Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, with a question. Have you ever looked back on your life and realized how different things might have been if, at a certain point in time, you had made a different choice about your future? For me, that defining moment was almost exactly fifty years ago.
In the fall of 1973, when my husband’s four years in the Navy were almost up, we had to decide what to do next. We’d been lucky. It was the Vietnam era, but he’d been stationed almost the entire time in Virginia Beach, Virginia, giving me the opportunity to earn my MA in English from Old Dominion University in nearby Norfolk. After that, I worked as adjunct faculty at Tidewater Community College, ending up at the Virginia Beach campus, at that time housed in eleven barracks at the Camp Pendleton National Guard facility until the permanent college could be built. I had a full load of classes in speech and drama (my second major as an undergraduate). I loved that job, and I had many friends among the faculty, staff, and students. We’d made more friends through the Little Theater of Virginia Beach and the Norfolk Savoyards. Our Navy friends were likely to leave the service of be transferred elsewhere, but others were permanently fixed in the area.
So, we had a decision to make. Go home to Maine, where we had no clear idea what the job market would be, or stay on where we were. In the end, the decision wasn’t that hard. We came home. The first few years were rough—jobs were scarce and we had to live with my in-laws for far longer than was comfortable—but eventually things settled down. We reconnected with old friends and made new ones. I finally wrote the novel I’d been thinking about for years, and then wrote a whole lot more. There might be a few things I’d do differently, but not many.
And yet, on occasion, I can’t help wondering. If we’d stayed in Virginia, would I still have buckled down and written that first novel? Or would I have been too busy teaching, working backstage on assorted productions, and hanging out with friends? Would I have heard about Malice Domestic, in nearby Bethesda, Maryland, and attended the early conferences, if not as a writer, then as a reader? What career would my husband have found? He’d been trained as an aviation electrician’s mate. His BA was in sociology. He ended up in law enforcement in Maine. In Virginia? Who knows?
I do know where we’d have chosen to look for a house or apartment. We were used to cities by 1973, thanks to living in Norfolk and commuting to the pricier Virginia Beach, but we both grew up in small towns. Just south of Virginia Beach is an area called Pungo. We had theater friends who lived there and it struck us as comfortably rural. A web search tells me it is still an agricultural community, although it is part of the city of Virginia Beach, but housing is a lot more expensive than it is in Maine.
In retrospect we were wise to return to Maine. We ended up on twenty-five wooded acres on the outskirts of a small town. We’re both retired. We’re both writing, and he has his own woodworking shop built onto the garage. I can pinpoint the road not taken, but I have no regrets about going the other way.
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. In 2023 she won the Lea Wait Award for “excellence and achievement” from the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. She is currently working on creating new omnibus e-book editions of her backlist titles. Her website is www.KathyLynnEmerson.com.