Sunday, June 27, 2010

In Honor of Ink-Stained Wretches

My first paying job in journalism was writing features for the Richmond News Leader, may it rest in peace.  
That job was beyond fantastic, for two reasons: First, upon arriving in the Capital of the Confederacy from Alaska, I was told: "Write whatever strikes you as interesting. People, places, events. Tell us what you see, and why we should care."

Those extremely generous words came from Bob Walsh, my editor, and the late, great Nelson Hyde, the editor who initially hired me, a man capable of seeing -- somehow -- something worthwhile in a little greenhorn punk fresh out of journalism school.
But the second reason I loved that job?  The staff. The News Leader's reporters, editors and administrative assistants were seriously dedicated to putting out the best newspaper, every single day (except Sunday. We didn't have a Sunday edition).  They loved good writing. They edited with an adamant focus on serving readers. Plus, they were some of the nicest people I've ever met.
They were also characters. Reality TV has nothing on that newsroom.
One of those News Leader characters still kicking is Jay Stafford. He's now books editor with the Richmond Times-Dispatch. When I first met Jay, he sported a blonde mustache as macho as Magnum PI's, yet often offered impromptu tutorials about the finer details of the British monarchy. Jay could also be relied upon to upbraid any Yankee rudeness with the choicest terms available to the literary man.
Yesterday, his review of "The Clouds Roll Away" ran in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. It's an honor to be reviewed by somebody of his calibre. I'm so grateful. On a personal note, the review brought back many hilarious memories of the News Leader smoking room, where Jay often pontificated between puffs about the latest etiquette infraction committed by Sarah Ferguson. We now know Jay's take on the social-climbing Duchess was prescient. What I would give to hear Jay Stafford vent about Fergie selling access to Prince Andrew for money.
Here's to you, Jay Stafford. One of a kind.

Thank you.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lost and Found

     I lost my notebook.
     Not just any notebook. This was a Moleskine that contained all notes for the next book.
     Every bit of it: Visits to the state mental hospital. Interviews with FBI agents. Insiders at Emerald Downs horse racing.
     Phone numbers. Contacts. Business cards.
     When I first realized the notebook was missing, I had just returned from my college reunion at Mount Holyoke. Searching my bags, I came up empty, then remembered everything spilling from my purse during some high-altitude turbulence.
     I called three airport lost-and-founds, calling day and night. No response. I wrote emails. Left more messages. Still no word. One recording said: "If you don't hear from us, it's because we didn't find it."
     Yesterday marked the tenth day without my notes. Today, I was scheduled to start writing the next book.
    No notes, no go. 
    The last ten days have been marked by a quavering sensation that thrummed across my rapidly beating heart. How in the world can I recreate all that information? 
    The answer kept landing with a thud: You can't. 
    While a close friend prayed for the notebook's return, my sister-in-law, the redoubtable Pasqualina Giorello Labello, told me to take a half-filled glass of water and drop St. Anthony inside. 
    Believe me, I was tempted. But after ten days petitioning lost-and-found, without response, I moved to the next stage. If God could rip every last possession from Job's hands, and Job could still praise God, shouldn't I be able to deal with some missing notes - and still give thanks?
    The notes were gone but I was alive and well. And maybe this awful situation had a point. Maybe I needed to do more research. Maybe I missed something. Delays, as people will tell you after some just-missed accident, have good reasons, although we never see it at the time. 
    Yesterday morning, I gave thanks for that which I didn't want. Instead of asking -- okay, begging -- for the notebook's return, I thanked God for knowing what was best. I got myself into this pickle, could He please show me how to get out of the jar?
   That's when the phone rang. 
   Right smack dab in the middle of that prayer. When I picked up, a man with a Chicago accent as heavy as wet wool said: "Is this da person who lost da notebook?"
    I held my breath.
   "I'm calling from United Airlines," he said. "We found da notebook, at O'Hare Airport."

    If you write this stuff in novels, readers throw the book across the room.
    She gives thanks to God, and suddenly the notebook is found?  Give me a break.
    But that's what happened. Fact. Not fiction.
    "The things that make God dear to us," wrote Oswald Chambers, "are not so much His great big blessings as the tiny things, because they show His amazing intimacy with us; He knows every detail of our individual lives."
    Lost. And found.