13 June 2023

Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

My mother’s earliest known work:
a self-portrait painted when she was
a teenager. Was she dreaming about
her future as an artist?
Eighteen years ago, I was a full-time freelance writer/editor, and one of my clients was a professional symphony orchestra. When the orchestra offered a part-time position as Marketing Director, I accepted. I would continue doing for the organization what I was already doing as a freelancer (writing, editing, and designing advertising and promotional material), and the position guaranteed a minimum monthly income, which helped smooth out the wild income roller coaster of freelancing.

So, for nearly eighteen years I was a full-time freelancer with a part-time position, and I often worked sixty-plus hours each week.

Two months ago, I left the symphony and returned to full-time freelancing. Through good planning, good luck, and a good marriage, I no longer need to scramble for work, and I no longer need to accept any project that comes my way. Except for my responsibilities as editor of a gardening magazine—a twenty-year relationship with a great deal of flexibility—I’m concentrating on writing and editing fiction as well as occasionally lecturing about and leading workshops related to writing and editing.

And I no longer need to work sixty-plus hours each week.

When I was a beginning writer, I dreamed of being in this position, though I never actually believed it would happen.

This isn’t the world in which I was raised. I come from hard-working blue-collar stock. Though my mother was an artist, there was never any expectation that her painting would ever be anything more than a hobby, and she worked a never-ending series of low-paying jobs.

College was not an option. Students were tracked when I was in school, and I was never in the college prep track. High school counselors never mentioned advanced education as an option, my family didn’t have the money, and my parents and I knew nothing about grants, scholarships, and loans that could have helped breach the financial barrier.

But I knew I wanted to be a writer, and so I spent my teen years writing horribly unpublishable stories while other boys my age were tossing footballs and shooting baskets. My mother provided me with my first typewriter and my second typewriter, and I taught myself to type using only a few of my ten fingers. Later, she helped me purchase a used mimeograph when I wanted to publish a science fiction fanzine.

And she died when I was 17.

I lived with my grandparents for a little more than a year, and though my grandmother was supportive of my writing, I couldn’t remain with them. Shortly before my nineteenth birthday, I moved out on my own.

Over the years I’ve had multiple residences (some better than others), multiple jobs (some better than others), and multiple relationships (some better than others), and I attended classes at two community colleges and two universities, finally graduating with a BA in Professional Writing when I was 48.

Through it all, I pounded the keys. I wrote fillers and jokes and cartoon captions and poetry and essays and articles and novels and short stories. Lots of short stories. Lots and lots of short stories.

The writing was the only constant. Though it tore apart some of the relationships, it kept me focused no matter what curve balls life threw.

My work was published in my junior high and high school literary magazines, in my high school newspaper and an underground newspaper during my high school years, in science fiction fanzines and other amateur publications, in company and organization newsletters, in magazines and anthologies, and in all manner of electronic publications.

I wrote my first professionally published short story when I was 17, it was published when I was 21, and so, unlike many writers, I had early affirmation that writing was a viable life option.

Unlike my mother’s painting, writing didn’t remain a hobby. It generated a side income (some years much better than others) until it, combined with editing and design work, became my primary source of income.

And having reached this point, I wonder how my mother’s artistic career might have progressed if she had not died when she was 37. Her work had just begun to be recognized locally. She had her work hung at a local physician’s office, and it looked like she was on the verge of getting her work into a local gallery.

When my mother was young and dreaming of a career as an artist, what were her dreams? Were they anything like mine? Did she dream of one day leaving her day job and doing nothing but painting?

I’ll never know what her dreams were, but I know she encouraged mine.

“Beat the Clock” appears in the March/April issue of
Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine; “Denim Mining” in the May/June issue of AHMM; “Words on Wheels” in the June issue of Mystery Magazine; “Family Tree” in Starlite Pulp Review #2; and “When Sin Stops” in Weren’t Another Other Way to Be: Outlaw Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Waylon Jennings (Gutter Books), edited by Alec Cizak, released in May.


  1. Michael, she would be proud of what you've accomplished.

    You're doing what you love to do, and you're good at it. What more could one wish for?

    Keep up the great writing!

    1. I was going to say something, but then I saw that John covered everything I'd intended to write. Hope your day is great.

  2. Nice tribute to your mom and to your tenacity. I've long been a believer that tenacity trumps talent. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you give up...?

  3. Elizabeth Dearborn13 June, 2023 11:45

    Agree 100%.

  4. A wonderful column, Michael. I was a freelance writer my working career, writing novels (not short stories) on the side. I recall working 60 hours a week at times when the jobs flowed in. I didn't like the long hours, but then I would think, well, this beats having little or no work.

  5. Great column, and a great tribute to your mother.

  6. Michael, a good piece and a great tribute to your mom.

  7. I'm sorry I never got to meet your mother, Michael — and very glad that I've had plenty of opportunities to meet and work with you!

  8. Beautiful piece, Michael. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  9. Love reading this, Michael - and I was particularly taken by your point that the one constant through everything was your writing. I've had the same history.

  10. A tug at the heartstrings. You've done your mother proud. I bet her painting career would have flourished if she'd been able to pursue it.

  11. Wonderful and moving, Michael. We have much in common.

  12. Thanks for sharing this, Michael. We share aspects of our histories. Writing has been a constant through my life, as well, and although my mother wasn't artistic -- as far as she went in that direction was paint-by-numbers kits -- she never discouraged me from the crazy stuff I did with my own writing and art. My dad was the same. They gave me my first typewriter for Christmas when I was 12, after I taught myself to type on an old typewriter I found in our attic when I was 9. I've been lucky in my life.

    1. Sorry, that anonymous comment above is by me. :-)


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