Grace Lee calls her granddaughter, Judith, with a dying wish…for Judith to travel from Los Angeles to Nashville to come visit her. But there’s a catch. Judith must make the journey by bus.
The award-winning novel Finding Grace shares Judith Lee’s transformative, cross-country journey, revealing what truly matters. Each day of Judith’s journey becomes a story on its own, as the people she meets and places she visits along the way challenge her to rethink her life. Finding Grace is about Judith’s transformation back into the real world during this journey as a result of the people she meets on the bus, how she deals with the imminent passing of her grandmother, and how all this changes her life’s future plans. There are tears and laughter throughout, with interesting characters whom readers would recognize from their own lives. Today, more people are reflecting on what is and is not important. Finding Grace provides food for thought on many levels.
Read on for an interview with Gary Lee Miller, and an excerpt from Finding Grace.
Q. Where do you like to write?
A. Although I keep an office, when I wrote Finding Grace, I would sit at home at the kitchen table. I wrote when, emotionally, I had the need. There was no schedule for when I would sit down to write. Sometimes a week or more would go by without writing, but there was a routine when I did write. I would sit at the end of my kitchen table with my favorite picture of Sharee facing me on the other end. On my right was the bay window where I could see the trees, birds, rabbits, and squirrels. Seeing God’s blessing of nature helped. Then I would bring up my Spotify playlist of favorite songs (almost 200) Sharee and I loved, with it playing very softly in the background.
Q. Have you ever had writer’s block?
A. Fortunately, I’ve never experienced writer’s block. When I was in the mood to write, the words for Finding Grace came easily. When writing Finding Grace, it was as if I were actually watching the characters in my mind on a movie screen as they talked with each other. And there were many times when it was challenging to keep up typing their back-and-forth dialogue. I felt like there was an angel on my shoulder, whispering in my ear. So, I listened…and wrote.
Q. What inspired your story?
A. An old Chinese proverb says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That was how Finding Grace came to be. With a single step. Unfortunately, the cause of that step was the passing of my wife of 45 years, Sharee, from leukemia. Thus began a long winding road of dealing with loss and finding an outlet for my grief. I don’t believe in coincidence, and there were an extraordinary number of occurrences which could have been attributed to coincidence. I know that sometimes we have an angel (or angels) on our shoulder which lead us down paths meant to be traveled. And so began my journey writing Finding Grace.
Q. What do you hope readers takeaway from your book?
A. It’s actually the subtitle of Finding Grace. “In a world that sometimes seems out of control, we are each on our own journey in hope of finding grace.”. That, along with what really matters in life is not material possessions, but our connection with people who we love and who love us in return.
Q. What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?
A. Working through my grief of losing Sharee during the writing process. I first wrote the screenplay for Finding Grace, but quickly learned that it was MUCH more work writing a novel as compared to a screenplay or script. A screenplay is primarily the dialogue between the characters with some minimal detail about the day and location of the scene. In a novel, you must create a living, breathing world, researching every detail and nuance to bring that world and the characters in it to life. Those details and how they are woven into the story are critically important. An example was Judith’s bus trip from Barstow to Nashville on I-40E. I planned on making that bus trip myself but then COVID-19 hit. My solution came thanks to YouTube. I searched and found video recorded from each city to the next along Judith’s journey that was taken by truck drivers, students, and retirees driving their RVs. I was able to experience every mile virtually and while it certainly wasn’t the same as being there, it helped tremendously.
Q. What do you really want your readers to know about your book?
A. I’m proud of the numerous characters Judith meets during her bus trip back home to Nashville, with each having their own personality and speech pattern based on their life experience and background. As I wrote, each became real to me, as I cared about them, their backstory, and the journey that lay ahead for them after leaving Judith.
The characters in Finding Grace are generally composites of many different people who have crossed my path during my lifetime. My goal was to create truly interesting characters with backstories that every reader could relate to on some level. As I wrote, some made me laugh and some made my eyes leak.
There is a strong component of St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital in part of Finding Grace. Sharee and I knew that cures for all forms of leukemia, including hers, would eventually come from the research teams at St. Jude. Three months after her passing, I spent a day with an executive at St. Jude which included a full tour of their facilities. It was an emotional day for me. I paid close attention to every detail during my tour and worked hard to convey details accurately for my readers. Those “angels in disguise” at St. Jude certainly deserve our support.
The title, Finding Grace, was the only title possible for this book. With Grace as one of the two primary characters, along with all other character’s search, in one form or another, of finding their own grace, the title came easily. Who is Grace? Her wisdom and values shared in the book were my best efforts to meld those of my late mother (Sarah), Sharee, and, to some extent, myself.
If they decide to read Finding Grace, I hope they enjoy the journey with Judith, and recognize themselves in some of the pages as they go along. Spoiler alert! If they like happy endings; they are going to LOVE Finding Grace.
Sara tiptoed to the front door, her heart racing. A floorboard creaked under her petite frame.
Please, please, please don’t let him wake up.
She froze and listened. There were deep, drawn-out snores coming from the La-Z-Boy. Wyatt was still passed out.
Just three steps and she would be out. Free. Well, almost. She still needed to make it to Flagstaff. Then she would be free.
Wyatt won’t dare come to Flag. Dad would shoot him if he did.
She held her breath as she turned the doorknob and stepped into
the thick September air. She only breathed again once the door closed
without a sound.
She had intended to search for her phone before she left, but there was no going back now.
Sara had all she needed in her little backpack purse and her wallet with the debit card she had been hiding. She had opened the account in secret and had put a few dollars in whenever she could skim off some cash without Wyatt noticing. Just a dollar or two at a time. After more than a year, the balance in the account was $109.27-hopefully enough to get out of Dodge.
There was also some makeup in the purse. And not a single thing that would remind her of the poor choice she made to move to Barstow. Nothing that would remind her of Wyatt.
If only she could leave the bruises and memories on the nightstand along with the note.
“Do NOT contact me ever. Go to rehab. You need help.”
She walked the three miles to the bus station, looking over her shoulder every time she heard the sputter of a pickup, ducking behind a dumpster or a shrub a time or two. But Wyatt was probably still snoring away right where she left him.
If things went as they always did, it would be hours before he would wake up and yell her name, demanding some coffee.
Only this time, the house would be quiet.
A car slowed down, and the driver rolled down the passenger window. “Hey there, gorgeous. Wanna go for a ride?”
Sara kept quiet, kept walking.
I ain’t for sale, jerkwad, she wanted to yell. But the words were stuck in her chest.
The tires squealed as the car sped up.
Sara did not stop, not even to buy a bottle of water, afraid she might miss the bus, afraid it would leave her without enough money for a ticket out of Hell. She sped up once she turned the corner onto East Main Street. She could almost taste freedom.
Ninety minutes after closing the front door, Sara rushed up to the ticket window at the Barstow Station.
“When’s the first bus to Flag?”
“Well, you just missed the five fifty-five. The next one’s at eight.”
”I’ll take that.”
“One way. ”
“How many passengers.:: >”
“Got luggage to check?”
“That’ll be $87.”
Sara slipped the card into the machine, took the ticket from the clerk, and looked for a safe spot to hide for two hours. She headed to the McDonalds across the street and ordered a coffee, positioning herself near the window where she watched for Wyatt’s black truck. Just in case.
When Sara went to the restroom, the reflection in the mirror scared her. Wyatt was careful to make sure bruises were not visible. But the disheveled look and circles under her eyes screamed abuse.
She pulled out her makeup and did what she could to look presentable.
The sound of the door opening made Sara flinch.
“You okay?” a lady asked. Just another early-morning patron.
“Couldn’t be better.”
Sara headed back into the restaurant, seeing a limousine pull out from the station.
Probably lost, she thought. Strange for this hour.
At a quarter to eight, after having scanned the area one more time for a black truck, Sara made a beeline for the only bus on the lot.
Other passengers were dropping off their luggage, but Sara headed straight for the door.
“Ticket,” the driver demanded. She held it out to be scanned then stepped onto the bus, looking for a safe spot.
There were several single seats-all next to men—and just one spot with two open seats.
If I sat in the open row, a guy would come sit next to me. Shoot!
Sara’s heart pounded.
I’d better get off the bus and go home before Wyatt wakes up and finds I’m gone.
She stepped back off.
“‘Scuse me,” she said and pushed past a lady dressed like she was ready to fly first-class.
But the woman did not seem to hear her. She looked ticked and a bit out of place with her Gucci tote draped over her shoulder.
Must be fake.
Sara stepped away, her heart beating out of her chest.
What the heck am I doin’? Get back on the bus. Go sit by that lady.
Sara rushed back up the steps, seeing the woman settle into the open row.
“Mind if I sit here, ma’am?” she asked.
“My name’s Sara.”
But the lady did not answer. She was staring at stuff on her phone.
Purchase your copy of Finding Grace here.
Gary Lee Miller’s writing is rooted in life experiences and people who have crossed his path during his life’s journey. Gary draws on his ability to translate his observations into highly relatable stories for readers. Prior to beginning his writing career, Gary was a successful businessman and entrepreneur. He also acts in movie and TV productions, and is listed in IMDb.com. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee.