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Author inspired by love, loss

By Karen Flaten

A writer often has many stories to tell, some from his or her personal life, some from stories he has heard along the way. Bill Green of Paynesville, who has written and self-published several books, shares one humorous story about his time in the U.S. Armed Forces, when he was posted to Germany for three years.

“I don’t know why,” he said, “but one of the sergeants called me Charlie Brown – maybe because my last name was Green, or maybe some other reason.” Bill chuckled, remembering the sergeant.  The nickname stuck.  When Bill met his first wife, the nickname came with him. She was from Germany, and he remembers going to visit her mother in their small village in Germany. A young relative called him ‘Uncle Charlie,’ using his nickname. “But, in Germany,” said Bill, “they don’t pronounce the ‘ch’ sound like we do.  So it sounded more like ‘Scharlie’ to me.”

That was the beginning of a pen name that Bill would use for many of the books he wrote. “I added my mother’s maiden name, ‘Martin,’ and that became my assumed name: Scharlie Martin,” said Bill.  “There are an awful lot of Bill Greens out there - I bet you know someone else with that name…I needed something different.”

Bill with his painting for the novel, Marching as to War. Over the years, Bill has expressed himself through writing and painting. Photo by Karen Flaten

Bill and his family returned to the U.S. after two tours in the U.S. military. Bill was excited about having an opportunity to go to college on the GI Bill. Pursuing that dream, Bill completed a B.A. in English at the University of Minnesota, and then earned a Masters Degree in English from St. Cloud State University. Hoping to teach, Bill applied for several positions, but was not hired on.

Frustrated with the lack of options for a man with a degree, but needing to make a living, Bill fell back on what he had been trained for in the U.S. military. Although he had hoped to join the paratroopers in the army, a diagnosis of flat feet kept him from that occupation, and he was first trained in heating and ventilation, then in electronics. He took a position as a Test Lab Supervisor at a company that made electronics for airplanes. He stayed with the company for several years, eventually becoming a product engineer.

Bill’s first marriage ended after many years, but Bill met a woman who worked in the sales department of the company where he was working. They dated and then married. Bill’s new wife’s life ambition was to own a tax business, so it was not long before they purchased the H&R Block franchise in Willmar. She had achieved her dream - and Bill enjoyed being part of the tax accounting business. From the outside, it looked like the perfect marriage…until the day when his wife said, “Can we talk?” And told him she was leaving him and moving to Florida.

Romantic love is often the catalyst for a story. The themes of love, loss, and renewal have inspired songs, novels, poems and films, as well as many other art forms. Bill took the bewildering time when his perfect marriage suddenly broke up, and turned it into a psychological thriller. “Beware That Old Spoonin’ Moon” is loosely based on the dissolution of his marriage, and Bill’s trip to Florida to try to understand the reasons for the break-up. The fictional story takes quite a twist from this beginning, which makes interesting and exciting reading. And perhaps it was a way for Bill to work out the angst of that confusing time.

After the divorce, Bill began dating again, and eventually met his current wife, Arlene, through answering a personal ad in the paper. Arlene had also been a customer of the tax business, and remembered Bill from there.  

“I thought he seemed like a really nice man,” said Arlene. “I liked him…but, of course, at the time he was married.”

When Bill and Arlene began dating, Arlene was working as an in-home care provider. Bill was surprised to find out that his mother was one of her patients. He was even more surprised to learn that he had met Arlene’s father years earlier, when her father had done some trapping on the farm that Bill’s father owned in the Willmar area. The two seemed to have been fated to meet – through their intertwined families if not some other way.  

In his third marriage, Bill seems to have found a companion who shares his interests as well as his life.  Although she did not try her hand at writing until she met Bill, Arlene soon decided she would like to write also.  According to Bill, Arlene read a few poems and said “I could do that!”  Bill’s reply was, “Put your money where your mouth is!” The result is that Arlene has written several poems, often reminiscent of family or special items, such as My Dad, Mom’s Apron, or The Cardinal. Several of her poems have been published in the Senior Perspective newspaper. Bill has created small books of her poems on his computer, printing them out to share with family and friends. “Mom’s Famous Poems,” “Moonbeams and Dreams” and “My Senior Perspective Poems” are three of the booklets Bill has made of Arlene’s poetry. Two of Arlene’s recent poems, Ice Cream and A Piece of Candy, are based on childhood memories.

Arlene’s poems are spare, every word bringing meaning to the short texts. Like Arlene, they use few words to say so much. A good listener, Arlene asks her questions directly, and keeps her comments to a minimum. 

Bill and Arlene hold the painting for “Annabelle, the Calico Cosmic Cow” series. Photo by Karen Flaten

Arlene and Bill have created a comfortable home together in Paynesville. Sharing interests, they have also combined families, enjoying time spent with their grown children (Arlene was the mother to six, and Bill fathered three boys) and many grandchildren.

For Bill, writing has been a lifelong passion. When he was in school, he had received an award for his writing, but it was in the U.S. Army when Bill found out how much he enjoyed it. “I got hooked on writing while I was in Germany,” said Bill. Evening courses were available for servicemen stationed abroad, and Bill was able to take a writing class through the University of Maryland. It was then that Bill began to find his voice. Although he was inspired to write, sometimes the time to work on his craft was not there. But since he retired, Bill has written many books; some were originally begun many years earlier, and some he started from scratch. Bill has written in a variety of genres – fiction, non-fiction, thrillers, romances, poetry, and even children’s books. Some tell a version of a story from his life; some tell stories that he has heard from others over the years, and some just come from his writer’s imagination.

Bill is currently working on a book he has titled “Just a Sin Away,” which is a departure from the romances and thrillers he has written. Instead, it is based on a true story told to him by a woman whose childhood was marred by a tragic event.

To showcase the books he has published, Bill created a website ( His books can be found both under the pen name and his real name. He has also included Arlene’s poetry on the website.

But Bill does not confine himself to writing the books he has published --  he also creates illustrations, some of which he uses for the covers of the books, and some for the interior illustrations for some of them – especially the children’s books. And some of his artwork is created in order to find the inspiration for a book he wants to write.

“Since I had no art training, I had to just figure it out as I went,” said Bill, about the system he has used to create his illustrations. Bill has used a variety of methods to create his illustrations, including collage and mixed media. For his children’s book series, “Annabelle the Calico Cosmic Cow,” Bill painted the large painting first, and then began writing the children’s book. The method he used for the Calico Cosmic Cow painting and accompanying illustrations was an interesting combination of techniques. He first painted the background, and then painted some cows on a type of paper that has a sticky backing. He cut them out and placed them on the painted background. Other animals were also cut out and placed on the background. The result evokes the works created by Grandma Moses and other American primitive artists.

As in American primitive paintings, the use of perspective, especially in the Calico Cosmic Cow painting, is limited. Objects are also painted in a two-dimensional style, rather than in three dimensions.  In the Calico Cosmic Cow painting, the animals are not painted in proportion, and they are placed in the barnyard at a variety of angles, with the “prize” Guernsey cow being quite a bit larger than the others. The chickens in the barnyard seem to be as large as the cows; the farmer and other people in the painting seem smaller than the large brown Guernsey cow.

For his novel “Marching as to War,” Bill painted the entire painting on canvas, but then added a small cut-out pitchfork next to the figure of the soldier, as a nod to American Gothic, the famous painting by Grant Wood. The church in the background might even stand in for the carpenter gothic-style house in the background of Grant Wood’s painting, although the angle is not the same. “The soldier is supposed to look like a wooden soldier,” said Bill, explaining, “he was rigid in his attitudes – his attitude is that of going to war.” 

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