Book coach Suzette Mullen has a story of her own | Senior Living

Editor’s note: This story appeared in Senior Living section of the May 11 edition of LNP.

Suzette Mullen describes her day-to-day world as a little triangle that takes her from the Lancaster Press Building condo she shares with her wife, Wendy, to her co-working space at the Candy Factory across the street, to Evolution Power Yoga down Harrisburg Pike, and back home again.

“I’m as happy as a clam with that,” she says. “It’s a very nice life.”

But it’s certainly not the life Mullen, a book coach, would have imagined writing for herself more than 30 years ago when she got married and moved with her husband to Houston, Texas, to start a career in corporate law.

Mullen likes to tell her writing clients that a good memoir finds meaning in some life experience in a way that connects with readers.

The realization of her true sexual identity was the inspiration for Mullen’s own recently finished memoir, “Graveyard of Safe Choices,” but at its core, she says, it’s about coming into one’s true self, whatever that may be. Her message from Ella to readers is simple: It’s never too late to say yes to your life.

For Mullen, 61, that “yes” came in her mid-50s, but the story begins much earlier.

The daughter of public school teachers, Mullen grew up in New Rochelle, New York, and graduated from Wellesley College and Harvard Law School. After moving to Houston, she worked for a general practice law firm handling mergers, acquisitions and stock deals. Later, she would enjoy a second legal career, representing low-income families in the special education process. In between, she devoted her time to volunteering and raising the couple’s two sons.

After 25 years in Texas, Mullen and her husband returned to New York 10 years ago as empty-nesters, ready to start writing their next chapter.

“It’s definitely a time that people take stock of what’s next,” she says. “That was absolutely the case for me. I thought it would just be professionally, but it turned out to be personally, too.”

And she would soon discover that the two were inextricably intertwined.

Mullen considered a return to her law career, but after a period of discernment, she realized that it was no longer her calling.

“When I really sat and listened to myself and all the things I loved to do, everything related to writing and editing,” she says “I was kind of like, duh. I had been doing all of this in many different capacities for years and was very good at it. When something comes fairly easily to you and you’re good at it, you don’t think too much about it.”

Taking the plunge into a new career was fairly easy. She began doing freelance editing and helping students craft their college and graduate school application essays. She also began writing a memoir — not the one she just completed, but a different one exploring her professional journey.

As part of that process, Mullen wrote about what she describes as an intense female friendship. After reading those pages, Mullen’s book coach commented that one scene sounded exactly like someone who is falling in love.

And then, what was there all along suddenly became clear.

“It’s possible to have many, many, many layers of denial,” Mullen says. “All of us have lived in a world where heterosexuality is the norm. This was a friendship that was very important to me, but I had struggled with it for 15, 17 years. I didn’t have the language to articulate who this person was to me. I really feel like I kind of wrote myself out.”

The personal epiphany, however, was much harder to deal with than the professional one.

“I had a very solid marriage. I had a very nice life,” she says. “I was married to a lovely man. I loved him. I have loved me. From the outside, it all looked really perfect.”

Mullen spent 18 months struggling with how to deal with this life-changing revelation. She had never been a risk-taker, she says. Should she continue to play it safe or should she free herself from a cage of her own making her? Did she have the right to pursue her own happiness at the expense of everyone else’s her? Her husband reminded her that there was no path forward that did not involve pain.

“Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t willing to go to my grave without knowing who I really was,” she says. “It was the most terrifying moment of my life. … Leaving a marriage, leaving a life, even when it’s the right thing, is still a big loss.”

While going through her divorce in 2017, she visited the one person she knew in Lancaster. Five weeks later she decided to move here.

“I had never been here, never thought about coming here, and when I came here, it was just like things started lining up,” Mullen says. “Sometimes I think we don’t know what we need or what’s home for us until we actually see it and we’re actually there.”

Being true to herself personally helped Mullen discover the professional life she had longed for, too. In 2019, she earned her certification as an Author Accelerator book coach, and now works with LGBTQ writers and allies to start and finish their memoirs and nonfiction books. She is a founding board member of the Lancaster LGBTQ+ Coalition.

She also found time to complete her own memoir. Her main audience for her is primarily readers at midlife, she says, but not necessarily people who are questioning their sexuality or contemplating the radical changes she made in her own life. It could simply be someone who has deferred their own dreams or who fears leaving the safety of the unknown, she says.

“It is not too late to say yes to whatever it is you feel authentically called to,” Mullen says. “Now that I’m on this side of it, even though it was very difficult, there’s no regrets. And there’s no regrets about the past life, too. I’ve been very fortunate to have had a number of very meaningful and lovely chapters in my life, and this is a new chapter and it’s exciting.”

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