For our latest religion supplement, we talked to five authors famous for their work in other fields--and one who writes about sports stars--about their new books and what inspires them.
Hattie Kauffman: Covered by God
In more than two decades as a national correspondent for CBS News, Hattie Kauffman has covered more than her share of scary stories. But the scariest, she says, was covering her own. “I have written thousands and thousands of news stories,” says the Emmy Award–winning Kauffman. “But a book? I was a little intimidated and afraid.”
The result is Falling into Place: A Memoir of Overcoming (Baker, Sept.; reviewed in this issue). Kauffman tells how she survived an impoverished childhood marred by alcoholism and neglect to become the first Native American national news correspondent (she is a member of the Nez Perce tribe). Her divorce from her second husband and its impact on her relationship with God and outlook on life is the book’s emotional center.
At first, Kauffman thought she’d be writing only about the divorce and the toll it took on her and her family. She began writing it as a journalist, just the facts. But soon inspiration took hold—she was able to delve deeper, and a broader book emerged.
“The divorce was not the sum of me,” she says. “I started writing this story about my childhood and eventually I wrote about becoming a journalist [and about the divorce]. Slowly a theme emerged.” That theme—that even when she thought times were hard and getting through it was harder, she was actually safe and secure—links all the stories of her life together.
“I came to understand God was there all along,” she says. “God was there when I was a scared kid and when I was going through everything else. That is the story in this book—that God is there. It is the story of my eyes being opened to that reality.”
The book is Kauffman’s first, but it may not be her last. She has another nonfiction project underway, but the shift from working with a national news team to being a solo author has been significant. “My life has been flying around the world, meeting people and doing it all again the next day,” she says. “This is more of a lonely process. It is a whole new world for me, but I definitely want to keep writing.”
Meanwhile, she hopes the struggles she went through will inspire others. “We can look back on our lives in any number of ways,” she says. “I saw that I was taken care of all along, and that is what I hope will be inspiring or helpful to people.”—Kimberly Winston
Lex Luger: Never Too Late
A lot of people did not want Lex Luger to write a book. Friends and family members told the three-time world heavyweight wrestling champ his struggle with substance abuse and his girlfriend/manager’s death from an overdose had gotten enough public attention.
But, as Luger tells it, God had other ideas. “I fasted and I prayed,” Luger says. “I wanted to move forward with my life. But the way the opportunity presented itself, I knew only God could be involved.”
In 2012, Luger was asked to give a motivational talk at the Carol Stream, Ill., headquarters of Tyndale House. He described how, after growing up with no religion, the first church service he attended changed the direction of his life.
“I was at the back of the church, and [it felt like] there was no one else at that service and the pastor was speaking only to me,” Luger says of that day in April 2006. “I saw my whole life of fame, fortune, glamorous mansions on a beach with big waves coming in and just washing [it all] away. I realized I built my whole life on the sand and not the rock. That message was so resounding to me that a week later I got on my knees and surrendered and asked for forgiveness. That was the first time I was standing on the rock.”
The folks at Tyndale were impressed, and this month they will publish Luger’s first book, Wrestling with the Devil: The True Story of a World-Champion Professional Wrestler—His Reign, Ruin and Redemption (Aug.).
“Lex’s story is truly incredible,” says Jan Long Harris, publisher of Tyndale’s Momentum imprint. “Given his former ‘arrogant jerk’ persona, we were blown away by how truly transformed he is today. He’s experienced some of the highest highs and lowest lows a person can go through in life. I think his book will have a great impact on a lot of people.”
That was Luger’s goal in telling his story with coauthor John D. Hollis. He sees his life as a cautionary tale for “anybody who thinks they have it going on in that chase for fame and fortune,” he says. “I made a train wreck out of my life, and I thought it was too late, but with God it is never too late. God will give them a second chance.”
Initially, Luger was daunted by the idea of writing a book. “In professional wrestling, the skill set includes slamming other people between folding chairs—very different than writing a book,” he says. Hollis and everyone at Tyndale, he says, made the process easy and fun. Might he step into the ring again with a second book?
“I don’t have any plans to do that,” he says. “But you never know what God has planned.” —Kimberly Winston
Robert Griffin III: Keeping the Joy of the Game
Those who follow college football haven’t missed the ascent of Robert Griffin III. Griffin posted phenomenal performances for Baylor University, was awarded the Heisman Trophy, and became a top draft pick in the NFL, signed by the Washington Redskins. But it was more than Griffin’s meteoric rise as a rookie player that interested Ted Kluck, author of Robert Griffin III: Athlete, Leader, Believer (Thomas Nelson, Aug.). “I was so impressed with how he handled himself,” Kluck says. “He was genuine, relaxed, and joyful, the same on and off the field and in the interview room.” Kluck—who has written for ESPN The Magazine and Christianity Today, and is also the author (with Ronnie Martin) of Finding God in the Dark: Faith, Disappointment, and the Struggle to Believe (Bethany House, Mar.)—says that seeing that in a player on the cusp had him hooked and wondering: can he hold onto that joy in the midst of defining a new kind of quarterback?
“That’s one thing that’s so frustrating and sad about writing about athletes,” says Kluck. “As the years go by, they become more wary and cynical. As a fan of the game and a writer, I’m hoping he can hold onto that joy [of playing the game].”
No doubt holding onto his joy will be challenging, with the world waiting to see if “RGIII” can deliver on the promise of being one of a new breed of dual-threat quarterbacks who perform as both runners and passers. For Kluck, who points out that none has truly been successful with that formula recently, that ended up being one of the central questions of his book.
But Griffin is breaking ground off the field, too. He hasn’t been shy about expressing his personal faith in God, but has been judicious about what and how much he says, something that intrigues Kluck. “The fact that he’s not as vocal as Tebow has helped him on the field,” he says. “He has managed not to alienate anyone based on what they think about public statements he’s made. He seems to have a knack for being all things to all people and hasn’t let speaking about his faith become the be-all and end-all.”
Kluck acknowledges that Christians can tend to have a messiah complex when it comes to celebrity and faith. “As a writer and a Christian father, the Christian athlete business has always creeped me out. That’s probably terrible for me to say since I write books about it, but I always try to write in a way that doesn’t promote or suggest idolatry,” he says. Yet that opportunity to explore faith in the midst of such a cultural phenomenon is irresistible. Griffin is already a dual-threat player, Kluck says, and the grace with which he handles his faith in the public eye just might make him a triple threat.—Deonne Lindsey
Ashley Cleveland: Back from Brokenness
Singer-songwriter Ashley Cleveland, winner of three Grammy Awards for her bluesy rock-gospel albums, chronicles her turbulent childhood, her slide into drug and alcohol addiction, her rise as a musician, and her coming to faith in God in her first book, Little Black Sheep (David C. Cook, Sept.; reviewed in this issue). In Little Black Sheep, Cleveland writes honestly about a childhood fraught with conflicting emotions over her parents’ divorce, complicated by her father’s hidden homosexuality, and made even more difficult by her social awkwardness and an addictive personality. All of that led to substance abuse, an unplanned pregnancy, and years of counseling.
While writing she learned a couple of things. “To do something in my middle age that felt a bit like climbing Mt. Everest completely revitalized me, re-engaged me with the act of newness in life,” says Cleveland, 56. The process also helped her love her father all over again, to understand him and be grateful for what he had given her. “I didn’t minimize the damage his behavior did to me, but what I understood was that he didn’t know [how he had hurt me]. He deeply loved me,” she says.
Of her conversion, Cleveland says, “God has completely transformed me and at the same time left me exactly the same. People think they have to become a completely different person, but I think I’m more who I am since coming to faith.”
While writing Little Black Sheep was life changing for her, Cleveland wants readers to come away with more than just her story. “The God I came to know was so different from what I thought God was. I hope the book will help any reader, whether a person of faith or not, come more deeply to Christ and begin to comprehend mercy and grace.” In the book she writes, “My experience of surrender [to God] is not a tidy line in the sand.... The day that I will it and the day that I do it are rarely the same day.”
“I also want to clear up mis- understandings about addiction,” she adds. “Many people in all walks of life still experience addiction as a moral failure rather than an illness. Addiction feels very personal, but there is an absolute illness involved.”
Cleveland already tells some of her story during her concerts; that now includes reading from Little Black Sheep. She’ll release an eponymously titled single on iTunes when the book publishes on September 1. The audio book, which she read, includes that song and another, “Broken Places,” with lyrics from the book.
With a ninth album in the works, Cleveland is speaking at women’s conferences and has an idea for another book. “I really like speaking and writing,” she says. “I do that anyway, but now it has a title. I’m excited that this new chapter of my life ties in so nicely with the chapters I’ve already lived.” —Ann Byle
Gavin MacLeod: Buoyed by Faith
Anyone who watched television from the 1960s through the 1980s remembers him—Happy Haines on MacHale’s Navy, Murray Slaughter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and, most famously, Captain Merrill Stubing on The Love Boat, which ran from 1977 to 1986.
That’s what Thomas Nelson is betting on with This Is Your Captain Speaking: My Fantastic Voyage Through Hollywood, Faith and Life (Oct.), a memoir by Gavin MacLeod, co-written with Mark Dagostino, that recounts the life of the longtime actor on stage, screen, and television.
MacLeod, 82, hopes that his story, which includes becoming a born-again Christian, will inspire people “to never give up,” he says. “I hope that perhaps there might be something found in my journey that will give someone a little hope, even change someone’s life for the better. Wouldn’t that be something?”
MacLeod’s life certainly changed for the better. He was a 20-something balding actor looking for work in Hollywood in the 1950s, going to auditions with a secondhand hairpiece he kept in a box and called “my third arm.” He landed a role in a pilot featuring Hal March and Stubby Kaye, but was fired the first day. He returned home to his wife, devastated.
“I can’t believe it, I thought the only thing I can do is act and now I can’t do that,” he recalls. “About two hours later I get a phone call from my agent. He says, ‘Do you know someone named Blake Edwards? He wants to see you. Bring your hair.’ ”
Edwards, of course, went on to produce many of the great television and film comedies of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, and MacLeod was in many of them.
“That’s what I want people to understand with this book,” he says. “That there is always something out there for you to do, even things you never anticipated, and there are greater achievements that you never thought you could have.”
The book evolved out of MacLeod’s work as Princess Cruises’ spokesperson, a position he has held since The Love Boat—which was filmed on Princess ships—concluded. In talks on cruises and at corporate events, MacLeod recounts his brushes with such luminaries as Cary Grant, Susan Hayward, Gregory Peck, Tony Curtis, and Bing Crosby. Princess made a short film of his recollections to show onboard, and a book seemed like the next step.
MacLeod also discusses the role faith has played in the latter half of his life. In the 1980s, he divorced his second wife, Patti, but the couple remarried in 1985 after becoming Christians. They wrote about the experience, with Marie Chapian, in Back on Course (Revell, 1987).
Today, MacLeod says faith is the heart of his life, both as a husband and as an actor. “All those years ago I put myself first, and I got into trouble doing that. But once I was born again, it meant all my mistakes were forgiven and I became a new person. I started to read more of God’s word and I read that Jesus says to love everyone, and I try to do that. I know what eternity means to me and I want to make every moment count.”—Kimberly Winston
Danny Gokey: Giving Hope to the Homeless
Danny Gokey’s memoir is about so much more than being on American Idol and his rise to fame after finishing in the final three during season eight. Hope in Front of Me: Find Purpose in Your Darkest Moments (NavPress, Oct.) takes readers into the heart of this singer/entrepreneur who is offering real hope to the homeless and to those who are struggling in other ways.
“God spoke to me in 2007, saying I was going to write a book,” says Gokey. “I said, ‘God, I love you, but who would care?’ Little did I know that a year later I would lose my first wife, try out for American Idol, and start Sophia’s Heart.” Sophia’s Heart Foundation, a nonprofit designed to help homeless families and children, is named in honor of Gokey’s first wife, Sophia, who died of an unexpected heart condition, leaving the young church worship leader and truck driver devastated.
In the book, Gokey writes about the hopelessness he felt when he lost Sophia, his depression, and how close he came to ending his life. He also talks about God’s touch on his life and his renewed efforts to help others.
“I want to give people perspective,” Gokey says. “Sometimes we get so caught up in our current situation that we can’t see it for what it really is. I want readers to look at my story and analyze their own. You may think it’s the end of something, but it isn’t.”
Gokey has since married Leyicet and fathered a son, Danny Jr. Sophia’s Heart now has three centers, its main one in Nashville, with additional arts outreach centers in Milwaukee, Wis., and Sacramento, Calif. The Nashville program offers help for homeless families along with arts programs for children and adults. The organization was able to provide relief supplies to 450 families during the 2010 Nashville flood.
“I plan on changing the landscape of how homeless families are dealt with in America,” Gokey says. “I want to create a harbor destination, to help people out of their comfort zones, to help them in their brokenness to see their futures.” He recently signed with BMG Records, and when Hope in Front of Me is published on October 1, Gokey will release a new single, with an album planned for spring 2014.—Ann Byle