Who am I?

I am feeling self-indulgent this morning, so let me indulge in a bit of lightning memoir.

Katharine Tree is my pen name, but it is not very different from my real name. I was born and have lived in the United States all of my life, specifically Steeltown, the Great Plains, and the Midwest. I am of mixed Dutch, Swiss, Anglo, and Celtic heritage. I am an only child. My parents are still married and still living. I am married, and we have a three year old daughter and a ten year old cat. We live in a house, in an aging suburb near a small Midwestern city. I have to drive ten miles to a grocery store, and I sincerely hope that that is as close to “roughing it” as I ever get.

As a child, I was in the Girl Scouts and went on several campouts with my troop. As with many things in life, I found camping to be 51% sublime joy and 49% enormous pain in the ass (see also: parenthood, writing fiction). I didn’t enjoy it enough to have ever done it on my own. I do feel that I need trees around me to feel whole and at peace. I take a 3-4 mile walk on most days. Whenever the weather cooperates (by which I mean, those narrow slivers of nice weather in between the Midwestern broiling summer and frigid winter) I take the walk in the woods.

I did well in school, particularly in science and literature courses, less so in math courses. I graduated 40th out of 399 students in my graduating class, putting me firmly out of the top 10%. The next fall I left home to attend a Big 10 university, where I was to stay for a very long time.

I began by majoring in computer science. After a year I gave that up in favor of biology. After another semester I added a minor in psychology. After another semester I added a second course, in English literature. After five years of undergraduate toil, I graduated with a B.A. in English literature, with a focus on the 18th and 19th century British novel. The Bronte sisters were my major author. At the same time I graduated with a B.S. in neuroscience and animal physiology, and a minor in psychology. A year later, I finished an M.A. in linguistics. Two years later, I finished a Ph.D. in linguistics, with a primary focus on computational linguistics and a secondary focus, for reasons mysterious even to me, on prosody. Yet another year later I finished a postdoctorate in bioinformatics.

The takeaway lesson from graduate school, for me–the only truly useful thing I learned there–is bloviation. I am not afraid to write, a lot, and quickly. It is truly a learned skill, and one that I am grateful to have mastered.

As an undergraduate majoring in biology, I spent a year working in a professor’s laboratory. He first set me to dissecting the nervous systems, whole and intact, out of leeches. I had steady hands but rotten sterile technique. After a while he switched me to dissecting the notochords out of 21-hour frog embryos. To get 21-hour frog embryos, I had to do unspeakable things to both male and female frogs. The females got to go home afterwards. The males… didn’t. During this time, I had access to a refrigerator full of things like botulinum toxin, colchacine, and fugu toxin. It was a pretty fun time in my life.

As a graduate student I became a member of a small dictatorship known as A Research Group. I ended up being published in many venues, including an independently-written chapter in a book and many, many paper and conference collaborations. The conferences took me to places like Moscow, Copenhagen, Dijon, London and Oxford, Zurich, Leipzig, and Trento, Italy. They also took me to (less glamorous) places like Youngstown Ohio, Oak Ridge Tennessee, and Baltimore Maryland. I got my traveling in, and I don’t miss it.

Being at a Big 10 university–by which I mean an enormous, highly international university–I met a lot of interesting people and had a lot of interesting experiences during my time as a student. I met a girl who had been run over by King Abdullah II of Jordan’s motorboat. I met a person who claimed to be the youngest-ever political prisoner of Soviet Russia. I watched the FBI take in the wrong man named Fouad, after 9/11, because they couldn’t imagine that there might be more than one Fouad. An African tribal prince proposed marriage to me. A long-haired Alaskan told me that he found me very intriguing. After over a year of hanging out with him regularly, I realized that another friend was a paranoid schizophrenic, and homeless. A person I had thought was a friend jumped me in my apartment, and I had to physically throw him out. I was briefly involved with a former Olympic fencer.

Eventually it all had to end. I took an industry job. I made new friends. I severed old ties. As one of the few sane, American employees of the startup I worked for, I was chosen to receive Top Secret level security clearance, and had the delicious privilege of being grilled by an FBI agent. I never handled any sensitive information, alas.

After a year here, I met my husband, and it was very nearly love at first date. He brought out the big guns right away: what were my opinions on sharing of breakfast cereal by cohabiting persons? I brought out my big guns by using the word “fuck” casually and liberally, and he, bless him, didn’t mind. That first date was on June 26. We began to talk marriage on July 12. We were engaged on November 4. We were married the following July.

On our one-year wedding anniversary, we found out that our daughter was on the way. I did not play well with pregnancy. While on paper my pregnancy with her was flawless, I sank into a kind of low-grade depression, aggravated by a particularly bad winter and the option to telecommute to work–which was, by then, an unpleasant place for me.

After ten hours of unmedicated transitional back labor with a stuck baby, a failed epidural, and an emergency c-section under general anesthesia, I woke up late on a mid-March evening to meet my daughter. She was red and squished, and my first thought when I saw her was, “she is funny looking, but I will love her.” And I have. She has become the smartest, funniest, craziest, prettiest, and most delightful child I have ever met.

My husband and I tried to have another. After two years, five pregnancy losses, three incidental diagnoses, and one voluntary surgery, we gave up. Apparently there isn’t another kid waiting to be ours, and that is fine. We are both busy with our own projects, and we are parents. That is plenty.

The first year of our daughter’s life was a physical strain. The second year was a mental strain, when she began to walk but didn’t yet have the sense not to get herself killed. Her third year was much easier, and her fourth year has been easier yet, especially since my husband now runs a business out of our home, so he is physically there–although mostly busy–all day, every day.

On February 2, 2014, after my husband and my daughter were in bed, I sat down and began to write. On the first night, I wrote the first two paragraphs of Dark and Deep. I have sat down to write every night since then. The writing is a pleasure and a privilege. I always liked to narrate things. I have been an avid blogger for fifteen years, and a diarist and a perpetual talker-to-myself since forever.

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I write at the kitchen table, mostly at night, after the family has gone to bed. Here is a picture of my work space. When I need to put a shut door between myself and my family during the day, I sit up in bed to write. I write my books in Word. I self-edit and self-publish. I think about my characters and stories constantly.

I also sometimes patch quilt tops, and every bed and sofa and chair in the house has one of my quilts on it. I also knit–mostly socks, because sweaters are just asking for heartbreak. I knit my own woolen winter socks, and I am wearing a pair of them as I type this… see?

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I also cook, bake, garden, read, walk, flip bacon with my bare fingers, and when I have a little extra time, love on my family. I have a cafe-au-lait mark on the back of my right hand, and I cock my left eyebrow.

And that is pretty much all about me. Any questions?

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