Welcome to the Continuing Story

Star-Telegram city desk
The city desk at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. We are listening to President Nixon resign. I am sitting on the desk, fourth from the right. Note the trusty Royal typewriters and no cell phones.

You might say I started my career in fiction in the fourth grade, when I wrote serial novels that I passed around to the girls in my class. These novels, self-illustrated in pencil, coincidentally featured characters with the same names as the heroines in Little Women, my favorite book at the time. I learned the dangers of killing off a popular character and the influence critics can have on plot lines.

My ambition at that time was to write an encyclopedia. I’m thankful ambitions can change. Now I’m writing about the War Between the States. Have I learned nothing from my fourth grade experience?

In the eighth grade I discovered newspaper reporting. Who, what, where, when, how and why, with the most important thing first and the least important last. My first story was about an upcoming volleyball game. I discovered newspaper writing was easy for me. A new career ambition was born.

The next year I was editor of the paper. I spent the intervening summer learning to type. It was one of the best investments I ever made. For one thing, I spent the next summer working forty hours a week for The Abilene (Texas) Reporter-News for the experience, not for pay. Being able to type was necessary to the job. The next two summers, the newspaper paid me.

Showing the opposition

On a dare from a sportswriter at Abilene High School, I secured an exclusive interview with First Lady Lady Bird Johnson when I was fifteen and flew with the White House press corps accompanying her to accept an honorary degree. For years I was known in Abilene as “the little girl who interviewed Mrs. Johnson.” I was assisted in this coup by Reporter-News editor Ed Wishcamper. I told him the nervy sportswriter had taunted me, saying women couldn’t accomplish anything in journalism. Mr. Wishcamper called his friend Liz Carpenter, Mrs. Johnson’s press secretary, and repeated that contemptuous remark to her. I so enjoyed seeing that sportswriter’s face when I returned to class after my interview.

As a college freshman, I covered the mass shooting from the Tower at the University of Texas at Austin, calling in a twenty-two-inch eyewitness story off the top of my head to The Reporter-News. The story was carried on the Associated Press wire, for which I was paid more than a dollar an inch, a high price in those days. When I saw it in print, I was horrified because I thought somebody would polish it for me after I called it in. It’s probably just as well I didn’t know it would run as I dictated it.

By the time I was twenty, I was editing copy of veteran reporters at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and working as wire editor one day a week. Later, I returned to reporting, covering education, medicine, government and murders. I was the go-to person when a story required establishing trust and exhibiting extreme sensitivity, such as interviewing family members of murder victims.

Unexpected honors

I have the distinction of being the first female reporter to cover the police beat at the Star-Telegram after the men returned from World War II. How horrified the editor was when he found out I had been assigned to do that (and did it!) and the edict came down A vacant chairthat women were not to be assigned that beat ever again. That day came some years later, but for a while I enjoyed being the one and only.

For the past several years, I have been researching and writing a series of historical novels called Before the Civil War. Book one is called Vacant Chairs. I’m in 1857, writing book nine at the moment!

Has Vacant Chairs been published? Not yet. I do not want to be distracted from finishing the series by the marketing that is necessary to make a book successful. I want both the writing and the marketing to be the best I can make them.

Vacant Chairs is set in Calhoun County, Alabama, the home of my ancestors. When I reach January 11, 1861, the day Alabama secedes from the Union, I will write The End to the series and start looking for a publisher.

Want to know a little more? I’m a…

  • Published author. Anybody who’s written a letter can say he’s an author. My work has been published on the web and in print in various forms, including the book Cowboys of the Waggoner Ranch, published in 2015, and for which I wrote the text.
  • Professional writer. Only authors who have made their living writing can say they are professionals.
  • Native Texan. Texas is so popular, fewer residents can say they are natives than used to be the case. It’s defining.
  • Lifetime learner. Education should not end when you graduate from whatever school. Education should go on and on….
  • Storyteller. Inherited this from my dad, who was a master of the craft.
  • Boycotter. I hate orange root vegetables. This is non-negotiable.
  • Picky craftsman. Prejudiced against the use of “authored” to mean “wrote.” (I’m precise, but as I said, I try to learn all the time. So if you can show me a good reason to verb that noun, I’ll try to be open-minded.) Other prejudices include using “they” for a singular pronoun (yes, English is an evolving language, so I am trying to become accustomed to using “they” like 75 percent of the English-speaking world already does), and using a question as the first sentence (because that’s what writers do when they don’t know what else to say).

Thank you for reading my web site. Take a look at the inspiring, astounding and infinitely poignant images that augment my writing. What marvelous people Americans descend from!

And welcome to the continuing story!

Jan

 

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