Baker experience inspired author’s curiosity

James Houston Turner with friends at book signing.

James Houston Turner has never forgotten his roots, cherishing his years living a block away from Baker University’s Baldwin City campus before eventually becoming a Baker student.James Houston Turner and a fan.

“It was an idyllic time,” Turner said of the 1950s and ’60s. “As a child, I found great curiosity, running around all hours in the hills, making trails. A big part of that experience was hanging out as a grade-school kid at Baker. I knew a lot of the professors, especially Ivan Boyd, who gave me this fascination with the world. My curiosity was really nourished here.”

A 1969 Baker graduate, Turner returned home in early October to share his personal journey, discuss the impact Baker had on his life and to promote his latest novel, Department Thirteen, at a book signing at the Collins House. Humbled by the turnout of nearly 100 friends, alumni and former classmates, Turner was grateful for the response, reiterating the acknowledgments found in his suspense thriller, where he thanked Baker for “grounding me” and developing his love of writing. While most of his classmates are retiring, Turner proclaimed that his career was just beginning.

“I have this passion, that still burns deep in me, to bring the world to my readers,” he said.

Department Thirteen is based on Turner’s time in the 1980s smuggling Bibles into Eastern Europe behind the old Iron Curtain, as well as on an actual covert assassination and sabotage unit of the KGB. The novel chronicles a week in the life of retired KGB informant Aleksandr Talanov. Turner, at one time, was on a KGB watch list and organized secret midnight meetings with informants.

Turner traces his quest for story telling to his grade-school years, when he would frequently visit Parmenter Hall or Centenary Hall looking for information. The Baker faculty quickly responded to his inquiries.

“I really credit that time for giving me the birth of imagination and curiosity,” he said. “Baker professors would always take time to give me books or tell me to research something. They didn’t have to do that. That was the kind of people who lived here. I loved that, absolutely loved it.” Interview with James Houston Turner

In 1991, Turner’s world changed. He battled and survived squamous cell carcinoma and a grueling surgery in his jaw, disfiguring the right side of his face. The life-altering event inspired his writing. He often draws from that moment, focusing on the themes of goodness, mercy and grace.

“Characters have fights and there is the pain of living with cancer,” said Turner, who proudly noted that he is celebrating his 20th anniversary of being cancer free. “The odds are against you, but you know you can lick this. When I got cancer, I had to stand up and fight. I’ve learned not to let the hard knocks of life kick me down. I will not be defeated.”

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2 Responses to “Baker experience inspired author’s curiosity”

  1. I absolutely loved returning to Baker for what turned out to be a spectacular reception. Thank you Dr. Pat Long and Jerry Weakley for making my visit so memorable. Jerry, I love your idea of having Talanov, the hero of Department Thirteen, teach a course at Baker in one of my books. Now, to just find some quirky and unusual characters to add color. Hmmm…

  2. Jim just received that “Department Thirteen” won the Hottest New Thriller in the 2011 Best Book Awards