Barking Up the Right Tree

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She's an inspiration to many a would-be writer, but when she's not helping others pen the next great American novel, she's finding inspiration of her own in the form of a little white pup. Tricia McDonald, authoress of the widely popular Life with Sally, writing coach, and owner and operator of A Writing Passage and Splattered Ink Press has quite a story to tell, even if the pathway chose her.

"I didn't think I wanted to be a writer when I was little, although I enjoyed writing. I wanted to be a ballerina," Tricia says.

Writing crept back into Tricia's life throughout high school and the start of college, and stayed with her still when she started her family, even if on the back burner. As a legal secretary, Tricia spent more than twenty years working, raising her family, and earning money to go back to school. Finishing the education she started was an important parenting principal to her.

"I wanted my kids to know how important school was and how important it is to finish something you start. How can I say that to them if I quit school and didn't go back? It was tough to work full time, be a single mom, and go to school at night, but I did it and I graduated. Actually my kids have told me how that meant something to them, to see me struggling to do something so important."

The desire to write did not go long unacknowledged. Tricia started submitting pieces and taking some refresher classes before she took over a writing business where she began teaching writing courses of her own. It was a perfect fit, although not quite complete without woman's best friend.

Tricia's beloved dog, Sally, came into her life by chance.

"When my (second) husband and I got married, he had a dog, Harry, a border terrier. When he died, my husband was devastated, absolutely devastated. I was trying so hard to help him get over his unbelievable grief, so a month or so went by, and I suggested we get another dog…He has always liked bull terriers, but I always though they were the ugliest dogs ever, (but) at that point if he said 'I want us to get a donkey,' I would have been ok with it," Tricia remembers.

Tricia found a mini bull terrier breeder in Kentucky and she was hooked. Her three-pound Sally arrived by plane, and the two "instantly bonded." Tricia started writing columns for Cats and Dogs Magazine, telling stories about her little Sally and the antics of daily life with her. Everyone else was hooked too, and Tricia has bundled her columns into two books so far.

"Nothing really big happens with Sally. Sometimes she's just outside licking toads. Her favorite toy is a six-foot garden rake," Tricia says.

Writing, like balancing work, motherhood, and school, has not always been an easy ride.

"Don't take it personal. You're going to get rejections," she says.

But Tricia takes the setbacks in stride because it is her passion and one she hopes she can draw out of others.

"I think that people have stories to tell, but not everyone can write them. But, I think more people have the ability to write than they think they do. I think sometimes it's just getting rid of these gremlins and evil voices in your head that are always telling you you can't do something."

Tricia is there to lend editing advice, but also to be a shoulder to lean on and support for those who are facing more ominous obstacles.

"I think sometimes we're not able to tell a story. Maybe the story is too emotional, or we don't think it's important enough to tell, or we might not have people that will listen. Writing gives us that voice to tell our story or to show our story or to just get that story out there," Tricia says. "I love the process of teaching people to write so that they can then get that story on paper and share it or work through something they're going through by writing it."

Written by: Erika Fifelski is West Michigan Woman magazine's editorial coordinator. She was born and raised in West Michigan, and after a brief stint on the sunrise side, she's home and loving it. Erika enjoys gardening, vacuuming, and discovering new ways to live sustainably and support local businesses. Photo: Wendy Rostoker Swenson

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