Celebrating the Adjunct Writer: Carol Amato

I’ve spent a lot of time in recent posts lamenting this or that aspect of the adjunct’s relationship with writing. I’d like to take a break from that to celebrate one of the many adjuncts who is also a successful writer. Carol Amato has been an adjunct for some time now…and she’s published close to 20 books and 200 articles. I have to admit I’ve only got one on my shelf right now— The World’s Easiest Guide to Using the APA—but I and my students both find it highly useful. Carol was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me.

AA: Why do you write?

Carol: I write because that’s my passion. I have wanted to be a writer since I was in the fourth grade. My teachers were my critique group back then. I wrote first chapters of novels about horses—the stallion overlooking the herd of mares—and cowboys. Westerns were big back then. As someone who owned and showed horses, this was my genre.

The Amato family is full of artists and musicians. A few of us are writers. One cousin owns a publishing company that puts out several of the very popular fishing and hunting magazines. Another cousin has books she updates yearly on wedding information in Portland, Seattle, and a few other west coast cities.

I also write to impart useful information to people. One book, How to Start and Run a Writers’ Critique Group, is geared to writers who would like to find like-minded people to critique their work. Then there are The World’s Easiest Guide to Using the APA and The World’s Easiest Guide to Using the MLA. I was a tech writer in a former life, and when one of my students at an onground campus threw the Publication Manual of the APA across the room in frustration, I knew there had to be an easier way to present this information.

AA: How does your academic writing relate to your teaching? How about writing that doesn’t qualify as traditional scholarship, like The Phantom Hunters?

Carol: As I mentioned, I try to produce writing that is useful to people. This includes students. There isn’t any reason why they should have to slog their way through books that are written by academicians rather than writers and that are meant for Ph.D.s writing for the professional journals. Students should be able to concentrate on the content of what they are writing, not spend their time deciphering esoteric code.

I have also started a blog for adult learners called Carol’s Campus Chatter (www.carolscampuschatter.com), where I post articles of benefit to them. They cover everything from time management issues to how to do research. I want adult students to post questions there, too, so that dialogues can be carried on.

While The Phantom Hunters, a paranormal mystery series for kids 8-12, may not seem to be academic in nature, it actually is. Its point is to teach kids tolerance for diversity. Each book in the series takes place in another culture. In the first book, The Lost Treasure of the Golden Sun, the main character goes to the Navajo Nation with her twin sister and her neighbor. She discovers that the visions and strange encounters she has had have been caused by ghosts, and it’s a medicine man who validates this for her. The readers are engrossed in what I hope is an exciting story while at the same time learning all about Navajo culture. One internationally known mystery writer called this story “a Tony Hillerman for kids,” which I consider a tremendous compliment.

The second book, The Secret of Blackhurst Manor, the main character goes to England with her family; she has inherited a manor house from her recently deceased Grampa—a house the family didn’t even know he owned. Through the mystery in this story, readers learn about the unfairness of the class system. The story is set in Lincoln, a city at the top of Sherwood Forest, where my ex-husband was from and where I lived at one time. It was built by the Romans, so, of course, I had to put Roman soldier ghosts in the story. This lent itself to all kinds of references to Lincoln’s Roman past. This is perfect for 6th graders, who study Ancient Rome.

Each book in the series is accompanied by a teacher’s guide, so that the books can be used in the classroom with social studies units.

AA: As an adjunct, how do you find time to write?

Carol: In short, with great difficulty. As a large part of my income comes from book sales (to date, I have sold 65,000 copies of my APA guide, for example, and I’m in the second print run of the first book of the mystery series), my teaching load can be lightened when I need a lot of time to write. At other times, I do my teaching first, then write the rest of the day in between handling issues at my publishing company,.  

AA: How have the institutions who employ you responded to your writing? (Do they support it? Ignore it? Even know about it?)

Carol: Without one of the institutions, The World’s Easiest Guide to Using the APA would have been a lot harder to produce. Back in 1995, I was teaching onground at a large private university for adult learners. I mentioned that one student had thrown the APA Manual across the room in frustration. I immediately went home and outlined a more user-friendly way to present this information. When I had a rough draft, I approached the Director of Academic Affairs and showed him what I was doing. He ordered 2000 copies on the spot, 1000 for faculty and 1000 for the bookstore. That launched Stargazer Publishing Company, which concentrates on books for the educational market, and the first and second print runs of the APA guide.

Another university at which I teach adopted my book for several years as their required APA style guide.

As they say, however, all good things must come to an end. The first university decided that they wanted rights to the book so they could earn the profits themselves, and when I wouldn’t hand them over, they stopped using it. The president of the second university decided that the school couldn’t require students to use a book that hadn’t been written by a Ph.D. Good thing the book, now in its 4th edition, has been and is selling to colleges and universities all over the country. Loss of these two accounts did not cause any major problems except a blow to the ego and major disappointment for the lack of ongoing support.

AA: Unfortunately, your experience with these two schools sounds all too likely—part of academia’s ongoing push towards a professionalization that is too narrowly defined.

Greg Beatty: Thank you for sharing your story with us, Carol, and for your work. 

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