Not only has Monica Duncan’s fantasy come true, but it happened a lot sooner than she expected.
The Newburyport resident has been working as a professional musician and teaching in the Hamilton-Wenham school system for years, but she always dreamed of writing fiction, as well.
Duncan thought that would have to wait until she retired, when she would have time to take writing courses at Harvard Extension School.
Instead, “something magical happened” when the youngest of her two sons started kindergarten in 2015.
“I had this new time during the day, and within weeks, I started writing, and began writing every single day,” she said. “I became obsessed.”
She wrote one novel, which hasn’t been published, and another that has, “Twine,” which Duncan will discuss at Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport this Friday at 7 p.m.
The book was recently included in Parade magazine, in a list of “recommendations based on your favorite TV shows,” which said, “If you love ‘This is Us,’ read ‘Twine’ by Monica Duncan.”
“The book started as a flow of consciousness,” she said. “I am commenting on where I came from. In this book, there are some latent feelings about what I had left, and I left there very deliberately.”
That place is a rural town in southern Michigan, which is also where Juniper Kowalski, the main character of “Twine,” has returned when the novel opens.
Juniper is a painter who has recently finished a prestigious art program in Chicago, but for now is living in a trailer that she inherited from her grandmother and supports herself by working as a housekeeper at a chain hotel.
Juniper doesn’t have enough confidence to pursue graduate school and taps into her creative instincts only after learning to embrace an experience that could have been a setback.
When this unexpected turn in her life forces Juniper to examine her past, along with the lives of several generations of women in her family, she doesn’t like what she sees.
In response, she creates several public art projects, to reject the kind of self-abnegation that is habitual for her mother, Cora.
“Cora wanted anonymity,” Duncan writes. “Juniper saw that as part of the problem, not even feeling like you deserved life, liberty and the pursuit. Like someone was doing her a favor. Cora always acted like someone was doing her a favor.”
Juniper’s first step in her creative journey is made possible in part by acknowledging the destructive roles that men have played in her family’s history.
“Her grandpa had deeply and painfully betrayed the women in their family by physically hurting them,” Duncan writes. “Her father had really done the same by hurting them with his absence.”
While Juniper’s poverty parallels the conditions in Duncan’s early life, Duncan turned to music rather than painting as a way out of uncertainty.
She had moved 15 times around the Midwest by the time she was 13, as her father looked “for the next best thing.”
And like Juniper’s mother, who works at a Subway restaurant inside a Walmart, Duncan’s mother was a waitress at a Red Lobster and was 18 when she gave birth to Monica.
“My parents were similar to the people I wrote about in my book,” Duncan said. “I was first-generation college. They didn’t have any education, like many Michigan people who are underemployed.”
But while Duncan worked in her share of low-paying service jobs, she also had “some natural ability” as a musician and knew that was what she wanted to do.
“I think I had an untraditional start and an untraditional path,” she said. “It came easy for me early on. I think I struggled to get where I am today. Not having a good instrument got in my way, not having private lessons got in my way.”
Economic limitations even determined which instrument Duncan would eventually learn to play.
“When I was in fifth grade, I wanted to play French horn, but it was too expensive,” she said. “But my aunt had a clarinet under the bed, and that’s how I ended up playing clarinet.”
But Duncan persevered and got degrees in music from Michigan State University and then Indiana University, before boarding a plane for Boston.
In addition to teaching at several local schools, she now plays union gigs for everything from German beer bands to The Temptations and serves as principal clarinetist for the Salem Philharmonic.
She also plays with Cape Ann Symphony, which will perform in Manchester-by-the-Sea and Ipswich next week, and she picked up saxophone from her husband, David Schumacher, who directs the award-winning jazz program at Pentucket Regional High School in West Newbury.
But while all her time has been devoted to music, Duncan was always a voracious reader and discovered the fiction of Annie Proulx back in the 1990s.
“Something about the level of creativity in her writing blew me away,” she said. “She was the first person that planted a seed in my mind — ‘I want to express myself in this way.’”
She felt her writing voice came naturally, but Duncan sought help with structure from an editor, who taught her to “retroactively think about the theme of what you’re writing and tether everything you’re doing around that theme,” she said.
While people have been surprised to discover that Duncan works in two art forms, she said the two complement each other, and the elements of rhythm and pacing that are basic in playing music also apply to writing prose.
“I bring so much of listening to writing,” Duncan said. “I think of how the writing sounds.”
If you go
What: Book launch, reading and signing with Monica Duncan, author of “Twine”
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Jabberwocky Bookshop, The Tannery Marketplace, 50 Water St., Newburyport
How much: Free, with books available to purchase
More information: 978-465-9359 or www.jabberwockybookshop.com