Chris Stevenson lives a busy life as a pilot, farmer, lawyer and author

October 25, 2016 — First time novelist Chris Stevenson is busy researching and planning a sequel to his historical work of fiction The Drum of Destiny, which won the prestigious Grateful American Book Prize earlier this month.

In fact, he has four more books in mind for his character Gabriel Cooper, a young boy on his way to join the Continental Army during the American Revolution. It’s an ambitious undertaking considering the fact that he vows to keep his stories as accurate as possible, a task that will require a massive amount of research. It will not be easy for this Indiana attorney, a former air transport pilot, who lives on a 40 acre working farm in the small town of Clarks Hill and manages a ninety minute round trip commute to his Indianapolis office.

“Here’s a man who, like many of us, was bored to distraction in history class when he was in school but got hooked on the events and personalities that shaped the founding of our country,” says David Bruce Smith, who teamed up with Dr. Bruce Cole, the former Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities to create the Prize last year.

Chris Stevenson lives a busy life as a pilot, farmer, lawyer and author“Ever notice how so many adults can’t pass up an opportunity to read a book or watch a movie set in the past? Something overcomes us as we grow older— we’re no longer bored, we develop an interest in the past,” according to Smith, an author and publisher. “It’s our aim to encourage students to embrace that passion earlier in life. We seek to encourage authors and publishers to produce more works of historical fiction and non-fiction that can make history come alive for young learners.”

Stevenson says he was motivated by that same intention. “By reading Drum of Destiny, young readers can learn about history without realizing they are learning about history. Most history textbooks are written with the idea of teaching kids facts they can memorize so they can then take a test. This method misses the most important aspects of history. The real life stories, the reasons behind the facts, and the character of our country’s founders are where the real learning is discovered.”

So intent was the author to use his book as a teaching tool, he developed a teacher’s guide available for download on his website: www.chrisstevensonauthor.com. He says it provides common core standards that help give teacher’s some guidance on how to use the novel in the classroom.

“Why did we decide to fight the most powerful empire in the world? What would have happened if we lost? What made George Washington such an amazing leader? What kind of hardships did these soldiers endure for freedom? These are just some of the questions that most children, and many adults, have no idea how to answer. Learning about our past always helps us live more meaningful lives in the present.”

Bored in the classroom, it was the boredom of his daily commute that ironically kindled Stevenson’s love of history. “I started listening to non-fiction history audio books on the American Revolution during my commute to and from work and I began to realize just how interesting history really was and how much I had missed growing up. I read the book 1776 by Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough, which sparked my interest even more. From there I read and listened to many other books on the period. Ronald Chernow, Joseph Ellis, Gordon Wood, and David Stewart are among my favorite authors.”

So how did he come up with his protagonist, Gabriel Cooper? He says that he drew directly upon the published memoir of John Greenwood to create the character. Greenwood volunteered to fight for his country in 1775 at the age of 16,. “He is mentioned in McCullough’s best seller, 1776. After reading more about John, I began to model Gabriel after this real-life character. John Greenwood’s story of walking alone from Falmouth to Boston captured my imagination and helped to create Gabriel’s story.”

Winning the Grateful American Book Prize has created quite a stir in Stevenson’s life. Media coverage of the award has created opportunities for him to do some author visits at schools in and around his community. “The reaction about the Prize has all been very positive. It truly is an amazing award and I’m honored that this distinguished panel of judges picked The Drum of Destiny as this year’s winner,” he says.

November 2016 Book Recommendations

John Steinbeck’s, BURNING BRIGHT: A PLAY IN STORY FORM; Unaware of his sterility, Joe Saul’s wife commits adultery so her husband can have his long-desired child.

Carol Burnett’s, ONE MORE TIME: A MEMOIR; from near poverty in San Antonio, to Lucille Ball-like success in television, movies, and the stage.

Neal Gabler’s, AN EMPIRE OF THEIR OWN: HOW THE JEWS INVENTED HOLLYWOOD. The stories of the Studio Bosses: Harry Cohn, William Fox, Carl Laemmle, Louis B. Mayer, Jack and Harry Warner; Adolph Zucker.

Irving Stone’s, DEPTHS OF GLORY;  the life of Camille Pissarro, the Jewish Impressionist–and the author’s last book.

Anne Tyler’s, DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RESTAURANT; after a matriarch passes on, her divisive family assembles for a meal.

November 2016 Book Recommendations

Indianapolis lawyer wins national book prize

October 10, 2016 — An Indianapolis attorney has won a prestigious national book award for his debut novel “The Drum of Destiny,” a work of historical fiction for young readers set around the American Revolution.

Wilson Kehoe Winingham attorney Chris Stevenson was presented the 2016 Grateful American Book Prize on Oct. 6 at the Library of Congress in Washington. His tale of an orphaned 12-year-old patriot who escapes a house of loyalists to join the fight for the nation’s independence is written primarily for children in grades 4-7.

“It’s not every day you get a dinner in your honor at the Library of Congress,” Stevenson said Monday. “It’s pretty amazing to be selected.”

Founded by author and publisher David Bruce Smith and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities Bruce Cole, the Grateful American Book Prize was established in 2015 to recognize outstanding works of historical fiction for young readers and to promote history education. The prize includes a $13,000 cash award in honor of the 13 original American colonies.

Indianapolis lawyer wins national book prizeStevenson said he was inspired to write the book by his five sons and because he felt there was little storytelling aimed at young readers about the time period around the nation’s founding. Years ago, he began telling his boys bedtime stories from the Revolutionary period about a boy named Gabriel Cooper, which became the inspiration for “The Drum of Destiny.”

“For me, it’s one of the most transformative periods of time not just for our nation but for the entire world,” Stevenson said. “These were relatively untrained soldiers who decided to stand up to the most powerful empire in the world. … It’s one of those things I wanted my kids and hopefully other kids to learn about the freedom that we have, and why did we want to do it.”

An associate whose practice focuses on aviation and product liability litigation, Stevenson said he worked late at night on the book for about a year, but getting his first book published proved a daunting task. He hired an agent and said it took three or four years and many rejections before publisher Capstone Young Readers was sold on the project.

He said young readers can learn much from historical fiction that doesn’t always come through in fact-bound history textbooks. “It’s not only able to give you facts but also help you understand why things happened, how they happened and the personal stories behind the facts they’re reading about.”

While the book is targeted for readers primarily in grades 4-7, Stevenson said he also envisioned this as a book that adults also would read, either for themselves or to their children.

Stevenson said “The Drum of Destiny” is the opening salvo in a series of five novels that will trace the colonial-era adventures of young Gabriel as he grows during the quest for independence. He said the second volume in the series has been completed but a release date has not been set.

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