Michelle Perin, PSWA Contest Chairperson
Michelle and son, Marc, in Utah.
I met Michelle when she came to one of the first conferences after PSWA reorganized. She's attended every one since that time, and took on the huge job of running the writing competition. She's also a lot of fun as you'll see when your read what she had to tell me.
Marilyn: How did you first hear about PSWA and decide to join?
Michelle: I believe I discovered PSWA originally via the website. It was December, 2005; I had just resigned as a dispatcher/9-1-1 operator with Phoenix (AZ) PD and moved way up north in Michigan to pursue writing full-time. I spent a lot of time browsing the web and I stumbled across it. I remember thinking how neat it was to find a group of people who had the same eclectic interests I did.
After all, I had just finished getting my Bachelor’s at Arizona State majoring in Justice & Social Inquiry and minoring in English Literature. I always thought that was a strange combination, but after finding PSWA I realized I wasn’t alone in my oddness. For those of you who know me, you know I regard oddness as a very desirable personality trait. I saw the conference was coming up and I wanted to meet people in the field and network. It didn’t hurt that it was in Las Vegas and where I was at it was still around freezing with 300” of snow on the ground.
Marilyn: How did you decide to take on the job of contest chair?
Michelle: I spent my first year with PSWA pretty much just lurking. I felt naïve and inexperienced quite honestly. I just wanted to listen to what others had to say and glean the wisdom that exists within this organization. After that year, and during my second contest, I saw there was a need for a contest chair and I wanted to give back to PSWA.
By this time, I was making a living with my writing and a lot of my initial assignments were due to PSWA conference attendees, such as Tim Dees, Liz Ramirez and Ronnie Garrett.
The 2010 contest will be the fourth year I’ve chaired and I still enjoy it. I’m always amazed at the quality and diversity of our entries. I get excited every time I see a new envelope in my mailbox. It makes me seem pretty popular too when I have to go down and pick up two or three boxes from the post office. The ladies there must think I’m quite special. Actually, it’s the PSWA judges that are special. I never have a problem getting experienced people to judge each category. And, I still judge Grand Prize which is the most fun of all.
Marilyn: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?
Michelle: My first evidence of writing I actually still keep in my hope chest. It’s a tiny construction paper book I wrote in like fourth grade. It’s about a cat and I illustrated it. I also have this ridiculous, loquacious journal I started when I was 9. Flipping through those pages, you could see I was going to have a problem staying put in places and in relationships. “Shawn who lives down by the locks in Seattle and was in my 5th grade class, I still love you.”
All through school, I loved writing. English was my favorite subject. When I was a rebellious senior (imagine that, me rebellious), I had the most fabulous English teacher. I was attending West Albany High School in Albany, Oregon. He nurtured not only my love of grammar, but my passion to express myself in my own unique style and tone. He helped me hone my skills and inspired me. He also let me into his eighth period class when my second-semester English teacher threw me out of his. Of course,
that’s a whole other story.
Marilyn: Tell me and my blog readers about your first writing sale.
Michelle: I began professionally writing in 2000 after my second son was born. I was on maternity leave and had found a story of two Phoenix officers who went to Sweden to be part of an art project. I queried Police Times and they bought it on spec. I remember getting my first acceptance letter and check. Actually, I’m sure many people in Bulgaria remember that moment due to my screaming. It was an awesome feeling. I’ve been writing ever since.
Marilyn: Tell us more about your experiences with PSWA.
Michelle: I took away so much from that first conference but the most important thing was confidence. In meeting the members of PSWA, I felt like I belonged. I felt supported and encouraged. During the conference, AJ continued to tell us to network, network, network. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but after on the second day during a break, I took a deep breath and approached Tim Dees who was the editor-in-chief of Officer.com. I pitched a dispatcher column to him. He told me to send an example column and six months worth of ideas. I did so and have been writing for O.com for four years.
I really loved the people I met and everyone was so warm and welcoming. It didn’t feel like some of the other writing conferences I’ve attended where I got lost in the crowd (yes, Sunny it is possible for me to get lost in a crowd). PSWA is just such a wonderful organization made up of fantastic people.
My writing career took off with that first column for Officer.com. After that, I queried numerous other police publications and have now been published in Law Enforcement Technology, Law and Order, Police, Beyond the Badge, Michigan Trooper Magazine, Law Officer Magazine, Police Times and Chief of Police. I’ve written a monthly column for LawOfficer.com as well. And, just so nobody forgets my eclectic side, I was a contributing writer for Michigan Snowmobiler. I would like to branch out in to travel articles eventually.
Marilyn: And then there is your family. Let's hear about your two sons.
Michelle: Ah, my boys. I’d have to say that both of them are very supportive of my writing. Of course, that doesn’t include the times when Marc (14) wants me off the computer. Or when Dean (9) wants to go out to eat and I have to explain to him that due to budget cuts my article that was due to print last month didn’t so it will be another 30 days at least before we get paid.
Marilyn: Your plans for the future?
Michelle: Actually, I’ve been working on a novel. It’s called Desert Ice and was inspired by Marc’s experience of moving from Arizona to Michigan and learning to play ice hockey. I told him he would have to be my marketing device and once I’m doing book signings he’ll have to be in full hockey gear beside my table. He complains but there’s a sparkle in his eye. I guess I’d better get it done before he goes off to college.
Marilyn: What's going on in your life right now?
Michelle: Right now, I’ve gone back to a “real” job. I work at an agency that provides treatment to severally emotionally-disturbed children. I enjoy my work and the agency is fantastic. I’m trying to fit my writing in and am struggling to find a balance. I know I won’t give it up. Writing is too much in my blood. I want to focus on my novel for now and hopefully when my kids grow up and I’m free to get paid sporadically, I will travel around the country writing and living my ideal gypsy lifestyle.
Marilyn: If anyone had any doubts about coming to the PSWA conference, I suspect after reading this, they'll sign up after all your glowing words. And I bet some might sign up just to meet you.
Thanks for this interview, Michelle, it was great!