Here’s the thing: I’m tempted to attend the obituary writer’s conference in St. Petersburg, Florida, in May. Back and forthing about it all the time about it in fact. But I am becoming unbearably irritated by tombstone humour and the website of SPOW, the Society of Professional Obituary Writers, plasters their site with death imagery with an eagerness I find repellent. It might just keep me away.
I hate to diss an organization I would otherwise support. As their website states, SPOW is a fledgling organization of journalists, who write, produce and present obituaries for newspapers and other news entities.
They provide professional training, networking and resources to help obituary writers develop reporting, interviewing, writing and new media skills for penning obits for newspapers, magazines, broadcast media, Internet sites and other journalistic endeavours.
I managed to make it to one conference in the Finger Lakes district of New York a few years ago. It was fabulous and I made some of my best obituary-writer friends including Ron Csillag, my former Globe editor Colin Haskin, as well as Moira Dann from the Globe’s Facts & Arguments page, and Cathy Dunphy who was writing for the Toronto Star at that time. Excellent conversations over fine wine and the humour was exceptional. But, well, but there was a goddamned coffin up against the wall and we had to pass it each time we entered the conference room. Enough!
To be fair, that meeting wasn’t organized by SPOW; it wasn’t even facilitated by an obituary writer and its failings inspired what has since evolved: a finer, more disciplined community of writers. Still, I just checked out their site for, I don’t know, maybe the 10th time in a couple weeks and like I said: more tombstones!