Intro from Jay Allison: This piece comes from the Transom Story Workshop Spring 2014. The students came from all over to spend two months with us on Cape Cod. Rob Rosenthal and Audrey Quinn led the class and were joined by all of us at Transom, plus Robert Krulwich, Nancy Updike, and a lot of other great producers who happened by. Check out their work. If these are beginners, look out.
About “Dark Night, Glass Eels”
I got a lot of “NOs” before I met Chuck Martinsen. Poaching was a very hot-button issue at the time I was trying to report the story, and it was difficult to find anyone who would talk to me on the record. When I called, I didn’t expect him to pick up. Chuck sort of threw down the gauntlet. If I wanted the story, I had to come and get it. And I had to go right then. He said if I could meet him in 15 minutes I could go with him to a secret fishway. I had just enough time to grab my muck boots, but not enough time to write questions.
When I made it to the parking lot, boots on, Chuck smiled. I had passed an unspoken test. The interview went fast and furious — and because I hadn’t yet prepped questions, I had to just follow my curiosity. It actually helped to ask the dumb questions — so he could better get to the root of a complex problem. After I gained his trust I was sort of “on call.” I got to go out with him two more times — once on his late night rounds in the height of the eel run/poaching season and once during a dramatic glass eel rescue. Each time I had to be ready to roll or miss the whole thing.
The reporting was so fun and there were so many interesting things to talk about that I thought the story would write itself. It did not. My years as a fiction writer fouled me up good. I found myself wishing I were a stronger radio producer; I felt the story was too important for my novice ability. I had to really mourn the piece I’d fantasized making, and get to work on the piece that I could and had to make. I couldn’t believe all the tape I wasn’t using. The thing that saved me when I got all tied up in facts and long sentences were the feelings I had about the story that I wanted to impart: a little bit of danger, a little bit of magic; dark nights and glass eels. I had no less than 11 drafts — and to be honest, I still think about writing different versions. I grew grey hairs over this damn piece — and nearly didn’t finish it. (Thank you, Rob Rosenthal, for getting me down from the intellectual ledge.) Somewhere along the way I became known as “That Eel Lady.” It’s the best nickname I’ve ever had.
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Kara’s Sonic ID
I could listen to Jenny Bovey talk about fish — live or dead — for the rest of my life. I wish I was related to her so I could sit next her at family gatherings and ask her what scaly this or that she’d come across lately. She’s in love with life and just about shimmers with it — I think you can hear it in her voice.