This came as part of a promotion for a writing course. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

This came in the mail as part of a promotion for a writing course. (All pictures by Marylin Warner)

And "Oh, The Places Writing Will Take You"!!!

And “Oh, The Places Writing Will Take You”!!!

Dear Mom,

I received another mail offer for a writing course.  On the mail-in sign-up card there was a place to attach the Growing Up by Marylin Warner sticker (see picture above).  This writing gimmick made me laugh because I remember what happened to you.

In 1965, you signed up for a writing course in children’s short story writing. After you mailed the check (and it wasn’t a cheap course), you received the book, workbooks and assignment sheets, and you began working seriously at the dining room table. Weeks later when you mailed off the first completed short story assignment, our family celebrated by having coconut cream pie for dessert after dinner. It was an exciting time!

You waited for a reply.  And waited.  Finally, several months later, you wrote a nice note to your assigned teacher, asking him if there was a problem. The program director answered your note, sadly informing you that your teacher had died in an accident.

You were given the name of a new teacher.  You retyped the story and mailed it in. No special dessert this time, just a quiet, hopeful re-send of an assignment.

Less than a month later, you were informed your second teacher died of a heart attack.

The director promised to find you another teacher, but you wrote back and pleasantly suggested they not push their luck. They refunded your money, and when the check arrived you laughed and said, “At least they didn’t make it out to Typhoid Mary Shepherd.”  You said you hoped the story wasn’t so bad it killed the teachers…or made them want to kill themselves.

You never signed up for another course by mail. But you didn’t give up writing, either. Instead, you worked with local writers and helped form the writing group that each month provided poems, essays and stories to be printed in “The Writers’ Bloc” of THE FORT SCOTT TRIBUNE. You and I attended one- and two-day conferences at Avilla College and Bethel College, and we challenged each other to make submissions and enter contests. (For a brief description of our writing, click on About Us at the top of the blog.) In honor of your many years of encouragement to writers, on this blog I’ve sponsored several no-fee writing contests that paid cash prizes for the winning entries.

With writing setbacks, like everything in your life, Mom, you found a way to make the best of even a bad situation. You refused to give up and encouraged others to keep trying, too. You may not remember any of this from your life, but I do. And so do the many others you’ve encouraged.  Together, we thank you.

Some of my favorite writing references and inspirations.

Some of my favorite writing references and inspirations.

Have fun with the process! Here's the place mat I had made for Mom.

Have fun with the process! Here’s the place mat I had made for Mom. She loved it! (I had one made for my dad that said “World’s Greatest Grandpa”–this was before Jim became the very-best-ever Grandpa!)  Have some fun.


Darla McDavid’s “Darla Writes” is a superbly helpful writing blog. Her post this week is a must-read for writers of all levels and stages of their writing careers.  UCLA basketball coach John Wooden grew up on a small farm in Indiana, and his father’s 7-point creed applies perfectly to the writing life.  This is an inspiring post!  http://www.darlawrites.com/john-wooden-creed-writing-life/



Filed under celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, writing


  1. molly

    I had never heard this story before! I love it! Thanks mom for getting these stories written, so many generations can enjoy them!

    • Aha! So now you know. Grandma was so cute; she rallied really well.

      When she and I went to the writing workshop at Bethel College, you stayed with Grandpa and baked him a peach pie by dumping a can of peaches in a pie crust and baking it. Remember? Family memories give us sooo much to write about!

  2. Carol

    I love this! What an encouragement to never give up. And when you see your mom next whisper a word of thanks in her ear from me, another write who has benefited from the nurture and example she gave you.

  3. Lovely tale – and how nice she got her money back! Maybe they were glad not to have to pay interest.

    • I think that since she’d never had any feedback or instruction, maybe they were embarrassed that it had dragged on so long without her getting any help. Whatever the reason, I was glad she got her money back, too!

  4. I love the line about ‘not pushing their luck’ – Marylin, that’s priceless! Also love the placemat you made for your Mom – that is so sweet, and such a good idea – and so deserved for a lady who dished out all that encouragement to others.

    • I still see these at summer craft sales that have booths for “on the spot” creations. They laminate the paper with plastic. Mom and Dad actually used them on the eating bar in their kitchen for many years, and it was a happy way to have breakfast.

  5. I love your mother’s response to the offer of a third teacher! I’m so thankful for your good memory. It’s like you’ve given your mother’s spirit a second life while she lies still in her home.

    And thank you for recommending my blog and the Wooden post!

    • You’re very welcome, Darla. Your writing posts are always direct, well written and very helpful, but this one about Coach Wooden’s father’s creed was amazing. I can think of several time in my many years of freelance writing that this would have helped me. And if my mom were still alert and able to follow, she would applaud all of the points, but especially #7.

  6. Oh Marylin, priceless absolutely priceless. Just think if Mom had had a wicked streak in her she could have decimated the ranks of writing mentors in the Midwest and then advertised her story as a real killer……


    • Oh, I know, Tom. Believe me, the plot played into many a horror story in my mind. Sweet, innocent-type grandmother has the power to level the publishing industry by submitting all her unpublished children’s stories and poetry. I teased Mom about that once and she gave me a startled, horrified look…and then broke into laughter!
      Cathedral on the Plains has a candle burning for you, dear Tom. Hang in there. Many hugs and prayers for you.

  7. What a fantastic idea for the placement. You’re mother must have been over the moon. Could you imagine winning the Pulizter Prize?
    And I was on the floor laughing as I read about your mother’s writing course experience. Too funny. 🙂

    • You can have any title put on placemat “newspaper titles”–and you even get to tell them which newspaper. I chose the Kansas City Star because they subscribed to that, so my dad really like that, and my mom thought the Pulitzer Prize was the perfect happy breakfast placemat!

  8. Amy

    Your mother’s inner strength of making the best of even a bad situation and refusing to give up is very inspiring.

  9. What a great story, Marylin! Your mother certainly has a great sense of humor. I love that she spared a third teacher. 🙂 What a creative idea for the placemats, I’m sure your mother was thrilled. Thank you for sharing this wonderful memory, it brought a smile to my face.

    • I’m glad, Jill.
      The more I think about it, I think we should have placemats made for our writing friends–it’s a happy, smiley way to start the day, having your breakfast on a Pulitzer Prize-winning placemat!

  10. Diana Stevan

    Enjoyed this. It made me laugh, but also marvel at you and your mother’s ability to persevere and not give up on your dreams.

  11. Perseverance is everything!

    It’s amazing, that she got her money back! I suppose they really did not want to push their luck. Perhaps the assignments were such, that few people completed the first one, let alone twice! Or had the perseverance to follow through and ask what happened… Your mom was certainly a spunky one!

    • I just wish I knew which story she sent in both times, Tracy. She kept carbon copies (this was long before Xerox copies or printouts), but she didn’t have a folder marked “The Story That Killed Two Instructors.” ;=)
      Seriously, though, I wish I did know which story it was.

  12. Kudos to you and your Mom for inspiring writers. That gift is priceless and means so much to those who love to create.

    An 8th grade teacher, Mr. Robert Gloccum, inspired me when I was in high school. He said he saw great things in my future. I’ll always wonder what it was he saw in me that I failed to at that time. He wasn’t one of my teachers, but his confidence in me really motivated me to do more with my writing.

    • I had a h.s. teacher who was very supportive of my short stories, Judy. She even read two of them aloud to my English class, and they clapped! But when I asked her, “What do I do now?” she paused and got kind of a blank look. Finally, she said, “I guess you just keep writing more stories.”
      I did, but it was a long time before my mom and I went to writing workshops and I learned some of the “next” steps.

  13. Wonderful post Marilyn!

  14. You have brought such a smile to my heart today. That is certainly a unique addition to the tales of the trials and tribulations of a writer. Blessings on you for sponsoring no fee writing contests. Such a sensible and inspiring way to encourage writers.

    • Thank you so much. If you read down the list of posts on the right side and see references to Christmas Memories, Poetry Contest, and Write A Mother’s Day Card, you can read the winners and finalists of the contests. I read them aloud to Mom and she would listen and smile…and then say, “That was nice. Do we know them?” And I’d explain that these were writing contests in her honor, because she was always encouraging other writers. And she smiled again…

  15. dianabletter

    Hello Marylin, Sorry I haven’t been keeping up with your blog until now. I loved that placemat you made for your mother and the sincere, loving way that you encouraged her. Your sunny support comes through — I hope you use that to cheer yourself on. You better not give up your own writing, either!

    • I won’t, Diana. Never.
      In fact, I just sold another story, “There Are Rules,” one I submitted months ago but had forgotten about. That made for very surprising, exciting news!
      I hope you’re also doing well; I know you miss your mom and still have much to finish up. Keep me posted as you send out your new novel!

  16. Gwen Stephens

    Another great story, Marilyn. Two teachers dying in the same course… seems kind of ominous. I think she made the right decision in dropping that class!

    • It does seem like a bad omen, Gwen. I’m still not sure if she believed the director who called and explained why she’d been ignored for so long, but whether the instructors had died or never actually existed–or just didn’t want to work with beginning writers any more–I definitely think my mother had come to the conclusion that enough was enough, and she’d just try to figure out the writing on her own.

  17. That was bizarre, Marilyn! And doesn’t that make it such a story! I always love to read how your mother held through all those quirks and setbacks. God knows, perseverance in the face of odds is not an easy virtue.

    • You’re so right! And hers was a quiet, hopeful, focused perseverance that seems so rare today. I wish I could peek back in time and watch her growing up on the farm and learn if she was always like this, or if it was an acquired trait.

  18. Don

    There’s something so peaceful and trusting about what you’ve written about, Marylin. Not sure what it is, but that’s how it makes me feel. Just the quiet persistence and then the gentle no nonsense thing in your Mom. So admire that. Such a pleasure to read.

    • It is peaceful, Don. There was so much about my mom, with all her hard work and often busy schedules making lots of demands, yet she still kept things in perspective most of the time. She often went out and worked in her garden, and prayed, I think; and in winter if the kitchen was filled with the scent of baking bread late at night, I think she was working through things then, too. Even now, with the dementia blurring everything around her, she somehow remains calm and pleasant. Waiting.

  19. Oh no, what an experience! But it’s an example to all of us to keep going even if the world seems to be telling us otherwise.

  20. How lovely to read this story here Marylin and what a lovely testimony to your mom with the way you are continuing on with her writing legacy in her honour. Thank you also for the writing book recommendations and the link which I will definitely read.

    • Sherri, I was touched by your blog about your son’s heartbreak and how we mothers are helpless to change things, but we go through it with them. How true.
      Sometimes I wonder how our children would write about us in the future, how they would recount our responses to life.

  21. juliabarrett

    I’m glad she kept on despite her bad luck! Or perhaps the bad luck of others. Your mom is my hero too.

    • You’re right, Julia–maybe it was the bad luck of others and not just her bad luck–but, really, two in a row? My dad and I were cynical that both had met such fates (or maybe the program’s qualified instructors quit and no one wanted to admit it?) But whatever the truth was, no, Mom didn’t quit, and that said so much about her.

  22. Just catching up on posts I missed while away. What a wonderful story – I laughed out loud – your mother seems to always have had such great responses.
    I will check out the link – thanks fort that.

    • You’ll really enjoy Darla’s writing link, Rod, and the 7-point creed by the coach’s father–the message for writers is very strong.
      You’re right, my mom had a jewell of a response to the writing course’s lack of responsive and/or living instructors.

  23. So nice to know your mother kept encouraging for you and hoping for her own writing, too. That is really nice to share with us, I think those courses are all fake and not very helpful but my Mom signed up for one, tried and they did not tell her to keep on going. She is very encouraging of my blogging and comes up with the wackiest thoughts. I hope your book will come to fruition. You are a mighty fine writer, Marylin!

    • Thank you so much for the compliment!

      Like you, I suspect there are other more real, vivid, and genuinely helpful ways to become better writers than with these courses. But our mothers were at least trying to do better.

  24. Very nice article, totally what I was looking for.

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