Why I Wrote What I Did

May Musings from HowWiseThen

People ask where I get ideas for my books. It depends on which book. In order of publication, here are the stories behind each book. Like many authors I know, I love writing, don’t mind the editing and publishing details, and truly dread the marketing. Yet,  as I’ve been told repeatedly, “Readers can’t buy what they don’t know about.” If this seems too braggy or boring, move on with my blessing.

Or skip to the end to hear from Brandi, my almost 11-year-old double-rescue miniature poodle. He’s had his own section in previous newsletters and some of you have been wondering about him. He’s back with his own report on his current circumstances.

Married and Mobile: Making a Move that’s Right for You,
Augsburg Fortress, 1985

Augsburg Fortress, a Lutheran publishing house, agreed to publish my first book. It was inspired by our move from Ohio to Texas, our fourth move in five years. Jim went off to the job that prompted this move. I enrolled our daughters in yet another school system and focused on the mountain of boxes. I’d dropped out of seminary, where I was working on a Master of Theological Studies, with absolutely no intention of ever becoming a pastor. Some become pastors to stop the incessant ringing of the call. I wanted to be a writer with a master’s degree to increase the odds of teaching at the college level. A year later the house was more or less is in order, but I was still confused, depressed, and desperate to do more than relocate. Married & Mobile was the result. I wrote it the summer before I started classes at a Texas seminary, having conceded I couldn’t keep ignoring the “You should be a pastor” comments from people, some total strangers. I finished the book just before classes started, with no idea how important it is for authors to promote their own books. The last remaining dozen or so copies reside in my garage. Though nearly forty years old, some of the content is still pertinent for the one who gives up something  to accompany a spouse to a new job, especially when moving children is part of the deal. In the next move Jim played the trailing spouse role.

God in the Raging Waters, Augsburg Fortress, 2006

A lot of water passed under the bridges and over the dams of my life after that move. To borrow a quote from Les Misérables, “But there are dreams that cannot be, and there are storms we cannot weather.” The ship of our marriage crashed in the early 2000s.

I was back in Houston by 2005, after a few moves, including back to Ohio for four years. I was a year into a church position in Houston when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita blasted into the Gulf Coast like nuclear water and wind bombs. The church was very close to the massive shelter where some 250,000 New Orleans folks fled for their lives. Though my own life was only minimally disrupted, I knew many, many people whose lives were torn apart by the wind and water. I’d been single again for three years when a friend asked me to join her as a volunteer at the massive shelter. It was past time for me to leave the pity party and do something useful for others. That was my introduction the incredible, mostly unknown, network of volunteer organizations that partner with FEMA and other government-connected agencies in disaster zones.

The late Paul Blom was the Lutheran bishop of the region where Katrine and Rita made land fall. He wanted to write about the experience. Augsburg Fortress wanted a book out by the one-year anniversary. I offered to edit whatever he wrote and thus this book,  packed with incredible stories of heroism, compassion and courage, was published. If you want to feel good about humanity, read about some of the heroes we met that year.

40-Day Journey with Kathleen Norris, Augsburg Fortress, 2008

This book found me. I’d long known about Kathleen Norris. author of several spirital memoirs. The publisher approached me to gather forty days’ worth of excerpts from her books and add some additional resources. I eagerly agreed, as it gave me a chance to meet her in person and read more of her work. This book is essentially a resource for journaling and/or small groups discussions, two of my favorite pastimes. When I present workshops on the numerous health benefits of journaling, I use this book as one of my resources.

A Ready Hope: Effective Disaster Ministry for Congregations, Alban Institute, 2009

 I knew an editor at Alban, an Episcopal publishing house. I convinced her there was need for a book about  the astonishing disaster response work done through faith-based organizations because most people know nothing them. My daughter has made a career out of working with these remarkable people. We co-authored the book for two audiences. First, to help those living in disaster zones understand what to expect during the first year of recovery. Second, to help train volunteers eager to help. Professionals sometimes refer to these dedicated, but ill-prepared volunteers as the second disaster. Alban sold the rights to the book to Roman & Littlefield. Again, I was distracted by other obligations so didn’t put in the effort required to really market the book.

Asunder, Blue Ocotilla Publishing, 2016

One of those distractions was a second marriage that lasted two years. I’m a strong advocate for marriages and honoring the commitments made at them, but evidently weak on the skills required to actually maintain my own. I read recently that sometimes our values and our realities clash and we are forced to adjust how we manage both. I’d been journaling about things like this for years. I decided to use the time between work obligations to write a  a novel. Why not? I made up the characters, including a few who showed up uninvited. I wrote a happy ending for these fictional new friends because at the time real life was a gnarled detoured mess, far off the path I’d anticipated. This was my first attempt at fiction, along with my first attempt to publish without a publisher guiding the process. I pestered a colleague who’d self-published his own books so much about how he did that, that he finally offered to published it for me under the publishing name he used, if I covered the costs and we split any income. I knew nothing about self-publishing or working with Amazon and managed to thoroughly mess up my account with them for this particular book. Though you may see it listed, it’s not really available there. We sold half the first and only run. The remaining copies are in my garage and available through my website.

People back in the single-again life through either divorce of death, after years of being coupled, have told me the book helped them a great deal. Writing it helped me too. There is life after loss.

Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures, Green Writers Press, 2020

Thanks to my now deceased librarian mother, I grew up knowing our family is related to the Brewsters of the Mayflower. That didn’t really impress me much until my daughter married into a large Houston family that includes a healthy percentage of Native American heritage, making three of my grandchildren quad-cultural – German, English, Spanish and Indigenous. In 2013, as I approached full retirement age, I attended a writer’s retreat. While there I started, but never finished, a fictionalized account of the encounters  between the Indigenous People and my ancestors. In 2018 the retreat center owner implored me to come back and finish the book, pointing out that the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower would soon be upon us. Yikes! I returned twice, finished the book, landed a publishing contract, and set up all sort of events to do a proper job of launching this one in 2020. But, then, COVID-19. Every event was cancelled except an on-line launch party made possible with the tech skills of family members. Much of my retirement focus has been speaking to tell folks a more honest and complete story of the first encounters between the Mayflower passengers and the Pokanoket people who approached them to work out a treaty. Members of the current Pokanoket nation wrote the forward.

The Love Life of Mary Brewster: Matriarch of the Mayflower, Van Velzer Press, 2023

I was shocked by what I learned about my great x12 grandmother  while writing the previous book. A woman who helped edit it has her own publishing business. We mutually agreed Mary’s story needed to be told. She was one of the only four wives still alive a year later. This time I’ve got my marketing game on. I speak at libraries, book clubs, book fairs, church groups, and anywhere else people are willing to learn more about the authentic history behind when Europeans met inhabitants of Turtle Island and forever changed this continent.

Just One More?

There’s one more book in the works. It’s about the encounters between settlers crossing the Appalachians and the people of the Ohio Valley Indigenous nations in the 1800s. I’m thinking this may be my last full length book, but, who knows. I gave up making predictions about the future a long time ago. While I am truly grateful that I was born, raised, and continue to live in this country, I am also feeling more obligated every year to take a more honest look at how we’ve gotten where we are now, and what path we should take going forward. Our treatment of non-European people has had some truly tragic outcomes that need to come into the healing presence of the light. I’ve read and believe, “We’re only as sick as the secrets we try to keep.” And that is why I keep writing, hoping to shed a little light, levity, and encouragement.

If you’re still reading, wow. Thank you. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your presence. And now a few words from Brandi.

Brandi’s Banter

My she person who rescued me sure doesn’t sit and stay very good. She tells me to “Sit. Stay” and expects me to do that. But she moves around. A lot. I’ve been with her since August 2016, when I was three. We’re in our fourth place since she brought me home after the first nice lady who rescued me died. I was pretty sad about that and didn’t have any place to live. This she person moved me into this place back when the ground was white. Now it’s green and full of such great smells. I like it here. There’s a great dog park nearby. I don’t see so good anymore. I can still enjoy the smells and hear the birds, and feel the breeze. I think she liokes it here too. Lately she has been sitting and staying a lot. She sits with a silver box on her lap for hours every day. We walk a couple of times a day and visit others dogs at the park now and then, so it’s OK.

Most of my books are available wherever you get your books, including libraries if you ask them to look for them for you. Mayflower Chronicles is available in audio. Several are in Ebook format. The last one is in hardback. Note – I share a portion of any revenue I make with various non-profits. Second note – Sorry, I am not Amazon. I cannot provide free shipping. But if you get them from my website and want it autographed, I’m happy to oblige.

Mary Brewster’s Love Life: Paper back, hard back and Ebook. Bookshop.org
Mayflower Chronicles: Paper, audio, Ebook. Bookshop.org
Asunder: Paper. HowWiseThen.com
A Ready Hope: Paper, Ebook. Rowman & Littlefield
40 Day Journey with Kathleen Norris: Paper. Augsburg Fortress
God in the Raging Waters. Paper. Amason.com 
Married & Mobile. Paper. HowWiseThen.com

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