Shaken Awake: The Complete Trilogy - Behind the Story

On Tuesday, January 7, 2014, I walked into my office on the 5th floor of Colony Square (14th and Peachtree ST, Atlanta). I sipped the tall blonde coffee that I had grabbed at the Starbucks at the base of the building and read the headlines on the Atlanta Journal Constitution app on my phone. I was shocked to read that a a 70-year-old homeless man, Charlie Perkins, was been found dead just a few blocks from where I was sitting. He had frozen to death sleeping on the street. The news rattled my soul. I looked out the window of my office at all the high rise apartment and office buildings a strong contrast of wealth and the poverty of the homeless just below them.

I thought about the man in the army coat and thick military issued black framed glasses that I had just spoken to in the Starbucks as I did every morning. A man who I recognized was homeless. I thought about the older homeless woman who sat in the food court just outside the folding gate to Chick-Fil-A waiting for it to open. I thought about the white haired and white bearded man with the huge backpack that usually sat one table over from her quietly waiting for breakfast.

My work day proceeded on, but my thoughts continued to return to the shocking news that someone had frozen to death a few blocks outside my office and the city carried on as normal. It was surreal.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 started as just another cold windy day in the city. When I went downstairs for lunch, I sat in Chick-Fil-A and noticed it had started snowing - not the slow, light snow Atlanta was accustomed to seeing. It was falling fast and quickly accumulating. You can read my entire account of the winter storm written two days after the events here: Atlanta Snowapocolypse

After the storm, I began writing Shaken Awake, the first of three stories which would eventually lead to the trilogy. Once I started writing the story just flowed. I found myself grabbing my phone and jotting notes at lunch or when waiting in line somewhere. In 2013, my wife and I had launched a nonprofit performing food rescue, and we had been working with partner agencies that provided food to struggling individuals and families. That experience coupled with our experience meeting families while volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and my personal interactions with the homeless I encountered in and around Colony Square provided me with a great deal of insight into the struggles of the homeless.

Not long after Shaken Awake had been published, I began receiving feedback that it ended too abruptly, and it didn't show how the church responded to the community after the storm. Honestly, I had intentionally written an abrupt ending as an invitation for the reader to write themselves into the book and write their own ending. This recurring sentiment did not seem to fade away. So kinda like Steve Goodman after receiving David Alan Coe's feedback, I wrote Awakened as a sequel to resolve Shaken Awake for the reader. I had followed the ministry of Alan Graham and Mobile Loaves and Fishes in Austin, Texas which operates food trucks providing meals, socks, and blankets to the homeless in their city. And I had followed their work constructing Community First! I got a copy of Alan's book Welcome Homeless: One Man's Journey of Discovering the Meaning of Home,and fell in love with the story of how community was changing the lives of homeless in Austin. I then read Under The Overpass by Mike Yankoski and Not Just a One Night Stand by John Flowers and Karen Vannoy.

After Awakened was published, my good friend, Bill Barton began a relentless campaign that he wanted to see the how the characters that moved into the community found themselves a role in serving others. After his continual nudging, I volunteered with a service learning organization to take a group of college students to Community First! for a week. I volunteered in the community during that week and listened to the stories of everyone I met. I chatted with Alan Graham and asked questions. I listened to staff members and volunteers detailing how they created a community that provides healing and restoration.

After the trip to Austin, I wrote Woke! as the third and final story in the trilogy. During the editing phase, I developed a strong sense that none of the books really stood on their own individual merit, but needed each other to be complete. I made the decision not to release Woke! as a single book, but to instead release the complete trilogy under one cover.

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