Name: Mary Ellen Ziliak
Where are you from?
Newburgh, IN, USA
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc:
Growing up in a small Midwest farming community with three older brothers I was referred to as “spoiled rotten.” Hats I’ve worn are numerous and range from Director of Nursing to henna tattoo artist. The wife/Mom/Grandma roles stay constant. I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Being a proud Momma, I am happy to announce my first book, MS: Beyond the Red Door, is going to college! It is being implemented as a teaching tool for college level pathophysiology courses for healthcare providers. As a result, I am finishing an MS workbook for use in this curriculum and as a guide for book discussion groups.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
To anyone who’d listen I’ve always been a story teller. Serious writing became a passion in 2011 after I felt a sudden unflinching need to write a book. Once the idea of sharing my story was placed upon my heart, there was no turning back. March 5, 2013, MS: Beyond the Red Door was published.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
The moment the proof book was delivered to my front door and I stood in my foyer holding MS: Beyond the Red Door in my hands.
Dr. Rick Yeager saved lives as an ER physician. Mary Ellen Ziliak RN was passionate in the care of her patients. When MS struck, neither was prepared for the loss of career and identity. Now, professionals joined in battle, they faced a daunting challenge . . . a life challenge that became “The Red Door” they must go through. Knowledge empowered them. Acceptance gave them freedom. And day to day choices became their new purpose, filled with hope. Within this book lies the synchronicity of life.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I have multiple sclerosis (MS) and in the middle of a relapse my good friend who also lives with MS, Dr. Rick Yeager, emailed words of encouragement to me. When I read his words I no longer felt alone. Someone else understood. I thanked him with a phone call and mid conversation I said, “Rick, we need to write a book and share our story. Others touched by MS need to know they are not alone.” I started writing the next day. Rick, being a man and a harder sell, waited two days to start writing as my co-author.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
As I mentioned earlier, I am a story teller. There’s nothing fancy in my style. I write like I talk to a good friend. My voice in a phone call is my voice in my writing. My words flow freely from the heart because they are bursting forth. I write it all “quick and dirty” as my old nursing supervisor would say. Once it’s all down, I do many rewrites.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Rick and I approached our book with the premise, “Everyone has a life challenge. They’re all different. Our life challenge just happens to be MS.” I had done a painting called “The Red Door” and we started to refer to our MS as our Red Door. We believe to live our lives well with the challenges of MS we need to acknowledge our Red Door, push it wide open, and face our life challenge head-on. We have no idea what awaits us on the other side of that mysterious red door: a pot of gold or a pit of snakes like Indiana Jones. Either way we can get through to the other side and live our lives well. Thus the title, “MS: Beyond the Red Door.”
Painting by Mary Ellen Ziliak
Fiona: Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
You are not alone. Whatever your life challenge is, face it, embrace it, and live your life well.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic? 100%. Rick and I tell it like it is when living with multiple sclerosis. MS: Beyond the Red Door is non-fiction, autobiography, biography, personal memoir.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
This book is my life and Dr. Rick Yeager’s and our stories are pretty blunt. We have one chapter entitled, “Poop, Pee and Sex.” Get the idea? While our readers laugh, cry, and learn about MS, they get an intimate look at the lives of an ER doctor and hospital nurse who have their roles as medical professionals reversed to patients with a chronic, often times debilitating neurological disease called multiple sclerosis.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life?
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Reading it helped me fully release the artist within me.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Ann Lamott’s words in Bird by Bird struck a chord in me: “We write to expose the unexposed.”
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Tuesday’s Child by Dale Mayer and Writing is my Drink by Theo Pauline Nestor.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
We have so many talented new authors picking one is tough. I will say however authors on that list include some home-grown ones: Cindy Nord, Donna Hendricks, and Eddie Raven. See, we grow more than just corn and soybeans here in Southwestern Indiana.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I am finishing my MS workbook and a short story submission for an inspirational anthology. I’ve also started, Touching the Untouchables. This nonfiction book shares the life and accomplishments of a remarkable international missionary, Father Jerry Ziliak (yes, he’s related), who spent fifty years working with the “outcasts” of India. From his mission in Karpur, India he kept in touch with his friend and cohort down the road, Mother Teresa, who also supported the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
The Yeager boys: Dr. Rick Yeager, my co-author in MS: Beyond the Red Door and Dr. Myron Yeager, LA English professor, who offered insightful guidance with the birthing of MS: Beyond the Red Door.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I am blessed to have duo careers right now as both a writer and a motivational speaker. I travel extensively talking about multiple sclerosis as an MS Ambassador with Genzyme, a Sanofi company. Guess I love an audience whether it be via books or keynote speaking.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
October 28, 2014 my short story about an inspiring man with ALS was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul Find Your Inner Strength. I’d change no words, but I do regret David Ritzert died before I could tell him his amazing story was to be included in this anthology.
We’re all stronger than we think, and we often discover our inner strength and resilience when a problem arises. The 101 empowering stories in this collection will inspire and encourage you to overcome your own challenges.
There’s nothing like real stories from real people to inspire you. These empowering and uplifting stories by people who have overcome challenges, solved problems, or changed their lives will help you find your own inner strength, resilience, and remind you to think positive, count your blessings, and use the power that you have within you.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
When Rick Reed, a high school friend and accomplished writer, mentioned he thought I had a book inside me I laughed myself silly. When the hysteria subsided, I thought, “Wait a minute! He’s a published author, why not me?” And thus the seed was planted.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Gladly. This excerpt is from my Touching the Untouchables manuscript. The setting is May, 1952, Bhagor, India and Jerry Ziliak SVD is in year three of fifty he will spend as an international missionary in India.
The novelty was long gone with waking up at 2:00 A.M. to the sound of the Baroda & Central India train clanking the rails through the middle of the Catholic Mission in Bhagor, India. The train’s whistle was long and low. The vibrating clicks were rhythmic and resurrected visions of a first train ride to college and a later one to New York to catch the ocean ship, Vulcania. Lying on his palang, Jerry counted stars and watched the jungle moon sneak by through the holes of the roof that sagged heavy under the weight of years and thick mud tiles.
Three years, and Jerry had come to appreciate the peculiar mixture of civilization and primeval jungle surrounding him. A pack of jackals wailed nearby. The howls mimicked human tones and trickled cold chills down Jerry’s spine. “Were these the cries of lost souls?” he thought. “Were the indifferent stray sheep grazing on the other side of the fence? How would he bring them around? What words would he choose for rounds in the morning?” Eyelids became heavy until the purr of the neighbor’s millstone and the jolting of the bullock carts over stony paths stirred Fr. Jerry Ziliak for the new day.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Committing to the exorbitant amount of time needed to write a book is my biggest challenge. I have a one track mind so when in true “book mode” I write daily.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Sorry Fiona, this question makes my head hurt so I’ll take a pass.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
My speaking engagements as an MS Ambassador have me traveling a lot. Recently I flew 10,000 miles (without crossing an ocean) in a month so many of my book signings are closer to home.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
For my first book I envisioned an opening door with sleek modern design and dominant use of red and black. I think Tate Publishing, LLC nailed it when they incorporated the skills of Jan Sunday Quilaquil for the cover design of MS: Beyond the Red Door. Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC had the talented Brian Taylor, Pneuma Books, LLC bring us the cover for Chicken Soup for the Soul Find Your Inner Strength. I love the power emitted from the lion.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Swallowing my pride to cut 30,000 words from an early draft. Oh, it hurt.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Putting tough times in life down on paper is very cathartic.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
If you want to write a book the first question to ask yourself is, “What am I willing to give up?”
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Life is short. Follow your heart and live your life well.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Don’t have a clue.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
In the making of an educational video about MS, I was part of a two day video shoot in New York. Directors, makeup, and wardrobe were foreign to this small town girl. So when I was assigned a twenty-something handler with a clip board and headset I was very amused. Walking to the set my handler announced into her headset, “Talent is moving. Talent is moving. Two minutes out. Talent is two minutes out.” That cracked me up. My next stop to the bathroom had me wondering what announcement would be made.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
Pope Francis. The man has his finger on the pulse of the world and leads his flock as a straight shooter.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
“She lived, loved, and served.”
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
A few: painting, art galleries, dancing, hiking, mandalas, classic rock, easy jazz, Scrabble, card club, doodling, puzzles, plays, wine tours, and holding hands with my sweetheart.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I enjoy Madame Secretary, Scandal, Scorpion, and NCIS New Orleans. Films are a rarity.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
I’m a pizza lover. To feel peppy and stimulated I listen to the “Burlesque” sound track or 70s Golden Oldies. To chill I put on Louis Armstrong. But my favorite artist has to be Alicia Keys and I would love to see her in concert. My favorite colors are red, purple and peacock colors like Prussian blue.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I wanted to be a ballerina and wear a tutu, a drummer, or a psychologist. My degree is in nursing.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
This was fun Fiona. Thank you and have a fantastic 2015!