Saturday, March 1, 2008

"All praise in varying degrees from high to extra high"

I know Scott posted a link to W.C. Heinz's obit earlier this week, but since Heinz is all I've ever wanted to be as a writer, I thought we could use a little more.

If you love sports writing or war writing or medical writing or narrative writing or just damn good writing, you owe it to yourself to read W.C. Heinz. He covered crime for the New York Sun, then the European theater in World War II at age 29, where he found the voice that anchored his copy for the next five decades.

He wrote a daily sports column, then moved on to magazine features. He wrote "Run to Daylight" -- then the best-selling sports book of all time about Vince Lombardi -- and co-wrote M*A*S*H. He was the only writer to whom Elmore Leonard ever sent a fan letter and the only writer featured three times in the anthology, "Best American Sports Writing of the 20th Century."

He pioneered many of the non-fiction techniques we pull out for best pieces: dialogue, well-drawn scenes and a strong, if understated narrative voice.

Just look at this, from a 1949 column, The Fighter's Wife:

When they came to the corner they stopped for just a moment under the streetlight. Then the turned left and started walking again.

"Who said being a fighter's wife is easy?" Lucille said.

"It's like being in the ring," Norma said.

"She fights right in the ring with him every fight," her mother said, talking to Lucille.

"That's the trouble," Norma said. "You can't get in the ring with him."

"What could you do?" her mother said.

"Well," she said, "if they put Fusari's wife in the ring."

"He just said Fusari's in trouble," Lucille said quickly.

"You heard it?" Norma said.


"I don't know," Norma said. "It's too much."

That's the funny thing," Lucille said. "Everybody seems to wait for tonight but you."

"I wait for the night after tonight."

It's like building a stone wall without mortar," he said of writing in 2000. "You place the words one at a time, fit them, take them apart and refit them until they're balanced and solid."