So, how’d I end up doing quite a bit of freelancing for NPR?
I met NPR’s Wendy Kaufman back in the 1980’s at a party in Charlottesville, Virginia. I’d just switched from local television to local radio (because, among other things, I got tired of answering questions about my hair), and I’d fallen in love with the story-telling possibilities of sound-only broadcast production. Wendy said I should come work with NPR.
Not being shy, I phoned up Jay Kernis (a big-deal NPR news producer at the time) and cheerfully badgered him into seeing me. I arrived toting a long, mostly-unedited interview with the late, great Blues singer, John Jackson. Jay – bless his heart – listened to it all, told me I was a great interviewer, but had no idea what I was doing technically. He said (kindly, but firmly) that I should come back when I learned something about radio production. And so I did.
I’ve done almost exclusively feature reporting for NPR, focusing on books and publishing.
At NPR, I worked with great editors who taught me a how to tell a story – how to, first of all, decide specifically what the story it is I’m trying to tell, and then how to make sure every bit of tape you include and every word I speak are essential to the telling of that story.
NPR feature reporting is a grand exercise in killing all your darlings, as Faulkner put it. Or, as Arthur Quiller-Couch put it in his widely reprinted 1913-1914 Cambridge lectures On the Art of Writing. “On Style,” he said – while railing against “extraneous Ornament” – “If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.
I learned disciplined story-telling while reporting for NPR. And boy howdy! does that discipline carry over splendidly to fiction writing.