September 12, 2010

What kind of writer I am

This is the first of many assignments I will post from my advanced composition class. A little cheesy, but it’s really how I feel, and it’s one of my first attempts at real creative nonfiction.

ASSIGNMENT: Describe what kind of writer you are, and be creative about it.

Ahem. What kind of writer I am.

What kind of writer am I?

Half an hour after sitting down to write the definitive account of my writing personality, I still had a blank page. So I went to THE guru, the giver of knowledge, the Fountain of Facts, the place I go to with all my questions, the place I always find my answers.

Google. I Google more than I breathe, so why shouldn’t it be able to answer this question? And Google, in its infinite bounty of resources directed me right to a four-question test on “Quizzilla,” which, without qualms or ambiguity, proclaimed that I am a plot writer. Apparently, nothing is more important to me than “a good plot, an engaging story.” “Writing style and characterization can’t make up for the absence of a real story” for me (but I shouldn’t forget that they’re still essential!)

All humor aside, this cheesy quiz — made for middle-school girls or bored college students — was right.

In journalism, I’ve been taught the importance of content over flare. A colorfully written story — though it contains beautiful language and complex imagery — can’t make up for lack of news value. If I can’t explain why people should care about a story I’ve written about a tree, my editor won’t care about how pervasive the theme of unrequited love is.

This concept carries over to my non-journalistic writing. I don’t want any potential readers to yawn at the end of what I’ve written. Though I strive for linguistic excellence too, I fear having that hard work overlooked if I don’t have the plot to back it up.

That little bit of initial uncertainty concerning my writing style alerted me of what I am sure of: that I write to understand myself and others.

Ernest Hemingway put my vague, subconscious feelings into words when he said, “As a writer, you should not judge. You should understand.” I’ve heard so frequently to write what you know. But I don’t know that much. So when I write, I try to channel other people. Sometimes that means doing research on the web or in a book. Sometimes it means picking the brain of someone with different life experience than me and expanding on things they say, whether verbally or nonverbally. Sometimes it means grabbing coffee and music and closing my eyes until I become someone else temporarily.

Writing about myself lets me materialize things that I’m thinking, to tangibly work out aspects of who I am. Writing about other people is me seeking to understand more than what I’ve experienced, so I’m able connect to other human beings. It’s why I’m a journalist. I love meeting new people and relaying their stories to the rest of the world. I love gleaning what information I can from them to make myself better.

All this from a simple online quiz. I knew Google had all the answers.

August 3, 2010

STORY – Tanzania trip teaches many lessons

Mariah Hudson, assistant director for SDSU's Center for Regional Sustainability, who took vacation time and raised her own funds to participate in the Tanzania Project, is mobbed on the morning the group was going to formally present backpacks to every child at the school. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRIS FROST

July 23, 2010


Last night I saw Rusko live for free at the Red Circle Lounge in San Diego. That’s right. The world-famous, England-native dubstep DJ himself — FOR FREE. And the show was incredible. I wanted to describe the show on the blog, but some experiences are best communicated by experiencing them yourself.

Here’s a video from when Rusko was in British Columbia. Watch at least a minute of it, and you’ll see about what last night was like.

Dubstep is one of those things you either love or hate. I love it. I love the way the bass hits you hard, but in a refreshing way, like a blast of water. I love the way so many songs I like can be remixed to fit the genre’s BPMs and rhythm. I love the tension of the build up, and the release of the drop. I love the way you can memorize the beats the way you memorize song lyrics, and how the beats can elicit the same type of emotion lyrics do.

The best way to experience any electronic dance music is to hear it live. Rusko, for example, is great when I’m YouTube-ing his mixes. But there’s no comparison to in person. He skillfully intertwines songs and produces incredible bass lines, but the best part is the way he and the crowd feed off of each other. The relatively small crowd last night didn’t know the exact list of songs he planned for his set, but the way they danced showed they could feel where he was taking them with the music, with every build up, drop and wobble. There weren’t many lyrics in the songs, so it was clear that the experience he wanted the crowd to have was based on the music.

Obviously, not everyone will like EDM. But the music can be really cool. So here are some of the tracks that got me hooked. These are all remixes of songs you may have heard. Try it out, and see if you don’t instantly want to dance.

Rusko’s remix of “Pro Nails”

TC remix of “Nothin’ on You”

Rusko’s remix of “Remedy”

Borgore’s remix of “Sleepyhead”

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July 19, 2010

Two recent stories

For some reason, I can’t get the hyperlinks to work in captions, so click the photo to get the link to the stories.

July 18, 2010

My inspiration

The hardest thing in the world to do is to write straight, honest prose on human beings. First you have to know the subject; then you have to know how to write. Both take a lifetime to learn… As a writer, you should not judge. You should understand.

from By-line by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway while in Cuba. Much of how he feels about writing is how I feel about writing. I just finished a book that is a collection of his sayings about being a writer, so I decided to do this tribute to him. I can't tell you how much I use his advice and how much his style and ideas have influenced mine.

July 16, 2010

(partial) STORY — Mission Valley fire burns four acres

See the full story here.

My contribution

As the fire continued to burn, parked cars lined both sides of Camino del Rio North near the Courtesy Chevrolet business as motorists stopped to observe and snap pictures of the fire.

In the 15 minutes Jack Ahrens of Pacific Beach had been standing there, the 29-year-old witnessed the quickest fire he’s ever seen. Ahrens was on his way to go shopping when he spotted the flames.

He saw firefighters scurry from the top of the hill to attack the flames and watched as helicopters, which were scooping water out of the nearby San Diego River, made drop after drop.

“I’m definitely nervous for the people who live up there,” he said.

Ahrens said he saw people on Interstate 8 almost getting into wrecks because people were stopping to watch the fire.

View from my cubicle at the Union-Tribune. Notice the houses at the top of the hill.

Random observations

The California summer is everything it’s cracked up to be. The intense desert heat, the flaming sun rays that feel like fire on your face. And of course, the real fires. I witnessed my first today.

The herd of journalists crowding around the window beside my desk signaled the arrival of the dreaded flames. I’d barely had time to snap a picture before someone volunteered me to rush to the scene and get some reactions.

What I saw can only be described as a ballet. The organization and precision with which the city reacted was a dance choreographed both by familiarity with summer blazes and respect for their power.

The swooping planes and the scurrying firefighters pushed back and forth against the fluid fire, rapidly making its leaps up the hill near houses and hotels in University Heights. The helicopters meticulously rushed in and out like a flowing tide. Each shield of water they dropped sent another sizzle into the already rising smoke, which looked like dirty translucent sheets ruffling in slow motion.

Less graceful were the reactions of passersby. Traffic jams and confused or worried pedestrians filled the streets and sidewalks. A contingent of police officers directed the congested motorists and vainly tried to stop people from walking toward the flames. But they had to work or get their cars or meet friends or go to hair appointments and wouldn’t be stopped for the fire that appeared almost choked out.

The activity of the area slowly ebbed out into other parts of the city as the water flowed to the earth and proved its dominance over the flaring hillside. But left behind, with the smoke still rising, was an ashen patch of scortched ground stretching from the top of the hill to the bottom.

July 15, 2010


I’ve been working on chapter two of my thesis lately. The subject: Elijah Lovejoy, abolitionist and one of the first martyrs fighting for press freedom.

Lovejoy converted to abolitionism because he thought it was a blatant sin, clearly going against his hardcore Christian values. Through many editorials on the subject, he tried to logically and peacefully argue for the dissolution of slavery but was met only with hostility from his opponents. They destroyed three of his presses and threatened to kill him.

My approach to telling his story was a present-tense narrative that described his last stand against a drunken mob demanding he give up his press or give up his life. I created the dialogue for the story based on several first- and second-hand accounts. I did my best to use the language they used back then, but I haven’t quite been able to capture it. That’s editing step number one, since I’ve almost completed a first draft of the story.

Below is the unedited ending to the four-page narrative. The flow of the story goes from long complex sentences to choppier ones as the scene gets more chaotic and comes to its tragic end. Love it? Hate it? Let me know.

..But now I am close enough that something else comes into focus. A pile of lumber hides glowing pairs of eyes illuminated by the fire in the crowd’s hands. They are hiding by the door because they knew we would have to use it at some point since it is our only means of counter attack.

I can now see two metal barrels protruding from the wood. The rifle and its operator are focused on me.

I am frozen by the chill both of the night air and the hatred aimed toward me. I hear the gasp of Weller behind me as he too realizes we are being stalked by a clever predator, like a lion hiding in the tall grass. I take a deep breath as I lock eyes with the gun-wielding farme,r and his intent becomes clear. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

The moment stands still in suspense, the moon acting as a spotlight, framing the inaction.

Then a slight movement. Then a click. And a bang.

A pang in my stomach. A warm, wet sensation from the wound.

A vicious smile. Another bang. And another. And two more.

A scream of approval.

A scream of pain.

My God. I am shot. I am shot.

My mind registers little else than desire for escape. I turn and leave my attackers. The grass is beneath my hands and knees. How have I made it to the door? I cannot recall what I have done or seen in the last few moments, but I open the door with what little strength I can manage. Where is Weller? Is he still outside? I cannot say. My vision is failing. I am midway up the stairs. How did I find the stairs? I must find my supporters at the top.

I fight the searing pain with each drag of my legs and yank of my arms. I am leaving a trail of blood behind me. So much blood. I cannot see out of one eye, but I know when I have reached the second floor. I smell smoke and burning wood. I see frightened faces and opened mouths. And then they disappear as I fall. With a thump, my legs, then my torso, then my arms, then my head hits the floor, before cold, sweaty hands grab me tightly in fear.

“Elijah! Are you okay?”

Still my mind is only registering one thought.

“My —.” Am I the one coughing? “My God. I am shot.”

Time has become meaningless, and my vision is a blur of moving shadows and light.

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…

Yea though I walk…

“Let them have the press. Elijah is dead. All is lost.” I recognize Mr. Harned’s voice. “Perhaps they will let us keep our lives if we let them keep the press.”

…walk through the valley…

“They will let us leave unmolested. Quickly! Get out and let them have the building.”

“Get out!”

“Save yourself!”

…through the valley… the valley…

“What about Elijah?”

“Leave now!”


… death.

July 7, 2010

STORY — American dreams come true

June 27, 2010

STORY — Christmas in June for military families

June 23, 2010

STORY — Soccer fans anxious, then ecstatic at P.B. bar

No side note this time, because I’m really hungry and ready to go get my Subway sandwich. But I will say this was one of the best assignments of all time.

U.S. soccer fan Max Shafer watches in disbelief at Miller's Field sports bar in Pacific Beach as the U.S. team misses a shot against Algeria. PHOTO BY NELVIN C. CEPEDA/UNION-TRIBUNE.