Waiting to Begin

THE BOOK: Waiting to Begin.


THE AUTHOR: Patricia O’Donnell

THE EDITOR: Larry Smith.

THE PUBLISHER: Bottom Dog Press of Huron, Ohio. I was drawn to their mission of writing that “reveals through its directness an essential human story,” and to their focus on literature of the working class.

SUMMARY: The book opens with me giving a talk about my life to young students entering the college where I teach. As I told them about dropping out of college, making bad choices, moving to San Francisco with a poet, joining a questionable theatre group/cult, finally moving back to Iowa where I became a single mother to two children and worked my way back to college, I realized I wanted to tell the story in a deeper, broader forum. The book describes my early tumultuous years in the 70’s and 80’s, and moves ahead to 2008 when I visit the sites of my youth in Iowa with my oldest child, Emma. At 31 years old, she meets her father during this visit, for the first time.

Though the book describes relationships in my past—including one with an already married man, a story I could not help but tell—a central part of it is the story of how I was lucky enough to meet and fall in love with my husband, and how—against all odds—we manage to make our lives together work.

THE BACK STORY: Years ago I began a memoir of my life as a single mother on welfare who became a college professor, but it stalled as I looked for the center of the story. In 2008 the small town I’d grown up in, Parkersburg, Iowa, was decimated by an E5 tornado, destroying all the houses I’d lived in. I made plans to return to the town, feeling it was time to revisit these important sites in order to understand my life and my self more honestly. When I learned that my oldest child, Emma, had contacted her father and persuaded him to meet her, without my knowledge, during this trip, I felt that the book I wanted to write had been given a gift, and I could put it off no longer.

WHY THIS TITLE?: As I was writing the book, I realized that one of the themes I was discovering was that as a young woman I was always trying personas out, pretending, while I waited for my real life to begin. When I had children, I realized the time for pretense and role-playing was past; it was time to begin in earnest.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? As I wrote, I asked myself this question often. A memoirist (all writers, actually) must ask themselves this question. I came back to the answer that I wish I’d been able to read a story like this, earlier in my life when I was going through hard times. Stories I read of single mothers all seemed to be about brave, smart-mouthed, brilliant women who I had nothing in common with. I was too much of a fuck-up. As I wrote, I realized that part of myself still felt that way about myself, despite the comforts and apparent successes of my life, and I imagine part of all single parents do too, as they worry desperately about their kids (will they be okay?) and about themselves (doesn’t everyone see what a fuck-up I truly am?). I hope to read a broad audience, but the people I feel especially sympathetic with are those who have ambitions and talents but struggle with feelings of self-worth and the temptation to give up on their dreams.


RJM Terrado, US Review of Books: “Waiting To Begin is a guidebook for people who want to take possession of their lives, contemplating on a restart and a reroute . . . She draws upon the transformative points in her own personal and professional experience to provide a vast, wise resource in threading toward a far-fetched dream. Waiting To Begin contains maps to these transformative points.”

Gretchen Legler: “This beautifully crafted book is about the difficulty and joy of circling one’s past, making one’s life into story, and offering it as written gift to oneself and the rest of the world.”

Judith Slater: “This beautiful book is dramatic, wise and powerful, the interweaving of past and present brilliantly done. It’s like having a glass of wine (a really good glass of wine) with a wise and funny and trusted friend.”

AUTHOR PROFILE: I am a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Maine at Farmington, where I direct the BFA Program in Creative Writing. My stories have appeared in many places, including The New Yorker, Agni Review, The North American Review, and Prairie Schooner. Besides the memoir, I’ve written a novel: Necessary Places, Tilbury House, 2012: and my collection of short fiction, Gods for Sale, won the 2016 Serena McDonald Kennedy Award and was published by Snake Nation. In the spring of 2018 my novel The Vigilance of Stars will be published by Unsolicited Press. I live in the small town of Wilton, Maine, with my husband. To learn more, read Waiting to Begin!


A published excerpt can be found here:

Patricia O’Donnell: Electricity

LOCAL OUTLETS: Devaney, Doak & Garret Books, Farmington, Maine.

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

PRICE: $18.


My website can be found here: https://patriciaodonnell.weebly.com/.

Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/Patricia-ODonnell-240815279803890/?modal=admin_todo_tour

Email: podonnel@maine.edu

Amazon author page is “Patricia O’Donnell:” https://smile.amazon.com/Patricia-ODonnell/e/B06XBXV34B/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

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Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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