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FIXED IN THE TEMPEST
BY CHARMAIN ZIMMERMAN BRACKETT
As her daughter heads off to college, Lisa watches as her picture-perfect life starts unraveling. Lisa’s fulfilling career vanishes overnight due to budget cuts, and her loving husband’s battle with his own personal demons threatens to ruin their once stable marriage. Forced to make tough choices, Lisa looks for second chances. Can she have it all?
“I’m sorry, Lisa. You know how much we value you and your work, but look around. We are operating on bare bones, bare budget and hardly getting out a newspaper, if you could even call it that anymore,” said James Harrison, who’d been Lisa’s editor at The Times for more than 25 years. “The newspaper itself is only a shadow of what it once was. It has fewer pages, and the page size has been reduced, but you know all of that.”
James shook his head as he looked at the paper he held up for Lisa, and he sighed.
“I remember when we actually had space for copy,” he said and placed it back on his desk.
Lisa looked out over the newsroom at the reporters’ desks. Of the 30 cubicles, only six or seven had people seated at them. Empty cubicles once meant reporters were out gathering the news, but the desks they left behind showed signs of life. Stacks of newspapers, piles of reporter notepads, coffee mugs and lots of notes and messages tacked on the computer monitor meant someone was working there. Not so today. The cubicles were void of the human touch. They were stark desks with only a computer monitor and telephone at them. A few had an Associated Press stylebook and a Webster’s dictionary.
She remembered her days on the job in the late 1980s and early 1990s before Spencer had arrived. Although it was a nonsmoking worksite now, then the newsroom was filled with a thick haze of cigarette smoke from the constant puffing of chain-smoking reporters and editors. Phones incessantly rang, and police scanners emitted a low hum and chatter about the pulse of the city. Sometimes, Harrison would bellow the last name of a reporter or two after he’d hear of a possible homicide on the scanner. He’d bark instructions and make sure they knew their deadline before shooing them out the door. He got louder after the stories were turned in. Reporters looked like whipped puppies with their tails tucked between their legs after Harrison finished quizzing them about the holes they’d left in their copy. They were often sent back to call their sources at late hours much to the annoyance of their sources, but there was a gap in the story that had to be filled.
The final flurry of tension came while copy editors finished off page details and sent clerks with paperwork to the back shop where people pasted stories and headlines the page. Copy editors often uttered expletives as the back shop called notifying them their headlines were too long, or that they need to take a look at the page because a story was too long and needed cuts – literally, as the story pasted to the mock-up page was too long, and a blade would have to be used to sever the words and drop them to the floor, often to the chagrin of the reporter.
Lisa had never heard anyone yell “Stop the presses.” That scenario was fodder for movies, but she’d heard plenty of colorful phrases as an editor looked at a page proof and caught an error minutes before the page was set to print. But those days were long gone too as the nature of the newsroom had changed to its digitized space.
Even on semi-quiet days in Lisa’s young career, there was electricity in the air because reporters were working on investigative pieces in an effort to trump the city’s competing paper, The Gazette. It was a sad day when The Gazette finally folded.
On this day, there were only two writers churning out their copy as they blocked out the newsroom noise with their ear buds.
“Isn’t there anything I can do?” she pleaded. “I was hoping to ask for a full-time job in the next few months.”
“With budget cuts, the only way we are putting out local news is by overloading the few remaining staffers we have and killing the unpaid interns with stuff they can’t even handle. I had one yesterday who couldn’t even rewrite a press release. They’ve slashed the entire freelance budget, and we’ve had to freeze all open positions for the next six months, maybe longer. Even if someone leaves, those positions will be frozen as well; they immediately go dark,” he said.
“I’ve heard. Do you know of anything else I could do?”
“The magazine division has had its share of setbacks lately. I’m hanging in here with hopes of retiring in the next few years, if it doesn’t all collapse before then,” he said. “I wish there was something I could do. I know you can write circles around these kids in your sleep. If I had a job I could offer you, I would.”
“Thanks, James. At least you called me in and told me face to face. It’s better than an email or text message,” she said and shook his hand as she walked slowly out of the newsroom.
Charmain Zimmerman Brackett grew up in a picturesque Southern neighborhood filled with front porches and retirees. Her closest companions in her childhood and teenage years were the characters she found in the pages of books. In college, her love of literature, language and writing led her to pursue a degree in English. She has spent the past 28 years writing for several newspapers and magazines in the Augusta, Ga. area. In 2008, a story in a series she wrote on returning wounded warriors received second place at the Department of the Army level in the Keith L. Ware journalism competition. She has written three young adult novels, The Key of Elyon, Elyon’s Cipher and Elyon’s Light. Her debut novel, The Key of Elyon, received the 2014 Yerby Award for Fiction. Her fourth novel, Fixed In The Tempest, is inspirational contemporary fiction. Under the name of C.Z. Brackett, she writes the Victoria James mystery series. Her first children’s book, Little Pearl’s Circus World, won the Georgia Writers Association’s 2015 Georgia Author of the Year Award in the children’s category. It’s based on the true story of her great-grandmother, Pearl Clark LaComa, who began performing with her father’s circus, the M.L. Clark and Son Combined Shows when she was only 4. Brackett lives in Augusta, Ga. with her husband, Bret. They have three children, Jessica, Jeremy and Allie and a 7 year-old rescued papillon named Danni.
Links to Charmain’s website, blog, books, etc.