Friday, October 31, 2008

Shutters to the newsprint edition of the Monitor

Reading my morning fix of media news on, I don't know why I was surprised with this week's announcement that the Christian Science Monitor, a magazine-like daily newspaper, was turning weekly to concentrate on producing Web news. Given the diminishing nature of the newspaper business, the Monitor is just one in a string of large dailies scaling back in one form or another. Over the years, I've freelanced my share of feature stories to the Monitor. The editors were on top of articles, always making suggestions to flesh out the stories even more. A few years ago, during an interview with Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, he told me how much his elderly mother enjoyed the paper. "She's a subscriber," he said. She read the hard copy, of course, not the Web edition. Now, the Monitor, after 100 years of print journalism, will become the magazine it's felt like anyway for a long time -- in-depth coverage and think pieces with a wide appeal. They also like publishing international stories with a local flavor. I learned that in 1998 when I visited Rachael Levy -- a former reporter with me at the Las Vegas Sun -- who at the time was living in Amsterdam with her husband Marcel. Rachael had written a piece a couple months earlier about a Dutch version of Santa Claus that got a lot of notice. That was my real introduction to the Monitor, although I'd casually read it over the years. After I flew home from The Netherlands, I readied a pitch for an article for the Monitor. They took it, and I continued writing for them, off and on, for nearly a decade. I'll miss the daily Monitor. But I look forward to reading it online. Alas, the future of journalism is upon us.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sex & Lies in a Lifetime movie

A Las Vegas movie that just aired on Lifetime is based -- loosely -- on a true story. Sex and Lies in Sin City is a made-for-TV film about the reckless life and death of Ted Binion, heir to the Binion Horseshoe Casino fortune. In September 1998, Binion was found dead in his Las Vegas estate by his live-in girlfriend Sandy Murphy. The media at the time made Sandy out to be a murderer. She along with her new boyfriend, Rick Tabish, were charged months later with killing Binion. The problem was, the coroner ruled the case a probable suicide and the police didn't cordone off the house and property to treat it like a crime scene. Binion, who'd been addicted to heroin since 1985, had enough drugs in his system to kill a horse. Then, six months after his death, in an unprecedented change of heart, the Clark County (Nevada) coroner ruled the death a homicide, despite a palpable lack of evidence against Murphy and Tabish. The first trial ended in murder convictions. But because the jury was not given certain instructions before deliberating -- vital information they needed -- the Nevada Supreme Court overturned the convictions and they were given a new trial. The second time around, with famous civil rights attorney (radical but respected) Tony Serra at the helm, along with co-counsel Michael Cristalli, the jury this time found them "not guilty." Justice prevailed, something the Lifetime movie barely touched on. Buffalo News Columnist Alan Pergament had this to say about the movie:
Speaking of embarrassments, the script chooses to use conversations between journalists to present several alternative and inconclusive theories about how Ted Binion died. The scenes are so stiffly played and presented -- it is reminiscent of a bad 'Murder, She Wrote' ending — that it almost is sinful. With all the talent wasted in 'Sin City,' this is one story that should have stayed in Vegas.
I covered both trials gavel to gavel, from the courtroom. The result is a book, Death in the Desert. The other result is a list of stories published in Las Vegas CityLife.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Writers' groups

I just discovered a wonderful writers' group in San Diego (to where I'll eventually be moving). It's San Diego Writers, Ink. My lifelong friend Vickie Pynchon, an attorney-mediator, columnist and blogger extraordinaire, is a member of a close-knit writers' group in Los Angeles. Vickie was a part of my first group, Sisters of the Pen, when we were kids. Who knew then how much writing we both would go on to do? (My sister Cordelia, also a former member and now an antiques dealer, is also blogging). I wasn't in another group again until a couple years after I broke into the news business. Fellow journalist and friend Susan Gembrowski, who's now an editor on the metro desk at the San Diego Union-Tribune, once hosted a few writers' meetings in Ocean Beach for local freelancers. The meetings eventually dwindled as we all moved on with our respective journalism careers. The first time I participated (about five years ago) in the Authors of the Flathead conference in Whitefish, Montana, I was envious. The group is chock full of talented, aspiring authors who encourage and constructively critique their respective works. After giving a workshop at their annual conference last month, in early October, I told myself I was going to find a group of my own, even if I had to be the one to organize it. I haven't found a group in Las Vegas, although freelance writer Terrisa Meeks runs one in Vegas where I was once a speaker. When I worked at the Las Vegas Sun in the mid 1990s, a handful of reporters started a writers group there. We'd meet once a month at a local Starbucks and go over each other's lengthier feature pieces we each were working on. With time, those meetings, too, slowly dwindled. Then this week, on the Internet, I stumbled across the San Diego group. Writing is a craft; the more you do it, the better you get. Thus, I'm hoping to not only learn from other writers, but to help others as well. The goal is getting words on the page and getting feedback along the way for works in progress. Fellow writers' feedback is invaluable and a gift when you can get it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tour heads to La Jolla and Santa Fe

The book tour for Pawprints of Katrina is heading for, first, on Nov. 9, La Jolla, California, to Warwick's books. Then, on Nov. 22, photographer Clay Myers, his wife Cathie, and I are going to Santa Fe for a signing with Ali MacGraw at Garcia Street Books. My Katrina dog Mia will be with me again. I'm excited about, once again, sharing with readers the rescue and reunion stories of Hurricane Katrina -- this on the heels of teaching a workshop in Whitefish, Montana, at the Authors of The Flathead and then participating in the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., But I'm especially looking forward to visiting with Ali. She is a genuinely real person and very nice and giving of her time. While there, I'll be visiting a friend, artist and fellow writer, Paulette Frankl, who has a studio and home in Santa Fe. In the meantime, I'm pecking away at my computer on other writing projects (including articles for Best Friends magazine and a crime manuscript in my spare time!). Onward and upward.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Writers helping writers

The way you define yourself as a writer is that you write every time you have a free minute. If you didn't behave that way you would never do anything. --John Irving (1942 - ) Having just spent six days in Whitefish, Montana, at the Authors of the Flathead writers' conference, I'm inspired. It wasn't supposed to be that way; I intended to inspire others when I taught a three-day workshop, then shorter sessions over the weekend, to conference attendees. But they, too, said they were inspired -- and that's what it's all about, writers helping writers. I wish I knew then what I know now when I wrote my first nonfiction book, The Killing of Tupac Shakur, in 1996 and '97. The writing transition, from newspaper stories to a book, was a struggle. And this was before full-on Internet use; my research came from libraries, book stores, magazine racks, newspaper clips and interviews -- the old-fashioned way. It was a crash course on becoming an author. Also teaching a three-day'r was screenwriter Rick Reichman. Presenting with us that Saturday and Sunday were Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist, blogger and soon-to-be-author John Woestendiek (very witty guy; check out his blog), and literary agent Stephanne Dennis, romantic suspense author Laura Hayden, and fiction editor Denise Little. Thoroughly enjoyable week!