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The Short Version of My Life

I was stunned when Hemingway shot himself! That meant he’d been alive when A FAREWELL TO ARMS was published.  I thought you had to be dead to get published.  Yeah, I was just a kid.  The realization that writers were often alive when they got published led me to submit stories to Redbook.  I didn’t have a typewriter, so I hand-printed my stories and started collecting rejections at age fourteen.  One of the editors at Redbook suggested I wait until I got older and could write from a place of experience.  So, you didn’t need to be dead, but you needed to be older.  And you needed experience. 

I got a job at a dress shop, bought a used Royal typewriter for fifty dollars and a bookcase from Goodwill.  I earned a degree in English Literature and a teaching certificate from Gonzaga University.  It was a brutal period in my life as I never got enough sleep and there was no time for personal writing.

 I got married and moved from Spokane to the Seattle area.  I submitted a story to the Wilmer Culver Memorial Competition.  In July I had a brand-new baby boy and a certificate for first prize.  It came with a check for $100.00.  I used the money to attend Zola Helen Ross’s writing classes.  I started publishing short stories.  Mrs. Ross helped me get a job teaching writing to adults at Renton Vocational Technical Institute.  Eventually I taught at a number of local colleges and schools.  I studied with Raymond Carver at Centrum and applied his methods to my writing classes. 

When my twenty-year-old marriage ended, I found myself needing a steady income.  I went to work for Microsoft and AutoDesk, winning prizes for the best educational software for both the Works program and AutoDesk tutorials.  Personal writing had to fit in after work.  During this time, Quarry West published the story Milk River.  It was anthologized and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I won other prizes and recognition, including the Eyster Prize for Fiction. 

Centrum offered a month-long residency where I finished the first hundred pages of MILK RIVER, the novel. That was the best time of my life.  At the end, I cried all the way home.  Writing fiction was not my real life. 

After that, I went to telecom, where I wrote implementation guides and test plans for more than twenty years.  I got up at 4:30 and wrote until 7:00 to finish MILK RIVER.  I had to be at work by 8:00 and I could not be in the head of the manic depressive in my novel.  I had to be in an engineering mind-frame.   

It took me ten years to finish MILK RIVER.  I was elated at first, but then felt a huge sense of loss.  The book did not fill my brain anymore!  I couldn’t write the required query letter to get an agent.  I didn’t want to write any short stories or poems.  The ideas I had for other novels were wrong.  I was still working full time, teaching, and ghost-writing for others.  I was headed for a burn-out.  The resulting health problems sapped my energy.  I concentrated on my job and gave up teaching and writing.  I needed a time-out. 

I re-married and retired.  Now, I take care of my grandchildren and there’s that fabulous thrum of energy that comes with the presence of children in the house.  And I’m back to writing again.  I’ve come full circle. 


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