable among us — people with Down’s Syndrome, severe autism, cerebral palsy and other ailments, largely impoverished and many without family.

I did not vote for Scott, but this is not sour grapes because my candidate lost by an oh-so-slim margin. No, let’s call it grapes of wrath. Based on what Scott says and does, I think he’s a heartless hypocrite, who, as columnist and novelist Carl Hiaasen has said, “seems to redefine crazy at least once a week.”

Carl will be the featured speaker Wednesday night in Orlando for the Adult Literacy League’s fundraiser, “Between the Wines.” The event is almost sold out, but you can still call the league office at 407-422-1540 to get tickets and last minute-info about the event.  

Sentinel TV critic Hal Boedeker had a good Q&A with Carl last week, http://tinyurl.com/3r47vyj Here’s what Carl said about Scott: “Nobody knows that much about Scott right now, except that he’s a rigid ideologue. Obviously he’s a bit hazy on how the process of government works, and also on the concept of separation of powers. If he gets even half of what he wants in his budget cuts, many Floridians are going to be stunned by what happens to their daily lives in regard to schools, medical treatment, public parks, local police and fire services. Try calling the Tea Party if your house goes up in flames.”

I’ve interviewed Carl numerous times over the years about his gonzo satirical novels. Although he notes that there is immediate satisfaction in writing his Miami Herald column on politicians’ shenanigans, he says there’s fun to be had in fiction because you can make sure the bad guys get what they deserve. His villains come to notoriously bad ends.

At the moment, Scott reminds me of  two infamous characters preying on the weak — the professional wheelchair thief in Strip Tease and the guy who stole fentanyl patches from bedridden cancer patients in Skinny Dip. This being Florida, Carl based both on real people who got caught.

In my post last summer on Carl’s most recent novel, Star Island, I suggested that some readers might write in the name of their favorite recurring character on their fall gubernatorial ballots. That would be Skink  — the crazy ex-governor who comes out of the swamps to dispense vigilante justice on those who would despoil his beloved Sunshine State. Right now I would really like to see Skink invoke his emergency powers and go after Gov. Stink. Seriously.

Open Book:  That’s a picture of Carl Hiaasen. I could have used a photo of Gov. Rick Scott, but I didn’t want to frighten the horses and small children.

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Here’s how bad my memory is. I thought I had already blogged about that new book by whats-her-name. You know. The essayist and screenwriter I’ve adored for years, ever since she was The Wallflower at the Orgy. Crazy Salad. Scribble, Scribble. Once called Julie Nixon a chocolate-covered spider. Heartburn. When Harry Met Sally. Sleepless in Seattle. You know. Recently felt bad about her neck. Now more reflections on getting older. Same last name as my friend Seth only spelled differently. Ephron! Nora! Nora Ephron!

I think I may have met her once at some Knopf publishing thing, or maybe we just talked on the phone when I was doing a story on the reissue of Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes and Theatre Shoes, which I read and reread as a kid and which Meg Ryan raved about in You’ve Got Mail. But after reading her new collection — the aptly titled I Remember Nothing — I’m almost positive that Nora Ephron won’t recall any conversation we might have had. After all, this is a woman who was surprised to run into her sister at the mall and didn’t even recognize her at first. Well, maybe her sister changed her hair. No, the whole reason Nora was at the mall was to meet her sister.

I hope she doesn’t mind me calling her Nora. Even if we haven’t talked — although I really don’t think I would have imagined it, her being kind of an idol of mine — I feel we’re on a first-name basis. I so relate to so much of this new book, although between “Google” moments (such a better name than “Senior” moments) and lupus fog, I may soon forget which parts.

Oh, “My Life as an Heiress,” in which Nora recounts how she and her sisters expected a large legacy from their Uncle Hal, reminded me of when a great-uncle I never knew died when I was high school or maybe college. He’d been in the state mental hospital for years and years because of “brain fever,” and died without a will, so his share of his father’s estate went to his many siblings and their descendants, including my mother. But like Nora, she never entered the “the fifth stage of inherited wealth: Wealth.”

And how could I not identify with “Journalism: A Love Story” ? Nora recalls working all hours of the night and into the morning as a mail girl at Newsweek. “It was exciting in its own self-absorbed way, which is very much the essence of journalism: you truly come to believe that you are living in the center of the universe and that the world out there is on tenterhooks waiting for the next copy of whatever publication you work at.” So true. Even if that publication is your own occasional blog.

Some of these essays are mainly lists or short paragraphs. Amusing, but I prefer the more substantive, such as “My Life as a Meat Loaf.” I wish I’d had had the chance to dine on Nora’s Meat Loaf at Monkey Bar before Larry Forgione changed the menu and recipe. Larry Forgione? Do I know him? I know I know the name. Wait, wait. It will come to me, but maybe not until the middle of the night or next week or never. Might as well Google it now.  Aha! He’s the new Iron Chef. I just saw him win the title last month on the Food Network.

Speaking of food, I agree with Nora when it comes to pie.

Open Book: I hope that if I ever meet Nora Ephron again, I recognize her. Maybe we can compare Arubas. I bought my copy of I Remember Nothing (Knopf) according to my credit card statement.

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My mother’s been visiting for three days and already has read four books, two of which — Kathy Reichs’ Spider Bones and Nicolle Wallace’s Eighteen Acres — are still on my TBR list. As for me, I finished re-reading Dennis Lehane’s Gone, Baby, Gone and the terrific new sequel, Moonlight Mile, but haven’t gotten around to blogging about them because I’ve been too busy reading about books.

Some days are like that, I told a class of UCF journalism students last night. I spend the day on the net, which is the now and future of book reviewing and reporting, as every article on the nervous state of publishing seems to believe. I start my morning with the wonderful  “Shelf Awareness,” which appears in my inbox, along with the recommended “The Daily Dose” from Powell’s Books, then move on to Facebook and Twitter. I update the nook’s Daily and check out bn.com’s Deal of the Day.

 Today, after reading reviews of the newspaper novel Rogue Island in the Washington Post and Antonia Fraser’s Must You Go, about her marriage to Harold Pinter, at NPR, I downloaded samples of both books to the nook for further consideration. Those samples joined about a dozen others. I pre-ordered Nora Ephron’s new collection. I checked in on some of my favorite blogs and commented on a post on “Moby Lives” about judging book awards. I took a survey on NPR’s book coverage. While at the NPR site, I listened to Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians, reading from one of my all-time favorites, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, which I reread a couple months ago. (Even as the new books stack up, I’ve vowed to do more reading from my older books, shopping my shelves, so to speak).

I signed in at NetGalley and spent awhile looking at what books are coming out in early 2011. I entered a book giveaway contest sponsored by Crown Publishing on Facebook because The Black Apple’s Paper Doll Primer reminds me how much I like playing with scissors if I ever stop reading long enough to do some art projects. I saw the New York Times “Paper Cuts” blogged about John Fowles’ The Tree, which I wrote about last week. The old reporter in me rejoiced at my “scoop.”

Then I looked at the TBR stack that Mom has been whittling away on. I picked up John le Carre’s Our Kind of Traitor, read three pages and fell asleep — not because the book is boring but because I needed one of my twice-daily naps. Mom kept on reading. And she’s reading now, although I’ve assured her that she can take the book home with her to S.C. in the morning. I’ll read it when I come up in December.

I started writing this because I couldn’t bear watching election results. A friend has just called with condolences. Time to go to bed. Like the sun, the TBR books will be there in the morning. Tomorrow is another page. . .

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I once shared a cab with several book conventioneers in Chicago after we all got tired of waiting for the shuttle bus that never came. We introduced ourselves, and the woman sitting next to me said, “I know you. You’re big in Duluth!” I looked at her in astonishment — never having been to Minnesota — and she quickly explained that my book reviews and columns, syndicated on the KRT news wire, were frequently published in the Duluth News Tribune.

I came home to Orlando and shared “Big in Duluth” with my friend Dewayne. We’ve collected odd phrases over the years that we think sound like intriguing titles for short stories. “Big in Duluth” joined such favorites as “But It Came with Extra Horsehair” and “Punch Were Served.”

Fast-forward to a couple of years ago, and I’m having a Facebook/e-mail conversation with Laurie Hertzel, books editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Turned out she’s from Duluth, so I told her my “Big in Duluth” story. Turns out she was the reason I had a rep in her hometown because she picked out the reviews that ran in the paper, where she worked for 18 years. Hertzel thought being books editor/critic must be the best job in the world and wanted to be “me” one of these days.

The newspaper world is small (and shrinking rapidly) so these kind of coincidences happen all the time. After reading Hertzel’s engaging new memoir, News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist, I could tell you a lot more that the two of us have in common, but suffice to say she’s really the one who is “Big in Duluth,” and a lot of other places as well, including Russia.

The narrative is chronological, beginning with Hertzel starting her own newspaper full of her large family’s activities as a preteen, to joining the smoke-filled, male-dominated newsroom as a clerk in 1976, to working her way up the reporting and editing chain while witnessing the factories closing in Duluth and the population moving away. Change threads its way through News to Me.

 Any writer/journalist, or readers with such career aspirations or interests, will learn a lot from this book about the pre-computer newspaper world of IBM Selectrics, pica poles and clattering wire machines. Those days weren’t all that far removed from hot type and “hello, sweetheart, get me rewrite,” and female reporters still had to prove themselves outside of the women’s section. Hertzel got out of coffee-making duties for the male editors by making it undrinkable. Sorry, she shrugged. I don’t drink coffee, she told them, I don’t know how it’s supposed to taste. (I’ll second that.)

But Hertzel hasn’t just compiled a bunch of “war stories” for fellow journalists to appreciate. As she writes,  she didn’t set out to be a journalist; it just sort of happened as she followed her motto, “When a door opens, walk through it.” Still, I don’t think it’s an accident she ended up having a successful and varied career. She’s a naturally gifted storyteller with an eye for the telling detail and a way with words. Not that she hasn’t made mistakes and blown deadlines. But those doors she walked through don’t slide open as effortlessly as she would have it, like those at a supermarket. Just finding them takes talent and persistence, as well as the luck of being in the right place at the right time.

Speaking of which, I’m not going to spoil for you how Hertzel found the story of a lifetime in the Soviet Union in 1986 in a small town near the Finnish border. But part of  it involves being met after an incredibly long train trip by smiling old people handing out flowers and speaking English. It’s a chapter in history that I was previously unaware of and now I want to read the book about it that Hertzel later co-authored, They Took My Father. Now there’s an intriguing title.

Open Book: The University of Minnesota Press sent me an advance reading copy of Laurie Hertzel’s News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist. I laughed at the cover picture because it looked almost exactly like the top of my old desk at The Fayetteville Times, right down to the standard blue-and-white reporter’s notebook, ashtray, press card, mug, newspaper clips, a clutch of pencils and pens. No computer in sight.

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