Name: Carol Ayer
College & Majors/Minors: UC Berkeley, B.A. in English
Current Location: Northern California
Current Form of Employment: Technical Writer and Freelance Writer
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I've worked on and off for the last 25 years for a company that produces travel-training software. I'm currently telecommuting for the company part-time. My title is Technical Writer, although I spend more time on editing and proofreading than on writing. Also, a lot of my job is ensuring that the program is working correctly. I work on lessons, quizzes, tests, and workbooks (the latter is in physical form; everything else is online).
I also work as a freelance writer. I've sold poems, personal essays, and fiction to magazines and ezines. A small epublisher published my romance novella in 2009, but I have since gotten the rights back and have self-published the book on Kindle. I'm currently working on a cozy mystery, which I hope will become the first in a series.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job.
Well, I have to confess that my technical writing job is with my brother's company. So I didn't have to take any tests and I didn't have to interview! (I'd like to think that I was hired partly because of my English degree). My first job after college was not a writing job at all. I worked at a storybook park called Children's Fairyland. I was going to be a teacher, and I needed a summer job before I started student teaching, so I applied to Fairyland. I ended up not becoming a teacher after all, and stayed at Fairyland for several years. Although I didn't use my English degree, I later found my time there to be quite fruitful. Many of my short stories and books are set at a storybook park.
What's a storybook park?
Storybook parks are rather rare these days. They're also called fairytale parks, and were the precursors to theme parks. Walt Disney actually visited Fairyland before he built Disneyland. In the 50s, there were a number of them around the country. They aren't as popular anymore, what with the proliferation of theme parks, but there are still 10 or so left.
They are built around works of children's literature. So any given storybook park might have sets based on Alice in Wonderland, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Three Little Pigs, The Owl and the Pussycat, etc. Live animals are often part of the sets. At Fairyland, we had goats (Three Billy Goats Gruff) and pigs (Three Little Pigs), for example. Usually there are a couple of small rides, too, such as merry-go-rounds or Ferris wheels.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
I worked at a local newspaper part-time during my college years. The job consisted mostly of proofreading and filing. I was working on the day that Reagan was shot. The newsroom went crazy. It was scary but exciting, and fueled my desire to work in journalism. I later realized that I was way too shy to be a reporter. I also work much better on my own.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
As just noted, I was interested in journalism for a time. I wrote a freelance article for the Daily Cal, but that's it. I wish I had done more with creative writing during that time.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
My problem was that I didn't think I could make a living as a writer, which is what I'd wanted to be since I was a child. So I thought that journalism would be a good fit for me. When I realized otherwise, I flailed around quite a bit. It was suggested to me that I could become a teacher, but that wasn't right for me, either. I wish I had just overcome my practical side and attempted to write way back when. Thirty years after getting my English degree, I'm finally doing what I'd always dreamed of— writing. So my advice would be to follow that dream if that's why you've chosen English. Being a writer is difficult in many ways--not least of which, it *is* hard to earn a living at it--but it's the best job in the world. My other job satisfies my urge to catch spelling mistakes and typos, which I would guess is pretty typical of those of us who majored in English. If you're like that, too, I would suggest looking for an editor position of some sort. Actually, *any* company should be happy to have someone who is good at writing and who uses grammar correctly and knows how to spell.