Four elderly men stood before me. They had asked to talk to me and I was very, very nervous. One of them was shaking with emotion and all I could think of was somehow I had offended them with something I had written in the play they had just seen.
Let me explain.
In 1993, I was the director of the drama ministry at Brookwood Baptist Church. We produced four dinner theaters a year and my staff liaison requested we sell season tickets for the 1994 season. I was growing tired of writing, directing, and producing plays with a rural flair. I wanted something more modern and urban. I decided on the three plays leading up to our holiday dinner theater for 1994. Then, I wrote down a simple explanation for the fourth play, “The Night Gift”. It would take place in an urban setting, a newly constructed high rise in downtown with a penthouse office.
The members of that office would find themselves stuck in the penthouse office on Christmas Eve and in the process discover they didn’t get along as well as they thought. That was it. A simple story. I would worry about the details later and write the play sometime during the summer of 1994 in time for the holiday dinner theater.Read the rest of this entry
In 2005 Brookwood hosted the play, “The Homecoming Tree”. The story of a 13 year old boy faced with the tragedy of his father not returning from the attack on Pearl Harbor set the stage for a powerful drama. The story centered around the Collinsworth boarding house between Thanksgiving and Christmas 1941. Since that time, I have been working hard to complete a novelization of that story. I finished the final draft of the novel today! I hope it will be available for purchase by mid November. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 2 when the ruthless businessman, Roy Anderson, finds himself catapulted back in time to 1941 and his memory erased. In this scene, Daniel Collinsworth has found his father’s hidden book safe containing the medal his father won and a surprise.:
Frank picked up the wax paper. He studied the dark shreds of tobacco and then lifted them to his nose. He inhaled, and a contented look came over his face. “I wouldn’t mind taking a bite or two myself. But, I promised you, mother, I would quit. That’s why I put it here in my hidden treasure box.”
Daniel’s eyes widened in surprise. “But, if you quit, why didn’t you just throw it away?”
Frank lowered the tobacco and reluctantly closed the wax paper around it. “Let’s just say I was hoping one day she might change her mind.”
“Why did she make you quit?”
Frank put the tobacco back into the book and put the papers on top of it. “Ever kiss someone who’s beenchewing tobacco?” Read the rest of this entry
I just ordered my proof copy of “Death By Darwin”. Soon, you will be able to get your hands on my next book. By December 15th, the ebook will be available and hopefully, the printed version. More on that soon.
But, today, I want to focus on what took place on this day 75 years ago. Yes, December 7 1941 is a day that will live in “infamy”. In 2005 our drama group at Brookwood Baptist Church performed my last written play, “The Homecoming Tree”. The play was set in the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas 1941. I based the story on my parents’ experiences living in Shreveport, Louisiana during World War II. The play has a very special place in my heart and I have rewritten it over the past 11 years. I am now working on the conversion of the play to a novel.
My hopes are to see the play performed again in its new form and also to possibly add musical numbers to the play. But, for now, I am settling for finishing up the novel. Today, in the honor of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the brave men and women who died that day and the Generation that took upon themselves to defeat the greatest evil in modern history I want to post an excerpt from my upcoming book, “The Homecoming Tree”.
First formal announcement.
Mark Sutton and I will be at the Well, the coffee shop/bookstore of Brookwood Baptist Church on Friday night, September 19th from 6:30 to 8 PM. We will be signing copies of our new book, “Hope Again: A 30 Day Plan for Conquering Depression” and the first 15 purchasers will receive a set of Deluxe LifeFilters. All others will receive a complementary copy of standard LifeFilters.
Mark and I will be sharing our story about this incredible opportunity to update our depression book. Snacks are complementary. AND, if you didn’t make my book launch for “The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos” back in December with the ice storm, I’ll have copies of all 3 books available for purchase at this event only.
BUT, don’t forget to support our local Lifeway Store. They don’t hold book signings very often and they are allowing us to hold a book signing the next day, Saturday September 20th from 1 to 3 PM. Even if you show up Friday night, come by and say hello or send a friend to the book signing. We will be again giving away 15 sets of Deluxe LifeFilters to the first 15 buyers.
AND, if you are in the Orlando area the next Saturday, September 27th, we will be signing books at the Orlando Lifeway Christian Store from 1 to 3 PM!
Make your plans NOW!!!!
That night in Nashville I desperately needed a hug from my wife but she was a three hour drive away visiting her friends in Chattanooga. I leaned against a tree in the darkened parking lot of Redeemer Church and watched people move inside the bright, clean interior of the church’s attached house. Most of them smiled and laughed as they exchanged brief touches and hugs. Somewhere in that brightness my son spoke with peers his own age. I, an aging gray haired fossil, made up only a small minority at the 2012 Hutchmoot.
I called my wife and listened to her joyful voice as she answered her cell phone. She was having the time of her life playing bridge with her friend Barbara. I was more depressed than I had been in months thanks to an email I had received that afternoon from my publisher “releasing” me from a five book contract after the second book would be released in less than a month. She tried to console me and offered her practical and sensible advice. Always practical and sensible. I, on the other hand, found myself living half the time in a dream world of hopes and aspirations that could never be totally realized. She reminded me that by October, I would have two fiction books in the marketplace released by a major publisher. And, I had just landed a contract for an update to a depression book my co-author and I wrote in 2001. I should have been able to throw all of that on the scales and realistically see that in spite of the release from one contract, another had taken its place and, in the balance of things, I was actually ahead of the game. With the offer to update our depression book had come the offer of writing an entire book series.
But, as much as I loved the idea of updating our depression book, I did not want to say goodbye to Jonathan Steel and his spiritual warfare against the forces of evil. I told my wife I loved her and wiped the tears from my face and tried to man up. I had to go back into the church and face that crowd of giddy millennials. I did and here is the beauty of this thing called Hutchmoot.
The people surrounding me totally understood my situation. Many of them had been in similar circumstances, their art rejected or their idea laughed at. Attendees at Hutchmoot are much, much more than artistic wannabes. I’ve met artistic wannabes.
Once, I attended a local “writer’s club” and was met at the door by an aging 1950’s glamour girl. She was obviously in her 70s but dressed like Kitty Carlisle (whose grandfather was once mayor of Shreveport!) with a flowing gauzy dress and matching long, wavy hair dyed a hideous blue black. Her face was caked in powder and her eyes were limpid. She greeted me with a dried lipstick smile and a cold, narrow handshake.
“Are you a published writer?” her first words.
I shook my head. “Trying to be.”
“I’ve been published.” She smiled again and I watched bits of lipstick fall to the ground like dying flower petals. She held out to me a fading copy of LIFE magazine tucked into a cellophane wrapping — November, 1957 I think. Impressive. Most impressive. She tapped the magazine.
“Right here in this magazine I was published, my dear.”
I took the magazine and nodded looking beyond her willowy figure to the open door. I had to get passed her. Or did I really want to? Were all of the club members like her? “You wrote an article?” I smiled back at her.
“Letter to the Editor!” She clasped her hands and beamed at me.
I never met anyone like her at Hutchmoot. Everyone in attendance either created art or loved Christian art. No pretenses. Just a simple concept — community. Here at this gathering of like minded Christian artists spanning the range from music to writing to painting to catering, yes catering! Even the “celebrities” hosting this event exhibited humility and frank honesty and friendliness. Andrew Peterson, author of four fantasy books and countless wondrous albums would sit at the table with me and my son and just talk. No pretense. No celebrity snobbiness. No LIFE magazines!
Outside, beneath a tent, Eric Peters tried his best to hold an acoustic concert for about a dozen of us. However, his battle with depression, still being waged, would get the best of him and his face would darken with the shadows of that beast and he would halt — pause — emotion in his voice as he tried to explain that THIS song came out of his pain and agony.
You see, nowhere on the face of the planet would a total stranger get up from his seat, walk across the grass to a celebrity and reach out and hug him. Nowhere but Hutchmoot. I told Eric I understood. I have battled depression and most times won; I battle it still. So does he. But, there are times when the VOICES speak loud enough to command our attention and we turn away from the smiling, loving face of our Savior and gaze into the abyss. What keeps us from falling into that crafty chasm of the enemy are many but one saving grace is our community of family and friends who love Christ and each other no matter how many “releases” from contracts fill our lives.
Recently, God began working again around me. In spite of my many weaknesses and faults, God placed certain people in the line of my movement. And now, I may see the birth of something like Hutchmoot. I tried to get the Inkwell going in 2011 and only had one meeting with one person before it faded away. But, there is a growing community of Christian artists here in our area and perhaps it is time for us to meet. It is time for a community to form to encourage, to lift up, to hold accountable our creative acts inspired by Christ, to be there when we are reflected by tradition and to offer a simple hug.
If you are interested, let me know. Here is how you can get involved. First, there is a “meetup” called InkwellSBC (Inkwell Shreveport/Bossier City). You can go to that page and sign up and get involved. Or, you can check out my Facebook page here. Or, you can drop me an email through the contact tab on this website, but if you are interested, we need to KNOW soon. I have to schedule a night in the Well, the coffee shop, at Brookwood Baptist Church.
And, to entice you, I will offer something very special. At our first meeting, soon to be determined, I will review Andrew Peterson’s latest book, “The Warden and The Wolf King” and we will have a drawing to give away four copies of the book SIGNED by Andrew Peterson! Interested? Then, I gotta know. And, soon.
So, if you would like to be a part of a local Christian artistic community that meets on a regular basis, contact me. If we get enough interest, we’ll meet and four of you will walk away with signed copies of Andrew Peterson’s book!
My father walked through the darkness of the railroad yard. This was not the world he had wanted to live in. But, his farm was a bust and my mother had convinced him it was time to leave the country and move to the city of Shreveport and find a job. They had two children to raise; four mouths to feed and the Depression had been devastating on the farm.
My father came to the city and they moved into a house on Buckner Street along with other relatives. Life was hard but at least working for the railroad, my father had a steady paycheck. The one drawback was the hours: he had the graveyard shift. Now, he walked through the darkness toward the bus ride back into the city and to home. The railroad yard was filled with hulking, sometimes rusting railroad cars crouched on their tracks. This land was alien to my father; nothing at all like the rolling hills of Saline, Louisiana with its fertile soil and towering pines. His heart raced with anxiety as he stumbled over the tracks and dodged around the railroad cars. And then, the ground opened up beneath him and he was falling through darkness into shadow. He hit the ground and rolled and found himself in one of the maintenance pits over which railroad cars were driven to work on their undersides. He realized if he had hit his head or broken an leg, he might have stayed there until he died. He climbed painfully out of the pit of darkness and despair and resolved to find a better job.
My uncle Marvin was a unique individual. He was tall and round with a cherubic face and a quick wit. When he would call the house I would say, “Hello?” and he would answer “Is that you?” I was always confused around him. But, he worked for the Post Office and the next day spoke to my father about filling a position at the Post Office. Normal hours. No pits to fall in. Paper cuts galore, but my father could deal with that. He took the job much to my mother’s relief. They were NOT going back to the farm.
1941 came quickly and Thanksgiving was a time for true thanks. My father, mother, sister, and brother had a home; food on the table; and my father had a job he could more than tolerate. My father still longed for the farm but my mother was unrelenting. Over the past few months, sisters and brothers had come through the house on Buckner Street for brief stents as they found jobs in Shreveport. The world was changing. War occupied most of Europe and the country folk were being drawn into the war to end all wars. Fresh faced young men whose life was walking behind a plow and a mule were faced with the prospect of going across the ocean to a world they could not begin to imagine. Shreveport, a growing city in northwestern Louisiana was foreign enough.
And then, December 7, 1941 came. My father and Mother learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor after church. They were terrified. The United States was now officially in the war. What would become of our country? What would become of the uncles who were even now being drafted into the armed forces? What would happen to my father? He was twenty seven when the war broke out. But, because he worked for the federal government at the Post Office, he was not on the first list of draftees. Most men didn’t have to be drafted. They volunteered. The attack on the United States was horrific and these men, fresh from the farm, wanted revenge.
In June 1942, shortly after my father turned twenty eight, he was drafted. He was thirty days away from being sent off to Europe. He had thirty days to get his affairs in order; to insure my mother and brother and sister would be okay while he was overseas. At the last minute, with only two days left until he was deployed, the Unites States government lowered the age of draftees to twenty six. My father didn’t have to go and stayed with the Post Office. My uncles were lucky. they survived events like the Battle of the Bulge and came back to the country after the war. But, my father tells me the world changed forever on December 7th. It changed for my family and it changed for my nation.
Six years ago, I immortalized my parents’ story in the play, “The Homecoming Tree”. It was performed three consecutive nights at Brookwood Baptist Church in November, 1995. It is the story of that house on Buckner Street and the men, women, and children who lived there at the beginning of World War II. It tells the story of a young boy, age 13 and his coming of age when he realizes his father may not come home from Pearl Harbor and he has to become “the man of the house”. This coming of age is represented by the boy cutting down the family Christmas tree by himself.
In writing, producing, and directing this play, I was able to honor my father and his extended family and the sacrifice of their incredible generation for our personal freedom. We no longer know what it means to be “the man of the house”. Most men today abandon their families to find their personal identity; to discover themselves often in the arms of a younger woman or in the throes of drugs and alcohol. Most families do not resemble the nuclear family of the forties. And, it is certain, that most households have no idea of God and country; of self sacrifice and dying for what you believe in. Truth is, most of us now believe in ourselves and therefore we are dying for ourselves with overindulgence, personal selfishness, lack of manners, rampant consumerism, and would never consider sacrificing our lives for a principle or a value. The exception are those valiant men and women who still understand the necessity of defending the freedom this country still represents, albeit weakly, to a world that no longer regards the United States as a great country.
On this day, the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I want to ask everyone to revisit that event; to talk to a veteran; to examine the cost of their ability to sit in front of a computer and have total, unfettered access to a world of information — true freedom. Freedom is NOT free. It cost thousands their lives on this day seventy years ago. And we must take up the torch of self sacrifice and keep the fire burning if for no other reason than to honor them. Honor a member of our armed forces today. Stop, shake their hand and look them in the eye and say, “Thank You.” There is no better way to remember Pearl Harbor!