Ferber, Showboat, and the Great Reporting Adventure


Today my first news story is appearing in the Bertie Ledger! No, I haven’t gotten the job yet….and I wrote the story for free. The previous holder of the full time reporting job is still working in the half-time position until the end of the month. But I was planning on attending a talk on Edna Ferber and Showboat’s connection to North Carolina anyway…so I volunteered to cover the event for the paper. Remember my “do what it takes” philosophy? This was it in living color!

I figured that having another story I had written, this time from a live event instead of a news release, would “show my stuff.” I guess that will remain to be seen, since I am feeling a growing concern that the job itself may never materialize. But in the meantime, I can say that I have been published in the paper as a freelance writer. One more little item for my writing vita if nothing else.

The Associate Editor of the Ledger is the head of my writers’ group. He has been encouraging all of us to get experience by submitting freelance. I had been kind of hesitant. News writing felt like an unknown to me, and the style (largely a lead then one sentence paragraphs for a set number of words) felt strange. Also interviewing anyone as a ‘reporter’ seemed awkward, though I love to talk and ask people questions. If I got the job, I thought, then it would be worth it. But I rethought, and decided this might be the way to get the job. So tiny tape recorder in my purse, pad and pen in hand, I determined to morph into Joanne Eddy, intrepid reporter.

I remembered reading Ferber’s So Big in high school. She was a reporter, playwright, and novelist in an era when women did not generally stray far from marriage and motherhood. Of course I had seen Showboat both as a play and as a movie. But I certainly never knew that Ferber’s ‘live’ experience of showboats came not on the ‘ole man river,’ the Mississippi, but here in Northeastern North Carolina. She spent four days on the James Allen Floating Theater, boarding in Bath, NC. This is what I knew from the announcement on the talk by Bea Latham, a local historian.  Me, being me, I spent 3 hours researching the James Allen, Ferber and Showboat, and Ms. Latham before I set off on my reporting adventure.

Ms. Latham’s talk and her Powerpoint presentation were engaging, rich with Ferber quotes on romance of the theater in general and showboats in particular. But what really captured me was a member of the audience who stood up and asked a question about the orchestra aboard the James Allen. Her uncle played the horn on it she said, and then went on to run a gas station in a nearby town.  Something about this intrigued me.  Why would a musician leave the quixotic and exciting life of the showboat for a more prosaic existence running a Texaco Station?  So I asked her why he left and found out about a real love story from the ‘romantic’ theater life. Her uncle met her father’s sister while he was touring, quit the James Allen Showboat, married and settled down in Collerain, NC.  Real romance indeed. That made the story real and local for me.  The writing was still work, but I actually enjoyed it!

So what was my learning about writing to pass on to any of you following this blog because you want to write?  I found that a story can be found in unexpected ways.  I thought I would only be writing history, but I discovered so much more.  In the process my interest was piqued and the story took on ‘life’ to me, and hopefully to the people who will read it.  To sum it up:  Do you really want to write? Why not be willing to go beyond what you thought possible and explore writing in any form?  To see something you have written in print with your name on it is a thrill, no matter what the format. So it may not be my novel, but it was an exciting writing adventure!

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About joanneeddy

Writer living in North Carolina. Originally from upstate New York. I love my family, my community, and my friends, and embrace 'living deliberately' in the world, trying to make a difference. I have written an as yet unpublished book, The Call, an epic fantasy with historical fiction and folklore elements. My blog is for other writers, for those who love a good read, and for all who, like me, are looking to find and live their call.
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