In the winter of 1974, I answered an advertisement in a professional journal for a job as a speech pathologist in a center for cerebral palsied children in Thessaloniki, Greece. Desperate to leave behind the disappointment of a failed marriage, even though my newly found life as a single person had been buoyed by the burgeoning feminist movement, I took a leap.
My only previous connection to Greece was one meal in a Greek restaurant in Waco, Texas. The job description read “Greek language preferred but not required.” (There was no training for speech pathologists in Greece at that time.) I applied and was accepted for the position. Immediately, I set out to crack the code of the Greek language. And my life changed forever.
Unknown to me at that time, however, was the tense political situation in Greece. The seven-year dictatorship by the Greek colonels had recently ended, and Greece and neighboring Turkey were waging war over the island of Cyprus. As plans for my trip moved along, newspaper accounts of strident anti-Americanism began to appear. “Cameras were ripped from the necks of American tourists in the northern port city of Thessaloniki.” Thessaloniki? My destination for a new job had become a danger zone.
Either bravery or naivete or both prevailed, and I landed in Thessaloniki on September 24, 1974, and stayed for two years. Gradually, I learned the language, on which my job depended, made lasting friendships, fell in love with a handsome Communist student, and witnessed Greece’s ascent from the ashes to reclaim its birthright of democracy.
Writing stories of my experiences in Greece began almost as soon as I returned to my homeland, which I had come to see with much different eyes than when I had left. Bits and pieces of memories filled notebooks and were often the material of writing exercises in classes and writing groups for the ensuing decades.
Retirement in 2016 finally allowed the time and opportunity for fulfilling my dream of writing comprehensively of those years. Writing had always been a bridge to my subconscious, and I needed to know why those two years mattered more to me than any other time of my life.
When my parents’ home was sold a few years earlier, I’d found a treasure tucked away in my mother’s closet: a box of all the letters I’d ever written, from Girl Scout camp through college to my years in Greece. For my retirement writing practice, each day I’d close my eyes, dangle my fingers over the box, and pick a letter for my daily exercise. Then, something happened. Writing in the third person flowed more smoothly than first person; the planned memoir turned into a novel. Walking on Fire emerged.
On a spring vacation to our family home in Taos, New Mexico, in 2017, I met writing teacher Sean Murphy and enrolled in the nine-month course “Write to the Finish” taught by Sean and his wife Tania Casselle. Life, again, took an important turn. Under their tutelage and with the later ongoing writing critique group with Debora Seidman and Dianne Vonna, the almost-finished product came into being.
The final part of bringing my novel to life was being selected by the award-winning hybrid publishing company She Writes Press for inclusion in their spring/summer 2023 cohort. With the guidance of the She Writes Press staff, Walking on Fire: A Novel found its way into print, onto bookshelves, and into the online world.
I have heart-filled gratitude to all who have brought me along this path.