Do you remember your first time?

Reading your favorite mystery novel, that is. What did you think I was talking about? Get your mind out of the gutter and join me as I talk about the first time I read a book by one of my favorite authors, Sue Grafton.

Back in the early nineties, I was working at a home for unruly children. There’s probably a better term for this, but at the time that’s what I called it. I worked the third shift and part of my duties included sitting in the back hall at night and making sure that the girls on the unit stayed in their rooms. I occasionally had to walk around and check each room to make sure that they were, in fact, sleeping and not hurting each other. For the most part, they behaved, so it was a fairly easy assignment. We were allowed to read while we sat in the back hall, since there was really nothing else to do. So, one night I grabbed a random book from the shelf in the office before venturing back to my post. The title was, simply enough, “B is for Burglar.” I thought it sounded fairly mild and that it wouldn’t require much thought on my part, so it seemed like a good choice. Little did I know that waiting for me beyond that cover were pages of a story that would inspire me to start writing my own mystery series.

It was around 1993 or ’94 and the book had been published in 1985. The author, was Sue Grafton. One of the reigning queens of mystery (in my opinion). And after reading this book, which was the second book in the series, I immediately went in search of the first book. And from there, I later read every single one up to the very last book Grafton published before she passed away in 2017. I read them in paperback and listened to the audiobooks throughout the years, sometimes several times over. They were comforting, in the way that old television reruns are a comfort. And when I needed inspiration or just motivation to keep going, listening to Kinsey Millhone work her way through a case without the help of the internet, cell phones, or other modern-day accoutrements was refreshing. It reminds me that anything is possible no matter what it may look like on the surface.

In 2006, I actually received some advice in a letter from Ms. Grafton. Unfortunately, it was not what you’d call uplifting. It was early in my writing career and I had stupidly sent her a copy of my first book, In the Wash: The Rona Shively Stories. She had read a few chapters and then decided to let me know that my work was substandard, in her opinion. I had been so hurt by her feedback that for a time, I couldn’t even look at her books for several years after that. In the letter, she made the snap judgement that my first attempt at a hard-boiled private eye novel was something I’d not taken seriously and implied that my motivation was simply to be published quickly and get famous. She decided this without knowing anything about me and I was so absolutely deflated by her comments that I nearly trashed the whole writing thing. But I knew that my motivation had never been anything so lame or pretentious as just wanting to be published or popular, so I decided to press on. She had no idea how many hours I’d spent in the library researching all of the pieces of the plot I’d put together in my head. She had no idea that I’d been discouraged from being a writer when I was still a teenager and that I’d only just picked it back up after nearly fifteen years of not writing. She had no idea that the birth of my first and only child had inspired me to try writing again. Or that reading her books was why I had decided to write a book in the first place. She just assumed that I was another of hundreds of amateur writers who would never put in the kind of time and energy she’d put into her novels. But she was wrong. She was an excellent author, but God rest her soul, she knew nothing about me, my personal struggles, or what kind of writing I was capable of and her criticism became the number one reason why I went on to write books two through ten of The Rona Shively Stories series.

Eventually, I did read the rest of her books, as I indicated above. I read the whole series and was always impressed by how she could weave a story together so vividly and with so much detail. She was an excellent writer and I’m truly sad that she did not get to finish the Kinsey Millhone series. It’s probably one of the greatest injustices a writer can suffer; leaving a great series unfinished. But no one will ever be able to write Kinsey like she wrote Kinsey. And no other author should want to do that. As authors, we should want to write our own characters in the way that we want to write them. And we should write unapologetically, using our experiences and the skills that God has given us to create stories of our own; stories that will speak to readers as no other author’s stories can. Her words may have ripped my heart out at the time (even if that wasn’t her intention), but in that pain I found what I needed to justify writing Rona the way I wanted to write her. She was my character and my characters don’t always know everything they need to know when they need to know it. My characters are on a journey, trying to figure out what it all means and why we bother.

Ultimately, Grafton’s words did motivate me to become a better author and to help others get their stories out there (hopefully without ever making them feel as low as I felt back then). I’ve always felt that there is more than enough room on the stage for all of us. Writers who have just started and writers who have been around a while. And I never saw the logic in making someone feel terrible about their writing if they had the courage to at least try it. Everyone has a story to tell; some may not be as exciting or endearing as others, but they don’t have to be. We can all learn from one another’s experiences and if someone wants to try and share those experiences in a book, what harm does it do to encourage them to do just that? As a publisher now, I always try to look at the stories I receive through the lens of someone who is looking for advice in whatever the subject mater area presented in a manuscript may be. Some are a fit for my company, some aren’t. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t serious about writing. Or that they shouldn’t bother. We can’t all be Sue Graftons or Lisa Scottolines or James Pattersons or Janet Evanoviches (pardon the pluralization on these). It would be ever so boring if we all were. I’d much rather be Rebecca Benston writing Rona Shively and reading all of these other great authors who have given me such inspiration and joy over the years. I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Rebecca Benston is the owner of Higher Ground Books & Media and the author of over twenty titles currently available through Amazon and other outlets. Her books include a mystery series (The Rona Shively Stories), empowerment resources such as Wise Up to Rise Up, Don’t Be Stupid (And I Mean That in the Nicest Way), and From Judgment to Jubilee, children’s books including Grumble D. Grumble Learns to Smile, All the Scary Things, and See How Strong You Are. Benston lives in Springfield, Ohio with her awesome daughter, Mya and enjoys traveling, reading, writing, and telling it like it is. She enjoys being able to help other authors get their stories out there through Higher Ground and has recently expanded her freelance services to offer more extensive guidance as a writing coach and social media manager. For more information, you can contact Benston at

Another Trip Around the…Sun?

Take a moment and watch this video, good song!

Trip Around the Sun

Well, let’s hope so.  I swear, looking back over the last twelve months of my life I would have thought there might be a few more victories there.  Sadly, I was doing pretty much the same thing this time last year as I am today.  On my 39th birthday, I was traveling to Cincinnati for a job interview which didn’t pan out and I was in relational negotiations with a loser.  That’s a nice way of saying that I was in mid-breakup with a guy I was trying to date.  It’s not like I didn’t accomplish anything, though.  At least this year, it was a different guy and I really did make some changes that I feel will turn out to be the right thing.  I just haven’t seen the fruits of those efforts yet.  It makes it difficult sometimes to keep planning ahead and to keep pushing toward new goals.  But in truth, I’ve been anticipating this day.  My fortieth birthday.  I’ve wanted so badly to be out of my thirties and now, I’m here.

Turning forty is a major milestone for me because it represents a fresh start after all of the upheavals and defeats suffered during my last decade.  My thirties represented the birth of my child whom I love more than life itself, the rise and subsequent fall of my marriage, the loss of some very important family members, the difference between admiration, infatuation, and true love, the realization that maybe I’m not cut out to do what counts as “real work” in this society, and an even bigger realization that I’m really not the one whose steering this ship.  I’m hopeful, that with God’s grace, I can move on to do something meaningful with the rest of my days on this earth.  And even though it often seems like nothing is happening, I know He is working in my life.  He’s certainly had me in a season on reflection and learning for the last ten years or so.   And I think I’m finally starting to form a clear picture of what He’s been trying to show me.

Looking back on the last twenty years, I can see where these times have helped me grow and where what I thought were the toughest trials I’d ever faced made me stronger.  God has a way of showing us who we are when we aren’t really paying attention.  All this time, I thought some of the things I were doing were just being done out of my inability to follow Him correctly.  As it turns out, it was part of His plan to help me overcome the most daunting strongholds that I still had in my life.  So, for my fortieth birthday, I’m giving myself the gift of giving up.  I’m giving up on things and people that are bad for me.  I’m giving up on relationships that hold no promise other than to hurt me and stall my progress.  I’m giving up what I believed to be control of my life to Someone who is better equipped than myself to guide me through this mess.  I’m giving up on trying to be what everyone else wants me to be.  And in doing so, I’ll be giving up on being frustrated and finally allowing myself to enjoy being the person God made me to be.  Yes, after forty years, I think it’s time I started being myself.  Maybe this trip around the sun will be more than just another trip around the same mountain.  I’ll get back to you on that…but in the meantime, have a wonderfully, blessed day!

The Best Advice I Ever Got…

came from the book, The Right to Write by Julia Cameron. In her book, she said, “Put the drama on the page…” or something along those lines. No matter how it was phrased, it works. She was referring to channeling your emotional energy into writing and not letting everyday drama bog you down. When I read this, I thought, “Wow, that makes sense!” Why hadn’t I thought of that before? Well, probably because I’ve been hip-deep in drama my entire life and it never occurred to me that I didn’t have to be until recently. All this time, I had loads of material just waiting to become a bestselling novel. Well…maybe just a widely read short story…or…poem…ok, a haiku???

In any case, I’ve struggled with various issues over the years; some of them not so pretty. But once they were written down, they didn’t seem so daunting and I was able to get through them. Not exactly journalling, just processing what is going on around me through the written word has been an invaluable tool for coping with day to day stress and anxiety. For example, when I miscarried last year for the fifth time, I wrote an article called, “Empty.” This article was meant to be a way of processing my pain and helping me to understand my feelings. It did just that and as an added bonus, it ended up being published by Alive Magazine earlier this year. It’s coming up on a year since the loss and truthfully, I feel that the article gave me a sense of closure on the matter and it isn’t as painful to discuss or even think about as it was before I wrote about it.

Some things have been bogging me down lately and I have a suspicion that this is because I haven’t taken enough time to write down my feelings about what has been going on in my life. When I write, I somehow transfer all of that emotional energy onto the page and it doesn’t seem so overwhelming as it did floating around in my head. I can always tell when I haven’t been writing enough, too, because I feel edgy and disconnected from myself.

For those of you who write, does your writing help you to cope with the stress in your life? Do you find it therapeutic beyond the sense of accomplishment you get from simply getting your ideas out? Or is it just me? 🙂

I don’t know about you, but I certainly feel better just having written this post.

Until next time…

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Writing Mystery vs. Fiction…Preference or Passion?

I’ve always loved a good mystery. In reading, I prefer a good whodunit to almost anything else. Whether it’s the witty charm of a Kinsey Millhone or the brazen determination of a Stephanie Plum, I would never choose to read straight fiction over a mystery novel. I think this is why, when I started writing my own books, that I chose to write a mystery series. Although I had little experience with writing this genre, I was compelled to try my hand at putting together storylines that sort of drag the reader into a big mess. Was I successful? Who knows? That, in and of itself, is a mystery.

I was once told by a famous author that I should never have tried to journey into the intricacies of writing mystery without first having tried my hand at mainstream fiction. Her exact words were, “I advise novice writers to conquer the basics of characterization, plotting, tone and narrative in straight fiction before launching into the mechanics of the mystery.” Not bad advice, but certainly a little discouraging for the aspiring mystery writer. If I had no desire to read straight fiction, how would I go about writing it? My plot ideas always come out the same way, someone gets killed or wronged in some other way, my main character tries to figure out who is responsible for it, and everyone eventually finds out who, what, when, where, why and how. I like to throw in some awkward situations for entertainment value and occasionally, my characters have substantial epiphanies that keep them motivated to figure out what has happened. I’m not sure I could comfortably write straight fiction. I couldn’t stay interested enough in what I was writing.

Before I wrote the first two books in my Rona Shively mystery series, I checked out nearly every mystery writing book in our local library and looked at hundreds of websites on how to write, plot and develop your voice. I wanted to make sure that I was doing the right things and that my writing technique followed whatever patterns a good mystery writer should follow. After all, my qualifications for writing a mystery were pretty much made up of my tendency to read three mysteries at any given time, watch shows like Law & Order, CSI, and reruns of The Rockford Files, Charlie’s Angels, and Starsky and Hutch. I have an inquisitive mind, what can I say?

I have thought about branching out into other genres and have even gone so far as to write a short horror story. In my mind, it still played out much like a mystery, only scarier than normal. The reason I write this post today is because I am at a point where I’m considering taking my mystery series in a new direction. In thinking about where I’ve been and where I would like to go with my writing, I know that I still want to be a mystery writer. I only hope that my series gets better and better with each intallment. In spite of my lack of professional experience, I want to be able to put together stories that are as compelling and entertaining as those I enjoy reading. My favorites, Janet Evanovich, Lisa Scottoline, Sarah Strohmeyer, and even Sue Grafton have inspired me to continue writing and trying to make my characters as intriguing and engaging as those they present.

For writers, do you have a preference of genre? If so, which ones? And what led you to that preference? I am wondering if any others out there feel that it is important to be an avid reader of your genre in order to effectively write within it. Readers, feel free to add your two cents. Just a conversation starter on this dreary Tuesday morning.

Until next time…

My 50th post…

What to say? What to say? Well, I guess I will go with more of the same. I’m still reading several books that I think you might find interesting. Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin is still holding my interest. It’s not that long of a book, but I tend to have limited pockets of time during which I can sit and read. Browsing through non-fiction books seems to work better for me than trying to read through the latest book by my favorite fiction writers. Luckily, there are audiobooks. Without these, I might never get to hear the latest Lisa Scottoline or Janet Evanovich stories.

Right now, I have several “browsing” books on hand. The first is called, Never Shower in a Thunderstorm: Surprising Facts and Misleading Myths About Our Health and the World We Live In by Anahad O’Connor. O’Connor is the “Really?” columnist for The New York Times. If that prompts you to ask “Really?” then you’ve got bigger issues than I can help you with. Anyway, this book is about dispelling myths such as “Does the Spanish Fly really exist?” or “Does grilled meat cause cancer?” or the title question of “Do you risk electrocution if you shower during a thunderstorm?” Intriguing? Yes. I picked a few at random and here’s what I found:
The explanations given in this book are too involved for me to share here. I was going to dispell a few choice myths for you, but then decided that it really wouldn’t be cool for me to spill the beans. Sorry if I got your hopes up on this one. My advice would be that if you are really interested in things like this, it wouldn’t hurt to pick this one up. The book has tons of great statistics and so forth and would probably make a great gift for the inquisitive types on your Christmas list.

The second book I am looking at right now is called The Wish List by Barbara Ann Kipfer. I like this one because I am always looking for interesting things to want to do. Not necessarily to do, but just to want to do. It doesn’t hurt to keep your dreams fresh. For example, I know that I am not likely to find myself in a situation where I am swimming with dolphins. For one thing, I’m terrified of deep water and big fish. For another, I don’t trust them. Although they are built up to be this wonderful mammal (I guess) that wouldn’t harm a human being, I don’t trust any animal that can do the things that dolphins can do. Hell, I’m not even sure what they can do, but they kind of creep me out. In any case, this didn’t stop me from putting “swim with dolphins” on my list of things I might like to do at some point during my life. Kipfer’s list includes this and other crazy things like visiting all of the Major League Baseball stadiums in the U.S., tasting the native foods of every region on earth, and even flirting with Paul Newman. The book makes for interesting conversation with those around you and it gives you something to think about other than the usual lists of things you have to do to keep your household running. My new list, for example, includes learn how to read music, truly understand football instead of just watching in hopes of seeing a fight break out, and having dinner with three of my favorite men, Bob Barker, Richard Dawson and William Shatner. Can you imagine the conversation at this table? What a dream come true this would be! I might have to add James Garner to this list, too. After all, that’s what wish lists are for. If you get a chance, pick this little book up and carry it around with you. Wishing is good for the soul.

In my never-ending quest for knowledge, I have also stumbled upon several good books about organizing your home. I have so much crap that I work with on a daily basis that it is sometimes difficult for me to keep everything tidy. I found 1000 Best Quick and Easy Organizing Secrets by Jamie Novak to be very helpful. Novak is the founder of Clutterproofing products. This is trademarked, but I couldn’t figure out how to put the little symbol beside it, so I’ll just have to spell it out. In any case, the book gives an itemized list of things you can do to make each area of your home and your life a little more organized. I have been using some of these and I have to say, I’m impressed. Several of these have been very helpful and I’m only halfway through the list. If you are into organizing, check this one out!

As usual, I’m always looking for inspiration and I have a few standard passages that I like to read from time to time to keep me grounded. Cynthia Kersey’s book, Unstoppable has been a motivating force in my life since I found it years ago. I often pick this one up and read through it until I find the one that fits where I am in my journey. For today, I will share this poem:

Often your tasks will be many,
And more than you think you can do…
Often the road will be rugged
and the hills insurmountable, too…

But always remember, the hills ahead
are never as steep as they seem.
and with faith in your heart start upward
and climb ’til you reach your dream.

For nothing in life that is worthy
is ever too hard to achieve
if you have the faith to try it
and you have the faith to believe

For faith is a force that is greater
than knowledge or power or skill
and many defeats turn to triumph
if you trust in god’s wisdom and will…

For faith is a mover of mountains.
There’s nothing that god cannot do.
So start out today with faith in your heart
and climb ’til your dream comes true!

Helen Steiner Rice
Climb ‘Til Your Dream Comes True

If that doesn’t motivate you, try a couple more cups of coffee and check back with me later. Try to have a good day and possibly, a good week. Until next time…

Year in Review

I’m coming up on a full year of promoting my books and thought it would be nice to take a moment and recognize all of the people who have offered their advice, reviews and guidance throughout the past year. I believe in showing gratitude and there have been so many wonderful people who have kept me going over the past year despite many personal struggles. Below is a list of the websites, authors and others I’d like to thank for their support of the Rona Shively series:

Tara Settembre
An Alternative Read
Lucille Perkins Robinson
Sabrina’s Reviews
Books 2 Mention
Front Street Reviews
Huntress Reviews
Lillian Cauldwell
Kathryn Raaker
Fallen Angel Reviews
C.S. Lemone
Mary Ann Hayatian
Barbara Watkins
Jennifer Brown
Jennifer Miller & Word Weavers
Mike Ricksecker
Meloni Cassidy
The Clark County Public Library
New Carlisle Public Library
The Armchair Travelers Reading Group

The Managers and Staff at the following stores:

Waldenbooks-Fairfield Mall
Barnes & Noble-Dayton Mall
Waldenbooks-Springfield, OH
Waldenbooks-Columbus City Center
Around About Books-Troy, OH
Barnes & Noble-Montgomery Road, Cincinnati, OH
Barnes & Noble-Newport on the Levee
Waldenbooks-Monroe, MI
Waldenbooks-Ann Arbor, MI
Waldenbooks-Florence, KY
Joseph Beth Bookseller-Cincinnati, OH

Contest Winners and all entrants:

Nicole Tuttle-Recipe Contest
Morah Lynch-Valentine’s Day Contest
Julia Johnson-Got Character Contest
Karen Sheehan-Monthly Drawing
Sanjay Srinivas-Monthly Drawing

Lisa Scottoline for her words of encouragement.
Alex Evanovich for her comments about my website.
My sister, Jennifer for her clever insights and editing.

I’d also like to extend thanks to anyone out there who has read the books and to those who have added positive reviews to Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s websites. I hope I haven’t missed anyone. All of your support has meant so much. I’m hoping that this next year will hold just as much fun and excitement as the last. I’m going to be taking a couple of months off to recharge and I plan to be back “on tour” by the end of October. I’ll be posting here regularly and I hope to finish my third book over the next couple of months. So, stay tuned for more from the Rona Shively Stories plus some special projects that I’m working on.

Until next time…