I was born at South Miami Hospital in Miami, Florida in December of 1971. My father, Jon Louis Varese, was a pilot and my mother, Lorraine Rossini Varese, was a beauty-queen-turned-housewife. I went to Nativity Catholic School in Hollywood, Florida during my elementary years, graduated from Chaminade-Madonna College Preparatory in 1990, and then moved to Pennsylvania, where I attended Swarthmore College until 1994.
After Swarthmore, I worked in the computing division at the University of Pennsylvania, took graduate courses in the English and History departments, and eventually decided to go back to school. I applied to the University of California at Santa Cruz because of The Dickens Project (a multi-campus research consortium), and moved there in 1997 to begin my Ph.D. in English Literature. During my early years with the Project, I helped develop various outreach initiatives — one of which eventually evolved into The Dickens Project - USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) partnership. The partnership awards scholarships to students from Title 1 schools in South Central Los Angeles, and it is a program that remains very close to my heart.
After finishing my full-time course work at UC Santa Cruz, I advanced to Ph.D. candidacy, but immediately took an academic leave of absence because I was broke and needed to find a job. In November of 2000, when the Internet was still in its infancy, I landed a gig at Macromedia writing end-user documentation for their web development tools. My goal was to pay off my student loans and start writing my dissertation within two or three years. But the best laid plans of mice and men . . . soon gave way to an alternate career, and I continued working in the tech industry much longer than I expected (next for Adobe Systems, Inc., then for salesforce.com, and finally for the Salesforce Foundation).
I never let go of my dream to study the Victorians, however, and in 2005 I returned to my dissertation (though it would take me six more years to file — all told, a fourteen-year journey). My thesis, "The Value of Storytelling: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, George Eliot, and the Business of Novel-writing in the Nineteenth Century," examined the development of the British novel, the profession of authorship, and author-publisher relations in the Victorian era.