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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Profiles that nourish the soul

People are endlessly fascinating. If I had to choose only one kind of writing to do for the rest of my life, it would be personality profiles. I've got one in today's Plain Dealer on Dorothy Jane Mills, a woman I've known for about five years after first writing about her for CWRU magazine.

The piece that ran in today's paper barely skims the surface of a woman who has led an incredibly prolific writing life. Last fall I heard her lecture at Cleveland State University. Her topic—"I write what I need." It was a great motivator for me to pursue the kind of writing I'm working on today. Dorothy and I have kept in contact ever since.

This profile got me to thinking more about why I enjoy writing about people. With each person I meet, I hope to learn something new about life choices and motivation in hopes that I can apply them to my own existence. Although we call the process interviewing, it's really more about conversation, about listening. It was easy to write about Dorothy on the one hand because she and I have been conversing off and on for five years.

Taking all those converations, however, and condensing them to 700 words was far more challenging than I expected. But it was well worth the effort—a good exercise in paring a story down to its bare essentials.

Dorothy had a love of journalism but, at her first husband's request, she gave it up to pursue teaching—a profession that fit more snuggly with his career. My first reaction when I read this in the galley proofs of her new autobiography, "A Woman's Work: Writing Baseball History with Harold Seymour," was to be filled with indignation at the sacrifice she made. But as she explained to me, it was a choice she grew to appreciate for a number of reasons—female journalists were few and far between in the 1940s. Ever the lady, she realized that journalism might take her to places considered unsafe. She found a way to work her writing in and around that of her husband's focus on writing the definitive history of baseball.

At 75, she writes what she wants. She self-publishes her historical fiction novels because she doesn't want to waste the time it takes to go through traditional publishing houses. And she's found a way to right the early mistakes of her career, buying back the rights and republishing her children's books written when she taught first grade, and—the focus of the profile and her new autobiography—to be credited with the research, writing and editing of her late husband's three-volume series of books on the history of baseball.

She's a consummate researcher and, as I explained to the PD's book editor, she compels me want to be a better researcher and writer. Thanks, Dorothy.

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