What I like best about traveling with our movies are the people we meet along the way. In the case of Gwen Rollings, I actually met her aunt at a Summer of ’67 church screening, and her aunt insisted that I connect with Gwen. I’m glad she did. Gwen is a fascinating woman, a military wife, and an accomplished author with interesting stories to tell.
Initially, I wanted to write screenplays. It all started when a contest was announced in my 7th-grade class. The winner of the best original play submitted by a 7th grader would have his/her play performed in front of the whole school. Since I loved to write, I saw this as my chance to “test the waters” for a future career. To my great astonishment, I won! Full disclosure: I was the ONLY one who even submitted anything. Nevertheless, having my play performed was a sign to me that I was destined to be a writer. As I progressed through high school and college, I gravitated more to non-fiction and especially writing about women’s issues.
During your years of child rearing did you do any writing?
Those were such hectic years. Most women can relate to feeling the need to put dreams and goals on a back burner because there are not enough hours in the day to complete even the necessary tasks. It was like always eating good, healthy meals but never having dessert. I couldn’t neglect writing completely and did find time now and then for “dessert.” Occasionally I would write something for a military wives’ club newsletter, and one of my poems was published in my college magazine. I found that writing fed my soul, and no woman should starve her dreams regardless of how hectic her life becomes at times.
What was your greatest challenge with being a military wife?
Looking back through the rear-view mirror of those years, there are so many challenges for a military wife that you could write a whole book about it. (Which I did!) The military husbands and fathers are constantly absent from the home. The wives absorb the full responsibilities of children, finances, home repairs. The list goes on and on. However, there are many single moms today who experience all those responsibilities, too. What makes the challenge of a military wife unique is the fear factor. When a military husband goes away, many times they are going to face dangerous often deadly situations. In the back of her mind, she fears that her husband might not come back to the family. That is why I feel that being a military wife is a purpose driven life. Without the sense that God placed me in that role, I would not have been able to weather those long nights of wondering if he would come back to us.
When you marry at 19 and start having babies at 22, it’s hard to be a college student. But I was determined to get a degree. I began taking classes when my son was five months old and finally graduated from the University of South Carolina when he was 10 years old! Every time we would get orders and move to a new location, I would be checking out the local colleges. I went to colleges in North Carolina, Virginia, Hawaii, South Carolina to name a few. My strategy was to first get the basic foundation courses that I knew would easily transfer, and then finish up my major at one school. God approved my plan evidently because he transferred my husband to the University of South Carolina for two years as a Military Officer Instructor. With God’s continued help and not much sleep, I graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude from the University of South Carolina with a B.A. Degree in Communication. Then I went back to George Mason University in Virginia to obtain my Master’s Degree. With my Master’s, I was able to be an Adjunct Instructor at colleges almost everywhere we were stationed after that.
What inspired you to pursue writing books?
I believe everyone has a story to tell. I had the privilege of leading writers’ groups and experienced first-hand the various needs of many people to express themselves through the written word. Maybe they want to leave a chronicled legacy or history for their family or write that great mystery novel. After my husband retired, time was available for me to take a long hard look through that rear-view mirror again; and I had questions that needed answers: Were all those years as a military wife worth it? If yes, then why were they worth it? How did this lifestyle ultimately affect my children? If I had the chance, would I do it again? That book, We Band of Sisters, was my attempt to answers those questions not only for me but every other military wife who has asked herself those questions. It was a story that I needed to tell.
Tell us about the different books you’ve written for women.
As my husband was contemplating real retirement, I had my own opinion about how retirement would work. I discovered when the rubber meets the road it often leaves skid marks! Retirement was nothing like I imagined. No other retired wife clued me into what to expect when your husband comes home and says, “Honey, I’m home forever!” Yikes, I was not prepared. So once again, I decided to do my duty and educate other wives on what was in store for them. Help! My Husband Just Retired was a fun book to write and having my youngest daughter do the illustrations was an added bonus. My very first attempt at publishing, however, will always be very special to me. It is a woman’s book of poetry, Seasons of a Woman. It was a compilation of all the poems I wrote during those hectic years when serious writing was on that back burner. Although published over 20 years ago, it is still very special to me.
I believe women should encourage each other to pursue their dreams and God-given talents. My belief came home to roost with my youngest daughter, Brittany. From the time she was in elementary school, she loved to draw especially Disney cartoons. After graduating from college with a sensible degree, she still dreamed of illustrating children’s books. As luck (I prefer to say God) would have it, Brittany was contracted to illustrate a book for a pastor who decided after the illustrations were completed that he didn’t want to go with her illustrations. She was so discouraged, so mother to the rescue! As all mothers would certainly understand. So, I said, “No problem, Honey. I’ll write another story to go along with your illustrations.” After You Are One of a Kind was published, we kept going because it was so much fun. We decided books that revealed good moral, Christian values were still needed for young children. To this date, we have published 12 in the Molly Tailwagger Children’s Book Series.
What’s been the response to your books?
The times, they are A-changin’ is an understatement. It seems the days when people actually sat down with a real book in their hands and took time to turn pages are going by the way of a cake made from scratch. Some might still do it, but they are few. Even more disheartening are the children who sit with electronic devices that take the place of that special book whose pages can be absorbed, thought about, and revisited often. The books are on all the booksellers’ websites and even some stores, but the sales are not overwhelming. Yet the books have become a ministry for my daughter and me. We felt God leading us to donate thousands of copies of the children’s books to numerous children’s charities, Baptist Children Homes, Shriner’s, other hospitals, etc. to be given out to children in crises situations. I have also donated hundreds of Help! My Husband Just Retired to churches in the numerous retirement communities here in Florida. At times, I am asked to speak or to attend events where my daughter does instantaneous drawings for children. I tell my daughter that if we use our gifts and talents to honor God, that it is His right to determine the results of our efforts.
Are you currently working on any new projects?
Yes, we have completed another book, Molly Tailwagger Faces Her Fear, which is at the publishers now.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
Well, I am once again awaiting orders. This time it is not the Marine Corps who will issue them. My husband has Alzheimer’s Disease, and that has changed everything. He is in a wonderful facility, but its location necessitated relocating again to be closer to him. After 35 moves, I was not expecting nor welcoming another one. I don’t think any woman anticipates at the beginning that her journey in life will take her through these deep valleys, but I have come to realize that they are inevitable. I also realize that my orders come from a Higher Authority than even the Marine Corps! I do know this: God put the love of writing in my heart, and I feel His pleasure when I write. Hopefully, writing will continue!
Gwen’s website: gwenrollings.com
Email Gwen: firstname.lastname@example.org
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