I grew up knowing two languages: English and music. Speaking was architecture, complex and logical, a building-up of words that let me describe what I thought. Singing was a sluice gate that simply fell open to release what I felt. At some point during those early years in northern New Jersey, amid the crosscurrents churning through our split-level house – classical music and art, TV westerns, family arguments, show tunes, rock-and-roll and books, endless books, endless talk of books – those two tongues merged into a lingua franca for me, one that gave me a way of dealing with myself and the world. Writing became my key to everything.
So from age six, I wrote everything: Arbor Day speeches, puppet-show scripts, song parodies and talent-show sketches, making up tunes or singing them for anything that needed a score. I joined school choruses and theater groups, memorizing lyrics and lines. I wrote lots of poetry when I was nine and read it out loud to my family when they were captive on car trips. I penned my first book when I was 11, a collection of sardonic, grade-school observations modeled on the shtick of Alan King. And, yes, damn it, I still think it’s funny. By high school, it was clear where I was headed with this, especially to anyone who saw my math grades.
I was going to be an author. Possibly a singing author. But first, I became a journalist.
Recruited by an alternative newspaper at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where I was majoring in English, I began reviewing all those kinds of shows I used to like to create and be in. After a first professional job with a desktop publishing firm in Chicago that produced the program books for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the city’s pro sports teams, I went back to Carolina to get a masters in journalism. I spent summers as a press intern for the American Dance Festival and as a fellow at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Critic Institute before, degree and clips in hand, becoming the theater critic of The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, Fla. There, and later at the Fort Lauderdale (now South Florida) Sun Sentinel and The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio, I covered arts events and issues as critic, columnist, reporter and editor, ending up with first-place awards for writing or editing from the Florida Press Club, the statewide Cleveland Press Club and the Ohio Society for Professional Journalists. A seven-part series I wrote for The Plain Dealer on creativity won the Mensa Foundation’s 2006 Press Award for writing on human intelligence.
In the middle of all the deadlines and the demands of raising two children with my husband, I kept trying to find creative outlets. I sang with the Evanston Classic Chorale, the Masterworks Chorus of the Palm Beaches and spent a decade in the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, taking part in the Grammy-winning recording of Berlioz’s Tristia, Op. 18, under the baton of Pierre Boulez, touring Britain twice and performing such pieces as the Mahler Eighth Symphony and Beethoven’s Ninth at Carnegie Hall . I also had three plays workshopped, The Moon Plays at Florida Repertory Theatre’s Second Stage and Critical Moments and Kronos in Cleveland Public Theatre’s play-development programs. I started a novel.
With the print journalism industry disintegrating, I decided to take a buyout and became an entrepreneur; with exquisite timing, I started my own online media business, Geniocity.com, just as the mortgage crisis was torpedoing the economy. I wrote a sardonic little film called Wall of Fame that opened the 2009 Ohio Independent Film Festival. I briefly joined an Akron-based rock band called Karmic Dogma, writing and lead-singing all the lyrics for the album, Insomniacs in the Bed of Faith. Here and there, I kept working on the novel. After years of writing about artists, I wanted to be one.
But this mishmash of experiments didn’t seem to be taking me anywhere. By 2014, my husband and I knew we had to make a change. Our children were grown, our professional lives were sputtering and we wanted something new. Seriously new. And through some near-Dickensian coincidence, we found it: On one remarkable weekend that April, my husband was offered a new job in the New York area and I was admitted to Columbia University’s MFA fiction program. So after 22 years in one place, we skipped out – almost literally.
Since earning the MFA, I’ve had some luck with short fiction, winning The Westchester Review’s flash-fiction contest and becoming one of their fiction readers, while publishing stories in such reviews as New York’s Pen + Brush in Print, Blue Mountain Review and Literary Matters. But the novel, The Changing of Keys, has turned out to be the experiment that worked: The first chapter won the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics and Writers’ 2016 Meringoff Prize for Fiction, and Regal House is bringing out the book in fall 2024. For me, that’s a happy change of tune, indeed.