Friday, November 28, 2008
We spent most of the day at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner where we helped serve food to a record-breaking number of people.
It's what we do every year and it's one of our favorite volunteer activities.
The dinner was originally designed to help provide a special dinner for those families who can't afford to cook a full Thanksgiving feast. Now, it's grown to include those who don't have anywhere to go, who don't want to cook a big meal or who just want to spend some time socializing and visiting with others.
It's always a great time for all who attend.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
“I’d love to do this,” I said.
“What?” Karen continued to read and munch on a cookie.
“Write stories. Books.”
I watched for her reaction and it took about three seconds for the words to sink in. Then she closed her book and sat up. “Then let’s do it. We’ll be famous.”
Fueled by mutual enthusiasm we started putting words on paper in simplistic efforts to create our own essence of the books we loved so much. My fantasy was to write a story so wonderful it would inspire some future ten-year-old girl to spend an entire afternoon sprawled in a wooded hideaway savoring my book. Maybe she’d even decide to perpetuate the species.
We carried our dream through high school and into college, where we tried to adopt a Bohemian attitude that seemed fitting for “future famous writers.” I went to a boring Community College, but Karen went to
What I didn’t know then, and took me too many years to learn, was that there’s nothing magical about establishing a writing career. I wasn’t going to become a better writer by absorbing that funky atmosphere. (Or the blue haze) No publisher was ever going to be there to discover me. And I’d never write a single thing if I didn’t stay home now and then and ratchet a piece of paper into my old Underwood manual.
Sure, there’s magic when the words just flow and you know these last ten pages are the best you’ve ever written. There’s magic when your characters start talking to each other and the lines zing. There’s even a bit of magic in finding that one word that says so perfectly what you’re trying to convey.
But there’s no magic on the business side of writing. Sometimes there's luck – being in the right place at the right time with the right project. More often, success comes after diligently studying the marketplace, editing and rewriting your book until you never want to look at a single word again. And then learning how to promote your work.
We who put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard, do so out of a driving need to say something. Thoughts, ideas, opinions, feelings stir around inside us seeking expression. If we never make an investment of time and effort into the ‘business’ of writing, our expression will have a severely limited audience.
I may never be as famous as that long-ago dream envisioned. And I may never earn enough money to buy a country estate and wile away my golden years in obscene luxury. But I can take comfort and pride in the fact that I did, and still do, face that blank sheet of paper everyday and make myself put words on it.
And I’d like to think that Karen is doing the same thing. I lost track of her before I ever had the chance to tell her she was much better at it than I am.
It has been such a pleasure having Maryann Miller with us this week. She has been a wonderful guest – very interesting to learn about and fun to visit with.
Today, she answers some questions about her personal life. The questions and answers are followed by more of the excerpt from chapter one of her book “One Small Victory."
Q. Talk a little about your family.
A. I have been married for 43 years to the same wonderful man, Carl. I have six children and eight grandchildren. Our children are all professionals and doing quite well in their adult lives. We are so proud of all of them. We all love to get together here at “Grandma’s Ranch” and have BBQ and play farmer all day. If I did more than generalize about my family, that could take pages and pages. Family is THE most important thing in my life. I remember before I got married, my father took me out for a beer and this is what he told me, “You know, Maryann, I have never had much more than a few coins to rub together. But I am a rich man.” He went on to tell me how precious each one of his children and grandchildren were to him and I have never forgotten that.
Q. Who is your favorite author? What is your favorite book?
A. Oh, gosh, these are always such hard questions to answer as I have so many authors I enjoy and books that I could read over and over again. Of Mice and Men, The Color Purple, The Old Man and The Sea, The Great Gatsby, are just a few of the great 20th century books I love. More current authors and books include Jan Bryant, Raymond L. Atkins, Elizabeth Gilbert, Slim Randles and Dennis Lahane. I have read Mystic River a couple of times. I love all of the Anne Tyler novels. Anne Lamott. Laura Castoro. P.J. Parrish. Jonathan and Faye Kellerman. Sue Grafton, and Lisa Genova. Her book Still Alice is one of my top picks of reads this year. But there are so many more authors and books I enjoy, it would take pages to list them all.
Q. What made you try your hand at writing?
A. I’ve always loved stories and decided when I was about ten years old that I wanted to be a writer. Then when I was twelve, I won an award in the Scholastic Writing Awards contest and I thought it was destiny.
Q. What authors have influenced your writing?
A. All of the writers I enjoy have influenced me in that they introduce me to new ways to use the craft, but Steinbeck has been the greatest influence in being my first exposure to writing that plumbs the depths of humanity with such deftness.
Q. When you’re not writing or visiting hospitals, what do you do to relax and unwind?
A. I have a number of hobbies that I enjoy, sketching, puzzles, quilting, and I just learned how to knit. Those are activities I do when I am watching TV with my husband. It is hard for me to just sit there. I can always hear my grandmother, “Idle hands ...” So I have to be doing something. But what really relaxes me the most is to go outside and just spend time with my horse or do some work in the gardens. That is pure heaven.
Q. What would readers be surprised to learn about you?
A. I can lift a 50 pound bale of hay.
Q. Share a favorite quote with the readers.
A. “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” Cicero
Q. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
A. Read. Write. Read some more and analyze what works in the books you enjoy the most. Write some more and try to utilize what you learn from reading and maybe from a good critique group. It is also vital to learn the business side of writing because we are pretty much our own marketers now, unless our name is James Patterson. And in the beginning it was his marketing savvy that helped launch him into the big time.
Q. How can readers help promote literacy?
A. By getting involved in literacy programs at local schools and libraries. Mentoring young readers. We have a program here at our middle school for at-risk students and when I first volunteered there, I met a boy in the fifth grade who could not read. Seriously, my four-year-old granddaughter could read better than this boy could. Now, two years later, that boy is still in the program, but he is reading now probably at a fifth grade level. That is thanks to the wonderful teachers who run the program and the mentor who works with this boy.
Q. What are you currently working on?
A. Currently, I am working on the second book in a mystery series that I hope Five Star will pick up. The first book, Open Season, is under consideration now and I am about halfway through the second book, Stalking Season. The series features two women homicide detectives in Dallas, who are thrown together as unwilling partners in the midst of racial tension in the city and the department.
The words had played endlessly in her mind ever since. “Mrs. Jasick . . . Your son, Michael has been in an accident . . . He’s been taken to
They wouldn’t tell her over the phone whether he was okay or not, but somewhere deep inside she’d known. A mother always knows. She drove her ailing Ford Taurus toward the hospital while the awful dread grew from a kernel of apprehension into a grotesque monster that gnawed on her heart.
By the time she’d arrived at the ER, some coping instinct had mercifully kicked in and she’d numbly received the news that Michael was dead. Nothing else was clear in her mind or memory. She didn’t know how her mother had known to come. Or who she was supposed to call about arrangements and when. Or was someone supposed to call her?
“Oh, God . . .” Carol’s voice brought Jenny back to the present. “I’d do anything . . .”
“I know.” Jenny kept her voice soft in an attempt to hold her friend’s emotions at bay. Grief hung like a pall throughout the house, crowding out any other feeling; and Jenny was sure one more tear would break her fragile hold on sanity.
Carol wiped the smear of moisture from her face. “I hope you don’t mind that I just walked in?”
“Of course not. Mi Casa your casa.”
Carol forced a small smile. “Someday we’re going to have to learn that other Spanish word.”
Jenny tried to match the smile but was afraid her face would crack under the effort. She figured Carol would understand. They had learned to understand a lot since sharing the tragedies of high school that paled compared to what happened in the real world.
Thanks again, Maryann, for joining us this week. I hope everyone will look for the book “One Small Victory” at their local store or order it online. It’s a super novel and one I know my readers will enjoy.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
This morning, we continue our interview with author Maryann Miller as she discusses her calling in hospital ministry. We also continue the excerpt from chapter one of her book "One Small Victory."
Q. How and why did you get involved in hospital ministry?
A. My involvement with hospital ministry started in part from visiting friends in the hospital who told me I had a way of bringing an extra dose of comfort when I visited. I also spent time supporting a friend through a long crisis with her mother, and that friend also said my presence with her was a great help. I realized that I had an ability to handle crisis well and enjoyed helping people, so I decided to join the hospital ministry team at our church. We were trained informally by a woman who had Clinical Pastoral Education experience, so I learned a lot then. Much later, I went on to take Clinical Pastoral Education myself, so I could work as a hospital chaplain.
Q. It’s not an easy task, yet you seem to truly enjoy this calling. What advice do you have for someone thinking about joining this field?
A. Chaplaincy is first of all not necessarily about religion or saving souls. That is the biggest misconception most new students to CPE have, especially if they come from a strong evangelical church. It is also not about you. It is about the person you are visiting. You can’t go into a room or into a situation with an agenda. A chaplain’s role is most crucial at times when patients or families are facing difficult situations and they have feelings or issues they cannot talk to anyone else about. Being able to be quiet, to listen, to be intuitive are great assets to being a chaplain.
Q. What is the most rewarding part of this ministry? What is the most difficult part?
A. The most rewarding part of the ministry is knowing that you may have helped someone on a very deep level. There is a sense of peace that comes over patients when you validate their feelings, when concerns can be articulated in a prayer if they request it. There have been times when I have felt the power of God so strongly in a room it took my breath away. The most difficult part is dealing with untimely death, especially children. There is no way you can bring any sense of comfort or understanding to parents who have just lost a child. You just stand there powerless in the midst of that pain. But you stand there, none the less, and embrace them and their pain.
Q. You have two blogs. How do they differ and how are they similar?
A. The Many Faces of Grief has been focused on grieving issues, while It’s Not All Gravy is a general commentary and can go in many directions. I started the grief blog primarily because grieving issues are such an important part of "One Small Victory," but I don’t know if I will continue that one for much longer. It seems to be one that has run a course, so to speak. But the other, because it is so open, can go on indefinitely.
Jenny pulled away and saw a mirror image of her own pain reflected in the murky depths of her son’s eyes. They were so dark they were nearly black and defined the adage, “windows to the soul.”
Scott wouldn’t like it if he knew she could see so much. He thinks he’s such an expert at hiding beneath layers of loud music or sullen remoteness. But he’s always there, just waiting to be discovered.
She wanted to say something. Ease his pain. But he broke contact before she could formulate appropriate words.
Again, Jenny didn’t know what to do. She was the mother. She was supposed to know. She was supposed to take care of this child. That child. If only she hadn’t let Michael go camping that weekend. If only. God, how perfect the world would be if we could go back and change things.
The agony of loss cut so deep she turned away from Scott for a moment to gulp in air. Was it always going to be so hard? And who was supposed to take care of her while she was trying to take care of what was left of her family?
She felt a light touch on her arm. “It’ll be okay, Mom.”
God. She wanted to scream. It was not going to be okay. Nothing was okay. But she had to pretend. If not for herself, for Scott. She forced the anger into a far corner of her heart.
“Did I wake you?” she asked.
“No.” He shrugged. “Couldn’t sleep.”
“I couldn’t either.” She tried a tentative smile, and her emotional burden shifted ever so slightly.
She reached up and touched Scott’s face, feeling the soft stubble of immature beard. “You need a shave,” she said. But the message was, ‘we’ll be okay.’
Though Scott pulled away, his eyes said, ‘thank you.’
“Jenny?” a voice called from down the hall.
Giving him another brief smile, she hurried into the living room and almost collided with Carol.
“There you are.”
The naked anguish on her friend’s face scraped against Jenny’s emotions. “Where else would I be?”
The slight woman froze, her brown eyes wide and pain-filled, and Jenny immediately regretted snapping. She seemed to have so little control over her reactions since The Phone Call last night. That’s what it’ll always be, she thought in some weird twist of mind. The Phone Call. Forever in capital letters.
Tomorrow, we will find out more about Maryann ... including a secret most of her friends probably aren't aware of. Plus, we'll have a guest post from this great author!
Please join us.