How Stephen King taught me to write

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No writer has influenced me more than Stephen King. In seventh grade I read my first King novel, Pet Sematary, and chased it with Salem’s LotThe ShiningCarrie and Christine. King was my segue from children’s and young adult fiction into adult fiction and, more than even the J School, King taught me how to write.

Vox recently published a story on Stephen King’s extensive cultural influence – after all, without him we wouldn’t fear Pennywise the Dancing Clown living in our sewers or ironically name our shih tzus Cujo. Much of this article discusses King’s writing style – namely, his exceptional ability to make the reader empathize with characters.

As the article’s author Aja Romano writes, “every characterization, even a minor one, is rich with detail; even if you just met a new character, you can bet that by the time he or she meets a grisly ending a few pages later, you’ll have a deep understanding of who that character is.” King is a master of writing in rich detail, building worlds and understanding people – key elements I work to emulate in my own writing, both in fiction and in journalism.

I’m a features writer and have always tended to steer clear of hard news. I became a writer because I want to meet people and learn about them. My favorite stories to work on are ones where I’ve attempted to capture a person’s essence to make the reader understand them as I have come to.

Take, for example, a story I did in October 2015 about Mark Chambers, a Rocky Horror Picture Show super fan and emcee. I conducted multiple interviews and spent a lot of time texting, calling and just hanging out with Mark as he worked on his show. I had to understand the love this man had for this movie and make sure readers understood him as well.

With each story I work on, I try to exercise my ability to build scenes and create characters. It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to write a long form feature such as the one on Mark, but even with shorter articles I take every opportunity I can to make it more rich with detail, such as in a Q&A with a baker in Columbia, Missouri, and a Missouri music icon. My focus on detail comes from King, much to the chagrin of my former journalism professors who would cringe when I couldn’t name one long form journalist I admired, but raved about the horror author.

Though King is my favorite author and I’ve read many of his novels, I have barely put a dent in his expansive list of works. I’m ashamed to say some of his most famous stories, such as The Stand and Misery, are still resting, unread, on my bookshelf. But here are some characters who have stuck with me because of the great care King put into them.

The Losers’ Club in It

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It, my favorite King novel, lacks a central character in exchange for a core cast of six – The Losers. It begins with extensive delves into each character’s life as adults before returning to their childhoods, and jumps back and forth in time throughout the 1,100+ pages. As you see them in childhood and adulthood, cross-cut together, you develop a deep understanding of who they are and what motivates them, making It’s threat all the more terrifying.

Dolores Claiborne

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Stephen King is the reason I will be thinking of nothing but Kathy Bates and husbands pushed down wells during the Aug. 21 eclipse. Dolores Claiborne is interesting to me because the novel is told entirely through Dolores’ confession to the police about her involvement in a murder. On the surface, Dolores and Vera Donovan, an old woman Dolores is employed by, are cold, hard and in some cases cruel. But King masterfully peels back the layers of their complicated relationship through the conflict between Dolores and her abusive husband Joe. He writes Dolores in such a powerful way as she reclaims power and ends her years of living under domestic abuse, though through her own act of violence. King, to me, is Shakespearean in his understanding of women.

Big Jim in Under the Dome

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It might be strange to say that Big Jim is one of my favorite King villains. After all, he is just a used car salesman and King has written vampires, killer clowns and whatever the hell the Langoliers are. But Jim being human is what makes him so terrifying as he rises to power when Chester’s Mill is cut off from the outside world by an unseen force. One line that still sticks with me, four years after reading the novel, is from Big Jim himself: “Murder is like potato chips; you can’t stop with just one.”

Don’t dream it, be it

“Journalism is dying/journalism is hard/you’re not going to make any money/why do you do it?”

Like every journalism student, I frequently get these remarks from my friends and I often wonder exactly why I’m pursuing journalism. I’ve always loved writing, but am I sure about reporting? Journalism is a demanding field. As I mentioned before, I am terrified of burnout that I can already feel lurking around me. I’m tired. Sometimes, particularly in the moments I’m working on multiple stories and have five interviews in a week and a draft due tomorrow and an hour long interview to transcribe etc etc etc, I question if this is what I should be doing.

Then you find a story that reminds you why you chose to go to the first and best journalism school in the world.

Getting to know Mark Chambers, who has been religiously emceeing “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for 36 years, was the most fun I’ve had while reporting in a long time and I’m so happy with how it turned out. Mark was so nice and so hilarious and it was a joy to get to work with him.

When I arrived at the “Rocky Horror” showing Thursday, Mark was in the front lobby and pulled me past the line into the theater and said, “Ma’am, I just have to say, I’ve been interviewed a lot, but this is just a whole other side of Rocky that people don’t get to see.” He told me that the interviews I did with him were the best he has ever had, thanked me for telling his story, and gave me a hug.

This. This is why I want to be a journalist. I love getting to know nice people and talking to them about the things they’re passionate about. I love telling people’s stories that otherwise wouldn’t be told.

After the story and Beatriz’s video were published yesterday morning, Mark sent me a text message thanking me again, saying that the story and video would be “treasures” to him for the rest of his days, and that he was almost in tears by the end of it.

Making Mark happy made me feel so good, and reinforced that journalism, particularly narrative features, is what I’m meant to do.

Read the story here

Women in media, sexism and the threat of burnout

I was never really interested in women’s issues and feminism until I entered college. I thought I’d been fortunate in my life and thought I had never experienced sexism or discrimination based on my gender. But as I spent more time in college I began realizing little ways in how I was being treated differently because I am female — the catcalls I’d receive when driving in my convertible, the men on the street who would tell me to smile, the older men (often residing in positions of authority or who were sources I was interviewing) who would call me “a nice, local girl,” when they learned that I’m from Missouri.

Before college, I never thought of myself as a feminist. I thought sexism was largely a thing of the past and I wasn’t interested in the topic. Now, I go on tangents about women’s issues and the patriarchy and male gaze. I listen to Beyoncé’s “Flawless” at least once a week on full volume and have a Rosie the Riveter poster hanging in my room. Last night I was watching “National Treasure” with my roommates (don’t judge) and it bothered me that someone like Diane Kruger was cast as Nicholas’ Cage’s love interest — because, really, when would that ever happen?

Today I went to the Women in Media panel as part of the Missouri Honor Medal celebrations and classes. I was immediately interested in the topic and as soon as I heard that Jacqui Banaszynski was the moderator, aka a goddess badass journalist and everything I want to be, I made the decision to skip my Ancient Western Philosophy class and go.

Jacqui immediately threw out a statistic that terrified me — she said, about 70 percent of journalism students are women, but there are only about 25 percent of women in newsrooms.

So, what happened to all the women?

The answers vary. Sexism, internet trolls, and the demands of the job tend to drive women away. The panelists talked a lot about how journalism isn’t a regular, nine-to-five job. “Journalism is your life,” they said, and that demand is hard on a lot of women.

Burn-out is something that worries me. I can see how women are especially affected, since many women want to have families and it can be difficult to be married and have children while you’re working a job as demanding and unpredictable as journalism. Personally, I don’t know if I want to get married and have kids, but one thing I have always been adamant about is that I refuse to let a job rule my life. I don’t want journalism to be the main focus of my life. And sometimes it worries me that it will be.

A fellow student asked the question that has been burning in my mind for the last year — when your career is affecting your personal life in a negative way, what can you do?

The answer: “Cry and drink.”

Tbh that’s how I coped with the stress of journalism and personal issues all last year, and I can’t say it worked out well for me. Yes, journalism is a hard job, but I think that I and other women can find that balance. (Insert obnoxious: “Can women have it all?” question. What the heck is “IT”?).

What happens when a words person and a design person make a multimedia package

Multimedia assignments have always freaked me out. I’m a words person. I don’t know how to operate expensive video cameras and audio equipment. I’m barely capable of editing clips into something coherent. I hate being so reliant on technology and I have often fallen victim to dead batteries and off white balances. So when I found out that I had to put together a multimedia project yet again for the Missourian, I was heartbroken.

It didn’t make me feel more at ease when I received an email informing me that my project was the first deadline in the class — nine days away. Me and my partner, Amy, scrambled to put together a one-minute piece of video for the Missourian Minute series in just one week, while every other group in the class had at least two weeks to do so.

And, as with all of my past experiences with multimedia, we hit a lot of bumps in the road.

Amy went out of town for three days, leaving me incapable to work without her. The two possible subjects wouldn’t return our calls. Finally we lined up an interview, but the subject wasn’t available until Friday — the day our final project was supposed to be filmed, edited and turned in. We met the source at a sketchy office below a parking garage downtown. As soon as we walked into the little office, my heart sank — we had nothing visually appealing about this interview. No available B-roll. The environment we were promised as we arranged the meeting was not delivered.

We conducted a quick interview anyway, unable to zoom and without a tripod. We left the interview in a panic. After explaining the situation to our TA, we were fortunate enough to get an extension and desperately scoured the interwebs for something new to cover and create a package on in under 24 hours.

Which brought us to DoDeca-Con.

I had no idea what I was expecting, but people dressed as Ewoks and anime characters wasn’t it. Colorful characters winded through the halls as they waited to participate in the costume contest. Vendors filled a convention room, selling everything from medieval swords to furry tails to comics and art. We approached one vendor, two women who sold steampunk-inspired accessories, and within moments we knew we had our story.

We ran back to Amy’s dorm and sorted through the video and audio clips. We spent three hours in the newsroom the next day finishing out final product. Everything worked out and it’s like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I know having these multimedia skills is important for being a journalist, but for now I’m happy to get to stick to words for the rest of the semester.

Welcome to Junior Year, the Missourian, and Eight-Hour GA Shifts

This week has held a lot of firsts for me. My first day of junior year. My first time getting a parking ticket. My first time taking a sunrise yoga class. And today was my first GA shift at the Columbia Missourian, Columbia’s city newspaper.

From the moment you step onto campus as a freshman journalist, the Missourian is this big, scary, impending obstacle that looms over you. You know it’s coming, you’ve heard how hard it is, and all you can do is practice writing at the campus newspaper and hope you can just get through the J4450 semester.

When I walked into the newsroom during orientation, I was, and honestly still am, intimidated.

It didn’t make things better when I realized that my first General Assignment shift would be held during a walkout demonstration by graduate assistants. After prepping for the day to come by reading through articles for hours the day before, waking up before dawn for sunrise yoga, and grabbing my favorite Starbucks combo — a grande white mocha with a chocolate croissant — I set out for GA, armed with my reporter’s notebook and pen.

After some early-morning live-tweeting, my GA shift mainly consisted of calling MIA sources and leaving voice mails from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Two stories fell through simply because nobody would respond to my messages, and a third story is looking like it’ll be dropped by tomorrow.

This wasn’t exactly how I wanted it to go.

But even though the day was full of setbacks, I found myself enjoying the job. I love being in a newsroom. I love making friends with the other reporters, something I’m finding astonishingly quick and effortless to do. I love working with editors and ACES who take the time to help us newbies.

I may not have a byline just yet, but I’m excited for the semester and stories to come. Maybe the Missourian isn’t so scary after all.

Sometimes, journalism is hard.

I started writing articles for The Maneater the summer before I came to MU, and last August I was hired as the Student Life beat writer. Over the course of the year, I interviewed so many different people, from notable alumni to a couple who were married in the Speakers Circle to the lead actor of an indie film, and made so many amazing friends.

In April, I took over the Campus Life section as Editor. It’s my job to come up with story ideas, assign stories to writers, pitch photos, edit with writers, manage Maneater Long Reads (a feat that terrifies me), go to workshops, work office hours, hand out papers on distribution day, recruit new writers/photographers/designers, come up with graphics, put stories online, and attend two weekly budget meetings. On a weekly basis.

Sometimes, I get a little overwhelmed. Sometimes, especially when I don’t return to my apartment until after 8 p.m., it feels like I’m working a full-time job. Sometimes, Maneater duties conflict with classes, and I’m left to make a decision — go to my journalism lectures/labs, or go do actual journalism.

Which brings me to why I’m writing about this particular topic: today, I had a super important interview scheduled during the middle of my J2150 lab. Thus, my dilemma — class, or The Maneater?

After I attempted to inconspicuously leave class, I ran to my car (the only relatively close/quite place I was able to use) to do the interview. And the source never contacted me. I spent 45 minutes sitting in my car in a parking garage waiting for a source to call me back and missed the class about camera basics (which I probably really needed to be there for, since I know literally nothing about cameras).

So, here I am, interview-less and camera knowledge-less.

Journalism is hard sometimes. Sometimes you end up missing a valuable lab, sometimes a source stands you up, sometimes you feel behind in your classes and totally overwhelmed and stressed. But sacrifices have to be made.

Before I applied to be an editor last year, I talked to some of my friends who were editors the year before. They told me it was hard, that I’d spend all my time in the office, never be home, and fall behind in classes. And now, just the second week into school, I’m realizing just how correct they were.

But, to me, it’s all worth it — I get to tell peoples’ stories. I get to be a part of the Maneater family. I get to take wide-eyed freshmen writers under my wing and be a mentor to them. I get real-world experience with reporting and meeting deadlines and editing, which I believe will benefit me more than getting straight A’s in college (though, straight A’s would be nice).

So, to the stress, to the workload, to the irony of journalism classes getting in the way of my journalism job: bring it.

She’s a Maneater

Today the July issue of The Maneater was published, the website is completely finished with its awesome redesign, and the next issue we produce will be published August 27 — the first week of school.

That realization hit me today. The beginning of sophomore year is right around the corner, and soon I’ll have little wide-eyed Maneaters coming into the office.

I’ve already had a handful of “baby journos” write some really stellar stories for me. A couple of them have already been asking me about how they can apply for a beat writer position and, in one case, “what is involved with eventually becoming an editor?”

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Oh my god, they’re all just so cute. I can’t wait to meet them and love them all. The semester can’t come fast enough.

It’s so funny — I remember being in their position last summer. I was so nervous about everything I submitted to Heather and Jack and Jill and Bia. All of my stories were accompanied with “I hope this works! I can change anything that you don’t like,” (implied: “PLEASE LIKE ME I’M TRYING SO HARD THIS IS SO NERVE-WRACKING UGH”). And now I have little babies asking me the same questions I asked old Ed Board. Who’da thunk it?

From the stories that potential Campus Life babies have turned in already, I’m really optimistic about the content the section will produce this year. I’ve had some really great feature stories come in, and I’m hoping that this year Campus Life will be more defined and established than it was last year. (I also hope the baby journos appreciate the gifs I put in my listserv emails, because I put a lot of thought into them).

And after my initial freak out (which still pops up every few days) about Long Reads, I’m really excited to begin the series, too. I have a few ideas that I think will be really cool, the first one already lined up (September 17!), and I’m excited to see what happens (and also a little terrified).

I’m sure there will be times as Campus Life Editor where I will be totally overworked and stressed and burnt out, but I am really so very happy that I found my niche to belong to on campus and that I have my lovely Maneaters. I miss my Maneater family dearly — both this year’s Ed Board and last year’s.

I can’t wait to get back to Columbia and see all of their beautiful faces. I can’t wait to meet all the incoming freshmen. I can’t wait to work.

Is it August yet?

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Today a very special issue of The Maneater hit newsstands around campus. Not only was it the annual “Mizzou in Review” special edition, but it was also the first issue where the new ed board took complete control of their section.

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Over this last week, the Campus Life section was under my management for the first time. I pitched out stories, I checked in with my writers’ progress every few days, I made edits (my former editor and Campus Life dad wrote a killerrrr story for me, which was complete role reversal and almost too strange to deal with). I uploaded my content to the website, I came up with tweets and faceposts, I sent photo and graphics pitches.

I was busy, but it was a blast.

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Fun as it was, this week came with challenges. I struggled to come up with an idea for a graphic about HIV treatment, I had a newbie write a story for me who didn’t even have a remote grasp on the basics of AP style, I had to do last-minute event coverage (and by “last minute” I mean I was literally asked to cover something 10 minutes before it started in exchange for Hotbox cookies) and I’ve already begun searching for online and print story ideas for the summer.

I’m so incredibly proud of this first issue and June 4, the date of the 2014-2015 school year’s first official issue, can’t come soon enough. I can’t wait to have a gaggle of wide-eyed freshmen journos fight for my pitches over the summer. I can’t wait to hire beat writers in August. I can’t wait to have a Maneater child of my own and see the newly-formed Campus Life family grow over the years.

And I most definitely can’t wait for next year’s Dead Editors Night.

Dead Editors Night — a night of mass chaos, turmoil and anarchy in the newsroom. When the new editors take over the old editors die, and all of the newly deceased editors drink an unfathomable amount of alcohol and then proceed to sabotage the new editors as they’re putting their first issue together.

Last night the dead editors swarmed into the newsroom bellowing war cries and armed with silly string. They danced on desks to “Drunk in Love,” they ripped up notebooks and phonebooks and threw the pages into the air, they opened a bag of coffee grounds and poured it all over the floor, they paraded around the office taking selfless and screaming things like “Campus Life foreva!”

And then came the fountain.

Almost everyone ended up in the fountain outside the Student Center one way or the other, either by their own will (mostly the drunken dead editors who dove in) or by force (ex. me, who was pushed in by the dead CSN editor and then repeatedly dunked by my Campus Life dad).

This week has been crazy, and it’s only the first taste of what my life is going to revolve around over the next year.

I’m going to spend an ungodly amount of time in the Maneater office, constantly be searching Twitter for stories and awkwardly editing articles with writers. I’m going to be tired. I’m going to be stressed. I’m going to be busy. I’m going to complain. I’m going to be up late at night, banging my head against my desk and saying, “What have I gotten myself into?”

But no matter how overwhelmed and stressed out I get, being a part of the paper is completely worth it. I’m elated to be a part of the Maneater family, and I can’t wait for all that is to come.

Feel like MOVEing — er, I mean, Campus Life-ing?

I remember being an overly-excited incoming freshman, anxiously anticipating my impending college life. I couldn’t wait to move into the dorms, meet new people and make new friends, and, above all, write for the student newspaper.

I’ve been writing for The Maneater since last May. I was scrolling through the “Mizzou Class of 2017” Facebook page when I saw a post from a girl named Heather, the current editor of MOVE Magazine, the arts and entertainment section of The Maneater. I Facebook stalked her relentlessly until I mustered up the courage to send her a painfully awkward message, asking if I could write for the paper. And thus, I had found my way into The Maneater world.

I fell in love. I fell in love with The Maneater — with the responsibility of a weekly beat to cover, with the freedom of having my own column, with being able to pick up as many pitches for MOVE as I wished, with meeting interesting and often inspirational people who were always so happy to be covered, and with the editors who have always been so nice and let me show up to their parties uninvited. I’ve loved being involved and finding my own little niche on campus.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been going through the process of applying for a position on the editor board — specifically, MOVE and Campus Life. After answering numerous questions, responding to hypothetical situations, trying desperately to figure out how to work Adobe InDesign, and interviewing with next year’s Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor, the positions were filled yesterday.

I am the new Campus Life editor for the 2014-15 school year.

Initially, I had (and still have) a lot of mixed emotions. On one hand, I am incredibly honored, humbled, and grateful that I was trusted with leading the section. On the other, my heart was broken because I failed to get the position I had my sights set on since I wrote my first story for the section — MOVE editor.

I’ve always loved all things A&E. I nerd out about movies and television and books and music and concerts and plays and art. I want nothing more than to move to a big city somewhere in the world and work at a big entertainment magazine, where I can cover film festivals and interview Grammy-winning musicians. MOVE reviews movies and previews concerts and profiles artists. MOVE was what I wanted.

In the hours following the news, I received various texts and tweets from friends and fellow Maneaters congratulating me on the position. I thanked everyone, congratulated the very deserving girl who will be the next MOVE editor, continued the two hour drive back to CoMo from home, went into my room, called my mom, and proceeded to have a panic attack.

I had ideas for MOVE. I was confident in my ability to edit MOVE and edit it well, with every bit of snark and creativity that Heather brought to the role this past year. I had already thought of potential story ideas to pitch out, I was eager to hire columnists, I had a few ideas for regular features and how to balance the print content with online-exclusive content, and I was excited to be a part of the mysterious MOVE editor traditions that Heather had mentioned to me.

I can’t say that I have the same confidence when it comes to Campus Life. This was the section’s first year, and as one of Campus Life’s only consistent writers I know firsthand that the section was never really defined. Campus Life covers student features, university research and produces bi-weekly Long Reads stories online. It’s broad, it’s vague, it’s somewhat ambiguous. As I was hyperventilating in my room yesterday and laying in bed, staring at the ceiling last night (I only managed to get a whopping three hours of sleep, partially thanks to someone pulling the fire alarm at 5 a.m.), I was terrified about the task I have in front of me — of shaping Campus Life into a more definitive section; of producing Long Reads stories, a feat I have never attempted to approach before; of coming up with story ideas that aren’t completely dull.

Then I started thinking of what a friend told me last night, “This was the section’s first year. The beauty of that is you could totally take Campus Life and make it whatever you want it to be.”

And she’s right. I have the control to turn Campus Life into whatever I want it to be. Sure, I might not have any idea how to do that right now, but I will eventually. I’ll learn what works and what doesn’t as time goes on. Long Reads won’t seem as daunting after I tackle the first few stories. I can fill Campus Life with student profiles and make it fun. I’ve written some great stories for the section this year — stories about student veterans, artists looking to spread love, and people overcoming hardships. These are the stories I want to fill Campus Life with next year.

I’m excited for next year. I’m excited to be the second Campus Life editor, to take new writers under my wing and become their friend, to create a great section. I have my anxieties, I’m disappointed that I didn’t get my first pick, but I got something, and for that I am beyond thankful.

This is an opportunity for me to grow and diversify as a journalist. And with the experience as Campus Life editor listed on my resume, I am one step closer to moving to that big city and working for that big entertainment magazine.

To the 2014-2015 school year, bring it on.

For the Win: The 86th Academy Awards

Two days ago was the 86th Academy Awards— my own personal holiday/Super Bowl/favorite television event ever.

The picture that single-handedly, at over 1 million retweets, broke the retweet record and temporarily crashed Twitter's website. Fun fact: it is now also my Facebook cover photo.
The picture that single-handedly, at over 1 million retweets, broke the retweet record and temporarily crashed Twitter’s website. Fun fact: it is now also my Facebook cover photo.

You can read about the pizza, the selfies, and, oh yeah, the awards and my pre-Oscars predictions on the MOVE website.