Why I Left Academia to Write Fantasy Books
Guest post by Author Amie Irene Winters
Posted Jun 30, 2017
A teacher. That was always my response to what I was going to be when I grew up. I loved the idea of helping students, setting my own schedule, and being my own boss. I completed my BA in anthropology and went on to pursue my MA in environmental leadership, eager to teach in either field once finished. Then the moment of truth came. I was offered my first teaching job at a local community college. Everything that I had been working towards had finally paid off! But, on my first day of class I quickly realized something. I had been in love with the idea of teaching, but not teaching itself.
As the semester progressed, I found myself overcome with anxiety. I told myself it was nerves, but I couldn’t sleep and felt sick all the time. While driving to class one day, I pulled over to throw up. Every day was worse than the next. I couldn’t mask the truth any longer. I hated teaching, so I quit.
I went on to pursue numerous other careers. Grant writer. Park ranger. Archaeologist. The list goes on and on. Each job allowed me to develop new skills, meet interesting people, and in some instances, make the world a better place. But, no matter what I did or where I was, I watched the clock. Counting the minutes, the seconds, until I could go home. I longed to find that magical career where I could be my own boss again—if it even existed.
Feeling hopeless, and that I had wasted A LOT of time and money, I happened upon a book in the free bin at my library. The book was Chocolat by Joanne Harris, and it was the first time I had ever read anything like it. It was imaginative, enchanting, and full of magic. Having never been a big fiction reader, this story marked my obsession with books. Bestsellers to classics, I devoured all of them with enthusiasm. And the more I read, the more I fell in love with books where anything could happen. Books bursting with magic. Books full of whimsy and imagination. I enjoyed reading them so much, I thought Why don’t I write stories like these?
When I was a kid, I loved to write. Creative writing was my favorite subject in school. I still have dozens of my old writing journals. There was a story about a $20 ice cream sundae, several about my dog, and my very first horror story about a haunted house. Although these stories weren’t the greatest, I wondered why I stopped doing something I liked so much.
While working in corporate communications (another job I hated), I decided to start writing a book just for fun and nothing more. Then something magical happened. For the first time, I didn’t watch the clock. In fact, every time I sat down to write, it seemed like three or four hours vanished. I wrote on the weekends or late in the evenings, and I always looked forward to that writing time. It was all I wanted to do. Shortly after, I published my first fantasy book, Strange Luck.
Most authors have day jobs, so I knew from the very beginning that it would be unlikely to make a good living just writing books unless my name was Stephen King. I told myself that although I had to work, it would allow me to fund something I truly loved, which was worth it. Not only was I my own boss again, I could have ultimate creative freedom. I was also still able to incorporate many of the writing, marketing, and communication skills I had developed over the years and apply them as an author.
They say to “write what you know.” Since I’m an outdoorsy girl, I found it easy for my protagonist in the Strange Luck series to be one, too. Daisy Darling is a bit of a tomboy who loves hiking and camping. The trails she hikes and places she goes are based on some of my favorite real-life places. Daisy also works at an oddities antique shop, which was a great way for me to plug in my anthropology side with all the unique items she encounters.
Looking back, it’s obvious to me now why none of those jobs panned out, including teaching. Although I truly enjoyed anthropology and environmental studies, those fields didn’t get me truly excited as writing fiction did. You may be wondering why don’t I teach creative writing then? The answer is simple: I’m happy doing what I’m doing. And although academia wasn’t for me, the experience allowed me to discover my greatest passion, and for that I couldn’t be more appreciative.
Today, I continue to write stories about extraordinary people, things, and places. They go to fantastical realms, including mythical theaters where the darkest of magic is performed nightly. They interact with strange people, many of whom are based on real people I’ve known. When the characters in my books look inside themselves, they don’t always see the answer right in front of them, and they’re stronger for it. They make mistakes, they are stubborn, they hit detours. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't.
In fantasy, or real life, sometimes you just need to take a few wrong turns first before one story can end and another can begin.
Amie Irene Winters is the bestselling author of the Strange Luck series who describes her work as “dark fairy tales.” The third book in the series, A Darling Secret, will be released fall 2017.
She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and pug.