Sometimes I introduce my guests based on a personal experience I’ve had with them or their work. In the case of Tampa Bay Times newspaper reporter Stephanie Hayes, I can’t think of any better way to tell you about her.
When my mother-in-law, Helga Holsten, died five years ago after a long illness, Stephanie contacted my wife about writing a featured obituary. It was already a nerve-wracking time and after being interview, Mimi lost a bit of sleep wondering what Helga’s lasting legacy in print might be.
STEPHANIE HAYES podcast excerpt: “Writing obituaries is nothing I ever wanted to do. It’s not like I lay awake at night dreaming of writing stories of dead people… Then I thought I’d be a fool not to. It was a great opportunity; the dark, death part of it was just one small aspect of it.”
See what you think. Here’s the lede Stephanie wrote:
ST. PETERSBURG — People who came into the bank where Helga Holsten was a teller were sure to remember her this way:
Impeccably dressed in co-ordinated pants outfits. Laced in fine gold and gemstone jewelry, a ring on each finger. Eloquent German accent.
“She was always was just so, everything in place,” said Audrey Harris, her former co-worker at SunTrust Bank in St. Petersburg. “She was so good to the customers, so compassionate.”
But they didn’t know everything.
“Oh, gosh, she was a remarkable lady,” said Harris. “She lived such a life.”
And that was just the beginning. (You can read the entire obituary here: http://www.tampabay.com/news/obituaries/impeccable-woman-embraced-a-colorful-life/809722 )
Stephanie had such a natural sense of empathy as the St. Petersburg Times obituary writer that it made her a natural for taking what could have been one of the worst beats on a newspaper and making it an envied throne of great writing and community service.
So what else could she do when the time came to write her first novel than to turn it all on its ass and portray a fictionalized version of herself, her co-workers, newspaper readers and the recently deceased as something else altogether?
In Obitchuary, Stephanie Hayes shows off a great and imaginative vocabulary, poking fun at everything she saw and did on her job, creating the character of Penelope “Penny” Perkins, an unmarried newspaper reporter getting her first shot at the big time and—most likely—causing it all to crash down around her.
This is a situation that has ongoing series written all over it, following in the footsteps of USA Today reporter turned novelist Deborah Sharp, author of the “Mama” series, including Mama Does Time and Mama Gets Hitched. Obitchuary would probably make a good sitcom, frankly.
(In the interests of full disclosure, let me acknowledge that my wife, like Stephanie, works at the Tampa Bay Times, and Stephanie and I have the same agent.)