Where do I begin?
If you had told me three years ago that I would be writing an article in the
PMA Newsletter, I would have responded in a couple of ways.
First, “You’re out of your mind,” and second, “Who or what in the world is PMA?”
As a woman and as a registered nurse for many years I probably would have guessed that PMA stood for something like PreMenstrual Aches or Probable Menopausal Agitation or Post Midlife Aggression (can you guess how old I am?).
But I now know what PMA does stand for, and I am very grateful for this organization whose efforts have helped educate people like me as we venture into the unknown world of writing and publishing.
For you see, life threw me a curve three-and-a-half years ago. Having been a hospice nurse for many years, I was forced by health problems to step down from a position that had brought me to the peak of my professional career. It was a time when my body and my spirit experienced a deep sense of loss. But as I sit here in my very simple but cozy little office writing this article, I smile because life is good and because I am convinced that those curve balls can become the means by which we achieve happiness and fulfillment.
My first book, I Wanna Go to Grandma’s House, was printed in February of this year. It is now in stores coast to coast, including Barnes and Noble and Borders. We have just placed an order for a third printing of 5,000 more copies of this 48-page, color-illustrated, 8 1/2-by-11 hardcover picture book. Fifteen thousand books in six months! My little publishing company, My Grandma and Me Publishers, is now awaiting delivery of my next book, Grandma’s Christmas Tree. Although we had planned to order an initial printing of 10,000, we’ve now ordered 15,000 because of the calls requesting this book, and I won’t be surprised if that’s not enough. Being completely new to this business, I wasn’t sure how to judge my numbers, but the experts tell me that they’re quite phenomenal.
I believe that the story I have to share is one of miracles, miracles that include a realization that blessings sometimes come wrapped in strange and mysterious ways. For me, Parkinson’s was just such a blessing.
And so, for what it’s worth, here is my story.
–Janet Mary Sinke
The Making of I Wanna Go to Grandma’s House
by Grandma Janet Mary
I don’t know why I got up that particular night in January. It was not unusual to wake. Parkinson’s had caused fragmented sleep many nights before. Normally I would lie in bed and wait to drift off again, but this particular night was different, and like all gifts that come from the Spirit, it began with a simple idea.
I would write about my grandbaby. The subject matter was perfect. It would not be hard to write about someone so beautiful. And as I thought about the possibilities while sitting in the quiet of the night, I felt the presence and strength of two very special women, my own grandmothers. I could see their faces. I felt the warmth of their smiles. I could hear the patience and love in their voices. I remembered, and for a brief time that night, I was with them. I was back at Grandma’s House, a place I loved to go.
And so, no longer feeling alone, I came to a turning point in the road of my life; two paths were before me. At age 50, diagnosed with Parkinson’s and an intestinal disease, I could see down the road I was on. It stretched for miles and miles, and although gray skies hung overhead, at least there were no bends or curves. I could see a long way, and for the present, I felt somewhat secure.
But I was tempted to forsake it, for to the right of the “safe” path lay a road whose end was hidden. I could not see very far. There were many dips and curves. I could see strangers walking. It was scary at my age. I had health challenges that could make this road more dangerous. I could fall and get hurt.
I stepped to the right and started down the new path. My grandmothers smiled.
And as I thought of them, the words came in a unique and different way. It was through the eyes of a grandchild that I began to write and express the quiet wisdom of my grandmothers. These two simple yet strong, loving women had taught me much, their lessons now finally learned.
And it was that January might, the night of my awakening, when I knew there was purpose to the new path I was about to travel, for I heard their words with the heart of a grandmother, my heart. My mind was flooded with memories of the past. “The simple things,” I heard my grandmothers say, “write about the simple things that feed the heart and nourish the soul.”
They have been with me on this journey, not quite as powerful as on that night in January, but with me still.
For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed writing. As a little girl I had a secret place on my family’s Michigan farm where I would go and put my personal thoughts down on paper. An apple tree, where the branches came out just right to form a comfortable and safe place, is where I would sit and imagine. My seven brothers and sisters would tease and banter at times, but they knew it was my special place. Never did I let anyone read my written, private thoughts. Instead, I would hide them away. I continued to write as I grew older and remained that same silent writer.
But not this time!
Not even when I got 54 rejections from publishing companies.
No, I had set foot on this new path. I was committed to learn all I could. I studied, spent days and days in bookstores, and discovered that I too could form my own publishing company. So I rolled up my sleeves and dug in, ready to sacrifice and invest toward my goal–to dream it, believe it, and then work hard to get it.
The year 2003 was a learning year, and the big lesson to learn was this: Marketing is the name of the game. So, I began with my grass roots and contacted the small gift shops, the community-newspaper editor, teachers, educational administrators, my nursing colleagues, and anyone and everyone else who would listen. I read in many different classrooms, talked to the kids, developed a style and had fun. The response was overwhelming. I continued to develop contacts, expanding my area. One person knew another and would refer me to someone else. My kids, outgoing and fun, became my representatives and spread the word of a “new author/publisher,” their mom.
Finally, press day was here, a whole year later. My Web site was in place, flyers with letters had been sent out. Principals at all area schools had been contacted. I made use of “March, Reading Month”–my fee, $0.00. In return, I was written up and promoted in school newsletters. I was busy every day at elementary schools with my presentation. I shared with students all I knew about publishing a book, but, more important, I incorporated a message along with the rough drafts and original illustrations–”Make your memories today.”
Drawing from my hospice experience, I stressed the importance of family and grandparents. I always gave the kids homework, instructing them to write letters to their grandparents expressing their feelings and gratitude. If someone had no grandparent, they were to write to someone special to them. (No email.)
Orders kept coming in, but we felt we had something exciting enough to reach a wider area, and so I hired a sales rep who had the necessary contacts and knowhow. Strange, how things work out and come full circle. The sales rep I hired was the son of a patient I had cared for several years ago. The rep has worked very hard to get my little publishing company going.
Today, it is represented in a major gift catalog; book signings have been arranged; marketing never quits; sales at a 50 percent discount total over $70,000, and the number keeps growing.
So, at age 53, as I sense the years passing more quickly now, I realize that life is full of miracles, and for me now life’s greatest miracle is to have a second chance to love a child, a child who calls me Grandma. What a wonderful thing!
So wonderful, in fact, that I feel a humble calling to share my joy with others in the Grandma Janet series. Its third book will be Grandpa’s Fishin’ Friend. So far, I have written six more Grandma stories, seven more Grandpa stories, and one story about Grandma and Grandpa together. In each story, my intent is to renew basic family values and enrich the lives of the young and old alike.
I’m not sure where this path will lead. I know I have traveled quite a few miles. I don’t think I could find my way back. I wouldn’t want to. Instead, I will continue to do all I can to be productive, all I can to make a difference, all I can to share my own gifts and remain open to the spirit and unique goodness of those I meet along the way.
And so the story continues.
To learn more about Grandma Janet Mary, visit www.mygrandmaandme.com, email email@example.com, or write to Grandma Janet Mary, My Grandma and Me Publishers, P.O. Box 144, St. Johns, MI 48879.