Diane Meier

Diane Meier

Welcome to Diane’s Blog!

I’ll use this spot to chart what I enjoy and endorse, as we attempt to live a life of style in a culture of business and writing and art. And I hope you join me; share your own stories, insights and ideas about living a creatively expressive life.

Acade-media. Write What you Know.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Write what you know. Isn’t that the author’s golden rule? And yet, here I am, in The Season of Second Chances, writing about an academic, her work, her disciplines and her life on campus. It’s nothing like my life—which clearly has been more Mad Men than Little Men.  And yet, I knew that university life would give me the kind of frame needed for readers to understand the nature of my characters, with as gentle a ramp as possible.  Let me try to explain.


In The Season of Second Chances I wanted to place characters in an environment of achievement that would be familiar to most readers. University life allowed me to do this.

Even more important than the idea of a place where small town life and work would intersect, our protagonist, Joy Harkness, had to have a career most readers would be able to judge and assess. I needed Joy to have obvious authority; and pretty early in the game, I needed the reader to determine that Joy was an unreliable witness to her own life, by catching on to the fact that she was far more considerable and highly regarded in her field than she suggested.  Academe gave me that chance.  We all know early in the book, when she’s addressed as Dr. Harkness, that she has her PhD. From the first pages we see that she’s a published poet and biographer. And we know that one of America’s recognized leaders of academic thought has recruited Joy to Amherst. Because of our own college experience and its importance in our society, these kinds of academic hints are culturally ingrained in ways we couldn’t count on in another industry. Would you be able to judge the levels of status in the field of bio-engineering by such small hints?  I wouldn’t.

And why didn’t I place Joy in my world of media and marketing?  Because, unlike a life in advertising or fashion or communications, Joy had to be able to thrive in an environment where a lack of distinctive style might not be held against her. In contrast, I’ve found that style (and the consumerism that surrounds it), might be distrusted by academe, if not held in contempt.  While Joy’s direction to a life of stylish self-expression does not come easily, I was aware that the women who become her mentors had to be beyond reproach in terms of their academic standing.

The scholastic world gave me a rare example of successful women who are not of a mold designed, quite specifically, to appeal to men; though appeal to men they might. They are, for the most part, sharp-tongued and sharp-witted. The best of them do not tolerate fools. They may be nurturing and devoted to their students, but they are also deeply connected to their work, their achievements and their own reputations.  They think about the future of their college and of the futures of the young people they teach. We don’t often see this kind of even-handed balance in the business world. Academic life was a rich mine to me.

And perhaps as a last point, the idea of a teacher who could not nurture, who could not, in a field that is all about development, embrace her own growth, who would only face a life of intensity and passion on the pages of her beloved books; this interested me. Academic life allowed me to present this very complex character because of those wonderful, ironic, rich conflicts. What fun.

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