Monday, October 19, 2009

Interview with Diana's client, author Millie Samuelson

Millie, tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing journey that led you to self publish your three books and why you chose that non-traditional way of getting your words in print.

The seeds for my first book, Women of the Last Supper: “We Were There Too,” were planted decades ago in China, where I was born and raised during devastating war times. (Yes, my younger brother and I are war survivors, but our three older brothers are buried in Xian.)

Until seventh grade, my sporadic schooling was mostly by my missionary parents as we fled from place to place, seeking safety from bombs and anti-foreign-devil mobs. So during my elementary years, Dad’s pocket New Testament was often my only textbook.
I still vividly remember one day reading a lesson in the Gospels, then asking, “Daddy, why didn’t Jesus have any girl disciples?”

Dad looked at me with surprise and answered, “But of course, Jesus had girl disciples!” And he showed me some of the passages about the women who followed Jesus, and about the girl he brought back to life.

After my family escaped to Taiwan in 1951, we were able to subscribe to the Reader’s Digest. What a happy day when each new issue arrived (usually months late)! It became one of my favorite textbooks. One issue had an article about Leonardo da Vinci and his famous Milan mural depicting the Last Supper. As soon as I read it, I rushed to Dad. “Look,” I said, “why aren’t any of Jesus’ girl disciples there?”
Dad patiently explained to me that it was just an old painting, and that for some reason the painter had left out the women and the girls.

For decades, I enjoyed researching this topic, including at the Vatican and the Louvre, where there are huge ancient paintings showing women, children, and others present at the Last Supper. Then when I moved to Chesterton eleven years ago, for the first time I had a pastor willing to portray women at the Last Supper along with the twelve men disciples. After I wrote Lenten monologs for the twelve men disciples at my pastor’s request, with only a slight hesitation he agreed to twelve women monologs as well. They created quite a stir!

People soon were asking for copies of the women monolog stories. At first, my Joy Circle at church made copy machine booklets and sold them to raise money for missions. When my son Peter saw the booklets, he urged me instead to independently publish professional books using an inexpensive online-accessed printer. So my first book was also a surprise book, especially when study groups asked me to include questions and resources. My initial, timid print run of 250 books by was gone in two weeks. Now several years later, I’ve sold about 3000, mostly locally. Plus I’ve sold about 1000 of my other two books. Right now, I’m nearly out of books, and am waiting on God for my next step.

God has blessed the distribution of my self-published books through my speaking opportunities. However, I’ve been sensing for some time that God is leading me to share my stories beyond Indiana. That’s where Diana and Hartline come in! And I’m sure looking forward to the day Diana emails me the good news that a traditional publisher is offering us a contract.

Where did you get your inspiration for your book titled, Hungry River that you have rewritten and we are offering now as Dragon River?

Once I was no longer a full-time mother and teacher and academic writer, I had time and energy to work on fulfilling my novel dream! So I joined a library writing group and started attending writers conferences.

In my writing group, we wrote memoir stories. In 2000, I took a couple of these with me to the Write to Publish conference ( Wheaton, Illinois) for evaluation. Three separate staff individuals suggested I use my family’s China stories in novels. I sure hadn’t planned on that. My dream was always to write the great American novel, not a novel using tumultuous China, even though it was my motherland. But I took it as a sign from God, and today have written what will either be a trilogy or a novel with a sequel, depending on the publisher.

How did you research for this book?

Starting with my Nelson grandparents, my family has been closely associated with China and Taiwan for over a century, so our experiences are an important part of my research. I have what I call my China boxes. They are filled with memoirs, letters, photos, articles, scrapbooks, and artifacts dating back to 1892 when my Swedish-born grandparents first went to China as single missionaries. They romanced there and were married in Shanghai in 1895. My grandfather was a prolific writer – in Swedish and Chinese. Fortunately, when my father retired from missionary service and settled in the U.S., he translated most of Grandpa’s writings into English, for Dad was equally fluent in all three languages. I also have stacks of writings from my parents and other relatives, and my own observations.

I’m an avid reader, so my research also includes hundreds of books and other resources about China, as well as recent trips to China and discussions with Chinese people. A few excellent authors are Pearl Buck, Lin Yutang, Han Suyin, Lisa See, Amy Tan, Gus Lee, Jonathan D. Spence, David Aikman, Jung Chang, and Lisa Huang Fleischman. Plus many, many more.

What do you hope people will take away from reading your novel?

That’s interesting to ponder! I often pray God will speak to each reader in a personal and encouraging way through the somewhat fictional story inspired by my family’s true story. Based on the steady, affirming feedback I receive (often email from people I don’t know), God is answering that prayer.
What new projects are you working on?

In my Last Supper series, I’m writing the stories for Children of the Last Supper: “We Were There Listening.” I’ve selected six children likely present at the Last Supper, including Jesus’ youngest sister and one of Peter’s children.
I’m also working at completing my China novels. I expect to be finished in a few months. As I mentioned earlier, there will either be two or three novels. My work in progress is titled Jade Cross.

What is your all time favorite writing ‘How To’ book? One that you would like to recommend to other authors.

Years ago, I bought a copy of Penelope J. Stokes’ Writing & Selling the Christian Novel when it was still in bound manuscript form. As soon as it came out in paperback (Writer’s Digest Books), I bought another copy. I consider it my first and most important novel-writing guide. (But keep in mind, I taught reading and writing about novels for years. So I’m sure I learned something from that.)

Where can people find out more about you and your writing?

My website is
I welcome new FaceBook friends. On FB, I’m Millie Nelson Samuelson.
My books are available from or from me at


Jena said...

Wonderful interview, Millie! I, too, am eagerly awaiting the day when a traditional publisher snatches you up. :-) Your life and your writings are compelling and inspirational, and I am better off for knowing you. :-)

milliens said...

Just so you know, in the photo on the left is awesome agent Diana and in the center is lovely author Jena-Lynne (scroll down to read her fascinating interview about her soon-to-be published memoir, HOLLOW). We three new friends were enjoying outselves during the finale banquet at last June's Write to Publish conference. :-)

Jeanette Levellie said...

Millie: What fun to read a snippet of your growing up years in China. I can't wait to read your books! I will pray along with you that a publisher sees the value in them. Blessings,

P.S. Millie was one of the first people I met at the Write to Publish Conference in June. She is as lovely inside as she looks on the outside.

Brenda Nixon said...

Fascinating interview Millie (and Terry). Thanks for sharing and God bless your writing endeavors.

Patti Lacy said...

I've already READY your fascinating memoir and will soon see a form of it on the shelves!

Blessings to a great writer--and a great roommate!

Loved seeing the pictures and hearing from a soulmate pathfinder!

Keep in touch--now that you're a Facebooker, there's NO excuse!!!

Loree Lough said...

Loved it, Millie! Can't wait to get my hands on a copy of the book. See you at Facebook and Shoutlife, lady!