I’m so excited about this series we’ve just launched on Storyboard called “The Pitch,” in which we try to demystify the unicorn of longform: the story pitch. Contributor Katia Savchuk will talk to writers and editors about their tips and pet peeves, and even annotate some successful pitches. So many storytellers these days are freelance; we want to encourage them and try to help. And speaking of storytellers, I loved this week’s post on the creator of a blog called “Bodega Stories.” She’s a big believer in the human connection. Yes!
The Pitch: Jason Fagone on landing “The Willy Wonka of Pot” in Grantland. This inaugural post of The Pitch series is very cool, with longtime freelancer Jason Fagone giving us the skinny on the pitch that got him a story with the late, lamented Grantland. His advice: Keep it short. “To me, 1,000 words is insane. If you can’t sell it in a couple of paragraphs, you can’t sell it at all. My rule of thumb is: Have three paragraphs, and they should be short.” He also has an extreme position on how long you should wait for a reply: “I have a radical position on this: You shouldn’t wait. If you don’t hear back within 48 hours, then move on. Don’t waste time.”
The soundtrack: “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” by Tom Petty. This one’s in honor of Petty, whose music I didn’t always love but who was a music god for writing “American Girl” and “Free Fallin.” (The latter is one of my favorite videos – that moment when the skateboard girl is suspended in air over the San Fernando Valley and then gently comes to a rest on the ramp will stay with me forever.)
One Great Sentence
“The private estate was far enough away from the explosion so that its bamboos, pines, laurel, and maples were still alive, and the green place invited refugees — partly because they believed that if the Americans came back, they would bomb only buildings; partly because the foliage seemed a center of coolness and life, and the estate’s exquisitely precise rock gardens, with their quiet pools and arching bridges, were very Japanese, normal, secure; and also partly (according to some who were there) because of an irresistible, atavistic urge to hide under leaves.”
John Hersey, “Hiroshima.” Read why we think it’s great.
The creator of “Bodega Stories” talks about her love for the corner store. Last month, a viral story highlighted a startup created by two ex-Google employees whose service is essentially a curated vending machine; products are enclosed in a trendy, clear-fronted box, and all transactions are paid for via the app. Sounds like a standard app-crazy trend, right? But they called it Bodega. They even used a cat, made popular in bodega cat memes, as their logo. Well, Latino Twitter wasn’t having that. Especially journalist Amaris Castillo, the creator of a lovely blog called “Bodega Stories.” She grew up spending her days in her parents’ bodega, and loves the stories she heard there. It was her first journalism school, she says. Hurrah for the human connection.
The soundtrack: “Man in the Corner Shop,” by the Jam. OK, so this is a Weller week (see below). What a great, great songwriter he is. This one is about envy, and capitalism. “Puts up the closed sign does the man in the corner shop/Serves his last then he says goodbye to him/He knows it is a hard life/But it’s nice to be your own boss really.”
What I’m reading online: “The Mind of John McPhee,” by Sam Anderson. I finally read this profile of the longform master, which came out a few weeks ago in The New York Times Magazine. It’s beautifully done, in a style that plays off Anderson’s relative looseness compared to McPhee’s writing. And it taught me something I didn’t know: “As I spoke to people about McPhee — editors, students, friends, colleagues — I got the sense that they had all been waiting, respectfully, for decades for the chance to gush about him in public. McPhee has profiled hundreds but never been profiled.”
“The Man Who Forgot He Was a Rap Legend,” by Joshuah Bearman. I’ve been a big fan of Bearman’s from the online Epic magazine (which co-produced this story with GQ). He knows how to find cinematic subjects — literally, seeing as Epic focuses on stories that have the potential to become movies. This one sure does. Mix the Netflix birth-of-hiphop series “The Get Down” with a drama about recovering from a terrible injury, and you’ve got this story.
“A Life on the Line,” by Vivian Ho. Michael Gray, the enterprise and investigations editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, sent me a note about this story, which unspools the last moments of an abused woman’s life. I really like the lede: “Cecilia Lam made the last call of her life at 5:05 a.m.” Simple sentences like that one are hard to pull off as ledes, but it totally works here.
What’s on my bedside table: “The Cocktail Party,” by T.S. Eliot. I hadn’t known that Eliot wrote plays as well as poetry — and wrote this one, at least, in poem-like form. Or that this one opened at the Edinburgh Festival in 1949 starring Alec Guinness. It has a drawing-room comedy feel, with an edge. I love this exchange, in which two characters are talking about a man who says he could hear the cry of bats, and one of them is doubting that ability: “My darling Celia, you needn’t be so skeptical. I stayed there once at their castle in the north. How he suffered! They had to find an island for him where there were no bats.”
What’s on my turntable: “Saturns Pattern,” by Paul Weller. I saw Weller last week in Boston (four encores!), so of course I had to play one of his more recent albums when I got home. He’s been at it for 40 years now, and he’s still got it. He didn’t even break a sweat at the show, even while the young guy playing bass was drenched. Oh, and I want to give a shout-out to guitarist Steve Craddock, who not only was an amazing player, he actually was more stylish than “the Modfather” in a three-piece suit he wore the whole night.
If you want to chat about storytelling (or music), I’m Storyboard editor Kari Howard, and you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter.