Monday, 15 February 2016

Jessie Salisbury

Today I have Jessie Salisbury sharing her vast experience about the difference between journalism and writing fiction.

Conventional wisdom says that writing for the local newspaper is a good way to break into writing. Is this true?

In many ways it is. You learn to meet deadlines, to develop a style and voice that is yours, so that readers will recognize your style, and build up a fan base. And you meet a lot of different and interesting people. As a reporter you can go places and meet people you otherwise wouldn’t, such as artists and the visiting celebrities. You can call up somebody and ask to meet with them.

But is it any help in fiction writing?

It is. The people you meet, the situations you encounter, all give you background and insight into people. I once told a fellow reporter that all reporters have to be fiction writers – how else can you make a routine planning board meeting sound interesting? She did not agree with me, but there are fiction writing elements that carry over to journalism: the presentation, what elements are stressed, even getting some humor into the situation. I try hard to keep all of my reporting positive, even in a bad situation. I now rarely cover accidents or fires – I leave those to the young ones who find it exciting.

How long have you been involved in newspapering?

Close to 50 years and I still work at it part time. I began as a correspondent for the local weekly, reporting on village doings, almost as a gossip column. The paper gradually changed, much of it required by advances in printing and technology. In 1970, my town had less than a thousand people and I knew, or knew of, almost all of them. Our population has since doubled but the stories are pretty much the same. Although we do have a lot more boards and commissions than we did back then. These days I write regular articles and features instead of that column of items.

When did you change to fiction writing?

I actually began writing short stories when I was in high school. I applied to the paper after graduation but did not get a spot. There was no need for new correspondents. I began by writing press releases and publicity for such organizations as the Girl Scouts while I was raising my family. I was hired when our new local correspondent was not pleasing the editor and he asked me if I would cover our annual Town Meeting. That was an interesting assignment. I have had the position ever since, although I changed papers at one point, and later worked for our local daily. I am now back at the original one.

Has journalism affected your fiction writing?

In many ways and I frequently find my secondary characters are writers of one kind or another.  As they say, write about what you know. It also got me into the habit of writing first thing in the morning. I wanted to write up last night’s meeting before I forgot what the atmosphere was. The general feeling of a place is important to writing, both fiction and newspaper accounts.  I still write at 6 a.m., starting with the newspaper story and then whatever project I’m working on. Lately that’s been a novel.

Would you recommend newspapers to new writers?

It isn’t as easy now as it was then. Reporters are generally required to be photographers and writing skills are stressed. There is also a degree requirement, although it doesn’t have to be journalism (which I now have). English and political science works, too. Some writers pitch a regular column on a favorite subject such as gardening or cooking. I write one on local history. A friend has a degree in math and writes the paper’s science column.  And there is also the problem of the “Lois Lane Syndrome.”

What is that?

If you recall Lois Lane from the comics, her life was full of adventure, danger, all kinds of heroics, with or without Superman. It was exciting. Most reporting isn’t like that. It is routine, covering the same boards every week or month, sometimes almost like following a soap opera. It is important, rewarding – there are awards other than Pulitzers . Too many young reporters leave the newspapers for more exciting venues and it is hard on a small town if papers jeep changing their reporters because the new ones are unfamiliar with the history, the culture, even the boards themselves. It is knowing all those things, things that can creep into and color fiction writing that make it exciting for me.

Are there other rewards?

There are. My first book was as co-author of an “Images of America” book, a picture book of history of three small town published by the three Historical Societies.  I am one of only a handful of people who know all of that background of my town. It’s kind of nice to be in that position and it helps with my writing, both fiction and non-fiction. My newspaper editor has acknowledged that it will be impossible to find someone else who can fill my place, who knows what I do.

What are you writing now?

I have two published novels. “Orchard Hill” is an ebook and “A Heart Mended,” is also in print, and a collection of short stories, “15 Tales of Love,” came out as an e-book in December. I have a fantasy series I am completing in order to submit and have just finished a novel I first wrote in 1973, a Vietnam War story. The hero, probably anti-hero, is a conscientious objector in a rabidly patriotic family. I am always working on something.


I have lived in New Hampshire since I was a teenager and live in my current home - an 1860s-era farmhouse - with my son and four cats, and try to keep up with extensive flower gardens while writing novels, poems and short stories. I work part time for a local newspaper and occasionally have articles in other publications. My work has appeared in several local anthologies.
I can no longer climb steep hills or hike over rough terrain, but that doesn't keep me from writing about them.

Excerpt – Gold Sandals – One of the stories in 15 Tales of Love.

He was at the end of the table apparently listening to the Chief Ranger, but he glanced up as she neared the buffet. The look of surprise when he met her eyes, the slow smile that curved the corners of his mouth, told her what she needed to know. She picked up a glass of wine and went to meet him.


  1. Jessie's wide-ranging and deep knowledge of several small towns has always impressed me. She can convey the gist of meetings far better than any other reporter I know of--even if the participants gripe that she missed one or two of their words of wisdom. And she's a darn good fiction writer, as well. And I still don't want your job, dear friend.

    1. Thank you for commenting Nikki. Her wealth of knowledge is certainly reflected in this post! I'm looking forward to reading 15 Tales of Love!