Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sally Wright

I took a class with Sally Wright, a published mystery author, at the Midwest Writers Workshop in Indiana a few years ago. We chatted between sessions and since she is a Christian, I suggested she join ACFW. (She lives in Ohio.) She did. A few weeks ago she posted on our writer's loop and I asked if I could have permission to post her advice on a blog. This is a tough business, and it's easy to get caught up in all kinds of stress. Sometimes it's all perspective. 

Here's what Sally had to say:

"I don’t often post on ACFW, but I follow the postings, and suspect that what I’ve experienced in the last few months might be of interest.
I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer six months ago and told I’d be dead by now - if I didn’t have a really nasty surgery and do months of chemo and radiation. Which made me look at life and writing from a much shifted perspective. Background will be needed here to clarify what changed.
I know what it’s like to be obsessed with getting published. It took sixteen years (and three never published books) for my first two Ben Reese mysteries to be published by an excellent editor at Multnomah. It was God’s time, not mine. And the relief I felt was indescribable.
Then, totally unexpectedly (through the intervention of God, not brilliant strategies on my part), those books were bought as well by a much respected editor at Ballantine. I’d wanted very much to reach non-Christians, and that was an answer to prayer too.
The next two books in the series were also brought-out by both, and were followed by “good” and “bad” blessings. There were positive reviews, even in the NY Times, and the third novel was nominated for an Edgar Alan Poe Award by Mystery Writers of America. My Ballantine editor, however, who intended to really promote the 5th and 6th books, wasn’t allowed to even buy them by the new president of his mother company. He left publishing, and no other publishers wanted books in a series whose backlist they didn’t own. An English company published them, but didn’t distribute to bookstores, choosing only to sell on-line.
I then started writing a non-Reese book (without looking for a publisher) that had a very complicated WWII French Resistance back story. Yet, the more I researched, the more I began to think I didn’t know France well enough to place part of a book there without someone in France to help. I kept writing, but worried in the dark of the night.
The moment I was told I had six months to live, the first thing I thought was, “Thank God I don’t have to finish that book, or market my books again!” Which I thought even then was telling, which brings me to the writing insights I hope may help someone else.
We’re all hanging by a thread. We know that, as Christians, that we live depending on the will of God. But getting slapped in the face with that makes certain things stand out.
First writing insight: Life is short. It’s too short to keep writing a book you’re uneasy with, or you don’t feel suited to do well, or you’re not really enthused about. I don’t see that as giving-up now, but as using the time we’ve got left here to do what we can do well. 
So I salvaged the parts that didn’t have to do with France and imagined a new plot in my head. Slowly. Lying in bed. Getting radiation. Waiting in chemo waiting rooms. Then, finally, at my computer.
Second writing insight: There’s more to life than writing (or getting published . . . or sellng a lot on Kindle . . . or whatever else about writing fills our minds and our days).
Personally, in my case - and I know this is a huge blessing everyone doesn’t have - before I even knew I was a candidate for the surgery that would give me a chance to survive - I suddenly realized that if I only had six months to live I’d choose to live each day the way I normally did.
I didn’t wish I’d won the Edgar, or gone to New Zealand, or become famous. Living with my husband, in the country, having grown kids I like and love, and a boxer dog I want to play with, writing as many hours as I can, is all I really want.
That, and being freed and comforted by the overwhelming sense I’ve been given that I really am in God’s hands - and who else’s would I want to be in?  That’s something I’ve known for years. But not like I do now.
I love to write. There’re things I’m driven to say. But if I don’t get to finish the new book, or get my last two Ben Reese mysteries up on Kindle and Nook this week, it won’t matter at all. Life is about more. And I need to see and be grateful for the blessings God gives now."
Sally Wright
Sally Wright, ACFW member, and author of the Ben Reese Mysteries

About Author Sally Wright:
Sally Wright is the author of six Ben Reese mysteries: Publish And Perish, Pride And Predator, Pursuit And Persuasion (a Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award Finalist in 2001), Out Of The Ruins, Watches Of The Night (published in June 2008) and Code Of Silence, a prequel to the series (published in December 2008).

Posted by Crystal Laine Miller


  1. Sally is now done with chemo and her CT scan is good. Still praying for her. Thanks, Sally, for your generosity.

  2. Sally--
    You talk about things we think often about right we say goodbye to a friend who passed away the night before Easter and my husband was diagnosed with two cancers in 2009. How we are going to choose to live what remains of our lives is constantly with us. And we came to the same conclusion as you. We live best when we live not to desire to change pick up whatever God lays at our feet every day, to choose contentment rather than yearn for what we do not have. Life includes both bitter and sweet and God lets us enjoy it for exactly the right amount of time. Whatever the future holds, I am so glad to rise up every day to a world He made especially for us to share with Him, whenever we look for Him in the cool of the day.

  3. Thank you all for responding. MrsP is certainly experiencing something very similar to what I've been going through and her comments mean a lot. I am a worrier by nature, and yet God has enabled me to not worry much at all through my cancer but to be quite normal and peaceful. That definitely is a gift from God!

    Malcolm Muggeridge, who was a very insightful and interesting English writer, journalist and TV documentary maker became a Christian late in life after having known and interviewed some of the most interesting people in the 20th century from Ghandi to Churchill to countless others. He was a Communist as a young man who actually moved to Russia in '33, intending to emmigrate, was the first to see what was really going on and smuggled out reports on the mass murders in the Ukraine, etc., before he left the country. He was also a partying-womanizer in his early days who had an "open marriage." But as an old man, doing a TV show on Jerusalem, watching the faces of those coming out of the "tomb where Christ was buried" - though he thought it was a commercial tourist trap hoax - he was awed by the devotion and sanctity and change he saw on the faces of the ordinary believer. He wanted to have that. And then he did a show on Mother Teresa (having read a lot of the Bible and theology all his life), and became, as I said before, a Christian.

    Muggeridge said repeatedly after his conversion that suffering is the only thing we ever really learn from; that it changes us for the better; that most of us already know that, but we still want to avoid suffering.

    Christians who have suffered through something certainly have a chance to be more effective witnesses as they're closely watched and listened to by non-believers. How we handle the hard times makes what we believe more real to others.

    Whatever God sends is the right thing, as MrsP says so well, and He will give us the grace to get through it, whatever it may be.

  4. Crystal and Sally, thanks for sharing. I loved how you said you were content with how you were living your life. That's a life well-lived. God is so good to be a part and to have a plan and purpose for us.

  5. Wow, what powerful insights. Thanks, Crystal and Sally. I needed that!

  6. Maybe I was supposed to read this today, two weeks after the last post, where it's probably buried where nobody will read it, but I still need to comment. I'm dealing with a much less traumatic event, but I have a choice of picking up an activity that will limit my writing time (already too limited) for about six months. Sally's comments have given me some perspective. Thank you.

  7. I consider myself blessed to know Sally. I used to be in retail wine and valued her as a good customer, soon to be, a good friend and mentor. I showed her a few samples of my writing and she was most gracious and encouraging. I always looked forward to her visits into the wine department but since I had retired just over a year ago I don't see her much. She responded to my last email telling me about what she was going through. I was unaware of what was going on. I just finished my second book and dedicated it to her: "For Sally who had the nerve to tell me I could write." Sally, dear, I'll keep you in my prayers. Please get better--I need to read some more Ben Reese books.