From the Heart – Thanks for the Derriere Kick, Ladies! by P.A. Moore

Last Sunday, Montana Women Writers sponsored a free heart information event at our local community center, with Dr. Betty Kuffel presenting medical information and many of us reading from our books. We didn’t get a large turnout, given it was the last day of Winter Carnival, but the gathering gifted me with an epiphany.

A year ago, I returned to my criminal law practice and since then, I’ve felt overwhelmed, stressed out, and, at times, hopeless, as I yet again face uphill battles for my clients, expectations from my family to provide them with the same level of care and concern, and a pervasive sense that there’s no end in sight for my legal career – ever.

On Sunday, for the first time, I read a scene from Courthouse Cowboys wherein I’d met a young, disabled client at Deer Lodge State Prison fifteen years ago. He’d pled guilty to a murder he didn’t commit, and the judge sentenced him, at age 18, to 100 years in prison. His parents hired me to try to get his guilty plea reversed and take the case to trial.

As I stood before my fellow writers, nerves wracked me. I opened my iPad to my book and uttered the first line of the scene. As I read along, I felt stronger, not only in my voice, but in my soul.

My heart sailed back to 1999 when I’d met this bruised and battered kid. On that day, I’d had the same feelings about my law practice as I do today – stress fueled by fear of failure, heart strings tugged in a thousand directions, the urge to quit mixed with maternal guilt piling rubble on my back.

Yet when I finished reading, my purpose in trying to help these scattered, damaged, prisoners crystallized.

Not much has changed in the system since 1999. Kids born into families of violence, addiction, and mental illness too often become batterers and addicts, their brains impaired from head injuries and substance abuse. They lack impulse control, which simply means they act without thinking. Most pick up their first offense as children, add arrests into adolescence, and land in prison by their early twenties. There they suffer more beatings, more exposure to drugs and disease, bleeding them of faith, trust, and hope.

I give them legal advice, sure. I file papers, go to court, and consult with them in jails throughout Montana. But mostly I do what all Moms do: I smile, I listen, I ask them about their lives, and often I share parts of mine, where I, too, have screwed up.

On Sunday, after I sat down, I remembered why I spend my days in the bowels of the criminal justice system. I do it because I give my clients a glimmer of hope, peppered with a bit of faith and trust. And maybe, lifted by hints of promise, helped by the grace of forgiveness, they can find freedom from custody and the past, and a future steeped in peace. 

So, thank you, ladies of Montana Women Writers, for that gentle kick in the derriere. By listening, you restored my hope.

Pesky

Image By Ann Minnett

Montana Women Writers hosted a reading event and book sale at our local community center over the weekend. Betty Kuffel, MD, kicked off the afternoon with an informative talk about heart disease and how the symptoms and disease itself differ in men and women. Women have died from heart attacks because they ‘present’ differently from a typical male patient. I’m so grateful that this new information is available and that the scientific community is beginning to change their research protocols to address our differences. Why were health and drug studies traditionally conducted only on men? My favorite reason was that women’s  ‘pesky’ hormones might confound study results. Makes sense to me. I have, on occasion, been at the mercy of my pesky hormones.

The topic of differences makes me contemplate how our bodies produce chemicals that can render the individual quirky, unpredictable, dare I say…  interesting. Sure, our environments shape much of who we are, but our bodies make chemicals that deeply impact how we’re predisposed to experience the world.

Pesky and complicated, all of it.

Image

Photo from the Library of Congress.

I’m polishing my second novel, Serita’s Shelf Life, which is about a vibrant woman with mental illness who feels emotionally blunted by her medications. She unwisely stops taking her meds, and after a brief period of joy, careens into her illness. She finds love and a lost family, but she must choose between emotionally numbed stability (meds) and the excitement of intense, uncontrollable feelings.

Which would you choose if you were at the mercy of those pesky chemicals?

LOVE AND WORK THROUGH A WRITER’S EYES

Are You A Writer?

computer_young woman_learning_books_good workI have only met one person who said he loves his work and he isn’t a writer. One definition of work is: sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or result. That sounds a lot like the problems we set before the protagonist characters in our fictional creations. Another definition of work is: an activity you do regularly, especially to earn money. That’s the definition many writers can relate to…except for — the earning money part.

 Some local authors have achieved the earning money part but most have not. For those of us who remain hopeful that one day money will fill our bank accounts like it did for Hugh Howey from his novella Wool, we must keep writing. He cautions writers that his first book wasn’t a success, in fact, like many successful authors, he wrote several novels and short stories in various genres and voices before Wool. He also read a wide variety of books, all the while writing every day.

His advice like our writing guru Dennis Foley is to read a lot, write a lot and hang out with writers. Howey also recommends becoming a pro. Read up on grammar and commune online at places like KindleBoard’s Writers’ Café, www.kindleboards.com. Attend conferences, take classes. Publish online. Set goals – like selling ten books a day across twenty titles. Keep track of your accomplishments as you approach your goals.

 Writing is something a writer is compelled to do whether earning money or not. That is not to say a writer loves to write. It is a compulsion…writers cannot stop.

If you are a writer, you have no doubt found you are different from non-writers. You look at landscapes with a different eye, atcomputer-addicted trees with music; even your darkest days are brightened with rainbow thoughts swirling with the characters living in your mind. You are not schizophrenic. You have a compulsion. You are a writer. There is a treatment for the disorder…write. It isn’t work. It’s like being in love.

Betty Kuffel

Love and Work

By Kathy Dunnehoff

I fully appreciate that for most folks, there’s little connection between their work and what they love.  It’s Love or Work too often.

But I was lucky enough to be raised by a man who believed that if you didn’t look forward to Monday, you should rethink what you do for a living.

Image

My dad was an elementary school teacher for 32 years, and at 88 has students stop by regularly for coffee… students who are now silver-haired grandparents and still appreciate the joy of learning he brought into his 6th grade classroom every day.

When it was time for me to choose my profession, it was an easy decision to make. I knew from my own elementary school days that I was born to be a writer.

And so I lived happily ever after as a productive and profitable author.

Well… despite plenty of procrastination, I do manage to produce, although not nearly the quantity or quality that I dream of creating. And I did have a stellar year of profits in 2012. Yep, you heard me, 2012. That was after a couple of decades of writing, and, yeah, that’s now 2 years in the rear view mirror.

So, what was I saying about love and work?

That’s right. I love what I do.

I love the struggle of it, and the get-my-rear-in-the-chair drama every day. I love that my income is a gypsy that arrives in a beautiful caravan and departs having picked my pockets.

I love that I actually wear pajamas until noon. I love that while my boss can be a pain, she’s mostly a lot of fun to work with.

I love that my puppy is right now asleep beside me hogging most of the warmth from the space heater.

 Tally & space heater standing

I love that my spotty income encourages me to teach more, and that when I’m in the classroom sharing what I love about writing, other people sometimes fall in love with writing too.

I wish for you this Valentine’s Day, love for the work of your life whatever form that takes…   “If a woman loves the labor of her trade, apart from any question of success or fame, the gods have called her.”- Robert Louis Stevenson

Kathy

Hollywood Beginnings audio coverThe Audiobook for Hollywood Beginnings, read by the author, now Available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes! (click on the cover to hear a sample on Amazon!)

What’s in a Heart?

Family Photo

“How do you know if a guy has a good heart?” This was the question my daughter asked me the February she was seventeen. The boy she liked and her date for the upcoming Valentine’s dance had done “something” (she wouldn’t go into more detail) that was causing her to have second thoughts about her Mr. Wonderful. Summoning all the restraint I could muster, I didn’t push her to reveal what the “something” was, as I knew that would send her fleeing in fear of a pending inquisition.

Many thoughts jumped into my brain. Make sure he respects you. (I’d preached that one for years). Does he listen to his mother? (More important to me, no doubt, than to her). But I sensed she didn’t want to hear a rehash of the platitudes and pearls of wisdom I’d tried to instill in her since birth. I didn’t want to screw this up. Her coming to Mom for advice instead of to her teenage peers was more and more a rare event.

She wanted something new, something simple and concrete that she could use as a yardstick in an attempt to measure the true nature of a human heart. Years before, I’d read a quote from Immanuel Kant, a famous 18th century German philosopher and ethics professor. It had stuck in my mind, probably because I love animals so much. My daughter does too. The quote seemed to fit our situation. I considered it a pretty good yardstick. So did my daughter, who eventually found and married a man with a good heart, a man that adores her and shares her love for animals.

“We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” Immanuel Kant.

Thanks for stopping by,

Deborah Epperson

Deborah Epperson