Saturday, August 10, 2013

Guest Post by Mary Louisa Locke

Joe sez: I'm going to be taking a blogging break during August, but I've got twelve guest posts scheduled this month, so they'll appear as slotted.

Today it's Mary Louisa Locke...

On Second Chances and Role Models: A Tribute to my Father

This is a re-edited post I wrote May 2, 2010, three year ago, about my father, Joseph H. Locke, who had Alzheimer's, and the profound effect he had on my writing career.

I have just returned from the melancholy task of moving my father into the "memory care" wing of an assisted living facility. My Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about eight years ago and caring for him has been increasingly difficult for my step-mother.

My father is a remarkable man. I watched him struggle to find something about his new situation to feel good about. He discovered that if he sang old WWII songs, almost everyone responded in some fashion, some of the residents actually singing along. When he quoted poetry, people smiled. One staff member said, "He just lifts your heart being around him."

What I want to write about today in this post is the role model he has been for me, and the lesson I learned from him about second chances––a lesson that many of my fellow indie authors are learning.

My father's dream as a young man was to get a doctorate in sociology and become a college teacher. Instead, after obtaining a masters degree in social work in the late 1940s, he joined the corporate world of U. S. Steel in his hometown of Pittsburgh. He had a wife who had rheumatic heart disease, which required very good health care benefits, so he sacrificed his dreams. He worked for U.S. Steel for nearly 30 years. Although there were aspects of his career as a middle manager that he was proud of, he never felt he fit in, and the conservative corporate environment stifled him.

Finally, in the late seventies, when old rust belt industries no longer could compete, U.S. Steel gave him a "golden handshake." At the age of 58, he was forced to retire, but he was not ready to quit working. Until Social Security kicked in he supplemented his pension by teaching business sociology at a local community college––finally getting a second chance to fulfill his dream. Then, in his early sixties, he retired completely. He and my mother moved to Florida for her health, and there he pursued another secret dream and joined a local poetry group. Eventually, he began to win contests and even get some of his poetry published. My mother died in 1987, when he was only 66, and a year later he met, wooed with his poetry, and married my step-mother, who was a poet herself.

The next decade was a wonderful one for him, with all sorts of second chances––a new marriage and a productive second career as a poet. Then in his early eighties, the confusion and memory loss of early Alzheimer's began to set in. One of the saddest aspects of this period for me was when he began to mourn what he saw as the missed opportunities of his past and express an anxiety about not having "been successful, made a mark."

From my perspective, however, he had been very successful––particularly successful in providing me a role model that has helped me embrace second chances in my own life. First of all, while I always understood the economic necessity of his choice to work for US Steel, the message he gave to me, a young woman growing up in the patriarchal suburban middle class of the 1950s, was that I should follow a career that fulfilled me.

That had a lot to do with my decision to push forward and get a doctorate in history at a time when only about 32% of college faculty in any discipline were women and only 17% of college history professors were female. That doctorate got me my teaching position––in a Texas University that was very hostile to women. Taking my father's message to heart about not sticking in a job I hated, I did something unheard of: I quit a tenure track job.

Eventually I got a second change at a career, and I loved that I got to follow in his footsteps by embarking on a successful twenty year career teaching at a community college. But, like my father, I had my own deferred dream––to get the historical mystery I had written years earlier published. And my father's post-retirement career as a poet again provided a role model for me. I began to tell people that when I retired that, like my father, I would make writing my "second career."

At the age of sixty, upon retirement, I got that second chance to reinvent myself. I investigated the rise of the ebook and indie-publishing; I set up a blog, learned to use twitter and facebook, conquered formatting for ebooks and print, and I self-published Maids of Misfortune, the first of my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series in December of 2009. My father, despite the ravages of Alzheimer's, was very proud of my achievement, and I felt I had made the best of the lesson he had taught me, that it is never to late to start over.

My father died two years after this post was first written, but he got to hold both of my published books in his hands, and I like to think he understood what that meant. I do know what it has meant to me. This second chance at a career has been unbelievably rewarding. The first year, Maids of Misfortune earned me $5,500, a nice supplement to my pension and part-time teaching. The second year I earned $25,000, enough so I could retire completely and write full-time. Last year I made $75,000, more than I made in any year as a full time history professor, and this morning, Maids of Misfortune, and the sequel,  Uneasy Spirits, are still chugging along as bestsellers in numerous categories in the Kindle store.

I know that one of the reasons I began to read Joe Konrath's posts on self-publishing in 2009 was that he shared the same first name with my father. However, it was Konrath's willingness to lay out the data on his own book sales that gave me the courage to turn by back on the traditional publishing route and give self-publishing a try. Konrath, like my father, has steadfastly promoted the idea of second chances­­––for authors and their books––and I hope that other writers will be encouraged in turn by my success. 

Joe sez: Learn what you can. Pass along what you've learned. Have as much fun as possible. Then leave the world a better place because you lived in it, through the things you've done and the people you've touched.

Success isn't about fame, or money. Success is having someone write what Mary did above, about you.

Be that person.