United We Are a Force, and Individually We are W.O.N.
Images Courtesy of Pamela Brothers Denyes
Women of Note celebrates the unique talents of women of Hampton Roads and seeks to raise awareness of issues women face in the 21st century. We are well aware of the many hats women wear throughout the day as well as throughout their lives and we would like to give women the opportunity to share their experiences juggling these with our community. By sharing our experiences, we hope to inspire others, learn from their perspectives, and foster a dialogue that creates solutions. Today we spot light Pamela Brother Denyes.
Affiliation(s) (past and present):
Poetry Society of America; Poetry Society of Virginia (immediate past treasurer, 2021-22);
Hampton Roads Writers;Virginia Writers Club; Big Pink Music; Tidewater Arts Outreach (past) and Many, many volunteer jobs, such as Webmaster for my church, women’s conference director, singing in a 40-voice choir at nursing homes!
How long have you been (working in/participating in) your field? How did you get into it?
One of my undergraduate courses in 1982 was a re-introduction to college required of returning or commuting students. The instructor assigned us one thing only: we were to keep a journal for every day of the quarter; no matter how brief, something must be written, drawn, poetically recorded, whatever, for every single day. Yes, we all moaned about it, but it became my favorite thing to do each day! This assignment was the beginning of my now 40-year habit of writing down my daily life.
After a twenty-five-year endeavor, in 1995 I cobbled together an undergraduate degree at Virginia Wesleyan University (Magna cum Laude), mostly social sciences, arts and humanities that I had missed at other schools. I had previously achieved an AAS in Microcomputer Science/Business (Summa cum Laude). The one thing I never had a class in was creative writing. In 1970, I had tested out of English at Winthrop University (SC), and never had to take any! Virginia Wesleyan was the most demanding of the universities I attended and I was required to produce major papers and a senior thesis. I found research and writing to be my niche.
In my first job after finishing my degree in 1995, I was hired as a researcher and writer for a contract with the US Air Force Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business. We were charged with helping those individuals and companies learn to how to do business with the government, including women-owned businesses. At first I was part of a team hired 1) to research and write about best practices for doing business with the Air Force, and 2) to produce both online and hard-copy introductory material—books, booklets, in-person classes/appearances, etc. Within about fifteen months, I was chosen to lead the team. I finished out the term of the contract as project manager, including obtaining the next contract for our team.
By then, I was financially comfortable enough to consider using my job to “give back” to our community. Using both my computer and writing skills, I became the first “outside hire” for HamptonRoads.com, our local internet gateway, an offshoot of the Virginian Pilot’s online version. As community producer, my job was to give away web-based tools to nonprofits and teach them how to use them. It was all very contemporary for 1998. I was the oldest at the staff meetings at forty-six! Yes, I was able to write some pieces for the paper and both online outlets, but it was mostly creating more community-focused content, such as chat room topics, database-driven lists of events and organizations.
As my late husband’s and my careers wound toward retirement, I started my own company in the spa industry, and soon began to teach classes, too. From 2001 until my husband became ill in mid-2011, I maintained my own business. I became a trainer for a proprietary technique (facelift massage) and soon became the national training director for the company, overhauling student and teacher training manuals. More writing, but still all my writing was nonfiction.
My husband passed early in 2012 and I found myself stuck with feelings I didn’t know how to release from my mind… so I wrote them down. And wrote and wrote and wrote. Before long there was poetry about everything that happened in my life. It had become my greatest teacher and imminent relief when feelings of any sort overwhelmed me. As I began to venture into the world of dating again, I found more fodder for what was becoming my poetry habit!
In the summer of 2019 I decided to do something with my writing and began to submit a few poems to contests and publishers. The first one I submitted, “Mrs. Creekmore’s May Peas,” was about the mass shooting at the Virginia Beach Courthouse. It won first place at the 2019 Hampton Roads Writers Conference. The second poem I submitted was selected to be published in an anthology of Virginia writers. I was hooked by the quick successes!
When the Covid pandemic isolations hit, I knew that I would need both mental and physical activities that I could do without others being involved. I chose to put my poems into collections and begin submitting them to publishers and contests. It didn’t cost much and it kept me mentally active in a challenging time. In June of 2020, a collection won an honorable mention in a contest (now The Right Mistakes). In December 2021 The Right Mistakes was picked up by Kelsay Books, and I was thrilled! In January 2022 a second collection, The Widow’s Lovers, was selected by a British publisher. I did not like the terms, however, so I offered it to Kelsay Books, who was excited to have the collection. Suddenly, after two years and six months of working at it, I had two collections in publishing contracts!
Having much to learn in the publishing industry, my personal goal of Lifelong Learning has been put to the test. I have learned the next thing to do just in time to get it done! Time went on in the process of editing, selecting covers, fitting into the publisher’s time schedule, etc., and I began to make plans for readings and sales to start by early September. I was a little too ambitious with my scheduling of events and wound up not having any books yet, though I had booked space at a writer’s conference for selling them. Seeing that I would not have books at the conference unless I did something on my own, I quickly self-published a smaller collection titled As I Lay Dreaming(Amazon) in early September.
Kelsay Books released my second collection, The Right Mistakes: Poems on Imperfection and Renewal, in October. The Widow’s Lovers: Poems on Longing, Loving and Letting Go was released November 7. Suddenly (but not really quickly!) I am an author with three books in the market! Both of these books are available on Kelsay Books’ web site and soon on Amazon.
Yes, I continue to write nearly every day and have four more collections growing already, as well as other ideas for a nonfiction book or two and at least one cozy mystery. I am grateful to have found this outlet for my creativity in my retirement years. It will keep me learning and experiencing new things for many years to come!
Please come out and meet me at The Muse Writers Center (2200 Colonial Ave, Norfolk, 23517) on December 4, 2022, at 4 p.m., for my triple book release! You can find out more on my Facebook page or web site, www.pbdenyes.com.
How long have you been working/ living in in Hampton Roads?
I have lived in Virginia Beach for most of my seventy years, with short stints in Elizabeth City, NC and Williamsburg, VA.
What advice would you give young women going into your field?
I advise women who desire to be writers to seek knowledge and skill in both their chosen form of writing and in the business aspects required of every writer. Read extensively in the genre in which you would like to write. Read craft books for your genre and attend courses and conferences that offer broad instruction in the field. Work through enough classes and maybe jobs that you know what your own “voice” sounds like. Then you will be less likely to allow your own voice to be weeded out by teachers, other writers or publishing industry professionals. From the beginning or as early as you can, use tools to help you track your writing, submitting and financial aspects of what you do… just like a business. If you approach writing as a business, you will always be in charge.
Have you faced challenges in your field because of your gender or have you found your gender to be an asset? What kinds of challenges or advantages, and how have they affected your life?
It’s been a mixed bag for me concerning my gender being an asset. The only job which I am pretty sure I got because of my gender was researching and writing for a USAF contract for the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business. Our contract was about researching best practices for doing business with the USAF and teaching those methods to small, minority and women-owned businesses. Yes, my then recently earned degree had a double focus of social sciences and business, and I had experience with the NC Council on the Status of Women. Overall, the team was probably enhanced by the addition of a mid-career woman.
What accomplishment is your greatest triumph?
I used to think that achieving an undergraduate degree after struggling to attain it for twenty-five years was my greatest triumph. At the time it felt like I could never surpass that long-sought goal. Then in 2011-12, I thought that staying relatively sane and fully functioning through my husband’s cancer treatment and ultimate death were valuable achievements and so important for my family. With the publication of three books in September, October and November of this year, I feel that I now have a very personal triumph. My voice is in the world in a way that is uniquely mine.
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