The story behind a story

Did you ever notice those free community magazines at the entrance to the grocery store? They’re usually in a rack along with auto sale listings, real estate brochures, and other free publications. In Indianapolis, there’s a different one (and sometimes two) for almost every neighborhood. Center Grove, Greenwood, Zionsville, Avon, Carmel, Broad Ripple, etc. The company that publishes all of these in Indianapolis is Townepost Communications. I noticed that they’re expanding into Kentucky, starting with Jeffersontown. (As a native of Louisville, this strikes me as an odd choice. I know I’ve been gone awhile, but J-Town? Isn’t it just a beer stop en route to Taylorsville Lake?)


I never paid much attention to these until I started marketing Thirty-Two Minutes in March. Last fall, I saw the Center Grove version of the magazine and decided to offer a pre-season preview of Center Grove High School basketball. I was willing to do the piece for free in return for a book plug. Since Center Grove is one of the teams I featured, I thought it’d be a good marketing tool to get the book in front of people who were already reading an article about the Trojans.

Townepost ended up assigning the article to me and paid the going rate for the piece. I thought that’d be the end of it, at least until next fall when I can try it again. But since then, they’ve asked me to write one or two articles every month. I’m happy to do it. They’re always short human interest stories (500-700 words) and an easy way to pick up a little extra money. But I never thought I’d be doing this kind of writing.

One story was about a plumber who maintains a vast garden at his home and delivers bouquets to neighbors and customers. During the interview, I found out he started the project (which includes planting 50,000 annuals) after his wife and son were killed in a car crash. After the accident, he threw himself into both gardening and fishing, and we spent over an hour on a rainy spring morning talking. Most of that discussion never made it into the article, but it was time well spent. I got to listen to this older gentleman (he swore me to secrecy regarding his exact age) talk about his passions and how they helped him deal with a horrific loss.

Another article was about a high school girl who is the only person ever to win two Indiana state high school bowling championships. It was once again a long interview for a short story, but I gained insight into the effort and commitment it takes to win consistently, even when the sport doesn’t generate revenue or headlines. And the kid’s humility and good nature reminded me of what I learned while I was writing the book. That kids are kids; goofy, nervous, funny, wise, and annoying within any fifteen minute period, even if they’re accomplished athletes.

Yet another piece was about an adult swim program. During the interview, I found out the coach was from Louisville. We talked about University of Louisville basketball, and how hard it is to get a decent fish sandwich in Indianapolis. Then we compared our hip problems. He’s having a hip replacement at age forty, and we talked about trying to stay active as you age.

When I was covering sports or writing the book, my interviews generally had a very specific purpose, and I was anxious to get the quotes and get out of there. But in this iteration of my writing life, I’m finally starting to appreciate the stories behind stories. Maybe it’s because I have more time available now. Maybe I’ve grown/calmed down as a person. But as much as I appreciate the insights and anecdotes now, I really regret not taking the time to listen a little longer during all those interviews in the past.   

Rothbart_interview (1)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s