August 18, 2013

Sometimes It is All About Opportunities

Not too long ago my wife and I attended an afternoon talk at a local branch of the Phoenix library. As part of an "Artists" series, local mystery writer, Betty Webb, was the speaker. We have read most of her books and enjoyed them. Betty lives in Scottsdale and bases her stories in the Scottsdale area as well as the rest of Arizona. I find it fun to read books that mention locales and events that are part of my daily life. She  writes well and weaves a good story without too much blood and gore.

I'm very glad I left my home on a blistering hot afternoon and went to her talk. Not only did I have the chance to ask her some questions about her life and the books I have read, but I discovered a new series she has penned. Because of her work as a volunteer at the Phoenix Zoo she has become a student of those who work with animals. That stimulated her to start a new series of mysteries based on animals and zookeepers. With such intriguing titles as the Anteater of Death and the Llama of Death, I immediately checked out two of them to take home and read.

The real takeaway for me from that afternoon with Betty was her life story. It is a great example of someone seizing opportunities and risking a new path. Many of the doors that have opened for her in the last thirty years are the result her deciding to take a chance. I think her story holds lessons for us all. Because I'm recalling her story from memory, forgive a lapse here and there.

Betty graduated with a degree in graphic design. That was to be her life's work. She liked it and enjoyed the challenges. But, for some reason, she decided that her creativity needed to be expressed in the written world as well. She managed to land a job at one of the local newspapers writing feature and lifestyle stories.

At one point, she was asked if she'd like to start reviewing movies, theater and books. Even though Betty had no real experience in those fields she agreed to give it s shot. Later, the newspaper asked her to start reviewing local art gallery openings and shows. Again, not really her field, but ahead she plunged. All this time she was playing with the idea of writing some sort of mystery but didn't have a focus or a hook.

An unfortunate event gave her the opening into what would be her career for the next phase of her life. After someone was murdered on the night of a gallery showing in Scottsdale, she saw a path: base her first book on a murder in an art gallery. Desert Noir was the result and her fiction path was chosen.  Five Desert-themed mysteries later she started writing the animals of death series mentioned above.

Actually this is not a post in praise of a local author whose books I enjoy, though I encourage you to read one for yourself and see what you think.  This is really about taking what life gives you and making the most of it. I have four "lessons" I can draw from her experiences that I want to remember:

1) Grab opportunities when they appear. Becoming a lifestyle reporter for the newspaper taught Betty the art of crafting a story. When asked to add theater, movie, book reviews, and later art gallery openings, she continued to gain experience in observing and writing about life.

If she had said no when asked to stretch herself beyond her comfort zone, her career as a successful mystery writer might never have happened. Like Betty, I hope that when opportunity knocks I am home and brave enough to open the door.

2) Life is a convoluted trail. Like Ms. Webb, many of us set out with an idea of what our life will be like. But, somewhere along the trail we take a fork in the path that places us in unfamiliar territory. Our straight path becomes twisted. That lead to other discoveries and the development of parts of our skills and personality we didn't even know we had.

Planning for my retirement lifestyle is very important. But, after 12 years I know that plans are only good if they are flexible enough to change. Insisting on one route and one route only doesn't work. Life will throw me  off that path. How I respond is the true test. 

3) Find a focus. Betty Webb used a local crime as a basis for the start of her writing career. But, she took it one step further: she included an important social issue as the central focus in each of her books. Publishers Weekly called her novels "mysteries with a social conscience." Polygamy, radiation poisoning after the nuclear tests of the 1950's in the Nevada desert, abandoned children...all have served as the story behind each mystery story. In this way Betty is able to entertain and inform.

My focus on retirement has served me well. Early on I gave thought to blogging about different subjects. But, none of them seemed to offer the opportunities of a retirement lifestyle blog. My energies have a direction because of the decision to focus in one area.

4) Don't be afraid to stretch. After achieving success with the Desert mysteries, Betty decided to develop an entirely new series of mysteries based on her work at the Zoo. With a particular animal as the title character, she found a way to write lighter, funnier mysteries that could appeal to a different type of reader. While she continues to write the heavier Desert  books, she has stretched herself to take on a new character, a new locale (Coastal California) and a new approach.

Pushing against the box is a theme I have stressed many times. A comfortable life isn't necessarily a fulfilling life. Sometimes I have to risk falling as I walk forward.

That's OK. I've learned how to get back up. That's what makes a satisfying retirement.


  1. As usual, some good advice. And I'll have to check her out. I like J. A. Vance, so can Betty Webb be far behind?

    1. i saw J.A. Jance at a book signing last year. After reading 12 of her books I figured I better meet her.

      Betty's mysteries aren't as elaborate as Ms. Jance's but I like the Scottsdale/Arizona settings.

  2. Thanks for the lead on some interesting new books & the reminder that stepping out to try new things is a good thing. I've also found that trying something new & finding out as time goes by that I have less & less enthusiasm for that project is also ok. I've always been the "I MUST continue on this path because I've started it" person & I'm learning that my comfort & energy are also valuable. Stepping outside my comfort zone, finding it really is NOT my thing is ok....other "outside my comfort zone" experiments have turned out marvelously. That has been a great gift of becoming my own person & clearing clutter out of my life, both physical & mental to enjoy my freedom to be who I am meant to be.

    So glad are enjoying your trip!


    1. Betty and I were at a very pleasant dinner tonight hosted by blogging friend Galen Pearl. We met a law professor and a couple who has lived in Laos and Thailand. Sitting outside, enjoying Memphis style BBQ while talking about the law, travel, the future of on-line education and newspapers made for a special evening.

      If I hadn't stepped out of my comfort zone last year to come to Portland and meet Galen this evening would never have happened. Monday we meet Tamara and Mike Reddy, another blogging friend and her husband. I hope for another set of virtual friend who becomes real.

      Taking advantage of these opportunities is the only way this would have happened.


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