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Standard advice to would-be wordsmiths: Write what you know.
Tweak the adage to write what you understand, and you have author Michele Howe, 48, of LaSalle, Mich., a long-married mother of four who has found success in offering comfort, inspiration, and advice to single moms.
Someone will ask me, how can you write about it if you ve never experienced it? said the author, sitting at the kitchen table in her cozy farmhouse. And I will say, my friends come alongside me when I m in difficulty, and their situations are not mine, but they re helping me. It s that supportiveness that women offer each other. You don t have to have the same circumstances. ... Underneath we re all the same.
Howe s most recent book, Still Going It Alone, Mothering with Faith and Finesse When the Children Have Grown (Hendrickson Publishers, $14.95), was issued in December. It centers on the concerns of the single mother in midlife, including adjusting to an empty nest, offering guidance to her young adult children, considering a second career or remarriage, relating to in-laws, becoming a grandparent, caring for aging parents, dealing with her own aging, and stabilizing finances.
It s Howe s fourth book for single mothers, starting in 1999 with Going It Alone: Meeting the Challenges of Being a Single Mom (Hendrickson Publishers). In 2002, Pilgrim Press published Howe s Pilgrim Prayers for Single Mothers, followed in 2003 by Successful Single Moms: Thirteen Stories of Triumph (Pilgrim Press).
Howe also writes articles on single parenting for the Web site bizymoms.com. (Go to Expert Corner in the top left area of the page and click. A window will open with two selection boxes. In the one labeled Visit Expert Corner Home Page, use the pull-down menu to find the topic single parenting. In the pull-down menu under Select Expert, find Howe s name, then click the Go tab.)
Howe published four other books for women in 2003, all released by major Christian book publisher Jossey-Bass: Prayers for Homeschool Moms, Prayers for New and Expecting Moms, Prayers to Nourish a Woman s Heart, and Prayers of Comfort and Strength.
In 1999, the prolific writer also published Bible Stories, Food and Fun for parents and Sunday School teachers.
My faith is enmeshed in my whole world view, said Howe, who describes her books as having a Biblical perspective. A Sunday School teacher, Howe doesn t want to identify her own church, worrying that having her books associated with a particular denomination could limit readership.
Identify trouble areas
Flowing next from the computer in her compact basement office in addition to an ongoing stream of freelance articles, columns, and book reviews will be a book on which she s collaborating with Toledo orthopedic surgeon Christopher Foetisch working title Doing Body (and Soul) Good, Women Handling Life s Weightier Matters with Strength.
Her co-author will cover some of the physical and medical aspects of health at midlife, while Howe will address the emotional side.
Howe said her message for women in this work in progress is to try to get them to identify trouble areas in their life such as sorrow, loss, and broken dreams [and] how to look at them as opportunities to grow.
It will be aimed at all women in midlife, not just single mothers, Howe said, observing that it s a difficult passage no matter what one s marital status. The key difference is whether one is navigating it alone or with a partner.
Midlife is challenging, it s hard. It is a real time of looking back, and evaluating the present, and deciding where you want to be in the future, Howe added.
Married or not, People still deal with being afraid, [and] wondering if their life is making a difference. They re dealing with the stresses of our country right now, the uncertainties ... I don t think you need to be a single mom to feel that your future really is uncertain.
For the same reason, she feels that married moms can learn something from her books for their single sisters.
For many mothers, Howe said, the demands of raising children leave little time for reflection. As the kids grow up and need less of your physical presence and energy, the role of parenting becomes more mental and emotional, and a parent can become more contemplative.
It has made me really think: I have more chunks of time. What am I going to do with it?
Carving a niche
Certainly she didn t have much time as a young mother. The graduate of Bedford High School and the University of Toledo married Jim Howe, now a 45-year-old calculus teacher and track coach at Springfield High School, 24 years ago. She got pregnant right away, quit her job as a writer at a small public relations firm in Toledo, and started freelancing from home.
Howe had four children in six years: Nicole, 23, a married recreational therapist; Katlyn, 21, a student at the University of Toledo; Corinne, 19, a student at Monroe County Community College, and Jamey, 17, a student at Springfield High School. Nicole and her husband live in Ida, Mich., and the three younger children live at home, on 14 acres of land that s been in the family for 100 years.
The home was Jim s grandparents, Howe said.
She began to carve a niche in writing for single mothers after two close friends went through divorces about 16 years ago, bringing Howe face to face with the challenges of solo parenting. I walked along with them, and I started writing their stories, she said.
One article led to another and another, and eventually to a book proposal. Throughout, her friends have served as unofficial consultants, reading her work and correcting her if needed.
I m always bouncing ideas off them, and always watching and observing, and I ll say, I m thinking about writing an article, what do you think? Howe said. They give me a lot of feedback. They have been real transparent about how they ve worked through things. They might tell me, When I was going through that it was a lot worse than how you just wrote it. Dig a little deeper there.
Friends guidance and readers feedback assure her she s getting it right.
I get e-mails saying the story you told about so and so was exactly what I went through, and then I know
I ve hit it. You know you ve hit somebody s heart and then hopefully you can help them, or at least steer them to someone who can help them, she said.
Order and control
Soaking up the experiences of single friends and women she meets through informal study groups, Howe illustrates each topic in Still Going It Alone with a story about a woman who is experiencing it. The situations and the women are real; the names are not.
As she has done in her previous books, Howe uses storytelling to help readers learn and relate emotionally to a subject. She follows each vignette with a section called Ready, Set, Adjust! a suggested action plan and wraps up with a prayer that I would pray in that situation, and an inspirational Thought for the Day from a book that has been helpful to her personally.
The book s format and its short, readable chapters are meant to fit the needs of busy people.
Howe s temperament and upbringing are assets in managing her own busy schedule.
I m a woman who likes order and control, Howe said, adding that, I was a list-maker when I was a kid, and my parents taught me a strong work ethic of no play until the work is done, and it s carried through all these years.
The sagging book shelves in her office attest to her role as a reader as well as writer. Howe consumes at least four books a week as a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, faithfulreader.com, teenreads.com, kidreads.com, and other outlets. She leans toward nonfiction when she can read for pleasure; works by Christian authors Paul Tripp and Edward Welch are favorites.
They address the real issues of life candidly. They give people practical help. I like that, Howe said.
She hopes she will do the same for readers with Still Going It Alone.
I think, first, the book is going to reach into women s hearts and they re going to say I m not alone. I feel better just knowing someone understands, and that second, they re going to find out that their experiences, hardships and all, equip them to go out and make a difference in somebody else s life, Howe said.
I always hope that when I go through something, I can pass along what I ve learned to someone else. I hope that my pain has some purpose, and that I can strengthen someone else who is a few steps behind me, and that s what I hope this book does.
Contact Ann Weber at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6126.