American novelist Thomas C. Wolfe famously wrote in the 1930s, “you can’t go home again,” but Baton Rouge native Sammy Tippit isn’t on the same page.
In his latest novel, a Christian mystery-thriller, Tippit does just that.
Tippit, who lives in San Antonio with his wife Debara, better known as “Tex,” grew up in Baton Rouge and graduated from Istrouma High School in 1965, a time and place that coincides with Win Bass, Tippet’s fictional main character in “Running Home.”
“I was thinking, ‘What if someone who was from here came back and discovered he had a family he didn’t know he had?’ How shocking that would be,” says Tippit, 68, who came home to Baton Rouge this summer for his Istrouma High School class’ 50th reunion.
Win Bass may seem familiar to Baton Rouge readers, “but he is a purely fictional character,” says Tippit, with a big smile and a twinkle in his blue eyes. “He’s nobody we know.”
Both Bass and Tippit ran track in high school, but Bass broke state records while Tippit was “nothing outstanding,” he recalls. He and Bass are the same age, and they both still run for fun and competition on a regular basis. Tippit won the Texas seniors 400-meter championship in 2009, and in the book, Bass won the 400-meter race in the 2007 World Masters track and field championship in Italy. But that’s where the similarities diverge.
Tippit, who says he majored in partying at LSU his freshman year, became a born-again Christian and left college to become a self-proclaimed “Jesus freak” street preacher and get married. While he and Tex raised two children, his ministry blossomed into international evangelism, and for decades, he’s been preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to millions of people in 80 countries. Just before his summer trip back to Baton Rouge, he had returned from a three-week tour of meetings with some small groups of “secret” Christians in places he says he can’t publicly talk about.
Bass, on the other hand, got his girlfriend, Grace, pregnant on prom night and dodged the draft by hitchhiking to California, where he made some unsavory friends. He got into the drug scene and disappeared from Baton Rouge friends and family, including Grace and the baby she named Hope. Ultimately, Bass landed in prison.
Upon his release, he moved to Seattle, where he joined a start-up computer company and took up running again with some of his coworkers.
“One of them had a Bible study after running,” Tippit says, “and one day, he realizes there is a void in his life because he has been running the wrong race.”
Bass finds salvation in Christ, and when the computer company’s stock goes public, he becomes a millionaire. And that is where the “Running Home” story actually begins.
While driving to Baton Rouge to compete in an “all comers” race, Bass stops at a Texas truck stop, where he rescues a 14-year-old African-American girl who was kidnapped from his old Baton Rouge neighborhood.
“Most people don’t know it, but the average age of a girl trafficked in the United States is 13 years old,” Tippit says.
He recommends readers join him and Truckers Against Trafficking in “halting the darkness of human trafficking.”
The action speeds up, the story gets more complicated — as good thrillers are supposed to do — and Bass discovers a talented high-school runner he competes against is his own grandson.
Restoring a relationship broken 44 years ago with Grace and building a new one with daughter Hope are accomplished only through an abundance of humility and forgiveness seasoned with much prayer.
“The story of him finding family he didn’t know he had and the longing for family leads him into an infestation of human traffickers,” Tippit says. Then, “once he finds family, he loses his family because of human traffickers.”
Those same New Orleans criminals trafficking young girls also kidnap the grandson and entrap a well-known Baton Rouge pastor by loan-sharking — a failure that costs him his ministry. The pastor’s shame and repentance coincide with a prayer vigil for the kidnapped grandson that opens the windows of heaven in a revival so powerful it is reported by all the local news media.
Tippit has written 17 books, most of them with Bible themes. “Running Home” is the first of what he calls the “Louisiana Light” series, and a second installment is nearly completed.
The book is receiving many positive reviews and is available at Amazon and other Web-based book sellers and at runninghome-anovel.com.