The power of first-person storytelling

on Friday, November 02, 2018

I just can’t help but get emotional. I am closing a book. Not The Book. But it’s the end of an era for me. I’ve edited the last chapter of your stories. Your personal stories. With the December 2018 issue of Trains, I have edited my last “In My Own Words” story. [I lovingly refer to it as IMOW (read: eye-mow) in the office, so expect that reporting mark for the duration.] By my best count, you’ve allowed me to help you tell your stories 173 times. I am honored, to say the least. By nature, a first-person story is intimate. And countless authors have helped me share their stories with our readers. We have amassed a large collection of stories throughout the years. Each editor who’s taken the helm of “Selected Reading,” “Railroad Reading,” and “In My Own Words” has purchased and published the stories that struck him or her the most. I am thrilled that since the October 2007 issue that editor has been me. It was pure joy working with the late Doug Harrop on “Bad Day at Bitter Creek,” his story about Amtrak’s Pioneer holding up *six* Union Pacific freights on the Overland Route in southwestern Wyoming in 1991. When we’d heard he died, it seemed only natural to bundle all the stories I had left from Doug and publish a tribute in IMOW in December 2014. Doug wan an incredible storyteller and photographer.

I am fortunate if I can work directly with the author. Become that railroader. Become that railfan. I’ve put on your proverbial hats and imagined what you saw, what you felt, what you heard, what you smelled (or maybe not — stockyards in the middle of the South in July?), what you tasted (breakfast on the coals of a steam engine at 6 a.m.?). Pure sensory overload.  

If I could no longer find you (thank you, internet, for helping me), then I connected with your next of kin. Bittersweet, for sure, but families are so happy to see dad’s, grandpa’s story in print. 

Declining stories is the worst part of the job. How can you tell someone that his or her memory is not worthy of seeing print. They wrote about these morsels in their lives because they were moved. They were thrilled. They were scared. They were shocked. They were cold. They were hot. They were dirty. And, in some cases, I was able to help them improve their stories, coach them, so the stories were fit to print. 

So, I leave you with Brian Buchanan’s “Agony on Michigan Northern,” in December 2018, about a good cab ride gone bad. Buchanan has made frequent appearances in IMOW throughout my time. It’s always fun working with repeat offenders, uh … er … I mean authors: Doug Riddell, Chuck Geletzke, Dee Brown, Doug Midkiff, Brooks Bentz, Scott H Johnson, to name a few. 

I’m handing it over to the very capable hands of Associate Editor Brian Schmidt. I am excited to see what gems he uncovers and what spin he gives that sweet spot in the back of the magazine.

If I’ve worked with you and you’re reading this, this virtual fist pump is for you.

Thank you, Railroaders. Thank you, Railfans. Thank you, Families. Thank you, Photographers. The pleasure was all mine. It always is. 

P.S. Don’t worry. Editor Jim Wrinn has found plenty to keep me busy. I will continue editing and working with authors, discovering photographers, and proofreading every darn word along the way.

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