February 16, 2014

‘Chicken Soup’ contributor thinks positive

Rachel Brown

— Pamela Millwood Pettyjohn has always enjoyed writing, so when she learned the Chicken Soup for the Soul series was accepting submissions for an upcoming book, she searched her childhood memory files and pulled out a story she said continues to inspire her as an adult.

The three-page story, “It’s Okay to Fall,” is among the many submissions featured in Chicken Soup’s “Think Positive for Kids” released in October. The book is geared to kids between 7 and 13 years old, according to a news release, and is co-authored by “Hercules” star Kevin Sorbo. There are 100 other stories about kids “dealing with today’s issues,” the release states.

Pettyjohn, who lives near Prater’s Mill in Varnell with husband Charles and dog Cole, writes how a church youth leader helped her both literally and figuratively “learn how to fall.”

The story details how the author, as a little girl at her first skating rink party, had to learn to stop trying to be perfect — she had to let herself fall sometimes — to learn how to skate. Later in life, she began applying that principle to life’s other challenges. As long as she continued to try, the story concludes, she could learn even through failure and trust God would be there to help her.

A member of the Chattanooga Writers’ Guild, Pettyjohn said she learned through the group the Chicken Soup series was accepting submissions. Pettyjohn began writing in May and allowed members of the Northwest Georgia Writers’ Group, an offshoot of the Chattanooga guild, to critique it. She said she also got some valuable feedback from two little girls at her church, East Side Baptist.

Pettyjohn said she finished editing the work and submitted it in June. She said she learned in August her story would be included. It includes only minor changes from the way she submitted it, she said, and she’s thrilled because it’s among a handful of writing projects through which she’s been able to earn some money.

“That’s one of the great things about being part of a writers’ group,” she said. “With the different perspectives and inputs from the people in the writers’ group, it helped me to polish it up so that when I did submit it the editing they did wasn’t that much. It was just a few words here and there. It was very little.”

This is the second time Pettyjohn has had her work included in the series. In Chicken Soup’s “Angels Among Us,” also published last year, she writes a four-page story titled “Spiritual Therapy.”

Drawing from her experiences helping care for her mother-in-law after the older woman suffered from a fractured pelvic bone and other health issues, Pettyjohn writes about a physical therapist whose kindness and assistance went far beyond the norm.

Pettyjohn said that in addition to experiences in the outdoors and with nature, she often draws from other personal experiences for inspiration in her writing, and the Chicken Soup contributions are good illustrations of her method. While caring for her mother-in-law was challenging, Pettyjohn said the time spent with her was precious, now that she has been gone since May 2005.

Pettyjohn said she and her husband still visit Wood Dale Nursing Center in Dalton where the woman lived for a short time after her needs became greater than what the family could provide at home. She and her husband provide a music ministry at the center every Sunday afternoon, she said.

A former elementary school teacher who said she quit that career to devote time to writing, Pettyjohn said she plans to focus more on writing for children. The Berry College graduate is researching the life of Martha Berry, who founded the Berry schools, and plans to pen some type of biography geared toward children.

Pettyjohn’s work has been featured in other publications too, including the coffee table book “Blue Ridge Parkway — Celebration,” which is available on Amazon.

She grew up in Flowery Branch and attended Gainesville College for a short time before completing her bachelor’s in early childhood education and master’s degree in early childhood education at Berry. She taught elementary school in Chattooga County for eight years and briefly taught third grade in Dalton at what was then Morris Street School.

When she isn’t writing, she teaches English as a second language to adults and teaches a Sunday school class at East Side Baptist. She is also the church’s assistant pianist, sings in the choir and helps out in church plays.