CARR TRANSITIONS FROM NEWS DIRECTOR TO AUTHOR
They say authors should write what they know, and Forrest Carr certainly knows television news. In a career that spanned 33 years, roughly half of that as a news director, Carr was on the front lines of a number of issues that shaped the medium, for good and bad.
Earlier this year, Carr parted ways with KGUN Channel 9 to take a break from the industry and pursue new endeavors. Specifically, writing. And since Carr knows the nuances of the local newsroom, it made sense that his first foray into fiction would focus on the heyday of local TV news.
"Messages is set in the golden age of television, the early '80s, a time when television anchors and reporters were much more powerful than they are today," Carr said. "You didn't have Internet, cable television, direct satellite. You were getting your local news from the newspaper or one of four local television stations. Those were your choices. This was way before Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas reminded us what appropriate behavior looks like in a work environment. TV newsrooms were freewheeling. It's a bygone era, yet the decisions those people made, the battles they fought and the ethical struggles all set the stage for what television news would become."
Messages uses the TV newsroom to tell a vigilante-based crime story, but the focus is on the media and the ways reporters go about telling the story.
"It focuses on three friends as they set out and embark on a television news crew. In the end they'll risk it all for truth, justice and ratings glory. But before it's all over, one of these three friends will be fighting for his job, another will be fighting for his sanity and the third will be fighting for his very life," Carr said. "I think people will find it entertaining, which is the primary purpose, but in the process they'll get a glimpse of a world they haven't seen before."
Part of that world extends beyond the newsroom, and the community backdrop plays an important role in the story. Carr notes that most media-based stories are set in bustling newsrooms at the national level or in major, high-energy cities like New York and L.A. But much of Carr's experience occurred in markets similar in size to Tucson. Messages is set in 1980s Little Rock, Ark.
"Most Americans don't live in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia. They get their local news from media in small-market stations," Carr said. "Those stories have not been told. The processes at the very heart of our democratic process haven't been told."
Ethics in media also play a big role in Messages.
"I try really hard to be faithful to the environment back then," Carr said. "We fought a lot of ethical and journalistic battles, and some of those battles were lost, by the way. TV has lost some of its soul as a result. There's a key ethical battle in the book that was fought out in newsrooms across the country. In some newsrooms that battle was won, but in most the battles were lost or such a foregone conclusion that you didn't fight them."
Carr says the idea for Messages germinated in 1988, and the story went through countless revisions.
"I had several drafts by the time I left KGUN, and one of the things I had to decide is whether I wanted to update it. And what I decided to do is not update, but send it further back into the heyday," Carr said. "The time is just so relevant in ways that people don't realize because of the battles that were fought. It set the stage for everything that was to come. As I was living through it I thought, 'This is a story that has to be told.' If people only knew. If they read Messages now, they'll know. It's still relevant. You can see the effects in today's news because of some of the battles that were lost."
While serious in tone, Messages has its share of Anchorman moments. "But it's not like Anchorman, which is entertaining but ultimately silly," Carr said. "In my novel it really happened or was incredibly plausible and could have happened. It's a very real fiction of what the environment was really like at the time. They were the kings and queens of their community. They had no competition, and what they did had consequences. They were very powerful. TV station owners did not always realize the power they had in their hands."
Messages is available at amazon.com for Kindle and Kindle reading apps.
Carr released his second book at amazon.com last week, a zombie apocalypse yarn entitled A Journal of the Crazy Year, which has already received positive feedback.
"One of the things that bothers me about most science fiction and horror on screen is that very little attention is paid to science," Carr said. "This is particularly true of zombie stories, which require you to believe in an impossibility, specifically, that dead people can rise from the grave, and so on. So I wondered if it would be possible to write a plausible zombie novel. This novel is meticulously researched. I found that there actually was a disease that caused some of its victims to become violently psychotic. The disease has been largely forgotten, but it claimed 1 million victims, starting in 1916, before mysteriously disappearing. Some of the earliest victims were referred to as the 'living dead.' It really did happen. So my novel postulates that a disease like it, maybe the same one, mutated, or another one along the same lines, more severe than the first, comes along. So most of what I write about is actually possible, although of course not likely."