Destiny | #randywillis | Randy Willis

Randy Willis #randywillis

Randy Willis is as much at home in the saddle as he is in front of the computer where he composes his western family sagas.

Randy Willis is an American novelist, biographer, rancher, and music publisher.

Drawing on his family heritage of explorers, settlers, soldiers, cowboys, and pastors, Randy carries on the tradition of loving the outdoors and sharing it in the adventures he creates for readers of his novels.

Randy Willis is the author of Destiny, Twice a Slave, Three Winds Blowing, Louisiana Wind, Beckoning Candle, The Apostle to the Opelousas, The Story of Joseph Willis, and many magazine and newspaper articles.



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Destiny a novel by Randy Willis

About Destiny and In Appreciation

About Destiny and In Appreciation

Destiny is a sweeping family saga that spans four centuries. It begins and ends on Christmas Day, in 1941, at the Ole Willis Place, located on Barber Creek near Longleaf, Louisiana.

The Ole Willis Place was located on present-day Willis Gunter Road, off Boy Scout Road. There are a huge gravel pit and sand dunes next to where the house once stood.

Destiny is the story of two great nations and my ancestor’s struggle from tyranny—religious and political.

Destiny is more than a novel. It is a nonfiction novel inspired by true stories handed down by my ancestors. They depict real historical figures and actual events woven together with imaginary conversations with the use of the storytelling techniques of fiction. Truman Capote claimed to have invented this genre with his book In Cold Blood in 1965.

Destiny—A powerful epic with love stories, battles, testimonies, drama, politics, history, and even humor.

—Randy Randy Willis

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” — C. S. Lewis

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In Appreciation

I’m thankful to the many people that encouraged me to write our family’s history. My first-cousin, Donnie Willis, planted the first seed in my mind to write about our 4th Great-Grandfather, Joseph Willis. Donnie has been pastor of Fenton Baptist Church in Fenton, Louisiana, for 50 years.

I’m also thankful to my sainted grandmother, Lillie Hanks Willis. She had a treasure chest of stories about Joseph Willis and insisted I write them down.

My Uncle Howard Willis was our family’s master storyteller when I was younger. I sat for many hours mesmerized by him. His granddaughter and my cousin Kimberly Willis Holt was inspired by him too. She is a National Book Award Winner, author of When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, My Louisiana Sky, and the Piper Reed series. When Zachary Beaver Came to Town and My Louisiana Sky were adapted as films of the same names.

I’m thankful to my late cousin, and the maternal great-grandson of Joseph Willis, Dr. Greene Wallace Strother. His uncle Polk Willis and Aunt Olive Willis tended to Joseph Willis in his final years, and they shared all that Joseph told them. Dr. Strother gave his vast research to me in 1980. He served as chaplain to General Claire Chennault’s “Flying Tigers” while in China as a missionary. He was a Southern Baptist missionary emeritus to China and Malaysia.

Karon McCartney, Archivist at the Louisiana Baptist Convention, has provided much help in organizing, cataloging, and protecting my research for decades, at the Louisiana Baptist Building in Alexandria.

My fellow historian and friend, the late Dr. Sue Eakin asks me if I would help her with her research on William Prince Ford. I learned much about William Prince Ford and Solomon Northup and their relationship to Joseph Willis from her. She encouraged me to have my research adapted into a play. The play is entitled Twice a Slave and is based upon my novel of the same name. My novel Three Winds Blowing is partly based on the relationship of Joseph Willis with William Prince Ford and Solomon Northup.

Dr. Eakin is best known for documenting, annotating, and reviving interest in Solomon Northup’s 1853 book Twelve Years a Slave. She, at the age of eighteen, rediscovered a long-forgotten copy of Solomon Northup’s book, on the shelves of a bookstore, near the LSU campus, in Baton Rouge. The bookstore owner sold it to her for only 25 cents. In 2013, 12 Years a Slave won the Academy Award for Best Picture. In his acceptance speech for the honor, director Steve McQueen thanked Dr. Eakin: “I’d like to thank this amazing historian, Sue Eakin, whose life, she gave her life’s work to preserving Solomon’s book.”

And above all, I am thankful to the Good Lord. He has given me wells I did not dig, and vineyards I did not plant.

—Randy Willis

“Preach Christ at all times. When necessary,
use words.” —St Francis of Assisi

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About the Author

Randy Willis is an American novelist, rancher, and music publisher.

He is the author of Destiny, Beckoning Candle, Twice a Slave, Three Winds Blowing, Louisiana Wind, The Apostle to the Opelousas, The Story of Joseph Willis and many articles.

Twice a Slave has been chosen as a Jerry B. Jenkins Select Book, along with four bestselling authors. Jerry Jenkins is the author of more than 180 books with sales of more than 70 million copies, including the best-selling Left Behind series.

Twice a Slave has been adapted into a dramatic play at Louisiana College, by Dr. D. “Pete” Richardson (Associate Professor of Theater with Louisiana College).

Randy Willis owns Randy Willis Music Publishing (an ASCAP-affiliated music publishing company), and Town Lake Music Publishing, LLC (a BMI-affiliated music publishing company). He is an ASCAP-affiliated songwriter.

Randy Willis is the founder of Operation Warm Heart, which feeds and clothes the homeless, and is a member of the Board of Directors of Our Mission Possible (empowering at-risk teens to discover their greatness) in Austin, Texas. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Joseph Willis Institute for Great Awakening Studies at Louisiana College.

Randy Willis was born in Oakdale, Louisiana, and lived as a boy, near Longleaf, Louisiana, on Barber Creek. He currently resides in the Texas Hill Country.

Randy Willis graduated from Angleton High School in Angleton, Texas, and Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. He was a graduate student at Texas State University for six years. He is the father of three sons and has four grandchildren.

Randy Willis is the fourth great-grandson of Joseph Willis and his foremost historian.

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the characters in this book visit:


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Blank vintage paper framed branch of Christmas tree on wood

Randy Willis|Destiny is available Christmas Day

Destiny is available Christmas day—at Amazon at this link:

Christmas Day, 1941
Longleaf, Louisiana

Ran Willis arises before sunrise, nestles next to the fireplace, with hot coffee—as alone as the morning star.

The wind whistles through the dogtrot and awakens Julian. He struggles upright, half asleep, and rubs his eyes as he pours a cup of coffee.

“It’s our first white Christmas! Grab some firewood—please. And check on the horses, mules, and the dogs too.”

“Yes, sir, Daddy. Merry Christmas!” Julian shivers as he chips through the frozen water trough with a horseshoe. He gathers the firewood, now covered in two foot of snow. Icicles adorn the trees overhanging Barber Creek. It is cold and rather barren, but it has the loveliness of a Christmas card. And, like a Christmas card, it will hold that image in Julian’s mind for years to come.

Ran’s eldest son, Howard, driving his International Harvester truck, can be heard a mile away as it plows through the snow on the red dirt road. The family knows there will be no snowfall that will prevent Howard from delivering a Christmas tree to the homestead—a real tree, and not one of those artificial, awkwardly bent imitation trees that have no texture, no fragrance, no fullness.

“That’s a big cedar. Let me help.” Julian drags the Christmas tree out of the truck bed.

Howard’s wife Zora cries out, “I need help, too.” Ran clasps her. “Ah-ha! All my favorites: freshly baked pies, peach preserves, and okra in mason jars. Oh, my, and even your famous buttermilk pie.”

Ran’s wife Lillie collects each family member’s handcrafted decoration for the tree. “Let’s hang them.” The aroma of cedar, sugared fruit, and gingerbread brings back memories of Christmases past.

Today is Ran and Lillie’s grandson Donnie’s fourth birthday, to boot. “Can I play with my birthday gifts, Grandpa?”

“Yep, but keep the stick horse at a trot. Let him get used to this colder weather, eh? See what else Santa left you. The new game Shoot the Moon and a wooden jigsaw carton puzzle.”

Good, long-time neighbors, John and Ruth Duke, along with their two kids, Johnnie Ruth and Jerry, arrive with a pumpkin pie and two fruitcakes.

Miss Ruth always spikes her fruitcakes with a little rum. “It’s no different from using cooking sherry and, therefore, is not an affront to the Lord,” Ruth says. “It provides moisture and helps preserve the cake.”

Ran fidgets. “The better part of valor is not to mention that to Lillie. Her definition of what constitutes a mortal sin may be different from ours. Let me taste-test the cake for moisture.” He pinches off a nibble and smacks his lips in approval. “Now, indeed, that’s the moistest cake ever! I may have another slice or two later.”

Johnnie Ruth and Donnie sit on the floor. Donnie prefers Conflict, a military board game—Johnnie Ruth, paper dolls.

Howard reaches and hangs the star of Bethlehem on the tree.

“It almost touches the ceiling.” His brother Herman carved it from a piece of hickory. Christmas stockings, stuffed with nuts, candy, and fruit, hang on every available nail. Earlier, Lillie had placed books, tablets, pencils, wooden soldiers, and even a-rockin’ horse under the tree.

The children’s faces glow from the fireplace. Herman stokes the fire with a piece of pine-kindling.

The sunrise colors glisten in the snow. “Who can paint like the Lord of creation?” Lillie proclaims.

Donnie and Johnnie Ruth grab a shovel, off to go sledding from the barn. They slide down the hill to the banks of Barber Creek.

“You kids get back up here,” Lillie yells. “That’s too dangerous. Ten more feet and you’d both be frozen lollypops!”

Julian blows in his horse’s nose to calm him. It’s not the first time the animal has experienced snow, but it has been a long time, and any sudden change in the weather makes horses skittish, until they get reassurance from their masters that all is well and everything is still just fine. “The Comanche use to do this in Texas. Helps you bond with the horse.”

“I’m going to churn ice cream in my new pewter pot,” Lillie promises. She stirs snow, milk, cream, butter, and eggs. She also prepares Ran’s favorites, especially dewberry pie, along with a cup of kindness known as Community dark roast coffee.

Ran grins. “I hung some mistletoe.”

Lillie looks him in the eyes and kisses him on the cheek. “The kids.”

“We have enough to feed Camp Claiborne’s 34th Red Bull Infantry,” Ran says. The nearby U.S. Army military camp accommodates 30,000 men but does not give Lillie a sense of safety. A world war is still raging, and every American is on alert.

Lillie’s eyes sparkle. “Please play my favorite Christmas carol—O Holy Night?” Ran’s father bought him a fiddle on a cattle drive from East Texas when he was barely twelve. He spent his evenings teaching himself the fingering and bowing techniques.

“How can I refuse a woman of such virtue—and one so beautiful? Our home overflows with your sweet joy.”

Lillie hugs him. “Will it be our last Christmas with our sons?”

The snow drifts against the windows and doors, begging entrance into their lives like the events of the previous three weeks.

“There’s nothing as peaceful as Louisiana Longleaf pines covered in a fresh layer of snow,” Ran muses. “Ah, if only our world were that way.”

Ran’s eighteen-year-old nephew, Robert Willis, Jr., enlisted July 31, 1940, and reported aboard the battleship USS Arizona, on October 8, 1940, at Pearl Harbor. A surprise military strike by the Japanese Navy Air Service on the morning of December 7, 1941, detonated a bomb in a powder magazine. The battleship exploded and sank. Hundreds of marines and sailors were trapped as the ship went down.

The family held out hope, but those hopes had been vanquished a week ago, like a shadow darkening all elements of light. Rapides Parish Sheriff, U. T. Downs, along with Robert’s pastor from First Baptist Church, Pineville, delivered a Western Union telegram to Robert’s father.

Downs struggled to speak with tears in his eyes. “It has been confirmed that Robert’s entombed in the USS Arizona at the bottom of Pearl Harbor. I just can’t tell you how grieved I am to have to bring this news to you, and especially so soon after Thanksgiving. This is the part of my job that I dread the most. If there’s anything I can do for you folks, just say the word.”

Howard and Zora took Donnie to the Pringle Picture Show in Glenmora to see How Green Was My Valley. “We need to seem as if nothing has changed for Donnie’s sake,” Zora insists. “I fear that we will be one of many, many families who will receive telegrams before this war is over. Our hearts are broken, but we must carry on.”

Julian now works with the horses and mules—plenty of grain, hay, and water for them. He grooms their coats of hair and checks to see if they are sound and well-shod. He’s gentle with horses, the elderly, and children, but as tough as rawhide on men who are no-account. “I wish I could ride you guys into battle, but an airplane will have to do.”

Two stray goats, covered with ice, nudge their way into the barn. Julian jumps up to shoo them back outside. “Get out of here. You’re going to break Daddy’s deer horn hat rack I made. It’s his Christmas gift.” The goats resist but then yield when Julian gives each a swat.

Herman, quiet and soft-spoken, takes off, without saying a word—impeccably dressed, as always.

Howard and Julian help their father with the firewood. “It’s best you two find him—now! Take my Ford,” Ran insists.

They pump ten gallons of gas into Ran’s ’40 Ford Coupe at Bob Johnson’s Grocery Store at Shady Nook. “Where do you think he’s at?” Howard asks.
“Charlie’s Cafe in Glenmora is the closest—let’s try there first.”

“He just left, but not until he whipped two men for making fun of his khaki pants,” the owner tells them when they arrive.

“Did he say anything?” Julian asks.

“He mentioned, he would not be back, ever, and he preferred Boom Town’s honky-tonks. Not sure which one, but they’re all outside Camp Claiborne’s main gate. As long as that base keeps bringing in new boys who are wet behind the ears and willing to waste their pay during a weekend pass, those places will thrive. Check ‘em one by one.”

This time one man lay on the floor in need of medical attention.

“Let’s check the Wigwam, in Forest Hill,” Julian says, “before someone kills him or, God forbid, wrinkles his pants.”

The sounds from the beer joint known for live music and its jukebox shakes the windows as they drive into the parking lot. Chicken wire fencing wraps around the bandstand to keep the band from getting hit with beer bottles.

As they enter, the bartender yells. “Break ’em up before they destroy the place!” Three men are holding Herman while two others are landing repeated punches and kicks. The jukebox blares Jimmie Davis’s hit—I Hung My Head and Cried.

Herman, bleeding like a stuck pig, calls out, “Are y’all going to help me or just stand there, whistlin’ Dixie?”

“I’ll take the three holding him, you the other two. Use that chair, Howard.”

After a melee of about ten minutes, they settle with the barkeeper for fifty bucks in damages and haul Herman outside to his truck. His lip is busted, his nose is bleeding, and one eye is starting to seal shut. He refuses to show any sign of weakness or pain, although he wheezes when drawing in a breath between bruised ribs.

They arrive home in time for a delayed supper. Ran examines Herman’s cuts and bruises. “Save all that anger for the Japs and Hitler.”

Lillie brings clean towels. “My three sons fighting in the Devil’s playground and on Christmas Day! May the Good Lord find mercy to forgive you for such behavior!”

Ran smiles. “At least they didn’t go to the Duck Inn…it provides more than liquor.” She does not find the humor in his observation, as her grimace reveals.

Lillie pulls her collar up, tightens her scarf, shoves her hands deep into her pockets, turns her face and walks outside into the biting wind. “I need to gather more snow for the ice cream.”

She returns—but with no snow. “It’s suppertime.” Her words are all that is needed for family and guests to gather around the candle-lit table.

As Ran says grace, a light dispels the darkness in their hearts just as the Star of Bethlehem did long ago. The reflection in Lillie’s face, from the beckoning candle, contradicts the devastating news from Hawaii.

Ran bows his head as everyone joins hands. “Lord, we know the world will still turn, the songbirds will again make their joyful sounds, and this too will pass. Keep our sons in the hollow of Your hand. Bless this food—and bless our nation. In the name above all names—Jesus.”

American men from coast to coast step forward to retaliate against the attack on U.S. soil. In the days shortly after Thanksgiving, Julian had enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and Herman in the ground forces Army after hearing President Roosevelt’s words on the radio: “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”

Howard went with his brothers and did his best also to enlist. However, the recruiter didn’t even need to wait for the results of a physical to see that Howard had a deformity that would make him 4-F. Howard had a serious head injury, caused by a blow from a split rim truck wheel. It had exploded while Howard was filling a tire with air in Glenmora. He tried to disguise the injury by pulling a cap down over his hair and forehead, but the recruiter—who was not new to his job—pulled off the cap, surveyed the scar, and motioned a thumb over his shoulder, indicating Howard was “out” of the running. Ran tried to assure Howard he could still be of service to the nation in other ways. For a scrapper and brawler like Howard, those words brought little appeasement.

Now, as they continue to enjoy what will probably be the last Christmas as a united family for perhaps years to come, Howard stokes the flames in the fireplace with a kindling-stick from a busted chiffarobe. Ran raises his fiddle. “Join me, in the family key.” Everyone joins in.

“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

As the long day ends, Ran leafs through his great-grandfather Joseph Willis’s six-inch thick leather-bound journal written long ago.

“What would he do?”

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Excerpted from Destiny
a nonfiction novel by Randy Willis

Destiny is available Christmas day—at Amazon at this link:

Randy Willis Destiny a novel.jpg

1841 Sermon | Destiny, a novel by Randy Willis

My new novel Destiny is drawn from my family’s heritage of explorers, settlers, soldiers, cowboys, and pastors. The sweeping family saga spans four centuries. ~ Randy Willis​

August 22, 1841

Spring Hill Baptist Church on Hurricane Creek
Near Forest Hill, Louisiana

William Prince Ford rode up and tied his saddle horse to one of the hitching rails next to Ole Sally. He smiled and said, “Mornin’, Pastor. We missed you last night. Looks like another great day at Spring Hill. You look rested this mornin’.”

“Yes, William, sorry we did not make it to your place yesterday, but thank you for the invitation. I decided to sleep under the stars. It was refreshin’!”

The men started to walk toward the church, but then Pastor Willis stopped abruptly. “William, I’ve done more thinkin’ about our talk. I need to ask you why you went ahead and bought Dradey when you knew she couldn’t be with her children?”

William shrugged. “Well, sir, Freeman didn’t want Dradey, just the girl. And the boy was already gone by then. I felt I could at least provide a decent place for Dradey to live and work. Would you have done it any differently?”

“I like to think I would,” said Pastor Willis. “I would like to believe that I would have mounted Ole Sally and followed those children wherever they were taken, and I would have gotten that money to buy them and bring them back to their mama. You acted on what you thought was a charitable way of behavin’, but it still led to the breakup of a mother and her children.”

William was about half a step behind the parson as they walked up to the front door, and it was obvious William wanted to make a reply in his defense, but a crowd of well-wishers assembled at the door.

“Nice to see you, Mr. Ford,” said a neighbor.

Peter Tanner came up and shook Brother Willis’s hand. “Can’t wait to hear your sermon, Pastor.”

Another added, “Isn’t this a nice day!”

Joseph smiled at the folks, but William didn’t respond to their interruptions, and his red face carried an expression that was hard to interpret. He caught up to Brother Willis, who was working his way down the aisle greeting folks.

William tugged at Joseph’s coat and whispered, “Pastor, you’re beginnin’ to sound like one of those abolitionists from the Northern churches. You’re not ‘gainst slavery, are you?”

Joseph turned and replied over his shoulder, “You might be onto somethin’ there, William.” He moved forward, getting ready to sing the day’s hymns. Silently, he prayed, If ever I needed to be in the Spirit, it’s right now.

The preacher scanned the sanctuary for Solomon and Eliza and was happy to see they were there. Solomon was seated with the men slaves, and Eliza was seated with the women slaves at the back of the church, for there was no balcony.

After the singing concluded, Joseph rose and asked, “Which of you children can recite the Golden Rule?”

A young boy sitting next to Peter Tanner stood and said, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”

“That’s very good. It actually says, ‘Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.’ I just spoke yesterday at your school. ”

All the children clapped. “Can you tell me what that verse means?”

Another young boy raised his hand and stood. “Pastor, it means that however I treat others is goin’ to come back on me, like if I’m mean to someone during recess, they’re gonna be mean back to me.” Everyone nodded in agreement.

“Well said, young man. That’s one way to look at it.” The boy sat down. “Now, let me ask you adults, how many of you believe in the Golden Rule?” All hands went up, and everyone was looking around.

“Good. My next question is, ‘Who’s your brother?’”

Peter Tanner stood and said, “Bible says that everyone is our brother. Jesus taught that in the story about the good Samaritan”

“You have answered correctly, for Jesus’ own half-brother, James, wrote in the Word of God that we are to treat everyone the same. My father told me many times that the test of a man’s character is how he treats those who can do nothin’ for ‘im. Those who know me often hear me tell stories about my mama, who was a Cherokee slave. When I was facin’ a big decision, she would always give me the same advice: ‘Joseph, ask yourself the question, “What would Jesus do?’ I had to ask the Lord that question yesterday on Barber Creek.”

Joseph paused for emphasis, then explained, “ I fell to my knees and I asked Him, ‘What would You have me do?’ I then said, ‘Lord, You don’t have to answer that, because You gave me that answer already when I was a Cherokee slave many years ago, in my own family on my own property.’ I grew up on the Cape Fear River in Bladen County, North Carolina. My father would often tell me, ‘Joseph, see ‘em boats? A risin’ tide should lift all boats.’ That’s how he described the Golden Rule.” Again he paused to give the congregation time to weigh that.

“The Lord then spoke to my heart yesterday, saying, ‘My question to you, Joseph, is what are you going to do?’ I’m now goin’ to call a few men up to the front. Peter and William, would you mind comin’ forward.” Peter came forward quickly, but William was slow to cooperate.

“Gentlemen, would you mind showin’ us your backs? Nothing immodest, please, but just lift your shirts a little.’ The two men stood there stunned and did not do it. Pastor Willis then pulled out a whip from his travel bag. “Who would like to volunteer to lay one hundred stripes on the backs of these men?” The people gasped, and Joseph saw a few women put their hands over their mouths.

“Do I have a slave who wants to whip these men for disobeying my request?”

No one moved. Not one person came forward to take the whip from the preacher’s hand. He stood there, looking at the faces of the men and women he had known for a long time. “Gentlemen, you may sit down now.” Slowly, they did so.

“I came here in 1798, and I have watched this sin called slavery grow, and I have done nothin’ to stop it. I have not spoken out against the horrible treatment of my brothers and sisters. I have allowed God’s Word to be used against ‘em. I have heard the tragic stories of families being torn apart and of lost children, and I have sinned by my silence. I was once a slave, but never again, and neither should any other man be!”

With that, Peter Tanner stormed down the aisle and pulled his wife out of the pew. In his anger, he proclaimed, “This preacher is senile and has lost his mind. I am not staying for any more of this nonsense.” Several more got up and walked out after him. But, to Joseph’s surprise, most did not. He continued to stand there, holding the whip.

The thunder that suddenly boomed outside was not as loud as inside. The

storm clouds had opened, and the rain pelted the church building and the church body. Needing to say no more, Pastor Willis bowed his head and closed the service in a word of prayer. When he opened his eyes and looked at Solomon, he could detect a nod of affirmation, and when he looked upon Eliza, her eyes were dry, and she had one had raised and seemed to be praising the Lord.

The news of that day’s sermon spread throughout Rapides Parish like a wildfire. Brother Willis was one of the most talked about men in Central Louisiana, but he didn’t care. He was at peace.

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Destiny is available February 14, 2019

Randy Willis is the author of Destiny, Beckoning Candle, Twice a Slave, Three Winds Blowing, Louisiana Wind, The Apostle to the Opelousas, The Story of Joseph Willis, and many articles.

Award-winning Master Storyteller Randy Willis…novels about adventure, family, faith, and the character of men and women that touched generations.

Destiny 1841 Church

Destiny a novel by Randy Willis