One year after realizing her dream of opening a bakery, Gina had to close its doors due to severe arthritis. Only writing lifted her out of her depression and she is now a published author with one novel out and one more on the way.
Tell us a little about your background.
I’m the oldest of five. I was born on Long Island, New York in the middle of a blizzard. My father took my mother to the hospital in the truck he was using to plow snow. I grew up in a sleepy little neighborhood until my parents divorced when I was 12. My mother remarried six months later and we moved upstate to Hudson, New York.
I went to a boarding high school in New Jersey and dreamt of going to the Culinary Institute of America to get my culinary degree and become a pastry chef. My mother insisted I go to community college instead and “get a degree I could use.” (Insert eye roll here). So being the every-dutiful daughter, I got my Associates degree in Secretarial science and then my Paralegal Certificate. I married my high school sweetheart at 21 and we moved to the Poconos.
By 25, I had two kids and by 29, I was divorced with a 3- and 4-year-old. Here I was, a single mom working as a paralegal in a small law firm, barely making enough money to put food on the table let alone cover any extras.
Baking was something I was good at and I loved, so at Christmas 1996, I started Cookies by Gina solely to make a little extra cash. I had always wanted to start a coffee shop/bakery, but in my 20s and 30s I didn’t have the courage or cash it required to take that leap and start a business. I tucked that dream in the way back of my mind and concentrated on living. The living was hard. I went through another quick marriage and quicker divorce.
When did you start to think about making a change?
At 35, I finally found the person I was supposed to be with, the lid to my pot. Turns out we’d already met in our 20s but sometimes you need to experience a little of life before you can be happy—that’s my theory anyway. We reconnected through the internet and the rest is history. He gave me a life where I now had the cash, the time, and the encouragement to open my bakery. So, with my kids in college, I enrolled in culinary school and opened my little bakery a year later.
I always thought my bakery would be my final act, that they would carry me out of my little shop covered in flour with a croissant in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other, and a smile from ear to ear. Instead, I developed arthritis in my thumbs. I could no longer hold a rolling pin or shake someone’s hand. I closed the bakery a year almost to the day after I opened it. I fell into a depression I didn’t think I would ever dig out of and that’s when I discovered I could write. The very next day, I started my blog, Heart Written Words.
After a few years of the blog, I had this story building inside of me loosely based on my great-uncle’s life.
What is your next act?
I am the author of Frank: A Novel, published by Atmosphere Press last year, when I was 52. My little novel is part fiction, part nonfiction, and a whole lot of me. Growing up, I always knew bits and pieces about my Uncle Frank and Aunt Lizzy, and it all focused on how mean Aunt Lizzy was and her funeral (spoiler alert…she falls out of her casket as they are walking to the cemetery plot). But one day, my mother tells me a part of the story she never told me before. It was about Uncle Frank and a girl he fell in love with before Lizzy. Frank is all about recognizing the flutter of true love when it’s standing right in front of you and what happens when it disappears without explanation, only to show up thirty years later.
“It’s a love story, but a story of pain. A story of tears, and how fear can make you do things you may not expect. A story of honor, a story of sadness, a story of the perfect place at the perfect time. A story of family, two searching people, and love.” – Green Gable Book Reviews
I thought my “next act” was the bakery, turns out it was writing. I love how I can sit anywhere with my laptop and headphones and, with music filling my head, words just manage to spill onto the page.
How hard was it to take the plunge?
It wasn’t hard for me to take the plunge with writing, it was more out of necessity. I had just closed the bakery, I had no health insurance, and I badly needed, at the very least, to talk to a professional. Writing was my therapy and got me through those very dark days.
Because writing doesn’t really pay the bills, unless you are Stephen King or Glennon Doyle, I had to, once again, reinvent myself. My husband is in show business and basically gave me a job. That was the beginning of my life as a Tour Manager/Road Manager.
So at 50, with no experience, I moved to New York City with my husband for six months to manage 100 employees for an exhibit of The Rolling Stones. That led to managing 200 employees for The Marvel Experience and traveling from Dallas to San Diego for a year. Then THAT led to climbing on a tour bus with 11 actors and 12 crew and traveling throughout the US, Canada, and Australia with kids’ shows.
All the while, the only thing that kept me sane was my writing. Life on the road is really had and not as glamorous as people think. You are taking showers in some questionable bathrooms, sleeping on a bus, and eating catering for every meal for every day you are on the road. The rare day off is spent in a hotel where you mostly sleep. I slept and wrote.
What challenges are you encountering?
I certainly suffer from writer’s block from time to time. There are times when I don’t write for weeks and then there are times when it seems I can’t move my fingers fast enough to get all the words out of my head and onto the page.
But I would have to say Imposter Syndrome is the biggest challenge. I suffer from it not only in my writing but with anything I do. It was bad with the bakery and there are days when it’s bad with my writing. I try to replay a conversation I had about a year ago with a friend who is a successful songwriter here in Nashville. He said, “if you write, you are a writer.” There are days when I have that phrase on repeat in my head and it helps for a little bit.
What did you learn about yourself through this process?
What I’ve learned is I’m stronger than I ever thought I was. I can do hard things and come out the other side in one piece. It has taken me a long time to have faith in myself and to have the confidence to do whatever it is I want.
It took me turning 50 to feel comfortable in my skin and finally at 53 I like who I am and what I do. There is nothing traditional in what or who I am. The road I took to get here was long, curvy, and steep, but I keep going out of shear stubbornness and here I am, a 53-year-old writer with no formal training who can bake a mean croissant.
Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?
They say it’s not the destination, but the journey that makes up our life. I don’t think I would have done anything differently to get where I am, because all those mistakes and detours gave me the courage and strength to end up here.
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
Just do it. Don’t let the fear of failing stop you, because you might just succeed. I don’t want to be 90 years old and sitting in a rocking chair wondering “what if.” You just have to get out of your own way and do it.
What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing a writing career?
Aside from just doing it, make sure you have that one person, your person, who has your back. That person who sees you plain and simple, without all the baggage you carry. That person who will hold your hand as you are jumping off the cliff. The person who will always pick you up when you fall. For me it is my husband.
Writing life is the easiest and hardest job I’ve ever had, and you need to develop a thick skin once you are ready to send your baby out into the world. The publishing process can test even the most seasoned writers’ mental status. I suggest finding someone who lives for grammar and send them your draft. For me it was my high school English teacher’s daughter.
Once you have a manuscript you are proud of, get on Submittable. You’ll be able to find out who is looking for manuscripts, in what genre, and you will submit everything through the website. Then buckle up for all the rejection letters. Stephen King had 30 publishers reject Carrie before it was published. J.K. Rowling had 12 rejection letters before Harry Potter was published. Stephen King kept every one of his rejection letters nailed to a wall by his writing desk.
My book was rejected 25 times over the course of a year before it was published. I keep all those rejection letters on top of the rough manuscript and under stacks of my published book. During this process I didn’t give up; I guess that’s my best advice: Don’t give up on yourself; if you don’t have your own back, no one else will.
What resources do you recommend for would-be writers?
I am very much an introvert by nature. I always think I want to go to all the writing seminars but I never do, because, well…people. I mostly stick to social media. I’m on Facebook and Instagram and I’m in a lot of writer groups on Facebook.
These two books I love and recommend to anyone who asks me how to I get started.
It’s Great to Suck at Something: The Unexpected Joy of Wiping Out and What It Can Teach Us About Patience, Resilience, and the Stuff that Really Matters by Karen Rinaldi
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
What’s next for you?
I’m not sure what’s next for me. “what’s next?” has constantly been a question that floats around in my brain, but I’m sure it will involve writing. I have two books that are in various stages of completion and my blog. What I do know is I keep striving to break the norms. I want to do things that people wouldn’t expect from me. Last year I taught myself how to skateboard (which catapulted me straight up to the coolest Aunt around) and I’m currently toying with the idea of learning how to play the drums.
Connect with Gina DeNicola
Book: Frank: A Novel
Blog: Heart Written Words
Website (and book purchase): https://ginadenicola.com/
Sou proud of you Gina, You are an inspiration to all women struggling to find themselves
Great article Sis!!!!