September 27, 2013

Made It Moment: Sandra Hutchison

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:05 am

The Awful Mess

As some of you know, I gave thirteen years of my life to reaching the starting line, to getting a book on the shelf. This Moment contains a partial explanation of why. I first met the author, Sandy Hutchison, at a writers retreat and workshop in the Berkshires. To say that this experience was strange–and momentous–is not to get at all its uniqueness and color. I left with friends who are dear to me after almost a decade, and Sandy is one. When you finish reading, I think you will understand why. Writing is a business of some talent, a lot of perseverance, and most of all, heart. Sandy’s got all three, and I feel privileged to share this Moment, and her friendship.

Sandra Hutchison

My “made it moment” has nothing much to do with success as a writer. I’m still working on that. But it has brought me a different kind of success.

I wrote the first draft of The Awful Mess: A Love Story over a decade ago, during the debate over the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, Gene Robinson. It was read by a number of agents, and I was told it was a good book, but a hard sell. So I put it away and moved on to the next one.

Still, writing it soon changed my life for the better.

You see, my heroine Mary gets into an awful mess that includes a job loss, a mortgage she can no longer afford, and a scandalous pregnancy perfecty timed to destroy a promising new relationship. Throw in her unraveling ex-husband and eventually even her life is at risk. (It’s a twist on The Scarlet Letter, actually, but you don’t need to know that to enjoy it.)

When she’s at her most isolated, Mary takes an older friend’s advice and starts volunteering in a local food pantry. And she finds great satisfaction in doing so, even as she dreads the day she’ll need help herself.

Now, I’m as prone to fantasizing about my imminent success as any writer. One day in the shower, I found myself wondering what I would say if an interviewer asked me about my own volunteer efforts.

Um… would PTA and Sunday School count?

Damn. My heroine was doing more for her community than I was. How embarrassing!

Not long after, a small piece in the local advertiser caught my eye. A food pantry needed regular volunteers. So I went to their open house, and I signed up for a regular shift.

Like most volunteers, and like Mary, I soon discovered that I got way more out of it than I gave. Perhaps most of all, I got to feel a part of my community in ways I never had before. (How did she figure that out before I did? I wrote her! Kind of weird, that.)

Anyway, I also got to see up close how many families are struggling. Yes, sometimes people are just messed up. An occasional client clearly feels entitled. But most often, we help people who are having difficult transitions between jobs or homes or relationships or illnesses or disabilities or whatever. Or we see people working over forty hours a week and finding that it’s simply not enough to pay for food, utilities, transportation, and health care. In all cases, the groceries we give — a week’s supply per month at most — simply help to tide them over.

That’s why during September, which is Hunger Action Month, I’m dedicating my net book earnings for the the month to Feeding America via this virtual campaign page.

This is coinciding with a special 99-cent offer for The Awful Mess: A Love Story (Sheer Hubris Press, June 2013). (Yes, I recently decided to publish it myself. You can sample early chapters free on the book’s Amazon page).

Naturally, I’m also hoping this promotion will help me get the word out about this ebook. Here’s my request: If you give it a try while it’s at this bargain price, and enjoy it, would you consider donating a little something in non-perishables to your local food pantry (or Feeding America, or another charity that helps people who are food-insecure)?

Heck, would you consider contributing something even if you never look at my book? There are families in your community or somewhere not too far away that need that help right now.

And thank you, Jenny, for letting me share this. (This lovely blog is clearly another example of helping others!)

For two decades, Sandra Hutchison’s career has shifted between teaching, writing, editing, marketing, and advertising, all of which she enjoys. She founded Sheer Hubris Press in 2013 in order to publish her novels and try using all of these skills at the same time. (With a few months under her belt now, she doesn’t necessarily recommend that you try this at home.)

Born and raised in the Tampa Bay area, Sandra survived a snowy December transplant to Greenfield, Massachusetts in high school and has stayed in cooler climes ever since. She is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and has an MA in fiction writing from the University of New Hampshire. She currently lives with her husband and son outside of Troy, New York, where she teaches writing at Hudson Valley Community College.


  1. This struck such a chord with me. Feeding the hungry is a mission dear to me. I give every chance I get, even though my husband and I are both out of work and living for the moment on savings. But when I shop and I can still afford too, I cannot ignore the reality that others are in a much more dire position than mine. I am especially upset at the thought of children going hungry. What really gets me is when I give at our local food store and the clerk is actually surprised and comments, “thanks, you’re the first person to give all day.” I know that I will seek out to help at a shelter when our life is better organized, but for the moment I do what I feel we should all, to consider the community of humans your extended family.

    I bet your book, by the way, is fabulous. I’ll go and check it out. :-)

    Comment by Karyne Corum — September 27, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

  2. Sandra, what a wonderful post and so inspirational. I have come across a number of people here in the UK of late, who are having to rely on what we here call Food Banks, and it is appalling in this day and age that even those with two incomes are forced to accept this helping hand.

    The last time I came across anything like this was back in LA when I lived there and we decided to do a series of gigs to help those who were suffering after the LA Riots, in 1993. We told people to come to the gigs, not with money but with food, cans, packets and so forth and donate as much as they could instead of buying a ticket.

    We were really happily surprised at the response and the collection of food was overwhelming. People are generous and are willing to help whenever they can and sometimes they just need to be asked or nudged a little.

    Thanks so much for reminding me to check and see if they need volunteers where I am. I have been caught up in my own woes of late, suffering from some nasty injuries, but I can still stand and hand a bag to someone (one handed I admit) or at least point to one so they can lift it themselves.

    Good luck and much success with your writing and book sales and if you send me a live link to your page/book etc I will add it to my author page and help promote it there. – thanks Jenny, so uplifting.

    Comment by Jane Risdon — September 27, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

  3. Thank you, Karyne and Jane. Karyne, I think it is often is people who live close to the edge themselves — or have at some point — who most understand why this is important. Jane, I’m a little depressed to hear that you need food banks in the UK, too! The UK link for the book is — and that’s such a generous offer — thank you!

    Comment by Sandra Hutchison — September 27, 2013 @ 3:52 pm

  4. Hello Sandra, this is a terrific way to “pay it forward”. When DOG ISLAND was published, I dedicated all royalties from the book to Operation HeartF.E.L.T. (Feeding Empty Little Tummies).

    A local elementary school has a large number of students who are on subsidized lunch programs. But what do they eat after school, during holidays, or throughout the summer break? Operation HeartF.E.L.T does what it can to fill this void, and my wife and I are pleased to contribute to this worthwhile program.

    It thrills me to know that others feel the same. A tip o’ the hat to you, Sandra.

    Comment by G Thomas Gill — September 27, 2013 @ 10:04 pm

  5. Great post. I donate a portion of the profit from An Uncertain Refuge and Sea of Regret to the Wildlife Center of the North Coast and I contribute to Food Drives and Habitat and other programs here in Vancouver, WA. But I should do more. I need to do more. Now that I’ve read this, I WILL do more.

    Comment by Carolyn J. Rose — September 27, 2013 @ 11:10 pm

  6. Thanks so much, G Thomas and Carolyn — I have to say that one of the real delights of doing this has been meeting other people who also put some of their book profits towards good causes. And most authors are out there helping in one way or another, I find — you can’t really have the kind of empathy that allows you to write fiction without being able to imagine other folks’ hardships. I consider myself fortunate to be in a situation that allows me to do it this way.

    Comment by Sandra Hutchison — September 29, 2013 @ 11:04 am

  7. I shared your links on my page earlier in the week, do pop back and add anything you need or any updates Sandra. Good luck.

    Comment by Jane Risdon — September 30, 2013 @ 5:45 am

  8. What an amazing story! Such a wonderful example of giving back to one’s community. I’ll be getting the book on my kindle, and I’m not really a kindle person, but it’s so worth it. Can’t wait to read it!

    Comment by D — September 30, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

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