Where I’m at Part 1: from teaching to my first thesis

This three-part post is probably more appropriate to the “About” button, but for my own sake, I’m starting by defining where I’m starting.

In high school I would have been surprised to be told I’d end up as an English teacher. I was pretty set on a career in science. I did, however, enjoy English and took electives in creative writing and journalism because I liked to write. It didn’t matter much to my career plans at the time that I won a major book award as a junior and a major English achievement award as a senior. I was accepted at Dartmouth, and I was going to be a biochemistry major with a future in cancer research.

Then in my sophomore spring, the deadline for Dartmouth students to declare their majors, I took a course on contemporary issues in education. It changed everything. Once I decided I wanted to teach, it suddenly became clear that the subject I needed to teach was English. I did the whole English major and education minor in my final two years. I got a job and taught English for fourteen years.

Throughout my public school teaching, I sometimes regretted that I didn’t choose a medical research path, especially when it seemed like all the care I gave and work I did went unappreciatedor worse, actively railed against. (Many of my students, and some of their parents, didn’t feel the same way about plagiarism/cheating that I did.) For the most part, though, I really enjoyed my job and was content to teach and coach track and field, and advise a class and a club, and serve on committees, and mentor new teachers, and all the other things that went along with my teaching life.

Where I worked, a teacher could receive a pay raise in three ways: 1) yearly contracted cost-of-living increases, 2) moving up a step (which means a pay raise for each of the first few years teaching until you reach a particular year), 3) becoming more educated. I stood to gain a bit of salary by getting a master’s degree, which I didn’t mind doing since I enjoy being a student. The problem was that a traditional degree would mean a lot of time commuting from where I lived, and I already worked a six-day week from dawn until, often, into the dark.

I found a program at Seton Hill University called Writing Popular Fiction and wrote to the director asking how many graduates of the program were actually published. She replied that the program was pretty new so there weren’t any yet (or maybe she said there was oneit was a super low number either way). This was back in 2004. Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction program is low residency, which means students only have to travel there for one week twice a year. The program is unique in that it stresses popular, as opposed to literary, fiction. Although I adore much literary fiction, I wanted to write a science fiction story, and the answers I had received to inquiries at other grad schools left me with the impression science fiction would not be accepted with open arms. At Seton Hill it was embraced. Now there are more published authors from the Writing Popular Fiction program (some award-winning ones and some with large national and international followings) than I can count.

Long story shortened, my experience at Seton Hill changed my life. Until that time, I had not really considered a writing career seriously. I didn’t know what a writer’s life entailed. I didn’t think I had enough talent. I graduated from Seton Hill with a completed science fiction novel of over 160,000 words. It’s title is Prosorinos, the name of the planet on which it’s set. I thought maybe I could be a writer.

On to the next post . . .

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Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.

— Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse