Date of interview: 19 January 2019
Based on actual events, Nancy Panko’s award winning novel, Guiding Missal, is narrated by a small Catholic prayer book carried in the pockets of three generations of servicemen, beginning in 1942 during WWII and ending in 1993 with the Battle of Mogadishu during Blackhawk Down. It is a tale of faith, family, patriotism, and miracles both on and off the battlefield. The book began as a result of efforts to re-create her father-in-law’s military history as a birthday present for her husband, Butch, on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. As she held the Military Missal in her hands, Nancy thought, “If only this little book could talk.” In her novel, she gives the prayer book a voice.
The making of Guiding Missal was a May 2017 segment on WRAL-TV’s The Tar Heel Traveler. Nancy and her book participated on Robby Dilmore’s WTRU radio show, Kingdom Pursuits. The Military Writers’ Society of America presented Guiding Missal with the 2017 Silver Award-for Historical Fiction. Guiding Missal has over two dozen five-star reviews on Amazon and has been lauded in the Raleigh News & Observer in Cindy Shaffer’s Book Beat column.
Nancy is a retired pediatric nurse and a twelve-time contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul and Guidepost magazines. She is a member of the Cary Senior Writing Circle, The Light of Carolina Christian Writers’ Group, and The Military Writers’ Society of America.
She and her husband migrated from Lock Haven, Pennsylvania to North Carolina in 2009. They have two children and four grandchildren. They love being in, on, or near the water of Lake Gaston with their family.
MWSA: How did you find out about MWSA?
Nancy Panko: My Publisher, Wally Turnbull of Light Messages in Durham, NC, sent me an email saying he thought I ought to enter my novel, Guiding Missal, in the 2017 contest as a Historical Fiction contender. He continued, ""I think it could win a medal."" I joined MWSA, entered the contest, and won a Silver Medal for Historical Fiction.
MWSA: What was your inspiration for your book?
Nancy Panko: A pocket-sized Catholic Military Missal was returned to my husband in 1994 after having been carried in the pockets of three generations of service members over a 50-year span. It had given guidance and solace to the men who carried it in their pockets during The Battle of the Bulge in World War II, the cold war and building of the Berlin Wall in the 1960s, and during fighting in the dusty streets of Mogadishu, Somalia during what became known as ""Blackhawk Down."" As I held the fifty-year old military missal in my hands, I thought, ""If only this prayer book could talk. I think it was then that the seed was planted to write about it’s journey.
MWSA: What writing projects are you working on these days?
Nancy Panko: I had my tenth submission to Chicken Soup for the Soul published in a January 9, 2019 release, Messages From Heaven. Presently, I'm working on a second novel about a guardian angel who comes into the human realm with a newborn baby and stays to protect the child until her days are done. It is a generational story beginning during the World War II era on a dairy farm in central New York State. I continue to submit short stories to Chicken Soup based on my personal experiences in hopes of reaching the magic number of 20 contributions.
MWSA: Now that you've finished writing and publishing Guiding Missal, what do you know now that you wish you had known before you started?
Nancy Panko: I wish I had had more education in the writing process. When I started Guiding Missal I had only taken a Creative Writing class in my Senior year of high school. I learned that I had some talent to write but life took some twists and turns. As a Registered Nurse, we had training on how to write clear, concise nursing care plans. Twenty-three years of care plans and charting gave me a backgroud of proper grammar and use of the English language, the rest was desire to tell a story. I learned as I went along with the help of great editors, through participating in webinars, and taking advantage of free writing classes at our local colleges and universities. It was a process but I had a lot to learn. The payoff was that I was first published with Chicken Soup for the Soul at age 71 and published my first novel at age 74!
MWSA: How did becoming a Silver Medal Winner help promote your book?
Nancy Panko: The prestige and honor of being recognized by MWSA was respected by folks who looked at my book and made it more likely that they would buy it. The Silver Medal sticker on the book was always an attention getter. I believe being an award-winner has resulted in more speaking engagements. We live in an area populated by military and former military families and the book is very popular with them. I have affiliated myself with a local organization, Military Missions in Action, attending events selling books with a portion of my proceeds going to this worthy cause of helping vets and their families. Everyone always wants to know about the Military Writers' Society of America.
MWSA: How did you get started writing?
Nancy Panko: I loved English, literature, reading and wrote stories and poems for special occasions for my family from the time I was a school aged child. I tried my hand at submission to Reader's Digest Humor In Uniform in the mid 1990s and was accepted. It was only a 400 word count submission but they paid $400! I thought I was ""hot stuff."" The next evening our water heater exploded and it cost us $475 to replace it. I learned quickly not to get too ""puffed up"" because the deflation isn't worth it. Years later, after my nursing career of twenty-three years, I was relating a story of a patient who changed my life. My friend encouraged me to write the story in the hopes that it could help someone reading it. I did. It was published in a magazine in California then in Chicken Soup for the Soul, and finally under a different title in Guidepost Magazine. I had the writing bug from that point on.
MWSA: What was the most interesting part of your writing journey?
Nancy Panko: In order to begin Guiding Missal I had to re-created my father-in-law's military history. Everything he'd brought home from his Tour of Duty, including citations and medals, was gone. A fire in the Army records center in St. Louis, Missouri had destroyed his section of records. After unsuccessfully trying the court house and other leads, I felt defeated.
A week later, a phone call changed everything. My brother-in-law, Pete remembered Dad receiving a yearly newsletter from the secretary of the 289th Cannon Company. He had kept it! It had names, addresses and phone numbers. I felt like I’d won the lottery.
I contacted the gentleman who sent the newsletter. He encouraged me to call others on the list, giving me names. These men had served with Dad and knew stories no one in our family had ever heard. I began personal interviews and received letters from members of the company, men in their eighty’s, who were eager to tell their stories, as well as Dad’s. They gave life to Dad as a soldier. One man sent a booklet of the history of the 289th Cannon Company. Others sent actual war maps detailing their trek across Europe, driving the Germans out of France, the liberation of concentration camps and the surrender of the Germans.
A long letter from Uncle Joe, Dad's brother, gave me much more information and some very funny stories. Both Dad and Joe were serving in the ETO (European Theater of Operations.) It was 1945 in France, and the brothers had not seen each other for two years. As fate would have it, they were reunited when they literally ran into each other in a tent. Both were marking time while waiting to be shipped back to the States. Uncle Joe added humor and laughter with page after page of stories of their antics.
Without the volume of material these men provided, it would have been impossible to tell Dad’s story. I began to compile the information in a notebook. That single notebook grew to three notebooks.
MWSA: What would like us to know about you and/or Guiding Missal?
Nancy Panko: Guiding Missal - Fifty Years. Three Generations of Military Men. One Spirited Prayer Book was an honor for me to research and write. I spoke to many heros and listened to their stories. In tribute to all who served, I needed to get this story right because men died serving our great country. The story is historically correct but the human element also had to be authentic. The men I interviewed made it all possible. Receiving validation from MWSA was a great honor. I am happy to say that through this validation, Guiding Missal has been recently approved by the U.S. Army to be featured in a book signing event at the 82nd Airborne Museum in Fayetteville, NC to be announced.
MWSA: How is your book, Guiding Missal available?
Nancy Panko: It is available in print, digital and audio formats. Through Amazon, Audible.com, and iTunes."