Notes From a Hired Pen

Favorite Stories of 2014

Inspired by Jason Fagone’s list of his favorite stories of 2014, I’m going to share mine. It was quite a year.

6. Hurricane Sandy’s Second Anniversary Has Been Harder Than the First for Philadelphia Magazine. I don’t write about the Jersey Shore as much as I used to, but I did blog about it every week this summer for Philadelphia Magazine. While much of the South Jersey shore has recovered from Sandy, the North Jersey shore still has wide swaths of destruction. It’s a heavy feeling driving up there and seeing so much loss. I tried to capture that in this piece, and why it feels sadder now than it did in the last two years (By the way, if you remember what I wrote right after Sandy: there is currently a carousel on the lawn of Congress Hall. I did a double take when I saw that).

5. “Extra Incentive to Finish the New York City Marathon” for The Philadelphia Inquirer. The first version of this story was a varnished version of what happened during the New York City Marathon. But that first didn’t read quite right, so I went back in and added the segment about what was really wrong with me, and what it did to my race. I think it’s a better piece for it. I was really sick when I wrote this story - to the point that I’m re-reading it now and going “huh I don’t remember writing that.” Maybe that helped.

4. “Time to Fix the Philadelphia Marathon” for The Philadelphia Inquirer. I wasn’t going to write this one. I’ve called for changes to the marathon before, and the result has been zip. I was also very sick at the time this story was researched and written (this was published a week after the story above – I was ill for about three weeks). But after I confirmed that the marathon closed registration early without two of their races selling out, I had to. I would write, then lie on the couch. Make a call, lie on the floor, and turned it in with the note of “I’m very sick – does this make any sense?” I think it was worth it. I went to a runner’s birthday party the weekend this came out, and I was floored by the response. Hopefully it’ll lead to some kind of change (though I’m not holding my breath).

3. “Do Women-Only Races Still Have a Purpose?” for I pitched this story to Runner’s World’s online news site because I didn’t know the answer to that question. Not only did reporting this piece show me a side of running I didn’t know, but it also connected me with Kathrine Switzer, who is one of the warmest people I’ve ever interviewed, and inspiration behind story #5 on this list. She’s pushing me to go run the 261 Marathon in Spain. Maybe next year after the book is out.

2. “Running as Therapy” for The New York Times.  This is an extremely condensed version of Running: A Love Story. I wrote this while I was finishing the proposal, and pieces of this essay appear in there.  It also published right before I met with agents, and I can’t think it did anything but help. Beyond that: the response was overwhelming. I usually avoid comments on my stories, but multiple people told me to look. The emails were touching too. Writing this kind of personal stuff can be unpleasant, but it’s always those pieces that evoke the most response.

1. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” for The Magazine. This story was insane: a Warner Bros.-built abandoned safari park in North Jersey. Not only did I get this assignment almost immediately after pitching it, but I had a wonderful day creeping and then driving around the old site. I will miss The Magazine deeply. Glenn Fleishman let me explore stories that other people might not have assigned me otherwise. And for that I thank him.

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