From this perspective (and from one who is a week away from her fiftieth birthday), I value the following:
I credit my family for a strong work ethic. My father worked in the auto industry all his life. My formative years, the 70s, were not the car companies’ heyday. There were several layoffs which plunged us into financial straits. He also died young, following two years of medical-related leaves. My older sister was seventeen, I was sixteen, and my younger sister was fourteen. My mother, reinventing herself at age forty-seven, found a job, her first in over eighteen years. My sisters and I put ourselves through university. My nickname at college was the urchin, which summed up my financial situation rather accurately.
The uptick to going without is that you become resourceful. I’ve long described my mother as a can-do individual. If she wanted a new couch, she learned how to reupholster our old one. To save money, she sewed and knitted our clothes. And she always encouraged us to travel and study and dream big.
As an adult, I’m grateful for a kind and loving husband and two good kids. We’re a fairly drama-free household, where individual interests (including my late-in-life writing career) are encouraged and respected. I’m lucky in this, I know.
Mentors and partners.
I have a great agent in Jamie Brenner of Movable Type Management; she is smart and enthusiastic and hungry. I trust her editorial opinion as well as her business advice.
I’ve worked with three very talented editors at two different publishing houses (in both the YA and adult genre). Many writers, I know, prefer to work with a single editor. I think the experience has given me perspective and valuable experience.
Although there wasn’t an individual teacher who I could dedicate as my mentor, I attended Warren Woods High School, where many fine teachers worked hard at preparing us for college and beyond.
Travel and life experiences.
I’m a big believer in travel. It’s no coincidence that my mother also placed a great deal of value in travel. She herself was English and emigrated first to Canada and then the U.S. If I didn’t inherit a wanderlust gene from her, then I mimicked it. I grew up in Detroit, studied and lived in France on two occasions, lived for twenty years in the Los Angeles area, and now reside in Des Moines. And before writing, I worked in the travel industry. While I’m no all-continent trekker, the observations afforded me when traveling and relocating were valuable. I’m grateful for the opportunity to see this wonderful world from various vantage points.
My writing career was prompted by years of debilitating migraines. Chronic pain is a dark and terrifying place. The goal of plotting a first novel and carrying the project through propelled me through some tough times. It also keeps me at it on good days because there’s no guarantee that another will follow.
I’m lucky here, too. I have high-school friends, college friends, L.A. friends, and now Des Moines friends who are golden. When creating a protagonist, I borrow from their kindness, grace, and humor. And maybe an idiosyncrasy, or two.
I know I will take a moment next week to contemplate life in all its fullness. I wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving. May you grow from your slumdog experiences and savor a few millionaire moments. And pass the stuffing, please.