Todd Robert Petersen is a fiction writer from Portland, Oregon who now lives in the red rock lands of Southern Utah. He used to work for YMCA summer camps in the Pacific Northwest, and now he directs an experiential learning program at Southern Utah University.
I was born at the close of the 60s in Moses Lake, Washington, about a month after the moon landing. While my mother was pregnant with me, she watched Buzz Aldrin step onto the moon. When I was older, she told me on that day she patted her belly and said to the television, "I'd like to see you make one of these."
We lived out there in Eastern Washington until I was a year and a half old, when my father's work as a tractor salesman took us to Portland, Oregon, which is where I grew up. After making it through the 70s and most of the 80s, I graduated from Jesuit High School and moved on to the University of Oregon.
I was planning to be an graphic designer or illustrator. A year earlier, I actually took a copy of my portfolio to the Marvel Offices in New York, and after a long silence, I decided to study film. While I was at the U of O, I began writing seriously for the first time, and by graduation, I'd decided against a career in film.
College wasn't a complete wash. Near the end of a Shakespeare seminar, my professor recommended I read some Raymond Chandler. On a trip home for Thanksgiving, I went to Powell's books to follow through on his recommendation, but I had forgotten the name of the recommendation. When I asked for help, I said, "I'm looking for a book by a writer named Raymond Something-That-Starts-With-C."
The guy squinted at me for a minute and said, "Must be Raymond Carver. He's awesome." He led me through the shelves, and I bought a copy of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which had just come out. Once I read that book, an idea about becoming a writer began to form.
My first real job in was working a YMCA Summer Camp in Oregon, and I continued to do that kind of thing all the way through high school and college. After college, I moved on to a camp in the San Juan Islands, and began working for them year round, teaching environmental education to middle school kids. In the islands, I began reading seriously, everything from Steven Millhauser to Cormac McCarthy to Annie Dillard. In the evenings when the campers were sleeping, I would go to the camp office and write. There was nine month period in there, when I lived in Seattle, worked for a day care, and cleaned banks. At night after I'd finished cleaning, I'd sit down at the typewriters in the drive through window and write until midnight.
When faced with the choice of full time, long-term employment with the San Diego YMCA or graduate school, I chose the latter, which took me to Flagstaff, Arizona for an MA in English and onto Stillwater, Oklahoma for PhD in English where I studied with Brian Evenson. For some reason that I can't fully fathom, I also focused a portion of my doctoral studies on critical theory. You know, Aristotle, Jacques Derrida, Gayatri Spivak, and all that philosophy of literature stuff. Seems like a weird move for a guy who got a D in metaphysics.
After graduate school a fantastic opportunity arose for me and my wife to move to Cedar City, Utah, where I would teach at Southern Utah University. We fell in love the the place and stayed. I started by teaching composition, then added courses in creative writing, literary theory. I also developed new courses in the theory of visual narratives (graphic novels and experimental film), contemporary literature, screen aesthetics, along with a general education course science fiction.
In 2010, because of my YMCA experience, I was asked to participate in the development of an experiential learning initiative, which became a university requirement for all students. I'm now the director of that program, and I get to coach some pretty amazing students through the creation and documentation of their own projects.