Thursday, September 25, 2014

Recap - Philip Gulley at the Library

Philip Gulley, author of the Harmony books, and the new novel, A Place Called Hope, was absolutely charming. I didn't even get a chance to introduce him at the library the other night because he started talking to people. I did tell him that I brought him a pie because I knew about the pie committee in A Place Called Hope. And, he joked that he could see it came in a box, and he knew I had made it, and just used that box.

He started in talking about his new book, and it felt as if he was talking about a friend. He mentioned the Harmony books, saying he had left Sam Gardner (the Quaker minister in the books) to write three books about theology, but he crossed paths with Sam one day, and when he saw Sam, he wanted to catch up. Sam's boys were going off to college, and Sam's wife, Barbara, wasn't taking that well at all.

Gulley said he was talking to a Southern Baptist minister friend one day. They had gone to seminary together. and, he told Philip he had performed a same gender marriage, and it had been an accident. But, he wouldn't tell him how it happened.

Gulley wanted to move Sam from Harmony. He was tired of writing about Dale Henshaw. He even tried to get rid of him, but couldn't kill him off. As a Quaker, he's a pacifist. So, he gave Dale a massive heart attack, and a heart transplant. His heart came from a Unitarian Universalist, but it didn't change Dale. It was time to move Sam on. And, since we'd last read about Harmony, a Unitarian Universalist church had moved into Harmony. So, he decided that Sam would perform an accidental marriage.

The laughter was wonderful to hear when Philip read the chapter in which Sam presided at a ceremony for a same gender couple. He said, Miriam Hodge, the voice of reason on the board was out of town, so Sam was quickly fired. And, that's all he could say because he's written two books since, and he forgot what else was in A Place Called Hope.

He offered to take questions, and his answers to those were as delightful as his writing. He remains a storyteller when he answers questions. When asked if he knew Paul Harvey, he said he had played a critical role in him getting published. And, there's talk about bring back "The Rest of the Story" on ABC News.

When someone mentioned a house in the town where Philip grew up, he told a story about raking leaves there. He raked all day, and then the woman gave him a nickel. He said he didn't offer to rake leaves there again.

One question was about the two books he's written since A Place Called Hope. One is a theology book, and the other is the next Hope novel. The nonfiction book, The Awakened Soul, is based on Abraham Maslow's self-actualized people. Everyone has peak experiences when they feel connected to God and one another. He said all of his books are still in print.

When told he captures the essence of church boards, he responded that we were looking at a man who sat through thirty years of meetings. He's been at his current Meeting for sixteen years, and when they asked him what he wanted to come there, he said he didn't want to go to board meetings. So, it's in his contract that he only has to go to one meeting a month. They can pick which meeting he attends, but he only has to go to one.

Perhaps the only message he gave in his program was that in the next few years we need to figure out how to teach people to be gracious, or we'll be in a world of hurt.

Asked about his writing, he said he writes every morning, Monday through Thursday. Fiction is a lot easier to write. It pretty much writes itself. The theology is different because it's nuanced. It's a lot more work. After writing three theology books, he needed to rest and go back to fiction.

Asked when he started writing, Gulley said he started writing his first book in 1994. He was pastoring a small Quaker meeting in Indianapolis. There were only twelve people. They told him they thought they needed to grow, and he agreed. He asked how should we go about doing that, and they answered that they needed a newsletter. And, when asked who should write it, they said he should. He had never been comfortable writing, so he took a ministry of writing course. He wrote an essay that he didn't think was very good, and discussed it with the instructor. That essay became part of his first book, Front Porch Tales. He said he didn't think it was good because his sentences were not always complete sentences. The instructor said, so? "Writing is about conveying a message." He felt liberated.

And, then one week Paul Harvey's son was at the meetinghouse, and signed the guest registry. Philip said he just got lucky. Because he signed the registry, they sent him a newsletter. Paul Harvey was visiting his son, saw it, and read a five minute essay on the air. The next day, Gulley received a call from a publisher. He thought it was a joke, and hung up on him. So, when asked, he says it's easy to get published. You write a newsletter, have Paul Harvey's son receive a copy, get it read on the radio, and then you'll get published.

He did say he started out typing his manuscripts, but the publisher sent him a computer and had someone teach him to use it, so he writes with a computer now.

Philip Gulley entertained us with the entire program. He told us it's a funny thing about essays and sermons. You can never tell what will speak to people. That original essay he didn't like? He thinks it was about lawnmowers. And, you can work hard on a sermon, think it's wonderful, and no one comments. But, the one you just sort of throw out there is the one that will move people.

Philip Gulley's website is

A Place Called Hope by Philip Gulley. Center Street. 2014. ISBN 9781455519804 (hardcover), 256p.

I bought two copies of A Place Called Hope and had them autographed, so those are my giveaways this week. Email me at Your subject heading should read "Win A Place Called Hope." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Oct. 2 at 6 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.


Patricia T said...

Wonderful, Lesa! You must be a great notetaker!

I totally agree about his comment on graciousness. If anyone can see that need, he can.

patucker54 at aol dot com

Libby Dodd said...

Only one meeting per month? The m is brilliant!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Patricia. I try! I know I miss some things, but I try to give the flavor of the event.

Lesa said...

Isn't that brilliant, Libby? I agree!

Reine said...

Lesa, I couldn't stop reading aloud from your post while Steve was trying to watch a football game. I managed to get his attention a few times when we got to theology. And seminary. And weddings by accident. Sounds a little like me. Only after two years as a student minister of a Boston church without a minister, something said I might like a change in direction.

Coincidentally I eventually discovered a Quaker meeting of the unpastored variety and have found it suits me.

Thanks to both you and Philip Gulley. Looking forward to reading his books. What a great introduction.

Lesa said...

Poor Steve, Reine! But, thank you for sharing the post with him. You're welcome. I'm glad this is a post that touched your memories and your own heart. My pleasure!

Reine said...

Yes… poor Steve! He is such a good guy. Very patient. The only suitable husband for me. :-)