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Examiner
  • Gennifer Albin writes a new chapter in her life

  • As a student at Truman High School, Gennifer Albin held onto aspirations of one day acting in Hollywood.



    Nearly every weekend, you could find Albin (nee Soldanels) involved in debate and drama, and she participated in the George Caleb Bingham Academy of the Arts program for two summers.

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  • As a student at Truman High School, Gennifer Albin held onto aspirations of one day acting in Hollywood.
    Nearly every weekend, you could find Albin (nee Soldanels) involved in debate and drama, and she participated in the George Caleb Bingham Academy of the Arts program for two summers.
    But, Albin also wrote. The now-retired educator Bob Brennan gave Albin an A+++ on a ninth grade English short story, a pivotal moment in the young student’s life that she still remembers fondly.
    “It was a psychic vampire story,” Albin says, laughing. “I was so freaking ahead of my time because this was 1996 or ‘97.”
    After graduating in 2000, Albin set aside her dreams of working as an actress, and majored in English, with a minor in psychology, at the University of Central Missouri. When she graduated, her 18-year-old self thought, she would “go off to Hollywood and be famous.”
    But life isn’t always what we dreamed it would be at 18. Throughout the past decade – and especially in the aftermath of the Great Recession – life has taken Albin, 31, down a path that Hollywood screenwriters themselves couldn’t write.
    Now living in Lenexa, Kan., Albin is building a name for herself doing what she loves most – writing – and not even a poor economy or a broken computer have stood in her way.
    --
    Albin moved to Toronto after finishing her undergraduate, but just six weeks into her master’s program, she realized that the university wasn’t the right fit.
    At 23, Albin moved back home and taught ninth grade English at Truman High School for six months until her master’s program at Mizzou started. Shortly afterward, she married Joshua Albin, whom she met through debate and drama her sophomore year at Truman High.
    She was accepted at the University of Missouri-Columbia to complete an M.A./Ph.D. program. Albin completed her master’s degree in English literature, with a specialization in 18th century literature and women’s studies.
    When her now-5-year-old son, James, was about a year old, Albin decided to take off a semester. Several months later, in early 2009, Josh was laid off as a manager at Starbucks.
    The couple decided to move back to Kansas City, thinking that more jobs would be available. They soon found, Albin says, that the recession was hitting hard and that jobs weren’t as plentiful as they had hoped.
    Albin never got to finish her Ph.D. – and she says she is completely OK with that.
    “At the end of the day, the thought of sitting down and writing a 300-page academic book kills me,” she says. “I much prefer making things up.”
    This is the point in the real-life story that Albin hasn’t openly discussed until recently, and while it’s something she kept private for several years, Albin says her story – a highly educated adult struggling to make ends meet during the Great Recession – isn’t all that unique.
    Page 2 of 3 - It’s the ending that makes Albin’s story all her own.
    --
    Joshua Albin took a job as a barista at a Starbucks in the Kansas City area, just to be doing some kind of work. Gennifer remembers sitting down with credit card statements, months of not making payments building up into $10,000 worth of debt.
    But fee after fee quadrupled the credit card debt, not including student loan debt. Albin had applied for many jobs herself, not hearing back any replies, and around that same time, she found out she was pregnant with the couple’s second child, a daughter Sydney, now 2.
    Albin sold hand-sewn baby products on Etsy, and the couple also pawned off many of their possessions, including books, to scrounge up money any way they could.
    Their basic needs were met, but it wasn’t enough to make a dent in the debt.
    Two years after the Albins first realized they needed to file for bankruptcy, it became finalized in February 2011. At the time, the Albin household income was roughly $23,000 a year.
    Albin had already started writing her first book, “but nobody who is writing her first book thinks ‘I’m going to make so much money with this that all of my problems will be solved,’” she said. 
    Writing “Crewel,” the first in a trilogy, helped Albin find escape from financial troubles. She emphasizes that despite filing for bankruptcy, her family maintained a happy home life – she learned how to bake bread and sew and shop so her children could still live happily.
    She fell asleep at night with feelings of guilt, praying that she could one day provide for her two children all while wondering if the economy would ever improve.
    Rewind a couple of months back to November 2010. Albin took on the challenge of National Novel Writing Month, which tasks participants of all levels to write a 50,000-word novel in one month’s time.
    “It was something that was mine, that was using the skills and education that I had achieved for all those years in college and grad school,” Albin said. “There’s power in words, and for a long time, I felt like I had lost my voice as someone who was a woman, a stay-at-home mom, but also as someone who was poor.”
    One day, while taking care of James and Sydney, a glass of water was spilt onto Albin’s open laptop, ruining it. Without the funds to buy a new one, Albin went to the public library about five times a week, writing for several hours while keeping an eye on the timer that ticks off the remaining minutes of computer use.
    On Nov. 30, Albin printed off the certificate that she had completed NaNoWriMo – and she cried. 
    Page 3 of 3 - The next six months were busy. After taking a break from the draft for two weeks, Albin got a new computer from her mother-in-law for Christmas, an action that also made Albin cry.
    After several months of editing, Albin participated in Pitchapalooza at the local bookstore Rainy Day Books, pitching her idea to publishing experts.
    Albin won Pitchapalooza, and at the end of April, she participated in an online writing conference. Long story short, “Crewel” received seven agent offers of representation, and by May 2011, Albin decided on a three-book deal with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan.
    “Crewel” was published Oct. 16, 2012, and the second yet-to-be-named book in the trilogy is set to be released sometime this fall.
    --
    “Crewel’s” inspiration came to Albin as she read about a painting in Thomas Pynchon’s novella “The Crying Lot of 49,” one of the few books she held onto as she sold many of her books to make ends meet.
    That painting, Remedios Varo’s “Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle,” molded the character of 16-year-old Adelice Lewys.
    Albin describes her series as “Mad Men” meets “The Matrix,” and Adelice’s gift is the ability to weave the fabric of reality. Her parents train her to hide that gift in hopes that Adelice won’t become a deadly femme fatale Spinster.
    As she travels the country participating in author panels, Albin is often asked what book she wishes she had written. “Twilight” or “The Hunger Games,” she thinks, because then she could write and deadlines would be a thing of the past.
    Remember Albin’s high-school aspirations? Well, Hollywood came a-callin’ at the beginning of “Crewel,” but no plans are currently in the works to make the trilogy into a movie. Albin says she can’t focus on that – her priorities remain in writing books that represent her abilities all while attracting readers in hopes that they’ll want to know more about her characters.
    “My best destiny, I think, is to finish this series and hope it does well enough that it allows me to continue to write full-time,” Albin says. “The best thing a writer can be doing is thinking about the next project and writing constantly. So, I guess my entire career aspiration would just be to continue to make a living on my writing.
    “It would be lovely to make a comfortable living and not a meager living – but, I’ve lived meagerly before. It wouldn’t kill me.”
     

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