Beth Macy on ‘Story Beacons’ and More

At the recent Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, Beth Macy’s topic was “From Article to Book.”

Factory-Man-202x300Beth Macy is an author and a feature writer for the Roanoke Times. Her first book, FACTORY MAN: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local—and Helped Save an American Town, is due out from Little, Brown and Company in July.

That American town is Galax. The factory man is John Bassett III. The book was spawned from “Picking Up the Pieces,” a Roanoke Times series that included Beth’s reporting on Bassett, a maverick who bucked the wave of Asian imports in the furniture industry.

In Babcock Auditorium at Hollins University, Beth explained why she decided to turn a 5,000-word article into a 120,000-word book. But first she provided the simple litmus test for any story:

“Does it move me? Do I want more?”

Beth talked about “story beacons,” those people who illuminate and guide a story.

Her first story beacon for FACTORY MAN was Bassett himself. Among other things, she learned there was a family feud. From a storytelling standpoint, it just kept getting better.

The story had contemporary relevance and multiple elements—a social history, a dying U.S. industry (dislocated workers, 20,000 lost jobs) and a compelling character with a fascinating supporting cast.

Beth Macy.

A few more of Beth’s story beacons:

There was Wanda Perdue, a former furniture worker who said, “I wish you would go there [Asia] and tell me why we can’t make [furniture] here anymore.”

So Beth did go there.

There was also Pat, a lady who lived in the town of Bassett and knew everyone. Beth described her as someone who was like a soul of the book.

There was also Coy Young, the town barber, a beacon who had personal experience with virtually every important character.

“People want to tell their stories,” Beth said near the end of her talk.

Beth certainly knows from experience. People want to be heard, and they often want to talk to her, even though they know she is a reporter. She has a special talent as both a reporter and a writer.

I always enjoy hearing Beth speak. Now I eagerly await Beth’s FACTORY MAN.