Authors offer story-writing techniques

A Eugene-based journalist and a Linfield alumnus shared insights into their recent books during individual author readings at the Nicholson Library.

The James Wallace Chair in Journalism at the University of Oregon, Peter Laufer, discussed concepts in investigative journalism and introduced his non-fiction trilogy during an event March 17.

Laufer’s trilogy explores the concepts of animal use and abuse through stories about butterflies, exotic pets their owners, and cock- fighting.

He answered questions and discussed information gathering techniques about “The Dangerous World of Butterflies,” the first book in his trilogy.

“It’s a book about butterfly collecting — from true crime and poaching to heated debates between butterfly conservationists and butterfly farmers,” Laufer said.

Laufer said that the subject matter of his trilogy, which uncovers uncomfortable material, such as animal abuse, made it difficult to reach sources who weren’t willing to be candid and exposed in an interview setting.

“Part of the art of journalism is to get information,” Laufer said. “It’s almost a process of seduction to get an unwilling source to share information.”

Laufer shared information gathering techniques, such as building trustworthy reputations with sources and asking them questions about themselves.

“I never lie to sources about who I am or how I’ll use the information they give me, but I don’t always reveal it unless I’m asked,” he said.

Laufer also gave the audience insight into his writing process and how he builds a story from an initial idea.

He said that he began writing “The Dangerous World of Butterflies” after being invited to a butterfly reserve in Nicaragua.

“After going to the butterfly reserve and hearing them talk about the poaching that goes on in the butterfly world, I started to realize there was a story,” Laufer said. “So I found problems and then talked to people who were creating and solving those problems.”

Laufer stressed the importance of being curious about the world and constantly asking questions.

“Be careful, because once you’re a journalist, you’ll never stop being a journalist,” he said.

Michael Huntsberger, assistant professor of mass communication, said that he enjoyed hearing about Laufer’s story-building process.

“It’s always a different experience for each journalist,” Huntsberger said. “I like to hear people talk about how they find elements in a story and the research that goes into specific stories. It’s gratifying to hear someone articulate what they do.”

Junior Michael Sanchez said that he was encouraged by Laufer’s work and the exhortation to constantly question things in life.

“[Laufer] reminded us that we should always be curious,” Sanchez said. “It’s part of our job when we want to be a voice for others.”

Laurel Adams, class of ’59, read excerpts from his debut novel “Two Boys” on March 15.

Adams’ novel blends his own life experiences, history and a web of his daydreams into a coming-of-age story about two Oregonian boys during the Great Depression.

During the event, Adams read selected excerpts of the novel, ranging from the characters’ exploration of each other’s religious and cultural backgrounds to sports and hunting segments, to letters back and forth from home to the military front during World War II.

Adams said that McMinnville was the inspiration for the setting and the characters were products of his own life experiences and his imagination.

“I’ve always spent a lot of time dreaming,” Adams said. “Whenever I’m mowing the lawn or raking leaves or loading the dishwasher, my mind is always creating stories.”

Joanna Peterson/Culture editor
Joanna Peterson can be reached at

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.