Stephanie Land has written about eating lots of peanut butter and hard-boiled eggs while putting herself through college as a single mother. And about making sacrifices made so she wouldn't be homeless: "I had to give my daughter’s dog away and used the $100 I’d put down as a pet deposit when we moved in towards that month’s rent."
These stories were published on the Guardian, New York Times and Vox websites and the Washington Post opinion page, to name only a few.
She's working on a longer version, too, one she'll propose to publishers soon.
It's a story about a single mother of two girls with a college degree trying to survive.
"It's talking about the stress of losing work: It could mean losing everything," she said. "I've lived in that. I'm still in that place: Not having anything to fall back on but yourself, and I think that's the story of a lot of people in America that aren't able to write about it."
Since graduating with a B.A. in English with an emphasis in creative writing in 2014, Land has worked as a freelance writer, finding an audience for first-person and reported pieces about subjects like single-motherhood, abuse and poverty.
"It's writing about something in an honest way, very plainly, that is not the narrative that people are used to," she said. It goes against the cliche of the welfare queen and the idea that people on food stamps don't work hard, she said.
Land is from the Skagit Valley in northwestern Washington and spent most of her formative years in Anchorage, Alaska. Her family was dysfunctional, her mother an alcoholic. She hasn't spoken to either of her parents in two years.
She drifted through most of her 20s in Fairbanks, Alaska, before returning to Washington. At age 28, she became pregnant and decided to have the child, regardless of the abusive relationship she was in at the time. She fought for sole custody and won.
She was broke, and on her own. She wrote about the experience in a New York Times article published on its parenting blog.
As first lines go, it's an attention grabber: "My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter."
She looks up to Hemingway's "tip of the iceberg" writing style, and it shows in the way she states things clearly and without any self-pity:
"I’d wanted to be a writer, and I figured I would try to live a free life worth writing about. I’d been traveling from Alaska to Montana, following a dream to live in the land that Steinbeck had fallen in love with. Then I got pregnant. As an adult, I was still a child."
Because she writes frequently about being a single mother, she said nearly every article receives comments criticizing her decision to have children.
"A friend of mine said people forget in fighting for the right to choose that women have a right to choose to," she wrote. "I chose to have a baby on my own in the midst of a personhood movement and one to reduce Medicaid and food stamps. It was like the same groups were fighting for my tiny zygote to be a person who was sacred and had rights, knowing that as soon as she was born she'd be seen as a leech, or a needless life, born into poverty, and maybe one I'd planned to keep me on welfare."
She has a standard-issue response: "This was my choice. I knew it'd be hard, and it is hard. It's really, really hard. But I've never regretted it. Not for a second. And we're making it. So there," she said.
The birth of Emilia in 2007 delayed a planned move to Missoula, a place she called "the closest to Alaska I could get" in the Lower 48.
She took online courses and changed majors several times, settling on writing, a passion she'd maintained since a fourth-grade teacher assigned his students to keep a journal.
"That was when I started keeping a diary, and I kept journals and wrote in them daily for 20 years," she said. She only stopped writing in them after she developed arm cramps and switched to blogging.
After considering the depths of the recession and weighing potential careers in paralegal work, sociology and perhaps law school, she chose the English program.
"I thought I could reach more people with writing than I could with advocacy," she said.
To get through school, she took out the maximum amount of loans and used them to pay living expenses. She was on food stamps for most of Mia's life, only getting off them last month. She wrote lengthy articles for the Missoula Independent and the Guardian about trying to make ends meet. The Guardian article was headlined, "I lived on $6 a day."
Without any family in the area, she relied on a network of friends and housemates who helped watch Mia.
"They would take Mia to the park. They were always around, so at least one of them was available if I really needed them. I still run into them every once in a while, they take her to the park on bike rides," she said.
She credits a network of friends for keeping her sane, both now and then. Asked how she finished schoolwork while parenting on her own, she said, "I don't know."
"I got really good at doing homework while Mia was watching 'SpongeBob' really loud," she said.
To get by, she worked as a part-time house cleaner, an experience she wrote about in a Vox article headlined, "I spent 2 years cleaning houses. What I saw makes me never want to be rich."
She describes both the wealth and the unhappiness she witnessed cleaning homes: luxury paid with long work schedules. Expensive throw blankets and expensive prescription drugs in contrast to the simpler pleasures she had with her daughter.
That article, published in July, went viral, and will form the basis for her book proposal.
She graduated while pregnant with her second child, Coraline, who will be 2 years old in June. Coraline's father moved here in January, and his parents are here as well.
"They're really involved. We see them weekly. That's been a really new development that I'm still getting used to," she said.
After finishing school, Land chased whatever writing gigs she could, including editing gigs and work for an academic paper mill.
"I was doing homework assignments for people at like $10 a page," she said.
It honed her deadline skills, since she might have only a day to turn a paper around.
"I learned how to write quickly on subjects I knew very little about," she said.
She also wrote for MamaLode magazine, and credits editor Elke Govertsen for "saving" her from law school. An early published blurb while she was house-cleaning gave her a taste of seeing her work in print.
Last year, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit called the Center for Community Change hired her as a writing fellow. She works from home, communicating with editors across the country, trading assignments and pitches for articles on social and economic justice and race.
Now Coraline is in day-care full-time, giving Land more time to work, although she said she doesn't feel like there's more time.
Freelancing means juggling assignments and multiple articles a day, she's been branching out into different subject matter, too, but being a single parent still dominates.
Asked what she'd want people to know about being a single mother, she replied:
"I'm able to put my story in front of a lot of readers, but parenting is hard. We all go through the same struggles whether we're living next to nothing on our own or are supported in a fancy house," she said.
"It all comes down to temper-tantrums and food-pickiness and screaming across movie theaters."