Why I Write

When I was in college studying literature and writing, my mom suggested I watch Dead Poets Society, the brilliant Oscar-awarded movie featuring Robin Williams as a university literature professor inspiring his students to love literature. Recently one of my Facebook friends posted the following quote:

“Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

I am in the middle of living out the first part of the quote. I’m a Communication Specialist for a natural gas company. I work among engineers and talk about gas pipes and construction routes. I know that, while I want to publish novels about fantasy, animals, finance, and government, I am living my best life by doing what I’m meant to do at the moment: staying with my parents; paying off my college debt; spending quality time with my brother, sister-in-law, and friends; and enjoying the fruits of my bountiful Minneapolis job.

But my mind lately has been nudging me toward the second part of the quote. Why did I choose a bachelor’s degree in English Literature & Writing to master my novel writing, only to choose a job in professional writing? The answer is necessity. One has to make decisions based on what they know now. That’s what my parents taught me. To back this wisdom, I remember a powerful quote from Becoming Jane, another one of my favorite movies, in which Jane Austen’s father says to Jane, “Nothing destroys family like poverty.”

Far from being poor, I took the sensible decisions. I took out student loans and procured scholarships to afford my degree. I’m living with my parents to lower my expenses and am enjoying the fruits of well-balanced decisions.

But since my mind has remained on the second part of the quote, I satiated myself by going to a Young People’s Literature conference at the University of Minnesota this past Wednesday, April 4. The authors on the Q&A panel were M. T. Anderson, Kate DiCamillo, David Barclay Moore, and Nicola Yoon, all of whom were either middle-grade or young adult novelists with awards or film adaptations. (Below is their picture with the authors from left to right.) They spoke on the subjects of writing for children as adults, battling writers’ block, avoiding any sugar-coating of children’s stories, portraying truth explicitly and implicitly, and writing issue vs. non-issue books.

My heart was billowing that night when I heard my favorite middle-grade novelist, Kate DiCamillo, read from her The Tiger Rising novel and spoke about the encouragement she received from her university professor, who helped inspire her full-time writing career. When the Q&A panel was finished, I raced to be the second person in line for her book signing. Although I had no book with me, I told her it was a delight to hear her speak and that I was a fan of her writing since I was nine. My heart was thumping from delight. She shook my hand, thanked me, and said it was a pleasure speaking that night. When I took my phone to text my parents, my hands were shaking.

Since then, I’ve kept my mind in a state of awe for the literary life. When I picture myself as a mature writer, I think of what rhythm I’d have. I’d be sitting in my living room with my laptop on the couch, a mug of tea on my coffee table, and a printed draft of my manuscript for reference. My goals are as follows: to revise my manuscript, compile a list of literary agents, and query my manuscript to agents, per the advice of blogger Jackie Lea Sommers, a graduate from my alma mater. In her blog, Sommers teachers her readers what to expect when publishing a novel. (If you’re interested, go read her blog here.)

The more I read about the daily lives of writers, the realistic challenges they face, and the typical results of publishing with traditional companies, the more excited I become. This is my dream laid out before me in black and white. I’m taking it one step at a time.

My advice to you, readers, is to follow your heart. I’m taking the sensible and passionate routes of keeping my dreams alive while fulfilling my basic daily needs. I believe you can do the same.

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In Honor of International Women’s Day

On my morning commute listening to the pop station 101.3 KDWB today, I heard the Dave Ryan Show pay tribute to International Women’s Day, playing excerpts from Oprah’s acceptance speech for the Cecil B. de Mille Award from the 2018 Golden Globes. The part that stood out to me was a list of careers in which women are excelling, including academia, engineering, medicine, science, technology, politics, business, Olympic athletics, and the military.

What the speech left out (but perhaps implied) was the industry of literature, the career in which I consider myself blessed. Therefore, I will give my own version of an acceptance speech, beginning with how I met the multiple-time John Newberry winner, Kate DiCamillo, and ending with a thank-you to all the female professors of my alma mater, the University of Northwestern – St. Paul.

In the summer of 2016, when my dad showed me a Pioneer Press advertisement of DiCamillo’s free book signing in St. Paul, I wasted no time to grab my copy of Winn-Dixie and drive to Common Good Books on Snelling Avenue. My mother came with me as an added joy; it was she who introduced me to Winn-Dixie in my childhood and who would never miss an opportunity to share this experience with me. At the brick-laid book shop, we waited in a long line snaking outside to meet this wonderful woman. Girls and mothers of all ages were lined up. I felt like a girl myself, even in my mid-twenties.

The closer I got to her, the bigger my smile got. When I finally met her, it was brief and efficient. I handed her my copy of Winn-Dixie, told her I loved her books, took a selfie, and got a picture with my mom. When my mom and I exited the book shop, my smile couldn’t have been brighter. I had her gleaming signature on my Winn-Dixie.

The experience I had can be summed up like this: It was about a five-minute encounter with a woman whose books have been lasting for more than ten years. Her presence, which will remain in the form of her signature on my bookshelf, will remind me that writing and publishing novels is a tangible goal.

When I was about nine years old, I had the first idea for my novel when sitting on my Winnie-the-Pooh bedsheets in the small town of Inver Grove Heights. On that fateful day, I knew I would write a novel. Before then, I had written and illustrated my own amateur version of an Angelina Ballerina short story. But when I started sketching first drafts of a novel based on my stuffed animals’ adventures, I knew I was making something I would treasure.

If I can take a moment to make my own Cecil B. de Mille Award acceptance speech, I want to thank my female professors from Northwestern. It was they who helped fashion my writing, from understanding the breaths in a sentence to crafting the emotional impact of vowels and consonants. From Northwestern I saw a plethora of published writers emerge and have their books published in companies such as HarperCollins and Crown Publishing Group. This was the arena from which I stepped into the world in the fresh year of 2015. This was the place with the women from which I can say, “I’m ready to take on the world.” In part, I owe my success to them.

I’m a Writer in the 21st Century

As I take a moment to honor Women’s History Month, I’m grateful for the contributions given, earned, and fought for the equality of women and men. I’m fortunate to pursue my career at the male-dominated CenterPoint Energy with ease, and to publish my creative writing with the best of my personality and style. This month reminds me of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech in the 2016 Grammy Awards. After all the obstacles she hurdled in her 14+ years in the music industry, she gave this message which spoke to me:

“I want to say to all the young women out there: There are going to be people along the way who try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame. But if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday, when you get where you’re going, you will look around and you will know—it was you, and the people who love you, who put you there. And that will be the greatest feeling in the world.”

When I heard this speech from my Eagan, Minnesota, townhome, it struck me that a creator’s work can stand above extreme criticism. My college education taught me the theory of New Criticism, which states that a reader or critic can evaluate a work independently of the author’s life or the society and era in which the work was written. The work should speak for itself.

When I observed my own life and writing, I found that my greatest comparison to Taylor Swift is my zeal for the creative life. My experience in the Teen Writers Group at the Wescott Library, my bachelor’s degree in Literature & Writing, and my career has taught me that experience and persistence stand above a crowd. I feel honored to live in the 21st century where the maxims of my favorite authors, both male and female, are at my fingertips. My advice to you, my readers, may sound cliché, but be yourself and stay true to your calling. Your work will shine above the rest.

When We Were Babies

When we were babies, we woke up to the sight of Beatrix Potter on our nursery walls. When we were in middle school, we read Shakespeare and Jane Austen, and by the time we’re grown up, we’ve read Jane Eyre, Gone with the Wind, Lord of the Rings, and classics which we’ve relished in our book clubs and coffee shops, sitting with a cup of tea in our hands and poring over each book we’ve grown to love.

This is the culture from which I’ve grown up and from which I’ve come to college, wanting to write my own stories, and daydream with imagination.

And yet, in this final semester, I’ve had to reconcile the world of fiction with the world of employment. From my culture, I grew up believing that employment would be the opposite of pleasure, that desk jobs would be like cages where I would be setting aside my writing for employment.

Which I have discovered is a very wrong aspect.

I did not anticipate the pleasure of seeking jobs where I would find the usefulness of my degree working itself out in so many different ways.

And yet, when I’ve had to ask God, “Where is the pleasure in writing?” I’ve had to reconcile the worlds of fiction and professional writing as a Literature and Writing major.

For here in our department, I have learned valuable skills in the worlds of technical writing, documents, manuscripts, and descriptions—all of which serve a purpose.

I have had to dissolve the dichotomy between literature and writing—and trust in God, which seemed like an abstract concept against the digital physicality of resumes and cover letters.

Though I have had to seek pleasure in both writing and literature, the stories with which I have grown up will always remain, and I will never lose the sight or dream of becoming an English major and writing fiction. And I hope you, too, inductees, will seek pleasure in both writing and literature as God guides you in this process. May you find pleasure in Him, and He in you. Thank you.

 

This speech was delivered to the inductees of Sigma Tau Delta, an International English Honors Society, at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul on April 21, 2015.

Happy Birthday, My Dear Brother

Valentine’s Day is the time for many to be with their significant others or spouses. But for me, it’s the birthday of my relentlessly joyful brother Andrew, whose drive for life and pursuit of happiness makes me proud to say I’m his big sister.

If you know Andrew Gullickson, you’ll probably always see him with a smile on his face and his blond hair slicked into a spike. He always has a goal he’s pursuing, and he’ll tell you what’s been new in its development. If you ask him about his passions, he’s mention his model-worthy wife Christa, who is my first-ever sister-in-law! And somewhere down the line, he’ll talk about his unending love for Star Wars.

Most importantly, Andrew’s success with his business inspires me to dream big. The other day, my dad told me how zealous Andrew was in his early teens about crying flying cars. Andrew would always say, “Dad, when are we going to make a flying car?” Years later, Andrew would start buying and flipping used cars as a hobby. In 2017, Andrew created his dealership, Royal Drive, which sells used cars to those who need them.

Andrew, this blog post only touches the surface of how grateful I am for you in my life. God bless you in your endeavors. God bless your marriage, business, and dreams. It only gets better from here.

Self-Help Isn’t Baloney

When my mom noticed that I was stressed about something the other day, she told me that, when the mind and spirit are at peace, the body reflects both parts, and vice versa. Without even asking me what was bothering me, she could tell by my body language and my face that I needed some encouragement.

Years of motherhood and wisdom has given her the savvy to detect emotions and vibes. She and my dad, having been together for 30 years this May, have applied themselves to learning more about the human psyche through the Holy Bible and through spiritual, psychological, and scientific self-help books.

One of my family’s favorite books is Switch On Your Brain, by Dr. Caroline Leaf, a communication pathologist and audiologist. On the subject of self-help, Leaf says that we are the masters of our own minds and domains, not random brain cells. If something bothers us in life, we—not anyone else—can change the circumstances in our environment. Leaf says, “Our perception of the environment plus how we manage our environment controls our bodies and lives…You become the master of your life instead of a victim” (65-66).

Since I currently live at home, I have 24/7 access to two of the best minds I trust. My parents, having raised me my whole life, never stop giving me advice or encouragements, especially when I ask for their opinions. Now as I grow older and embark on adventures such as my job, my creative writing, and my daily joys, I also have to remind myself of a quote my dad brought home from work once. The photo (seen below), featuring a cardinal on a winter’s pine branch, says “Gratitude changes everything.” Be blessed by this quote, my readers!

Why Do You Write?

In his memoir A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway wrote about Gertrude Stein’s thirst for reader approval. “Writing every day made her happy,” he wrote, “but as I got to know her better I found that for her to keep happy it was necessary that this steady daily output, which varied with her energy, be published and that she receive recognition.”

At this point in my writing journey, I’m not sure which is better for me: to be recognized for my writing or to pursue the pleasure of writing. I’ll illustrate with two narratives from my life.

My pursuit of the pleasure of writing began when I was nine, when I started writing children’s stories like those I read from Angelina Ballerina and poems like those from Dr. Seuss’s tales. Going into high school, I kept my dream of writing fiction alive. I attended a teenage writers group at the Wescott Library in Eagan, Minnesota, where I received consistently positive criticism on my short story excerpts.

Going into college, I quickly learned how to write under pressure and intense grading, from which I took some of the most invaluable courses from my bachelor’s degree at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul. For example, “Writing Theory” was a class that taught me how to affect my readers’ emotions by choosing my diction, the sounds of my letters, and the length of my sentences to match my prose or poetry. Because of my dedication to my craft and the effort I put into my Honors classes, I graduated with flying colors.

Since I’ve been living the graduated life for two years now, I’ve found that I need to balance the pleasure of my writing with the recognition I receive from writers. Some of my favorite examples have come from reading my prose to a group of writers at a coffee shop in St. Paul. (Check out my essay “Simply Bask,” which I published in my university’s literary magazine!) The thrill of reading aloud to a live audience, seeing their attentive faces, and walking off a stage to a clapping crowd is one of the reasons why I want to keep writing. To publish my fiction with a traditional company is one of my goals, when I will further experience the joy of being published and recognized like Miss Stein.

So, my readers, what are your dreams in writing or publishing fiction? What are you pursuing, and when have you had an occasion to be recognized for your work? My thoughts go out to you! Godspeed.