The lesson here could be—you never know where or when inspiration will reveal itself. Virginia Sievers was attending a creative writing group, which she joined after retirement, when, “A 90-year-old woman encouraged me to enter a literary contest,” Sievers says. “To my surprise, my entry won first prize. I started ‘playing around’ with stories then, which led to books and now to Callie Sue’s story.”
Sievers has written and published short story collections, including Waiting: A Collective (award winner) and No Dancing in the Kitchen. Her first novel, Sunshine on Water: The Unsettling Story of Callie Sue Hannamann was published in November 2020. The novel follows the aftermath when farm girl Callie Sue, 14, vanishes without a trace.
“Human bondage is in the news, and it’s heartbreaking, so, when [character] Walter’s beloved dog Shep was found in a cornfield with his neck slashed, it prompted me to wonder why, and I hope my readers will wonder why, as well,” Sievers says. “My wondering meandered around and eventually led to Callie Sue’s unsettling story.”
Sievers’s work has a collective thread. “All of my books are about common ordinary people—our friends and neighbors and co-workers, who often have untold but poignant experiences and emotions,” she says.” I try to understand their joys and heartaches. To me, all of my ordinary people are heroes.”
Writing, Sievers says, is one of her passions. “I admit that ‘I’m hooked,’” she says. “I write fiction, and my characters become real in my mind. What I’m working on at the time becomes a full-time endeavor. I get very involved.”
Before becoming an author, Sievers taught in Washington, Nebraska, Bloomington and Minneapolis. She says, “That’s where I learned to be observant—where I learned to see and feel innocence and joy and heartache. That’s where I learned to care.” She was also an administrator for a time.
At 84, Sievers remains motivated. “… There are so many important stories to tell,” she says, and age has offered more than perspective. “Age has brought courage to be more creative in subject matter,” she says. “And age has brought time. I have time to think about what I want to say and time to experiment with style. So all in all, I think I’m a better writer now. And that feels good. Someone told me one should not write if one has nothing important to say. The combination of age and experience provides a wealth of material that is important to say.”
What’s on deck? “I write a short story every month for a writing group here at Trillium Woods, where I live,” Sievers says. “I’d like to put these stories into a collection, Stories Written at Trillium Woods, or something like that. Writing Callie Sue’s story, a novel, was a challenge I feel good about, so I’d like to try a novel again.”