Mary Ellen Cooper's thoughts wander into the minds of other people. With her undergraduate degree in psychology and her master's degree in counseling, Cooper admits she pays attention to conversations around her.
After hearing one comment over and over, Cooper decided to delve deeper.
"When people try a new job or a new venture, or when they speak of retirement, I've heard them comment, 'Well, if this does not work out, I can always be the greeter at Wal-Mart,' and I thought, 'Is the job really that easy? Why do people say that?'" Cooper said.
Her curiosity evolved into a novel. The Greeter, an inspirational fiction book published by Harbor House that was to be launched at a party at the Morris Museum of Art on Saturday. Cooper is set to discuss her book from 7-9 p.m. Thursday at Gibbs Library, 326 N. Belair Road.
The paperback book tells the story of a small town, its people, its Wal-Mart and its greeter.
"I look at the book as a symbol of hope. ... Our society loses respect for a person ending their career. ... At Wal-Mart, there is no age discrimination - a person who is ending their career can start a new one at Wal-Mart," Cooper said.
The locations in her story will be familiar to those living in the area, because she grew up in Augusta and is now an Evans resident. The story, set in "Evanston," centers on the town's Wal-Mart, which is depicted as an old-fashioned general store.
"Wal-Mart is the modern general store. People always run into someone they know when they go to Wal-Mart. It's just like our relationships. We see each other only once in a while, and we visit a few minutes and we catch up," Cooper said.
Cooper is a professor of business psychology and sociology at Brenau and Baker universities.
"I teach the 'warm fuzzies' in business management," Cooper said. "Being in the business program, we study case studies at Wal-Mart. So I started watching the greeter on our daily visits. Then I read Sam Walton's biography, how he started Wal-Mart and why he instituted the greeter.
"He says a greeter gives the store a personal atmosphere. He also believes having an older person as the greeter is important, because no one wants to steal from their grandmother," Cooper said.
The image of a grandmother as a greeter in a story made Carrie McCollough, the associate publisher at Harbor House, skeptical.
"I have thought my grandmother would make a horrible greeter at Wal-Mart, because she tells it like it is," McCollough said. "So when (publisher) Randall Floyd called me and said 'I just signed a contract for a novel about a Wal-Mart greeter,' I thought it was very interesting. The story reminds me of so many different types of people in the community. It touches people that I never expected would even read it."
The book is the first in a series of stories featuring the same greeter, and the different people she comes in contact with and how she influences their lives.
"The cart-pusher comes in contact with her everyday. She helps him through some devastating problems, such as the death of family members and friends," Cooper said.
Cooper said writing the book was hard, and she learned a lot from the editors at Harbor House.
"At one point, I had to do so many re-writes, that I looked at my husband and said 'Is anybody gonna even read this?' and he said 'People will read it because it's from your heart, you've lived it.' He's right, it's about me and people I know," Cooper said.
McCollough said her first impression was that the book would be a "soccer-Mom read," but after reading the book, and hearing reviews from other people, she said the book could be "a self-help book, really. I'm not saying it has the answers, but it does show that there are other people in similar situations to all of our problems."
McCollough said the book has reviews by so many different people because "Mary Ellen constantly has to have a project going on, and she has promoted the book. Now she is doing different types of study guides for different types of discussion groups. I just have to keep her busy to keep her happy."
For more information, visit www.harborhousebooks.com.
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