Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Story the Prayer Missal Tells

Today I am thrilled to be sitting here with author and close friend, Nancy Panko.

Nancy, before we get to your excellent book, Guiding Missal: Fifty Years, Three Generations of Military Men, One Spirited Prayer Book, tell me a little about yourself.

I was born in the dining room of a farm house in central New York State. I graduated high school in Pennsylvania and attended The State University of New York at Alfred for one year. I met my future husband in PA and we were blessed with two children.  At age 35 I decided to go back to college to become a nurse. I graduated just before my 40th birthday. It was difficult, but I'm eternally grateful for the opportunity to have had a rewarding career for 23 years. In 2009, we retired and moved to Fuquay Varina, NC and never looked back. Our kids live close by and we get to spend time with them and our 4 grandchildren.

How long have you been writing?

As I look back through my scrapbooks, I find I wrote short stories all through grade school. I was always good in English composition and took a creative writing class in high school which really got me going. As a nurse, we spent a great deal of time writing care plans for each patient. They had to be clear and concise. The first time I got paid for a piece was when I wrote for "Humor in Uniform" for Reader's Digest. They paid me $400 and the check arrived just in time to replace a water heater which had exploded earlier in the day. I now have seven stories published in Chicken Soup for the Soul and two in Guidepost magazine.

Give us a brief synopsis of your book.

Across a span of fifty years, three generations of military men have one prayer book in common that has a mind and voice of its own. In 1944, a U.S. Army baker volunteers as a forward observer to carry out covert operations behind German lines in World War II. In the early Sixties, a focused nineteen-year-old Airman is responsible for decoding critical top secret messages during the height of the Berlin Crisis. In 1993, an army sniper overcomes a debilitating condition only to fight for survival in the streets of war-torn Mogadishu, Somalia, when a Blackhawk helicopter is shot down. Yet, when each of these men face a crisis, this very special prayer book, My Military Missal, intercedes with understanding and divine power. Based on actual events, Guiding Missal is relevant for any person who is serving or has served in the military and their families.

What prompted you to write it?

Initially, I started a notebook in March 1994 to re-create Dad Panko's military history as a birthday surprise for my husband. I interviewed Dad and members of his company who were eager to tell their stories. Without the volume of material these men provided, it would have been impossible to tell his story. I began to compile the information in a notebook. That single notebook grew to three notebooks.

After all the research put into the birthday project, I decided to tackle the rest of the story. It was an emotional journey to relive the struggles of military life and combat affecting loved ones. With months of interviews and tape recorded conversations from my husband and our son-in-law, along with well-documented historical facts, similarities and differences emerged. Three generations of men shared the guidance of the same prayer book, two experienced combat, one did not, all returned home changed men sustained by faith and family love. I had everything I needed for my book "Guiding Missal.” 

How long did it take you to write it?

A total of 10 years with many interruptions, stops, and starts. Life happened, I lacked confidence, and then I joined a writer's group. They provided feedback and gentle critique. I got to be a better writer and blossomed.

Do you have a favorite line from the book?

Yes! It is: "He was just an ordinary man carrying a uniquely endowed military missal with the Word of the Lord to guide and shield him from harm."

Is it published, and if so, when and by whom?

It is published by The Light Messages group from Durham, NC, released to bookstores and the public on April 17, 2017.

How can my readers get a copy?

Amazon.com is taking orders for both the print and Kindle version of the book. Any bookstore can get it for you, it will probably have to be ordered unless there are lots of requests. (Please, Lord!)

What do you do besides write?

Spend time with family and friends, take care of our home, read, read, read, and my most favorite thing of all, spend time on our boat!

How nice. What is your advice to would-be writers?

Keep honing your craft, take writing classes, join writers' groups that offer constructive, supportive critique. Start with short stories and try to get them published to gain confidence.

Tell us what you wish you knew when you started your writing career?

I wish I knew how hard and time-consuming it would be. Anything worthwhile is hard work and the passion has to be there.

What's next for you, Nancy?

At this point, it's hard to think beyond getting this labor of love off the ground. Promoting the book is a full-time job. I continue to write short stories, submitting to Chicken Soup. Perhaps another novel will take form in a few months, who knows.

Folks, I’ve read this book and I highly recommend it. One thing that stands out to make the book unique is that it is narrated by the prayer missal, making the missal as much a character in the book as any of the Panko men who carried it into battle with them.

Guiding Missal is a timeless journey of faith, patriotism and miracles that will touch your heart as the missal and the men call out to God for guidance, protection, and a safe return home. 

Quote of the Day: Onward, Christian soldiers, Marching as to war, With the Cross of Jesus Going on before!  Sabine Baring-Gould

Friday, March 24, 2017

Getting Out of Trouble

There’s a literary device that’s been used for centuries. It’s called deus ex machina, a Greek phrase that literally means “a god from a machine.”  In English literature, it relates to a character or thing that suddenly enters the story in a novel, play, or movie and solves a problem that had previously seemed impossible to solve.

Think Perils of Paulene. If you’re old enough to remember Saturday serials at the movies, picture a woman bound up in a cave and a dynamite fuse is lit. Just as the burning fuse gets closer and closer to the cave, a voice says something to the effect of, “Come back next week to see if she survives this terrible fate.” You go to the movies the next Saturday afternoon only to find that there was a back entrance to the cave and she walked out unharmed. That’s deus ex machina. And a huge letdown.

If you’re old enough to remember movie serials, then you most likely remember the Coasters and their song, Along Came Jones.  It seems Jones was a lanky guy who always showed up in time to save the day. The group sang: 

Salty Sam was tryin' to stuff Sweet Sue in a burlap sack
He said, "if you don't give me the deed to your ranch
I'm gonna throw you on the railroad tracks!"
And then he grabbed her (and then)
He tied her up (and then)
He threw her on the railroad tracks (and then)
A train started comin' (and then, and then!)
And then along came Jones
Tall, thin Jones
Slow-walkin' Jones
Slow-talkin' Jones
Along came long, lean, lanky Jones

Jones, of course, always saved the girl in the nick of time. Deus ex machina.

You could say the same thing about Superman, Batman and any other super hero who are fun to watch (I especially like Superman), but do they teach us how to solve problems? No, because they solve all our problems for us.

I much prefer a book or movie about a character who gets in a real-life situation and must figure out how to solve the problem using his own wit, brains, and stamina, and not have some supernatural being swoop down and get him out of trouble. What good does that do me should, by chance, I find myself in the same predicament some day? Neither Superman nor Jones are going to come along and get me out of the situation; therefore, I need to know how the protagonist got out of it.

Do you want to be rescued by a deus ex machina? Or do you prefer books where you mentally put yourself in the protagonist’s place and try to figure out how the conflict will be resolved? Which one will benefit you in life?

Quote of the Day: Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition - such as lifting weights - we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity. Stephen Covey