Retired air traffic control specialist Rose Marie Kern is an award-winning author, a popular event/conference speaker, and an active member of SouthWest Writers (SWW). In addition to penning four nonfiction books, she has left her byline on hundreds of articles covering topics ranging from solar energy and organic gardening to those focused on aviation. Her newest release is Stress is Relative: Memoir of an Air Traffic Controller (2018). You’ll find Rose on her website RoseMarieKern.com. Visit her SWW author page for all of her books. For more about the author and her writing, read her 2017 Interview.
What would you like readers to know about Stress is Relative?
The minute I tell people what I did for a living they normally say, “Oh! I hear that job is really stressful!” This book tells the story of a young, single mother of two little girls with a deadbeat ex-husband, who works two jobs trying to make ends meet and discovers a completely different career opportunity after watching the evening news. The story follows me from that moment through a 34-year career with drama, conflict, and humor.
What challenges did this work pose for you?
The first, and biggest, challenge was deciding the tone of the piece. A woman in a job that was 94% male in the early 80s…that was really secondary to the fact that only one person in 3,000 applicants makes it all the way through training to begin with! I did not want this to be another complaining piece about what was holding me down. Rather I wanted it to ride with me as I succeeded and matured over time.
When did you know you wanted to write your memoir, and what was the push to begin the project?
The very first day I arrived at the Air Traffic Control Academy in Oklahoma City I was walking through a parking lot full of cars from every US state (plus the territories) knowing that all these people were basing their entire futures on this three-month screening process. Even then I thought it was a naturally dramatic situation and started taking notes. I began putting the book together the day I retired.
How long did it take to complete the book?
In essence it took 34 years. In practice, about four months for the first draft, another month to get feedback from four editor/critiquers, and another month for the rewrite.
What makes Stress is Relative unique in the memoir market?
As far as I know there is no other memoir from a female air traffic controller.
When did you know the manuscript was finished and ready for publishing?
When I looked at it and my gut said “done.”
What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
I write for a lot of aviation magazines, and their editors publish reviews. I love that both men and women have felt the need to contact me out of the blue to tell me how much they love the book and that they have a hard time putting it down.
During the process of writing your memoir, did you worry that you were revealing too much about yourself and your struggles?
For the most part I limited the book to the career story, with little other information. I changed the names of those individuals who tried to make me fail, but gave credit to those who believed in me.
Of the books you’ve written, which one was the most challenging, and which was the easiest to write?
The most challenging was FUNdraising Events! for small to medium non-profits. The easiest was my solar cookbook, The Solar Chef.
What advice do you have for writers just starting their memoirs?
Do the research and take notes just as if you were writing any other expository piece. Don’t dwell on the negative.
What first inspired you to become a writer?
Office supply stores. All those reams and stacks of blank paper just begging for the touch of a pen.
Is there something you absolutely need in order to write?
What are you most happy with, and what do you struggle with most, in your writing?
I am best at educational or expository nonfiction. I am in awe of truly great fiction writers but despair of ever attaining that pinnacle.
What writing projects are you working on now?
I have several. My monthly columns on aviation keep me busy. My next aviation book is a history of the Flight Service Branch of ATC, and I am slowly, laboriously attempting a fictional mystery—also based in the world of aviation.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.