My Life in 1,000 Words 19

Maureen Kay on swing.

Swinging to celebrate the completion of my novel.

I have been fortunate to study creative writing from Cheryl Strayed, Hallie Ephron, David Guterson, Suzy Vitello, Stratis Haviaras, Michael Martone, Pamela Painter, Larry Brooks, and Jessica Morrell. Harvard Extension courses provided a foundation in creative writing and literature while I lived in Boston. Pacific Northwest Writers Association (based in the Seattle area) and Willamette Writers (based in Portland, Oregon) support me as a writer by connecting me to others on this same strange quest to engage in meaningful expression through story.

After a couple short stories received recognition in writing contests, I began working on a novel, which I finished recently. Fracture is upmarket commercial fiction, and has elements of psychological thriller and romantic suspense.


Maureen Kay as child

This might have been after I began trimming my bangs myself.

The best strategy for growing up in my family was to develop a quick exit plan. For a while mine was to drop out of high school to scrape up a living operating a traveling puppet theater. My more sensible sister convinced me to accelerate graduation by taking as many credits as I could, so I could move in with her.

Maureen Kay, author

I earned my share of our Berkeley rent by cleaning houses five full days a week, taking a bus or two each way. My boyfriend, a public school teacher, moved in with us without asking, and without paying any rent. At the end of the summer, he smiled while he explained how he’d accomplished this. He’d regularly returned to his apartment in another city with an empty suitcase, and returned the next day with a full suitcase.

Half again my age of sixteen, he was a predator who I’d formally addressed as “Mister” and his last name the school year before. (More recently, his callous, manipulative personality helped me develop one of the characters in my novel, but it was painful to immerse myself in the memories.)

Government financial aid made college possible. The Community Studies major attracted me to the University of California, Santa Cruz because it provided learning through action in the community. Maureen Kay, authorI operated a child care program for the Santa Cruz Women’s Health Collective, and wrote The Politics of Child Care for my senior thesis. Women Studies was my second major, with my culminating project co-teaching “Feminism, Politics, and Culture,” and organizing a lecture series of guest artists as part of the university course.

Starting during my college years, four siblings took the lead to raise younger ones–as young as six years old–in their homes. Within a few years our father died, and we began healing the relationship with our mother. Later, our mother passed away, forgiven and surrounded by her children.

Maureen Kay on top of Cinder Cone, Lassen National Park, with snow.

After hiking to the top of Cinder Cone, Lassen National Park.

Maureen Kay pedaling pedicab driver in Java.

After befriending this pedicab driver during a talk about the dictatorship (risky talk at the time, so we spoke in whispers), he let me pedal him. The Javanese pedestrians seemed stunned to see this role reversal. We stopped and I handed the camera to one of them to take this photo. I’m scrawny because I had just survived a long bout of what was then simply called Bali fever. I felt lucky to be alive.

At age twenty-two, I became the executive director of a Camp Fire Council in northern California. Two years later I’d saved enough of my income to travel to India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia for five months–over three months of it solo.

Boston became home for seven years. I provided leadership to volunteers across the United States who organized educational and fundraising events for Oxfam America, which supports village-based development projects in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Outside of work I grew more politically active, danced for hours every week, and devoted increasing time to creative writing.

Maureen Kay, author

On my bike in front of the Wellfleet General Store on Cape Cod.

Due to environmental concerns, I bicycled, walked, or took public transit instead of owning a car for seventeen of the years after leaving my childhood home. The financial savings enabled me to buy a house in charming Ashland, Oregon.

I was hired to be the executive director of a nonprofit for at-risk youths in southern Oregon. Its programs included counseling in our two offices and in several school districts, residential treatment and outpatient treatment for court-adjudicated youths, an alternative school, child care for teen parents, a teen drop-in program, and emergency shelter for runaways and homeless youths.

A young friend told me there was a man who frequently ate at the restaurant where she waitressed, and she kept saying, “He’s the father of your children.” She arranged for us to meet. Two and a half years later, we married.

We grew a family with amorphous boundaries, that, at a minimum, includes a son and daughter. I am grateful to every child who has entered my life, whether by step, foster care, adoption, or less formal arrangement, for giving me the gift of motherhood.

Maureen Kay, wedding rehearsal

Laughing during wedding rehearsal, which was at Mount Rainier National Park where forty of our relatives and friends stayed for three days before our wedding.

Maureen Kay in cranberry bog.

Researching cranberry bog for my novel Fracture.

Though I reveal much personal information about myself in my blogs, I am committed to maximizing privacy for my family members, including the living members of my family of origin. For that reason, I change their names, avoid full-face photos of them, and am sometimes vague on other details.

My husband and I began a business in the environmental services field in Washington State, and when we sold that, I was able to return to writing. Life is good now, full of love, and–after too long of a lapse–dancing. But it’s been quite a journey, and I thank everyone who has helped me along the way.


Updated January, 2017

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19 thoughts on “My Life in 1,000 Words

  • Jay Renaud

    Maureen — I often ponder how the world. obese with stories, yields up so few story tellers! We’ll never catch up, but now with you lifting your end, at least a few more priceless bits of human experience will find their way into amber.

  • Kathleen

    This fascinating journey of yours leaves me wanting to know more. Thank you for opening yourself up to us. It is a brave and daunting task.

  • Rachel

    Wow, Maureen, I had no idea you had such interesting life. You need to tell me more about it someday over coffee. I can see that you’ve also incorporated bits and pieces of it into your work. Can’t wait to read your completed book.

  • Diane

    When I met you at ten years old, I was enamored with your creativity. You brought adventure into my life in a way I hadn’t experienced before. We didn’t just “play”, rather we lived our way through summers concocting a story-line that intrigued our minds and gave us many fun memories. We were so creative using whatever we could find in the neighborhood to add to the adventure. Even though our lives have taken different paths, I hold you forever as a dear friend.

    • Maureen Kay Post author

      Diane, your friendship created an essential foundation for my childhood, and has continued over the years to enrich me. I love your description of the worlds we created together in our neighborhood, and of course very high up in your tree! I also hold you forever as a very dear friend.

  • Allyssa Axell


    “. . . to drop out of high school to scrape up a living operating a traveling puppet theater” is definitely not part of any writer’s bio I’ve read.

    Triumphant life, Maureen. Having known you since we both were young, I rejoice over your successful completion of Fracture.

    Reading your bio, your blog posts, knowing you are brilliant and outrageously creative, I believe your novel will fly right into the center of your readers’ hearts and minds.

    Fractures leave indelible impressions.

  • Mary Dessein

    What a delight meeting Maureen at the PNWA conference a few years back. Her committment and focus inspire me. Writing talent, she has, as do many people. It is the committment that gets one published. And she has seen more of the world than I have even thought about. Thanks, Maureen!

  • Ann Dawes

    Having known you for many years, I’m aware of these parts of your life. However, seeing them woven together reveals the common threads of your extraordinary resilience and determination to live a life well-lived.