Getting to know Judd Parkin, author of ‘The Carpenter’s Miracle’

CarpentersMiracle_Finalized artworkPublished by Sweetwater Books an imprint of Cedar Fort Publishing & Media in 2010, “The Carpenter’s Miracle” has been transformed from a book into a made-for-TV movie that will air on GMC TV Easter weekend at 7 p.m., 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. Eastern Time on March 30 and 31.

Sweetwater Books will also re-print the book with the movie’s artwork serving as the book’s cover. The book will be re-released on April 9, 2013, but you can purchase the original version right now from BooksAndThings.com, Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com.

“The Carpenter’s Miracle” author Judd Parkin took a few minutes to discuss his book and its upcoming TV movie version with us.

What inspired “The Carpenter’s Miracle”?

I don’t know if I can pinpoint any one thing that triggered the idea for “The Carpenter’s Miracle,” it was sort of an evolving process. Probably the main spur was the fact that I’ve grown increasingly irritated with how faith has been depicted in the media in recent times. It seems to me that a lot of what’s been said and written has been superficial, reductive, or just plain wrong. The media has a genius for taking complex issues and reducing them into simplistic sound bites. Anyhow, I found myself wondering one day how the modern media would respond if a Jesus-like figure unexpectedly appeared on the scene, and this seemed like an interesting jumping-off point for a story.

How did the book become a movie?

“The Carpenter’s Miracle” had a circuitous journey to the screen, but in my experience this is almost always the case. The main part of my career has been spent producing and writing television films, and none of the films I’ve worked on have ever come together in the time frame or in the circumstances I’d initially imagined. I produced a miniseries about Jesus that was in development at two different networks with two different writers before finally getting made at CBS with a third writer, a process that took something like five years.

When “The Carpenter’s Miracle” was first published I was approached by several companies about turning the book into an independent feature or a cable movie, but these situations didn’t pan out for one reason or another. That was a bit disappointing, but at the same time I wasn’t terribly surprised because I knew from first-hand experience how difficult it was to sell projects that deal with faith and religion. So I was content to just let the book be the book, and I moved on to other projects.

Then, about a year ago, a friend introduced me to Brad Siegel, the president of GMC and Brad expressed interest in “Carpenter.” It’s embarrassing to admit now, but when I first met Brad I wasn’t aware that GMC had begun making television films””I knew GMC from their earlier incarnation as The Gospel Music Channel, which was originally exclusively a music channel. Later on, an old friend and colleague of mine, Barbara Fisher, went to work with Brad and she was also a fan of “Carpenter”, and the two of them made a convincing case that GMC was the proper home for the project, so things fell into place fairly quickly after that. It’s hard to say no when two smart people tell you they like your story and want to make a movie of it.

What is your writing routine like?

I wish I could tell you that I have a regular routine wherein I write from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m. and systematically turn out 2,000 words a day, but this would be a flat-out lie. My process is pretty chaotic, to tell the truth, and I spend an ungodly amount of time pacing around my office muttering to myself. Because of this, I can’t write in public places because people think I’m a schizophrenic.

Original cover for 'The Carpenter's Miracle.'
Original cover for ‘The Carpenter’s Miracle.’

A lot of my routine depends upon what type of project I’m working on. When I’m writing a screenplay, especially if it’s one of my own original ideas, I’m generally pretty disciplined and I write in marathon bursts, 10-to-12 hour days at a stretch until I have the first draft finished. I usually write a first draft of a script in two weeks or under.

The trick is to get something down in black-and-white before the critic in my head takes over and convinces me that the script I’m writing is horrible, I’m wasting my time, no one will ever want to read this junk, and so forth. Most of my first drafts are generally pretty dreadful, but I’ve learned not to be discouraged about this because I know they’ll improve a lot with revisions. I actually enjoy rewriting, and I spend anywhere between a few weeks and several months revising the scripts I’ve written.

Writing “The Carpenter’s Miracle” was a unique and new process for me because it was the first time I’d written an extended prose piece, other than some really horrible short stories in college and a stillborn attempt to write an autobiographical novel about my life and hard times. For reasons I still don’t understand, I always thought of “The Carpenter’s Miracle” as a prose narrative””writing it as a screenplay didn’t even occur to me. Part of this was because I was interested in challenging myself by writing in a form I’d never tried before, and I wanted to see if I could pull it off. When I began writing the book, I was frankly terrified because it was uncharted waters for me. But to my great surprise and relief, I found that I really enjoyed telling a story in prose.

You use a whole different set of muscles than you do when you’re writing a screenplay, but that’s the greater part of the fun. You can explore the inner thoughts of characters, which is hard to do in script form, unless you utilize voice over narration. It took me a while to write a first draft of “Carpenter,” because I had to keep putting it aside for various film projects. Looking back, it probably took me three months, maybe four to write the first draft of “Carpenter,” but this was spread over a year’s time. I spent the next six months revising the manuscript on-and-off when I had the time.It was a very rewarding process.

By the time I had a manuscript that I was ready to show people, I really felt that I had achieved something worthwhile. I had no idea if the book would ever be published, but in a strange way that almost seemed to be beside the point– what was important was how much I’d learned about writing, and about myself. I expressed these sentiments to a couple of writer friends and they looked at me like I didn’t have both oars in the water.

What is the greatest amount of joy being an author has brought to you?

I’d have to say that I’ve gotten the greatest satisfaction in hearing from people who don’t know me, but who take the time to write me and tell me how much they enjoyed the book. My mother gave “Carpenter” to a friend of hers I didn’t know, a man who was dying of cancer, and he wrote her the most beautiful note about how the book gave him solace and affirmed his faith as he faced his imminent death. That was deeply moving to me, and I was glad to be able to write this gentleman a thank you note before he died. And I have to admit that I was simply happy to have a book published, it was something I’d always wanted to do. I guess you’d say it was on my bucket list.

Do the actors in the movie resemble the characters you envisioned while writing the book?

In some instances the actors are uncannily close to what I’d initially imagined, but in other instances they’re quite different, and that’s just fine. I’ve worked on a lot of adaptations of other people’s stories and that’s taught me that absolute fidelity to the source material is not always possible. There’s such a thing as being too faithful to the source material, which can be limiting and even self-defeating. Movies and books are completely different creatures, and they each have their own realities.

What is your favorite movie of all time?

That’s an almost impossible question to answer because I have so many favorite movies. When I was younger, I favored films such as “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” and “The Great Escape”””big, exciting action films that didn’t have annoying romantic subplots or kissing. I still love those films and watch them every time they pop up on cable. The other night, “Kwai” was on TCM and I turned it on over my wife’s protests. She said, “You just watched this!”, which was probably true.

In my early adulthood, I went through a big French New Wave period, and I loved the films of Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, and that whole movement. “Jules and Jim” is still one of my favorite films. But overall, I’d probably say I love the films of Preston Sturges most of all. I think “The Lady Eve” and “Unfaithfully Yours” are two of the funniest films ever made. I can’t even count how many times I’ve watched those films, and I could probably pretty accurately recite the scripts of both movies from memory. I once spent two months producing a film in the wilds of Kenya, and the only two movies I took with me were “Lady Eve” and “Unfaithfully Yours,” so I guess you could say they’re my desert island movies.

Cover for 'The Carpenter's Miracle' re-print.
Cover for ‘The Carpenter’s Miracle’ re-print.

Favorite type of music and artist/band?

I’m a classical music guy through and through. I was raised in a musical family””my mother was (and still is) a professional singer who taught voice at Roosevelt University in Chicago. My first paying job was as a boy soprano in a professional men and boy’s choir, so I’ve been around classical music all my life. I have an embarrassingly large collection of classical CDs, which seems obsessive now that we’ve entered this era where everything is streamed. Bach is, hands down, my favorite composer, there’s not even a close second. He wrote brilliantly in every musical form imaginable, and his genius is so immense that it’s almost impossible to comprehend the vastness of his achievement.

In terms of popular music, I’d have to be boring and say I love the Beatles””they are a touchstone for my generation, for every generation I suppose. I am also a big fan of Randy Newman. He writes beautiful music, but what appeals to me most about his work is that he writes story songs. Most writers I know revere Randy Newman. He creates beautifully honed stories in three or four minutes about complex and oftentimes troubling characters””perfect little short stories told with breathtaking economy. There’s no one else like him.

What about Judd Parkin’s everyday routine would surprise us?

I am an excellent house husband. My wife and children are all””how do I say this politely?””slobs, so our house would descend into complete chaos if I didn’t constantly put things in order. I’m not an obsessive neatnik or anything, but I do like things to be orderly. Since I work at home, my schedule is more flexible than my wife’s, so I do almost all of the grocery shopping and laundry. There’s something calming about doing household chores, and I’ve come up with some of my best story ideas while folding laundry.

What is your current work in progress?

For the past year, I’ve been writing a stage adaptation of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” for Book-It Repertory Theatre in Seattle. I began my career in the theatre, but this is the first time I’ve worked in the theatre in many years. The show just went into rehearsals in Seattle and it will open on April 20for a month-long run. It’s been an exciting experience, very different from my work as a screenwriter and producer.

“Huck” is my favorite book of all time, so working on this adaptation has been tremendously rewarding. Like Bach, Mark Twain’s genius is bottomless, and it’s been a great gift to wallow in his great characters and language. It’s impossible to ever be in a bad mood when you have Twain as your companion and guide.

After I’m finished with “Huck,” I have a couple of screenwriting projects that I’m committed to do. I’d like to write another book and I’ve been toying with a couple of ideas, but so far I haven’t been able to settle on which one I think would be most satisfying. One of the ideas is very different from anything I’ve ever written before, and this scares me””which may be a sign that this is the story I should pursue. No risk, no reward.

What advice would you like to offer aspiring writers?

I think the thing I’d emphasize most to aspiring writers is that they should write what’s meaningful to them. It’s easy to get distracted by worrying about the marketplace and about what the invisible “they” might read or watch. But if that’s your primary focus, you end up chasing your own tail a lot.

I’ve gone down a lot of blind alleys writing things or pursuing projects that I thought would appeal to that invisible “they.” But you know what? Most of these projects have never came to anything because I wasn’t really invested in them. On the other hand, the projects that I’ve been truly committed to””stories that mattered to me on some profound level””have been the ones that have borne the most fruit. I think this is because in these instances I’ve been writing in my own voice, not channeling another voice that I thought people would want to hear.

When I first started work on “The Carpenter’s Miracle,” I told a few friends about it and I could tell from their reactions that they thought I was nuts. Normally this kind of response might have shaken my confidence, but it didn’t in this instance. This is because the central ideas and emotions in “Carpenter” were meaningful to me, and I felt that if these things resonated for me, then they would probably strike a chord with at least a few other people as well.

Any writing project takes a long time to bring to fruition, so you better love it and be passionately committed to it from the get go, otherwise it’s going to be a long and painful slog.

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About the movie and book:

A simple touch changes everything. Josh is just an average carpenter in a small town, but when his touch miraculously brings a dead boy back ““ a boy he tried valiantly to save when he fell into a freezing lake ““ things spin totally out of control. The media quickly rushes to promote this feel-good Easter story and proclaims that it is a real miracle. However, there are those who are determined to debunk the entire story through any means necessary and Josh and the boy’s mother are thrust into a whirlwind they never expected. Through humor and faith and a budding romance, Josh works at returning to his normal life. Based on the book by the same name by Judd Parkin. Stars: Cameron Mathison, Michelle Harrison, Ryan Grantham, Aaron Pearl.

2 thoughts on “Getting to know Judd Parkin, author of ‘The Carpenter’s Miracle’

  • March 15, 2013 at 1:16 pm
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    Thank you so much for sharing your journey on the writing process for Carpenter. I think it’s very generous of you to share so much personal history about your upbringing, your back ground, your likes, your family and the beautiful and unique unfolding of this magnificent and magical story. Believe, believe, believe….passion is the key. So happy for you Judd and can’t wait to see the movie.

    One day my passion about sharing my own miracle will manifest. A fan, Deborah Shemesh, thank you for the gift of this story, it inspires. Shameless self-promotion is important, I know it’s something we aren’t taught and told to refrain from; but when you are passionate about something it’s a great gift to share the passion. No shame!

    • March 15, 2013 at 5:45 pm
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      Thanks so much for your incredibly kind note, Deborah. You are very dear to write, it really means a lot. I hope you enjoy the film very. All the best, Judd

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