Monday, December 5, 2011

SKETCH PEOPLE & Me

My first cat was Smokey, a gray-striped kitten that I cornered in the silage shed at my grandparents’ farm. I was seven and delighted: it was the first time I’d managed to get my hands on one of those half-wild barn cats. My brother Gary, bent on teasing me, pretended he was going to take the kitten away. I cried, screamed – and held on. Looking back, I’d say it was perfect training for being a freelance writer.

                                  -- From my book Catsong

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I have been writing for most of my life. I started freelancing when I was in college, and I haven’t stopped since. Can’t. It’s too much a part of who I am.


One of my first writing gigs was with a local weekly. I covered various commission meetings and did interviews. I didn’t love the first part: once, another reporter and I were so bored at a meeting, we started re-working an amendment to the bylaws that the commission was getting ready to vote on. We were found out – I expect the look of sudden rapt interest on our faces gave us away – but the commission’s officer gave us an approving nod and said our wording was right. So, chances are good that our revision of their revision is still in the records somewhere. I like to think it is, anyway.


I enjoyed doing the interviews, however. I’d always loved listening to people’s stories, and here I was, actually getting paid to do it. I went on to other writing gigs – to my long-running arts column at Hartford Woman, my “Making a Difference….” column at Just Cats!, and various assignments with other publications. The law of averages being what it is, some interviews clicked, and some didn’t. But there was always the magic of the unexpected reply – the possibility that your interviewee would suddenly say, “You know, I never thought of that before….”


Time passed, and I got away from journalism. I began writing fiction and published four books. Then, about two years ago, I realized how much I missed doing those interviews. So I started a blog called “Sketch People,” which is essentially a series of conversations with people about what they do. Everybody has a story, writer Paul Gallico said in one of his last interviews, and I believe that. I like finding out about how my interviewees got where they are, what drove them, and even what detours they took on their particular journey. (Sometimes a good detour turns out to be the story.) I never get tired of it. And I’ve learned a lot in the process – not just about the people themselves but also about the dynamics of interviewing. About how terribly important it is for the interviewer to know when to step back and let those people tell their stories.


All those stories have, as it turns out, found their way into a book. Sketch People: Stories Along the Way (Inspiring Voices/Guideposts) will be out in January 2012. I am deeply appreciative of all the folks who took the time to share their stories with me. My appreciation extends to photographer Alina Oswald for her fine, thoughtful work and to my son, Zeke Spooner, for all his behind-the-scenes help.


So, friends and readers, that’s what Sketch People and I are about.


Got stories?