Writing and Your Day Job with Jeannie Mobley-Tanaka

Today I’m hosting my talented friend and agency mate, Jeannie Mobley-Tanaka, who’s debut middle grade novel KATERINA’S WISH has not one, not two but THREE starred reviews. 

As if that wasn’t over-achievement enough, Jeannie is a renowned interpretive dancer (click for video) and a celebrated Anthropology/Archeology professor. 

While Jeannie admits her “three” careers are now her “quarreling, loving, rivaling children” find out how they “feed each other.”

And then check out her other cyber-stops and website to find out more about her acclaimed KATERINA’S WISH.

Now heeeeeeere’s Jeannie!

By Day, a Humble Archaeologist….
I’ve been asked a number of times how my day job connects to my writing career, and I’ve been working on a short answer for that question, so as not to be the bore at the party who just won’t shut up. But it is a complicated answer. So, when Jean Reidy suggested it as a topic to guest blog about on her Totally Random Romp blog, I thought, “Perfect! I can be that big bore at Jean’s party and most of my friends won’t disown me!”
Not that the answer to the question is necessarily a boring one. I think it’s pretty interesting, in fact. It’s just complicated.
I think all writers have connections between their day jobs and their writing. And I say jobs, because we all have more than one. We are wives, husbands, parents, siblings, chauffeurs for kids, councilors when things are tough for friends and family, and on and on.  All of that goes into our writing–we can’t help it. Writers of fiction are like lenses that take in all the scattered light of our lives and focus it onto the page in the form of character and plot. So of course, the day job matters.

My day job, at least the one that I get paid for, is as an anthropologist, or more specifically, an archaeologist. That causes some confusion, so let me clarify. Anthropology is the broad study of humankind. Archaeology is the study more specifically of the human past. In my case, the past of the cultures living in the American Southwest, especially in the area around Mesa Verde. Yep, that’s right. I’m Indiana Jones. Only I’m in Colorado.
I decided to be an archaeologist in the 4th grade, when my curiosity about past lives exploded into the flame of passion on a summer vacation to Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Ruins were everywhere in quiet canyons, seemingly untouched by time. And as I discussed a few weeks ago on Kissing the Earth, those kinds of environments talk to me. The infusion of people’s story into quiet natural places is irresistible to me. I was pulled into a need to know about those past lives, to rediscover those stories. Archaeology was the career path for me!
Of course, I was already writing in those days too. In fourth grade I joined the Young Writers Club at my grade school, and I wrote my first “novel” in 6th grade (a historical story that I dreamed up while traveling by car to Alaska that summer.) So archaeology and writing come from the same place from the beginning–a craving to unearth the stories of past lives. And Lord knows, both are careers I am driven toward by my own passions, not by a desire to get rich quick! (or at all.)
One of my dissatisfactions with archaeology, has been academic writing. I have over twenty peer-reviewed, academic articles out there in the world, so I’ve played that game, but my frustration has been the passionless way archaeology is written and conveyed in the professional world. Of course, I understand the need for that in science. But sometimes I think we forget that we are all in the field because we have a passion for it, and that the general public is interested in what we learn too. Too often we make it dull and inaccessible in the way we write about it.
This is what brought me back to writing fiction. My attempts to become a serious fiction writer began when I was in graduate school, in a difficult, competitive program at Arizona State University, and a dry article in a graduate seminar re-awakened my passion for ancient craftspeople. A story premise popped into my head and DEMANDED to be written. I compromised my grade in the class writing it, instead of giving my undivided attention to my coursework.
Ever since then (and that was about 13 years ago), the day job and the writing have been both intertwined and competing for my attention. For a long time this caused me a lot of gut-wrenching guilt. I had thrown everything into my career in archaeology, and there I was, getting distracted right as I finished my PhD.  People had told me I was expected to be the Next Big Thing in my field, and I knew I was disappointing them all if I was writing novels in my summer time instead of going to the field and talking the talk with my jargon-loving colleagues in archaeology.  But at the same time, all that jargony talk and one-upmanship that was so often the experience at conferences was killing my joy in archaeology, a joy that writing fiction and being with fiction-writing colleagues poured back into me. Not knowing what else to do, I bumbled along, trying to do both, and hoping a grand success in one or the other field would show me the way.
And so here I am today, still doing both, with modest successes here and there, still waiting for that Sign from Above.  Currently, I teach 4-field anthropology at a small college (meaning I teach not only archaeology, but also cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, and a tiny bit of linguistic anthropology). From September through May I am mostly an anthropologist and teacher, with stories churning in my mind. But I have my summers off. And those stories explode onto paper in those months, or else pull me out into the field to record the archaeological sites where those stories took place.
My professions feed each other, and steal from each other. I used to feel guilty about the stealing part, but I’ve come to live with it, and I move forward with no real plan, trusting that whatever is meant to happen is going to happen, and I am along for the ride. My two careers are now my quarreling, loving, rivaling children, and I mediate them the best I can, and love them both, despite their quirks and foibles.
Link to my book’s page at S&S:
My website:

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