In the Writing Center at the Community College of Rhode Island, Dr. Karen Petit helps students edit and refine their work. As a professor in the English department and coordinator of the Writing Center, she is an authority on writing for students.
Now, Petit can add published author to that resume, having released her first book, a suspenseful romance, “Banking on Dreams.”
“It’s something I always wanted to do,” she said.
A resident of Cranston, the road to becoming an author has been a challenging one. A single mother of two, Petit struggled to support her children while going back to school.
“I struggled for a lot of years,” said Petit, who described herself at the time as “broke.”
She had always loved reading and writing, and wanted to combine those passions in a career that allowed her to work closely with people. From her experience as a Sunday school teacher, she knew that teaching fulfilled those requirements.
“I didn’t want to just sit at the computer every day. I wanted to work with people,” she said.
After taking her pre-requisite courses at CCRI, Petit transferred to the University of Rhode Island, where she received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in English and rhetoric from URI and immediately dove back into academia, teaching courses at 11 different universities and community colleges across the region.
At one time, she taught courses at four different colleges at the same time. Since 2007, she has been at CCRI full-time, running the Writing Center by day and teaching in the evenings.
When she isn’t teaching or grading papers, Petit is writing. She started writing “Banking on Dreams” in January of 2010, picking up speed during the summer months when her teaching load is lighter. For many months, she ate dinner at her computer so she could write at the same time.
“My best writing is usually in the evening,” she said, adding that it didn’t feel like work to sit down and start writing after a long day at CCRI. “It is relaxing in a way because I enjoy writing.”
Although her passion is writing, Petit incorporated her past life as a bank teller into “Banking on Dreams.” The book follows bank teller Lisa Reilly, a Rhode Island romantic whose nightmares become reality when her bank is robbed.
“When I went to write my book, I wanted to write about something I knew, and I thought the bank culture would be interesting,” Petit said.
Other elements of Petit’s life can be found on the page. Lisa Reilly is a ballroom dancer, like Petit, and also tries to harness her dreams. Petit is familiar with lucid dreaming techniques and worked that into the novel.
“What I really worked with for this novel is I’m combining dream and reality,” she said. “I have used real dream sequences from my own dreams in the book.”
As Lisa experiences vivid dreams and nightmares, Petit shares those experiences with the reader. She weaves the story through fantasy and reality, with different chapters depicting Lisa’s sleeping and waking lives. Inspiration for these scenes often came from Petit’s own dreams. She occasionally will set her alarm for 2 or 3 in the morning, forcing herself out of sleep and immediately scribbling down everything she could remember from her dreams.
Writing the dream scenes was an exciting challenge for Petit.
“I was trying to make them like real dreams but still have them be understandable to people. I think I was successful,” she said.
Whenever she hit a roadblock, Petit would try to plow right through it, following the advice she gives her students.
“I tell my students, if you can’t write, just write something bad,” she said. “That gets me over the hump.”
In February of 2011, roadblocks behind her, Petit’s hard work paid off. The book was done and had been accepted by Tate Publishing.
“When I got the contract in the mail, I cried,” she said.
After several rounds of editing, “Banking on Dreams” was ready for release. Petit has since set out to promote the book, hosting signings at CCRI and at local Barnes & Noble stores, where the book is available.
With a hardcover copy of her book in hand, Petit admits that she has caught the bug. In November of 2012, she began writing her second novel, and is already nearly finished. It’s a hobby-turned-career that she plans to pursue for years to come.
“It’s something I can do when I’m 80 or 90,” she said.
The second book involves several minor characters from “Banking on Dreams,” but can stand-alone. While “Banking on Dreams” is for a general audience, Petit’s follow-up novel is geared more toward a Christian audience. A parishioner at Phillips Memorial Baptist Church in Cranston, her faith is a big part of her life, and she highlights that in her second book. She also incorporates elements from her family’s history as Puritan descendents of John Robinson, pastor to the Pilgrims.
“The second novel is more personal. It’s connected to my ancestors, so it’s something that means something to me and my family,” she said.
Back in the classroom as a published author, Petit hopes to inspire her students to pursue their dreams and share their stories with the world, signing copies of her book with the inscription, “May your best dreams become reality.”