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When Amanda McTigue first enrolled in the fourth class of women at Yale University in 1973, she intended to become a professional singer and actress.

But the story of her life offered a surprise ending. Although the feisty redhead has served as a stage director throughout her career, her true calling turned out to be writing and storytelling, for both the stage and the page.

McTigue’s theater works have been produced in a wide range of venues, from Carnegie Hall in New York and the Minnesota Opera to Knott’s Berry Farm and the Tokyo DisneySea theme park in Japan, but her work as a novelist is earning the most recent attention. Her first novel, “Going to Solace,” has become a book club favorite and a short story from her upcoming collection has been nominated for a national award.

After a long and multifaceted career all over the world, the author settled in Petaluma in 2001 and published “Going to Solace” in 2012. Since then, the book has become a favorite among local book club members who appreciate the book’s heart and humanity, despite its potentially dark setting in a North Carolina hospice.

“What ‘The Help’ did for the Deep South, ‘Solace’ does for Appalachia,” said Waights Taylor Jr., author of “Our Southern Home,” which chronicles the evolution of the South in the 20th century.

McTigue’s career has proven to be as rich and quirky as her first novel, which she set in 1989 in the Blue Ridge Mountains and narrated from the point of view of several scrappy but lovable characters.

“This is not the Deep South. This corner of the South voted for Obama,” she said. “The progressives live next to the Ku Klux Klan. It’s chilling, but it means you’re going to be neighbors and you’re going to behave.”

McTigue started writing the novel after moving back to the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1994 to take care of her mother, who was dying. The world of prose beckoned to her, allowing her to open up her imagination.

“In theater, all you are imagining has to be set aside,” she said. “So I started to do prose sketches, and that became the novel.”

However, McTigue’s love of music and musical theater still informs and enlivens her prose, which is peppered with active verbs, true-to-life characters and lyrical dialogue that is both honest and funny.

“My prose is influenced by the music of language and voice,” she said. “How does that character sound? I have a phonographic memory.”

McTigue, 61, recently spent two weeks in Cuba doing research for her second novel, “Monkey Bottom” and has a collection of short stories due out soon entitled “This is Not Water: Tales from the Intersection of Love and Catastrophe.” A short story from that collection, “Gone Means Gone,” was recently named a semifinalist in the 2015 American Literary Review Awards.

Through the years, McTigue’s career has careened from the heights of success to the depths of failure. But through it all, she has not only paid her dues and her rent but collected a lot of terrific stories.

“During my career, there was a lot of pain, but it was all good,” she said. “I had a lot of self-doubt, so I got thrown into worlds I was wrong for, and I figured out my way through that.”

McTigue writes alternately in first person or closed third person. She is not interested in writing from the “God” point of view, also known as third-person omniscient narrator. That’s a bit too lofty for her down-to-earth demeanor.

“My sympathy is with all of us who are busy coping,” she said. “I really admire (mythologist) Joseph Campbell and “The Hero’s Journey,” but the stories that resonate with me don’t feel like a quest, with dragons and swords. It’s more about, ‘I’m standing in the kitchen, the baby is crying and the pie is burning. I’m going to have to slay 10 dragons.’”

Her parents were one of the biggest sources of inspiration for McTigue. They were brought up in very different cultures but shared a respect for education and a knack for coming up with creative solutions to life’s challenges.

“My parents were both ingenious people,” she said. “They gave me all my material.”

As a child, McTigue shuttled between a top-notch school in Washington, D.C., and the rural isolation of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“I’m a person with my foot in two worlds,” she said. “My mother was from Presbyterians in North Carolina, and my father is a Catholic boy from Boston who grew up miserable in West Virginia.”

During the week, McTigue would sing classical music at the National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C., where her father worked as an eye doctor. During the summer, she would head back to her mother’s hometown of Montreat, N.C., where there wasn’t even a radio station for entertainment.

“I went from Bach to bluegrass on the porch,” she said. “In North Carolina, it was as if I grew up in the 1930s.”

After studying music in France during a gap year after high school, she went off to Yale University, where she did a lot of theater at the graduate level alongside such well-known talents as Meryl Streep and John Turturro.

“Yale was great, and I was up for it,” she said. “Someone said to me, ‘It doesn’t matter what you study. Find the great minds.’ So I studied philosophy.”

After graduating in 1977, she went to New York to become an actress but could not get cast for the roles she wanted. So she wrote her own one-act musical, “The Autumn People,” based on a woman she had read about in a New York Times article from Dec. 31, 1899.

Around that same time, she was introduced to Jeff Langley, a young composer from Ukiah who was getting his doctorate at Juilliard. They had dinner, and before it was over, they became lifetime writing partners.

“I had not heard one note of his music, and we became collaborators,” she said. “I cranked out that libretto, and he wrote the music for it ... His music is very, very tonal, with big, sweeping, traditional arias.”

Langley, a pianist who toured the United States with singer/songwriter Holly Near in 1984, took a job as the director of entertainment for Knott’s Berry Farm in 1990, a post that fed his fascination with the American story as expressed in culture, art and entertainment. McTigue went along to serve as his writing partner.

“I was interested in working for a place where the audience is a given,” she said. “I really learned to write a lot of 25- to 45-minute musicals. It was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

One of their early projects was “Peril on the Prairie,” an original musical comedy touching on a number of environmental and social issues, as exemplified by an underground community of prairie dogs.

Between 1990 and 1994, Langley and McTigue continued to mix high and low art, bringing a taste of Broadway, off-off Broadway and even avant-garde theater to 20,000 audience members a day at Knott’s Berry Farm.

“We put on such wacky, innovative stuff,” she recalled. “In 1993, we did ‘K-Rave’ (an all-night surrealistic/psychedelic show of nonstop dancing and performance art) and some Laurie Anderson-like shows. People loved it.”

While Langley went on to an academic career at Sonoma State University, McTigue went home to take care of her mother in 1994, then lingered in the cabin where her mother had died the day after Christmas.

“I had a little money in the bank, so I stayed on,” she said. “It felt like she was hovering there.”

Then she got a phone call from Paramount Studios, which had a production hub in North Carolina. The company wanted her to help them monetize some of stories they had brought to the screen. McTigue was hired in 1998 to write and direct touring shows.

“We did the Titanic Museum Tour and the Star Trek World Tour, which was at the time the world’s largest tour,” she said. “We created Enterprise D, and we thought up a show and some special effects. It opened in Germany, and there was media for days.”

During the first Star Trek World Tour show, McTigue received word that someone had died and she had to stop the show. Actually, a woman in the audience had just fainted and collapsed in a pocket doorway, but it was scary nevertheless.

By 1999, when Langley presented their musical, “Peril on the Prairie,” at Sonoma State, McTigue was back living at her mom’s cabin. She returned to California to see the show, then decided to move to Sonoma County to help a sick friend and stayed. Over the years, she served as stage director for SSU’s productions of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” and Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute,” as well as teaching a class in critical thinking, speaking and writing for freshmen interested in music.

Along the way, she met her husband, oncology doctor Tom Stanton of Petaluma, and the couple married in 2010.

By 2011, McTigue had finished “Going to Solace” and was starting to pitch it to agents. Luckily, she had networked with writer’s groups in the Bay Area and was able to find a publisher through the Redwood Writers, the Sonoma County branch of the California Writers Club.

In Petaluma, she plumbs her experiences with Paramount Studios tours, along with other adventures at the intersection of art and popular culture, for a new foray into live storytelling. At West Side Stories, produced monthly by comedian Dave Pokorny and modeled after The Moth in Brooklyn, N.Y., local folks compete by telling five-minute, true stories — without notes. Finalists complete against each other in a Grandslam held at the end of the year. In both 2013 and 2014, she won Best Storyteller of the Year.

“It’s an odd zone between art and life,” she said of the contest.

For the past few years, McTigue also has been giving writing and book promotion workshops to groups all over the Bay Area, and she is always thrilled when a book club invites her to a meeting.

“It’s the big payoff, sitting with a reader who has read your book and they are there with your characters,” she said. “It’s like you had a child, and they know they will be OK when you die. The characters become as real to the reader as they are to me.”

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.