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The Courage to Change


Why would someone leave a successful career for an uncertain future as a writer? Three women who did that -- an advertising executive, a baker and a war correspondent -- would tell you, it was just something they felt they had to do. They teamed up for a book tour, signing copies of their novels and encouraging their audiences not to be afraid of trying something completely different.

When Daniela Kuper, Masha Hamilton and Judy Ryan Hendricks met at a writing seminar last year, they discovered they had similar backgrounds. Each of the novelists had begun writing in her 50's, quitting a job she'd enjoyed and been good at. Last fall, Ms. Kuper says, the three women set out together on a book tour. "This is very unusual for writers," Ms. Kuper says. "They do not always find each other and promote each other's work. As women, we wanted to do this. As people, we wanted to do this. And the common thread we found is a baker, a war journalist and an ad CEO, all walked into second lives as writers."

But Judy Hendricks says that writing is more than just a second career. "The three of us turned to writing to make sense of the worlds that we were inhabiting," she says.

War correspondent Masha Hamilton agrees. She says after years of covering news stories from conflict zones around the world, she needed to tell those stories as a novelist, rather than a journalist. In 2004, she went back to the Middle East and instead of being objective, she says, she tried to be emotionally involved with the people and events. "Many reporters and photojournalists consider themselves the pipe through which the story travels," Ms. Hamilton says. "But at that time, in order to sort of approach it as a novelist, I interviewed my fellow journalists. And I, really, also analyzed myself. I went back to the funerals, the tear gas, the bullets flying, and I tried to take a look at my feelings during that time."

While battlefields inspired Ms. Hamilton's novel, it was dough that led fifty-eight year old baker Judy Hendricks, to start writing. "Baking really showed me how making bread so reflects life, and relationships," she says. "Making bread is kind of a messy task. It is quite often unpredictable, just like writing a book. It's also like life, like raising children. For me, when you are working with dough, it's almost like when you defrag a computer, all the little bits and pieces of thoughts and emotions reorganize themselves into a coherent whole."

While Ms. Hendricks took several months to transition from bread to books, advertising executive Daniela Kuper says the urge to make a change hit her all of a sudden. "I was in a meeting, and I couldn't pay attention to what people were saying," she says. "I thought I was ill. I thought I had a cold and it would go away. Instead, it became an obsession, and I finally had to sell my advertising agency and start at the bottom rung and just learn to write pretty much in mid-life. People thought that was a crazy thing to do, but it was exactly the right thing."

Ms. Kuper says change is hard but never impossible. That's the message she and her friends stressed during their book tour. "We find that, especially women of a certain age, but all audiences are interested in what it takes to make a leap from one life to another, whether it's changing locations, changing careers, changing partners, but mainly, 'how can I find a bridge?' We tried to give them that."

And based on comments from their audiences, and sales of their books, they did. But Masha Hamilton says the tour also had a great impact on the three authors. "We have gone from really not knowing one another to fairly intimate knowledge of one another," she says. "We've just learned a lot about ourselves, about the whole writing process and connecting with readers through this tour. It has been surprisingly enjoyable."

While Ms. Kuper and Ms. Hendricks are now full-time novelists, Masha Hamilton hasn't given up her career as a journalist. "I'm still very interested in world news," she says. "I can't give that up. It brings me outside of myself and I grow in that way. Fiction brings me inside of myself and allows me to grow in that way. I can't leave fiction, either. It really has taught me so much, and I love molding the stories, and giving them more depth and more time and space than you can with journalism. I'd say it's a combination of both. I can't say I'm giving up journalism and going to fiction writing. I love both, for different reasons."

The three novelists say their tour together brought them a great sense of satisfaction because they were able to inspire others-- not only through their books, but by serving as an example that change is possible at any age.

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