I write for two weekly newspapers, The Hometown Oneonta and The Freeman’s Journal, as well as daily content for our news website. I never saw myself as a reporter; my dad was the editor of our local paper, but I wanted to write fiction, not facts, plus I was a touch on the shy side when it came to interviewing people. But my husband started working as a photographer, and the editor, Jim Kevlin, asked if I would be interested in writing for them. I had just lost my teaching gig, so I said yes, and have been there almost 7 years, covering everything from murders to city managers to local Olympians, retiring teachers and even a local girl in the chorus of Hamilton!
Writing for a newspaper has strengthened my fiction writing in ways I didn’t know I needed. It helps me be concise but thorough, carefully choosing what details are most important. It also taught me that everyone has a story to their lives–a 91 year old war bride operating the last local tailor’s shop, a police chief so dedicated to fighting the heroin epidemic that he will help addicts navigate the paperwork to get into rehab centers across the country, rather than just arresting them. I’ve interviewed The Amazing Kreskin and Lauren Groff, Congressmen and small-town mayors, a woman with a bubble gum collection and a man who lost his leg in the biggest fire in our county’s history. And in writing these, I’ve learned the importance of creating rich lives for my supporting characters in just a few choice details, which, in turn, helps creates a very real community for my protagonist to live and breathe in..It also taught me that writer’s block is for chumps. There’s no “The muse has abandoned me” when you’re on deadline. Yes, you get tired and burnt out, but it’s nothing a walk around the block and a little Steely Dan can’t fix because that story has to be finished. In her book Bossypants, Tina Fey recounts that Lorne Michael told her “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready, the show goes on because it’s 11:30.” You can’t get precious about your story on a press day, can’t labor over making each sentence a beautiful hand-crafted paper flower. And yeah, sometimes you screw up, you misquote someone or spell a name wrong, but hey, it’s a clean slate the next week..Writing for a newspaper helped me become a more disciplined writer, getting up at 6:30 every morning–even on weekends–to write my own work. Because the muse may strike at any time, but so can a fire or a press conference. Being in that chair bright and early assures that no matter what the rest of the day brings, I will have spent time with my own work. That’s how I wrote my novel The Big Rewind, one hour at a time, before anyone else was up.
I find the piece of the interview that was most important to me and lead with that. I try to set the scene for the reader, which can make an interesting story out of something as dull as a dog-catching ordinance. I rarely go in with more than a few “must-answer” questions, allowing the interview subject to help dictate the flow of the conversation so they feel more comfortable, and listening carefully to pick up the thread of what my next question will be. It’s very informal way of conducting an interview, but as such, I’m able to discover what the story is really about, rather than dictate going in what I want my headline to be.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of adult contemporary fiction In the Context of Love
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist, 2016 Readers’ Favorite Finalist, 2015 Great Midwest Book Festival Award
Angelica Schirrick had always suspected there was something deeply disturbing about her family, but the truth was more than she bargained for.