A little (or a lot) about me
A little about me: I grew up in the Chicago area, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been telling stories. My dad always says, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story,” and I certainly never have. As a kid, my parents didn’t appreciate the difference between a budding storyteller and a part-time white liar, so I quickly learned that sticking to the page for my creative musings got me in less trouble. A few winners along the way were a first-grade adaptation of Three Billy Goats Gruff and a high-school adaptation of Romeo and Juliet told from the point of view of a box of crayons. These gems were appreciated by my family, my extended family, and…that’s about it.
However, I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a writer. The problem? I didn’t know what I wanted to write. I used to dream of writing the Great American Novel (who hasn’t), but when it came time for ideas, I didn’t seem to have a muse. So, I didn’t write – at least not fiction. I majored in English literature in college because I love to read as much as I love to write, and I couldn’t believe that someone would give me grades for simply reading and writing about that reading. Then graduation rolled around and in the immortal words of Avenue Q, “What do you do with a B.A. in English?”
After graduation, I held a lot of different jobs in Marketing and Public Relations. I was following my husband around the country and finding jobs that utilized my skills sets. Little did I know at the time, but each new job (Marketing Director at an architecture firm, head of a corporate creative department) was one more step on the writing journey. Everyone needed brochure copy or press releases, and although they weren’t life-changing, putting words on paper became part of my daily life. I was developing the skills that it takes to make it as a writer: Butt in chair…words on page…edit…publish…repeat. Day in and day out.
Once we decided to settle in Colorado permanently, I started my own Marketing/PR company. I worked with small businesses, non-profits and mom-and-pop type shops. The work consisted of a lot of business-to-business writing which honed my skills for succinct copy. (Obviously, not demonstrated here!) During that time, I started querying magazines with article ideas. I wasn’t a specialist in any one thing, but I had hiked the Grand Canyon,weathered lightning strikes in the mountains of Bolivia and worked for a performing arts presenter during which time I took saxophonists to methadone clinics in Detroit and made spaghetti for Yo-Yo Ma. I was a jack-of-all trades as far as life experience was concerned, and although I was a master of none, my varied life experience made for some good magazine copy.
My first breaks were small (relatively speaking), but they paid real money and I had my name in print. It was enough to get my freelance portfolio started with clips. That’s always the double-edged sword with freelance writing. You need clips to get published, but you need to be published to have clips. I was finally published with my own name next to my writing.
Once I dipped my toes into the freelance pool, I was hooked. Along the way, I had two hilarious and beautiful little boys. I started a blog to keep me sane in my days of freelance writer/new mom fuzz. The blog documented my life as a mother, but also told the story of my son’s birth in the car. Yes, in the car on I-70 (America’s busiest freeway). All humility went right out the window when I delivered my own baby in a moving car on the highway (in front of God, truckers and everyone), and I had so much fun telling the story. Lots of people find a story like that interesting, so the blog became more popular than I ever imagined.
Shortly thereafter, I approached a newpaper about writing a performing arts column. Thank goodness, it wasn’t about my own aforementioned performance art in the Ford Taurus. My professional experience in the world of performing arts gave me the right words and perspective to tell others about plays and orchestras they might like (or hate.) After the paper saw what I could do, they approached me about writing the weekly visual arts column also. Writing two weekly columns for six years instills a firm sense of discipline. My well of inspiration wasn’t a problem anymore. I couldn’t wait around for some finicky muse to come calling. I had to find inspiration on demand. There is no better training for a professional writer than a weekly deadline with your picture and byline attached to it.
My freelance work extended to the corporate world, too. I made a contact with the PR department from a major pet food producer. With a pile of clips at my disposal, I suddenly found myself immersed in the world of scientific articles about dogs and cats. Want to know about Obssessive-Compulsive Disorder in Doberman Pinschers or Myocardial Infarctions in Maine Coon Cats? I’m your gal.
After an extremely extended visit to the boot camp that is the world of non-fiction writing, that muse who claimed to be shy for so long suddenly decided she was an extrovert. I was swamped with more ideas for fiction than I could possibly write in a lifetime. That was when I made the leap into the world of fiction. And if you’re still reading, we’ve arrived at the present day. A completed novel sits buried in a drawer (never to see the light of day in its current format), and another historical fiction novel is in the works. I also have the book and libretto to a musical on scattered notes in my office.
Speaking of my office, that picture at the top of the post isn’t just a beauty shot. That’s my view everytime I look out my office window. (I’ll admit that photo came from Microsoft clipart. I was too lazy to get my own camera. But you get the idea!) Remember I mentioned that my husband and I had decided to stay in Colorado permanently? How can a muse hide, when she has something like that right outside her door? Happy writing!
Want to hear more? Follow me on twitter at @samill1.