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  • Writer's pictureLisa Brosky

On sword swallowers, historians and a budding writing career

Updated: Aug 9, 2023


Throughout high school I was told I should be a writer. That was always flattering. I thought writer would sound impressive on a business card. And I liked that I was good at something that struck terror in most students.


No one, however, suggested what kind of writer or even a college major to get to a career in writing. In these dark days before Starbucks and laptops, what kind of life would it be, hefting my manual typewriter around in search of something writable?


So, I focused on journalism. My parents were relieved there was a clear career path, at least.


I started as a small-town reporter covering local utilities, weather emergencies, the county fair and other small-town goings on.


I once interviewed a sword-swallower, who demonstrated his craft in a horrifying close-up and then asked me for a date. (I politely declined.) I was rowed to the middle of Kentucky River in a leaky boat for a better vantage point of an abandoned tugboat on the shore. The rower, who claimed to have ambitions to restore the tug, was later convicted of trying to sink the historic Belle of Louisville paddle wheeler. Then there was the time some pig guts were found in a creek, and we put that photo on the front page.


There was some exciting stuff: the time a building façade slid off into Main Street in a heap of bricks and shattered glass, leaving the couple having breakfast on the second floor staring into the sky, unharmed but understandably shaken. I covered my first trial. One of town’s upstanding citizens had hired a hit man (undercover cop) to take out a few personal enemies.


Then there was the time I was only feet away when former Kentucky Governor A.B. “Happy” Chandler broke into his rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home,” as he often did at public appearances. I didn't get it on video, but here’s a clip from a University of Kentucky Senior Night.


I also interviewed Kentucky’s History Laureate, but I was too naïve to realize it at the time. I was writing a story about local superstitions. A nice lady at the library suggested I give Thomas D. Clark a ring and ask him about that. Hey, I like a good lead so why not?


This is a man with an incredible personal story and author of A History of Kentucky. He single-handedly saved a large portion of Kentucky’s printed history from destruction, which became the core of the state archives. While in school, he rubbed elbows with William Faulkner. Here I was having tea in his home library talking about, of all things, superstitions. You know, black cats and lucky pennies. He was extraordinarily kind.


I “broke” my first big story when I got a tip the county was going after a chicken processing plant and all the chicken farms needed to support it. Big economic news! The mayor and chamber officials were going to down Georgia to check out the operation there. I was invited to travel with them.


My editor hesitated. I would be the only woman on the trip. What would their wives say?

Suffice it to say, I went. As far as I know, none of the wives had ruffled feathers.


It was my first ride in an executive private plane. I don’t think about the chicken plant, which never materialized for the county; poultry paradise dreams shattered. I do remember that plane ride. It was cool.


So began my writing career and it’s been a wonderful ride. Personally and professionally, it has taken me places I never expected, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But maybe next time, I wouldn't put pig guts on Page A1.

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