Tag Archives: mike d’orso

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:

FIRST PLACE

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

SECOND PLACE

Will Harris, pop culture obsessive; Chesapeake, Va.

THIRD PLACE

Christopher Scott-Brown, bookseller; Virginia

HONORABLE MENTIONS

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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UPDATED: Ted Danson coming to Norfolk for talk with Mike D’Orso


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.

• • • • • • • • • • •

April 27

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.

And you may recall, Danson had to cancel a planned visit this month to promote his writing project with local writer Mike D’Orso.

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

Mike D’Orso also sent out an email announcement this evening. 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).

• • • • • • • • • • •

April 19

Ted Danson has postponed his visit, according to Prince Books.

Prince hopes to have a new date to announce in the next week.

Mike D’Orso, in an email announcement, said Danson had to do a movie shoot:

Ted was extremely apologetic and we will set a new date soon. Sorry to all for the inconvenience. But rest assured he is still coming.

• • • • • • • • • • •

April 9

Welcome back to the blog that does little more than tell lame jokes about blood-spitting rock’n’roll bass players repping high-end insurance products and walk-up whatever Norfolk, Va., author Mike D’Orso is doing. Look, it’s a niche. When you see one, you gotta carve it out before James Franco does.

A while back, I wrote about D’Orso’s collaboration with Ted Danson, Oceana: Our Planet’s Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them, published this past month by Rodale Books. D’Orso — he’s a friend, full disclosure — recently did a reading and Q&A at Borjo. It was great stuff, but it was light on Danson.

Now D’Orso says Danson is headed to Hampton Roads for an appearance at Prince Books, one of the last independent bookstores in these parts. A discussion and book signing starts at 1 p.m., Saturday, April 23, at Prince, 109 E. Main St., at the corner of E. Main Street and Martins Lane.

D’Orso, via email, said:

We’re going to have a nice casual sit-down conversation for the first half, then open the floor to any and all questions not pertaining to ‘Cheers,’ ‘Damages’ or ‘Bored to Death.’

So fire up those Becker, Body Heat and Three Men and a Little Lady questions.

Just kidding. Maybe just stick to ocean acidification, commercial fishing and so forth. Though if you want to ask something cheap — say along the lines of Apparently our planet’s oceans are endangered; what can we do to save them? — it’s been done. Got there first, didn’t I, Franco?

Regarding Danson, D’Orso added:

He – and I, if people want it – will then sign books before I toss him back in my Camry and drive him back to the airport.

And while you’re at Prince, maybe you could buy some books. It’s National Poetry Month. Twenty percent off poetry. Not bad, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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.

Please don’t park in Pete Decker’s space. It simply is not done.

Nothing left to say, so it’s boilerplate time:

Here’s a link to info on the Danson-D’Orso book.

Here’s a link to a recent video interview with and story on D’Orso by The Daily Press.

Here’s a link to D’Orso’s site.

Here’s a link to a James Franco fansite run by a lady named Vanessa, who will pay or already has paid good money to see Your Highness.

Finally, here’s an absolutely pointless link to the very post you are reading right now.

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Mike D’Orso book signing Wednesday in Norfolk


Norfolk, Va., writer Mike D’Orso will discuss and sign copies of his new book this week at Borjo Coffeehouse near Old Dominion University.

D’Orso, an award-winning author and formerly a journalist with The Virginian-Pilot, collaborated with the actor and environmental activist Ted Danson to pen Oceana: Our Planet’s Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them. It was published by Rodale Books earlier this month.

The event is being held by Prince Books, a terrific bookstore in downtown Norfolk that for years has supported local writers – even when we haven’t had anything to sell.

Prince Books is one of the best things about downtown Norfolk. I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.

The discussion and signing is at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 30, at Borjo, 4416 Monarch Way, Norfolk. That’s at the corner of W. 45th Street and Monarch Way. Pretty much all of the parking around there is metered before 8 p.m., so bring a couple of quarters.

As regular readers of this blog may recall – love you, Mom – Mike spoke with me for a couple of posts earlier this month, including guest starring in the inaugural edition of the inexplicably and, let’s face it, only relatively popular Belligerent Q&A feature.

Also a more serious discussion on one of his great journalism stories can be found here.

Hope to see you Wednesday at Borjo.

They have coffee and grownup bevs for sale. Just throwing that in there.

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Writing Craft, Vol. I: Mike D’Orso’s “The Project and the Park”


Mike D’Orso and I had a little fun the other day regarding his new book, written with the actor and activist Ted Danson.

I also asked via email about the craft of feature journalism writing. His answers are reflected in this post.

Among his writings, some of my favorites include sports journalism stories from Pumping Granite. A big favorite is “The Project and the Park,” the story of an evening at Tidewater Gardens, the housing project near Harbor Park in Norfolk, Va. Harbor Park was new when the story was penned for The Virginian-Pilot.

Here’s the lede, which instantly establishes two settings, the distance between them, and a main character:

It was an hour-and-a-half before game time at Harbor Park. The bleachers were empty, the grounds crew had yet to chalk the foul lines, but Catherine Newby was already settled into her seat – behind third base, beyond the left field parking lot, across ten lanes of interstate highway.

She’s 63, and has lived in the neighborhood for decades. Mike shows her appreciation for the park – the sound of music from the stadium, the lights in the sky. It’s a lesson in great reporting – not only going to a place and reporting through interviews and observation, though Mike is expert in such things, but also doing the research that allows telling detail within a narrative:

It is not a hopeful place. Nine out of every ten families living in its brick row buildings are headed by a single woman. Nearly half those households have an annual income of less than five thousand dollars. Ninety-seven percent of them are black.

None of which means a thing to Catherine. All she knows is this is her home. Those are her gardenias and petunias planted at the edge of her small concrete stoop. Those are her three metal folding chairs set up outside the screen door of her apartment. And that new stadium, its light towers looming above the traffic whooshing past on Tidewater Drive, is Catherine’s pleasure.

People from the neighborhood recall the story of opening night, as seen from there. There are scenes effectively, but it’s basically the narrative of the visit, interspersed with the game. The difference is a reporter with the ability to listen for great, telling quotes like this one:

‘Oh, what an evening!’ said Catherine. ‘You could hear the mayor, and Father Green, and the Star Spangled Banner. We all stood up and put our hands on our hearts when they played that. We sure did.’

Of course, not everybody is so thrilled, and the story ends with some real tension, and then also a gentle image seems to strike the right note while still being beautiful. I won’t spoil it, since you surely will go buy the book now. Anyways, I asked Mike a few craft questions about that story via e-mail. They follow.

Q: How did you find that story? Was that story assigned or hunted down?

Harbor Park was about to finally open, after months and months of construction, accompanied by dozens of stories about every aspect of the park, right down to how the hot dogs and buns would be shipped to the stadium.

It occurred to me, as I exited off I-264 one day, right by the ballpark, that this stadium literally cast a shadow over the housing project on the other side of the interstate – Tidewater Gardens. I thought about the fact that these people had watched this behemoth grow right before their eyes, and that it was a symbol of the monstrous class-and-economic divide that exists in America today between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.’ I doubted that many residents in Tidewater Gardens could afford a season ticket – or even the cost of a single game (including the exorbitant cost of concessions at a ballgame). In other words, though these people lived closer to this stadium than anyone, it may as well be a universe away.

Frankly, it also angered me that whenever The Pilot did a story involving a community like this, the reporters always interviewed and quoted the ‘usual suspects’ – a couple of community leaders and local politicians who always ‘spoke for the people,’ rather than approaching and allowing some of the people to speak for themselves. This was certainly the case in the one or two stories The Pilot had done in the previous months concerning the neighborhoods near Harbor Park – including Tidewater Gardens.

So I got Lawrence Jackson, a brilliant photographer with The Pilot at the time (and now an official White House photographer), to join me, and we simply went over to Tidewater Gardens on the night of a home game and roamed the neighborhood from about 5 p.m. (a couple of hours before game time), all the way till the final out was made, at about 9:30 or so.

We just played it by ear, chatting with people we happened upon, talking with them about their feelings concerning the ballpark, and always, inevitably, having the conversation expand into their feelings about their lives in general and about their community.

One point I hoped the story would make, although this wasn’t a stated or intended agenda, was to show that this community and so many like it – which are so often reduced to the broad, sweeping, and negative stereotypes that accompany terms such as “inner-city,” “public housing,” and “project” – is not filled with just crime, violence and poverty, but is also home to people and families, who have the same values, wants and needs as people in any other community … people who care about their neighbors, who take care of one another because so much care is needed and so little is provided, and who, yes, would love to be able to have a seat in that stadium over there and take in a ballgame. If they can’t do that, Lawrence and I found, some of them do the next best thing, pulling a chair outside the front door of their rowhouse, tuning the radio to the ballgame, and enjoying the evening like any other fan, some even standing for the national anthem, just like the people under the lights over there, across the highway. Just normal, ‘good’ people, making the best they can of their lives – that’s what that story boiled down to.

Q: How did you begin reporting it? Did you research the neighborhood or just drive out there?

I always like to do as much research as I can before going out for the actual ‘reporting.’ This gives me some understanding of particular issues, an idea of some issues I might want to explore, and it also gives me a few nuggets of fact that I can sprinkle throughout the narrative – not so many that they bog down the story to the point where it reads like a government study, but enough to illuminate a particular scene.

That old writers’ saw about ‘show, don’t tell,” should actually be “show AND tell,” in just the right proportion.

Q: You use numbers very quickly and very effectively in the story, to make a sort of point that quickly is humanized by shifting back to the people in the narrative. At what point did you gather your statistics on the neighborhood?

As I said, I gather a good amount of statistics before I go out and report. Then, when I come back,  I’ll almost always find myself looking up a specific fact or statistic I didn’t have before, prompted by something seen or said while I was out ‘in the field.’

Q: Why did you think this was an important story to tell?

I think I answered this earlier.

Q: What was the editing process on this story?

Very little, if any.

Q: Did it change from the first draft?

Very little, if any.

Q: Did you outline? Why?

I always outline before I write. I believe it’s always necessary to have some kind of map to follow. Nothing rigid. I ‘outline’ much like a filmmaker ‘storyboards’ his movie. That’s how I arrange and prepare a story prior to writing. I think in terms of scenes, very much like a filmmaker. Once I’ve arranged my ‘scenes,’ I then take my raw material – research, ‘field’ notes, etc. – and distribute it among the scenes, putting this quote or factoid in this scene, and that quote or factoid in that one, and so on. Then I begin to write, always with the flexibility that the scenes might be reshaped, rearranged, or restructured as I go along.

Again, you can learn more about Mike’s writing and books here. And this is the link for his new book with Ted Danson.

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