A Tale of Marriage, Medicine and Murder

Has becoming an author changed your life?


I wish you’d been with me as I worked on PERSONAL BAGGAGE to see dirty clothes accumulating in the laundry, dust gathering on our furniture, weeds growing in the flower beds; to hear our phone ring and keep on ringing, or stop ringing and my husband say, “Hello” and to find myself unable to block out his conversation; to feel the frustration of attempting to fit my stories into a year-long time frame and type them neatly on a computer I didn’t know how to use.
How-to books for writers state, “In order to become a writer you must write.” I say, “You must have a beautiful sister who is dating an English professor!”

Ten years ago, after twenty-seven years as a nurse, I retired with a wealth of stories: events I had witnessed and experiences others had shared with me. I divided my manuscript into the four seasons and began with summer.

When my sister, Elizabeth Stewart, who lives in Savannah, Georgia, told her friend David Starnes, professor of writing at Georgia Southern in Statesboro, about me and what I was attempting to do, he said, “If Margaret wants to send me what she has written so far, I’ll be glad to help her.”

David helped me a lot! I mailed “Summer” to him. He corrected it and offered suggestions while I started on “Autumn.” Over a two-year period we mailed the manuscript back and forth, section by section. He gave encouragement--not a lot, but enough to keep me going while he taught me the basic rules. I had no idea there were so many writing rules: “Use descriptive action verbs like she sprints or she limps instead of she comes or goes,” and “Write out the word for a number when it begins a sentence, but use a numeral to describe distance.” David pointed out sentences that were confusing and scenes in which more details were needed. We completely reworked the whole manuscript twice--almost three times. The last section was on his desk in his apartment when my sister called with her devastating news.

On a trip between Statesboro and Savannah, David had been hit head-on and killed by an inebriated woman who was driving on the wrong side of the interstate.

David’s friends and colleagues collected some of his poems into a memorial booklet; he had written and given poems to his friends and had helped many, many writers. I mailed to his parents my original manuscript containing their son’s hand-written comments and instructions. His mother wrote her thanks, and wrote again when I sent a copy of the published book, dedicated to David.

When David died my manuscript was 450 pages long and I needed an editor. Beth Phillips Smith, English teacher in Marshall County, gave me an address for Marlena E. Bremseth, an English professor who had recently retired from teaching at Howard University.

I wrote to Marlena and she phoned me. “I am not an editor,” she said. I begged and offered money, but she refused. I told her about David’s death and pleaded until she finally agreed to look at my manuscript. Two weeks after I mailed it to her, she called again. “I’m no editor, but this is way too long and it sounds awkward in present tense--I think any editor would tell you that. If you’ll change it to past tense, I will help you cut it down.” She had to wait for me to regain my composure.

I changed all the verbs in “Summer” and mailed that section to Marlena’s home in Virginia. She worked on “Summer” while I continued with “Autumn”. When “Summer” returned with Marlena’s markings, I found that she wanted me to add transitions--I had to ask Beth Smith what transitions were--and Marlena had suggested parts to eliminate and she disapproved of the way I had typed the ellipses. I did everything Marlena suggested. We reworked all the sections and then started again from the beginning. When she declared it finished, the manuscript was 304 pages and she accepted what I’m sure was an inadequate payment along with my undying gratitude.

In 2013, Marlena E. Bremseth became Editor of DIME NOVEL ROUNDUP, a magazine devoted to the collecting, preservation, and study of old-time dime and nickel novels, popular story papers, series books, and pulp magazines. She is my cherished friend.

My husband is a patient man. He helped me learn to use the computer, read and reread parts of the manuscript, and made good suggestions like, “Don’t just tell me, show me.” He never complained about all the paper and ink I used—-but he did get hungry. I would forget the time and he’d come to my door and say, “Are we going to eat?” Now my husband brings home the best take-out food in town. He loves me and answers my stupid questions without judgment. I worked on the book for eight years from the time I retired until it was published so, you know, he is VERY patient.

I published the book through Create Space, a print-on-demand service with kind representatives who talked me through the process. They designed the cover and sent out press releases. I joined Facebook for the purpose of marketing and made contact with Tim Hill in Lublin, Poland. He and his team of computer wizards constructed this Book Preview. I belong to an ever-enlarging group of Indie Authors on Facebook. We text about our work, offer each other encouragement, post our frustrations, and share pictures of our pets.

And today, because of the book, I have had an opportunity to share my experiences with you.
Becoming an author has enriched my life.

Search result for 'author' in PERSONAL BAGGAGE

Chapter 9: Chapter Nine
"...and Maria was preparing to leave when Leroy Crouch, the night supervisor, came to Oncology. Having started his career as a medic in the Army, he was now in his mid-forties with a paunch, and new patients often mistook him for a doctor because he sounded like an authority on everything. ..."

Chapter 13: Chapter Thirteen
"... certified!” Barb said. “Thanks, but I’m not convinced it’s an honor to be authorized to infuse potent chemicals; there’s such small leeway between giving enough to kill the cancer cells and giving so much that you kill the bone marrow, it terrifies me!” “You’ll do fine; we ..."

"...Joan Hargrove, an agency nurse acting as evening supervisor, handed Penny the keys to Pharmacy and Central Supply and gave her a list of PRN nurses who might fill in if someone called out sick. With a voice of authority, Joan read names on the hospital’s census, clicking her ballpoint pen as she called attention to the sickest and most difficult patients. ..."

Search result for 'author' in the FAQs of PERSONAL BAGGAGE

Has becoming an author changed your life?

Search result for 'author' in Glossary of PERSONAL BAGGAGE

There were no results for 'author' in the the Glossary of PERSONAL BAGGAGE


"In her new novel PERSONAL BAGGAGE author Margaret McMillion gives us fine details of Southern family life and, she herself an..."

More Reviews
Share on Facebook Tweet This
Buy this book:
Visit the
Join Margaret McMillion on Google+
Get a Book Preview website