I took my first writing class at the age of 40. It was called Mothers Write, sponsored by the Public Library in Tempe, Arizona. Why did I wait so long, you might ask? For many of the same reasons it was decades before I hauled my butt into therapy. Convinced the shrink would tell me I was crazy (and snap his fingers for the men in white coats) I was also certain any writing instructor worth her salt would suspend my poetic license. This image was less drastic than the insane asylum, more like a slow folding of the tents I’d pitched around a desire that dare not be named, lest it be immediately quashed by those arbiters of literary talent with taste and judgment.
By my senior year, I was insufferable. I knew everything. I knew nothing. I could not buy a record album (def: mid-century spinning disc played on turntable to produce sound waves) because that five dollars would feed a family in Bolivia for a week. In reply to an innocent greeting by an unsuspecting stranger, I might very well say, “Well, it’s not a good morning in Chile.” The more I discovered about Latin America, the harder I found it to describe, the more its miseries weighted me down. There was nothing I could offer in the way of practical solutions, given the failures of so many well-meaning souls who’d ventured there before me, only to discover that the Law of Unintended Consequences is otherwise known by the last name of Murphy.
Besides, there were dictators in Latin America, commanding militias bent on eating do-gooders like me for brunch and spitting us out before siesta. Worse, I’d heard there existed fun-sized cockroaches bigger than your head.
Exit, stage left, the missionary in faux-peasant dress. Enter, stage right, a devotee of this glorious form of communication known as the novel. As in, that lovely relic from my childhood, that form of storytelling I’d been depriving myself of for years in the name of ‘doing good.’
Fast forward through two children, several nervous breakdowns, midlife crises I and II. Through it all, including somewhat abrupt relocations to England, Boston and Arizona, I continued to write fiction. Even more important, I read. Voraciously, omnivorously, from soup to nuts, Nora Ephron, Toni Morrison, Doris Lessing, John Le Carre, John Fowles, Ken Follett, William Styron, Pat Conroy, Kaye Gibbons, Susan Isaacs, David Lodge, Helen Fielding, Elizabeth George, Mary Doria Russell.