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Rebecca E. Neely, Author ~ Romance. Paranormal. Suspense.

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Monday inspiration

Hard Work: It’s All It’s Cracked Up To Be

Recently, I was seeking inspiration for dinner, and in leafing through one of my Cooks Illustrated magazines (April 2015), came across an editorial written by the amazing Christopher Kimball. In it he pays homage to his home state of Vermont and its colorful and varied denizens, and sums up by admiring how many of them ‘stand for something.’

In short, it got me thinking about what I stand for. In the course of my life, I’ve assumed many roles. I’m a daughter, sister, friend, girlfriend and aunt. I’m also a single mother and a business woman. I grew up working in my family’s restaurant business. I earned a degree in Accounting and, after quite a few zigs and zags, I’ve been with the same company (well, at least the same location) for twenty years. And I’ve been writing in one form or another for about the same length of time.

One common denominator in all of that, I realized, is good old fashioned hard work. As far as standing for something, I’d be honored to lay claim to that.

My parents passed that on, in DNA, as well as in word and deed. And I believe I’m passing that ethic onto my teenaged daughter, who, at this very moment is washing dishes at a local restaurant.

Hard work is satisfying, comforting. It’s basic, reliable, a cornerstone of my life. It’s sustained, soothed, saved me. I need hard work to feed my soul, survive, and thrive in every way. I want to use everything I’ve been given, physically, intellectually, spiritually. And the experiences, the people I’ve met along my journey of hard work have shaped me, made me who I am. And tell my story.

Interestingly, the people in my life are also hard workers. My cousin, the dedicated social worker with 20+ years of experience. My friend, a court reporter who runs her own business. My boyfriend, the contractor with mad skills. And even his father, who, after a recent fall, insists on planting his own flowers. And is upset he can’t mow his own lawn. They do me proud.

At the age of 12, I would go with my father to our family’s diner style restaurant, doing ‘heavy prep’ – mixing stuffing in Rubbermaid size containers, stirring cauldrons of spaghetti sauce with a wooden paddle long, heavy and wide enough to be considered a weapon. By the time I was 16, I’d done it all–waitressed, washed dishes, bussed tables, mopped, ran the register, assisted with payroll. And I did it alongside my father, mother, brother, aunt, uncle and cousins, and a cast of employee characters that live on, large, in my hallowed memory home.

Sadly, when a downturn in the economy pretty much forced my parents’ hand to sell, I looked for work elsewhere and found myself at a local shoe store. I think my favorite part was unpacking all the new inventory. That, and the 30% discount the employees received.

When the shoe store closed after about a year, I odd jobbed, holding both the title of magazine telemarketer and fast food cashier. Alas, neither took for more than a week. I then started working as a grocery store cashier, and it turned out that would be something I’d do for the next 8 years, during summers, breaks from college and post college when I needed extra money.

There, amongst the aisles of HBA (Health & Beauty Aids), the dairy and produce, you truly do see it all, as everyone has to eat. Rich, poor, mundane, bizarre, friendly, rude—the employees and the customers covered the spectrum. It was there I witnessed store employees chase down a thief, saw a Gypsy for the first time, and rang up more frozen turkeys than I could shake a stick at. I learned the names of myriad vegetables, fruits and herbs, and their codes in the system, some of which I still remember to this day. (Bananas were 242, watermelons 393). I was introduced to the art and science of couponing. And became a master in making change.

While attending college, I took part in the work-study program in the school’s computer center. It was there I had a fellow employee stab me in the back, repeating what I’d said about the boss to her. Oh yeah, I remember him. But I learned the value of keeping my mouth shut. And about who to trust. And not to trust.

When I transferred to finish my four year degree, it was back to food for me, working in the dining hall. And on the weekends, I made omelettes to order on a flat top, honing my egg skills to perfection.

After I graduated from college, I began working as an accounting clerk. The three ladies I worked with took me under their wing, and Linda, my favorite, taught me about more than receivables and payables. One of the smartest and wisest women I had the privilege to know, Linda worked part time, choosing to give up her career to raise her daughter. When I left there to move up the corporate ladder, she made me Jello letters spelling out ‘GOOD LUCK’. Yeah, she rocked.

As a junior accountant, I found myself in the unenviable position of working for a difficult boss. Still young, still green in the ways of Corporate America, I went against the grain, and we parted ways several years later. Feeling beat up, disillusioned, I quit my job without having another one. I didn’t work for a month. And I never regretted it. I still believe, years later, leaving there, and taking time off, was one of the best things I ever did, because it was then I truly learned how to stand up for myself.

From there, I worked on and off in accounting as a temp, did a year long stint as a real estate agent, part timed at a house wares store (still fold my towels the way they taught us) and worked as a customer service rep for a national hardware wholesale company. It was there I applied for, and got the job of working as a computer operator in the company’s data center. For the first time in my life, I worked shifts, and with an all male staff. A singular experience, I have fond memories of that crew. They were kind, but they treated me like one of them. Suffice to say, no one worried about filtering their conversation. My skin thickened – but in a good way.

Fast forward a few years. I was once again working as an accountant, married, pregnant, and unhappy with my work. It was then I really started to think about what kind of work I wanted to do. Not for the next year. But for a lifetime. And accounting wasn’t it. Oh, I was good at it. But going to school for business, I realized, had been a knee jerk reaction to my parents’ sale of the business and the resulting financial difficulties, when I’d been at a crossroads in my life. Don’t get me wrong – that degree served me well. But it was never my passion.

But writing was, and is.

Being a woman of action, I read, I researched, and discovered a small magazine accepting submissions. Though I wouldn’t get paid for the articles, I could build my clips, gain experience. I wrote three articles for them, and one of them I know I’m blessed to have written – I interviewed my father about hunting deer, one of his lifelong loves. From there, I went on to write for other local magazines, bid on jobs at a freelancing website, and had the privilege of working with people all over the country.

I discovered I really enjoyed the vagabond nature of freelancing work. Never knowing what I might work on next. No responsibility except to my client and myself for a short period of time. And it was my choice. What I wanted to work on. Who I wanted to work with. LOL – there’s little doubt, in hindsight, that that ‘vagabond nature’ is reflected in my travels through the job market.
And I liked being my own boss. I got a high from creating something from a mere idea on paper, or in my head, for readers to enjoy. And that ultimately earned me payment. And my name in print. But more than that, much more than that, was the bone deep feeling I was coming into my own. This is what I was meant to do. Write.

One of my favorite things to do as a freelancer is to interview people who are passionate about what they do. There’s a fire that comes into their eyes, their voice, their body language. An intensity that ignites interest in me. I’ve written articles on subjects, at the outset, I didn’t think I wanted to know anything about. And certainly didn’t know anything about. (Harvesting cedar, insurance, soccer, to name a few.) Yet, after talking to the expert, they got me excited about it. And I wrote an article showcasing that. When a reader tells me they were moved, or that I brought to life a moment for them in something I wrote, I take that as high praise. Perhaps the highest praise.

I’ve interviewed dozens of people over the years, including a vintner, a team of paranormal investigators, and a tattoo artist. I’ve interviewed the CEO of a casino, and the sole proprietor of a local book store. Those people, their stories, have become part of my story. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to have known these people, if only for a short time. They’ve enriched me, broadened my horizons and excited me with their passion. And incidentally, they all had something in common—they worked hard at what they did.

I’d been freelancing for some years when I became interested in writing novels. I love to read, and romantic suspense is my groove. Once again, being a woman of action, I read, I researched, I joined writing groups, I took online classes. I wrote two really, really bad novels that never saw the light of day. Eventually, after trial and error, I penned my first book. And sold it. Then another. And another. Each one, I felt, was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. And I can’t wait to do it again.

As I said before, the path to get here hasn’t been straight by any means. But I believe everything happens for a reason. And I’m pretty damn happy about the way things turned out. Because right now, here, today, I get to write this for you. It’s hard work. And I’m loving every minute of it.

Rebecca E. Neely is a blogger, storyteller, writer & author. Visit her at www.rebeccaneely.com

Romance. Paranormal. Suspense.
All books available on Amazon

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Featured post

Her Idea Jar & Other Writing Inspiration

Linda Gerber and Thor, the Grove City Community Library dog

I’m very pleased to welcome long time friend, writer & editor, Linda Gerber. I first met Linda over fifteen years ago. At that time, she was the editor of a magazine for which we both wrote articles. I was just starting out, and she mentored me along the way, and helped me to grow as a writer. I wanted to share her writing journey with you today, because Linda continues to inspire me with her unwavering passion, creativity and generosity, as well as her longevity.

How long have you been writing?

I have been writing professionally since before my children were born. My oldest is in his early thirties.

Did you always want to be a writer?

Yes. I always loved writing even before I knew I had a talent for it. Putting pencil to paper was an evolving passion long before I ever made a living by writing or editing. It wasn’t until I worked for several publications that I considered myself a legitimate writer.

What is your inspiration, and how do you continue to be inspired?

My inspiration is at its peak when I come across a story that I feel in my heart, needs to be told. Something serious that I feel passionate about and I want to share with others. When I personally experience a situation in life and I know that readers would connect with me, it’s marketable. I am very optimistic so I usually put a funny spin on it. I continue to be inspired by daily events.

What types of writing and other creative projects have you been/are you involved in?

I have been involved with many writing events including: writers’ boot camps, judging writing contests, Barnes & Noble classes, and guest speaking. I continue to be involved in the process of writing and editing as leader of Grove City Writers’ Group.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to this group of writers, and they’re awesome! Young and old, a mix of fiction and non-fiction writers – I always learn something new 🙂

What do you enjoy most about writing?

Venting. Getting the word out, literally. It is sometimes even therapeutic to write, good or bad.

What advice would you give to someone interested in writing, and just getting started?

Not every writer needs to write a book or to get published in any form. It’s OK to just write for yourself. At the beginning, join a group of other writers who share your passion. You are welcome to become part of my writing group if you are local. (Grove City, PA) If you are looking into profitable writing, be patient. Start small with newspapers and magazines until you fine-tune your art. Although it’s great to see that byline, don’t give too much away for free. It’s alright to write without compensation to get those first few clips, but if you want true respect for quality work, make them pay!

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

It is quite an accomplishment to have been able to make a living by writing and editing although there is a lot of competition in both of those fields. Surprisingly, what I am most proud of is being able to give back through my writing group and my book group. Honestly, it’s hard work because I see my members as trusting and hungry for information so I have to give my best at every meeting. I know it’s hard to find time for people to get together physically for discussions. I want them to know that they will walk out of the groups feeling that it was not a waste of precious time. Giving back is what it’s all about!

What challenges and triumphs have you experienced as a writer over the years?

Challenges? Mostly deadlines, as I’m sure you know. Also writer’s block, which comes when you least expect it. Triumphs? Getting published. Seeing that byline and receiving a check that values your talent.

Describe your writing process. Pen and paper, or computer?

Definitely pen and paper. The computer comes in later. My writing process always starts with an idea, which needs to be written down immediately. Any piece of paper will do at the time. Short notes to remind me of key points are then folded and placed into my idea jar to be reviewed at a later date.

What types of books do you like to read?

I like every genre! The look and feel and smell of books… it’s all good! Since I lead a book club, I have to be open to all possibilities. Of course, the fact that I work in a library helps me to expand my horizons.

Favorite author(s)? E reader or actual book?

Actual book. By a landslide. Favorite author? Rebecca E. Neely 😉

Are you on Facebook/other social media, where blog audience can connect with you?

If anyone wants to contact me, they can either email me at lgerber360@gmail.com (please put Rebecca Neely in the title) or call me at Grove City Community Library at 724-458-7320. All are welcome to join my Writers’ group that is held within the library the third Wednesday of each month at 6:00 p.m.

Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to share?

I used to think that writing was a talent that we are born with, like being an artist. I can’t draw and I don’t believe art is a learned talent. Artists are genetically gifted and can be amazing at art without any instruction because it comes from within.

So are we born with the talent of spinning a story? I have learned that there are very talented writers who can pour out words as smooth as silk with little effort, while others have different and sometimes more difficult ways of writing.

If you feel the desire to write, in my mind, you’re a writer.

My biggest issue? I can’t turn off the editing button! Even when texting or reading signs! Hey Rebecca, remember the quote on the wall of our cottage where you stayed for your little vacation? It has an error in usage. That’s why I bought it!

LOL – yes I do remember! And as you know, my biggest pet peeve is incorrect use of apostrophes, for making an ‘s’ possessive 🙂 That’s all I have to say about that…

Linda – thanks so much for your thoughtful and insightful answers. I appreciate you spending time with us today, and I wish you all the best as you continue your writing journey!

Rebecca E. Neely is a blogger, storyteller, writer & author. Visit her at www.rebeccaneely.com 

Romance. Paranormal. Suspense.

All books available on Amazon

It All Started with 25 Cents

I’m a huge fan of Aldi’s grocery stores. If you’ve never been, you put a quarter in the grocery cart slot to ‘rent’ it while you shop. When you’re finished, you return it to the cart station, lock it back up, and receive your quarter.

The kindness of strangers I’ve witnessed over a mere quarter warms my heart each time I visit the store. People will graciously offer you a quarter for the cart, as you’re returning it to the store. When I’ve done the same, some people have even refused it, saying they’re passing it on, because it was given to them.

That’s the kind of paying it forward I’m talking about.

And that one simple, small act of kindness just seems to set the overall tone for the shopping experience. Yesterday, it was extremely busy in the store. But people weren’t stressed, complaining and muttering. Everyone seemed fine with waiting, even laughing about how crowded the aisles were. People were patient, polite, saying ‘excuse me’. While standing in line to check out, I spoke with the woman behind me, and we commented on different items we were buying, and how good they were.

We’ve all had our share of people who’ve been downright rude, unkind and unpleasant. We all know there’s a lot wrong with the world. Goodness knows social media and the news reinforces that daily. But there’s also a lot that’s right.

And I’m a big believer in enjoying the little things, which can sometimes be huge. The kindness I witness each time I go to Aldi’s is one of them. It warms my heart, renews my faith in people.

And it all began with twenty-five cents.

Happy Monday!

Rebecca E. Neely is a blogger, storyteller, writer & author. Visit her at www.rebeccaneely.com 

Romance. Paranormal. Suspense.

All books available on Amazon

This is Why It’s Back to School for this Writer

Recently I had the opportunity to speak to my daughter’s creative writing classes. What an amazing experience. I was truly honored and delighted to speak with these ninth and tenth graders, many of whom I saw myself in at that age—full of promise, creative, shy, hopeful, a bit awkward.

After writing professionally for 15+ years, it’s a privilege for me to give back, and share my experience whenever I can. What motivated me further to wrangle an invitation from the teacher was that as a teenager, I really wanted to be a writer but didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know any writers. The internet hadn’t been invented yet. I had no concept of career possibilities in writing beyond journalism. Nor was the kindly high school guidance counselor a help, whose counseling amounted to informing me late in my senior year that I had enough credits to graduate. So much for guidance. But that’s a story for another blog. Long story short, I ended up getting a degree in Accounting. But again, that’s a story for another blog.

With all this in mind, I set out to create a brief presentation for the classes. Certainly, I wanted to tell them about my experience, about having come at writing sideways, from an accounting career. And about how I began freelancing, and eventually writing romance novels.

But much more important to me was to get them talking. Because guess what? It’s not all about me. I even asked the teacher to have the students put together some questions ahead of time so I could be prepared, and not waste any of the 42 minute period.

I also plied the students with chocolate, knowing they would be hesitant to participate. But once I got them going, they really opened up. I asked them their names, why they were taking the class, what their favorite books and movies were. Interestingly, they much prefer a real book to an e-reader.

I asked them to do a short writing exercise, involving show versus tell (I told them how us writers struggle with that too. That impressed them. Yeah, us writers aren’t so big and bad.) I asked them to read what they’d written aloud, which is a big deal, especially at that age. I know adults who get tongue tied if asked to share their work.

What a win/win. These teenagers inspired me with their courage and their creativity, renewed my zeal with their uncomplicated, unbiased opinions and ideas. How precious and wonderful to know they have their whole lives ahead of them. I truly feel if I helped one person that day, or gave someone an idea, a possibility, or direction, then I’d succeeded.

Of course, I was thrilled when my daughter came home and told me that her friends thought I was cool. Especially after she said something like, “You? Coming to talk to my friends? That’s so embarrassing! OMG,” when she first found out I was coming.

In short, these up and coming writers made my day. And the teenage writer in me felt pretty warm and fuzzy too.

Rebecca E. Neely is a blogger, storyteller, writer & author. Visit her at www.rebeccaneely.com 

Romance. Paranormal. Suspense.

All books available on Amazon

Are You Catching the Winds of Destiny?

My father taught high school English, in addition to his many talents. When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he was able to continue to teach for a short time. During those few months, I would visit him at school, eating lunch with him, offering silent moral support, and sometimes sitting in on his classes. On one such day, the class was studying Edgar Lee Master’s poem, George Gray, from his Spoon River Anthology.

My father is never far from my thoughts, and this came to mind today. As a writer, I’m fascinated by words, and how stories and authors connect my father and I. How appropriate a poem, for all of us, every day. Looking back, I believe with all of my heart that my father caught the winds of his destiny, each and every day. I write this today, to urge myself, and you, to have the determination and spirit to do the same, whatever your calling. Happy Monday!

George Gray by Edgar Lee Master

I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me–
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire–
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

Rebecca E. Neely is a writer, blogger, author and storyteller. Visit her at www.rebeccaneely.com

The Crossing Realms series ~ The Keeper, Book 1 and The Watcher, Book 2 available on Amazon

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