Working Stiffs welcomes guest blogger Marta Stephens. Her first novel Silenced Cry was released in April 2007.
One Step At A Time
by Marta Stephens
During a recent interview, the reporter said, “Stephens’s life has had as many twists and turns as her novel,” and then went on to list some of my accomplishments. This encouraged me to take a quick inventory and draw up my own list.
I live in the Midwest with my husband and two children. I returned to college as a non-traditional student, earned a degree in journalism in my late forties, and am fortunate to be gainfully employed. I maintain our home, shop for groceries, do laundry, take the dogs to the vet, and pay bills. In my book, this adds up to an amazingly ordinary life.
The only thing not on the list is that I’m a risk-taker. Calculated or not, sometimes we need to crawl out of the comfort zone and feel the edge of an uncharted path before moving forward. I prefer to describe my life as a series of stepping stones, each one leading to a new goal and the next level of development. The catch is, after achieving one set of goals, there are always choices: should I stop while I’m ahead or move forward?
Through my work at the university and growing network of friends, I see adults returning to the classroom every day in the hopes of career advancements or for the sake of exploring new interest. Others have sought the satisfaction of becoming entrepreneurs or giving of themselves for volunteer work. I applaud them all. It takes courage to chart a new path and re-invent ones self. Regardless of age, at the core of their decisions is a deep-rooted desire to secure their happiness.
My adventurous streak was never more evident to me than after the release of my debut crime/mystery novel, Silenced Cry. The reactions from those who have known me for the past 20 to 30 years ranged from disbelief to wild excitement. Most were extremely supportive. Some, however, were curious as to why I had pursued a writing career at this point in my life and why I had chosen a genre so different from my “normal” lifestyle. Invariably, the next thing out of their mouth was, “I always wanted to ___.” Fill in the blank with a dream. When I asked them why they hadn’t pursued whatever “it” was, the consistent answer centered on a lack of confidence.
Compared with most other authors, my four-year writing career is in its infancy. Now that I’m in the midst of promoting my book, I’m grateful for my public relations background, but I found that fact-based journalism hadn’t prepare me for a career as a fiction writer. Still, I believed I could write a novel and was willing to risk failure for the chance at success. I’m not alone.
I recently spoke with a long-time friend who had a similar experience. We met years ago when we held secretarial positions at the university. A while back, she became involved in local politics, won the primary election this year, and is now running for mayor. Sharon asked me the same questions about my writing. When, what, how? I explained that now that the word “retirement” has crept into my vocabulary, I didn’t want to wake up one day to find that everyone I cared about had moved on with their lives and that I hadn’t taken time to plant the seeds of my own happiness.
“Women are nurturers,” I told her, “and like millions of others, I’ve been a supportive wife and raised two fantastic children who are now in college working toward meaningful careers. I’ve done the committee work, plotted a career path, did the PTA thing, and in recent years, I’ve also helped to care for my aging parents. Now it’s my turn. I’ll never stop caring for others, but writing fulfills a need and feeds my passion. It’s where a lifetime of stepping stones has led me.”
“You could have been telling my story,” she said.
My friend and I both faced challenges and certain stumbling blocks in the pursuit of our goals, but the words, “I can’t” or “I’ll never” didn’t stop us from trying.
I’m reminded of a great line in the movie City Slickers. Billy Crystal’s character, Mitch is riding his horse on the range next to crusty old Curly. Mitch is desperate to find life’s secret to happiness. Curly tells him he knows the answer, holds up one finger, and says, “This. One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that, and the rest don’t mean (anything).” Mitch, expecting a magical revelation asks, “But what is the one thing?”
A sardonic smile slips across Curly’s sun-creased face as he says, “That’s what you have to find out.”
The neat thing about dreams is that they are as unique as the people who dare to follow them. I don’t know what the future will hold except to say that Homicide Detective Sam Harper will keep on the hunt of wily criminals and will continue to solve impossible murders. As for me, I’m grateful for the here and now; the people I’ve met and the opportunities extended to me. In spite of the hurdles, the endless revisions, and insanely late hours of typing, I’m living my dream and having a ball!