About this series: I revisited my journals from my first year as a freelance writer and found they told a story of their own. In this series I get the rare opportunity to give myself and other writers career advice with nearly 50 years of hindsight. Enjoy!
Sometimes the hats of journalist and fiction writer can overlap. Consider this month, 45 years ago, when I put on my reporter and storyteller hats simultaneously:
Beautiful day, making up for yesterday’s disasterous weather, which I tracked down today. Good material for a “Wedding Presents” series story: the disaster of the Bedell Bridge, which blew into the river with a wedding party still aboard.
Began work on “Bartel, B.” today. Good. Solid. Right touch of pomposity. Right touch of cutes. Will make a good rewrite to sell to Student Lawyer. Give me a week.
Saw marionettes show, wrote review and column. Edited arts copy. Took about 40 photos. Wrote about 500 words of fiction. Scanned a Time magazine. A pretty full day.Journal, Volume II
15 September 1979
The destruction of the historic covered bridge, the second longest of its kind in the U.S., was indeed a big story that I’ll share at a later date. It’s full of tragedy and irony. The decrepit, 92-year-old fifth bridge at the site was saved from demolition in 1973 by a historic preservation effort. Renovation was completed in 1978. The bridge was rededicated in July, 1979, only to be blown down less than two months later.
I apparently took the next day off, probably because I was racking up the hours. In retrospect, this was bad journalistic practice done at the publisher’s urging. The one bit of note from the journal:
The 17th, though, was …
An incredible day. The only nice part about it was going for a drive in the country (on a wild goose chase to find a demolished barn in W. Corinth) and seeing some beautiful early foliage on a delightful early autumn day.
The rest of the day was busy, writing stories on the storm, the Bedell Bridge, the rescue, the wedding; rewriting the lead of the Fairlee Schools story; writing a new Fairlee Schools story; writing some 25 captions; and putting together the arts page. Glad there was no meeting that demanded coverage tonight.
Toward the end of the day, I got incredibly hyper and panicky. I think it was a combination of little rest and food, long hours, and a piling up of ill-organized work. Fortunately, I got over that by talking it out.
All in all, this was a day I look back on with pride in my accomplishment. The articles, pictures, and page were all very good, and I showed journalistic skill under pressure. But I don’t want to do it all again, and would hate to work for a daily.Journal, Volume II
17 September 1979
Six years later, I would start a career with a daily newspaper that would last nearly 35 years.
Editor’s note: Howard, your script is clear enough here to realize that you misspelled disastrous as disasterous. Even today, fountain pens don’t have automatic spell check.
Speaking of spelling, previously you titled a short story “The Wedding Presence.” You alluded to a series but this is the first reference to a series of wedding presents.