“A Change of Course”

What do you want to be when you grow up?  It is a question that we get asked almost as soon as we can speak.  Without having to spend 40 – 50 hours a week performing the activities involved in a job, how can a child even answer a question like that?  As a child I knew that I had a love of animals; thus until about the age of twelve the answer was, “A Veterinarian”.  That sounds like a great idea as a child. Veterinarians, they work with animals all day.  Veterinarians get to make people smile by being involved in the connection they share with their beloved pets.  Here’s what you don’t realize as a child.  People take their pets to the Veterinarian because they are sick; they have gotten hit by a car; they have cancer; they managed to eat a bottle of ibuprofen and are vomiting profusely.  So yes you can swoop in and save the day, but you also might have to deliver the news that no one wants to hear. You are going to have to go through the five stages of grief with strangers.  In my early teens, I realized that I did not have those people skills.

Of course my early teens were also in the early 80’s, a time when capitalism was King.  In the 80’s the more money that you made the more important, successful, respected you would be.  So, I started my High School career focused on getting into a College with a good business program, so that I could become a Business Person and make lots of money.  In my junior year of college I took a course called Employment Law.  I had a very skilled professor and was intensely motivated to learn as much as I could about the law.  I thought that perhaps this would be a great career for me.  In my senior year of college I thought about going to Law School.

Of course here’s the thing about economics, and what one learns, Law School is extremely expensive.  So I thought perhaps I should work for a few years and earn some money so that I could help offset the cost of law school.  I graduated from college in 1988, one of the worst economic times in the United States.  Jobs were scarce.  I interviewed at many legal firms for a paralegal position.  I did not receive any job offers. I also interviewed at other jobs and finally received an offer from the University of Pennsylvania.

I continued to work at the University of Pennsylvania and I did gain a great deal from the non-financial benefits that a career in Higher Education has to offer.  Most importantly I was able to work in a very culturally diverse environment and I gained the “Well Rounded” experience that had been preached to me for four years of Jesuit College Education. I worked and made friends with people of many races, religions, sexual orientations and political bents.  I was able to experience discussions that were informative and thought provoking.  As I got older I realized how valuable this experience has been.  I’ve met many people who have had careers in other industries who have become very narrow minded individuals.

The other fabulous benefit of working in Higher Education is that one earns a lot of Paid Time Off.  I used my PTO to explore the world.  I would send my friends long emails telling them stories about my travels.  I would talk about the cultural differences that I found and the quirky people that I would meet. Invariably I would be told, “I felt like I was there experiencing this with you”.

Some of my travels took me to cities across the US to attend a mystery convention called, Bouchercon.  I began to attend Bouchercon to meet the writers whose work I enjoy and to discover new writers whose new books I eagerly await.  At Bouchercon San Francisco I spent a good deal of time in the hospitality suite because I was not staying at the conference hotel.  I met a lot of  writers who wanted to talk to me, lowly me, to find out what I read, why I read it, what makes me pick up a new book. As I talked to writers I found an interesting element.  Almost all of the writers had careers in other industries and then turned to writing.  Some utilized their work experiences, such as Michael Connelly who went from a Crime Beat Newspaper Reporter to having many New York Times Best Sellers Others turned to writing to keep busy post retirement.  I found discussing these stories fascinating.   I’ve been gathering tips on the publishing industry, grabbing a reader’s attention, gaining author endorsements.  In the back of my mind I’ve wondered, “Could I be a successful writer?”

I had to start somewhere, and I choose an element of my life.  I found a way to harness my passion for animals.  First I adopted the cutest dog one has ever seen from a local shelter.  I know what you are thinking, and really even people who thought their dogs were the cutest had to admit this one really grabbed your eye.  I named him Tugger and he had quite the big personality to match his enormous cuteness.  The first Christmas that I had Tugger one of my friends and I were joking about sending a Holiday letter to our friends with the exploits of our dogs, since neither of us had children’s basketball tournaments, ballet recitals or cello lessons to talk about  I decided to create that letter and it was a hit.

Over the seven years that I would share with Tugger he wrote many letters.  In fact it became a badge of honor to be mentioned in the annual Tugger letter.  We wrote other letters too.  We wrote many editorial letters about issues in the Borough of Haddonfield.  People would often suggest issues about which they thought Tugger should write and I had to explain nicely, “That issue isn’t of interest to Tugger”. Unfortunately seven years was all that he and I had together.  However his successor Billie has stepped in to keep people informed.
I also began to volunteer at the local shelter from which I found both Tugger and Billie.  I have to say that helping dogs find permanent homes is a very rewarding experience.  I am glad that I had lots of years of working in a very beaurocratic environment, because working in a shelter requires a great deal of patience. I do not think this could be a full time endeavor for me either.

At the University of Pennsylvania one can take retirement at age 55, if one has had 20 years of service.  As I reached my 50’s I realized I had this option.  Now, let’s be honest, I could not stop working at 55. So I set my sights on finding another career.  Something that I would really enjoy.  I investigated a number of different ideas, had many fits and starts.  Then one day a friend sent me a link to a travel blog.  The light bulb went off!  I like to travel; I’ve written lots of stories about my travels; I had one story published in the Philadelphia Inquirer; perhaps travel writing would be in my future.

I talked with a woman with whom I had worked for many years whose job is as a writer and who has had several books published.  She advised me of several web sites that accept submissions from novice writers and I began to submit various works.  In between the short essays, I’ve come up with an idea for a mystery book/series that will prominently feature dogs as characters. It will also help people escape from the hum drum of everyday life, provide entertainment provide me with a distraction from everyday life.

I think of writing as a way to take all of my life experience and provide information and comic relief to others. I write to entertain.  I write to develop another side of myself.  I write to incorporate my passion for animals into a career.  Hopefully one day I will write to satisfy fans like me who are eager to find out what happens next to a group of characters with which they have become enamored

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About Darlene Dziomba

Darlene has worked in various Finance positions for 28 years and is expanding her endeavors to the world of writing.  She loves to travel, read, garden and take long walks with her four legged best friend Billie.