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Newspaper Days

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H.L. Mencken once called it the "life of kings." And it's just about that. Being a newspaper reporter for 20 years has been one of the best things that ever happened to me. I got into the business because I wanted to write for a living. I stay because I love it.

Over the years, I can't think of any kind of story I haven't written. I even pounded out a few football stories when I worked overtime on Friday nights in Texas, helping to cover the high school games. (One of my proudest moments was when I was recognized to be sufficiently savvy to do the games with stats.)

I've covered cops, education and politics, I've interviewed presidents, writers that I idolize and all sorts of criminals. I drew blood on Henry Cisneros, when the then-mayor of San Antonio played football with us, and helped the oldest living confederate widow adjust her petticoat. In 1996, Baltimore magazine named me The Sun's best writer.

I am working on getting permission from The Sun to reprint articles I have written for the paper during my 12-year career there. While we work out those details, here's a sneak preview:

Crime Stories

"A North Avenue Story," published June 11, 1995

The story of Nathaniel Hurt clearly influenced my third novel, "Butchers Hill." In fact, I was on my way to interview Mr. Hurt when the woman who would become my literary agent first called to review the manuscript I had submitted to her.

Nathaniel Hurt is sweeping his sidewalk on a hot spring morning. Across Homewood Avenue, several vacant rowhouses are boarded up with plywood. On the south side of North Avenue, food wrappers and bits of broken glass are strewn along the sidewalk. By midday, the local open-air drug markets will be open for business, bringing more people, and more trash, to the neighborhood.

But, at least for a moment, this corner, Nathaniel Hurt's corner, is immaculate. Not even a straw, nestled deep in the sidewalk's cracks, escapes his notice. With a few sharp thrusts, Hurt's broom ferrets out the outlaw plastic tube and whisks it into his dustpan. Perfect. Now he can go inside and relax for a few hours, until it's time to put on his suit, head to the courthouse, and attend the hearing on his request for a new murder trial.
©The Baltimore Sun

"The Mystery of Susan Harrison," published Aug. 20, 1995, is perhaps my best-remembered Sun story. In the course of this assignment, I learned much about how the survivors of homicide victims -- as Susan would prove to be, to no one's surprise -- go on with their lives.

At first, those who mourned Susan Hurley Harrison could not bring themselves to say the word without wincing. They had few illusions -- virtually everyone believed Susan was dead, and was convinced of this fact within days of her disappearance on Aug. 6, 1994. But the word itself was so stark and inanimate, so cold and flat.

Body. They were looking for a body.
©The Baltimore Sun

True-life Stories

I often write about small rituals that are important to people's lives. Those include:

"Engagement Ring," Dec. 24, 1999

He's in Lakein's Jewelers on Harford Road when it opens at 9: 30 a.m. on the penultimate day of the Christmas shopping season, so he's not the last-minute, last-minute shopper, just a guy who found out the day before that he has a little more money than he expected at year's end.

He had two choices: A large-screen television or a small diamond.

He's in a jewelry store, not an appliance store, so you know what won. If someone asks to see his large-screen TV in the new year, he'll just point to his girlfriend's finger . . . .

"Make this one lucky, OK, Warren?" the customer asks. As it happens, this is the third engagement ring he has purchased at Lakein's, and he's hoping this marriage works out better than the first two. "Make this one lucky."
©The Baltimore Sun

"Last Day of School," June 14, 2024

George Slade is pretty sure this summer is going to be the best summer of his life, even better than last summer, which is his current best summer. For one thing, he is going to New York City for the first time. His cousins from Colorado are coming. He's going to day camp and, of course, Ocean City. And when he's not going anywhere, he has a baby sitter who comes to the house, which means he can play Freeze Tag and Television Tag and Clue with Nick and Kevin and Corey and Amanda and Stephanie and, every other weekend, Gregory.

Yes, this summer is going to be great -- if only it would start. Because, right now, it is 3:10 p.m. -- 15 minutes to freedom and five minutes to "Doom Day," the moment when report cards are handed out. It is the last day of school at Hickory Elementary in Harford County and the school feels like a large can of wriggling, happy worms. George is the worm with light brown hair and dark brown eyes, sitting at the back of Cindy Stone's fourth-grade class.
©The Baltimore Sun


I have had the good fortune to interview many of my own favorite writers for The Sun. Over time, I hope to post several profiles here, including such mystery writers as George P. Pelecanos, Bob Crais, Walter Mosley and Sue Grafton, and an appreciation of James M. Cain, a former Baltimore Sun reporter.

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