When I was growing up, I wanted to be a news reporter.
Other kids my age idolized Michael Jordan or Chuck Norris or Debbie Gibson (yes, I’m dating myself here). I, on the other hand, worshiped Jane Pauley. At only ten years old, I never missed an episode of Dateline and would spend hours conducting my own interviews and doing breaking, hard-knock investigative journalism around my house (although we never quite discovered who tracked mud on my mom’s freshly mopped floors). Jane was poised and professional, a fellow Hoosier who grew up in the same corn fields I was, only to move on and become one of the most respected and recognizable women in her field.
I wanted to be just like her.
Upon graduation, I attended Indiana State University, where I majored in Communications with a minor in English. After four years there, I traveled an hour down State Road 46 to Bloomington, where I began to study for my master’s in journalism–the exact same thing Jane Pauley had done several years before.
My entire life I’d been working for this moment and now it was here…and I hated it.
Although I loved researching and interviewing and writing, my professors impressed upon me the importance of a certain “emotional detachment” all journalists needed to have in order to succeed. As one professor put it bluntly: “If you’re covering a story about a housefire, you need to be able to put a recorder or microphone in the face of someone who has just lost everything and ask him or her how it feels to have lost everything while their possessions burn behind them.”
I am simply not that kind of person.
I slogged through journalism school, and I did well, finishing the program and graduating with honors after only a year of study. I worked in print and radio news for a few months, covering everything from local events to politics, and while I possessed the skills and the knowledge to be successful, what I lacked was the heart.
I sank into a funk. My entire life, I known this was my calling, and I’d taken meticulous steps to reach it. Now what?
For several years, I stopped writing. I got married, moved overseas, traveled extensively. And it was wonderful…
…but it didn’t cure my itch. The one that drove me to pursue a career in journalism in the first place. The one that starts with a question and ends up with a tapestry, woven from research and interviews and several pieces of a tale that had never been tied together before.
When my husband and I returned stateside after several years abroad, the itch was stronger than ever. But I had finally found a new way to scratch it–I would write a novel.
Not just any novel. A historical fiction novel.
Inspired by my new locale, I dove into the local history, discovering nugget after nugget that eventually linked the real past with my fictional characters. I took research trips into the desert. I interviewed historians. I watched documentaries.
I become emotionally invested in the story.
And, this time, that was okay.
For many long years, I considered those years I spend studying journalism a waste. Now I knew they were simply preparing me for this. The skills I learned as a news reporter are the same skills I bring to my work as a novelist. Writing historical fiction requires diligent research in order to not only be an accurate representation of times past, but also to bring a time period alive for the reader in a way that keeps them engaged and wanting to learn more long after the last page is finished. I spend months reading books and emailing historians about a particular time or place before I ever put pen to paper (or fingers to keys). I still get to feed my ravenous sense of curiosity, but writing fiction allows me to fall in love with my subject in a way journalism did not.
I thought for a long time I had failed in my childhood dream. But perhaps, like my method itself, I was simply spending those years researching the right way to make it truly come alive.
So no, I’ll probably never get to be the next Jane Pauley. But maybe one of these days, she’ll read one of my books.