Andy Andrews Interview: How One Simple Act Can Change History: 'The Butterfly Effect'
Best-selling novelist and internationally known speaker Andy Andrews was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 22, 1958. He lived a relatively normal life until the age of 19, when both his parents died – his mother from cancer, his father in an automobile accident.
Within a span of several years, the young man found himself literally homeless, sleeping occasionally under a pier on the Gulf Coast or in someone’s garage. It was then that he began on his quest to find the answers to how people made the critical decisions in their lives that led to their successes.
“I hate to go back to this, but Jesus said, ‘We are to be fishers of men.’ Well, any fisherman knows that if you beat the fish over the head with a lure he’s going to run from you. If you’re going to be a fisher of men, something has to be a little bit attractive.”
The rest is history. The “Seven Decisions,” as he calls them, were the engines used to carry Andrews’ life in a different direction and more than 20 years later, those same Seven Decisions became the outline for his book The Traveler’s Gift.
The masterful storyteller has kept millions around the world spellbound with The Traveler’s Gift, Mastering the Seven Decisions, The Noticer, Return to Sawyerton Springs, and The Heart Mender. Recently two new works were released, The Butterfly Effect, a book exploring a scientific theory based on physics within the context of our own lives, and The Boy Who Changed the World, Andrews’ first children’s book.
Andrews lives in Orange Beach, Alabama, with his wife Polly and their two sons.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Andy, what was the inspiration for The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters?
Andy Andrews: It was actually in response to the suicide challenge that the Air Force was having when I worked with them a few years ago. It was a way to prove how much somebody mattered. The military as a while had discovered that suicide had become more prevalent within their ranks than with the civilian population as a whole.
What they had found in so many attempted suicides was the fact that many times people were making final decisions to do this, not necessarily when they’re mad or depressed or sad (even though that had something to do with it), but when they decided that they didn’t matter at all. We can all get encouragement from our families that tell us we belong, but this is actual proof that we all matter.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did you choose Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and George Washington Carver as examples for the story?
Andy Andrews: It was so obvious to me about what a difference those two people had made; yet very few people had heard about them. Most people haven’t heard about Chamberlain at all and some do not know much about Carver beyond what he did with the peanut. The choice Chamberlain made 150 years ago has our world and our nation operating as it does and Carver was part of the chain of that butterfly effect that literally has been credited to saving over two billion people in the world from famine.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): As you say in the book, if the South had won the Civil War, the entire United States would have turned out totally different.
Andy Andrews: Yeah. I always thought that if the South won we’d be the South and the North, but that’s obviously not what would have happened.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Some Christian reviewers have claimed that in the book you are speaking about providence and that you have substituted the word “universe” for the word “God.”
Andy Andrews: Well, you know, I have a real challenge sometimes with Christians … you know, I’m a Christian, too, and it’s a very important part of my life. But, the Great Commission was very direct. It told us that we were to go into the world and bring people into the knowledge and presence of Christ, to go into the world and tell all about Him.
Jesus never said, “Yea though I stand at the top of your neighbor’s throat waiting for you to shove me down.” What I do is write books that Christians can give to their non-Christian friends that they will actually read. You and I both know (as much as I love Billy Graham) that if we give our non-church going friends a Billy Graham book they’re not going to read it.
I don’t know of any book that will make them say, “You know what? I’m in church for the rest of my life because of this book. I’m a Christian now because of this book.” Statistics still show that more than 80% of people who come to church for the first time go because of a relationship with somebody else. I’ve read some of those reviews that say, “Well, you didn’t say that God made the butterfly flap its wings.” Well, I mean, come on. We’re assuming a little sense here.
What I want people to be able to do is give a book to people that will mean something to them and will create a conversation about the butterfly and who created the butterfly and the purpose that God has for their lives. This is a book you can read in 15 minutes and a lot of people will. This is not a book you’ll give somebody and they’ll say, “Ah, there’s another one I’m not going to read.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Andy, are you also saying in the book that people who are in your life for only a few minutes have an effect on you even though it may not be positive?
Andy Andrews: Absolutely they do. Think about where your thoughts go when you meet a person or what happens when you go left instead of right. These things set your life on a different track. That’s why God gave us the opportunity to make choices, but He also expects us to know that every single choice we make has consequences. It’s not just the big choices. It’s the little choices, too.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Someone that had a positive influence on you was Jonas, as you discussed in the book The Noticer.
Andy Andrews: Yeah, he had a huge effect on my life.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The Boy Who Changed the World is basically The Butterfly Effect for children.
Andy Andrews: Right. It leaves out the story of the Civil War stuff and it concentrates entirely on Norman Borlaug, George Washington Carver, Henry Wallace, and Moses Carver.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I thought it was great that the book shares a history lesson as well as teach that we all matter in the world.
Andy Andrews: Yeah.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): At what age do you think children will be able to understand the message that they do matter in the world?
Andy Andrews: There are many people that tell me they are reading the book to their three and four year olds and they’re looking at the pictures. But I think it’s probably at six or seven that somebody would begin to understand a little more about the meaning of the book. I read the book to my son’s 5th grade class and they loved it. It’s all over the map. It just depends.
People are different and kids see something at different ages. While your child may understand it at five mine may not understand it until he’s eight. It’s just like adults. Thank goodness the vast majority of the book reviews are five stars, but there still are some people who say, “Well, you didn’t mention God in The Butterfly Effect.” Well, in the one for children, I actually do.
I hate to go back to this, but Jesus said, “We are to be fishers of men.” Well, any fisherman knows that if you beat the fish over the head with a lure he’s going to run from you. If you’re going to be a fisher of men, something has to be a little bit attractive. To think that people are going to respond to a book that beats them over the head basically reinforces everything they believe about us Christians (laughs). To me, if we want people to come to our churches and believe what we believe, it really does help if they like us just a little bit.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Don’t you think that sometimes it’s easier to teach children these messages than it is to teach adults?
Andy Andrews: Oh absolutely it is because children don’t have the entrenched feeling, which is part of the reason that the word “G-O-D” is in the children’s book. We actually want to attract people to the other book, so there’s already tons of evidence that this works.
The Heart Mender is not a religious book either but it certainly teaches the principles of forgiveness. You may not get them to read a Billy Graham book but you can get them to read about submarines in the Gulf of Mexico in WW II and a young American widow who finds a wounded German and hides him in 1942 America. You can get people to read that. Along the way they learn about forgiveness and learn about a belief system that I believe in and it creates questions.
There are pastors using these books in their churches for sermons so it’s an exciting thing for me, but I won’t tell you that it doesn’t aggravate me when people don’t get it (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I understand that. I thought both books were beautifully done also in terms of the illustrations. Does Philip Hurst (The Boy Who Changed the World) primarily illustrate children’s books?
Andy Andrews: I’m not sure. He’s in England and the publisher is the one who put the word out for people to audition or whatever for this book. When I saw his work I thought, “Oh my God!” My boys love to look at pictures and it’s funny to me to watch children open this book and touch the pictures. They run their fingertips over the fire he created when the barn burned and they touch the water. The illustrations make the book.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is there anything new on The Heart Mender film project?
Andy Andrews: That’s one of those kinds of things that is ongoing and forever it seems like. We’ve got three different books that are contracted for movies so sometimes I think, “Well, I bet The Traveler’s Gift comes out before The Heart Mender.” Six months later I’ll think, “Wow, it looks like The Noticer is taking the lead.” Right now I’m thinking that The Noticer is going to be the first one at the theaters. But it could be years. I don’t really control that. I don’t really control the book schedules either, but I have a little more to do with that, I think.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, there was already a movie called The Butterfly Effect.
Andy Andrews: Right. It won’t be that name and that’s an odd film. That’s not my style.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you been traveling the past few weeks?
Andy Andrews: I’m participating in all the women of faith events this year and next year. This year I’m heading to the ones east of the Mississippi and then next year I’m doing the events west of the Mississippi. It’s wild because every Friday I’m speaking in an arena somewhere in the country between now and Thanksgiving and it’s with 10,000 and 20,000 women, 8 or 10 women speakers, and me (laughs). I tell people that I’m carrying their luggage and pouring their coffee for them.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Lisa Whelchel (formerly of The Facts of Life) is part of the women of faith conference.
Andy Andrews: Yeah, a friend and I had dinner with her recently and she is so sweet. My sister loved The Facts of Life so I got Lisa to call her. We were laughing and giggling because “Blair” from The Facts of Life called my sister who was just thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to her.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sounds like you and Lisa made your sister’s day! Andy, how are the beaches looking down there?
Andy Andrews: Everything is looking really good. It’s one of those kinds of things where we hold our breath a little bit wondering when the other shoe is going to drop and if this oil’s going to show up because nobody knows where it is. But the beaches right now are looking great!
It’s been a little discouraging for our buddies that have some businesses down here. The media really scared people away when we had oil on the beaches for a couple of weeks so the tourists stayed away all summer, but people can see for themselves that it looks good.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I know you’re enjoying the football season and have brought your two sons up in the strong tradition of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Andy Andrews: Absolutely. I took the boys to the locker rooms before the season started and I have a great photo of them getting their wrists and ankles wrapped with Mark Ingram (2009 Heisman Trophy winner). They were in the training room and the trainers were working on them before practice. My boys got that done on a Thursday. Mark and all the guys were taking their wraps off right after the practice that day, but my sons kept their wraps on until after church on the following Sunday (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That is too funny! Are you working on another book now?
Andy Andrews: I’ve got one coming out in April and it is a kind of a continuation of The Traveler’s Gift so I’m very excited about that. It’s called The Final Summit. The book kinds of stands alone, but David Ponder is the main character and it happens after The Traveler’s Gift. In other words, people who love The Traveler’s Gift are really going to love this book.
Photo Credits: Front slider illustration courtesy of Andy Andrews
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