Gus Garcia-Roberts, Miami New Times
Gus Garcia-Roberts’ alt-weekly career began when he participated in AAN’s Academy for Alternative Journalism fellowship program at the Medill School of Journalism in 2007. He later became a staff writer for Cleveland’s Scene, and after the paper was sold, he joined Miami New Times.
This year, he received first-place in the 2011 AltWeekly Awards for his feature story, “Blow Hard,” a harrowing account of hip-hop producer Scott Storch’s drug-induced downfall, told mostly through the eyes of his mother and grandfather.
Garcia-Roberts, 28, said his goal is to let his stories “take me where they will.” Eventually, he’d like to expand some of his pieces as books.
In the latest edition of AAN’s How I Got That Story series, Garcia-Roberts shared the story behind “Blow Hard.”
How did this story originate?
Well, that was when I first came down to Miami and I was looking around for stories. I kind of knew from the very beginning that I wanted to do a story on Scott Storch. I had heard about how he had made all these millions and then blew it all in a spectacular fashion. He just seemed like the most Miami character that there was—the fact that he had this cocaine addiction, and was just such an audacious spender.
But, all I really had on him in the beginning [were] all his lawsuits. He had a ton of lawsuits and there’s interesting stuff. But, obviously, I needed to get someone to talk to. I spoke to his manager, who, at the time, was peddling all these stories about how Scott Storch hit rock bottom. He was talking about how Storch would blow blood out of his nose—just all these scatological details that were salacious, but at the same time, I knew that, in a way, the manager was sort of marketing him hitting rock bottom so reporters wouldn’t be able to ask about that any more and the next step could be the come back. And that was fine, but a couple of magazines already had that story; at that time, they had already talked to the manager. So, I knew I wanted to get something more personal and get beyond the grimy details that the manager was selling.
When I found out his mom still lived in south Florida, I found her house through property records. I just went up to her door, knocked and she just started talking to me, openly. I think that’s what made the story different, that I was able to talk to his mom and his granddad and they’re such fascinating, funny characters.
Because the story was so personal, were you shocked by how much they opened up to you?
I found that, usually, there are a lot of closed doors–slammed doors–but I do find that there’s a couple of people, in every story, that just really want to talk and they don’t have any reservations about telling anything to a reporter. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the main character because someone, like a person’s mom, you could argue that they know that person better than that person knows themselves.
I felt like with Scott’s mom, she almost used me as a shrink, in a way. I think she had just been stewing up there. She kind of felt that Scott had abandoned her. She had been stewing in this little, crappy house in Broward County, out of having nobody to tell her story to and she thought she had a righteous story to tell. I think that’s what motivated her.
She had this attitude like, “Oh, Scott’s going to kill me if I tell you this!” But she would tell it anyway.
There’s kind of a cliffhanger at the end of the story, where Storch tells his mother he won’t be able to relax until the story comes out. Was there any reaction on his part after the story was published?
No, no. What happened with that was, we tried to condense it in the editor’s notes, but basically, I take this trip out to Los Angeles, I was supposed to meet him, I’d set it up with his manager. Then, the day that I’m supposed to meet him, I was just wandering around the city and his manager called and he was really irate because he had just found out that I’d spoken to Scott’s mom. I hadn’t spoken to him since I’d spoken to Scott’s mom and so he was very irate about that and at that point, he started all these negotiations and he was calling my managing editor.
Basically, we weren’t going to take out the reference to Scott’s mom because we thought that’s what made the story interesting. Besides just that fact that we didn’t want to cave in to this guy. After I spent a few days in L.A., just wandering around, the manager kept calling and being like, “Scott’s going to come meet you right now, stay where you are,” but then he would never come. After the story came out, I heard nothing.
So, I don’t know, that’s how it often is. There’s a lot of bluster before a story comes out, but then after it comes out, I guess cooler heads prevail because—or maybe they realized that I’m going to write down whatever he says to me—because, no, he never called.
How did you envision the story mind when you were developing it and how did it change from what you originally planned?
I think, at first, because I had nothing but the court records, I said, “Oh, maybe I can make something around this,” but then, when I was speaking to Scott’s mom [and grandfather]—they were just such human characters, her and her dad and not really the sort of characters you expect to meet when you do a story on a loathsome celebrity.
I think at that point, the public documents—I had other stuff that people might have considered salacious, but it just was less important and there’s more of a point to just show the images of this house and of his mom and of his grandad and really try to take the reader there. So, at that point, any idea that this was an investigation faded away.
Were you a fan at all of Scott Storch before this story?
I mean, I liked hip-hop and of course, I had familiarity with his music because if you liked hip-hop or really any pop music at that time, then you were familiar with his music. But then, once I did the story and started listening to his beats on all his different songs, I got disillusioned as a Scott Storch fan, because I started to realize that there all exactly the same or very similar. All his beats were carbon copies of another.
So, yeah, now I can’t really listen to a Scott Storch beat.
How long of a process was putting this story together?
It was probably, all told, I would guess, five weeks, total.
Did you feel that was enough time?
There are stories that I wish I had more time, but I think in this one, it was enough. You sort of know when a story is done, when there’s nothing more you can do with it. I think, especially in this one, because this is one of those stories that when I was going through it, I could see the scenes as I would write them later. For instance, with the mom, I started to say, “What she just said is a perfect ending to the first section,” or, “All right, I’ve got to break up the story with this whole visit to the mom, in order to keep it lively.” Stuff like that. It was a story where it kind of fell really neatly into a structure.
By the time I got back from L.A., after the failed visit with Scott, at that point, I was kind of down on it because it seemed like failure because I hadn’t met Scott Storch, the subject of the story. Once I got back home and took a couple of days to think about it, I realized that the story was all there and luckily—because deadline was coming up—there wasn’t much else I could do to report the story.
Are there and final thoughts that you’d like to share?
This is one of those stories where—I think writers often doubt the story, they have crippling self-doubt and throughout the story, I had a lot of doubt as I was writing it—especially when the trip to L. A. failed, which cost 500 bucks and my editor was on the phone with me and he was kind of panicking because 500 bucks isn’t that easy to come by. I just felt like, “What am I doing?” I felt like the most haggard tabloid reporter, pretty much; I was out in L.A., trying to chase this music producer—and I wasn’t even a good tabloid reporter because I couldn’t find him.
But once I started to write it, it worked out and I guess there’s a moral there, but I’m not really sure what it is. “Don’t believe the doubt,” I guess.