Fisheries and Wildlife…that was my major when I enrolled at the University of Minnesota in the fall of 1988. My idea was to become a forest ranger who communed with nature by day and wrote great literature in his log cabin by night.
Seriously. I’m not making this up.
Fortunately, the people who taught the major had the good sense to require an introductory course designed to scare some sense into people like me. Their basic pitch: You’re not going to get a job, but if you do, it’ll be clearing brush for $10,000 a year.
The next day, I showed up at the offices of the School of Journalism, where the dean also told me that I wouldn’t get a job, and if I did, it wouldn’t pay anything. I switched majors anyway. I’d been putting my thoughts, observations, and imaginings on paper since I was seven, when I taped together a sheaf of computer paper to create a book I titled My Life, Adventures, and Everything. By committing myself to a professional writing career, in a way I was committing myself to carry on with that first ambitious project. If I ended up unemployed…well, at least I could turn my unemployment into a poem…or an article…or a memoir.
As it turned out, I did get jobs writing (although the dean was right about the pay), beginning with the four years I spent at the student newspaper, the Minnesota Daily. After graduating, I was hired for three days by The Independent, based in Marshall, Minnesota. Have you ever been to Marshall? I had, for the job interview, which is why I quit when the Winona Post called with a better offer. Only slightly better, but it was Winona. Have you ever been to Winona? Then you know what I mean.
After a little more than a year at the Post, I took a position as an unpaid live-in volunteer at the Winona Catholic Worker, which ran a house of hospitality for families in need of food and shelter. During my two and a half years there, I launched a modest part-time career writing freelance magazine articles for the Catholic press. I also published a couple of short stories, one of which (“Bury Your Dead”) won the Minnesota Monthly Tamarack Award in 1997.
That story led to my being commissioned by Saint Mary’s Press to write a book of short stories (Waking Up Bees). Eventually I was hired as a full-time development editor in the high school division of Saint Mary’s Press, where I edited numerous textbooks and authored several books.
All of these books and articles were published under my given name, Jerry Daoust. I added the “Windley-” when I married Susan Windley in 1999. A few years later, I opted to leave Saint Mary’s Press in order to take care of our son at home full time.
Five kids and ten years later, I am slowly attempting to revive my writing career, with an emphasis on novel-length and short fiction.
Some of My Favorite Quotes About Writing
Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts? … Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we may feel again their majesty and power?
―Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t try to write fiction.
Postmodern irony and cynicism’s become an end in itself, a measure of hip sophistication and literary savvy. Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what’s wrong, because they’ll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists. Irony’s gone from liberating to enslaving. … The postmodern founders’ patricidal work was great, but patricide produces orphans, and no amount of revelry can make up for the fact that writers my age have been literary orphans throughout our formative years.
―David Foster Wallace, in The Review of Contemporary Fiction
What I discovered is that each time you look at the world and the people in it closely, imaginatively, the effort changes you. The world, under the microscope of your attention, opens up like a beautiful, strange flower and gives itself back to you in ways you could never imagine. What stories are hiding behind the faces of the people who you walk past everyday? What love? What hopes? What despair?
… Writing is seeing. It is paying attention.
I think of it this way: my characters sing songs and I stop to listen to them and when the song is done I give them my money and they say, “God bless you, baby.”
—Kate DiCamillo, “On Writing“