Nebraska native Melissa Amateis grew up on a farm near Bridgeport, Nebraska. She holds a BA in history from Chadron State College and an MA in history from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL). She is a PhD student in history at UNL studying antisemitism and right-wing extremist movements in America during the 1930s-1940s. An amateur photographer, Snoopy collector, classic movie lover, and avid bibliophile, Amateis lives with her daughter in eastern Nebraska along with a rambunctious lab/border collie mix appropriately named Blitz and two kitties.
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Sometimes people can pinpoint the exact moment when they decided they wanted to be a writer, or an artist, or an actor.
You're waiting for me to tell you that this didn't happen to me, that there were many moments which, combined, showed me how writing was my chosen career, or rather, life path.
Well, yes and no.
I do have "The Moment" and it was in the autumn of 1986. I was in the sixth grade. After school one afternoon, I remember hopping on my bed to settle in with a good novel. I'd always been a voracious reader, and was reading adult novels by this time. My favorite author, Rosalind Laker, wrote historical novels, and through her stories, I became entranced with history. Her novels were set in several different time periods, and I loved each and every one. On this particular day, I was reading The Smuggler's Bride. I remember pausing at one point in the story and thinking, "I want to do this. I want to try and write a novel."
That was The Moment.
But there had been other Moments years earlier. When I was in the third or fourth grade, I used to devour Nancy Drew books. Oh, how I loved mystery novels and how teenage Nancy solved all those cases! I decided to write a mystery novel myself, and it was called The Fanners Gang. Each character, however, was an animal. There was Kanga the Kangaroo, and Yak, the uh, Yak, and a few others.. They comprised the Fanners Gang and they solved mysteries! I remember using my mother's manual typewriter and banging out a few of their so-called "cases." The first was, "The Case of the Va..Va..Voom!" I don't remember if they ever figured out what that Va...Va..Voom thing was, but the good news is that I still have that manuscript, and it is safely ensconced in my fireproof safe. Does it surprise you that I kept this first attempt at a novel? Darling, it absolutely shouldn't. A writer keeps everything.
So. Two Moments. But let's expand on the second Moment, because this was when this writing bug really bit, and it bit hard. In the summer of 1987, I decided to set up my office in our basement. I used a plastic yellow table as my desk. It had previously served as a table for my kitchen where my various stuffed animals and dolls had their tea, but now, it contained pens and pencils and a notebook. Then, with my mother's blessing, I put her manual typewriter on an old school desk that my dad hauled out of his country schoolhouse before they tore said schoolhouse down. Last, but certainly not least, I taped a lined sheet of notebook paper to the concrete wall with the words, "Progress Chart" written at the top.
I can hear you asking, "Do you still have that sheet of paper?"
Did you not read what I wrote? A WRITER KEEPS EVERYTHING. Of course I have that sheet of paper!
Rosalind Laker would have been proud of my first attempt at an adult novel. I titled it, Depths of Love, and set it during the French Revolution. Oh, it was a marvelous, grotesque disaster. Maybe some day I will let you read it. (YES I STILL HAVE IT. Have you not learned by now?) But oh, it was my disaster, and I was in love with this whole writing process. I begged my mom, who was a freelance journalist for a regional newspaper, to get a subscription to Writer's Digest. She did, and I started devouring each issue. I checked out books on the craft of writing from the library (remember, we are in the Dark Ages here, before Amazon and The Internet), and I kept writing.
In my seventh grade English class, we had a few weeks where we focused on writing fiction. I was in absolute heaven. I wrote a pirate short story, I believe, and even though my character's names left something to be desired (I named my villain Gold Tooth because he, er, had a gold tooth...remember Kanga and Yak?), I didn't care. My English teacher loved my story. (Hey, you're learning! Yes, I might just show you that awesome pirate ship I drew for the front cover of that story!).
Throughout the rest of my middle school and high school years, I kept writing. My English teachers encouraged me every step of the way, though one of my teachers asked if I would ever write a story that did not have a romance or love story in it (answer: yes, though rarely). What can I say? I am a sucker for love.
A funny thing happened in college, though; I majored in English, planning to just write my novels for a career (oh you naive child!), but then I discovered I needed to pass Advanced Grammar in order to get said English degree. I knew how to put words together quite well; what I did not know how to do quite well was tell you why those words went in that particular order.
So I decided to switch my major from English to history. I still only wrote stories set in the past - I knew that wasn't ever going to change - and I decided that I might as well start learning more about the past and maybe even make a career out of it.
Ah, life, how it never goes according to plan...
I graduated from college and landed a job as a news clerk at a regional newspaper. I kept writing, kept lugging around the Rubbermaid tote filled with half-finished manuscripts. I was in my 20s and not very focused, so I did my share of partying, of kissing boys, and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Then I kissed a particular boy, fell in love, and married him. Then I became a mom. I was still writing, still reading, still learning. I had a few short stories published. Progress! But no, I wasn't a historian, and I wasn't a published novelist.
I decided to go to graduate school in 2000 - and I earned my MA in history. Then I started writing other things - history articles - and getting them published. I started finishing novels and sending them out to agents. I wrote a nonfiction book. I landed an agent. I got divorced. (I'm cramming a LOT of life into this paragraph because even though this is the Ridiculously Long Version you really don't need to read a So Ridiculously Long My Eyes Are Bleeding Version, do you? I think not.).
Throughout all those years, I kept writing. Writing wasn't just something I did - it was absolutely who I was. I was many things - wife, mother, stepmother, employee, friend, daughter, sister...but right behind those things was writer written in large, bold letters. It was inherent to my identity. I don't say that lightly or with the intention of impressing, but it's the truth: Melissa = writer. That's just the way it is.
Let's stop at about June of 2020. Yes, we were in a global pandemic. But for me, my personal life was going pretty darn well. I had a new boyfriend, and he was (and is) amazing. We were having a wonderful time together. I'd sold my house and my daughter and I had a fresh start living in an apartment. I was still writing my novels (OF COURSE I WAS), but the last novel I'd submitted to my agent was finished the year I got divorced, and it was a big, fat, bloated mess of feelings and dreck that needed a lot of work. But I had another Novel (I'm capitalizing it so you'll know which novel I mean! I didn't do that badly at Advanced Grammar) my agent had out on submission to editors. It got a lot of "yeah, I'll take a look" responses, but never any "I want to buy this!". So it sat on my hard drive. I loved this story, though, and desperately wanted to share it with the world, but I didn't want to self-publish.
But while on Twitter earlier in 2020, I noticed there was a one-day submission for historical fiction to Simon & Schuster UK for their new Digital Originals imprint. That day just happened to be my 45th birthday. After getting the okay from my agent, I decided to submit the Novel. In the meantime, I kept enjoying life, kept working on my current novel, kept trying to navigate a historic time in the world (a pandemic! That is HISTORIC, my friends).
A month went by. Simon & Schuster UK emailed me and said my Novel had made it past the first round. That earned a hearty "Huzzah!" from me (always use "Huzzah!" because it harkens back to the days of the American Revolution and makes you sound like badass patriots overthrowing tyranny).
And then...AND THEN...a month later, I got an email from an editor at Simon & Schuster UK. They wanted to PUBLISH MY NOVEL.
Did you hear that? Let me repeat it again.
THEY WANTED TO PUBLISH MY NOVEL.
For a 45 year old writer, who has wanted to be a published novelist since the SIXTH GRADE, it is incredibly hard, even for a writer, to describe how I felt upon reading those words.
Shocked. Ecstatic. Relieved. Excited. All of that and more.
My dream had finally come true. My debut novel, The Stranger From Berlin, a historical fiction novel set on the American homefront during World War II, will be released on August 10, 2021, from Simon & Schuster UK.
I DID IT. I AM A PUBLISHED NOVELIST.
My dear readers, if you have slogged through this massive missive, may I salute you? You deserve it!
Well. That is the story of how I became a writer, of how I never, ever stopped being a writer, of how being a writer has profoundly shaped my life.
Oh! And my fondness for history? It's managed to turn into a sort of career, as well. My second nonfiction book was released in October of 2020, and, the best news of all? I will begin my PhD in history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln this autumn. Someday, in the next 6-10 years (depending on how well I can work a full time job, continue to write novels for publication, pursue my PhD, AND manage to have a personal life), I will become a DOCTOR of HISTORY. Okay, that's not as cool as being The Doctor and carrying a multi-purpose screwdriver throughout time (is my geek showing?), but it's still Really Super Cool.
My name is Melissa Amateis, and I am a writer.