We want to welcome Carolyn Howard-Johnson to our blog today. She is the author of a novel, “This is the Place” and a collection of poetry, “Tracings.” Her series of nitty, gritty how-to books include “The Frugal Book Promoter” and “the Frugal Book Editor.”
Q: Carolyn, we understand that your writing career didn’t begin until mid-life. Looking back, what was it like for women in the 1950’s and ’60s?
A: Sometimes the big barriers in life aren’t abject poverty, dreaded disease or death. Sometimes it’s the subtle ones set upon us by time and place. The ones that creep up silently on padded feet and, if we sense them at all, we choose not to turn and face them. The decade of the 50s was a time when these kinds of barriers faced those with dark skin, those who lived in closed religious communities, and those who were female.
Living in Utah, I knew that women in that time and place had a notion of who they should be, could be and, mostly, they got it from those around them because many of them couldn’t see the difference from society’s expectations and their own.
“You can’t be a nurse,” my mother said. “Your ankles aren’t sturdy enough.” I also was told I couldn’t be a doctor because that wasn’t a woman’s vocation. The choice left to me was to be a teacher. My dream to write became a victim of the status quo.
When I applied for a job as a writer at Hearst Corporation in New York in 1961 I was required to take a typing test. I was piqued because I wasn’t applying for the typing-pool, I was applying for a post as an editorial assistant.
I was told, “No typing test, no interview.” I took the test and was offered a job in the ranks of those who could do 70 in a minute. I had to insist upon the interview I had been promised. I was only twenty and had no real skills in assertiveness. I am amazed I had the wherewithal to do that.
Something similar was at work when I married and had children. I happily left my writing to accommodate my husband’s career and the life the winds of the times presented to me. That there was a time when we didn’t know we had choices is not fiction.
I had always wanted to write the next “Gone with the Wind” only about Utah instead of about the South. I had a plan that was, itself, gone with the wind.
Instead of following my star I searched for replacements. My husband and I built a business. For forty years I didn’t write and, during that time women became more aware. The equipment, gears and pulleys were in place for a different view on life.
Q: Can you tell us about how you dramatically changed directions in the second half of your life in a desire to fulfill your dreams?
A: In midlife I became aware that there was an empty hole where my children had been but also that the hole was vaster than the space vacated by them. I knew I not only would be able to write, I would need to write.
Then I read that, if those who live until they are fifty in these times may very likely see their hundredth year. That meant that I might have another entire lifetime before me–plenty of time to do whatever I wanted. In fact, it’s my belief that women in their 50s might have more time for their second life because they won’t have to spend the first twenty years preparing for adulthood.
That was it. I started writing “This is the Place.” I had to relearn old skills and brush up on new, and I am proud that I did it. I’m glad that I waited until I was sixty. Forty years of experience gave it a dimension it would not have had if I had written it when I was young. That first novel has expanded into four books including a new book of poetry, “Tracings” and I am now working on one called “Best Book Forward: How to Edit for a Spotless First Impression.” I like that I am doing something for other women and for other writers.
I also like being proof that a new life can start late – or that it is never too late to revive a dream.
Thanks for sharing your story, Carolyn. Although we are new friends, we can see already that you are as generous with your experiences as you are with your wisdom and excellent ideas. What you say resonates for us and we’re sure it will for other women as well.
Readers, here’s your chance to fire away. You may have questions about Carolyn’s mid-life transformation and how you can begin your own process. Or maybe you have a book percolating and want some direction about how to serve it up. All you have to do is click on “comment” at the bottom of this post, type in what you have to say and then follow the simple directions. You do not have to join anything in order to make a comment. We look forward to hearing from you.