The anatomy of a story
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- I'm in Florida for spring training, doing a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Three days ago I picked up a newspaper and read about the tragic drowning accident down here involving the four football players. The following morning (Tuesday), I was driving when IT popped into my head -- a story idea.
This is the anatomy of a story.
• STEP 1: While driving from Ft. Myers to Port Charlotte on Tuesday, I was thinking about the drowning accident. Then I recalled an anecdote that never made it into my first book,
• STEP 2: Upon arriving in Port Charlotte, spring home of the Tampa Bay Rays, I flip on the computer, load up Nexis and do a search for "John Mitchell" and "boat" and "accident" This story pops up:
• STEP 3: I look up
• STEP 4: I leave a message for John Mitchell.
• STEP 5: I call the University of Virginia sports information department, and leave a message for
• STEP 6: I do an
• STEP 7: John Mitchell returns my call, and he's fantastic. We speak for 35 minutes, him on his cell outside of his office, me on a laptop, sitting in a really uncomfortable chair, cell phone awkwardly wedged between cheek and shoulder.
• STEP 8: I again turn to Nexis, and look up people named "Latham" in Robersonville, N.C. Forty-three names pop up. I call the first, ask if she's related to a Tony Latham who played baseball. "I wish," she says. "I could use the money." I call the second. An older woman answers. "My name is Jeff Pearlman," I say, "and I write for
"Well," says the woman, "I don't know a Tony Latham -- but Anthony Latham was my son."
We proceed to speak for 30 minutes (or so). She is a wonderful interview -- sad and reflective, good memory. She gives me the number of her second-oldest daughter,
In the span of, oh, an hour, I've gone from having nothing about Tony Latham, to having his entire life story.
• STEP 9: I return to the SI condo in Tampa and sit down to write. A message to the other ballplayer involved,
• STEP 10: I have about two hours to write.
It's not the best story I've ever written. Wish I had more time; used some words better; etc. But I feel good that Tony Latham's name and photograph appear on a Web site read by hundreds of thousands of people. It doesn't bring him back, sadly, but it brings back his memory.