Seeking Purpose

Welcome to my Second Acts Series!

Today, we have Canadian author Carol Balawyder musing about the two acts of her writing journey.

Here’s Carol!

carolbalawyderI am so grateful to be featured among so many (over 90!) wonderful writers in Joanne Guidoccio’s Second Acts series.

In life one has many second acts but the one which I wish to focus on here is my writing journey.


Five years ago I retired from a successful teaching career with the luck of a pension that allowed me the freedom to write without the financial burden of having a day job. My initial intention was to put my heart and soul into writing crime novels. After all, wasn’t that the purpose for my going back to school to study criminology and later teach Police Tech and Corrections so that I would have credibility as a crime writer?

mourninghasbrokenBut then people around me started dying: Father. Mother. Sister. I was stricken with a deep grief that I only knew how to express through writing. They say that one must go through a year of mourning and so when my dear sister, Diana, died I wrote for a year about my pain and sorrow which became my requiem: Mourning Has Broken.

Parallel to this my heart broke in a different way: Man leaves wife for younger woman. Here I was seeking out another partner to fill a hole that partly got filled by writing Getting To Mr. Right in which I created four female characters and their relationships with their fathers.

With the novel self published, I found I still wasn’t finished with these characters and followed up with novella length epilogues for each of them. So far I’ve written Missi and Suzy’s stories.


I will soon publish Felicity’s story (Not By Design).

That still leaves me Campbell which will likely be the end of this series.

But in this first act there were my crime novels lurking at the back of my mind. I have three manuscripts at different stages of the writing process, one which I hope to publish soon.


Pieces of magic.

I am a woman seeking purpose. At this stage of my writing career I feel the need to use my writing to help bring awareness to causes that are dear to me. I have begun to do this with Not By Design where the main character, Felicity Starr, develops Multiple Sclerosis.

Logically, I should be more interested in cures for cancer, particularly blood cancer such as lymphoma, leukemia and thrombocythemia – all cancers that run like river water in my maternal side of the family’s blood stream.

Before I wrote Not By Design I knew nothing about MS. I knew no one who suffered from the disease. But then again as Felicity discovers:
“The thing about having MS is that no one can tell that I am sick. A bizarre illness where you look fine but you’re not fine.”

In the early stages of writing this novel –still at the stage of trying to discover what my book was about I happened to meet (The Universe works its magic) Irene Grazzini, a young physician from Italy who was doing research at Montreal’s Neurological Institute. Because of her own writing we developed a friendship where during her stay in Montreal we met weekly for walks and talked about writing. On one such walk I said that I wanted my character, Felicity, to be struck with an illness. Because Felicity is an artist I wanted her to have a disease which would force her to give up her art (at least as she knows it) and told Irene that she could develop Parkinson’s.

Irene: How old is she?

Me: Mid-thirties.

Irene: Why don’t you give her MS? It’s more common for her age group. It’s a disease that affects coordination.

magicwandMore magic.

The other day I was at the library thinking about my second act.

As usual, whenever I go to the library, I check out the new books. And there it is. Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling (in case the name is unfamiliar, think Harry Potter).

Very Good Lives is Rowling’s commencement address delivered to the class of 2008 at Harvard University. Its subject is on the fringe benefits of failure and the importance of imagination.

I imagine Rowling’s words transitioning me from my Act One to my Act Two as a commencement speech is meant to do. I am especially struck by these lines:

“If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to transform our world; we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

So this is how I imagine my second act.

My warmest thanks to you, Joanne, for inviting me to be a guest on your inspiring blog.

Where to find Carol…

Amazon | Goodreads | Smashwords | Blog

Joanne here!

Carol, Thanks for sharing your back story and hopes/plans for the future. I also enjoyed reading Very Good Lives and like the quote you shared. Best of luck with all your literary endeavors.


Just Walk Away


It sounds so simple and so easy, but it takes guts to give up your idea (or someone else’s) of the “perfect life” and change direction. This is especially true if you or a close relative has invested time and money into a venture that once fitted your vision.

Walking away from any well-worn path can be a long and painful struggle for everyone involved. It helps to be surrounded by supportive family and friends, but ultimately the decision to change direction is yours and yours alone. Before embarking on this difficult and challenging journey, take time to reflect on your present situation and ask yourself the hard questions:

What do you really want?

Are you prepared to choose courage over comfort? By the way…you can’t have both.

If you need inspiration, follow the journeys of twelve high achievers who took time to reflect upon their less-than-desirable situations, make the decisions to leave, and then launch spectacular second acts.


What’s In a Name?

The topic of pseudonyms came up on a discussion board. Several writers expressed an interest in using pen names and wanted more information about the legalities involved.

I was surprised to see so much interest in the topic. I had always associated pseudonyms with female writers such as Mary Anne Evans/George Eliot, who used a male name to ensure that her work would be accepted by publishers and the public.

While researching the topic, I discovered many more reasons for using pen names.

Authors who regularly write in more than one genre use different pen names. Romance writer Nora Roberts writes erotic thrillers under the pen name J.D. Robb.

A pen name may be used if the author believes that his/her name does not suit the genre. Western novelist Pearl Gray dropped his first name and changed the spelling of his last name to become Zane Grey.

In some countries, authors use pen names to write about controversial topics that could be politically unsafe.

Writers of romance novels are often advised to use pen names to protect themselves against stalkers.

In the past, prolific authors were asked to use pen names to prevent flooding the market with too many books in one year. Stephen King published four novels under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. After critics pointed out style similarities, the books were reprinted with Stephen King’s name. One of his books, Thinner, sold twenty times more copies after the changes were made.

Some writers wish to keep their writing career separate from their everyday life. Comic book writer Stan Lee was born Stanley Lieber. He used the pen name Stan Lee because he intended to save his real name for more serious literature. His career as a novelist never materialized so he changed his name legally to Stan Lee.

A collective name or house name is used with series fiction such as the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Bobbsey Twins series. The first book in each series was written by one writer, but subsequent books were written by ghost writers.

Collaborative authors like to have their books published under one name. Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini write their Coffeehouse Mystery series using the pseudonym Cleo Coyle.

Last year, J.K. Rowling was outed as the author of Cuckoo’s Calling, which she published under the pen name Robert Gailbraith. In an interview, she commented: “”I was yearning to go back to the beginning of a writing career in this new genre to work without hype or expectation to receive totally unvarnished feedback. It was a fantastic experience and I only wish it could have gone on a little longer.”

Regarding the legalities…

You don’t have to file any forms or hire a lawyer. Simply put the phrase “writing as” on your manuscript and let the publisher know your real name to ensure that you receive payment for your work.

Any other interesting pseudonym stories out there?

Many Winding Roads to Success

John Grisham‘s first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected 28 times before he found an unknown publisher who was willing to print a short run. Without the benefit of a major publisher’s marketing, Grisham went directly to booksellers encouraging them to stock his book. Since that time, he has written 25 best-selling novels, among them The Firm, The Brethren, and The Summons.

A publisher forwarded The Spy Who Came In From the Cold to a colleague with a note that read, “You’re welcome to leCarre. He hasn’t got any future.” John le Carre‘s book went on to become a bestseller and Publisher’s Weekly named it “best spy novel of all time.”

The first Harry Potter book was turned down by eight agents, and when J.K. Rowling finally got a deal, she was warned by the publisher, “You’ll never make any money with children’s books.” Since that time, the Potter books have won multiple awards, sold more than 400 million copies, and been the basis for a popular series of films.

After a five-year legal career, Lisa Scottoline decided to stay home, raise her daughter, and write part-time. It took five years to get published. In the meantime, she lived off her credit cards and was “broker than broke.” One of her early rejections is permanently etched in memory. The agent informed her that they didn’t have time to take on any more clients, and even if they did, they wouldn’t take her. She persisted and has written 22 best-sellers which are available in 25 countries.