UMF Professor Publishes Memoir
BARRY MATULAITIS, Staff Editor, Franklin Sun Journal, August 5,2016
Friday, August 5, 2016
FARMINGTON — After her hometown of Parkersburg, Iowa, was destroyed by a tornado, University of Maine at Farmington creative writing professor Patricia O'Donnell decided to go back for a visit in 2008.
As she did so, memories of her childhood and the obstacles she overcame to become a college professor, came flooding back to her.
"I found people so resilient and kind, and helpful to one another and me," she said.
It was then that O'Donnell was inspired to begin writing her memoir, "Waiting to Begin: A Memoir." Published by Bottom Dog Press, it will be available beginning next week. It chronicles her journey from childhood to the present, giving insight into the many experiences that have shaped her life.
"I was a single mother college dropout on welfare with two children, who managed to become a college professor and program director," O'Donnell said. "Neither of my parents went to college. The book describes how I moved to San Francisco when I was 20 years old with a poet, then back to Iowa City, where I became pregnant with my first child."
As a single mother with two children, O'Donnell struggled to go back to school. However, she persevered, earning three degrees and having work published while she was still a student.
Then, O'Donnell discovered love with a fellow student and California river guide, who moved east to try to make things work. They moved to Maine together, where O'Donnell continued trying to write, having another child and teaching at the University of Maine at Farmington.
In the last section of the book, O'Donnell goes back to the towns where she lived as a child, accompanied by her oldest daughter. Her daughter had contacted her father, whom she had never met, and he agreed to meet with her in Iowa.
"I visited sites of my youth destroyed by flood and tornado, while she visited with the father she'd never met," O'Donnell said.
She said her love of writing and literature originated in her childhood. Her family let her go to the town library, which was housed in an old mansion, as often as she wanted and allowed her to sit around reading all day.
As O'Donnell began writing the memoir, she was struck by how much she had experienced in her life and how difficult it was to pick and choose what to include in the book. She worked on a draft for a few years. But she wasn't quite happy with it.
"It didn't have enough of a focus," she said. "There were so many things I wanted to write about." O'Donnell did multiple revisions on the book before it was finished.
When asked what was the most rewarding aspect of writing, she offered, "It is the satisfaction — and the fear — of writing my own life for other people to read. The joy is in having it make sense to me, the fear is in exposing myself to whatever other people might see there."
As for her advice to aspiring authors?
"If you want to do it, then do it," she said. "Do it secretly, satisfying only yourself. Don't show it to someone else until you are sure you can handle whatever they might say."
O'Donnell's first book, published in 2012 by Cadent Press (now Tilbury House), was "Necessary Places: A Novel." It is about a woman who lives in Maine and takes her incapacitated father on a road trip to Iowa to uncover secrets of the past. Her third book, "Gods For Sale," a collection of short stories, is being published next year by Snake Nation Press.
"Waiting to Begin: A Memoir" can be ordered from Devaney Doak & Garrett in Farmington, or online through Amazon, as well as any of the major booksellers.