Staying Curious

2021-01-20 Staying Curios


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This blog post is going live during Black History Month 2021. Last year saw a great deal of social unrest and the rekindling of the Black Lives Matter protests. By coincidence, the book I’m currently writing (Mailboat IV) features a person of color in a major role. (Not a black person, but a member of a minority group which also suffers discrimination, and so the parallels were hard for me to ignore.) 

With all these events coming together, my thoughts turn to the problem of racial discrimination in my country. The unrest, demonstrations, and riots we saw in the past year struck me very hard. And so, I’ve gone on a mission to try to sort out my thoughts and feelings about racial discrimination.

I write positively about police in my novels. I have friends who work in law enforcement. And I also have friends who are people of color.

As protests around the country turned to riots, my stomach churned. I literally felt as if I were sitting in the corner of a room, watching my friends having a screaming match.

Understanding racism, and sorting out my own thoughts and feelings on the matter, may be a life-long pursuit. But I wanted to jot down my thoughts so far, and share them in hopes it’ll help someone else on their own journey.

Why Do People of Color Suffer So Much Police Violence?

After Michael Brown was shot and killed in 2014, it came to light that there was no national database tracking lethal shootings by police. The Washington Post went about to rectify that problem, and you can see their ongoing project here: Fatal Force.

You can see in their findings that, while more white people have died overall, people of color have died at a disproportionate rate.

“[Black Americans] account for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of White Americans.” ~ Fatal Force, by The Washington Post

I’ll admit, beyond looking at the numbers, I haven’t yet researched the question of why this is happening. It’s something I do plan to educate myself about.

But one likely root of racial tension is feelings of “other” and “them versus us,” both in terms of “they are against us” and “they are not one of us.”

And for that, I think I have at least one answer:

Curiosity.

Stay Curious

I have always been an intensely curious person–especially when it comes to people who are different from me. I grew up in an extremely homogenous environment, but instead of getting comfortable with sameness, I became curious about different-ness.

Your skin is a different color than mine. I want to learn more about you.

You speak with an accent. I want to know where you’re from and learn about your culture.

You wear a gun and a uniform and a bullet-proof vest. What on earth is that like?

You date someone of the same sex. I want to watch your relationship and see how it’s different from–and the same as–my relationship with my boyfriend.

You were assigned male at birth, but now you’ve come out as female. I want to watch your transition and see how you interact with life in a new way.

You grew up in a religion much different from mine. I want to understand what you believe and how it affects the way you live.

Your political views aren’t the same as mine. I want to try to understand where you’re coming from.

I have to say, curiosity this vast has been a great boon as an author. So long as I stay curious and humble and ask questions, I can create a vast array of characters.

And by staying curious, I get to meet all kinds of people–so that my fiction keeps benefiting the variety of my relationships. The more people I meet for research purposes, the more people I count as my friends, and thus the more diverse my circle of acquaintances.

Stop Talking; Start Listening

Like anyone, I sometimes see something different from what I’m used to and I want to reject it out of hand. It’s just too unfamiliar. Maybe I’ve even got notions already swimming around in my head about what this person is supposed to be like, because of some narrative I’ve heard from… somewhere.

This, of course, is called bias, and the experts claim we all have it, whether we realize it or not.

But then I breathe and remind myself that we’re all just people. I remind myself not to judge until I’ve walked a mile in someone else’s shoes. I remind myself to stay curious instead of shutting people out.

Whether I’m spending time with a cop or with a person of color or literally anyone else, I’ve found that accepting them just the way they are helps them open up and be themselves. I feel absolutely privileged when people who were strangers a moment ago start telling me their life stories. Start trusting me with thoughts they would only tell a close friend. I’ve had it happen again and again, with people of literally every description. I’ve seen people’s hearts, and that matters to me.

Only once you truly understand people, on both sides of a given conflict, can you identify the problems that may exist. Only once you truly understand those problems can you fix them. Until then, it’s only a shouting match.

Be quiet. Listen. Understand. Stay curious. You’ll probably find you have far more in common with “different” people than you thought. I keep returning to the words of a very dear friend of mine, an African-American woman. We were discussing racism, and her comment was simply this: “At the end of the day, people are pretty much the same.”

Recommended Reading

As I write this, I’m reading a book called 13 Days in Ferguson. The author is Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol. He is also an African-American. During the Ferguson riots of 2014, the governor of Missouri put Captain Johnson in charge of returning peace to the city.

As I read his memoir, I find that Captain Johnson models exactly what I’m talking about when I say to stay curious. When people were yelling in the streets, he was reaching out to as many of them as he could. He showed them he was listening. And they responded. All they wanted was for someone to hear them out.

If you’re looking for a riveting read that straddles both sides of the line–the experience of a black man, and the experience of a cop–this is a fantastic book. You can shop for it here on Amazon.

Over to You

The comments are open to discussion, but I want to remind you to be kind. (Inappropriate comments will be deleted!) This is a space for coming together as brothers and sisters. To practice that curiosity and openness I was talking about.

As another suggestion, go ahead and leave a prayer, a positive intention, or words of kindness. Let’s spread a little love and inspiration.


Mailboat IV, Releasing June 5, 2021, features a person of color as a key character. I had such a great time getting to know someone from that community in order to write this character as best I could. 

Staying Flexible When Life Is Uncertain

2021-01-13 Staying Flexible When Life Is Uncertain

As I write this in early in 2021, I can say that I used to have a writing schedule. It was heavily dependent on getting out of my own house to work. And then a pandemic came along, and both my routines and my schedule were torn to bits. (I know many of you can sympathize!)

But I’m big into trying to make lemonade out of lemons. (Or better, yet, lemon bars, lemon merengue pie, or even lemon cookies. Of course with powdered sugar! What kind of question is that?)

So what did my writing schedule used to look like? What’s it like now? And what have I learned from having life turned upside down?

My Ideal Writing Schedule

Before a new virus upheaved everything, my schedule was both simple and effective. Every morning, I walked to my coffee shop (the same one where I met Charles!), bought a latte, and claimed my favorite chair in front of the fire. (Sometimes I staked it out until an unwitting usurper finally left.)

Chair and fire secured, I sipped my coffee, sank down into my story world, and started to write.

I’d generally write for three or four hours, then pack up and walk home. In the afternoons, I’d transfer to my co-working space, where I would address various admin tasks such as marketing my books, answering emails, etc.

And then rumors started trickling in. A new virus had been detected in China. It was spreading at an alarming rate. It was only a matter of time until it came to the US…

My Pandemic Writing Schedule

Covid-19 arrived in Montana in March 2020. The governor ordered a state-wide shutdown. If we weren’t essential workers, we all went home.

I’ve tried working from home before. I already knew I was terrible at it! That’s why I have my coffee shops and my co-working space! It took me the better part of 2020 to refigure all my routines into something that worked again.

One of the biggest changes I made was choosing two days to be my “write-a-thon” days. These were my days to shut out all the admin tasks screaming at me and simply focus on my words.

But the other major change I made was hiring a book coach. (Yes, I’m that terrible at working from home! You can meet Jacquelyn in the blog post I wrote about her.)

Now on my writing days, Jacquelyn helps keep me on track to make sure the words get written.

What I’ve Learned

2020 was a year that challenged us all, in many different ways. (Can we even feel gratitude for such a year? I wrote a post about that during Thanksgiving 2020.)

I hated losing my schedule and routines. But 2020 really challenged my problem-solving capabilities, and in great news, I was the one who came out on top.

  • I had to learn to stay flexible and be creative. I can’t go to my coffee shop anymore? What can I do instead that would be just as effective?
  • I had to adopt new routines. My tried-and-true routines were gone. It was devastating. I had to keep innovating to find my way through.
  • I had to iterate and optimize. It was frustrating. I already knew what worked for me. (I.e., getting out of the house!) But I just kept trying different things until I found something that worked.

In great news, I feel ready for the next event of near-apocalyptic magnitude. (Because we all know life can never be boring.) 2020 tested my skills, but I came out equal to the challenge. And you know what? I’m proud of me.

Over to You!

How did 2020 challenge you? What new skills did you learn?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below! I love hearing from you.


Hey, at least we had plenty to read in 2020! Here are today’s best-sellers from my online shop:

The First Thing I Ever Wrote–And What I Learned from It

2021-01-06 The First Thing I Ever Wrote and What I Learned from It


This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for supporting a small business! 


Sometimes, I literally roll dice to choose blog post ideas, and this time, I just had to laugh at the results! Why?

Here was the original question: “What was the first thing you ever wrote, and what did you learn from it?”

Well. The first thing I ever wrote was a series of short stories called The Brown Bears. It was a complete and total knock-off of The Berenstain Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstain. (Here’s one of the books I remember reading!)

Guys. I was FOUR when I started writing that fan fiction.

Yes. FOUR.

I guess the fact that I was reading and writing at such a young age is pretty impressive. But I promise you, there was absolutely no originality involved in my first stories, though I apparently had a rudimentary notion of copyright law. (Why else would I change the name of the series?)

But did I actually learn anything from that incredibly early venture into the literary world? I mean, beyond just practice holding a pencil?

Yes, actually. I think I did.

Just Follow Your Passions

When people ask me how long I’ve been writing, and I say, “Since I was four,” the reaction is always shock. Not only did I know how to read and write at an incredibly young age, I’m still doing it.

A hobby I started when I was four became “what I want to be when I grow up” by the time I was seven. And then I actually followed through on that, and now I’m the author of three published novels, a novella, six produced plays, and many published articles.

(Here’s one article I’m particularly proud of: Grant Marsh: Nautical Hero of the Plains. Also, you can shop all my available books here!)

This development of an early interest into a career choice is why I’m keenly interested in watching my nieces’ and nephews’ talents. The oldest girl buries herself in arts and crafts, her younger brother is fascinated by engineering, the next brother is our little sports hero, and their littlest sister can be found coloring all day long–inside the lines, even!

Their interests may or may not keep steady, and they may or may not choose a career based on what they liked when they were young. But regardless, they all show so much talent, and I can’t wait to see what they do with it.

To this day, I advocate people of all ages just following their interests. You never know where they will lead.

Know What You’re Not Good At

I was very devoted to illustrating my books when I was little. But to be honest… I’m not much better today than I was at the age of four!

At some point, I laid aside illustration. I realized I wasn’t really good at it, that my time might be better spent elsewhere, and even more importantly, that I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I enjoyed writing.

Gradually, I learned that I didn’t need to draw images to create pictures. I could do it with my words. If you had known me during my teen years, you frequently would have found me in the basement of the library at the very last row, sitting on the floor and choosing out a new book to read on the craft of writing.

While I’m glad young me decided to illustrate her manuscripts, I’m also okay that older me left that interest behind to better develop what I was really good at and what I really enjoyed.

Fan Fiction Is a Great Way to Learn

I think my biggest takeaway is the understanding that my first stories–from early childhood to my mid-teens–were fan fiction. And that I’m okay with that.

Fan fiction often gets a bad rap. It’s not exactly original work. You’re maybe changing some names and details–or not–and just playing around with someone else’s story. Can you publish this kind of work? Should you? Where exactly does fan fiction belong in our literary landscape?

I’m not sure I have all the answers to those questions. But I can say this definitively: A great way to learn any art is by copying the masters.

I can look back on all the authors I emulated as a child, and I can often times tell you exactly what I learned from each one. What I write today is an amalgamation of skills learned from every writer whose shadow I walked in. And I’m proud of the things I’ve learned from them.

If nothing else, I support fan fiction for the opportunity it creates to learn.

Over to You!

Those are, I think, my three great takeaways from the first thing I ever wrote. Now here are my question for you, which you can answer in the comments below!

  • What was an early passion that you actually followed through on? Or what is one you wished you had? 

 

  • What did I talk about here that you’d like me to talk about more? Just ask! You could spark a future blog post idea. 

My early writing was kind of sketchy. But look where it’s lead! You can get any of my books autographed: