Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Will Sell Dreams for Food: a guest blog by Laura DiSilverio

Julia Spencer-Fleming:  Laura DiSilverio has a pretty high profile in the mystery world. She's the author of ten mystery novels, including the Mall Cop series for Berkley Prime Crime and the Swift Investigations humorous PI series for Minotaur. She teaches for MWA’s Mystery University, and serves as Vice-President of the National Board of Sisters in Crime (where our own Hank Phillippi Ryan is President!) 

But it wasn't until I met Laura in person that I realized how much we have in common. We're both Air Force brats. Like my husband Ross, the USAF was Laura's first career - she was an intelligence officer. We both left practical jobs to try our hand at writing and spend more time mothering. And, most significantly at this point in our lives, we're both dealing with teens and preteens at home. Which is why, when Laura said, "I want to write about the ridiculous ideas lofty goals my kids have for the future," I knew we had to have her here at JRW.

Will Sell Dreams for Food

My older daughter, 15, is planning for a career on Broadway. She takes voice and dance (musical theater and tap), sings with the school choir, performs in school plays, and spent six weeks this past summer working nine to five every day with the youth rep company she auditioned for last March. Her father and I watch all this with a certain degree of—shall we say?—trepidation.

We’re worried for her, that she’s aiming for a career where .0004 percent of the people who try to make it succeed (okay, I made that figure up, but I doubt it’s far off—it might even be generous), and she’s bound to meet with soul-eroding rejection while living on Ramen noodles, selling her blood plasma, and sharing a studio apartment with six roommates of dubious hygiene habits and countless cockroaches.

We’re worried for us, that we’ll empty our retirement funds to support her in NYC and she’ll return home at thirty, disillusioned and worn down, trashing her chances for more conventional employment by quoting Lady MacBeth at job interviews, and making it impossible for hubby and me to continue with our plan of getting frisky in every room of the house whenever we want and as loudly as we want once we’re empty nesters.
Must Be This Tall to Ride the Rollercoaster
Daughter the younger, newly turned 13, plans to attend Stanford on a volleyball scholarship, study engineering and architecture, and become both an architect and an Indian fast food restaurant billionaire. (She has long lamented that there are no fast food joints that serve Indian food and she’s planning to fill that gap.) This might all be more likely if she was taller than 5’3” since the average Stanford volleyballer looks to be about 6’3”. We don’t squelch this dream too hard because she’s got a decent shot at getting into Stanford on an academic scholarship and we’re in favor of the whole billionaire thing since she says she’ll support us.

The Parenting Dilemma
The parenting question we struggle with is this: How do you encourage kids to dream and follow their passions, and yet inject enough sanity into the process that they’re prepared to cope with failure and know when it’s time to try something else? Don’t look at me for the answer, ’cause I got nothin’, although I have been known to extol the benefits of a career as an actuary, mortician or IT specialist with benefits. If you’ve got good parenting advice on this topic, bring it on.

Dream On
This all made me think about having the courage to follow our dreams and passions, even the little ones. I spent twenty years in the Air Force, dreaming of being a novelist, and now that’s how I make my living. (Okay, it’s not much of a living. If I didn’t have a pension and a hubby with a good job, my children would be dreaming of secure careers as Wal-Mart greeters, rather than of Broadway, but if I were single I’d be able to afford Spam with my ramen noodles once a week.) I’m still working on my dreams of visiting every continent and learning to ballroom dance.
What about you? What dreams, seemingly ridiculous or hard to achieve, large or small, have you taken a stab at? Going blond? Getting a college degree? Climbing a mountain? Playing an instrument or learning a language? Pursuing a particular career? Are you glad you tried it or do you regret the time and effort you invested? 

Rev up those dreams, leave a comment and get a chance to win an Advance Reader Copy of Laura’s upcoming release, SWIFT RUN, or a copy of the book when it releases on 27 November!  As a fun bonus, check out the Minotaur Art blog, where art director David Rotstein shows us sketch by sketch how his team came up with SWIFT RUN's amusing cover.

Laura's also offering a chance to win an iPod Nano by commenting on an entry in the Courageous Moment essay contest on her blog, The Year of Living Courageously, between now and 14 November.

You can find out more about Laura and her books at her website and at her blog, The Year of Living Courageously. You can follow her on Twitter as @LauraDiSilverio and friend her on Facebook.


  1. Hi Laura - met you at MWA U in Boston - you gave a great workshop.

    Such a funny post, but the issues are there about supporting your children's dreams (and I don't mean financially). My cautious older son was not an ambitious college student but managed to finish a history degree in 4 years and has now fallen into a satisfying career working with databases. He's even starting (employer-paid) grad school in Information Management (??) in the spring. My younger son is currently happy and successful doing permaculture farming (with his degree in Human Geography). I think our job as parents is to give them the tools to be honest, loving, and brave and then let them loose.

    My own dreams? The biggest one -- being a published author -- is finally happening and I couldn't be happier. But I still haven't traveled to India or Australia, and I would love to do community theater and take up the cello again. I guess retiring from the day job is now my dream!

  2. Edith--Would you like to come to Colorado and finish raising my children? It sounds like you've done a fabulous job! I hope your new book does so well that you have to retire from your day job to keep up with the fan mail and cashing royalty checks!

  3. Here's hoping all you Jungle Reds on the East Coast are warm and dry and safe (and have electricity)! Sending you good thoughts from Colorado . . .

  4. Laura, we had some difficult times in high school trying not to push the unmotivated one too much (or trying to lead him somewhere he didn't want to go), but he just needed to follow his own path. Trusting that will turn out well isn't easy, but it definitely turned out well. And sorry, I'm all done raising teenagers!

  5. Edith, I have trouble seeing the line between "letting them follow their own path" and letting them give up when the going gets hard. I guess most parents do.

    BTW, I've been to India, but not Australia and would love to go some day.

  6. When I was growing up my parents never said "you can't do that" even though their only daughter wanted to become an FBI Agent at a time when the only "real" law enforcement jobs open to women were clerical/meter maid/juvenile officer. I didn't quite make it, but did go on to open some doors as a National Park Ranger, which was as satisfying. My Mom wanted me to follow in her footsteps as a writer and was happy when I did go on to do freelance writing. I don't have kids of my own so it's easy to give advice, but from my standpoint there's nothing better than parents who will let their children follow their dreams and be there for them no matter what.

  7. Sounds like you had two great careers. It's funny how sometimes closed doors result in us finding our way to better options. Thanks for dropping by the blog today.

  8. Raising kids ain't for the fainthearted, is it? Sounds as though you have a great start, Laura.

    The first thing that occurs to me, has your daughter been to Stanford? My middle daughter wanted to go there, until we drove through the campus during a holiday visit to Marin. She was instantly turned off by the kind of campus it is, which freed her of rejecting other, more suitable places. In the end we visited 25 campuses (not as hard as it sounds, and we took her little sister to some of them).

    I have the benefit of having had two families. My oldest will be 42 in a few weeks; the second and third are now 28 and 25. I learned a lot, too late, with the first one, poor thing. With her little sisters I started talking about college way earlier, and helped them make goals. It paid off, too. They both ended up with four-year academic scholarships. Way better than athletic scholarships, generally, since the money is not dependent on the kid staying healthy enough to play whatever.

    My youngest used to rhapsodize about becoming a marine biologist, then turned her eyes towards being an astronaut (which drove her dad crazy, by the way). She realized in high school that Biology was her true love and now she is thisclose to getting her doctorate in Microbiology. So she is living her dream. The middle daughter is an engineer, working as an energy expert, also something she's passionate about. And the oldest, who wanted to be a nurse from age two, has loved nursing, has taught nursing, and is now a diabetes nurse educator.

    My dreams? Getting all my kids to the point where they are independent, responsible adults. Goal realized.

  9. Wow, Karen! How satisfying it must be to have all your kids pursuing careers that fulfill them and put food on the table! Your dream and mine are identical.

    No, we haven't been out to Stanford yet. My youngest just turned 13, so we're a ways away from college tours with her. We're just starting the process with her older sister and I expect we'll learn a lot from it. I went to Trinity Univ (San Antonio), sight unseen, and loved it, but I realize I was lucky with that.

    I suspect both of them will end up pursuing careers they haven't even thought about yet, although I could be wrong. I keep telling them they don't want to shut any doors at this point.

  10. Welcome to Jungle Red, Laura!

    I believe in following a dream, absolutely... but I also think it's a good idea to know how to tend bar while you're waiting for the dream to hatch. Transitioning from working full time to writing felt like stepping off a cliff -- and I deferred the dream until I had a solid safety net. I could afford nearly a decade of meager returns. Still -- I often wonder what it would have happened if I'd 'jumped' sooner.

  11. I did my fair share of bartending, Hallie! Also waitressing. But, like you, I waited to write full time until I had the safety net of an Air Force pension. I wonder what would have happened if I dedicated myself to writing straight out of college, and tell myself that I wouldn't be the writer I am today without my Air Force/life experiences.

    Are you getting Sandied in Boston?

  12. We escaped lightly in the Boston area -- though there are still lots of folks with power out. (I drained the tub! Ate the noodle pudding.)

    Watching New York and New Jersey - stay dry and safe!

  13. Laura: What a post, and your duaghter is so lucky to have you. Gosh, you asked a question that all parents put out to the universe. How do I encourage my child, but keep her feet on the ground.

    I have no answers. But I do have a suggestion. I certainly would encourage her to live her dream, but you might have her talk to someone who's been there. Joelle Charbonneau knows about this life, and she might be the perfect person to encourage but fill her in on the realities.

    Good luck, and so thrilled that you're living YOUR dream.

  14. Thanks, Donnell. My daughter's been able to talk to several folks in the performing biz, but you know the optimism of youth: she's convinced she'll succeed where others have failed. And who am I to argue with that since the same attitude enabled me to get published?

  15. Laura--two of my kids became actors, one studied voice to sing opera, one played water polo in college. I guess they all followed dreams. And the results--voice daughter has won an Arizona Tony award for writing background music for theater, one actor kid now works at the American Film Instutute. Other actor kid starred in musicals all over the country and couldn't make enough money to survive. Not sure what to do now. Water polo daughter now owns her own swim center and coaches her own swim team.
    I'm glad we didn't try to stop them. Life is awfully long to do something you don't love.

  16. How very inspiring, Rhys. What a creative family you are! As your kids have proven, there's more than one way to make a living from your passion. I trust that my daughters will find that to be so, as well. They're smart cookies.

  17. I believe doing a good job helping children become ...is a most difficult one. Some are much better at it than others. What I always hoped for was that they would grow to become people who are happy.

  18. Annette--Can we say happy and self-supporting? :-)

  19. YAY LAURA~ LAura is fabulous, if you don't already know her..please find her or her books or both.

    I wanted to be a disk jockey--is it disc jockey?--and my parents ignored it. I wanted to be an actor, too,and my parents ignored it. They ignored it when I--well, hey ignored about everything.

    It made me--ambitious.

    But I do think it's a good thing to be enthusiastic. About trying. And I agree LAura, trusting is a good thing, because at some point, they're not gonna do what you say, no matter what it is.

  20. Hi Laura,

    Dreams are big in my house. We never discourage them, because they are, especially in childhood and young adulthood, a sorting out.

    You can attempt to set the example of being flexible and developing a sense of "that didn't work; adjust or try something new." Some people will not adapt that way. They will work forever on the dream, while some will appear to give up and make a radical switch. That can be just as distressing to loving onlookers like parents.

    My own dream chasing, one of the biggest of my life, was to return to graduate school when I was 45. It was wonderful – hard and wonderful. Difficult and fun. Yes. With it came a new career, one I had not considered when I started that new dream. Yet I
    knew it when I saw it, when the dream that brought me there, wasn't working. The skills that I had developed during previous education, work experience and careers - from theater technician/singer-dancer/film actor to psychotherapist and multiple points between – were all transferable, as all skills are.

    Life just has to play out. xo

  21. Hank--It is so personality dependent, isn't it? Ignoring a kid's dreams might crush her aspirations . . . or set her on fire to prove you wrong. You, of course, were bound to be successful, whatever you turned your hand to!

    Reine--What a wonderful example you set for any kids/young adults in your life. My mom went back to grad school after 40 and earned a Master's in Speech-Language Therapy and helped me know it's never too late to pursue a dream or reinvent myself.

  22. Hi Laura,
    What a delightful post! I have been there.

    My son is writer. And in his high school years when he was getting so much encouragement from his teachers my husband had to say to me: YOU HAVE GOT TO STOP TELLING HIM NOT TO BE A WRITER.

    So I did stop. And now we talk on the phone about problems we are having with scenes we are writing and we edit each other's fiction. It's a terrific connection we have.

    He works as a social worker and writes on the side. I have to practically beat him up to get him to take money from us.

    My parental advice is this: There is no point worrying because invariably you will be worrying about the wrong thing.

    It does seem to work out, I promise you.

  23. Oh, Jan, I work very hard on not worrying, but with limited success! :-) What a lovely bond for you and your son to share; you're very lucky.

  24. Power just back on [out yesterday at two-ish in the afternoon here in the New Jersey Pine Barrens] . . . happy to say that we have come through in the arrival and departure of Sandy with no significant damage . . . .

    Laura, it’s such a thin line to walk between encouraging your children’s dreams and parental concerns that they have chosen a career with a .0004 chance of success. You are so on the right track to be supportive, even in the face of fears that they do not recognize . . . somehow it matters less whether or not they are able to be successful in a difficult career than it does to know that your family encouraged and supported you and your dreams . . . .

  25. Joan--Glad to hear you and your family are safe and have power. I know I am where I am today because my mother believed I could be anything I wanted to be and told me so frequently, so your point is a good one . . . well worth repeating. Thanks for chatting.

  26. Hi, Laura! Dreams are important to encourage, but there's nothing wrong with telling kids who want to be actors, musicians, writers, and other careers with lots of competition where it's hard to make a living that they should plan on a career to support themselves while they're getting to that stardom/making a living stage with their artistic career. That's a valuable thing to know.

    That might allow your older daughter to stick with her dream long enough to actually make that success. Peter Dinklage, who's won awards for his acting and is now famous for playing Tyrion Lannister in the Game of Thrones series gave this wonderful speech to his alma mater Bennington that you might want your daughter to watch and hear.


  27. Linda, great video. Thanks for posting. Love Peter Dinklage. His Bennington address was one of the best I've ever heard. There is no way to make the struggle for independence sound anything but romantic, unless your growing up was like the temporary forays into the experimental poverty of new graduates.

    His comment to the graduates of 2012, what he knew he should have said to the girls, theatre majors who were not allowed to act in plays their first year of college, "Don't wait until they tell you you are ready," was perfect. That is the nightmare that too often steals the dream.

  28. Linda,

    Thanks for the video. I will definitely watch it with my daughter. I love this JRW community--we have such a breadth and depth of experiences and we are so supportive of each other! Thanks for having me here today.

  29. Hi, Laura. I think you're also Lila Dare (same initials as Laura DiSilverio), right? I bought your book, Die Job, earlier this year.

    Edith's comment was great. If I went back to school I'd go into computers. I'd have to win some money first! Databases sound interesting and the fact that her son's employer is paying for his schooling ... wow! I'm sure graduate school is really expensive. I don't have kids but if I did I'd encourage them to go to a local college. I went to community college and got a Word Processing degree in 1994.

    RE: your suggested topics, I did go blonde (not bleached, just a golden color). It's not too radical a change as my natural color is light brown. I haven't dyed my hair lately but need to do so since some gray is starting to show. Foreign languages: took French and German in high school. I just dabble in them and have lots of courses with books, CDs, and tapes. I also have some Spanish courses but haven't really started them.