Jill Nutter/Jillian Kent

Secrets of the Heart, The Ravensmoore Chronicles, Book One is Jillian Kent’s debut novel that released in May 2011. Jill is fascinated with human behavior and how our minds work, and understands the mind, body, and spirit connection. She is a full-time counselor for nursing students and possesses a masters degree in social work. Jill is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors and is passionate about mental health and wellness and stomping out the stigma of mental illness which is evident in her novels. You can reach her at jill@jilliankent.com and explore her website at www.jilliankent.com, and the website for the national alliance on mental illness is http://www.nami.org/

The Well Writer
Jillian's guest this month: Serena Miller

Writing Through Family Illness

Serena MillerTwo years ago I was the happiest person on earth. I had just signed my first contract with a wonderful publisher. I had five months to write the book.

I was not a complete novice. I had spent ten years learning the craft and business of writing. I had published multiple magazine articles and had hard copies of three completed, unpublished inspirational novels residing beneath my bed. In addition, my children were grown, self-supporting, and maintenance-free. My husband was supportive. The church we had worked with for fifteen years was doing great. I was healthy, my husband was healthy, and I was free to devote myself to what I believed was my God-given mission.

The timing was perfect.

My husband and I immediately took a holiday to Holmes County, Ohio, to research for the Amish book I had proposed. I could almost hear background music playing as we drove around Sugarcreek, taking pictures, meeting people, and making notes. God was good. We were blessed. My lifelong dream was coming true—and it was even sweeter than I had imagined.

One month later our world caved in.

I came home to find my tough-as-nails husband lying on the floor of our living room, unable to move a fraction of an inch without screaming. My son was kneeling beside him. He said his dad had hurt his back cutting firewood. The pain was so intense we called the ambulance. The hospital could find nothing wrong, so they gave him a morphine shot and sent us home.

The next nine months was a nightmare of the most excruciating pain I have ever witnessed. Multiple doctors were unable to determine the cause of the many spinal fractures they discovered. My formerly strong, healthy husband could barely move without crying from pain. He could not shower or dress himself or get out of a chair unaided. At night I dozed on a couch beside his bed, hair-trigger ready to jump up and care for him.

I was terrified, exhausted, my heart was shattered daily by my husband’s suffering; there were doctor’s visits and tests—and I had an Amish romance to somehow research and write.

It seemed that the Lord—with whom I had been so pleased with back in September—had incredibly bad timing.

The Measure of Katie CallowayQuitting was not an option. My husband was a preacher for a country church. We did not know if he would ever be able to work again. There were major out-of-pocket medical bills. I had been away from the work force for ten years. My chances of getting a job were remote—but I could not have left my husband alone even had I gotten one. We had some savings, but there was a very real possibility that the only income we would have in the near future would be whatever I could make with my writing.

I made that deadline.

We finally found a doctor who was able to make a correct diagnosis. My husband had an extremely rare form of bone cancer. Our world imploded even further.

I signed a contract for a second book and somehow met that deadline.

We spent this past Christmas in the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, where my husband received a bone marrow transplant. I wrote much of my third book on a yellow tablet while sitting in his hospital room.

Although I knew something about writing when I signed that first contract—I now realize that it was only during our two-year trial-by-fire that I finally grew up, got serious, and became a professional. No longer did I have the luxury of going through my little rituals of lighting a scented candle, sitting in my favorite chair, wearing my fuzzy socks, and being in the mood to write. No longer did I throw a hissy fit if I didn’t have complete silence and long, uninterrupted periods of time to gaze out the window and sip tea while I composed.

Instead, I trained myself to write wherever and on whatever I had available. I trained myself to block out fear when I wrote, and to focus entirely upon putting words on the page. I discovered that having a story-world into which I could escape each day was a gift from God.

I also learned about the power of routines.

The day after the horrifying bone cancer, diagnosis, I called a close friend who had been a family doctor for many years. “How do I continue to do this? How do I take care of my sick husband and write when I am terrified? How do I manage to get through each day when I feel like I’m drowning in quicksand?”

The answer he gave me was two-fold: (1) prayer and (2) routine. He said he had noticed that families who had faith—which we did—and who had created daily routines for themselves got through major illness much better than those who did not. He told me to build into each day a time for a walk, a time to fix a

nutritious meal, a time for prayer, a time for minimal housework. He said the more routines I could set up, the better I would do as a caregiver, because once they were in place, I could operate on automatic pilot while focusing on caring for my husband. He said routines would take away some of the panic and chaos and help me feel like I had some small amount of control over my life. He thought it might even make it easier for me to write.

His advice gave me a tangible direction. We were already praying, but the routine part? Not so much.

I started small. I began to unload the dishwasher while I waitedLove Finds You In Sugarcreek Ohio for the coffee to perk in the morning, instead of just yawning and waiting. That was a routine. I started walking—in fifteen minute intervals back and forth in front of our house with my cell phone in my pocket and the house phone within my husband’s easy reach. Being outdoors—even for small amounts of time—made me feel better. I began processing one small load of laundry each day instead of allowing it to grow into a mountain. I made myself get completely dressed each morning instead of spending half the day in the sweats I had slept in. And every night, I would search the Scriptures for what I thought of as my nuggets of gold—God’s promises—and I would capture them in a notebook.

Each small routine helped me feel just a little more in control, a little more like maybe we could get through this.

By the grace of a loving God, an army of praying friends, and the work of a brilliant doctor, my husband is now in complete remission. He is able to work full time again. He feels well. The doctor says he is going to be fine, and that with daily meds there is a very good chance he will live another ten to twenty productive years. We are relieved and grateful—but neither of us are the same people who went into that dark tunnel two years ago.

His sermons have taken on a greater depth. Our appreciation for the gift of simply being able to go to work is boundless. I have learned that I am capable of more discipline than I ever dreamed possible.

Now that we have been given remission and hope, things are getting back to normal. I have managed to complete that third book and will have a fourth finished soon. I’ve signed contracts for three more novels over the next two years. It appears that I actually have a writing career. This would not have happened had I given up during those dark days.

I still follow my routines. I learned that a timer is a powerful writing tool—at least for me. I set it for forty-five minutes and write. Then I set it for fifteen minutes and do household chores or walk. I can do four to five thousand words a day using that method. It helps me focus—and at the end of an intense writing day, I find that those fifteen minute intervals have kept my home and my life in pretty good order.

My first two books, to my astonishment, have received wonderful reviews. I get frequent e-mails from readers who say that they were moved by them. I marvel that either of them is even readable.

I would not wish my husband’s illness on anyone. But there is one thing I know—I am a better writer because of it.

Serena Miller decided to get serious about writing fiction while she was working as a court reporter in Detroit and found herself developing an overwhelming desire to compose a happy ending for every transcript she typed. She and her husband live in a southern Ohio farming community in an 1830's log cabin that has been in her family for five generations. She was delighted when an Amish community formed not far from her home, and has enjoyed getting to know these hard-working people. When she isn't canning tomatoes, splitting firewood, shooing deer out of the blueberry bushes, or feeding grown sons who drop by daily to see if she's cooked anything good, she helps out at her church and sings at the drop of a hat. She also falls in love with all her characters and writes as many happy endings for them as she can.


Secrets Of The Heart