We had the good fortune of connecting with Merrill Joan Gerber and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Merrill Joan, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Deciding to become a writer happens before one has the maturity or awareness to know what the risk might be. This is true in all of the art forms–a desire to create, to paint, to compose, to dance, to perform, happens to the artist at an early age, often in childhood. By the time you are able to plan a professional life in a certain field, take lessons, enter a university or school to advance your skills you are already committed to the life that will make you who you want to be.
I published my first poem in “The Writer” magazine when I was eighteen. I published my first book of short stories, Stop Here, My Friend, when I was twenty-seven. I have since published a total of thirty books, including novels, short stories, memoirs, and young adult novels. I have taught writing for 32 years in a university. I have won some prizes. My papers are now at Yale Rare Books library and I am still wondering if what I am writing now will work out. Risk is the story of our lives…it is in every breath we take. Let us revel in it.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I became a writer at a very early age–always wanting to express to others the nature of important moments I’d experienced–as if they became more significant once they were told as stories to others. A simple question to me as a child like,” How was the birthday party you went to?” would elicit long explanations from me, including detailed descriptions of which little kid I liked the best and why, what kind of icing the birthday cupcakes had, and which presents I hoped I would get at MY forthcoming birthday party. If I was sad at the party, however, I’d keep it to myself. I’d write about it later, when I grew up.
I began submitting my own writing to magazines while very young. One of my stories won a contest from Seventeen Magazine which sent me a sterling silver “17” necklace for a story I’d written at age thirteen about my first date with a neighborhood boy.
I experienced rejections very early, and it seemed I was always waiting for “news.” The delivery of mail was the high (or low) point of my day for many years. When a story, poem or novel was accepted for publication, I was joyful for a few hours, but then returned to my desk to work on my current story or poem or novel.
Of course these days good news or bad comes via email, and the clack of my typewriter keys has vanished with the advent of the computer.
Persistence became my way of being– year after year I submitted my stories and novels to dozens of publications, never giving up. I have now had the great good fortune to publish thirty of my books, and hundreds of my short stories.
An artist knows there are no guarantees…and doesn’t expect any. Do the work. Read great books, and write every day. Cherish your own vision and express it.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I have lived in the same house for fifty-four years in the same little town in the shadow of the San Gabriel mountains. Now that I am eighty-four years old, I’d be most likely to sit with my friends on the patio in front of our house, or walk with them to the park a block away, or to the beautiful old Pioneer Cemetery overlooking a pool and a playground where children swim and play. If it were springtime, I’d take them to see the magnificent Wistaria Vine for which the city of Sierra Madre is famous.
Most of all, if my best friend were visiting, she and I would talk about all the stories we exchanged over the years, how our dreams may have materialized (or vanished), and what pleasure a long friendship can be,
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
To my mother who taught me to rhyme, play with words, and gave me “Romeo and Juliet” to read at age 13,
To my father, who informed me that “the best things in life are free,” and took me crunching through the fall leaves on our Brooklyn street,
To my two great writing teachers, Andrew Lytle, at the University of Florida and Wallace Stegner, in the Stanford University Writing Program,
And to my husband and daughters who gave me space to work and understood that the sound of my typewriter keys clicking away was always music to my ears (if not to theirs).
Instagram: Merrill Gerber
Other: Please see descriptions of my published books on Amazon, or read the Wikipedia account under my name.
Merrill Joan Gerber