I first collaborated with Glenn Beck on his 2008 novel, "The Christmas Sweater." Though categorized as fiction, the inspirational story was carefully poured in the concrete of Beck’s childhood, and with every edit, he insisted we stay as true to his personal history as possible.
Much has changed in the last five years. Beck went from CNN to Fox to The Blaze, his own indisputably successful network. He’s relocated his family and studios to Texas, acquired a movie lot, written 13 more bestsellers and grown his brand larger than a 10-gallon hat.
One thing hasn’t changed. He’s still a mad composer who conjures up more ideas before breakfast than I have even in my best of years. His staff says some of their most maddening and exciting meetings begin with a tiny spark and explode into plans for 10 new hires, a stage show, television series, inverted roller coaster and a lineup of flying cars.
His latest creation is "Miracles and Massacres: True and Untold Stories of the Making of America." I was honored by the invitation to collaborate again in a small way and to be reminded of Beck's desire to marry his two great passions: creativity and facts.
According to Beck, the new book presents history as it’s meant to be told: “true and thrilling.” Troubled by what he felt was the dry, reinvented history of today’s history books, Beck and his team imagined history and its greatest lessons in a way that would appeal to the masses, without rewriting them.
Though some of the dialogue and character thoughts are fictionalized, particularly when no record exists, every word supports history. Not a single line in the book contradicts the widely accepted facts, and a detailed appendix at the end of the book discloses exactly which scenes invited creative license.
In "Miracles and Massacres," Beck includes 12 stories from among thousands he and his team considered. It begins with the heroic, overnight ride of Jack Jouett in 1781 to warn Thomas Jefferson of a British advance on his home at Monticello. Later, readers learn about the bitter and mostly unknown rivalry between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse and the lessons to be learned. Finally, the book closes with the inspiring story of one ordinary man’s extraordinary difference while preventing a 9/11 terrorist from completing his deadly mission.
Though Beck’s company, Mercury, had grown considerably since we co-wrote "The Christmas Sweater," the process is mostly unchanged. He still works with a team of writers and editors, but every word published under his name is arranged by Beck like that manic composer of a complex symphony. Though many of his musicians will write notes and scribble on the sheet music, not a single measure is published or played without Beck’s blessing and influence.
Perhaps to his own detriment, sanity and sleep habits, Beck redlines every last page. He challenges writers and editors over every fact and anecdote. When reviewing Beck’s and his team’s edits to my own contributions, I marveled that a word or two changed here or there made good prose better and better prose best.
When I asked Beck why the book was so important to him, he said he wanted to present America history in a way that reads like a thriller. “People forget that most of the word ‘history’ is made up of the word ‘story.’ Our past is not just about dates and dead guys,” he continued. “It’s about incredible, true stories and we wanted to get back to that.”
Beck, who talks often of his belief in both historic and modern-day miracles, says the massacres in the book are just as important. “While it’s great to celebrate our heroes and triumphs,” he said, “we have to understand and learn from the villains and tragedies as well. Only by studying our mistakes can we learn from them and prevent them from happening again.”
Judging from Beck’s creative and business success, "Miracles and Massacres" will be more triumph than tragedy.
He wouldn’t compose it any other way.
Jason Wright is a New York Times bestselling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars" and his latest, "The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, applevalleybarndance.com or jasonfwright.com