Q&A Among Friends

I receive lots of mail each morning. I have compiled some of these emails together and presented them in a generic Q-and-A format, like I sometimes do. So let’s get started:

Q: Hi, Sean, I hate your stories. I don’t like you. I am an angry person who squashes bugs and waxes the steps of nursing homes for laughs. You, sir, are an idiot, your writing stinks.

A: Hey, thanks. I’m not exactly a huge fan of your writing, either.

Q: Howdy, Sean. Longtime reader, first time emailer. How do you go about finding stuff to write about?

A: Long ago, believe it or not, I used to go to Kmart for material inspiration, but then Kmart closed.

Q: Kmart?

A: Yes. We had a great little Kmart in town. When I began writing this column, I would hang out at Kmart before work because my friend Jay was an employee and gave me free nachos and ICEEs.

Q: So what happened?

A: What happened was Kmart, a sacred American pastime, founded 122 years ago in 1899, a company which used to operate 2,100 stores nationwide, shut down their stores. Currently, there are 34 Kmarts remaining in the U.S.

Q: Really?

A: Thirty-four.

Q: So where do you get material now?

A: Beer.

Q: Be serious.

A: Okay, well, I write seven mediocre columns each week. Meaning: finding human stories is my full-time pursuit. I dig for them anywhere I can.

Q: What do you look for in a story?

A: Nostalgia is a big one. But perspective is the most important thing to me. With the right perspective it’s possible to find something great in any event. My mama taught me that.

Q: So do you keep a journal or what?

A: You bet. Early on I realized I’d better start carrying a journal because producing a daily column is not a part-time job.

When I started traveling a lot, the journal became more important than the trip itself. I meet many people when I travel, and they all have a story. I have U-Haul boxes full of notebooks.

Q: How do you get strangers to tell you their stories? Don’t they think you’re a weirdo for asking questions?

A: You’d be surprised how many people want to talk about themselves. You’d be more surprised at how few want to listen.

Q: Don’t you get tired of listening?

A: Nope. And this is also something you can blame on my mother.

When I was a kid, Mama couldn’t go anywhere without someone telling their life story. She’d listen for hours to someone bearing their soul in a Piggly Wiggly aisle and never once look at her watch.

My mother could make friends with anyone. One time I got home to find my mother in the den with two Jehovah’s Witnesses who she’d roped into helping her fold laundry and vacuum.

Q: Shut. Up.


Q: So, what’s the hardest part about writing your columns?

A: Hate mail. I wake up each morning and my inbox is a free-for-all. Mostly, I get beautiful emails from kind people—Miss Sheila, I’m looking at you. Lynn Thomas, you too.

But some messages come from folks who say ugly things, and although a stranger’s words shouldn’t hurt me, words are like bee bees. The smallest ones hurt like a mother.

Q: Why are people so mean?

A: God, I wish I knew.

Q: Do you think we’re living in an unprecedented angry era?

A: No. Truthfully, I think some people act mean because they get bored.

I once read about an experiment wherein psychologists placed one participant alone in an empty room without stimuli for long periods and gave them two options:

A participant could either (a) sit and do nothing, or they could (b) painfully shock themselves with electricity.

After only a few minutes of boredom almost all participants chose to shock the living horse spit out of them themselves.

In short, people will do anything to stay entertained.

Q: So how do you deal with haters?

A: I write ridiculous Q-and-A columns.

Q: What about positive comments? Shouldn’t you focus on those? Shouldn’t nice words cancel out the bad ones?

A: In theory, yes. But allow me to answer with an illustration.

One time at my 6th birthday party my cat, Richard Petty, pooped in our Kool-Aid punchbowl. After that, no amount of sugar could save the Kool-Aid.

Q: Okay, I think I just figured out why you get negative mail now.

A: Glad to have you with us.

Q: So then why write stories? What drives you? Does someone pay you to do this?

A: Don’t make me spit PBR through my nasal passages. Nobody pays me for this verbal shipwreck.

Q: Then why do it?

A: Because I grew up beneath the shadow of some pretty hard times.

I’ve written a lot about my past, so I won’t rehash it here. But a crummy childhood changes you—not always for the better.

Thus, I made it the pursuit of my adult life to write stuff for that fatherless kid out there who thinks nobody loves him. Because I love him.

Q: So how much money do you make per year?

A: Excuse me?

Q: Come on, tell me about the cheddar.

A: You’re kidding.

Q: Do I look like I’m kidding?

A: Okay. Moneywise, I live on a rural street with double-wide trailers, feral cats, and abandoned sofas which our garbage truck refuses to confiscate.

We drive beat up cars—my wife drives a 2004 Dodge with a screwed up transmission. My truck is a rusted Ford. And I am the luckiest man alive.

Q: Lucky? Why do you say that?

A: Because I get to write. When I was a kid, adults would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up and I used to answer, “I wanna write.”

The adults would always pat my head like I’d just said that I wanted to be an astronaut.

Therefore I’ve always been fully aware that low-rent guys like me don’t often become writers in the caste system of the world.

But here’s the thing: Through some quirky miracle, this blue-collar guy actually became a writer. So, yes, I feel like I won the lottery.

Q: The lottery? Isn’t that going a little overboard?

A: Not really. Because among the daily negative mail I receive, I also get a jackpot of messages from hardworking people who remind me of my mother.

Like the single mother of three who emailed this morning and said: “You make me feel like I’m not white trash, thank you. I have decided to write a memoir for my kids.”

Q: Well, that’s pretty cool. I wonder what that lady’s story is.

A: She is an employee at one of the 34 remaining Kmarts.


  1. Wendy Lowe - May 16, 2021 6:59 am

    I’m laying here and can’t sleep – so of course I scroll through my email … probably the worst thing to do if you’re trying to sleep… anyway my first thought after reading about your hate mail was a message I got from someone regarding some terrible political stuff we have going on locally. I won’t dull you with the details – but they said they like to think people are inherently good… see I’m real skeptical of that – family members steal their siblings inheritance – ‘friends’ leave their overdosing friends to die – and I could go on and on. I truly do know some amazing people in this world, but I don’t think they’re inherently good and they don’t think they are either – but they walk away from evil daily and follow Jesus daily to stay that way… and I truly pray a few of those people will meet your email haters and show them Jesus.

  2. Rose White - May 16, 2021 8:43 am

    Seam, I look forward to reading your columns every morning. I’ve been in a lot of pain recently and your columns always brighten my day. You’re the first thing I read in the morning! I’m reading right now at 4:40 am. Sometimes it’s 2 or 3 am, whenever the pain keeps me awake. But you always brighten my day (or night). Keep up your good work.

    • Teka Pierce - May 16, 2021 12:29 pm

      Love your writing. Keep it up. God bless you and yours.

  3. Billie Padgett - May 16, 2021 9:44 am

    4:36 a.m. and I am checking to see what Sean has to say. You are one of the very few writers of whom I will read a whole column of Q’s and A’s. But I just did. I’m sorry about the haters. I hope today there are more of “us” than “them.”

  4. Kemie Brown-Vansant - May 16, 2021 10:16 am

    Dear SOS, One time I wrote that you made a grammatical error. It wasn’t a criticism. Really. I just do that. To everybody. All the time. I do love your writing and have recommended your books to the two friends I have left. All the best to you, sir.
    (There’s another one ⬆️ there.)

  5. Anthony O. - May 16, 2021 10:27 am

    I love your stories, Sean. Keep on keeping on…

  6. Michael Morello - May 16, 2021 10:32 am

    You crack me up!

  7. blindpigandtheacorn - May 16, 2021 10:44 am

    Thank you for what you do; thank you for putting a positive spin on life; thank you for being content and knowing you’re blessed; thank you for the daily smile.

  8. stephenpe - May 16, 2021 11:10 am

    Best column yet. I now have a new hero. I also feel like the luckiest man alive. Kmart and Icees…………I spent a small fortune in the one just up the road from me.

  9. Pam Duncan - May 16, 2021 11:18 am

    Pretty darn good punch line today.

  10. Nell Richardson - May 16, 2021 11:20 am

    Sean, my question is if that nasty man hates you so much, why does he keep reading your blogs?
    I love you!

  11. Kitty - May 16, 2021 11:31 am

    You are a treasure in my life.Your gracious outlook, your love of others, your kindness. – inspired me to found the Kindness Project of Tampa Bay. We inspire others to spread kindness, share kindness stories of others and give back to the world. To be a part of “the solution”. Not of “the problem”. God bless you Sean. You are a pillar of the world!

  12. Bob Brenner - May 16, 2021 11:47 am

    Kmarts were the best. I liked a girl in junior high school and we would spend hours just walking around a Kmart near her home. We could walk to it and never got ask to leave. Young love was magical ❤️

    • Ann - May 16, 2021 2:07 pm

      Your sweet young love was the blue light special!!!!

  13. TJ - May 16, 2021 11:48 am

    I am truly fascinated that hateful people 1. Take the time to read your columns 2. Take the time to write poisonous responses and 3. Think someone really cares about their opinions. These are truly miserable, unhappy individuals who hide behind electronic communication. I know it stings, but please note that they are the true bottom feeders of our society.
    I look forward to reading your column every morning like clockwork.
    Keep up the great work.
    Hug Jaime and your dogs and remember, a day above ground is a great day.
    TJ (A very seasoned fan)

  14. Tina - May 16, 2021 12:02 pm

    Dang, Sean! I didn’t realize you’re such a warrior. Keep on keeping on. I love my morning read and cry. Your stories fill me full of gratitude. Thanks for sharing this. I had no idea there were so many haters. The world needs you!

  15. Leigh Amiot - May 16, 2021 12:05 pm

    The meanies just need to get out paper and pen or go to their computer and start writing their own stories. I imagine some of them could write some good ones if they would quit being jealous of you because you do. And thank you for acknowledging the ordinary people, there’s an awful lot of us out here!

  16. David McClellan Jones - May 16, 2021 12:07 pm

    Ignore the haters, if you can. Your writing inspires me to be a better person. Every darn day. Keep going.

  17. Karen Holderman - May 16, 2021 12:13 pm

    Sean, I start my day with a cup of coffee and you. Thank you for seeing the human treasures out there and for sharing their stories. You are a gifted writer. I wonder why the haters feel so threatened by what your writing. Hugs to your wife and pup.

  18. peggyhayes - May 16, 2021 12:14 pm

    You are the best at winding up great stories!

  19. MARGARET NAYLOR - May 16, 2021 12:24 pm

    I love your blog💕 ilove you💋 I feel bad when you put yourself down on the some of the interview podcasts I’ve listened to. I know you have worked hard to get where you are. Ibelieve this because I know a lot of people are lifted up because of you. Thank you so much😉

  20. Jan - May 16, 2021 12:26 pm

    Love this! You and your stories light up my life!

  21. Jeri Bishop - May 16, 2021 12:34 pm

    We read you daily, by which I mean every day, and have thus become, without our ever having met you face to face, a third person at our breakfast table every morning. Yesterday, my mother fell in her small apartment not far from us early in the evening and we received word via the monitors of a button that she wears around her neck for just this unhappy eventuality. When we got to her place, an ambulance and two police cars were there and several people inside in her bedroom were doing their best to determine her injuries and get her onto a litter to carry her out to the ambulance. Some of Mom’s neighbors stood outside their units to see what was going on — rubbernecking, some would say — but also to ask if they could do anything to help and meaning it. We learned that she had probably broken her leg, falling when her walker got away from her, and her cries as the EMTs tried to position on the litter clearly bespoke her pain. In short, we wound up at 8 p.m. on Saturday at the ER in LaGrange and stayed there until almost 11, after learning that Mom needed to be transferred to a hospital in Atlanta, at age 97, for surgery to repair the break. We woke up this morning to your column and can tell you that people with a purpose beyond their own concerns are good people, and your column and your focus on others bespeak your purpose and extend far beyond yourself every day. Thank you, every day.

  22. Sonya Tuttle - May 16, 2021 12:37 pm

    FB told me that I am posting comments too quickly, and to slow down. Really???

  23. Sonya Tuttle - May 16, 2021 12:40 pm

    I was apologizing for all the sad folks who take time to write negative comments. I appreciate how you take notice of others and write the profound messages you do. I love your words so much, I went to Amazon and ordered everything you have written. Here is a virtual hug. 🤗

  24. John Steinbach - May 16, 2021 1:24 pm

    Keep listening and keep writing, Sean. You’re a gem in this world of mostly gravel.

  25. Debbie g - May 16, 2021 1:33 pm

    You make my day every day love you and Jamie 😀😀

  26. Maggie Priestaf - May 16, 2021 1:49 pm

    Please, don’t stop writing! Maggie

  27. Ann Robbins Phillips - May 16, 2021 2:03 pm

    Oh how I love this!! In writing, we leave a little bit of ourself behind when we are gone! Not usually a bad thing.

  28. Christina - May 16, 2021 2:48 pm

    Your mama must be so proud of your listening and perspective, Sean, and humor 😉

  29. Tammy S. - May 16, 2021 3:15 pm

    Fellow K-Mart lover over here! My friends have heard me say numerous times, “I miss K-Mart!” Shorter lines, same low prices and the people checking me out always seemed so friendly. Engaging even. Miss reciprocal conversations at K-Mart check-out! A lost art in the check-out lines with self check-out these days. So glad you don’t let the negative get to you, Sean. Hope the voices of the very many who love you and your writings drown out the few who are for some reason lacking in appreciation of your absolute gift to humbly look at life and people and then put into words for all of us to enjoy. Maybe they are jealous. Or as my husband has stated in a particular sermon recently, “hurting people hurt people.” Either way, I feel for them, they are missing the whole point of your writings. They seems to need your encouragement most of all, but you know what they say about leading a horse to water…!! Just keep writing from your wellspring of encounters and experiences and the vast majority of us will continue to read and be filled and refreshed through your stories!!

    PS…great ending! Often I have to slow down and savor the story and not rush to the end where I know some of your best lines are found. I seriously hope that single Momma Of 3 who works at K-Mart reads this and is so encouraged today!!

  30. Bob E - May 16, 2021 4:42 pm

    Wouldn’t you agree that most of the ‘little’ people are really the great people?

  31. Cindy - May 16, 2021 4:46 pm

    I just recently discovered you’re writing And I’m the one that hit the lotto you are amazing and I can’t wait to buy your books and read everything you’ve written you are one talented guy

  32. Michelle Hollis - May 16, 2021 5:02 pm

    I don’t understand why some people are so negative and why they would email you and say not nice things?
    Here is a new word for you
    Funsucker – some people just suck all the fun out of things. I’m glad your not one of those people!
    Love your stories! Keep on writing.

  33. Jackie Lavin - May 16, 2021 5:27 pm

    Dear Sean,
    Everyday you manage to touch my heart and my funny bone. Thank you and I love you too.

  34. Steve McCaleb - May 16, 2021 5:31 pm

    Sean, I think so many people love you because you have the unique ability to put down into a daily column what a whole lot of folks are feeling and thinking….but have no idea how to express. That ain’t no small thing son. Keep it up….you’re keeping a whole lot of hurting people afloat right now.

  35. Wendy Huddleston - May 16, 2021 5:36 pm

    Hi Sean,

    I love your writing! Thanks for answering my questions, even the rude ones. It is now my goal to own all your books.

    Thank you,
    Wendy Huddleston

  36. Wadena - May 16, 2021 6:04 pm

    My day would not be complete without your column. Don’t ever let negative comments stop you from writing; there are too many of us out here that love it!

  37. Linda Moon - May 16, 2021 6:37 pm

    I’m not a fan of that first email writer, either. I’m a fan of your mama. She was a good teacher, as good mamas usually are. Kmarts, Piggly Wigglys (aka “The Pig” in my family), and good listeners are among my favorite things. So, you had a cat named Richard Petty. I assume you were a fan of the NASCAR driver. My two cats are named for two mountain locations I’m a fan of. I’ll be emailing you a thesis of 80,000-100,000 words about LIFE ITSELF with some rambling junk in it, too. So, just delete AFTER reading. Don’t ever shut up, Sean. You’ve got a friend in me.

  38. Sandra Wolfe - May 16, 2021 6:39 pm

    Keep them coming Sean. Keep them coming.

  39. Laurel Johnson - May 16, 2021 6:41 pm

    Sean, my husband and I truly love your comments. Truly some of the old memories about times past are a blessing as so much is long gone. Indeed we were taught to respect others and their property and if bad language came out of our mouth, so did lots of bubbles when we got to taste that bar soap! Times have changed, but you are a blessing. Keep up the good work.

  40. MAM - May 16, 2021 7:48 pm

    peggyhayes said it best! You come all the way around to the beginning or close to it in your stories. That’s a true talent. I can’t seem to do that except extremely rarely! Thanks, Sean!

  41. Holly Field - May 16, 2021 7:59 pm

    Hi Sean. Once my 85 year old mama and I were “fully vaccinated”, I decided to take her away for a couple of nights, just the two of us. Without being able to see her as much in 2020, I’d become acutely aware that although she’s in good health right now, her days on this earth are numbered. It breaks my heart to write those words but my brain knows it’s true. Somehow I never imagined that as a 60+ year old, I’d still wonder how I’d make it without my mama in my life. COVID made me see that I need to make really good use of the time we still have together.
    You see, back in 1967, my father was a Major in the Army. He was a helicopter pilot and when I was 7 he was sent to Vietnam. He’d only been gone when my mama got a visit from two Army officers early one morning. My daddy had been killed in a helicopter crash, flying to pick up some soldiers who were stranded and needed help. He was only 32. My mama was also 32, now a widow with two kids ages 7 and 9.
    I wasn’t until I was grown that I realized I was raised by a woman who is practically a saint. Even though she’d lost the love of her life, she knew she had to be strong for the only part of him she still had, my brother and me. She spent the next couple of years after his death finishing her college degree and became a teacher. And she raised my brother and me well.
    When I married the love of my life at age 18, I’d begun to realize that I knew very little about my daddy. I have very few memories of him. But I was young and knew there would be plenty of time in the future to learn all the things I yearned to know. I’ve now been married for 43 years, raised four children and have 7 grandchildren. During COVID, I realized that I needed to ask all the questions I still had, because my mama is the only person left on earth who could answer them.
    I’m glad you’re such a good listener Sean, and hope you’re still there. And yes, there is a reason I’m telling you all of this. I feel like knowing some background is important. During the time we spent alone, without life’s usual distractions, my mama told me all about my daddy. We shed lots of tears and read letters they’d written each other, most of them written as they were falling in love. At some point during our time together, something was said that reminded her of you. She pulled out her iPad and read me your post from that day. It brought on more tears. Tears from the kind of laughter that is good for the soul and makes it hard to make it to the bathroom in time. She loves you and the stories you tell. Since that day, I’ve been reading and loving your stories too. Every column takes me back to those tears of joy my mother and I shared that day. You are a welcome light in a world that is often feels full of darkness.
    I come from a family of talkers (obviously). You’ve taught me the importance of listening. Thank you for that and for writing stories that always touch my heart in one way or another. So ignore the haters and know that you’re touching the hearts of countless people every single day. By the way, I hope you plan to keep writing for a long time because someday my mama will be in heaven, back in the arms of my daddy. But I know that reading and laughing and crying with you will always take me back to the day my mama introduced me to you. So you will help me learn to adjust to life without her. Thank you in advance and God bless you.

    • Sheri K - May 16, 2021 8:57 pm

      Wow, Holly, your comments are worthy of Sean’s column/writing!

      • Holly - May 17, 2021 1:33 am

        Thank you, Sheri! You just made my day. 🙂

  42. Bill Harris - May 16, 2021 8:57 pm

    Your stories always make me laugh, or cry. Sometimes both. But like Truvy always says… laughter through tears is my favorite emotion. Thank you Sean.
    Bill Harris

  43. Susan Ferris - May 16, 2021 9:06 pm

    Hi Sean, Yesterday was a BEAUTIFUL day in Nebraska. I went to visit my mother-in-law at her Senior Living apartment. Outside at the entrance was a woman sitting in a chair. I said, “Isn’t it a beautiful day?” to her and she said, “well, maybe for today” in a sour voice. I went in the elevator with a second woman. I said that same, “Isn’t it a beautiful day?” to her and she responded, “Yes! I got to sit outside in the courtyard and listen to the birds singing today. It was such a treat.” I’m still marveling at the difference in the two. I’ll take appreciation for the sweet moments in life that money can’t buy every time. My experience reminded me of you. You write those moments for us every day and I love you for it.

  44. Jannie Bryant - May 16, 2021 11:15 pm

    Your column is one of the highlights of my day, and has been ever since I stumbled across it one day. I have some really wonderful things going on right now. I am also waiting to have back surgery in August (Medicare). I am a temporary invalid because of stenosis and arthritis which are basically the same thing and I had to google arthritis to spell it correctly. I digress. I sincerely hope you receive more positive than negative communication. So many people these days become bullies, hiding behind their keyboards. The Lord will take care of that at some point in time. Please don’t ever stop writing. I think there are alot of people out there who look forward to your writing, probably many more than I do. You find a way to put that out there 7 days a week without fail. That is hard work. God Bless you Sean. And Jamie.

  45. John W Phelps - May 17, 2021 12:52 am

    Just read your latest novel, The Incredible Winston Browne, and found it thoroughly remarkable in every way! As a guy born in Indiana over 70 years ago, I’ve always considered myself more of a southerner than a midwestern boy. My wife and I retired to the Charleston, SC area about ten years ago and wouldn’t trade this lifestyle or these southern people for anything. This is the first time I’ve written an author to tell him how much I liked his writing. You truly capture the hearts of all small town people in this book.

    My dad always seemed to use to use two phrases that I never knew the meaning of and haven’t heard anyone else use in all my 72 years – until I saw them in print in your book. The first is “horse’s patoot” and the second is “Crime in Italy!” First, I have no idea where the horse’s PATOOT is to be found. And for all these years I thought my dad was shouting “Cryin’ Nitaly! Thanks for clearing that up for me!

    The Incredible Winston Browne is the only Sean Dietrich book in the Charleston Public Library system. I’m going to see if I can get them to add your earlier works. I think all South Carolinians would love to get to know you. Keep writing!

  46. elizabethroosje - May 17, 2021 2:47 am

    Sean I join the chorus of writers here who love your writing. I am so sorry for the haters. That stinks. But your writing, I wait for your column each day….

  47. Frances D Lester - May 17, 2021 3:12 am

    I do love your Mama! She is so right–people love to tell their stories! Especially if you are really interested–also if you are good at keeping confidences!You once quoted a nursing home worker as saying, “Everyone has a story!”
    Bless you for listening and sharing!

  48. Janet - May 17, 2021 3:29 am

    Thank you for writing. I enjoy your columns

  49. Lynn Lewman - May 17, 2021 2:22 pm

    You are God’s blessing to us. You have a gift of reminding us of the good, sweet things, the important things in life and I thank you for that.

  50. Kathy - May 17, 2021 8:47 pm

    I can tell you are a good listener and that you care about people. That’s why you’re an amazing writer.and

  51. Theresa Collins - May 17, 2021 9:50 pm

    LOVE YOU TOO!! Keep on writing by and entertaining and sharing your love!!!

  52. Larry Wall - May 19, 2021 4:03 pm

    Sean – without me saying something that you already know, love is one of those few things in life that, the more that you give away, the more that you have. If you do not have any love you certainly can’t share it with anyone. Love can only come from good and it takes someone who knows good to recognize it in others, I believe. Particularly in strangers. Some in today’s world would try to convince us that many of the people are mean and hateful. Well, those are the people who are full of jealousy and hate. But, thankfully, there are still more of the good out there that we encounter each day. Your writing makes us aware of those good people and that is why we enjoy their stories each day. Truly addictive writing from you.

    Thanks and give Jamie our best regards and thanks for sharing you with us.

  53. Chuck - May 24, 2021 2:14 pm

    Shawn –
    I”m sure by know you’ve heard of “StoryWorth”, the website that asks you a question a week for 52 weeks and then compiles them into a nice hardbound book that they sell to you to give to your kids, grandkids, etc. It really is a brilliant idea…and I assume there are several other sites that do the same thing. Being the cheap bastard I am, I have a friend whose grandkids gave him StoryWorth as a gift (I think it’s $100) who sends me the question every Monday and I’m compiling my answers on my own. It really is a wonderful exercise and worthy of letting your readers know about in case you haven’t already. I’ve just recently started getting your email…so maybe this is old news. Love your heart and how it appears on my computer screen each day!

  54. Gary Steven Paquin - June 10, 2021 7:28 pm

    Sean, I am convinced that if your daily columns were required reading by all politicians we would live in a better world. Keep on writing!


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