From The Republican: Bitten by the writing bug””

Bitten by the writing bug

Sunday, January 30, 2011


This week's release of Ellen Meeropol's debut novel, "House Arrest," marks a major milestone in her career as a writer. Most remarkable is that, now in her 60s, she didn't start writing full-time until six years ago. Her transition from nurse practitioner to novelist proves, as 19th century author George Eliot said, "It's never too late to be who you might have been."

A Western Massachusetts resident, Meeropol didn't change careers because she felt unfulfilled. Quite the contrary. She loved her work and achieved notable success. An expert on latex allergy, she lectured, published articles in nursing and medical journals, and received the Chair of Excellence Award from the Spina Bifida Association of America.

Always a voracious reader, she often thought about writing a novel but, she says, "it was nothing more than a pipedream."

Then, in 2000 she took a fiction workshop – online, "because if I was really bad no one would know."

The writing bug bit.

"Initially, I didn't think about leaving my nurse practitioner practice, but by 2005 all I wanted to do was write."

She retired that year to pursue a writing career, and took a part-time job, not surprisingly, in a bookstore. It wasn't easy. "I went from being an expert in my field," she says, "to being a novice writer."

Like most novelists, Meeropol mines the raw material of her life for her fiction, exploring experiences that seem to defy understanding.

"I'm obsessed with the stories of people who live at the intersection of political injustice and family life. People who become outsiders because of their activism for human rights, and have to deal with the consequences of those choices. Much of what I write wrestles with the question about how to be true to your beliefs, without harming those you love in possibly unforgiveable ways."

Given her family history, her obsession is well founded. A lifelong political activist, she's married to Robert Meeropol, who established the Rosenberg Fund for Children in memory of his parents. He was 6 years old when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed after a controversial trial that drew worldwide protests.

Publisher's Weekly describes "House Arrest" as a "tightly composed" first novel, "unflinching in taking on challenging subjects and deliberating uneasy ethical conundrums."

Set in Springfield, Mass., and Maine, the novel delves into an unlikely relationship between two women. Pippa Glenning is pregnant and under house arrest for the death of her first child. Emily is the nurse assigned to manage Pippa's prenatal care. Both are haunted by childhood tragedies caused by their parents' political actions. When Pippa asks a favor that could jeopardize Emily's job, Emily must challenge her own beliefs about right and wrong, justice and injustice.

Today, Ellen Meeropol is living her "pipedream." She writes full-time and, with a recent master of fine arts degree in creative writing, teaches fiction workshops.

She claims she's "incredibly lucky," but such modesty undervalues the determination and hard work she's invested to become the writer she was meant to be.

Rita Marks is a free-lance writer living in Springfield, MA. She can be reached at