Tag Archive for: author’s thoughts

The School of Always Learning

By Donnell Ann Bell

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” ― George Eliot “

“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.” ― Andy Warhol

I didn’t go to Harvard. I write a character that enjoys a sterling curriculum vitae, but unlike him I didn’t have what I would call a crowning education. Growing up in a small town, I received the basics, doing well in English and science, things that interested me. But when it came to advanced math, I was lost. I knew it early on in Algebra class and certainly by the time I enrolled in Geometry.  It never occurred to me to seek out a guidance counselor, nor was it ever offered.

While my plight may sound pathetic, I was bright. I liked to write. I also made good grades. I enjoyed my humanities and sociology classes, and a favorite of mine was (forgive the age-old stereotype) Secretary Office Practice. I particularly loved Shorthand. I reached 120-words-per-minute and won awards, and to this day I use Greg shorthand to write my stories. After college, I became an administrative assistant in the Land Department, and when my boss, the Division Land Manager, was offered employment elsewhere, he invited me to join him. By doing so, I earned a substantial raise and more education. When he retired, I stayed at the company and became a supervisor in the division.

The reason I make this deep dark confession about my education is because I am reading repeatedly how the pandemic has set our children back and how public education is failing. I cannot argue either point. We are facing a crisis. According to the World Bank, literacy is trending backwards.

Still, I remain ever hopeful.

Years ago, a young woman came to my house with her two small boys. During our visit, she lamented the boys’ teacher had not taught her children to read. I was rather stunned that she felt she should leave such an important task up to one person. One of my greatest joys as a parent was reading to my children. As my kids grew older, I’d take one page, they’d take the next. It was solid gold, not only in spending time with my children but in educating them as well. A teacher is merely one cog in the learning machine.

Here’s another lesson I learned about education. It’s not stagnant. As human beings, we have the ability to learn and grow throughout our lifetimes.

My husband is a chemical engineer and enjoys giving back. He’s tutored students in math, and when my children were small, he became involved in Junior Achievement and a program called Math Counts. My children attended a small Catholic grade school, kindergarten through eighth grade. Les worked with the seventh and eighth graders on Math Counts and discovered the students in the upper grades were behind. He insisted we move our children, stating, “If a child falls behind in reading, they can catch up. In math, not so much.” We moved our kids to a more affluent school system. They did well. My son is a CPA. My daughter graduated with a B.S. in Business, emphasis in supply chain management. She now works in IT.

Was my husband correct in his assumption that those children who stayed behind could never catch up?  One student in his former Math Count’s program is a medical doctor in Denver and heads up her department, so you tell me.

I have a friend who barely graduated high school. At one time, he was so down on his luck, he missed car payments. His dad invited him to help him build a small golf course in Montana. My friend had never played golf in his life. His response? “I don’t know, Dad. Let me go play a round, and I’ll get back to you.” A long success story considerably shortened, that invitation led to my friend building and working for celebrated golf-course designers in the U.S. and internationally.

Back to me, after college and as a working adult, I used my love of shorthand to go to court reporting school. I learned English, anatomy, and, of course, medical, and legal terminology–courses that admittedly fascinated me.  Although I achieved speeds of 245 wpm and passed my state boards, my career was cut short by a hand injury. A window opened, however, and I left that career and went to work for a weekly business newspaper. My role as topic submission editor and in writing spotlight articles led to my fiction career.

Yes, 2020 and the Pandemic have put us behind. But while traditional K-12 education is a vital steppingstone to college, it’s not the only avenue for additional learning. There are numerous outreach organizations that support advancement, particularly in literacy. http://literacyoutreach.org/   The situation is bleak and for now that’s where the focus and headlines remain.

However, as parents, grandparents, and other caring individuals, I cannot believe all is lost. That opinion is bolstered each time I start a new book and am astounded by the additional knowledge I obtain in researching a novel.

How about you? Are you a member of The School of Always Learning? Do you have a story to share, and are you enrolled in my school?

About the Author:  Leaving international thrillers to world travelers, Donnell Ann Bell concentrates on suspense that might happen in her neck of the woods – writing SUSPENSE TOO CLOSE TO HOME. Traditionally published with Bell Bridge Books, she has written four Amazon single-title bestsellers, with her most current release Black Pearl, a Cold Case Suspense, book one of a series, and Until Dead, a Cold Case Suspense, book two, which was released May 31, 2022.

Donnell has won or been nominated for The Colorado Book Award, The Epic Award for Best Thriller Suspense, Greater Detroit’s Booksellers Best for Best First Book and Best Single Title, the Daphne du Maurier Award, and the Holt Medallion, among others. She co-owns Crimescenewriter, an online group, in which law enforcement, forensic experts, and a multitude of related professionals assist authors in getting those pesky facts right in our novels.

To learn more about her books, sign up for her newsletter or follow her on social media, check out www.donnellannbell.com



Clicking Our Heels: Our Virginia Woolf Places to Write

Clicking Our Heels: Our Virginia Woolf
Places to Write
Woolf famously said women writers need a room of their own.
This month, we asked the members of The
Stiletto Gang: Where do you write? Are you happy with it? How would you change
it if you could? What do you think our answers demonstrate about each of
Aragon Fatula
: When I’m
alone in my camper, I feel like I’m in a cabin in the wilderness and I can read
or write without interruption. I should mention the camper has heat/ac, fridge,
stove, microwave, generator, and a great big queen size bed; I sleep like a log
at night. I feel like it’s my room of my own.
: Where I write
is satisfactory, but I would prefer to be in a standalone little building in
our back garden. As it is, I make do in the third bedroom in my house, and it
doubles as a guestroom, workout room, and attic. It is a mess, and I call it
the writer’s lair, to signify that it is dark and messy. Oh yes, such a mess.
Debra H. Goldstein: It
depends on what I’m writing. Although I tend to mail things from the formal

office I have upstairs (a bedroom I converted to an office when we bought this
house), I write in different rooms with show music playing in the background. The
living room is where I write if I’m looking for peace and happiness because I
like the way I pulled oranges and blues together in there.  My leather recliner in the den is perfect for
male oriented pieces because the décor is Joel’s sports memorabilia. The place
I do most of my writing though is in my father’s oversized chair, which now
resides in our master bedroom. Because my father had long legs, like I do, the
chair was designed to accommodate him. When my sister and I were young we
played our imaginary games using this chair as a covered wagon, tent base, or
as matching steeds (it has great arms).

J.M. Phillippe: I live alone
so I suppose my entire apartment is a room of my own. I don’t think I utilize
it enough or have it set up the way it should be to promote regular writing. I
wish I had space for a desk. (New York Housing is very small.) And more book
Linda Rodriguez: I’ll
be setting up my office in our new house as soon as we get everything

It will be much smaller than my old office, but I think it’s going to be more
efficient and nicer, plus it won’t share space with my spinning/weaving studio,
which will be located in another part of the house. It’s light and has a nice
storage closet, plus lots of electrical outlets. It also has a snazzy new
ceiling light and ceiling fan. It opens right out to the front door, so I could
meet with my developmental editing clients at my home if I wanted to. The big
plus is the opportunity to design it from the ground up instead of dealing with
what was already there.

Penz Sheluk
: I love my Philipsburg Blue office at home, and I love writing
while watching Lake Superior at our camp in Northern Ontario, though not so
much the space (kitchen table). If I could combine the two, that would be
amazing. Mostly I love that my Golden Retriever, Gibbs, lies by my feet
wherever I’m writing.
Mary Lee Woods:
I have recently redone my office, moving it from the basement of our house to
the second floor. We’ve repurposed a guest bedroom with a new bamboo floor,
painted the walls a soft gray, and added a few bookshelves. And a window perch
for Sparkle, my cat. Not an expensive remodel but it created a great workspace
for me. My one splurge was a stand-up desk and I love it! It easily adjusts so
that I can sit or stand and I take full advantage of that ability to move
between the two. I am happy with the office and thrilled with the desk!

Anita Carter
– I write in my office and I love it. If I could change anything, I’d like
two or three more bookshelves. Unfortunately, my office isn’t THAT big. 🙂
Dru Ann Love: I write my
musings in my living room and I wouldn’t change it as I have the space I need.
A.B. Plum: At the risk of
redundancy, I love my cluttered, book-filled office with all kinds of
memorabilia. My only lament is that it’s not big enough, but it is MINE. Being
mine matters the most.
T.K. Thorne: I would put the ocean in my yard. Otherwise,
I am happy with my porch.
Shari Randall:  I write
at my dining room table, mainly because it has big windows and is the sunniest
room in the house (my husband says I’m part cat – I follow the sun). But
because of those big windows, it’s also the most distracting room in the house
– I can’t help but keep tabs on the neighborhood. So when writing gets serious,
I go to the library and camp out in a study carrel. No distractions, but I’d
put in a big sunny window near it if I could.
Bethany Maines: I
write frequently in my office, but I’m happier if I can write on the couch or
bed.  I’m going to say that it’s because
I think better lying down, but it could just be that I’m lazy.  Either way, I would love to have some sort of
giant recliner with a suspension desk that would hold my laptop.  It would be awesome.

The Merits of Spider Solitaire and Writing

The Merits of Spider
Solitaire and Writing by Debra H. Goldstein

When my writing isn’t
going well or I’m simply bored, I play Spider Solitaire.  In the old days, before I bought my latest
computers, my game of choice was Solitaire. 
Occasionally, even now, I’ll play a hand of Solitaire, but usually I
devote my energies to Spider Solitaire. I find it more of a challenge, plus it
wastes more time.

Let me be a bit more
specific. The merits of the game are simple – it is a challenge (I’m still at
the mid-level of play), it’s fun, and more important it distracts me from the
project at hand for 3-5 minutes.  If I
play enough games of Spider Solitaire, an hour can easily fly by.  That’s something that doesn’t always happen
with my writing.  When I’m drawing a
blank or the words coming out can best be defined as trash, time moves
slowly.  In fact, it crawls at a pace
that the fastest thing I can do is hit delete and realize the dead feeling I
have is despair.

That’s not the case when I
play Spider Solitaire.  The hand may not
work out, but a message flashes that lets me know I played a good game.  I smile and begin another game.  There is no gap thinking I’ll never find my
way.  A click and I’m there.  Not bad, but not good, either.  Because instinctively, I know that if I click
away all the hours, in the end I’ll feel worse for not having tried to find a
way to communicate my thoughts. 

I write to express myself.
I play Spider Solitaire as a means of avoidance.  Both have a complimentary place – the key is
to find a balance between the two.  Those
who do, write.  Those who don’t, mourn
what could have been.

What I Want from Life

What I Want from Life by Debra H. Goldstein
Do you ever wonder what you want from life? 
Lately, I’ve been in a pensive mood, giving that question a
bit of thought. Don’t worry, I’m not thinking about death or aging, but simply
being selfish about my own desires. The topic doesn’t require me to delve into
the meaning of life, only what I want from it.
 When I started
brainstorming a response, I immediately blurted out: “I want my family to be
happy, healthy, and prosperous.”  My
second answer, after listening to our present political catfights and catching a
re-run of Miss Congeniality was “World Peace.” Both were nice comments, but
neither addressed the specificity of the question.
So, taking my wishes for my family and the world out of the
equation – what do I want?
A successful career? I think that one has been satisfied
between my legal career and now following my passion to write, but then again,
I don’t write every day and I haven’t made the New York Times bestseller list.  Admittedly, there is room for this goal to be
expanded upon, but I’m pretty content knowing two novels, Should Have
Played Poker
and Maze in Blue, as well as eighteen short stories have been published
in the past few years, and that the challenge of making the bigtime is just
over the horizon. After all, recently, the mail brought a check for my first
sale to Alfred Hitchcock Murder Magazine.

A break to veg and read? 
There could always be more time for reading, but according to my
Goodreads Challenge tally, I’m ahead of my projected reading schedule. This
week alone, I’ve already knocked out Dark Money, the new Harry Potter
book/script, and my backlog of periodicals.
Talent without envy of others?  I’m still at the bottom of the learning
curve, but there are so many gifted writers out there.  What my friend, TK Thorne, can do with a
phrase or an image constantly stops me in my tracks and shows me how elementary
my skills are.  Yet, whether it be from
TK, Linda Rodriguez, or so many others who have been generous with their time,
advice, and patience, I can’t even verbalize how much I’ve gained as a writer
and a person. So, yes, I envy their talents, but appreciate them too much for
there to be more than a mild form of jealousy.
Happiness? I’ve had my share and it continues to come my
Friends?  I’m blessed
in that department, too. I hope all know, even when I’m oblivious or
overbooked, they are my lifelines, support, and cheerleaders — and that it is
reciprocal (even if you have to make me stop long enough to sense a need).

So, what do I want out of life?  Probably nothing more than I’ve been given,
except maybe

developing a better sense of style. I noticed in this recent
picture that the legs of my pants might be a bit short.

Untitled Post

Clicking Our Heels – Death Be Not Proud or Coming Back for a 2nd Ride

Because I’m dead tired from being at Bouchercon and on tour with Should Have Played Poker, I thought the only appropriate question for this month’s Clicking Our Heels is “If you could come back for a day as someone else, who would it be?” My answer is simple – anyone who gets to hibernate for a few weeks – Smokey the Bear?  — Debra H. Goldstein

Jennae M. Phillippe – Aretha Franklin.  I would love to be able to sing like that, and have that kind of presence.  She defined Diva.

Sparkle Abbey – It would be fun to come back as someone’s guardian angel.   (I know I’m not supposed to comment on other people’s quotes….but I’d get in line for these two as my guardian angel…dhg)

Marilyn Meredith – Mary Higgins Clark.  I think she is one of the most caring and friendly big name authors there is.

Bethany Maines – Only a day? Do I get to pick the day? I think I’d like to be Twitch of Magic Mike and So You Think You Can Dance.  It would be amazing to move like that.  https://youtu.be/ybm0bJIWUzs

Linda Rodriguez – I’ve actually never really wanted to be anyone but myself, but perhaps the alternate Linda who made all those different choice that I didn’t make throughout my life.
Juliana Aragon Fatula – Robin Williams remains my favorite actor/comedian.  He had skills that I can only aspire to possess.  He was loved by so many.  I just want to ask him why he chose to take his own life and leave us.

Kay Kendall – Eleanor Roosevelt led an interest life and did remarkable things.  I would like to see what it was like to be her for one day, preferably during the darkest days of World War Two.  I would like to know what it was like at the White House under all that stress.

Paffi Flood – No one, really.  Although I can think of accomplished people who I think I’d like to come back as, but I also know they dealt with sadness and challenges, in ways incomparable to mine.

Forget Contests – Writing Itself as a Competition

Forget Contests – Writing Itself as
a Competition
by Debra H. Goldstein

Joel can’t understand my addiction
to cooking shows like Chopped and Top Chef – especially with my well-documented
aversion to the kitchen. He is even more confused at the hours of TV watching I
do when I acknowledge that I could care less what pan, spice or heat any of the
chefs use. I’m impressed with how these cooks take bizarre ingredients and
repurpose them into something enticing.

I acknowledge their plates aren’t
always perfectly composed or that sometimes the meat is underdone or the
ingredients mixed together into something lumpy and unattractive. That doesn’t
matter. What counts, as I repeatedly explain to Joel, is the imagination and
skills the chefs rely on preparing their dishes.

What I don’t share with Joel is that
these shows keep my attention, but not enough that I can’t multi-task while
watching them. I also don’t admit that if it was just one chef demonstrating
what could be made from a mixture of ingredients, I would change the channel. I
love the competitive aspects of Chopped and Top Chef. To win, not only must the
cook personally stretch using ingredients that even a professional has never
seen before, but they have to produce a project that is better than that of
their competitors. Being told to “Please Pack your knives and go” or “You’ve
been Chopped,” means the final plate lacked innovation, style, or contained a
fatal flaw.

In a way, these shows are like the
process of writing. A writer can enter contests or respond to open

calls, but the reality is that the writing itself is a competition. Writers,
especially in series writing, won’t succeed if the plotlines or characters are
just called in. Readers will not come back if the word choices are poor, the
spelling and punctuation lacking, or there are gaps in the storyline.
Creativity and dedication revision are necessary for a work in progress to take
the championship.

This is not a world for those who
are unwilling to work. Even the best wordsmiths toil at the craft. But that is
the fun of the competitive edge of writing – trying to produce a work that not
only is a personal best, but one that stands just a bit ahead of comparable
SHOULD HAVE PLAYED POKER: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery releases on April 20, but win a chance to win a copy – Goodreads Giveaway now until April 28

When Life Happens by Debra H. Goldstein

When Life Happens by Debra H. Goldstein
Did you ever notice how much your day varies from your to-do
list? That, as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you are busy
making other plans.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately especially when I
look at the stacks on my desk, credenza, and the floors of my office and
bedroom. They annoy me, but at the same time, I don’t care. I’m sure there will
come a point when I have to stop and clean things up, but what I realize
looking at my clutter is that it represents flexibility and being alive.

The pile to the right of my chair represents materials from
board meetings attended last week that I haven’t filed away yet. That’s okay,
it was more important that I showed up at the meetings, contributed, and then
came home to work on responses for blog interviews scheduled for next month’s
release of Should Have Played Poker: a
Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery.

The stack right of my desk are bills I paid, notated with check
numbers or online confirmations, but haven’t thrown in the keep these bills
envelope. That’s okay, it was important that I wrote checks for the mortgage,
utilities, internet, and the plane tickets for the family wedding that’s coming
up in a few months.

The cards and invitations centered at the top of my desk are
for gifts I need to buy for upcoming showers and weddings or birthday cards
from those who kindly took me to different birthday dinners and lunches this
month. That’s okay, I wish we can’t accept every invitation, I want to
acknowledge these lift cycle events. I am happy to report that the thank you notes
were written for the birthday festivities as they occurred but some of the
cards are so hilarious that I want to read them again. It wasn’t a special
birthday, but celebrating for an entire month has been fun.

In the near center of my desk are printed copies of two
stories I submitted this month. Submission guidelines for other calls I’d like
to address are near some pads on the left. That’s okay, I didn’t think I could
come up with an idea for the stories, but things worked out before the
deadlines passed and the others still have promise so long as I keep them in my
sight lines.

I was supposed to have this blog ready and scheduled before
I went to California last weekend, but getting the two stories, PR, and
spending time with family and friends took precedent. That’s okay, it’s written.
It’s going to be set up a day early. And best of all, it reflects the most
important thing any of us can embrace: Life is what happens when we go with it
rather than trying to force square pegs into round holes.

Hopefully, all of your distractions have been good; but if
not, here’s hoping you’ve been able to let go of enough to survive and come out
on the other end.