It's been said, Mary Jo Rulnick, aka Fast Track Woman, is the real thing. She enjoys every experience she has and every person she meets. She has boundless energy and enthusiasm, not just for her career, but for life.
As the wedding coordinator for an internationally renowned museum and former events planner for a national corporation, she turned her do-it-yourself expertise into a writing career. Against numerous obstacles, she published, not one but two books, with Time Warner Book Group:
* The Frantic Woman's Guide to Life
* The Frantic Woman's Guide to Feeding Family and Friends
Mary Jo has beaten the odds. After almost two decades as an at-home mom raising children, Mary Jo started from scratch to build a career in a very competitive writing world. She's overcome a speech deficiency and being told “you'd have to be on drugs in order to like your writing.” Today, Mary Jo shows women how determination can help them achieve their personal and professional goals.
She has contributed to five other books, specializing in home, family and life issues. With more than 300 articles in print and countless quotes in national magazines such as Allure, Better Homes and Garden, Home Based Business, Family Circle, Real Simple, Writer's Digest, and Woman's Day, this fast-track woman is a regular TV and radio guest on stations throughout the country.
With her creative marketing solutions featured on high traffic web sites, she's garnered the number one author spot on Internet Book Database, surpassing her biggest competitor Rachael Ray. And she has caught the attention of Food Network TV, requesting several casting tapes. With her do-it-yourself attitude and a unique approach to marketing outside the traditional box, Mary Jo created Shoe Lace Promotion, creative marketing on a shoestring budget.
Do you come from a creative family? Are there any writers in your family?
My grandmother could sew anything. I remember my mom retelling the story of how my grandmother had taken a hand-me-down fur coat, cut it apart and sewn a coat for my mother without ever using a pattern. As for writers in the family, I'm the only one so far.
How did you become interested in events planning? What do you enjoy about it? Where/how did you develop the background to move into the planning field?
I sat on the board of seven non-profit organizations and had a lot of firsthand experience organizing and executing events. When I joined the workforce again, a natural fit was as an event coordinator. I love creating the event, coming up with a unique twist on something mundane and doing all of it on a budget. The outcome, the faces of the people attending, and their enjoyment was even better. It gave me a sense of satisfaction to know I made someone smile that day.
What do you view as your strengths?
Creativity, thinking outside the box, recognizing and accepting my weaknesses, and enjoying life and the people I meet along the way.
What is the key, for you, and others, to not being overwhelmed by all the activities and demands?
For me, I love what I do so it isn't work for me. It's something I do because I have fun. When I have a lot on my schedule, I work one deadline at a time, day by day. I mark all of these commitments on a wipe off board, then cross them off as I accomplish them. It's a great feeling. Also, the night before I go to bed, I write on my board what I need to achieve the next day. So, this way I can jump right in.
If someone is feeling overwhelmed, it's time to take a step back and look at what is causing it. That's when the tough decisions come in. What do you keep? What can you eliminate? What can you cut back on? Also, take a look at what is bringing you pleasure and what is not? It's time to dump the things that are not bringing you pleasure.
You say that challenges and problems are opportunities to improve on your lifestyle. Can you elaborate on this?
When we have something in our lives that isn't working, it becomes an opportunity to solve the problem or make the situation work better, which improves our lifestyles. And it can be something simple, too. A great example is one night Josh, then preteen age, came into my office and asked, “What's for dinner?” Being under a tight deadline, I answered, “Just let me finished this.” Twice, he came back. Finally, I finished my assignment and walked into the kitchen. Josh looked up at me from spreading peanut butter and jelly on bread and said, “I made dinner. Want one?”
My family meal preparation wasn't working at the time and it was definitely a challenge to get dinner on the table so I knew I had to develop a better system for feeding my family. Now, on days that I know I don't have time for dinner, there's a slow cook meal that I pop into the slow cooker in the morning and it's ready when we walk in the door. Or I whip up a no-cook meal. (Take a look at the Quick-fix recipe resource guide. It offers recipes, time needed to go from counter to tabletop, and the page number you'll find it on.)
By taking a task that's not working, figuring out why it isn't working, then coming up with a way to solve it, you've conquered the challenge and improved your life.
Do you offer “live” workshops?
Absolutely. As a working mom, I know first-hand how chaotic it can be to juggle career and family. I've presented workshops at Pennsylvania Governor's Conference for Women, Viacom/MTV Network, American Heart Association, Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Mine Safety Appliance, Romance Writers of America, Women's Business Network, and UPMC Senior Living Division. Check out my workshops to see what I offer.
What drives, what motivates you?
Reaching personal and professional goals while having fun, which is probably why some of the stuff I plan in the way of marketing and promoting is a bit quirky. I'm impulsive and like to have fun and I can laugh at myself.
As a stay-at-home mom and avid volunteer, when did you decide to become a writer?
When I turned 35 years old, I hit a pivotal point in my life. I was sitting at a board meeting discussing perspective board members to fulfill the recent vacancies. One of the members, a well-known pediatrician announced, “We need more business people on the board and not another housewife.” I could feel my face heating up. I looked around the conference room and knew I was the only so-called housewife there. I turned to the executive director assuming he would defend me only to discover him nodding his head in agreement. I sat stunned and embarrassed. I couldn't stop thinking I was good enough to organize fundraisers, member programs and events, but that didn't seem to matter. I went home that night, wrote a letter of resignation, and wondered if I could remember the last time I did something for me. I couldn't. As women, we tend to nurture everyone around us and forget about ourselves. Who we are and what we want out of life? In the back of my mind, I had a niggling that I always wanted to be a writer.
But, how did you do it?
Being an avid reader, my first step was to read ever writing and marketing book in my library and surrounding ones. Interlibrary loan offered lots of reading material. I had taken several classes by local authors, including freelance writing by Loriann Hoff Oberlin; greeting card writing by Sandra Miller-Louden; and children's fiction writing by Karen Waggoner. Then, I made it a habit to write something, even if it was a paragraph or two, everyday.
Then, I used a lot of the same tactics to reach my new goal that I had used as a volunteer. I outlined a plan of action.
Did you always want to write non-fiction?
No. My heart was in children's fiction. As a mom of two, I was following the advice that every writer hears “write what you know.” I knew a lot about kids. However, my writing voice, too concise and without a lot of descriptive words, was not geared toward the children's market.
What was your first published writing?
Through the months of rejections, success had come in quick two liners sold to a greeting card company called Palm Press, Inc. in CA. Though I had only sold three captions, I hit the publishing jackpot when greeting card guru Sandra Miller-Louden gave me the inside scoop that Broderbund Software Company was seeking captions. They bought 12 of my captions for their software program Print Shop Ensemble II and I was in greeting card heaven.
Did you stop writing children's fiction after that?
No. The cliché, you could hear a pin drop fit the situation. Not one person in the group lifted his or her head to look at me. Not one person made a negative or positive comment after that. The critique leader moved to the next person.
The cliché, you could hear a pin drop fit the situation. Not one person in the group lifted their heads to look at me. Not one person made a negative or positive comment after that. The critique leader moved to the next person.
Though I hadn't realized this was another pivotal moment and what a positive influence this would have on me, it pushed me to really think about my writing and ask myself if I was really writing what I knew. In the week of pouting that followed (along with plenty of whining and ranting), I realized I wasn't writing what I knew. I knew a lot about kids from an adult perspective. However, I wasn't sure where to start or what direction to take.
When did the rejections change to acceptances?
The change of direction occurred unexpectedly. While hosting a holiday party for my son's third-grade class, one mother coined me the “Party Expert” and said I needed to start offering workshops. Then, one of the teachers named me the “do-it-yourself expert” and it stuck. These comments stayed with me for weeks, but I shrugged them off. Until, I received another rejection on my chapter book. After a nudge from author Beverly Breton Carroll, I typed up the directions for a bingo craft/game idea I had created for Josh's classroom party and sent it to Disney's FamilyFun Magazine. And when I received a contract in the mail for the piece, I started shrieking through the house. My family came running. Seeing that contract, holding it in my hands, brought such a feeling of joy, accomplishment and satisfaction.
Although, I couldn't throw in the towel just yet, I made a deal with myself. I would pitch children's stories as well as some fun family activities and I would follow the path of whichever genre I received the first acceptance. So when Pittsburgh Parent Magazine sent a check for “25 Ways to Create a Boredom-free Summer,” I knew it was time to close the door on the fiction writing…at least for now.
Did you have a day job while starting your writing career?
Shortly after my first sale, I accepted a position as an Events Coordinator for the senior population with a major western Pennsylvania corporation. I knew this would take away some of the time reserved for writing, but I also knew this position would enhance my professional career. My writing career would benefit from it, too, since I was specializing in home, family and life issues. (And of course, the income was a huge bonus with two kids in braces, not counting all of their sports and activities and all the other expenses that come from raising kids.) I would need to balance home and career and it would satisfy my people-oriented personality. (Yes, I can be a chatty Cathy. For those who follow The Personality Compass, I'm a WEST NORTH.)
Through this nine-year term, I gained extensive knowledge in dealing with the corporate world, nonprofit organizations, senior citizens and various stages of planning and marketing to the public, giving more depth to my writing skills. And I learned a lot of shortcuts to make my personal life more efficient, which would make it a lot easier. Granted, I hit a number of snags along the way. However, I like to consider problems as challenges and challenges offer a chance to find a better way to do something that isn't working.
What do you see as your strengths as a writer?
Although my writing is very concise, my writing voice is very conversational as if I'm talking to a friend. Readers tell me that's what they love about my writing. They feel as if I'm sitting in the kitchen talking to them. Also, I'm able to supply a lot of information in a limited amount of words.
Do you generally write on the topics of balancing home, family and work? Or do you treat other subjects?
Usually, my topics are home, family and work, though not always related to balancing. I cover tough subjects like death and sports and teen driving, then lighter subjects like vacations and camps. And I've covered everything from education to remodeling.
What do you hope readers take from your writing?
I hope my readers put down my books/articles and walk away with at least one tip that will save them time, solve a challenge or make their life easier. For my latest book, if my readers serve one meal from the book to their family rather than picking up fast food, then I'll be thrilled.
How did you start teaching writing classes?
I sold a lot of parenting articles and then sold reprint rights (offering a previously published article to other magazines to reprint). That was great and so much fun to sell as it was free money—the work was already completed and all I had to do was email the piece to an editor. Once I had sold the same camp article 12 times.
Anyway, I had numerous people, writers and non-writers, ask, “How did you get published?” And it seemed like I spent a lot of time answering questions and giving details of my publishing path. Sandra, the greeting card guru and one of my former teachers, mentioned that Community College of Allegheny County and writerscollege.com (formerly WritersClub.com), wanted to add writing classes to their programs. So, I developed a four-part class giving others the same plan I used to write and sell. Once I had the classes underway, I pitched these as workshops to writers' conference directors. Then, I had taken my class notes and personal experiences and self-published Easy Writing, Easy Money (available as an e-book J)
What's on the horizon?
Currently, I'm promoting my latest book The Frantic Woman's Guide to Feeding Family and Friends, another Grand Central, formerly Time Warner, publication. (Buy it…you'll like it.) J As the wedding coordinator for an internationally renowned museum, I'm brainstorming my next book…take a guess what it will be? J And I'm taking one step at a time to get on one of the national morning programs. (Hey, Kathie Lee, you hear me? Rachael, I'm free tomorrow. Barbara, I have some great tips for your viewers.) How awesome would that be?