Rude poems, inspired by two older sisters who made me mad one day, were my first venture into creative writing. My first experience with literary criticism came from an unhappy mother soon afterward.
From high school through college, writing was an assignment, as in the dreaded term paper. A great relief after graduation from a liberal arts program was I no longer had to write any more papers. Organic chemistry, analytic chemistry, biochemistry, and other pre-veterinary science classes led to my eventual graduation from veterinary college in 1978. Any writing during my career as a veterinarian was primarily technical.
When I turned forty, the itch to revisit my liberal arts roots became too strong to ignore. I audited a graduate-level seminar in religious studies at the nearby University of Virginia for a semester and wrote papers again. I started my memoirs but got stuck on page 12. I found greater success with a brief acting career in a play at a local woman’s college. I discovered freedom, freedom to be me, freedom to find out who “me” was. Unsolicited poems, short stories, and a novella or two poured out onto paper.
A spur-of-the-moment adventure to Mexico with my wife, Sharon, led to a chance encounter with a urologist who had sold his practice to begin a new career as a freelance journalist. He was headed to the tip of South America on a bicycle but had stopped in Chihuahua to write about a tortillera strike. (Tortillera: women who make tortillas.)
He said the bus was the best way to travel through Mexico. One connection led to another until we arrived at our destination, Copper Canyon or Las Barancas del Cobre. Larger than the Grand Canyons, it took fourteen harrowing hours on insecure horses to explore its tropical depths. The next day, overlooking the canyon rim, we asked ourselves, “What one thing do we most want to do before we die?” Sharon said she wanted to learn to fly an airplane and take people on scenic tours. I said I wanted to write a book.
Back home, my wife started flying lessons. I restarted my memoirs which, a decade later, still lay fallow after page twelve. Progress was slow and grudging until it became obvious that my first book would not be an autobiography. After we sold our veterinary practice, Sharon advanced her career in aviation. My aspiration to understand what made me tick turned into five years of concurrent training in Esalen massage therapy, Feldenkrais, and Zero Balancing.
In addition to hands-on instruction and practice, my certifications required over eighty one-page case reports. Zero Balancing required two additional essays on working with the structure and the energy of a person. Desperate to complete the assignment in time for graduation and inspired by previous journeys to Peru, I illustrated the principles of working with structure and energy through touch in two very short stories. When my mentor suggested these could become a book, my dream to write one was reborn. I wanted to create a well-crafted story that takes the reader on a journey of self-discovery through the Andes Mountains and healing traditions of Peru.
My passion was to write what I knew about intuitive health in a way that would take people into the heart of their own life experience.
When the student is ready, the teacher appears. I was fortunate to have two appear, both neighbors. Alice Austin, a talented writer and veteran of the prestigious University of Iowa summer workshop program, patiently helped me to turn my first manuscript or "outline" into a full-length novel. Every aspiring first-time writer should have a "doula" like Alice.
Dr. Jim Peterson, writer in residence at the liberal arts college where my brief foray into acting led me years ago, created a one-on-one mentoring program within the confines of his living room after reading a draft of my manuscript. His line-by-line editing and critiques played a key role in the development of my writing skills and my book.
Five years and many drafts later, Gift of the Jaguar arrived on Amazon in September 2009, receiving a rave review from Kirkus Discoveries. I am currently at work on my second book, a sequel to Gift of the Jaguar, that takes Juan from the highlands of Peru into the Amazon Rainforest.
I begin a low-residency MFA program in creative writing at the University of Nebraska in Omaha in July 2010. My dream is to inspire others to discover the joy in creative writing.
Questions for the Writer
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© 2010 Drs John & Sharon
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