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Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 | Author:


We sat in a small, barren classroom with approximately twelve standard table desks, in three rows of four. A green chalk board spans the length of the front wall, and a small wooden podium sits off to the side at the front of the room — it holds handouts and chalk, but it won’t be used as a presentation platform this hour.

There are two dark blue plastic chairs to each table. Students dot the room with their informal, after-lunch presence.

Two girls in the back wear bikinis under their tank tops, either preparing to head to the waves right after class for a surf session, or having just returned from the water.

The table tops hold notebooks, pens, coffee cups and water bottles, snacks and parts of lunches stolen from the caf  — what Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) students and faculty call the cafeteria (always “the caf,” never “the cafeteria”).

The class room is seated on PLNU’s picturesque campus by the sea in San Diego, though the room itself is unimpressive, sitting in the shade by the parking lot, the caf and the music building it’s only view.

This is where Intro to Journalism is held Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 1:30-2:20pm in the Fall semester of 2007. The class is led by Dr. Dean Nelson, head of the journalism program at the university, author, journalist with bylines in places such as the New York Times and the San Diego Union Tribune. His students know him by his first name.

Dean would get up, most often wearing khaki slacks, a generic button down t-shirt, and either Vans or Converse shoes, and he would joke with us in brash ways as everyone filtered in. “Alright,” he’d begin, and either launch into a current events quiz (Mondays), an Associated Press Stylebook quiz (Fridays), or just straight into the lesson, either about ways to write an article, ways to get sources, or case studies that teach important journalistic lessons such as ethics, libel, or handling a tough story assignment.

My whole life I’d had this inclination toward English literature and English classes. But I am a painfully slow reader, so I knew I would drown quickly in the workload of a literature student, so I entered college majoring in broadcast journalism. I had experience anchoring, script-writing, videoing, editing, and producing news broadcasts for my middle school, and for our church’s hurricane relief efforts in Louisiana when I was in high school after Hurricane Katrina, so I thought maybe that would be a good fit. That’s how I landed in Dean’s Intro to Journalism class my first semester.

It only took that single class to make me decide to ditch the “broadcast” portion of my major, and to sweep me off my feet into the world of nonfiction writing. I’d been in love with stories told in any medium since as long as I could remember, but aside from the Little House on the Prairie books we read aloud in my young childhood, I didn’t have much experience reading non-fiction. Dean’s class changed all of that. Our assignments were sometimes to read non-storied non-fiction about the techniques of writing, but even those resources were often written with stories entwined. In a swift unveiling, I saw a world of true stories, written as captivatingly as fiction, and I knew I wanted to write like that.

One of the lessons Dean honed in on several times, however, is a writer’s temptation to make a story better than it is by embellishing, creating bias, under-emphasizing, and other tactics that would make the story more compelling or interesting.

I wouldn’t say I’ve struggle with this a lot, but I know that before this class, sometimes as I would tell stories, I might leave out the measuring details, to make something sound more grand. Or I may embellish my already poor skills of estimation. But the more Dean honed in on this lesson, the deeper it embedded its conviction in me.

Dean put it this way, and I’ve always remembered these words: “The truth is interesting enough.”

It is one of my mantras to this day. I’m not always perfect at this. But when I falter, I try to come back (often right away) and correct myself. It’s a matter of integrity as much as it is a matter of accuracy.

It’s the foundation of my assurance in the idea that everyone has a story, and that every story matter.

Because in the midst of photoshopped models, movied plot-lines, and social media platforms that allow us to edit our lives, I want to be someone who continually believes and lives out with conviction the idea that the truth is interesting enough. And if I want my life to be more interesting, it’s up to my living, not my writing, to make it so.

This is real life. We all live it, with its few glamorous and many monotonous moments. And it’s freeing to accept the truth for yourself that the true reality of your life is interesting enough.


If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon
Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 | Author:

One time a story saved my life.

That’s sounds dramatic, I know. It’s still true.

I was 14 when my older sister died. I let grief dictate life for a year. I mean that I did not give in and grieve, rather, I shoved everything to the shelves of my mind, I pretended I was OK, but for a year, I was dying inside. I was convinced that no one could know what I was feeling or experiencing. No one. No one could possibly understand. Until one night, I was up late reading my literature assignment for my 10th grade English class — a novel by Judith Guest called Ordinary People — and there was a simple, 2-page scene that wrecked me. In the story, the protagonist is a high school student whose older brother has died. The protagonist is in a therapy session, believing no one can understand when his therapist says, “let me tell you a short story.”

The therapist goes on to tell this “hypothetical story” about a perfect kid who had a younger brother, the not-so-perfect kid. And then the perfect kid dies. The not-so-perfect kid is left reeling — it should’ve been him. He’s not so perfect, after all. Where’s the justice? So he tries to become the perfect kid for everyone, even for himself. It works OK — they’re similar to begin with, being brothers and all, and the not-so-perfect kid is a good actor. But, this is the thing — the not-so-perfect kid — he’s dying inside. Because deep down, he knows he’ll always fail, because he will always be not so perfect.

I read that and I wept. It was like a bomb had just unleashed the waters of grief my self-made dam had been diligently holding at bay. Because there in front of me was proof that someone understood. A stranger writing a fictional book understood exactly what I was feeling. And the fact that I wasn’t alone — that changed everything. That book — that knowledge that I was not alone — that saved my life.

That’s what stories (true and fictional) have the power to do.

You have a story. You are not alone. Your story could change someone’s life.

On that note, I’m EXTREMELY excited (and slightly nervous) to announce that today is the official launch of an idea that caught ahold of me a year ago and which, through a lot of work, has now become a reality. I’d like to introduce you to:

Stories by Jo: The Story Project

(click above to visit full website!)

We’ve lost the art of storytelling. The Story Project hopes to help bring it back.

Stories are powerful. Seeing our own story helps us to understand ourselves better and to understand how our lives have led us to who we’ve become. And people who understand themselves are better able to share their story and connect with the world around them.


How It Works

This is where I need your help. I’ll be trying to arrange scheduling to do several stories in any given area that I travel to during the 2015-2016 project. I will be trying to focus efforts where I have connections as to try to keep the cost to the project participants down as much as possible while also making sure I’m at least covering my costs.



Read the stories. Share the stories.


Browse the options for length of written piece and prices. Contact me to let me know you’re interested, where you’re located, and what length of piece you’re interested in.


Know someone with an incredible story? Encourage them to participate!


To cover expenses like travel, food and lodging, etc. Donate HERE



Do you have free hotel nights? A cabin or second home that I could stay in for a few days or a week? Hotel discount connections? Transferable Airline miles? Random gift cards for restaurants or cafes that you’re not using? A book publisher friend that might want to help in the process of giving this a print medium also?? (I mean, I didn’t think so, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.) Anything that could make this project work smoother and more effectively is welcome. Shoot me a line about your connections you’d be willing to offer to

Whatever you end up doing, thank you for your involvement in this project!


Visit the website to learn more

Quick Pieces of info:

  • The Stories By Jo website and blog will be exclusively for the stories I’m writing about other people. My story is up there as the first story of the project as an example, but it will be filled with other people’s stories soon.
  • I will continue to use this blog as my own personal blog as usual. It may occasionally feature one of the Story Project stories, but it will remain a separate thing overall.
  • This is not a money-making venture. In fact, I’m just really hopeful that some of you will donate to support the project and that enough people can and will participate that I can break even, but I really do believe in this idea and this project. I’m confident that it will be meaningful for everyone who participates, even as readers. I hope that will continue to include you along the way. Thank you for your support.
  • Thank you for reading. My stories and the stories of others. Truly.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon
Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 | Author:

2552487499_1dfda42709photo credit: Ti scriverò…. via photopin (license)

The idea came in waves.

As a journalism student in college, I was always writing news articles that answered the big 6 questions: Who, what, where, when, why, how, and the bonus 7th question: so what). My senior year ], however, was the first time I started to write more feature-length articles that were more people-oriented rather than event-oriented.

Following an interesting tip, I found myself writing my first feature-length on the stories of two women: one who was a current dancer (stripper) in the adult entertainment industry, and one who had been, but who now led a church ministry that reaches out to adult entertainment workers. Easily the hardest I’d ever worked on a piece and the most interested I’d ever become with my subjects. Their stories were so interesting to tell. The student Newspaper readership had to agree. I started to get stopped by students and teachers I didn’t know: “You’re the one that wrote the story about the strippers, right?” And then they’d have some other question or feedback for me.

What had started out as a beat in “under the rug” stories quickly found it’s focus in a particularly dusty area under the rug: the sex industry. And the most interesting part was always finding a subject — someone whose story would help me tell the larger story.

“Where were you the first time you ever saw porn?” I asked him.

I wanted to write about porn use and abuse, so I found a porn addict who was willing to speak with me honestly and bluntly. I was at a Christian University, so it was a controversial topic. We met in a secluded part of campus for the interview, and his name was changed in the article. But he let me tell his story. (He actually even told me I could use his name if I wanted at the last minute, but we decided it wouldn’t add anything to the story, and it may hurt him on campus.)

I remember while we were in the couple-hour interview, I had this thought: this is such sacred ground. He was telling me his shameful secrets. Allowing me to ask about the gritty details. Letting me in to a dark part of his past. I had never asked such candid questions, nor received such open answers.

The result was that I wrote an article about porn use, but really, I wrote this guy’s story. It just happened to have some porn in it.

The day the article came out in the newspaper, I went to the coffee shop on campus, and he was in there. He bee-lined for me and hugged me.

“I read the article this morning,” he said, “and I thought ‘that’s a crazy story.’ And then I went, ‘That’s MY story.’ And I called my mom and thanked her for the first time ever, for being there for me, for being both my mom and my dad when my dad wasn’t around.”

I didn’t write anything of his story that the guy didn’t tell me himself. But that was the first instance where I started to realize the power of hearing or seeing our own story outside of ourselves.

There is power in that. Even in just letting my story into the open these past 3 weeks, what started as whole-body anxiety and two-week-long nausea has turned into an acceptance that I hadn’t had before, an ability to breathe easier, and to see the power that my story has to change other peoples lives, to speak to them in the places where they thought they were alone, to share where I was and let it meet them where they are.

I’ve had my life changed by a story more than once. And I’ve found extreme power in seeing my story outside of myself. Sometimes it’s the power of healing and freedom, sometimes it’s the power of recognizing what I’ve gone through and thinking, “That’s a crazy story.” And sometimes it’s the revelation that I’m not alone.

This is why I’m starting Stories By Jo: The Story Project (see below).

If porn wasn’t what I was looking for, I may have found a different story entirely within that young man. So instead of approaching someone’s story looking only at a particular angle, I want to come in with fresh eyes and a non-newspapered freedom to say with a blank slate: “What’s your story?” And to see what we find there.  Whatever the story is, I know this — it matters.


Also, in order to do this story project I’ve been going out on a limb of faith in what I believe will be an incredible and incredibly meaningful project and I have begun to work as a freelancer. The project participants will pay to have me write their stories, but to keep those costs on a more reasonable note and to still cover my project expenses, I’d like to ask you to think about supporting the project financially.

If you’d be willing to donate to help make this project happen, please click the donate button below. Thank you for your support and for reading!


Stories by Jo: The Story Project

Everyone has a story, but not everyone has the

voice, time, or platform to tell it.


Just as you would hire a professional photographer to come take a portrait of you or your family, you can now also hire a professional writer to come help you tell your story by writing it for you.

The story project is my idea of wanting to help people see that they have a story, to give them a tangible product that they can then share with their friends and families and can pass down through generations, and to provide a collection of true stories of American lives for the world to see and be changed by.

That’s the power of stories. They help us know we’re not alone.

Look out for the official website Launch Next Week!

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon