Monday, October 29, 2012

Excellent Sports Writing - by Chris Ballard, Jeff Passan & Chris Jones

There's been two pieces of great sports writing I've come across lately that also brought to mind solid work from years past.

Story I've thought about the most was "Mourning Glory" for the October 22 issue of Sports Illustrated. Written by Chris Ballard, it's on a Maryland high school baseball coach, team and how they responded to tragedy. There's also a remarkable connection to Nick Adenhart who died three years ago after pitching his first start of the year for the Los Angeles Angels. This connection for me helped give the story an appropriate balance between inspiration and devestating loss and I found myself wondering whether Ballard had in mind these things while writing. Regardless of what he thought about during the process, the piece he finished with was just excellent.

The topic is of course completely different, but an additional Ballard story I've read recently was his 2008 SI feature “The Birds”, a tremendously entertaining “fear & loathing-like” look at homing pigeon racing in Las Vegas.

Another recent piece of writing that stood out as outstanding was “Bonded by failure, Barry Zito, Tim Lincecum give Giants right stuff in Game 1 of World Series.” Written by Jeff Passan for Yahoo Sports, it’s great stuff on the two pitchers.

Zito is one of my favorite athletes and his recent success (after thus far not meeting the expectations of his contract) has brought up mention on the World Wide Super Tubes of a 2002 Zito profile “He Came from Outer Space”, Chris Jones’ first published work in Esquire.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Writers on Writing - Rose, Conn, Travis & Jones

There's been a few things I've come across lately that fall within the subject of writing that I love to prattle on about.

The oldest piece was "NEW SOUTH JOURNALISM: The Sometimes-Picayune" by Chris Rose. It's written for Oxford American Magazine by the former (left in 2009) New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter and has some really cool anecdotes from him about getting hired and working at the paper. Not incidental to the story was the Times-Picayune several months ago laying off half it's newsroom staff in advance of a move away from daily publishing.

More recently of interest were two pieces that were both well done and which approached the subject of writing from very different angles. For Grantland, Jordan Conn wrote "Jeremy Tyler: No Longer a Symbol, Now Just a Pro" on the 21 year-old Golden State Warrior. In the piece, Conn wrote about Tyler's past and how people would try to use both his talents and narrative story for their benefit (Conn included). Extremely interesting stuff that brought to mind an anecdote on Andre Agassi being upset with tennis broadcaster Bud Collins characterizing Agassi's career path as being "from punk to paragon." Basic idea from both Agassi and Conn is around this propensity towards assigning narratives around others that may or may not fit.

The second recent piece was written by Clay Travis for his college-football leaning website Outkick the Coverage. Travis previously wrote the fascinating "2011 Belonged To Twitter, So Does the Future of Sports Media" and this recent piece deals in the same topic. "Bleacher Report vs. Grantland: The Spectrum of Online Sports Media" compares two different sites and the importance of great writers (and associated compensation for them) to each. Interesting and logical ideas put forth by Travis that make me think of both Drew Magary writing about doing a novel because it pays better than writing sports for the web and the hockey bloggers I've known who had fairly significant online readership and gave it up. Not that I know their reasons for walking away from sports blogging the same as my own, but when I stopped my hockey blogging (to a small audience), I simply didn't feel the writing I was doing that different than could be done by anyone and wasn't worth the effort.

Final thing to note here that traffics in the subject of writing was the podcast "Episode 10: Chris Jones (Live in Romania)". Done for Longform and The Atavist, it's about an hour-long interview with the Esquire and ESPN writer and while I had seen in print already much of what Jones covered, it was especially interesting to hear him talk about some of the depression he's dealt with and wrote about in the November 2011 issue of Esquire.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Solid Sports Writing - on FC Barcelona, Oakland A's & Chris Kluwe

Three different excellent pieces of sports writing to note here... with a couple being a few weeks old and one just a few days.

The recent piece was "The Punter Makes His Point" for the New York Times by Tony Gervino. Well done profile of Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, now best known for his brilliant and profane takedown of a bigoted Maryland politician posted to Deadspin.

Going back a few weeks were two pieces for Sports Illustrated, one on the website and one for the magazine. The shorter website piece was from Tom Verducci with "A's historic run to AL West title reminds us why we love this game" on... well, that. It's certainly true that as an A's fan I had more interest in the story than many, but it really was excellent writing that gets at what makes baseball such a captivating game to be a fan of.

The magazine feature piece also included this element of "writing about what makes something special" with Grant Wahl doing "The World's Team", a solid piece with the subtitle "FC Barcelona is more than a club, more than a champion and more than Lionel Messi-it is the embodiment of a sporting ideal that has made it beloved across the globe."

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fast Company Features - on Pinterest, Windows 8, Uniqlo and Coursera

After not reading Fast Company for a few months, I went through three issues recently and found several features that stood out.

The Aug issue had "Cheap, Chic, And Made For All: How Uniqlo Plans To Take Over Casual Fashion" with Jeff Chu writing on the fast-growing Japan-based casual apparel retailer. Very interesting company that recently opened it's first West Coast store in San Francisco and next week is launching it's US online store.

The Sept edition of FC had a piece on a topic of interest in "How Coursera, A Free Online Education Service, Will School Us All." Written by Anya Kamenetz, it's an excellent look at the company teaching hundreds of thousands online, for free. Fascinating topic that I've previously linked to pieces about under the tag online education.

The Oct issue focused on Design and included "Can Ben Silbermann Turn Pinterest Into The World’s Greatest Shopfront?" by Max Chafkin and "Windows 8: The Boldest, Biggest Redesign In Microsoft’s History" from Austin Carr. Interesting pieces both on a new company and an established coporation doing something different.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Outside Magazine on Bill McKibben & Texas Monthly on Kermit Oliver

Two excellent pieces of profile writing to note here... one interesting in the work being done by someone and the other for both the work and manner it's being done.

In terms of a feature on someone doing something important towards a greater good, last month's Outside Magazine had "Boilover" on writer and climate-change activist Bill McKibben. Written by Rowan Jacobsen, it's a thorough look at someone perhaps tilting at windmills, but doing so because he believes the efforts of his organization are important.

The second in-depth profile to mention here doesn't center around as important a topic as climate change and C02 in the atmosphere, but was fascinating in the person featured. For Texas Monthly, "Portrait of the Artist as a Postman" was by Jason Sheeler on Kermit Oliver, the Waco, TX postal employee who also designs heavily in-demand scarves for French fashion brand Hermes. Absolutely remarkable piece on someone with amazing events in their life (particularly the horrifying story of his son being executed by the state of Texas) and who does his craft in a way that works for him.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Businessweek writing - on Facebook, Apple, Pandora & EcoATM

There were a few Businessweek pieces from the past few issues that stood out as being on interesting companies... with a couple of the stories being fairly short and a couple well written in-depth looks.

The features were from the recent issue with Facebook on the cover and Ashlee Vance wrote a solid lead story with "Facebook: The Making of 1 Billion Users." Fascinating content that delves into the engineering at the company and features interesting revelations such as Facebook basically launching a new site version with tweaks each and every day.

The Opening Remarks piece from the same issue was also terribly interesting with Brad Stone, Adam Satariano, and Peter Burrows writing "Mapping a Path Out of Steve Jobs's Shadow" on Apple.

Finally, the two smaller pieces of interest were "Apple Radio Might Put Pandora in Play" about online music and "EcoATM, the Automated iPhone Pawn Shop" on the mall kiosk company offering money for no longer needed cell phones with $175 "the average going rate for a slightly damaged iPhone 4 or 4S."

"Sutton" by J.R. Moehringer

I wanted to love SuttonJ.R. Moehringer's first novel, but after reading it, found myself somewhat disappointed.

I've been a fan of Moehringer's writing from first reading the Andre Agassi biography Open he co-wrote. Since then, there was one of my favorite books, The Tender Bar, his memoir leading up to a writing career and various excellent magazine pieces like "Yesterday's News" from a few years back for the Denver magazine 5280.

I heard about Sutton from a announcement early last year and while the writing in the book certainly had some moments of brilliance from Moehringer, I wasn't that into the narrative of Sutton's post-prison conversations with with a photographer and reporter getting his story. More importantly, though, I found the ending (well, the climactic scene just prior to the ending) to be confusing as to what was going on and not terribly satisfying.

After finishing the book, I went and looked for reviews online and the first two I found at least somewhat shared my view with an Entertainment weekly review by Karen Valby and then one for the New York Times by Dwight Garner. All in all, I still think Moehringer a great writer and he took on an interesting subject, just perhaps the techniques Moehringer used in writing a novel detracted from the reading experience for me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Great Sports Writing by Dana O'Neil & Sam Page

Two really exceptional pieces of writing I came across today... both dealing with sports figures and each telling a compelling story way beyond what would be seen in a box score.

For ESPN, Dana O'Neil wrote "Chris Mooney's immeasurable impact" which delved into the Richmond Spiders NCAA men's basketball coach and how he helped a team student manager. Just excellent heartwarming storytelling provided by O'Neil.

The second piece actually stood out even more to me in that it (while not necessarily having the same feel good gravitas) featured the writer, Sam Page, telling a personal tale in relation to a famous athlete (and fellow Nashville private high school alum), R.A. Dickey. Super interesting piece posted to Deadspin that was titled "What The Best Pitcher In Baseball Taught Me About Prep School, Socrates, And The Art Of Not Selling Out."

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Compelling Writing from Lake, Gethard, Knapp and Kluwe

There's been some excellent writing from a few different sources to note here.

For Sports Illustrated last month, Thomas Lake wrote "The Boy They Couldn't Kill". It's a remarkable piece that features the subtitle "Thirteen years ago, NFL receiver Rae Carruth conspired to kill his pregnant girlfriend and their unborn son. The child has not only survived but thrived—thanks to the unwavering love of his grandmother." Additionally of interest from Lake was his "Inside Story" about writing the feature.

On the Tumblr blog of writer and public access talk-show host Chris Gethard was a public response he wrote to a depressed fan. Really thoughtful and compelling writing from Gethard.  

Finally, Gwen Knapp wrote for the site Sports on Earth "Flipping the Script" about Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and his support for gay rights including same-sex marriage. Excellent piece from Knapp which also references Vikings punter Chris Kluwe's brillilant and profane takedown of a bigoted Maryland politician posted to Deadspin.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

ESPN Writing - by Keown, Jones and McGee

There were a few pieces of writing that stood out from both a recent and several months back edition of ESPN the Magazine.

From the Oct 1 ESPN Age Issue was "The Master" by Tim Keown on Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer. Interesting and well written piece on someone playing (and playing well through most all of his just completed season) under huge public scrutiny with a huge contract in his home state.

Also from this issue of ESPN the Mag was the Chris Jones back page column "Boot It" on the suggestion from Tampa Bay Bucs football coach Greg Schiano to eliminate the kickoff in an effort to curb major injuries in the game. Was a pretty compelling case put forth with the Jones piece including the statistic that "In college football, 1 in 5 injuries during kickoffs is a concussion; during other phases of play, it's 1 out of 14."

From the July 23 Body Issue of ESPN was a feature "120,000 ways to die" on BASE jumper Felix Baumgartner. Written by Ryan McGee, the story is very timely now with Baumgartner planning for a Monday Oct 8 skydive from 23 miles above the earth.

Monday, October 01, 2012

My New Book - 111 Books Reviewed

Yep, I wrote another book... 111 Books Reviewed.

After I at the end of March finished the project to put 3 ½ years of blog posts into book form, I considered what would come next with my writing.

I felt there was something additional that could be done with past work and came up with a few posts trying to distil out the most interesting things written on the subjects of Writing and Business, but then started thinking about the Book Reviews category from my first book. Work done there struck me as less a compilation of blog ramblings and more actual writing for others. In short, something that could be turn from a pet project into a commercial venture with the offering of a book reviews book. Incorporating reviews that made it into my first book as well as those posted to the blog in the past six months, there was close to 130 reviews that could be worked with. Each was then significantly cleaned up to be less blog post-like (removing both references like “just finished reading” and “link to blog post here” and made sure book title and author at the beginning of review with book name in italics).

Of the reviews done, 111 of them were deemed to be interesting enough (interesting of course an extremely arbitrary assignation) to make it into the book and each book assigned a one, two or three star rating and then put into the category sections below, with reviews in each sorted newest to oldest:

 6 books reviewed: Nonfiction – Writing                                   
12 books reviewed: Nonfiction – Personal improvement / Work 
10 books reviewed: Nonfiction – Adventure / Danger               
18 books reviewed: Nonfiction – Sports                                 
 6 books reviewed: Nonfiction – Comedy                                 
11 books reviewed: Nonfiction – Business                               
 7 books reviewed: Nonfiction – History                                   
 5 books reviewed: Nonfiction – Parenting / Family                   
26 books reviewed: Nonfiction – Everything else                       
10 books reviewed: Fiction                                                     

While I was working on the actual content, I had the idea in mind of making the book available cheaply on the Kindle (or Kindle app)… again, that commercial offering thing. The Kindle Direct Publishing site links to a Building Your Book for Kindle PDF guide and from here I found information on using Microsoft Word Headings to build the Table of Contents and specific things around Kindle formatting like how to create a front cover (with the public domain image from the site WPClipart).

After submission of the Kindle book files to Amazon, I then realized the web exclusivity requirement of the KDP Select Amazon program I enrolled in (largely for the purpose of being able to offer the Kindle book for free for five days) meant I had to take down the blog post book reviews the book content based on (was an easy step to select all Book Review tagged blog posts and revert them to draft). After the book content was completed for the Kindle, it wasn’t much additional work to create a paperback version on CreateSpace (as I did for my first book) so went ahead and did that even though the primary intent was to publish this one electronically.

Similar to the first book, the creating of this book was more of an editing of past work project than original writing, but means I’ve now both got another book published and one that’s a more defined offering which can be purchased through Amazon for $.99 (and free for five days every three months). I’m pretty happy with that.