By Sharon Harl | Photos Provided by Dana Wilkerson
Born in St. Louis, Dana’s family moved just west of the city to Montgomery County before her second birthday. Country living suited the family, and Dana and her older brother Chad joined 4-H and spent their summers going to county and state fairs to show their sheep.
The siblings were also highly involved in Odyssey of the Mind, which is a creative problem-solving com- petition. Coached by their mom and joined by other students, they created such devices as air-powered vehicles, various contraptions that would propel objects from one location to another, skits about such things as the Seven Wonders of the World, and a host of other creative endeavors. Dana was part of three different teams that had the opportunity to compete in Odyssey of the Mind World Finals competitions in Boulder, Colorado; Knoxville, Tennessee; andCollege Park, Maryland.
Their travel took them all over the country, even to the Lake of theOzarks. Dana says she has great memories of the Lake. When she was growing up, every year the family came to the Lake and stayed at Tan-Tar-A. Her mother was a teacher and attended the annual state teacher’s convention there, while the kids were free to revel in all the fun things at the resort. The family also relished spending weekends at the Windermere Baptist Conference Center with church friends.
The entire Wilkerson family enjoys sports and recreation, and are diehard St. Louis Cardinals fans. Dana distinctly remembers the 1987 World Series, when her brother got to go to a game while she had to stay home. But she got even when she and her dad saw the Cardinals win the World Series in 2011 at their home stadium in St. Louis. The family has had season tickets for the last 20 years. In addition, every year since 1998, Dana’s parents go to Jupiter, Florida, for three weeks to watch spring training. When her calendar allows, Dana tries to stay for two of those weeks.
Dana grew up knowing she wanted to teach. But it wasn’t until her senior year at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, when she was a student teacher, that she decid- ed the public school classroom wasn’t for her. Dana says she felt God was leading her in a different direction. So she continued her education earning a Masters of Divinity in Christian Education at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
She has always been involved in her church, and after finishing her masters degree Dana got a job as a Sunday School curriculum editor at Group Publishing in Loveland, Colorado.
Two years later, she started a freelance business offering writing and editing services. “I am here to help create, shape and put finish- ing touches on projects or manuscripts so you can focus your time and energy on other areas,” Dana states on her web page.
One of the aspects of her job is creating Sunday School lesson plans for small-group leaders—the new politically correct replace- ment for Sunday School teachers.
“Each month, a group of writers brainstorms to come up with ac- tivities,” Dana says. The activities include hands-on lessons making crafts, science experiments, games and writing exercises. “They all tie in to one basic point and Bible story,” she says.
She expresses that the lesson plans are very detailed, because the majority of the small-group leaders are not trained educators. Each lesson plan gives step-by-step instructions on how to do each ac- tivity. The plan also tells leaders what to say to help kids make the connection of the activity to the Bible lesson.
“Small-group leaders and children’s ministers have the option of giving us feedback,” Dana says. “We take (comments) into consider- ation in writing future lessons.” To date, she has written more than 200 children’s curriculum lessons.
FROM LESSONS TO BOOKS
On November 24, 1993, an event oc- curred that 19 years later would make Dana a best-selling author.
That day, Kim and Krickitt Carpenter were on their way to Krickitt’s parents’ house for Thanksgiving. Their Ford Escort was involved in a horrific collision with two trucks. The couple, who had only been married for 10 weeks, were rushed to the hospi- tal with severe injuries. Krickitt sustained a fractured skull and remained in a coma for three weeks. When she awoke she rec- ognized everyone except her husband. When asked, she said she wasn’t married.
Doctors said she had retrograde and post-traumatic amnesia. All memories of the previous 18 months were erased. Because both Kim and Krickitt were deeply religious people, they were determined to keep the vow they made. The couple began dating and eventually fell in love again. They repeated their vows in an- other wedding ceremony on May 25, 1996.
The couple sold movie rights to Spyglass Entertainment, but the studio sat on the story. B&H Publishing Group published their story in 2000, but surprisingly, the book didn’t sell well.
When B&H heard the film was in production in 2011, it was decided to revamp the original book. Dana had previously done some editing and collaborative writing for B&H, and they tapped her for this project. The publisher wanted to revise the book and add a chapter about what had transpired in the 10 years since the original publication. Dana took on the project, interacting with the Carpenters via e-mail. When the book was republished in February 2012, The Vow became No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list.
And although critics wrote mostly negative reviews about the movie, when it debuted—also in February 2012—it was No. 1 in the box office, earning more than $65 million in the first week.
But the book and the movie are very different. The movie was ad- vertised as “inspired by true events,” and indeed it shows a horrific car crash resulting in the wife having amnesia. But that is where any similarity with the Carpenters’ story ends. There is no mention of
God or honoring the commitment they made. “They took out all faith aspects,” Dana says.
Soon after the book came out, Dana began to get offers to write or collaborate on other books. She was contacted to help write Balancing It All — a book about Candace Cameron Bure that reached No. 2 on the New York Times best-seller list. Candace is best known as the actress who played D.J. Tanner on the television sitcom Full House. “I spent time getting to know her,” Dana says. “She’s a good writer but doesn’t have time.” The book is the story of how Candace manages all the aspects of her life. “… sometimes it seems as if life isn’t so much a balancing act as a juggling act,” from an excerpt of the book.
Dana kept in contact with Candace via e-mail. “I’d send an email saying ‘I need 500 words about best friends.’ ”
In her latest collaboration, Every Reason to Leave: And Why We Chose to Stay Together, Dana wrote with Vicki Rose, wife of Bill Rose, part owner of the New York Yankees. The book is about the faith journey the couple took trying to save what many said was an irreparable marriage. The two were separated for 51⁄2 years, during which time each grew in their faith in God. They now have a strong marriage. “It’s a very compelling story,” Dana says.
Because Dana travels a great deal, but most of her work is done by computer, her parents urged her to move from St. Louis to Lake Ozark and live in the family condo. Dana remembers her mother saying, “Why spend money for an apartment in St. Louis when you can live for free at the Lake?”
Dana moved to Lake Ozark in 2011 and joined The Church at Osage Hills, which has a congregation of 800, and became a mem- ber of the worship team. Two or three times a month Dana sang or played the keyboard. Then she became a member of the worship
leadership team, whose job it is to schedule musicians and decide what songs to sing during worship services.
Dana, now 39, recently moved to Nashville. “I felt God leading me,” she says, and that Nashville is the hub of Christian publishing. “It’s good to be with people you work with,” she says, adding that the city is a lot of fun for a single person and is really growing.
When asked what’s next on her journey she hesitates. “I’m not sure,” She replies. “At some point I would like to write fiction for a general audience.”
But for now, she is happy and secure in the knowledge that she is where God wants her to be.
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