Welcome to my Second Acts Series!
Today, we have multi-published, award-winning author Claire Gem sharing her leap into a spectacular second act.
The day I turned fifty years old, I had what could be described as the perfect life. I was healthy and happily married to the same man since I was twenty. My kids were all healthy, successful adults. I’d recently landed a fantastic job at Tufts University in the field I’d been working in all my life – scientific research – and was making more money than I ever dreamed. My 35-hour workweek was Monday through Friday, no weekends or holidays. I was the manager and had free reign to redesign the department any way I saw fit.
Still, something was missing.
It took me the next four years—and many thousands of dollars—to find out what that something was. I wanted to be a writer. It was an activity I’d always enjoyed, but I’d never taken the time to develop the skill. Being the scientific, logical thinker that I was, I decided I needed to go back for a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing. I needed to learn “the right way” to become a writer.
Now, don’t get me wrong: The time I spent earning my degree at Lesley University was enlightening, enriching, and motivating. But honestly? I don’t think I had to spend an exorbitant amount of money to “validate” my writing talent. I’d already gotten that validation, almost forty years earlier, when I was in the seventh grade. I just hadn’t believed in that advice, or in myself, enough.
My English teacher, Nancy Prather, taught heavy on the essay skills and was equally scorned by all her students. That included me, until the day she called me up to her desk waving my latest essay like a flag, a serious expression on her face. I was terrified.
“Miss DelNegro,” she began, and none too quietly. “You have produced a rather impressive piece of writing here for a girl your age.”
I blinked. The way she said it—almost accusingly, I wondered . . . was that a good thing, or a bad one?
Miss Prather saw the confusion that was apparently written all over my face. “What I’m saying, my girl, is that you have a natural talent for writing.” She thrust the paper at me and issued a stern command. “No matter what you choose to do with your life, remember this: You are a writer. Don’t let this natural ability go to waste.”
Oh, if only I’d believed her. Turns out my writing ability was not only a talent, but also critical to my state of balance, of well-being. To be fulfilled, and completely happy, I had to be writing.
Still, at fifty years old with not a single piece of published writing to my credit, I needed additional validation: those three little letters—MFA—behind my name. And I’m sure those letters did catch the attention of the editors to whom I submitted over the next few years. But I still had enough rejection letters to paper my office before my first novel, Phantom Traces, was accepted by SoulMate Publishing in 2013. That was five novels, two short stories in anthologies, a memoir, a writer’s resource book, and numerous literary awards ago.
Today, at sixty, I still work by day in scientific research. But my dream—to be a full-time writer—is right around the corner. Yes, it’s been a hard-earned dream. Dedication and focus. Many midnight hours and long weekends at the keyboard. But I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
Is fifty too old to reinvent your life? Is sixty? Hell, no. Does it seem crazy to some of my family, friends, and colleagues that I yearn to leave the security of a dream job to become a writer? Sure does. But the ones who truly know me see that I am now what I was not ten years ago. Complete.
And I will say it to the world, as well as to Nancy Prather, wherever she is now: I was born to be a writer. I am a writer.
It’s never too late to reinvent yourself into what you were born to be. Everyone has a secret passion. A gift. Figure out what yours is, and don’t let anything stand in your way. Go for it.
Strong Women, Starting Over
Claire is a multi-published, award winning author of five titles in the genres of contemporary romance, supernatural suspense, and women’s fiction. She also writes Author Resource guide books and presents seminars on writing craft and marketing.
Her supernatural suspense, Hearts Unloched, won the 2016 New York Book Festival, and was a finalist in the 2017 RONE Awards. Also in 2017, her women’s fiction, The Phoenix Syndrome, was a finalist in the National Reader’s Choice Awards, and her contemporary romance, A Taming Season, was a Literary Award of Merit finalist in the HOLT Medallion Awards. Her latest release, Spirits of the Heart, was a finalist in the 2017 “I Heart Indie Awards.”
Creating cross-genre fiction she calls “supernatural suspense,” Claire loves exploring the paranormal and the unexplained, and holds a certificate in Parapsychology from the Rhine Research Center of Duke University.
A New York native, Claire has lived in five of the United States and held a variety of jobs, from waitress to bridal designer to research technician—but loves being an author best. She and her happily-ever-after hero, her husband of 39 years, now live in central Massachusetts.
Claire is available for seminars & media interviews & loves to travel for book promotional events.
Where to find Claire…
Claire, I’m in awe of your achievements. Thanks for sharing your inspiring reinvention story.