LynDee Stephens Walker lives in Richmond, Virginia where she writes crime fiction from her home while wrangling school and sports schedules for her three children. During her work as a reporter and editor, Walker earned dozens of awards, and her debut mystery novel was nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Walker earned her B.A. in Journalism (News Editorial) from the University of North Texas in 1999 and was a member of the Honors Program.
What brought you to the University of North Texas (UNT)?
As a high school senior, I looked at journalism programs all across the US. I applied to UNT because of the success of previous journalism students, and in the spring of my senior year, I visited the campus and had a meeting with Keith Shelton, who remains one of my favorite teachers to this day. He was the "extra" that tipped my decision in UNT's favor.
Why did you choose to be a member of the UNT Honors College (or program) during your studies?
I was flattered by the invitation and drawn to the program by the small class size for core academic courses, as well as the opportunity to take special courses taught by standout professors that were passionate about the topics they chose.
What do you remember enjoying about the Honors College?
I truly loved everything about it. The staff, courses, professors... Even writing and defending my thesis as a senior was a great experience.
I loved the intimate classes, especially as a freshman, and wouldn't have had that experience without the honors program. My spring freshman English class had ten students and a professor who was a dead ringer for David Hasselhoff (Baywatch was still big then). Every class, we arranged our desks in a circle and talked about great books. Maya Angelou, Albert Camus...that was the best English class I ever took.
How did your experience at UNT and in the Honors College shape your career path?
My journalism and political science professors more than prepared me for a reporting job. I actually landed my first professional reporting gig before I graduated and took my final semester as independent study to accommodate my full time job. My professors that fall were great about helping me learn even more from the real world experience I was getting.
What was the most valuable lesson – inside or outside the classroom – that you learned at UNT?
In journalism, and in life, your reputation is the most important thing you have. Treat it carefully, be fair, and always try to be accurate. It's better to be right than to be first.
What did you do in the year immediately after graduation?
I continued working as a reporter in suburban Fort Worth, and was promoted to managing editor of the newspaper for which I'd been hired as a senior. The following year, we won the "Tops in Texas" Sweepstakes award from the Texas Press Association.
Please share a memorable moment or experience from your time at UNT and the Honors College.
My junior year, the honors program offered a seminar class on the 1960s: the music, culture, history, and politics of the decade. One week, the professor invited a group of Vietnam vets to speak to us about their experience in the war. Not a single person in that room could avoid bawling like a toddler by the time they were done. It really brought home the personal aspect of a huge historical event for me. I take flowers to the Wall every time we go to D.C., even all these years later.
How would you describe UNT, the Honors College, and Denton?
The campus is surprisingly beautiful, as much as the words "commuter school" are used to describe it. There's a wonderful sense of community, especially in the academic departments and the Honors College. It's easy to find a place where you fit, even on such a large, busy campus.
If you could go back and do it all again, would you still attend UNT? What would you do differently, if anything, during your time as a student?
I wouldn't change a thing. I'm a big believer that everything happens for a reason, and I have a wonderful life now.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment?
My debut mystery was nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel, which is pretty huge in the crime writing community. Before that, I was the youngest finalist in the history of the Dallas Press Club's Katie Awards--and I'm pretty proud of the LynDee Stephens Integrity in Journalism Award given by the Mayborn School of Journalism at UNT. It's amazing to me that students today are still benefitting from work I did at the Daily so long ago.
Did you pursue any other career paths prior to your current occupation? If so, please describe your occupational history.
I was a reporter and editor at several newspapers before my oldest daughter was born, and I won dozens of awards for my work there. But the eighty hour workweeks didn't mesh well with motherhood. These days, I write crime fiction from my home in Richmond while wrangling school and sports schedules for my three children.
What advice/insight do you have for UNT alumni and students interested in your field?
Perseverance is the key! Publishing is a subjective business, so one person's trash is another's next big thing. You can't take criticism personally.
Develop a thick skin, and always look for ways to improve your craft whether you write fiction or nonfiction. As long as you keep getting better, your audience will keep growing.