About Mary Kay

It's a little crazy to invite a writer to talk about herself in a boundless forum with no editor and no one to cut her off. I will, however, endeavor to keep this short.

I was born third of six children in Spokane, Washington. I have a sister who's ten years older than me and another who's ten years younger with three brothers sprinkled among us. We grew up in a nice home in a middle class neighborhood and had everything we needed. As a matter of fact, I got everything I ever wanted as well. Christmas was insane at our house; my most memorable gifts are a life-sized doll that looked just like me, a bright red dress with a blouson top that my mother made me and an eight track tape deck with one tape - by Iron Butterfly which I'm sure my mom thought would be pretty and melodious. I tortured my family with In-A- Gadda-Da-Vida for two months before she went out and bought me Peter, Paul and Mary.

Aside from 9th grade I went to parochial schools - high school and college were all-girl. Let's not talk socially stunted at the moment and just say I was a little shy. My education started out okay - everyone seemed to be struggling to learn reading and spelling and math. It wasn't until 4th grade that I began to suspect that I might not be the brightest bulb around the mirror. I was pretty good at arithmetic but reading was a nightmare - I don't think dyslexia was even a word back then. They said that because I was fairly average in some classes and failing in reading and spelling that I was lazy because I refused to practice. My mother disagreed, saying we practiced constantly, but promised we'd work harder at it - and we did. Standing to read history or geography for the class was a daily terror. I'd break out in a sweat and feel tears behind my eyes as I stumbled over words like the and fine. In 8th grade one frustrated nun finally broke down and flat out called me stupid.

It was years before I realized how very wrong she was. Not only was I not stupid, I was bright and clever and I had the memory of an elephant. High school and college were much better for me. The teachers spoon fed us and discussed in class what we needed to know - tests were still tough but attendance and class participation seemed to off-set them enough to get a passing grade. I was best at true and false questions: I'd play dot-to-dot with a 50% chance of being right. Nursing school was great. Put a book in front of me: my eyes would blur and cross and I'd be asleep in four minutes. But there was a student lounge at school where barely anything else but nursing was discussed. I soaked it up. We'd quiz one another before tests and even if I didn't know the answer someone would correct me and then the fact was mine, forever.

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing but if you ask me how I passed my State Boards I'll always say it's just one more mystery inside the bubble of my destiny - a life-altering fluke, a miracle. And as it is with most people, I believe, my life has simply been one improbable event after another.

I worked at Holy Family Hospital in Spokane, first, in the recovery room and then in an eight-bed ICU-CCU (Intensive and Cardiac Care Unit). Turns out nursing is 25% fact and 75% common sense and hard work And you don't have to read well to have one or do the other. I was a good nurse; I loved it - the patients, the intensity, the miracles. Next to motherhood those were the most rewarding years of my life. And some of the people I worked with there are still my dearest and most golden friends.

My husband came all the way to Spokane from Virginia to go to Gonzaga Law School. We met (miracle) and got married. Two years later we had our daughter, he graduated with a JD and we moved to a small town in the Shenandoah Valley in northern Virginia. I retired from nursing and spent the next six years gestating. I delivered three more children, all boys. I had four children under the age of six.

It was in this time frame that I finally learned to read - not well, but better. With children bouncing off the walls all day it was hard to find anything for ME. I like to refinish furniture but there are toxic chemicals involved. I liked crewel and embroidery but I had to keep the needles in a lockbox - and then someone swallowed the key so ... . Finally, my older sister turned me onto Georgette Heyer novels (fluke). If you haven't read one, I highly recommend them all. They're sharp and funny and only about a half an inch thick - which is still a huge consideration in my reading matter; they weren't daunting. They were just what I needed. The humor attracted me; I didn't have to read out loud or in front of others and I could go at my own pace ... until my pace got a little better ... and a little better after that until I could finally understand what other people saw in reading for pleasure.

While my children grew I branched out to other authors. I loved them all, but eventually I bought ... that book (fluke). You know, that one infamous novel that even a dyslexic amateur can tell is poorly written with no plot and horrible characters - everyone's bought that book at least once. I told my voracious reader husband, "I can do better than this!" And he said, "Then do it."

So I did. In long hand, with a friend of my husband to type it and absolutely no intention of anyone ever seeing it. However, we were curious as to how well, or even if it could stand up to the thousands of other novels being published at the time. Was it better than that book? For fun - because we all know someone who can't read can't be a writer - we sent my only copy to a New York agent whose name I found in a dedication by one of my favorite authors (miracle). Denise Marcil not only liked it but she sold four of my stories and won a four book contract for me that year - my first 8 paperbacks. Devine Design was published in 1988; my youngest son was two years old.

Not being able to read doesn't mean you don't have an imagination. But who knew the imaginary dog that followed me everywhere or the green fairy named Ed or talking to the coolest boy in class while walking home from school alone or lip-syncing all the songs I wished I'd written to my multitude of fans on the other side of the mirror would mean I was a born story teller, and not just a peculiar person?

I've written lots of stories since then. My kids are grown. I have a granddaughter. I'm still a slow reader - every word, one word at a time - and given a choice I'll always choose a movie over a book. But I love to write - every word, one word at a time. No one understands a writer better than other writers and over the years I've made many close friends who are wonderfully gifted and creative novelists - and amazingly, are often just as peculiar as me.

My wish for you is time. The time to sit with friends, to soak up sunny afternoons, to watch rain drops slip down windows or snow fall all around you ... and the time to read good books -- preferably mine, but any will do. Feed your imagination, and stay hungry.

-- Mary Kay


Mary Kay McComas


high school