In 1991, Shirley Hutchins found “paradise” when she moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue a dream of working in the music business. Mentored and befriended by noted songwriter-publisher Marijohn Wilkin, Shirley soon made a place for herself within the entertainment community.
Almost twenty years later, she writes about a more universal paradise. A small town where love rules and time moves slower, a little bit of heaven on earth amidst a fast-paced life.
You are a songwriter, a publisher, and a music administrator. Which came first? How did you get your start in the music business?
Music was my first love. My first “press” photo, at age ten months, appeared in the baby photo section of our local newspaper back in Tyler, Texas. It reads, “She loves music and she loves to dance.” I remember “making up” songs as early as eight years old. My mother had an old upright piano. She played “by ear,” and that is how I learned. I was so blessed. Mom loved all kinds of music. I grew up with a wide range of music, from Tennessee Waltz to How Are Things In Gloca Mora to Shake, Rattle and Roll…or I Come To The Garden Alone (my mother’s favorite hymn), and everything in between. I still have a great collection of her old 78’s, as well as the 45’s and LP’s I had as a teenager.
Although I loved music and songwriting, I never pursued a career until the mid 80’s (after my children were in school). I joined a small songwriting group in the East Texas area. We were one of the first extension workshops for the Nashville Songwriters Association International. My first trip to Nashville, to an NSAI seminar in the spring of 1986, was the first time I had ever even flown in an airplane. I freely admit, I was just a “little country girl come to the big city.” That first trip was awe-inspiring.
My first job in the music industry was working in the office of the group Mason Dixon, based in Texas. My second trip to Nashville was to work their booth at Fan Fair. I was “hooked.” I loved the fans, the music, and I loved Nashville.
On a subsequent trip, I met Marijohn Wilkin, most noted for her gospel classic One Day At A Time. We coordinated a trip to New York in 1991 to the United Nations Earth Day celebration. She provided the solo artist, and I brought a children’s choir from the East Texas area. Our theme was We Are One, performing in front of the delegates and their children from every country as well as dignitaries and supporters from the United Nations. I had to pinch myself (more than once) to believe I was really there. Talk about a big city!
How do you spend your “average” day at the office?
I’m at the computer 8 to 5 most days. Three days per week I work from my home-office and two days per week on-site with clients on Music Row. Some days I am calculating royalties and preparing statements, other days I am preparing checks or reconciling bank statements or doing data entry. Every day I am endlessly checking emails to be sure I am on top of everything. My world is so virtual now. I can send contracts, register copyrights, do just about anything right from the computer.
For my own writing and publishing, I schedule demo sessions, line-up vocalists, attempt to get everyone’s schedules to match. Check the pitch lists to see if there is anyone recording who might “fit” one of my songs. I duplicate music to CD or prepare mp3’s and send music out to various artists, labels or contacts. It’s a juggling act to get it all in. I am very rarely “bored.”
You recently published your first fiction novella, entitled A Place Called Paradise. Please tell us about it.
The book was published by Walt Trott/ NovaNashville in July 2009. The story is about the Andrews family relocating…again. The father, Ted, is somewhat of an over-achiever. The family has moved a number of times. With each new promotion or new job opportunity, Ted promises “just one more move.” Mom, Melissa, tries her best to be supportive but she is growing weary of the nomadic life style. Children, Adam (10) and Sara (6) have no choice in the moves, but they wish for a forever home and Dad to be at home more to share it.
About 75 miles short of their destination, the Andrews’ automobile is almost involved in an accident. Shaken and tired, the family gets off the busy interstate in search of a place to eat and rest and shake off their frightening experience. This little detour places them on a two-lane country road that leads to the tiny township of Paradise. It must be a really small town. The Andrews can’t even find it on their road map.
Paradise proves to be quite a mystical place in the sweetest sort of way. The entire family is delighted with their discoveries…people, places, things. In a place called Paradise, they find their past and their future and what is most important: their love for each other.
Where did you get the idea for the story?
My husband and I had taken a day trip. We love to wander through antique stores. Even if we don’t buy anything, it’s just a nice stroll down memory lane. Friends had told us about Bell Buckle, Tennessee, and the antique shops there. We drove out and found the most fantastic little town ever.
Bell Buckle was having a “reunion” parade that day. I think there were about ten entries in the parade: a WWII tank, an old cannon, some WWII veterans in jeeps, a color guard, and a marching band. The local ice cream company had a huge black and white cow statue in the back of a flat-bed truck. My husband and I sat on the curb, eating ice cream, watching the parade go by. I could not have told you what year were we were in. It seemed so timeless. We could have been the 50’s or 60’s…we felt like kids again.
Late in the day, as we were driving back home, my husband made an off-the-cuff remark: “I know the Bible tells us about the streets of gold, but you know a little town just like that…now that would be “paradise” for me.” Ping! The idea went off in my mind like a light bulb. I could not wait to get home and start writing. I originally titled the work Paradise, Tennessee. When it was complete, though, I saw it was a more universal theme. Any place that reminds us of our “home” (wherever home may be) is “paradise,” even if only for a few hours.
What do you most hope readers will take away from this book?
Hope…love…the all-knowing promise of brighter tomorrows…and the gentle reminder that family and love are so much more important than deadlines and careers and climbing any earthly success ladder.
How long have you been writing fiction? Are you working on another book?
I’ve been writing fiction a little over ten years now. I have two other books completed but not yet published: Love Notes From Jesus and Welcome, New Heart.
I have outlines for two (possibly three) sequels to A Place Called Paradise taking up where the first novella leaves off, following the family through the process of settling down in one place, the children growing up…the ups and downs of everyday life.
How does your faith play into your writing?
Faith is a part of almost everything I write now. My first gospel song was written in 1998 as I sat at the bedside of one of my favorite uncles. Hospice was there round the clock in those, his final days. To me, it seemed as though one could feel the presence of the angels. In the following years, with Marijohn I felt that presence again a number of times. As her health diminished, her faith increased and so did mine.
Has God ever provided an unexpected “detour” in your life that turned out to be positive?
Most definitely!!! More than one!!! My move to Nashville in 1991 was the biggest. A routine doctor’s visit found a growth on my thyroid. I was sent to a specialist and within days, I was in surgery having the “goiter” removed. As a matter of procedure, they send the tissue for testing. To my doctor’s surprise and to my horror, the test came back the growth was cancer. They had removed it all, but I had to undergo iodine therapy and keep a careful watch on my thyroid from that time on. What a wakeup call!! I had just returned to Texas from New York and the wonderful event at the United Nations. Now, I knew in my heart of hearts, if I was ever going to do anything with my music and my dreams, I had to be in Nashville to do it. I was in New York City, April 21, 1991. I had thyroid surgery in May, and I was moving to Nashville on June 18, 1991. It was a whirlwind detour!!
God bless my husband, Darrell; he moved to Nashville sight-unseen. He had never set foot in Tennessee before driving across the bridge in Memphis with our old gray-tabby tomcat in the carrier beside him. He says the cat meowed all the way…all 750 miles. Also being uprooted was our 17 year old daughter—from the only school she’d ever known, in the only town she could recall, population 689—to come to a high school with three times that many kids in the graduating class alone. She will tell you now it was the greatest detour in her life, but at the time, she was positive her life was ruined.
All I knew, at that time, was I had to do it and everything “fell into place” so easily. My husband was able transfer to Nashville with his job. Marijohn gave me office space in her building in exchange for answering the phone when she or her assistant were out. Then, over the next four years, she taught me as much as was humanly possible about the music business as she knew it. The business has changed a lot since then, but thankfully, with the foundation Marijohn gave, I’ve been able to grow with it. Much more than that, though, Marijohn was a great spiritual mentor to me. We were like “mom and daughter” from the time she was 71 (1991) until she passed away at 86 (2006).
Most writers are readers first. What genre do you prefer to read when kicking back with a good book? Any favorite authors?
Motivational-inspirational books are my favorite. I love Richard Bach and all of his books. I’ve reread ONE until it is dog-eared. I like Nicholas Sparks, James Patterson, and John Grisham for suspense.
I have less time for reading so I keep audiobooks in my car. I have a 45-minute commute to Nashville from my home in Mount Juliet near Old Hickory Lake. I spend that time with positive-thinking, uplifting books on CD.
A few fun questions…
When the words aren’t flowing—or when the royalty statement isn’t reconciling—what is your favorite comfort food and why?
Dark chocolate. A Hersey bar can solve just about any problem.
What kind of music do you listen to when you’re relaxing with the radio or an mp3 player?
Oldies, everything…pop, country and gospel…I am a child of the 60’s. I loved the music then and I still love it today. I can feel twenty years younger within ten minutes!
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
A country song…love lost…and found…overcoming all odds.
Are you a major or a minor chord?
I was born in March. I am a Pisces…the sign of two fish swimming in different directions. Therefore, it depends on which day you “catch” me whether I am a major or a minor chord. A balance of both make an interesting melody.
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
I am the strong, female lead most of the time. Occasionally, I am the little girl trying to walk in high heels. In those times, I think of my mother, or Marijohn, or one of my other mentors Louise Scruggs or Ruth White…and I imagine how they might handle whatever the situation might be. One, or the combination of all these strong ladies who’ve meant so much to me, will always see me through those “faltering” moments.
Please tell us about your pets, your hobbies, your family, etc.
I grew up on a farm. Dad had cows, horses, ducks, chickens…you name it. I was raised like an only child (my siblings all being twenty plus years older) so the farm cats were my “family” playmates. I am one of those “cat ladies” to this day. At one time we were up to a dozen (a neighbor moved and left behind a momma and her litter of 6). I already had five. We managed, though. Some went to good homes and two stayed with us. We lost three of our menagerie to old age last year, so we are down to a just four cats now (two inside and two outside) and one dog.
I love genealogy and spiritual studies. A fun Saturday to me is being at the Tennessee Archives all day shuffling through old census records, microfilm, and books. A great Sunday afternoon is settling to watch “Bible Mysteries” or shows of that nature.
My husband, Darrell, and I will celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary this year. We have two daughters, Tessa and Kelley, who live nearby with their families. We’ve been blessed with four grandchildren (1 girl, 3 boys) and four great-grandchildren (3 girls, 1 boy). Add in our wonderful son-in-laws and we have a huge group in the Hutchins bunch.
Thanks, Shirley. It’s nice to have you at DivineDetour.com.