I have always romanticized newspapermen. My image of a reporter was (and is) right out of a 1940’s movie: A cynical looking guy with a press-pass in the band of his porkpie hat, a pencil behind an ear, and a cigarette dangling from compressed lips as he hunches over a manual typewriter … one finger aimed aggressively at the keyboard.
Over the centuries, journalism has been relentlessly disparaged, and if you look up “reporters” or “newspapers” on the Internet or in your Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, you will come away thinking that only misogynists and misanthropes inhabit that inky world.
Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” Mark Twain said, “So I became a newspaperman. I hated to do it but I couldn’t find honest employment.” Norman Mailer hissed, “If a person is not talented enough to be a novelist, not smart enough to be a lawyer, and his hands are too shaky to perform operations, he becomes a journalist.”
When I began my writing career, I did not necessarily agree with any of those interpretations, but I dreaded what newspaper reviewers might say about my novels. Following in the wake of Jefferson, Twain, and Mailer, I anticipated vilification, belittlement, and abuse. I expected the worst.
Largely, however, my fears were groundless, and even though Library Journal has never found my writing particularly scintillating, I got rave reviews from The New York Times.
But until my books landed up on David Kinchen’s desk, I never knew what it was like to experience what I can only describe as a rainbow of adulation. Dave read and understood what I had written. He knew what I was trying to say, and he made me feel bathed in the glory of having achieved what I set out to do.
Every writer longs for a perfect reader. David Kinchen was mine.
Nor was it only my work that this remarkable man praised. In a letter he sent to me at the beginning of this year, he said, “I can't believe all the books I digested and reviewed in 2014. I counted … and they totaled 125.”
Here is what Dave said about some other authors and other books:
Anne Hillerman’s – Rock With Wings: “Thanks, Anne, for continuing the outstanding series created by your dad, a decorated World War II veteran and a member of the Greatest Generation!”
Meyer Levin’s – Compulsion: “is one of the most powerful novels I’ve ever read. It will bring to mind classic Russian psychological novels; it was a groundbreaking novel in 1956 and it stands up superbly today.”
William Hackman’s – Out of Sight: “It’s a wonderfully readable account, accessible to the general reader as well as the art specialist.”
Adam Mitzner’s – Losing Faith: “In addition to being a legal thriller, ‘Losing Faith’ deals with psychological game of power, ethics, lies, and justice. Did I like it? Yes!”
David Kinchen never wrote a mean-spirited review, never sought to humiliate an author, and was fearless about discovering new talent. He did not follow; he led. He didn’t care if a book was issued by a major publishing house or if it was self-published. He didn’t care if it was a paperback, an e-book, a hardcover, or an audio book on CDs. He didn’t care if he was reviewing a short story, a novelette, an epic, a saga, a biography, an autobiography, a history, or a critique. All he cared about was that the premise made sense and the writing was good.
And if the author was on the wrong side of political correctness, even better.
As kind as he was to writers, David Kinchen was equally fierce and fearless in defending America, individualism, and human rights. He supported our war against terror, and did not mince words when he saw the Law of the Land being usurped by violent thugs.
Dave was born on a farm in Bangor, Michigan, grew up in rural Illinois, and was proud of his meager beginnings. With little help from others, he turned himself into a Renaissance man and an intellectual giant. But no scholarly ivory tower for him. He was a member of the National Rifle Association who shot guns and rode motorcycles; he collected cameras and antique typewriters; he created beautiful handmade hardwood pens and pencils in his woodshop; he loved going to new movies, he loved old movies, and he loved his beautiful wife Liz.
Mostly, though, he exemplified the romantic ideal of a newspaperman. Without the cynicism and cigarette, but with … oh, yes … with the porkpie hat!
In Indiana, Dave had worked for the Hammond Times and the Bloomington Tribune. In Wisconsin, he worked for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. For over fourteen years, he wrote the architectural/real estate column for the Los Angeles Times. After leaving California, he first worked first for the Register-Herald in West Virginia, and then for HuntingtonNews.Net.
With his usual generosity of spirit, David Kinchen called my writing “The gold standard of arson procedurals” and me a “Magical storyteller.” He even came to one of my book signings, so I finally got to put a handsome face and warm handshake to that incredibly intelligent and truly professional newspaperman.
If journalists, like soldiers, can “die with their boots on,” that is what David Kinchen did, because he contributed his last book review to HuntingtonNews.Net on Saturday, May 23, 2015, and he died the following day.
Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Well done is better than well said.” David Kinchen did both. He lived well and he wrote well.
Wherever you are, my dear friend, I thank you.
And I salute you.
Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2015