We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Michelle Talsma Everson a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Michelle, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today. Earning a full time living from one’s creative career can be incredibly difficult. Have you been able to do so and, if so, can you share some of the key parts of your journey and any important advice or lessons that might help creatives who haven’t been able to yet?
I am very grateful and blessed to be able to make a living writing and editing. I am the managing editor of a family of newspapers in the North Valley (north of the Phoenix metro area) for a small, locally owned publishing company called EG Publishing. I am also a freelance writer and do PR when I can, with a specialization in nonprofits. My background on the journalism side is mainly in print—magazines and newspapers—and on the PR side, I tend to specialize in nonprofits and small businesses. I am nearly 100% focused on writing and editing now though but do keep my PR muscles flexed now and then on individual projects.
I was one of those odd children who knew what they wanted to do when they were young and kept at it. I did the high school and college newspapers and earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and PR from Northern Arizona University. In addition, I gained experience everywhere I could – internships, jobs, freelancing, etc. I definitely did not make a full-time living doing this right away – like many writers I worked for free at the beginning to boost my resume and byline credits. To make a living took a lot of work, hustle, and risks.
My career has always been in tandem with being a mom as my son was born within a year and a half of graduating college. I’ve always done my best to work from home or have a flexible schedule because he’s always been my priority. Some milestones I’m proud of are my tenure doing PR for a Valley-based nonprofit called Duet, my current position as managing editor for six hyperlocal newspapers, and the fact that I’ve had a handful of stories I’ve written published on a national level.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
I believe that communication is an art where the right messaging can tell vivid stories with great impact on the individuals and communities involved. Using that art, I have built a career as a journalism and public relations professional where I have put the spotlight on causes that need it the most.
Early in my life I knew I wanted to make my passion for storytelling my career. I graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2008, where I obtained bachelor’s degrees in journalism and public relations. An expert on “both sides of the fence” (journalism and public relations), I am passionate about bringing stories to life.
When I cover a story, I do so with journalistic integrity and skill. Some of my proudest stories have shined light on topics such as local nonprofits and community issues. I am especially passionate about niche and underrepresented communities. I have worked with a myriad of public relations clients including nonprofits, schools, small businesses, products, and more to tell their stories on the local and national level. My passion though is in local media relations, specializing in Arizona, particularly the Phoenix metro area.
I am currently the Managing Editor at EG Publishing, which publishes six hyperlocal monthly newspapers and a kids magazine. I also freelance write for a variety of outlets when time allows and I’m attempting an online graduate program in communication because I hope to teach someday. My favorite role though is as a mom to my pre-teen son who has been my “intern” since the beginning of my career.
Can you share a story from your journey that illustrates your resilience?
Ha! My life seems like it’s been one big lesson in resilience. The latest happened last year (March 2021) when I became an “NPE.” As described by nonprofit NPE Friends Fellowship, an NPE is an “non-paternity event” – essentially discovering through an at-home DNA test like 23 and Me or Ancestry.com that your assumed parent (in my case my father) is not biologically related to you. To those it happens to, we often call ourselves NPEs.
Basically, I was raised an only child but was always told my dad had other children before I was born. So, at 35, to seek them out, I took two at-home DNA tests. I went to bed an only child who identified as Mexican and woke up to an e-mail saying that I was half Jewish and that my dad wasn’t my biological father. Both of the parents who raised me are both deceased, so I was left with a lot of questions that I’ll never have 100% firm answers to. To keep a long story short, this discovery was life altering and – as someone who had already experienced a lot of challenges – I honestly thought it would break me. But, I have a son who needs a stable mom and, of course, I need to be stable for my own health and well being. So, I’ve since been in therapy, connected with others that this has happened to online and in person, and have spent copious amounts of time and energy putting myself “back together” as my identity and world was rocked. Relationships changed. How I saw the world changed. My life is definitely a before and after narrative.
Luckily, I was blessed to find new-to-me family members who have been kind, welcoming and supportive. I also have an amazing support system in the way of current family and friends who were already in my life before this discovery. And, I’ve had access to life-saving mental health resources that I am truly grateful for.
How does this relate to my career? I kept going. My publisher has been nothing but supportive as I’ve navigated this and I made the decision a couple of months after the discovery to “go public” on my social media channels and by authoring articles on the topic both locally and nationally. To be an NPE and a journalist who can share my story with others has been one of the biggest challenges of my life. While, yes, I could have stayed private about this, I chose not to because I want to let others who this has happened to that they’re not alone. Because that’s what I wanted to know as well.
Is there a mission driving your creative journey?
I don’t think I know how to *not* write. It’s always been a part of my life and I’m grateful that it’s a talent set that I have. My overall goal is to grow, become better at it, and use it as a tool to share stories that matter. As a mom, I hope to show my son that you can take your talent and use it to positively impact others. Being able to work from home and on a flexible schedule is also a goal to be honest – it allows me to be the mom I had always dreamed of being.
- Other: EG Publishing’s newspapers can be found at www.myhyperlocalnews.com.