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 Knightstown Author Mark Tabb Continues to Build on Success

June 25, 2008 - When he isn't volunteering with the local fire department or playing a round of golf, Mark Tabb can be found spending time with his family or working on projects at his 100-year-old home. On the flip side, however, he also writes books with actors Stephen and Alec Baldwin and New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte.

These are just typical activities for Tabb. Originally from Oklahoma, Tabb began a career as a firefighter before graduating from Criswell College, a ministry leadership school in Dallas, in 1986. He later became a pastor at several churches in Oklahoma and California.

He then moved to the Midwest to pursue a master's and a doctorate degree, and later came to Knightstown after being contacted for a pastoral position by a local church. Once in Knightstown, Tabb continued to publish a general column in The Banner that he had started at a small local paper in California. The column, “Foundations for Living,” ran in The Banner until just a few years ago.

In 2002, Tabb began writing full-time. Having written several books on his own, he was contacted to do a collaborative book, Strike Zone, with Pettitte, in 2003. In 2005 Tabb connected with Stephen Baldwin. Their first book, The Unusual Suspect, was published in 2006.

As far as book ideas go, Tabb gets inspiration from different places. When the big storms hit the area recently, he was with the Knightstown-Wayne Township Volunteer Fire Department when he got the idea to translate the experience into a scene from a rescue worker's perspective for an upcoming book.

For Tabb, a typical day can vary depending upon whether or not he’s on deadline. While working against a deadline, he tries to write 5,000 words a day. Sitting at his desk with his laptop in front of him, the author appears calm and cool despite the sweltering heat outside. While he works, Christian rockers Jars of Clay play softly on a small stereo.

Gesturing behind him to a shelf displaying his multiple works, he reminisces about the music he listened to while writing some of his books, including Death Cab for Cutie, The Shins and Jimmy Eat World.

On September 28, Promises to Ourselves, a collaborative book written with Alec Baldwin about the actor’s divorce from actress Kim Basinger, will hit stores. According to Tabb, the critics eagerly anticipate its arrival.

In November, Tabb is set to release a fiction book he wrote with Stephen Baldwin called The Life and Death of Gabriel Phillips. Then, in 2009, the follow up to The Unusual Suspect, titled Dangerous, will be released.

Also on the agenda is a collaborative book with Austin Gutwein, a 14 year-old boy who started Hoops of Hope, an organization that raises money for AIDS orphans in Africa. To raise money, individuals shoot free throws and people sponsor them, much like a walkathon.

When asked to describe how he goes about writing collaborative works with such individuals, Tabb said he listens to a story and decides what is most important. With Hoops of Hope, Tabb had a conference call with Gutwein and his father. It was during that call that Tabb decided his focus would be three concentric circles: Austin; the people in Africa; and the people who got involved with the organization. According to Tabb, the goal for the book is simple. When people close the back cover, he wants them to know how they can make a difference.

Letting a story come out is important to Tabb. This proved to be especially true when he worked with the families of two girls from Taylor University, Whitney Cerak and Laura Van Ryn, who were involved in a fatal car crash in 2006 that killed a total of five people. After the crash, it was thought that Cerak had died. Van Ryn was thought to be in a coma. Five weeks later, however, it was discovered that the girls' identities were switched and it was Cerak who was alive and being cared for by the Van Ryn family. The story made headlines worldwide.

According to Tabb, after the accident, the families of the two girls weren’t interested in doing a book or selling exclusive rights to their tragic story. They turned down interviews, books and an offer to appear on the Oprah Winfrey show. It was only after the one-year memorial service at Taylor University that the families took the idea for a book into consideration. After contacting a media liaison who also happened to be Tabb's agent at the time, Tabb got the job, as the families especially liked his local connections and the fact that he himself had a daughter attending Taylor University.

For the book Mistaken Identity, which was number one on the New York Times Best-Seller List for two weeks and remains on the list today, Tabb spent a week with both the Cerak and Van Ryn families. He listened, took notes and asked questions.

He gathered CDs of the funerals, blogs, journals, letters and other materials that provided information and context. After looking everything over, Tabb decided that he wanted to tell the story from the family's perspective. He wanted the readers to feel like they were sitting beside the families and experiencing the emotions with them.

When the book was released, Oprah Winfrey contacted the families again and asked them to be on the show. Once again they declined. The first interview the families agreed to was with Matt Lauer on the Today Show. According to Tabb, Lauer did an incredible job. Next, the families did a Dateline special. Oprah once again asked them to be on her show and they said no. She asked them to reconsider and on the third attempt, not counting the attempt right after the accident, the families agreed.

Tabb went to Chicago for the taping, but did not go backstage or meet Oprah. For him, the most exciting aspect was seeing Oprah take out a copy of his book and have the pages marked.

"That doesn't happen everyday to some guy who lives in Knightstown," Tabb said.


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