“Tamara Lush Left the AP and Journalism for Fiction. She Has No Regrets.”

From a story on poynter.org By Amaris Castillo headlined “Tamara Lush left the AP and journalism for fiction. She has no regrets.”:

Earlier this year, Lush decided to part with her long-time journalism career and pursue fiction full-time. She chased stories for The Associated Press in Florida for almost 13 years, covering everything from crime to politics and natural disasters. As the coronavirus pandemic upended all aspects of life, Lush began to reflect on how she really wanted to live.

Fiction writing, she said, brought her the realization that she should not tie her identity to a profession.

“My decision has allowed me to be a fuller human being again. I don’t feel like I’ve ever really been one because I’ve been an outsider as a journalist since I was 20. It was so much of my identity,” Lush said….

Lush was still a student at Emerson College in Boston when she landed her first part-time job in radio. Her career spanned 30 years and took her through internships in TV, internships and jobs in radio, and reporting jobs at newspapers in New England, the St. Petersburg Times, Miami New Times, and then the AP.

Lush has been an avid reader of romance since high school. So in 2012, she tried writing a book. She felt compelled to do something creative outside of journalism and wanted a Plan B, a path away from reporting should she ever decide to leave the industry. She didn’t get very far. Lacking confidence at the time, Lush shelved the first chapter and didn’t write for a couple more years.

She began to see other journalists get laid off. At the AP, she found herself covering tragedy after tragedy: more than 10 mass shootings and probably 13 executions, in addition to random violence.

“I have a high tolerance for terrible things as a reporter, so I was able to do my job well,” Lush said. “It was fine, until it wasn’t.”

In 2016, she was sent to cover the Pulse nightclub shooting, in which a gunman killed 49 people in Orlando. In 2018, she helped piece together coverage of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 people.

“For a large chunk of my career, I knew there would be a day where either journalism would leave me, or I would want to leave journalism,” Lush said. “So every decision in my life was sort of based around that premise.”

Lush later returned to fiction on the side. Creating a world of her own and controlling characters on the page was very compelling to her.

“I can torture them and put them through hell and make terrible things happen to them, but I can also redeem them,” she said. “For romance, I can have a very flawed heroine and she finds love. Women who are unlikeable in romance or who are difficult or who are flawed can find love, and I think that’s a really important message. I think that society and media sometimes tells us that we need to be perfect as women, and that we don’t deserve love if we’re not striving to be perfect. In romance, it’s just the opposite.”

Lush said she is drawn to the mystery genre because of its aspect of justice, that crimes can be solved. “I find that justice is like, in many ways, the ultimate ‘happy ever after,’” she said.

In 2015, Lush got an agent and a contract for her first book. She began to self-publish and make money. She worked with a financial planner who helped her imagine a scenario in which she left journalism. It took a few years, but it helped her gain the confidence that she could, indeed, say goodbye to reporting for good. In 2019, Lush took a nine-month sabbatical from work.

“I wanted to see what it was like to not be a journalist,” she said. “I’d never not been a journalist in my entire adult life.”

In that time, Lush wrote more books. She’d write at her desk at home, or on the couch with her Tibetan spaniel, Dino, by her side. She traveled to Massachusetts, Vermont, Quebec and California. She even wrote a mystery novel.

When the sabbatical was up, Lush wrestled with whether to go back to work. She loved the AP and her colleagues in Florida. After lunch with a colleague, she found herself being pulled back in.

“I knew what we were facing going into the election, and I knew Florida was important,” she said. “I decided to go back.”

By then, Lush said, she felt refreshed. She sold her mystery novel and set some more fiction goals for herself. She figured that would be enough.

“Of course, everything went to hell,” Lush said.

The pandemic roared and Lush said she was angry about the attacks on journalists (both vitriol and physical attacks, including a gang rape threat she received in her inbox one day), and grew increasingly angry at Donald Trump and the Republican Party. “It was becoming harder and harder to hold my political views in and I internalized all of that,” she said. “I walked around in a constant state of sheer rage.”

Lush discovered that there was a worse emotion than rage and anger: contempt. She said she began feeling contempt toward some people she interviewed, including Trump supporters who hated the media, COVID-19 deniers and people who spread disinformation about the pandemic. Contempt, she knew, is an incredibly toxic emotion — one that journalists shouldn’t feel toward sources.

As 2020 dragged on, Lush’s mental health continued to deteriorate. She gained weight. She felt depressed, and the daily stories she had to write about how many people in Florida were dying of COVID-19 only compounded it.

She turned 50 on Dec. 10. Later that month, she was hospitalized to undergo emergency gallbladder removal surgery. Lush thought about her late grandmother who died of gallbladder cancer, and her mom, who only lived until age 58. She thought to herself, if she got out of this without cancer or some major issue, she was going to make a change.

This is my wakeup call, Lush thought to herself. This is it.

Lush does not consider herself retired even though she left journalism. Fiction is now her job, and she hopes to make money from it. Her mystery book, “Grounds for Murder,” came out last December (she writes mystery under the name Tara Lush) and another, “Cold Brew Corpse,” comes out this December. She also has a romance book coming out in March.

Her foundation as a longtime reporter has informed her fiction writing.

“My mystery series is about a laid off journalist in Florida and she investigates murders while being a coffee barista,” Lush said. “My two most popular romances — my first and then the one that I was a finalist for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award — they’re both about journalists. That’s a lot of inspiration from what I did, and from the news.”

During her time at the AP, Lush worked on several romance books a year as part of her work for serial fiction websites like Wattpad. There were stretches of months when she would get up at 5 a.m. and write until 7 a.m. Mostly, though, Lush would wait until after work. She’d cook dinner and — after her husband, Marco Kornfeld, would go to bed — she’d write until midnight. Those would make for long days, and weekends were also devoted to writing.

Now, she gets up and makes breakfast, hangs out with her dogs. She writes her books, works a part-time copy editing job for a serial fiction app, interacts with her readers and does some marketing. She does yoga and walks every day. She is now vegan and has lost 35 pounds. She spends more quality time with her husband and said her new career would not be possible without her support system, most notably him.

Fiction has made Lush think about gender, sex and women’s rights in ways she didn’t before as a journalist. She said she also loves writing stories that make readers feel good. A lot of people read romance because they have hope for a better life or to find love in their lives, Lush added.

Lush does miss her AP colleagues. But does she miss journalism or the news cycle? No.

“The other part of the reason why I left is because I didn’t feel like I was doing anyone any good,” she said. I didn’t feel like I was making a difference anymore.”

Lush said she’s not somebody who can continue on a path if it feels meaningless. Now, she feels like she brings joy to people through her fiction. And she also feels fulfilled.

“I didn’t feel personally fulfilled writing news anymore and it took a long time to come to that conclusion. Most every day is a good day for me, whereas in journalism it would be like this heaviness — what other terrible thing am I going to cover today?” she said….


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