Why I don’t write fiction

Published 11:41 am Monday, July 29, 2013

“But every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant…That is why every man’s story is important, eternal, sacred.”

— Hermann Hesse


As much as I enjoy reading fiction, very little actually has sunk in enough for me to fully develop a complete short story of my own. In past attempts, ideas would come unbidden with sporadic concentration on a character or plot. Rarely did I ever feel either was strong enough to become genuine and interesting enough to publish.

Perhaps it’s true: Those who can write, do. Those who can’t, work in newspapers. Ha! Ha!

Self-deprecation aside, I prefer to think that my skill – talent might be a stretch – is in interviewing and writing the stories of the people I meet. Granted, that can always stand improving. There’s no one-size fits all form when it comes to interviews.

Speaking of which, the other day I voiced ideas for this week’s column, and Tony thought they sounded preachy. He reminded me that editorial columns should be something to which our readers can relate. I concurred and sought inspiration elsewhere, quickly finding it from a minor incident that happened Thursday.

An interview – never mind who – was previously scheduled for that afternoon, but cancelled in the morning. The offer of meeting at a different time also had to be rejected. The secretary handling the matter was amused, though, when I told her that I actually put on a nice shirt and tie for the occasion. You should have seen me: light gray pants, matching socks, shiny black shoes, a rich-looking purple-colored shirt and matching tie. I looked sharp. Even my brother, a member of the Fashion Police, would have approved.

All is not lost. I’ll pursue, er, I mean, I’ll court the subject for several more days before giving up. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t. Not every person needs or wants their story told, and the reasons are usually their own.

This leads me to reflect that on my nearly 29 years of working in newspapers, I have been privileged – even honored – to interview an array of people. Were it possible, these columns could be filled for months on end with reminiscences of past interviews. But they’re exactly that, the past.

If ever I numbered those folks, the last figure faded away long ago. But keeping a score sheet is not important to me. Telling the subject’s stories in print and doing it properly is key. No less crucial is that the reader, especially the person or people I meet, believe their issue, mission or personality will be and is accurately and fairly portrayed.

My coworkers past and present might well agree with me that we have to daily earn our readers’ trust. Because we actually do choose to be in this profession (sometimes the Lord only knows why), we accept that fact.

When people invite me into their lives, I presume there’s an element of trust, albeit a sometimes-fragile one.

My goal is to reward that faith and prove your story to be “important, eternal, sacred.”

Stephen H. Cowles is the staff writer at The Tidewater News. He recommends you read “Siddhartha,” “Demian” and “Narcissus and Goldman,” all by Hesse. Stephen can be contacted at either 562-3187 or playback58@gmail.com.