Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, a fellow reporter and I broke a story that was centered in our small town, but which had tentacles that stretched across the country. It was a very complex tale that was told over several days with multiple related articles appearing in each day’s paper.
After it ran, the story was picked up by papers around the country, and a number of reporters from other newspapers called for background and source information as they did their own follow-ups. There was nothing unusual about that until I took a call and the voice on the other end of the line said, “Hi, this is Wally Turner from the New York Times.”
The New York Times was then the height to which young journalists aspired. That a Times reporter was calling me for help on a story was thrilling beyond measure. Sadly, instead of coolly taking it in stride, as though major daily newspaper reporters called me every week to ask for my insights and help, I went full Aunt Barbara on him.
My much-loved Aunt Barbara was a woman who could not pass on information without a large helping of extraneous material. If you asked her where she got her shoes, her answer usually included the name, medical history, and genealogy of everyone she saw at the store where she purchased them. And she knew a lot of people. Eventually, you would get the information you sought, but not without a lot of side trips down roads you hadn’t intended to travel. A variation on that is what the Times reporter got from me.
I was so excited to be sought out by the Times that I couldn’t stop the outpouring of details that rushed out of me as I tried to ensure that he really, truly, fully, understood the complexities of the story and that he had everything he needed. Finally, he reined me in gently and said that he only had sixteen column inches to fill and more than enough background. “It looks to me like I’ll be trying to stuff a ten-pound story into a five-pound sack,” he said.
I thought of that recently as I hit the halfway point of the fifth book in the Leah Nash series. Usually, I’m pretty elated to reach that spot, because the second half of writing a book always goes faster than the first for me. But I’m not so happy, because I realized that although I’m halfway through the word count I targeted, I’m only a third of the way through the plot. Oh-oh.
Either I’m going to have to cut a lot out in the editing process, or I’m gonna need a bigger book.