Sally Stuart assists fellow writers in her books and speaking at conferences
Although Summerfield resident Sally Stuart has more than 40 years experience as a freelance writer, the truth is she never planned to be a writer.
"I was never one of those people who dreamed of becoming a writer," she said. "For that reason, some may think it was an accident that I became a writer, but looking back I believe God simply picked me up and threw me into it - knowing that's where I needed to be."
Growing up in St. Helens, Sally got married three months after graduation from high school and had three children with her first husband during their 27-year marriage, and she now has eight grandchildren.
"I was a stay-at-home mom in 1967 when I wrote my first article," she said. "I knew nothing about writing - the article came out of my frustration and need for more volunteers in my church. Eventually it was submitted to my denomination's national magazine and accepted, and I was paid $6 - not much by today's standards, but in 1967 it was a bonanza for a stay-at-home mom with no income of her own.
"It was enough to keep me writing and submitting to larger and larger publications as my skills improved. No one was more surprised than I was when I went on to sell nearly everything I ever wrote."
Sally kept writing and getting paid for the next six or seven years until she quit for a while when her kids got older and needed more attention. Then she was drawn back to writing when she attended her first writers' conference in Portland.
"At church, because I was so involved in Sunday school, most of my early writing was either for children or how-to materials for Sunday-school teachers," she said. "After writing dozens of articles for Christian education publications, I wanted to move on to writing Christian education books... and I went on to write seven of those books. Not long after I started writing, I also started teaching at writers' conferences - teaching others how to write for publication."
Sally realized that those writers were always looking for places to sell their writing, so she came up with the "Christian Writers Market Guide," which has been called the most comprehensive resource on the market for everyone involved in Christian writing, from agents and editors to publishers, publicists and writing teachers.
"I wrote the first edition on a typewriter, but when it was time for the first update, I knew I had to learn how to use a computer - something that scared me to death," said Sally, who published the guide annually for 26 years and earned her national recognition. She also has been honored with several writing awards over the years, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.
"In 2011, after doing the guide annually for 26 years, I decided 26 years was long enough to do anything, and it was time to sell it and let someone else carry it forward," said Sally, who sold the rights to Jerry Jenkins, a nationally known writer, editor and publisher.
"I never had to self-publish, although the guide had several different publishers over all those years," she said. "The writers guide was, and still is, the only one of its kind available for this market."
In addition to the 26 annual editions of the market guide, Sally has written seven Christian education books, plus a children's picture book, how-to books and resources on writing - a total of 38 books, so far.
"People always ask if I write fiction, she said. I did write a Western novel - with a co-author who did the plotting, plus six additional novels he plotted - but the reality is that I have a non-fiction mind. I think inside boxes, but if someone comes up with the plot, I can write fiction - and have even taught classes on how to write fiction.
Sally just signed a contract for her next book, "The Writing Life Defined - A to Z."
"This one is basically a 'writers encyclopedia' that will be available as both a hard-copy book and an ebook... and will be out in about a year, she said.
In addition, Sally has created a perpetual calendar with a writing tip for each day.
"Looking back over all the writing I've done, it is soon obvious that I am first and last a how-to writer," she said. "Most everything I've written has been to help others achieve their goals - whether it was Sunday school teachers or writers. I still evaluate contracts and book proposals for writers who don't have an agent...
According to Sally, at this point in her career, she enjoys being a facilitator for other Christian writers, adding, "I have taught all over the country, mostly at Christian writers' conferences. There is one in California that I do every year for professional writers. Typically, I teach business-related subjects related to writing such as marketing, book contracts, book proposals, copyright law and income taxes."
She likes that she is her own boss, and "I can do what I want when I want - especially now when I don't have to write full time as I have in the past."
Sally has been a member of Oregon Christian Writers for 40 years, wrote a marketing column for a national writers' magazine for more than 40 years, and now writes question-and-answer columns for three writers' periodicals.
On the home front, she started and writes a popular monthly newsletter for her Summerfield homeowners association called "FYI."
As fulfilling as her career has been, her story would not be complete without introducing her husband of 27 years - Norm Wilson, who is a painter with a wicked sense of humor.
"We laugh a lot," Sally said.
Born in Placerville, Calif., Norm started school in Los Angeles and finished in Houston before moving to Oregon and becoming a deputy with the Marion County Sheriff's Office.
"After a while, I got tired of being a cop and went to Oregon College of Education, graduating with a degree in general studies," said Norm, who went on to work at different jobs, including Pacific Power & Light and Pacific Northwest Bell, before going into business for himself as a remodeling contractor.
"I loved tearing other people's houses apart," Norm said. Fortunately he's just as good at putting them back together.
Norm didn't take up art seriously until after they married. He prefers working with colored pencils or watercolor in a wide variety of techniques, and he particularly likes painting old barns and lighthouses but is also good at portraits. A number of his works line the walls of their home.
So how did a remodeling contractor and a Christian writer meet?
Ever the kidder, Norm's version is, "I fell off a bar stool, and she picked me up."
Sally tells it slightly differently: "Three friends and I started a business that trained people on how to write and speak effectively in the business world. We had regular training sessions, and Norm was one of the participants. Unfortunately the business came to a halt when one of the gals unexpectedly left the area.
"I was calling everyone to let them know the next session wouldn't be held as planned. When I called Norm, his response was, 'Well, I guess if I'm going to see you again I'll have to ask you out.' I said, 'I guess so.' And he hung up! Fortunately he called back a couple of days later, and we had that date."
Their first date was Feb. 12, and he brought her a bouquet of carnations; the flowers must have done the trick as they were married nine months later.
And that is the story of how a Christian writer and an irreverent contractor/painter got together and are still laughing 27 years later.