Archive for May, 2010
Judy Seale reaches out to American troops in a way most of us will never be able to do—with boots on the ground.
As President/CEO of Stars For Stripes, Judy heads up a non-profit organization dedicated to providing quality entertainment to internationally deployed U.S. military forces. But she is also the chief logistics officer, who accompanies each musical entourage to places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Stars For Stripes brings together professionals from aviation, entertainment and the military to improve the overseas tour experience for performers, sponsors, donors, and most importantly, for the dedicated men and women protecting our national interests.
Q&A with Judy
How did you get your start in the music business?
I was working for the Governor’s Commission on Physical Fitness in Montgomery, Alabama in 1971. The Alabama Special Olympics program (non-profit) fell under the jurisdiction of that office. George “Goober” Lindsey was the Honorary Coach for Alabama Special Olympics and a native of Alabama. We organized a benefit concert in conjunction with a Celebrity Golf Tournament. The George Lindsey Celebrity Weekend hosted over 60 celebrities in the music, sports, and acting world each year and raised more than a million dollars for Alabama Special Olympics. I worked for George for over ten years and then moved to Tulsa to handle Roy Clark’s charity, ultimately going to work for the Jim Halsey Company—at the time the world’s largest Country music booking agency.
You have traveled extensively to international music festivals across the world. How did that come about? How many countries have you visited on these tours?
I was employed by the Jim Halsey Company, and Jim has always had a “vision” for the international marketplace. In 1987, he gave me a new title, “Vice President of International Relations,” and basically it was “sink or swim.” My first tour was to Japan with Brenda Lee for three weeks, performing Christmas dinner shows in a different city each night. I never looked back. Since 1987, I have visited 69 countries with many “firsts” for a Country music event, including Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Brazil, to mention a few.
I was managing The Forester Sisters in 1991, and the USO asked them to go to Iceland over New Year’s Eve. I accompanied them and was “hooked.” I don’t come from a military family and to see our men and women serving under such difficult circumstances, so far away from friends and loved ones over the holidays, definitely caught my attention. I started volunteering my time and soliciting entertainment for the USO until 2003 when I started my own non-profit organization to provide celebrity entertainment to troops deployed overseas—Stars for Stripes.
Has God ever provided an unexpected “detour” in your life that turned out to be positive?
In 2003, I was a part of the first group of entertainers allowed to go into Iraq to entertain our troops after the initial invasion. The person in charge of the tour had very specific ideas about what the entertainers would be allowed to do, which included NOT letting the entertainers sing at certain times. It was extremely frustrating to me since the troops had set up sound systems and stages and been waiting for hours for our arrival. I burned a lot of bridges on that trip with the organizers, but my entertainer performed for the troops in Iraq. When I returned, a friend of mine in the Air Force Reserve encouraged me to start my own non-profit organization and coordinate celebrity entertainment tours for the troops deployed overseas. I was scared and honestly did not have faith that I could pull it off. Obviously, God had enough faith for both of us. Everything happens for a reason, and entertaining the troops overseas is what fills up my heart. Every visit is life changing, not only for me but for whoever the participants are that so generously donate their time and talents to say thank you to our military.
Please tell us about Stars for Stripes, and how people can help your efforts to provide entertainment for U.S. troops around the world.
Stars for Stripes was founded in 2003 as a non-profit organization to provide celebrity entertainment to troops deployed overseas. Since that date, I have been blessed to produce 49 tours overseas with 29 of those in Iraq alone. My biggest struggle is financial. I’ve been very “innovative” in financing the tours. Sponsorships and donations have not been forthcoming as I envisioned. The general public tends to give to organizations that “tug at their heartstrings” (i.e., wounded heroes, families of KIA’s, etc.), as they should. If they do make a donation, it’s usually to the USO who has much more name recognition and does a fantastic job of supporting the troops. All participants in a Stars for Stripes tour donate their time, and only their travel expenses are covered, but it’s still expensive to fly everyone commercially and provide the production needed in remote areas for a performance.
The best tour I’ve ever produced took place in October 2009, when I took Craig Morgan, Chris Young, GAC TV, and two of our wounded heroes to Iraq and Germany. The wounded heroes visited the sites where they were injured (one an amputee and one a TBI who was not supposed to survive and is now back serving in the U.S. Air Force!), as well as the hospitals and doctors/nurses who treated them. GAC TV continues to air the one-hour special several times each month. I’ve been able to do so much with so little, and coordinating all these tours in my “free time.” Think of what I could accomplish with funding!
What is your most memorable moment on tour with U.S. troops?
In 2004, we visited a remote FOB—Camp Summerall—in Iraq. I had made friends with the commander of the base earlier in the year when he was impressed that we were the first entertainers to visit his guys/gals. I promised him I’d return later that year and made good on my statement. After the show, the entertainers I take over always sign every autograph and take a photo with each person individually…usually about a three to four hour process.
The day after our performance, we flew to another camp, and I emailed the commander to thank him for his hospitality. He emailed back later that evening saying he had lost one of his boys in a firefight that day and was extremely upset because the young man had also been his “work out partner.” I assumed we would not know the young man but asked for his name because we wanted to pray for his family. When we learned of the young man’s name, it was a shock to learn that it was someone the entertainer had talked with for quite a while in the autograph line. His last name was the same last name as her mother’s maiden name, and he was from the same small town in Pennsylvania as her keyboard player.
We all remembered him. The entertainer called his parents when we returned and asked to dedicate her next video to his memory. His mom said that she was probably the last person to hug her son. This particular Army unit was headquartered out of Germany and due to return about seven months later. I promised that we would return to entertain the troops at their “Welcome Home Ceremony” in Germany. I then called the parents of the fallen hero and offered to pay their expenses to travel with us if they would like to have the opportunity to meet the people who their son had spent the last months of his life with.
I was extremely apprehensive about even making such an offer, but the parents were unbelievably grateful and agreed to accompany us. My hope was that it would be a “healing experience” for them. As a parent, I could not even begin to imagine the pain of their loss. When we arrived by bus from the airport, their son’s four closest friends were lined up on the sidewalk in front of our hotel with tears pouring down their faces. It was the first time I had ever seen anyone in uniform cry and to this day is still one of the most emotional moments I’ve ever encountered. The four friends were carrying such guilt for not being able to save their buddy’s life and for being alive when he had been killed. Instead of being comforted, the parents were the ones giving the comfort, and I think this visit truly helped them with their healing.
Let’s talk about what you do to relax. What kinds of books do you like to read?
When I travel, I usually like to read something that is not “too heavy,” like a romance novel or Nicolas Sparks’ novel. I love John Grisham also. When I have time to read at home (which is rare), I like to read non-fiction books about the war zones I’ve visited—Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Iraq. Because I have first-hand knowledge of those areas, I find it very interesting to read about them as well.
What kind of music is in your MP3 player?
Everything from Bellamy Brothers and a new artist I manage to Keith Urban, Charlie Daniels, The Beatles, Tom Petty and, of course, Elvis! I tend to listen to music of entertainers that I have worked with or will be working with in the future.
No doubt you’ve eaten some interesting cuisine in your international travels. Can you give us a “taste” of the dining on your military tours?
U2 Spy Plane pilots eat “tubes” of food. I had the beef stew (yuck) and apple pie (yummy). In December 2003, in Iraq, there were the largest barbequed ribs I’ve ever seen—like a foot long. We were convinced they were camel ribs. In Afghanistan, they serve “barbequed” tuna, and I don’t mean tuna fillets—I mean canned tuna in barbeque sauce. I tried to stay safe and only eat the spaghetti, but even that sauce had sugar and chicken in it.
The good news is, at the larger bases throughout Iraq, they now have a Baskin Robbins ice cream bar, a salad bar, a sandwich bar, a hot line, a snack line, a stir fry bar, a pasta bar, a taco bar, etc.
The most memorable meal I’ve ever had was in Afghanistan with Aaron Tippin on Thanksgiving Day 2006. We were running hard all day long—FOB hops and a full band show and a very, very long autograph line. We didn’t have time to eat the Thanksgiving lunch or dinner that had been prepared for the troops. A few minutes before midnight, we finished the autographs and were standing backstage. The backstage had been catered with a deli tray about five hours prior. Aaron and I each had two pieces of white bread the consistency of a piece of plywood and a couple of slices of very dry deli turkey…no condiments to spice it up. It was the best Thanksgiving I can remember.
What’s next on your agenda?
My summers are spent in Europe each year. Not as glamorous as it sounds. I leave the first part of June and won’t return to the U.S. until the end of August. I’ll jump from country to country with different artists every few days—places like Norway, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Greece, and Sweden. Those are “commercial dates” through Judy Seale International that pay my bills. I have to sacrifice taking any tours for the troops during that time (although I almost worked out a Fourth of July concert this year in Iraq!), but will go back over to Iraq in September with the rock group Filter.
Thanks, Judy. It’s easy to see that you love your work. Thank you for what you do for our troops. It’s a privilege to have you as a guest as our nation prepares to honor its veterans on Memorial Day.
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For more information about Stars for Stripes, visit http://www.starsforstripes.com/
God has written a number of detours into Tamara Leigh’s life.
When the blessing of children proved elusive, she turned to her writing. Soon afterward, her agent called with news of Bantam Books’ offer for a four-book contract. That same day, Tamara’s pregnancy was confirmed. Within the next year, she committed her life to Christ, her first child was born, and her first historical romance novel was released.
She published three more secular novels with HarperCollins and Dorchester, infusing her growing Christian beliefs into her writing. Then she made a conscious effort to change her path—to writing inspirational fiction for the CBA market.
In 2008, her book Splitting Harriet won the ACFW “Book of the Year” award. She is also a two-time RITA Award Finalist, and her book Faking Grace was an ACFW “Book of the Year” Finalist.
Creativity is often innate. Did you begin writing as a child?
I certainly did begin my writing journey as a child. By my teenage years, I was composing short stories and attempting full-length novels.
Was there an a-ha moment when you decided to turn writing into a career, or did your interest in it develop slowly?
Since my self confidence was such that I considered publication an unattainable dream, it wasn’t until I was twenty eight and working as a speech pathologist that I returned to my love of writing in hopes of a career that would allow me to stay home with the children my husband and I hoped to have. Writing during after school hours, it took about six months to write my first medieval romance. Six months later, I had a contract for what would be titled Warrior Bride and three other books.
Do you (or did you) have other career aspirations? What would you want to do if you didn’t write books?
Though I dreamed of becoming a writer when I was a teenager, I took the safe and sure route and pursued a master’s degree in Speech and Language Pathology. So, if I hadn’t taken a chance on publication, I would still be a speech pathologist, I imagine. I very much enjoyed working with children.
You write women’s fiction with a touch of humor. What genre do you prefer to read when kicking back with a good book?
I read a variety of genres. What I choose when I kick back all depends on my mood. Sometimes I want something light and humorous that I don’t have to think too much about. Other times, I want my heart strings pulled hard. Yet other times, I want to learn something or be inspired by a true story.
Who/what influenced your writing career the most?
Reading, reading, reading. I longed to be able to transport others as I was transported.
It’s difficult to break into book publishing. What was your big break? How did it come about?
I was very blessed. In late 1992, when my Warrior Bride manuscript was complete, I went the agent route, though it wasn’t necessary since most publishers were still accepting unsolicited manuscripts. My agent told me that if I made a few changes to the manuscript, she believed she could find a publisher. It took about a month to tackle the changes (I was a little stubborn), but a week after sending the revised manuscript to my agent, she had multiple offers on the book. I signed a four-book contract with Bantam.
What advice would you give young writers who are looking for their first break?
Be realistic (you may be published, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to quit your day job—ever), be in tune (read plenty of books in the genre in which you aspire to be published), be informed (study writing craft books and take online writing courses), be connected (join writer groups and attend writing conferences).
How does your faith play into your writing?
Faith has played into all my published books to one degree or another. When I began writing secular medieval romance in the 1990’s, I was seeking my faith, and I believe my characters from that time period reflect my own struggles. By the time I transitioned from the secular market to the inspirational market, I had found my faith. That’s not to say I’m not still piecing it together. I certainly am. There’s always something to learn and to grow through. Wonderfully, by superimposing my faith struggles on my characters and helping them work through them, I often find my own way out of those struggles.
Has God ever provided an unexpected “detour” in your life that turned out to be positive?
In 1994, my first medieval romance, Warrior Bride, was published in the secular market—yes, there were requisite love scenes. Six more books followed, during which my faith grew and wove its way into the stories. That was a problem for my editors who wanted more love scenes, not “religion.”
Feeling “caught between a rock and a hard place,” I went back and forth over whether or not to cross to the “other side”. The “rock” represented the secular romances with which I’d had success, while the “hard place” represented the possibly failure-riddled world of Christian romance.
While I clung to what I believed was safe, God kept “calling” me—when I spent time in his Word, when my sister lovingly questioned the content of my books, when my editors slashed scenes that had too much “religion,” and when my oldest son reached the age where he had the ability to read a book written by his mother. Yes, I snatched it out of his innocent little hand.
Finally, I did “cross to the other side”—only to question God when I learned medieval romance doesn’t do particularly well in the inspirational market. I groaned when my agent asked for something different, but eventually pulled out a story I’d written years earlier to relieve my pen and paper craving following a boycott of the publishing world. Thus, Stealing Adda, a humorous take on the life of a romance writer, was my entry into the Christian market, and five more books have followed. Talk about a positive change!
Where do you get your ideas for books? Do your characters or your plots usually come first?
I believe my books are driven by a mix of character and plot, though if I had to put one in front of the other, I’d say character comes first. As for my ideas for books, they come from various places—current world issues, hurdles I face myself, situations I observe from near or far, and sometimes straight out of the blue.
Writing is hard work. How do you discipline yourself to write every day? Do you have a writing routine? Where do you write?
Writing is definitely hard work, which is the reason discipline and routine are necessary. Typically, I write Monday through Friday while our boys are in school. Sometimes I write at home, and other times I write at coffee shops or bookstores (both of which provide delicious Caramel Macchiatos).
Let’s talk about your new book! Nowhere Carolina is the second in your Southern Discomfort series for Multnomah Books. Tell us a little about it.
Maggie Pickwick is a lifetime away from her days as head cheerleader and the mistakes she made in high school. Twelve years later, this single mom has traded pompoms for an auctioneer’s gavel, popularity for peace and quiet, and strives to be a good example for her daughter, Devyn. She’s keeping it together just fine—until an old flame moves back to her little North Carolina town. Renowned artist, Reece Thorpe, wants nothing to do with Maggie—not after what she did in high school—but he might also be Devyn’s father. Fed by her own pride and fear for her daughter’s happiness, Maggie finds herself on a slippery slope of white lies as she attempts to convince Reece that she’s changed. But the truth has a way of making itself known, and now Maggie’s past and present mistakes could ruin her chance at love.
Where did you get the idea for this book and the series?
Growing up out west, my mother would sometimes talk about her small hometown of Marion, North Carolina. I was intrigued with the differences in Southern culture and values and they simmered in the back of my mind for years and years. My husband and I moved to Tennessee fifteen years ago and, as I continued to write, the South with all its beauty, charm, and quirks began to flow into my writing. So when it came time to submit a new proposal, I decided to give it full license, drawing on my mother’s experiences from 50 years ago and my own current experiences. And so the Southern Discomfort series was born.
Besides providing entertainment, what is the one thing you hope readers will take away from this book?
When a reader closes Nowhere Carolina, I hope she does so with a greater desire to draw near God—to listen to Him no matter how soft or loud He may speak, to believe Him no matter how unbelievable His love may seem, and to trust Him no matter how frightening that may be. If anyone can turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, it’s Him.
What is your current writing project?
I’m busy completing the third book in my Southern Discomfort series, titled Sleepless in Carolina.
A few fun questions…
When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?
Regardless of whether or not the words are flowing, a caramel macchiato (I know, not considered a food) feels delightful between my hands. To celebrate…that is definitely cause for dark chocolate.
This website features writers as well as musicians, so I like to mix it up a bit. Do you have musical, as well as literary, talent?
Hint: I often mouth praise songs at church so as not to offend anyone. I guess that about covers it.
What kind of music do you listen to when you’re relaxing with the radio or an mp3 player? Does music help you write?
I enjoy a variety of artists, but the ones that immediately come to mind are Enya, Sarah Brightman, Casting Crowns, One Republic, and Texas. I rarely write to music, but when I do it has to be entirely instrumental or I’ll jump the track of my story to sing along. And there goes my word count…
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
I think I’d be the type of song that Enya sings—drifty, dreamy, romantic.
Are you a major or a minor chord?
Uh…minor? Not being musically minded (the clarinet stint in middle school didn’t stick), I’m guessing on this one. As in…low key?
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
My introvert tendencies probably peg me in the eyes of others as the mysterious woman in dark glasses; however, more often I feel like the little girl trying to walk in high heels. But then, I never did quite get the hang of balancing on a point.
I’m a dog lover and I know you are too. Please tell us about your pets. What is your favorite dog breed?
We have a Doberman Pinscher that thinks it’s a locomotive and a Shih-Tzu that is best described as a “grumpy old man.” As for a favorite breed, I’m obviously partial to Dobermans and Shih-Tzus, but I do miss our wrinkled old Shar-Pei that passed away years ago.
Thanks, Tamara! It’s been fun having you as a guest—just as much fun as reading your books!
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For additional information about Tamara Leigh, log on to her website at www.tamaraleigh.com.
To purchase Nowhere Carolina, log on to http://www.amazon.com/Nowhere-Carolina-Novel-Southern-Discomfort/dp/1601421672/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1274750753&sr=8-1
Have you ever visited a hospital maternity ward? It’s a positive reminder of the perpetuation of life. A new birth can provoke many emotions within us: celebration, expectation and, perhaps, apprehension. But mostly love.
You can spot the new grandparents a mile away. They’re the ones with a permanent smile attached to their faces. There is a special love in their eyes as they behold their grandchild for the first time—and no way to explain later to that child how his grandmother or grandfather felt about him at his birth. Words are not adequate. Pictures are not adequate.
It must be the same for our Heavenly Father, Who loves us beyond our human inadequacies. We can only imagine the love in His eyes at our birth, and again at our rebirth. We are loved by Him more than a thousand grandparents could ever do. And, even though He has known us since before we were formed in the womb, it must be a delight for Him when we join the family of God—for eternity.
Related reading: Jeremiah 1:15; Matthew 7:9-11; 1John 3:1-2; John 3:16
~ Kathy Harris
I first dreamed of being a writer when I was seven years old, and I pursued that dream through high school and college. After graduating with a degree in journalism, I received an unexpected job offer—the chance to move to Nashville and work in the music industry.
It was an exciting opportunity, and I put my writing goals on hold and moved to Tennessee. For a while I supplemented my income by writing music bios and magazine articles, but my full-time job eventually became an all-consuming career. It has been fun and challenging and fulfilling, and I can’t imagine my life without the unexpected turn it took.
But the spark of my passion for writing remained, and a few years ago I began writing again. I joined writers groups and studied the craft for the second time. After a few non-fiction successes, I eventually signed my second inspirational fiction manuscript to an agent.
A prominent radio talk show host recently commented how we often fail to see the solutions to those problems that are closest to us. From the distance of several decades, I can now see that my music career was a detour providing me with the experiences and knowledge I needed to write my novels. All along, God knew the best way to reach my goal was by way of His plan, not mine. I’m grateful for the Divine Detour He put in my life.
This website is about people whose names and/or work you will recognize. Those whose Divine Detours have taken them on noteworthy journeys in the world of music or writing. Sometimes both.
I hope you will visit often and let me share their stories.
~ Kathy Harris