Books

AUTHOR PROFILE | DAVE RASDAL Working on the 'night beat'

Former Gazette reporter and columnist turns to novel newsroom realm

Dave Rasdal

Cedar Rapids writer Dave Rasdal stands in front of a snowy view of the Quakers Oats plant along the Cedar River, just one of many local sites and references in his new novel, “Night Beat,” a fictionalized cat-and-mouse look at two reporters eager to capture front-page stories.
Dave Rasdal Cedar Rapids writer Dave Rasdal stands in front of a snowy view of the Quakers Oats plant along the Cedar River, just one of many local sites and references in his new novel, “Night Beat,” a fictionalized cat-and-mouse look at two reporters eager to capture front-page stories.
/

When former Gazette reporter Dave Rasdal decided to ramble down other writing avenues in 1986, he turned from short-form news stories to long-form books.

Heeding the age-old wisdom of “writing what you know,” he set “Night Beat” in a newsroom in Cedar City, Iowa, which bears a striking resemblance to Cedar Rapids, right down to the landmarks. Some, such as Quaker Oats and the interstate running through town, are still there. Others, like the Fox and Hounds Lounge, a popular gathering spot for Gazette reporters, are fading memories erased from the local landscape.

Gazette veterans will enjoy trying to figure out who inspired the novel’s various characters, from the newsroom doyenne who could bring you to your knees, to the photographer with wisps of gray hair peeking out from under his hat.

The final product didn’t come to fruition as quickly as a news story is turned around on a deadline. Rasdal spent about three months writing the book’s first draft; rewrote it in 1989; again in 2006; and again at the end of 2018. In the meantime, he came back to The Gazette in 1990, left again in 2013 to write more books, and retired in June of 2017. Sort of. He’s still writing, but just when he feels like it these days.

“When you’re a writer you’re always a writer and always thinking about what you’re going to write,” he said. “All kinds of stuff is always going through my head.”

The final draft — for now — is now in print. With added elements, rearrangements and modifications, it has grown from about 60,000 words to 92,000 words.

“A novel should be about 90,000 words,” said Rasdal, 65, of Cedar Rapids.

“It’s had three pretty good, extensive rewrites. I hope that each rewrite made it better,” he said.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

On the surface, the fictional story chronicles two crime-beat reporters — one on the dayside, the other on the nightside — each hoping to break big stories that land on the front page.

Night reporter Mike Rockwell gets that big break when he’s kidnapped while riding along on a drug bust that goes horribly awry.

Green with envy, dayside reporter Dan Goldberg begins dreaming up ways he could invent news that will grab that kind of attention. His schemes begin with shoplifting and escalate until he’s plummeting down a rabbit hole with no escape.

Below the surface, the book is described as “an examination of morals and corruption, truth and lies, right and wrong, human frailties and faults that challenge the news media.”

Through all the rewrites, Rasdal kept the action in 1986, to show the parallels between the past and the current climate where cries of “fake news” haunt dedicated journalists.

“That’s one of the reasons I decided to come out with it right now,” he said. “I was looking at it, and I was thinking, a lot of the elements I had in that book are similar to the stuff that’s going on now — police getting shot, corrupt political schemes, tragedies with mass killings, even anti-Semitism — I had all those in the book originally, back in 1987 when I was first writing it, which is why I decided to leave it back in 1986.

“It shows that the problems we have today aren’t new. They were happening in 1986 and I’m sure they were happening 30 years before that.

“It’s just a cycle. I’m not necessarily saying it’s history repeating itself, but it’s a cycle. It’s just the way things work. Plus, I like the idea of having it still set in 1986, before we had cellphones and the social media. This was when people got their news from professional newspeople; that was important at that time. Also, ’80s nostalgia is around now, too.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

He enjoyed tossing in pop culture references to Walkmans, record albums and reporter Rockwell answering a phone, musing that he wished there was some way to tell who’s calling.

“That’s one of the great things you can do in hindsight, keeping something back in the past,” Rasdal said. “I just thought those things might give people a little chuckle.”

Rasdal, who started at The Gazette in 1979, is mostly remembered for his “Ramblin’ with Rasdal” personality profiles. But like everyone else, he started as a beat reporter, and worked the weekend cops beat on a rotation with other reporters.

He doesn’t recall catching a plum story off that beat — certainly not one like the Rockwell character, who happened to be in a police car when a suspected cop killer jumped in to make a quick getaway.

But breaking a big story is every reporter’s dream, even if being in a nightmare scenario isn’t.

“When you’re writing fiction, you can make up whatever you want,” he said. “What I wanted in this was something a little extraordinary but yet maybe still believable. That’s why I put Rockwell in the situation he finds himself in, because even though he feels the danger of it, it’s something that any reporter would want to be in the middle of — as long as they know they’re going to come out of it alive.”

The book is self-published through the online service Kindle Direct Publishing. It’s a print-on-demand format. The selling price is $14.98, “so people can give me $15 and get 2 cents back, or I’ll sign it for them,” he said with a laugh.

• Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

• What: Dave Rasdal, author of “Night Beat”

• Where: Reading and signing, 7 p.m. Tuesday, (3/5) C Space, CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids; hosted by Next Page Books

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

• Where: Signing, 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, (3/9) Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Northland Square, 333 Collins Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids•

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.