CONFESSIONS OF A TABLOID WRITER WHO DOVE INTO THE CESSPOOL OF HIS OWN MIND AND CAME UP WITH INCREDIBLE TABLOID STORIES
“Some people aspire to greatness. A combination of bad parenting and coming of age in Baltimore, Maryland, at the same time as John Waters pushed me in a different direction,” writes Tom D’Antoni. After fifteen years as a journalist and broadcaster–fifteen years of going after sources and double- and triple-checking facts–D’Antoni was seduced by the dark side: a national supermarket tabloid. When he realized he could entirely make up stories and then quote people he’d just invented–and get paid (poorly) for it–he was hooked.
In Rabid Nun Infects Entire Convent, D’Antoni resurrects his favorite stories and reveals the (often sick) thoughts that inspired them. From the mild “Newborn Baby Sings Like Elvis” and “Denture Bandit Steals False Teeth from the Mouths of Victims” to the truly twisted, such as “Grandma Turns Pet Dog Inside Out Looking for Lost Lottery Ticket,” “Bag Lady’s B.O. Kills Five People on Bus,” and “Cult Uses Human Heads for Bowling Balls,” they all came straight from D’Antoni’s imagination.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
A Conversation with Tom D’Antoni, Author of RABID NUN INFECTS ENTIRE CONVENT: And Other Sensational Stories from a Tabloid Writer
Out of all the outlandish pieces you wrote for The Sun, which ones are your most/least favorite and why? Favorite is a tricky word. There are stories I am most proud of and least proud of at the same time. Proud of my imagination and horrified that something like that could come out of my head. The title tune from the book, “Rabid Nun” could be my favorite, but that may be only because it gets the biggest laughs. I like the “easy listening” one-liners that still make me laugh, like “Woman Gets Pregnant, Has Baby Same Day.” First of all it hits you funny and then you think about what the hell could have caused that. There are other stories that still make me cringe and continue to wonder how they could have come out of me. “Cult Uses Human Heads As Bowling Balls” is one. When I was re-writing my original stories for the book, I had to stop in the middle because I was beginning to feel the same dread, the same standing-up of the hairs on the back of my neck as the story hit me again. Of course, I finished re-writing it. It was too scary/funny/sickening/hilarious not to. When Oprah interviewed me, she asked me what my most horrifying story was. I told her “Rabid Nun.” I couldn’t tell her the real story, it was too shocking. It’s in the book.
In what ways were the tabloid stories you fabricated harder or easier to write than the pieces you did as a journalist and broadcaster before The Sun? They were much easier. I mean, I didn’t have to check facts, get quotes right, worry about somebody suing if I messed up. People can’t sue you if you make them up. It was heaven to put words in the mouths of your “sources.” But let’s not confuse the fiction I wrote with journalism. It had the form of journalism but it was all made up. Now that I think about it, that kind of thing is not unusual. Isn’t that what Bill O’Reilly does?
Where did you find your inspiration for most of your stories? My greatest inspiration was my birthplace, the city of Baltimore, Maryland, where I was a contemporary of John Waters. It is a place of great and depressing surrealism. I wrote one of the first reviews of “Pink Flamingos” and said that I thought it was funny but that since I knew a lot of the people in it, I wasn’t really that surprised in their actions….except for the dog-doo on the sidewalk, I guess. I had been inspired by a magazine called The Realist, by Mad Magazine, Hunter Thompson, Ernie Kovacs, and of course the supermarket tabs, themselves. I was thrilled to learn that my editor had been the editor of Midnight. It was something that spurred me to even greater grossness. Are you my therapist? How did writing these sensational tabloid stories change the way you view journalism as a whole? Do you find yourself more sympathetic to the light-hearted journalist? Well, most of these stories are anything but light-hearted. Ok, “Clown Ghosts Save Dying Boy” and “Villagers at Shrine Worship Statue of Elvis” were. In that one, a tribe of South American Indians were found dancing around a nude statue of Elvis and chanting what sounded like “Viva Las Vegas.” Journalism likes to wrap itself in the Ed Murrow mantle, but in reality the history of journalism is sleazy, manipulative and based on selling newspapers or ratings…period. When the movie “Network” came out, I was working in commercial TV as a story producer/reporter. I told people outside the business that this wasn’t much of an exaggeration and that TV people were really like that and that TV would get much worse in the years to come. I have been proven right.
Why do you think people are fascinated by tabloid headlines and still read them and believe them after writers have admitted to fabricating the stories? Why do you think people slow down and watch auto accidents? Why do people still watch professional wrestling years after what was left of any shred of credibility? Don’t you hate people who answer a question with another question? They read them for the same reason they read or watch anything, to be entertained, tickled, horrified…to be made to feel something. Secretly, I think they want to believe this stuff. It would be a better world if “Your Dog Can Smell Like a Pizza” were true, wouldn’t it?
What do you think to yourself when you see tabloids on the shelf while waiting in line at the grocery store? Do you ever find yourself reading the headlines? Yes, I always read the headlines. When I read a good one, first I get mad because I didn’t write it. Then I start feeling sorry for the poor guy who wrote it because I understand what it takes to make these things up. There seems to be a trend away from the gruesome stories. It things had been going in that direction when I was writing I might have kept at it. No I wouldn’t have. I’m pretty happy to have done it and be done with it. Of course, for the right money…