All Roads Lead to This One

This is exactly where you’re supposed to be.

This quote is posted on the wall next to my bed. Long ago I gave up trying to think about what if’s, because that usually what if’ed my kids out of existence. And while I’m thrilled to get them out of the house for the day, I still like them home by bedtime.


So instead, I’m going to talk about the many paths I’ve already chosen, and how they’ve converged so perfectly, leading me to this moment, writing for you on The Debutante Ball.


Over my adult life, I’ve been fortunate to have been able to try on some very different careers. Graphic designer. Athletic fundraiser. Teacher. And now, writer. I feel like each one added something to who I am, and to who I’m still becoming.


My years in graphic design gave me the skills to be able to offer an honest critique to others, without destroying their soul. In turn, I learned how to absorb critique of my own work, and can hear the parts that sing to me, while discarding the parts that don’t. Graphic design also (to my publisher’s dismay when designing my cover) gave me an eye for color, layout, and design. My art background helped me to clearly verbalize why something wasn’t working, and how I envisioned they could fix it so that it would. Even though I abandoned design, design has not abandoned me.


My years as a fundraiser for the Cal Athletic Department taught me how to come up with creative ways to ask potential donors to part with their money. We’d have luncheons on golf courses, hold events in “players-only” areas, where we’d serve them catered food and lots of alcohol. We gave them access to star players on the football and basketball teams. All of that prepared me for that initial gulp of fear I feel as I prepare myself to approach established authors and ask them to read my book and blurb it. And unlike my fundraising days, I have nothing to offer in return other than my deepest appreciation.


Teaching has allowed me to deconstruct hundreds of books alongside my students, studying characters—what we love and what we hate about them. So many times, I’ve been struck by how an author has written a scene, and instead of blowing by it because I want to get to the end, I remember that my job is to grow emerging readers into master readers. So we stop, and take it apart, talk about it, and write about it. More than once, I’ve left school with my own scattered notes shoved into my bag, to apply to my own writing later. It almost feels like cheating, to be learning so much about my own craft alongside my students. But I think it’s made all of us deeper thinkers, and without exception, I have a classroom of twenty-eight passionate readers. Too bad I don’t write middle grade.


This is why I don’t believe in the path not taken. There are multiple paths in any lifetime, and it’s up to you which ones you choose, or how long you want to spend there. I don’t plan on quitting teaching any time soon. I know, after many years, exactly how to write alongside my day job. Perhaps, after I retire, something else will come along. That’s the fun thing about life. There is no straight road anywhere, and it’s easier than you think to change it up.

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Born and raised in Santa Monica, California, Julie Clark grew up reading books on the beach while everyone else surfed. After attending college at University of the Pacific, and a brief stint working in the athletic department at University of California, Berkeley, she returned home to Santa Monica to teach. She now lives there with her two young sons and a golden doodle with poor impulse control. Her debut, THE ONES WE CHOOSE, will be published by Gallery/Simon & Schuster in May 2018.

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