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

What, no comment?

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus, but figured that now was as good a time as any to post something. Over the past month or so, I’ve been trying to make some changes in my life. I’ve been trying to reconnect with God after an extended period of estrangement. It’s been long overdue and I’m glad that I’ve finally taken some steps in the right direction. What does this mean to you? Well, probably not nearly what it means to me, but I wanted to take a moment to fill you in anyway.

Part of this journey involves curbing my natural bent toward profanity and being such a hater. Granted, this has been challenging. I’ve always had a way with words, especially the bad ones. And, I am sometimes quick to say something not so nice about someone whom I feel has issues. Whether I’ve been right or wrong in some of the things I’ve said, I feel that I probably could have said alot of it much more lovingly. Don’t worry, though. I am not losing my edge. I’m just dulling it a little so that it won’t cut quite so deep.

In a bizarre coincidence, just as I’m trying to be a kinder, gentler Rebecca Benston, I get a notification in my inbox this morning from Associate Content. A couple of years ago, I wrote an article about my former publisher, PublishAmerica. I was tired of hearing comments from people who wanted to bash the publisher and any writer who had found themselves under contract with them. I’ve received a few good comments over the years and today, I got one that really tested my ability to act in a Godly manner. Here is the comment:

Wow. Publish America a legit publisher? that’s perhaps the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time. Publish America is a Vanity publisher that will put into print, any incoherent nonsense that happens to be written. it is for hacks who have some inflated self worth and believe that commercial publishers, who have rejected them, have done so unjustly. if you get published by PA, you aren’t even a writer. you’re just someone with a computer who managed to string a few sentences together. I could have a monkey tap dance across my keyboard for 2 hours and come up with something PA would publish. if you are so untalented that you have to use PA to publish, I’m embarrassed for you. Do your homework.

lisa miller

My poor tongue has permanent indentations from the biting it endured after reading this one. I was especially bothered by this woman’s refusal to use a capital letter. Fortunately, though, my fingers were able to respond by sending her a nice response which I’ll share with you here:

Ms. Miller, I’m not going to go into great detail to explain my position on this. I’ll just say that PA was a great starting point for me and that it is not a vanity press. I’m not sure why you feel the need to attack writers who choose PA, perhaps you had a bad experience with them or maybe they actually rejected something you sent them. Whatever the case, I wish you well and hope that you can get a handle on whatever it is that has caused you to be so bitter. By the way, what do you write? I’m interested in checking out your work so that I can see how a real writer does it.

Note, I used no profanity and I think I was fairly tactful. Considering what I really wanted to say, this was actually quite remarkable. In any case, it never ceases to amaze me how some people can spend so much time in bitterness that they would actually take the time to spew such hatred at someone they have never met or had any kind of interaction with. I don’t know this person. Or at least, the name doesn’t ring a bell. I thought to myself, “Did I cut this woman off in traffic? Did I maybe date her husband in high school or something?” For all I know it’s the Navin Johnson curse. She probably just picked my name out of the phone book or something and decided to attack.

The point is, a few months ago my response may have included a couple of choice words and I would have been angry. Today, I feel like I’ve said what I needed to say and now, I can go to church.

Happy Sunday, all!

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