Wrath was released the same year I finished my undergraduate degree and I was in a bit of a funk at that point in my life. During high school, I and my fellow students were constantly pressed to go to college because that was the best route to a well-paying job. They pushed us towards it by showing statistic charts describing the average annual income based in level of education, and things like that. I didn’t wanna be the loser who worked at McDonald’s for the rest of her life. Heck, I’d worked for one of those horrid places for a mere month before I had to get out. I was a student athlete and the manager didn’t understand the concept of scheduling me around my practices and Track & Field meets, so I went with what I liked doing more: sports.
I enrolled in my local community college right out of high school, not having much of a plan of where I was going, but my heart was in Art at the time. I took Gen Eds alongside my beloved art classes, and for one of my prerequisites I had to choose between either a speech class or Acting I. Since I’m deathly afraid of talking in front of people, acting was out of the question. I didn’t want to take the speech class either for the same reasons but, since I had no choice but to pick one evil or the other, I went with Acting I. Speech class sounded hopelessly boring.
I fell in love with acting, finding it fun, instead of frightening, and got cast in The Hobbit: A Musical. Yep, I sang in front of people, too. My singing is passable but you’ll never see me audition for American Idol; however, I had such a positive experience with all that acting stuff that I had to do more when I transferred to the local university. I wanted to minor in Theatre for the fun of it, but I ended up completing a BFA in Theatre while minoring in Creative Writing. I was an English major for a whopping two hours before making the switch.
I veered away from majoring in Art because I realized I enjoyed drawing and painting more as a hobby than anything else, and I lacked the drive to stand out among the steep competition. At the same time, I’d written my first fantasy book at age eighteen and wanted to become a famous author. Back then, I thought what I’d written would become the next Harry Potter phenomenon, when in reality it was a novice piece of crap. But hey, we all gotta start somewhere.
By age nineteen I realized I had a lot to learn about writing and storytelling, so I needed a steady day job while honing my craft on the side. I figured getting a Bachelor’s in English would be smart, but all those dull literature classes made me grimace. On top of that, what would I do with an English degree? Teach? I’m not teacher material! But what else was there? Maybe I’d learn to enjoy teaching like I learned I enjoyed acting.
Fast forward two hours and one incredibly positive experience with the professors in the Theatre department, and I switched to Theatre as my major with a Creative Writing minor. I had no idea where I’d go with such a degree, but I finally felt like I was in the right place.
In retrospect, I realize life was connecting me with people I needed to meet. During undergrad, the relationship between my dad and I was shaky, so life had provided me with a surrogate father who helped me get through that tough time. Thankfully, my father and I now have the relationship we’ve always wanted and needed. It was quite the roller coaster ride getting there but we never gave up on each other; just took cool down periods here and there. We’re very much alike so it’s easy to butt heads.
When I stopped needing the surrogate father, I felt like I no longer belonged in Theatre. On top of that, I’d learned to tell the difference between good and bad acting, and I realized I didn’t fall under the good category. However, I was so close to done that I wanted to finish what I started, despite how awkward it felt. I was hyper aware of all the talent surrounding me, along with how dedicated and passionate these people were about acting, yet there I was, just passing through and learning a bunch of neat things along the way, my need to focus on writing growing more intense every day.
By my final semester, I realized I was about to graduate with no clue as to where to take myself next. I’d written a second book that was almost as terrible as the first, but I’d stopped writing for a couple years, even though I loved it. I felt so lost at that stage of my life. I wanted to be nothing more than a full-time author but I was clueless on how to do that, considering maybe 4% of authors could live exclusively off of their writing at the time. On top of all that, I had people on all sides telling me I needed to get a day job while pursuing my life’s passion. Of course they were right. I didn’t want to be some freeloader who was still living with her mom at age 40.
I asked my counselor what I should do with my degree. Teaching, go to Hollywood, go to New York, go to grad school, etc. Every last idea made my insides squirm. I didn’t want to teach acting when I knew I was lousy at it. Moving to a big city frightened me. I’m an outdoorsy person who enjoys peace and quiet. To drive the point home, I lived in Connecticut for 28 years, a mere two hour drive from New York City without ever visiting it, yet I’ve driven two hours many a time to hit Scarborough Beach in Rhode Island. I’ve got my priorities straight…
Grad school didn’t appeal either. I had no desire to try and become a better actor when I knew in my heart of hearts that I’m a writer and acting wasn’t for me. I was too scared to admit that to anyone at the time. I was comfortable for a while, but then I got tired of having the same stupid conversation almost verbatim every time I told someone I’m a writer. It went something like this:
“Oh, you’re a writer, huh? Written any books yet?”
“Oh, really? Are you published yet?”
“It’s a lot of work and I’m still trying to get a literary agent.”
“Have you tried self-publishing?” That was just emerging at the time.
“No. That costs a lot of money.”
From there the conversation either went dead or the person would try to help me with something I knew far more about than they did. I don’t mean that pompously; I mean I did my research on query letters, synopses, how to approach individual agents, and the whole traditional publishing process, which is one hell of a hassle from start to finish, but so worth it. I knew what it took and these people, who were only trying to help, quite frankly didn’t. At first these people frustrated me to no end, but I learned to take them in stride.
The only part that never got easier to take was one of two questions: “So what’s your day job?” or “So is this your day job?” They’d ask it with a smile, thinking they were making a joke while I made their latté. I’d put on a fake smile and say something like, “Whatever pays the bills.” People often don’t realize that it takes a lot of time and effort to reach difficult goals. There’s no such thing as “overnight success.” In order to pursue writing, I needed something practical that allowed sufficient time to keep moving forward with my dream.
After I finished undergrad, I went into hiding for a year, steering clear of family since I felt so ashamed of having spent the last five years in college just to remain stuck in customer service. I got burnt out from waiting tables at my local Red Robin, tried switching to hostess, but dear god that was a whole different type of stressful. Grumpy hungry people are not easy to deal with. I then switched to line cook and found it enjoyable, until the coworkers who’d be a pleasure to work with quit and were replaced by far less pleasant people.
I reached out to some extended family for ideas on what to do next as a writer, and one of them suggested I work at a local bookstore.
Cue smacking my own forehead. I couldn’t believe I’d overlooked the idea all this time.
I had a choice of either Barnes & Noble or… Barnes & Noble. That’s it. I breezed through the interview process but, for once, my previous job experience worked against me. They were aching to stick me in the café, even though I was aching to be on the book floor. However, since I refused to pass up the opportunity to work so close to books and lots of readers, I took what I could get and bid Red Robin a fond farewell. To this day, it’s still my favorite burger joint.
Working in a bookstore wasn’t the dream job I thought it’d be. Fueling America’s caffeine addiction appalled me but at least I enjoyed making friends with my coworkers and our regular customers, all who loved to read, and could give me suggestions on which book to pick up next.
It wasn’t until I could look back on my time with Barnes & Noble that I realized life had once again put me where I needed to be. While there, I landed a super awesome job as Throwers coach for my local high school. One of my former coaches just happened to stop by the café while I was working, and she informed me that the town of Enfield was in dire need of a decent throws coach. And that was the only time I ever saw that former coach again.
Since I’d done Track & Field all four years of high school, had a school record in my name for indoor girl’s shot put (still might), and figured I could teach kids to do as I did, I applied and got hired right away.
It was scary at first and I wasn’t much of an authority figure, but I grew into the role and did well enough to coach kids into national-level competition, along with help break the boys outdoor shot put record. I motivated them with Oreos and flying footwear (yes, I threw sneakers to get their attention), and marveled at how much my athletes grew.
While I was coaching and making lots of lattés, yet another fateful customer crossed paths with me, some girl who was in WestConn’s MFA program in Creative & Professional Writing. It was extra fateful at that point because I’d stopped telling people I was a writer, but for some reason I told her.
Instead of getting that cookie cutter conversation, I got an excellent pitch on the aforementioned MFA program. I read up on it and WestConn became one of only two grad schools I applied. The first one was in Vancouver, some place that basically considered itself above the fantasy genre. I remember asking if I should bother, since their program wasn’t big on fantasy, and the admissions person said I could get in if my writing sample was good enough.
Yeah, it wasn’t. Oh, well. WestConn happily took me on and boy did they put me to work, but I was thrilled with the incoming mentorship in becoming a better writer and storyteller. And my online gaming friends were happy for me, too.