I recently had the opportunity to read Paul Millers debut book A Place to Belong. In it he details his life between the ages of 8 and 14, so what? I hear you say. Well the simple answer is that Paul’s childhood was anything but normal. This is a deeply moving work, and one that will illicit disbelief that the human race can be so callous.

Paul agreed to sit down and talk about A Place To Belong.

Hi Paul, thank you for agreeing to sit down and talk to us. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Most of my life has been spent in Structural Steel and Railcar Manufacturing. The last twenty years as a Realtor combined with six years in writing and perfecting A Place to Belong. Married and have three lovely daughters. The last one, attached picture, is what the picture implies.

A Place To Belong is a powerful drug. My understanding is that you have wanted to write this story for many years, what finally made you decide to put pen to paper?

Age and confidence. You’re right! I wanted to put this story on paper for 50+ years, but lack of confidence, humiliation, embarrassment and not wanting people to know what happened to me, and the directions I had to take in order to survive, kept me from writing it. Getting old does have some benefits, not many, but some, and one of those benefits is reaching the point that you don’t care what people think. That’s the way it was, and I can’t change it. If the story hurts or conflicts with the readers beliefs or feelings, I’m sorry. 

The motivation to actually sit down and start writing came from the urging and insistence of friends and relatives that were knowledgeable of some of my experiences. Armed with confidence and no more humiliation or embarrassment hanging onto my thinking, the decision was not difficult at all. I started in October, 2000 and by mid January, 2001 finished putting it on paper only, and by only, I mean just that! I paid no attention to spelling, grammar, punctuation, continuity or time lines. I just wanted the story on paper from my memory. Then it took six years to perfect it with the help of a very talented young lady. Without her, I would probably still be working on it.

Although many of the protagonists are now dead, what sort of reaction have you received from family members?

You know Simon, that’s a very interesting and puzzling question. Why? I have one sister and one brother still alive, sister Sarah and brother Johnny. Johnny of course is the mentally ill brother and he is in a state hospital in Michigan. So, he has no opinion or reaction. As for my sister, I’m totally baffled about her reaction. For example; after I sent the book to her I waited a short period and then called her on the phone to ask her what she thought of the book. Her reply, floored me! “Well, Paul, I have three other books that were given to me and I haven’t read them yet either.” After being frozen on the phone for several seconds, I replied, “Oh, okay. I’ll call back in a couple of months.” Which, I did. Her response this time was; “It was good. You have some of the dates wrong and some of the instances you mentioned a little different than what I remember them to be. But, it was okay.” That’s when I decided not to ever ask her any more questions about the book.

I sent the book to my nieces and nephews with a letter enclosed explaining some of the circumstances that might have confused them, and to keep in mind that, I was telling the story from the eyes of a eight to fourteen year old boy. I received one email from a niece, by marriage, she told me she loved the book and thought it was well written. That’s the only response out of a possible twenty.   

There is no doubt that you are a survivor, and throughout the book you show a remarkable ability to ‘look on the bright side’. There must have been moments where you were ready to give up though?

You’re absolutely correct! Many times I felt so alone, worthless, and lower than whale potty. (That’s Navy slang.) I was not “extraordinarily” intelligent nor did I posses some super power, it’s like I point out in the book; Noah’s teachings and sayings kept me from ending everything and/or disappearing. I asked myself several times, several times, “Why was Noah there at that particular time and place? Was he real? Was he an Angel? Was it God Himself? Why was Noah a black man? I have never had any dealings with black people in my life.” Just picture a huge black man approaching a little white kid at a dumpy fishing hole in the middle of nowhere. Scary? You betcha! I was scarred to death. But he had a way about him that didn’t take long to sooth the nerves and calm me down. He was responsible for my survival and I’ve never met anyone in my life like him, nor have I loved someone so much since, besides my wife and children. Who was Noah? Well, I was probably the only eight-year-old white kid in the world that thought God was black.

When I am not writing reviews, I can be found working at a local homeless center, I see Paul Miller’s everyday, maybe it is for that reason that I found the book so moving, and heart wrenching. How can we make Paul (no offence meant here) become a thing of the past?

I don’t know if the human race ever can or ever will eradicate this problem.  Reduction can be achieved through everyday love and caring for each other, and the more knowledge that is gained into mental illness. Years ago there was no way to help someone. People would just say, “Oh, he’s crazy!” One could not just call up their Psychiatrist for a session or pop a Prozac, they had to handle the problem the best they could. Sad part about it is that it was mostly done through alcohol. Which didn’t solve the problem but enhanced it.

But then, one thinks that the problems that exist today, are more numerous and complex. Requiring extensive treatment and more medication. So, where does it end? Sometimes I think the more we learn the more difficult it becomes to be just plain old, happy, secure and thoughtful. “Hey Johnny, let’s go outside and play ball with our friends.”   

If there is a Paul reading this interview, what advice do you have for him?

Oh Lord I hope not. I don’t want to see anyone go through what I went through.
I look back and ask myself what would I have done differently? I don’t know, if there is an answer. Why? Because there were so many emotions surrounding everyone’s decisions and actions. I can sit back and say, well if this didn’t happen; and if Dad had only; if Mother didn’t die; if the sister I wanted to stay with had taken me in; there are so many ifs – should ofs – could ofs, why didn’t I, I’m sorry, but the list is endless.

Only advice I can offer someone, that is, or could become in that position, is to talk truthfully and honestly, with someone that you know loves you, cares about you, your future, and that you have total confidence in, and that you are going to take their advice with sincerity and honesty. Then, ask the Lord with all your heart for guidance and wisdom. 

The book business is a brutal one, it is one thing doing a biography when you are famous or infamous, it is an entirely different situation when you are neither. Was it hard to get the book world to listen?

Oh yes! Indeed it was and is! I’m still wallowing around trying to get bearings. It has cost me a small fortune to get where I’m at today. I compare it to the young man that goes to Hollywood and wants to be a big movie star. Oh boy! What a road he has to follow. It’s knowing that you are going to face many obstacles, many rejections, many no’s, before the right person/persons come along. But I also feel very, very strongly that I have a product that is worth working for, it is good, well done, truthful, enlightening, will and can, be helpful to many. I know this to be fact because many that have read the book have told me so, and I know they were being brutally honest with me.

Over the past year I have interviewed over 100 people, authors, filmmakers, musicians, etc, and the common thread between them is they always have a ‘next’ project. Yet I have read that you have no plans for another book, or have I been mislead?

No, you have not been mislead. Like I said in the beginning of the interview, I have wanted to write this story for many years, for I knew, without hesitation, that there was a helpful message to get out to people. Now, I know I have accomplished that goal and I am as happy as a puppy snuggled up into my master’s lap. Well, there is one exception; I’m toying with a child’s illustrated book on the Noah portion only, but not very far into it at this time. Children’s books are very difficult to write.

How are sales going, and what sort of reaction are you getting from readers?

Sales are going well locally. But I’m having a difficult time getting it past the county lines. With your help and the help of people like Penny and Paula (AME), I’ll accomplish that goal too. Why? Because when a salesman knows he has a great product, it will sell.

Reaction has been nothing short of fantastic. The comments and reviews I’m getting are fabulous. People have brought the skeletons out of their closets, discussed them with me, thanked me for giving them the strength and courage to bring them out into the light and face them. I have been down right flabbergasted at some of the stories I’ve been told. And I know they are not messing with me because I can see the passion and hurt in their faces and eyes. The stories have been numerous, I’ll relate just one to you now.

A very young, petite lady told me how she was lying on a hill with her father in her gun site and was ready to pull the trigger because she hated him so much for what he had done to her. The trigger was pulled half way, when something, or someone, made her throw the gun down, run away from home and she has never looked back. I stared at this young lady for five straight minutes unable to totally comprehend what she just related to me. She cried, hugged me and said, “Oh, God. Thank you Paul for your story.” Almost made me cry too.

Do you have a web site where people can find out more information?

Yes. www.placetobelong.com. Also, amazon.com has some reviews and inside information on the book.

I know I have missed at least one question that you are just itching to answer. What is the question that you wished I had asked, and what is your reply?

You did a great job of asking the right questions. Only thing I would like to add is that, and an awful lot of people have mentioned this to me also, A Place to Belong will make a great movie if done by the right people.

Yes I agree, this would transition to the big screen very well. So all you movie moguls out there, get in touch with Paul and you could be on your way to the Oscars!

Thanks for chatting with us Paul, and we here at Blogger News wish you all the very best of luck.

Simon Barrett


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