What’s left on the “cutting” floor ...
My editor, Craig Lancaster, a fellow journalist with eight or nine novels under his belt, recently warned me to avoid the “full-notebook syndrome.” What he was talking about is the tendency for newspaper reporters to approach an assignment with ample enthusiasm, which is good. That enthusiasm often leads them to collect more material than be incorporated in a story. Also good.
Not good, though, is the tendency reporters have — and I stand guilty as accused — of saying, I’ve got all these good stuff. And I put so much time and effort into it that it must see the light of day. Whether or not it pushes the story forward.
Here’s a full-notebook example, a chunk of text that I pulled out of the “Midway Bravery” manuscript. It’s a delightful World War II story that I found in an online newspaper archive, but it really doesn’t have a lot to do with Jim Muri’s life. Here’s the setting: after Jim survives his harrowing flight from Midway and gets back to the mainland, the Army decides his torpedo skills, learned mostly on the job, under enemy fire, need to be shared with other Air Force pilots. So, he is ordered to head to Eglin Air Field in the fall of 1942. He and his young wife, Alice, head to the Florida panhandle where he spends the next 1-1/2 years as head of Eglin’s torpedo training school. That’s the back story for what follows.
Letter-writing was a popular pastime for those in uniform during the war. Jim and Alice wrote regularly and heard often from their families in Montana and California. Other servicemen, however, weren’t so fortunate to have correspondents to send them morale-boosting letters.
Two privates, 1,500 miles from home at Eglin, did something about the mail void in their lives. Frank Petalino and Thomas E. Connolly, both military policemen, wrote a letter to the editor of the News Journal (September 29, 1942), saying they were lonely.
The pair said they had been in the air corps three months and at Eglin for three weeks. They said the officers and enlisted men at the base were the best they had met in their short time in uniform; mail call, however, was an unsatisfactory aspect of their military life.
“We are in the room with ten other fellows who receive very cheering letters from home while we look on longingly,” they said. Please, they asked the paper’s subscribers, write and “make our faces beam at the next mail call.”
The plea worked. Less than two weeks later (October 7, 1943), the News Journal published another letter from the men. They said they were now receiving more mail than the other men combined. In fact, they asked for patience from their new correspondents because they said they were writing reply letters day and night but couldn’t keep up with the volume.
There. It worked. I got that much closer to my goal of a 60,000-word manuscript without sacrificing the integrity of the story.