John Cochran grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. He studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and worked for daily newspapers in Missouri, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina, reporting on everything from crime to state government. He went on to cover Congress and national politics for Congressional Quarterly in Washington, D.C., where he received the National Press Foundation’s Everett McKinley Dirksen Award. He lives on Capitol Hill in D.C. with his wife and their two children. Breaking into Sunlight is his first novel.
I was born in Pennsylvania and moved four times before the age of 8, from one side of the country to the other and back again, as my dad was transferred for work or changed jobs. But when people ask where I’m from, I say Kansas City, Missouri, where my family finally settled for good when I was in 5th grade. We moved into a house four blocks from the Kansas state line, in a neighborhood where I could ride my bike just about anywhere I wanted to go – to hang out with friends, get ice cream at a place called Topsy’s, or spend my birthday money at Brookside Toy and Science, an amazing store I’m happy to say is still there. I went to Catholic schools, was an altar boy (which I loved, in part because you got to ring the bells loudly and play with matches when you lit the candles), and sang in churches around town with a group called the Pontifical Choir of Kansas City.
I remember exactly where I was when I decided to become a writer: Sherry Unruh’s sophomore English class at Bishop Miege High School. Ms. Unruh inspired me and helped set me on a path that I’d follow into adulthood. When I decided I wanted to write for the school newspaper, Ms. Unruh recommended me to the teacher who ran my school’s journalism program, Sue Waters. I worked on the school newspaper for two years, eventually becoming the editor, and then went on to study journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
My first full-time newspaper job after college was as a police reporter writing about crime, car wrecks, fires, and other calamities for The Jackson Sun, a daily newspaper in Jackson, Tennessee. As the junior reporter, I also worked general assignment on Saturdays, when I covered small-town parades, “pig-pickings” (which are big community barbecues), and whatever else was happening in town. It was in Jackson that I fell in love with the South.
From The Jackson Sun, I went to the News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina, where I was a reporter, an editorial writer and then politics editor, before moving to Washington, D.C., to write about Congress and national politics for Congressional Quarterly. For my work in D.C., I received the National Press Foundation’s Everett McKinley Dirksen Award.
What I’m most grateful for from my time as a journalist is the extraordinary people I got to meet, from all walks of life. Hearing their stories broadened my understanding of the world. Listening closely to their voices was also great training for an important part of fiction-writing: writing good dialogue. I documented the stories of families who had lost loved ones to street violence during one especially horrible year in Jackson. I rode with police on patrol, visited jails, and walked fields and woods with volunteers searching for a lost child. I profiled men and women recovering from drug addiction. I spent time with music legend Carl Perkins (the man who wrote “Blue Suede Shoes”) in his Tennessee home, and I explored a beautiful corner of Blue Ridge backcountry that hunters and farmers were fighting to save from development. I crisscrossed North Carolina with political candidates, going to barbecues, fish fries, and political rallies.
I loved it all. When my children came along, though, I felt called to do something else: I left journalism to be a full-time stay-at-home dad. It was a once-in-a-lifetime privilege to be able to spend so much time with my kids, Maren and Liam, as they grew. That’s also when I started writing fiction. For inspiration I drew on my own personal and family experiences, but also memories of the people and places I got to know as a journalist in the South.
Today I live in Washington, D.C., in a 110-year-old rowhouse a little more than mile from the U.S. Capitol, with my wife, our kids, and our three cats, Marley, Nya and Opal.
I love to hear from readers and writers of all ages and to talk about stories and writing. Please send me a note with any thoughts or questions you have.