Tuesday, September 4, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Unconditional: A Novel by Eva Marie Everson

Samantha, who wrote children's books, and Billy, who worked for the power company, lived on a farm near Nashville, Tennessee. They had two horses to ride, cows to milk, and chickens to feed. There was enough acreage to go camping together. Billy was her whole world and when his life was taken, hers began to end.

His death was sudden and violent, with no time to say goodbye. He'd been called out to a rough neighborhood called the Commons for an emergency power failure during a storm. The police assumed he was shot during a robbery attempt, but nothing appeared to have been taken.

Samantha lost her faith and her will to go on after Billy was killed. She couldn't finish the book she was working on, even though Billy had told her it would be her best yet. All she managed to do was to take care of the animals on their farm. Instead of drawing birds for her new book, she drew a faceless killer wearing a red hoodie, from the description of the suspect given to her by the police.

A year after Billy's death, at the insistence of her agent, she manages  to get out of her self-imposed solitary confinement to attend an event where she was honored for a previous book. Instead of talking about her books, she starts telling the attendees about Billy and how he gave away two-dollar bills to strangers. This caused her to break into tears and run out of the building.

Two years after that, on another rainy night, Samantha drives Billy's old pickup truck to the spot where Billy died. She loads the pistol he kept in the glove compartment and prepares to end her life. Before she can pull the trigger, she hears a cry for help from a young boy. Unable to go on with her plan, she finds the boy and learns his sister, Keisha,  was the victim of a hit-and-run accident. Samantha takes the injured child, and her brother Macon to the hospital in her truck. At the hospital, Samantha meets up with Joe Bradford, a childhood friend she'd lost contact with.

And so the story begins. And it is a wonderful story about how Samantha finds a reason for living after joining Joe in his effort to help underprivileged children in the Commons while giving her an opportunity to search for Billy's killer.

A movie by the same title, starring Lynn Collins as Samantha and Michael Ealy as Joe is scheduled for release September 21, 2012. The book is a novelization of the movie which is based on the life of a real person. Joe Bradford, out of prison for computer hacking with years tacked on for trying to save the life of a prisoner,  has taken on the job of being the father he didn't have to the children in the Commons who had no fathers.

I was intrigued by the story from the beginning. Although I was most drawn to Samantha's story, Joe's story is strong, too. The important story is how the lives of these two people crossed at critical times. She saving him and he saving her. There were lots of tears throughout, but many tears of joy.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

Q & A with Eva Marie Everson, author of Unconditional

I understand that Unconditional is a novelization of a movie. Would you mind telling us how you were approached to write this book?

I've known Julie Gwinn, editor at Broadman and Holman, for a few years. When the novelization of "Unconditional" came across her desk, she thought of me. I'm from the South and this book needed a Southern voice. What Julie didn't know was how cathartic writing the book would be for me, as someone who had just gone through a series of tragedies and difficulties. But God knew ... which makes me all the more grateful. Not only to be in His range of vision, but that He put me in Julie's.

From what I read about the movie, it is based on true events while the book is fiction. How close does the book come to the true story of Samantha Crawford and Joe Bradford?

Samantha Crawford is not a real person but a means by which Joe Bradford's story could be told. The story of Joe, told in Unconditional, is pretty much spot-on.

How did the research for the book work? Did you watch the movie? Read the script? Both?

Both. I read the script, then watched the movie about two or three times, then watched it scene by scene, breaking it down. What I discovered is that when we watch a movie, we are okay with going from Point A to Point C, without ever hitting Point B. We can't do that in writing novels ... which meant that I had to ask myself, "What would Point B be?" Then I wrote it.

Samantha Crawford is such an endearing character. She is grief stricken in the beginning and her actions are unpredictable because people grieve in different ways. How much freedom did you have in developing this character?

I had to ask myself a few questions: how did she meet Billy? Why was she so "afraid" of the rain? Why did she and Billy have no children? How did she feel about that? Like I said, I didn't have to dig too deep to understand her grief. The hard part was writing it without crying all over my computer. :)

Joe Bradford is a likeable character, too. However, as a reader, I don't feel I got to know him as well as I did Samantha. Was this done on purpose? If so, why?

Papa Joe would be the last person on earth to toot his own horn. I believe Brent McCorkle (who wrote the screenplay and directed the film) used Papa Joe's amazing story to tell a universal truth: all of us -- every one of us -- has the opportunity to serve, even in the midst of personal heartache and tragedy. So, while we see the essence of Papa Joe's story of tragedy to triumph, we also want to show that anyone can be a Papa Joe in his or her community.

This book is advertised as Christian fiction. However, the religious aspects are subtle and the book should be of interest to everyone. How much freedom were you given in this aspect of the book?

That part was pretty much written as it was given to me. However, this is another reason why I was attracted to the story. I believe our Christianity must be lived out in our everyday lives. Not shouted or worn on our shirtsleeves. I know a lot of Christian Fiction out there starts with a sermon and ends with a sermon. Mine doesn't. I want to show Christian living out their faith, not screaming it with every line. I am a Christian. I live out my faith. I don't scream it.

How does Unconditional differ from other novels you've written?

It was a movie and a screenplay first. :)

What was your favorite scene to write in Unconditional?

Wow. What scene wasn't my favorite to write? Now there's a question.

Okay, I thought about it for a minute. Most definitely the scene where Sam confronts Anthony Jones and he tells her the truth of what happened to Billy. There's a moment with a bird and a $2 bill (I won't say anything more because it would be a spoiler) that choked me up when I read it, watched it and wrote it.

I'll tell you this ... a little secret. There were several nameless characters in the movie, which you can do in a movie but you can't do in a book. So, I gave them the names of some of the key players in the screenplay/movie/book. So look for names like Wesley and Jonathan and Julie and Jason and Shannon ...

What’s next? Are you working on a new book now? If so, what can you tell us about it? When will it be available?

I am currently writing a book for Abingdon Press -- a "rom-com" which is a real break from the norm for me. So far, the writing has been fun, though! And, my book "Waiting for Sunrise" released in June of this year to high ratings, so I'm excited about that as well.

How can readers find you on the Internet?


  1. You are correct! This is a great interview. It is interesting how a book comes out of a movie. It seems backwards yet a good author can make it work and even turn the book into one that people may say about it, "The book is better than the movie."

    Blessings, Janice

  2. Thank you, Janice. Good point. Also, I like what she said about the need to name characters in books when you don't have to in movies.

  3. This was a fascinating interview. Writing a novel from a movie does seem backwards but I'll bet we can all think of movies we've seen that we wished we could write about to flesh out the characters a little. Great interview. I'll watch for the movie and the book.

  4. What a great post. I can'y wait to read the book. It sounds awesome.
    God bless you guys.

    Glenda Parker

  5. What an intriguing back story and characters! Thanks for a great interview and sounds like a great book--I'll tweet and post your interview on FB.

  6. Fascinating interview (I liked your review, too, Sid), and I will very much look forward to the book and the movie. Which will make for an interesting study, now that we know the back-story. Thanks and blessings!

  7. Thanks, Glenda, Sandra, and Lily. Appreciate the comments. Now I wish I had a copy of the book to give away! All I had to read was a pdf, but was thrilled to get it early.

  8. They should have left the title for Joe Bradford's biography as it should be. It would be the best way to he joe and what he does if they really wanted to.

  9. If the character of Samantha Crawford was non-existent, then there was never any connection to a white young girl at all?

  10. If the person who was the character of Samantha Crawford is non-existent then there was never a person that made a difference in Joe's real life as was indicated?