Monday, April 30, 2018

#33Stories: Introduction and running table off contents

Introduction to #33Stories follows this Table of Contents.

-- Story one, May 1, 2018: "The Warden"

-- Story two, May 2, 2018: "Drowned: A Different Kind of Zombie Tale"

-- Story three, May 3, 2018: "Since the Sky Blew Off," the short story.

-- Story four, May 4, 2018: "We Who are His Followers"

-- Story five, May 5, 2018: "Thunder Rise: Book One of the Thunder Rise Trilogy."

-- Story six, May 6, 2018: "Freddy and Rita"

-- Story seven, May 7, 2018: "God Can Be a Cruel Bastard"

-- Story eight, May 8, 2018: "The Work of Human Hands"

-- Story nine, May 9, 2018: "Coming of Age"

-- Story ten, May 10, 2018: "Wolf Hill: An Essay About a Boy"

-- Story eleven, May 11, 2018: "Toy Wars"

-- Story twelve, May 12, 2018: "King of Hearts"

-- Story thirteen, May 13, 2018, Mothers Day: "Remembering Mom"

-- Story fourteen, May 14, 2018: "My Adult Life"

-- Story fifteen, May 15, 2018: "Men and Speed"

-- Story sixteen, May 16, 2018: "The Xeno Chronicles"

-- Story seventeen, May 17, 2018: "Snyder"

-- Story eighteen, May 18, 2018: "Since the Sky Blew Off," the screen treatment.

-- Story nineteen, May 19, 2018: "On the Lake," a documentary movie.

-- Story twenty, May 20, 2018: "Behind the Hedgerow," a documentary movie.

-- Story twenty-one, May 21, 2018: "Coming Home," a documentary movie.

-- Story twenty-two, May 22, 2018: "The Glamour Girls," a screenplay.

-- Story twenty-three, May 23, 2018: "An Uncommon Man," a biography.

-- Story twenty-four, May 24, 2018: :Paper Boy," a novel.

-- Story twenty-five, May 25, 2018: "Vapors," a short story collection.

-- Story twenty-six, May 26, 2018: "Summer Love," a screenplay.

-- Story twenty-seven, May 27, 2018: "Asylum: Book Two of the Thunder Rise trilogy"

-- Story twenty-eight, May 28, 2018: "Summer Place: Book Three of the Thunder Rise Trilogy"

-- Story twenty-nine, May 29, 2018: "Top Brain, Bottom Brain"

-- Story thirty, May 30, 2018: "The Feeling," a recent short story

-- Story thirty-one: "Car Crazy," a history of the early automobile age

Introduction to #33Stories:

Memory can be an unreliable thing, but mine tells me I wrote my first story in grammar school, perhaps as early as third grade, although more likely in fifth or sixth. It did not result from a class exercise or homework assignment, but rather it emerged unprompted from my imagination. Reading was big in my home, so really, no big surprise. In a 1997 interview coinciding with my book Toy Wars, I described it as “a story set under the ocean with sea creatures, who had a little community, a little home, it was a fantasy; it was an octopus, it was a fish.”

Whatever. High school found me writing incessantly, and my first published story was an essay in the fall of 1968 in The Paper, the newspaper at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Mass., where I was a freshman. My first fiction was published there, too, under the nom de plume of G. Wayne Poe.

Yeah, I know.

But I was a teenager, and having escaped parochial school, I was discovering the literary world. Edgar Allan was a big favorite, as soon would be H.P. Lovecraft and, a little later, Stephen King. King remains my favorite fiction writer. I once had the honor of interviewing him, but I digress…

Long story short, haha, I kept writing – through high school and college, while touring Europe after graduation, while smashing bags for Delta Airlines at Logan Airport, a time during which my mother sometimes remarked “we sacrificed to put you through Harvard for this?”

No, not for that, but for this: the chance to eventually support myself with the pen. Which I did full-time starting when I was hired as a reporter with the North Adams (Mass.) Transcript in August 1978, after a brief but successful freelance period. Been a journalist ever since.

But I never stopped the “other” writing, which long-windedly brings us to #33Stories, a retrospective of some of my non-newspaper work timed to coincide with my first major sale of a fiction piece, which was published in May 1985.

Every day this May, I will publish an excerpt or an entirety of a work produced away from the day job from 1985 through this year, roughly in chronological order, and with background as appropriate: short stories, books, screenplays, treatments and films. Some were previously published, others not. So some days, you get to look into the trunk.

Thirty-three years ago, #33Stories. A bit contrived, yes. A bit interesting, hopefully.

Of course, May has 31 days. I will publish no. 32 on June 1, and no. 33 on June 12, a day of particular significance to me.

Finally, for now: Why?

I wrote and write because I have to, as I am hardly the first storyteller to remark. During my horror/mystery/fantasy/sci-fi days, I wrote to entertain – to stoke the imagination, to scare, and amuse, to put flesh and blood on the bones of characters born in the wind. But in many of these earlier stories, as with my entire body of  newspaper journalism, you will also find a fair dollop of reflection and commentary on social and cultural issues, including religion, politics, the treatment of women, and the stigma surrounding those living with mental illness and intellectual disability, among others. Sometimes, fiction best illuminates reality.

Please come back tomorrow, for #1 in #33Stories: “The Warden,” published in the May 1985 edition of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

And as the month unfolds, I will be building the #33Stories table of contents on this post, see above.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Jim Ludes on the Pell Prize and Story in the Public Square

Pell Center director Jim Ludes begins the ceremony honoring Pulitzer winner and twice Pulitzer finalist Dan Barry with the sixth-annual Pell Center Prize for Story in the Public Square April 23, 2018, in Newport, Rhode Island.

Dan's eloquent address in accepting the honor can be read here, and my introduction of Dan here.

Wayne Miller, Dan Barry and Jim Ludes.

Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen.  Friends, my name is Jim Ludes and I’m the Vice President for Public Research and Initiatives here at Salve Regina University, as well as Executive Director of the Pell Center, and it is my distinct privilege and honor to welcome all of you to campus for the presentation of the 2018 Pell Center Prize.

Before we begin, there are a handful of special guests I want to take a moment to acknowledge.

Sister Jane Gerety, the President of Salve Regina University.
Janet Robinson, the Chair of Salve’s Board of Trustees, and the former President and CEO of the New York Times Company.

Thank you both for being here and for your tremendous support of the Pell Center and “Story in the Public Square,” in particular.

I also want to acknowledge:
Janet Hasson, the publisher of the Providence Journal.
Alan Rosenberg, the executive editor of the Journal.

Tonight is the sixth anniversary of the remarkable relationship between the Pell Center at Salve and the Journal in the form of “Story in the Public Square.”  Thank you for your continued support for what we’re trying to do here.

And I do want to also take a moment to recognize

His Excellency Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of Providence.
Tom Heslin, a former executive editor of the Journal who worked with tonight’s honoree earlier in his career.

Thank you both for joining us.

I know that no one came to tonight’s event to hear from me, so I’m not going to be very long, but I do want to say a few brief words about Story in the Public Square and share with you some exciting news.

A little more than six years ago, my friend and partner in this enterprise, G. Wayne Miller, and I met for coffee in downtown Newport.  Wayne had just finished his biography of Senator Claiborne Pell, the launch of which we had hosted here at the Pell Center, and Wayne wanted to know if there was more we could do together.

“What do you have in mind?” I asked.

“Something about storytelling,” he said.

I scrunched up my nose.  “I was thinking about something political,” I replied.
And over the following hour we achieved a compromise that I think Senator Pell would have admired.  We would create a project on the role storytelling plays in public life.

In retrospect, it seems like a blinding flash of the obvious.  Storytelling plays a central role in the politics of this country—even more so than sober analysis and facts.  That’s not a recent phenomenon, you can think of the first American patriots in Boston as gifted storytellers—propagandists, even—whose depiction of the “Boston Massacre,” for example, was substantially different from the way the event actually unfolded.

That’s not to pass judgment on the rightness of any cause—but it is to acknowledge that stories big and small have long shaped the way Americans think about important issues.  Lincoln referred to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin as “the book that caused this great war,” referring to the American Civil War.  From the temperance movement to the political warfare of the Cold War, the civil rights movement, the Iraq War, and today’s era of so-called “Fake News,” narratives told by leaders, journalists, and citizens of all stripes, in print, in broadcast, in social media, or sitting in a diner with friends shape our understanding of issues and define the boundaries within which policy makers and political leaders can act.

Our goal in Story in the Public Square is to unpack those stories, to shine a light into some dark places so that we better understand the motive and the intent behind the stories that dominate American public life.  We hope that the public that is exposed to our research and our programming begins to ask these questions themselves. 

We’re doing a lot of work at the Pell Center, more broadly, on the issue of foreign disinformation and the threat to democracy.  Some analysts will tell you information has been weaponized in the last several years.  I will take it one step further: narrative—meaning story in all its forms—delivered by microtargeted social media has been weaponized.  In a very real sense, we are talking about precision guided munition of the mind that threaten democracy. 

Our hope as a democratic republic that values free speech and a free press is a critical thinking citizenry that can understand and dissect the stories they are being told.  If you believe as I do that “democracy is a race between education and disaster,” then Story in the Public Square is firmly on the side of education and democracy.

Six years after that coffee-shop meeting—after a couple of successful conferences that validated our central insight; after presenting the Pell Center prize to a really dazzling assortment of storytellers:
Pulitzer Prize Winning journalist Dana Priest of the Washington Post;
Emmy-winning screenwriter Danny Strong;
Best-selling author Lisa Genova;
Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Javier Manzano;
Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Daphne Matziaraki.

And then having taken a crash-course in television production—Wayne and I were thrilled, fifteen months ago, to debut “Story in the Public Square,” as a weekly public affairs show where we like to say “storytelling meets public affairs.”  The show launched on Rhode Island PBS and nationally on SiriusXM satellite radio’s Politics of the United States—that’s the POTUS Channel, number 124.  Our mission is still the same—we want more and more people to understand that we are bombarded by stories every day, some of them are truthful.  Some of them are not.  But all shape our understanding of the world around us and the actions we take as citizens and, collectively, as a democratic society. 

And so, now, some news.  It is with particular hope about the impact of our work, that Wayne and I announce to you that Story in the Public Square, the half-hour public affairs program that began right here in Rhode Island, has gained a national television distributor and will be available to PBS stations across the United States later this year.

That’s not the end of our journey.  Much work still needs to be done.  But it’s a milestone and one that would not have happened without the support and encouragement of so many people in this room.  On behalf of Wayne and I, we thank you, and hope you’ll stay tuned for what comes next.

Now, please join me in welcoming my collaborator and co-host to the stage, ladies and gentlemen, G. Wayne Miller.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ode to Dan Barry

My remarks introducing author, New York Times staff writer, and Pulitzer winner and twice Pulitzer finalist Dan Barry as he was about to receive the sixth-annual Pell Center Prize for Story in the Public Square April 23, 2018, in Newport, Rhode Island. Past winners were

Dan's eloquent address in accepting the honor can be read here.

Me, Dan and Jim Ludes/Photo by Erin Demers

Good evening. I join Jim in welcoming everyone here on this beautiful spring evening. I am especially delighted that so many members of The Providence Journal family, past and present, are present.

I don’t remember when I first met Dan Barry.

It probably was in December 1987, when he arrived at The Journal, latest in a parade of reporters who came to Rhode Island hoping to write their way into distinction. It would have been in our old newsroom. I covered mental health and social services, and still do.

As a young but already senior staff writer by virtue of that beat, I would have introduced myself, exchanged small talk, and offered to help Dan however I could, as is my custom with all newcomers. And that likely was it. We had lots of new writers back then, a new one every month or two, or so it seemed. I had plenty of work, by day at the projo and by night at home writing fiction and caring for my two young daughters. I had no crying need of new friends, or one more writer brother. This was before the online world as we know it today, and our paper was thick with stories by an enormous staff spread around a downtown headquarters and a dozen bureaus. I would read a Dan Barry story if it caught my eye.

Which was almost immediately. When his work began to appear, it was evident that this tall, lanky guy from Long Island who loved baseball and possessed wonderful Irish wit had the gift.

You don’t pull many choice assignments your first weeks on the job – but whether he was writing a cop short or a weather story, Dan’s prose mesmerized with its poetic elegance, elevating the ordinary into the must-read. And when he got the chance to tackle bigger topics and more interesting people, as he soon did, he had no equal. Outside of fiction and a few journalists at a few papers and magazines, you rarely saw anything like it anywhere.

I can still picture Dan in that cavernous old newsroom, his sleeves rolled, his tie loose, conversing with editors Joel Rawson and Tom Heslin, who is here tonight, as he advanced to the head of the class -- and it was a distinguished class, as The Journal's many writing awards confirmed.

Being of Irish descent myself – like a lot of other people in this room tonight – I have come to believe that some things can only be explained by magic. I now understand that Dan’s way with words -- the power of his prose; his voice, unlike any other -- was magic of the highest literary order.

On deadline or with the developed piece, there was nothing Dan could not spin into gold. Sports. Crime. Business. Politics. Profile. Essay. You get the idea. I spent some time recently going through our archives, just to be sure my memory was true that there was no genre Dan did not own, and I can reliably report there was none.

When Dan left for The New York Times in the summer of 1995, he already had earned national recognition, including for his central role in The Journal’s 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. Even in that hallowed genre, Dan had the touch.

So there was little doubt that he would further distinguish himself at The Times -- but to what extent, I bet not even those who hired him could have imagined.

Leaving Rhode Island, Dan needed no Hogwarts, if you’ll pardon the cheap metaphor, but in New York he got even better, until he had joined the ranks of such masters of creative non-fiction as John McPhee and Susan Orlean. With his This Land series, he travelled to all 50 states, bringing back stories of places and people that were at once unique and yet also spoke to the universal bonds we share.

He has written about past lives, present lives, and the afterlife. With his rare ability to connect to people – most of them strangers when he knocks at their door – he has put flesh and blood on the cruel statistics of racial and social injustice and disparity, and on the challenges faced by the disenfranchised and disadvantaged. He has illuminated what is sometimes called man's inhumanity to man.

At a time of national division, of hatred and anger loose in the land, he has brought us stories of inspiration, of people who are sometimes called the salt of the earth. People we can admire and hold as heroes.

And wherever he has cast his spell, he has always produced treasure: a great and unforgettable story, built on the bones of truth.

He has, in other words, become the very definition of a public storyteller, which is why we honor him tonight.

We honor him not only for his journalism, but also for his books, most recently the extraordinary "The Boys in the Bunkhouse” -- and for his storytelling in the podcast hit Crimetown, with Marc Smerling, also with us this evening.

And in honoring Dan, we note that this prize is but the most recent in a list of honors that since joining The Times includes twice being named a Pulitzer finalist, and the bestowing of an honorary degree two years ago at his alma mater, St. Bonaventure University, which like Salve is another great Catholic school.

And so, it is our distinct honor to present him this award “for distinguished storytelling that has enriched the public dialogue.” Ladies and gentlemen, the 2018 Pell Center Prize Winner for Story in the Public Square, Dan Barry.

Dan Barry on writing

You will rarely, if ever, read such an exceptional essay about writing and storytelling than this one by author, New York Times staff writer, and Pulitzer Prize winner and twice finalist Dan Barry. He delivered these remarks on accepting the sixth annual Pell Center Prize for Story in the Public Square the evening of April 23, 2018, at the center in Newport.

Dan, we cannot thank you enough for all your work -- and this wonderful description of our craft! It brings to mind Stephen King's "On Writing," a masterpiece of how the written word best works.

(My remarks introducing Dan can be read here.)

 Thank you, Wayne. Thank you, Jim.

Just know that it is now officially too late for you and the Pell Center to change your mind. Mary, start the car.

What an honor it is to be receiving this award. It means so much because The Pell Center Prize for Story in the Public Square is not about investigative reporting, or deadline reporting, or opinion writing. It centers on something less celebrated -- but more elemental. Something that binds all nonfiction at its best.

That, of course, is the telling of the story:

The pursuit of enticing the audience to step out of their own lives and into the lives of others -- all through the alchemy of facts, and words, and images, carefully arranged.

I just turned 60 years old, and for most of my life, if someone bothered to ask what I did for a living, I would proudly say:

I’m a newspaper reporter. A scribe. A hack. An ink-stained wretch.

Or, if I wanted to impress the ladies: I’m a journalist.

But a few years ago, I was speeding in a rental car through a place called Washington, Kansas.
You know where that is, right?

Between Marysville and Scandia?

Anyway, I was speeding down Highway 36, singing along with the radio to “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues:

Nights in white satin, I don’t know the words
When a Kansas state trooper pulled me over.
La la la la la, I am so screwed.

License and registration.

Then the trooper said: Mind if I ask a question? What’s a fella from New Jersey, driving a car with Colorado plates, doing in northern Kansas.

It’s for my job, sir.

What do you do?

I’m a reporter for The New York Times (This is before our name was presidentially changed to The Failing New York Times.).

Don’t read it, the trooper said. What’s your business here?

Well, officer, if you must know.

I was just in Junction City, Kansas, where I watched the inauguration of President Obama with some middle school students -- the children of soldiers at Fort Riley preparing for another deployment. They have a lot at stake in the new president, and I wanted to be there.

Uh huh. And where are you headed?

Carleton, Nebraska. It’s a town of about 140 people, and a few days ago a masked man robbed the bank, about the only business left in town. Witnesses described him as having – quote -- a LARGE NOSE AND FAT FINGERS.

You haven’t seen anyone fitting that description, have you, officer? Large nose? Fat fingers?

The trooper looked at me for an uncomfortable length of time. Finally, he said: Have a nice day –
Oh, and I almost forgot. Here’s a speeding ticket for $123.

That state trooper gave me more than a speeding ticket. He forced me to think about that eternal, self-involved question: Who am I What is it I do?

Well, like so many people gathered here tonight, I guess I’m a storyteller.

And, to my mind, there is no greater calling.

To me, telling stories is like the childhood pursuit of catching fireflies in a glass jar. In the never-ending rush of time, you reach out to capture a glowing moment.

You hold it up to examination with a kind of informed innocence.

You meditate on its individual wonder.

You try to see its place in the larger context of the universe.

I’ve always been like this. I’ve always had a pen and pad with me – at considerable cost to many suit jackets and pairs of khaki pants. But I want to be always ready to capture another firefly of a moment.

Here, for example, is my life. More than 30 years ago, I was at a county fair in Connecticut, and there was an attraction for – a large pig. The recording of the carnival barker’s pitch was so beguiling to me that I listened to over and over, until I had written it down exactly:

Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. If you have come to see the rare and unusual, come right in and see Big Alfie, the giant pig. Big Alfie is twice the size of the average pig. He is over 1,000 pounds. He is eight feet long and four feet tall. His jaws are so powerful that they could take a man’s leg off -- in one bite. Come right in and see Big Alfie before you leave this arena. He’s one of a kind!

What’s crazy about this is: I still have that scrawled note. And while I have never written a story about Big Alfie, here’s the thing: I still think that, someday -- maybe I will.

There are many reasons why I am this way.

For one thing, I had what others might call a dysfunctional childhood -- but I prefer to think of it as merely insane. There was a lot of drinking, and fighting, and searching the skies for UFOs – as you do.

But at the center of it all was The Word.

My mother, an orphaned girl from County Galway, was a kind of suburban seanachie – spinning Homeric epics out of a simple run to the supermarket for a loaf of bread.

My father, a New Yorker hardened by the privations of the Great Depression, was forever delivering speeches in the kitchen – to a captive audience of eight, including three dogs -- on how the powerful need to be held accountable.

And me? I got beat up a lot as a kid. My parochial school uniform included green pants, green tie, green and gold belt, and a gold shirt with the insignia of the Holy Spirit embroidered on the shirt pocket.

I looked like an usher at a St. Patrick’s Day party from hell.

It was catnip for bullies.

But you take these three gifts – the gift of language, the gift of skepticism, and the gift of the victim’s perspective – and my future was all but predestined.

Another reason why I am so drawn to the telling of stories is that I somehow wound up in Rhode Island, in the newsroom of the Providence Journal. At one point I was working on a project about the state’s infamous banking crisis. This project was chock-full of colorful characters, operatic moments, and larcenous behavior.

That’s right: I was writing about North Providence. 

Anyway, I was pushing to get the story in the paper right away, because I had been conditioned to always be on deadline – always be in the paper. But my editor, Tom Heslin, who’s here this evening, sent me a three-word note through the newspaper’s messaging system.

The note said, simply: Slow it down.

Slow. It. Down.

I have thought about those three words more than Tom could have imagined. Beyond being good advice for how to live, “Slow It Down” has meant – in terms of storytelling – to savor that which is before you.

To recognize the epiphanies to be found in the throwaway moment; in the seemingly mundane details; in the lives of the voiceless, the vulnerable, the people who are just trying to get by.

Here’s how I slow it down.

I read a small article about a man who saved someone from drowning off the shores of Coney Island, and I think: I’ve never saved anyone from drowning. What does that feel like? Is it slippery? Is the victim buoyant in the water? It may not be news – but it is a story about the preciousness of life.

I go out on a torrential day in Manhattan, hear the song of rain-soaked men selling cheap umbrellas -- “’Brella, ‘brella, ‘brella” – and wonder: Where do all these umbrellas come from? And there’s a story.

I spend a lot of time in Hampton Inns and Holiday Inn Expresses, and I think about the housecleaners -- the maids, who spend their days cleaning the messes of others. They are invariably immigrants, and I ask: What must it be like to be an immigrant maid, working in a hotel – owned by Donald Trump. 

And there is a story.

The mind trick, for me, is to try to put myself not only in the shoes of others – but in their skin as well.

At the same time, stories told by others have informed my worldview. Others who are here this evening.

Marc Smerling, whose multimedia work includes the “Crimetown” podcast. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

Kevin Cullen, the great Boston columnist and the Boswell to Whitey Bulger.

Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan of the Washington Post, who infuriate me because they never stop working. Kevin leaves tomorrow for Morocco. To out that in perspective, that’s even farther than Woonsocket.

Wayne Miller, who just recently helped the world understand the enigma that is Michael Flynn.

And, especially, other former colleagues of mine from the Providence Journal, many of whom I see here tonight. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the Providence Journal led the way in publishing narrative non-fiction of high quality in the pages of newspapers.

I am so grateful to have worked there, with you.

So thank you again for this humbling honor.

Storytelling sustains us. It helps us to navigate the shoals of life. To understand our everyday existence. To empathize with our brothers and sisters. To embrace the human condition in all its complicated wonder and glory.

Shout it from the rooftops and in the public square. Say Hallelujah. Say Amen.

Thank you.