“Why a ‘Liar’ Loves to Get Mail,” column for July 22, 2014

For a writer, it’s a gift to know someone reads your writing. For a storyteller, it’s high praise to hear a story in return. Have I mentioned I love getting mail?

In the mountains where I grew up, storytellers were once known as “liars.” This was not an insult. The tales they told were often more fabricated than factual. But they were entirely true of the human condition, intended not to inform, but to entertain, enlighten and inspire.

I was born into a family of “liars.” My grandparents and parents, my blind baby brother, my aunts and uncles and dozens of cousins, the dogs that slept under the porch, even the fleas that slept on the dogs _ we all told stories. But I never once dreamed that I’d grow up to earn my living as a writer.

The story of how it happened is a long one. The short of it is this: I won a scholarship to college. Got married. Had three babies. Took a job as a file clerk for a newspaper and ended up as a reporter and a columnist.

A lot of other things happened, too, along the way. A life can be summed up in the lines of a resume or an obituary, but it’s lived between those lines.

For 20 years, I’ve written a weekly column and every week, I hear from strangers _ friends I’ve yet to meet _ who read my stories and write in return to tell me stories of their own. They write about their lives, their families, their hopes and dreams, losses and joys and, most of all, their grandchildren.

I wish you could read them.

My great regret is not always having the time to reply (I won’t live that long.) But I read every note, every card, every email, and I appreciate every word. It’s enough to make me keep writing. At least for today.

My stepfather was just a boy when his father was killed in an accident. His mother needed help feeding the family, so he quit school to go to work.

He never learned to read. He married my mother when I was 4. She taught him how to write his name. I remember the look in his eyes the day he realized I was watching him practice.

His illiteracy was a well-kept family secret. We all knew it, but never spoke of it in his presence.

A few years before he died, when I published a collection of columns, I gave him a copy that I had signed and inscribed for him. I’ll never forget it. He held my book in his big calloused hands, studying my name on the cover. I showed him where I’d signed it and read aloud the inscription. I had seen him cry once, the day my mother died. But this time, it was somehow harder to watch. Finally, he looked in my eyes.

“I can’t read a word of it,” he said. “But I will sure treasure it.”

I’ve been blessed by many fine words in my life, but none that meant more than those.

We read and write for two reasons: To know and to be known. It’s been that way a very long time and I hope it always will. It works like this. You take thoughts and feelings from your mind and heart and maybe your soul and fashion them into words. That is called language.

You put the words on paper or a computer, using lines and symbols you trust to carry your meaning. That is called writing.

Then someone you’ve never met will see your lines and symbols and recognize them as words. That is called reading.

Sometimes the words hold the power to recreate the writer’s thoughts and feelings in the mind and the heart and even in the soul of the reader.

That is called a miracle.

Words matter. They tell us who we are. They turn strangers into friends. They can even make us want to keep doing what we do. At least for today.

I told you all that to say this: I am grateful for all your kind words and the stories you write to tell me. I may not always have time to write back and say thanks.

But I will sure treasure it.


  1. Maribeth Clark says

    Hi Miss Sharon…
    I never knew the impact writing, reading and speaking had on this world. I’ve always loved writing and the way I feel when I put my stories and thoughts on paper but I never realized how precious it is to to that. This column is beautiful and has inspired me! thank you Miss Sharon.
    Best wishes, your friend Mia.

  2. Lorrie Bridges says

    Hi Sharon! Greetings from Pacific Grove. We think of you often and I’m thankful you never forget your “roots” here. You were inspiring me years ago I guess. I finally published my first book. You always made it look so easy. HA! Wrong thinking on my part. I’d love for you to read it. I know you’d like it. I probably got some of my style and whit from reading you for years. Amazon “Wet Mittens” by yours truly- Lorrie Bridges Love and hugs

  3. Always enjoy reading your words, even though I don’t always tell you.

    Don’t forget to let me know when you’re near this area, so you can tell a story to my daughter’s second grade class.


  4. Sharon Starns says

    Writing is my way of being creative. Sitting in front of a computer and spinning my stories is both joy and agony. I still remember (cuz it was only a year or so ago) the first time a stranger read one of my books and left a review. Having friends read my stuff is one thing. Having people I don’t know read it and like it is amazing. Scary, but amazing. It keeps me writing.

    • richard zielinski says

      Sharon: your article brought tears to my eyes. You express exactly what I feel when I write my stories. To connect with others is priceless. I published a book called “The short stories of a strange man,” which is on sale on Amazon. I sold 55 books and just recently I received a 4 star review from a stranger. I read it every night. I don’t care if I never get another one. Thank you for the article which was in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. I am happy I discovered you, and I will be a constant fan of your blog.

  5. I feel myself blessed to find columns written by a lovely writer Sharon . I read each one two times just to make sure I did not miss a single word . And every time I read new one is more beautiful than the previous one though each one is unique in its own way having its own story .Thanks for sharing on web site and we can read it again some other day and forward to many friends who love to read . Lot of love and regards . Best wishes for good health and much more for you and family .

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