Local author Susan Blackwell Jones hosted a signing for her first book, “God of Wonder,” at Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church on July 7.
Jones has been a member at Thrasher for many years where she has conducted numerous Bible studies (about 35), workshops, and a women’s retreat.
“God of Wonder” is described as a collection of “inspirational poems for everyday living and devotion.” She has written about 150 poems over the course of 10 years and continues to create more today.
This first volume, published in June, contains about 50 poems. Her second volume, “God of Grace,” will be published shortly— another volume of Christian poems, and most likely a third volume is on the horizon.
Jones is best known to many in Vinton as a beloved first and second grade teacher. She grew up in West Virginia and earned her A.S. degree from Bluefield College and her B.S. Degree in Elementary Education from Concord College.
She began her teaching career in 1971 at Glen Cove Elementary when it first opened; taught at Roland E. Cook in Vinton for five years; and moved to W.E. Cundiff Elementary in 1987. She retired in 2004 after 34 years in education and found God had an unexpected path in mind for her in her retirement years.
When she retired, Jones says, there was a void to fill in her life. She took an Emmaus Walk and joined a Wednesday Women’s Bible Study class taught by Maxine Musselman. When Musselman left her position, she asked several of the regulars if they would be interested in taking over. Jones declined, saying she was committed to substitute teaching after her retirement— but “God wouldn’t leave it alone; I knew it was me being called.”
The poems came along with the Bible Study lessons. Jones says that sometimes God wakes her up in the middle of the night and gives her a poem to share with others. She writes the poems down by hand on yellow legal pads, then transfers them to her computer, printing the poems on book-mark like cards which she hands out to Bible Study participants, and also shares in cards and as gifts as a form of encouragement. She has distributed hundreds of these cards over the years.
Jones says her life has been blessed “with a loving and encouraging family, and many dear friends and mentors, whom God has placed along” her journey. She and her husband Tom have been married for 47 years with two grown daughters, Alison and Erin, sons-in-law, and three grandchildren.
Encouragement is her theme, and she hopes that her poems inspire others and give them hope, as well as introduce them to Christ and enhance their spiritual growth. “It’s an avenue to show Christ’s love to others. At this point I feel like this is what God is calling me to do.”
She was ambivalent about publishing her poems for many years, believing that she was fulfilling God’s purpose in giving her the poems by sharing them personally with those she knew. She wasn’t sure a book would be as personal.
Her good friend and fellow author and teacher, Rhonda McDonald, urged her to share her writing, as did the ladies in her Bible Study groups.
McDonald introduced her to Allen Mahon and his wife, Randee, owners of SDC Publishing. The Mahons and McDonald convinced her that her impact would be greater with a published book of poems, that she could create a ripple effect and reach more people, helping them with their faith.
Jones came to believe that God indeed had a plan for the poems. In the short time since they were published, she has heard of the book being used with a recovery group in Georgia, an Emmaus reunion group, and various youth groups.
“It’s exciting to see what God will do with the book,” said Jones “All that rhyming teaching first and second grades has paid off.”
Jones says the experience of compiling her poems in book form has been “surreal” until the box of newly printed books arrived.
“This is a poetry book full of hope and comfort,” said McDonald. “You will want to read and reread the poems in seeking guidance from God for everyday living.”
SDC Publishing is an independent publishing service located in Buchanan, named after the Mahons’ three grandsons. Allen Mahon eventually became a publisher himself when he ran into great expense (about $3,000) and “rigamarole” in trying to get his own book first book published. He writes historical fiction, mainly focused on the Civil War era so far, including “Gone Home for Angels,” but also non-fiction works (one on soap-making techniques inexplicably popular in England and another on problems faced by men as they age) and a biography of a World War II hero.
Mahon says the thrill of publishing his own book and holding it in his hands for the first time is an experience he is eager for other authors and illustrators to experience. He “loves helping authors and leading them through the process.”
He says that there are several avenues to publication for fledgling authors. One route with most large publishing houses requires hiring an agent, signing away copyrights, and entering an exclusive contract with publishers. These publishers foot the bill; large runs of books are printed, but they accept few authors.
Another way of publishing is a “vanity print,” which is bound but not sold.
Then there is “indie” publishing— all the rage now, in which books are printed on demand. With modern technology, books can be printed as they are ordered.
Mahon works with a company that prints the copies in South Carolina. He charges authors minimal fees for formatting their works, designing the covers, introductory pages, acknowledgements, bios, and dedications, adding clip art, and also obtaining ISBN identification numbers, which facilitate the sale of publications. The Mahons also help arrange for distribution of the author’s works, in stores and online, and to schools, universities, and libraries.
He advises them on the layout of their work, especially first-timers like Jones. In her case, she had composed her poems on those long bookmark-like cards and needed to transfer them to another Word format.
The Mahons offer editing services– Randee does most of that. She was formerly the school nurse coordinator in Botetourt County.
SDC is just making its first foray into the marketing side of the publishing business. The Mahons will set up at the Historic Fincastle Arts and Crafts Festival in September with several of their authors and illustrators, and at the Buchanan Mountain Magic Festival in October. Mahon says they are always looking for new authors to work with.
Rhonda McDonald is another client of SDC Publishing. As a former reading teacher, she focuses on children’s literature. Her books, including her latest, “Nest Quest,” are available from her own website http://booksforkids.wixsite.com/rhondamcdonald.
SDC Publishing works with several local authors and illustrators, in addition to Jones and McDonald, including Lou Clark (L. Lincoln Clark) of Vinton who writes suspense novels.
Copies of “God of Wonder” are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, and at www.SDCPublishingLLC.com.
“The poems in this book are so encouraging,” said reviewer Bonnie Newbold. “They bring peace and hope in this troubled world we live in today.”