Saturday, December 31, 2011

My top 10 stories of 2011

I did some interesting nonfiction writing in 2011, but also found the opportunities for a free-lancer to be teasingly ephemeral like a batch of bright fake flowers appearing from a magician’s sleeve then as quickly evaporating. Here are my highlights from the year:

10. I’ve been penning a The Dallas Morning News column about the film industry for the past six years and previously wrote similar columns for the Austin American-Statesman and The Austin Chronicle dating back to 2000. It was a long run, but I decided to stop with my December column. I need to focus my energies elsewhere, in particular on my fiction writing.

9. Writing about writing was a hallmark of the year. My long interview with Tom Grimes appeared in The Writer's Chronicle, the magazine of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), and I got to talk to some writers I admire a lot, including A.G. Mojtabai.

8. The Austin Chronicle was kind enough to ask me to do some pretty extensive coverage during this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival. And, yes, I got to meet both Pee Wee Herman and Elmo!

7. I've been reporting on the Texas Film Hall of Fame festivities for The Dallas Morning News for years, but I know you'd really rather see the photos.

6. Austrian filmmaker Barbara Eder told me about how her dangerous experience as a foreign exchange student led to the film Inside America.

5. I've tended to do more book interviews than reviews, but I somehow managed to transform myself into the Austin American-Statesman's go-to reviewer of Texas fiction. At least until the bottom dropped out and the paper pretty much stopped generating its own reviews and replaced them with wire service reviews. And then the editor changed (see my note above). Ouch! My favorite book to review? Mat Johnson's Pym.

4. Actor Paul Giamatti is a cool guy, but interviewing Win Win director Tom McCarthy along with Giamatti was a double treat.

3. My wife Tiffany is a big fan of the TV show The Waltons, so I planned a surprise trip to Schuyler, Virginia, the home of the very autobiographical story’s author, Earl Hamner. The Dallas Morning News asked me to write this piece about the small town intrigue surrounding the show's local roots and also ran a lot of my photos.

2. I’ve been blogging at The Austin Chronicle about the Texas Longhorns football team for a few years now. I shared the chore this year and tried to advise my counterpart to write as if no one is reading, to play with the form, to never ever make it boring. My favorite sports piece this year actually had a point to make about coaches training their defensive players to lead with their helmets.

1. The writing I’m most proud of from this past year wasn’t officially published anywhere, and it wasn’t necessarily my best work. It was instead personal and it had to do with loss. Jacob Payne lived much of his life in a wheelchair and had many lessons to offer all of us about living fully. I have now written obituaries for both of my parents and my brother Casey, who died in an accident on Halloween. I’m still processing it all, Last night I dreamed I was dreaming about my mother and Casey. No doubt Casey enjoyed the trick of visiting me in that complicated fashion. Casey’s friend, the singer/songwriter Bob Livingston, said Casey’s death is a reminder to all of us to hold tight to this “sweet, sweet life.” I couldn’t say it better.

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