I’m reading on a lot of sites that debut authors need a writer’s platform. So this is my place to stand. It’s funny to think of how to market myself, as a brand, as a product, especially when I’m still in the process of figuring out who I am as a writer. As many of you know, I’ve recently earned a PhD in Irish Literature, my greatest passion next to my husband and two children. But because of my husband and my two children and my love for the driftless area of Wisconsin, I made the choice not to pursue a tenure track job, not there was much of a “market” out there for me, anyway. This may come as a surprise, but humanities departments across America have not been breaking down my door to teach Joyce to their young freshmen. So I spend my days as an adjunct English teacher at a small, two-year college in Richland Center, WI and I teach a weird mix of architectural theory and literature at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture in the summer. For a while I thought I could do it, I could still do scholarship and teach four sections of comp. No problem. But something happened to me late October of last year that changed everything.
I was sitting at my desk, working on research for an article on this Conor McPherson play The Weir, and I realized that I was not doing this research for myself. I was doing this for someone else, for someone else to tell me, “You’re good enough.” In academia, the push is to research and publish, publish, publish. Now I’m all for the publish part, of course, but I wondered if this was how I really wanted to spend my spare time. Was writing this article making me happy, or was writing this article something I felt I had to do to “belong” to a club that actually didn’t really want me as a member? I felt like the poor girl at the prom who scrapes together all her money to buy a dress to impress the cool crowd and fit in. But we all know how that story ends. The cool crowd will never see that girl as a peer, but as a subject of ridicule. The more you try, the more they push back. And that’s how it is in academia these days. Even though I have mad research chops, being an adjunct stigmatizes you in a way that burns, brands you as a second class citizen. Don’t get me wrong, in spite of the horrendous pay and working conditions, I love my job. I get to make a difference in the lives of my students every single day. It’s exhilarating. But writing scholarly articles? Well, that’s work. And as a poorly paid adjunct, that’s uncompensated work.
So I knew it was time for a change. It was late October. I had heard of National Novel Writing Month on some friend’s facebook feeds, and I thought…why not? As a child, I would tell stories to myself before I went to bed, and this habit persisted into adulthood. I had this idea for a story about a young woman, a graduate student, who is working on this old book and one night her advisor is killed by a giant snake. A tall dark handsome stranger rescues her from said snake. He ends up being in the Fianna…because, you know, they’re still walking the earth. Why not? This was my premise.
I thought I would bang out a few words, make a real bodice ripper. I’ve read a few of those. Okay, a lot of those (I wasn’t exactly reading Finnegan’s Wake during my “off” hours in PhD program), and I thought I could do it. So I wrote, and the young woman became Elizabeth Tanner and she’s tough and strong and smart, she loves The Beatles and sandwiches. The Celtic Warrior became Finn O’Connell, a rebel from the 1798 Irish Uprising. There was a secret underground organization called Trinity, there were faeries, Druids, evil wizards, and dark princes. Sex, intrigue, romance, betrayal, it just kept pouring out of me. I stopped, gave it to some good, smart bookish friends, and began a second book. That book exploded on the page, and it has all that stuff plus mystery, dysfunctional families, secret government conspiracies, faerie rebellions, some steampunk, and a multi-dimensional pet shop (you’ll see…).
Ten years in academia, so I have a long ways to go when it comes to my “creative” writing. But I have a story to tell. Actually, quite a few stories, and I want nothing more than to be able to tell them well. This blog will document my process, my research, my sorrows, my joys. Most of all, though, I want this to be fun. Because I learned last October, that I want to put my energy into things that bring me joy. I’m taking my ugly prom dress and throwing it in the trash.