Sunday, April 19, 2009


I took the road less traveled by

And that has made all the difference.
*** Robert Frost

HANK: How did you turn out the way you turned out? Was it what you planned? Dreamed of? When I was given the some multiple-choice preference test, back in whenever-it-was, the high school guidance counselor told me I had scored high in "literature" and "persuasion."

"You should work in a book store, I guess," she said.

All righty then.

But I remember, vividly, that my first job aspiration was to be an airline stewardess. Yes, that's what they were called. You got to go cool places, look chic, bring passengers whatever free stuff they wanted, and tell people what to do. (That was a key element of it, as I remember.) Then I decided I'd rather be an English teacher. Then, a geneticist. Then a radio disc jockey. Then, in college, I decided I would be the lawyer for the Mine Workers' union.

The unplanned and surprising road to TV reporter went through a stint as a legislative aide on Capitol Hill, a job I got at age 20 by going door to door with my resume. Wound up as the press secretary to a congressman from Texas. Then at Rolling Stone magazine as an editorial assistant. And then--my first job in TV, at age 25. And there I was, doing my life's work. And now writing mysteries about it.

Literature, and persuasion. Pretty funny. What did you want to be when you grew up?

JAN: I decided in first grade that I was going to be writer. When you think about it, that's actually when you learn to write, first grade. So the first thing, I learned. I stuck with.

I remember the first story I wrote: The Cat on the Moon, about a poor kitten tormented by a pack of little boys (much like the author was tormented by her three older brothers). Even at six year's old, I had delusions of being published, and was infuriated when I found a book by the same title on my second grade shelf. Those sneaky plagiarists!

RHYS: I wanted to be a lion tamer when I was a little kid, but nobody would give me a lion to practice on.

HANK: Oh, Rhys, I'd love to see photos.

RHYS: When I was a teenager I wanted to be a movie star. I have always written, edited the school magazine, wrote short stories, was invited to have tea with Iris Murdoch when she came to my school, and then edited the college newspaper. This convinced me that I didn't want to be a journalist. Too much hard work and deadline pressure.

HANK: Smart girl, even then.

RHYS: So my thwarted theatrical ambitions were channeled into the production side of BBC drama instead. It was while I was there that I decided some of the plays weren't that good and I wrote my own. As only a 22 year old can do, I took it personally to head of drama. He liked it and the BBC produced it. More followed. I might still have been there but I got lured to Australia by ABC, met my husband and wound up in San Francisco. Funny how life takes side turns.

ROBERTA: I edited the yearbook instead of the newspaper and performed some very bit parts in the school plays--no danger of reaching Broadway there! I finished college without any firm idea of what was next, having run through majors of biochemistry and art history before settling on French lit. so naturally my first job was--in a book store! Then I spent some time as a vocational rehabilitation counselor before going back to school for clinical psychology. I never anticipated becoming a writer--in fact I could kick myself now for opportunities I didn't seize when I was young. But I wasn't ready--just happy to be here now!

RO: I wanted to be exactly what I turned out to be..someone who has a lot of fun, travels, does cool things and hangs out with cute guys.

HANK: Come on, RO. Fess up. And yup, Roberta, timing is everything. Sometimes I think, gosh, I should have started writing mysteries sooner. But then, I wouldn’t be who I am now, so the books couldn’t be the same. I do think Rhys still has a future as a movie star, though. And Jan, do you still have Cat on the Moon? We’d all love to read it!

And how about you all? What did you want to be when you grew up? Is that who and what you are?


  1. I hoped to be a ballet dancer, then hit 5'7" (about 6'2" en pointe), and that was no longer a realistic goal. So, I was a theatre major doing a radio talk show on the side, then a news- and copywriter.

    Never in life did I think I'd be a commercial pilot running a search dog in the ground hours, writing about it. I'm thrilled life has been so wayward.

    There are common themes, I guess, to those early ambitions. Risk, discipline, sore muscles. :-D

  2. AH, yes, ballet dancer. Me, too. Until, when I was about nine, Madame DeAngera (all bracelets and black hair in a bun) took my mother aside and said: "Your daughter will never be a ballerina. I cannot teach her."

    But Susannah, I think that's interesting. The basics of what you considerede back then have some common themes with your life today...

  3. I wanted to be an astronaut. The first Mercury launch was in 1961, when I was 8 years old, and I don't think I missed watching a US space launch from then until in 1972.

    The attraction to the space program was strong enough that it actually brought me to attend college at MIT--not really to be an astronaut, but to at least be part of the program. But, as John Lennon said "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans," and by the time I got to MIT the country's interest in the space program was dwindling, and it no longer seemed a realistic choice for me.

    Not quite sure how I got from that to the law! The jump, though, from the law to writing was easy. As a lawyer I write for a living, and most people think that as a lawyer I write FICTION for a living.

  4. I also studied ballet for ten years--my mother's dream for me, not mine. Ballet teacher carried a stick and used it on legs. Then I grew too tall--about my current height at age 11, so ballets went like this: You girls are the forest fairies, flitting around and you--she points to me--are the tree in the middle.
    That's when I quit. i saw no reason to endure pain to wind up as a tree.

  5. Ken Isaacson showing up here is a great segue (I love that word) to my telling everyone what a fabulous job Rosemary and crew did with Murder 203!

    Nice to meet you, Ken, and I'm looking forward to reading your book. I've no idea what took me so long to buy it!

    I'm glad to hear Murder 203will be an annual event. The organizers outdid themselves.

    Paula Matter

  6. Hey, Ro, any photos anywhere to see what I missed at Murder 201??

    Great question, Hank!

    I always always always wanted to be a teacher. Tortured my poor sister Amy into playing school endlessly when she wanted to undress dolls. I've taught grades K, 1, 2, 3, and 6, at the college level, and now I have the great pleasure of teaching aspiring writers.

    I mean, what could be bad? You talk. They listen.

  7. And, Rhys, now you know being a tree is a good thing.

    Hey Ken! Hey Paula! So sad to miss you guys at 203. I heard it was terrific (and I'll get there next year)!

    But Paula, what did you want to be?

  8. Just had the MOST hilarious vision of all of us as ballet dancers...

  9. Okay, ..maybe I fantasized for a week or two about being a backup singer for a band. It's interesting that I didn't want to be the LEAD singer..just wanted to travel, hang out with...oh wait..I said that.

    Hallie - Roberta and Craig Kennedy have posted some Murder 203 pix on facebook. Jan and I had fun hanging with Ken(ny) and Jason Pinter closing up the bar at 203 after the Cocktails and Crime party. Paula, numero uno fan, and not just because you share the same name as my heroine...always great to see cracked me up at the panel when a certain attendee was bloviating and you were rolling your eyes!

  10. Up until I was about 10, my career plans involved hands-on with horses: cowgirl, jockey, show horse trainer.

    Then, I went through a nurse phase when I read about Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale. And a reporter phase when I read about Nellie Bly.

    The reporter thing kinda stuck because I did that for a few years. And now I combine the horses with the reporting for the blog.

    Again, many thanks for Murder 203. I can't say it often enough. And it was great to see so many familiar faces - even if I didn't get a chance to say "hi" during our action-packed weekend.

  11. Oooh, I wanted to be an astronaut, too, but (way) back then we weren't sending women into space. I did end up getting an MS in Space Studies, though. But what I really liked was connecting people with information, so for a while I did public radio, and I became a consultant.

    Murder 203 was great, and I want to thank all of you who came to teach us. Great job, Rosemary!

    Llyn K.

  12. Oh, Ro, I didn't know you saw me do that. Too funny!I'm glad I wasn't sitting next to her...

    Hank asked what I wanted to be: Susan Dey. She was tall, pretty, an actress who got to hang out with David Cassidy.

    Missed you, Hank! And, Jan, how in the world did I miss you? Would've liked to've met you.

    Paula Matter

  13. Ro, you [adjective][noun].

    And Llyn, while I didn't get a degree in Space Studies like you, I did take up space in college.

  14. I don't remember what I wanted to be when I was little, but I do remember always writing, and my mother telling me I was a good writer when I was about 8. And sure enough, I ended up always writing: journalism in high school, a PhD and scholarly articles in linguistics, creating medical content for speech-recognition software, writing free-lance essays and articles in local papers about my experiences in farming and childbirth education, and finally producing software documentation, with mystery fiction always going on in the background. Many (unsecret) careers with a common theme!

    Great topic, Hank.


  15. What a fun topic. I know the circus, stage, and outer space is missing out--but I'm still glad all of you decided to be writers!

    I remember playing library as a kid and making my own cards I could stamp--I just loved books. But I was always sitting down and trying to write stories. I think the film career was just a related tangent...

  16. I, too, wanted to be an airline stewardess until my mom said there were waitresses! boy that put my idea in a kabosh and then I went to being a writer and still am, even if more of it went to work newsletters, etc.

    Joann Breslin

  17. Meredith, I played library too! Til I got in trouble for marking in my parents' books.

    And Joann, I actually wanted to be a waitress. Seemed like you could make people happy, be kind of in charge, and get lots of money for doing it. "Lots of money" is relative-- I was about 6 years old.

  18. Hey Ken!!
    Thanks for showing up on Jungle Red. I didn't know you went to MIT. I lived across from an MIT frat my freshman year, so maybe we actually met before last weekend.

  19. Paula,
    I know, I was thinking the same thing. Maybe because I had to cut out before Sunday's sessions?? NEXT conference, definitely.

  20. Come back Tuesday! We'll introduce you to a new author--a pal of ours with an absolutely stellar debut.
    What did she want to be when she grew up?
    She'll tell all!
    And maybe have some advice for your kids, too.