Friday, August 26, 2022

Firsts? Our checkered pasts...

 

HALLIE EPHRON: Agatha Christie was 30 when she published her first book. Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920. Arthur Conan Doyle was 38 in 1887 when he published the first Sherlock Holmes novel-length story, A Study in Scarlet. P. D. James was 42 in 1962 when she published her first novel, Cover her Face.

I was 52 when I published my first book, a mystery I co-authored—Amnesia by G. H. Ephron. By then, I’d completed a masters, a PhD, taught elementary school for 6 years, taught at the college level for about 10, worked as a writer and training designer in high tech for 10, had a freelance writing business for 8. I had a few published essays under my belt and a dead book along with a pile of unpublished short stories in the drawer.

Oh yeah, I had two fantastic daughters and a swell husband with a steady job.

I didn’t get serious about writing fiction until my kids no longer needed their play room and it could be my office (yes, a woman needs a room to write.) And finally I felt I had something to say. Oh, and the savings we needed to take the risk.
I'm now working on my seventeenth book.

How old were you when you published your first book, and what prepared you to do it?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: NOTHING prepared me. And everything, too, after 30 years of being a television reporter and writing new stories every day.

But one day, when I was 55, I had a good idea. And I knew it, as much as we can be certain of anything, I knew it. That turned out to be Prime Time.
I’m now working on book 15.

JENN McKINLAY: I just knew that writing was what I was supposed to do. So, I got a degree in library science (to be surrounded by books!) and started writing at 25. Sold my first romcom at 31 and now at 55, I am penning my 55th book :)
When you know you know.

RHYS BOWEN: My mother told me I wrote my first story when I was four. I spent my childhood playing at being someone else.

I still haven’t gotten over that phase. But I sold my first piece of creative work when I was a studio manager in the BBC drama department, wrote my first play and put it on the desk of the head of drama. They liked it and produced it.

I’ve been pretty much a working author since then in various genres, and now coming up to my fiftieth mystery/historical novel.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I was writing short stories and poetry from my early teens, but it never occurred to me that I could write books that would actually be published. In college I attempted a Regency romance with a friend but we never finished it. (I rewrote all her scenes…) Post graduation, I took a creative writing course, and was so discouraged by the instructor's mean critiques that I didn't attempt anything for another decade.

So it was not until my late thirties that I decided I was going to write a novel, criticism be damned! And I did, with much trial and error, and then I sold it.
A Share in Death was published when I was 41, and I'm now working on my 20th book.

LUCY BURDETTE: I’m a late bloomer too, only started writing fiction in my late 40’s and seeing Six Strokes Under published when I was 50. I was a clinical psychologist before that, so I’m certain that helped prepare me for understanding my characters. I wish I’d thought to start earlier, but I think I wasn’t ready. Instead, I hope to write into old lady-hood.
Meanwhile, boo hiss on writing teachers like Deb’s who discourage beginning writers. I learned when doing the Seascape writers workshop with Hallie that it’s very hard to tell who’s going to “get it” and who isn’t. Mean critiques only squash tender beginners. I had one of those too, and it definitely cost me a couple of years.

HALLIE: So did you find your calling BANG out of school, or did you take a circuitous route? Or maybe you're still on the path, as we all are to some extent.

84 comments:

  1. With relative ease, right out of school, things pretty much fell into place. However, I believe we are all still on the path, and who knows what awaits us?

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    1. Easy peasy... so fortunate when it turns out to be the right thing.

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  2. My major was sociology and minor was math and combined led me to marketing research, by way of my first job in publishing. Who knew those two subjects would have me in this industry for 25+ years.

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    1. Really?!?!? I did not know that about you, Dru...

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  3. Oh, I loved the "Evans" series! It got me through a bout of pneumonia and got me started reading mysteries!

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  4. I love these stories, these paths. 50, Rhys! 55, Jenn!

    I wrote lots of fiction as a child, but then strayed into other kinds of writing for decades. My first novel came out ten years ago next month, two months before I turned 60.

    My 27th mystery comes out next month (so do the math...), and I'm in no danger of stopping! Sure, I wish now I'd started younger, but all things happen pretty much when they should.

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    1. Also, everybody's invited over to the Wicked Authors today - Lucy/Roberta is my guest! https://wickedauthors.com/2022/08/26/guest-lucy-burdette-plus-giveaway/

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  5. I majored in geography with emphasis on climatology and water resource management at the University of Waterloo, and was hired by Environment Canada as a climatologist in 1990. Canada had its worst drought year (then) in 1988 so my first Environment Canada products were a 4-page factsheet and a 30-page technical report published in 1992. Over 120 journal articles, technical reports, book chapters were churned out by me (and co-authors) until I retired in 2016.

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    1. You were so smart to pick that field, Grace. Wow. And so prolific.

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    2. Wow, Grace. Such an impressive career!

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  6. I can’t remember when I didn’t want to be a nurse. My father discouraged this, so my first college major was secondary education with a bent toward the sciences And, as was often done those days, I got married at the beginning of my junior year, dropped out, and had a baby. And another. And another. And another. When the last one started to school, I went back to university, got a degree in nursing, and, eventually, a divorce.

    I loved my work always. And I had jobs that ran the gamut of glorious to god awful. I spent the middle of my career developing the concept of the birthing center and revising the standards of care for labor and delivery and postpartum care. What a joy to be present when life begins!

    And as you know, I went from there to hospice, sometimes being seen as Nurse Kevorkian This full circle means more to me than I ever imagined, and I still get phone calls — smile — when my friends need help and advice in the face of terminal illness. I have not one regret. Much love

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    1. Birthing centers are so important, Ann. Thank you.

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    2. Ann, good for you! Yes, those were the days when you had two choices as a woman: nursing or teaching. And you got married right after college or in college (as I did), and had babies. But good for you for following your dream!

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    3. I went right to you, Ann, when I was at my lowest ebb... so glad you've taken the path you did.

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    4. Hallie, it was my privilege

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    5. A full circle indeed, Ann. So much love, and so much wisdom.

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    6. I agree. Ann is a resource for JRW contributors and writers alike. Such a gift!

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    7. Ann, reading about your nursing path has helped me to support a dear young friend who earned her RN in December 2021at 34. She has been passionate about nursing since her junior year in high school, began studying on graduation, but...a marriage to a controlling abuser, a parent who told her better to marry than study, two beautiful daughters, a divorce, a new marriage full of all good things, a son whose birth gave her a maternity leave to commit to nursing school and leave a boring job...And here she is living her dream. Thank you for supporting me through her ups and downs. Never doubted her, but when she was weakening, you helped me say "yes, my dear, you can do this." Elisabeth

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    8. Why thank you Elisabeth!

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    9. You are very welcome, Ann. Elisabeth

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  7. I started writing mysteries--my first book and short stories--when the youngest left for college. It was a combination of now or never and, finally, a quiet house.

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    1. Same for me, but it helped to have those years of mothering and working under my belt before I stepped off the deep end, as it were.

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  8. Well, I don't have any "I wrote a book" stories but I could always string words together in a semi-coherent fashion. When I was coaching youth basketball, they gave an award out every year that coaches had to write something when nominating a player. Two years in a row, the player I picked got the award based on what I wrote. The next year, I didn't really have a nomination so another coach asked me to write something for the player they were picking. Guess which player received the award?

    As for the writing I do online, I kind of lucked into it. A fellow poster on a comic book message board saw some of the stuff I wrote there and asked if I wanted to write for a website he was doing. That led to writing a weekly article for about 18 months. That led to me writing a sports blog on The Sporting News website (the blog section for fans to use). I wrote for websites like Rock Is Life, Electric Basement and a 2nd site that the fellow comic book message board guy did a few years later. It was an article I wrote there that led to me doing book reviews which led me to Mystery Scene. Add in the KNAC.COM website and Limelight Magazine.com and I've been finding homes for stuff I write online since 2005. Not bad for what is 99 percent a hobby. But it has led to meeting authors and musicians and thus books and CDs/concert passes, so it's not a bad sideline to have keep me occupied and out of trouble.

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  9. I am so glad that the Jungle Red Writers all overcame their obstacles! I am a reader;-)

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    1. Thanks, Judy - and believe me when I say we appreciate you!

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    2. We wouldn't be doing what we do without you, Judy!

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  10. Two passions, discovered fairly early--poetry and archaeology. Archaeology took me through to a PhD and a 30-year career. Writing was always there in some form or other. Currently retired from archaeology and struggling to write the dreaded synopsis of a novel.

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    1. Hey, Flora, we're two kindred sisters. I left journalism at the age of 50 to get a degree in archaeology. Worked in it for 15 years, here in the States and in England. Now I'm a writer and book coach. And yes, always the struggle (kind of like working in a 14th century cesspit).

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    2. Poetry and archaeology! My brain immediately went to: My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away. -- what a fertile combination!

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    3. Flora, my granddaughter is ABD in Archeology, working on her dissertation this year, teaching one class and spending her spare time digging up a mammoth! I’m beyond proud of her

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    4. Ann, a fellow grad student and I were determined to finish, so that if we got hit by a car, our tombstones wouldn't say, 'ABD.' And my favorite part of archaeology was my faunal lab--I loved dem bones!

      Yay! Lorraine! One of my mentees is an archaeologist in Scotland now, having earned his doctorate in England.

      Hallie, those words--and the illustrations of that poem--speak resoundingly to me. I find archaeology (and poetry) endlessly fascinating still.

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  11. I love this book list. Sounds really interesting. I think I found my calling when I was in school, I always loved to hang around by the library. It was my place of peace and quiet :)

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  12. Never never never give up! (paraphrasing Winston Churchill)

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  13. Rhys, you're way too modest. You have written way more books, all the ones you wrote before the mysteries!

    My husband always says I have had a varied, but not checkered, past. My major in college was Police Science, but I never had any jobs in that field, unless you count my quickly aborted stint as a security person at Casual Corner one Christmas season. (I was terrible, and terrified I'd have to confront someone.) I've been an accounting clerk, a waitress, a dress buyer, copyeditor, assistant to stock brokers, insurance agent and business consultant, kitchen designer, sewing teacher, web content provider, national lecturer, and one summer I helped in a bunch of sewing businesses (alterations, wedding apparel, and banners and flags for color guards. Varied.) When I wrote my first book it had to be self-published, so voila! I was in the mail order business for the next 20 years or so. Some of these pursuits overlapped.

    I was lucky to always be able to find satisfying work, and to make money at it. Not a lot of money, but most of it was fun.

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  14. I read somewhere that the average age for a debut novelist was 45. That certainly seems to be true here.

    I wrote in middle school (then called junior high school) as an escape from the "mean kids." I piddled around with it through college because isn't that what English majors do? Write books?

    I didn't start a mystery novel until 1999, so I would have been, what, 26? But then I had kids and raised my family, so it went into a drawer. I didn't pull it out until early 2011 when I lost my job in tech writing. At that point I was 37 (I think - math is hard). It didn't get published until 2018, when I was just shy of 45.

    I just released my 8th book.

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    1. All that "piddling" - aka, making a living. (PS I loved tech writing as long as it wasn't too tech)

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  15. Hallie, my mantra is BETTER TO BE A LATE BLOOMER THAN NEVER TO HAVE BLOOMED AT ALL. Soooo, I think I can top you guys -- not that it's a badge of honor but my historical fiction book will come out next year, some time after I turn 75. YES, 75. Holy cow, how did that happen? I've been a writer all my life, first in newspapers and television, then small magazines, then corporate reports, and all the while I published short stories. I was 45 before I could utter the words, "I'm a writer" to somebody who asked what I did for a living. Other people were writers - other people like Rhys, Jenn, Hank, and Deborah, et. al., but me? Nah, too shy, too introverted. But now? Watch out, guys, 'cause 75 is the new 50!!

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    1. Oh Lorraine! BRAVA!! I'm officially inviting you to the front of the blog where we'll be tickled to host you when your book comes out. Title??

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    2. Congratulations Lorraine! We are so excited for you. Keep us posted when you get close to pub day. Seventy is indeed the new fifty. Rhys

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    3. Lorraine, borrowing your mantra! And, yes, 75 is the new 50!

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    4. Congratulations, Lorraine! And I'm all for "75 is the new 50!"

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    5. You go girl!!

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    6. Woohoo, Lorraine! Congratulations. It's never too late, for sure.

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    7. Lorraine, what a great story. Congratulations!

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  16. I feel more like I stumbled into things--my job, parenthood, the church community I'm now part of--rather than having any real plan. However it's worked into a good life. Perhaps it's time to decide what I want to be when I grow up :)

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  17. Hank Phillippi RyanAugust 26, 2022 at 9:04 AM

    It is so lovely, and sweet, to read these stories. And even inspirational! Love this… Very very thought-provoking.

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  18. Well, Lorraine...I'm 76 and my first novel came out in April. Loads of work and life before that and few regrets. Now I'm painting and writing and loving both! (But awfully glad I don't have to pay rent with the proceeds of either!)

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    1. When they say For everything there's a season... I think that's what it must mean.

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  19. This is so much fun! I always knew I was going to be a writer and resolved early to pack in as much adventure as possible as grist for the mill. That meant lots of jobs and some very fun experiences. Although I have been both indy and traditionally published, life got in the way and it's only recently that I have returned to my initial vice!

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    1. Don't think of it as life getting in the way; think of it as research.

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    2. Halllie, love this!

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  20. What inspiring stories I'm reading here! I always used to write stuff in school, for my own amusement mostly. I was really more of a reader than a writer. By the time my children were in school or preschool I was reading a book a day. I remember getting disgusted and thinking I could write a better book than what I was reading. Is it just me or are books being better written now? Or am I just better at choosing better books.

    On days I had to pick my son up at preschool I either sat in the car or the college library and wrote. What I wrote were little stories that my kids would like. I never did anything else with them. I knew I'd be taking a children's literature class in grad school and we would have to turn in a finished product. I wrote a mystery and I knew it was good. The instructor even liked it and said it was ready to be published. The fly in the ointment there was that the instructor, who had the contacts that could help me, was the kind of person you had to suck up to. The more kissing up, the more progress. I just couldn't bring myself to do that so on my own I tried sending it out and got nowhere. The funny thing about that book was that there were a lot of TV references in it which means kids today would not understand a lot of it. Even I had trouble when I read it lately. The girl and her mother are talking about what they might eat for supper and the mother says "since it's Mrs. Bridges' night off." Huh? I pondered that one for quite some time.

    Since then I've written more stories for kids and I have a couple ideas, that I think would make great books, but I know that I'm not the one to write them. I'd really like to read them though.

    After

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    1. Sounds like you're (more than) ready to tackle getting published. I always recommend going to a conference for your genre (mystery; children's lit; whatever) and make appointments with agents there and talk to other writers tryng to find a publisher.

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  21. I wish there was a like button in these comments... because I would "like" all your stories.

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  22. Loved seeing everyone's first covers! Especially Evans Above, Rhys--that was pretty enough to frame.

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  23. I've been writing on the side all my life but only started writing full time when I took early retirement after 20 years of teaching. Which I also loved. My husband was very supportive, which helped me take the leap. I had had short stories and flash fiction published here and there and even self published an MG fantasy novel, but my first mystery novel was published by a press in England when I was 75. Since then, ((2015) I've had four more books published by another press here in the U.S., two of them cozies, and I'm working on a third in the series. So, truly, it's never too late and I feel very lucky.

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    1. Wow! You are definitely going strong, Elizabeth. Congratulations on such a prolific output! At a time when everyone tells us we're supposed to be "slowing down"

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    2. BTW: I fixed your wonderful Gazpacho recipe for dinner last night (along with my husband's contribution, what we call a Galician omelet), and it was just delicious. Thank you for that recipe, which is now in my permanent cookbook binder of favorite recipes.

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  24. I'm still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

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    1. ... and as I always wonder, how will I know when I *am* "grown up"?

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  25. HALLIE: This is a wonderful post. I would say this is my favorite post so far this year. I always loved to write ever since I learned how to write. I learned how to read and write at the age of 4 at Catholic school. I remember having vocabulary lessons at the school from hell (teachers were great / houseparents were HORRID/ classmates were like feral children). I always made up little stories to go with the new words that I was learning. I always thought that my first book would be published when I was about 60 years old. Even though I peaked early at the age of 12 looking like I was 18 years old, in many ways things came to me late in life. I finally got my Driver's license at the age of 36. I finally got my law degree at age 40. I finally started a career at the age of 42 as a paralegal. I finally started reading Jane Austen at the age of 50, though I read one - Pride and Prejudice - when I was dating my former boyfriend. I went straight to University after graduating from high school with no Gap Year. I just noticed that it takes me longer to do things. One of my new boyfriends asked me if "time is my love language". He is dishy. Very cute. He is a children's book author. I cannot believe that I never married nor have children. I always said that if Gloria Steinem could find someone at age 70, then there is hope for me.

    Just started an online writing workshop with Ellie Alexander's Author Academy and I have been working hard every day.

    Not only am I writing a Cozy mystery set in 1920s England/Scotland. I'm also writing a contemporary Rom Com. AND a movie script based on a biography that I loved about a Deaf woman (not American).

    Diana

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    1. Loved your comment, Diana - Wondering how WAS Jane Austen, read at 50? So exciting that you're writing. We'll want updates!

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    2. How kind of you to say that. Thank you. At the age of 50 with my life experiences, I think I was in a better position to appreciate Jane Austen. And I am more attuned to language as I get older for some reason.

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  26. I'm at a mini writer's retreat (a three-day period of time with four writers, not a retreat with extremely short authors) and we were talking about this just last night after dinner! It never ceases to amaze me how many writers don't discover their vocation until relatively later in life - at least when you compare the average age when people get their first book published versus when we usually start on a career.

    I put it down to the fact so few people know working writers. Depending on what your parents did, you saw plenty of doctors, lawyers, and professionals, or many skilled tradesmen, or lots of small business owners. How many of us grew up with a writer in our circle of family and friends?

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    1. I did! My favorite uncle was a journalist and non-fiction author in San Francisco (still is, at 95), and I remember when his first and only novel came out. He and my father (brothers-in-law) carried on a decades-long written correspondence, and Dick has been finding and sending me stacks of those letters recently. He's so freakin' proud of me now (as Daddy would be, had he lived long enough). ^)

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  27. My first play was produced and subsequently published when I was 26. I got my first TV job at - an age I can't reveal because I still have to hide my age in television, especially in comedy. Yup. Sad but true. Which means I can't tell you how old I was when my first book was published!

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    1. All the women I know in the movie/tv business have had to hide their age. So insane.

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  28. When I was in second grade, my teacher took two stories I'd written to the principal and had me read them to her. They both told me what good stories they were. That was the first time I ignored a clue. Still in elementary school, in the 4th or 5th grade, a friend and I wrote a play steeped in archeological findings of mummies and such treasure. We were given the nod from our teacher to put the play on for the whole school. Now, I ignored both the writing bug and the archeological bug. Also in elementary school, I fell in love with the library due to the librarian Miss Root and, of course, books. Although I would always be interested in archeology, the interests in reading and libraries and writing had taken root. In junior high school, I met the most wonderful Mrs. Foley, English teacher and librarian, who cemented my leanings toward a degree in English later. High school was a mixed bag of confidence in my writing skills, winning some awards for non-fiction type pieces but struggling with fiction ones. I had a creative writing teacher from whom I learned much but who was very hard-core critical.

    Being valedictorian of my graduating class didn't seem to be much help in moving towards a direct line for a career, but I did know I wanted to major in English. My mother influenced me to get a secondary teaching degree, too, because it was still a safe choice in the early and mid-seventies. I knew I didn't want to go into anything touching math and pretty much shied away from science, too. So, in college I had a professor, Dr. Cheesewright (what a name, right), who wrote on one of my papers that I had certainly chosen the right field in choosing an English degree. Another lovely moment of recognition which I chose to cherish but not run with.

    Of course, I went into teaching English after graduating, but I also got married right after college graduation, so that was of major importance to me, to do a good job at marriage, and I wanted children. So, my 20s comprised of graduating from college, getting married, teaching for a while, deciding I didn't like teaching, going to work for my husband's retail business, and trying to have a baby. The last two items. I thought it would be great to work in my husband's family business and jumped into learning accounting I would have to use in the office. I was shocked that someone like me, who did not like numbers, enjoyed working with them in this atmosphere. I did payroll and tax reports and profit & loss statements, and I liked it. Of course, working in a family business is fraught with land mines to work around. I became the office manager, which also allowed me to take off when I needed to as I dealt with infertility and trying to have a baby. After some surgery and an ectopic pregnancy, I finally had my baby girl at age 29, turning 30 two months later. I had my second child at age 33.

    So, the 30s and most of the 40s were spent raising my children and working in our business and later going back to work in the schools, first elementary and then secondary, with writing. The students had to have writing portfolios, and I was a writing tutor. I loved working with the students on their writing, because I firmly believed each student had something to say. Of course, some students were naturally better at it than others and some took direction better than others, but I loved being able to help a student learn to express him/her self in a way they didn't realize they could. (Comments to be continued in next post)

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  29. I have finally broken the comment limit. I have had to post in two sections. Sorry, it's kind of a cathartic piece of writing today.

    Then (oh this is a long saga, isn't it), in my late 40s I took a step I had wanted to for years. I started working on my masters in library science. I loved my classes so much and was able to concentrate on them now with one child in high school and one in college and my husband back in the Army away in D.C. I didn't rush it and finished the Masters in four years. 2006 saw my daughter graduate from college, my son graduate from high school, and me graduate from my Masters program. In my final written test, which consisted of five or six questions to write a paper on, the professor who I thought was the most impressive wrote on my test that she and the others were glad I was graduating because my writing rather intimidated them. What? I still think she was on some kind of mind-altering drug. There were some suggestions that I do the work to become a professor, but, once again, I was happy to accept the praise and mosey along. I did apply for a couple of school librarian jobs, but by this time I was encountering a hiring culture of hiring younger people. Also, I thought that public librarianship might be interesting, but it also seemed to be a wall of age discrimination. I was okay though, as I was traveling more then and starting a book blog around 2009, and I became a grandmother in 2009.

    So, I have been content to review books on my blog and do an occasional piece of writing here and there for my blog or another reading platform. I was going to book events and went to Bouchercon in 2013 for the first time. Once I was a part of this wonderful mystery/crime community, I knew I'd found my people and my place of passion in the reading world. Meeting the Reds at that first Bouchercon was a major step in connecting with my favorite authors. I had concentrated on catching up on many of the Reds' books before that Bouchercon in Albany, so the personal connection was such a thrill. So, traveling and going to Bouchercons and reading and reviewing were a wonderful life, along with my family, of course. Then 2020 and my world became much smaller, but learning new ways to connect and communicate were soon helping bridge that in-person gap. Although I'm not going to be at this year's Bouchercon, I am breathing easier about starting to travel again, and now I might have to finally decide if there's something I want to be when I grow up that I haven't tried yet. I'm giving myself two more years (well a year and a half) until I turn 70 to decide.

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    1. Good for you, Kathy, getting your Masters in your 40s! My oldest daughter did the same, and it was so satisfying for her. Going back to school at an older age is a vastly different experience than as a teenager, isn't it?

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  30. So interesting to read this, Kathy - Wow. Maybe there's still a book in you? Please finish it before you show it to anyone... it'll be the book only you can write.

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  31. I was 47. I have no explanation for this; I wanted to be a writer since I was a child but it took me a long time to get started. I wrote 2 books and the publisher dropped the mystery line just about the time I turned in a third. (sigh) That year also included turmoil in the daytime career and major health issues. I was 67 when the next book was published...but there have been 4 since then, plus some stories. Mysterious, isn't it?

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  32. I was writing from age 5, had articles and short stories published in my 30s after 8 years as a teacher. First novel wasn't published until age 40. But plenty of live experience to draw on now!

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  33. I was always good at writing, but Barnard, in my day, had only one (nonfiction) writing class-- and John Kowenhoven, its instructor, didn't "get" science fiction. So I stopped writing it until I couldn't stop. Meanwhile, I wrote humor, features, non-fiction, won a prize, kept writing. I've found that if I get a contract, I will always finish the book because I don't want to give the advance back. We all have our goads.

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