A few words about me:

Education: BA in Interdisciplinary Studies with minors in Communication, English, Film Studies, History, and Religious Studies.

English Department’s Writing Certificate based on portfolio of writing samples

Books I have copy-edited and/or assisted with research/verification: Chile Under Pinochet, Children’s Human Rights, Middle Eastern Terrorism, and The Automobile and American Life (2nd ed.)

Works in Progress:                The Fire Slayers                             (status: complete)

                                                Finding Persephone                      (status: final draft)

                                                Persephone's Children                  (status: final draft)

About Me:  Promises to Myself

You want to write.

You announce to your college roommates, “I am going to be a writer.” You show them a short story you’ve written. They like it, but scoff, “This is easy for you, if you want to be a writer, you should write a book.”

A book? You know you cannot write a book. If writing short stories is not enough for your peers to take you seriously as a writer, perhaps you could be a poet. You enter a competition and are published in an almost-vanity-press edition of Great Contemporary American Poems – page 100. You see it as an omen and write more poetry. Recalling Emily Dickinson, you bind them together in a handmade notebook. Perhaps they will be published if you die young. You don’t die young. The parchment you once thought looked so elegant begins to turn yellow at the edges.

In the meantime, you date, you work and play, you fall in love. You fall in love again…and again. This time it sticks and you’re married. You move, you make new friends, you have a baby. You move again, Florida to California, and yet again, California to Ohio. You start resenting the hell out of your husband’s company. Days blur into years. Eventually your identity is limited to what – not who – you are: wife, mother, daughter, and employee. Everything you are and the dreams you had are forgotten as you lose yourself in the expediency of everyone else’s life.

Occasionally, a miracle happens and you have a few minutes.

You play the guitar, but you have no talent and determination only takes you so far. You sew because you have always loved fabric. Your new friends make quilts. You design a quilt, and two years later it is on your bed. It is so beautiful you keep making them. One, two, three, a dozen heirloom quilts crafted with love flow from your sewing room. Most you give away – sometimes without even taking a photograph – keeping only fabric remnants and colorful pieces of graph paper as mementos. A close friend starts scrapbooking and you are enthused. Scrapbooking is faster than quilting. Suddenly your sewing room is a scrapbooking haven with stacks of colored paper, stamps, and calligraphy pens competing with stacks of fabric, spools of thread, pins and needles. For two years you transform paper into art, most of which you give away. Your friend moves to Kentucky. You dig the sewing machine out of the closet.

Once in a while, you scribble a poem, write an especially eloquent letter or descriptive newsletter article, and you remember for a moment how much you love words. Working at a local university, you begin taking classes; history, English, and philosophy. Those are the writing classes. Instructors have to read what you write. You get feedback, not all bad. You write more. You begin earning high marks on your papers. Your boss asks you to proofread his first book; then the second; and when he writes his third book, you assist with the research and copyediting. He mentions your name in the acknowledgements. 

Nothing has felt that good in a long time.

Watching a TV program one evening, you recall a similar dream that suddenly makes sense. For years, you think about the story in your spare time; elaborating the action here, twisting the plot there, but although much of it is missing, you start writing. Bits and pieces come easily, then nothing.

You take more classes. The writing and research assignments keep you busy when you are not working or taking care of everyone you love. Unexpectedly, your father dies. You have a moment when you realize exactly where you are in the circle of your life. Standing in the doorway of the sewing room, you firmly close the door.

Tossing out what you wrote before, you start over.

The beginning is too predictable, but you persevere and then, somewhere along page 25, you meet the character who inspires the narrative and you run with it. You are compelled and you write and write and write. You forget everything else. Food, friends, and family all become unnecessary. The story unwinds like a movie in your mind. You cannot write it fast enough. You put in every little detail. It is important that the reader sees everything exactly like you do. You send it to your best friend. She likes it. You give it to your mother. She likes it.

Excited, you invite a former English teacher to lunch. You pay. You tell her about the book. She nods knowingly; she always thought you would write something. She asks you how long it is.

                “Two hundred thousand words,” you say proudly.

She has heard this before. Her knowing look turns to pity. 

She reads your query letter. “Not bad,” she says without meeting your eyes. Hesitating for a moment, she looks at you seriously and adds, “if you ever want to see this published, you need to lose sixty thousand words.”

You feel like she is telling you to chop off the fingers and toes of your firstborn child. She knows this, too. Smiling, she wishes you luck and disappears. 

Now it is no longer your ‘novel.’ It is an unending ‘work-in-progress’ as you whittle away at it, month after month, until gradually you understand that you are only making it shorter – not better. Deep inside you know this kind of slash and burn editing is not writing, it is dewriting and painful. You work on it less and less. Feeding your need for a fresh creative outlet, you write an essay for the fun of it, then another. A friend says you should blog. She helps you set it up, and you upload your essays. You get a follower, then another. One day you log on and discover you have six followers – only one to whom you are related.

People are reading what you write, and you want them to keep reading. You register for a course that promises to help you write smarter. You learn ways of improving your sentence structure and writing from the reader’s perspective. Completing one difficult assignment after another, you hope the structural emphasis you are learning makes a difference.

While writing an essay without modifiers, a sentence you’re struggling with seems to magically fall into place, and you realize you are using what you have learned. Fighting back feelings of trepidation, you open the latest version of your ‘work-in-progress.’ Admonitions from the textbook and instructor echo in your mind as you read it critically. The writing could be so much better. You stop dewriting and start seriously rewriting…from the beginning.

You have always believed in the story. The characters and narrative are as real and true as anything you have ever known. A quiet confidence calms your apprehensions.

Newly armed with a love not just for words, but for words carefully chosen and beautifully written, you take a deep breath, press the power button on the laptop and embrace the realization that becoming a published writer is no longer a matter of if or when.

It’s a matter of now.

PJ