Category Archives: Articles

Wise words from a wise man…


Ben Smith & T. L. Criswell

Who is Ben Smith and why should you care? 

His name is Benjamin C. Smith but most people call him  Ben. He and I have worked together for over two decades. Not only is Ben one of my closest, and dearest friends; he is also my mentor, writing coach, and my advisor.

He has a major in Political science and History and taught inside a classroom for fourteen years. However; he’s been teaching all his life.  Some of his proteges are successful in the fields of politics, law, and the arts.

In 2011, I approached Ben with a manuscript and asked for his help. He was highly impressed. Before he accepted, he asked one simple question. “Why do you want to write a book?”  I spoke from the heart.  “Ben, I’m writing for our youth. I just really want to make a difference.” He nodded his head and smiled, as he offered these few simple words of wisdom.

1. If you write to make a difference, the reward would be so much greater than financial.

Being a writer does not necessarily guarantee financial success. Many famous writers like Zora Neal Hurston, (There eyes were watching God), Herman Melville (Moby Dick), Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allan Poe, O. Henry, and countless others all died poor. However, their great works still stand the test of time.

2. Check your Ego at the door.

Ego is part of what made you want to become writer in the first place. That’s good. Learn not to let it get in the way of constructive criticism.

3. Know your audience 

Every reader is not your audience. Once you target your audience, read as many best-seller books as you can in your particular genre and take notes.

4. Study the Greats

“If you want to be like the masters, you must first study the masters.” Writers like William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Toni Morrison, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling along with countless others are considered to be the greatest writers in history. Read and study their work. Learn from them.

5. Be prepared to fail

“Failure teaches more than success.” Successful authors like J. K. Rowling, John Grisham, Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer, and so many others all failed before they succeeded. Success rarely happens over night, and in most cases, it can take up to five years before your book will take root. Be patient. “Cream always rises to the top.”

6. Focus on Quality

“It is better to sell a thousand books 4 times, than to sell 4 thousand books one time.” Don’t be in a rush to publish. Use as many Beta readers, and test readers as you can and listen to them. Family and friends are not always the best critics. They love you, and they are proud of you; they will not tell you that your work sucks!

7. Book Cover 

Book covers should be centered around the theme and offer clues as to what the book is about. A serious book, should have a serious cover.  It should be enigmatic, ambiguous, and thought-provoking. The reader should have a better understanding of the cover after they’ve read the book.

8. Title

In many cases, the title should come last. The title is usually somewhere inside the book. Once the manuscript is complete, read it over, and look for key words, or phrases, and that’s where you will find your title.

9. Be a great listener 

If you want to grow, you must learn to be a great listener. Try and learn as much as you can, from as many people as you can. “You must also learn to listen to those who you don’t always agree with.” You’d be surprised at what you might learn.

10. Remember to have fun

“All glory is fleeting” Learn to sit back and enjoy the ride.

These few words, metaphors, and phrases, has been such an inspiration to me. They are only a fraction of the wisdom, and knowledge that Ben Smith has continued to feed me throughout the years. If I were to jot them all down, I’d have to write a 500-page book.  Never the less, I am forever grateful. They have helped me on this writing journey, and I can only hope that some; if not all, will help you as well.

 ~T.L. Criswell







Parenting is a full-time job, not some part-time gig in which you collect a refund check at the end of the weekend.

Where most people hear words, a casual conversation or small talk, I often see and hear a story. Everyone has a story. Sometimes they’re inspirational, motivational, educational, but very seldom confrontational. I try and block those out. However since I’m interested in growth, I’ve come to learn that growth has no barriers or boundaries. So whenever uneasiness or discomfort tries to slip in and take shelter inside my soul, I have to release.  Even the unpleasant things are here to teach us a lesson.

Short sighted

Just the other day while I was out, I ran into a gentleman that I knew. Our now teenage sons once played little league sports together.

On this particular day, this gentleman and I stopped and made small talk. He cheerfully boasted about his recent vacation, his job as an artist and how he was really enjoying life and couldn’t be any happier. I smiled as I asked my next question, “So how’s your son doing?” His cheerfulness quickly diminished and was replaced with anger and disdain as he responded; “Well I haven’t seen him in a while. My ex-wife and me don’t get along; we can’t stand each other.” He continued with, “For her it’s all about the money. Whenever I get my son on the weekends, she doesn’t want to give me any of my child support payments back.” He then shook his head in disgust and closed with the words, “Do you feel me?” As if him and I were both on the same accord.

I paused as I was taken aback by his ignorance. Frustration suddenly kicked in and before I could bite my tongue I sarcastically responded with, “No I don’t feel you. Didn’t you just brag about how you went out of town over the weekend and how you were so happy?” He let out a half nervous smile and said “Yeah.” I then said, “Well did you have to look for a baby sitter in order for you to take that trip? When you get off work and you’re tired, can’t you just go home and crack open a can of beer and turn on sports center if you’d like?” His smile completely faded. My twisted facial expression along with the anger in my voice couldn’t easily be ignored as I was just getting warmed up. Before I could even utter another word he strategically looked down at his phone in an attempt to extinguish what was quickly turning into an out-of-control burning flame. I took that as a cease-fire and dismissed myself as well as his friendship on social media and politely walked away.

His lack of compassion and understanding for his child and his child’s mother was shameful, selfish and disrespectful. This man was clearly shortsighted; he failed to look at the bigger picture. Parenting is a full-time job; not some part-time gig in which you collect a refund check at the end of the weekend.

Unfortunately he is not alone

On any given day you will read or hear about some angry parent complaining about the court system and the significant amount of money that they pay — in what they consider to be child support. The non-custodial parent (male or female) somehow feel that they’re the one’s getting a bad deal. In some cases this could be correct but in many cases it’s not.

Children should never be viewed as a bill. Writing a check along with weekend visitation is too easy. This should never be considered child support but merely financial support.

Child support is about more than just money. The non custodial parent often times fail to realize the struggles and sacrifices custodial parents make in order to assure that their child’s basic needs are met. I’m referring to doctors’ appointments, helping with homework, preparing meals, science projects, PTA meetings, after school activities, peer pressure, bullying, social gatherings, heartbreak, hormones; not to mention being a disciplinarian, a chaperón, a counselor, a consultant, an advisor, a therapist on top of being a hardworking and loving parent. These things don’t even scratch the surface.

Life as a single parent

Although I am no single parent I can certainly relate to being one. My husband recently left for a business trip and I had to care for our two teenage sons solo for a few days and it was no easy task. I actually had to take a day off work because there was so much that had to be done.

My day started at 5:30 am with me preparing a hot breakfast before I was met with my first obstacle; waking my youngest child (A problem my husband never seem to have). I was greeted with “What time is it? I need a few more minutes. My dad doesn’t wake me up this early. I have to stretch first.” This went on for about 5 minutes before I threatened to make him walk to the bus stop in the cold. After about 45 minutes, we were finally out the house.

When I returned home I had some much needed me time which consisted of a cup of coffee, a 30 minute workout, cleaning the house and washing a few loads of clothes before it was time to get dressed and start my busy day.

I picked the boys up early from school and headed to the orthodontist, then to the pharmacy, the mall for new shoes, we stopped and had lunch, followed by the barber shop, then on to basketball practice for my oldest, his spelling bee afterwards, we went home where I made dinner before we were out the door again taking my youngest son to his basketball practice. Once we made it inside the car and buckled our seat belts my youngest looked at me and said; “Wow mom you sure did a lot today and you’re not even complaining.” I smiled at my son. The fact that he noticed all that I had done made those simple words priceless. If only he knew how tired I really was.

Needless to say, we didn’t make it back inside the house until 9:30 that evening in which I was greeted to a ringing house phone. It was my husband. I had been so busy running all day that I forgot to return his call from earlier. When I heard his voice the only words that I could muster was, “Hello honey I really miss you. Now what time did you say your plane would be landing?”

When I hear non-custodial parents like this gentleman complain about weekend visits and giving financial support, I immediately become frustrated. Our children deserve better. In my opinion there isn’t any amount of money in the world that can replace a physical parent who puts in time and effort.

“It takes a village.” If we are going to build strong children we must set our differences aside and make them our top priority.

Now that’s a story I yearn to write.

~T.L. Criswell