In the course of pursuing stories, I've bungee jumped with Richard Branson, hiked the toughest mountain in Montana with my oldest son Caleb, and completed two half marathons with Team in Training. I'm a risk-taker, stubborn and like doing exactly what folks tell me can't be done.
I was the first in my family to attend college. I picked Auburn University, because I thought its yearbook was the best of the ones I saw in my high school guidance counselor's office. Since I was the yearbook editor, I deducted that it must be a sign. My husband Kevin Garrett and I moved from Chicken Road in Lebanon, Tennessee -- hmmm, I wonder if that's why those editors wouldn't answer my queries? -- to New York City, where we lived for a decade until the birth of our second son.
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, into a music business family, I'm the Forest Gump of music. My dad started in a Rockabilly duo as a teen with his best friend Buddy Holly. I was named after Buddy's old girlfriend Echo. Next my parents moved into a basement apartment. Their next door neighbor was Patsy Cline. I remember Patsy. As a three-year-old I loved when the lady with raven black hair and a slash of red lipstick came over. She'd flick her red, white and blue cigarette lighter that played "Dixie" for me over and over again. My mom sang backup for Elvis and a slew of other artists. I met Paul and Linda McCartney when I was 12, and he came to Nashville to record at my dad's studio. When my then-boyfriend-now-husband came to meet the parents, he showed up in a button down and khakis. Dad, who strongly resembled Wolfman Jack, was sitting in a fishing boat with Dicky Betts, who had hair down to his butt when we drove up. Kevin looked at me and said, "You didn't tell me about your family."
I learned that you could make a living with words from my songwriter father Bob Montgomery, who penned "Misty Blue," "Love's Made a Fool of You," "Heartbeat" and "Back in Baby's Arms," among many others. Still, without Miss Sharon Tracey, a caring teacher in high school, I probably wouldn't be a writer today. She took my poems and started entering them in contests. To my amazement, I won.
When I told my professors at Auburn that I wanted to write for magazines in New York City, they kind of chuckled. For me, that's rocket fuel. So I went to New York City and learned the business from the inside out. When I found a topic I wanted to write a book about, I was told it was harder to get an agent than a book contract. I got my agent on the third phone call and stayed with her for 18 years.
Over the past 30+ years as a journalist, I've written for women's magazines and then moved to business magazines and general interest. For one year I served as editor-in-chief of "Atlanta Woman," mainly because it sounded like fun and a challenge. My first issue as EIC won "Best Single Issue" out of 400 magazines in the Southeast. I got a book contract the day after I'd signed on to be EIC. I finished off ghost-writing "Tales from the Top" in three months while juggling 80-hour weeks.
I've written or contributed to a dozen non-fiction books ranging in subject matter from self-help to business biography to travel guides. The project of my heart walked into my life in 2005 after Kevin and I had prayed that God would take our desire to help orphans and expand on it. The answer to the that prayer was 6'5" and about 275 lbs. His name is Sam Bracken. I wrote about Sam's life, growing up around mobsters and motorcycle gang members and then becoming homeless at 15 in "My Orange Duffel Bag: A Journey to Radical Change." The name of the book came from the fact that when he flew from Las Vegas to Atlanta to accept a full ride football scholarship with Georgia Tech, everything he owned fit in his orange duffel bag.
Sam and I shared a passion for helping older teens and young adults who were homeless or aging out of foster care. People ignore and write-off our teens, but we wanted to start a nonprofit to help our kids have a better future. For the first time in my career, I could not get a publisher interested. Finally, we decided to just go for it ourselves after going through two agents and 60 rejections.
We originally self-published in 2010 and launched our nonprofit, Orange Duffel Bag Foundation -- now called Initiative, because the word "Foundation" makes everybody think you give money, not that you need it. We won seven national and international awards in 2011 for best nonfiction in the young adult and self-help categories and two were for best designed book in the world. My husband Kevin, an internationally acclaimed photographer, provided the images.
The third agent was charm. We sold the rights to our book to Crown Archetype/Random House, which re-launched it in June 2012 with a first-printing of 60,000 along with the companion book "My Roadmap: A Personal Guide to Balance, Purpose and Power."
"My Orange Duffel Bag" was the Book Selection for November 2010 for the Pulpwood Queens Book Club, the largest book club in the world with 550 chapters and 3,000 members. In 2013, it won the American Society of Journalists & Authors Arlene Eisenberg Writing that Makes a Difference award that is given every three years to the book that's made the biggest difference in society.
Meanwhile, Orange Duffel Bag Initiative, a nonprofit that does coaching and training with teens aging out of foster care, older youth in care and high poverty youth ages 12-24, based on the principles in "My Orange Duffel Bag," has now graduated 300+ young people. I now serve as Board Chair. We were recently featured in PARADE Magazine.
My work has appeared in more than 75 magazines, newspapers and websites including Parade, Delta Sky, Money, Business Week and Success. What I love is that my vision for creating a nonprofit that could transform young lives has taken off. Seeing our beautiful young people soar into the futures of their dreams gives me a feeling I cannot express.