Jane Gilmore: Teacher by day, author by night

Jane+Gilmore+is+a+writer%2C+cancer-survivor%2C+English+teacher+and+a+director+for+the+San+Jose+Area+Writing+Project.+

used with permission from Jane Gilmore

Jane Gilmore is a writer, cancer-survivor, English teacher and a director for the San Jose Area Writing Project.

Anusha Kothari

Breast-cancer survivor, future best-selling novelist and high-school English teacher. Jane Gilmore, long-term substitute for English teacher Erin Levin, has had an eventful life, but the one thing that has remained constant is her passion for stories. 

A Santa Barbara native, Gilmore was an avid reader as a child and initially aspired to become a book editor, as doing so would allow her to read stories for a living. However, at a presentation from a book editor while studying abroad in London, Gilmore learned that the job did not allow for much personal creativity and was discouraged.

“In hindsight, [the book editor] was kind of a miserable person and hated her job,” Gilmore said. “She came in and said, ‘Why would you ever want to be a book editor? You’re overqualified. If you have a degree, don’t go into this profession.’”

After this meeting, Gilmore opted to pursue a career as an English and social studies teacher. She never looked back on this decision and has been in the classroom for almost 15 years. As she became more experienced, she received training to mentor new teachers as well. 

“For me, the best part [about teaching] is hearing students’ stories and laughing with them in the classroom,” Gilmore said. 

Apart from connecting with her students and delving into works of literature, Gilmore is passionate about creative writing. So far, Gilmore has seriously attempted three novels, the third of which is her current work in progress titled “The Weeks List.” 

The story follows a single mother, Katherine King, as she battles cancer and simultaneously deals with several obstacles in her family life. While in treatment, King meets several other cancer-fighting women who support her through this journey, and they go on wild adventures as they seek revenge on all the men who have wronged them. As Gilmore describes it, “The Weeks List” isn’t a sad cancer novel; it’s an action-packed and uplifting story about women faced with the fight of their lives. She was originally inspired to write this novel after witnessing one of her student teachers face an uphill battle as a breast cancer patient in 2015. 

“The idea for ‘The Weeks List’ had come from her oncologist who told her ‘You used to be on my ‘weeks list’, but now you’re on my ‘months list,’ meaning that she had months left to live,” Gilmore said.

Unfortunately, Gilmore was heartbroken when she learned that this teacher passed away in June 2015.

“The last time I saw her, I said, ‘I’m going to write this book for you,’” Gilmore said. “But, I was very, very sad when she died and I couldn’t even go near it.”

In the same year, Gilmore was accepted into the Stanford Novel Writing Program for the fall semester and graduated with a certificate in novel writing. Although Gilmore initially entered the program with a different novel, she chose to develop “The Weeks List” through the program, which she gathered the strength to begin drafting at her annual three-week writing retreat in December 2015. 

“I wrote like crazy, like a total fiend, and filled up three whole notebooks with scenes for the novel,” Gilmore said. 

Just weeks later, on Dec. 31, Gilmore herself was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She endured two years of intense treatment before oncologists declared that she was free of the disease. Despite the emotional challenges she faced, Gilmore managed to view this experience through a positive lens.

“When I got the diagnosis, I was like, ‘Oh, wow, I’m gonna have really great research for my novel,’ because I literally had to go through chemotherapy, radiation treatments, immunotherapy and two surgeries,” Gilmore said.

used with permission from Jane Gilmore
Jane Gilmore poses for a photo in the middle of her cancer treatment.

While undergoing treatment, Gilmore had to take a two-year break from the classroom, but remained connected with teaching by helping with summer camps for the San Jose Area Writing Project (SJAWP), a local affiliate of the National Writing Project. Through various workshops and institutes, the project provides creative writing instruction for students of all ages and helps train pre-professional teachers to teach writing. Most of the classes are held online or at San Jose State University.  

“The project is primarily to support teachers in the teaching of writing, because teaching writing can be really intimidating,” Gilmore said. “If you’re not a writer yourself, having to teach that subject is very difficult. It’s different from teaching literary analysis.”

Impressed by Gilmore’s work with the program, the organization approached her to serve as an associate director of SJAWP overall in late 2017. Gilmore currently directs the Novel Writing Certificate Program and co-directs the Teen Writers Institute through this role. 

Gilmore’s love for creative writing and teaching is reflected at Lynbrook as well. In her class, students can often be found crafting characters and playing improvisation games. Her unique and relaxed approach to teaching has impacted many students.

“[Gilmore] is really nice and really easy to connect to; she makes you feel like you’re not really her student but more of her equal,” said senior Shounak Ranabhor, who has Gilmore for European Literature. “She’s okay with us being high schoolers, and lets us enjoy ourselves but still gives us constructive feedback.”

At the beginning of Gilmore’s time at Lynbrook, her class participated in a creative writing unit and for one of the activities students free-wrote about a particular quote or image and made personal connections to it. 

“It’s never the same thing every day, which I like,” said senior Rhea Anand, a student in Gilmore’s European Literature class. “There’s no strict routine and [Gilmore] doesn’t make us follow a formula for essays so we get a lot of creative freedom with our projects.”

In addition to teaching at Lynbrook, Gilmore continues to support students and teachers through SJAWP and make progress on “The Weeks List.” Although she has received promising responses after pitching the novel to a few agents, Gilmore plans on major rewrites and changes to the plot.

“I have scene cards in order that are color coded based on storylines, and I’m trying shuffle things so that you never leave a plotline for too long,” Gilmore said. “Now I need to go and pull one of those threads and see what happens to the story if I completely removed an entire plotline.”

Through juggling all of her responsibilities as a teacher, author and director of SJWAP, Gilmore has been able to find balance in her life by focusing on things that mean the most to her.

“Finding joy and connecting with people are the most important things in life,” Gilmore said. “Even when some things seem very, very important right now, they’re not going to matter in five or ten years. Everything is temporary, everything’s going to pass eventually. When it’s bad, I know that things are going to go back to being good.”