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Hope During Dark Days

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Hi, I’m Marcy McKay from Amarillo, author of the award-winning novel, Pennies from Burger Heaven. I’m excited to be a Radio Reader for High Plains Public Radio’s Book Club, and to share the backstory from my book.

Hi, I’m Marcy McKay from Amarillo, author of the award-winning novel, Pennies from Burger Heaven. I’m excited to be a Radio Reader for High Plains Public Radio’s Book Club, and to share the backstory from my book.

In the fall of 2008, I was driving into Llano Cemetery, the historic cemetery in Amarillo, Texas. It’s a place I’ve visited countless times over the years because my father, maternal grandparents and many of my husband’s family are buried there. I went to Llano that day because they had hired me to write their quarterly newsletter.

I remember how dazzling the leaves’ reds, golds, and oranges looked as I drove past the wrought-iron gates, then I clearly heard a voice whispering in my ear. That may sound strange, but writers hear voices. Don’t be afraid. I remember thinking, “Oh, that’s the homeless woman Greg told me about.”

My brother was a runner for a local CPA in the early 1980’s, and Llano Cemetery was a client, so Greg went there monthly to pick up their books and befriended a homeless woman “living” at the cemetery. She was single woman alone on the streets and felt safer there since people think ghosts and hobgoblins inhabit graveyards. She’d sneak into the fenced-in grounds before sunset when they locked the gates each night.

My brother would leave her Burger King or Taco Villa at her “spot” if she wasn’t around, so I just assumed the voice was hers, then forgot about it.

Until I heard the voice again. As I began writing the essence behind her words, I soon realized, “This is not a grown woman … it’s a little girl …  oh my God … where the HELL is her mother?”

So began my journey with Pennies from Burger Heaven. Here’s the premise: eleven-year-old Copper Daniels is homeless and alone. She and her mom spend their nights sleeping beneath the Warrior Angel statue at the cemetery, and their days battling the mean streets in order to survive. The child’s world turns upside down when she wakes to discover her mom is missing. Copper must brave the big, bad world alone in order to bring back her only family, but someone doesn’t want her mother found. Soon, Copper finds herself on the run. In uncovering dark family secrets, Copper worries, will she live long enough to learn the truth?

My book is set in the fictional town of Remington, Texas, but Amarillo is sprinkled throughout. Copper and her mom panhandle at a restaurant called the Burger Heaven, which I imagine is located at the Dairy Queen on I-40 and Washington Street. The homeless shelter downtown, Mission for Hope, is inspired by the good people at Faith City Mission where I volunteered years ago. You’ll find countless other local references.

Writing constantly teaches me about discipline, perseverance and faith. Self-doubt is a constant struggle, but the divine inspiration I received back then was unmistakable. Once, I walked out to my car in the church parking lot where I worked and found under my tire – a business-size card of Thomas Blackshear’s painting, Watchers of the Night. The picture depicts an angel standing over a sleeping child.

I mean, COME ON?! That was a pretty specific message that felt made for me.

I’ll include a link to the painting in my written version of this BookByte and hope you’ll check it out: https://www.thomasblackshearii.com/other-art?itemId=wpocjlfmanectqtsx6d5zew7xh81mx

My novel is often compared to Where the Crawdads Sing, Room and The Lovely Bones. Readers say that my story has them laughing one page, then crying the next, and that I’ve given them hope during dark days, which is the greatest gift of all.

So, that’s the story behind Pennies from Burger Heaven. This is Marcy McKay, local author from Amarillo and Radio Reader from High Plains Public Radio. For more information, go to HPPR.org.

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Summer Read 2022: Summer Reading List 2022 Summer ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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