My mother, Smiley Cook Karst—who passed away on January 3rd at the grand old age of 91—was perhaps my greatest inspiration as a writer.
Sure, my law professor father, author of three books and many dozens of articles about Constitutional law, was far more famous. But notwithstanding that I, too, worked as an attorney, I was never drawn to writing about the law. No, my love has always been fiction.
And that’s what Mom wrote.
Smiley penned her first play in elementary school and never looked back. In 1944, at age fifteen, she composed, typed up, and then bound with a gorgeous, hand-illustrated cover, a novella entitled The Letter—an homage to Agatha Christie and Golden Age Mysteries. (After Mom went into hospice last December, my sister and I read this marvelous story aloud to each other, alternatively laughing and crying as we did so.)
Her next grand opus was Viaje, a memoir of the year our family spent in Latin America in 1962-1963. It’s an epic tale, full of adventure and humor, told through the eyes of of fearless traveler/mother with four young children in tow, aged one to nine.
It was in the early 2000s, when she was working her way through a series of three children’s chapter books set in the Middle Ages in Cornwall, England, that I first started pondering the idea of trying my own hand at writing fiction. She’d asked me to help her look for a literary agent, so I bought a copy of Writer’s Market, helped her draft a query letter, and began mailing them out on her behalf to potential agents.
When the inevitable rejections started coming in, I offered to read the book and provide input regarding edits and revisions. I was flabbergasted by her writing. “This is really good!” I told her. “We need to keep trying.” (Alas, she never did secure representation, and the books remain unpublished. But she did self-publish two delightful children’s picture books that she wrote and illustrated, Runaway Princess and The Dreadful Dragon of Feu.)
In addition to being impressed, I was also inspired. Wow. If Mom can do this, maybe I can, too.
In 2008 I retired from my job as a research attorney and started drafting what would eventually be the first in my Sally Solari Mystery series, Dying for a Taste.
Mom was my biggest supporter. And when the book was finally published, I dedicated it to her:
For my mom, Smiley Karst, who first got me reading mysteries and whose own writing inspired me to try my hand at fiction.
Thank you, Mom—not only for being the best mother ever, but for being such an inspiration to me, in far more ways than simply writing.
(If you’d like to read the obituary/tribute I wrote for my mom, you can do so here.)
Readers: Do you have a family member who’s been an inspiration for you?