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Contributor Archives: Tommy Tomlinson

Liner Notes: The intersection of “Breaking Bad,” Marty Robbins and “El Paso”

In the first scene of the last episode of “Breaking Bad,” Walter White opens the glove box of a car he’s trying to steal and the case to a Marty Robbins cassette falls out. At the end of the scene, as he starts the car, the stereo starts playing Robbins’ 1959 classic “El Paso.” Later [...]

Liner notes: foreshadowing, detail, flashback and story hook with the late great George Jones

Sometimes, when I get stuck for ideas, I imagine some of my favorite songs as real-life narratives. What if you could find a real story as good as the song playing in your head? I’ve been thinking about that a lot since the death of the great George Jones. Jones belongs on the Mount Rushmore [...]

Everything you need to know about storytelling, in 5 minutes

I spoke to the Public Relations Society of America’s Charlotte chapter on Wednesday. They’re a good group. Sometimes I speak off the top of my head at this sort of thing, but this time I actually wrote out some thoughts, so I thought I’d post them in the spirit of Austin Kleon’s “show your work” idea. If you [...]

Liner notes: Storytelling with Gordon Lightfoot (yep, that’s right)

Sometimes short nonfiction pays. Today we’re going to talk about a (mostly) nonfiction narrative of 457 words that made it to No. 2 on the pop charts. In 1975, a freighter named the Edmund Fitzgerald sank in a brutal storm on Lake Superior. All 29 crew members died. It was a major news story, especially [...]

Liner Notes: The Venn diagram of hip-hop, country & narrative

Songs speak not just to us but also to one another, crossing years and miles and even genres. One of last year’s best hip-hop singles, written by a rapper from Compton, Calif., has an echo in a 14-year-old alt-country track written by a woman from New Orleans. Both are masterful short stories about the power [...]

The essence of story, in a 358-word song

When I was little, my mama worked the early shift at the seafood plant. She’d drop me off at my Aunt Janice’s house before dawn and they’d lay me down on a pallet in the living room. Country music played low on the stereo. I knew Charley Pride and Loretta Lynn before I knew words. [...]

“Why’s this so good?” No. 26: Moehringer KO’s a mystery

The hell with my lede. Let’s start with his: I’m sitting in a hotel room in Columbus, Ohio, waiting for a call from a man who doesn’t trust me, hoping he’ll have answers about a man I don’t trust, which may clear the name of a man no one gives a damn about. That’s how [...]

Tommy Tomlinson: making words work for a living

A few years ago an intern did a study of the writing that showed up in our newspaper. He ran our stories through a computer program that measured the reading level you would need to understand each piece. It turned out that my stories were written at a fifth-grade level. If I remember right, I [...]