I was born in 1972 in Indianapolis, Indiana. I am the youngest of threeone brother and one sister. My mom came from Chicago, where her father, George Priester was a pilot, flight instructor, and aviation entrepreneur since 1928, culminating in his role as owner/operator of Pal-Waukee airport from 1953-1986 (he was also a fireman and engineer for 25 years on the Chicago-Northwestern Railroad). My father came from the small, college town of Greencastle, Indiana, where his relatives were farmers and attorneys.
I matriculated at Yale University in the Fall of 1990. After two years of thinking I might apply to medical school, and still write (Oliver Sacks had it right, I thought), an instructor finally advised me that if I was serious about writing, then I had better study the way it had always been done. Become an English major, he told me; read Robinson Crusoe; in short, Get Serious. I did.
After college, I went to New York to see if I could be a creative, writerly type while still being gainfully employed. I tried book publishing and film and had fun in eachbuilding a library of cook books, star gazing, and learning Quicken. But neither field kept my attention beyond a year. So I applied to MFA programs in less expensive cities. I got a puppy to take with me.
My two years in Iowa City were revelatory in many ways. A plane flight away from my siblings and friends in Manhattan, and seven hours’ drive from my parents in Indianapolis, I felt I was on my own for the first time in my life. Plus, I was immersed in writingthis work I so loved but had previously done only in the margins, as a hobby. In Iowa City, I was suddenly a Fiction Writer and the world seemed as big and as open as (of course) the cornfields.
The ideas for Dear Mrs. Lindbergh coalesced in my second year of graduate school and when I finished in 1998, it was the project I set upon. I moved from Iowa City to London for a ‘time abroad’ experience and supported myself by nannying. Though the history incorporated into Dear Mrs. Lindbergh is American, most of its research was done at the British Library. And if my life at the time informed Ruth’s character as she developed, certainly the two had loneliness in common. In 1999, I moved to Rhode Island to take a writer-in-residency fellowship at Portsmouth Abbey School. During this year (1999-2000), I rewrote Dear Mrs. Lindbergh and secured an agent for it. When my yearlong fellowship was up, I took a job with an independent weekly paper, the Providence Phoenix, and weathered the rounds of rejections for Dear Mrs. Lindbergh from several publishers.
Four years have passed since then. In this time, I have found a home for Dear Mrs. Lindbergh with WW Norton and enjoyed its hardback (and shortly its paperback) publication; I married; and I finally settled into a job I would keep for more than a yearteaching high school English at a day school in Providence. Intertwining a writing career with that of high school teaching is difficult to manage time-wise, and yet I find my writing enhanced each time I re-read Shakespeare, Hemingway, Dickinson, Coetzee, Marquez, and more. I also find teaching writing to be good practice. Altogether, the advice I got from that college instructor remains true as ever: if you want to write well, (keep) study(ing) the way others have done it.
On June 9, 2004, I gave birth to a daughter. I have thought a lot this summer about whether I could have written about Ruth Anne and her death if I had been a mother at the time: it would have been a different experience, to say the least. As a writer, motherhood has meant learning to type with one hand, learning to drop everything when the baby goes down for a nap, racing to the computer, and quickly gathering focus for a snippet of writing time, and finally, it has mostly cured me of wasting time on the Internet. I am in the (hopefully) late stages of another novel, tentatively titled How to Make Good Pictures. This novel, set in a southern Ohio college town, tells the story of Joe Cisel, a 59 year-old swim coach and American history scholar, who grieves his wife’s death by planting her time lapse camera on the neighboring house of female graduate students, and of Lily O’Brien, one of those graduate students who is trying to start her own life by leaving bitterly married parents in Boston and a longtime, unstable boyfriend in New York. In the unlikely friendship that develops between Joe and Lily, How to Make Good Pictures addresses questions of love and grief, concepts of youth and experience, and how humans watch each other and what we do about what we see.
Whether reading literature in preparation to teach, reading my students’ critical and personal essays, reading to Ruby, or whether writing a novel, a short story, or an essay, I am interested in the stories we tell, how we tell them, and in what makes a story ‘good’ and compelling and affecting. Whether as a mom, a wife, a teacher, a writer, a daughter, or a sibling or a friend, storytelling seems to me vital, fundamental work.
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