What Examiner.com Did for Me

M and R Clock
Miller & Rhoads clock at The Valentine. Photo: Tonya Rice

By the time Examiner.com sent their email on July 1, 2016 to the company’s “Examiners” to announce they were shutting down “on or about” July 10, 2016, I had already drifted away quite a bit from my workload as the Richmond Landmarks and Historic Districts Examiner. That stint was a natural choice for me, but I can’t say I really knew it at the time until I had begun. My mom instilled me with quite an interest in my city’s history. I guess as an elementary school teacher, she gave me that sense of nostalgia I still get from past field trips as a kid to various places around here, as well as in current strolls through places I love to share with my children.

It began without much fanfare. One night a few years ago, I’d stumbled on the examiner.com site by way of another site, as you do, and noticed they had a list of openings. I sent my letter of interest to them for the historic districts writer spot and was immediately accepted. I was beyond thrilled. Not only that, I was beyond terrified. That meant writing for other people. I had not yet ventured really into the realm of writing online. As much as I wanted desperately to become a novelist, I realize now that I feared having my writing sent out into the world. I love to read. There’s always a book with me. I went to one of the top colleges known for its strong creative writing programs. But I’d graduated decades earlier and had accumulated enough time to settle into the space of thinking that I’ll just dream of having my books along the shelves with my favorite authors. That I’ll just write and share my work with a selected few if any.

About a week after I got the examiner title – it wasn’t really what one would actually call a “position” – I grabbed my kids, my camera, and we played tourist. We took photos of places around town and I later did research on the spots. I’ve got a collection of Richmond history books already, but I needed others. I’d gotten some from the library and the internet proved helpful in some cases. My first article, “The Aluminum Statue of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson”, was soon written, then posted,  and I was on a roll. When I got to the area where much of my family grew up before I was born – the once-renowned “Harlem of the South”, Jackson Ward – something jiggled my spirit. Voices of relatives long gone began talking to me. Some I remembered hearing firsthand as a child, others I remembered hearing about as a child. I walked through their haunts to hear them clearly and I relished every moment.

Years ago, I had a story come to mind as a result of those voices I’d had the chance of hearing back then. I pushed the tale aside. I can’t say I really ever thought I’d sit down to write it or if it would just be in my head talking to me for the rest of my life. About that time I joined a local writing group, Agile Writers, and the story began to form and take an interesting shape. My confidence in writing as a result of examiner.com had increased. I grew comfortable about having an audience for my fiction. My comfort level with writing online developed so much, I joined Twitter and even created an Facebook page for my examiner.com work. In addition to that, I created two blogs: this one and “Goosepimply Allover” – in which I share my personal connection to classic films; and I wrote three novellas, each set in Richmond!

A few years before then, I’d begun working on my Master’s in English. After some time away from my studies for a little while, I returned to my graduate school with a new major. In March of this year, I received my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. My thesis is that historical novel based upon the voices I’ve been hearing from my ancestors and their contemporaries in Jackson Ward from the 1930s on. Yay! To make sure I’m my work is as authentic as possible with regards to events and dates and such, important concepts in historical fiction, no doubt, I took the time to scroll through microfilm of old newspapers at the Library of Virginia. That was such exhilarating work! That place is MY Kings Dominion!

I’ll continue to play Peter Parker in my hometown snapping pictures and divvy up research on various spots and areas. The voices of my thesis will never leave me as long as I do this and I crave the connection. In fact, I have another historical novel brewing in my head as a result of all this research. I love learning it and I love sharing it.

Shoes and hat box from Montaldos, at The Valentine. Photo: Tonya Rice

So, looking back, while I only earned about $30.00 from examiner.com in my six years with them, I realize that I earned so much more than money. I gained confidence in my writing and even discovered my value as a writer in this world. I always knew it was what I wanted to do. It made me do it and I am extremely grateful to them for that.

To those of you who’ve continued to stick by my Richmond Landmarks and Historic Districts Facebook page and to my new fans of the page – a huge heartfelt Thank You! I appreciate your support very much! The current links to my examiner.com articles are now dead – HOWEVER, I will soon repost my work along with new posts about different areas in town. I’m still an Examiner of my hometown, so the fan page name will remain.

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