I wasn't supposed to be a writer. I was supposed to be a scientist. That was the occupation my parents and extended family members had agreed upon for me from about 3rd grade on. They took a long, practical and rather somber look at what I good at in school (science and math = yes, sports of any kind = no) and immediately started suggesting a career path that would lead to my becoming their favorite kind of scientist: a doctor.
Thankfully, they were somewhat flexible on this. When I turned out to be squimish about things like blood...and needles...and medical procedures of all varieties, they were just fine with me channeling my academic efforts toward the bloodless sciences of geology, physics, astronomy or botany. My father, as I recall, was especially keen on the idea of pharmacy as my future occupation for a time, and I had to admit I was initially taken with the notion of grinding up tablets with a mortar and pestle and mixing chemicals every day like some kind of mad scientist -- never mind that most pharmacists don't actually do a lot of that. (I was geeky enough in the '80s to think the white lab coats were pretty cool from a fashion standpoint, too.) There were tons of possibilities, almost all of which would have made my parents happy.
But, see, I had a secret.
Although I really liked and respected the sciences, I loved the arts. All of the arts. Passionately and with my whole geeky heart. I did not dream of becoming Gen X's answer to Marie Curie. I dreamed of becoming Pat Benatar. I wanted to sing, write poetry and lyrics, play my electronic piano, be in a stageplay or two, paint huge canvases with watercolors and oils, and dance, dance, dance -- tap numbers and jitterbug and the occasional samba. (Don't laugh, Latin styles are fun.) More than anything, I wanted to do something artsy and creative every single day. Something that had meaning for me. Something where I could try to make sense of this crazy little thing called life.
But making a career in the arts requires more than dreams or hopes or passions...it also requires courage, and I didn't have a lot of that at 16 or even at 26. Part way through college, I changed majors from biochemistry to teaching -- working with 2nd and 3rd graders would be both creative and meaningful, IMO -- but I knew there was still an important element missing for me.
After eight years, when I was expecting my son, I took a leave of absence from the school district. I'd already gotten a master's degree in educational psychology (where I'd spent my grad years studying other people's creative efforts...), and I'd been working on adding an art certification so I could teach that subject, too. But a very strange thing happened during my time away. The courage that had elluded me for decades on my own was present in full force -- possibly doubled, even tripled -- when I held this new little being. I felt overpoweringly protective of him. Conscious of my need to do for him what I never would have done just for myself: To be the daily example of someone who put aside her fears long enough to follow her true passions.
I knew how easy it was for parents to get caught up in having their children fulfill their dreams for them. I'd seen it. Lived it. Didn't want to make the mistake of pressuring my kid into becoming a painter or a writer or a musician (if, say, he was wild about the sciences and dreamed of being a doctor instead...) just because I'd wanted those arts opportunities and had been too afraid to take them.
So, I started by writing poetry, articles and essays and sending them in to magazines. Some of them -- to my shock and delight -- even got accepted and published. I wrote my first women's fiction manuscript by hand on lined paper when my son and husband slept, having never read at that time so much as a single book on the craft of writing fiction (yeah, it showed), but then I wrote a second, third and fourth manuscript with the tremendous support and advice of Chicago-North RWA and my family behind me. And when I wrote the fifth one, According to Jane, I not only got an agent for my efforts, but that book went on to win the Golden Heart Award for "Best Mainstream Novel with Strong Romantic Elements," sold to Kensington and was released in October 2009.
Since then, I've sold two more novels. Friday Mornings at Nine, just came out three months ago and was chosen as a Doubleday Book Club and Book-of-the-Month Club featured alternate selection. And my third book, A Summer of Europe, will be out this year in late November.
Beyond that, though, I don't know.
I'm working on a fourth and a fifth novel -- and I'd love to sell them, of course -- but I'm taking it one story at a time. The writer's path is an interesting one and I'm curious to see where it leads. As for my son, he's now 12 and really fond of stargazing, coin collecting, Blackhawks hockey games, playing clarinet and his Nintendo Dsi. I have no idea what this motley assortment of passions might mean for him career-wise or what skills he's building toward exactly. (He swears his videogame playing is educational -- LOL.) But that's for him to decide, not me.
What I'm proud of most is knowing he's been a firsthand witness to my writing journey for as long as he can remember, and that he's come to understand that following a dream takes thousands of hours of time, a relentless work ethic and enormous levels of courage. I'm so glad I was able to give him the gift of this insight. It was very hard won. And for all those writers out there -- both published and aspiring -- putting endless hours of work into drafting, revising and submitting your stories, without knowing what the outcome will be and wondering constantly if it's all worth it...stay the course if you can. Because, yes, I think it is.
Question: Did you always know what your career would be? If not, what were some of the occupations you considered on the path to where you are now? Any career you still hope to try? (I'm still working on that Pat Benatar thing. ;) I'll give away one signed copy of Friday Mornings at Nine to one commenter -- I'll draw on Friday morning (not a coincidence!) and post the winner's name in the comment section. xo Marilyn