Thank you to my mentors!

There’s a popular saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Thank you to my village!



What’s a mentor?

I looked it up on the Merriam-Webster dictionary website and found:

A: a trusted counselor or guide

B:  tutor, coach

Next, I looked up tutor: a person charged with the instruction and guidance of another

I’m glad I found the definitions, but mostly I’m glad I found my mentors.

This wonderful group of people guided me as I learned about writing. I entered my first writers workshop with no knowledge about the craft or the skill needed to put my thoughts to paper (actually to the computer screen.) The first pieces I shared with them had lots of mistakes. My mentors gave gentle,  yet constructive criticism. I considered myself an infant in the life of an author. They took my hand as I grew through the toddler stage, entered “school” and worked my way through the lessons they provided.

Within the confines of a supportive community of trusted guides, tutors and coaches, I gained confidence and learned from them the correct procedure to submit the things I’d written. When it came time to write my first book query, and then my book proposal, experienced eyes found my weak areas and offered me suggestions for improvement.

I recently attended the conference that I feel gave me a solid start, the Cedar Falls Christian Writers Workshop. On my way to the first day of the three-day conference, I stopped at the post office to pick up my mail. I marveled about God’s timing. For you see, my recently won award plague had just arrived – the 2017 Selah Award for memoir writing. From an “infant” to “I’m not even sure what grade I’m in these days” in six years!

I remember May 24, 2017 – the night the awards were announced through a live Twitter feed. I sat in my home, alone as the words, “Virginia Pillars winner of the Selah Award for Memoir” appeared on my screen. I covered my face and cried – “I never thought it would be me.” May 24 is also National Schizophrenia Awareness Day. My book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith tells the story of our family’s experience with schizophrenia. I still tell others to pinch me – wake me up from this dream I didn’t know I had.

I want to say, “thank you” to those who helped me. If you follow me, you may know that I write under a pseudonym at the request of my family. They fear stigma will re-enter our daughter’s life, so I honor them by keeping them out of social media. I don’t publish photographs of me, or my family for this reason, but I can share the photos of my mentors. Through them, I learned to write, publish and speak about my story through schizophrenia with my child. 

I’ve asked them to hold my award, for I believe some of the credit belongs to them, too. I couldn’t have done it without them.

Mary Kenyon



Mary Potter Kenyon writes and speaks on the subjects of grief, cancer, friendship, the word of coupons, and writing for publication. She is currently working on her fifth book.



Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach is an award-winning author, founder of the Cedar Falls Christian Writers Workshop, author of six books and frequent speaker on PTSD.

Jolene Philo

Jolene Philo has a passion for those with special needs, especially our youth. She’s written many books and speaks extensively on the subject.

Wanda Sanchez

Wanda Sanchez and Shelly Beach work together in the field of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.) As co-authors of an award-winning book, Love Letters from the Edge, they speak nationwide. Reach them at PTSD Perspectives.

Mary Humston
Mary Jedlicka Humston

Mary Jedlicka Humstom co-authored Mary and Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink with Mary Potter Kenyon. It tells their friendship of over thirty years through the art of letter writing.

And last, but not least, these are some of the group who meet regularly and have taught me, challenged me as we shared our writings, and heaped out large scoops of encouragement. If I overlooked someone, it is not my intent. I appreciate each and every person I’ve met along the way.

writers group




Elephant in the Room

We’ve all heard the term, “elephant in the room” – the subject everyone knows about, but no one talks about it. Well, not in polite company anyway…

When I grew up, back in the 60’s and 70’s, lots of subjects fell under this category. Pregnancy, for one. PG was the term I heard often when I listened to my mother and aunts talk over coffee.

Cancer was another one. When the adults in my life discussed the “illness,” they referred to it as “C.” I don’t know if they thought they would catch it or what. But I didn’t hear the word cancer.

Of course, mental illness. I heard the term, nervous breakdown once in a while, but I didn’t know what that meant. People kept these struggles behind their front door. We didn’t know about them.

Fast forward fifty-some years. We’ve changed our thoughts on what is a topic of polite conversation. We chat about pregnancy and cancer often, with either joy, as is often the case for expecting a child, or concern over the devastating illness cancer. We, as a culture, rally around those who face cancer with cards, letters, fund-raisers and food. We promise to pray for them.

Mental illness has lagged behind the other two subjects as one we feel we can tell our family and friends to obtain support. It’s still the elephant in the room. There is still some amount of stigma and shame associated with this illness that science has proven to have a biological base.

I know when it struck our family in 2004, I reacted the same way. I kept it to myself. I didn’t tell those around me on a daily basis. I told immediate family and no one else. I was embarrassed. Why? Because I didn’t know other families who dealt with it. I thought we’d be judged. What had I done as a mom to cause this? Why didn’t I prevent it?

Once I realized that my child suffered from a broken brain, I changed my attitude. I reached out to extended family and friends. I found support. I found understanding. I found people who promised to pray for our situation. And I found healing.

One in five individuals deal with a mental health issue at some time in their life. One in four families know about the pain that accompanies it. More wages are lost to mental illness than cancer, heart and lung disease combined.

Let’s start a conversation. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Let’s continue it. Let’s let others know of our struggles. Let’s support others in theirs. Let’s rally around families as they deal with the unthinkable. How about a gift card for gas? It takes many trips to doctors, therapists, hospital visits, and food. Can we send a card or note to let them know they are in our thoughts and prayers?

I’ve heard it said in NAMI groups, “No one brings you a casserole when your loved one is in a mental health unit…” We did. We actually had someone bring us a casserole when our child was in the hospital. But the best part – they sat and shared a meal with us. They stayed with us to listen and cry with us.  They reminded me of the friends at the end of the book of Job.  They didn’t say anything because they knew our pain was so great.

Because of my own experience, I reach out to others and give them permission to talk whatever it is they need to say.


How to Eat An Elephant, Part 4

I sent my book query off to a publisher

     Still with me? Keep chewing…

     I sent my book query off to a publisher, Familius. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I prepared myself for a rejection e-mail. After all, almost every speaker I had heard repeated numerous times, “Nobody gets a contract on the first time.” One even said they’d been rejected over fifty times. So I got ready for the “I’m sorry…”  

 Imagine my surprise when I received a note back with a request to see more of my writing. I revZim 341iewed my book proposal for a final time, making sure I’d dotted every i and crossed every t, attached it, hit send and held my breath. The idea of a published book seemed distant, far away.

After what seemed like months, in reality, a few days, I heard my proposal was under consideration and a contract may be offered. “What? No way!” were my sentiments. The publisher wanted a phone conversation before we solidified the deal, so now we played a game of tag. He was busy, I was busy, he was gone, I was gone. After a couple of months, we finally connected.

I explained why I thought I was qualified to write this book about mental illness. My qualification? I lived it, I breathed it, I already shared my story with others as a volunteer for our local NAMI organization, on church retreats and in conversations. I wanted others to know recovery is possible and support is vital.

On August 1, 2015, I received the contract! Excited doesn’t begin to cover it. I shared my joy with a gathering of cousins and aunts within the hour. How convenient the luncheon was on my day’s list already. I had a hard time wrapping my head around my good fortune. One book query sent. One book proposal sent. A contract for me who still didn’t have confidence that I had reached maturity in the life of a writer.  The deadline for my completed manuscript was March 31, 2016.

I signed the contract on September 22, 2015, with the deadline for my completed manuscript on March 31, 2016.

Time to buckle down and finish recording my story using the required format: Times New Roman 12, double-spaced, one-inch margins.



Why a Pen Name?

I’m not ashamed of my story…

May 2016

A pen name? Why?

I wrote a book which details my personal journey through mental illness with my child. She became ill with schizophrenia in late 2004. Uneducated and unprepared I found myself struggling to understand our situation.

First, I am not ashamed of my story, nor my experience with mental illness. I am more than proud of my child, who’s overcome the nasty symptoms mental illness unleashed.

However, this story is about me, and my reactions to the chaos that accompanied our journey through mental illness. In telling my story, I needed to discuss other family members and their place in our story. They didn’t ask to be part of this journey through mental illness, nor did our affected child. Or me, for that matter. In addition, this time in their life evokes many painful memories. Therefore, they wish to leave those recollections in the past. A place where they’ve been dealt with and resolved. Continued discussions about those times may only open them to additional grief. In order to keep their identities private, I used a pen name and changed all our names and locations.

In concealing our identity, my hope is that you’ll concentrate on my story, what unfolded, and how I dealt with all the issues that accompany mental illness. I think I have some of the most supportive, loving and caring family, as well as friends. Therefore I would like to leave them in the world where they live, separate from the eyes of any publicity that may accompany this book.

And I’m grateful for your understanding. Broken Brain, Fortified Faith releases on September 6, 2016. It is available Amazon, Barnes and Noble, direct from the publisher Familius, or from any bookstore.

Thank you for stopping.

Virginia Pillars

How to Eat an Elephant – Part 2

Zim 742June 2015

A few more bites…

During the summer of 2008, two strangers told me within a week of each other that I should write a book and tell my story. I didn’t feel like a writer, but I gave their comments some thought. I decided if I wanted to write a book, I needed to find out if I had the capabilities for such a task. Since my only writing had been our family Christmas letter, I found a local group of writers who met once a month. My daughter had found this group and invited me to join her.

I remember the first time I read a piece I had written. The comments “Wonderful,” “I love it,” and “That’s so great” sounded wonderful.

However, I didn’t think my writing warranted such responses and asked for feedback. The floodgates opened as constructive criticism was given with honesty and compassion. I took their advice to heart and added some spit and polish to the piece.

That Christmas, I entered a local contest for devotionals.Still unsure,  I threw out the proverbial fleece, much like Gideon in the book of Judges. I prayed, “God if this is your will for me to write, I’ll get in.”

After my bold proclamation and the piece appeared in their booklet in December, I felt that I had no choice but to move forward. I began to attend the monthly writing group. I looked forward to the lessons taught and the advice I received from the members.  I absorbed the things I heard and implemented their suggestions. My road to learning began.

The next summer, I attended a local writer’s conference. Through one of the presenters, I learned of a devotional book in the making. I submitted four pieces and total shock enveloped me when I learned one piece would appear.

Since I considered myself a toddler in the life of an author, I continued to attend the monthly group and the conference the following year.

While there, I met a woman with years of writing experience. For some reason, she took me under her wing with a boatload of encouragement. With her help, I submitted my first piece for a book of anthologies. In 2011, my first essay appeared. The thrill of publication filled me to my toes.

During the next three years, I continued to submit to anthologies. Chicken Soup for the Soul published two pieces, along with other books with collections of stories . Each year I had a piece or two accepted for inclusion in a book. My confidence grew. By January of 2015, I felt lead to write a book query and a book proposal, mostly at my mentor’s suggestion.

What’s a book query and a book proposal? Come again for the next leg of my journey. Read about my next bite of the proverbial elephant.

Sign up to receive the message when I post a new thought, if you wish.

Thanks so much for stopping by to visit.

Virginia Pillars

Thank you, Familius

How do you eat an elephant?

March 13, 2016

Zim 543I read an old saying this morning, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer, “One bite at a time.”

Boy, do these words seem appropriate for this time in my life. I just finished getting my first book ready for publication. It’s been exciting, incredible, amazing, humbling and scary all rolled into one. Lots of people have asked me, “How did you do it?”

My answer, “One bite at a time.”

Over  the next few months, I plan to discuss my process: from the tiny seed planted during the summer of 2008 to finishing the final edits of my first book in the winter of 2016, and on to marketing it in the summer/fall of 2016.

Up until the summer of 2008, the only thing I had written was the annual, dreaded Christmas letter, along with some random notes and letters over the years. Although, there was one exception. Many, many moons ago, our local newspaper had a contest: readers were invited to create a scenario to describe how the writers of the TV show, Dallas, would bring Bobby Ewing back after he died in a previous season. On a lark, I concocted a ridiculous story and mailed it in. To my surprise, my submission was chosen and I won the $25 prize. I took my winnings and pierced my ears. I wanted to always remember the circumstances of doing such a daring move for me, a rather no-frills gal. At that time of my life,  I didn’t wear any jewelry except my wedding ring and an occasional  necklace – if I felt especially daring. The thing that tickles me the most: I didn’t even watch Dallas on a regular basis. I couldn’t, I was a young mom with four children, ages 5-11. Who had time to watch TV?

But taking my writing seriously? I didn’t consider it. I thought my passion was raising my children, sewing, and not, but not least, helping my hubby run the family farm.

My focus changed after two strangers made similar remarks to me within a week. It helped that my children were all grown and living life on their own terms. I still enjoyed sewing, and our farm had morphed into an enterprise that no longer required my services.

Join me as I remember how I chewed  – one bite at a time.