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Writing Center coordinator pens second novel
April 2, 2014
Karen Petit, coordinator of the Writing Center at the Community College of Rhode Island, said she's always been fascinated by the connections between things, tales well told and the language (and linguistics) that bind people together across time and space. She recently mined her own family connections for her second book, "Mayflower Dreams." The book is available now for purchase, but Petit will be celebrating the "official" release next month with a spate of book signings on all four CCRI campuses.
"Mayflower Dreams" is the story of Rose Hopkins, a fictional protagonist who finds herself wrapped up in a journey that touches on true historical events. Enthralled by clocks, Hopkins shares the author's interest in the past, and, according to Petit, "has trouble living in the present." Through her dreams and her actual travels, Hopkins embarks on a path of discovery that leads her back to Pilgrim-era America, when her ancestors were first clinging to life along the country's rocky coasts.
The intellectual voyage of her protagonist is one that's close to home for Petit. Through her own genealogical research and inquiry into family lore, she discovered that she is a direct descendant of the Rev. John Robinson, an early religious leader and pastor to the Pilgrims who first landed here on the Mayflower. She said it was her own family connection to the subject, as well as the wider net cast by the subject of lineage in general, that inspired her to delve into this topic.
"The book essentially says that everything is connected, that we're all connected," she said. "Not just our dreams and our reality, as I explored in my first novel, but the past is connected to the present."
Petit began work on her first novel, titled "Banking on Dreams," by using some of the techniques that she'd ultimately use for inspiration while working on "Mayflower Dreams." During her master's degree coursework in English and creative writing at the University of Rhode Island, she explored the connections between our dream world and the reality we inhabit in our waking life, often setting her alarm clock in the middle of the night to capture her dreams on paper before they slipped back into the ether. One might say Petit captured more than just her dreams during that time, though; this was also when she latched on to the idea that she could write fiction, having shied away from the genre in favor of poetry earlier in her studies. Eventually, though, she capitulated to long fiction at the urging of her professors, who told her that they saw promise in her work.
"I wrote my first novel basically to see if I could," she said.
Listening to her describe her dogged devotion to her process, it's hard to imagine Petit having any trouble penning a novel. Although she works full time in the Writing Center at the college in addition to teaching classes in the English department, she still makes her own writing life a priority.
Approaching her methods with the same exactitude as she no doubt employed while earning her further academic credentials – she holds a doctorate in rhetoric from URI – she watched her patterns carefully to see when and how she did her best work. She found that through scheduling regular writing time and giving herself a two-day head start on any project, she could carve out the time and energy she needed to pen not one, but two full-length novels. She also made use of some tried and true writer's tricks, such as making word counts a competitive exercise, as well as using outlines and character crib notes.
Apart from the rewards she reaps from pursuing her lifelong passion for writing, Petit said that it's particularly rewarding to help other students with their writing at CCRI. It's where she got her start as an adult student when a life change found her enrolling in the college, looking to pursue deferred dreams.
"I still remember going up the big hill to get to my classes and being so excited," she said. "I've always wanted to teach and work at a community college; it offers a wider variety of students, and I really like that."
And although she's got degrees for days, she said she's still learning – and loving it. Teaching in the Writing Center allows Petit to absorb information in an array of subject areas while helping others express their views. She said she also is able to better understand how others might react to her own writing by reading the writing of her students. Finally, her own experiences make her a better teacher, she said, enabling her to steer her students toward subjects they are passionate and curious about – one of the things that has spurred her own writing success.
Petit's book signings will take place from 9 to 10:30 a.m. on April 14 at the Knight Campus in Warwick, April 16 at the Liston Campus in Providence and April 21 at the Flanagan Campus in Lincoln; and from 3 to 4:30 p.m. on April 23 at the Newport County Campus. She hopes her readers feel as inspired as she was, not only by the intriguing historical background of the work but by the perseverance of her ancestors.
"It's really changed my perspective," she said of studying the Pilgrims and the adversity they overcame. "I'm more thankful now, and I'm more positive. I guess that's true of anyone who sees how different cultures who are having a hard time have pushed forward."
More information about Petit's books is available online.
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