Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Longform Isn't Dead, It's Binary...

 An interesting article on about the transition of longform sports writing from print to digital...

As any literary-minded technophile will tell you, the Internet has become a haven for lengthy, high-quality prose, with sites from the Awl to BuzzFeed regularly churning out 4,000-word stories. But it’s not just rambling book reviews and art-world treatises. The art of longform sportswriting has also found new life on the Web.

This sportswriting renaissance includes relative newcomers like Bill Simmons’ Grantland, sports blog network SB Nation and Deadspin (Manti Te’o, anyone?) and established players like USA Today (a backer of Sports on Earth) and Sports Illustrated, which has been pulling archived stories for its tablet editions. "A number of sports entities are seeing that the future of sports journalism lays in longform, as people become more accustomed to reading on phones and tablets," said Glenn Stout, who has edited The Best American Sports Writing book series since its inception in 1991 and also oversees SB Nation’s new longform section.

While Stout once relied on newspapers to fill The Best American Sports Writing volumes, he is increasingly pulling articles from digital-only outlets. Notwithstanding recent high-profile sports pieces by The New York Times and The Atlantic, Stout said print outlets are finding it harder to do these big stories."Twenty or 25 years ago, there were 50 or 60 of these Sunday newspaper supplements nationwide, and they were a great source [for longform sportswriting]," he said. “Those don’t exist anymore.”

Similar thinking inspired sports startup The Classical. Its dozen founders, including writers like Bethlehem Shoals and Tim Marchman, pitched the idea on Kickstarter, promising "just brainy sports journalism, every day." In less than two months, they raised more than $55,000. Now, the site’s offbeat sports stories (titles “Rabbit Remembered” and “A Portrait of Kenny as a Young Hooper” belie their authors’ literary backgrounds) are getting picked up by the likes of Deadspin and Salon.

"In the past, if I had written the kind of stuff I’ve written for The Classical, no magazine would be able to run it," said one of the site’s co-founders, Pete Beatty, who also works as a book editor. "It costs us the same amount [of money] to run 3,000 or 300 words," said co-founder David Roth, who writes for The Wall Street Journal’s blog The Daily Fix. “We have some freedom in that regard that the Journal doesn’t although they do have a lot of advantages over us—like an office, for starters.”

The Classical also doesn’t have the funds to pay writers although its founders hope that will change in the coming year; the site is in talks with 29th Street Publishing to sell content in the form of iPad magazines.

For now, the exposure is enough for longform proponents like Stout. "There might not be a whole lot of money in it yet," he said. “But you can not only find a place to show your work—you can find an audience for it.”

Just wondering out loud here, but could the same model work for literary, long-form sporting prose? The historical parallels and market forces affecting the two genres are essentially the same, and in fact I'd argue the current prospects for print-based long-form sporting journalism are even worse than they are for traditional sports writing.

Kickstarter or some other form of crowd-sourcing for such a venture is intriguing, but the question would be: are there enough fans out there to support something like a hook-and-bullet Grantland? If the current state of the hook-and-bullet press is any indication, I have my doubts, given the rather miniscule circulations of literary sporting books like Gray's and Sporting Classics

Or are their small circulations more a function of their - for lack of a better term - "sad, nostalgic old bastard*" style of prose that appeals to an ever-shrinking pool of readers, and that something like my "Rolling Stream" idea from a few months ago might appeal to a larger body of potential readers?

Eh, who knows? But maybe I finally need to invest in a tablet/iPad/Kindle/Nook to see for myself what it's like to read a piece of longform journalism on such a device...

Just for the record, I wasn't being pejorative there. I happen to like sad, nostalgic old bastard prose very much. Because I'm quickly becoming one...

Friday, January 25, 2013

One More Season Under the Collar...

Tess, with one of the few actual limits we shot during this weird, screwed up, drought-stricken, disappointing duck season, which for me ended last weekend. She turned nine this year, and although she's becoming a bit creaky, arthritic and is slowing down noticeably, I think she's got one, maybe two good seasons left in her. She's going to have to, because I don't think I'll be getting a new chessie pup this year. Maybe next year.

She's never been my best retriever, and I must admit, she's never been my best dog, personality-wise, either. My first chessie, Holly, was the toughest, most determined retriever I ever owned, while my male chessie, Lewey, while almost as tough and athletic as Holly, (and a better marker) was also the absolute sweetest, goofiest, most loveable and comical dog personality I've ever seen. My current male setter pup Ozzy reminds me greatly of him, and indeed, sometimes I slip up and call him Lewey.

Tess, on the other hand, has always been right smack in the middle of the bell curve. If you've ever seen the movie "Idiocracy" Tess is the canine version of Luke Wilson's character. Utterly average in every way. Decent but not great retriever. Sort of a plodder. Not particularly flashy or athletic. Vanilla personality. Average, but consistently average. She's always there, she's loyal, loves me, is good with our kids (not so good with strangers, though) and on balance has never given me any reason to regret having her. I could do lots worse, and have.

Dogs are individuals, just like us, and not every dog you own through the course of a lifetime is going to just absolutely knock you over with their greatness. Some of them are going to be special, some of them are going to be duds, some of them are going to be nightmares, and some of them are simply going to be good dogs. And sometimes, that's all you need. She's been a good one.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cool Places: Nebraska Sandhills

Garmin's Ted Gartner, giving his dog LuLu a quick water break while hunting the Nebraska National Forest (national forest?) outside the alleged town of Thedford, Nebraska, earlier this season. What a lonely, quiet, forgotten, gorgeous place the sandhills are. I fell instantly in love with them.

There are chunks of land out there that have always intrigued me. That portion of Nebraska that lies roughly west of US 183 and north of I-80 is one of them. If you take your finger and trace that area on an atlas, you will see that there's just not a helluva lot out there. At all. Few roads. Few towns. And lots of blank, empty space between what is there. Which is why, of course, it is one of those beguiling places. Culture and civilization, I'm sorry to say, make any wild, lonely place less interesting. Thankfully, there's not much of either in western Nebraska.

We only hunted for one evening and one morning before heading on to Montana, but I was so smitten with the region that I'm trying to figure out a way to go back next fall, but with a kayak strapped to the truck so I can hunt the cool mornings, spend the hot afternoons fishing some of those innumerable, jewel-like sandhills lakes and then spend the evenings kicked back next to a campfire, sipping beverages, watching the stars and talking to the dogs, with nary a streetlight, car horn or other soul for miles around. It's that kind of place.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Horses Jumping Fences...

 Mark Vonnegut, in the introduction to the posthumous Kurt Vonnegut collection "Armageddon In Retrospect."

"When I was 16 he couldn't get a job teaching English at Cape Cod Community College. My mother claimed that she went into bookstores and ordered his books under a false name so the books would at least be in the stores and maybe someone would buy them. Five years later he published Slaughterhouse-5 and had a million-dollar multi-book contract. It took some getting used to. Now, for most people looking back, Kurt's being a successful, even famous, writer is an "of course" kind of thing. For me it looks like something that very easily might not have happened.

He often said he had to be a writer because he wasn't good at anything else. He was not good at being an employee. Back in the mid-1950s he was employed by Sports Illustrated, briefly. He reported to work, was asked to write a short piece on a racehorse that had jumped over a fence and tried to run away. Kurt stared at the blank piece of paper all morning and then typed, "The horse jumped over the fucking fence," and walked out, self-employed again."

Most of us writers never - for a variety of reasons -  reach sufficient escape velocity to break free from the gravitational pull of writing about horses jumping fences. We, of course, recognize this (or at least those of us who don't suffer from terminal self-delusion do) so we are forced to make our horses jumping fences stories as nice and pretty as we can. But in the end, and in whatever form they may take, they're all just stories about horses jumping over fucking fences.

And that's OK. We can't all be Vonneguts. Hell, were I thrust into the same situation, I'm quite sure I would have launched into a haughty, excruciatingly self-aggrandizing little bitch and moan about how demeaning, pointless and utterly banal the whole thing is for an artist such as myself...and then cranked out 12 inches of good, clean, useful, amazing, forgettable copy on how that horse jumped over the fence. And probably would have spent the rest of my working life right there at that SI desk, cranking out even more horses jumping fences stories. 

Because in the end, regardless of how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, most of us aren't Vonnegut. In fact, most of us, artistically speaking, are some variation of this guy...

And for those of you without children who don't get that joke, all I can say is you're doing yourselves a real disservice by not watching SpongeBob Squarepants...

Monday, January 21, 2013

When Words - And Lots of Them - Fail.

 Literally. And miserably...

From the March, 1996 History 3383 blue book exam of an, uh...unnamed student at the University of Oklahoma, found while sifting through the dusty, long-forgotten artifacts of a closet.

"My goodness, but you have a great deal of fine rhetoric here! But it has no chronological framework, it is short on data, and it seems to ignore organization altogether. Beyond that, I find no evidence of reading. Now, it is true that you reference to a great many things herein. You mention them in passing, so to speak. Thus, I'm sure you know something, but just how much do you know? I can't tell from your essay, because you don't go into detail on, well, anything. That leaves me up a tree, because I can't give you a grade based on what I think you know: I must be guided by what's in the examination booklet. Which isn't much. D minus."

Hmmm, a great deal of fine rhetoric that, taken as a whole, adds to up to not a helluva lot. Yep, pretty much sums up the freelance writing life.

That unnamed student, by the way, did manage to recover from that stinging - and wholly deserved - rebuke, and made damn sure he was sort of prepared for the next test. Or so I'm told.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

"We've Put Ourselves In A Cage"

Interesting clip from a 2005 interview with Richard Manning, one of my absolute favorite environmental journalists. If you haven't read any of his books, do yourself a favor and pick one up. Being a lifelong prairie rat, I've read and enjoyed all his books about that particular subject: "Grasslands", "Rewilding The West", "Against the Grain", etc.

One of my favorite Richard Manning quotes (paraphrasing from memory here): "A wheat field is nothing more than a clear-cut of the grass forest." Amen, brother...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Still A Work In Progress...

But he's coming along nicely (that's actually not a point, just him looking photogenic). He's even showing some signs of being a natural backer to Jenny, who I'm happy to say, nailed this single (Ozzy looks much farther away in the photo than he actually was...).

He does, however, still have that goofy puppy curiosity about most things...

But finally, and just shy of his first birthday, Ozzy got his first real, honest-to-dog, rock-solid, no-doubt, "this-is-it, boss!" point on a genuine, non-pigeon, non-planted, non-poultrified, buck-ass wild Oklahoma quail. And I even managed to shoot the damn thing.The quail. Not the moment. With a gun. Not the camera. So, just like Jenny's first point last season in Kansas, the moment will live on only in my mind. And hopefully his mind, too, so he'll know what the hell to do next time...

He's come close quite a few times this year. Not so much early in the season in Montana, which had me thinking Ozzy might be a little too laid-back, perhaps a little too chilled-out to be the dog I needed ( "I wanted a balls-to-the-wall firebreather, damn it!" I lamented to a friend at the time, "and what did I get? Freakin' Jeff Spicoli!).

Even taking into consideration his puppiness, I was, to put it mildly, a bit frustrated with Ozzy's drive, his seeming lack of intensity and boldness in the field. Couldn't ask for a sweeter, more personable dog, but sweetness doesn't bust through thickets and brush and creeks. Sweetness doesn't brush aside weariness and pain as it eats up miles of prairie to find birds. Only fire and toughness does that. Bird dog tough. And Ozzy, well, Ozzy was just a big, goofy, soft, loveable baby.

And then, about midway through the season, Ozzy suddenly discovered that he had balls. He started running bigger, faster and with some semblance of purpose. He busted birds, which was fine. Anything to stoke his fire. I let him bust birds. I let him chase birds. I even (pro trainers please avert your eyes) shot a couple busted birds just so he'd possibly start making  the gun-bird-hunt connection. And all this time he was getting a bit bolder and more confident every time we went out. He started ranging well ahead of Jenny, leaving her behind. I nearly wept with joy the day he charged through the North Canadian river without so much as a second thought (those who hunted with me in Montana know what I'm talking about...)

He had flash-pointed a rooster in South Dakota, and he'd been flash-pointing a few birds here, so I know he was beginning to use his nose, but the awful scenting and hunting conditions we had for most of the season (combined with a woeful lack of birds) certainly wasn't doing his nose confidence any favors.

But a few weeks ago we finally got some moisture and colder temps. And on a foggy, misty afternoon hunt, Ozzy suddenly, for one, brief, glorious moment, (actually several: he was staunch until the bird flushed) became a bird dog.

One of the most common laments heard from owners of young dogs is the fear that their Chosen One is not going to work out; the dreaded "I just don't think this dog gets it" syndrome. And one of the most common retorts to said lament is the maddeningly trite-sounding "Your dog's fine. You just need to get him/her into birds." Which does nothing, absolutely nothing, to allay your rampaging fear that your dog, the one you had so many sky-high hopes for, the one you paid so much money for, belongs on the short bus.

Color me guilty. Guess he just needs more birds. But then again, don't we all?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Simplicite, Frugalite, Clarte*

 *with apologies to those for whom lack of proper accent marks is a pet peeve. I'm too lazy to switch my keyboard settings.Please just imagine they're there...

That, wrapped up in a classic tripartite motto nutshell, is my New Year's Resolution. For all you language buffs, it is a form of hendiatris. No, I didn't know that before Googling it. I'm not that smart. And yes, I did rip off its form and cadence from the French national motto, "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite", which has long been one of my favorites.

Specifically, I'm hoping that a little simplicity and frugality will bring about a bit of clarity in 2013. And I figure that as far as New Year's resolutions go, it sounds a lot more enlightened - if equally doomed -  than "go on a diet." Which I've also pledged...

So, simplicity and frugality in all things (except perhaps shotguns, dogs, bird hunting, fly-fishing and books) is my personal mantra this year, and I will try mightily to jettison all sorts of thing, ideas, assumptions, expectations, jealousies, wants, and activities that run counter to it.

It's not a new process. The past few years I have been slowly disabusing myself of many previously-held notions and beliefs. Some of them are youthful personal notions, beliefs and goals that haven't held up to reality, the passage of time and the admittedly slow acquisition of wisdom, while others are more societal or tribal in nature, but no less stupid-seeming to me these days.

But since 2012 came and went and we're all still here, I figured 2013 would be a good year to finally try to jettison the lot of them. Because you just don't know what the future holds, Apocalypse-wise, and it'd really suck to experience the end of the world so un-self-actualized.

Oh, I do have some less-nebulous personal and professional resolutions. I want to try to write on this blog more often, and I recognize that I'm absolutely terrible at replying to comments. I'd like to improve the frequency and quality of both (it's not that I'm a dick, really. I just forget...). I have a number of other personal goals of no interest to anyone but myself. Most relate to fish I will never catch, or birds I will never hunt, or places I will never see, or things I will never experience. Such is life.

In addition to personal simplification, I plan on jettisoning some professional assumptions, expectations and desires that are unobtainable (and don't seem so important any more, anyway) and get back to doing what I really like, which is writing.

We'll see how it goes. Hell, maybe I should have just stuck with the diet...