Mitch Albom is known for many things - his work during his days as a sports journalist for the Detroit Free Press, his best-selling novels and the work he does with charity. He has penned number one best sellers on the New York Times best sellers list with "For One More Day" and "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" and his book "Tuesdays with Morrie" is considered by many to be one of the best pieces of literature of this generation.
His new book "The First Phone Call From Heaven," however, is sure to strike a pleasant chord with Michiganders, especially those locally, as Alpena is one of two primary settings in the book.
The majority of the story takes place in Coldwater but as unearthly events unfold in the small town a reporter from Alpena County is sent to cover the breaking news. Albom said he wanted to pick a small lakeside town to be the location for the centerpiece of the story, but also needed a town with a slightly larger population to have a role as well. Coldwater was chosen for the main setting and Alpena as the other.
"I wanted to put it in Michigan, because I love my state and I wanted to bring my state into a story of mine. I haven't really done that before," Albom said. "I wanted the town to be way up and sort of out of the way. I found that and then I needed to have a little larger city and Alpena was one that had a major independent television station and therefore Alpena was chosen."
The story centers on the people of Coldwater, some of whom begin getting phone calls from family members who are dead. As news of the "miracle" spreads, media, worshipers and protesters flock to the town to challenge its legitimacy, or to possibly be contacted by a loved one who had died. Albom said his inspiration for the book came from the relationship he currently has with him mother, who was stricken by strokes and is unable to speak.
"That got me thinking about the preciousness of the human voice and how much I miss hearing her talk. I haven't heard her talk for 3 1/2 years," Albom said. "She is still alive and I can look at her, but I can't hear her voice and it is like you really lose someone once you can't hear them speak. It got me to thinking about a story about the human voice and connected it to what if we could hear those voices from heaven and they could convince us they were OK."
Albom leads his readers on a journey that bring out a variety of emotions. He said he intended for this book to be a little different than the others and more of a mystery.
"It is a much longer book than anything I have written before and you really don't know what is going to happen next," Albom said. "A rollercoaster is part of what I'm trying to create and I think this is really what would happen if this were to really happen."
As with his other books, there is a great deal of spiritualism and religious tones in "The First Phone Call From Ever." Albom said he likes writing about topics of faith, because he wants to provoke thought and let the reader draw their own conclusion.
"I'm not trying, and I have never tried to tell people what they should believe or this is what you shouldn't believe," Albom said. "I just want to people to think about the questions."
Albom said he is busy promoting the new book and there is a possibility "The First Phone Call From Heaven" could become a movie. He said he is busy with his charity work and is also in the early stages of writing his next book.
"It is in the works and it is actually set in the music world, which is something that is very dear to me," Albom said. "I was a musician before I was a writer and it is something I love very much. The book is still a long way off and right now I just want to enjoy this."
Alpena Convention and Visitors Bureau President Mary Beth Stutzman has extended an invitation to Albom to visit Alpena and he said he would like to arrange a stop.
"I'm trying to arrange a trip to Coldwater and I'll see if we can do a similar thing with Alpena, seeing Alpena plays a key part in the story," Albom said. "I will make my way up there to do a talk or book signing. I promise I will get up there."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review ... at www.thealpenanews.com.