Category Archives: Storytelling

Gray’s Lake and Grandparents’ Stories

My grandmother, Paula Brown, was a gadfly in Des Moines, Iowa, fighting McDonald’s garish golden arches and trying to save old buildings. Because of her, my mother didn’t allow us to eat at McDonald’s. I didn’t have my first Big Mac until I was 12 and it didn’t do much for me. (I think I’ve had three or four – the sum total of all McDonald’s burgers of any kind I’ve had in my life.)

I spent a day last week in Des Moines, Iowa, where I spoke to a convention of county Medical Examiners.

It was my first time in the city since I was 14. We went on several cross-country car trips from California to Ddes-moines-3es Moines when I was a kid.

My grandfather, Ken Brown, owned an engineering company in town. He formed Brown Engineering in the Depression with my grandmother. The company still exists.

My grandmother also fought for many years, successfully in the end, to preserve what’s known as Gray’s Lake, south of downtown Des Moines, and keep it from commercial development and motor boats.

I suspect most folks in Des Moines are happy she did. She’s mentioned on a plaque at the lake. It’s now a park – a beautiful, quiet part of the city, with a bike path and footpath around it, rowboats and a small concession stand.

The city has clearly put some energy into preserving the lake and its surroundings, while making it useful to folks. People, one fellow told me, use Gray’s Lake relentlessly in Des Moines.

I’m proud that she did that. I’m betting most people would love something like Gray’s Lake – free of speedboats and Applebee’s – as part of their town.

Made me think of heritage. My grandfather fought in Patton’s Army during World War II. That’s on my mother’s side.

A few months ago, my daughter and I went to NYC and to Ellis Island and found records of the man I believe is my grandfather on my dad’s side. Lauraino Quinones is the spelling we found – a fellow from Spain, born in 1900, who took a boat from the Dominican Republic and landed on Ellis Island in 1922.

The real spelling of my grandfather’s name was Laureano, so I don’t know if this is his record, but everything else matches up.

He had a story out of a novel. He was born an illegitimate son in 1900 in a small Atlantic Coast village in Spain. His mother, whose husband had abandoned her years before, left the boy with uncles and fled to Argentina to escape the scandal and was never heard from again.

He grew up with no one, I suppose, and when he was 20 he joined the Spanish merchant marine, jumped ship in Puerto Rico, cut sugar cane for two years, and then in about 1922 or so, made his way to NYC, and eventually to Allentown, Pennsylvania, where in due course he met my grandmother, Elena Matracino, from a large family of Italian immigrants.

He worked in a brewery and she in a sewing factory. They both died before I was born.

But I love those stories – I’m connected to Italian and Spanish peasants, Oklahoma farmers, somewhere in there we’re supposed to be related to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, and there is, I’m told, some Cherokee Indian as well.

All of that got mixed and mashed and, as it should, was turned into something else, new in America.des-moines-8

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What the Orlando Killer Was Thinking

Among the healthiest things you learn as a journalist is that the world is a hazy, cloudy place, rarely clear, not often black and white, where two opposites may be true at the same time, and that as things change all the time you need to move with them as they roil.

In my experience, these mass shootings teach us this over and over.

The latest wrinkle in the nauseating Orlando massacre, reported in the LA Times, is that the killer spent the previous year drinking at the gay bar he shot up, so much so that he was recognized by people he was shooting at that night. He also spent time on a gay chat app.

All this adds more nuance – predictable in all these cases as they unfold and more is known.Mateen 1

I think the idea that this guy may have been a closeted gay man seems to make sense; that he hated that he was gay, was violent because he hated that he was; that the shooting was in anger for what he was, venting on the people who provoked his attraction.

After all, what truly straight man goes regularly to drink alone at a gay bar? He’d been doing it for more than a year. What straight man also spends time on a gay chat app?

In that light, this Islamic thing may be as much of a cloak as anything else, a way of finding some kind of larger romantic rationale for what he was in the process of doing.

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Unclear to me that he was much of a clear thinker, but that’s self-evident.

(Note: Several days after I posted this, information surfaced that Mateen may have had as many as two gay affairs and that one with a Puerto Rican man may have resulted in him being HIV+.)

I mention all this because it falls in line with other cases I’ve covered as a reporter.

I’m very happy to ascribe fanatical religious/political/terrorist motives. But as a reporter, I’ve also covered seven mass murders (Stockton, Tucson, Aurora and Newtown among them) and in each case I was one of the journalists assigned to find out as much as possible about the suspect.

In each case, I came to have a very nuanced, though at the same time quite cloudy, view of the way the person thought or appears to have thought before he died. Because in the end, that’s the truth of the matter. It lies usually quite a way from how things appeared on first blush.

In Stockton (1989, the first of these mass shootings), we thought the shooter must have harbored great hatred for Asians, as the elementary school he fired on was largely SE Asian. In time, I grew to believe that he may have had some cloudy hateful ideas about Asians, but that was the most you could probably say. In fact, he was probably incapable of holding a clear thought of any kind – this from all I learned about his life up to then, and then his motel room where he spent his last night (with little green plastic soldiers deployed all over the room and a shirt on which he had written, “Death to the Great Satin” Mateen 3sic).

If anyone can tell me the clear thoughts that the shooters in Tucson, Aurora and Newtown had, I’d be very interested to hear. To me, they were all lost boys, murky in thinking, crazy, festering and unbalanced. Hence, finding a political meaning behind their actions was very difficult. We at first thought the Tucson shooter was a Tea Party member because he shot a Democratic congresswoman. Now, I can say with conviction that he was another boy out of his mind, lost, unfriended, scary to many, apolitical, and left by his parent to dangle on his own in the nether-reaches of virtual games.

This Orlando killer may have had some vague ideas of doing something for Allah and the Islamic state or (I now hear maybe) Hezbollah – I’m very willing to buy that. That’s who fanaticism wraps in its warm cloak – the lost, the embittered, the unbalanced. But the first information you get in these cases needs always to be balanced and blended with info, usually clearer, that comes later. So the stuff about his hanging out in Pulse for a year offers insight that we ought not ignore.Mateen 4

I can say that he does not seem like the Boston bombers, or the San Bernardino couple – all of whom were very focused, confirmed and dedicated Islamic terrorists, though perhaps technically solitary actors.

Those folks had a lot in common with Stavrogin, of Dostoevsky’s The Devils. Omar Mateen did not – at least that’s how it seems to me at this point.

Seems to me that his call to the cops about ISIS as he was shooting up the club was a way of very loudly saying, “…and just so’s you know, I’m NOT gay!”

What better way to say that than to invoke the world’s most notorious homophobes?

Then again, I’m always ready to let new facts change my mind.

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Good Day in Chillicothe

In Chillicothe, Ohio, the way I understand it, school janitors are heroes.

Many kids are growing up in families of addicts and have no place to go, their home studded with neglect and jagged edges; so they hang around after school. There, janitors have befriended them, bringing them food, IMG_1525giving them a sober adult to talk to and a calm place to hang out.

My family and I spent Thursday in Chillicothe, a southern Ohio town (pop. 21,000) bedeviled, as so many are, by the opiate-addiction epidemic.

I spoke all day long – a radio interview at 6:30 am, meetings with three groups through the day, and a 7 pm public talk at the Majestic Theater, the oldest (1853), continuously operated theater in America. Yet by the end I wasn’t exhausted; I was instead exhilarated by theCHILLICOTHE STUDENTS electric, intense response of people I met.

That’s how it’s been everywhere lately.

Writing Dreamland wasn’t arduous; it was engrossing. But it was also about a tough topic in which the worst of human behavior was on display. So I’m thrilled to see towns like Chillicothe using the book to come together, form alliances, leverage talent, talk about this problem in a way that hasn’t happened before, and do something hopeful.

Heroin seems to be having the opposite effect in Chillicothe that it has on users. If heroin isolates addicts into self-absorption and hyper-consumption, the drug also seems to be bringing people together to fight against it. I see this elsewhere as well and that’s encouraging. I know the problem is big. A new sporting-goods store delayed its opening in Chillicothe for months, I’m told, because it couldn’t find enough workers that could pass a drug IMG_1514test.

I wish I had a better answer to those who asked what to do about families where drug addiction is now generational, where the grandparents on down are using, where great-grandparents are raising their grandchildren’s kids. Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, the day before in Louisville, told me that his state is on the verge of losing an entire generation, swallowed up in a morass of dependence, unemployment and now opiates. Kentucky has more able-bodied, working-age people who aren’t working than those who are, he said. That feels scary.

Heroin, it seems, is the final nausea to afflict small towns and rural communities already crushed by the farm crisis, downsizing, outsourcing, the loss of local retail, depopulation, and more. It seems that heroin has IMG_1591pushed many places to a life-or-death moment.

Knowing that, though, I also can’t help but recognize the energy I’ve been encountering in the people I meet.

In manufacturing, as I understand it, innovation happens through immersion in the work, people knowing the production process so well that together they find new, small, better ways to improve on how to make something.

Fighting heroin, I believe, is the same. When people come together, work together, knowing their community and its problems, when they leverage their talents and energies, the solutions specific to that place will emerge. I believe that.

And just as manufacturing processes improve incrementally, in small steps, so this problem has no sexy silver IMG_1592bullet, I suspect, but will be best fought with a combination of tiny efforts, many partial solutions, none of which is perfect, but together amount to something powerful. That’s good. Haven’t we had enough, after all, of the one sexy solution to solve all our problems: Didn’t `one pill for all people and every kind of pain’ do enough damage?

While I was writing Dreamland, people seemed to work in isolation, cut off from each other. Parents of addicts seemed hidden, silent. That’s the biggest change I’ve seen. People have now started talking about this issue, forming new alliances, comparing notes.

In Chillicothe, we stayed in the Carlisle, a beautiful brick building, restored after many years empty due to a fire. A hospital group decided to move into downtown and refurbish the building, believing apparently that it served the community best by being part of the revival of its core. The Majestic Theater will soon get a renovation. Luckily, the town never tore down its old beautiful brick buildings, which are being repurposed. New retail businesses are opening downtown. A t-shirt shop sells shirts of companies that have left town. My daughter now has a shirt proclaiming “Chillicothe, Ohio.” So the town seems to be rebounding, even as it battles this debilitating scourge. Maybe that’s the story – complicated, and not easily or neatly told.

I want to thank the people of Chillicothe for so hospitably welcoming my family and me. Thanks to Hudson Ward, at the Carlisle.

Thanks especially to Nick Tepe, the county’s head librarian, for organizing folks to bring us to town. Librarians ought to be playing exactly this kind of role in communities, and Ross County, Ohio seems to be blessed with a talented one.

Next, I’m heading to Knoxville, for the International Tuba and Euphonium Conference. And from there to Springfield, IL to speak to a conference of that state’s rural hospitals.

Meanwhile, Chillicothe had an annual street fair going while we were there, known as The Feast:

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Thank You!

The last few days have been tumultuous for my family and me – and filled with strong emotions.

But I wanted to say how much I appreciated all those who wrote in, via various media, with kind words, words of support and encouragement. Tens of thousands read the blogpost below. Thousands of people shared the post below on Facebook. Hundreds more tweeted it. I received many e
mails, and (now that my WordPress comments section is fixed) comments on my blog.  Many folks wrote in on the 60 Minutes website and the show’s Facebook page to object.

It means so much that you would do that. Thank you!

“People can see the truth,” said one editor and friend. I think that’s probably right.

Journalists and writers sent me notes with their own tales of how 60 Minutes and other shows had taken their stories/books/articles/reports and redone them without giving credit.

“This has been going on for years,” said one.

Maybe, but that doesn’t make it right. I hope writers/reporters will speak up when this happens in the future.

I hope my public objection, calling them out, means that a show like 60 Minutes will think twice before it appropriates the work of others without giving them credit. Television in particular seems afflicted with the weakness for taking the stories of others.

To those who would do that, I say, fine. Just give credit. It’s common decency. Show the work the real reporters did. Show respect. Don’t pretend, as 60 Minutes did so brazenly, that you’re blazing some new trail.

All that show had to do was mention my name, my work, my book, and that I did indeed help them.

That seems unlikely now, given the comments of the show’s spokesman. Let me say for the record: I spoke up not to promote my book. I spoke up because I had to defend my work. Because if I didn’t defend my work, no one else would. 60 Minutes was profiting from my work. I spoke up because this was work that 60 Minutes had not done by themselves. I had and I did it when almost no one in the media cared about this issue; early on, some questioned my judgment for even getting into the topic. Who cares about heroin addiction?

I spoke up because we’re in a new world, where if you want to do good journalism you almost have to go independent. And if independent journalists are routinely, and with impunity, scavenged by predators without the interest or energy for doing the work themselves, then we are doomed.

I spoke up because 60 Minutes, while taking what I’d taught them in phone conversations and in Dreamland, displayed no interest in advancing the story, taking it new places, teasing out new angles. None of that. Just the “Cliff Notes,” as one retired cop told me, to my book.

After 30 years in this business, three books and more articles than I can count, I’m accustomed to seeing stories that I scooped get picked up by other news outlets. I barely flinch. It’s part of the job. It’s even happened with many news outlets since Dreamland appeared. Everyone seems to be talking about the heroin epidemic in the last six months. Time Magazine, New York Times, Sports Illustrated. That’s great, and one of the reasons I wrote the book.

I called out 60 Minutes because it was such an egregious violation.

They could have gone anywhere in the country and done this story. You’d have to ask them why they didn’t. I suspect they went to the place I told them to go (on the phone and in an email) and where a major part of Dreamland was set  – Columbus, Ohio – because it was cheaper to do it that way, with the roadmap I provided them.

The night of the show, I was proud of the parents who were interviewed, several of whom I know. They spoke for millions of mothers and fathers like them across the country who have suffered this nightmare of watching their kids transformed into something like zombies under the influence of pills and now heroin. They pushed along this  awakening regarding the opiate epidemic that has been gaining strength across the country in the last six months.

But I also found myself dumbfounded, then outraged as I watched,  remembering all the work I’d put in on this topic, the time I spent away from my wife and daughter – all of which 60 Minutes just appropriated as if it belonged to them. After it was over, I apologized to my daughter for my outbursts during the show.

“You don’t have to be sorry, Daddy,” she said.

So I’m not.

But I am grateful. Thank you!

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Filed under Books, Storytelling, The Heroin Heartland, Writing

William Zinsser Dies

William Zinsser, who wrote On Writing Well, has died. He was 92, according to his NY Times obituary.51gR+4G5mJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

His book influenced me enormously. We learn to write by writing, but if there’s one book to read on writing in English, it’s his. I read it probably eight times, though I’ve lost count. Some parts of it, more than that.

His approach to writing is the correct one – that writing involves rewriting and more rewriting, each time with an eye to cutting words that don’t need to be there.

That through rewriting we achieve greater clarity, and come to know what we think.

He didn’t mean that all sentences should be short. Rather, that all sentences contain only words that are necessary. Same goes for sentences in a paragraph and paragraphs in a text.

He also said that if you pare down your prose to only what’s necessary and do this over and over, through a lifetime, you develop your own voice. That idea hit me as strange at first, but I know now that he was right.

His point, too, that writing is not to be done when you have inspiration, but treated as a job, something you get up and do every day – that was a revelation to me, as well. The anecdote with which he opens the book, about speaking on a writing panel with a doctor, is fabulous.

On Writing Well went through many editions, but the core of it – the first six or so chapters – remains always clear and relevant.

His essay on Clutter in language is probably more on point today than ever.

I wrote to him twice – once after my first book came out and the second time after we published the first Tell Your True Tale: East Los Angeles volume. Each time, he was kind enough to write back.

A good guy who changed English – by making those who write it do it more clearly.

Many thanks, Mr. Zinsser.

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The Normalcy of Addiction

I’m in Little Rock for the Arkansas Literary Festival, a very nice book festival held downtown.Dreamland-HCBig

So here’s what happened yesterday. Flew in, met my fellow panelists, learned that Southwest lost my bag, went to the hotel, took a quick nap, went to a festival reception, met someone with an opiate addict in the family (the family member is a woman in her 60s or so).

Little Rock is no different from every other part of the country I’ve visited recently.

Researching our national addiction to pain pills and heroin to write my book, Dreamland, I’ve been struck by the normalcy of addiction nowadays. Everywhere, strike up a conversation, you find someone with a family member or friend or co-worker addicted to opiates.

It’s far more prevalent than crack use was, I believe, and certainly infinitely more deadly.

I remember starting the research, flying to Dallas a couple years ago. On the plane was an elderly couple from rural Oklahoma. We got to talking and before long, they were telling me of their oldest son, addicted to OxyContin.

Not long after that, in a tavern on New Year’s Day in Covington, KY, I met a family, celebrating a young girl’s birthday. Before long, we’re talking about two people in that extended family dead from heroin overdoses.

There are many reasons why this is so.

First: the massive over-prescribing of pain pills nationwide. We often debate whether supply or demand drives drug plagues. This one is supply driven. Pain pills eventually lead to heroin addiction – as the pills are molecularly similar to heroin and much cheaper; in some areas, like those serviced by the Xalisco Boys I write about in Dreamland, heroin is easier and more convenient to obtain the pills.

But this is also driven by silence. There’s no violence to fuel public ire. Meanwhile, though, parents are loathe to talk about their children’s addiction. When they die, they camouflage it in some palatable cause of death. Some parents are going public. But far too few given the huge numbers.

The result is silence, and stories you never hear until you’re sitting next to someone on a plane, or chatting with them at a cocktail party.

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Filed under Books, Business, Drugs, Storytelling, The Heroin Heartland

DREAMLAND – At Last!

Been a very long time, and lots of hard work, but finally my third book of narrative nonfiction is out.Dreamland-HCBig

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic was released this week by Bloomsbury Press.

When neck-deep in writing a book, I’m never sure if it’s any good. Too much time spent laboring over every phrase, whether one clause should be separated by a comma or a semicolon, which adjective best describes a person’s mood – on top of all the facts that, like cats, need to be corralled and herded in one direction or another.

And new facts you learn every day that may change everything.

Then there’s the rewriting – which is what writing is all about.

So I’m thrilled to hear reaction to the book – that people couldn’t put it down. Love hearing that, I have to say.

I’ve had great appearances at the LA Times Bookfest and at Vroman’s, with more to come at Powell’s Books in Portland, Elliott Bay Town Hall in Seattle and Bookstore West Portal in San Francisco, not to mention the Arkansas Literary Festival in Little Rock, where I’m heading as I write.

Amazon.com chose Dreamland one of its Best Books of the month, alongside books by Toni Morrison, TC Boyle and others. That was nice of them.

The NY Times ran a column of mine on the front page of its Sunday Review opinion page. Nice of them, as well.

Salon.com wrote this terrific review of the book. Kirkus Review ran a long story on it. Willamette Week published a review, and an article on Dreamland. Mother Jones, where I was once an intern (1984), reviewed it as well. Thanks, you guys.

KPCC in LA aired an interview i did on their show, Take Two, and CSPAN did the same with an interview at the Bookfest, then covered the LA Times Bookfest panel I was on with some terrific nonfiction crime authors  – Ruben Castaneda, Barry Siegel, and Deanne Stillman, and Tom Zoellner doing a bang-up job moderating.

All in all, an exhausting but fulfilling first few days to a book’s life.

Thanks to all who’ve bought the book, and especially to those who’ve written me about it with such feeling.

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Filed under Books, Drugs, Storytelling, The Heroin Heartland, Writing

A new Tell Your True Tale book

The new Tell Your True Tale; East Los Angeles book is out, the product of a workshop I did with a great group of eight new writers.FrontCover

The stories are again fantastic — about Albert Einstein in East L.A., a Czech “almost blind” boy growing up in a Communist boarding home, a young man going to Tijuana to help a deported friend return, a woman on her deathbed remembering the last time she saw her kids, and a girl on her way to Mexico, a child bride.

Check it out, on sale at Amazon.com for only $5.38 hardcopy or $2.99 as an ebook.

We present the book this Saturday, Jan. 24 at 3 pm at East Los Angeles Public Library, in the Chicano Resource Center.

Please think of coming.

My third TYTT: ELA workshop at the library begins the Saturday following that – January 31.

Over the next year, with the generous support of the County Library, I hope to be expanding the workshops to other parts of L.A. County – Compton, South Central and elsewhere.

TYTT draft cover JPEGBy the way, the first TYTT: ELA book, which we published last year, is also on sale, packed with very cool stories as well.

 

 

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Tell Your True Tale: A cockfighting story

Big news!!!!

Another story is up on Tell Your True Tale, my storytelling website.Tell Your True Tale

This one is by Armando Ibarra, a friend and longtime San Bernardino gang member, currently incarcerated, from where he wrote this piece.

The story is about a father and son at a cockfighting tournament.

Check out Armando’s cool story …

One of a Million: A cockfighting story.

And remember, send those stories in. I don’t pay but I do edit.

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TELL YOUR TRUE TALE: Cardboard Box Dreams

Hey folks,outpics1

I’m trying to get back into the storytelling now that the manuscript to my book is finished (see below).

I recently held a Tell Your True Tale workshop at East LA Public Library, which produced several fantastic stories.

Here’s one, by author Celia Viramontes. Cardboard Box Dreams is the tale of a day in the life of a bracero worker trying to get a contract.

Really great stuff. So are the other stories, which I’ll be putting up soon.

You can read other pieces by buying the book — Tell Your True Tale: East LA — that we produced out of the workshops on Amazon.com.

TYTT draft cover JPEG

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DONE!!!!!

After many many months of traveling the country, reporting, interviewing, of writing and rewriting and more rewriting, I just turned in the manuscript to my book about the country’s epidemic of pill and heroin abuse.

YAAAAAHHHH!

It’s called DREAMLAND: The True Tale of America’s IMG_0638Opiate Epidemic.

120,000 words.

Comes out in April, Bloomsbury Press.

I’m still walking around in a daze.

Writing a book is a process of discovery, I found again to my delight.

This is my third book. It started out very differently than it ended up.

Quite unexpectedly, it became a tale about the country, where we are as America and Americans, about rural America, the Rust Belt and the country’s nicest suburbs, about what excess will do, and the value of community. About what we lose when we undermine that which gives us community.

None of that should have surprised me, because unlike previous drug scourges this one has permeated virtually the entire country – or at least all of white America.

The story’s about drug marketing, and about our belief that we are entitled to feel no pain.

It’s also about Mexico, and the Mexican town that has devised a system for selling heroin like pizza. Making heroin convenient, and cheap and potent, as well.

On one level, the story’s about Mexican drug trafficking, but it’s probably as much about the impulse behind immigration, andIMG_0546 the Mexican village, and envy and desire.

I didn’t start out thinking that parents of addicted kids would be  part of the mix. But if you keep your mind open, new directions present themselves. So they are now. I love this about journalism.

I belong now to a Facebook site called The Addict’s Mom, where parents write in daily about their addicted kids. So many have died recently. So many people are wrapped up in addiction or the addiction of their children.

It’s amazing that it’s so quiet, because this is happening everywhere.

Given how hard this dope is to kick, it’s going to be with us for a long long time.

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Tell Your True Tale: East Los Angeles — the book presentation this Saturday

TYTT draft cover JPEGHey all — An invite  to the presentation of a book that grew out a tremendously successful series of nonfiction writing workshops I gave to new writers at East L.A. Public Library.

The presentation of  TELL YOUR TRUE TALE: East Los Angeles takes place this Saturday (April 26) at 2:30 pm, at the library, which is located at 4837 E 3rd St, (323-264-0155).

The volume is stunning for the mosaic of East L.A. it presents, as well as the variety and quality of the stories: A vet returning home from Vietnam; a janitor in Houston trying to find her children in Mexico; of braceros finding their way north and back home again; a man learning confidence as he woos a woman; a bus rider in Los Angeles; a mariachi singing for a heartbroken family on Christmas Eve.

All by folks who’d never published before: Andrew Ramirez, Celia Viramontes, Olivia Segura, Manuel Chaidez, Jacqueline Gonzalez, Joanne Mestaz, and Diego Renteria.

I call my workshops TELL YOUR TRUE TALE. They attempt to excavate new stories from unheard communities as they help new writers over the intimidating humps that keep them from realizing their writing dreams, and push them to start thinking like writers — all by mining the stories in their lives or those of people close to them.

Hope you all can make the presentation this Saturday, and pass along the word to others who might be interested.

Meanwhile, grab the book at Amazon.com.

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Filed under California, Culture, Storytelling, Tell Your True Tale, Writing

Escuinapa, Sinaloa – town of bicycles and mangos

I’m just back from Mexico where I spent a few days in the town of Escuinapa.

Escuinapa is in Sinaloa – a state with a heavy burden caused by the drug war and the fearsome cartel that bears the state’s name.

Here’s a video I made with an alternative view of the area. (I’m loving working video for another kind of storytelling, though clearly I’m still a technical babe in arms. Feel free to subscribe to my video channel, True Tales Video.)

I spoke there at a tourism conclave.

It was great to return to Mexico these last few days. I hope to go back a lot more now that I’m no longer with the LA Times.

I was also in Mazatlan, also in Sinaloa, and a couple hours away. Mazatlan is my favorite Mexican resort town, largely because along with spectacular beaches, there’s actually a city with real life going on. Its Old Town is one of the nicest in all of Mexico, and it’s hard to beat the pulmonias (golf cart taxis) as a mode of transportation.

More from there later.

But I was very happy to help present the new book by my friend, Arturo Santamaria, the sociologist who introduced me to the topic of beauty queens in Mazatlan.

De Carnaval, Reinas y Narc0 is about how beauty queens, beauty contests and drug trafficking all work together in Mazatlan and in Sinaloa.

Great stuff. Weird and wonderful stories.

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Leaving the L.A. Times

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Today was my last official day at the Los Angeles Times after 10 years at the paper.

It was a sad thing. I’ve been a reporter for 27 years. I was very happy to have worked at what amounted to my hometown paper.

I’m very proud of the stories I produced while I was there (see below). But I decided it was time to move on, so I resigned.

Journalism, you may have heard, is changing, and I want to see if I can change with it. So I’m heading back to my freelancing roots.

I’ve got a heroin book to finish, then a podcast to start, my Tell Your True Tale workshops to teach, this blog to write — and other stuff. I hope you’ll follow it all as I wrestle with this grand experiment.

As these LAT farewell notes to colleagues have become almost a genre in themselves, I’ll add mine:

Adios Amigos –

Though I’ve been gone for many months writing a book about the (suddenly recognized) heroin epidemic in America, today is officially my last day at the paper.

It’s been great fun writing about Cambodian doughnut kings and palm-tree trimmers, Oaxacan hamburger chefs and stolen tubas, about transgender hookers and hellacious windstorms, kidnappers in Phoenix and Indian toothbrush gurus in Buena Park, about gangster matriarchs on Drew Street and the Mexican Mafia in every barrio around.

Such a great town. So many sublime stories to tell. …

 So here’s wishing you all the best.

 See you on the street, or wherever those stories happen.

 Sam

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Filed under California, Los Angeles, Storytelling, Writing

The obituary of a woman named Guadalupe

Virgin of Serrano St (2-12) - 14

I was meandering online this morning when I came upon the obituary of a woman who died a couple years ago.

I was struck by its simplicity — the spare way it summed up a life. I’ve removed her last name and re-lined the obituary to highlight its poetic sense.  Hope you like it …

GUADALUPE

March 16, 1913 – March 5, 2011
Born in Zacatecas, Mexico, Guadalupe was the mother of 7 children.
She came to the U.S. in 1945 and raised her family in Los Angeles
With her husband, Luis , to whom she was married 77 years.
Up until the last days of her life
She lived in her home on Sichel Street in Lincoln Heights.
She loved her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren deeply.
All of us will miss her.

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Filed under Los Angeles, Mexico, Storytelling, Virgin, Writing