Every Writer Needs a Pat Preston

One of the first people to read my book, Growing Up In Mama’s Club, was our neighbor and good  friend, Pat Preston. We’d just arrived back in Grand Rapids, after spending the winter in Tucson, when she asked if my book was in print yet.  Proudly, I showed her the finished product. A few days later, she not only had read and enjoyed the book, she asked if I would meet with The Bas Bleu Book Club for their first meeting in September. For a new author, it doesn’t get any better than that. And while I had to wait a month, as Pat was involved in a very serious car accident, I met with her group for two hours last night. And what a treat it was for me.

As you may recall, Pat invited me to meet with a newly formed book club ten days ago. So this wasn’t my first experience. Bas Bleu (Blue Stocking), a name used in the mid-1800s to describe an intellectual woman who loved to read, has been meeting as a group for nine years and the energy they exude could light up the city of Grand Rapids for several weeks. Jeanne Bentely started the group because she, like the original Bluestockings, wanted to learn more about people and ideas that she had not previously explored. 

It was easy to see that everyone had enjoyed reading Mama’s Club and learned a lot of new things, but they wanted to know more. Just a few of the questions they asked me were: ”What motivated you to write the book? Why do they think only 144,000 will go to heaven? Did Helen join the Club after you were married? What happened to your sister Susan? Is she still alive? Why do you think your brother Tim embraced the “Club’s view of world events” while you were turned off? Do you go to church and if so, where?” It was non-stop questions and my answers before Pat Preston, our host for the evening, served us fresh, tart west Michigan apple cider, warm pumpkin pecan bread drizzled with sugar, and a decadent portion of carrot cake. Yum!

About half way through the evening, I decided to do a little preaching. I told the group that my Mama’s Club experience had taught me that a parent’s responsiblity was to teach their children values and how to be gainfully employed someday. It was not to teach ideology. Hopefully, their church experience would help instill good values. Let the kids know what mom and dad believe, but tell them that someday, not today, they could decide for themselves. 

As I walked home, I thought about several comments and concerns expressed during the evening. Carol Cole mentioned that she wished she had the read the book before someone from the Club stopped at her door a few months before. The lady calling on her was accompanied by a six-year-old boy dressed in a suit and tie. Margie VanderMolen told us that when she sees a man or boy dressed in a suit, white shirt, and tie, she just doesn’t answer the door. Everyone chuckled when Cindy Zimbar confessed that she generally gave them a quarter when they came to her door. Sally Chalmer just couldn’t understand how they could recruit new members, knowing that they were giving up any chance they had of getting into heaven. And I was pleased that I had helped these people learn a little more about this group who are forever pestering them by knocking at their door offering hope of a better life to come in a new world.  But it wouldn’t have happened without the help of one specific satisfied reader. Every writer needs a Pat Preston.

I Couldn’t Have Done it Without Them

Several readers of Mama’s Club have told me they too have a story to tell, asking for my advice on how to put their memoirs into print. While I’m certainly not an expert, here’s how it worked for me:

After doing my first draft of Growing Up In Mama’s Club I asked a trusted friend to read it and give me his advice. While it was a bitter pill to swallow, Bob Rogers didn’t mince words. He told me that I had way too much anger and needed to learn how to write. It was an honest diagnosis of where I was at that moment in time. I needed to hear the truth so that I could ultimately come up with a plan to resolve my problem. Fortunately, professional help was available. And for the next three years, I went back to school, learning to write, and I exorcised my demons.

But being able to write is not enough if one’s goal is to get their story into print and to have people want to read it. I needed an editor that I could work with. Someone who understood where I was in my learning curve, shared my passion for getting it into print, and could give me constructive criticism. After finishing my story, I needed a publisher or for someone to help me self-publish. Then I needed someone with the graphic skills to design an attractive book cover. And because I wanted to include pictures in my book, I needed a photographer familiar with restoring old pictures and knowing how to present them in a paperback book. Once I had the book complete, I needed to let people know about it and why I thought they would enjoy reading the book. I prioritized the Internet as the place to start. But I needed a technical expert who knew how to set up an easy to use, attractive website. And so, I have described the team of experts who helped me get Mama’s Club to where it is today. If you would like to meet those five talented professionals and learn how I met them, I would encourage you to link onto the new Acknowledgments section on my main website.


Greece in 2008

I don’t spend all my time marketing and promoting my book, Growing Up In Mama’s Club. One of those higher priorities was planning for a family vacation in Greece. At the moment, my wife, Helen, and I have booked a large villa on the edge of the Aegean Sea, in Schinias-Marathon, for three weeks in June and July, 2008. We will be joined by our children, granddaughters, and friends.  Life doesn’t get any better than that.

Interestingly, in 490 BC the Battle of Marathon occurred at Schinias where the Athenians defeated the Persians. The Greek army sent a runner to Athens (where will be flying into from the States), near the Acropolis, to announce the victory. This historical event gave birth to the modern Marathon Run. Today, a four lane expressway pretty much follows the route of the original Marathon Run of about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Schinias to downtown Athens. 

They tell me that if you only had a week to spend at this particular villa you would have to first go into the local town of Marathon for shopping and a taste of Greece’s famous cuisine with some of its great wine. Yes, Greece has excellent wine. They just don’t export much of it to the States. Then back to the villa to swim in the pool under the stars before retiring for the night. The next day could be spent in Athens, visiting the Acropolis with its Parthenon, the Temple of Zeus, and enjoying the people and food at the ancient market place at the foot of Acropolis. Before the week was over, a visit to Cape Sounion with its Temple of Poseidon would be a must. Next, a day trip to central Attica and Delphi. If one is attuned to the spirits of antiquity, he or she may hear whispers from the ancient oracles still echoing through the eons of time. Other sights to see would be ancient Corinth with its Temple of Appollo. Also at Corinth, the church that received Paul’s letters to the Corinthians still exists. And then, there still would be time to visit the quaint sea town of Nafplio, Epidaurus, Argos, Tiryn, and Mycenae.

Since we will be spending  several weeks in Greece, there is no end to the many spectacular Greek islands that we could visit. There’s the Island of Aigina with its well-preserved temple,  the islands of Mykonos and Dalos, the world famous cliffs and homes on Santorini Island, and the list goes on and on.

I plan to keep a journal on the trip. When you have a once in life-time opportunity to spend quality time with your spouse, children, granddaughters, and friends, in a country that sparked the fires of thought and freedom for people all around the world today, I want that experience to be put on paper. Photographers take pictures, writers write.

I would like to digress for a moment. Unlike Mama, I am not willing to sacrifice the opportunities afforded to me in this lifetime, hoping that I will be able to enjoy them in a new world, if I embrace the supercilious teachings of the Club. My new world is here and now. I want to enjoy and embrace every day of the life that I have been given. What a wonderful gift. And when I am in Greece with family and friends, I will be especially grateful.

Bookclub in a Bag

I just recently learned about an interesting program called Bookclub in a Bag sponsored by the KDL (Kent District Library) here in west Michigan. Here’s how it works.

I provide 12 copies of  Growing Up In Mama’s Club – A Childhood Perspective of Jehovah’s Witnesses to the  library. I also give them my bio and a study guide of thought provoking questions related to the book. Book clubs and small groups check out the book, bio, and discussion questions, and well, you know the rest. Unlike studying one of the Club’s publications, there are no right or wrong answers. The questions are designed to stimulate healthy dialogue, helping the reader make the book read a more meaningful experience.

I haven’t put together my list of questions for Mama’s Club yet. But I’m thinking about it. Perhaps some good questions to ask would be: What was Mama’s state of mind when someone from the Club first knocked on her door? What would you have advised her to do had you been asked to help? Why do you think people like Stuart Sanders, Lena Edwards, and Papa were attracted to the Club? How is the memorial of Christ’s death celebrated differently by the Club? What was the Club able to do for Mama that other religions couldn’t? Why do members of the Club believe they are the only religious group that has ”the truth?” Why couldn’t Dickie believe it? How was he able to cope with a situation he had no control over? What made him decide to finally leave the Club? How did his two-year Bethel (the Club’s headquarters) experience help him? Do you believe the author is still angry from his 16-year experience with the Club? If not, why? What advice would you give parents after reading the book?