Interviewed by Diane Hall
Read Andrea Malin’s fiction piece, Before The Fall
Diane: You have experience working as a network news journalist, a documentary producer, developing and producing television projects, and writing short fiction and novels. What is it about telling and creating stories in different formats that appeals to you?
Andrea: I once thought I needed to define myself by the kind of stories I was telling—am I a journalist or a short fiction writer? A documentary producer or a novelist? But I’ve come to realize I don’t have to choose. Each kind of storytelling can be immensely gratifying and tap into different parts of me. There are some obvious differences: working in documentaries is collaborative, which can be energizing; writing fiction is solitary, which appeals to my introverted nature (but can get lonely!). I’ve discovered my process itself is different too. In journalism, I find the story moves from the outside to the inside. By that, I mean the story exists in the world, externally, and I have to delve inside to search for the connecting points, to find the story’s relevance and raison d’etre that allows me to create. In contrast, fiction for me is more inside-out: the material emerges mysteriously from within me and then I go searching for a way of externalizing and expressing it.
What inspired you to go into international journalism as a career?
Well, the “career” choice was journalism. The “international” part was inspired by my desire to explore the world, other cultures, contexts, and histories. I’m drawn to narratives that transcend and traverse borders, internal and external, real and imagined.
Your fictional story Before the Fall is very different than previous work you have done in your career. What is prompting you to write fiction instead of more factual reporting required of journalism?
In many ways nonfiction reporting and fiction writing have always coexisted for me. It’s not really a creative change, as much as a personal challenge to give myself permission to swing from one medium to another, to inhabit the identity of someone who wants to create and communicate stories, no matter the medium. Before the Fall is part of my exploration of the human experience and relationships, which I find as compelling as any news story and certainly at the core of every story. Sometimes my prior reporting experience directly inspires and informs my fiction, as with the current novel I’m revising, which centers on a freelance journalist in the Middle East in 2013. In both fact or fiction, I’m fascinated by human behavior when faced with complex existential challenges—whether global or interpersonal. Sometimes stories unfold as factual ones in faraway places but more often they emerge amid the familiar, like on a family trip to the Central Coast, as with the characters in Before the Fall. This is an excerpt of a novel that follows Marie from the culminating moment of awareness of this story into a reckoning with her identity in her marriage and reconnecting with herself as an artist.
What has been the most rewarding work you have done in your career? What work are you the most proud of?
What instantly pops to mind are my two daughters, both bright, creative, compassionate young women who are engaged with the world in meaningful ways. Aside from that (thanks for indulging me!), I find that the passage of time and changes in the times have shifted how I reflect on past work. Perhaps at some point down the line I’ll sit back and pull out a “most rewarding” but now I still have a strong sense that I’m evolving creatively and the most rewarding work of my career is likely yet to come. Having said that, in my journalism work, I’ve always found it gratifying to shed light on an unknown issue and to inspire public discourse, as with NBC News documentaries that I produced years ago on the hidden reality of racism in the suburbs of Chicago or the impact of war on the veterans of World War II. Recently, I found it personally satisfying to field-produce a documentary in the Tigray region of Ethiopia (prior to the current crisis there), to meet the challenge of working in a difficult territory. But equally rewarding is when I simply connect with a single reader, when I write a piece of fiction that inspires an internal discourse with one’s self or even a fleeting sense of shared humanity.
When you aren’t working on creative endeavors, how do you fill your time?
Ha, my entire existence feels like one big creative endeavor. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad; but it’s certainly a (messy!) work-in-progress. In addition to my own background as a reporter, as a mom of two young journalists (an AP correspondent in the Middle East and a budding magazine journalist currently in college) I care a great deal about a free (and safe) press as a critical force of any democracy. As such, I’ve been devoting time to fighting the scourge of fraudulent news and misinformation in our midst, and advocating for journalist safety. Increasingly, I spend time on existential/spiritual pursuits, trying to cultivate greater self awareness, consciousness, and compassion through meditation and the study of contemplative wisdom traditions. I volunteer for the Red Cross. I love to read. And I can’t go too long without nature or travel or poetry or a satisfying TV show binge.
What has been the biggest lesson you learned about humanity in your reporting?
First of all, nothing is as it seems. I’ve learned how important it is to let curiosity be my guide, to listen well and deeply, to stay open to mystery, to probe for subtext. The other big lesson is that the truth exists somewhere within the opposites, in the paradox, amid “all irreconcilable things,” to quote the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.