Eddie Dean on Writing for Talk
Proverbial Local Boy Made Good Plans to Keep Day Job in Washington.
august 13, 1999 11:51 am
It's time to play the exciting game, "Who doesn't belong?"
Here's the list: Martin Amis, George Plimpton, Paul Theroux, George Stephanopolous, Tina Brown, Eddie Dean.
If you said Eddie Dean, you lost! (Correct answer: Plimpton.)
A staff writer at Washington City Paper since 1994, Dean was tucked in next to the heavy hitters on the masthead of Talk magazine when he penned a piece about a trailer park that was published in that periodical's relentlessly hyped inaugural issue. After signing a five-article deal with Talk Editor Tina Brown, Dean's pieces will appear bi-monthly under the heading "Dial America."
Dean made his initial connection with Talk at the AAN convention in 1998 when he was introduced to former New York Press Managing Editor Sam Sifton. "Sam and I hit it off and we agreed that I should do some pieces for NY Press ... We wanted to have a series of dispatches from the Other Washington, with a title like the Hank Williams song 'Pictures From Life's Other Side.'
"Then Sam was hired by Tina Brown [as Talk's senior editor and writer]; he said send up some clips and then they assigned me the trailer park story. From the start we were interested in capturing the spirit of a place -- not some genre piece. Since I had already lived there, I knew there was a story down in Paradise Estates."
Dean is hardly the token alt-writer at Talk. "Eddie's hire had nothing to do with his so-called 'alternative' credentials. Eddie is a terrific journalist, a first-rate stylist, and he deserves a wider audience," said Sifton. "And when he got the call from Tina Brown asking him how he'd like to write for an audience of 500,000, well..."
The spirit Dean captures in his first Talk article is certainly not of the new age variety. A veteran of small Vriginia dailies, Dean went to work for Washington City Paper in 1994. "Although I learned invaluable reporting skills at small newspapers in Virginia, I felt stifled filing news reports on school boards and county supervisors meetings. I wanted to write about all the other stuff going on. I wanted to write stories that I didn't see published anywhere else. It was at Washington City Paper where I was given the freedom to write about the things that interested me, cockfighting and dunk-tank clowns and lost highways."
"We call what Eddie does 'banjo music,' "said Carr, who is clearly a fan. "He manages to traverse Southern/mountain cultures and engage obsessives because he is what he writes about. At his best, he produces low-to-the-ground gothics, full of horror and laughter and regular people doing irregular things... High, low, Eddie does it all and does it nicely. He is a cheesy, archaic writer, and yet there is something musical in how he wrestles a cliche to the ground. The guy can write, not because he uses a different set of words, but because he uses them differently. "
Dean acknowledged his debt to the alternative weekly. "It was at City Paper where I learned how to craft a story. My editors Jack Shafer and David Carr have been the best sort of writer's editors you could have. They inspire you to write better, to find new ways to weave a narrative. And that's the same for Sifton as well. They are all interested in helping the writer tell the story -- to make every word count, and to keep the reader in mind: To respect the reader, cause that's your boon companion, otherwise you're just talking to yourself. So I've been lucky as hell to have these editors help me along. In my work for Talk, I'm looking forward to reaching a larger audience and being able to roam far and wide in search of more stories. "
Dean found drama (or it found him) recently when he went to New York for the magazine's launch party. "Unable to get a copy of Talk in New York [because the event organizers had given all available copies to advertisers and other luminaries], I arrived back in D.C. and rented a car to head to North Carolina for vacation. Before leaving I tried to hunt down copies, no luck until finally finding a vendor near the Tower Records at George Washington University who saved me three copies. While I was borrowing money from my wife who works nearby (I had overextended my checking account in New York), someone broke into my rental car and swiped my suitcase and new cell phone - along with a $45 C&W shirt I had bought in the Village and wore at the Talk party.
The thief left a (decoy?) backpack in my car that contained petition papers for candidacy for mayor of Baltimore. I plan to call the names listed to see if they too got ripped off. I also lost a few Mekons and David Koresh CDs that were in the suitcase."
(Decoy backpacks? Election signature petitions for Baltimore? David Koresh records? Do things like this happen to ordinary people? Then again, who else in the business is hailed by his boss as the chronicler of "the dance of the low sloping foreheads"?)
Dean will keep his D.C. job. "I was a fan of City Paper ever since the early '80s while a student in Charlottesville, Va. We would always pick it up when we went to the 9:30 Club to see Flipper, the Fall, the Minutemen and all those oldies bands. So I had always wanted to write for City Paper, and will continue doing so."