Welcome to my Second Acts Series!
Today, we have Judy Alter sharing her amazing journey from full-time, stay-at-home mom to full-time professional publisher and author.
“I’ve taken care of others long enough. It’s time to take care of me.” Astonishing words from the father of four children, ages six to twelve. Followed by, “I’ll take the kids, the house, the whole package except you.” Terrible cruelty from the man I’d been married to for seventeen years and had risked family connections to marry. For the past twelve years I’d been a full-time stay-at-home mom, grabbing free time to write when I could, entertaining lavishly at everything from big dinner parties to children’s birthdays. And this was how my first act was going to end?
My second act followed fast upon the end of the first and was, my brother said, “a remarkable case of reinventing myself.” I became a working mom, a full-time professional publisher, and an author. It didn’t all happen that fast, and I had some lucky breaks along the way.
The first thing I did was to find employment outside the house. I took the job of coordinator of community classes at my alma mater, Texas Christian University. From then on serendipity played a part in my career. I shared an office with a man who was slated to become director of TCU Press when the current director retired in a few months. One day, this man looked at me and asked, “Would you like to be editor of TCU Press?” That was my job interview. Yes, thank you very much, I’d like that. In earlier jobs I’d done a lot of PR and editing, and it seemed like a natural.
I was editor for four or five years and loved it. I liked working with the authors, and I loved shaping words. I didn’t always agree with my former office-mate about the manuscripts we acquired, but in general I was happy. And I never wanted to be director, didn’t want all that responsibility.
But when my former office-mate left to take a better-paying job at another university, I couldn’t wait to be named director. I had the requisite Ph.D. so I’m not sure what the holdup was, but it was almost a year before the appointment was official. I served as director for twenty-plus years, and it turned out to be the perfect job for me. I had enough freedom to raise my children the way I wanted. I met authors not only in the office but at conventions and meetings and came to regard several major Texas authors as good friends.
I was trying to boost my own writing at the time, and I found the two interests didn’t conflict at all—they worked together. I published, I won awards, the press won awards. We were producing good and attractive books and people in the region began to notice.
I worked past retirement and finally retired at 71 to pursue my own writing. By then I was well enough known on the regional literary scene that people bought my books, and my writing took off if not like a rocket at a fairly respectable speed. Maybe that is my third act?
What have I learned from this? Find your passion in life—don’t quit or turn back until you’ve discovered the one thing that you really love. For me, it was books and words. And spread your wings—get to know people in your profession, speak up, present talks, make yourself heard.
If I had stayed married I don’t know what would have happened, but I doubt I would have the four wonderful children I do today, and I doubt I would have had as satisfying and rich life. God is good.
Chicago, from swampland to host of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, as lived by two leading historical figures: tycoon and hotelier Potter Palmer and his activist wife Bertha Honoré Palmer who fought for women’s rights and help for the poor. A story of love, major historical events, class warfare, intrigue, a forbidden love interest, and murder. A history of Chicago’s colorful Gilded Age.
Where to find Judy…
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I agree with your brother – this is a remarkable reinvention story! Best of luck with all your literary endeavors, Judy.