Oct. 7, 2017
I never chose my job. Journalism found me.
My father was successively the editor and publisher of two small Virginia newspapers owned by a chain. The first was located in Radford in southwest Virginia and his second one was in Suffolk, near the coast.
My life was inextricably bound to those newspapers. My first real job was proofreading the Radford paper the summers I was 13 and 14. I’d sit in a dingy office in the basement near the printing presses and workers would bring me freshly inked galleys – long columns of print – to read. I’d mark them up with the proofreading symbols I learned. I was proud that I was a good speller and spotted errors easily. The job had long hours but I loved it because I was working with my father. He’d discuss his day during our rides home for lunch and dinner, almost as one adult to another.
The summer I was 19 and a prospective sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill, I started working as a reporter at his Suffolk paper, soaking in the art and craft of newspapering. I covered mostly city council and police news. I’d observe the honorable and friendly way my father dealt with employees, customers, advertising prospects and anyone else who came in the door. He even delivered newspapers after hours to customers who’d call us at home to say they hadn’t gotten one. He worked incredible hours to keep the business going, wrote pithy editorials and sometimes shot pictures and wrote high school football stories.
During my sophomore year, I walked into the Daily Tar Heel offices and offered my services to the editor. On my own for the first time, I was put to work immediately. I loved the fraternity of the student newsroom and the daily sense of accomplishment. I was hooked.
My first job after graduation was as a women’s editor for the Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Virginia. During the 38 years I worked for newspapers in Virginia, California, Texas and North Carolina as a reporter and as an assigning editor, I mostly loved it. It was hard, with long days that often stretched into late nights, but I believed that my job was important to society.
In the early 1980s, my father was rewarded for decades of hard work by being laid off by his mercenary chain. He was a few years short of retirement age, but a new generation owned the chain and the ungrateful son wanted to get rid of the old guys. My father negotiated a settlement and eventually wrote columns for the new editor. I treasure those columns. He died in 1995 and I lost the best role model I ever had.
When I think of our president referring to the media as “an enemy of the people,” I’m offended. I wonder if citizens understand how hard journalists work to bring the truth to light. I’ve never met a reporter who didn’t take the work seriously, who didn’t wake up in the middle of the night worrying about misspelling a name or who didn’t put in extra hours to ensure a story was airtight.
I’ve been threatened, cursed at and verbally abused many times, but I still feel that the work of a journalist is a sacred calling.
Sept. 27, 2017
I really enjoyed talking about Saving Texas and Winning Texas to gracious and literate members of the Carolina Women’s Club at TPC Piper Glen. I found it interesting that most of the questions centered on secession, a central theme in both novels.
We talked about the long-lasting secessionist movement in Texas, the nation’s largest with reportedly several hundred thousand adherents. We also analyzed other, lesser known movements in California, Colorado and overseas, particularly Catalonia, the area of Spain that currently is asserting its independence.
The discussion also centered on how I write (not often enough!) and prolific writers like Stephen King.
In King’s classic nonfiction book, On Writing, he relates that he spends his mornings writing and his afternoons on the business of being a writer. He’s a great role model for many of us who procrastinate!
April 18, 2017
Nancy Stancill was back at the Tuesday Afternoon Book Club in Suffolk, Va. to discuss books, and writing, and new projects.
Aug. 13, 2016
This article was published Aug. 12 as an op-ed in the News & Observer under the headline “Texit? In US today, a surprising amount of secessionist sentiment.” It was also published Aug. 25 in the Houston Chronicle (paywall).
My obsession with secession began in 2009, when then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry suggested that if the federal government messed with his state, Texas could go its own way.
Typical Texas talk, I thought. Then the light bulb flashed on.
I wanted to write a Texas novel about a reporter’s adventures in Houston, a bigger-than-life city where I’d worked for 15 years. But I needed a hook, something to knit it all together. Secession was the perfect theme.
Seven years and two Texas suspense novels later, I’m amazed at the amount of secessionist activity threading itself across our country. Pro-secession groups are popping up and flourishing far beyond Texas, in states including California, Vermont, Colorado and Alaska.
This month, the South Carolina Secessionist Party was the latest to grab the headlines. Sparked by the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds last year, the nascent party is raising funds to erect the flags on private lands across the state. The leader of the group, which has an active Facebook page, is Tyler Bessenger, a man in his 20s who lives in Charleston. I tried to reach him, but his listed phone had been disconnected.
I did reach Scott Huffmon, a political science professor at Winthrop (S.C.) College. He described the group as “very small but very loud” and organized primarily in response to the flag controversy. But he pointed out that secessionist activity in South Carolina is hardly new. The state was the first among 11 to secede from the union during the Civil War. And before the Civil War, the 13 original colonies unleashed the biggest secessionist movement of our history – the American Revolution. Historians have tracked at least a hundred secessionist groups over the years.
Still, the results of a national Reuters poll in 2014 were startling. The poll found that 23.9 percent – nearly 1 in 4 – Americans support their state breaking away from the United States. It found support for secession strongest among young people, rural people, people who identified themselves as conservatives and those living in the Southwest or Western states.
Huffmon said he hadn’t seen that data, but speculated that the polarization of our politics, especially during this election year, might fuel interest in secession. He said people who are disenchanted with politics or the general direction of the country tend to feel that things are better in their state, or in their region, than they are across the nation.
There are no estimates of how many secessionist groups are active. But several of the more active groups are in regions where residents believe their state governments are out of touch with their needs.
Seven counties in northern California have passed resolutions since 2013 to create the state of Jefferson, named for Thomas Jefferson, a champion of the West. Leaders of those counties also would like to include a few similar counties over the border into Oregon, though no Oregon counties have joined the quest. The mostly rural California counties, which are suffering high unemployment in agricultural and logging industries, contend that California state officials have done little to help their region.
Colorado has a similar situation with an active group that wants to create North Colorado from five counties along the state’s northeast border. Leaders in those oil and gas-producing counties have said they don’t agree with some environmental proposals from the Colorado legislature and don’t believe they get a fair share of services in their region, considering the revenues they produce.
Other large secessionist groups have longer-standing grievances, such as the Alaskan Independence Party. One of its governing beliefs is that the 1958 vote for statehood was illegal because voters should have gotten a range of options – including remaining a territory, becoming an independent country or becoming a U.S. commonwealth. Todd Palin, husband of former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, formerly was a registered member of the party. The group tried unsuccessfully to get a statewide vote on secession in 2006.
The Texas Nationalist Movement, born in 2004, is the largest secessionist group in the country, claiming 200,000 members and becoming more visible in state affairs. It narrowly failed, at a recent Texas Republican Party convention, to get the Republican Party to vote on whether to call for Texas secession.
After Brexit in June, the movement started using the term Texit as shorthand for its ultimate goal of making Texas an independent republic. Texas secessionists also have history on their side, because after the state won its independence from Mexico (Remember the Alamo!), it was a republic for 10 years before it was admitted to the union. (Then it left for the duration of the Civil War.)
Some of these groups, Huffmon said, espouse unsavory philosophies, “a crossover between white supremacists and the militia movement.” But, ultimately, he said, it’s about how the groups spend their time. Talking about their beliefs over beers with their buddies is harmless enough, he said.
“But are they willing to commit violence?” he asked. “A lot of these homegrown terrorists, like the ones in Oklahoma City, would like to bring down the government.”
Nancy Stancill is a former Charlotte Observer reporter who lives in Charlotte.
July 31, 2016
Deirdre Parker Smith, reviewing “Winning Texas” in the Salisbury Post, writes about subplots, multiple love interests, and the ghastly threads of a tale that get short shrift, “probably because so much else is going on..” Read the review here. Cached here.
July 31, 2016
Linda Carter Brinson, reviewing “Winning Texas” in the Greensboro News & Record, praises new “maturity” in the writer’s work, with dialogue that is “more believable.” Read the review here. Cached here.
June 21, 2016
Nancy Stancill writes in the Houston Chronicle about the advice that helped her focus in Winning Texas on a city that “is still an exotic mystery to many readers.” Read the Chronicle story here. Cached here.
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