March 2010

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Sometimes when we’re stuck in the thick of things – like the beginning of final project season! – we have to take little breaks and live vicariously through others. Ever sit around and wonder, “what have New Zealand Herald travel writers been up to?” I do – and the answer is, a lot!

Find out what David Brown discovered about gorilla tourism – this is something I really hope to do someday.

See how Jim Eagles learned to look at travel in new ways – I’m really curious to see what kinds of trips Innovative Travel will develop based off of Julie Woods’ ideas.

Find out why Stuart Dye sees Dubai as all petal, no stem – I can see Dye’s point, but I think I liked the souks more than he did.

Learn from Michael Brown what not to miss before or after seeing the World Cup in South Africa this summer – if things don’t work out this summer with my internship hopes, I may console myself by running away and checking out the first World Cup in Africa.

As for my real life right now : the light (and palm tree) at the end of the tunnel are at least in sight… That means, at some point, more posts here including my suggestions for where to eat on a trip to Tucson and the pros / cons of commuting for research, and of course, more photos – thanks for bearing with me just a little longer!

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Creative nonfiction, narrative journalism, long form reporting – whatever you call it, that’s what this week’s Must See Monday / Cronkite Conversation was about. As an aspiring writer myself, I’d been looking forward to this one ever since this semester’s event list came out. I didn’t know a lot about creative nonfiction, mostly just two things. I knew that it was included in KU’s new MFA program which one of my favorite professors at KU had worked hard to set up. Also, to borrow a phrase, I know creative nonfiction – and appreciate it – when I see it.

Oh, and I know that creative nonfiction’s relationship with journalism is new and growing. There’s lots of discussions about how journalism is changing – are newspapers going to survive, must journalists master multiple media formats, and will stories go mobile? But change isn’t always dramatic. Reporters who are seeing their audience respond to creative nonfiction are learning how even more subtle changes can make a big difference. The definitions of creative nonfiction are well discussed all over the web (like here, here, here, and here) so I’ll cut to the chase : great advice from great writers.

Lee Gutkind Lee Gutkind is editor of Creative Nonfiction as well as being writer-in-residence for the Consortium For Science, Policy, and Outcomes and working with The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Terry Greene Sterling is also writer-in-residence at ASUher blog is here and her newest book, Illegal, will be coming out this fall.

Lee Gutkind, Grandfather of Creative Nonfiction

Gutkind pointed out that with creative nonfiction, creative equals the dramatic part, and nonfiction equals the journalism and information part. “Every time you write a story, every single time you think about a story, you’re trying to draw the reader in as long as possible” – creative nonfiction is one way to do this, whether it’s personal narrative about the journalist or public narrative the journalist writes about others. Either way, the building blocks for creative nonfiction are scenes. Gutkind uses the yellow test – taking a favorite piece of writing and a yellow magic marker, then highlighting all the scenes.

“If you’re doing a serious story, 50 to 60 to 70 % should be scenes,” Gutkind said. “The way I work – I gather my information and think of the stories, and am constantly thinking of where the stories go.” He sits down and writes the scenes of the story, then looks for where the information goes and “the story determines the information you provide, the story determines the reportage – so instead of worrying about the reporting, I get the information the story needs.”

Gutkind doesn’t just work with journalists – when he’s not working on Creative Nonfiction, he’s applying creative nonfiction to other kinds of narrative like science and law through a mixture of classes and workshops. In fact, Gutkind said that in some ways it’s easier to teach scientists, historians and lawyers to start writing, since journalists are often very set in short, short formats – they must break familiar writing patterns to switch to creative nonfiction.

Terry Greene Sterling

For Sterling, narrative journalism equals telling true stories that matter…and that people love to read, and hear, and see, and interact with. It uses the techniques of fiction to tell true stories. She points out that you can’t be a good writer if you can’t be a good reporter since you have to have the material first – Sterling describes public records as “gold.” Also, narrative journalism doesn’t come easy and “you have to train yourself – train yourself every single day.” Sterling described narrative journalists as risk takers who “should learn something new very single day” and “see stories everywhere.”

Sterling organizes her work as she goes along by keeping running lists on the whole project and each section and going over her notes regularly. She said that her stories evolve during the reporting and then the framework comes together. Finally, it’s important to tell the reader how she got the story – it’s also tricky to work citations in to a narrative form. Writers like Sterling and Lane DeGregory, who don’t want to clutter the narrative put the attribution at the end.

During the questions and answers, two other attending journalists – New Times reporter Robrt Pela and freelance award winner Valeria Fernández – also answered questions about they organize their work. Fernández described her work as making a good meal – she gathers the ingredients, starts cooking, and gets more salt as needed. She uses “check on this” markers to get the story down. Pela calls these “apocryphal markers” and uses them for follow up interviews. I really appreciated this advice, and the rest of the evening. Coming back from break can be hard, but having the first day back end with inspiration sets a strong precedent for the rest of the semester.

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Going back to the subject of Pictures of Pictures – first broached last fall – let’s stop by Paris, which is absolutely full of museums – which means paintings, statues, maps, murals, and lots of photographs of all of it.

These pictures are from one of my favorite places – the Museé national du Moyen Age, also known as Museé de Cluny. My mom and I first discovered this museum, possibly because of the guide that came with our city museum passes, in May 2002. I think we went back at least once after our first visit. When my class was in Paris for about two days during study abroad, I didn’t make it there in time to go through the museum again, but I did slip into the gift shop to gaze through the first doorway towards the first gallery. I think I also managed to snap a few self-photos in the courtyard. My last visit was solo and very restful after nearly a month on the road.

It’s amazing how much craft can go into every day items from stained glass windows to combs, triptychs to paper, and the decoration that turned a cold stone building into something more.

The tapestries here are not the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries which are also at the museum in their own gallery. Instead, they’re a few of my favorites – at least, ones I was able to get both light and time with (no flash photography is allowed in the museum).

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Spring break has come, and not a moment too soon – as you can tell, I’ve gotten a bit behind. Regular entries should resume in the next few days as I rest, regroup, and reorganize, but here’s a quick round-up of tomorrow morning’s news…

Happy birthday dotcom as internet domain name turns 25 – Dotcoms changed the way we use the internet – this article describes how, as well as exploring what new changes may be coming up next.

FBI ‘most wanted’ list still fascinates – Also celebrating a birthday is the FBI list, which just turned 60 – click here to learn how the list grew out of a set of profiles and how the people on the list have changed over the years.

Sailing the Nile – in disguise – Jill Worrall’s photos (like the one below) accompany a short anecdote from her trip down the Nile.


UN chief says world hasn’t forgotten Haiti – Ban Ki-moon says that shelter is the current priority in Haiti, while President Rene Preval says the country “must start looking to the longer term and think about its future economy.”

Soccer: Beckham’s World Cup dream in tatters – This article discusses the injury likely to prevent David Beckham from playing in his fourth World Cup, taking place this summer in South Africa.

Helicopter patrols spot 200 sharks – Australia is experimenting with helicopter patrols along the nation’s beaches. Whether the patrols will continue is still being decided, but the results so far at least impressive to me! For this and more great underseas photos, check out petersbar on Flickr.

Hammer from Cocos Island, Costa Rica

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