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Daily Inspiration: Meet Libby Belle

Today we’d like to introduce you to Libby Belle.

Hi Libby, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I was raised in a one-bathroom family. And there were seven of us! As a starry-eyed child with music composer parents, all of us were urged to find our creative side. For me, acting was fun and a natural way of expression. My sister and I spent our entire childhood performing slapstick for the family. But I so loved the private world of writing and how it gave me a sense of purpose. I did my share of both through college until I was swept off my feet by a 6’5” hunk of Prince Charming who convinced me that it was our job to populate the world with six children. My purpose was now etched in stone. No time for serious writing, but there was plenty to write about. During those precious and productive years, I somehow managed to write small pieces for local newspapers, and my annual Christmas newsletters were a hoot! But I always wanted more. I wanted to be the next Erma Bombeck and then later, the weird side of Nora Ephron. My fantasy was to work with filmmaker John Hughes, (Sixteen Candles, Uncle Buck, Trains, Planes and Automobiles…) In the middle of the night – when all was peaceful and the teens were locked inside, and when I should have been catching up on some much-needed sleep – I wrote short stories, poems, and unfinished screenplays. It wasn’t until my flock flew the nest that I had the freedom to take my love for writing seriously.

But along with my newfound freedom came that crazy inevitable midlife crisis, when I turned my energy toward light-hearted stuff, like booking local bands and songwriting. I even promoted a classical community orchestra. Throughout it all, my passion for writing was still boiling in my blood, waiting for me to settle down. As fate would have it, a parent’s worst nightmare collapsed my world when one of my beautiful children died. There are no words to describe the loss of a child, except to say – for the first time in my life, I felt myself dying. My oldest son, Jake Bryer, had successfully opened Austin Art Garage, a haven for emerging local artists. Helping others drove him to become a popular photographic artist. Jake sensed that mom was in deep trouble, and he instinctively stepped in to help me move through my sinking grief. He connected me with the editor of a new magazine, Beyond Art and More, and from there I spent a year interviewing some of Austin’s finest such as, the guitar king -Monte Montgomery; Joe Ables – Saxon Pub owner; Shady Grove and KUT radio. Artists such as George Hampton, Walter Stewart and Cuban artist Luis Abreux poured out their hearts to me. For the time being, writing about other people kept me from losing myself to sadness and launched my writing career, at the ripe age of 58.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
There’s no such thing as a smooth road if you live a full life. When the magazine gig ended, the Bandaid fell off, and I returned to the opened arms of grief. It seems that it’s never far away, it just lies dormant…lurking…waiting to join forces with guilt. I hated what it did to my soul, and it was hard hiding it from my family. Knowing my grief would last forever, I had a lonely, painful journey ahead of me that I thought no one else could possibly understand until a stranger invited me to attend a “Loss of a Child” grief group where I learned to grieve differently by sharing. No longer alone, stripped of my ego, that heart-opening experience with others suffering in the same private hell saved me from despair and taught me how to embrace my sadness. It was and still is an ongoing battle. But soon my passion for writing was restored and once again, I found refuge in words. They poured out of me as if my life depended on them. I wrote relentlessly, day and night, until finally exhausted, I was faced with the hardest question of all, “Is my writing worth publishing?” I put away the stories and started reading. I read tons of books looking for the answer. It was when I read Ray in Reverse by the Big Fish author, Daniel Wallace, that I reached out. Without illusions and nothing to lose, I wrote Daniel an email, and in a few words, I told him that I needed to know from a seasoned author, not a family member or friend, if I should continue my writing dream. I even sent him a story.

Of all the nerve! That he responded to this unknown writer, still amazes me to this day. His encouragement and these simple but meaningful words sent me back to the writing table: “The hardest thing to do as a writer is to find that thing that makes you different from all the rest. But once you find it, you’re set for life.” Find my tone, find my tone, find my tone! My mission was undisputedly clear. Within two years I completed ninety-nine stories, over 315,000 words, four books worth, and I was even bold enough to design my own covers. Then I believed, with a healthy dose of doubt, that I was ready to publish. But first, I needed to be taken seriously, so I began submitting individual stories to magazines. Rejections were disappointing, but I would not let them slow me down because frankly, time was not on my side. Then it occurred to me to submit my work outside of my own country. Woman’s Weekly UK, a 105-year-old magazine dedicated to short stories, was the answer to my prayers. I’ll never forget receiving the acceptance letter by snail mail in a thin brown paper package with a handwritten address. It was indeed most humbling and moving, and to top it off, they paid me. And to think, I had to reach across the ocean blue to get my first published story! They accepted three more after that, and I was on my way to writing for the rest of my life.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
If I wanted to continue writing, eating out, and indulging in good wine, I needed to keep up my income as the professional real estate agent, Libby Bryer. I am proud of those 22 years bringing buyers and sellers together, and although it cost me writing time, believe me, I took lots of notes for the stories to come. I write by my given name, Libby Belle. I’ve been known to write in bars, coffee shops, airports, and public places where I meet some of the most intriguing characters who willingly share their amazing stories. I draw on their words, along with my active imagination stemming from a childhood with four quirky siblings, and the many exciting years raising my own half-dozen. And now with ten fabulous grandchildren, I’m stocked for life. I cook up my stories like a recipe for stone soup: start with some basic facts, add a dash of truths, stir in a cup or two of exaggerations, sprinkle a big pinch of blatant lies, and slowly simmer until thickened into juicy sharable fiction. Garnish with love, serve with bread and wine, and the stories are quite tasty. Thank goodness that today, the short story is popular again. My first collection, The Juicy Parts and other Quirky Stories was just published by Adelaide New York. Three more books are ready to follow: A Woman Always Knows, Humble Fumble and Happy Hour Fools. In each book I feature a special section, BM (Bathroom Material) just for you wonderful members of the Throne Reader’s Club.

The crisis has affected us all in different ways. How has it affected you and any important lessons or epiphanies you can share with us?
Besides that I look awful with gray roots, and that stretch pants don’t do me any favors? Because a writer loves to be isolated with a laptop and an excuse for coffee and pastries, social distancing has made that easy for me. Yet, I have found that feeling death and fear all around me compounded by the ugly political atmosphere has greatly disturbed my creative mind. So, as a big fan of the Golden Rule, I’m taking this raw energy outside and preparing for my next project, collaborating with other new and emerging writers. There are several profound morals to my story, but my message is simple. “Get off your arse my friends, reach out, and do what you love. Give it all you’ve got!”

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Image Credits

Kara Quinn Rea

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