Be An Encourager, Not a Discourager

My column from the Albert Lea Tribune, October 24, 2016

yellow-chair-purposeOver the past few years when I speak at an author event, someone always asks me if I knew I wanted to become a writer when I was in grade school. I usually come up with an off-hand answer because I was never quite sure when the spark of creativity was born in my life. I knew it wasn’t during my elementary school years because I pretty much felt as if I wasn’t very smart or didn’t have much to offer.

It wasn’t until I listened to author Allen Eskens highlight his years in school that the lightbulb came on in my own brain. Listening to his story about his challenges in the school systems, I came to understand I wasn’t alone in my interest or noninterest in formal education in my youth. I’ve always felt guilty about the fact I didn’t live up to my potential, at least that is what my teachers and parents felt. Now I realize it wasn’t so much about my learning ability as the system of learning back in my youth. Finally I feel vindicated and relief knowing the way I learn and my interests were at the root of the problem. In my day one size fit all.

I love to sing. But I quit singing and didn’t go out for chorus in high school because I felt I wasn’t good enough. One year in grade school I would get a C or D in singing and another year I would get an A or B. I was told I had no potential when it came to song. No one bothered to tell me I could improve. And later on in my life I was told by a director I was not good enough for a small church group choir, so I even quit the larger group choir I had joined because I felt I didn’t measure up, even though that director was encouraging. I chose to believe the other one. My joy of singing was gone.

I have always loved painting and creating artwork. Again, I didn’t take art in high school because I was told in grade school I had no talent. And I believed it — after all, didn’t my teachers know best. To be fair, art and musical talent weren’t as valued as today, so to most people it was more important to excel in math and geography and writing and history and english. I excelled in none of them either. I was pretty much a C student in grade school, unless I liked something and then my grade would come up to an A or B. I pretty much felt as if I didn’t have potential, and I was told time and time again I lived in a dream world because I liked to day dream, and I was made to feel that was not appropriate.

I entered high school and I loved the social part of high school but wasn’t enamored with the subjects. I realize now after thinking about Allen’s talk that I was bored. I wasn’t interested in the subjects. Add to the fact I had one class where the teacher had everyone write down what they liked about someone or didn’t like and then put it in a box and each person got their notes. Maybe it made everyone else feel good but I wasn’t one of them, although most of the comments were positive, we always dwell on the negative.

It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I signed up for a speech class. I was discouraged from taking it by others telling me I couldn’t cut it, but it saved my life. I found something I loved along with drama and creative writing in my English class. My grades turned around, and I felt better about the activities I enjoyed. I loved to write and thought about going to school for journalism, but because of my own insecurities I spent some time in college and then I quit and entered the job market.

I realize how much different my life might have been if I would have received encouragement and lived in a different time when the arts were valued. If I wouldn’t have let the outside voices override my inside voices.

I flitted around at different jobs in my adult life while raising my children with my husband, but it wasn’t until I entered a job as a secretary or office manager and ended up a computer technician that I felt perhaps I had a good brain. All of this happened because someone believed in me. When I was offered the secretarial job, I hadn’t worked in that area for 30 years, yet I was offered a job without applying for it. The person said he saw my potential on computers and knew I could re-learn what I had forgotten. After a few years I was trained to become a computer technician, and I loved it. It wasn’t anything that had been on my radar, but because someone believed in me I was given a chance and I found an unusual career for a woman my age.

And then my old friend Cherry re-entered my life and asked me what happened to my writing. She had fully expected I would be an author by now. She believed in me, and it was because of that belief I had enough courage to send my manuscript in and was offered a contract with a publishing company. Another old friend, Charlotte, entered my life a littler later and encouraged me to paint. And now I am painting.

Because someone believed in me it helped wipe out those voices I heard when I was in grade school. I have a brain, but it is wired differently and creativity is my muse. All of us are smart in different ways, and we need to let our children know whatever their learning ability is, if it is different from another’s, it is their life’s journey and it is valued.

I have a granddaughter who is taking cooking and interior design in seventh grade, both things she loves. I have a grandson that is writing a book, but recently someone must have discouraged him because he sent me a text saying he was not going to finish his book because it was childish and he needed to learn more before he could write the book. I have read what he wrote and he should not stop. He should be encouraged, not discouraged.

I might not be the best writer, the best painter, the best singer, but if it gives me joy to do those things I will do them to the best of my ability. Everyone is an artist and  their canvas and talent is uniquely their own, whether it be painting, writing, math, geography or space exploration. If artists quit hearing their voices and only listen to the outside voices of the world today, we might have missed some great people.

I am going to keep encouraging my grandson to write if that is what he wants to do. But if he wants to try something else I will encourage that, too. We encourage our children to try different sports and laud them for it, but finally it is accepted to encourage the arts, too.

In my heart I knew I wanted to be a writer all my life, but I didn’t give myself permission to accept that part of myself because I didn’t want to labeled a dreamer. And now, call me a dreamer, that’s who I am and I am proud of it.

Be an encourager, not a discourager. You might be encouraging the next Nobel Peace Prize winner.

I Have A Sister, A Sister In Crime

Published in the Albert Lea Tribune August 15, 2016

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Sisters In Crime: Julie Seedorf, Barbara Deese, Jessie Chandler, Pat Dennis

As my blank mind stared at the computer screen this week and my fingers froze over my keyboard, a friend suggested I should write about my sisters. Sisters? I know, many of you know I have no siblings, but yes, I do have sisters, Sisters in Crime that is.

The title, Sisters In Crime, doesn’t mean we get into trouble and have the law after us, though maybe if you looked at our search history on our computers, the law might be tempted to investigate. Sisters In Crime is a national organization. Its mission statement is to promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers. To belong to the state chapter you must belong to the national chapter.
Being new to the writing scene in 2012, I was surprised to hear we had an organization like this in the state of Minnesota. A friend of mine, Allen Eskens, author of “The Life We Bury” and “The Guise of Another,” advised me to join the group. Even though he is not a sister, they accepted him and other brothers into the organization. I took his advice and found by joining the group it provided me with a group that not only supports each other’s writing, but also provides valuable information for writers.

The Twin Cities chapter of Sisters In Crime and Iowa Sisters In Crime, of which I am also a member, (Iowa Sisters, if you are reading this I will pay my dues soon) is comprised of a varied group of writers and guppies, those who belong who don’t have books published yet. Because creative people have different talents and styles of writing, it is a win-win situation because we learn from our differences.

Twin Cities Sisters In Crime and Iowa Sinc meet every month. Unfortunately, I don’t get to attend many meetings because of the distance, but I still feel a part of the organization because of opportunities to meet outside of the cities.

Now what do we do at a Sisters In Crime meeting? Our meetings are not boring. Usually there is a presentation by an author or professional guests who give information on bookkeeping for taxes, what happens during an autopsy, different styles of guns and poisons and law enforcement, to name a few.

You see, readers are smart and they pick up on anything that might not be accurate, although in my books, Granny and Fuchsia don’t need to be accurate because it is the high end of fiction and fantasy and nothing should be too real. But for crime writers or true crime, details are important, and the organization provides information to help us become better writers. Yes, published authors still take classes. We are never too old to learn something new about the written word.

Granny_Pins_A_Pilferer_jpeg (2)My fifth Fuchsia, Minnesota, Mystery, Granny Pins A Pilferer, was released last week. Belonging to the Sisters In Crime keeps my spirits and energy up to keep on writing when the going gets tough. It helps connecting with those that understand what happens during the writing process and after the book gets published.

When a book is published the real work begins and that is promotion. Promotion means social media, interviews and speaking engagements. The Twin Cities Sisters In Crime travels and provides panel discussions on writing at libraries and book stores. Various authors take turns taking part. I love being a part of these panels. It is easier to do things together then alone.
If you sit at a table near us when we are talking, please don’t call the police. We might be discussing the best way to murder someone or the best poison to use that can’t be detected. We might be looking for new places to stash bodies or new hiding places in buildings and houses. Or the best way to pick a lock.

We might be having a more mundane discussion on the best way to use Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to promote books. Sharing different festivals and book conferences also might be thrown into the conversation. And of course we also might run a character past the other Sisters to get their opinion.

Our organization also connects with professionals to give us information. I am excited to attend a workshop which includes FBI 101, cyber crime and violent crime. Since I was a computer technician, I am especially excited about the cyber crime workshop.

I guess if I think about what I want you to know about authors is that writers work hard. It is our dream job, but it involves more than putting pen to paper or getting on the computer and writing away. There are many hours of research, many hours of promotion and many hours of editing. I am working harder now than I did at a nine to five job. Writing is a solitary profession unless you reach out to those who share the profession along with you.

It is a profession we chose, a profession we love, but it can also be a profession where you are lonely and that burns you out unless you take time with people like the Sisters who walk the walk with you. The reward is not only the writing, but friendships that will last a lifetime.

If you are a mystery writer and are looking for Sisters, let me know. We can always use another mystery sibling. Or visit our Facebook fan page at @TwinCitiesSistersinCrime or @SincIowa.

A Book That May Change The Way I Write!

The Life We Bury

I write Cozy Mysteries. My mysteries are silly, fun, and highlight unique characters living in an unusual community. I thought I always wanted to only write lighthearted mysteries, until a book I read this past month touched me in a way that might change my mind.

A few weeks ago my oldest son said to me, “Mom, why don’t you write a serious book that everyone will want to read. You have it in you.” I laughed and was honored  he thought I might be able to pull something like that off. I am happy writing fluff which makes people laugh.  Then I read a book that made me change my mind. That book is a mystery called The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens.

Usually I read cozies, occasionally deviating from that practice to read something inspirational or a book that is a little more graphic.

I decided to read Author Allen Eskens book  because I have met the author and liked him. I had read the reviews. The plot and cover drew me in.

I read  books by friends and I am honest when I review them. If I feel I need to say something negative about the book I will email the author, or leave no review at all. I also don’t expect all my friends and family to like my books. I preface this before I talk about this book because I don’t feel in any way that I am obligated to comment about The Life We Bury. The fact is Mr. Eskens doesn’t need me to give a review or say anything, because I am small fish in a big pond and he is receiving accolades from the publishing world with his writing. My heart tells me I need to say something about this book because The Life We Bury took my breath away for many reasons.

The Life We Bury takes place in my own backyard of Southern Minnesota. The places Mr. Eskens mentioned are familiar to me. The book revolves around writing student Joe Talbert who must complete a writing assignment for an English Class. Carl Iverson is a convicted murderer and a Vietnam Veteran who is dying in a nursing home. His interview is going to be Joe Talbert’s assignment.

I could say so much more about the story, but much has been already written about the content.  What struck me most about the book was the writer and his interpretation of the events in the book. Perhaps the reason I feel the need to comment is because I am a writer of fluff,  but could feel the emotion inside of myself brought out by this story, this mystery, and a need to write for myself a story that shakes the depth of someone’s soul because there is a hidden life in all of us that we shy away from or we dismiss so we can live in today’s world.

It takes a great writer to show their emotion in their writing and  let that emotion transport a reader into the story and perhaps remind them of hidden jewels of emotion in their own lives. That is what this book did for me. I felt I was inside Joe Talbert’s heart when he dealt with his mother’s alcoholism and the effect it had on his brother. I felt my husband’s pain when Mr. Eskens wrote about Vietnam. I know my spouse has experienced some of the same gut wrenching emotions while serving in Vietnam and kept those emotions hidden for a long time, somewhat like Carl Iverson.

As a writer of a very different genre I was awestruck when in the midst of a paragraph Mr. Eskens would toss in a little tidbit about the past. Doing that was genius and brings the reader back to the little things of the past we had forgotten.  It wouldn’t have been anything I would have thought of adding to a mystery, but those little tidbits, which I don’t want to give you details so as to spoil the surprise, are little jewels making you feel as if  you are a kid in a candy store receiving a treat.

I am an emotional person and I read this book with my emotions. That was the gift from an outstanding writer. I believe the author has to be in touch with the compassionate side of his soul and knows how to feel joy, love, anger, bitterness, and gives himself the freedom to share himself and those emotions with us through his writing.

Whether that is true or not, he did all that for me,  as I lost myself in the book. I want to experience putting my soul and emotions into a book, a mystery, touching something deep in someone else.  No other book that I have read has  drawn that part of me to the surface.  The Life We Bury did. For the reader I have a feeling  each person who reads the book will find something different drawn out of themselves if they let themselves experience the emotion of the book.

It does not matter to me if the inspiration of this writer on my life results in a book that is noticed by the public. What matters to a writer is letting themselves feel their writing and translate that feeling to their readers. Can I give my readers that experience? Only time will tell. Thank you Allen Eskens for giving me the desire to change the story I write.

Read Allen Eskens best selling book The Life We Bury.
It will be a journey you won’t regret.