04/18/04 — Author returns to Goldsboro for book signing

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Author returns to Goldsboro for book signing

By David Rouse
Published in News on April 18, 2004 2:01 AM

An award-winning writer and former Goldsboro resident will be at Books-A-Million Saturday from 1 until 4 p.m. to sign copies of the new book, "A Cup of Comfort for Teachers."

Over the past decade, Thomas Smith, the former associate pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church, has won awards for journalism and, this year, was named Writer of the Year at the American Christian Writers Conference in Charlotte.

His other accomplishments include writing Bible guides, plays, a coffee table book about Aiken, S.C., and numerous short stories and articles.

This month, he will have a work in "Quietly Now: A Tribute to Charles L. Grant," which also includes writings by Stephen King, Peter Straub and others in the horror writing field.

On Saturday, the emphasis will be on teachers -- and the comfort found in sharing warm stories about people's lives.

"A Cup of Comfort for Teachers" is the ninth in a series of books that have, as their purpose, forming a human connection.

"We all have really busy, hectic lives," says Colleen Sell, editor. "Everyone runs into difficulty in their life -- from waiting in traffic to something really serious. No life is free of stress and pain. For me, as the editor working on these books over the past five years, this is a way to give them some comfort."

The books feature "extraordinary stories about ordinary people," she says. "They help us connect to one another. Storytelling has always done that."

Smith previously had a selection in "A Cup of Comfort for Christmas" in 2003, and Ms. Sell was happy to have another contribution from him for the book about teachers.

The selection, which is entitled "Innocence and the Divine," made her laugh each time she read it.

"One of the most comforting things for people is laughter," she says.

Other people reviewing stories for the collection had the same reaction to the piece.

"It touched us ... It so showed the innocence of childhood," she says.

"Thomas is a really good storyteller. As an editor, I had to literally do nothing to (the story)! Every word counted. It was such a joy because I don't get that as often as I like."

Smith decided to enter a story for consideration because he remembers and appreciates the contributions teachers made to his life.

"It wasn't the ones who taught me to add, subtract and multiply so much," he says.

"It was the ones who went beyond that and taught me about life, about being a better person, about looking out for people around you.

"And the teachers who were real characters," he adds.

He recalls an English instructor who enjoyed playing ragtime music.

Every once in awhile, her students would push the piano from the band room to her classroom, and she would play songs for them.

One of the things she taught her students was to enjoy life.

Another instructor who impressed Smith taught band in Zebulon.

"He probably taught me as much as anybody about treating people well and making sure everybody feels important. He had a way of dealing with students who just were not very good.

"It didn't really matter, because the important thing was that you got up there and gave it your best shot."

In choosing which story he would tell, Smith remembered the stories his mother, Judy Smith of Raleigh, shared. She was a teacher for 30 years, most of those in the Wake County school system.

The one he chose was a funny and warm selection about what happened at a school when a new intercom system was put in.

"It always made me laugh," he says about the story.

Smith was associate pastor at St. Paul United Methodist Church from 1992 through 1994.

He also served other churches and has had some teaching experience as well. He taught at Coastal Carolina for two semesters and taught Communication for Ministers at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta.

He has been married for 23 years to Melanie Mabrey, a nurse practitioner at Duke University Medical Center.

"A Cup of Comfort for Teachers" is a 320-page paperback and costs $9.95. The publisher is Adams Media. Copies will be available at Books-A-Million.