You know that advice about how to boil a frog? When I agreed to host today’s guest for a mini-interview, I had no idea I was marinating in already-steaming water, nor that she’d be the one to turn off the stove. Specifically, having watched a number of friends launch first books, these were my beliefs about the experience:
- Book debuts are a lot of work and leave authors feeling ignored or overwhelmed. Nobody describes them as “fun” or the fulfillment of a dream.
- Nice people don’t get ahead.
- It’s almost impossible to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Kind of pessimistic, right? Well Meet LynDee Walker, total sweetie, and Jan’s literary myth-buster for taking every one of the above points and demonstrating their untruth.
For instance, LynDee was grateful and happy before Front Page Fatality took off–a trajectory begun in its first week. (On Amazon, #7 in Books> Literature and Fiction> Humor as of the time of me writing this post.) In this Q & A, I think you’ll get a sense of personality and perhaps why she’s done so well.
Here’s her book’s official blurb:
Crime reporter Nichelle Clarke’s days can flip from macabre to comical with a beep of her police scanner. Then an ordinary accident story turns extraordinary when evidence goes missing, a prosecutor vanishes, and a sexy Mafia boss shows up with the headline tip of a lifetime. As Nichelle gets closer to the truth, her story gets more dangerous. Armed with a notebook, a hunch, and her favorite stilettos, Nichelle races to splash these shady dealings across the front page before this deadline becomes her last.
And LynDee’s official bio:
LynDee Walker grew up in the land of stifling heat and amazing food most people call Texas, and wanted to be Lois Lane pretty much from the time she could say the words “press conference.” An award-winning journalist, she traded cops and deadlines for burp cloths and onesies when her oldest child was born. Writing the Headlines in Heels mysteries gives her the best of both worlds. When not writing or reading, LynDee is usually wrangling children, eating barbecue or enchiladas, or trying to walk off said barbecue and enchiladas. She and her family live in Richmond, Virginia. You can visit her online at www.lyndeewalker.com.
Jan: Welcome, LynDee
LynDee: Thanks so much for having me, Jan! I have loved your interviews for years and am honored and excited to be here!
Jan: You share a journalism background with your book’s main character, and it made me wonder about your inspiration for certain plot elements. Did you cope with backstabbing colleagues, sexy mob informants, or situations where your own life was in jeopardy?
LynDee: Not the way Nichelle does! I think in every work situation (at least almost every one I’ve ever been in) there’s that one person who seems to get under your skin, so Shelby was a natural outgrowth of that. Sexy mob informants would have been fun, but alas, I’ve never run across one. I’ve never had anyone threaten my life, either, but I was threatened with arrest once, and another time heard through the department grapevine that I was quite the topic of conversation in a staff meeting at a large law enforcement agency. Not in a good way. The phrase I heard was “this reporter is an evil faction rising from the East to wreak havoc, like in the Bible.” That’s the sort of quote that sticks with you. I’ve never been sure which “East” I was supposed to hail from.
In contrast with the infotainment which passes for journalism these days, it strikes me that Nichelle’s ethical code and empathy seem rather old-fashioned. (Meant in a complimentary sense.) She’s after a story, but on occasion will function at the level of first responder. I have two questions related to this.
First, beyond gathering and crafting a story, do journalists get any training in how to manage their interview subjects’ grief reactions or emotional trauma?
LynDee: Not really. At least, not in my experience, and I graduated from the best program in the Southwest. But I was trained by some highly ethical, very old-fashioned professors who taught us that your reputation is your single greatest asset. I watched other reporters treat stunned and grieving family members badly a few times, and it always infuriated me. I tried to treat people the way I would want to be treated in their shoes. And more than once, I ended up with an exclusive because I was nice.
Even in times of peace, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an occupational hazard for EMTs, nurses, physicians, etc. (One that’s often ignored or treated as a dirty secret.) You’ve got me wondering about PTSD for reporters, and whether it’s acknowledged during your training.
LynDee: Again, no. At least it wasn’t 15 years ago. There were definitely days when I felt it, though: September 11, for one. I got an exclusive with the Secretary of the U.S. Navy that day, and managed to hold it together and put the paper to bed when all I wanted to do was go home and curl up in a ball and cry my eyes out.
Then there was the Christmas that I covered that house fire: I still tear up thinking about that. Three days before Christmas, three children, all under 7, all died. It was a horrible, heartbreaking story. The fire chief even lost his composure while I was interviewing him about that, and he was a tough guy. Again, I swallowed my tears and did my job, but I completely lost it when I got home that night. It wasn’t “just a story,” it was three babies, and the holiday season seemed to make it that much more tragic.
The last straw for me was a capital murder trial I followed for a year. The little girl was sixteen months old, and died of a traumatic brain injury. Mom’s boyfriend was babysitting, and was convicted in a second trial after the one I covered ended in a hung jury. Eight months pregnant with my first child, I sat in the courtroom for three days, looking at autopsy photos and listening to a grief-stricken father talk about his baby. When they went through the four different stories the defendant had given various law enforcement folks about the day the child died, I was ready to jump over the rail and punch the guy out. The severity of the emotional response scared me, and I realized that as a mom, I couldn’t cover crimes against children. My objectivity gets swallowed by grief for the child and sympathy for the people who loved that child. It was my last trial.
Despite her interest in fashionable footwear, readers shouldn’t dismiss Nichelle as a lightweight. There’s a seriously ambitious heart beating in her chest. We see this through her actions, but also through her admiration for Bob—her boss, surrogate father, and former Pulitzer Prize winner. Talk to me about Bob’s activism and journalism’s capacity to heal communities.
LynDee: I adore Bob. He’s one of my favorite characters in Nichelle’s world, and seems to me, most of the time, to live and breathe. Here’s his story:
Bob shares a passion for reporting and service with my favorite editors and two of my most beloved Journalism professors. He covered the Civil Rights movement as a cub reporter in the late 1960s, and then in the mid-80s, he wrote a series for the Telegraph about the continuing racial divide in the Confederate capital, investigating and exposing the modern KKK and helping to bring attention and aid to predominantly African-American parts of the city. His interviews with civil rights leaders drew attention to inequalities that still existed and promises that had gone unfulfilled in the 20 years since the Civil Rights Act passed. People said his stories did a lot to help set that right and heal wounds that had festered here for over a century, and the Pulitzer committee agreed.
What lies ahead for Nichelle? Will we see this kind of activism in future adventures?
LynDee: Absolutely. Nichelle has such a big heart and is so compelled to help people, I think her investigative and activist journalism days are only beginning. My second novel is due out in October, 2013, and this time she gets to dip a toe into the murky, shark-infested waters of national politics.
Jan: Zesties, if you’d like to be entered in the draw to win an ebook copy of Front Page Fatality, comment in the space by MN EST Feb. 17th. LynDee’s publisher, Henery Press, uses ecards, meaning you are restricted neither by device nor country. Share this interview on Twitter/ Facebook/ blog, etc., and let me know below in a separate comment to qualify up to 4 times.