Dorice Nelson-Damsky ’52 found that you are what you love to do.
By Doug McInnis
Anam, in Gaelic, refers to the indestructible self, or the soul. It is not something one can strive to become. It is something one is.
Dorice Teper Nelson-Damsky discovered her anam relatively late in life. Over the years, she worked as a model, real estate agent, government employee, and teacher. But 15 years ago, when she could have retired, she took on a second career — fiction writing. And, with that, she found her calling and achieved a bit of immortality in the process.
Dorice finished her first book at age 70 — after five years of sweat, she says. Fortunately, her search for a publisher went more quickly. “I only sent it out on a lark — and it was immediately snapped up,” she recalls.
Ten years later she has published two more novels and has three others in the works. She writes under the name Dorice Nelson in a genre that is part romance, part history, part adventure — something for everyone. Her novels are Celtic in setting and character: Clan Gunn: Gerek is a tale of love and clan violence in 17th-century Scotland, Lost Son of Ireland depicts the fighting Norse of the 9th century, and Saratoga Summer 1863 is the start of a series on five Irish brothers who emigrated to New York in the mid-19th century. Aiming for a mainstream readership between the ages of 20 and 80, she has increased readers’ access by publishing all her books in both print and Kindle-friendly digital formats.
Her interest in Celtic culture came out of her childhood in Albany, New York. “Albany was an Irish city,” she says. “I’ve always had a love of things Celtic.” She scours books and the Internet for slices of history that might form the backdrop to her fiction. “I now have an extensive library on Ireland, Scotland, and England,” she adds.
Dorice chose Ithaca College because her uncle, Ben Light ’36, worked there as a coach and administrator. She majored in professional theater. “I did the usual college thing and wrote a one-act play for my class in playwriting,” she recalls. “But I never believed myself to be a writer.”
Now writing consumes much of her time. Some days, she will wake up with a fully developed idea, feed her dog, and then head to her computer. On other days, mid-afternoon writing works best. If she has to leave home for an appointment, she takes her laptop and writes when she has bits of time to kill.
She learned her craft by trial and error while working on her first novel, Clan Gunn. “I started it, tossed it away, and restarted it time and time again,” she recalls. “But once the characters became clear and I understood the history well enough to figure out how people lived then, I was able to write faster.”
Still, she admits that writing is hard work. “Often, it is not enjoyable, just tedious. But at other times, the work is so rewarding I can’t stop for days. I love working with my characters. I can make them anything I want them to be — good, bad, or indifferent. I thoroughly enjoy writing about villains.”
Dorice plots her books only after she finds a setting and a time period, and has envisioned characters that fit both the time and place. “Yet I am constantly surprised how the plot changes as I go along,” she says. “Often, the characters give me a clue as to where they are going and what they are doing. But I seldom let them completely take over. When you want your characters to do something — unlike real folks — they can’t say no.”
Read excerpts of Dorice's novels.