HAMBURG — Hamburg native Marianne Gallagher Selay has always wanted to write. As a child, she wanted to learn to write just so she could write down a story she had made up in her head. She graduated from Hamburg High School in 1971 and moved to Tuscon, Ariz. a few years later. She and her husband and their three sons now live in Imperial Valley, Calif. After several years of writing and a year of working to get it in print, her first book, “Willing to Touch” is out now, following in the footsteps of Bible stories she has read and her own steps through the Holy Land.
According to the book’s website, “Jairus is a respected synagogue ruler with a terminally ill child. His neighbor Leah suffers from an issue of blood that has forced her into a life of lonely seclusion. They both desperately need a touch from the miracle-working rabbi that has recently moved to Capernaum, but before either dares to ask, they will have to deal with the reputations that dictate how they live.
“‘Willing to Touch’ is based on two miracles that took place in the Bible, and I think it is my love for the Bible, which I’ve read now for over 40 years, that inspired me most,” Selay said, of where she found the spirit of the story. Two of the main characters come from the Gospels, some of Selay’s favorite books. A trip she took to Israel solidified the stories, people and places she has read about, as well.
“Seeing the historical sites, especially overlooking the Sea of Galilee, where most of my story takes place, made everything so much more real,” Selay said.
She called examining the subject material that was at once so familiar and mysterious “a great experience. It made me wonder what it would be like to have the long-awaited Messiah suddenly show up in your little work-a-day town. Why would a fisherman allow his two grown sons to leave the family business to follow Jesus? Would I have allowed my sons to do the same? I thought about how it must have felt to be ‘unclean’ and forbidden to touch or to be touched. What must it have been like to have Jesus raise your child back to life, and then later learn that he had died a criminal’s death? Imagine the despair and confusion they must have felt after returning from Jerusalem after that Passover with such news. But then, the real story didn’t end there, did it?”
She used the Bible itself as her primary historical source, as well as a variety of biblical resources.
“I also read books or articles about ancient medical practices and studied a book about herbs,” she said, to support the herbalist practice one of her characters undertakes. “Of course, the Internet was invaluable as well,” she added. “There are some wonderful websites about Israel, the Jewish law and customs and other subjects I needed to research. I think the most useful was one called “Judaism 101.” It was full of easy to understand information.”
The road to publication was a long and rocky one for Selay, who began writing when her husband was recovering from surgery in 2010. A year later, her youngest son and husband were involved in a serious accident. The author put the book on hold to take care of her family, but picked it back up when they were out of the hospital, using the time she spent at home with them to write, and using the writing as a stress reliever during that time.
As for her regular writing practice, Selay said she can “write just about anywhere and anytime.” Her favorite time is late at night, when all is quiet and life slows down for the day.
“I have to be careful about writing in the day time, because when I really get into it, I tend to forget to make dinner. Sometimes I listen to music, but only when I’m re-writing or editing. When I’m in the ‘creating mode,’ I need to limit the distractions as much as possible,” she explained. “Because ‘Willing to Touch’ is a historical fiction, daydreaming came into play, too. It’s how I wove the facts and fiction together into a story.”
As a self-published author, Selay has to take care of the marketing and selling of “Willing to Touch” herself. “Writing may be challenging, but it’s so much more fun than selling. After researching book marketing, I have tried to practice what I’ve learned,” she said, noting that personal contact is the best strategy she has found, so far. “I’ve done a few book signings and did a short interview on a local radio station. I rent a booth at our local Farmer’s Markets and similar events.” The book is also available at some bookstores and Amazon, which she said is the least successful, so far. She also uses Facebook and her website to announce events, but face-to-face is still the best method, for her.
“The most gratifying way I’ve sold a few copies of ‘Willing to Touch’ is when readers recommend them or give them to their friends. Apparently, many of the readers enjoyed it enough to pass it on, which is very heartening,” she noted.
Selay used a self-publishing company called Dog Ear Publishing, after deciding not to pursue the traditional avenue. “I had heard how long it takes, if you can even get one to accept your manuscript in the first place. I was afraid I’d die of old age before getting it in the marketplace,” she said. The company she chose was “good about walking me through each of the many steps to publishing, and I get to keep more of the profits than most companies allow.” The entire process took about a year, including revisions and “ checking, rechecking, correcting and making decisions, all with waiting periods in between. I had no idea how much time and effort goes into printing one little book.”
Along the way, the author has learned a few things about writing. “You need to make a black and white decision to write the book. ‘Someday, I’m going to,’ won’t cut it for the level of commitment it takes. Writing is hard work, even if you love doing it,” she added. “There will be days when you feel like giving up. That’s where the commitment helps. When feelings of self-doubt, fear or frustration assail you, ignore them and press on. They will go away.
“There were times when I ‘hated’ the book and my commitment to finishing it was all that kept me from throwing the whole project into a burning building,” she said. “I am glad I didn’t give up. It was worth the trouble, and I think it will be worth it for you too.”
As Selay undertakes the marketing and promotion for “Willing to Touch,” she is also working on a short story and a two-part article about prison ministry. As for what she reads for inspiration, that harkens back to her subject matter: The Bible. “As for a favorite book, I would say the Bible, if I didn’t think of it as being in a category all by itself,” she said.
“Willing to Touch” is available online at willingtotouchbyselay.com