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Inspiring Stories, Inspiring People

Paige Porter Fischer, writer

Paige Porter Fischer, writer

My name is Paige Porter Fischer. I’m a writer and editor, and I created this web site to tell inspiring stories of inspiring people. My job has allowed me the consistent honor of intersecting with unforgettable individuals. My own story involves a few too many trails for one small paragraph; so if you’re inclined to know more about me, check out my Q&A with Maria Streshinsky. Thank you for stopping by. I hope you will find some inspiration here to stay the course of your biggest dreams.

MS: What did you want to be when you grew up?

PPF: I wanted to be a talk show host, like Johnny Carson. I created a whole set in our guest room when I was eight or nine. I’d insist that my brother, Ryan, come sit in a chair next to my makeshift desk and pretend to be various guests I was interviewing. My parents indulged this and would always be the willing audience, clapping and cheering from the hallway.

MS: When did that dream disappear?

PPF: I think I was in junior high school when I decided I didn’t want to be Johnny Carson, but thought I could be the next Katie Couric. I just loved the idea of interviewing people.

MS: What did you study?

PPF: My undergraduate degree was in English lit and art. In graduate school, I focused on Southern literature and documentary studies. But I fell hard for documentary studies. I found my passion there.

MS: Is that what got you into journalism?

PPF: Yes, in the sense that my education was in the craft of finding a story, and telling it in an honest, thorough way. I was meeting real people, with real stories, and asking them questions in order to construct a narrative. In documentary studies, I did a lot of darkroom work, developing black and white photos. This was before digital, of course. So I was learning a lot about journalism, even though I didn’t know it at the time. I hadn’t actually planned on being a journalist. I always thought I’d teach.

MS: What changed things?

PPF: Well, I got an internship at Southern Living magazine. One of the editors there, Denise Gee, let me oversee a photo shoot. And that was it for me. I was hooked. I thought, “Why didn’t anyone ever tell me this was a job before now?” I loved it because it married words with photography.

MS: Was there someone who gave you a chance, who influenced your career?

PPF: I would say Denise. I’m pretty sure she’s the editor who convinced the other editors at Southern Living to give me that internship. I had no clips, only creative writing samples. But she liked my writing style, and the fact that I was a storyteller. I will always be grateful that she gave me a shot—and so much good advice over the course of my career. One thing she said to me when I left was, “Don’t kiss up and slap down.” I’ve really followed that advice and tend to steer clear of people who don’t. Denise practically made me take my first job in Jackson. She wanted me to be a big fish in a small pond, which turned out to be the best place for me to grow as a journalist.

MS: What was your first job?

PPF: My first real job, after the internships, was with Gannett, at the Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi. I was a features writer there. It was one of the most difficult jobs I’ve ever had, but also one of the most exhilarating. I had to learn everything about newspapers in such a short time. My first assignment, to be done in one day, mind you, was to write about 100 years of farming in the South and how it had changed over the last century. I needed to write about 3000 words in the span of five hours and sound like a farming expert, with sources. I’d never been able to successfully keep a house plant alive. I remember going into the bathroom and splashing cold water on my face because I thought I was going to have a panic attack. But the feeling I had the next day, when I saw the paper, and realized they actually ran the story, with my byline—well, it was a high for me. I felt like I could do anything after that.

MS: How long were you in newspapers?

PPF: Just one year. I landed a huge interview—with George Clooney—and a small portion of it ran in USA Today. The former executive editor at Southern Living had been named editor in chief of Coastal Living, and he wrote to congratulate me. And then he asked if I’d ever leave newspapers to come back to magazines. I really had to think about it, because I had grown to love the rush of my job, the deadline pressure, the interviews. I had done profiles of the most inspiring people—from Willie Nelson to Faith Hill. I remember interviewing Train when they were doing their first tour, opening for Better Than Ezra, riding around the country in a minivan. It was an exciting job. But what lured me to Coastal Living was the opportunity to travel.

MS: So you took the job?

PPF: Yes, I did. And I was there from 2000 to 2004. It was one of the best jobs anyone could ever have. I wrote about the beach for a living—Mexico, Newfoundland, Hawaii, Martha’s Vineyard, Palm Beach, the San Juan Islands, L.A., Alaska, the Caribbean. The list goes on. It rarely ever felt like work. I loved the writing part of it, but I also loved the traveling, the adventures. While I was at Coastal, I started writing a column for the web site called, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Story.” It was about all the misadventures I had while on assignment. Knight Ridder picked it up and all of a sudden, I had a nationally syndicated column. It was humor writing, which I’d never attempted. So it was yet another opportunity for growth. But the best part was that the job at Coastal led me to San Francisco. My first assignment here, I knew I had to move. It was as if I knew the city by heart from the moment I arrived. I was fortunate that the magazine let me relocate and keep my job.

MS: Why did you leave Coastal?

PPF: My first year of living on the West Coast, I was still traveling about 25 days a month. I wanted to experience San Francisco. We southerners need roots. So when I got a call from Better Homes & Gardens, I took the job of West Coast Editor, and I started writing about architecture, design, food and lifestyle. I did that job for eight years and worked with some truly talented people along the way. But, over the course of working at shelter publications for so long, I found that what was most engaging to me personally was often what was left on the cutting room floor. For example, I wrote an entertaining story about Ian Knauer, but I only had about 300 words of body copy to play with. There simply wasn’t enough room for the amazing story of how he got into food writing in the first place. I needed to create an outlet for all the untold stories.

MS: So tell us about Story Porter. What is it?

PPF: I’ve been in journalism for about 14 years now, and I’d say the most rewarding part of it has been the people I’ve met. Whether they’re the people I’m writing about or the people helping me capture a story in some way, they’ve all fed me creatively. A few of them might be described as famous, but more often than not, they are quietly going about their dreams, making a difference, and changing lives in the process. Story Porter is a place where you can find their stories and hopefully be as inspired as I have been.

MS: Why Story Porter?

PPF: Once, I interviewed the author Joyce Carol Oates. I asked her to sign a book for me, and the inscription read, “To Paige Porter, who carries many stories.” Then she said, “Your mother named you well.” Her words have always stayed with me. And I do carry all of these stories in my heart. My own story has been shaped and molded by the great fortune of meeting so many talented people along the way.

MS: Who inspires you most?

PPF: Eudora Welty. I read One Writer’s Beginnings in a night, in college, and the next day, I read it again. I related to every single word of it. And I thought, if I found out I was going to die tomorrow, I would regret never meeting this woman. So I got in my car and drove to her house, which was close to where I went to elementary school in Jackson. I brought her a loaf of banana bread and a short story I’d written that had won a Eudora Welty writing award at Ole Miss. I knocked on her door, and she actually answered. She let me come inside the very home that she’d written about in One Writer’s Beginnings. I thought my heart was going to explode. We talked for three hours. She told me the best stories of her life as a writer, of dinners with William Faulkner, of meeting Orson Wells in New York at an off-off-Broadway play. I’ll never forget her, the way her back curved, the way she held onto the arm of the chair while she spoke to me, the way her soft white hair fell just over her ears. Her coffee table was piled high with literary magazines. I remember because there was no place to put the glass-bottle Coke she brought me to drink. It was one of the highlights of my life, to meet my literary idol in that context.

One of the quotes that I have always kept by my computer is from her: “Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them.” Storytelling is important in the South, where I grew up. It’s an art form. But discovering stories by listening for them requires a certain ear. Ms. Welty also ended that book with a line that has stuck with me all these years. She said, “I am a writer who came from a sheltered life. But a sheltered life can be a daring life as well, for all serious daring starts from within.” The people who inspire me are people who live daring lives—people who are driven by a passion that’s too loud to keep quiet, too persistent to ignore.

MS: When have you been the most daring?

PPF: Though I’ve never felt more certain of anything in my life, I decided to move to San Francisco when I was 27, away from family and friends. Orchestrating the move, finding an apartment, starting over in a new city—it was a daring decision for me. But it was the best decision of my life. There’s something about the West Coast—it’s the gold rush mentality of making it despite the odds.

My other brave moment was becoming a mom. That changed everything. Again, I felt certain about it, but there’s a bit of bravery involved in making a conscious decision to bring a life into this world.

MS: When have you been the most afraid?

PPF: I think I was the most afraid when I started at the newspaper. I had butterflies in my stomach for the first few weeks. I never knew what my assignment would be from one day to the next, and it’s not as if you can choose not to write it. The paper doesn’t run with six blank columns. But fear is good, because if you conquer it, confidence follows.

MS: What has been the lowest point of your career?

PPF: I would have to say the lowest point was the day I went back to work after having my first daughter Cate. I wore my big sunglasses the entire day because I cried every few minutes. I almost couldn’t breathe—I missed her so. But at the same time, I knew in my heart that being a writer was a part of me, just like my daughter was now a part of me. So it was a low moment in the sense that I realized my heart would forever be divided from that point forward. Every day got a little bit easier, and now I finally feel as a freelancer that I’ve established the best possible balance, if there is such a thing.

MS: What’s been the highest point in your career?

PPF: Besides being 23 and interviewing George Clooney in his trailer? That was pretty big for me. The set of O Brother Where Art Thou? was packed with press, and all of these journalists were hoping to get a moment of his time. He had a couple of hours one day and gave them to me. It was one of thousands of interviews he’s done in his career, but it was my one big break. I remember he said he was in L.A. for so long, waiting for someone to give him a chance. You can’t get a good role without having had a good role. It’s like that in journalism, too. You are hoping for your big break around every corner. And in this surprising way, George Clooney gave me mine.

But I also have this memory of being alone for about 12 days on îles de la Madeleine, an archipelago in the Gulf of St. Lawrence—truly one of the most remote, untouched, intoxicating places I’ve ever been in my life. I was writing a travel story on the islands and just got lost, literally and figuratively, in nature. There is something about being alone, and being anonymous, in a place where you don’t speak the language. You can immerse yourself in another culture and truly escape. I’d done it before, many times, but this particular trip made me feel more alive and more curious and more adventuresome than ever before.

MS: What is the best advice you ever got?

PPF: There are a few things that come to mind. My grandfather used to say, “Sometimes you’ve got to do something you’re afraid of just to prove you’re alive.” I say that to myself all the time. And my parents gave me great advice throughout my life—from “Be yourself,” to “Trust is something most people take for granted until it’s broken. So never break someone’s trust.”

MS: What job could you never ever do, no matter how broke you were?

PPF: A vet. I’m afraid of most animals. I’m even afraid of birds. A crow landed on my head not once, but twice. The first time I was on an innocent walk in San Francisco’s Sea Cliff neighborhood. And there were no eye witnesses. But the second time, I was walking home from Trader Joe’s and the tenacious little rascal landed on my pony tail and wouldn’t let go. Grant K. Gibson was an eye witness and pulled his car over to help.

MS: What is your version of the perfect day?

PPF: The perfect day starts with my sweet baby girl Reese sleeping at least till the sun comes up. Then, I’d move to a very hot cup of coffee with just the right amount of cream, and hopefully my husband, Greg, is next to me drinking his. A really great Whiskeytown or Son Volt mix is on Spotify, and we mutually decide to let go of household chores for a day at the beach with our girls. Practically nothing makes me happier than soft sand, sunshine, never-ending waves, ocean breezes, and my family. We have a picnic that involves Rustic Bakery crackers and lots of cheese, piles of fruit, and Poco Dolce chocolate tiles. A long walk to make us feel slightly better about what we ate. The kids are so tired that they go to sleep without a peep. And Greg and I get Arizmendi pizza, make a yummy salad, and crank up the projector so we can watch a movie in our backyard while we eat.

MS: What’s on your bedside table?

PPF: An alabaster lamp I got at the Alameda flea market for $10 dollars, a childhood photograph of my husband, Greg, and a favorite photo of my girls. Chronicle’s one-line-a-day journal, which I’ve kept since 2010, the Bible my parents gave me when I turned 12, and always a decanter of water.

MS: What trip do you keep talking about taking one day?

PPF: Africa. And I’ve recently gotten very curious about Vietnam.

MS: What was your first concert?

PPF: It was Amy Grant, the “Baby, Baby” tour.

MS: What was the best concert you’ve ever been to?

PPF: Van Morrison in Dublin; Tupelo Honey never sounded so good. But the private concert with Patty Griffin that you won for us was sweet. Oh, and sitting on the stage with Willie Nelson at the Mountain Winery was an unforgettable moment.

MS: What would be the title song to the soundtrack of your life?

PPF: “These Are the Days” by 10,000 Maniacs. Or Patty Griffin’s “Heavenly Day.”

MS: What are you really good at that would surprise a lot of people?

PPF: Drawing.

MS: If you could interview one person and hear the answers to these questions, who would that be?

PPF: Pretty much everyone you will see on Story Porter. That’s a perk of the job. But if I had to name someone who would be my dream interview, it would be Meryl Streep. Can you imagine the range of emotions that woman has experienced, by virtue of the characters she’s inhabited?




  1. paige,

    congratulations on all you have accomplished in your career! i look forward to reading your stories.


  2. I’m hooked. Bring on the stories.

  3. Stayed up way past my bedtime captivated by your new site. You have a great way of sharing stories.

  4. Excellent post. You must continue to offer excellent resources and content like you have been offering. I will most likely stop by again in the future.

  5. I could read on forever…. more please! And lest I forget to tell you, I think I was at that Amy Grant concert with you. XO.

  6. Count me among the ranks of Story Porter junkies. I love that “These Are Days” is your title song – what a rich, blessed life!!

  7. You are the world’s most interesting woman!

  8. I can’t wait to read more stories. It’s very inspiring, and a like the way you’ve linked to other content. I’m thinking that I might need to get a copy of the Eudora Welty book. Thanks, and congratulations on a great start!

  9. I’m hooked too, Paige! Looking forward to reading more!

  10. I so enjoyed reading your interview! I now have a million questions for you about your life and adventures. you are a wonderful writer, artist, mother and friend. I look forward to reading more!

  11. brava paige!
    loved every juicy tidbit — and you for pulling it all together.

  12. Just wanted to say, “hi” from a fellow Eudora Welty fan! I thought I was so alone with that. So jealous AND thrilled for you that you got to sit in a room with her!

  13. Paige! I’m addicted to your site and so excited for you! Can’t wait to devour every single word on every single page. Brava, indeed! xx

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