html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Missed you! Did you enjoy your holidays?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Missed you! Did you enjoy your holidays?

I am overwhelmed and astonished and excited right now. There is, simply, too much to figure out. You know, I’ve always done this. Back in ’96, I knew I didn’t understood how water moved physically, and I applied to a water engineering program. After that, I thought I was pretty weak on policy, and trotted off to learn more about that. I knew no law at all, so I did that next. It holds true, so far, that I gravitate unerringly toward whatever I am weakest at. Friends, I know nothing about journalism. How on earth am I going to tell the story of the Los Osos sewers?

This morning I met up with the second person who has been willing to give her time and thought to a stranger. She talked to me for three hours straight; told me a long story and her opinions and recommendations. There are a million threads in there, which do I follow? I picked one of them because it was close, and went over to the people who’ve filmed all the Los Osos CSD meetings. When I walked in and asked for copies of old meetings, the videographer looked up and said “You’re the one.” I couldn’t imagine that she’s heard about my project yet, and asked what she meant. She said she’s been waiting for years for someone to walk in to her office to write the book about Los Osos. From the little I’ve heard so far, the story is even more ornate than I’d read in the papers. The idea of untangling it all is daunting.

I’ve learned new things before, and I remember that it is bewildering for a while, until slowly you realize that you’ve heard that before. After that, there’s a point where most everything is a version of something you’ve heard before. It is going to be a good while before I’m at that point with this process. I’m excited for it though, and I enjoy this hard learning curve right now. That feeling, of doing something hard and new, is a good one.

(If you do know something about writing big stories, please feel free to leave suggestions or recommendations.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, who's your audience? How long is long?

I don't know anything about the story to be told, except it's about sewers; is there a previous post that explains it?

People generally like to read about people, even if the story isn't entirely about people. As a general rule, it helps to start with some anecdote involving a person. Weave people through the story.

One thing that often bogs down novices when writing long stories is that they feel obligated to include unnecessary detail. Like, "This happened, so I have to put it in there." Remember, it's about telling a story. You want the story to be significantly shorter than the real-time event.;)

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Follow the Story: How to Write Successful Nonfiction", by James B. Stewart. Great book. You can thank me later.


7:48 PM  
Anonymous John said...

If you need an editor, let me know.

As for writing "big" stories, I suggest attempting to outline the project first, focusing on finding the distinct elements that can be isolated and developed into individual components.

8:11 PM  
Anonymous I don't pay said...

I've read all your posts on this, and some of the links. The link to the "proof of aquifer contamination" story was the best, as it cleared up basic questions for me.

For me, and I only started reading about this today, hours ago, so I represent a completely fresh outlook, the question is why? What are they thinking? What makes them think this will work?

A coherent presentation of the worldview of one of these intransigents is vital, even if a composite potrait is needed to make it coherent. I read the website of the guy whose blog claims everybody knows there'll be sewers, just not about the park etc., and that view will have to be addressed. But is it possible the thinking never gets that far?

There seems to me to be a kind of momentum in intransigence. The anti-fluoridation activists of the immediate postwar period are an example. Resistance can take on a life of its own. Maybe that's it.

8:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, OK, I read some of the old posts and see that there in fact are not any Los Osos sewers, just stymied attempts to build some. (Right?)

What's the angle of your book? Small-town feuding? Bureaucratic snarls? Modern world collides with old world?

Is this one of those deals where people who are against progress or neighbors try to pretend it's about the environment?

Come up with the blurb that sums it up. Then describe it in a short paragraph. Go from there.

9:26 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

You know, I'm starting to be embarrassed about the old Los Osos posts, now that I know more of the story. I'm sure they'll get more and more embarrassing as I learn more.

My current angle is that I want to know what happened?. How did this town get stuck on this decision, that other towns have made without huge hassle. What was different here, that an ordinary public process about a banal infrastructure decision become such an incredibly polarizing and complicated issue. For the telling, well, I'll probably go back and forth between technical and legal knots and the drama.

I think, for now.

Also, Marcus? That book isn't in the Sacramento library. I am completely stymied when I can't click over to my library and have them bring it to me within days. How else does one get books?

John, I may have secret other requests, related to your employer and profession.

I am also thinking that I need a timeline to go around my bedroom, and a huge plotted map of Los Osos to hang on my wall over my bed. The obsession is taking hold.

11:17 PM  
Anonymous thelonious_nick said...

I saw a movie once where the caretaker of a cemetery had a big map of the cemetery on the wall. He kept track of the cemetery's plots by putting in a black pin if the plot was occupied, and a white pin if the plot was reserved but the owner still alive. Only, if he put in a black pin where there should be a white pin that person would die. I think you should get that kind of map for Los Osos.

5:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I enjoyed my holiday.

I think it's funny, Megan, that it seems that you've been waiting for that next big thing and thinking it's a fella. What if it's an article or a book instead? -K.

(Of course, a book's not gonna sing you Sinatra or Bennett or Dorsey.)

7:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Megan is in the Sacramento Bee!

-Tall Chris

8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you were really obsessed you wouldn’t let a little thing like local library availability stymie you. Stewart’s book is available at Amazon used for three dollars. Some reviews suggest “How to Write Like a Pro” by Barry Tarshis is a better book. It is at the SF public library and I would think the Sacramento library can do interlibrary loans. At the Sacramento library a book with the same call number is
How to write nonfiction that sells / F. A. Rockwell


9:00 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

The feeling is a lot the same.

Tall Chris:
I saw that; I'll post it at the top. Hey, could you please grab me a paper copy?

It's just that it never happened before.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous I don't pay said...

So do you think there is a positive value associated with living in a place too small, too rural, too unorganized to have a sewer system? That some ideal is violated, something precious taken away from an idea of the good life, if we don't live far enough away to need a septic tank? That this becomes a talisman, a sign that development, infilling, whatever has not gone too far, so long as we still live far enough out to need a septic tank?
If so, than everything follows. All signs of interdependency, that my overflow is significantly affecting others and the environment, is a reminder of something I don't want to know, that I'm not far enough away.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Dizzy said...

Tell the truth. Really. And if while you're writing you think, "Maybe I shouldn't leave that part in, I'll just shade it a little so people won't get upset..." don't change it. That's the good part.

And yay you for getting a book idea!!!

1:19 AM  
Blogger Abby said...

You go girl!

The advice I have is apply bottom to chair regularly, even when it isn't going so good....

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maxtor. Maxtor. Maxtor.

External backup.

Regular backup.

Storage at remote sites.

These are absolutely *key* to any sustained piece of work. It will be the best $250 you ever spent.

Email your drafts to friends, or a webmail account.

Computers are built with special technologies that cause them to crash, fail, be terminally viruses, be stolen, have coffee spilt on them


there is irreplaceable data and creative content on them.

I guarantee, in the course of your book, you will have at least one disaster, which will lose you significant amounts of what you have written *or* the whole kitten kaboodle.


2:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Costco (in Canada) tends to have very good prices on these items.


2:30 AM  

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