The Fury Files: Peter Richmond

Posted: April 11, 2013 by shawnfury in Uncategorized
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Welcome to the latest edition of the Fury Files, which are currently defending themselves in a million dollar lawsuit brought by Rockford. Check out all the previous editions with Tom Linnemann, John Millea, David Brauer, Joe Posnanski, Pat Coleman, Kevin Van Valkenburg, Michael Kruse, Chris Jones, Chris Ballard, Roland Lazenby, Will Leitch and Patrick Reusse.

This week’s guest is Peter Richmond, a former newspaper reporter who went on to become one of the country’s best magazine writers at GQ and is now a best-selling author. He’s also been a planning board member in a small village in New York.

Richmond graduated from Yale, where he studied under the legendary John Hersey and David Milch. I’d say more about that but I’ve already given away too much and Richmond talks all about it below. Richmond’s been honored numerous times in the Best American Sports Writing series and his 1992 story about Tommy Lasorda’s son, Tommy Jr., who died of AIDS, earned a spot in The Best American Sports Writing of the Century. If anyone ever produces a book called The Best American Sports Writing of the Millennium, the Lasorda piece will find its way there as well (the story is now available online on the Stacks section of Deadspin and has been anthologized in the BASW series and in the book Fathers & Sons & Sports).

The author of numerous books, Richmond is currently working on a biography of Phil Jackson. Previous efforts include My Father’s War: A Son’s Journey, a book that detailed Richmond’s efforts to discover just what it meant when he heard his late father (who died when Richmond was a young boy and had won two Silver Stars in World War II) described as a war hero. In 2010, Richmond wrote Badasses: The Legend of Snake, Foo, Dr. Death, and John Madden’s Oakland Raiders. Among his other works? Ballpark: Camden Yards and the Building of an American Dream, and Fever: The Life and Music of Peggy Lee.

Richmond has a style that makes writing look easy, which disguises the fact his stories only read like that because of his talent and the exhaustive work that went into reporting his pieces and books. While he spends most of his time these days working on books, his words still pop up elsewhere. Check out his Grantland piece about how America can’t build a decent sports stadium. Or his story for SB Nation Longform about the world championship of blind baseball. And here’s his 1990 piece about Bill Murray. This past week he wrote on Bronx Banter about Hall of Famer Bernard King and his forgotten arrests, and I can only imagine the angry letters he received from Knicks fans. A devoted New York Giants fan — he also wrote a best-selling book with Frank Gifford about the famous 1958 title gameRichmond hosts a radio show about Big Blue, which was the subject of a New York Times story. And be sure to check out Richmond’s website.

Here, Richmond talks about studying under legends, the badass Raiders, the mysterious Phil Jackson, Phish, his writing style, why Cincinnati hated him, why Tommy Lasorda stopped talking to him, his evolution as a writer and much more. Thanks a lot for your time, Peter.

In your bio, you write that at Yale you “studied under the late, great John Hersey (Hiroshima) and the very alive, great David Milch (Deadwood).” Not bad. It’s fascinating to think you studied under someone who was already a legend, and one who would become one but was not yet a big name when you were at Yale. So…

John Hersey’s Hiroshima is one of the most famous nonfiction pieces ever, and the writer had a major impact on Richmond’s life.

* Were you aware of Hersey’s Hiroshima piece before you arrived at Yale? Was it something you remember reading when growing up?
Yes. Definitely. My dad was a Marine in the South Pacific (I would later write a book about his war) and I came across it in my teens. I remember two things about fourth grade: The Cuban Missile Crisis and having to duck and cover, and doing my first sportswriting, using a mimeograph machine with the purple ink that got you high. So the mushroom cloud was seared into my brain. When I read Hiroshima, I couldn’t believe how compelling and chilling a tale it was. It wasn’t until college, when I read it again, that I began to see the level of craft involved.

* Hiroshima is one of those pieces that’s obviously impossible to picture running today. No one is taking one event, one story, and running it over an entire issue of a magazine. But what about the writing and reporting itself, was that something that inspired you or stayed with you when you became a magazine writer yourself? Hersey talked about the “flat style” he used. “A high literary manner, or a show of passion, would have brought me into the story as a mediator.” Have there been specific stories in your career where you went out of your way to use that style instead of perhaps using more writerly flourishes?
First, he affected me when he came into the seminar room (you had to be recommended for the 12-person course, and then submit clips, senior year), and the first thing he said is, “If any of you think of yourselves as artists, you don’t belong here. I am going to teach you a craft.” I’ve never forgotten those words.

As for style: Yes, I have always tried to trope toward less-art-is-more in any piece I write, but I’ve also tried to cleave to what Frank Deford told me, when he was my boss at The National: The reader must know that you do have a point of view; you just needn’t inject yourself. I once ruined a great story by throwing myself too much into it, and since then I’ve tried to let what I’m seeing and reporting talk for itself. I can no longer read writers who write for the chance to point to their own elaborate brushstrokes, because it always makes me think they’re not giving their subject its due. John McPhee remains a hero for his ability to put you on the bridge of a tugboat pushing a barge down the Illinois River, so detailed that you can smell the dirt on the river bank, without ever using an ornate sentence structure. If I think a writer is using his story to point to himself, she or he has lost me. Lately I’ve found that writing in the flat-affect New Yorker style, like Tom Mallon making Calvin Coolidge jump off the page, where some of the celebrated wordsmiths manage to bury their entire subjects.

* Before he became Milch the TV genius, what was Milch the instructor like? Passionate, frustrated, foul-mouthed philosopher? Did you follow his career from his early Hill Street Blues days or did it take you a few years to realize, wait, that’s my old instructor?
I followed him from Day One. He was riveting. He was theater. He’d tell a story about himself, say, as a creepy guy who once got back at someone by saying, “I know when your kid gets out of school,” and we’d be jaw-dropped, and then he said, “I made that up.” He was telling us how to tell stories by teaching us that if you care about the protagonist, no matter what you think of him/her, you’ve got the reader. If not, give up. I told him I wanted to go to grad school in English and write fiction. “Don’t be an idiot,” he said. “You’re a sportswriter and you know it.”

Couple of questions about your superb Raiders book, Badasses:

* In a New Yorker interview you talked about becoming a Raiders fan in the ’70s, “when my boring, gray-flannel Giants were foundering…” Now, wait, wait — did you abandon the Giants simply because of some two-win seasons? Was the Craig Morton era that painful? A diehard giving up on them? What would Sam Huff have said? My god, what would Frederick Exley have said?
Nonononononononono. You misunderstood. I have never abandoned the Giants; they are literally my religion. John Mendenhall was my hero. I co-host a weekly radio show out of an NPR station in Sharon, Ct., with friend and author David Kamp (Vanity Fair, etc.) called “Tangled Up in Blue.” What I meant was that when I got to college and no one told me I had to do my homework on Sunday, and the Giants had just lost 34-3, I started bonding with those mustached, long-haired, villainous dudes in the city that was the capital of the Black Panther Party (which had greatly disappointed me a few years earlier when they said they were going to camp on the campus of my Ct. prep school…and didn’t).

* Was it tough figuring out how to balance straight football talk with the off-the-field anecdotes and personality profiles?
At first, it was, but as I reported the book it became obvious that the behavior and the football were inexplicably intertwined, so that when I got around to writing about football games, I was writing about men I knew to be — as one said of them — “half a bubble off.” It’s like this Phil Jackson bio I’m writing: It’s gotten to where Phil the man and the games he coached are different threads in the same quilt. As I describe games, I know all the anecdotes behind them (like after Toni Kukoc passed up an easy drive to the basket and opted for a three that he missed, and in the film session, Phil said, “And that, gentlemen, is why Yugoslavia never won a war.”) (By the way: I loved Kukoc. Wasn’t his fault he grew up in a league that played no defense, hence the nickname, “Maitre D’, as in, go right on in.”)

* Could those Raiders exist today? What would people say about a team that kept winning 10, 11, 12 games but couldn’t win a title? Skip Bayless would skin the Snake, and Madden too. And then with the personalities, would any team in today’s NFL take on that collection, even if they were one of the best teams?
First, they couldn’t exist because the league would bankrupt the team with fines. Villapiano, Tatum, Atkinson, Skip Thomas, Matuszak, Upshaw — they played more physically than any sports team in history, and would do anything to literally draw blood, thereby gaining instant psychological leverage. They played borderline feloniously, as they should have, because that’s football.

Bayless would have barked, but into a vacuum; Madden, I think, would see them for what they were: continuously excellent. No one’s down on the Patriots for not having won it all for a while; we know that each season will bring a team trying its balls off. Year in and year out for an entire decade they were one of the best teams, if not the best team, in football. They were the most feared, which makes for being best. I don’t buy into second best is 1st loser. As Earl Weaver used to say, “You make your luck,” which means that every year, you have to be good enough so that if fate smiles on you, because there’s always so much luck in life (see “Tuck Rule, The”; no injuries; easy schedule), you’re ready to receive the beneficence because you’ve got everything in place. Year in, year out, the Raiders had everything in place. As for Stabler at his peak — hungover, calm as a dead man in the huddle — there is no quarterback in history I would rather have at the start of a fourth quarter. No one.

Baltimore’s Camden Yards was the subject of one of Richmond’s books. You can see him here down the left-field line.

Did your fascination and involvement with sports stadiums start with the Camden Yards book or did it date back earlier? You’ve written for Architecture magazine and were critical of the design of modern stadiums in a Grantland piece so is your interest in the stadiums with the actual structures themselves or everything else surrounding them — the politics, taxes, competitive balance, quirks, etc.
Way earlier: As a 12-year-old I’d sit in the upper deck of the old Stadium with its Hopper-esque view of the slanting sunlight crawling up the sides of the brick buildings in the Bronx, and the amazing courthouse, and the subway crossing behind the right field bleachers, and it was a thrill because it sort of all throbbed with life, and lives. It was sort of a cathedral to me, this confluence of steel, brick, and wooden seats at the center of a borough. I began to be disappointed with the newer ones because of their distance from the center of their city’s hives, and then, with Camden Yards, because while it did reinvigorate some of Baltimore, its backward-look struck me as lame. Buildings should celebrate the aesthetic of their time — or the one that’s around the bend. And stadia, as our last true town halls, should be very special places architecturally. I’m constantly envisioning bold and weird stadium designs in my head which would never be built.

What’s your all-time favorite stadium to watch a game as a reporter/writer?
In a press box it was the old Comiskey. Home plate was about 12 feet away, and you knew there was a city right outside. In fact, you could see it through the openings at the top of the lower level. As a fan I’d have to say the Princeton football field, where, instead of tearing down the old crumbling edifice, they saved the skin, then stuck a much smaller modern stadium into it. Speaking of sticking things in old skins, I have a particular love of the new-old Soldier Field. I think it’s completely friendly, and architecturally, it makes you think and look twice at it as you drive by, and that’s what art should do.

Phil Jackson’s one of the most fascinating personalities in NBA history — a perfect subject for Richmond’s next book.

As a Lakers fan, I’m excited for the Phil Jackson biography you’re working on. Your other books — including My Father’s War, Badasses, and the Peggy Lee bio — all had a personal connection or came from personal passions. Same with Phil, or where did the interest come from? Is it a definitive account — birth to life as Jeanie’s fiance — or more focused on a specific period? And how do you find something new to say about someone who’s been the subject of previous biographies but has also revealed so much about himself in memoirs?
It began, I guess, the first time I saw him play. I imagine I was high, I imagine I scalped a green-seats ticket, and as a surly rebel-without-a-clue, I instantly loved this weirdsmobile of a basketball player. Amid the propriety and cool of Frazier and Bradley, the beauty of Reed’s game, the slickness of Barnett and then Monroe, it was as if this guy was a brother from another planet: hair flying, beard, pulling down an unlikely rebound over Unseld — then bouncing it off his knee out of bounds. None of his limbs seemed connected. And he obviously had to be the kind of guy who might be getting high — which he was — and yet was in a professional sports league. I’ve followed from near and far ever since. The challenge is immensely difficult in one way because of all that he’s written about himself, but in another way, it’s a cool challenge: Explain the answer to the obvious question — “How in hell did Phil Jackson beat out Auerbach and get as many rings as Pat Riley and Vince Lombardi combined?” — by trying to see the man, and his achievements, through objective eyes, and not his own lens. The road trip to his homelands of Montana and the Dakotas, from Indian reservation to high school gym, was like a paid vacation. And the coolest thing is that — no surprise here — his players, his coaches, his friends, the minister who married him to his second wife, the rabbi who attended his New Age hoop workshops, his minor-league assistant…they’re all, like, smart and insightful. Which kind of helps explain a whole lot. Also, I had a feeling that beneath all of the spiritualism and ritual (I am literally burning sage every day as I write at my desk) there lay someone who is as competitive as anyone who’s ever lived — which is why he and Jordan were such a perfect vibe.

You’ve talked about how you can’t write anything unless you’re listening to a live Phish CD. Writers have different opinions about listening to music while writing. Some need it all the time, some can’t handle the thought of it. Were you always someone who needed music in the background and did the group of choice become Phish only after the GQ story? Are there any other routines you follow each time you write a piece or are working on a book? (I’m picturing James Caan in Misery having a single cigarette and champagne when done with a book).
I have always written to music; before Phish it was The Clash, before that, The Kinks. After I wrote about Phish for GQ, I became an addict, and still am. When I write without music, I hear my thoughts too intensely/intently, and inner censors start interfering. Music scrubs my brain; I don’t actually hear it, the way I would if I were at a Phish concert. But Phish turns out to be the perfect scrubber, because a 12-minute Trey Anastasio riff in the middle of a 15-minute jam sort of subliminally says to me, “Don’t worry: We’ll make sure that the only thoughts entering your brain as you write are ones you need, and trust, because you just had them; we’ll stop all the other diversions at the door.”

Routines? Used to have a cigarette at all times; gave it up about 2½ years ago (maybe that’s where the sage comes in). Must have sunlight-filled windows all around me. (My desk in my old house is on a landing at the top of the stairs where Hopper light floods in starting at 8 a.m.) And must have a bookcase (packed with books) nearby. And must have my wife out of the house; on her days off from work, we take walks and cook, and I just do research, or go to a library. Don’t know why. After 30 years of marriage you’d think I’d figure out a way … but the truth is, I must be utterly alone.

There’s an old AP story archived that details the city of Cincinnati’s reaction to a piece you did for GQ in 1993. I’ve never read the story and can’t find it online. But just the quotes in the AP story make me want to hunt it down. “Sleazy magazine that nobody ever heard of.” A city seething. What was the story about, did the furor eventually die down and what kind of shots did you take at the Queen City, other than the great line, “It’s a model city, Cincinnati. Clean and safe and quiet and repressive, and resolved to keep itself that way.”
I am also a railroad freak, and used to break into deserted stations on the road, from South Bend to Kansas City, looking for ghosts (not literally). The most astounding example of Deco architecture in the land, other than the Chrysler Building, is Cincinnati’s Union Terminal, a huge place that they built as railroads were dying. I broke in several times and wandered for hours before they finally saved it. Anyway, when, in 1990, local officials tried to prosecute an art gallery for mounting a Mapplethorpe exhibit for “pandering obscenity,” I thought, “Really? A town capable of such beauty is that intolerant?” Seemed that they were proud of being the anti-pornography capital of the world. And I did a little research, and found out that there’d been a guy leaving a gay bar one night who was busted (can’t remember for what: jaywalking?) and somehow, if memory serves, blood was drawn from the guy’s mouth in a scuffle, and he spit at a cop. He was HIV positive, and was charged with…attempted murder. That was enough for me. I went out, spent a couple of weeks talking to folks, and found out that the town was, while architecturally gorgeous, not a great place to be unless you were Caucasian and straight.

There have been a million stories written about Tommy Lasorda, but none like Richmond’s Tangled Up in Blue.

Anytime I read a story on Tommy Lasorda, I think back to your piece Tangled Up in Blue. A few questions on that classic story, which several friends say remains their favorite magazine story ever.

* What was Lasorda’s reaction to the piece at the time, and did that ever change over the past couple of decades?
He tracked me down in a motel somewhere by phone, and screamed at me for a very long time. I have not spoken to him since. I think he thought that until then, when our paths had crossed, we had a good relationship, when, of course, the relationship had simply been, “Hey, here’s what the god of baseball says!” And then, well, to me, he stopped being one.

* Among other places it’s been anthologized in a book about fathers, sons and sports and I’m wondering, when you started that story — the reporting but also the writing — did you approach it as a tale about a father and his son? Or was it more about a celebrity being unable to face reality?
Nope: Totally about a father loving his son. I am, at heart, a sap. When I first saw Tommy Jr. at a Dodger game — long bleached blond hair, wearing a sort of sari — I wondered whether it was someone who had snuck onto the field for batting practice. When I was told it was Tommy’s son, I thought, “How cool! Tommy Sr. is cool enough to let his outrageous son mingle in his world. They must truly have a great relationship.” Turned out they did, too. When the kid died, I went out there, and found his friends, who talked of his wild nightlife, his outrageous outfits (he’d drink blue drinks if he was wearing something outrageously blue), his having to be at the center of the scene. I also acquired a copy of the death certificate, which said the cause of death was “pneumonitis….probably acquired immune deficiency syndrome.”

Then I read that the father had asked that contributions should go to the Association of Professional Ball Players of America, a charity for ballplayers in need — a conservative group known for not giving help to baseball players who’d fallen into the trap of substance abuse. And since I was (am) sort of militant about all of the issues involved there — since my freshman year at Yale, I’d assumed that gay/straight was a completely irrelevant distinction; and that people with substance-abuse problems deserve respect, because flaws are, like, universal — when Tommy Sr. refused to advance the causes, but, in fact, set them back, I decided to write the story. Because I thought that real fathers (see Earvin Johnson) announce and proclaim their support of their kids. In the end, I thought it was a story about love. Tommy Sr. didn’t. I decided to hit the “send” button because I decided — rightly or wrongly — that in apparently misrepresenting his son to me, he was more concerned with his status as a god in the Pantheon of Baseball.

* It’s hard not to compare that father-son relationship with you and your dad. Did losing your father at a young age have any type of impact on how you approached the Lasorda story? I see it almost as someone needed to tell the remarkable story of Tommy Lasorda Jr., the same way someone needed to tell the remarkable story of your dad, which you did in your World War II book. Or is that reading too much into it?
Not at all. I grew up without a dad, and therefore wanted to see the best possible relationship between a father and a son. And when I came to believe that the father had betrayed the son, I laid it all out there. Would I have done so if I’d grown up with a father? No.

* The intro: Did you know right when you heard the stories about Tommy Jr. hitting baseballs off the roof of an apartment building in West Hollywood that you would start the piece with that scene or did that only emerge once you started the actual writing?
No, that was a no-brainer that announced itself during the reporting. No writer who has immersed him/herself even one day into the world about which she/he is going to report does so without a tiny part of their brain saying, “Dude, where’s the lead?” I was going to lead with Steve Garvey talking about how Tommy Jr. was better at hitting the curveball. But then, when his best friend casually dropped into a conversation, “Tommy used to hit baseballs off the roof of his building,” well, there you go.

By the time you did your Paul Newman story for GQ, you must have been far past the point of being starstruck by any possible subject. But still…Paul Newman — Cool Hand Luke, the blue eyes (even if he didn’t want GQ readers seeing them). Was it different approaching him than other celebrities, perhaps because of where he was at that stage of his life and career? And when talking to Newman, or any celebrity, how different of an approach did you take than when you talked to a non-celeb? Do you get more aggressive, read different cues?
The more immortal the celebrity (Newman being the most) the less I become aggressive. In one sense I imagine that backing off from the truly Starpowered, and not asking Newman, “How come you struck up your relationship with your current wife on the set of a movie when you were still married?” — when said current wife happens to be a few feet away in a room, listening to Saturday opera Live From the Met — was lame journalistically. But in retrospect it wasn’t: If you can get to some sort of truth about your subject, the best way to do it is accurately read whatever cues you are being given. If I’m interviewing someone who is clearly willing to divulge bold-faced quotes, of course I’ll go there. But if I’m interviewing someone who is being circumspect, because that’s their nature, I’ll just follow the circumspectness — because that’s the best window into who they are.

You taught drama to students and you’re writing a musical about the NFL. How challenging was it being on a different side of the creative process when teaching drama?
Not hard at all. Doesn’t there come a time when passing on what you’ve learned is the gift that you are now allowed to give? I acted on stage in college. Forty years later, directing ninth-graders on how to act in Twelve Angry Men — and seven are girls, so now it has to be Twelve Angry People — and seeing them pull it off, and knowing that they have, against all odds, learned the teleplay’s eternal lessons about discrimination? You’re feeling bestowed with your own gift.

And with the musical, any fears about having your words interpreted by other people? Some writers balk over a comma change in a 10,000-word story — will it be difficult losing a bit of control over your writing once the process advances?
Not at all. Back to Hersey. No matter what your gifts as a literary “artist” — and I honestly and proudly have always thought of my own grade, when it comes to that thing of “writing an evocative sentence; writing an evocative piece” as C+, which means better than average, which is a cool place to be — I am ultimately and totally editable. If my dialogue and lyrics in the musical ring slightly off to a producer who knows his marketable chops, so be it. Take out some of my verbs. Erase this character. Just don’t erase the point of the tale. This goes back to knowing the craft. Master the craft, then you’re allowed to try out your art. It also goes back to one of the best editors I ever had when he said, “The truth isn’t in the facts.” In other words, if the musical could be produced with many of my words changed, but the truth behind them remains intact? Hey, change anything you’d like…as long as you’re following my lead.

As someone who grew up reading city council minutes in my small-town newspaper, there’s something very familiar about reading notes from Village of Millerton Planning Board meetings, although in ours writers who were in the Best American Sportswriting of the Century didn’t make appearances. Has living in Millerton changed you at all as a writer — can a place have that type of effect on a writer (among other things, I picture your pieces in the local paper being like Hank Devereaux’s in Straight Man)? Were you at all surprised at how you embraced the sense of community you have in Millerton? Writers, especially those who work on their own so much, can develop an outsider’s perspective on life, so was that something you had to overcome when you guys settled there?
There was nothing to overcome by then. As a lifelong writer, I knew that I had spent most of my life as an outsider pretending to know what I saw when I looked in. But obviously wasn’t part of the world upon which I was pronouncing. When my village became a sort of actual template — Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” — after 15 years of being there, I was very glad to settle into reality, instead of “reporting” on it.

In a Q&A with Rural Intelligence, you said your favorite way to spend a Sunday morning was “reading the Book Review and getting depressed that someone I know got a good review for a book I should have thought of writing; alleviating the depression by cooking an omelette with vegetables from the garden and bread baked by a friend, and waiting for the Giants game to start.” We’ll get to the omelette in a future Q&A, but…

* Joking aside, when you do see a great story or a book by a peer, friend or stranger, is there a jealous part that rises up? Is it more disappointing or motivating?
It’s equal amounts of both. First it’s jealousy. Then it motivates. If I’m reading the Book Review in the bathtub on Sunday morning, and someone I know (and even like!) got a good review, I will literally get out, dry off, and go back upstairs to the by-then-sunbathed desk and get back to work. An upside to researching the Jackson book is that it has taught me the ultimate Buddhist thought: Let Go, or Be Dragged. On the other hand, that is not good advice for someone trying to make a living as a writer, which, essentially defined, is, “Tell a story better than all the people you’re jealous of.”

* What’s one book and one magazine story that other people did from, say, the past 25 years that you’re upset you didn’t come up with?
Book? Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights. Mag? McPhee’s aforementioned “Tight-Assed River.”

For the piece “A Rebel Comes Home” in Yale’s alumni mag, you included a line about your departure from GQ and wrote, “I’d come to believe others’ glowing praise of my increasingly mail-it-in prose.” Was that prose coming from boredom or just doing the same thing for too long? I talked with Chris Jones about the idea of whether longform writers have a shelf life — do you think there’s something to that? And I’m guessing you’d have a far better self-assessment of your work now, so how were you able to turn that around?
I think it was Updike who said a man does his best writing in his forties, and it proved to be the case for me. Surrounded by the likes of Pierce, Corsello, Junod and Sager, listening to my editor David Granger, I surrounded every story. Once I’d proven to myself I really could bring it, I began mailing my half-baked prose to GQ because as someone whose ability to draft a story was outweighed by his ego, I began to take on book projects, looking for the next level of excellence. I was already looking toward the next hurdle when that chapter ended. Newspaper guy? Got to be Magazine Writer. Magazine guy? Got to be Writer of Books. Driven by nothing other than ego. Then I sidetracked, taught at a private high school, did some books and rediscovered, free of that alpha-male contest, that I’d lost nothing of whatever talent I’d always had. I’ve written a half-dozen website pieces in the last few years that I’ve been very proud of. Not that they paid much. But that made the 12,000 driving miles tax deductible, and there’s nothing like a road trip to Montana to jump-start your imagination (in college I read every word Kerouac ever published).

Again from your bio: “As a result of all of these experiences, he is curious about everything, and knows a little bit about a lot of things, but not a whole lot about anything,” and it notes how all of your travels instilled a fascination with “the people, towns, villages, cities, train stations,” etc., of America and that you hope “this fascination has found its way into” your writing. Writing today has in many ways become very specialized (“We want experts writing about experts only!”). It seems like sometimes a generalist could be endangered, but to me those are the writers I still love reading because their curiosity with *everything* comes through in their writing, whether they become fascinated with something they didn’t know about before or are passionate about a longtime love. Do you worry about that type of writing — or writer — struggling to find a place in a changing media world?
Yes, but not for me, because of the books, which allow me, like Phil Jackson, to bring everything I know to every subject. The Jackson bio won’t be conventional, but neither is he and neither am I. It’ll go on tangents, it’ll riff, it’ll recreate games as seen through my own “half-a-bubble-off” lens, and brain. So will the next two (if I sell ’em). In other words, as long-form struggles, the longer form thrives. Everyone likes to read a good story from alpha to omega. The 5,000-word exploration of a small-town meth murder is no longer appealing to me; it holds no surprises. But if I stay endlessly curious about everything, from String Theory and the Big-Bang Big Crunch, to why in hell the Giants are going back to white pants, to how in the hell to write a song for a madman wide receiver on steroids in a dark musical about a losing football team, to why the word for “beer” was one of the first ever translated in Sumerian, I know that writing as the most entrancing and transformative medium for the last 5,000 years — and 5,000 more — will be fine. Which means, so will I.

  1. […] Michael Kruse, Chris Jones, Chris Ballard, Roland Lazenby, Will Leitch, Patrick Reusse and Peter Richmond. (We can also announce the next participant: Former Star-Tribune editorial writer extraordinaire […]

  2. […] Veteran magazine writer Peter Richmond talked about studying under John Hersey and David Milch and h… And I loved his words on writing, including, “Master the craft, then you’re allowed to try out your art.” […]

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