Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Best Part of a Writer's Week

I never worked daily newspapers, so I have no idea what that pressure is like. I imagine it's like cooking: Get as ready as you can and still all hell is going to break loose and the minute you open the doors people are complaining they've waited too long. And so with filing stories with a daily I'll bet. "Jones! Police scanner says there's a jumper on 19th street. Get there!"
And it wouldn't just be get there, it would be get there, talk to police, climb onto the bridge and try to interview the potential jumper, find his family, talk to them, call the guy's boss, describe the sight as he leapt and the sound as he landed, call it all into rewrite within five minutes and have it all accurate and whew! Get the follow up for the paper's internet site. That is amazing pressure and that is why so many news stories aren't great: We readers have the luxury to say: "Why didn't he interview the cabbie who brought the guy to the bridge?" when that would have taken hours or days just to locate the cabbie and poor Jones only had 45 minutes to get there, grab the interviews, put the puzzle together and put it out there. And hope he was right.
I, however, have spent my life at magazines. We publish once a month. True, a lot more is expected of my features than what's expected of Jones, but I do have the time-luxury of thinking about who to call and how to find their numbers, even if unlisted, to get what I want.
But since moving to Texas I've worked for a weekly. Not nearly the same as a daily, but still more pressure than a monthly that gives you a two month lead time. At the local alternative, we've got a Pulitzer Prize winning boss. We've got two reporters who have both been the southwest's Reporters of the Year a couple of times and are somewhat legend. We've got a former Newsweek Senior Editor, a theater critic who saw my father when he came through Texas in Gore Vidal's The Best Man 45-years ago, a culture editor who, if he wasn't a gumba, would be considered one of the best music/arts editors in the country, a Calendar editor guy who knows more about movies--and almost as much about sports--than anyone I've ever met, a guy working to become a Catholic priest who's smarter than half the bishops I've met, a young punk who might very well become very very famous one day if he'll start kissing my butt a little, and a young woman food reviewer who writes the best food reviews I've ever seen. It is simply a brilliant staff and an honor to be among them.
And the best part of the week is today. Today I turned a story in that's to run as a feature but not the cover story. That means about 1,500 words. I'd done 5 interviews and read nearly 150 pages of PDF studies to get the gist of what the hell I was talking about. But it was due Friday. And Friday there was nothing. So I worked the weekend and then yesterday five people called me back and let me interview them. And then I wrote my story, and finished it today--the day we go to press because the paper comes out tomorrow--and turned it in at about noon.
Then you sit. You sit at your computer and wait. You know your Pulitzer-winning and very astute boss is going to come back at you with questions and you can't go anywhere because you're going to have to answer them.
And then at 5 PM, just two hours to press time, she does. "Peter, there's a lot of good material here but you've got too much scientific jargon in there. Also, I need quotes from X, Y and Z. Oh, and don't forget Q. Get back to me in half-an-hour."
And of course that's impossible. But that's when the race is on and you've been given a directive and a direction that you didn't see as the writer and now you've got to find out cell phone numbers for people with whom you've never talked, you've got to find them in the field or on vacation, you've got to google your butt off to translate the science into language people will bother to read.....And at the same time the kids are saying: "Hey dad! Where the heck's the dinner? I'm starving!"
And so you're playing the phone and the computer and chopping garlic at the same time.
For the record, I had so many new calls to make in the last hour before the paper would have gone to press with a hole in it--and I'd be without a job in the business forever--that I just made Basmati rice, cooked off 2 pounds of chopped meat, strained it, then cooked a head of garlic, a sweet onion, diced, carrots, zuccini, fresh green beans, tomatoes, pulled peas, added salt, pepper, achote from the jungle that I happen to have for coloration and flavor, a pint of chicken stock I made last week and just hoped it would all come out alright.
At the same time I got the pig's food together: a zuccini, a banana, a head of lettuce, tomato ends, a cucumber, a quarter of a seedless watermelon, rice, left over home made fries from last night, half a head of celery, organic baby carrots, a couple of red peppers, a bag of chopped scallions, a bag of white bread, three pounds of grain, a granny smith apple, and a bag of chips.
So in the frantic moment, the pig eats well, the story got done and now our food is just simmering wonderfully.
AND I'M going to take a moment to call a particular gal who's got my attention.
That danger zone, that critical moment, man, I live for those. They're always scary, I'm never sure I can get it done, but man, I live for those moments. And they happen about once every couple of weeks.
And I am going to sleep very very well tonight. It's my best sleep till the next time I get put in the crosshairs.
"Yeah, baby," as Madeleina would say, "think you're tough? Try me."

1 comment:

Jorge Villacorta Santamato said...

Mmmmm... if you like it... is OK.