Q&A with James Markert, Author of What Blooms From Dust

Allison Carter, the senior publicist for Harper Collins Publishers, was kind enough to share with us an article containing a Q&A with author James Markert discussing Peter Cotton, an important character in his new book, What Blooms From Dust. Peter is a caring and intuitive individual who happens to have autism. While some may see him as unimportant, his role in the story is essential. Thank you to Ms. Carter for sharing this with us!

Author’s Note: The article below is the property of Harper Collins Publishers. The opinions expressed therein are their own. 


Just like us: Characters with autism, developmental conditions are another form of representation and inclusion in literature

James Markert talks about the role of an autistic character in his new novel,

What Blooms from Dust


Q: In your book, What Blooms from Dust, the main character, Jeremiah Goodbye, has just escaped from prison and is headed home when he befriends a young man named Peter Cotton. Peter seems to be autistic. Why did you write this character this way?


I didn’t go into the story with the intention of creating an autistic character, but when I first had Jeremiah Goodbye lay eyes on him and Peter smiled with such innocence, I felt his personality, challenges and quirks all come together for me.  


Q: Your book is set in the 1930s, and the term “autism” as well as the condition was not commonly known. What did you learn about society’s view of people with autism and other developmental conditions during this era? 


Once I decided that Peter’s character probably had autism, I delved a little deeper into the time period, and, like many things back then, ignorance unfortunately played too much of a part in how people perceived someone that was different. They were viewed as “simple” or “slow,” which was why the mother in the book, in an unfortunate occurrence during the depression, was trying to sell him and not her two “typical” boys. But this is also why I was determined, even though Peter often struggled to communicate with those around him, to make him the most perceptive character in the story.


Q: According to AutismSpeaks.org, about a third of those with autism are nonverbal. Peter Cotton doesn’t speak, but uses a typewriter to communicate with others. How does this add to his character? 


He does speak, but mainly to repeat whatever was said to him, which can be frustrating to some of those around him. The typewriter for him, and subsequent letters he writes, simply act as a conduit to his brilliance; in turn, making his character quite unique. Not so much because he communicates with the written word, but because of the power of his words, however simple they may be. Peter has a way of saying a lot with a little.


Q: Mental and physical disabilities are underrepresented in literature, so how did you go about researching characters with certain challenges in other books?


To be honest I didn’t. Peter came to me and he was what he was. Part of the beauty of being able to set

his character during a time period where autism wasn’t an official diagnosis yet, was that I never labeled him as anything other than a smiley boy with dimples. He was just…Peter.  I’ve read about and

researched autism in the past and have gotten to know various neurodivergent individuals through my

family, friends and students, but Peter really came to me all on his own.



Q: Why was it important for Jeremiah and Peter Cotton to meet?

I think their relationship was the ultimate “need one another” situation. Their meeting and ultimate friendship is a major catalyst in the story, one where they not only need each other but end up changing each other. For the good, of course.


Q: What make Peter relatable to readers and other characters in the story?  And what makes him distinct?


After being abandoned by his mother, Peter is really looking for a place and people to belong to, like so many of us, and like the other characters in the book.  What makes him most distinct is his keen sense of observation. He may be quiet, but he’s always watching and listening. And the other characters will come to learn that they’ve underestimated him.  That he can see and hear beyond their “noise” to the truth of any given situation.


Q: What will readers ultimately gain by meeting Peter Cotton?


Simply put, they’ll be gaining a friend. Someone who will hopefully make them smile.  


About the book

Just as Jeremiah Goodbye is set to meet his fate in the electric chair, a tornado tears down the prison walls, giving him a second chance at life. Upon his escape, he realizes he has entered a world he doesn’t recognize—one overtaken by the Dust Bowl. During his journey home to Nowhere, Oklahoma, he accidentally rescues a young boy named Peter Cotton.  When the Black Sunday storm hits the very next day, the residents of Nowhere let years of hardship bury them under the weight of all that dust. Unlikely heroes Jeremiah and Peter Cotton try to protect the townspeople from themselves. Filled with mystery and magic, What Blooms from Dust is the story of finding hope in the midst of darkness and discovering the beauty of unexpected kindness.

What Blooms from Dust releases June 26, 2018 by HarperCollins/Thomas Nelson.


Booklist STARRED review

“Historical fiction at its finest that makes the reader want to learn more about the time and the people who lived there, and those who left.”

Publishers Weekly

“Markert creatively portrays the timeless battle between good and evil, making for a powerful story of hope and redemption.”

About the Author

Image result for james markert

James Markert lives with his wife and two children in Louisville, Kentucky. He won an IPPY Award for The Requiem Rose, which was later published as A White Wind Blew.

James is also a USPTA tennis pro and has coached dozens of kids who’ve gone on to play college tennis in top conferences like the Big 10, the Big East, and the ACC. Learn more at JamesMarkert.com; Facebook: James Markert; Twitter: @JamesMarkert.



A Fair Assessment of Hallmark, Plus a Game!

This article is definitely worth a read, if only for the laughs.  If you want to watch Hallmark this holiday season, play this game!  Note: we don’t endorse alcoholic drinking.

Interview with Vicki Brown, Co-Producer of Skid

Tell us about your faith journey. Well, I was raised in a Christian home and came to Christ as a teen. I have continued to grow in my faith throughout my life with many trials and challenges, like most Christians experience. I was a founding member of Westmoore Community Church in 1994 and have served faithfully to help our church grow to over 2000 members.

How does your family influence your film making? I have been married to my husband, Tim Brown, for over 25 years, but we have no children. Having no children gives me a unique view on how children grow up. I am able to look at things that contribute to a child as they become an adult. I really see how the media contributes to what society thinks is “normal”. What we find entertaining really speaks to what we find acceptable. I hope that our society begins to demand more wholesome entertainment that doesn’t feel like it is childish or corny. I know there is sophisticated entertainment that is clean and wholesome, but I know it requires a lot more thought.

When was the first time you wanted to make a Christian film? Probably the first time I read a book. I visualize my reading as though I am watching it on a screen. I think the more I read good, wholesome books, like the ones written by Rene Gutteridge, the more I wanted to see it up on a screen. I decided to try to get a film made in 2012. I wanted it to become a reality.

What makes you interested in creating Christian entertainment?  I think the entertainment that is out there now is creating the view of the world for our society. I think the Christian view is under represented and needs to offer an alternative look at the world.

What do you ultimately want to do in the field of Christian movies? Well, if I had unlimited resources, I believe there would be an entire writing team dedicated to creating sophisticated, funny, good movies, who, along with talented actors, will open doors to audiences who wouldn’t otherwise watch faith based films. I think people need to see a different view of how the world is for Christians. The movies should show that we are all the same, but there is grace in Christ that allows us to change, start over, and get forgiveness from mistakes. Movies should show how to make decisions based on the good of others as Christ did in his ministry and to show why we make those decisions because of our faith.

Do you think that Christian entertainment needs more quality productions? Oh my yes! Making a movie is a gigantic risk and people willing to risk millions of dollars on a market that doesn’t usually support movies (because of what is out there) is cost prohibitive. I believe as people demand and support Christian movies, the quality will go up.

How hard is it to cast an independent Christian film? Well to be cast isn’t that difficult because the “Big Names” aren’t lining up to audition for these roles. However, there is always many, many more actors than parts so in terms of an actor who is just starting out, so it can be very difficult to get cast in any movie, even and independent movie.

How hard is it for a new Christian film maker to make it in the business?  What is the level of support? The film business in general is almost impossible to make as a living. Most of the film folks do commercial work to support their film fix. The level of support is very difficult to garner as the people who are promoting films are not on board, so most of the support is very grass roots. It takes large masses of folks to offset the cost in order for a film to make money.

What are your plans for the future? There is another of Rene’s books that I would love to get into production. I would love to be able to have a budget to make it a SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild) Production. The truth is that there have been some attempts to raise funds, but none have been successful enough to get it off the ground yet. I would love to know what the Christian community thinks would be a film they would really get behind. Is it an actor with a known name? Is it a book they love that tells a great lesson? Is it more that it supports a cause? I want to produce movies that the public wants to see and finds it a joy to support. So I am open to hearing what your readers want!


Thanks for participating!

Interview With Sharon Wilharm, Creator of Providence

Briefly tell us about your faith journey.

I grew up in a Christian home where we were at church every time the doors opened. I was very involved in missions and assumed that God would call me to a life as a missionary or as a minister’s wife.

When I was in college at a Baptist Campus Ministries retreat, the speaker called for individuals to commit to a life of Christian service, and I remember feeling then that God was calling me to serve, but in a way that wasn’t even on my radar yet.


When was the first time you wanted to make a Christian film?

It seems like so many people nowadays are chasing after the filmmaking dream. That was never me. I call myself a reluctant filmmaker because I came into it kicking and screaming.

It all started when I married Fred. As I said, I assumed I was going into ministry. I got a degree in education and was registered for seminary. Then God put me together with Fred who was a businessman with a chain of coin laundries. I figured I must have misunderstood God. But what I didn’t realize then was that Fred’s passion was filmmaking, and even though he wasn’t pursuing it when we married, he had gone to college with that purpose.

So about ten years into our marriage Fred decided to make a local history documentary. Then, as he listened to all the stories, he decided that it would be fun to put them together into a narrative story. Then we stumbled upon a local Christian artist, and we thought her music would be great as a soundtrack. Since I was a writer (newspaper and magazine journalist), Fred asked if I wanted to write a script. I had no idea whatsoever what I was doing, but I wrote a script. Then, since I was also a church drama director and loved acting, I ended up directing and starring in it. It was awful because again, I had no idea whatsoever what I was doing. I told Fred never again. I meant it, but God had other plans.


What makes you interested in creating Christian entertainment?

After fighting God for many years, I finally accepted that this is what He has called me to do. This is my mission field and so it’s important that I give Him my very best efforts.

What I love most is the way God has taken our movies to places I’ll never go and used them to speak to people I’ll never meet. Our movie The Good Book has made its way around the world and is used by missionaries to help spread the gospel. Providence screened in AMC theaters including Times Square and L.A. All our films have aired on television channels nationwide. Now I’m working on our latest script, getting it ready to film this summer, and our desire is that God will take it even further than our previous movies.


What do you ultimately want to do in the field of Christian movies?

I want to create movies that speak to souls and that continue to speak long after I’m gone. I want to create works of art that draw people to Christ, movies that bless people and ultimately makes them better individuals as a result of seeing God in a new and personal way.


Do you think that Christian entertainment needs more quality productions?

I am a firm believer that Christians should be offering our very best fruits to God and not just serving up stale leftovers. I know that everyone has to start somewhere and that we are limited oftentimes by our resources. But it hurts my heart to see all these filmmakers throwing together projects,  not bothering to put any real effort into making them. And then they complain that the critics are picking on them because they’re Christian.  Critics desperately want life changing works of art, and if we listen to what they say, we can create movies that will truly impact the world in a positive way.


How hard is it for a new Christian film maker to make it in the business?  What is the level of support like?

Honestly, it’s not that difficult to get your movie out there. Distributors are hungry for quality content and there are plenty willing to give newcomers a start. There’s also film festivals and organizations who strive to help support new filmmakers.  And, of course, my blog Faith Flix helps spread the word about upcoming films and filmmakers.

The biggest thing that filmmakers need to remember is that it is our responsibility to promote our movies. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the responsibility of churches to promote your movie, nor is it the responsibility of distributors. Ultimately, if you want your film to go places, you’ve got to work, work, work to let people know about it.

Finally, if people come in thinking they’re going to get rich and famous making Christian movies, they’re going to be sadly disappointed. There’s always someone higher up the food chain than you, and the money is slow to trickle in. But if you look at it as a ministry and your goal is to get it out to the people, God will help get it to the people who need it.


Do you have plans for a non-silent film in the future?

For the past eight months I’ve been working on a new script, this time a “talkie”. The reason we initially started doing silent films was because  we discovered that we were better at telling a story visually than with words. But even though the response to our silent movies has been surprisingly great, they’re still limited in how far they can go. The average moviegoer expects dialogue and so in order to reach the masses, that’s what we’re doing. However, we are taking all that we learned from our silent films and applying it this one. So even though the characters talk, the story will still be primarily shown rather than told.


What can we expect next from you?

Be watching in the next month for our casting notices and then as we begin filming this summer. This latest movie is a period piece, very ambitious, and definitely our biggest project yet. We’ve been studying and preparing and can’t wait to see where God takes this one.


Thanks for participating!

What Audiences Want

Per the Calgary Herald, When Calls the Heart fans, also known as #Hearties, are very much in love with the Hallmark series because it’s family friendly and wholesome.  At the beginning of the show, there was an attempt to craft meaningful characters, and fans still hold on to this, even though character quality has significantly decreased since the inaugural season.  Michael Landon Jr. right hand man Brian Bird has said before that their show fills a deep desire in fans for wholesome entertainment.

So what does this mean?  It means that however cheesy and disappointing WCTH may become, they still have a devoted fan base because there’s nothing else. WCTH exists in a vacuum.  They were obviously trying harder at first because they had to, but now they don’t have to try because there’s no competition in their genre.  This is a sad reality, because there is so much potential in WCTH alone, but we firmly believe that this genre of TV series is largely untapped.  What if there were even better family-friendly weekly series on television and on-demand services?

Christian and inspirational viewers may like certain aspects of non-family-friendly entertainment (this definition is very broad and subjective), they still desperately want wholesome entertainment.  So where are the Christian creative geniuses?  Entertainment still remains to be another area where western Christians have allowed other ideas to fill the vacuum.  The inspirational genre is starved for quality creations.  Hallmark, despite their flaws, would likely approve any series that marketed well and was crafted for their target audience.  The vast world of on-demand entertainment remains untapped by Christians.

What we need is a generation of creative Christians to rise up and redeem entertainment by making better entertainment.  Due to financial constraints, they would obviously have to start out small, but it’s better to start somewhere than nowhere.  If God wants you to create redemptive entertainment, then He will provide.  We must be open to what God wants us to create, because as we have seen, entertainment has a profound effect on western culture and even the entire world.  Christian entertainment has too long been dominated by low-quality and propaganda-ridden sediment, and it’s time for that to change.

PureFlix Goes to Court (Updated)

According to multiple sources, Michael Landon Jr. and co-writer Kelly Monore Kullberg are suing David A. R. White and PureFlix, citing large similarities between their film Rise and the PureFlix film God’s Not Dead. Since God’s Not Dead has grossed over $100 million worldwide, Landon Jr. and Kullberg want $100 million in damages for White and company stealing their plot structure and movie idea and using it for their own good.

We’ve never seen the film Rise, so we cannot comment on the similarities, but if this is true, this is a huge setback for the Whites and PureFlix. Even if this comes to nothing, it should be a huge wakeup call for them to create original content and to avoid shady notions. It would be a blow to Christian movie marketing if PureFlix loses this full amount, since they have proven themselves to be effective in marketing Christian films. Yet it would also not be surprising to find that the Whites have been doing funny business all along. These are the kinds of things that can majorly hurt the image of Christian movies even further.

As for the plaintiffs…both of them claim to be Christians and Kullberg is an outspoken atheist convert to Christianity. Landon Jr. has multiple deals with Hallmark to generate his creative content. We can understand their frustration over a stolen idea, but the Bible does warn Christians not to sue other Christians (1 Corinthians 6:1-8). We in no way are ready to defend PureFlix of wrongdoing, but Landon Jr. and Kullberg need to tread very carefully and determine what kind of image this gives to the Christian entertainment world. Satan would like nothing better than to destroy and divide the progress being made in Christian film making.

UPDATE: According to our research, it looks like the movie ‘Rise’ never even made it to production. Instead, the plaintiffs claim that they know their idea was copied because they shared their almost-movie idea with people close to PureFlix while God’s Not Dead was being created. This may or may not strengthen their case, especially if they can prove that they definitely shared the idea with PureFlix while the movie in question was still being written and that they were not compensated for sharing their idea. Of course, they will also have to show that they have exclusive creative control over that movie concept and that their original idea was explicitly copied by PureFlix.