Something Other Than Bits and Bytes By Rickey Marks

I have been writing all my life, for as long as I can remember.  When I was a little kid, I used to write stories about various things.  The thing that stick in my mind is that I wrote a story about my “imaginary friend.”  His name was “Wolfie,” and he lived in our washing machine.  Now that you all know I’m completely nuts, let me continue – I come from a long line of writers.  One example is my grandfather, who emigrated to this country from Romania in 1899 at the age of eighteen.  In his long career, he actually wrote and published two books – in English, his second language.  One was a college text book called Credit and Commercial Paper, a Review of the Acceptance System in the United States, in England, and in France; and the other was a novel I’m proud to have on my own bookshelf, called The Rise and Fall of Rogoff, a story about corporate greed and retribution (sound topical for today? Well, you’re right, it is, even though the publication date is 1928!)  When I read it a few years ago, I couldn’t believe how it still holds up to this day, and it has been my inspiration for a long time.

In college at Sarah Lawrence, I was bound and determined to spend my life writing.  I studied with the late Professor Joseph Papaleo, another inspiration.  As all of us undergraduate women, in a transitional age, struggled with self doubt and deprecation, he always went by the mantra, “When you doubt yourself, tell yourself you are actually…” wait for it… “Dostoyevsky!”  In the forty-five years since I graduated from Sarah Lawrence, I have never once forgotten that, and whenever I start to doubt my ability to write something that others might like to read, I let that Joe Papaleo’s script play in my head for as long as it takes.  And then I continue writing.

After college, I put my writing aside for a “few” years, while I got married (twice), raised six kids (only two biological ones, thank heaven), worked full time, and went back first to law school and then to business school for an MBA. But in the back of my mind, I knew I had at least one novel in me, as my grandfather had, and I knew that before I left this earth my passion was to write it and to get it published.

About ten years ago, I was lucky enough to be working with a group of technical writers, several of whom had aspirations to write about something other than “bits and bytes.”  We formed a once-a-week lunchtime writing group and we practiced flash writing and gave each other some necessary support.  It was then that I started writing again in earnest, and I took a summer writing intensive class at Sarah Lawrence about five years ago with Myla Goldberg (during which I was lucky to have Jimin Han read something and give me great encouragement to go on with it) thinking I was writing a series of short stories. Through this experience I became convinced that I was actually writing a novel – those stories needed each other to “hang together” sequentially.  And thus, Mall Walkers was born.  I finished that novel, but I was never sure what to do with it, whether it was worthy of pushing through to publication.

Then, last fall semester, I decided to bite the bullet and take a semester Novel Writing course at Sarah Lawrence.  I had an idea in my head, and the idea was simply one character, a virtuoso cellist born in the Belgian city of Liege.  I studied cello from the fourth grade through college, and my teacher was a cellist who had been born in Liege and always spoke about it with great awe and reverence.  That’s all I knew.  I had no idea what this character would do – until I started writing the book, and then he just took off, and before I knew it, I was following him, just acting as the scribe.  As odd as that sounds (and I have already admitted I’m nuts) it is the honest truth.  This character led me down an incredible path of love, violence, destruction, guilt, and amazing retribution.  By the time the semester was over, I had basically finished my first draft of the novel.  I spent another semester working on my book – editing, rewriting, taking feedback from a group of incredible people in the Advanced Novel Writing workshop at Sarah Lawrence, and finally getting to the point where I felt ready to try to get it published, which I am working on now.

At the same time, I am writing another novel, one that emanated from a writing exercise that Jimin gave our class, and one that has spawned a very interesting new project for me and that I’m enjoying tremendously.  Oddly enough, I have several ideas percolating about the one I’ll write after this one – really, if you’re counting, my fourth novel!

So, in a nutshell, that’s why I write.  I’m the poster child for saying “It’s never too late,” and I hope that my experience can give others who might feel they have missed their window of opportunity the determination to push on.  No matter what, I will always know I finished my novel, and another one, and hopefully another one, and that I do it because it’s my passion, and for no other reason than that.


After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, Rickey put her writing aspirations on hold for to get married and to work as a computer programmer. She learned quickly that it wasn’t the occupation of her dreams and morphed into a technical writer. She got a law degree and then an MBA, raised her two kids and four step kids, and carved out a successful longterm career as a Software Technical Writer, with several awards from the Society for Technical Documentation. After her kids had grown and left the nest, she started feeding her other passion: dogs. She fell in love with Belgian sheepdogs, and got her first Belgian Tervuren, Flash, in 1998. Her most passionate desires now are: 1) to get her writing published, and 2) to show her dog at the Westminster Kennel Club.

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4 thoughts on “Something Other Than Bits and Bytes By Rickey Marks

  1. What an inspiring story Rickey! So many people go about their every day lives without giving much thought to what they are truly passionate about. These often dormant talents are usually what can bring us great joy if we find the time to foster them. Thanks for using this piece to remind us all to go for it because it’s never too late! You are a very talented writer and I am confident that you will get that novel published!

  2. I really enjoyed reading your piece, Rickey. Your voice is upbeat and smart, just like you. Thanks for letting us know more about the person who enlivens our writing circle.

  3. A passion indeed (that makes me feel like an impostor). You are a natural storyteller, Rickey. I can’t wait for more of your intrepid and deeply felt stories. I would like to see the Irish cop story published as a serial; with the first three chapters you have me on the edge of my seat. (In my lexicon, Rickey, ‘nuts’ rules.)

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