Hanging on the wall of my home office is a plaque a reader gave me years ago as either a joke or a warning, I’m still not sure.

The plaque came gift-wrapped, and was handed to me by a middle-aged woman I did not know but who had come to one of my book signings. I was a brand new author then, having just published "When Evil Came to Good Hart," and I remember feeling delighted by the offering.

Was this what being an author meant? Random people showing up to buy your book and hand you gifts? Well, no wonder so many people were clamoring to get published!

I happily accepted the gift yet wondered: What could be inside? A leather-bound journal? A first-edition poetry book signed by the poet? A small painting by a local artist?

Mom raised me well and I was too polite to open the package then and there — how gauche! — so I waited until I was home to tear off the ribbon and rip into its floral wrapping. Inside was the plain wooden plaque that has hung on my office wall for a decade.

In all caps, with white letters on a black background, it reads: “If you didn’t hear it with your own ears or see it with your own eyes, don’t invent it with your small mind and share it with your big mouth.”

I remember thinking, how, exactly, was one to take such a sentiment?

As criticism?

As advice?

As home décor?

I wasn’t sure, but I did get a nail and a hammer out of the tool drawer in my kitchen.

Since then, I have probably read those words a thousand times. Since then, I have strived to be a big minded, and if not a small, than at least a medium-mouthed writer.

If the plaque was intended as a joke, in today’s cultural climate, its words have become surprisingly wise. I think of them as I watch the news on TV, or listen to the news on the radio, or read this newspaper.

For those critical of the news I say, invention is for novelists, not journalists.

For those critical of the news, I also say, these words apply to you, too. Labeling everything you don’t like as “fake news” is small-minded and unpatriotic.

In 2018 the University of Michigan Press will release a 10th anniversary edition of "When Evil Came to Good Hart" and I am at work on a new prologue.

I plan to use my big mind to correct anything I missed or got wrong the first time around. Know anything about the case? Email me.

P.S. If you are inclined to bring a gift to a book signing, wine would be nice.

Mardi Jo Link is the author of three true crime books, including “The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance.” She lives in Traverse City. Email Link at mardi5@charter.net.

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