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Route 66 Revisited

Route 66 Revisited

            What if the Bible talked back to you?  What if you could argue with Ezekiel,
            ask John your toughest questions, and reminisce about life with Isaiah?
    That was the notion that gave birth to this novel. 
    And of course there are 66 books in the Bible, so . . .
    America’s Route 66 carries with it a weight of nostalgia, a longing for a time when the journey through life was a little straighter, a little more relaxed, a little more warm-hearted.  And that nostalgia has a connection with truths in the Bible that have resonated through the centuries, revelations that take us back to where we belong.
I have spent my career trying to make the Bible come alive in various ways for contemporary audiences---creating dramatic vignettes for Christian television shows, uncovering the best real-life stories that illustrate every basic Christian doctrine, doing The Whole Bible in One Act presentations in churches and universities around the country.
I’ve had something of a literary passion ever since high school---when I realized my girlfriend could be quite impressed by certain kinds of writing.  And I wanted to see if you could actually go through the highlights of the Word in the context of a novel, an engaging, believable plot.  I didn’t want to sell the flow of Scripture short, distort that ultimate story.  And I didn’t want to compromise on the demands of real fiction either.  Well, the two seemed mutually exclusive for some time.  It took quite a bit to bring them together; this novel had to be re-shaped three times. 
But in the end the book became a satisfying journey for me. 
I had to experience Route 66 first hand of course.  And I absorbed this Los Angeles to Chicago roadway in three separate trips, taking in about a third of the route each time, going back and forth---in between speaking engagements in Phoenix, in St. Louis and in Oklahoma.  It was a memorable process, gathering the sights and sounds, the chronicles and the anecdote, out on the road.  No, it’s not the same as looking stuff up on the web.  This highway is full of fascinating trivia and epic history that sparks your imagination.
I discovered far more on 66 than I could ever include in the rapid flow of a novel; a lot of material is still tucked away in my notes.  You can visualize all kinds of scenes---from General Patton training tank troops for North African battles in the Mojave desert to a Wild Bill Hickok shootout in Springfield.  From Oakies fleeing the dust bowl into California, to Civil War battles rolling over southern Missouri hills. 
Only certain selected bits of this great spectrum of story and personality could fit into the book, into moments of truth which biblical themes might inspire.  But I concluded that they do add plenty of color and texture to the narrative.
Route 66 Revisited moves forward through the points of view of different characters: Dean, the reluctant protagonist, his fragile sister, his plotting ex-wife, the tantalizing and mysterious Sheila, and an entrepreneur whose power over Route 66 only seems to grow. 
It all begins with Dean Weatherington driving angry.  As his silver Roadster whizzes right by all the nostalgia on old Route 66, he just wants to catch up with his crazy, anorexic sister before she goes off the deep end with some strange road cult.  But the road starts to raise more questions than he can answer.  Why do the stories of Lennie, that compulsive cook back at Annie’s Grill in Needles, still haunt him in Arizona?   Why does Sheila, that bright, lovely woman he met in Venice Beach, keep popping up as a tour guide?  And when he gets brief glimpses of his sister Lillian, how is it she actually appears well-nourished for the first time in a decade?
Dean begins to wonder if these out-of-the-way remnants of Route 66 can offer some clues to the way life used to be—before everything fragmented.  Maybe he can even reinvent himself, away from his messed up family, out on the open road. 
    As the rendezvous keep adding up, Dean begins to feel he’s somehow fallen into a serial intervention.  Is this assortment of strangers actually possessed---by books of the Bible?  Or are they just religious eccentrics?  Dean argues, protests, complains, interrogates, and at length begins to listen.