Back in 1988 I took a freelance writing class taught by Ed Weathers, who at the time was manuscripts editor of this magazine. I saw the class listed in a continuing education brochure from then-Memphis State, and decided, “Why not?” With a degree in English, I held jobs that required writing, and as a child, scribbling stories to amuse my family, I told my sisters, “I want to be an author when I grow up.”
Apparently I took the long route to that stage of life; I was approaching 40 when I attended the class. But what a gift it was, and how amazed I am when I realize where it led me: to a brief stint at freelancing, then to a career I’ve loved for 25 years. Back then, I read Memphis magazine, perused its masthead, enjoyed its stories. Never did I think I’d be published in its pages.
But there I was, in the fall of 1990, first compiling the monthly calendar, and trying not to be intimidated by editors with degrees from Northwestern and Yale, Princeton and Columbia. Soon, however, they assigned me in-depth features, and I was interviewing people I never expected to meet. Even better I was working with then-art director Murry Keith, whose keen creative eye never faltered, and whose “Hey, Mare!” greeting always made me smile.
So here I am today, a quarter of a century later, looking back — but also forward. As I write this in July, I have given my notice of retirement, and by the time you read it I will have bade farewell. It’s a hopeful time for me, but sad and unsettling too. I’m not altogether sure how I will fill my days, but a pattern will emerge.
Right now, it’s hard to let go of the old familiar pattern. Though I’m tired and in need of a change, I’ll probably still wake up and want to see my friends and colleagues, among them Michael Finger, who tells a story like no one else; Frank Murtaugh, who knows how testy I can get but loves me anyway; and staff writers Richard Alley and Shara Clark, who have found their own roles in our zany cast of characters. Throughout the century-old building that houses Contemporary Media, Inc., various wits and wags produce fine work in their exuberant fashion, while others perform with a quiet grace. Among the latter is Memphis’ creative director Brian Groppe, who is either the calmest guy on the planet or is taking good meds he needs to pass around.
Together we laugh and (some of us) cry, we revel and we bitch, we lift the others up and have each other’s backs. The latter includes catching errors that make a writer cringe. True, some slip past the usually sharp editorial process, but I have stuffed mine into a mental drawer labeled “mistakes that keep me humble.”
A friend recently exclaimed about my “body of work” and at first I had to laugh; a term like that is reserved for folks with greater stature than I can claim. But maybe a few hundred stories do constitute “a body” and mine ranges far and wide. On the lighter end, I’ve covered homes and gardens, arts and travel, a daycare for dogs, and pilots who formed a rock band. At the heavy end: stories of a death row inmate, a missing Rhodes College student, veterans with traumatic brain injuries, a cotton broker whose bankruptcy turned the industry on its head. One of the toughest was the 2007 two-part story titled “A Murder in Central Gardens,” a torturous, tangled tale of Emily Klyce Fisher, whose son’s drug addiction led to her terrible death.
One endearing fact I learned is how willing most people are to talk about themselves. From the movers-and-shakers of big city projects to families trying not to succumb to grief, most have opened their hearts and hopes to me.
I’ve also been touched by the kindness of readers. Some are siblings, and God bless all five of them for their unfailing interest and support. Others are good friends and faithful subscribers. And I will not overlook my sweet, late husband, who surprised me one day in 1991 with a computer to replace the old typewriter I’d been banging on awhile; he bragged about me to anyone who’d listen and put my frustrations in perspective when hard assignments got me down.
But the readers who touch me most are those I’ve met through notes, cards, and emails, or who called to say how much an article meant to them. I have saved many such messages — even a couple of rants about opinions I expressed — as gratifying reminders that my words made a difference.
I hope to freelance from time to time, and to keep a connection to the magazine-sponsored fiction contest. I’m indebted to the judges who have helped me spot talent that rises to the top each year, and to my colleague and past winner Richard Alley for accepting the coordinator role.
And who knows? Maybe I’ll decide this is still where I belong. As our ever-ebullient publisher and editor Kenneth Neill kindly told me, “We hope you’ll come back in a few months, rested and better than ever!” What the future holds is anyone’s guess, but about the past I’m certain: These 25 years have been some of the best of my life. Thanks to you all for making it so.