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Meet Francie Arenson Dickman, Author and Essayist in Northern Suburbs (Highland Park)

Today we’d like to introduce you to Francie Arenson Dickman.

Francie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I started writing creatively after law school. I was single and living alone in the city. I’d spend evenings on my couch writing in a journal about my work (I was an Assistant Attorney General. At the AG’s office, much of my job was defending the State of Illinois against lawsuits brought by State prisoners.) and my horrible blind dates. It wasn’t glamorous, but as Molly Daniels, one of my first writing instructors once said, “What’s bad in life is good on the page.” She was right, my journal entries were funny. Writing helped me stay sane, I could laugh. I got the idea to use my journal entries for material for a blind date coffee table book. Then, I began to leave my law practice at night to take creative writing classes at Northwestern and University of Chicago.

Eventually — almost a decade later — I quit practicing law and started my own freelance writing business so I could have more time to write creatively. I was newly married. I’d get up at 4:30 in the morning to do my own writing before I did the boring stuff. I have a first novel that is in a drawer from those days. When my kids were born in 2001, I joined a writing group and started what is now Chuckerman Make a Movie. It was a slow go. I had twins and a husband who traveled Monday-Thursday (don’t marry a consultant), so it was not an ideal writing situation. But, as most writers will tell you, there really are no ideal writing situations.

It took me a decade to write Chuckerman, and then it took me several years to figure out what to do with it. I had an agent who would take it if I cut it down to 90,000 words, which I was not willing to do.

So, while I was editing my novel and searching around for a way to publish it, I started to write personal essays about motherhood, my kids, my daily life. My first essay was published in a literary magazine called The Examined Life. Others ran in the Chicago Tribune and Literary Mama. This type of essay writing eventually led to a job as a regular monthly contributor to Brain Child Magazine, which led to Motherwell Magazine, the MOTH, Listen to Your Mother, and most recently, my TEDX Chicago talk. Most importantly, it was from a fellow essayist that I learned about SheWrites Press, which accepted my book for publication.

Writing of the novel aside, the path to the publication itself was circuitous. In the moment, I might have called it frustrating, hopeless seeming, even.  But with the benefit of hindsight, I see that the time between finishing Chuckerman and finding SheWrites was the most valuable part of my writing career. The essay aspect of my writing would have never otherwise happened. And it was the essays that led to everything else. It also gave me a (mini) fan base, social media experience, writing contracts, and confidence in myself as a writer that I would have never otherwise had. Sometimes life doesn’t give you what you want, it gives you what you need. A realization that only becomes apparent looking backward.

Has it been a smooth road?
I think the struggle is inherent in the writer’s life…at least this writer. Maybe your struggling with carving out time to write. Or with not knowing what you want to write about. Or with thinking that what you stink and no one will ever want to read what you wrote. Or by simply figuring out how to do it.

Chuckerman Makes a Movie is a story within a story. The present-day story of the main character, David Melman, which is set in New York, is interwoven with a screenplay David is writing about a visit to his grandparents’ Miami Beach condominium in 1977.

Whereas the setting for the Florida story is real and the characters are amalgams of real people, the present day story is totally made up. Figuring out the present day story of David and Laurel took me an incredible amount of time. I had to do research — I knew nothing about New York, I made a few visits, I took the drive from the upper west side to the Brooklyn Bridge. I found the garage David’s Cadillac is parked at, etc. I studied screenwriting books, watched videos, watched Schindler’s List and Saturday Night Fever over and over. Figuring out that story, those characters and how it paralleled or tied together with the Florida story was a horrendous process. If I didn’t love most of my characters and have the encouragement of my writing group–the Wesley Writers Group led by authors Steve and Sharon Fiffer of Evanston–I’m not sure I’d have made it.

I love to write, it’s part of who I am, and I always believed I could write a book. That said, if you told me when I was 25 and just starting out that it would take me another 25 years to accomplish my goal… oh my f’ing god. If you ever want a lesson on learning to appreciate the journey rather than the destination, become a writer. Although no one ever said it would be easy. If it was easy, I suppose everyone would be an author.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Author, Essayist story. Tell us more about the business.
Along the way, my readers have said things to me like, “Thank you for giving a voice to my own feelings.” Or “You have a way of saying what we all are thinking.” Or “Your pieces make me laugh.” This — touching others — is the best part of writing and the aspect that makes me most proud.

I think my writing is distinguished by my ability to combine insight and more serious commentary with humor.

What quality is most important to your success or business? Self-discipline. Writing a novel — writing anything, actually — is a marathon, not a sprint. Showing up every day to your desk, pen (or computer) in hand, is hard to do. At times, it can feel lonely. At times, it can feel like a silly waste of time, pouring so much time and energy into projects when there are absolutely no guaranteed outcomes. At times, it can feel literally impossible because you just can’t figure out how to make your story work or the words just don’t come. So, it’s really easy to find excuses to not show up — I have real work to do. I should really exercise instead. I have to do laundry. So, you need to be committed, you need to really want to succeed and you need to make yourself write. You can have writing talent, but the ability is useless if you don’t show up.

Pricing:

  • Chuckerman Makes a Movie –paperback $16.95
  • Chuckerman Makes a Movie–ebook $9.95

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Julie Kaplan Photography

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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