July 6, 2021 – Media criticism meets smoking hot firefighter. Yes, sparks fly in “Wrong Kind of Paper,” a novel due out this month by Cynthia Simmons, associate teaching professor of communications at Penn State. Simmons’s debut novel is equal parts romance and occupational realism, centered on an underfunded newsroom where reporters are accustomed to cutting corners.
On this, Simmons stated that “I wanted to write about the dangers of media conglomeration without using the words media conglomeration. “People in small towns all over the country have lost their daily newspapers. At the few small-town dailies that remain, news budgets are really tight. As a result, everyone suffers from a lack of information on local government. And the news vacuum has created many opportunities for official corruption.”
In “Wrong Kind of Paper,” it is the police who are corrupt. When an idealistic young reporter named Hallie Linden uncovers the depth of the squalor, she finds herself navigating her newsroom’s budget woes while trying to gain the trust of sources that have become wary of journalists.
Recent Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications graduates Rachel Weaner, who earned her journalism degree in 2014, and Kellyn Holmes, who earned her advertising/public relations degree in 2016, helped with editing, proofreading, and finding a publisher. Simmons ultimately settled on Sunbury Press, founded by Penn State master of business administration alumnus Lawrence Knorr, who earned his degree in 2002. Coincidentally, the Sunbury editor who worked on the manuscript, Jennifer Cappello, holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Penn State, which she earned in 2010.
The book also confronts head-on the root causes of police racism. “Setting the book in the accessible past (1989) helped me to think and talk about a volatile issue at a safe remove,” said Simmons. Her initial readers have suggested that the novel is an excellent candidate for book clubs — where it will spark conversations about the systems that foster racism, sometimes with fatal results.
“The Wrong Kind of Paper’ is one of the best novels I’ve edited for Sunbury Press, and I’ve been an editor here for 10 years,” Cappello wrote to Simmons. “You have a gift for building suspense without revealing too much,” Simmons said. Those kind words were a pick-me-up. “Querying is the bane of a writer’s existence,” Simmons said. “It was great to work with an editor who is exactly the kind of person the book was written for — a smart woman who cares about her family and social issues. And Jen’s suggestions improved the book. I’m a former journalist. I write in Associated Press style. Jen got in there with Oxford commas and italics. Even more importantly, she had an exquisite sense for suggesting when the narrative needed a tad more explanation, a bit more emotion. Writers get most of the credit. But, believe me, and editors deserve a lot too.”
Volunteer proofreaders Simmons recruited via Facebook were similarly enthusiastic about the book. “Seriously, I didn’t set out to write a romance. I set out to write a book about what it’s really like to work at a small-town newspaper,” the author said. “But so far, every single reader has told me how much they like Blue, the Native American firefighter who becomes suspicious about all the strange fire calls he’s going out on.”
Hallie is a feminist who’s accustomed to hookup sex from her college years. Blue wants more. In the end, their complicated relationship and its consequences create a dilemma that could well be studied in a journalism ethics class.