Writing through the years
By Denise Baran-Unland Correspondent January 24, 2013 11:30AM
Helen Osterman, 83, of Homer Glen is the author of seven books and is currently writing her eighth. SUBMITTED PHOTOS
Updated: February 26, 2013 6:05AM
At 83, Helen Osterman of Homer Glen, a former VA nurse and author of seven books, is hardly ready for retirement.
Osterman is currently writing the next installment in her Emma Winberry Mystery series (Cozies featuring an opera-loving senior citizen sleuth) and promoting her latest two books: “Maker’s Mark,” a stand-alone cozy, and “Emma Winberry and the Evil Eye: A Prequel.”
“Maker’s Mark” is one of Osterman’s first novels, which she had considered “junk” and filed away. Years later, Osterman gave it a fresh look, decided it had merit and began revising it.
Osterman has a tender spot for this story because it merged two unlikely sources of inspiration: a goblet she had purchased at a thrift store for a still life — which Osterman never painted — and short story she read in a century-old magazine.
“Maker’s Mark” is the story of 20-something artist Jo Allison whose home is burglarized after she paints a mysterious goblet into three of her paintings. She learns the goblet might be a priceless artifact when a sleazy antique dealer and a wealthy collector express interest in it.
The climax, Osterman said, takes place on the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago between the roaring lions. She sent the revised copy to an editor friend to work her magic and decided to skip the submission process.
“That can take years,” Osterman said, “so I published it on Createspace.”
When she’s not writing, Osterman attends conferences and library author fairs, participates in a writers’ group, communicates with fellow members in half a dozen organizations (including Mystery Writers of America) and gives presentations about her vast writing and publishing experiences.
Osterman has been published with traditional houses (and received their traditional advances) as well as with small presses. She’s long given up hope of attaining representation by a literary agent or landing a contract with one of the major publishers.
“I think agents aren’t interested in me because I’m an older author,” Osterman said. “I mean, how many more years will I be able to write?”
She’s written short stories, a semi-autobiographical novel about her experiences as a student nurse at the former Chicago State Hospital (in the days when electroshock therapy was performed on alert patients) and a love story based on Osterman and her 91-year-old significant other.
She’s made money and lost money and knows the disappointment of being dropped by a house for not earning out an advance and the thrill of selling tens of thousands Emma Winberry paperbacks through Harlequin’s Worldwide Library Mystery line.
Moreover, Osterman finds time for baking bread and muffins, distributing Emma Winberry muffin recipes at events and oil painting. Four of Osterman’s renditions of the historic Maxwell Street in Chicago are at the Chicago History Museum as part of its permanent collection. She also loves to read and garden.
Osterman does not expect to see monetary wealth from any of these projects, nor does she care. She’d rather write than market — although she can’t talk to anyone without recommending one of her books — and share tips with her other writers, such as the importance of hosting a book launch and writing what you love.
“Don’t target today’s market,” Osterman said. “By the time your book comes out, it will be a different market. Write because you enjoy writing.”
For more information and to order Osterman’s books, visit www.helenosterman.com.