Friday, January 21, 2011

The Cool Kids

When I was first asked to write The Memphis Flyer's cover story, "20<30" - a look at twenty twenty-somethings who do good work, are artistic, entrepreneurial or just cool, my first thought was, "Why am I not on this list?"

And then I remembered that I'm 40.

40 Years Old
My next thought was, "What did I do in my twenties that might have been noteworthy?" Good question. I got married when I was 23 and moved away briefly. I came back to Memphis and worked for The Commercial Appeal. My first child was born when I was 27 and I bought a business at 28. I'm not sure any of that would have put me on this list.

But this story isn't about me. It's about them. So I settled in for interview after interview after interview. A friend recently read the piece and asked if writing it felt like a marathon. The work was more like a bunch of quick sprints. The length of each little bio - 150-200 words - didn't require an hour of interview, so I found myself trying to find the hook, figure out who these people are, what they do, why they do it and why they love it, in as short a time span as possible.

I wanted to know why Mary Phillips enjoys growing greens in Binghamton, how Sarah Petschonek finds the time to do everything she does, what it is Brad Phelan finds satisfying in the realm of film and video. I thought readers would be curious as to how Kat Gordon got into baking, what Tal Frankfurt did in Israel and Amanda Mauck did in Haiti, and how Shayla Purifoy decompresses after her workday. I wondered what Josh Belenchia's favorite meal consists of.

After the first couple of interviews, I learned what to ask to get them to open up about what I needed to know. They were all great about it and eager, forthcoming and open. I wish I could have taken more time with each and they are certainly deserving of more words.

I love writing profiles of interesting people, and this was rapid fire interviewing and writing.

Earlier this week I interviewed an 82-year-old man (it's not a "1<90" story) who learned to fly airplanes at 17 before he dropped out of high school. He joined the Air Force and went to Korea, then joined the Army to fly helicopters and found himself in Vietnam. After military service, he flew corporate planes and trained others to fly. It's a fascinating story and I get about a thousand more words to use on him. Look for that story soon in The Commercial Appeal.

All of these stories are about passions and what drives the individual to do what they do. Many are just beginning on the adventure while others are winding it down and reminiscing about life. Either way, they're good stories that are fun and enlightening to write. I count myself as lucky to be able to do so.

[The great photos in The Flyer story (including the ridiculous one above) are all by Justin Fox Burks (you can see more from him here and here. I got to watch some of them being taken and it was a blast getting to watch Justin work.]