It’s probably not a surprise that I always wanted to be a writer. It’s all the things that came out of that dream that are surprising. And, just like most writers, it began with a love for reading.
Some of my earliest memories of reading started with the newspaper. First it was the comics. Then it was advice from Ann Landers. Eventually it was actual news stories. Almost all of it had to do with my dad. An early riser, my dad would already be a half pot of coffee in when I emerged from my bedroom, the newspaper spread out in front of him. He’d trade me sections, and it made me feel important and special to read it with him.
In later years, it was our only common ground. I was a headstrong teenager and he was fed up with all my blatant ways of protest (smoking cigarettes, shaving my head, sneaking out at night, my choice in boyfriends). I have a hard time remembering when I was NOT grounded. There were many times when my dad and I moved around each other without speaking, so angry with the other.
But our Switzerland was that newspaper. Like my dad, I relished those early morning hours. The rest of the house was asleep, the fog settled around our house like a thick blanket, and I found solace in the quiet. I’d tiptoe from my bedroom and there my dad would be, the coffee pot on and the paper all around him. I’d grab a cup, add too much cream and sugar, and join him at the dining room table where he’d hand me a section of the newspaper. It didn’t matter what kind of war we were in during that day – in those early hour moments, we laid our weapons down and held a quiet understanding.
Naturally, our early morning newspaper ritual fed a private dream I had to work for the newspaper. I wanted to be a columnist like the late Susan Swartz, a local writer who shared about life in ways I found so personable, even though decades existed between us. But instead of working toward a journalism degree, I took the roundabout way toward this dream by having a family really young, working several different jobs in healthcare, and eventually quitting all of it to be a stay-at-home mom. It took a divorce, and then working for my dad in real estate, before I finally took a stab at that newspaper dream I had. There was a job posting at the newspaper for someone in real estate advertising, and I saw my open door. I had real estate experience (thanks Dad!), and the skills they wanted in advertising were things I could learn. I thought my lack of college degree might be an issue, but it was my background in real estate that made me stand out from others. (Note: you never know what kind of connection will get your foot in the door. Don’t ever discount your worth!)
Thus began 11 years of a career at my local newspaper, a job that started in advertising, continued into page layout, and eventually landed in the newsroom where I’d always wanted to be. At the time, I was blogging about my single parent family in the heart of Wine Country (Sonoma County), and the editors loved it. I got a gig managing the paper’s family website, plus a regular column where I got to continue writing about my family, but for a much wider audience.
In other words, my dream of becoming a columnist came true.
But that wasn’t the only dream that came true. At the newspaper, I met a wonderful man unlike any I’d even known. Shawn became a star player in my life, and also in my bi-weekly family column where I shared about dating with kids, struggling with stepkids, and all the complicated/wonderful/messy things about blending a family. I also got to announce our wedding through that column. When I’d thought up the perfect mate, I wanted him to be a kind man, someone I could laugh with, who took responsibility seriously, and who would share sections of the newspaper over coffee with me. Basically, someone like my dad. Shawn was all of these things and more. I sometimes wonder if my whole desire to work at the newspaper was so I could meet and marry him.
Another dream that came true from this newspaper job was writing a book. It’s not that the job made it possible, but I worked closely enough with an editor that my writing improved and I learned more about perfecting my stories, that the natural progression was to try my hand at novel writing. I published my first book in 2013, which led to a total of 11 (so far), and more on the way.
In the time I worked for the newspaper, I was granted many opportunities for writing, I learned the ins and outs of social media, I gained skills for managing websites, learned lots of technical stuff I didn’t even know I was interested in, and made some great friendships. I also was a part of the team that won the Pulitzer in 2018 for our coverage of the Santa Rosa fires.
But like most things in life, some good things have to come to an end to make room for other good things. In this case, my job at the newspaper had become much too stressful, and the parts I loved – specifically the writing parts – took a back seat to some of the not so fun parts that took up more time than I had in a day. It ended up affecting my non-working hours, so much that I almost quit writing altogether. This blog article is already too long, but you can read the whole story of how I left my job at the newspaper here.
Which brings me to today. I now work in marketing for real estate (there’s that real estate, again!), which has me using all those tech and design skills I learned while at the newspaper. I also have much more bandwidth for writing books (when I’m not fighting imposter syndrome or other forms of crippling self-doubt. You know, totally normal stuff). This is not my dream job – that would be full time novel writing – and I voluntarily took a sizable pay cut for this job. However, the sanity I gained is priceless. This job allows me to use my creativity while working with some truly incredible people. Most important, when I leave at the end of the day, the job stays there until I come back the next day. And for that and so much more, I feel truly fortunate.
P.S. Today is my dad’s birthday! I didn’t intend to write so much about my dad in this post, but it just goes to show how positively he’s affected my life. I love you, Dad! Happy birthday!