Harry Gerard "H. G." Bissinger III, also known as Buzz Bissinger, is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, best known for his non-fiction book Friday Night Lights. He is a longtime contributing editor at Vanity Fair magazine and the former host of The Buzz Bissinger Show on CBS Radio's Philadelphia Talk/News station, Talk Radio 1210.
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I am Buzz Bissinger, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of five books, including the New York Times bestseller Friday Night Lights, the classic that inspired the acclaimed movie and television series. I’m celebrating the 25th anniversary of the book with a new edition. Fans will enjoy the afterword in which I return to Texas for updates on your favorite characters like Mike Winchell, Boobie Miles, Brian Chavez, Jerrod McDougal, Ivory Christian, and Don Billingsley.
I’m also a longtime contributing editor for Vanity Fair and my writing has appeared in other outlets such as the New York Times, the New Republic, and the Daily Beast. I teach at the University of Pennsylvania and split my time between Philadelphia and the Pacific Northwest.
I’ll be answering your questions live starting at 2:00pmET.
• Photo proof: http://imgur.com/edxPYVh
• Website: http://www.buzzbissinger.com/
• Purchase on Amazon: [hardcover] (http://www.amazon.com/Friday-Night-Lights-25th-Anniversary/dp/0306824213/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1441807908&sr=1-1) or [paperback] (http://www.amazon.com/Friday-Night-Lights-25th-Anniversary/dp/0306824205/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1441807849&sr=8-2&keywords=friday+night+lights)
Disclaimer: I have someone typing out my responses, so that I can answer more of your questions! The responses being given are 100% my words.
UPDATE: I'm done answering questions now. Thanks for participating.
What was it like to return to Texas and speak with the players 25 years later?
I was actually a little nervous. I didn't know if there would still be a bond between us, or what their reaction would be. But seeing them turned out to be incredibly moving and emotional for me. And we will have a bond for life.
I recently heard you on NPR's Fresh air talking about, among other things, your drag/clothing obsession and sexuality.
I recall you saying a big reason you quit was for your children. Do you still have any desire to revisit that lifestyle again for research and/or personal reasons?
Yeah, I have a desire all the time, and I still wear women's clothing. I don't wear dresses, but I wear lots of leather. It is a part of my life. And it is difficult not to get consumed by it.
As a journalist/writer, did Shattered Glass have a deeper/different resonance with you as you researched it?
This is a great question. You get an "A." I really did detest Steven Glass. He made a mockery out of all the difficult and hard work that journalists do. I wasn't gunning for him in the story. But I also felt no compulsion to be particularly nice.
How did you wind up doing the Caitlyn Jenner piece?
The editors at Vanity Fair approached Caitlyn about ayear ago to see if she wanted to tell her story, because there were so many rumors. She said no at the time. She wasn't ready emotionally. Then, in January, she contacted the magazine and said she was ready. And Graydon Carter picked me because of the common bond of sports. There it went.
Who is your favorite football team?
It's still the Permian Panthers, of course. I love watching those kid splay. They were noble and magnificent. That's why I wanted to update their lives in a new afterword. It's also why the 25th anniversary edition was published. The book has sold 2 million copies, so it isn't about vanity or financial gain. It is about introducing a whole new generation of young readers to the book and the way it captures an essential part of American culture.
Was the concept of 'embedded' journalists really new 10 years ago? Does it continue, and is just accepted now, that's why we don't hear so much concern?
It goes back much further than that. I think it really started or at least was noticed with Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. That was really the first book or the first successful book, to use devices of the novel in a non-fiction book. And he was there from the beginning. He was very clever and took no notes. So some people weren't aware that he was interviewing them. He claimed that he had an audiographic memory, with perfect recall. He went back to his hotel room every night, and had believe it or not Harper Lee transcribe. Those who have seen the excellent film know about that.
What is your favorite sandwich?
I no longer eat bread, but when I did I was a complete sucker for a rare roast beef sandwich on rye, with coleslaw and dripping Russian. This question does not get an "A."
In regard to your book "A Prayer for the City," have you kept in touch with any of the ordinary Philadelphians you profiled for that book?
No, I actually have not. I like keeping in touch with people I write about, but it just fell through the cracks. Plus my favorite character in the book, Fifi, died about a decade ago.
I did keep in touch on and off with the players I wrote about in Friday Night Lights, in particular Brian Chavez and Boobie Miles. But I wanted to reconnect with them, which is also why I wrote such an extensive new afterword for the 25th anniversary edition. It brings a beautiful full circle to the book for new readers and old ones as well, because there is so much new information.
Any profiles that you started and got significantly under way with, that went off the rails or ran out of steam? How did you decide to move on?
On the surface, one of the books I wrote, A Prayer for the City, I spent years with a Philadelphia school teacher but I could not figure out how to fit him into the book without slowing down the narrative. So all of that was thrown out. It's something that all writers hate to do, but really should do more of--which is to cut. I also have worked on profiled for Vanity Fair that just stalled and became a dead end. It obviously is frustrating because you spend a lot of time. But it's better than publishing crap. Occasionally stories I have completely written have gotten rejected by Vanity Fair. But I still have a pretty good batting average.
In general, how much a role does an editor's influence play in the quality of a story? What happens if one was really undermining the quality of a piece?
The editors I've dealt with are thoughtful listeners. They generally go over the edits with you and you do have the choice to say no to certain changes. But I like editing, even if it is sometimes painful, because a good editor always makes a story better.
People getting publicly busted for plagiarism is pretty common. Was that always the case? Is it just easier to detect now, or actually more common?
Another good question. "A-." I think it's easier to plagiarize now because research is made easier by the internet. We also live in a culture today where everyone wants to get attention and be an instant star. Hence plagiarism. Before the recent spate, the biggest case was in the 1980s with Janet Cooke of the Washington Post. She won a Pulitzer for a story that was totally made up.
Is there anything you wish was different about the film adaptation of your novel? How was it to see your novel brought to life?
Seeing the book brought to life on film after 14 years was incredible. I thought it would never be made. The director, Pete Berg, is my cousin. We are very close. So I am obligated to say nice things. But in general, I thought the film was terrific, although the deeper aspects of the book were definitely left out.
Did you play sports yourself as a teenager?
I play football for two years but I was too short, too light, and too slow--and not tough enough. I love sports, so I turned to sports writing instead.
On a more personal note, what are your favorite films?
Bull Durham, American Hustle, Birdman, and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Also L.A. Confidential.
Very much enjoyed your book on La Russa. What are the most surprising couple things you learned while you spent time with the Cardinals?
In terms of strategy, the most surprising thing I learned-and I learned many surprising things--was the system of retaliation when a Cardinal batter got hit. And I also had no idea how much video has become a part of the game--even between innings, as batters studied their previous at bat.
I read that the Texas leg of your book tour was cancelled 25 years ago. Are you looking forward to events there next week? What do you think the reception will be like?
I am looking forward to it. I have been back down to Odessa privately, and people have welcomed me. They should, because the book was true and honest. The book is timeless, because it captures in a way no book ever had the totally of the high school football experience in small town America, both the beauty and excitement of the Friday night lights, and the darkness. Odessa is not unique.
How has the success of Friday Night Lights influenced you and your relationship with the town/story?
My relationship with the town I think has gotten better. I did start all of this. The movie was base don the book to a large degree. And the TV show was inspired by the book. So because of me, Odessa really has become the home of the Friday night lights, which is now a phrase that is used all over the country.
Hey Buzz, huge fan of FNL fan all across the board. It's a great story and anyone from anywhere can relate. Cheers. How was the process going through an article, to a book, to a movie, to a TV show? It's a dream of mine to create a compelling story that has success at all mediums.
I just want to point out there was not an article first. It was just written as a book first. You have to embrace that idea which you love. You need to be willing to pursue it whatever the financial or personal risk. You do have to honestly ask yourself if this is a commercial idea, because we exist in a commercial world. Then you have to execute it and get very, very lucky like I did.
What was it like having a relative of yours adapt FNL to film?
Well the best thing is that he actually returns phone calls. Most directors don't. Directors often don't like authors. Which I understand. Any film is in the hands creatively of a director when you sell a book. They are fundamentally paying you to shut up. So either take the money and shut up, or don't take the money. I like money. Having said all that, Peter was very responsive to things I hoped would be in the movie from the book. Believe it or not, at a certain point they wanted the team to win at the end. It's as if they didn't understand the book at all. And as Pete pointed out, losing is much more interesting than winning could be. Pete was also quite honest about things that would not be in the movie. There was virtually no reference made to racism or to misplaced academics. And the story of Boobie Miles was changed significantly. He did not like the film, because he felt it was not honest to the book. Neither did Brian Chavez or Ivory Christian.
The where-are-they-now update on players is somewhat sobering. What more do you think can be done to protect student athletes and allow them to prosper after high school or college?
Well, I actually believe that they should financially pros=per, I believe that athletes coming out of high school in football and basketball should be free agents. The great ones should go to the highest bidder. They should at a minimum get fully compensated for what they do, particularly since they can get permanently injured and have nothing. The average salary of a college football coach is 2 million dollars a year. They win off the backs of these kids.
I also think that we have to think of sports as a program of intervention to keep kids in school, not a sports program in which academics are seen as a pain-in-the-ass obstacle. Sports done right is one of the greatest learning tools there is.
how do you think you've found the culture of texas high school football to have changed since the early nineties? if at all? the book really points so well to how people's lives are so deeply rooted in football, do you think it's still that way?
I'm no longer an expert, but I do follow it. I believe that in certain places football and basketball are more intense than ever. Kids are being singled out for playing sports as young as 7 to 8 years old. There are AAU coaches in basketball supposedly representing amateurism and teaching young kids who make reportedly half a million dollars a year.
In Texas, the seat of power is now in the suburbs outside of Dallas and Houston. Allen, Texas several years ago built stadium that cost a reported 60 million dollars. Katy, Texas (outside of Houston) is building one that'll cost reportedly 58 million dollars. So the insanity of Texas football is still much too alive and well.
This book and he movie that stemmed from it , I believe , is the perfect representation of the brother hood and camaraderie in high school football. Thank you for that. What's your opinion on the concussion issue?
Well obviously it's a serious issue. It is also an issue that any researcher will tell you needs much more study. But concussions are certainly a part of the game. Better protocols are in place to recognize them and keep players out of games. Every high school that plays football should be required to have a full-time professional trainer on the field. I also recently learned about an incredible new program started by a mother whose son broke his neck playing football. It teaches fellow athletes what to do in case of catastrophic injury. If her son had been lifted the wrong way from the field, he would have severed his spinal cord. One of the players recognized that because they had been trained. It's the same with concussions. But you are never going to get rid of them. Football is inherently violent. That's why we like it, including me. And at this point, parents and players know the risks the are taking by playing the game. And my hope is that better equipment is invented, and I know extensive research is being done.
I loved your book 3 Nights in August. It was such a fascinating look into one series. Any cool side stories to share about your time with TLR that didn't make the book?
I wrote it some time ago, so I'm trying to remember. The think about Tony is that, outside of the game, he's actually warm and fuzzy. He is funny and very kind, and adores and loves animals--and has dedicated his life outside of baseball to rescuing them, raising millions of dollars. We did spend a lot of time together. I figured out one thing pretty quickly: if the Cardinals lost, get the hell out of thre clubhouse. Tony hates to lose, like all great athletes and competitors.
I can tell you that I found Albert Pujlos, who then was in his prime, to be friendly and a fantastic teammate to younger players. That's not always the case with superstars. There was a rookie pitcher named Matt Morris who was pretty damn good, and asked Mark McGuire to have dinner one night. McGuire looked at him and said "Why?" My favorite player on the team is the current manger Mike Matheny. Tough as nails, and a total class act. He came to my defense when the asshole clubhouse attendants of the Yankees tried to kick me out.
Are you working on another book? Any hints? Another sports book?
There are ideas percolating, one of them involving sports and the cultural impact. It is why I did Friday Night Lights--to dig into the soul of a town and the way it can be shaped by sports. So this book would once again be about the culture of sports, which is what fascinates me. The idea has been kicking around in my mind for a couple of months, which is a good sign. What often happens is you have an idea, you get really excited, you call your agent, and she or he says you're out of your mind.