College of Arts and Sciences
Where can an English degree take you? Here’s a graduate’s story.
Maris Lawyer had her doubts about becoming an English major, but in hindsight she says her degree program was a very flexible one, developing in her skill sets that prove to be applicable in a variety of workplace settings. Her experience has been validated in her human resources and recruiting job for an environmental resources company in Greenville, and also the writing she has done on the side, which resulted in her award-winning novel, The Blue Line Down.
Tell me about your degree work.
I was in the English Department with a Creative Writing focus. I absolutely can’t speak highly enough of that program—they did a great job.
How did you get interested in writing?
It’s always been something I was interested in. It was a hobby. I certainly have much more affinity towards writing and communication... But I wasn’t really convinced I could make a career out of it.
I didn't start off as an English major when I came to AU, I started off in Psychology. I spoke with an upperclassman, Meg Campbell Sanders. She graduated two years before I did. She was in the English Department and she lived in my dorm building. We were friends. She was a junior at that point—I said I really am interested in this department but can I do anything with the degree? She really opened my eyes to what all you can do with an English degree. She was talking about folks who were a couple of years ahead of her and the jobs they were getting, internships and stuff she was involved with—just different things she was already aware of that you could do with an English degree. Since graduating I can absolutely verify that her advice was correct. It’s a very flexible degree and the skill sets are applicable in every workplace, I think.
My decision to change to English after I think it was my second semester freshman year has absolutely been validated. I’ve been so pleased with just the skills I walked away with and how applied in the workforce and how it’s helped me in my career.
Tell us about your work.
I work for an environmental consulting company. I do HR for them actually. It’s an unexpected path but the skill sets have served me well.
How did you decide to come to Anderson University?
I’ve grown up in the Upstate my whole life. I knew when I was getting towards the end of high school that I wanted to stay local. I’ve always loved the area. I haven’t wanted to be far from home and so we just naturally started looking at different colleges and universities in this area. When we went to Anderson’s campus, it was kind of like a click. It’s a beautiful campus, for one thing. The values of the university really matched up with my upbringing and what I believed in. The size was really appealing. Anderson has grown quite a bit since I graduated.
The size definitely appealed to me. I didn’t want to go to this massive campus. I wanted small classes. I feel like I had some sort of presence on campus and in the classrooms. That was definitely a big decision-maker as well. It was kind of a no-brainer for me.
What were some of your favorite college memories?
There were so many. Our capstone class senior year was with Dr. Theresa Jones—she’s since retired—but she was in the English department. We had that capstone class, which was a very intense class where we wrote a lengthy paper. The whole semester was spent writing that one paper. My senior year we got to know each other really well. We were a tight group. And I remember we were all fried. We were tired, we were stressed. It was a beautiful fall day and I convinced Dr. Jones to move class over to the ice cream place downtown. We convinced her to let us take class that day and move it over to downtown Anderson. We all got ice cream and just sat around outside. That was really special. We were kind of surprised she would let us do that, but that was really fun. It just kind of made my day. That was a great memory.
Outside of the classroom I met my dearest friends. I met my husband at AU, so there were a lot of precious moments there; Benjamin Lawyer, he was an accounting major. The Trojan Tradition started the year we started at Anderson, about 2013—that was the first year they did the Trojan Tradition and that’s where we met. That’s special to us as well.
How has your AU education helped you professionally and in other ways?
I really felt like I got kind of an inside track on my career. It was actually an internship that the dean recommended me for. Different companies come to the college and say we’re interested in getting interns, and he recommended me to First Quality, a manufacturer in Anderson, for the training department, and so I did that one summer and that was a fantastic internship and really that was the experience I felt earned me my job once I graduated. It was a really well done internship. I ended up getting a lot of valuable experience. Without that recommendation, that relationship with the college, I probably wouldn’t have found that company, gotten that internship and gotten a permanent job outside of the college. That resource the university provided to me when I was still a student… I didn’t know it at the time, but that kind of laid the groundwork for me to get my full time job after graduation. I think the framework that the college set for me as far as work ethic, collaboration, being respectful to your peers—I feel like a lot of what you bring into the workplace is not so much skill sets and how to do something because most of us are pretty green. You don’t always know how to do a job when you go into it, but it’s the principle of how do you work well with others, how are you respectful to people, how do you communicate with your supervisor—a lot of that I got in the classroom, and what I feel I brought into the workplace, even as a green 22 year old.
Tell us about how you got into HR.
I started working at Synterra as sort of an executive assistant. I worked in that role for about a year and then the HR person at the time left. Because of my experience with that internship in the training department, she told me before she left, “If you want to apply as an internal candidate, you can do this job.” I had the inside track in this company, and the HR director there was very gracious to train me up in all that stuff. I didn’t come into that with HR know-how, but she really invested in me and got me trained up in that. I’ve been doing that the past five years since then. I’ve been with the company for six years. So that’s how that came about.
You’re also an author of a novel that gained some prestigious honors. Tell us about that.
I was writing really ever since I graduated. My senior seminar project was a novel and so I worked pretty intensively with her on that for the whole semester. When I graduated, it was very much in rough draft form. I completed it, but it was very rough. Really for the better part of I guess it was over two years, I went back to revise it heavily. I stepped away from it for a while. I came back to it. I did a lot of revisions and edits until finally I said I’ve got to give myself a deadline to complete this and so I’ve got to submit it somewhere, otherwise I’m going to keep editing it forever.
That’s when I saw that Hub City Press in Spartanburg… It was called the South Carolina Novel Prize, I think they’ve since changed the name slightly, but they host that every two years and they happened to have the submission open for the 2020 South Carolina prize. It was a sweet little window where I was like “I can get this ready for submission.” I submitted it fully intending to submit it elsewhere as well, just to kind of broadcast submissions.
That was around February 2020. We all know what happened after that.
I just got distracted and forgot to submit anywhere else, and so that summer I was absolutely floored when they called and said “Hey, you’re a finalist.” I certainly did not think that I would get anywhere with that. It was just the kind of internal deadline for me. But I made finalist and then I won the competition. They published it in June of 2021. It was a wild experience—one I’m really grateful for.
The prize was publication and also a copy is automatically sent to every library in South Carolina. There are several different people who sponsor this contest. They do interviews and support as well. It’s a fantastic competition.
What has happened with your book since its original publication?
I’ve been really fortunate. It was featured at the National Literary festival in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Library of Congress back in August. It was featured with the South Carolina Center for the Book, the Great Reads Adult Author Selection. Each state gets a collection—some are for young adults—they have different categories. The South Carolina Center for the Book with the South Carolina Library selected my book for the adult category. So it was featured at the National Literary Festival up in D.C. I wasn’t able to attend because that happened three weeks before my daughter was born, so I wasn’t able to travel. But I was really tickled to be featured there.
Tell me about where the idea for your book came from.
That has roots in AU. I think it was the spring semester of my junior year, I had taken an Appalachian Literature course. Dr. Randall Wilhelm taught it. He created that course. In all of his classes, Dr. Wilhelm would pull a lot of different elements other than just literary. He would often tie in historical elements, or other artistic disciplines. He went into a lot about the Appalachian coal wars and that just influenced everything.
That’s when I learned about the Baldwin Felts agents—they were kind of union busters. I touch on it of course in the novel, but if you do any research, it’s pretty staggering the violence they reached during that time, and I had never heard of it. That’s just up the road. That was one of those major historical events that happened that I had never heard of, even growing up learning about American history. I wanted to read more about it, and it’s actually a bit hard to find different published works just on Baldwin Felts and almost no fiction featuring them—there’s a couple, but it’s a very small feature.
So I felt there’s my corner of the literary world that hasn’t been really tapped into. It’s hard to find an original idea. This is interesting to me. It’s a corner that hasn’t really been covered in fiction, so it's what I ran with. That’s how that seed got started for the story.
Do you continue to write?
I still write when I have time. I have a toddler and a seven-week-old, so I don’t have the free time that I used to to write. When I can carve out time, I still like to write. It’s more right now for my own enjoyment. There are some different manuscripts I’ve got kind of floating around on my laptop that may see the light of day one day (laughs).
At the end of the day, what gives you a sense of accomplishment?
I don’t know if anyone else would consider it an accomplishment, but right now just juggling being a stay-at-home mother and still working. I work from home during my son’s nap time. Just keeping one foot in the career world and one foot in the domestic world—I’m still learning how to balance that—but it’s a lot to juggle, so I consider that an accomplishment right now.
The Lord has been very good to me. I didn’t know when I got this job that I would have a supervisor who would let me do this, offer me this flexibility to work from home and let me make my hours. That was the Lord’s hand on that, and the thing with the book, that was also completely from the Lord. It was something that was not from my own efforts. It was all through Him, surprisingly with that opportunity.
What advice would you give someone who wants to be a writer?
You’ve got to figure out your own voice, and the only way you do that is to write a lot and not to try to mimic other writers. And then if anybody is interested in publishing, I always tell folks you have to actually submit. If you’re like me and you edit for years and you don’t submit anywhere, then you’re not going to get published. Putting it into practice, you’ve got to figure out how you sound when you write and what you like to write—what’s your corner of the literary world?
Read the article about Maris’ Novel Prize and ordering information for her book.