Rodger Howard: More to the Story

Taylor Harrington 9/15/2021 2:11pm EST

Rodger Howard spent years following such prolific cases as O.J. Simpson as a news photographer and photojournalist in Los Angeles. Having been such an integral part of so many different groundbreaking events, Rodger has since written fOCUS, a novel with fictional characters based on almost 100% true stories of his time in the field. fOCUS is available on Amazon as well as today!

We are here today with talented author and news photographer Rodger Howard. Thank you so much for being here today, Rodger!

Thank you for having me. This is great!

Of course. Can you give us a synopsis on your new novel fOCUS before we get into your backstory?

Sure. fOCUS is a collection of basically true stories that happened to a photojournalist, videographer, with a television station, who shall go nameless. It is mostly true stories written with fictional characters. The concept came from my 30 years as a news photographer. That entire time, I kept a journal of the stories I covered on a daily basis. Talking to family and friends, people would say, “Wow, you know, you have a lot of interesting stories, you should write a book or an autobiography.” I said, “No, nobody knows who I am. Nobody’s going to buy my autobiography.” The only option I could think of was to write those stories as accurately as I could, but to do it in a framework of fictional characters, even though the stories are basically true.

The novel is almost 100% true? That is so incredible! Going into the field of news photography and journalism is an amazing way to collect all of these stories and become such a great storyteller. How do you from separate yourself from the emotions that are going on around you when you’re dealing with all of these intense cases or jobs that you were capturing?

It’s interesting on a lot of levels, because before you get into the news business, obviously you watch the news, and your perception is just that. You know, it’s better than working in an office because you see different things every day. You go to different places and meet different people, but that’s only one dimension. What you witness as a photojournalist is many, many times greater than what goes out on the air. Out on the air it is edited, purified, and cleansed of anything grotesque. Those grotesque things are things that you actually witness (as a photojournalist) and over a period of time, it’s very similar to what I hear about law enforcement. You develop a sick sense of humor and a lack of humanity to some degree. Things don’t affect you as they do other people, and in my case, if someone would ask, “What did you do today?”, I would have to tone it back. Rather than tell them in gruesome detail every aspect of what I’ve done that day, I try to clean it up and try to soften the edges. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of great days where you’d hang out with the Dodgers or the Lakers or take some great trip somewhere, but at the same time, there were a lot of really rough days that you had to absorb.

What is it like to almost have to compartmentalize your life in a sort of way to be able to have true emotions in the other facets of your life that are still going on?

You know, you go into the day expecting just another normal day and the next thing you know, you’re walking around stepping over bullet casings and looking at dead bodies being covered with sheets, and that takes a toll. It does, and like you say, you’ve got to compartmentalize that so that your relationships can stay somewhat normal. Maybe you don’t let people in all the way.

Yeah, maybe that’s why only a certain fragment of people can be so successful in that kind of job, because it’s not built for everybody. Not every human can handle the things that you’re seeing and doing every day. How did you then translate your experiences into your book?

From day one I kept a journal, what they call a day-runner, and I would write down at the end of the day, a little paragraph of the stories that I covered that day. I did that for 30 years and they’re sitting in a box in the garage right now. I would say a big turning point was with social media. If something was particularly exciting or interesting, I would write about it on Facebook and my friends, many of whom I know and many of whom I don’t, would say, “Tell me more, tell me more, I want to know more!” I started to think that I should share these stories with people, but again, I couldn’t see an autobiography, because I’m not a famous person. I just thought the book concept would be better. I just created a couple of characters to weave the stories together and made up a storyline of a relationship with a crazy ex boyfriend and other things to make it interesting. The stories themselves are all true and are told to the main character named Ron. There are also a lot of flashbacks, things that Ron sees that perhaps remind him of something that happened earlier, so there are quite a few stories in there.

What was your process for writing fOCUS?

I made a basic list of which stories I wanted to tell and then I would go back to the journal and find them and put myself in that place and try to feel those same feelings and emotions to see what I saw at the time. I know that the reader, every bit as much as the viewer on television, is not there, so when you tell the story as a news story, your job is to bring the viewer there or as close as possible and relate to them as much as you can about what happened. The same thing holds true for the book, too, to replay in my mind, what was going on. What was I seeing? What was I feeling? I try to put that into words. I was never a great writer in school, I actuallyt hated writing. As an adult, I became an avid reader, so I tried to absorb the styles of authors that I admire, Richard Price for one. I tried to emulate the style, to paint the picture with words as accurately as I could in order to bring the reader with me to that place.

Rodger Howard and Tom Petty, Photo Courtesy of Rodger Howard

Is there a case that stuck with you the most throughout this time that you knew you had to put into the book, even if that meant changing the names of the people involved?

Oh, that’s a hard one, because you’re limiting me to what’s in the book.

Oh, we can step outside of the book!

I spent nine months of my life covering the OJ Simpson trial. I was there every day. In the rain, in the crowds, it was awful. I mean, the overtime was great, don’t get me wrong, but the long hours were horrible and then the climax was historical, of course. I covered a number of earthquakes, but 1994 in particular. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Los Angeles at all, but I live in the northern part of LA County. I was on the early morning shift, so I was on my way to work at 4:00 in the morning and had just arrived at the station and pulled into the parking lot when the building started to shake. Of course we went out and spent the next three days working, but my point is, on my commute to work, I went under a bridge that I would go under every single day, and about 10 minutes later that bridge collapsed. So the the natural question was “Did you write about these experiences in the book?” No, I didn’t. I didn’t write about the earthquakes. I didn’t write about the riots, which I spent the majority of that time in the helicopter over the city on fire, and I didn’t write about OJ, because so much has been written about those. Films have been made, you know? A mini series about OJ. Everybody knows about OJ, so my experience would pale with all the other information that’s out there about that story and those other stories. I pretty much stayed with stories that had a more of a local angle, but at the same time, affected my worldview.

How can people find fOCUS?

It’s available on Amazon and I’ve been asking about when the paperback will be coming out, hopefully soon. Right now it’s just a hardcover, but it’s out there and you can find it.

Amazing! So it’s author Rodger Howard, and his novel is fOCUS. His own story is amazing, but the stories that he’s put into this book are something that we all need to check out and dive into. There are so many different levels of humanity all intertwining and everything you do is connected to another piece of the puzzle.

Yeah, my advice to people is no matter what you do, I mean, I was a news photographer, yeah, great job, pretty exciting. but no matter what you do, people have stories. When you go to a party, people always have something to talk about, something interesting happened to them. So when you meet someone with an interesting story, write it down, and then at some point, maybe write it into a novel. Everybody’s got life adventures that are unique to them and sometimes those stories become interesting to other people. You have something to work with if you’ve kept notes along the way.

Absolutely. So just start taking notes and writing things down because there’s always more to the story. Thank you so much, Rodger, for joining us today and sharing your story with us!

Originally from Edison, New Jersey, Taylor won the 2005 “Middlesex County Caring Award”, and hasn’t stopped caring since. When she is not writing or hosting More to the Story, Taylor can be found chasing her two mutts around Athens, Ohio where she currently resides with her husband. Moving to Appalachia has made a huge impact on her life, and she can’t wait to share some of her stories, laughs, and (mis)adventures with you!

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