By Joe Livernois

I learned a lot about the art of writing during my years in writing. My teachers were newspaper editors who longed that one day I would deliver a story that wasn’t just gibberish, dead ends and divided infinitives. One of these editors taught me the key to colorful writing, and that’s a tip I often share with young, aspiring writers.

This particular editor, one of many I have worked with in a 30-year career with the Monterey County Herald, has made himself an “editorial coach”. He was a sought-after writing professor with a decent reputation, invited to lecture to students in college journalism programs and to work with young reporters in newsrooms. The Herald was fortunate to have him on their team.

The writing trainer was a proponent of colorful prose for the benefit of newspaper readers weary of the same old who-what-when-where-why approach to reporting. He was a proponent of thoughtful metaphors and clever comparisons that breathe life into non-fiction narratives, like a master blacksmith would use a bellows.

In me, the editor saw the potential to infuse my gibberish dazzling. If only I used more of his colorful writing techniques.

He elevated my writing game one day in February in the early 1980s when he advised me to improve on a particular story I had submitted for his review.

“This story is good as far as she is concerned,” he told me, “but it lacks color. If you are going to write features, you need to inject more color into your writing. Colorful writing helps create a scene in the mind of the average reader. Colorful handwriting brings average stories to life.

The story I submitted that day described a rally behind the 18th green of the Pebble Beach Golf Links during what was then called the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am. Sadly, Bing Crosby had passed away a few years earlier and there were questions about whether this would remain a Crosby family event. There had been speculation that a corporate sponsor would step in to elevate the tournament and that the new sponsor would naturally eliminate much of the amateur realm of “crowd pleasures” – movie stars, athletes, TV personalities. , A-List celebrities – and replace them with America’s favorite corporate CEOs, their cronies and other industry titans.

Anyway, a lot of Bing Crosby’s old buddies were still roaming Pebble Beach in the early 1980s. His widow, Kathryn too. Everyone was supposed to carry on the loud “Clambake” traditions even after Bing left. It was all a little awkward: The grieving widow trying to keep things together around a group of her husband’s old friends, who showed up in anticipation of another sprawling week of drunkenness. Bing would have liked it that way.

I was commissioned to write front page golf tournament articles for the Monterey Daily at the time. They were obligatory stories, not the kind of journalism any normal reader would want to waste their time with, but the editors assigned them anyway because they appease the local chambers of commerce. I was the writer assigned to write these golf tournament stories because I was the only reporter in the Herald – besides the guys in the sports department – who could describe how the putters work.

One day, notebook in hand, I found myself standing in a circle with half a dozen artists my parents had grown up admiring at the time. Bing’s old friends. The drunk excess group.

And that’s my description of that moment in that circle that my writing coach said needed to be improved. More color.

“It says in my story that I approached Tennessee Ernie Ford because he was wearing an old mesh baseball cap that read ‘Party Til You Puke’,” I told my editor, pointing to my copy on his computer screen. “Isn’t that colorful enough?” “

“What color was the hat?” The editor asked.


The hat, he repeated. What color was Tennessee Ernie Ford’s hat?

Yellow, I replied. The color of baby’s vomit.

“Well, there you go,” the writing coach said. “You should say the hat was yellow. “

I still haven’t understood.

“How about that part of the story where Phil Harris appeared out of nowhere and immediately cut off my interview with Ernie Ford in Tennessee with a loud and prolonged slander from Kathryn Crosby, because apparently Phil Harris thought she was a bitch? Except that he used much stronger terminology, with language that I skillfully wrote around but still conveyed his strong feelings about Widow Crosby. All the while, as I describe here, Phil Harris was drunkenly spilling the contents of his cocktail on the grass. Isn’t that colorful enough?

What color was the grass?

“What color was the grass? my editor wanted to know.

“The grass was green, of course,” I replied. “It’s Pebble Beach after all.”

“Well you should add that to the story. Right here where it says Phil Harris spilled his glass on the grass? It must be said that he spilled his glass on the green grass. Do you see the difference ?

“Okay, sure,” I said. “But what about that part of the story, after Pat Boone arrived, where I describe how embarrassed he was to hear such a string of curses coming from Phil Harris?” And how did Pat Boone awkwardly kick the grass with the tips of his shoes? (Sorry, the green the grass!) And how about that part of the story where suddenly, out of nowhere, the Gatlin brothers joined the circle and they too were visibly embarrassed by Phil Harris? And about five minutes after the Harris tirade started, one of the Gatlin brothers noticed Kathryn Crosby approaching the group to deliver boxes of Waterford commemorative crystal vases to tournament participants? And how did everyone start coughing loudly and saying “here she is” quietly until finally Tennessee Ernie Ford stabbed Phil Harris in the ribs and told him to shut up? And then how Phil Harris kissed Kathryn Crosby on the cheek and exclaimed how wonderful it was to see her? Do you mean to tell me it’s not colorful enough? “

The editor / writing trainer looked at me like I hadn’t learned anything. As if he had spoken to a red brick wall. As if I was as dense as a black bowling ball. As if I couldn’t see the emerald forest for the green trees.

“What color were Pat Boone’s shoes?” He asked.

And that’s how I learned to write with more color.


Some notes on the characters mentioned in this essay:

  • If you dig into your grandparents LP collection, you will probably find Christmas albums recorded by each of the artists in the circle behind the 18th green. You shouldn’t listen to these albums, lest your love and admiration for your grandparents wane.
  • Bing crosby was a popular crooner and actor who is one of the very first American multimedia icons. He organized a small golf tournament which paired show biz amateurs with professional gamers in 1937, in Rancho Santa Fe, near San Diego, and the tournament was moved to Pebble Beach several years later. After his death, a suitable corporate sponsor was found, the Crosby name was taken out of the tournament, and most of the top celebrity fans were replaced with your favorite CEOs, their pals, and other industry titans.
  • Tennessee Ernie Ford was a country singer who was known as the “Good child maize master!” “
  • Phil harris was a conductor and comedian, perhaps best known for his dedication to bourbon and for providing vocals for several greats Disney movie characters. His live act also involved the admiration of the Confederation.
  • Pat boone was a popular pop singer in the late 1950s and early 1960s, known for recording sweet covers of iconic rhythm and blues songs.
  • Brother Gatlins region country law still spinning.
  • Catherine crosby was an actress and singer who remarried in 2000. Her second husband, Maurice Sullivan, died in a car accident that seriously injured Kathryn. Despite what Mr. Harris had to say that day, my encounters with Kathryn Crosby were always genuine and pleasant. She is 88 years old.

This story is reprinted from Where the bodies are buried, an online publication that recalls the colorful history of the central coast.

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