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 do you say to that?

It seems that there are some people out there who just don’t understand how to be tactful and appropriate and that they have decided to bring their ignorance to my table. Generally, I try to respond to morons as tactfully as possible and in some cases, I even ignore the stupidity. This time, however, I am going to take a moment to put it all out there and see where it goes.

For starters, I had a comment come across my blog the other day about the post I wrote on FOX news. When I read the comment, my first thought was that it was crass and inappropriate and that it probably could have been phrased differently, but since it showed a differing viewpoint I was willing to approve it. I responded somewhat jokingly and was prepared to let it go at that. Unfortunately, the other person decided that he or she (of course they posted anonymously) was not ready to let it drop. This, in turn, netted an angry response from another outspoken young lady who posted something else in my defense. At this point, I posted what I believe was a stern response to all of the nonsense and haven’t heard more since.

The aim of the original comment was not to add value to the conversation, it was merely to shock the reader. I don’t enjoy that. As a matter of fact, I believe it shows a lack of imagination and intelligence on the part of that commentor. If he or she (again, I have no idea which) had wanted to say something important, they would not have resorted to comments about my undergarments and so forth. They simply would have defended FOX news and left it at that.

In an unrelated incident, I was playing around on Facebook the other night and decided I would do one of those top five lists that everyone is doing on there. One of my friends posted her top five cookies and so, I decided to post my own list of favorites. Within a few minutes, I received a comment on my list. The comment went something like this, “Yes, you look like you enjoy all of them, all of the time.” I thought to myself, “WTF? Did I say something to offend this guy?” The comment came from a person on my friends list whom I did not know very well. I won’t say his name here because, unlike him, I’m at least a little classy. However, if you would like to know who it is, please let me know. We’ll talk.

In any case, the comment completely blindsided me and for a while, I was feeling very bad about it. Of course, I immediately deleted both it and the friend from my list. No way am I going to allow someone the opportunity to insult me further once they have done something like this. The funny thing is that this guy was always posting motivational quotes and things that would lead you to believe he is a decent guy. I’ve never met him, spoken to him directly or anything like that, so I can’t be sure if he was having a bad day or if cookies bring out the worst in him or what.

What bothered me most about the second incident is that he had no reason to say it other than just to be mean. Since he doesn’t really know me, he doesn’t know that my weight has been an issue for several years. You can’t be pregnant every year for five years and not hold a little weight on your frame. After five miscarriages, your body tends to be a little uncooperative. Since I know that there are good reasons why I’m overweight and that it isn’t simply a matter of sloth and gluttony, I generally have a thicker skin than this (no pun intended) if my weight is ever the topic of conversation. But I just could not understand what prompted such an attack from this person. Even if you’re just having a bad day, the old adage, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” still holds true. There was simply no reason for him to be so vicious.

I realize that anyone can get online and that sometimes, we befriend those who are less than stable. Generally, we add friends to our Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace pages based on very little information and so, we are always at risk of being insulted or offended by our “friends.” Does this mean we should stop friending people we don’t know in real life? No, it just means that we should be aware that there may some crazy boob lurking about just waiting for an opportunity to call you names or be a big jerk to you. I generally like people until they give me a reason not to. After that, the gloves are off. So, as I said before, if you are on Facebook and you want to make sure you aren’t the next target for this guy, please feel free to contact me and I’ll let you know who he is.

Until next time…

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