A life in stories

I’ve worn a lot of hats on this journey, but a single theme runs through them all: the power of storytelling. Today, I write stories. I listen to stories others tell. I try to help make stories do their best work. I always want to know what the story is. About everything.

pencil on paper
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

I’ve been scribbling since I could hold a pencil. You remember them — the big fat ones made for a kindergarten hand? Growing up, if there was a school newspaper, I wrote for it. If there wasn’t a school newspaper, I started one. I delivered the local newspaper because I thought it was prestigious work for a kid — 12 years later I came back for my first reporting job on a daily newspaper. “Ink for blood” is how one friend describes me. It may just be true.

I wrote my first short story in high school, a desperate imitation of Kurt Vonnegut. Kept plugging away in college and graduate school, publishing a few before I entered journalism full-time at the Journal Tribune. And I haven’t stopped chasing stories since. I took every fiction writing class I could in college. I left a Ph.D. program at Harvard University (where I was studying political science) to get a master’s degree in writing fiction, studying with Tobias Wolff, Doug Unger, Hayden Carruth and Leigh Allison Wilson.

Not long after, I discovered that there were great stories in the real world, as well — stories that I could tell that would interest and delight readers, that would inform them and help them make decisions about their lives and their communities. Journalism became my primary means of storytelling, and I started writing for alternative weeklies, small-town daily newspapers, trade publications, and general circulation magazines. By day I wrote stories — sometimes as many as five a day — as a reporter, came home to eat dinner and spend time with the kids, and then work deep into the night writing more.

The pursuit of a good story has landed me in the co-pilot’s seat of a small airplane skimming the tree tips of Maine’s North Woods, inside a burning house with firefighters on a training mission, out to sea with vagabond sailors, up in the high Alps to report on professional cycling and under the Friday Night Lights of a football-crazy Pennsylvania coal town. One of the most difficult and meaningful assignments was being dispatched to the “Dark Triangle” in Quebec in the aftermath of the 1998 ice storm, where many remote towns had no electricity for nearly a month. My work has won numerous state and regional awards, and has been nominated for both a Pulitzer Prize and a National Magazine Award.

In 2003 I co-founded a digital media company that focused on the stories of healthcare organizations,  and grew it from three employees to a staff of nearly 80 with offices in Portland, Maine, NYC, Washington D.C., Chicago and Berlin by the time I sold my interests in it in 2014. Since then, I’ve been helping tech companies – including Intel, Salesforce and Amazon – tell their healthcare stories with compelling content. I’ve leveraged my experience to help other digital media companies manage their mergers, acquisitions and exits, assisted in the transition of a non-profit civic news organization from founders’ start-up to maturity, and – returning to my literary roots – served a year as managing editor for The Maine Review.

And along the way, I continue to help businesses and nonprofit organizations bring their stories to the public.