A decade ago, after a humor essay I wrote on marriage somehow got published in the Washington Post, I thought, very naively, “Hey, maybe I could be a newspaper columnist!”
This flash of ignorant brilliance was not deterred by the realization that I had no idea what being a newspaper columnist entailed. I was published in the Washington Post, so I could be a newspaper columnist if I damned well pleased, right?
Clueless as I was, I was realistic enough to know that I should probably do a little research. I figured I could read a pamphlet on the topic of column writing, and I’d be ready to introduce my creation to the national news media.
So, I went online in search of a book on the subject, preferably a short one so it wouldn’t get in the way of my new career. In the list of little Amazon cover thumbnails, one book stood out from the rest. “The Art of Column Writing, by Suzette Martinez Standring,” the cover read.
When the book arrived, I put it on my bedside table, and read it every night. I gobbled it up, actually, and when I was done, I read it again. And again. And again. Even though I had initially thought I didn’t need much advice, reading Suzette Martinez Standring’s book made me realize how much I had to learn, and I became determined to do things right. Her book became a bible of sorts to me. I kept it on that nightstand for two years while we were stationed in Germany, which was convenient, because the computer where I wrote my first columns was located only a couple feet away in our bedroom. I referred to The Art of Column Writing so often, the corners of the book were curled and tattered, when I packed it with my things for our next move to Florida.
Following Suzette’s advice to a tee, I had managed to create my column, The Meat & Potatoes of Life, and this blog, and convinced my hometown newspaper, the Indiana Gazette, to publish my columns weekly in their Family section. Next, I wanted to syndicate my column to other newspapers. I researched newspapers and editors, created spreadsheets, and fired off many emails.
“We only hire local columnists,” many editors told me.
“There’s no money in the budget for new features,” others said.
The rest asked me to remove them from my mailing list.
I wanted to meet columnists who had succeeded in the field, so I joined the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, and signed up to go to the annual conference which was being held in Macon, Georgia in 2012.
At the hotel in Macon, I nervously approached NSNC’s registration desk. I signed in, picked up my conference “goodie bag” and pinned my name tag to my blouse. “Now what?” I thought. I hate mingling, so I considered hiding in my hotel room until the first session. But then, I spied a familiar face… it was Suzette!
I introduced myself with a goofy grin and a vigorous handshake like some kind of rockstar groupie, and told Suzette that her book was my bible. I pretty much stalked Suzette the rest of the conference, but for some reason, she never notified the police. I learned that Suzette was a nationally syndicated columnist and book author — tiny in stature but with a big personality. She described herself as “a hamster on fire in a bathtub” but this, I learned, was pure self-deprecation. Suzette is one of the hardest working women I have ever met, she is resourceful and intelligent, and has a wicked sense of humor.
In the years after I met Suzette, we attended many conferences together, served on NSNC’s board together, had meals together, walked on the beach together, met each other’s husbands and families, stayed up late talking together — essentially, we became great friends.
So, when she offered to preview my book and give me a review, I was honored. This is what Suzette said about The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com:
“How is possible to blend belly-shaking laughs with poignancy? I envy Lisa Smith Molinari’s gift for stringing together laughs and lessons. The Meat and Potatoes of Life is hearty fare and I share my highest accolade: I kept saying to my husband, ‘Oh, please let me read this chapter to you!’”
Without Suzette, I may have never become a columnist or book author. Her book was the bible that helped me launch my career. But what proved even more valuable to me was her mentoring and friendship. Thank you, Suzette!