Saturday, December 3, 2022

Time Flies

I don't know about you, but I'm still wondering where October and November went so fast. Seems like just last week my September vacation was coming to an end. Now we're only weeks away from Christmas.

I have one more pre-Christmas book signing coming up on Saturday, December 10 in Brownsville to promote Union Station and some of my Christmas books. I love the spirit with which the people in my hometown have embraced Union Station and me. Whoever said, 'You can't go home again,' never visited my hometown. 

Union Station is fiction, but is reflective of the spirit of life in Brownsville over seventy years. The spirit of ultimate goodness and neighborliness and hope. 

I'm proud to say the book signing will take place at the Heritage Center and Frank L. Melega Art Museum at 69 Market Street in Brownsville, PA. It's a wonderful museum with a collection of both art and artifacts. If you're in the area, come by and see my hometown at its best. And while you're there, grab a signed copy of Union Station or one of my other Christmas books.

Friday, August 26, 2022


My newest book, Union Station, is set in my hometown of Brownsville, Pennsylvania. The story centers around one building–the Union Station building. The railroad station was built in 1929 at a time when the small river town along the Monongahela was bustling with business and growth. 

The stories in Union Station span seven decades from the opening of the building to its closing. In a conversation on a Brownsville, PA Facebook page, I learned that people still hold fond memories of their relationship to the Union Station–their doctors, dentists, hair salon, floral shop, and the railroad offices all located within those walls. Until 1951, passenger train service brought people from Pittsburgh to Brownsville for shopping and to conduct business.

Now struggling to survive and once again thrive–people of Brownsville are resilient and hopeful–the town has undergone a descent into the depths of despair and has begun a rise again. New businesses, residents invested in breathing life back into town, and high school students who made it their mission to create a park and performance stage–all continue to contribute to life in Brownsville.

This hamlet on the river will always be home to me, no matter where I hang my hat. I wrote Union Station to first honor my father, Dale R. Rettstatt, Jr., a WWII veteran and long-time employee of the Monongahela Railroad who worked in the Union Station building for years. I also dedicate the book to the people of Brownsville who choose to believe in what is possible and put their efforts into restoring life to our little town.

My stories in Union Station are fiction, but set in the facts of the times in which they occur. Parts are likened to what life was like, and some are imaginings of what could be. The characters are not unlike the people who have lived there over the years. I gave the building its own voice as she–yes, she–shares her observations on the life that passes through her lobby and occurs within her walls. We often hear people say, “If only those walls could talk.” What if they can? What if is the question that I believe launches every work of fiction. What if? I think that, if those walls could talk, they would tell stories such as those included in Union Station.

I hope these stories entertain, give you something to think about, bring you to both laughter and tears, and leave you with some sense of hope for whatever place is home for you.  

UNION STATION will be available in ebook and paperback on October 8 at

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Self-Publishing: A Respectable Way to Get Published

 I belong to a number of writing groups on social media. I interact with a lot of writers, both published and working toward publication. Much discussion circles around the avenues one might take to becoming a published author. And one thing I repeatedly find is a negative view (often critical and caustic) of those who self-publish.

I've been around the block several times having had agent representation (that netted no results), working with four legitimate small presses. Each of those experiences taught me a great deal about writing and publishing as a business.

So let me clear the air on this topic up front. No, I did not get a contract via agent representation. I gave that one year, then ended the relationship. No fault on either part. It just didn't work for me. No, I've not been published by one of the "Big Five" (now Big Four) publishers that might put me on the NYT Bestsellers List or at least get me a six-figure advance. That all being said, it does not negate my talent as a writer nor my skill with writing and publishing my own work.

I'm not here to negate the experience of writers who choose the more traditional path of writing the book, finding an agent, then getting a contract with an advance. Bravo! I applaud your tenacity.

I'm also not here to defend self-publishing as a legitimate route to getting your book published. It's time to put down the pitchforks and stop beating down the writers who choose to take the reins and manager their own work. To those of you who have self-published the 'right way', bravo!

As with anything, there is a right and wrong way to pursue self-publishing. I admit there are self-published works on sites such as Amazon that, in my opinion, should never see daylight. There are writers who spit out words and throw them up for publication when they're far from ready for human consumption. This has given self-publishing a bad name. I don't suffer those fools kindly.

One of the biggest differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing is the gatekeeper. Another is, no doubt, financial. Unfortunately, many self-published authors go unnoticed and untried because someone has had a bad experience with one self-published book or has had the attitude drilled into them that someone who self-publishes is not really a published author.

Then there are the writers who take their responsibility as both writer and publisher seriously. We write the book ourselves. We make sure the book has proper editing and proofing (something that can be costly, but that's a business expense). We contract one or more beta readers to test our book for us. We find decent cover art (another business expense). We publish the book ourselves.

Then the fun begins. Because now we have to switch hats and become a marketer and promoter. We have to sell ourselves and our books to readers who most likely never heard of us. We don't have an advertising department--we ARE the advertising department.

Can a self-published author reach a modicum of success, both financially and in cultivating a readership? It's been known to happen. But it takes three things, in my opinion: Great writing, hard work, and a fair measure of good luck.

Some will say that self-publishing is for those who "can't get their book published any other way," or "want to take the easy way out," or "aren't good enough." And for some people, that may be the case. But let's not color all self-publishing writers with the same crayon. Because the majority of the self-publishing writers I'm privileged to know do the work, and the work is hard. It's a matter of owning your own business and wearing all the hats and contracting help that's needed.

If someone opened a hamburger joint in your neighborhood--because they can--and sold food that was uncooked or overcooked, tasteless, or downright sickening--you'd not go there. You'd steer your friends away and recommend another place that gave you a quality meal for your money. You wouldn't say, "I'm never eating a hamburger again because all these places are sub-standard." (My vegan friends will need to supply their own analogy. Sadly, I don't speak vegan, but you get my point.)

So, let's stop beating up on self-publishing. Let's recognize the work that authors put into their efforts. Get to know the self-published authors who produce quality and give you your money's worth, who clearly take pride in what they produce. Follow them. Buy their books. Review their books. Recommend their books to others.

To those readers who follow me and support my work, I truly thank you.


**Please note: There are vanity presses out there who will offer to publish a book for $$$$. They are not publishers. They are scammers. There are companies that offer services to authors for a fee to help you publish. Many are legitimate and, though their services might be costly, provide what they say they'll provide. Writers--beware and do your diligence in knowing one from another and what you expect to get for your money.

Monday, July 4, 2022

The Salvation of Writing (and Reading) Fiction

 I had no idea when I began writing fiction that it would one day become a lifesaver, a protector of my own sanity. I just thought I'd set down words to tell a story, entertain some people, and satisfy my need to be creative.

Now I find that both reading and writing fiction serve to keep me sane in a world gone crazy, to pull me back into the world I can create and choose from the creations of others. I'm so grateful to authors who offer me that escape: Lisa Scottoline, Linda Castillo, Mary Kay Andrews, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Elizabeth Berg, Susan Mallery--just to name a few. What wonderful gifts you share with me and others.

I've been locked into the writing world lately, feverishly working on not one but five books, each very different in plot and characters. I open my laptop, retrieve the file, read where I left off, then let myself slip into the words like one settles into a warm bubble bath. I hope my readers have that same experience with my books.

Of course some authors don't make that settling so easy. Yes, Lisa Scottoline, I'm looking at you. What Happened to the Bennetts is extraordinary--and has me on edge constantly. I'm gonna need a few xanax before it's all over. But, still, I am grateful for the distraction and immersion into such great writing.

Most of my own stories are women's fiction or romance that always has a happy ending. Romance novels require this--even though it's not always true to life. After all, it's fiction.

So, if you're stressed by the happenings in the world and need a respite, take a step back and fall into a good book. Let it hold your attention and lead you through a story to a hopefully satisfying ending. Light a candle, pour a cup of tea (or coffee, or glass of wine), relax and let the author's words transport you. Reality will still be here waiting in the end and, until we can change that reality, we can at least dream.

Sweet dreams, my friends. Grab a good beach read.


Sunday, May 8, 2022

A Mother's Day Reflection

I've spent a good measure of my adult life without my mother. Even though I was forty-one when she passed. We were just reaching that state of equality where we were both adults and might have become friends.

I spent much of my childhood into young adulthood trying to be different from my mother, seeing only the aspects of her that I didn't want to become. My mother had her struggles with anxiety and worry. There were times that, in my childlike observance, I thought she might not be happy. I wanted to be my own person, strong and worry-free. People would constantly remind me, "You're so much like your mother." And it would spur me to try harder to be different, something that expanded the gap between us in those years. I had to admit, when I had my senior photo taken, that I did, in fact, look just like my mother. 

My mother passed away in 1991, ten years after we lost my father. She was just sixty-six. I remember the relief when I reached and then surpassed my sixty-sixth birthday. I'd outlived my mother. It's sad, in a way, to have outlived the opportunity to finally move past the differences and settle into a new, easier relationship. It's a different loss to never reach that point where the struggle and the differences fall away and two women become friends.

It took a while, even after my mother's passing, for me to own and embrace the ways I am so much like Anna Catherine (Kay) Hennessey Rettstatt. Having outlived her years, I suppose I see in my own image now how she might have  aged further. When I look into the mirror, I see the same sparkle in my eyes and can hear the same laugh at a good joke. I glimpse her kindness when I find myself in a situation to be generous and kind to someone in need. It's probably no accident I became a social worker. It's probably also no accident I became a writer. My mother loved to tell stories. Though many were true accounts of her adventures as a young girl, they came with the warning: Don't let me catch you doing that.

I think she would have enjoyed and been proud of my work as a writer.

My one regret or, perhaps, greatest loss is that I didn't have the opportunity to get to know my mother well as a person, as a woman. I think back on the things I would do differently. We all visit the 'if onlys' from time to time. We can't go back. Only forward.

Here's what I carry forward with me when I reflect on what I know to be the best of my mother--a woman who was the eldest of nine children growing up in small coal mining towns in the 1920's and -30's. She was a tomboy who loved baseball. She cared for her younger siblings. She was no stranger to mothering and hard work and giving care. She was daring once. She loved country music, singing and dancing, and the hula hoop. 

I carry her zest for life, her sense of humor, her kindness (though I'm not always as good at that as she was). I carry her with me. I've turned that corner from wanting to be separate to wanting to embrace a relationship that never had the chance to fully develop during her lifetime. I've had only to allow her uniqueness and accept one fact: I'm so much like my mother. Thank God for small favors.

How many times I've said, "Oh, no, I've become my mother." It took all these years to realize that's not such a bad thing after all.

Happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

International Women's Day ~ Should Be Every Day

It's International Women's Day. Not to be confused with National Women's Day which is in August. So we get two days a year to celebrate ourselves. If you're a woman--every day should be women's day. Every day should be a day to celebrate you, your womanhood, your accomplishments, your being.

Take time today to reflect on the greatness that is you, apart from accomplishments. Think about the women who have impacted your life to make you you. Sometimes those are good influences, and sometimes not so much. But those experiences all make you who you are--loving, kind, strong, boundaried, open, talented, driven by desire for something more, happy with what you have. Celebrate it all.

Remember the words to the song: I am woman, hear me roar? Katy Perry echoed the sentiment as well: You're gonna hear me roar. Sometimes that roar comes through in a soft utterance. However you roar, do it. Make your voice heard.

I am, like many of you, struck these days by the scenes out of Ukraine and the women taking up arms--a rifle in one arm, a child in the other. They are literally fighting for their lives. I can't imagine being in their shoes. Take a moment to offer a prayer, an acknowledgment, silence for the courage of those women.

What demands your courage as a woman? What's your struggle to stand firm? What do you have to celebrate today?

Do it. Do it all. Stand in solidarity with other women around the world who have their own particular struggles. Stand with your women-friends who strive to become more themselves. Stand up for yourself as you continue your own journey.

Celebrate you!