Tuesday, July 31, 2007

One Step At A Time

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!


Anonymous said...

Welcome to Working Stiffs, Marta!

I think having a dream to live is extremely important for mental health. Even (or perhaps especially) if it changes from time to time. I've had a variety of seemingly unrelated interests: dance, organizational psychology, research, therapy, writing, but I'm using them all in my current job and, you know, it feels pretty good!

Joyce Tremel said...

Welcome, Marta!

Like you, my dream of being a writer came later in life. I'd always just dabbled in it before. I just wrote for fun. It's only in the last fifteen years that I started taking it seriously.

Everyone needs a dream.

Joyce Tremel said...

Oh, and I have to tell you again that your book cover is gorgeous!

Marta Stephens said...

Hi Tory and Joyce,

Thanks so much for your comments. Writing was such an unexpected turn of events. I wish I would have discovered it earlier in life. Then again, I doubt that I would have had the determination or the discipline then that I have now. I truly feel that learning is an on-going process and that’s what I love about writing. I’m always learning something new either as it relates to the craft or through my research. I really believe that all things happen for a reason, when the time is right and not a minute sooner. I feel very blessed to have found it with a good chunk of life still ahead of me!

Joyce I'm so glad you like the cover. Long story behind it. Designing it was very similar to some of my outfit buying excursions. They're usuall for a special event, I always have an outfit and mind, and never find exactly what I’m looking for. When it was time to decide on the cover, we tossed several ideas around, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking of having a woman for the cover. I had nearly given up when I saw the photograph of this young girl. I fell in love with it and as luck would have it, the photographer was thrilled to let me use it. A good friend of mine and I co-designed it. They are both mentioned in the acknowledgements section of Silenced Cry. I should add that my publisher was a gem to allow me the freedom to play around with it!!

Anonymous said...

Welcome, Marta!

Your post was both inspiring and thought-provoking. I've wanted to be a writer since I was young, but it was really only in the past few years that I really began to take it seriously. It's been an educational and sometimes difficult journey so far, but I'd never give it up. It means too much to me.

I also love your cover! Congratulations!

Marta Stephens said...

You CAN do it, Kristine! Keep at it, and yes, I understand the difficulties, but that feelling of accomplishment is SO worth it.

I'd love to learn of your progress. Please feel free to drop me a line and keep me posted. You can reach me through my website. I respond to all my e-mails.

Joyce Tremel said...

Marta, thanks for blogging today. I wish you the best of luck with your book. I can't wait to read it!

Marta Stephens said...

Thanks for inviting me. This was great fun!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Marta, for being an inspiring online friend. I'm so pleased with your sucesses and sure admire your get up and go.

Until I heard your interview with Phil Harris last night on Internet Radio, hadn't noticed the special effect in the child's on the cover of Silenced Cry. Clever.

Keep me in the loop.

Nancy Drew

Marta Stephens said...

Nancy, what wonderful compliments! Thank you so much and thanks for tuning in to the Phil Harris Internet Voices Radio. I must admit, I was more than a bit nervous, but he is such a nice person. I felt right at home the minute he said, "Let's talk about SILENCED CRY." (my favorite subject)

That little half hour, BTW, generated 295 hits on my website. Well worth the nerves. :)

I very much appreciate your interest in my work. I’ll certainly keep you posted!

Anonymous said...

Hey Marta, congratulations on your ever evolving career and life. I admire your willingness to make your life work for you as opposed to so many people I know who are trapped--some for real--most because they refuse to parse out what they'd really love to be doing. Thanks!

Marta Stephens said...


I truly appreciate your comments.

When I was in high school, career choices for most of the girls in my class were to become teachers, nurses, secretaries, or homemakers. Only a few brave souls went on to law school or other male oriented careers.

I didn't have the ambition for either of the first two choices and no desire (at least until I found the right man)to become a homemaker. Those options seemed so limiting to me. Unfortunately, too many still limit themselves to other people's expectations.