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It was a work of heart.
The tragic loss of her best friend recently inspired a Neligh author to publish her second book.
Tammy Marshall said “State of Georgia...and Other Writings” is a collection of stories and poems dedicated to her long-time friend, Amy Marie Vojtech Beran, who died from stage 4 lung cancer at age 50 last September.
“This is my way of honoring her in a way that lasts,” Marshall said. “This book is a collection of what I consider to be my sweeter stories and poems because Amy was the sweetest and kindest person I’ve ever known.”
She and Amy met during the first semester of their freshman year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the fall of 1986. A Neligh-Oakdale Spanish teacher and author, Marshall said they, ironically, met in Spanish class. They also lived on the same floor in Sandoz Hall and quickly became friends. Over the years, they got married the same summer, had children close in age and stayed friends. After Amy was diagnosed with cancer, Marshall visited her in Texas for several weeks that summer, taking her to chemo treatments and helping out.
“After she was diagnosed, I sent her a little pick-me-up note in the mail every day because I believe in the power of words and because Amy loved self-help and motivational books,” Marshall said.
In one of her last notes before Amy’s death, Marshall wrote that she planned to dedicate a book to her, and she asked Amy’s sister to read the note to her.
“I had been thinking about it, but I just never told her while she was still conscious,” she said. “(Her sister) said that when she read the note to her, Amy smiled.”
Amy died on September 7, 2018. On Marshall’s 50th birthday, she gave her friend’s eulogy.
“Ever since then, I had been thinking, “I want to do this,’ because the sooner the better, rather than letting it go on another few years before I actually get another full novel complete,” Marshall said.
She decided the most efficient way to do this was to put together a compilation of stories she had already written, and introduce each with a poem. It is the second book Marshall has published. “The Clearwater House” was her debut novel.
Her collection starts off with “State of Georgia,” a story about a woman who finds herself suddenly widowed and decides to go do some things that she didn’t do while she was married because he didn’t like to travel.
“It’s a very sweet, you never know where life is going to take you, sort of story,” Marshall said. “Being open to new adventures.”
The novella toward the end is called “Quitter,” which is a story about a middle-aged man who has quit everything that he has ever tried. He knows that he started his quitting process when he was in high school and quit the basketball team. He realizes that he wants to start over so he goes back to his hometown and offers to help coach the basketball team.
“So, once again, it’s about second chances,” she said. “It’s never too late to start over.”
Another short story, “Darrel,” was written about a mentally-handicapped man and received an honorable mention award in a past Reader’s Digest short story contest.
The book also features the story, “Backyards,” a piece that Marshall proudly received an honorable mention honor for in the 2018 Lorian Hemingway Short Story Contest.
Poems included in the collection are Solitude” (why being alone can sometimes be a good thing), “One More Glimpse” (about her daughter Sam and wishing she could hang onto her childhood), “Summer Nights” (about the games they would play every night during her own childhood in Norfolk) and “Driveway NBA” (about her son Trevor playing basketball in the driveway).
“I just took some of the poems that I’ve written to introduce the theme of each story and bring it all together,” she said.
Marshall said once she started the process of compiling her pieces, it came together quickly.
“It really didn’t take that long because I had everything,” she said. “It was my goal to get it done over Christmas break. So it really didn’t take me that many days.”
Marshall contacted her uncle Paul Filsinger, who is a professional photographer, for a cover photo.
“I had asked him, because he takes a lot of sunsets and river pictures, if he had anything that had a blue with pink because those were Amy’s favorite colors,” she said. “Right away, he sent me this picture and asked, ‘Is this what you had in mind?’”
Marshall said the photo worked perfectly for her book. As soon as she had everything formatted and the cover was created, it was ready to be published through Amazon. It became available earlier this month.
“It’s basically a print on-demand process, so anybody who goes online to buy one, Amazon has a store,” she said. “So if you were to buy a copy of this, Amazon will print the book and ship it to you. It’s also available through Kindle.”
Marshall has copies as well, for those who want to skip the shipping and handling charges. A copy is also available at the Neligh Public Library.
Her book includes a tribute to her dear friend, who was one of her biggest writing supporters. Marshall ended it with a message to her readers and one final note to Amy.
“If you’ve enjoyed them even a little, I’ve fulfilled my final promise to my best friend; I hope you’ve felt at least a tiny bit of the love I had for her emanating from these pages,” she wrote. “Thank you for reading this book, and, Amy, wherever you are, thank you for being my friend.”