About Joan H. Parks

A Short Biography in My Own Words

I have not lived my life according to a conscious plan. Any plan became apparent only long after the events. I don't know the plot of a story until the characters have lived it. Then I write it down for them.

My path was customary for those of my vintage. Upon graduation from college I married and immediately had children, followed a husband around the country, listened to the feminists, lived through the tumult of the 60's and 70's, suffered through the breakup of my marriage, scrambled to find a profession and once I found it, reveled in meaningful work. Along the way I rediscovered the joys of an intellectual life and then following a deep underground yearning that I had ignored for many years, began to write scenes, starting with a pen and yellow pad of paper and eventually graduating to putting them on a computer.

Led by a dream, and prodded by an obligation to preserve my mother's family for my children, I followed my memories, scene by scene, and then year after year, until I finished 32 Linden Avenue. I finally published it many years after its completion, because I was nervous that it would be the victim of a hard disk crash and I would have to retype it. Some people clean out closets, I clean out my computer files.

"When I get out of my characters' way, they speak to me again."

I started writing what evolved into Thutmose, after leaving the exhibit "Pharaohs of the Sun." The image of the artist, Thutmose, witnessing the destruction of the beauty he created during the short reign of the heretic Pharaoh Akhneaten haunted me. I started the extended narrative and stopped about three years later, thinking that if I messed with it anymore, I would ruin it.

The era when I could work all day and then use spare moments writing was coming to a close. I knew I needed more time for my writing. I retired from science and scaled down my work schedule to one day a week. Retired from what, you ask? Look on PubMed under Parks and Coe and you will see how I spent an immensely fulfilling 35 years. Designing data bases, talking to patients, analyzing data, keeping data organized and consistent: it was hard to explain what I did, for I did so much. Writing - the clinical papers adhere to a rigid form, grants adhere to a rigid form, patient reports adhere to a rigid form. I know about rigid forms. Fiction has its own forms, as I am still learning.

The Book Club Chronicles, Part 1, started as an experimental piece. I needed technique and practice writing. I chose contemporary women who lived in a university community - the old "write what you know", as I remain a card-carrying female and academic.

"I'm interested in artists and how they make their art and survive in the world."

Invited to join a novel-writing group, I never looked back. In my mind, I had changed from being a scientist to being a writer. When I had enough to publish, or I could not stand to work one more minute on it, I published. I am a recovering MBA and can analyze trends as well as anyone. An older, female author who writes short novels or novellas of an unusual character did not seem a hot prospect for a disintegrating publishing industry. If the choice of spending my time was between writing more books or trying to get an agent, a publisher, get published and market myself and the books, I knew the pleasure would come from the writing. So, I chose to self-publish. Haven't regretted it.

One book finished and published, it was time to return to Thutmose. I knew what I was doing and I finished it. As I needed more characters, they appeared, beckoned to me to listen to them and put them on the page. I did. The plot arose from the characters and the times, and caused me no problems. Murder and violence caused me no problems. The characters did not go silent and sullen on me, which happens when I displease them or want them to adhere to my ideas. When I get out of their way, they speak to me again, which is a relief.

I found my time period by following the art I responded to. It is not just I who am drawn to the art work of the time of the heretic pharaoh - think the Nefertiti bust. The late Bronze age is ideal for my purposes because the archeological record is scant and confusing. My stories use what little is known and I am free to make up a family and events without a historical record to say 'nay' to me. I'm interested in artists and how they make their art and survive in the world. These stories are also about a clan that consists of the cherished artists (male and female), the traders who sell their works and the warriors who protect both. In exploring how the clan was held together, I explored how culture is passed down generation by generation: in this pre-literate time - by stories and the needs of survival. Families are held together even today by shared stories.

Two fiction books published, now what? I realized that I was not done with the characters or the themes I discovered as I wrote. I alternated late bronze age stories with contemporary stories and kept going.

Joan's Achievements

  • University of Rochester, BS, 1959

  • University of Chicago, MBA, 1981

  • Administrator, Kidney Stone Evaluation Laboratory, University of Chicago until 2009

  • Research Associate (Assistant Professor), University of Chicago

  • NIH funded scientist for many years

The book club stories talk about contemporary issues that have to do with death of loved ones, the joys and traps of retirement, medical problems, love stories, the adjustments of long marriages, the making of new partnerships and the convolutions of such. The themes mostly belong to the ages of the characters and their living in an intensely intellectual urban setting. I can use the vocabulary and literary references of urban sophisticated women, which are different from the vocabulary and references which I use in the late Bronze age stories. The framing device is of the book club, which in the first two books reads The Tale of Genji, which I did study in a book club. The characters bring to the table their divergent viewpoints which are exposed as they study the work of art.

I continue to write. Being a lark, I write in the mornings, and fade as the hours go by. Chicago continues to be my home, Hyde Park my neighborhood. I live across the street from a park, so I have the luxury of trees and grass nearby. With a group of friends, I read poetry weekly at my kitchen table during the school year. I go to work. I listen to music, Willie Nelson is a favorite. Those of my children who live in the Chicago area go to Shakespeare with me as well as the Joffrey Ballet. Life is good, even without a conscious plan.

-- Joan H. Parks, Chicago, August 2014

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