Welcome to my Second Acts Series!
Today, we have author Francis Guenette reflecting on her multi-act life.
Thank you, Joanne, for inviting me to be part of the second act series. Writing this guest post has been a valuable exercise in self-reflection.
My first act was defined by the dream of higher education and my second act as answering the question – is there life after three career attempts and an unfinished PhD? I won’t keep anyone in suspense. The answer is a resounding yes! The life events that taught me the most – I never saw them coming. After all, no journey is planned completely in advance. The key to moving from one act to the next is the realization that the familiar path has been outgrown.
Flash back many years. I was married with a baby in my arms before the age of twenty. Act one was underway. I began my pursuit of letters after my name modestly enough, sitting at the kitchen table stealing moments from child-minding and house-tending to complete distance education courses. Another child graced our life. Eventually, I finished my undergrad degree and put it to use working with a non-profit group in an educational role. The kids grew. I became disillusioned with my first career choice. I added a year of additional study and embarked on career number two, working with special needs students in the school system.
Soon enough, it was time to move on, again. I was accepted into graduate school and completed a master’s degree in counselling psychology – my third career choice. Both my kids got married, I became a grandma. While I worked as a trauma counsellor, I tackled teaching at the university level and completing a PhD. Initially, I thrived on the excitement of life in the city, work, study, research and travel. A few years down the road, the pace began to wear me out. By the time I was informed that I had to complete my dissertation, I was all but tapped out.
I came home to our isolated cabin by the lake with strict instructions to get finished. I rebelled. As those lazy, hazy days of summer unwound, I wrote a draft of a novel that became, Disappearing in Plain Sight. It was the first time I had ever written fiction. The characters and their stories took hold of me and they wouldn’t let go. It was the most exciting writing I had done in years. I felt alive, exhilarated. The burnt out feelings associated with the past couple of years vanished. I turned deaf ears to all who insisted I was flushing my PhD down the toilet, to say nothing of turning my back on yet another career choice. My second act had begun.
I never looked back. I embraced being at home again and spending time with my children and grandchildren. I began to work with an extremely talented editor. She provided encouragement through rewrite after rewrite. My son introduced me to the world of self-publishing. Everything fell into place. Disappearing in Plain Sight was published in March of 2013 and the sequel, The Light Never Lies, came out in February of 2014. I’m currently working on the first draft of the third book in the Crater Lake Series – Chasing Down the Night.
My advice to others embarking on the first tottering steps of the second act – don’t give up, don’t circle the wagons or retreat to the safety of what feels tried and true. Trust your instincts. There may not be support from those close to you. It’s hard enough for you to follow the map you’re making up as you go. Trying to explain your route to others might be a waste of time. What has come before will not be lost. Every hard fought lesson of the first act will serve you in good stead come the second.
In closing, I’ll quote a wonderful passage that has inspired me by the author of Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott.
But you can’t get any of these truths by sitting in a field and smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief. We don’t have much truth to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not to go in to. When we have gone in and looked around for a long while, just breathing and finally taking it in – then we will be able to speak in our own voice and stay in the moment. And that moment is home.
Sixteen-year-old Lisa-Marie has been packed off to spend the summer with her aunt on the isolated shores of Crater Lake. She is drawn to Izzy Montgomery, a gifted trauma counsellor who is struggling through personal and professional challenges. Lisa-Marie also befriends Liam Collins, a man who goes quietly about his life trying to deal with his own secrets and guilt. The arrival of a summer renter for Izzy’s guest cabin is the catalyst for change amongst Crater Lake’s tight knit community. People are forced to grapple with the realities of grief and desire to discover that there are no easy choices – only shades of grey.
As circumstances spiral out of control, Lisa-Marie is desperate to return to Crater Lake. The young girl’s resolve is strengthened when she learns that Justin Roberts is headed there for a summer job at the local sawmill. Her sudden appearance causes turmoil. The mere sight of Lisa-Marie upsets the relationship Liam Collins has with trauma counsellor, Izzy Montgomery. All he wants to do is love Izzy, putter in the garden and mind the chickens. Bethany struggles with her own issues as Beulah hits a brick wall in her efforts to keep the organic bakery and her own life running smoothly. A native elder and a young boy who possesses a rare gift show up seeking family. A mystery writer arrives to rent the guest cabin and a former client returns looking for Izzy’s help. Life is never dull for those who live on the secluded shores of Crater Lake. Set against the backdrop of Northern Vancouver Island, The Light Never Lies is a story of heartbreaking need and desperate measures. People grapple with the loss of cherished ideals to discover that love comes through the unique family ties they create as they go.
Francis, thank you for sharing your extraordinary journey and excellent advice. Best of luck with your literary endeavors.