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WHEN I WAS FOUR YEARS OLD, I BEGAN TO WRITE.
In the moment when my teacher gave me colored chalk to prove my early talent at the blackboard, I knew that writing would be the occupation that would drive my life.
I wrote short stories throughout childhood and, sometimes, poetry. Art therapy? Maybe. It was good for the soul.
Teachers would read my work out loud before my classmates (usually anonymously) in high school. I would “freelance” for the high school paper, then go on to serve as reporter, then Entertainment Editor, then managing editor for the Clark College student newspaper, The Independent, in my sophomore year in college.
I was married in 1987 and moved to the ultimate news town, Chicago, and it was at Columbia College Chicago that I completed my liberal arts degree in 1990, focusing on journalism, especially magazine editing and publishing.
Me, with straight-ish hair, following
the Seahawks first Superbowl
championship win! #GoHawks!
I didn’t forsake creative writing, however; I took several of the classes that make up the infamous Story Workshop Program at Columbia.
Were I less anxious about getting out of school and into the workforce (I’d been in college for 7 years, mostly because I had to pay for it myself), I would have stuck it out and earned my minor.
It became an option again in 1994 when, dissatisfied with my working life, I visited Columbia during a reunion and paid a visit to the Creative Writing Department, where I seriously entertained returning to school to get my MFA.
Ultimately, I said no, again, because I realized that, at that time, what I really wanted to do was start a family. I tore up my application then and there, and within a year, I became a new mother.
Before this, I had spent a few years working for a publishing house in the suburbs where I edited and produced cookbooks. Even as I enjoyed the work of cookbook publishing, at one point I realized that I was too rebellious and independent an individual to take much more of the corporate lifestyle that the job entailed, so I taught myself some desktop publishing skills, started my own small press and editing services business and began to write freelance articles.
Having children changed that trajectory dramatically. I wanted to raise my children without the stress of meeting deadlines, so I decided to close shop as a small press publisher and freelancer. Creative writing emerged as the ideal pursuit; I realized that I really didn’t need to wait until I was retired to write novels (something I’d always assumed I would do).
Reading at Eagle Harbor Books, for the
launch of Penumbra: Speculative Fiction
from the Pacific Northwest, an anthology
which included my short story and
which I also edited and produced.
I did what most writers do who decide to get serious about their work: I took some classes here and there, spent a lot of time in writing groups, attended conferences and read everything I could. And I wrote.
Apparently I am someone who needs constant intellectual challenge, as parenthood and writing weren’t enough to keep me engaged.
During my second pregnancy, I learned that the oddball writing I was producing for workshop actually had a category: magical realism.
I immediately took on the task of learning everything I could about magical realism, but found it a difficult subject to break into. The most efficient way to learn about magical realism as a writer is to go back to college, but I wasn’t going to have anything to do with that, not with baby number two on the way.
I turned to the Internet as a workaround to the problem, and after a few months, began to see the structure of a literary magazine emerging from my notes. Margin, a web-based literary anthology with an international staff and contributors, was born three months after my second daughter.
Margin’s launch, in January 2000, was an exciting, aggravating time for me. I’d just moved from Chicago to the Seattle area less than a year before and, with a toddler and preschooler in tow and a lot to learn about Internet publishing, I spent many nights enslaved by coding demands and the endless learning curve the web still demands.
But I didn’t stop writing: I had found a wonderfully productive poetry workshop in the community and cranked out all kinds of verse, which helped me keep my sanity.
Me, with curly hair. And yes,
that is an adult coloring book!
This became the shape of my life up until 2007, when the staff and I at Margin decided to archive the magazine and move on to other projects. I saw the end of one project as the beginning of many others: I had started several novels over this period and wanted to finish them.
I finished three:
- The Chalk Match, a YA novel with magical realism elements
- Fiddlehead’s Odyssey, my first and successful attempt at National Novel Writing Month
- Leafminers, a literary novel with magical realism elements
These are still in later drafts but none are ready to trot out into the world just yet. Three others remain unfinished, but not forgotten:
- Manifest Destiny, a mainstream “road trip” novel, is one that I still dream of completing.
- Ophelia To The Third will be my biggest and most complicated novel ever, if I can just manage to finish it—a mainstream family saga situated in the fictitious small town from which all of my fiction (short stories, included) springs forth.
- A third paranormal mystery novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo in the fall of 2008, Lost & Found, is also alive and kicking in the shadows.
I also started another editorial services business, Writer’s Rainbow Literary Services LLC, in October of 2006 as a response to so many requests for my assistance as a critic, coach, instructor, speaker, mentor and manuscript editor. Not long after that, I was approached with the opportunity to become the conference organizer for the local writing community, Field’s End, and I accepted it.
While in attendance at
Crypticon, a PacNW horror
After so many gains between 2006 and mid-2008, the six months that followed turned out to be a dark hole of loss. My father-in-law’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent passing prompted me to take a hiatus from a fourth book I had started, a nonfiction guide to writing magical realism.
I couldn’t focus on my own work or the work of anyone else, for that matter. Reality has a way of stubbornly reasserting itself just as you become comfortable with the way you’ve arranged your life. I extended my break through the holidays to get back on track with myself and my family.
In February 2008, I decided to do something I’d delayed for a couple of years: I enrolled in Eric Maisel’s Creativity Coaching program with hopes of earning certification with the International Coaching Federation so I could expand my services as a mentor and coach for creative writers.
It meant I had to make the hard decision of leaving my volunteer work at Field’s End, but the demands of a growing business and my own writing projects on perpetual delay finally warranted that decision.
Through 2010 I continued to teach blogging classes, take on new book clients, develop new networks and maintain the Writer’s Rainbow business. I also did quite a bit of food blogging for Extra! Extra! Recipes, BuzzFood and Chez Tamara.
However, starting January 2011, I began the process of retiring my coaching contracts in order to reconnect with new ambitions. A third go-around with National Novel Writing Month, followed by a return to college to become a sleep technologist, brought big change to my life.
And at the time of my program’s completion, new health challenges (a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 2013) inspired fresh inquiry into the neurological mysteries of the brain and of dreams, sleep disorders, mental health and health literacy.
After an 18-month stint working as a sleep technologist (aka “nightwalker”), I am now returning to day work to preserve my health; shift work disorder does not create prime living conditions for someone with multiple sclerosis; the stress of caring for very sick patients while being sick myself took its toll.
The field of sleep technology is also changing in ways that suggested to me in that moment that it might not be the right place for me.
Meanwhile, I built and launched a new website: SleepyHeadCENTRAL.com, an online clearinghouse of sleep health information which is still going strong. For about 16 months, I worked as Chief Content Officer for inboundMed.org, where I managed content (including a whole lot of writing) for private medical clients in the specialties of sleep health, orthopedics, family practice, even recreational therapy.
And now I am working as Web Consultant for the American Sleep Apnea Association, which offers a broad umbrella of projects that really help patients manage their sleep problems, from the Sleeptember forum to their new Sleep Health App, CPAP Assistance Program, AWAKE national sleep health support groups, and much more. Their patient-centered focus is exciting and I look forward to bringing to life their brand new blog this year.
So here I am, full circle… at age 52, back to writing about the things I love as well as pursuing some new things that I have come to be passionate about.
Life these days is full as ever even as I’ve moved past the Sandwich Generation, yet I’ll never forget that day in front of the blackboard with the box of colored chalk, perhaps THE critical defining moment in my life. It was that moment that brought me to this place in the present: working with words, surrounded by words, living through words, in so many ways and with so many different people.
Almost half a century later, I’m still tracing loops in blue and orange, sending colored dust into the air. I couldn’t be happier.
I have a collection of baseball
hats and I’m not afraid to
Thanks for traveling through this writer’s wilderness.
First writing project ever: “The Island of the Giant Crabs,” a short story derivative of the Jason and the Argonauts movies of the 60s. That was 1972.
First publication: an illustrated poem in the school newsletter, when I was in 2nd grade (also in 1972). It was a humorous piece about butterflies in Canada. In direct competition for this status is the cinquain that Reader’s Digest published when I was in high school.
First writing job (unpaid): Articles for the Columbia River High School newspaper, 1982.
First piece of journalism published: A feature on Mother’s Day for a local circular in Vancouver, WA, 1985.
First paid writing job: Internship with Hill & Knowlton for the academic year 1989-1990, where I wrote all kinds of articles and department content for their custom publishing division (in magazines such as Ford Times and Discovery).
First major credit: A short piece on the opinion page of the Chicago Tribune, January 1, 1990.
First short story published: “A Fish Story” in Hair Trigger XIII, 1991.
First poem published: “Driftwood” in Moon Journal, 1997.
A dozen favorite writers (because I am a voracious reader): Ray Bradbury (my number one muse), Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Louise Erdrich, Janet Frame, Sherwood Anderson, Carson McCullers, Patrick Chamoiseau, Stephen King, Toni Morrison, Aimee Bender, Albert Camus and Katherine Vaz.
A dozen books I’ve read more than once: A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry), The Bone People (Keri Hulme), Wonderfull (William Neil Scott), Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte), The Yellow Wallpaper (Charlotte Perkins Gilman), Burning Down the House (Charles Baxter), One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabria Garcia Marquez), The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (JRR Tolkien), The Beet Queen (Louise Erdich), Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury), The Alchemist (Paolo Coelho) and The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood).
A dozen thinkers and doers I admire: Oliver Sacks, Barack Obama, William Dement, Mother Teresa, Amelia Earhart, Jane Addams, Chief Seattle, Harriett Tubman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Malcolm Gladwell, Harold Weiner and Daniel Goleman.
Other interests: Cooking, herb gardening, backyard wildlife, camping, hiking, feminism, parenthood, drum corps (as a spectator), making jewelry, amateur photography, the Pacific Northwest at large, Seahawks, stand-up comedy, podcasts, independent film and LAUGHTER.