Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 7, 2013

Albom previews heaven on NWS Cherry Fest program

BY LORAINE ANDERSON landerson@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Mitch Albom gets around.

His books have sold more than 33 million copies in 42 countries and 41 territories since his first non-fiction best-seller, “Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man and Life’s Greatest Lesson,” came out in 1997.

On July 2, the best-selling author, journalist, screenwriter, playwright and radio-TV broadcaster will come to Traverse City during the National Cherry Festival to give a sneak preview of his upcoming book, “The First Phone Call from Heaven.” The book is scheduled to debut in bookstores on Nov. 12.

Set in a mythical Lake Michigan small town near Traverse City, the book starts with a ring-a-ling from heaven, followed by many more over 15 weeks — but only in the small town of Albom’s fertile imagination and only to select people.

“It’s about what happens when people begin to see actual proof that heaven exists,” Albom said. “It’s really about belief.”

“The First Phone Call from Heaven” is Albom’s sixth book since “Tuesdays with Morrie” and the first of a three-book deal he has with Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. His other books are “The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2003), “For One More Day (2006, non-fiction), “Have a Little Faith (2009, non-fiction)” and "The Time Keeper (2012)."

Albom, a long-time Detroit Free Press sports columnist and radio show host for Detroit’s WJR, is known for his storytelling, strong and clear writing, vivid descriptions, humor, inspiring characters, insights and imaginative plots.

He attributes his storytelling skills to the tales he heard around the table at big extended family holiday dinners, especially those of his Uncle Edward Beitchman.

“Almost everybody who becomes a storyteller has to have had someone who told them stories, and more than that, someone who captivated them,” he said.

One thing he realized as a child was that some people, like his uncle, mesmerized listeners with mimicking voices, multiple scenes, suspense, description and action, while others got lost in minor details that didn’t move the story forward.

“My uncle would always tell the story and leave you hanging,” he said. “In many ways, I’m still working the dinner table.”

Albom dedicated “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” to his uncle, who died thinking he was “a nobody” and led a meaningless life.

“The sad part is he never got to see the book,” Albom said. “I wrote it for him and for all the people who really are loved but think they’re not.”

“Eddie” is the name of the book's main character, a maintenance man at an ocean-side amusement park who died on his 83rd birthday trying to save a little girl from being crushed by a falling cart from a broken ride.

Eddie awakens in the afterlife to learn that he will meet five people who crossed his path before he died and will explain to him the meaning of his life.

“I never sit around and say, ‘Think up a plot idea,' ” Albom said. “It just hits me at the weirdest or boring places, like getting out of the shower, or filling up the car at the gas station.”

The idea for “Five People” started with a question. His uncle had once told him a story about an out-of-body/near-death experience and seeing all his dead relatives waiting for him to pass over.

“I started thinking about what if it wasn’t family that waited for you , but instead people who had changed your life,” he said.

The afterlife, life, mortality, time and the importance of love in life are common themes in Albom's books.

His 2006 book, “For One Day,” explores the question, “What would you do if you could share one more day with a lost loved one?”

“The Time Keeper,” published last year, is about Father Time, who invented the clock and was banished to a cave for centuries by God for trying to measure his greatest gift. Then one day Father Time returns to Earth to finish what he started.

The idea for his upcoming book came to him and wouldn’t let him go while he was still writing “The Time Keeper,” which he put aside temporarily because his newest book was ready to go.

“I started the first page by writing, 'Someone is calling from heaven,'" he said. “And I was off and running."

The July 2 “Evening with Mitch Albom" at the City Opera House is a National Writers Series fundraiser. The guest host for the 7 p.m. event is still to be selected.

NWS was founded in 2009 to bring together award-winning authors and journalists with book lovers in downtown Traverse City. Net proceeds help support NWS events, its scholarship fund and the Front Street Writers, a one-of-a-kind creative writing workshop for high school students.

Visit www.cherryfestival.org to purchase tickets, which range from $25 to $100, with a $15 discount for students and a $10 discount for educators.