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

Stop, you’re both right…

Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions. 1 John 3:18 (NLT)

This week, I’ve seen a wonderful thing. I’ve witnessed a most uplifting outpouring of kindness as I watched people bring my sister and her son gifts, clothes and money to help them get through Christmas after having been burned out of their house by a fire on Monday night. It was touching to see so many people giving and giving to a person whom they didn’t know, a person who could have been any number of things besides just another human being who was suffering. No one asked her if she was a Christian, or if she believes in God, or if she attends a church in town. People really just wanted to help. I believe that this is what God intends. He wants us to help one another and he doesn’t want strings attached. It has always been my understanding that when you are trying to help someone, you are not focused on who they are or what they stand for. You are focused on helping them through whatever it is that they are going through and hoping that you have done all you can without making them feel obligated to do something in return.

So, it got me thinking. My sister was helped by a couple of churches and many, many, churchgoing folks. My sister does not currently go to church. In fact, she believes in some things that scare Christians. I also believe in some things that would scare Christians. But the bottom line is that we both believe in God and have faith that He is leading us on this journey and that whatever He wants to do in our lives is what we must accept and hold as right. We see God’s beauty in all things and understand that there is not just one right way to connect with Him. In fact, I feel that to believe that there is only one right way to speak to God is somewhat shortsighted and I’ll tell you why. There have been many times in my life when I know that God was right there with me. Many times when I couldn’t have been further from being a good Christian woman. I’m still working on being a good Christian woman, but I can look back and see that he pulled me through things that I never should have come through as a sinner who refused, not just put off going, but REFUSED to go to church. I know that there was a time in my life when I was so angry with Him that I worried I would never find my way back to Him. And, if it hadn’t been for a constant connection to him through meditation and through constantly looking for answers to the questions I had by exploring other religions and ways of worship, I would never have been able to set foot in a church again.

The point is that He was listening even though I wasn’t in church. He was listening even when I wasn’t sure if I was a Buddhist, a Wiccan, or a Baptist. He was listening and I’m still here, ready to do what I can to live His will for me.

As the pastor at one of the churches we attend now said at one of the sermons this month, you won’t get to heaven by simply going to church. You won’t get there by tithing, you won’t get there by doing the things you think are what good Christians are supposed to do. At least, you won’t get there by doing these things without having this one most important thing: love for God. If you don’t love God, no matter what form He takes in your life, you cannot get to heaven. If you don’t love God, you can’t do His work. You can go through the motions, but you’re really only doing these things for yourself and your own gratification. If He isn’t at the heart of everything you are doing, then it isn’t really for Him.

It’s been so hard for me to focus on writing and promoting my books these days because I’ve been trying to fix my own slanted perceptions of just exactly who I’m doing all of this for. If it isn’t for Him, then it isn’t worth the time. Yes, it is fun to write and yes, I hope people enjoy what I write, but more than that, I really want to write things that bring people closer to Him. Going into 2010, I’m hoping my work will be worthy of what God wants me to put out there for you. If I’m quiet, you know I’m still working on it.

Here’s hoping that you have a wonderful New Year’s and that 2010 brings you closer to what matters most in your heart.

3~So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4~Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? Romans 2:3-4 (New International Version)

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Writing patiently…

I used to get so worried when I wasn’t writing every day. I had books in my head and ideas scribbled all over the place, but I was making no concentrated effort to organize these thoughts. After writing the third book in the Rona Shively series, Keeping the Faith, I realized that it was the waiting and hanging back that helped make the book into something that I am very proud to have written. If I had rushed through it, I never would have developed the story the way I needed to and I certainly wouldn’t have reached novel-length without pulling all of my hair out.

They say that slow and steady wins the race. I have to agree with that. I’ve never been a patient person and once I started writing, I learned quickly that if I am not patient, I will not accomplish what I want to accomplish. If I rush through writing a story, it won’t be any good. If I rush through doing updates to my web pages, I’ll forget something or make a big mistake somewhere along the way. If I rush through my interactions with others, I’ll miss some valuable piece of information or advice that I might need later on. So, writing and the business of writing has been teaching me patience, slowly, but surely.

What this means to me is that I see things happening much more clearly. When I do accomplish a goal, it is because I have taken all of the necessary steps to do so. I haven’t taken any shortcuts. And it seems like the more I back off of things and let them happen as they are supposed to, the more I accomplish. I’m very happy with the way things have been going and I know that even though it is taking me a while to get back into my writing groove, the day will come when I can sit at my keyboard and finish that fourth book in my mystery series. The day will come when I have the finished Women’s Self-Esteem book in my hands. I just need to make sure that I am letting things happen the way they should and not rushing to be finished.

For me, the last three years have been amazing in terms of my writing career. Although I’m not a bestseller…yet, I have met so many wonderful people and learned so much about myself and how my world works. My writing has improved over time and I find that I am giving myself more time to recharge in between projects than I did when I started on this journey. That is so unlike me. I’m still anxious to see what else I will learn, but the difference is that now I’m willing to take the time and let that knowledge make its way to me instead of hunting it down and clubbing it over the head.

How do you pace yourself and your writing? What lessons have you learned about writing patiently?

Until next time…

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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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Do writers get sick days?

Since I basically work for myself in terms of my writing life, I guess the answer to that question is “yes.” The bigger question is, “Will a writer actually take one?” I’ve been battling some kind of upper respiratory bug since before Christmas and the bug seems to be winning. Although I just spent the last two weeks working like crazy on promotional items, short stories and other efforts, I still feel the need to be working on something even when my head feels like it could literally, roll right off of my shoulders.

Taking a sick day gives you the time you need to recharge and as an added bonus, you can justify not spending every waking moment thinking about what you have to do on the very basis of the fact that you are taking a sick day. In spite of this, I have a real problem with being anywhere near my laptop and not working on something. Sure, I feel guilty any time I call in sick to my job as a librarian, but I can’t seem to let myself call in completely sick to being a writer. It’s like being a mom. Even when you’re sick, you’re still expected to be a mom and take care of every little thing that your child might need. It’s a given.

To me, working on my writing and promoting my writing is what feels normal. It’s what feels like home. When I can’t do this, I feel disconnected; out of sorts. That feeling only adds to the crappiness of being sick. The problem is that by not allowing myself to rest from my writing, I only get worse. I go from being sick to being SICK. And then when I’m coughing my head off and feeling downright crummy as I have been for the past couple of weeks, I can’t seem to remember what I was writing about from one moment to the next. This makes me feel like a big idiot and I really hate feeling like any size of an idiot.

That said, I have to admit that today, instead of getting up and heading for the computer, I stayed in bed until 10 a.m. for the first time in years. It felt good to rest for a change and I’m trying to lay low for the rest of today so that I can be better for tomorrow. I know that if I don’t, I’ll never be able to get back to what I love doing; the writing. So, as I hit the publish button on this post, I’m going to get ready for yet another nap. No e-mails, no tweets, just sleep.

How do you recharge when you’ve run yourself into the ground with writing, promotion, networking, etc.? Help your fellow writers out by commenting with your best tips here.

Until next time…

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Truer Words Were Never Spoken

I recently came across a quote about time. It reads, “The myth that we must have “time”-more time in order to create is a myth that keeps us from using the time we do have.”

I’m not sure who wrote this, but these words are definitely speaking to me these days. I’ve been in kind of a funk since I finished writing the third book in my mystery series. There have been a few days when I was inspired to write, but for the most part, I’ve been struggling with a bit of a block. This sucks because for one, I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe that I am simply being stubborn and not allowing myself to do the one thing that I truly enjoy out of some kind of self-directed spite. It makes no sense that I would deprive myself in this way, but hey, that’s the kind of gal I am.

In all of this, I have been claiming that time is the main reason why I haven’t been sitting down to write. I say that I’m too busy or too tired because all of my time is spent working or thinking about work. This is most definitely a cop-out. In reality, I have never stopped having ideas for things I want to write, hence, I cannot cry “Writer’s Block!” It simply isn’t accurate. And the problem isn’t a lack of time. I spend lots of time sitting at home, looking at my computer but doing little to nothing productive. So, in the spirit of having some spirit, I decided that I would take at least one day out of the week and go to my local library to write for a couple of hours. It sounded strange to my husband at first, I’m sure, but he hasn’t complained yet so I’ll keep at it.

Though it isn’t like me to take time for myself in such a grandiose manner, I must admit, I kind of like having a few hours where I can concentrate on writing or finding good information about marketing without having to get up and check on my daughter or hear my husband’s television shows in the background. This seems to be just what the doctor ordered. In case you hadn’t figured it out, I’m at the library right now. And…I’m writing. Go figure. It wasn’t writer’s block at all. It was me-time deficiency. Lots of women suffer from this.

So, the next time you find that you’re feeling a little less than motivated, think about finding a way to break free from your routine and give yourself some time alone. A change of venue, as it were. It might be just what you need to get your mojo back.

Until next time…

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On the road again…

It’s funny how the places you imagine are, in reality, so much like the place where you live. What I mean by this is that I had always envisioned the state of New York to be this big, urban expanse and I really hadn’t thought that there would be parts of the state that looked so much like my hometown.

I recently visited the city of Waterville, NY to present one of my Tea & Mystery discussions at their public library. As usual, the presentation went well and I met some very nice people there. I was surprised that the scenery didn’t actually change between where I live in Ohio and there. In fact, had I not missed my daughter so much, I wouldn’t have even known I’d left town. Although the foliage is beautiful this time of year, after about three or four hundred miles of the same landscape, you start to wonder if you’re actually moving forward. The drive did give me a chance to start working on my next Rona Shively novel. I got my first three chapters drafted on the way to Waterville.

I’ve always loved visiting new places and this road trip proved to be all too short. Since I recently started a new job, I wasn’t able to stay as long as I would have liked to check out the rest of the area. Perhaps next time I’ll have a couple of days to spare. Until then, I’ll just have to look at my own trees.

If your library would like to have me come out and do a Tea & Mystery presentation, please contact me here. I’m still booking these events and would love to visit as many libraries across the United States as possible.

Until next time…

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makes me nervous. Right now, I’m waiting to hear back from a publisher about the third book in the Rona Shively series. Right now, I’m kind of nervous. For reasons I won’t go into here, I’m trying to switch publishers. I just think it’s time. Doing this means moving away from what I’m familiar with and jumping out into “Reject Me” territory. Though I know it is a fact of life, I’m not all that hot on rejection. Who is?

My third book is the first full-length novel I’ve ever written and I think I’ve done some really great things with the Rona Shively character this time around. The story has some good, some bad, and some ugly…but no Clint Eastwood unless you count Rona’s new love interest, Garrett Shaw. Rona is nearing forty and so, in the next book, you’ll see that she’s starting to mature a little. It’s about time she did. She’s held some grudges in her day and now, she’s starting to rethink her position on some of these. Still, she maintains that she’s fully justified in hanging onto the others.

One way or another, Keeping the Faith will be published. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the publisher I’ve approached will pick it up, but if they don’t, I’ll figure something out. For now, the series is in a state of literary limbo awaiting the call to be printed but keep the faith, everyone. Rona Shively will return.

Until next time…

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It’s all about the numbers…

The older I get, the more I begin to notice that my life revolves around numbers. How much money is in my bank account, how many days of daycare I’ll pay for this week, how many words I need to type in order to get my book finished, how much weight I need to lose, how high my cholesterol is, etc. Take today for instance.

I got up at 8 a.m. and spent a total of 20 minutes checking e-mails. I then hurried to get my daughter to daycare by 9, but ended up getting there at around 9:30. I went to the gym and walked a total of 17 laps which took a whopping 20 minutes before riding the stationary bike for 11.5 minutes and getting 2 miles in. This means I’ll be able to eat those extra 50 calories I’ve been wanting to get my hands on. Woo-hoo!

After the gym, I went to the store. Geez, I hate to even think about the numbers involved there. After spending about $20 at the store, I stopped to put $42 worth of gas in my car. That will get me about 350 miles. Maybe. All the while, I was thinking that last night I had just hit 43,000 words on Keeping the Faith and that I really need about 20,000 more to ensure that I hit novel length with this one. We’ll see. I’ve been working on this book for approximately seven months, four days, three hours and twenty-six minutes. During that time, I’ve thrown out about 97 pages worth of plot that I hated.

When I got home from doing all of this, I checked the tv listings to see what was on and decided not to watch Seven, The Three Amigos, or 1408. I had to get to work by 1 anyway. So, after answering 32 e-mails, a couple of instant messages and commenting on three or four blog posts I remembered that I needed to get the ISBN numbers for a few books I wanted to find. By the time I looked these up, I was sure that my brain might explode.

You see, I hate numbers. That’s why I try very hard not to do any tricky math and I can’t really commit to playing the lottery. There’s just too many damned numbers.

Until next time…

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Tea & Mystery

Recently, I’ve started scheduling discussion events with libraries called Tea & Mystery. At these gatherings, we are going to discuss the mystery genre and how it has found its way into our daily entertainment diet. It should be lots of fun and We’re even going to play a whodunit game as part of the presentation.
I’m looking forward to doing these discussions. I enjoy mysteries every day whether it is on my television, in my car on audiobook or on my own computer where I write them. I hadn’t realized just how much my life revolved around mysteries until I started putting together these discussion events. If you are able, please join me at one of my upcoming Tea & Mystery presentations. The schedule is below:

8/28 New Carlisle Public Library, New Carlisle, OH 7 p.m.
9/10 Clark County Public Library, Springfield, OH 7 p.m.
9/27 Champaign County Public Library Urbana, OH 2 p.m.
10/14 Waterville Public Library Waterville, NY 6 p.m.

All events will last about two hours and participants will be encouraged to bring their favorite mystery books with them so that they can share their thoughts on the topic. More information about registration will be available a few weeks prior to each event.

If you have a private group that would like to have a similar discussion, please let me know. I can do these in person or via conference call!

Until next time…

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