The Rip Post                                          Reviews 


                                   THE LAST BYLINE

Looking for a “good read” as you curl up next to the fireplace, with a fine glass of Merlot and a “croissant avec fromage,” expecting to remember the repast more than the read? Then this is not the book for you. You will remember neither the wine, nor the hors d’oeuvre, after slipping into this mesmerizing work. However, if you are looking for a novel that evolves from a love of humanity, its past, present, and future, then look no further. The Last Byline, by Rip Rense, is a work founded on the changes in the media of America’s newspapers, but it is far more than an examination of the promise and disappointment of the Fourth Estate. Within its pages are to be found a cast of characters who breathe and move with such passion that one can only find comparisons in the writings of John Steinbeck. However, Rense adds a dimension that permeates his work: a landscape of the heart, not Steinbeckian geography, which frames the characters who touch our emotions and our lives to such a degree that they transform from fiction to flesh. This is a work not to be missed. For those who hesitate, Dante, had he lived, would surely have designed a circle for them, sans Merlot, sans croissant, sans - - everything.

---Gary L. Coffman
Retired Educator, Political/Social Commentator

Full reviews:
A RIPPING GOOD YARN, by Roy Ringer  (veteran of the original L.A. Daily News.)

The following comments were offered without the inducement of drugs, money, chocolate, or sexual favors:

   "Maybe the last of the real newspaper novels. The best I know of since William Kennedy's 'The Ink Truck.' It's like 'Lou Grant' on steroids. You ought to do a screenplay. It's a real page turner. I stayed up late a couple nights with it. Very impressive! I liked the descriptions of the evening light on the old buildings. Good writing."
---Bernard Beck, news editor, San Francisco.

     "It's a gem! I think journalists would absolutely love it. You've totally captured the madness of a newsroom (at least a REAL newsroom), and also have done a good job of eviscerating the new corporate media approach to running a paper. You have also captured the crazed, whimsical, incredible process of reporting, and the dynamics of the reporter/editor 'relationship'. Bravissimo!"
---Dave Lindorff, investigative journalist, Pennsylvania.

     "Captivated by the story. ... Excellent job, Rip. 'You could have entered Hanson's desk in the Rose Parade.' Wow---terrific writing. Hell, I liked it so much, I bought another copy."
---P.J. Corkery, columnist, San Francisco.

     "What kept me compelled to keep reading is the novel's humanity. Rense is an earnest believer in people. And the real people in this novel are fighting always to keep their dignity and hearts thrivingly alive, despite all odds. There is a rich melancholy that laces the imbibing of this book, as well as a droll angry sense of humor that refuses to lie down and die."
---Scott Wannberg, poet, Los Angeles.

       "I finished "The Last Byline" last night--TREE-MEN-DOUS! I couldn't put it down. Many, many pleasures therein. First, it's a story that compels--like I said, I couldn't put it down. Brilliant strokes of writing on every page. Great character portrayals. Some parts count as the saddest chapters I've read in recent times. The stuff with Shag's daughter . . .The power of excellent writing."
---Dr. Jeffrey Kallberg, professor of music, University of Pennsylvania.

    "I'm just thrilled with your book. So interesting and so beautifully written. I swear there wasn't a single cliché or trite line. You are one fabulous writer and I can't wait to read your next book, which I sincerely hope will be soon."
---Mary Cross, bon vivant, Palm Desert.

   "I'm really enjoying your book. And I'm not just patronizing you. I like it a lot. Have a hard time putting it down when it's time to go to work."
----Tom Hanson, airline pilot, Dallas.

    "I'm supposed to be preparing a manuscript for an agent but like chocolate truffles I can't keep my hands off your book. Here's my first blurb, after I started reading it: FROM ONE JOURNALIST TO ANOTHER, AN IRRESISTIBLE READ..."
---Marilyn Lois Polak, columnist, Philadelphia.

    "I could almost taste the Buttermilk Twizzles. Rense put me right in the story, and I was truly amazed at how good this book is."
---Barbara Feraci, paralegal, Boise.

    "Today's print media have taken on a different perspective after reading 'The Last Byline.' This incredible newspaper tale should have a sequel or film version. After starting, I couldn't put the book down. "
---Sherman Plepler, music teacher, Los Angeles.

    "Aside from being a really fantastic read, it is now with Kerouac, Ginsberg, Bukowski, and many other such notable authors, and first editions, in my main case of fine literary treasures in the front room."
---S.A.Griffin, poet and actor, Los Angeles.

     "I really enjoyed was the Steinbeckian feel; sort of a parallel to 'Cannery Row', the connection for me being the struggle of retaining one's integrity as a victim of the mire our culture produces."
---John Kaufman, virologist, fish pathology, Oregon State University.

The Last Byline, a Review
The Way Journalism Used to Be

The decrepit newsroom is a relic from the turn of the century. Rats scurry under and through desks, the paper's archives are stacked in precarious ceiling-high piles behind reporters' chairs, harried hacks peck away at their assignments on old manual typewriters or fight over a handful of "tubes" (computers) in the center of the room--computers that routinely crash to a chorus of swearing and the occasional thrown typewriter or keyboard.

Welcome to the Los Angeles Chronicle, a hellish yet painfully authentic vision of author and veteran daily journalist Rip Rense, whose brilliant first novel The Last Byline (Xlibris, $24.99) was recently published by Xlibris Books.

Rense, who scrivened for years at the Los Angeles Daily News, back in the days when the San Fernando Valley daily with its puce-colored first page was known as the Green Sheet, and also at the Herald Examiner during its death throes, has a knack for spotting the bizarre little quirks that made daily journalism what it was during its heyday.

The Last Byline's hero, Charles Bogle, a feature writer at the Chronicle (fondly known to its staff and readers as the "Chronic Illness"), is a prematurely cynical reporter who is watching his financially troubled paper morph into just another demographically targeted, market-driven infotainment rag. His defense against the efforts of the new, corporate editors is that he basically doesn't care any more.

When they send him off against his will on a strange police case involving a loopy self-styled guru who was found to have a house bulging with weapons and high explosives, and then try to undermine his story when he actually delivers, he just keeps going through the motions, in the process getting deeper and deeper into the story (and nearly murdered in the process) and then angrier and angrier at the way his work is being deep-sixed.

Along the way, we're treated to a delightful cast of characters scarcely to be found anymore in today's sterile, cubicle-infested newsrooms: the aging besotted pro, Shag, who has seen it all and gets through his days by stopping off at lunch for a liberal ministration at a bar in the nearby Veteran's hall, Rhonda, the journalism school grad sleeping her way up well past her competence level, Max, the token black reporter, relegated to "black" stories, Lenny, the city hall reporter, who, though perpetually blotto, knows more about what's going on than the government officials he covers. But it's the high-velocity madness of the newsroom that really gives this story both its verite and its laughs. Like when Bogle continuously receives misdirected calls from the paper's congenitally fouled-up switchboard:



"You forgot to airbrush the nipples!"

"I uh--what?"

"In my Broadway ad. You forgot to take the nipples off my lingerie models! They're showing through!"

"Uh--This--this is not display advertising, ma'am."

"How many times is this going to happen?"

"May I suggest that your models investigate the possibility of acquiring opaque undergarments?"

"What? Who is this? What's your name?"

"Titsling. Inventor of the modern brassiere."


Or his meeting with the executive editor, Louise Abigail Adams Francis or LAAF, about his request to get a column:

I sat down, smack in the middle of the LAAF sanctorum, a world of cheap wood paneling and hairy red shag carpet. It reminded me of the inside of a pothead's '73 Ford Econoline van--absent only the righteous stereo and bitchen babe. There was a window, apparently, but the blinds hiding it hadn't been opened anytime since the Korean War. I took note of a framed sign on the wall: No sniveling.

"There are several things that make this problematic," said LAAF. "First, you and everybody's second cousin in this city wants a column."

She rolled her eyes and smiled again. An upper and lower teeth job.

"Right. But I come from a different family." My turn to smile. "Well that may be -- and may not be," said LAAF, swiveling sideways in her black leather chair.

"Another reason is that you have been known to disagree with editing decisions."

Yes and I talk back to people who dial wrong numbers.

"Uh--yeah. That's correct. I didn't know that was a crime in journalism. I thought that was my duty. When an editor inserts something inaccurate, or chooses a phrase that I think is hackneyed, I point it out. I lobby on behalf of accuracy and freshness."

"Never make excuses for your behavior."

"Huh? Well, uh, I wasn't really making excuses. I was offering an explanation. Besides, you should see all the times I don't question editorial decisions. Why I'll bet it's nine our of ten, or at least seven."

I chuckled. I thought it was kind of funny. After all, I was in the managing editor's office, and had been asked to come in and sit down. We were being convivial. We were colleagues. We were chums.

"Also, as a columnist, you might sometimes be asked to write about subjects you wouldn't want to write about." I actually thought she was kidding, for a second. Hadn't she just finished that sentence with a wink?

"Well, um, forgive me for saying this, but what do you think I've been doing for a living for the last nine years?"

I laughed, then I laughed some more, mostly to make up for the fact that she wasn't. I guess we weren't as convivial as I had supposed. Maybe I should have phrased that last point more diplomatically."

"Forgive me again," I continued, "but you invited me to write these sample columns. Weren't you able to read them? I worked very hard on them and --" Again the high beams.

"Of course I read them! Thank you very much for writing them. It shows you care about our newspaper, and I appreciate that. In fact, I'll be happy to cut you a bonus for them. Fifty bucks a column -- $250."

In the end, Bogle doesn't get the column:

"Here's the truth of the matter. You lack grist." Her teeth sliced the words neatly, and spat them out. "Other columnists have been through more than you have. Maybe it's because they come from tougher cities, like New York, and have had more of the bejeezus knocked out of them, or maybe it's just -- of whatever. But you lack grist. You're a California boy. Things are slower and easier here. That's it. Come back and ask again in a couple of years." LAAF looked at me without blinking and smiled. Or rather, she peeled back her lips so that most of her teeth were displayed. I wouldn't call it a smile. It was too bestial. It jumped off her face and chased me out of the office. I lacked grist.

The Last Byline will be read with a smile of recognition--and perhaps an occasional wistful sigh --by journalists wizened enough to remember the days when many newspapers were still family enterprises with a history and a culture, back before marketing and demographics gained the upper hand in the newsroom. It is also sure to entertain younger journalists who missed that era of copyboys, vaccuum tubes and spikes for copy. In an era where giant corporations now own almost all the print media in the country, The Last Byline should be read by anyone who cares about news. If that sounds too much like work, rest assured, this is an excellent read--funny and biting at the same time.

Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff's stories can be found here:
back to top

by Scott Wannberg
Celebrated Los Angeles poet

            Anyone who mourns the loss of a vital newspaper should read this novel. Rense, a seasoned human being who at times has earned a paycheck as a working reporter for newspapers, weighs in with a tremendous empathetic and at times downright hilarious look at the year in the life of Charles Bogle, newspaperman.Bogle is a conscientious newsman. Get the story. Run the story. Check the story. The writing should place the writer in the hierarchy of the newspaper planet, and not politics and ass-kissing.
            Unfortunately, the folks that run the game at his paper are from other rooms of motivation. Bogle, along with his back row fellow human reporters must contend with all sorts of madness and deceit. There are elements of the mystery novel in this as well.
           What kept me compelled to keep reading is the novel's humanity. Rense is an earnest believer in people. And the real people in this novel are fighting always to keep their dignity and hearts thrivingly alive, despite all odds. There is a rich melancholy that laces the imbibing of this book, as well as a droll angry sense of humor that refuses to lie down and die. Everyone in this novel is alive, and comes across in flesh and blood. The melancholy dances forward, toward another deadline, and we are all headlines at times, even if only in tiny print. Rense allows us to dive into the mythic world of the big city newspaper.He strips away the fog.
            Sometimes a bit of "The Front Page," sometimes utter lunacy, all of it is grounded in Rense's heartfelt intuitive knowledge and love of a city, its people, its pain, its foolishness, and its daily struggle to just keep on being. Heartfully recommended.
back to top


Johnny Depp should play him in the film version

by Barry Smolin
Host of KPFK's "The Music Never Stopped"

        Just finished The Last Byline last night, which I read avidly
and enjoyed tremendously. Charles Bogle is a marvelous creation, big-hearted without
being cloying, cranky and curmudgeonly without turning mean and nasty
(except when necessary). Even when he slips into a nostalgia for things
that probably never actually existed (which even he himself charitably admits),
his romantic longing is never pathetic,rather inspiring in its hopefulness.

        The creatures that inhabit the "Shitty Room" are perceptively drawn,
familiar, indelibly real. The subversive integrity of the Back Row rings true with
the camaraderie that emerges among truth warriors in this postmodern world
of moral relativism and specious loyalties.

        Bogle is an Atlas figure, whose shouldered burden is not his alone; this
is part of the book's greatness. Rather than set Bogle up as the only
tortured conscience in the book (which would have pulled the narrative
into maudlin self-pity or unbearable narcissism), the story reveals, with
impeccable wisdom, that each character has his own albatross to bear, including the less
sympathetic personae (i.e., Shamus, Ralston, Matthews) who also carry
their own hauntings around with them even as they spew abuse. We are all
mortal and tragic, bad-guys included.

        I admire the authorial restraint that prevented Bogle and Mahoney from
overtly consummating their obvious chemistry inside the bindings of the book;
theirs is an affair better conducted later, in our imaginations, where
their sincerity and vague sexual repressions will be better served. A
marriage of true minds.

        The book evokes a Los Angeles that is part promising metropolis, part
cultural wasteland, and part celluloid-tinged myth. A collection of small
towns disguised as a city, or perhaps a blueprint for some new social
construct, albeit going horribly wrong (in Bogle's occasional view).

        The prose is witty, pithy, naughty, as politically incorrect as your
favorite drunken uncle, and shimmering with a simple elegance that belies
the complex observations and the panoply of both obscure and not-so
obscure allusions to old films, popular music, Southern California lore,
and the ghosts of journalism past.

        I'm gonna go grab me a Buttermilk Twizzle with a Laphroiag chaser, and
wait impatiently for some brilliant visionary to turn The Last Byline into
a great L.A. movie (with Johnny Depp as young Charles Bogle!?).

         No need to ask the old prophet, "Wherefore stopp'st thou me?" It's
magnificently clear: This is a story worth hearing. Loved it.
back to top

by Floyd Kucharski
The Porcupine Press

         The Last Byline, a new novel by journalist Rip Rense, is clearly a work of fiction.
        And yet, every word in the book could be true.
        It’s the story of Charles Bogle, a gifted reporter writing for the Los Angeles Chronicle, a sinking newspaper affectionately referred to as the "Chronic Illness." Charlie is an award-winning reporter who searches for and then reports the truth. His motto might just as well be "Write hard, die free."
        He finds himself at odds with self centered editors who have no grasp of traditional newsprint journalism. Their motto might just as well be "Don’t confuse us with facts."
        These "dandies" are intent on reshaping the Chronic Illness into a "modern" newspaper: a slick money maker which shades the news to suit the alleged tastes of its readership while bowing to the whims of political correctness.
        Early in the story, Bogle’s editor directs him to write a story about Elmer Cruickshank, a profanely sacrilegious preacher who stands accused of hoarding an arsenal of weapons. What happens next demonstrates the (sometimes) futility and absurdity of attempting to do an honest day’s work in a chaotic, dishonest workplace.
        Bogle faces beatings on the street and indignities on the job while sniffing out the truth about Cruickshank. He struggles through a daily grind of long hours at low pay in an outdated dingy newsroom because he loves his chosen profession. Finally, he finishes his research and writes the story and – lo! -- it vanishes from his editor’s desk, apparently never to see light of print.
        That’s the question which finally sharpens the conflict between reporter and management.
        Bogle is a man who simply cannot stomach deceit or hypocrisy, and he isn’t afraid to question office policy or politics. He thus finds himself in conflict with cynical, foppish editors who seem focused on forcing him out of his chosen life’s profession.
        Next: a river of mindless memos, new office rules, redundant meetings, arbitrary demands, impossible assignments, more pointless office memos, and finally the inevitable pronouncement: "Bogle! Are you are being deliberately uncooperative?"
        Any reader who has ever labored diligently for hard long hours under the supervision of calloused management – or even held a summer job, perhaps – can identify with arbitrary and capricious workplace treatment, not to mention sexism, favoritism, and political correctness run amok.
        Thus, Charlie Bogle represents Every Man. His supervisors – with complete disregard for the human cost of their actions – push him toward a fork in life’s road and force him to make a series of major career decisions. His final choice goes a long way toward explaining the lack of credibility currently suffered by so many American newspaper chains and television networks.
        Bogle is outspokenly contemptuous of political correctness, in particular. Thus, Rense’s book is eerily prophetic, having been released mere weeks prior to the recent scandal at the formerly respected and credible New York Times, where an "affirmative action" reporter stands accused of falsifying countless "news" stories. The Times felt compelled to print a 7,200 word apology on May 11.
        Throughout, Rense’s examination of current social and media issues, drawn from personal experience, is insightful, funny, and always original.
        He has a knack for quick-witted dialogue and does an excellent job at fleshing out the major characters. Cruikshank is likely the novel’s most memorable character. Wildly eccentric and loquacious, at first glance he seems pure fantasy; but later, he will somehow remind most readers of at least one person they remember having met.
        Rense also has a gift for descriptions. Some of them --- for example his account of the Press Club, with its "old dark bar" and "tinkling ice and nylon covered legs hanging off of bar stools like they grew there" -- will hang in the reader’s imagination like photographs.
        Other descriptions – notably, of the setting sun illuminating the city skyline, softening the rough edges of old buildings with gentle pastel shadings and transforming them into objects of delicate beauty – resemble classic paintings rendered by the hands of masters.
        In some ways The Last Byline is a story about the kind of newspapers America once knew; in other more significant ways, it’s a story about the kind of America which her newspaper reporters once knew.
back to top

by Roy Ringer

Rip Rense's novel, The Last Byline
Recalls a long ago life of mine
A time when newspapering was fun,
When rivalry kept us on the run,
When there were five dailies in L.A.,
And pennies were all you had to pay.

We reporters were a dashing lot
And by every woman muchly sought,
A Camel from our lips did dangle
We wore our hats at a jaunty angle.
When we weren't wrapt in soft caresses
We issued orders: STOP THE PRESSES!

Youth today no longer chases news,
For us it was the career to choose;
The one requirement was grades of C,
But now it's up to PhD.
We drank as if our legs were hollow,
Not a model today's nerds would follow.

The five dailies of yesteryear
Now number only The Times, I fear,
In those days, no matter how gory,
We fought to be first with the story;
A scoop is what we most desired,
But the Times has grown old and tired.

Without rivals, I say it with sorrow;
The Times holds news until tomorrow;
And no more EXTRAS! on the street,
TV news will always have them beat.
So goodbye, goodbye to all of that
When we had press cards on our hat.

Rip Rense's new novel tells it true,
I insist that you must read it, too
If you miss it, you will lose a time
When newspapering was in its prime;
Thank you, Rip---I quote an old refrain,
Thanks for the walk down Memory Lane.

                                                 BACK TO THE RIP POST LITERARY EMPORIUM

© 2002-07 Rip Rense. All rights reserved.