Like Mother Like Daughter

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.

she loved music, too

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.

Mom with me in 1959

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 (Alas, she never did secure representation, and the books remain unpublished.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.)

Mom and I shared a love of food, as well!

Readers: Do you have a family member who’s been an inspiration for you?

46 thoughts on “Like Mother Like Daughter

  1. I’m so sorry to hear about your mom. I lost my dad on January 3rd as well (but in 2020). Your mom sounds like a lot of fun. I especially love the picture of her in front of the candy. That’s a really nice obituary/tribute you wrote. Very lovely.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. So sorry for your loss, Leslie. Your mom sounds like she was an amazing person. Do you and your sister have any plans to publish her adult stories? Assuming that’s what she would have wanted, I personally think it would be a wonderful way to honor her memory.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Oh Leslie, your mom sounds like such a remarkable woman. You and your sibs must be heartbroken to lose her. Her beauty and spirit are infectious just from these photos!

    My mom and dad both inspire me. They survived traumatic childhoods and poverty to be two of the smartest, cleverest, funniest people I’ll ever know. My dad was a Mad Man and all three of his children became writers, so clearly I wasn’t the only person he inspired!

    Liked by 6 people

  4. I would not be what I am today without the strong women in my fam. My great-grandmother, Bridget Regan, came to the US from Ireland after her husband died and she was asked to leave his family’s farm with her children. She had two kids in tow (one was my grandmother, Sarah Burns) and had to leave two more behind in Ireland. Twenty years later, she was able to pay their passage from Ireland. My grandmother Sarah had little schooling and made a living as a midwife while she established her family. Her husband had deserted her, leaving her with two small children, my dad and my aunt. When my mom and dad married, they lived in my grandmother’s house. When I came along, my dad died when I was two years old, and I was raised my by mom and my aunt. They dedicated all their resources to me so I could go to prep school and college. I was the second person in my fam to graduate high school, and the first to go to college and earn an advanced degree. When times got hard for me, as they will for anyone, how could I even think about giving up when people like that had given everything to see me succeed?

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Leslie, thanks for telling us about your mom.

    My mom is my inspiration raising five daughter on her own, showing us that being strong black independent women is the way to go.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Leslie,
    Your mom is awesome. I say is, not was, because she will always be in your heart, therefore always alive to you and the sibs. And now she can watch over you 24/7!
    I wish I had family to inspire me, but nope. My family has never been close, and no matter what I did, how good I was, or how hard I tried, it has never been good enough for them.
    I get my inspiration, motivation, and confidence from my friends, my one son and daughter, and people like you, who know me but don’t know me, and still care anyway.
    Love and hugs to you.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I am so sorry to hear that about your family, Hestia. You are one of the most inspirational people I know, and I am continually amazed by your strength, fortitude, generosity to others, and impressive accomplishments. I feel honored to count you as a friend, my dear. xoxo

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Hestia, you are truly amazing — you continue to provide inspiration to us all, and you are also a wonderful friend.


  7. Having read her obituary and knowing her daughter, I could tell what a woman she was…. but seeing the pictures you have posted of her, I know where you get that glint in your eye. .. Love her devil made me do it look. May her memory always be a blessing.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Big hugs, Leslie — thank you for sharing a bit about your mom with us! Her children’s book looks fab! And I’d love to read her golden age mystery novella!

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Oh, Leslie. This is such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing more about your mom.

    My mom also inspired me to read and write mysteries. The first book in my Winston Wong series is dedicated to her (although she never got to read the dedication). I still miss her…

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Leslie, first of all, condolences on the loss of your Mom. No matter how old we are, this is never easy. She sounds like a wonderful person. I just wanted to say that I was an elementary school librarian and we had The Runaway Princess in our collection!! When I saw your mom had written it, I just wanted to let you know (although I am sure you already did) that there were so many kids who LOVED that book so much!! Thanks for sharing this lovely memoir of your mother.

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Dear Leslie,

    I’m also so sorry for your loss. Your mom is a wonderful example of a strong, adventurous woman who never stopped dreaming and daring. No wonder you turned out so great and willing to try new adventures. Thank you for sharing her story, her photos and her wonderful joy in life. Ruth

    Liked by 4 people

  12. What a beautiful tribute, both your post and the obituary. She was an amazing person–so very sorry for your loss.

    My grandmother was a prolific writer too–never published but constantly writing. We used to send poems and stories back and forth in the mail. Credit goes as well to my parents for reading us books all the time! As soon as I learned how to read, I wanted to be a writer.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Leslie, I love that pic of your mom with the uke. You look just like her.

    I just put together a book of my dad’s writings, but I don’t think he technically inspired me. My son was actually the one who threw down the gauntlet for me to write my first novel, published in 2001. But I’ll never forget learning, long after I was an adult, that my mom had always wanted to be a nurse. She had 8 kids, though, and my folks never had enough money or time, so she let that dream die. It was the inspiration for me to grab life by the horns—or whatever one grabs life by—and make sure I (and my kids) honor her sacrifice and don’t have dreams that end up withering on the vine like that.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. Your mom was such a Renaissance woman, Leslie! In every photo, you can really see the creativity and spirit and humor in her eyes–clearly, a life well-lived. So very sorry for your loss, but she lives on with you and your siblings. I bet you feel her presence and joie de vivre every day.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Oh, Leslie! What a lovely, loving tribute. Your mom sounds like an amazing person. I can feel her spirit through those photographs! I am so very sorry for your loss. The warmth of her love, inspiration and memories will be with you always. xoxo

    Liked by 2 people

  16. What a beautiful and heartwarming tribute to your mom! My condolences on your loss… I wish I could give you a huge hug in person to let you know how sorry I am…


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