How many times have you seen a cross and flowers on a roadside, or other memorials that mark the spot where a life was lost? Don’t you sometimes wonder about the people touched by these tragedies and how life turns out for those left behind? A new inspirational fiction book gives us an inside look.
New York Times bestselling author Jason Wright offers a heartwarming and redemptive story about finding faith in the face of tragedy in, “The Cross Gardner,” due out from Berkley, March 2
He tells the tale of John Bevan, a man who loses his wife and unborn child in a terrible accident. John withdraws from life and erects two small cross at the scene of the accident and visits daily. One day, he encounters a man kneeling before the crosses and touching them up with white paint. Conversations with the mysterious man, known only as the “Cross Gardener” begin to heal John’s heart. He comes to see what he must embrace in his life, from the pain of his past to the sorrow of his wife’s passing. Jason Wright shares his motivation for writing the book.
What was your inspiration for writing The Cross Gardner?
I live in a quiet valley where roadside crosses dot nearly every road I travel each day. Some sites are marked with a single, simple white cross. Others have teddy bears or balloons that appear periodically throughout the year. One such crash site just a mile from my home has four crosses, two much smaller than the others. An entire family perished there.
I often pass these roadside crosses and wonder what happened. What time of day was it? How old were they? Did they die alone? Did someone lead them home? Over the last few years, these questions have become more important to me.
Several dear friends and family members have passed away, including my father, and I’ve never been there; I’ve never been able to say goodbye.
Writing The Cross Gardner allowed me to pose some of these questions and answers in a way that brought me comfort. Hopefully it will do the same for the countless others who’ve lost loved ones and wondered about that miraculous transition from this life to the next.
Is there a particular reason why you chose the Shenandoah Valley, where you also live, as the setting for this book?
Roadside crosses are everywhere in the Shenandoah Valley, springing up after every crash, and serving as an inspiration and reminder to me of our life on this planet. But it was not the only reason I chose this setting for THE CROSS GARDENER — the Valley is like a slice of heaven on earth. Placing the story here is a different sort of monument to those who’ve died.
The apple orchard plays a big role in this book. Was there a particular reason you chose to set the book on an orchard?
Apple orchards are so wonderfully imperfect. Unlike most other forms of farming, apple orchards are hilly and knotty. I also love the metaphor that sometimes orchards have terrible seasons due to weather or pests, but the very same trees can generate wonderful, abundant fruit the very next year.
In The Cross Gardner John confronts some intense personal issues, but re-establishes his faith to eventually move forward and be appreciative for all that he has. Was it difficult to find that balance and write about John’s grieving process?
This was the most difficult story I’ve ever told, and the first that made me cry as I wrote and edited it. It was excruciating, at times, to portray his struggles, knowing how real they are to so many people. The details and storylines are unique and fictional. But the pain of losing loved ones so tragically and well before their time is anything but fiction. It was a humbling challenge to know that the book would be more than fiction to many people, it would be a reminder of what they’ve suffered. It is my hope that it’s also a reminder of the hope that lies on the other side of grief.
What do you hope your readers get from the story?
No one dies alone. All of us – no matter race, age or religion – get an escort home.
Your previous book, The Wednesday Letters, was also an inspirational and heartwarming story, and your fans have responded by making it a New York Times bestseller. What about the current climate draws people to inspirational fiction?
I think a tough economy, unemployment, political divisions, the disaster in Haiti, all of it weighs down on us. A piece of inspirational fiction can deliver us, even for a few hours, to a world where despite challenges and heartache, hope always reigns. I pray this book, like the others, motivates someone to take a piece of that fictional hope and apply it in their real, everyday life.