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Susan Brackney Interview : Page 2 of 2

Author and Beekeeper
Susan Brackney

continued from page 1

Q: How do bees inspire and inform your creative work?

A: If I were a worker bee, I think it would be easy to become utterly incapacitated at the thought of all of the work ahead. At one time or other, she will clean and polish waxen honeycomb, tend to larval bees, forage for nectar and pollen, help remove the dead and any other debris from the hive, guard against intruders, and so on. And yet, as far as I can tell, she just keeps her head down and keeps on working. I've been trying to emulate her perseverance.

Rather than be overwhelmed by the enormity of whatever creative project I am pursuing, I've learned to see — and work — like that worker bee. Like her, I must start somewhere, and, so, I do. I start small, and, like a bee, I stick with it, even when things aren't going as well as I think they should. Do that, and, by the time you do raise your head, you'll be amazed at — and spurred on by — your progress.

Q: Aside from getting stung, what are some of the risks and challenges involved in keeping bees?

A: Keeping the neighbors and city officials happy is easily number one. It doesn't take much to get shut down as a beekeeper, unfortunately. It's legal in my town, but there are lots of other places where beekeeping is illegal. I make sure to keep my neighbors knee-deep in honey. So far, they all seem pretty happy with the arrangement.

Of course, there's also always the possibility that, despite your best efforts, your hive dies. That's just part of beekeeping though. It happens to each of us at least once.

Q: What are some of the unexpected rewards of getting to know these unique creatures and spending time with them?

A: I am not a very outgoing person, but when friends, acquaintances — even strangers — ask me about bees, I can't shut up. So, at the very least, getting to know the bees has helped me to be less shy. Also, I'm a little more patient than I used to be. When you work with honey bees, your movements have to be very slow — sort of deliberate and gentle at the same time. You definitely can't rush — not without getting stung. My bees have helped me to be a little less high-strung, a little more mellow.

Q: What have you learned from your time among the hives? What are the life lessons that the bees have to teach us today?

A: That even when things in my own life seem chaotic, I can take comfort in that fact that there is order somewhere. Most of the time, there is order in the beehive. There, everyone has her own job and pretty much sticks to it. Things get done. The place looks nice. I like the thought of that.

As for those broader life lessons, honey bees demonstrate that there is value in hard work and even the smallest of efforts can add up over time. But there is something really serious to consider here, too. In a way, honey bees are the new canaries in the coal mine. We have to pay closer attention and take care not to spoil their — and our — only home. After all, if our environment is no longer as healthy for honey bees as it once was, how suitable can it be for us?

Q: Any words of advice or encouragement for beginning beekeepers and budding writers?

A: Well those two paths may seem kind of disparate, but you have to be fearless to do either one very well. After putting themselves "out there," beekeepers and writers are sort of in harm's way, and they both must suffer their own particular stings. In the case of the beekeeper who is stung, he probably had it coming by being clumsy or careless with the bees. Considering that bees die after deploying their stingers, they really don't want to sting in the first place. As for would-be writers, they've got to face the stings of their critics and nay-sayers. And, at least in the "nay-sayers" category, many of those people do their pooh-poohing because they've been unwilling or unable to pursue their own dreams.

What's more, both beekeepers and writers need to have a good plan, stick to the plan, and execute the plan. In other words? A beekeeper must know ahead of time what it is he intends to do when inspecting his hives. He gathers his tools, keeps himself calm, and is not easily distracted from the task at hand — even when a bee sneaks into his veil and starts walking back and forth across his eyebrows. (Yes, that happened to me!) Likewise, the writer needs to know ahead of time just what it is he intends to say. You'd be surprised at how many writers start writing without knowing exactly what they want to convey and to whom they will convey it! To do so is disrespectful to one's readers, if you ask me.

Finally, neither the new beekeeper nor the new writer should be easily discouraged. There will be disappointments. I have lost entire hives, even though I did all I could to keep my bees happy and healthy. And I have carefully crafted story pitches, articles, and even entire manuscripts only to have them summarily rejected. Yes, it's a bummer, but if you don't keep trying you'll never be a successful beekeeper, writer — whatever you want to be. Oh, and when you do achieve a modicum of success, it is as sweet as a good jar of honey. Maybe sweeter. •

Connect with Susan Brackney

Susan BrackneySusan Brackney's book, Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest-Working Creatures on the Planet, is available through Visit Susan online at

© 2009 Molly J. Anderson-Childers

Molly Anderson-Childers is a a highly creative writer and artist from Durango, Colorado. More »