I love newspapers. Love writing for them and reading them. As a girl, I stumbled across some old Brenda Starr comic books that featured the glamorous and intrepid girl reporter going after the truth, and wished that I could be Brenda Starr. The writing bug bit hard during my freshman year in high school when I was assigned to a journalism class because it was the only class that fit my schedule.
Journalism saved me. My family had relocated from my beloved South to Ohio for my dad’s work, leaving me adrift among the Yankee kids at my new high school who made fun of my clothes, my accent and my taste in music. I had no friends and lots of time to write. I spent the rest of my high school career working my way up from general reporter to editor in chief, won an award for a feature article on health careers ( I still remember it to this day!) and went on to co edit my university newspaper as well. So when it came time to choose a pursuit for Sophie Robillard Caldwell, the protagonist of EVERY PERFECT GIFT, my third Hickory Ridge novel, it was a no- brainer. Sophie is the owner and editor of the long-defunct Hickory Ridge Gazette. Writing her story, I could almost smell the hot lead and ink.
Sophie has to contend with old and inefficient equipment, and compose each line of type by hand using individual lead letters set into a wooden tray. A finished page of the Gazette ready to ink and print, would look like this one from the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown New York. Aside from production difficulties, Sophie also fights a 19th century trend when newspapers were unabashedly partisan and sensationalistic. She wants her paper to be free of outside influence and devoted to the good of the people of Hickory Ridge, an attitude that the New York Times embraced for its readers in 1896. “All the news that’s fit to print” became the motto on the Times’ masthead. It survives to this day.
In recent years numerous newspapers have failed as more and more people turn to electronic papers for their news. It’s a shame. Newspapering in America has a long and colorful history, going all the way back to Colonial times, inspiring generations of girls like me who dreamed of traveling the world as a real life Brenda Starr.
How about you? Who were your girlhood heroines? Who did you most want to be?