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

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Book and Movie For All Time - a Must See!

I have something extremely special to share with you. I went to the movies Saturday. That event in and of itself is not exactly special (although it has been a while since I’ve been to the movies), but the movie I saw, now that IS something special.

Let me go back a bit. A few years ago, I heard about a book called, The Shack, so I bought a copy and read it. I must tell you, this book changed my life. While reading it, I was enthralled at the highly profound story unfolding before my eyes and the way it deals with forgiveness, anger, love and a slew of other emotions.

There’s an interesting story behind the story. The author, William Paul Young, was a preacher’s kid, now married to a good and patient woman. Because the author had gone through a bad period in his life that sent him on a downward spiral which he eventually crawled out of, his wife suggested he write a story for their six children to help them understand life better.

Young finished his story in 2005 and took it to an office store where he had fifteen copies printed and spiral bound. He gave copies to his children and a few friends for Christmas, figuring that would be the end of it.

Eighteen million copies, 41 languages, and rising to #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List later, he still shakes his head and laughs at the journey his little book has taken.

The Shack is a metaphor for that place where we get stuck or damaged, or where we've made really bad choices, or where we've piled up a lot of stuff in our lives that we don't want to go back to and deal with. Young says, “My life crashed and burned when I was 38-years-old, and I had to go back and deal with some stuff from being a child on the mission field along with other stuff in my life. It took me 11 years to get through the shack, and I condense that 11 years to a weekend for Mackenzie Allen Phillips.”

The Shack tells the story of Mack Phillips whose daughter is thought to be kidnapped and murdered, which sends Mack into a deep depression. Mack later receives a mysterious letter from Papa--his wife's nickname for God--which leads him to an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. At the shack, Mack encounters a trio of strangers led by Papa, who help him through this tragedy and change his life. 

Now to the movie. I went with friends to see a premier showing of The Shack, starring Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, and Tim McGraw.  As I’m sure most of you know, a movie version seldom does justice to the book. Not in this case; the movie is every bit as excellent as the book. The Shack allows God and the Trinity to become accessible and understandable in a way that's not been done before.

I have one suggestion for going to see the movie—bring more than one tissue! I only had one with me and it wasn’t nearly enough. The deep, deep sorrow inside Mack, together with his anger at God for letting his daughter die, are heart-wrenching as he finally is able to reach down and drag his feelings and questions and anger to the surface where he can deal with them. Mack asks questions we’ve all asked at one time or another.

When Mack (Sam Worthington) meets God, he is surprised that God is a black woman (Octavia Spencer). Why, you might ask, is God portrayed as a black woman? As it turns out, when Mack is a child living with an abusive, alcoholic father and compliant mother, the only person who is kind to him is a black woman who lives next door. It’s not surprising then that that same woman appears to him at the shack as the loving and kind God.

My favorite scene in the book/movie is when Mack and Jesus walk down to the water and sit on the dock, looking up at the stars. Just two friends enjoying a normal, quiet moment together. That’s how I like to think of Jesus, real, warm, caring, smiling, relaxed.

What is my recommendation? Run, don’t walk to the theater to see The Shack when it comes to your town. You don’t have to be a Christian to want to understand the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and how they interact with one another, or what it means to truly forgive, or how misunderstandings can grow and be harmful to those we love. This is truly a story for all, and for all time.


Quote of the Day: Thou art a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness; and Thou didst not forsake them. Nehemiah 9:17


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Charlie, My New Roomie

My life is for the birds. Well, one bird anyway--a tiny blue and white parakeet that I rescued from the county shelter two weeks ago. I had contemplated getting a pet to keep me company, but quickly discarded the idea of a dog (it would need to be walked and cleaned up after) and a cat (I’d have to deal with a litter box). Hence, a bird named Charlie fit the bill (no pun intended).  



I once wrote an article called, “I Gave My Husband the Bird.” Fred loved birds, so for Christmas one year I gave him a yellow cockatiel. She was part of our family for many years. This bird, which Fred named “Bird,” had the run of the house. A ladder from her cage to the floor gave her easy access to anywhere she wanted to go. She turned out to be my bird as she only acknowledged Fred during football season. Once he settled in his chair on Sundays with a bag of potato chips, she would hightail it over to him to beg for a chip.

Otherwise, she followed me all over the house, into the office, the kitchen, and at the dining room table where she’d grab a corn niblet off my plate. Her demise came one day when Fred moved to the right to avoid stepping on her and she moved to the right to avoid being stepped on. Talk about a perfect storm lining up!

After that, the house was way too quiet with two adults but no little four-ounce ball of fluff. Within a week, I dragged Fred to the bird store and we bought another yellow cockatiel that looked just like Bird. We named this one Crash because she slammed into the walls every time she took flight. The ladder was removed so she couldn’t get down to the floor as easily as her predecessor. When we moved from California, we gave Crash to a friend, assuming it would be better than moving her across the country.

It’s been over three years since the move. I realized I missed the chirping and personality of a bird. Not finding any cockatiels for sale in the area, I found Charlie, the first parakeet I’ve owned since high school. He’s still getting used to me and his surroundings and only occasionally chirps. Mostly, he sits on his perch, a very quiet roommate.

The shelter named him Charlie assuming he was a male; time will tell if they’re right. We thought the cockatiels were males, too, until they both started laying eggs.


So now I no longer ramble around the house alone; there’s someone else to talk to and whose needs I have to consider. I guess you could say I gave myself the bird--his name is Charlie.





Quote of the Day: My heart is like a singing bird. Christina Georgina Rosetti

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Job I’ll Never Get

Since this column is supposed to have something to do with writing, I'm confessing that I want to write commercials. Please allow me to vent for a couple of minutes as to why I say that.

I want to rewrite all the prescription commercials that bombard us day and night. I didn’t buy a television set to have it blare at me endlessly about diarrhea, constipation, impotence, light days, adult bed wetting, and on and on, ad infinitum.

During my career as a legal secretary, there was a time, back in the Dark Ages, when the Bar Association’s Code of Ethics said it was unbecoming for an attorney to advertise on TV or anywhere else. Maybe such advertising wasn’t unlawful, but it was frowned upon as leaning toward sleaze.  Then suddenly ethics went out the window and attorneys were allowed to advertise.

As strange as it seems to me to now see attorneys promoting their services, their ads are nowhere on the same level as those for drug prescriptions. Half the time you don’t know what the ailment is they're supposedly curing, but somehow you’re supposed to know you need the product. And since it’s only available by prescription, you are told to “ask your doctor.”

Aye, there’s the rub.  Since you must see your doctor to get the prescription, why in heaven’s name can’t your doctor tell you its horrendous side effects? Why do we have to hear that Product X can cause dizziness, hallucinations, nausea, vomiting, impotence, diarrhea, bleeding, bruising, and every other horror you can imagine, ending with, “and possibly death.”

I can agree to hearing the adverse reactions of over-the-counter drugs since a buyer probably won’t take the time to read the enclosed instructions. But I’m talking about a drug that you can only get from your doctor and that doctor is supposed to tell you what might happen. If he or she doesn’t, then the pharmacist who fills the prescription is charged with explaining those dire facts to you.

I have a recent Woman’s Day magazine that has 140 pages; thirty of which are ads for prescription drugs. That’s nearly one-quarter of the magazine. It’s not cheap to advertise in magazines and on television, so perhaps if they omitted such ads, they could lower the price of their drugs. What a concept!

Let me write the ads. They would read: “Your doctor is far more educated than you, so tell him or her you have a problem, ask what medicine is recommended and what the side effects are.” Period.

That, I could live with. How about you?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Forced Do-Nothingness

It’s a new year! We may not have had a white Christmas but we’re sure having a white 2017. It started raining Friday, the 6th, turned into sleet, and by Saturday morning the world was white outside. Sunday the sun came out but the temperature had dropped, all the way down. Not only was I and the rest of Garner snowbound for three days, but the weather stayed below freezing the whole time.
It got down to eight degrees one morning. Consequently, the snow and ice didn’t melt. Today is the first day that the temperature got above freezing and I can start to see melting occurring.

I also got to go outside for the first time since Friday noon. I didn’t go far, but I did pick up three days of mail that had accumulated in my mailbox that’s around the corner and down the street. I felt like I’d been given early parole today when I walked out of the house for the first time in days. California was never like this; we could get our mail any day of the year.

The question is, would I rather be in sunny San Diego and not have to worry about ice and snow and below freezing temperatures, or in North Carolina where although it gets cold, it’s also three thousand miles closer to my family? This is a no-brainer, but I must admit that a couple of times these last few days I questioned my sanity in moving. We’re still ten degrees warmer than Connecticut where the rest of my family lives, so looked at that way, North Carolina, with some of my family here, still looks pretty good.

One advantage to being snowbound (granted by only two inches, but there IS ice underneath), is that I was able to get caught up on a lot of work at the computer, including working on my latest book in progress.

Those two inches closed schools, church, and planned activities. Everyone was warned to stay off the roads and not drive unless absolutely necessary. As long as I had food, milk, electricity, and heat in the house, I snuggled up and waited out the weather.

I keep telling myself, “This too shall pass.” If this turns out to be the only winter weather we get all year, I can live with that.

Quote of the Day: If winter comes, can spring be far behind? Shelley