Thursday, January 12, 2012

Long Story Short: upholding the oral tradition

Most every journalist, at least the old ones like me, has heard of Studs Terkel.
The man was amazing.
He painted portraits of World War II, the Great Depression, race relations, celebrities, criminals and every day American life and people with words.
But he rarely used words of his own.
Terkel was an artist of oral history.
He knew how to get people to open up -- whether for his books, for radio or for television. He knew how to listen intensely and compassionately and how sift through what was said and what was not said for what was true.
He did not simply conduct interviews; He had conversations.
Conversations that brought history alive.
Studs Terkel died in 2008 at age 96, leaving a huge void in the journalism world and in the tradition of oral history. Just that year, I had started working on a nonfiction book in which I tried to emulate his style. I was saddened.
It felt like a huge loss.
So I was pleased today to find a link on my twins blog to the work of Larry Horowitz, owner of Long Story Short, a company that creates video biographies. Someone wanted me to see a video interview he had conducted with 77-year-old identical twins.
The video and the women are amazing.
Horowitz gently guides their conversation, but he does so with few words.
He lets the twins do the rest.
It reminded me of Studs Terkel.
Horowitz spent 20 years as a video and film editor in the advertising business, where he edited commercials for companies such as P&G, Coca-Cola, L'Oreal and AT&T. He left the industry to follow his own passion, to create something more intimate, most lasting.
He had uploaded his interview with the twins to YouTube, where it attracted the attention of the folks at Walgreens. The sisters landed a role in a Walgreen's flu shot commercial. That role led to talk appearances on Dr. Phil and the Rosie O'Donnell show.
All because Larry Horowitz let them speak, honestly, openly and without nervous inhibition. He didn't have to tell viewers about their bond. He let the two women show it. And the result is powerful. So much like the work of Studs Terkel.
Thank You, Larry Horowitz.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How Daniel Abraham made me laugh: A Private Letter from Genre to Literature

Among the most difficult dilemmas I have faced since I began writing fiction is determining a genre for my first (unpublished) novel, Spring Melt.
Is it crime?
Is it historical?
Is it courtroom drama, women's fiction, commercial, literary or commercial with a literary edge?
I have no clue.
Its complexity complicates the querying process.
Will agents be turned off by my mention of one genre and my dismissal of another?
Will publishers market it to the wrong audiences?
Oh, the stress ...
So when I stumbled across this -- A Private Letter from Genre to Literature by Daniel Abraham -- today, it brought me great comic relief.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Just click on the paragraph below to access the full letter:

I saw you tonight. You were walking with your cabal from the university to the little bar across the street where the professors and graduate students fraternize. You were in the dark, plain clothes that you think of as elegant. I have always thought they made you look pale. I was at the newsstand. I think that you saw me, but pretended not to. I want to say it didn’t sting.