Category Archives: journalist

Happy birthday, Dad. Wish you were here.

That's my dad with the notebook in his lap, doing what he did best: reporting.

That’s my dad with the notebook in his lap, doing what he did best: reporting.

Ever wonder what makes a person want to write, or want to be good at it? My dad said a good reporter never lets go of the curiosity, never lets politeness get in the way of a story – but also never lets a story get in the way of basic courtesy and humanity. In my humble opinion, modern journalism allows the story to trample humanity far too often.

We used to go for drives, just my dad and me, and we would talk. He told me about newspapering, reminisced sometimes for the entire ride. It was less a conversation than it was a feast of words.

He could paint such vivid word pictures that often I could not see the landscape through which we drove for all of the images crowding my mind.

He never talked down to me, which sometimes left me struggling to decipher a word by its context.

It seems as though I’ve known the four Ws (who, what, when, where – you all know them) all my life, along with that important H (how). Applying them was second nature even when I was in grammar school. Chasing a story with him, I could often tell him some or all of the Ws of it, which pleased him no end. And of course, it pleased me no end to have pleased my dad.

I wonder often if my personal philosophies were formed less by my own observations and judgments but by his. I can’t recall the specifics of our talks anymore. He died in 1968, and time erodes so many memories.

He was utterly irreverent, could make me sick from laughter or weep with empathy. He disliked pretension, subterfuge, hypocrisy and injustice – especially injustice. To him, family was the highest priority.

My siblings have different philosophies than I do, and although he talked with them and wrote letters when one of them was away, I was the one who went with him on stories most often. And on our long drives, I knew I was the world’s luckiest child.

We had an ongoing squirt gun battle, with only one gun. Whoever had it would sneak up and shoot the other, elude capture and hide the gun. Eventually, the victim would discover the gun’s hiding place, reload it and the game was back on. Months could pass between battles. I once spent the better part of an hour crawling through kitchen and dining room to the living room, to rise up behind his easy chair and blast him in the back of the neck. Boy, did I pay for that one! He trapped me in a closet and of course, I emptied the water pistol at him. But he had a turkey baster and a pitcher of water in his hands. Cheating was fair in our game.

Irreverence – dad went to as many of my choral concerts as he could. He would sit in the  audience and make hideous faces, cracking up not just me, but anyone else in the chorus who caught his act.

There was never a doubt in my mind – and maybe not in his, though he never said – that I would follow in his footsteps. He wanted to write a novel, something that I don’t think even my mother knew. After he died, I looked everywhere, because I’d once seen several pages of a rough draft. I don’t know if I wanted to simply read it, or to finish it for him. But it was gone.  He hadn’t had much time to work on it, anyway, working two jobs to support us until the day he died. Perhaps he chucked it. I don’t know.

That was part of why many of our talks were in the dead of night. He got home at exactly 12:20 a.m. from his second job as a copy editor at the Columbus Enquirer, and there I often was, waiting, even on school nights. We’d talk, eat peanut butter and tomato sandwiches, and eventually he would remember that I was supposed to be asleep. He’d send me to bed, but never rebuked me for waiting up.

All these years later, I often look at the clock and it’s 12:20 a.m. Funny how that happens.

I don’t know if he built a love of writing in me, or if he recognized it and simply tried to help my love blossom. He never said, and it never occurred to me – and there wasn’t enough time – to ask.I’m just glad that I have it, and glad of the things he taught me.

Like him, I became a journalist, and like him, may never see a novel published, though unlike him, I’ve written several. (NOTE: this was written in 1998, long before I published Memory’s Child)

I’m glad I had him, even if he did lie when he said freckles were beautiful. Even if he lied when he said his was transferring some of his freckles to my face when he grabbed me up and rubbed his stubbly face against my cheeks while I squealed and squirmed.

He’s been gone more than three-quarters of my life and I miss him still. He would have been 100 today. Happy birthday, Dad.

Nostalgia

Last night, I was thinking about jargon – specifically, newspaper jargon. So much has changed just since I started in the newsroom 30 years ago. Goodness, 30 years ago? My, how time flies!

Well, that’s roughly a generation, isn’t it? I suppose the changes aren’t spectacular when you look at it that way. Still, I don’t like change.

The newspaper where I cut my teeth was using the term “library” when I got there, so I don’t know if they ever called it a morgue. My father, also a journalist, called it that. When I first started at the newspaper, I fully expected to make use of its morgue. But, no, they had a library. I’m still miffed.

Back then, we didn’t have “captions.” Captions were for the slicks (magazines). We wrote cutlines and skel lines to explain what a photo was about. Nobody seems to know what a skel line is anymore, and you rarely hear anyone speak of cutlines. It’s all captions, now. I’m miffed about that, too.

In addition to jargon, other changes in the newspaper world distress me no end. People actually have to pay to have an obituary run in the newspaper. Pardon my French, but what the hell? Obits are news and nobody pays for other types of news in the newspaper. Imagine readers having to pay for a reporter to write up the local city council meeting or take photos of a car crash. I realize the industry is flopping along on the road, trying to catch up with the Internet and avoid total collapse, but I never thought I’d see the day when you had to pay for a regular obit in the newspaper. That’s shameful, if you ask me. You didn’t ask, but there it is. Take it or leave it.

Newspaper jargon is colorful and unique. Or at least, it was. I do see writers still use the word “lede,” though I never much liked that one. I mentioned a “double truck” to an editor a few years ago and she didn’t know what I was talking about.

I’ve already waxed nostalgic over the clacking of typewriters, clatter of the teletypes, thunder of presses and the scent of ink. The latter hasn’t changed, at least. Newspapers still use ink – those that print their own stuff, at least. Some smaller papers farm out the printing rather than buy their own press. That makes good economic sense, but still….

Nope, I don’t like change. Not in most areas, anyway. I have to admit, though, that the ability to blog freely, research broadly, become immersed in social networking sites and get involved in indie publishing is exquisitely exciting.

The Internet has wrought colossal changes in the way freelance and independent writers work and opened up an entire universe of great opportunities. That’s the kind of change I can live with.

Choices

This is the first Wednesday in some time that I have nothing on my must-do list. With nothing that I must do, I can spend my day on something that I want to do. But…which something should I choose?

I want to work on scanning all of my photographs and old family documents to make a permanent, easily transportable record. I plan to copy all of these to a DVD, a thumb drive and a portable hard drive for safekeeping. Should disaster strike and we need to flee, I can grab one of those and take my memories with me.

I also want to go through the zillion scraps of paper currently lurking in the back bedroom – mostly receipts – and get rid of any that are too old for anyone to care about. Especially me. Maybe while doing that, I’ll find some of the documents I put away “in a safe place” that I absolutely cannot find now.

We have new laws governing the paperwork we need to get driver’s licenses and to vote, and all of my documents are in that mystical “safe place.” I have five copies of my birth certificate, and can’t find a blessed one.

There’s also laundry to do, floors to sweep and dust to banish. Oh, and let’s not forget, dogs to bathe. I actually want to do these things, too.

I have several books I want to read, and I want to work on the edits of one of my own books and one of a friend’s.

Still, with all these great choices facing me today, I think I’ll just…write.

Writing pen

Honoring My Father

That’s my dad with the notebook in his lap, doing what he did best: reporting.

Memory’s Child is free to download on Amazon today.

I hope some readers will take a moment to write a short review once they finish the book.

I didn’t make MC free for that, though.

Today, my father would have turned 97 years old. That’s him in the lower left of the photo above, writing in a notebook. Looks like he’s interviewing the fellow sitting nearby.

My dad was a career journalist, though most of his career was as an Army journalist in the Public Affairs Office. He wrote speeches, too, for generals and the High Commander of Okinawa when we were stationed there. He had something to do with the old documentary series, “The Big Picture,” though I don’t have personal memories of that. He moonlighted as long as I can remember, serving as copy editor and editor of various civilian newspapers near the Army posts where we lived.

He also served as editor of two post-war newspapers, one in Germany and the ComZ Cadence in France. I didn’t come along until Dad and the family were transferred back to the States.

Dad used to take me along with him sometimes to cover stories, when he needed a kid in a photo, or just to ride around and yak.

He said most reporters would be better at their jobs if they forgot half of what they learned in college. He meant they would be better at writing creatively to fulfill the five Ws without boring the reader. A news report is just a cold, lifeless body — the quality of the writing gives it warmth and a heartbeat, turns it into a story. He loved story.

He was usually serious when he talked about writing, but he had a puckish, irreverent side, too, and a great sense of humor. The photo at the right is more representative of his personality. I  have the original artwork on my wall near my desk to remind me that  you can’t always be serious or you’ll miss the thready pulse of a great tale inside the body of the who-what-when-where-why.

I learned a lot from my dad in the short time I had him. He died of a heart attack while at work in 1968, exactly two weeks before my 14th birthday. We didn’t have access to video cameras and camera phones — in fact, cassette tapes were fairly new back then! I don’t have much more than photos of my dad, the cute drawing of him, plus a rather large collection of newspaper clippings and entire newspapers dating back to World War II. He wasn’t much for writing letters, unfortunately. Not only do I have a good portion of his body of work, but I have plenty of memories. Not all perfect and pristine – he was human, after all – but mainly good ones.

As soon as I was old enough, I followed my dad into the newspaper business, and found myself working in some of the same places he had worked. People remembered him, and to me, that was a great honor.

He confided in me once that he was writing a novel. He showed me the typed pages that were in his dresser drawer, though he didn’t want me to read them. Adult stuff, I assume, like war or some other grownup-type strife. I respected his wishes, but oh, how I wish I hadn’t. The unfinished manuscript disappeared after his death. I don’t know what happened to it, though I suspect it was tossed in the trash.

As I write this post, Memory’s Child is ranked #1 in Amazon’s top science fiction list, and #25 in the Top 100 Free eBooks list. More than 7,000 potential readers have downloaded the book since it went free on Sunday.

I hope that everyone who reads the book will like it, even though they don’t know the free download is my gift to them, passed on from my father, for the love of story.

Happy birthday, Dad, and thanks for the gift.