Tag Archives: mike d’orso

Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest prize books announced, entries due July 1

PORTSMOUTH, Va. – There is a week and change left to send your entries in for the 2013 Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest via email to jhdouc@verizon.net.

You can also enter via paper ballots at the front counter at Fair Grounds News & Coffee at the corner of Baldwin and Colley avenues in Norfolk.

This year’s prizes include the following books, some by authors featured at the blog. Each book is autographed by the author, unless otherwise noted.

  • Mike D’Orso’s narrative nonfiction collection Pumping Granite
  • Dorianne Laux’s poetry collection Facts About the Moon
  • Alice Randall’s literary parody The Wind Done Gone
  • Sheri Reynolds’ novel The Homespun Wisdon of Myrtle T. Cribb
  • Patrick Rosal’s poetry collection My American Kundiman
  • Tim Seibles’ poetry collection Buffalo Head Solos
  • Joy Williams’ short story collection Honored Guest
  • Two copies of Digestate: A Food & Eating Themed Anthology edited by J.T. Yost (unsigned)

The first place winner picks three books and wins a Fair Grounds gift certificate and a mug. Second place picks two of the remaining books. Third place picks one of the remainder. This year, two honorable mentions of my choosing also will get prizes.

I hope you’ll enter as often as you like. I’ve enjoyed reading the entries so far.

Want to see past entries? Here are the winners and runners up from 2012, and click this link for the winners and runners up from 2011.

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Writing Craft, Vol. XV: Author and journalist Mike D’Orso on Pumping Granite coming to paperback (Part Two)


NORFOLK, Va. – This is the second and final part of a conversation with author and journalist Mike D’Orso, whose book Pumping Granite chronicled a Barre, Vt., quarryman’s sexual awakening.

Hey now. Beg your pardon. Misread my notes there.

Pumping Granite (And Other Portraits of People at Play) [Texas Tech UP, 1994] is a collection of narrative sport-related journalism that is getting a paperback edition nearly 20 years after its initial publication. It’s a great read.

Prince Books and Borjo Coffehouse are hosting an event for the new edition tomorrow. It starts at 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 7, at Borjo, 4416 Monarch Way, Norfolk. Borjo is at the corner of Monarch Way and W. 45th St.. There is nearby metered parking. The event is free. Beverages and eats will be for sale. Of course, you can also buy the book.

I caught up with D’Orso last week. The talk discuses how good reporters and nonfiction storytellers make their own luck, and how what you cover becomes a part of you. For those who missed the first part, you can find it at this link. Full disclosure: D’Orso and I are friends and former staffers at The Virginian-Pilot newspaper.

The last part got into reporting and spending time with subjects to find those special moments and notes that make stories sing – what D’Orso calls “telling detail.” We pick up with developing sense of place and then chew on how the writer comes to be almost one with the subject. This has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: One of the things I think you do well is world-building. A story that I think is a good example of that is “Beyond Bull Durham,” which is kind of this comic but tragic and also emotional story of a team that’s struggling, and through the eyes of this woman

You’re so right to catch that. Yeah, it’s hilarious, but it’s pathetic, and it’s real. It’s sad.

Q: How did you find that story initially?

I lived in Williamsburg, Va., for 17 years, so I always knew there was a Single A – the lowest level – minor league team … playing over there at War Memorial Stadium over in Hampton. I knew the Virginia Generals were over there, and I’d seen that the Generals had a horrible record. I thought I’d just go over there and do a story on this horrible [team]. That was the hook. Here they are, they’re at the lowest level of baseball, and they’re the worst. It was just so much more. I hardly talk about baseball [in the story]. There’s no baseball being played in the story.

Q: It’s not about baseball.

Right. The woman, she and her dad are really the central story.

Q: I learned a lot [about storytelling] from working with photographers at The Pilot.

So did I. We’ve talked about this.

Q: Right.

[The photo department] was where I lived. That was my office.

Q: A story I talk about a lot when I talk to other writers is – Ian Martin was a photographer at The Pilot. He and I had to cover an event at a [child care] center where there was a [Heinz pickle] mascot, Private Pickle, visiting. And he and I got there and one of the first things that happened was that, when they were going to bring the mascot out to meet the kids, the costume couldn’t get through the door. So they pressed the head in, and the thing comes out, and then the head of the mascot pops up and the kids jump. [Laughter.] Ian and I just looked at each other, and Ian’s first thought was, “Okay, we’re not just doing a story about some mascot.” So that changed what it was.


Q:  Can you talk about going out to do the story and how it –

How the story changes. Absolutely. When I first came to Commonwealth Magazine, which was my first job as a professional writer, I learned early on that I was going to be surprised. I was going to find a lot more than I bargained for. And it was important to be open to that. It’s a cliché that so many reporters come in with the story they want, they get what they want to get their quote, and they go out, and they write their story. You know. I haven’t seen that. The people I’ve worked with at The Pilot, they’re fantastic reporters. They come in as blank slates. Sure, you have a broad idea, an expectation, but you’re ready to be led wherever they lead you.

Q: Can you give me an example on this story?

With the Generals? Oh, my God. Yeah. Yeah, I mean, as soon as I met the general manager. She was this 20-something year old woman who knew nothing about baseball. I didn’t realize, basically, the team was a gift from her daddy. As soon as she said that, I knew who he was. […]

And then all the evidence was just piling up. And, the thing was, she would share these stories with me and not realize how poorly they reflected. You know, like home plate being put in backwards by her brother. I went over a couple days. [The first day] there was a meeting. That was the meeting I opened up with. This kid comes in on a little scooter, and he’s in charge of program sales. … It was like manna from heaven.

Q: There’s humor in the story, but I don’t feel like you’re making fun of them.

Absolutely not. I always have compassion for my subjects. You know, show don’t tell. I want to bend over backwards to give them humanity.

Q: There’s a love in there for the game.

That’s what I got from the players a little bit, and a respect for the game, too. The respect. I hope that came through without saying it overtly. […]

We get so deep into the story, and we’re in an absurd world. When I switch the story in that section to the players’ viewpoint, we’re reminded, hey, for them, this is baseball. These guys want to play Major League baseball. This is their life.

Q: Did you have contact with them after the story ran?

He wrote me a thank you note. He thought it was a great story. The dad. […] I didn’t get any anger or praise from her.

Q: The last story in the book, about Dennis [Byrd, a former New York Jets player with whom Mike co-authored Rise and Walk: The Trial and Triumph of Dennis Byrd; the 1993 book chronicled Byrd’s struggle to walk after a spinal injury caused paralysis].

It was about writing.

Q: Well, let’s talk about that.

That was a story – I had no medium to share that story. I’d just finished writing that book, and I was immersed in it. It was in me. It was in my mind. And I thought sharing that story gave readers a glimpse into what we do and how we do it. This was the perfect opportunity to share this interesting little glimpse of what it takes, just a little slice of reporting. Just out there in the middle of a prairie at midnight in Oklahoma with this NFL football player who is paralyzed. That’s what life is all about – having experiences. Who has more experiences than people who do what we do.

Front Pumping Granite Cover

Q: In the original epilogue you talk about that process where you become ‘entwined’ with the source.

And then leave like a one-night stand.

Q: Can you talk about what happens when you’re really open or really present when you’re reporting?

When I’m open and present with the subjects?

Q: Yeah.

Well, that is the key. From the very first story . The Pilot is the first newspaper I worked at and the only one. I had already developed a process of reporting after three years with Commonwealth Magazine that I share myself with – that you [the subject] understand what I’m there for. I’d make that clear at the start. Everything is fair game. There’s no off the record or whatever, unless – and then we’ll talk about it – there is. With that understood, I’m a person and so are you, and I’m going to share myself. We’re going to have a conversation. We’re going to have a relationship. I’m not going to interview you. We’re going to have a conversation. It’s not just a one-sided assault, you know? And there’s no transgression. There’s no journalistic violation there at all. […]

It’s also not any kind of subterfuge. I am interested. That’s the kind of person I am. When I talk to writing groups and they ask, ‘what are the keys to writing?’ Really, it’s what kind of person are you? How are you with people? There are so many people I’ve seen come and go and they’ve gone to journalism school and know all the nuts and bolts, but their social skills are lacking. That’s where it all starts. When you talk about creative writing, that’s as creative as anything else. What is your approach to people? How do you get them to open up. I do it by sharing myself.

Q: When I first came to The Pilot [in 1996], some of the [sources] would be surprised at what ended up in stories. Do you ever get people feeling violated by what you included?

I’ve never had a person — I think it’s because I really do put myself in their shoes, and I also put myself in the shoes of a, kind of, imaginary court of journalism. You know, there’s going to be judges judging me. I really put myself in their shoes. I’ve had spouses call me after a story or write me and say they broke down in tears. They didn’t know this or they never saw their husband open up or whatever. That’s a big point of pride for me, that I do earn their trust.

Q: If you’re talking to a young reporter, and they’re going out to do a feature, do you want them to talk through ground rules? Like, ‘Hey, here’s what I’m doing.’

Right. People, they’re not just material. They’re not just fodder. That’s a mistake some young writers make. They lick their lips. You’ve got to keep the sense of the humanity of your subject. […]

I always keep in mind how will I feel to pick up the paper and see myself eight columns wide and see myself there laid bare and naked. And that’s going to live forever. I feel tremendous responsibility, whether it’s positive or negative, that it’s accurate. That it’s true. […] It’s not them that I’m after. It’s the truth – the story. You can ‘get’ anybody. I’m out to get great story.

For more about D’Orso, visit his site via this link. Playing us out is a message about granite from our good friends in Barre, Vt. – and beyond:

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Writing Craft, Vol. XV: Author and journalist Mike D’Orso on Pumping Granite coming to paperback (Part One)

The writer Mike D'Orso discusses the paperback edition of Pumping Granite at Cafe Stella in Norfolk, Va. Texas Tech University Press is publishing a paperback edition of Pumping Granite nearly 20 years after the collection of sports-related journalism first appeared because (a) it is awesomely essential reading and (b) folks in Texas do whatever the hell they want and they do so whenever the hell they want to do the thing they want to do. Photo by John Doucette.

The writer Mike D’Orso discusses the paperback edition of Pumping Granite at Cafe Stella in Norfolk, Va. Texas Tech University Press is publishing a paperback edition of Pumping Granite nearly 20 years after the collection of sports-related journalism first appeared because (a) it is awesomely essential reading and (b) folks in Texas do whatever the hell they want whenever the hell they want to do it. Photo by John Doucette.

NORFOLK, Va. – Author and journalist Mike D’Orso was the subject of the first craft talk I wrote for this blog a couple years ago, when we discussed the great story “The Project and the Park.” It captures the housing project near Harbor Park as that sports venue opened, and it is only one of 45 tales from his narrative journalism anthology Pumping Granite (And Other Portraits of People at Play) [Texas Tech UP, 1994].

Now Texas Tech University Press is publishing a paperback edition of Pumping Granite nearly 20 years after its initial publication.

Prince Books and Borjo Coffehouse are hosting an event for the new edition. It starts at 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 7, at Borjo, 4416 Monarch Way, Norfolk. Borjo is at the corner of Monarch Way and W. 45th St.. There is nearby metered and garage parking. The event is free. Beverages and eats will be for sale. Of course, you can also buy the book.

I caught up with D’Orso on Thursday. The talk includes dicussion of stories from this collection of his newspaper and magazine work, with a focus on spending time with sources and subjects. We also talked about structure, how good reporters and nonfiction storytellers make their own luck, and how what you cover becomes a part of you. I’ve broken the conversation into two parts. This is the first.

By way of full disclosure, D’Orso and I are friends and both former staffers at The Virginian-Pilot newspaper. This has been edited for length and clarity. Additionally, we refer to the Latin term in medias res below, though it may not be clear due to the layout setting on this blog. It means starting a story in the middle of the action.

The collection happened after D’Orso wrote a story for The Pilot about a Norfolk woman who overcame a tragedy by writing poetry. Texas Tech University Press published her collection after she won a contest, and considered using D’Orso’s story as an introduction. The editor liked D’Orso’s writing, but the poet preferred that her collection not include an introduction. D’Orso picks up the tale:

[The editor] said, ‘Well, how about a collection of your newspaper and magazine stuff.’ I said, ‘Believe it or not, I’ve already had a collection published. Hampton Roads Publishing had done Fast Takes [1990]… but I tell you, I’ve done a bunch of sports-oriented stories.’ We just batted it around back and forth and we ended up coming up with doing a collection of sports-oriented stories. Sports had always been – I’ve never been a sports writer, but I played sports. I loved sports, but I never wanted to be a sports writer. So that’s how Pumping Granite came about. …

Q: So why now did they want to do the paperback?

That was my question when I got an email from [Texas Tech University Press editor-in-chief Judith Keeling] with marvelous news. They were going to come out with a paperback edition of Pumping Granite. What I gather is they – it’s always about funds with university presses – they came into some money. … She really just loved this book and wanted to put it out again in paperback. It’s got a whole new cover for it. [We] revised the introduction and the epilogue to make it more timely, and there you go.

Q: I wanted to ask you one or two publishing questions, then ask about a couple stories and a couple things about reporting, the deep dive. First off, these stories appeared in different publications. There’s stuff from Sports Illustrated, stuff from The Pilot, Commonwealth Magazine. So when you’re republishing work in a collection, do you have to do clearances?

In terms of the copyrights?

Q: Yeah.

You know, I just did it.

Q: [Laughter.]

I’m serious. I mean, I do know the contracts with Sports Illustrated, I do own that story. They have one time rights. That’s the big deal one.

Q: But newspapers aren’t like that. I don’t own any of the stuff I wrote for The Pilot.

Right. As I recall, when Fast Takes came out, I talked to [former assistant managing editor for features at The Pilot] Carol Wood and [former managing editor] Jim Raper at the time … and they were like, ‘Great. Publicity for the paper.’ So they didn’t mind. We’re not talking about big money. [Laughs.]

Q: I wanted to talk to you about “Hell on Wheels,” which is the first story. I really thinks it sets it off – I assume you didn’t change the order for [the new edition].

Right. The way I arranged these was, really it was fun. It’s 45 stories. It just came out to that nice number. I decided to pick one for each sport or activity. I could have five basketball stories, but I just threw four away. I made my own rule. They’re in alphabetical order. …

Q: I think it’s a very good way to start off the book because I think it shows pretty quickly some things you do well. There’s the introduction of the sport [auto racing], of the main character.

I was really looking for a story that opens the book. I was looking for an ‘A’ story, an ‘A’ sport or game story, and that’s why I looked up and thanked the heavens that [this was an ‘A’story – auto racing]. That was published in the paper originally as a two-parter.

Q: There’s a really good introduction. You set the character and the scene, but the you also give the breadcrumbs. You give the information, that she works [her day job] at Chick-fil-A and putting on her uniform. The way you reveal the details of a person who has this other life. Can you tell about how much time you spend reporting and gathering the details? Then I’ll ask you about [structure] and spreading the breadcrumbs.

Gay Talese has this quote that what we do – meaning narrative nonfiction reporters. [He says] it’s the art of hanging around. All these great moments, all these great details, these great quotes, these great incidents or scenes or anecdotes, they just don fall into your lap immediately. They’re there because you hung around for four or five hours when nothing happened. Or a day or whatever. With my books, days would go by, but that’s books. They say God is in the details. Well, yeah, it’s in the ‘telling’ detail. You don’t just empty out your notebook. You know the old thing about the young writer, he’s worked so hard to get all this material he’s going to make damn sure they put it in the story. Well, no. I never went to journalism school. I never was taught all the rules and this or that. I’ve always believed very much in – you could call it instinct. All instinct means is it’s not magical. It just means you’re paying attention. It means you’re picking up stuff. You’re aware.

When I’m reporting, while I’m talking, while I’m getting all the obvious material, if anything just strikes me – it might just be something a person does, a little detail, a sound – if it strikes me, I might not even know why it strikes me, but I’ll put it in my notebook because it did. It resonated with me. I trust that if I share it in the way that it hit me, it will resonate with the reader, too.

Front Pumping Granite Cover

Q: I was a big fan of spending a lot of time. I think you give yourself more opportunities to find that little thing.

Absolutely. The more time you spend – Most people who know me wouldn’t exactly call me the most laid back, patient guy. But, as a writer, I’m extremely patient. …

Structure is really important. My typical, go-to structure is I will open up with an in medias scene.

Q: That’s what I was going to ask you about. Homer, he did that, too.

There’s nothing new under the sun.

Q: In the second leg, you start giving up the breadcrumbs really well. You start building up the character. And you do that by dropping in short grafs. How do you approach that? Do you outline?

 I do outline, but the way I outline – Baby Boomers are the first visual generation. We grew up with TV. We grew up with movies. So I tend to see stories visually. I see them by scenes. I see them by cut and editing, by a wide angle shot, by a closeup. And, you know, you write that way. A written scene can be a closeup. It can be a panning shot. And the voice, too – third person, whatever, second person, and of course the tone. Point of view. That said, when I outline I outline by – I storyboard.

Then I take all my material, and then what I’ll do is I have a file folder for each scene on my storyboard. I’ll work my way backwards from all the material I have. I know I’m going to open with this basic part of the story, and throw everything [related] in that folder. And then, within that part of the story, I’m going to have a scene, scene, scene, and I take other file folders and take that material out and keep winnowing it down until I’ve almost got it down paragraph by paragraph. Not really, but section by section. There are also scenes I’m going to be thinking about in the beginning. ‘That’s going to be a great opening scene.’ And always you’re asking yourself, ‘What’s the story?’ Because you might have a great opening. I almost started out Plundering Paradise [HarperCollins, 2002] with a scene in a whorehouse … It was a great opening scene, but it didn’t work for the whole book. To me, that opening scene has got to serve the whole story. It’s got to be something that’s going to kick you off to the heart of the story.

[In ‘Hell on Wheels’], we learn right away she’s in a pink car. … She works at Chick-fil-A. And then there’s these badass guys she’s banging fenders with. You see she’s not a tomboy, she’s a sweetheart, but she’s tough.

Anyway, I work in medias, it’s almost a classic structure. Then you pull back. You reel back, go forward and finally meet that scene, and then go forward. That scene is typically right before a climax. Or it might be right at the climax.

Part two will be up soon. For more about D’Orso, visit his site via this link.

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The year in review, such as it was

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — This blog is a year old.

I’ve enjoyed writing it. Enjoyed interviewing folks for it. Learned about writing and art and some other stuff too while doing it.

Et cetera.

So thanks for reading, especially those of you who stuck with it from early on — and even those who just check in for a particular writer or two. Glad to have you, either through your comments, clicks, subscriptions, or just eyeballs.

This past year, I think I’ve figured out a mix that seems to work for this blog. So here’s what I’ve got planned (loosely, oh so loosely) for the year ahead:

  1. The (and this is so very relatively speaking) popular features — the Belligerent Q&As and Craft Q&As — will remain, especially since that’s why I started the blog in the first place. I’ll try to do Craft Q&As, as time allows, though they generally take a long time to transcribe and edit. I have a couple of people in mind, though.
  2. There will be a second fortune cookie fortune writing contest, most likely to be announced in the very near future and judged in the summertime. I’ll make more of an effort to include visual artists, a shortcoming of last year’s event. There will be prizes to be determined, and a display of winner at a Hampton Roads area venue to be determined. Kerouac Cafe. as locals know, is out.
  3. The HR Arts Events page will stay, and I’ll try to be better about updating it. If you want to post an event, email jhdouc@verizon.net. I’d like to reflect more events at Norfolk State University, Virginia Wesleyan College, and Tidewater Community College. I realize I’ve been a bit Old Dominion University-centric.
  4. I’m full of good intentions, but follow through sometimes eludes me.

Thank you again for reading this blog. I’ve learned a lot about writing through the conversations I’ve transcribed here and you emails and comments. I look forward to the year ahead — and maybe even past the terrible twos.

Here’s a look back at the most popular posts, not counting those involving the contest, including a few you might have missed. The blog had more than 10,000 hits (including oddball WordPressy spam!) this past year. These posts had the biggest share:

  1. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. VIII: Earl Swift, author of The Big Roads
  2. Twelve Journalism Truths by William Ruehlmann
  3. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. V: Three people who have not seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail + one who has
  4. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. VI: Columnist Mike Gruss of The Virginian-Pilot
  5. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XV: C0mmentator and opinion writer Brian Kirwin
  6. Selective Facts in the NPD version of John Kohn’s death
  7. Journalism: Q&A with Frank Batten Sr. biographer Connie Sage
  8. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XVI: Hairspray author and scholar Dana Heller
  9. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XI: Writer and editor Tom Robotham
  10. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. IX: Wanderlust playwrights Jeremiah Albers and Brad McMurran

So the focus here is local arts, but if anybody knows of a writer who might be good for a feature here, please email jhdouc@verizon.net.

Thanks for reading. Happy holidays. See you soon.

Closing this post, a special shout out to director Peter Jackson, because this exists at my local drug store:

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The year in silly cutlines, such as it was

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — As this blog’s first year comes to a merciful end, I will celebrate in the next couple of posts by recycling content.

I mean, looking back wistfully or some such what have you.

Point being, since the “and humble photography” part of this blog has all but been left behind in massively long interviews, I figured I could at least start out with the photos. Photo cutlines, any way.

So here’s a gallery of silly cutlines. Cutlines should be informative. These were not that.

1. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. VIII: Earl Swift, author of The Big Roads (June 4, 2011)

You are a saucy one, Earl Swift, Norfolk, Va., journalist and author of The Big Roads. Even when I crop out your tiny brass-studded leather novelty fez. Photo by John Doucette.

2. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. VII: Vivian Paige of All Politics is Local (May 18, 2011)

Vivian J. Paige, left center, and members of the Virginia Democratic Intramural Coed Soccer Team form a wall to block a free kick by Commonwealth Republicans United. Boy, these guys get happy when it comes to blocking free kicks. Courtesy photo.

3. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XI: Writer and editor Tom Robotham (Aug. 26, 2011)

Writer and editor Tom Robotham did not realize he would be part of a blog post that would unsuccessfully link 1870s British light opera and 1980s American light rap when he agree to be photographed at the Taphouse yesterday in Norfolk, Va. As it turns out, parents just don't understand that I am the captain of the Pinafore. Photo by John Doucette.

4. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XIII: Comedy writer and actor Sean Devereaux of The Pushers (Sept. 7, 2011)

At left is Sean Devereux, producer and co-head writer of the Hampton Roads improv and sketch comedy group The Pushers. In the foreground at right is a custom Ed Carden-shaped Chia pencil holder. Photo by John Doucette.

5. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XVI: Hairspray author and scholar Dana Heller (Nov. 8, 2011)

Hi John: Look, when you take out this placeholder text and put in the real cutline in don't forget to make it extra funny. For Pete's sake, Dana Heller is chair of the English Department at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., where you are a student. And she's the author of a book about the John Waters film Hairspray, and Waters totally is coming to ODU on Thursday. Don't phone this one in. Bring the funny. Your pal, John. PS: Courtesy photo.

6. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. IX: Wanderlust playwrights Jeremiah Albers and Brad McMurran (June 12, 2011)

Jeremiah Albers and Brad McMurran, playwrights of Wanderlust. You'll just have to pretend this cutline is funny. Try harder. Yeah. There you are. Photo by John Doucette.

7. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. IV: Jeff Maisey of Veer Magazine (April 16, 2011)

Despite any impression given by this image's bright lighting, Veer publisher and editor Jeff Maisey is not a being composed of pure energy and power. Yet. Photo by Kathy Keeney.

8. Ted Danson coming to Norfolk for talk with Mike D’Orso (April 9, 2011)

During a recent reading at Borjo Coffeehouse in Norfolk, Va., author Mike D'Orso points out something in a book he is holding. The microphone pretends to understand, but the microphone has a painful secret — illiteracy. Photo by John-Henry Doucette.

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D’Orso to celebrate Kerouac on Monday at Kerouac Cafe because D’Orso Cafe is just a pretend place I made up for this headline

NORFOLK, Va. — On Monday at Kerouac Cafe, Norfolk author Mike D’Orso will host the reading and conversation “Remembering Jack,” honoring the recent 42nd anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s death and celebrating the life and work of the famed Beat writer.

The event is at 7 p.m., Monday, Oct. 24, at Kerouac Cafe, 617 W. 35th St., Norfolk. There’s free street parking and some nearby surface lot parking. Admission is free.

Also Monday, D’Orso and Kerouac owner Phil Odango will be guests on HearSay With Cathy Lewis on WHRV-FM 89.5 to talk about Kerouac and the event. The show starts at noon. This airs in the Hampton Roads market, but you can find podcasts here at this link or listen to a stream.

Kerouac, of course, is known for inspiring generations of young writers to record their confessional travel stories in the first person and adorn them with titles like Disenchanted American Dreams. And there you have it. He did some other stuff, too, but I have a lot of homework this weekend.

Just go on Monday. D’Orso has it covered.

D’Orso, via email, explained that the idea for the event struck this past week when he drove past the cafe and suddenly recalled that the anniversary of Kerouac’s death was only days away. He pulled a U-turn, parked, and entered “one of the truly coolest, funkiest ‘lounges’ I’ve entered in a very long time. Kerouac would be proud to have his name on this place.”

And he pitched an event. They bit. Easy day.

D’Orso, in addition to being a journalist and author of many fine works of non-fiction, wrote his William and Mary graduate school thesis on the influence of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West on Kerouac’s work. He’s spoken on Kerouac and the Beats at a variety of venues, including to VMI cadets who sat in “stone-faced silence.” And according to an email that undoubtedly will be collected in the D’Orso papers:

I’ve written a good number of books, but my proudest coup was getting a 13-page piece on Jack’s high school and college football career published in Sports Illustrated.

Which you should read here at this link. “Saturday’s Hero: A Beat” is a great story, also collected in D’Orso’s excellent Pumping Granite.

As regular readers of this blog know, D’Orso is an old friend of mine and he has been featured here. And Kerouac Cafe is a friend of the blog, too, as the only Hampton Roads exhibition hall that dared to handle the intense heat that radiated like the spiciest winds of the Red Spider Nebula from the 2011 Fortune Writing Contest.

Also, I dig Kerouac. However, on Monday evening I will be in an Old Dominion University class called Thesis Colloquium, during which I again shall rigorously colloquium my thesis while keeping up with my devil-may-care classmate, Dean Moriarty. He’s got charisma, but I sometimes suspect our relationship may be evolving in ways we do not yet realize amid our adventures. Maybe it’s these times we’re living in, man.

Point being, have a cup of joe for me, you crazy kids, and talk about how the only people for you are the mad ones or something something something. Anyway, my Modern Rhetoric homework isn’t doing itself.

But look — if you’re young, if you maybe want to write, and if you’ve recently taken a trip with your restless nonconformist buds in which you experienced really intense stuff and figured out some things about how you want to live this life compared to what your old man had lined up for you, why not try it out in third-person limited?

And do cut out that part about getting your wicked liberating lower back tattoo. Someday, you will restructure a mortgage to get that sucker laser-ed off. Even the mad ones get tired of explaining to their grandkids what “PARTY TIME” means.

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Fortune winners, runners up will remain on display at Kerouac Cafe

Citizens of earth encounter 2011 Fortune Cookie of the Damned fortune writing contest entries on the walls of Kerouac Cafe, Norfolk, Va.

The exhibit of 2011 Forfune Cookie of the Damned fortune writing contest will stay up at Kerouac Cafe in Norfolk, Va., through most of July, not just a week, as I’d initially thought.

I found out during an informal gathering last night at Kerouac, 617 W. 35th St., Norfolk. No formal end date, but they’ll be up a couple more weeks than anticipated.

First place winner Gary Potterfield was not in the area. Third place winner Christopher Scott-Brown was not available. But second place winner Will Harris was on hand to get his prizes.

A brief video of the festivities follows, and you can see winners and runners up at this link to the earlier post on the contest:

Many thanks again to those who offered donations, discounts, and/or other considerations for the prizes: Prince Books, Naro Expanded Video, Kerouac Cafe, Local Heroes, Mike D’Orso, and Earl Swift.

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Fortune writing contest winners revealed; display opens tonight at Kerouac Cafe; bears quicker, more cunning with E-ZPass

And the winners are …

Hold on.

Let’s just acknowledge that this post, true to form for this blog, buries the lede deeper than a wannabe New Yorker scribe unpacking his first anecdote.

The 2011 Fortune Cookie of the Damned Fortune Writing Contest is over.

Entries were funny, fun, creative, and some other words, too. So thanks. You kept me smiling while I judged this past week at the Poconos Woodland Castle of Judging between diligently editing short stories, attending Wawayanda, N.Y., town council work sessions, researching the American black bear, and such. Because I know how to party.

Naturally, the winners were paw-carried back to Virginia by Keystone State bears. You should have seen them on the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Aside from one brief misunderstanding in the E-ZPass lanes, they were so adorable you could eat them up. Which you should do, preemptively, before the bears turn that notion around on you. Remember: Now that they have E-ZPass, the bears are especially quick and more cunning than ever before.

And the winners are …

Hold on. More about pretend bears avoiding the exact change and cash/receipts toll lanes? No? Pity.

First, some housekeeping: Many thanks to those who offered donations, discounts, and/or other considerations for the prizes: Prince Books, Naro Expanded Video, Kerouac Cafe, Local Heroes, Mike D’Orso, and Earl Swift. Please buy their books and do business with them and so forth. They rock.

Second, a plug: Anybody available is invited to an informal gathering at Kerouac Cafe in Norfolk, Va., at 8 p.m., July 1, at Kerouac Cafe, 617 W. 35th St., Norfolk. Free admission. Coffee, tea, lattes, iced drinks are available for sale, and there may be some eats.There will be a mini-exhibit of the winners and prizes will be handed to winners who can make it. Most of the entrants will be on display, too. Entries remain up for a whole week. I now have word that the exhibit will stay up through most of July.

Third, thanks to my fellow members of the Great Panel of Judgment – Mike D’Orso, Cate Doucette, Cortney Doucette, Oliver Mackson, and Earl Swift. There were more than 50 fortunes submitted, and 13 finalists. The first place winner had three of the six first-place votes by the judges. The judges besides me judged only fortunes, as I stripped out the names before giving them the finalists to consider.

Okay. Enough of that. Without further ado:


Gary Potterfield, operations director of a PR firm; Waldorf, Md.


Will Harris, pop culture obsessive; Chesapeake, Va.


Christopher Scott-Brown, bookseller; Virginia


Geoff Ahlberg, senior network engineer for Endeca Technologies; Malden, Mass.

Dani Al-Basir, artist and poet; Norfolk, Va.

Dani Al-Basir, artist and poet; Norfolk, Va.

Brendan Beary, working for The Man; Great Mills, Md.

Brendan Beary, working for The Man; Great Mills, Md.

Peter Carnevale, ambulance driver; Providence, R.I.

Peter Carnevale, ambulance driver; Providence, R.I.

Peter Carnevale, ambulance driver; Providence, R.I.

Ian Couch, Old Dominion University MFA student; Norfolk, Va.

Ian Couch, Old Dominion University MFA student; Norfolk, Va.

John-Henry Doucette, scribbler; Portsmouth, Va.

John-Henry Doucette, scribbler; Portsmouth, Va.

John-Henry Doucette, scribbler; Portsmouth, Va.

Will Harris, pop culture obsessive; Chesapeake, Va.

Will Harris, pop culture obsessive; Chesapeake, Va.

Blake Hunt, working writer; Norfolk, Va.

Judy Le, editor; Norfolk, Va.

Ian Martin, photographer; Northern California

Ian Martin, photographer; Northern California

Chris Mele, executive editor of The Pocono Record; Stroudsburg, Pa.

Angelina Maureen, fine artist; Norfolk, Va.

Michael Nixon; Norfolk, Va.

Michael Nixon; Norfolk, Va.

Gary Potterfield, operations director of a PR firm; Waldorf, Md.

Gary Potterfield, operations director of a PR firm; Waldorf, Md.

Gary Potterfield, operations director of a PR firm; Waldorf, Md.

Gary Potterfield, operations director of a PR firm; Waldorf, Md.

Barbara Russel; Chesapeake, Va.

Bob Voros, graphic artist; Norfolk, Va.

Bob Voros, graphic artist; Norfolk, Va.

Bob Voros, graphic artist; Norfolk, Va.

Thanks everybody. I think I’ll try this again next summer.

In bed.

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Language, lines and listening

The following post isn't really about Ted Danson, but it is kind of/sort of, and people seem to like looking at the man, so here is a picture of him. Photo by John Doucette.

This post is about priorities, if you bear with it.

As both who read this blog know, the actor and activist Ted Danson and Norfolk, Va., author Mike D’Orso recently spoke and signed books at Prince Books. The talk was moved across the street from Prince to the Selden Arcade in downtown Norfolk due to anticipate demand. Good thing. Nice turnout.

Danson and D’Orso are authors of Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them. I’ve written about the book and D’Orso before, and previous posts can be found here. The book’s website is here, and you can find links to some nice interviews with Danson there.

I’m not really going to get into the talk here, but I want to share two experiences – one I had, and one someone else had – the day Danson and D’Orso spoke.

In one case, a guy did not understand the concept of a line for the book signing.

By the line, I mean a formation of human being as a mutually agreed-to organizing principle amid a common activity. This is the third most important thing that distinguishes us from the beasts. The first two most important things are (1) language and (2) counting. And let me just list them with a couple other priorities for perspective:

  1. Language
  2. Counting
  3. The line
  4. Thumbs
  5. Isabella Rossellini

This is not to say language and counting are all that superior than the line. An argument could be made that we have language and counting mostly to tell people what number they are in the line. A sad, sad argument.

But say a line jumper gets snippy, you give them the thumbs as a way of demonstrating where they should be in the line. That’s a benefit of thumbs. I’m not about to get into doorknobs here, but certainly thumbs matter there. Also getting a pickle out of a jar. And so you have something to sit on during business meetings. Thumbs: another topic for another day.

The Isabella Rossellini thing is just and oh-by-the-way. Maybe you show them a picture of her to try to calm them down. I don’t know how the lady works, but she works.

So back to the guy and the line.

Lucy Couch, who works at Prince Books and is married to my fellow Old Dominion University Creative Writing MFA-er Ian Couch, apparently had to deal with a disgruntled gentleman with an implied past military affiliation, and an aversion to waiting his turn.

As I understand it, Lucy used language and indicated counting, but the guy wouldn’t have it. Dude just wanted a moment with Ted Danson. Right then. So if this disgruntled guy really had a past military affiliation, I’m amazed he couldn’t out-wait a little line or, say, buy a book maybe on account of it being a book signing at what is a book store, not some subsidized program to bring a bit more Danson to the masses.

This line simply was not some soul-crushing thing. When I was in the service, I’m pretty sure I waited in longer lines to eat chow more than once. And if I tried to jump the chow line? Out came language and thumbs.

Overall, this was a really cool line, with more folks seemingly interested in the environment than they were in how Danson used to be on a TV show called Cheers. Even the guy who asked about a Cheers reunion didn’t belabor it. Much. And some of us were there for D’Orso. This is Norfolk. He’s our guy.

So some guy was a jerk, and Lucy had to deal with it. Lucy held her ground, and he split.

Yay Lucy.

Boo some guy.

That’s the part that happened to someone else. Next is what happened to me.

Earlier, I’d ducked into a business. Through the mutual application of language, two seasoned gents learned where I was going and promptly busted Ted Danson’s chops for a prediction or statement he made many years ago about the oceans’ future – one Danson addresses in the book, by the way. And the men, as though channeling the talk radio drones that ripped into Danson at the time, had a nice laugh.

Though, to be fair, they liked him on Cheers. And Damages.

This reminded me that when I’d read Will Harris’ piece for The Virginian-Pilot on the D’Orso-Danson event at Prince, a couple of online commenters had raised the same points that spoke nothing of the merits of the science Danson is trying to put forward for our consideration.

Now, look: if you’re from Hampton Roads, you know that encountering the reader comments at Pilotonline.com should only be done in a cautionary way, to remind one to drive defensively.

Some of those people own cars.

But it also reminded me that there are a lot of people who seem to exist only to belittle ideas.

To some people, your words are useless and they don’t want to see the math. They don’t give a damn about lines, whether they exist for a reason, right or wrong. They want what they want when they want it, and they don’t care where it comes from, how it was gotten, and what it costs in the long term for short-term gain. You can point them to reality and they’ll say you don’t have the right to give them the thumbs.

What’s left? Help us, Isabella Rossellini – you’re our only hope?

I don’t know that a book changes how some folks are, no more than a silly blog post. I’ll read what Danson and D’Orso wrote, and so will some others, but I already make decisions about my seafood and where I shop and so forth. Maybe I’ll make better ones. Maybe not.

But I’ll try to keep an open mind. I wish more people would try. Ignorance, as it has been said, is not a sustainable position.

Some won’t consider that there’s any value to regulating overfishing by commercial fleets and protecting coastal environments and what have you because, well, they just won’t. At that point, they’re not in a conversation but in a bunker.

I’m kidding around when I say some actress is one of the key things that separates us from the beasts, and my list above, admittedly, is 99 percent bunk. But I’m convinced that language is the key to our humanity, both the written and spoken words. How we add to the pile of existing language defines us.

Part of that is listening. We need to understand the disagreement and the common ground before we speak and write. If we aren’t willing to listen to others, if we always put ourselves first, we can’t communicate. That means we’re incapable of collaboration and compromise for the common good.

That’s inhuman, and it’s scary that any of us find that condition acceptable. It’s even scarier that we sometimes don’t even realize we are actively refusing to hear truths that challenge our own.

P.S. Why can’t we count on Isabella Rossellini alone? She’s busy with um, specific topics, and the following video is (a) nutty and (b) probably not safe for work.

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Ted Danson reschedules Norfolk appearance at Prince Books

I never wanted to be a photo cutline. I just wanted to be close to Norfolk, Va., author Mike D'Orso. Photo by John Doucette.

It’s back on, baby.

Ran into Prince Books owner Sarah Pishko this evening in Norfolk, Va., where it is always sunny except when it is not, and she said Ted Danson is scheduled to come to Norfolk next month. And so it’s sunny again.

As you may recall, Danson had to cancel a planned visit in support of his recent writing project with local writer Mike D’Orso, Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them.

Danson was called away suddenly to battle the Yakuza, all of it at once, with his mighty anti-Yakuza Level 5 Power Handsome. Or he had to do some voice work for a cartoon. Okay, the latter is what discerning readers might call true.

Still, why do you hire the Danson and hide the handsome behind cartoon hijinks? Hollywood has been so confused ever since it went to the talkies.

D’Orso also sent out an email announcement this evening. And, so doing, he confirmed my crack reporting, which involved going to a store and running into somebody. Eat it up, Columbia J-School – two sources in a blog post! That’s like a hat trick, but with two things instead of three. Or a double threat. Because you can’t fight math.

D’Orso wrote:

We now have a new date and time set for Ted Danson to come and join me (and all of you – those can make it) in a discussion/signing of our book, Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them. The event will, as before, be held at Prince Books in downtown Norfolk, on Saturday, May 14, at 12 noon. As before, Ted will only be signing copies of the book (no other memorabilia).

Amusingly, D’Orso signed off in his email thusly:

Hope you can make it. It should be fun. – Mike D.

Amusing because Danson recently guested in the Beastie Boys video at this link, which is not safe for work unless your corporate pissing contests are a wee splash more than figurative. One of the Beastie Boys calls himself Mike D. Maybe that’s not really amusing, but it’s enough of a coincidence for me to get out of this post without bringing up the Yakuza again.

Anyway, the discussion and book signing starts at noon, Saturday, May 14, at Prince, 109 E. Main St., at the corner of E. Main Street and Martins Lane. If you head to Prince, there’s metered street parking and a couple city garages within easy walking distance. There’s also some free parking in the TowneBank lot behind the building on the Martins Lane side.

Previous posts with D’Orso can be found here. The book’s website is here. D’Orso’s website is here.

A glimpse of Danson in the Beastie video follows in this potty-mouth trailer:

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