Burnt Hills writer puts novel on hold, enjoys short pieces
Wendy Hobday Haugh holds two books in which her essays have been featured.
BURNT HILLS Wendy Hobday Haugh’s great American novel is coming, slowly but surely. Until it’s done, she’s been very happy producing magazine articles and getting her short stories and poetry published.
Soon perhaps, if her grandchildren don’t keep her too busy, she hopes to switch genres and produce a full-length novel, something she’ll be happy to share with the public instead of just a few family members.
The first draft is pretty much done. It’s a suspense drama about a woman working at a magazine in New York City in the 1930s who falls for a character modeled after Nelson Eddy, a popular crooner and movie star of that era and a personal favorite of Haugh’s. She worked hard on the story back in 1997, producing 95,000 words in 21 days, and then collapsed with pneumonia. Since then she has kind of kept it on the back burner.
A 1971 graduate of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School who went on to get a degree in English from the University at Albany, Haugh has written for various magazines, including Highlights, Schenectady and Upstate New York, Saratoga Living, Ebony Jr. and Woman’s World, and such websites as writing-world.com.
She has produced one book, a history of her church in Burnt Hills called “Voices of Calvary: A History of Calvary Episcopal Church, Burnt Hills, New York 1949-1999,” and more recently has written short pieces for Chicken Soup for the Soul books, “Inspiration for Writers,” just out, and “Angels Among Us: Miracles, Faith and Answered Prayers,” which was published in January.
Later this year, another short article by Haugh will be included in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Wives.”
Along with her writing, Haugh’s life has focused on her family, her music and her church. After graduating from UAlbany she worked for the New York State Legislature, SUNY-Potsdam, Temple Gates of Heaven in Niskayuna and then as the church organist at the Calvary Episcopal Church on Lakehill Road in Burnt Hills.
She never stopped writing during that time, which also included getting married and raising three boys. She and her husband, Chuck, live in Burnt Hills not too far from the home she grew up in, and when she isn’t writing she’s looking after three grandchildren. A fourth is on the way.
She says her love of writing and music comes from her parents, particularly her father, Richard Hobday, a General Electric employee who also found plenty of time to sing in the church choir, perform in community theater and write poetry. Hobday died in 2002, and his wife, Marjorie, 83, still lives in Burnt Hills.
Q: When did you start writing?
A: I knew when I was a little kid that I wanted to write. It was always important to me. When I was 4 my father brought home my very own pad of paper. I put it on my desk and put pencils by it. I’ve always been fascinated by paper and pencil, and I still have my very first book that I made with construction paper.
Q: When did you really get serious about writing?
A: When I was in high school my father came home from work, put this piece of paper in front of me and said, ‘why don’t you enter?’ It was some [GE] KAPL-sponsored competition about how electricity has affected your life. I thought to myself, ‘what can I say? I don’t have a scientific bone in my body.’ But he wanted me to enter, and both my parents were always encouraging my writing. So I thought about it, and wrote an article about playing the church organ, and how you used to have to have a bellows person. With electricity you just had to flip a switch. You no longer needed somebody pumping the bellows. It made playing the organ a sole endeavor, so I wrote about that and won first prize.
At Albany I had a very lopsided education in that I took about 80 or 90 English credits and very few other things. For some reason I never thought about journalism. Writing freelance for magazines had more of an appeal to me, and I always like the allure of short articles and short stories. If you look at what I’ve had published it’s a very eclectic list. It’s all over the place, and I really enjoy that kind of challenge. I have written a couple of books, but they’re down in the cellar and only my mother and my husband have seen them.
Q: Are we going to see one of them eventually?
A: I did actually have the first chapter critiqued by an editor and I got some good advice that I took to heart, but after 95,000 words in 21 days, starting over again was quite a daunting task. The heroine is a magazine writer working in New York, and the other character is based on my respect and admiration for Nelson Eddy. It’s not about him but he’s a character in the book. I’m not sure that I really care if it ever gets published. It’s kind of a life project at this point, but I guess it would be nice. When I first did it; when I got done with my 95,000 words in 21 days, I was sick in bed. It took physical hold of me. I found it was easier to continue working on shorter pieces.
Q: Nelson Eddy was a popular baritone who starred in many movies with Jeannette MacDonald back in the 1930s. Why him?
A: My parents and their musical/artistic/poetic/writing endeavors were a huge part of my life growing up, always providing inspiration and kudos to me as I began experimenting in the writing field. My dad’s baritone voice far exceeded Nelson Eddy’s in quality, but since Eddy’s records were always playing at home, I developed quite an interest in him at a young age, thus sparking my current ‘ongoing’ book project. I didn’t like the way his life turned out, so I wrote a different ending for him. He was the figure that came to mind when I was writing the book.
Q: How does the writing process work for you?
A: Well, I also really loved raising kids, and I was always kind of a micro-managing parent. I was always listening, watching, and I would have trouble sleeping at night because I’d be listening for the boys. So, with three boys, as far as the writing went, the worst thing I could do was be quiet. So I would let them around me all the time. I set up the computer in the kitchen and they could be running around, jumping, doing all kinds of things, but I was able to stay in my own little world. I’d have one ear on them, and I think it benefited both my writing and their childhood.
Q: How did your writing evolve over the years?
A: I enjoyed doing children’s stuff early, and then I had the opportunity to write for the Schenectady magazine and another magazine about Saratoga County. I can also remember writing for True Love, but my early romantic pieces were a bit hokey. It took me a while to find my pace doing romantic fiction and to get it real. I did enjoy the challenge of writing them because it was like putting together this big puzzle in so few words.
Writing the church history was different, and I had an awful lot of people who contributed, but then in 2009 I was asked by the office manager at our church to write a monthly reflection column for the church newsletter. I hesitated at first because I thought, ‘what do I have to say to help anyone?’ But then I realized that I have lived enough years to have something to say to people. I had written tons of profiles and I knew I could do that. Earlier I had gone to a holistic doctor and he told me that I should write the story of Wendy. I kind of blew him off. But when I was asked to do this I thought about it and said, ‘OK, but you’ll have to let me know if I’m no good at it.’
Q: And how is it going?
A: I’ve taken my own ideas and then supported them by looking at what other people are writing in essays and blogs. Putting together a monthly reflection has had a lot of meaning for me, and sort of drew me out of myself. I feel like I’m allowed now to start expressing my own views on spiritual things, and it’s been a real turning point for me. I’m writing in a more spiritual realm, and that’s what got me published in ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul.’ I’ve had two pieces published and another one will be coming out later this year. I love that company. It’s great to write for them, and they’re giving me an opportunity to think back on my life and reflect about all the things that have happened to me.