My path to writing novels was less common than usual (if there is such a thing.) The official journey began after my MS diagnosis at age forty-nine although, I realized, the seeds were planted many years before. I’m sixty-six now, but had my first glimpse into the disease at age forty. What I now know as an “episode,” I experienced a sixth-nerve palsy, which impairs your ability to look where you want.
I went through a barrage of tests that ruled out several fearful possibilities (which was a relief) until I heard the conclusion. “We’re not sure. It might be MS. We must wait to see if you have a second episode.” I learned the two-episode requirement was a fundamental part of diagnosing the illness. My symptoms disappeared for quite awhile but, eight years later, after a series of progressively bad falls, the gavel came down. I had joined the almost 2.3 million people world-wide living with the illness.
From a financial and emotional perspective, I feared having to quit well before I was ready. Would I fulfill my dream of helping my kids through college? Could I still golf and ski or would I end up in a wheelchair? And, so on. I ended up working for six years after my diagnosis (I didn’t tell anyone) but, all that time, the future loomed. In the end, my neurologist, concerned with the high stress my job entailed, almost demanded I stop working immediately. In January 2008, when everyone came back from Christmas holidays, I asked to meet with my boss, and gave him the bad news. Like an athlete, I had to tell my coach to take me out of the game. I was no longer fit to compete.
Always wanted to write?
As I said, I had several years to consider what was to come. I couldn’t stop thinking. It was almost like taking an inventory of everything I knew, or could research. What would I do if I couldn’t do what I always did? I remembered a course I’d enjoyed in business school called “Career Planning and Personal Growth.” The main takeaway for me was, if you are unsure what you want to do going forward, study your past for hints. What activities do you recall enjoying in your life, even as a child? The introspective analysis could well reveal the type of thing you should do going forward.
That’s when the light came on for me. I “re-discovered” I have loved to write for most of my adult life. In my teens, when I read a novel, I dreamed of someday creating one myself. One of the best courses I took in high school was learning to craft thoughtful and effective personal letters to others (an almost extinct practice, I’m sad to say.) I majored in English in university, writing my senior-year thesis on the meaning of Robert Frost’s poems. How and why I ended up working in the investment industry is another story. However, once I started my often seventy-hour-plus work weeks, the days of reciting, “Whose woods these are…” came to an abrupt end.
Initially, I scoffed at myself for thinking I could write something anywhere close to good enough. How dare I refer to myself as an author? I was out of my league before I even started. “Real” writers didn’t put their creativity on a shelf for thirty years. I don’t recall how long I allowed myself to attend my private pity party, but something clicked. I was ascribing the value of my new dream based on my perception of what others might think. Who new how good I could become? The light came on when I realized it was what I thought that mattered most.
After that, the juices flowed. I tried to block out the bad news, and focus on the things I could still do. If my demanding job ended, that was also an opportunity to follow a new path. If I found myself with more time, I could write novels—thrillers about fictional white-collar crimes. My novels are not from first hand experience (I didn’t commit any crimes that I know of!) mind you, but, if you work in the business, you perhaps better understand how crafty, unethical people trick others out of their hard-earned cash. I thought people would find my stories interesting.
But… wait… English major or not, I’d never taken a single course on trying to emulate James Patterson. After a thorough Internet search, I discovered the University of Toronto School of Continuing Education. After my diagnosis, but before I resigned for good, I took courses on nights and weekends. Three years and sixty hours of courses later, I was ready should the fateful day come. I continue my studies today (while writing) through various opportunities.
I now write fiction-thriller novels
Not too long after hanging up my suits, I started writing my first book. This year, I self-published my fourth (called The Assignments, about Ponzi schemes, insider trading and the like.) I have a fifth non-fiction title ready for professional editing, and am trying my hand at short-stories. I suppose you could say my dream of writing novels came true, just not as I imagined. I am told by those whose feedback I value, both professional and not, that my stories are excellent. In fact, many have told me, in addition to being entertained, they learned something about the business they didn’t understand before. That is music to my ears.
The glass is always half full
I don’t want to sound like Pollyanna but I believe that, even in the worst situations, we should all try to find that one piece of good, difficult as it might be. When one door closes another opens. I am convinced it is there for all of us. One of my favorite sayings is, “I have MS. It doesn’t have me.” In many respects, whether or not I become a well-known author isn’t important. That I am trying is.
I don’t think John Grisham is looking over his shoulder just yet, but you never know.
About the Author
While P. T. Dawkins writes about “crimes of deception,” his primary goal is to create characters the reader will remember long after the book is finished. He studied English at Dartmouth College, and is an active post-graduate learner including MBA and CFA degrees and creative writing training from acclaimed authors.
HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT SELF-PUBLISHING A BOOK?
a self-publishing services company that has been in business since 1998. Ask her anything.
I was quite moved and inspired by your story. Beside the fact that it was excellently written, the whole piece is imbued with your genuineness and humor. It takes a good person to spread joy just being who they are; it takes a great one to overcome and transform life’s mysterious challenges into a path that others can walk on. To me, you are both. I often recall Tennyson’s Ulysses and its ending, “…Tho’ much is taken, much abides….but strong in will ….To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”. You are one such. And when I indulge in recollections of things past, I reflect on how fortunate I am to have met a few marvelous people in my life. You belong to that group!
Peter — this is a wonderful news letter. You continue to inspire me! I am still revising my memoir, slow and steady — though I work on it a lot. I hired a writing mentor and now am implementing her suggestions. I started at 55! graduated from the U of T at 60! We’re powers of example! hahaha!
Thank you for your continued inspiration — and congratulations
on your successes! A FIFTH novel is incredible.
Hope you and your family are all doing okay in these strange and difficult times.