Warm April greetings from Marti Pieper in lovely Mount Dora, Florida, where we anticipate sunny celebrations of our Savior’s birth. I have a special guest for you to meet today. Dianne Barker and I became virtual friends through our love of writing and our mutual membership in CAN. I have long appreciated her gracious spirit and talent for putting just the right words together.
Welcome, Dianne! Please tell us about your book.
I Don’t Chase the Garbage Truck down the Street in My Bathrobe Anymore! throws a rope to the desperate drowning in disorganization. It offers practical strategies to organize space, time, and family chaos; wrestle thieves (slothfulness and procrastination); de-clutter; manage finances; begin personal renovation—purging interior garbage (inferiority, low esteem); submitting fully to Christ, gateway to balance and abundant living.
What inspired you to write this book?
After leaving my journalism career to be a stay-at-home mom, I discovered that without deadlines, my life had little structure. One summer day, still in my bathrobe and sipping coffee while reading yesterday’s newspaper, I heard a familiar rumbling that interrupted my lazy morning. The garbage truck!
This was not a new thing. Wednesday had long been garbage pickup day in our community. Forgetting to take the trash container to the street was not a new thing, either. Slipping into my son’s old loafers, I clomped through the dewy grass, waving wildly and yelling, “Wait! Wait!”
I made a decision that day—I won’t chase the garbage truck down the street in my bathrobe anymore. I knew I’d write a book by that title someday. I craved organization and begged the Lord to intervene. He honored my desperate prayer, teaching me how to organize for the maximum life. I love sharing that success with others drowning in disorganization.
I love that. So what is your book’s primary focus?
It suggests a whole-life makeover, gently presenting hard truth that slothfulness and procrastination will steal your life, and organization is essential for maximum living. The book has five parts. “Understanding the Problem” examines reasons we struggle with organization, including overcommitment and overwhelming circumstances. “Managing My Space” gives practical, bulleted suggestions and creative storage solutions to clean, de-clutter, and organize. “Managing My Time” confronts slothfulness and procrastination and outlines how to get life under control using simple tools (including a color-coded family calendar); sandbag the paper tsunami; learn to appreciate minutes and spend them sparingly. “Managing Family Life” shows how to tame the chaos, do laundry efficiently, deal with overwhelming circumstances including caregiving, get financial matters under control, and plan meals. “Managing Myself for the Maximum Life” deals with personal change—exterior (appearance) and interior (putting out the garbage of anger, bitterness, guilt, worry, and inferiority); it also reveals the best-kept secret of the Christian life: surrender, key to maximum living. It’s a fun book. Numerous readers have said, “The reason I haven’t finished the book is I keep stopping to organize!” I wrote the book as if the reader and I were walking through her house, stopping to organize room by room. I love that readers are actually using the book that way—as if we’re doing it together!
And what surprised you the most during the research or writing of your book?
I surveyed 75 friends in 17 states (Pennsylvania to Hawaii) to confirm my suspicion that some people were organized at birth. These successful women—single, married, widowed—range in age from young adults to grandmothers, and they represent diverse backgrounds. They’re professionals in education, finance, medicine, psychology, environment, industry, religion, technology, and family life. From their responses, I identified four degrees of organization:
- Category 1: Born that way and sailing smoothly.
- Category 2: Learned to stay afloat in the riptide.
- Category 3: Struggling to keep my head above water.
- Category 4: Help! I’m drowning! Throw me a rope!
(The Lord brought me from Category 4 to Category 2, the best I can be, since I wasn’t born organized.) The surprise: Category 1 friends insisted they work at staying organized. Although born with organizational skills and sailing smoothly most of the time, they still have to work at it. Along with my personal experience, each chapter gives tips from my organized friends.
How has being a writer impacted your relationship with Christ?
Since I write (and speak) about maximum living—the abundant life found in total surrender to Christ—I have to practice what I teach. When someone offends me, I don’t have the luxury of wallowing in bitterness, because I teach on forgiveness. When a circumstance threatens to overwhelm me, I can’t linger in discouragement, because I teach on casting every care on the Lord and living in joy. My writing keeps me accountable and totally dependent on Christ.
When did you first recognize God’s call to write for Him?
I recognized a desire to write as a teenager. I recognized God’s call to write for Him as He led me step by step, arranging circumstances and presenting opportunities. During my early teens, a desire began growing in my heart to write for the newspaper. Since I’d never met a journalist, I couldn’t imagine where on earth my desire had come from. Although I didn’t know then, it hadn’t come from earth. It was God’s design for my life.
By taking summer classes, I skipped my junior year of high school, graduated at 16, and immediately put in an application at the newspaper. Having no writing experience but gifted in English, I felt confident I could be a writer. The paper didn’t need me. Later, I applied a second time without success. On my third try at 18, I landed my dream job, working part-time during college, and joined the fulltime news staff after graduation. Within weeks, I had my own weekly column, where I shared my Christian faith. God was working, one step leading to another. I attended a Christian writing conference sponsored by Decision magazine (founded by Billy Graham) and met Dr. Sherwood Wirt, founding editor, who became a friend and mentor. A year later, Dr. Graham held a crusade in Knoxville, Tennessee, near my home. I persuaded the newspaper to send me to cover the event.
Through Dr. Wirt’s influence, I was chosen to write a commemorative book about the crusade, which made national headlines with the visit of President Richard Nixon. Billy Graham in Big Orange Country was my first book at 24. Vietnam hero Clebe McClary saw that book and asked me to write his story, Living Proof. Through him, I met his high-school friend, Harold Morris, who was in Georgia State Penitentiary serving a double life sentence for armed robbery and murder after being wrongly convicted by the false testimony of two companions. I wrote his story, Twice Pardoned (first book for Focus on the Family Publishing), a No. 1 Christian best seller in 1986.
That’s an amazing journey. Why do you write nonfiction?
I have no creativity for writing fiction, children’s books, or any other genre. Nonfiction is all I’ve ever done. While working at the newspaper, in addition to covering news events, I wrote feature articles about people from many walks of life. I crossed paths with celebrities including Corrie ten Boom, Ruth and Billy Graham, George Beverly Shea, Cliff Barrows, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Debbie Reynolds, Ethel Waters, Joan Crawford, Bob Hope, and many others.
When I left the newspaper, I’d published the Graham book and started the McClary book. I didn’t know much about writing books, but I had vast experience in writing life stories. A book is the long version of a feature article. Now my focus is Christian living, and I love sharing what I’ve learned about the maximum life.
Do you have an unfulfilled dream?
I can say truthfully, no! Having a No. 1 Christian best seller (Twice Pardoned) fulfilled my career dreams. Would I like to do that again? Of course! What about a romantic cruise to the Bahamas? Been there, done that (hubby’s surprise for our 35th anniversary). But I wouldn’t object to a vacation in Hawaii!
In our 24/7 world, everyone struggles with time management. How do you stay disciplined and meet your deadlines?
I Don’t Chase the Garbage Truck details my struggle to get organized and manage my time well. Slothfulness and procrastination are not my friends. A giant step toward overcoming these habits was simply choosing to do first things first. When I got serious about organizing my life, I disciplined myself (made up my mind) to do a few basics first thing every morning: dress and apply makeup, wipe bathroom sinks and mirrors, empty the trash, make the bed, wash breakfast dishes, and start a load of laundry. I call this doing the gottas. Getting these tasks out of the way—usually in less than thirty minutes—allows me to focus on my writing and managing assorted projects without nagging thoughts of household chores hovering and distracting me. This habit has become ingrained and habitual. In my home office, I also practice the first-things-first principle. I keep a list of writing deadlines for the entire year, so nothing surprises me. This is helpful when I have travel plans and need to prepare ahead. Monday is blog day. I oversee the CAN blog and post author submissions for “Monday Musings.” Then I spend whatever time is needed to write/tweak an article for my personal blog that posts on Tuesdays on my website. Tuesday through Friday I devote to other writing commitments and interviews for my weekly program on WHCB Radio. A monthly calendar helps me see the big picture, and a weekly to-do list keeps me on schedule. Responding to email and following social media, I approach like tempting high-calorie dessert—small bites!
What are your hobbies or activities or passions outside of writing?
My passion is investing my life in women, encouraging whole-hearted surrender. I’ve mentored dozens of women, teaching biblical marriage and parenting principles. I love speaking for women’s events, sharing the joy of following Christ. Circumstances rarely bring us to joy. Joy is what Christ brings to our circumstances. I meet many women who are burdened with cares of life and craving the joy found only in that intimate, surrendered relationship with the Lord. Nothing compares with living life that way! Oh, you might guess … my favorite activity is playing with my sweet grandchildren!
I only have one grandchild so far, but I can agree wholeheartedly with that last statement. Please tell us about your next project.
Help! I’m Stuck and I Can’t Get Out! The Maximum Marriage Maintenance and Repair Kit is the passion of my heart. I’ve been married for 53 years to my high-school sweetheart, and we’re opposite as two people can be. But the Lord blessed our marriage beyond my dreams as we learned to accept each other—strengths and weaknesses—and to apply Scripture to our daily lives. The major source of conflict in marriage is personality differences. But one person willing to obey God and apply His principles can, by His grace, change the relationship. The issue isn’t making the marriage work but making our Christianity work. After having a national Christian bestseller in 1986 (Twice Pardoned), I spent fifteen years out of the publishing loop caring for my parents and my husband’s parents as they declined in health. During that time, the Lord gave me an unexpected mentoring ministry, sending to my own door young women seeking marriage advice. The biblical principles I shared provided much of the content for Help! I’m Stuck! The book encourages couples feeling stuck in a disappointing marriage to seize the challenge and stick together to build the marriage of their dreams.
Sounds exciting! Thanks again for sharing your heart and your words with us, Dianne.
For His glory,