Her excuse for changing our lunch plans just an hour before we were to meet came in a voice mail message. It could only have been from a Detroit journalist."Call me. The mayor's going to jail. I have to reschedule," she said.
Twenty-four hours later, Paula Tutman and I finally meet for breakfast at the Detroit Breakfast House & Grill (1241 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-1115). She's just finished her shift with the morning program at WDIV-TV (Channel 4), and I'm starting my day.
We're there to discuss a story of crime, journalism, evil, deception, love, heartbreak and betrayal.
No, not the one she's been covering. The planned agenda for breakfast is a talk about this summer's publication of Tutman's novel. I read it in one sitting on a lazy weekend afternoon, caught up in the storyline, the characters and the drama.
It's the first of two books telling the mostly fictional story of a Detroit television reporter on the cops beat named P.S. Garrett. The plot: While feeding the "monster" that is the always-hungry newscast cycle, Garrett encounters feisty competitors, relishes office romance and suffers profound heartbreak. She unwittingly encourages a stalker who is committing ghastly crimes simply so Garrett will come out and cover them and he can be near her. Garrett, lonely at night after long days on the crime beat, fails to rid herself of a creepy boyfriend. In between, she parties with a wild girlfriend, cries with her favorite bartender, gets beaten by the competition and has her own triumphs in the never-ending cycle of news.
It's all fiction, Tutman swears, except the 21-page first chapter, where reporters are covering the bloody and motiveless murders of two teens at a rural convenience store. That happened, Tutman says, and she remembers every detail of the scene including the sense of foreboding she had.
"You could tell it was a different brand of evil. I had a feeling, 'What if the guy is still here?'"
In the book, that scene sets the stage for the evil that swirls around Garrett, often without her knowledge. As a reader, you ache for her as you just know what the eventual outcome will be.
And at the 454th and final page, nothing is really resolved in Garrett's unpredictable career and personal life except that the readers know they'll need that second book for the conclusion.
"Where's the second novel in the series? Come on. I need it," I say to Tutman even before we order breakfast and talk about the first one. "I've got to know what happens."
She smiles. She orders eggs and turkey sausage, one of the reasons she's picked the Breakfast House & Grill for this meal. And she tells me the story of writing the book, that is, between greeting all of the restaurant's staff by name and introducing me to its owner, former Detroit Lion Robert Porcher, who wanders over to our table to say "hi" to Tutman.
Of course, we both stop talking and listening to each other at regular intervals to check in on the mayor's court hearing that is being televised on TVs throughout the restaurant.
"Wow," she says, after ordering red tea and watching the mayor's lawyers make some long-winded argument. "This is history. This is sad. I love this city."
Tutman arrived in Detroit 15 years ago after stints in TV news in Knoxville, Louisville and Baltimore and calls the Motor City her "soul home."
Years ago she started the novel, writing more than 900 pages without naming the character. When a publisher pressed her for a name, she called her P.S. Garrett, the pseudonym Tutman used for her college poetry.
Failing to get the book published until she broke it into two parts — "This is a much better book," she admits — she says it was just the "voice" she heard telling the story that she recorded.
"Writing is what I do. I never wanted to be a television reporter. I stumbled into it," she says.
She admits the book's characters and stories are compilations and caricatures of stories she's covered and people she's met. She denies the bitchy assignment editor in the book reflects any actual person she's worked with. (Riiiight ...) She's feels badly a local station employee resembles a character in the book. ("That was by chance. Someone pointed it out to me after they read my book.") She really did scare off a potential attacker who was fueled by road rage with a fake gun.
I can't resist the cliché question: How much of P.S. Garrett is Paula Tutman?
"She's not me," Tutman insists. But she admits wearing short skirts while working the cop beat as a young reporter in Baltimore. Still, the personas are different. "I'm a whole person. I'm a happy person. She is not a whole person. She's damaged. She's incomplete, and you don't know why until the end of the book," Tutman says. "She's lovably flawed. My flaws are not lovable."
I beg her for the second novel. I've got to know what happens with Garrett, her stalker, her boyfriend, her "recovery," her career.
She hasn't given it to me. Yet.
Perhaps we'll have to go to lunch.
Paula Tutman will sign copies of Deadline (Dailey Swan Publishing) at 11 a.m., Friday, Aug. 22, at Town Peddler Craft & Antique Mall, 35323 Plymouth Rd., Livonia and at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 9, at the Waterford Township Library, 5168 Civic Center Dr., Waterford. Excerpts are online at deadlinethebook.com.Sandra Svoboda is a Metro Times staff writer. Contact her at 313-202-8015 or [email protected]