Episode 106: Kathryn Miles

Kathryn Miles is the author of “Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders.” The book, published by Algonquin Books, officially goes on sale on May 3. 

“Trailed” is about the 1996 murders of Lolly Winans and Julie Williams. The two young women had entered Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to go on a week-long backcountry camping trip. When they didn’t return, park rangers began searching and found a scene of horror at the women’s campsite. 

The murders were never solved. Then, in 2016, on the 20th anniversary of the case, the FBI announced they wanted to reinvestigate. That’s when Miles thought she had a magazine story on her hands. 

“As soon as I started working with the FBI on this case, as soon as I was able to access some of the case files from the court case, it was very obvious to me that this case was much more complicated,” Miles said. “That’s when I realized that we weren’t talking about a 5,000-word piece here. We were talking about a 100,000-word piece.”

This is the second time Miles has been on the podcast. She was a guest on Episode 46 in September 2016, discussing her Boston Globe story about a woman got lost and died while hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Miles is the author of five books, including “Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake” and “Super Storm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy.”

Her essays and articles have appeared in Outside, the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, Politico, Boston Magazine, and more. She’s been anthologized by “Best American Essays” and “Best American Sports Writing.” 

Episode 105: Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter who covers health and science for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is also the author of “Though the Earth Gives Way: A Novel.” That book was  published in January by Bancroft Press.

The book is an end-of-days look at a small group of people as climate change has wrecked the planet. 

Host Matt Tullis wanted to talk with Johnson about the book, as well as how his journalism career has helped or hindered his ability to write fiction. 

Johnson was part of the Pulitzer Prize winning team in 2011 for a series on the groundbreaking use of genetic technology to save a 4-year-old boy. That series was later turned into the book, “One in a Billion: The Story of Nic Volker and the Dawn of Genomic Medicine.” He wrote that book with Kathleen Gallagher. 

Johnson, a Pulitzer finalist three times, continues to write about health and science in Milwaukee. 

Episode 104: Mike Sielski

Mike Sielski is the author of “The Rise: Kobe Bryant and the Pursuit of Immortality.”  Sielski, a sports columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, wanted to tell the basketball superstar’s origin story after Bryant died in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020. That’s a story that takes place mostly in Philadelphia.

Sielski interviewed more than 100 people for the book. He was also assisted by long-time friend Jeremy Treatman, who had been an assistant coach and confidant of Bryant’s back in Kobe’s high school days. At one point, Treatman and Bryant were working on a memoir focused on Kobe’s rookie season in the NBA. As a result, Treatman recorded interviews with Bryant on microcassettes during his senior year.

The book never happened, and then Treatman lost the cassettes. He found them just before Christmas in 2020, just three months before Sielski’s book was due to his publisher.  Hearing Kobe’s voice as a teenager helped Sielski get more depth and details that he wouldn’t have had otherwise, strengthening the narrative of the book. 

“The Rise” is Sielski’s third book. In 2005, he co-wrote “How to Be Like Jackie Robinson” with Pat Williams. His second book, “Fading Echoes: A True Story of Rivalry and Brotherhood From the Football Field to Fields of Honor” was published in 2009.

Sielski is the host of the podcast “I Am Kobe,” which also looks at Bryant’s younger life.

Sielski was voted Best Sports Columnist by the Associated Press Sports Editors in 2015. In 2010, his story “Dream Derailed” was included in “Best American Sports Writing.”

Episode 103: Chris Jones

Chris Jones is the author “The Eye Test: A Case for Human Creativity in the Age of Analytics.” Jones describes the book as the distillation of everything he has learned from creative people over his journalism career. He says he’s trying to make the case that analytics are useful, but they have their limitations.

“The Eye Test” digs into seven different areas where there are a lot of analytical inputs, but stories of those analytics coming up short. Those chapters include Entertainment, Sports, Weather, Politics, Crime, Money, and Medicine. 

This is Jones’s third book. His most recent book was “Too Far from Home,” which was retitled “Out of Orbit” in paperback. It first came out in 2007.

Jones has been on the podcast twice before. He was featured on Episode 17 in January of 2014. At the time, we talked about his Kenneth Feinberg profile that ran in Esquire, as well as his 50th anniversary story on the JFK assassination.

In April of 2020, when the pandemic was just getting started, Episode 82 included an interview with Jones focused on the different types of writing he had been doing since leaving Esquire, including screenwriting. 

Jones was a longtime reporter for Esquire, where he won a National Magazine Award twice, including in 2009 for “The Things That Carried Him.” He was a writer and producer on the Netflix series “Away.” He has written for The New York Times, ESPN: The Magazine, and many other publications. 

Episode 102: Chip Scanlan

Chip Scanlan is an award-winning former journalist who has authored or edited a dozen books. His newest book is “Writers on Writing: Inside the Lives of 55 Distinguished Writers and Editors.” 

Each writer or editor included in the book  was asked the same four questions. The answers to those questions are enlightening to read. 

Included in the book are Susan Orlean, Dan Barry, Jan Winburn, David Finkel, Roy Peter Clark, and so many more. The book also includes ten writers who have been on this podcast; Lane DeGregory, John Branch, Kim Cross, Glenn Stout, Kelley Benham French, John Woodrow Cox, Ben Montgomery, Brendan O’Meara, Bronwen Dickey, and podcast host Matt Tullis.

It’s not just journalists featured in the book though. Scanlan included poets and fiction writers. He’s covered the entire realm of writing. The end result? Narrative journalists aren’t so different from poets after all. Ultimately, we’re all just writers.

Scanlan has written two journalism textbooks. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, and many other places. Two of his essays have been listed as “Notables” in Best American Essays. 

He publishes the newsletter and blog “Chip’s Writing Lessons” and is a regular contributor to Nieman Storyboard. He formerly directed the writing program and the National Writer’s Workshops at The Poynter Institute.

Scanlan wrote a piece for Poynter on how his new book was published. And Jacqui Banaszynski (also included in the book) wrote a piece for Nieman Storyboard about the book’s publication.

Episode 101: Jim Sheeler

Jim Sheeler won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2006 for his story “Final Salute,” which ran in the Rocky Mountain News. The piece focused on Marine Major Steve Beck, who notified families when their loved ones were killed in Iraq and helped them through the mourning process. The story ended up being more than just about Beck, though, as it brought memories of the lives of the dead service members and their families to millions of people. 

The story was expanded into the book “Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives.” That book was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2008. Sheeler made a name for himself as a reporter by writing feature obituaries about ordinary, everyday people. A collection of those stories can be found in Sheeler’s book “Obit: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Led Extraordinary Lives.”

Sheeler never appeared on Gangrey: The Podcast, although many reporters talked about how they learned lessons from him and his work. He died unexpectedly on September 17. He was 53 years old. 

This episode remembers Sheeler through stories from a variety of people who knew him. 

Included in this episode:

In the introduction, Josh Roiland, an English and journalism professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington tells Matt Tullis about how Sheeler helped him out a couple years ago when he was struggling.

Part 1: In October 2019, Tullis interviewed Sheeler for a writing project he was working on. Tullis recorded that interview and found the audio file after Sheeler died. It’s presented here. 

Part 2: In the days after Sheeler died, Ben Montgomery tweeted a story he’s heard Sheeler tell about his middle name – Expedite. Montgomery tells that story.

Part 3: Steve Knopper, a freelance writer of 25 years, worked with Sheeler in Boulder, Colorado, in the early 1990s. He also tweeted a remembrance, and tells the story of how he and Sheeler stumbled out of a bar one night at 1 a.m. and found adults riding Big Wheels. They wrote a story.

Part 4: Anne Nickoloff and Mike McKenna were students of Sheeler’s at Case Western Reserve University from 2012-16, and stayed in touch with him afterward. Nickoloff is now a reporter at Cleveland.com and the Plain Dealer. McKenna is a fourth-year graduate student in clinical psychology at Ohio State. They tell us what it was like to have Sheeler as a professor.

Part 5: Jim Tankersley is a White House correspondent for the New York Times focusing on economics. Back in the early 2000s, he worked with Sheeler at the Rocky Mountain News. They became friends and stayed in touch. Then, in August, Tankersley was named the pool reporter who had to follow President Biden to the Dover Air Force Base to receive the bodies of 13 service members, the last to die in Afghanistan. He reached out to Sheeler for help with that article. 

Episode 100: Allison Glock

Allison Glock is the type of writer who succeeds in a variety of genres. She writes young adult fiction. She’s an executive producer for the NBC series “The Blacklist.” She’s written for the New Yorker and Garden & Gun magazine. She’s written poetry, and produces short documentary films.

In this episode, we start off by talking about an essay she wrote for espnW at the end of 2020. The essay, “Walk, run, or wheelbarrow: We moved our bodies forward during the pandemic,” is about how we dealt with COVID in the days when we were locked down.

That essay leads off the new sports anthology series “The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2021.” That’s a new series started by Glenn Stout. The series, published by Triumph Books, continues the tradition carried on by “Best American Sports Writing,” which ended its run in 2020. Stout talks about the new series at the end of this episode.

Glock got her start doing longform narrative for magazines, but has transitioned to film and TV out of economic necessity. She’s doing amazing work there, including her work on The Blacklist, and videos made by her production company, Holler Beach Productions. One of the videos produced was about southern women.

Episode 99: Marissa R. Moss

Marissa R. Moss is a freelancer who writes about musicians for Rolling Stone, Billboard, American Songwriter, and more. In August, she profiled country music superstar Sturgill Simpson for Rolling Stone

Moss has been writing about music for years. She writes a lot about country musicians, partially because she lives in Nashville. But also because she loves the storytelling aspect of it. 

Moss has written about Kacey Musgraves, Jason Isbell, Tanya Tucker, Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, and more. She was given the Best Music Reporter award by Nashville Scene in 2019.

Now she is putting the finishing touches on her first book. “Her Country: How the Women of Country Music Became the Success They Were Never Supposed To Be” will be published by Henry Holt and Company. It goes on sale in May 2022.

Episode 98: Kent Babb

Kent Babb is a sports feature writer for the Washington Post. He writes about the NFL, college sports, the NBA, and the intersections of sports with social, cultural, and political issues.

We talked about his new book, Across the River: Life, Death, and Football in an American City. It was published by HarperOne in August. 

Across the River is a riveting look at a high school football team in a part of New Orleans few of us ever hear about. It’s a team made up of players and coaches who have to deal with shootings and murder on a regular basis.

Babb is also one of the writers included in The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2021. That’s the new anthology created by Glenn Stout. The book goes on sale October 5. 

Babb’s story ran in the Washington Post, and is about Anthony Giuliani, Rudy’s son, and his questionable job at the White House. 

Episode 97: Jason Fagone

Jason Fagone is a narrative writer for the San Francisco Chronicle who focuses on in-depth stories and investigations. His most recent piece is headlined “The Jessica Simulation.” It’s about a man who used a website that created chatbots to bring his dead girlfriend, or memories of her, back to life. 

“Joshua was able to use this website project assembler to create a custom chat bot simulation of his dead girlfriend Jessica, and he began to talk, have these very long, intense emotional conversations with this simulation of Jessica and then things go very weird,” he said.

Fagone joined the Chronicle in the fall of 2017 after a solid career of freelancing and book writing. He has been on the podcast before. Fagone was the guest on Episode 9 back in September 2013. At the time, we talked about some of his work in Philadelphia magazine, including a story about a cancer researcher who had a breakthrough discovery. We also talked about his book “Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive America.”

Since that episode, Fagone has written two more books, giving him three in all. That includes “The Woman Who Smashed Codes,” which was released in 2017. Fagone has written for The New York Times Magazine, Wired, GQ, Huffington Post, and Mother Jones, among many other publications.