Screenwriter and author Rusty Whitener has experienced more than one detour in life. His journey has taken him from music to law school to the ministry. But this current season is one of miracles, and he tells his story with passion and humor.
Let’s talk about A Season of Miracles, your debut novel (Kregel, September 2010). I understand it began as a screenplay, is that right?
I actually wrote the first three chapters of what is now A Season of Miracles to enter in the 2006 Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference contest for unpublished authors. I was laying out a “fleece” of sorts I guess, to see if God might confirm that I should put some time and energy into writing. Those first three chapters won second or third place for the “Novel Category” at BRCWC. So I wrote some more rudimentary chapters in my spare time, but spent much more time on a book about worship music spawned from the research for my Doctor of Ministry thesis at Gordon-Conwell.
In 2007 at BRCWC I stumbled into a Ted Baehr lecture about screenwriting (because I missed the writing class I was planning on attending). Ted talked about the Kairos (Movieguide) Awards for screenwriting. I was intrigued, so I got a little 65 page booklet by Barbara Nicolosi about “how to write a screenplay” and turned my “Season Of Miracles” story into a screenplay. In 2009 that screenplay won 2nd Place at the Movieguide (Kairos) Awards. At the same time, I had laid aside the worship book and gotten serious about my A Season Of Miracles novel (then called “Touched”). I entered my manuscript in Jerry Jenkins’ Operation First Novel, and was one of four finalists there in 2009. That helped get the attention of Kregel and one thing led to another, and they offered me a contract. Few things in my life happen by “expected routes.” It’s much more like unexpected “detours.”
Can you share a bit about the story?
Twelve year old boys who play for the “Robins” in a small town in northern Alabama in 1971 gun for the Little League championship, hoping against hope that they can beat the perennial champs, the “Hawks.” Their dream takes focus when they get a strange new boy on their team who plays like Willie Mays. But the road to the championship takes unexpected turns, and the boys learn what suffering and grace are about. It’s a “coming of age” story but more about discovering redemption than simply growing physically and emotionally. I tried to put a lot of humor in it, too, to offset (or “set up”) the suffering, and also because kids are just hilarious.
Besides the entertainment value, what is the one thing you hope readers will take away from the story?
That grace and compassion are stronger than loss and indifference. And that people who are “different” can be our clearest windows into grace and redemption.
A Season of Miracles, the movie, is now in pre-production. What can you tell us about it? Where and when will the movie be filmed and released?
Elevating Entertainment Motion Pictures is the production team, with Dave Moody as Producer, and Mark Fincannon as Casting Director. Fincannon did much of the casting for The Blind Side, The Rookie, and Glory Road, among others. We hope to shoot it in Spring or Summer 2011. We are gathering investors now, so if anyone has some money just laying around doing nothing, this is a chance to invest in a “God project” that we feel can reach across the lines separating Christians from those who do not follow Christ. Investors of course could also earn excellent financial returns. We’re scouting locations soon, in Alabama, and possibly North Carolina or Georgia or Tennessee.
The Atlanta Braves’ outfielder Matt Diaz has endorsed the novel and is excited about doing a cameo or some small role in the movie. Sony Pictures (one of the “Big Six”) has expressed real interest in helping with distribution of the movie, and GMC (Gospel Music Channel) based in Atlanta is seriously considering backing the movie’s production (with money) in exchange for the right to the TV premiere after the movie has had its run in the theaters. I am encouraged by the VERY positive response we get from any executives and actors and other “film people” who read the script (Christians and non-Christians). A release date is hard to forecast now, but we really want to film it this next Spring or Summer, which is coming right up!
You recently won first place at the Gideon Film Festival for another one of your screenplays. Please tell us about that project.
I adapted Allah’s Fire, a novel by Gayle Roper and Chuck Holton, into a screenplay that won at the Gideon Film Festival. I REALLY like that screenplay and would love to see it go to the screen. It’s a shade expensive however. It’s the story of a U.S. Special Forces Unit thwarting terrorists operating in Lebanon and rescuing an American journalist (woman) scheduled for execution by these terrorists. I changed the novel a great deal, and the movie’s ending (about the last twenty-five minutes) is very different from the plotline in the novel. It had to be so, since the goal is to get movie execs to invest in a script that tells a great, quick, climactic story in less than two hours. Novels are more like slow, meandering (but beautiful) rivers. Screenplays are more like white-water rapids that lead swiftly to a terrifying (but beautiful) waterfall. Anyway, Allah’s Fire is, I believe, exactly the type of movie the American public would go nuts for right now, with heroic, sacrificial, mission-achievers (the women and the men in the story). In an ideal world, the movie A Season of Miracles does well enough to position me for a sequel to “Season” and a production of Allah’s Fire. But such things are up to God. His agenda reigns and I’m so glad it does.
Has God ever provided an unexpected “detour” in your life that turned out to be positive?
Does God do anything else? My life’s rhythms/events feel very much like one long “detour.” I have a ridiculously strong notion of the sovereignty of God in all humans so that I view the unexpected “detour” as a positive (Romans 8:28).
Of course, I can be disappointed when things don’t go as I expect. But I’d rather God be in charge and not me. An example would be I went to law school and finished with my J.D. degree but ended up taking an unexpected detour that led to me studying for the ministry and pastoring a church for 12 years, which was awesome. That, in turn, led to me thinking about reaching people with some stories I could write.
I am encouraged when I consider that God knows what He’s doing with our lives, and His plans are really amazing, though sometimes fearful or disappointing.
When did you begin writing? Has it been a lifelong ambition?
I started writing fiction seriously about four years ago, off and on (I was pastoring a church at the time). I guess I’d say, yes, it’s been a lifelong ambition, though not one that has haunted me in the sense that I wasn’t kicking myself through the years, saying, “You MUST start writing fiction, you lazy bones!” My life was very full without writing, but the idea kept creeping back into my psyche.
How does your faith play into your writing?
The same way it plays into everything in my life. My goal is to be living a life that is not compartmentalized into “secular” and “sacred,” but is holistically about God. Specifically, I try to write so ANYONE could pick up the story and read and not feel “preached to” or “taught,” but simply enjoy a story and “feel” the truth in it. “Feel the truth” sounds very postmodern, but I mean to say I shoot for what C. S. Lewis conveyed when he said he’d rather be known as a “good writer” than a “good Christian writer.”
A few fun questions:
When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?
I like Lucky Charms cereal. I’m serious. Why are you laughing? I also like movie theater popcorn. Oh, you mean like “real food?” I like pepperoni pizza. Oh, that’s not real food? Okay, I like Cracker Barrel’s meatloaf dinner with biscuits, not cornbread, and sweet tea.
This website features writers as well as musicians. Do you have musical, as well as literary, talent?
In the late 1980s I was the lead singer in a band in Chicago that did “rockin’ country” music. We played the Limelight and Cabaret Metro and Exit Club and opened for T. Graham Brown (kind of big at the time). I love singing and writing songs, mostly folk style. I’m a VERY elementary guitar player who likes to sing. I also have sung a lot in musical theatre, including some church dramas/outreaches I wrote.
What kind of music do you listen to when you’re relaxing with the radio or an mp3 player?
Country, some contemporary but mostly classic or “oldies” country (Cash, Willie and Waylon, Oak Ridge Boys, etc.) I also like contemporary worship music A LOT (Chris Tomlin, Third Day, Matt Redman, David Crowder, Jonny Diaz). And I like some old 1960s music. Lately I find myself playing the song “Last Night I Didn’t Get To Sleep At All” (The Fifth Dimension) over and over on my computer. I also use music to get me in the “time zone” of what I’m writing. A Season Of Miracles is set in 1971, so I listened to a lot of Glen Campbell and the Carpenters and the “Indian Reservation” song.
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
A confessional, meditative worship song. Or maybe a New Christy Minstrels song like Today. (In fact, I think I AM a dandy and a rover, but “you’ll know who I am by the song that I sing.”) Or, an early Glen Campbell song (I have lived out Wichita Lineman and Galveston many times in my mind) or an early Johnny Cash song, before his fame twisted him toward an image that seemed, in some ways, something other than who he was. I would definitely be a folk/country song about traveling and recalling home.
Are you a major or a minor chord?
Yes. Okay, I’m definitely minor, but I’m not afraid to reconcile the chord back to major. (It doesn’t matter what happens to us or through us, we all seem to make one huge parabolic or elliptical curve back to our origins.)
In the story that is your life, are you the tall, dark stranger; the romantic lead; the mythical warrior; the mad scientist; or the child in an adult’s body?
Yes. Okay, I am definitely the “tall, dark stranger” who is often the sensitive “child in an adult’s body.” My masculine countenance is a foil to guard my overly sensitive transparency.
And a requisite question here at DivineDetour, any pets at the Whitener household? Dogs? Cats?
My wife and I had a wonderful beagle companion (“Pal”) for about 11 years before his serious paralyzing stroke caused us to have to put him down. We love dogs (and other animals) and are looking forward to getting a couple of dogs sometime in the relative near future. We read “dog stories” to each other at night before we go to sleep. And of course, a dog named “Sawdust” figures prominently in my A Season of Miracles novel/movie.
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For more information about Rusty Whitener, visit his website at http://www.rustywhitener.com/
For information about A Season of Miracles, the book and movie, visithttp://www.aseasonofmiraclesbook.com/
To purchase A Season of Miracles at Amazon, click here: http://www.amazon.com/Season-Miracles-Novel-Rusty-Whitener/dp/0825441919/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1282075988&sr=1-1-spell
To purchase A Season of Miracles at Barnes & Noble, click here: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/A-Season-of-Miracles/Rusty-Whitener/e/9780825441912/?itm=1&USRI=a+season+of+miracles+rusty+whitener
To purchase, A Season of Miracles at ChristianBook.com, click here:http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/easy_find/1104636372?Ntt=rusty+whitener&N=0&Ntk=keywords&action=Search&Ne=0&event=ESRCN&nav_search=1&cms=1&search