I have not much interest in anyone’s personal history after the tenth year, not even my own. Whatever one was going to be was all prepared before that.
Ms. Porter is correct, and yet I feel obligated to fill in the spaces around my life for those who don’t know me very well. I began life as a Great Northwester, and probably always will be one to some extent, although I now live on the opposite coast. (My dear brother Neil still lives out west.) The product of a Danish father and a Northern Irish mother, I have always felt the tension of these two cultures, one practical, the other nostalgic and sentimental. Each one tries to pull me in its direction, with the result that my mind always feels restless.
Growing up in Portland instilled a love of nature in me, which I have tried to communicate in my writing. On days when it wasn’t raining (infrequent), I would spend hours outside, alone or with friends, riding pretend horses and helping Robin Hood and Maid Marion practice social justice.
High school was difficult for me, as I was teased incessantly by those who were slimmer, more attractive, and more socially able than I. I sought comfort in writing (mostly bad poetry), the visual arts and, of course, reading. (The Scottish Chiefs, Ivanhoe, The Three Musketeers, and anything by Poe or Ray Bradbury.) Life improved for me when I went to Occidental College in Los Angeles; it was the ‘70s, and Flower Power was still alive and well. I majored in English Literature and earned a secondary teaching certificate, which I never used. (While student teaching, I was attacked several times by students – L.A. is a rough city – and decided to go into advertising instead. Much less violent.)
My first full-time job was as a writer of junk mail – that is, direct mail advertising. Later I married Cliff Davidson, my beloved husband, and moved to Pittsburgh, where I moved up to writing brochures and other advertising for Westinghouse Corporation. (I never realized before taking this job that there was so much to say about mechanical breakers.)
All this time I was still writing inferior fiction in my spare time, and decided to start taking the writing game a little more seriously. Over the next three years I earned a Master’s degree in Fine Arts/English Writing at the University of Pittsburgh, while taking care of my two young sons, Ian and Jacob. During those years I endured a series of rather brutal writing workshops, which turned out to be a good “trial by fire” for me, forcing me to improve my techniques or face the ridicule of my fellow students. While my classes weren’t exactly nurturing, they did school me in the basics of what works – and doesn’t work-- in the crafting of a story. Also, I had the good fortune to be taught by the well-known novelist Buddy Nordan, who somehow managed to be simultaneously easy-going and demanding.
After a number of other copywriting positions, I finally found my calling: writing and editing. For almost 15 years I worked for the Lee Shore Literary Agency and SterlingHouse Publishers, both owned by an independent little spitfire of a woman named Cynthia Lee Sterling. There I reviewed and edited hundreds of manuscripts, both fiction and nonfiction, ghost-wrote several works, and honed my own writing skills by studying the unsuccessful efforts of others. I also worked with dozens of talented consulting editors, each of whom brought a fresh perspective and a range of skills to the difficult work of roughing up other peoples’ writing for their own good.
During this time I sold my first Scottish romance, Road to the Isle, to Kensington Publishing. Later I would sell two more, The Song Within and Once a Rogue. With these three books my “triptych” on 18th-century Gaelic history was complete, and I began casting about for other story material. I also completed two books on fiction writing, co-written by Cynthia, and edited the autobiography of well-known Pittsburgh Steeler and NFL Hall-of-Fame cornerback, Mel Blount.
In 2010 Cliff was hired by Syracuse University, and we were off to Central New York. I soon began teaching writing classes at the Downtown Writers Center, a satisfying and educational experience for me. Many of my students are young people ages 12 to 16, and I am continually amazed by their creativity, imagination and inventive use of language. (Adult writers: Watch your back!) In addition to teaching, I continue to copyedit the literary journal, Stone Canoe, and edit or ghost-write manuscripts for private clients.
My workshops and edits seem serene compared to the harsh feedback at U of Pitt; I strive to help writers through constructive criticism, a kind approach, and abundant praise, as opposed to baptism by fire.
I consider myself a traditional, conservative writer, although I do experiment with language and form. After so many years in the writing world, I have developed a personal philosophy about fiction writing. I believe that there is only one rule regarding writing, and it is simply this: A piece has to work. Everything else is just a matter of technique. By “working” I mean to say that writing must engage the reader. The reader must be invested in the characters and feel as if the events are actually taking place; that they themselves are observers of the story and, at least most of the time, comprehend what is happening. Of course, there are many keys to the kingdom when it comes to crafting a story, and I try to keep an open mind about experimental fiction and how one can best create the multiple illusions that lie behind the successful simulation of an alternate reality. In the end it is all sleight of hand, with the reader participating in the magic act as much as the writer.
In closing, just a little shout-out to my family (hi Cliff, Ian, Jake) who have supported my throughout this challenging yet rewarding life adventure.