The City and Regional Magazine Association and the Missouri School of Journalism this week announced finalists for the 2013 National City and Regional Magazine Awards. Los Angeles logged the most nominations, followed by Texas Monthly, Atlanta magazine and Philadelphia magazine. Winners will be announced at the 37th annual CRMA conference, May 18-20, in Atlanta. Writers, designers, photographers and editors compete in dozens of categories, and you can read the entire finalist roundup here. Between now and the conference we’ll bring you a taste of the Reporting, Feature Story, Profile and Writer of the Year entries, which include some of last year’s most memorable and important stories in narrative journalism. Enjoy!
Candidates in the Feature Story category:
It’s close to 5 o’clock on a late afternoon in January when Mike Tetreault, a tall, lanky redhead, turns off Massachusetts Avenue and enters Symphony Hall through a side door. He checks in with the security guard and then heads for the basement, wrestling with more than 150 pounds of gear (mallets, snare drums, tambourines) in a backpack and a roller bag. The rest of the instruments he’ll need tonight will be supplied by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He’s an hour and a half early.
The basement of Symphony Hall is nothing like the velvety opulence upstairs. It’s cold down here, with concrete walls and harsh fluorescent lights. As Tetreault signs in at a table and waits to get into a practice room, he notices the oversize instrument travel cases that are strewn everywhere, ready to safeguard harps and timpani during symphony tours. Tetreault, a Colorado-based percussionist, has already survived a nerve-wracking round of cuts to get this opportunity tonight to audition for one of two openings at the world-renowned BSO. He reads the list of the other contenders and is pleased to see a bunch of names he doesn’t know. Younger, he reassures himself. Less experienced. Hopefully that’s an advantage for him.
First person to call Brandon Christensen a “faggot”? That’d be me.
Nineteen eighty-four. In the Afton Elementary boys room. I can still smell the piss that had nearly crested the rim of the backed up toilet, the acrid yellow pool for which Brandon’s blond head was destined. I watched Charlie Jensen, his face split by a jagged, chipped-tooth grin, and two of his toadies drag Brandon by the arms toward the site of what was going to be the grossest swirly in the history of Star Valley. Brandon struggled to break free, squirmed until his shirt was pulled nearly over his shoulders before he blurted the five words that would change both of our lives. “Charlie. No. I love you.”
That’s when I went in for the kill.
I figured it was either him or me. I was the smallest kid in my sixth grade class, but I had a couple things going for me that had so far kept me off the radar of guys like Charlie*. My family had recently moved from Northern California, and everyone in Afton, Wyoming, it seemed at the time, wanted to be from California. My dad had just bought the biggest house in town, a gambit made possible solely through the sale of our home on the coast and the relative real estate values in each market. So in sixth grade I hung out with some of the most popular kids in my class, and because of that, despite my size, no one messed with me.
Duery Felton doesn’t want to be written about. Ask him about his thoughts and feelings—how his life would be different if there were no Vietnam Veterans Memorial or what the hardest part of his job is—and he answers the question he wishes you asked instead.
He pauses, touches his fingertips to his closed eyelids, and begins: “I can tell you this one because he has died.” He answers your question about him by talking about others. Even then he won’t give a name or even an approximate year. Part of his sacred duty is keeping the secrets of the 58,282 people named on the wall and their loved ones.
Get him off the record and his face softens, his eyes widen, and he smiles easily. But he’s wary of expressing opinions and thoughts of his own or imposing his meanings on the objects he curates. Being interviewed is part of his job, but he speaks as a representative of the National Park Service, not as Duery Felton.
Profoundly injured during the war, Felton will sometimes tell some of his story and sometimes not. He’ll sometimes confirm or deny what others have written about him, and he’ll sometimes smile and change the subject. Before media and researchers are allowed into the facility where the collection is housed, they must sign a document affirming that collection staffers have the right to refuse to answer questions or give personal opinions.
Which of course they do with or without such a document. But Felton prefers it this way.
Disentangling truth from invention in Mitchell Gross’s life story is a daunting task. Over the years, he has been—or has claimed to be—an attorney, an author, a neuropsychologist, a secret agent, a Hollywood deal maker, a businessman, and a champion fencer. As a local novelist myself, I was compelled to learn more about Gross when I first heard about this writer/con man from the Atlanta suburbs. Here was a man who had lived on the electrified third rail of reality and imagination; one of his novels was even called Circle of Lies.
A basic challenge for a fiction writer is how to get readers to suspend disbelief—how to make your tale unusual enough to intrigue them but not so extreme as to cause them to roll their eyes. This tightrope has only become narrower as “reality” TV has supplanted scripted shows, documentaries or mockumentaries exploit the borderlands of real and fake, and people spend more time reading blogs, memoirs, and other so-called “true” stories, showing less patience for yarns that are purely invented. People want reality, but a wildly interesting, skewed reality. One that isn’t actually real.
Terry Thompson knows all 56 of his animals by name. There is Solomon, the white tiger. There is Jocelyn, the pregnant tiger. Elsa, the lioness cub that puts her paws on the counter to snatch a piece of meat. Simba, the very first lion Terry ever owned, the one he bought as a sickly cub 14 years ago.
It’s October 18 and fall has begun. The temperature barely breaks 60 degrees and the leaves on the oak and maple trees surrounding Terry’s farm are about to turn a riot of red, yellow, umber, and purple. Terry has seen many seasons on this farm. He’s 62 now, and stands five feet and five inches—a stocky, unkempt figure with a barrel chest, shaggy forearms, and a beard and mustache going gray. The last few years have not been easy ones. To put it bluntly, his small, isolated world has collapsed and the stress has become too much to handle. So he’s made a decision. He steps out of the kitchen door and into the garage wearing only a black T-shirt, blue jeans, and a baseball cap despite the slight autumnal chill. In one hand he holds a handgun; in the other, a pair of blue bolt cutters.