Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

Inside: Identity Issue

In Inside on November 30, 2010 at 8:00 am

OK, I know I’m a little biased. I don’t care. I’m still going to post stuff from Inside’s Identity Issue. Feel free to comment on the issue.


The basement was where he found his voice. Three years ago, in Colorado, Andy Lunsford walked down the stairs. He put on a CD he’d bought on a whim years ago from Target, “Lifescapes: Opera.”

It was the only opera music he owned, and he thought it would be a soothing break from what was happening in his life.

He was declaring personal bankruptcy, and he had a long way to fall. The granite business he’d started was on track to sell $6 million in countertops that year. In slacks and a tie at 26, the young entrepreneur employed 40 people. Now, with the economy crashing, Andy watched his world collapse. He would lose his home, his cars, and his credit. The only things left were his wife and two young sons.

So he listened to opera in the basement he no longer owned.

He enjoyed musicals growing up, but the only opera he’d heard was on spaghetti commercials. When he put on the CD, it was a blur of Italian noise. He closed his eyes, then started humming. Then he sang. Sounds, not words.

I already posted Caitlin Johnston’s essay, but you can read it here.

Did anything else in the issue catch your eye?


Dunn Meadow

In IDS on November 29, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Interesting use of “you” in the IDS today. What do you think?


This is the story of a plot of earth. Of dirt and grass and mud and rain. A right-angled triangle, 925 feet long by 407 feet wide, intersected by a natural stream.

You have crossed it hundreds of times. Here you have thrown Frisbees, had picnics, walked your dog and flown kites. Some of you have kissed here. Some of you have been shot at here.

This is the story of the soil beneath IU. This is the story of Dunn Meadow.

The home front

In Inside on November 29, 2010 at 8:00 am

This essay will run in Inside’s Identity Issue (out tomorrow).


During his tours, I pretend Blake’s in an office doing paperwork. Or playing basketball with his unit behind the blast wall. I picture him doing anything other than his job.

It’s harder to pretend when he brings home medals. They don’t give gold stars or commendations for valor to the guy behind the desk.

I didn’t know the explanations for why he received such honors until I visited him last summer. There, stashed away in the corner of the guest bedroom, was tangible proof of his duties. I sat down on the bed, poring over the certificates: he’d conducted 55 combat missions, amassing 12,000 miles and escorting 1,300 vehicles and 10,000 personnel. And then I read what happened on May 3, 2007:

When a vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device, First Lieutenant Johnston established security, coordinated a ground casualty evacuation for the wounded Marines, and requested explosive ordinance disposal and vehicle recovery support.

As I tried to grasp the reality of my brother’s job, he opened the door.

“What are ya doin, Sweets?” he asked.

“Oh, nothing,” I said, now conscious of the tears streaming down my face.

He shrugged. “Come on, dinner’s done.”

The lost son

In IDS on November 22, 2010 at 12:19 pm

The police beat can be tough, but sometimes it’s really rewarding. Check out this story from the IDS. This could have been a normal police brief, but Jake New turned into a really interesting story.


It’s been almost 17 months since Suzanne Giza has heard from her son.

Frank Joseph Giza III, 25, was hitchhiking and couch-surfing across the country to music festivals when he sent his last letter to his mom in early June 2009.

He had made it to Bloomington, and he said he would contact her in a couple of weeks, the letter read. As she sat in her home in Selbyville, Del., she waited for his next phone call or card or letter. But the weeks passed, and she never heard from her son.

Not then, not on her birthday and not now.

“I’m just sick about it,” Suzanne Giza said. “He’s not one not to call me. He’s resourceful. He’s asked to use strangers’ phones before just to call me, let me know he’s OK.”

Why it works:

  • Narrative details (like the letter and the poster descriptions) bring the reader into the story.
  • Jake included information about why these cases are difficult for the police department. This made the story more than a mother pleading for her son.
  • He talked to the mother. That seems obvious, but look at the number of crime stories we only write up as briefs. Gathering information about this guy took some real reporting.

Writer’s Block will be taking a break for Thanksgiving. I’ll start posting again next Tuesday.

Meet Hoagy Carmichael

In IDS on November 19, 2010 at 8:49 am

The piano-playing statue has a story…


The spooning wall, a low limestone wall near the law school, was a favorite meeting spot for lovers.

But as Hoagy Carmichael sat there, he realized just how alone he was.

In 1927, at 28, he had returned to his college campus and his hometown of Bloomington. All his friends were graduated and gone. The girl he loved was gone too. And the campus lacked the vibrancy it seemed to have during his college days.

But then, as legend has it, he decided to stop feeling sorry for himself and started with a tune. A melody popped into the songwriter’s head, and it was so compelling that he ran to his favorite hang out, the Book Nook.

It was closed, but he pounded on the door anyway, and the owner let him in.

Inside, he rushed to the piano to compose what would later, once its tempo was slowed down to a ballad, become one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century.

“Sometimes I wonder why I spend the lonely nights dreaming of a song.”

The song was “Stardust.”

Lesson: Death is not an excuse for sloppy storytelling.

The Weekend Prophet

In Design, Weekend on November 18, 2010 at 8:38 am

After the Harry Potter books came out, I had two wishes:

1. Get my acceptance letter to Hogwarts. (Still waiting)
2. Work for The Daily Prophet.

Thank you, IDS, for making one of these dreams come true! What a perfect design for the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I.” What was your favorite part of Weekend?
















Readers love The Weekend Prophet. Check out this comment I found online.


In IDS on November 17, 2010 at 8:57 am

IUDM coverage was in Monday’s paper, but I still think it’s worth talking about.

I thought Danielle Rindler’s story about Matt Kinser, a former Riley Hospital patient and the son of two IU professors, was really nice. My favorite part: how Danielle handled the quotes.

“You get pregnant, and you get ready to have a baby,” Eric said. “You don’t think something like this is going to happen. We had just found out he was going to be a boy.”

  • There is some foreshadowing built into this quote, but it’s also simple and poignant.

“It sounds crazy, but we had talked about what would happen if he came out and he was blue. Then we didn’t want them to try,” Amy said. “We gave the staff criteria — if he comes out crying, do everything you can.”

And to Amy and Eric’s joy, Matt came out crying.

“We could hear him all the way down the hall,” Amy says.

  • I like that we get a variety of perspectives in this scene. We’re in Amy’s head for the first paragraph. Then we move to seeing Matt crying. Then we’re down the hall with Amy. The tension of whether he’ll come out crying also keeps the story moving.

If I could suggest one change, it would be these paragraphs:

When Amy Kinser went into pre-term labor in her second trimester, the staff at Bloomington Hospital didn’t have a positive outlook.

“One of the nurses told me ‘You’re just going to have to have him and rock him till he passes.’ I said ‘No, we’re going to fight this,’” Amy said.

Would the story have more power if we changed it to:

When Amy Kinser went into pre-term labor in her second trimester, the staff at Bloomington Hospital didn’t have a positive outlook.

“You’re just going to have to have him and rock him till he passes,” a nurse told Amy.

“No,” she said, “we’re going to fight this.”

What do you think? Did the story work for you? What did you think of the IUDM coverage in general?

The joyride

In IDS on November 16, 2010 at 8:29 am


Joyriding is what I call it. All my life, strangers have had fun yelling at me from cars.

They catch me off-guard, call me names, try to dissolve me into nothing.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been told that I’m too much. The first thing people see is the color of my skin. I’m African-American, so I can’t master English.
I’m gay, so I’m a freak of nature. Even worse, I’m not afraid of who I am.

I don’t mope down the street. I strut.

A palm reader once warned me that if I didn’t avoid extremes I would perish. That was her word: “perish.” Another time, a friend’s mother urged me to stop being gay in front of her husband and sons.

“Can you turn off the sexuality?” she said. “Because it offends the boys.”
Her suggestion was bewildering. It wasn’t as if I was prancing around in a tutu.
I didn’t buy that attitude then, and I don’t buy it now. Why should I have to hide so other people feel comfortable?

It took me forever to get to where I am today. I’m learning how to be myself with all I’ve got.

    “After 83-20 loss, IU suffers worst Big Ten start since 1996”

    In IDS on November 15, 2010 at 1:00 pm


    MADISON, Wis. — The superlatives in Wisconsin’s wallop of IU on Saturday were not hard to find.

    The 83 points allowed by the Hoosiers? Only the most IU football has ever given up.

    The 63-point losing margin? It ties a 1915 defeat as the worst in IU program history.

    The 573 pushups that Wisconsin mascot “Bucky” was charged with completing after Wisconsin’s 13 total scores? Well, the feat reportedly required several different people under the costume.

    Keating winners

    In Awards on November 15, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Congratulations, Rachel Stark and CJ Lotz!

    Rachel won the Keating Feature Writing Competition on Saturday and CJ placed second. This year, the competitors had to report on the Bands of America Grand National Championships. They had a few hours to find, report and write a story.

    Here’s an excerpt from Rachel’s winning article:

    The day it happened, Wally Hicho woke up at 6 a.m., ready to make five dollars an hour cutting sheet metal. He arrived at the factory, where his dad works, in jeans and a blue t-shirt — nothing flashy for the laid-back teenage boy. Tan work gloves warmed all five of his fingers on both right and left hands.Wally’s hands were skilled. This day, the junior at Brunswick High School in Ohio used them to cut metal. Other times, they grasped the hand of his girlfriend of two months, held the poles to his snow skis, and typed text messages on his cell phone. In one week, they would clutch his trumpet and press its keys in the high school state marching band competition.

    This day, on October 30, Wally stood at a machine where a weight plunged onto sheet metal, slicing it. At one point, a piece became stuck in the machine. Wally turned it off and walked behind to investigate. He did not tell his dad.

    When his dad turned the machine on, the weight dropped onto his son’s right hand, cutting it like metal.

    Wally moved quickly enough that his bones were not hit, just the skin, which was ripped off as he pulled his hand out. The weight hit at the end of his fingernail.

    “DAD!” Wally screamed.

    His dad, horrified, grabbed the bloody hand to apply pressure.

    Later in the ambulance, when no one knew whether Wally would keep his fingertips, the teenager thought of his marching band.

    Oh God, I need this hand to play. “

    Congrats to all of the IU competitors: Caitlin Johnston, Sean Morrison, Biz Carson, Charlie Scudder, Avi Zaleon, CJ Lotz and Rachel Stark.

    In case you missed my earlier post, check out the stories that landed them spots in the competition.