Who’s the Wiseacre?

Stephanie Mumford Brown, back when her middle name was Melva, riding Bonnie Prince Charlie near her aunt, cousins, sisters, and those trees where she used to write stories.

I tell stories, many of them true. It all began one summer day long ago, when I got out a notebook and pencil, climbed up a tree, sat on a branch, and wrote my first story: “If I was a Kig.”

This utopian fantasy involved fair play and ponies for all. Spelling, not so much.

In college I studied with a couple of great storytellers, E.L. Doctorow and Grace Paley. But I wanted to get paid regularly to tell stories, so I dropped my novel intentions and got into newspapering.

Of all the stories I reported, the ones about businesses fascinated me the most—how they got started, what they made, who bought it. When I got to New York City and still wanted to get paid for writing, Condé Nast and Hearst wouldn’t hire me, so I began telling stories for companies, not just about them.

Eventually I decided I couldn’t be a worse boss than anyone I had worked for, so I started my own business. That chugged along for a couple of decades, with and without partners and staff, sometimes making a tidy profit, sometimes stumbling a bit. But always telling stories for others, for pretty good pay.

Then came enormous changes at the last minute. I’d spent decades as fortune’s child, more or less, when suddenly all of my fans started getting hit by shit. One vignette sums it up: I’m on my laptop in my dying husband’s hospital room, editing text written by a raging-narcissist partner who’s pilfering our company till, for a Saudi bank’s investment magazine that will never be published because our client contact gets fired… when my son comes in to tell me his girlfriend is pregnant again.

It takes village to deal with multiple years of disruption like this. Mine includes friends, family, therapy—and books, articles, and blogs. The facts, insight, and laughs I’ve gained through reading have been big factors in keeping my head on straight.

Now I’m taking my place in the public conversation—because shit happens, change marches on, opportunities open up, and it helps to talk about them in the many forms of “talking” available in a digital environment. So I started Wiseacre Press as a vehicle to share stories in two ways: advice/memoir books with an edge, and an edgy blog that supports and promotes them.