With each passing year, Jimmy Wayne strives for new ways to continue to bring awareness to a cause he holds desperately close to his heart: teen homelessness. Growing up in and out of the foster care system himself, Wayne knows painfully well what a kid faces living life on the streets, never knowing when or if that next meal will come.

Upon moving to Nashville and inking his first record deal, Wayne never lost sight of the road that led him to fame. With the release of each album, Wayne included personal songs to help bring much needed awareness to today's youth who "age out" of the foster care system, which means that many end up homeless.

In 2004, Wayne released his fourth single, 'Paper Angels,' which he co-wrote about the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program that allows those less privileged the opportunity for a Christmas to remember. The Angel Trees are set up in malls across America after Thanksgiving so that patrons can sponsor the "angels" and give them a memorable Christmas holiday.

Last year, the 'Stay Gone' and 'Do You Believe Me Now' singer dedicated seven months of his life and career to walk 1,700 miles across America to raise awareness for teen homelessness with his Meet Me Halfway campaign. While on his journey, Wayne was presented with the concept to write a novel, along with author Travis Thrasher, based around the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program, simply titled 'Paper Angels.'

'Paper Angels' hit stored nationwide this week (Nov. 1), just in time for the holiday season. Taste of Country sat down with Wayne and Thrasher to discuss the new novel and the deep, emotional impact the collaboration had in both their hearts.

Jimmy, did you always know that writing a book about the Angel Tree would come into fruition at some point in your career? Why was now the right time to make it happen?
Jimmy Wayne: I always knew that 'Paper Angels' was part of my entire story. This same story inspired a song titled 'Paper Angels,' and to continue the awareness, the book was inspired by the story as well. It's the perfect time for writing a book. There is no time line when it come to helping others.

Talk about how the collaboration between you two came about. Were you familiar with each other at all prior to writing this novel together?
Wayne: Travis and I spoke on the phone for the first time on January 7, 2010 during my trek halfway across America. I'd never heard of him, must less read any of his books. Travis presented me with a few great treatments that he'd written, but neither of them was the direction I wanted to take 'Paper Angels.' 'Paper Angels' is personal and important. The story has to feel honest. After spending more time on the phone with Travis and explaining what the Angel Tree really was and how I related, he reacted just like everyone else ... "Oh wow! That's awesome! I get it now!" Chapter by chapter we discussed the story and its directions, along with characters. Week after week, month by month, we hammered away.
Travis Thrasher: My favorite bands are Depeche Mode and New Order. So it's no offense to Jimmy to say I wasn't familiar with his music. Becky Nesbitt at Howard Books contacted me in October [of] 2009 to see if I was interested in collaborating with Jimmy. She knew me and my writing, and said that Jimmy reminded her a lot of myself ... because, of course, I'm good-looking and can sing [laughs]. I watched a video about Jimmy and his story, and the ideas started coming. It's interesting, however, that I initially thought the Angel Tree program they were talking about was the one related to Prison Fellowship Ministries. So the story treatments I initially came up with reflected this. That's why Jimmy didn't like any of the ideas initially. When we first spoke, we hit it off and I got to hear his vision and heart for this project. That was the start of this collaboration.

Jimmy, the Angel Tree program is something that is very special in your own personal life. Tell us about how you and your sister were once recipients of the tree years ago.
Wayne: My sister and I were recipients of the Angel Tree program when we were kids. My mother was a single mom and relied on this program for assistance. Had it not been for this program, neither my sister and I would have received anything for Christmas -- gifts and food! I'm very thankful for the Salvation Army and feel a great responsibility to help them help others.

Seeing how you were a recipient of the program, do you make it a point to sponsor Angels from the tree each year?
Wayne: I sponsor 'Paper Angels' every year. I always pick a boy and a girl, as a reminder of me and my sister. My sister volunteers at the Salvation Army warehouse to help stock the gifts and food for the recipients.

Paper Angels

Travis , how did the story of 'Paper Angels' move you, especially as a father?
Thrasher: I knew of the Angel Tree program since I've seen those trees my whole life, but this made it personal. Not just hearing Jimmy's story, but then suddenly being put into that world. As a father, I'm constantly worrying and wondering how I'm going to be able to support my family and all that. My wife and I had just learned we would be having twin girls when I got that first call from Jimmy. So this great juxtaposition happened and influenced the story ... the worries I have as a father compared to the worries a kid might have who has nothing.

Travis, what made this book special in comparison to all the other novels you've written over the years?
Thrasher: Jimmy Wayne is just an amazing guy. He surprised me at being authentic and gracious throughout the entire process. To try and capture the heart of what he did with that song was the goal. I asked Jimmy if I could put some of the experiences I was going through as a father expecting twins, and he loved the idea. I didn't realize how vital that was to the story. The Christmas story is all about a baby being born and that amazing gift. The process and the story turned out better than I could have ever expected.

Jimmy, what did you learn about yourself through the process of writing this book with Travis?
Wayne: The obvious lesson I learned writing this book with Travis is just how amazing a writer he is. Travis is an outstanding writer. No matter what I threw his way, he'd manage to turn it into something brilliant.

Travis, do you find yourself having a new respect for Jimmy Wayne after completing this project?
Thrasher: Yes, but I don't understand why he uses auto-tune so much [laughs]. No ... his story is amazing and his musical talents are incredible. He is driven to help kids in need, and he never sways from that. I got to know him well as we worked on this book, and I really feel like we became good friends. He's gotten me to see the world a bit differently and to try to do more about that world. I was honored to have been asked to be a part of this project. I hope the book is another source of inspiration like Jimmy is to so many people.

Will there be any kind of book tour for 'Paper Angels'?
Probably not, simply because Jimmy is trying to finish his album [based on his Meet Me Halfway walk], and that's the biggest priority. As much as we want to see all his loyal fans, it doesn't always justify the time and cost to do a tour for a book. He's got some stuff planned that I'm hoping I can be a part of if my schedule allows. We'll see!

Has there been any talk of another collaboration to pick up the story where this book leaves off?
Wayne: Hopefully the next step is making a movie out of 'Paper Angels.' We need to expand the awareness in every dark area there is. 'Paper Angels' is more than just an Angel Tree program; it's about helping people all year around. It's about doing what's right. It makes us better people when we help others. What else is there to do that's truly fulfilling?

Watch the Jimmy Wayne 'Paper Angels' Video

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