By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Aug 13, 2002 at 6:00 AM

It wasn't an easy decision. Friends and family members probably wouldn't understand. But JoAnn Hornak decided to do it anyway: On Sept. 7, 2001, after eight-and-a-half years of service, she quit her job.

JoAnn knew for years that being an attorney wasn't personally fulfilling, but she wasn't sure what else to do, so she enriched her life through travel. In 1989, she taught English for a year to Japanese businessmen in Tokyo, and in 1999, she volunteered in Africa for a year, working with Tanzanian attorneys.

It was the year-long visit to Africa that affected her the most. After taking a leave of absence from the DA's office, JoAnn moved to a poor neighborhood in Arusha, Tanzania. There were very few distractions in Tanzania, and JoAnn lived without a car, a TV, or any form of organized entertainment. Plus, it wasn't safe for her to go out at night, so she spent evenings writing e-mails and journaling on her laptop.

JoAnn spent hours writing, mostly long, detailed e-mails, describing her new life with such candor and wit that friends said they laughed out loud.

October 20, 1999 -

Lucas gave me a ride home from work today. He's the head driver at African Wildlife Foundation. He is Maasai and many older Maasai men have more than one wife, including Lucas' father. I no longer wonder why over-population is such a problem, especially in developing countries like Tanzania. Lucas' father has 5 wives, 33 live children by those wives (3 died making the sub-total 36) and 5 children by other women for a total of 41 children! His father is in his 70's and his youngest child is, get this, ONE WEEK OLD! The wife who just gave birth is in her 30's.

I know some men reading this are thinking, gosh, maybe it wouldn't have been so bad to have been born in a developing country. The women reading this are no doubt thinking more along the same lines I am. THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS! WE NEED TO AIRLIFT THESE WOMEN OUT OF HERE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!

Lucas' father is by no means in the minority. And he doesn't even come close to holding the record. In a nearby village, there is a Maasai man who has 12 WIVES AND 67 CHILDREN! Lucas said this guy doesn't even know all his kids' names. Not surprising under the circumstances. With him, his wives and children, that's 80 people in his immediate family. Imagine the holiday gatherings. Just so you know, all 80 people are not in one house. Every wife with her own children gets her own house and the husband just roams from hut to hut at night, apparently quite often. For the jealous men reading this, just remember in consolation, its not healthy to be sleep deprived whatever the reason.

Many people suggested to JoAnn that she pursue writing, but despite her friends' encouragement, JoAnn returned from Africa and went back to the DA's office. She quickly realized she hadn't made the right choice.

"It got to the point that I had to do something," says Hornak. "I became unhappier and unhappier."

After a tremendous amount of thinking and soul searching, JoAnn resigned from the DA's office. She immediately knew she was doing the right thing, even if it meant less money (at first, anyway), paying for insurance out of her own pocket and letting go of the prestigious "attorney" label that made her parents, neither of whom attended college, very proud.

"A lot of people think they don't have the freedom to do what they want, but really, they don't want to give up their lifestyle," says Hornak, who has been living off her savings, and has radically readjusted her spending habits.

Two days after she gave notice to quit her job, JoAnn got a call from Newsweek, asking to print one of her first person essays in the "My Turn" column. JoAnn was ecstatic, taking this as an omen that she had done the right thing by quitting her job to write. But then the twin towers fell, and suddenly the magazine was only printing Sept. 11th-related material.

"Well, it was almost 'my turn,'" Hornak says, forcing humor into the disheartening situation.

JoAnn continued to forge forward, writing first person essays and articles for local magazines and newspapers. She never had second thoughts about leaving the DA's office, but she admits that the transition from full-time attorney to freelance writer wasn't easy. She had never worked unsupervised in an unstructured environment, and even when she secured a daily routine, there were other issues.

"I went through a period thinking my writing wasn't good enough," says Hornak. "I thought it should be more like 'so-and-so' ... then I realized you just need to write from the heart and trust your abilities and then, things started to work out."

After six months of floundering, things did "work out" for JoAnn. Newsweek accepted a revised version of her essay, "A Year of African Life Opened My Eyes." The piece appeared in the May 13, 2002, issue and revealed the story of how her travels to Africa ignited her desire to pursue a dream.

After the issue hit newsstands, JoAnn received calls from people all over the country, claiming the article had inspired them or changed their lives.

The following Sunday she was featured on Milwaukee's Fox 6 as one of "(Ted) Perry's People" and to top it all off, she received a call from a prominent New York publisher interested in her work. With only two chapters of a novel written, JoAnn contacted the publisher to arrange a face-to-face meeting. The editor agreed, and moments after hanging up the phone, JoAnn booked her flight to New York. Today, the publishing company is still reading and considering her manuscript.

Two weeks before she left for New York, JoAnn received more good news: The Washington Post wanted to print one of her essays. On June 9, 2002, her essay "Send Your Regards But No Pencils, Please" appeared in the paper.

Most of her pieces are humorous commentaries around being single or about her travels in Africa. She hopes to write a novel and maybe screenplays in the future.


JoAnn grew up in West Allis and Greenfield. She attended St. Mary's Academy High School, and received a BA in Political Science from Marquette University. She later received a JD from Madison. She spent two years working for the Chicago law firm Lord, Bissell & Brook and 8 1/2 years working for the DA's office. Today, JoAnn works from her Story Hill home. She is also a freelance writer for

"A friend told me that Leo Busaglia once interviewed people in their '70s and '80s, and all of them said that they wished they had taken more chances," says Hornak. "I didn't want to be one of those people."

Did you--or someone you know--ditch a day job for a dream? If so, please E-mail me:

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.