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Baker alumnus writes, produces first film

James Houston Turner’s curiosity about how the world works began long before he was a student at Baker University. In fact, it began while he was growing up in Baldwin City and visited Baker’s campus as a child.

“I just loved the school,” Turner, ’69, said. “It was like a second home for me. The instructors there didn’t look down at a 10-year-old kid who wanted to hang around and learn.”

That curiosity that began as a child helped shape Turner’s career as a bestselling author of a series of spy thrillers. Now, Turner has written and produced his first movie, Square Pegs, a family drama feature film about a court battle between a pastor and his bartender daughter.

Emotionally Raw

Square Pegs centers on a court battle between pastor Mac McCoy and his bartender daughter, Jodie. Their bone of contention is the accidental death of Jodie’s mother and Mac’s wife, Meredith, with each blaming the other for what happened. Neither is willing to listen or forgive.

“In Square Pegs, I challenge the notion of ‘church’ and what it is. Which, in the end, is not so much ‘what’ as ‘who,’” Turner said. “It’s a movie about forgiveness, about not holding grudges. The father and daughter accuse each other of not knowing what it’s like to walk in each other’s shoes. They blame each other. It’s heartwarming—at times, humorous—and emotionally raw.”

The film was shot over the course of two weeks earlier this year in Georgia. It will be released in 2023 on multiple streaming platforms.

“We had an impossibly small budget, but we made it work,” Turner said. “My wife catered all the meals for the crew. We wore many hats. I was a producer, errand boy, wrote checks. It was the best learning curve that a person could honestly be blessed to receive.”

Being immersed in all aspects of the project allowed Turner to have a hands-on learning approach.

“It gave me an understanding of the totality of the process,” he said. “Editing is really hard. Actors forget lines. Putting it all together and having continuity can be a challenge. The magic really occurs in the editing room. You hope it all comes out right.”

Baker to Thank

Since Turner grew up in Baldwin City and already frequently visited Baker’s campus, he said he didn’t consider attending any other college.

“I love that Baker provided a classic education . . . languages, arts, sciences, history,” he said. “The curiosity I learned as a boy worked in my favor. I found myself not liking to argue but certainly discuss ideas. My professors really pushed me. I didn’t truly appreciate that until later.”

Turner was part of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity and studied multiple languages while earning his degree in religion.

“I love the breadth of the exposure my education gave me,” he said. “I learned critical thinking skills. The nature of education is to challenge everything, to ask questions.”

As a boy and later as a Baker student, Turner spent a lot of time in the library, which was located in Case Hall at the time.

“I learned where all the obscure textbooks were,” he said. “Some were a couple hundred years old. That was just a great environment and really set the stage for me to go into fiction later. My academic foundation allowed me to explore creative writing. I didn’t do well at first, which is odd for an author. I got a C-, and I think the professor was generous with that.”

Turner is a cancer survivor and has a master’s degree from the University of Houston–Clear Lake. He lived in Australia for 20 years before relocating to Pflugerville, Texas.

“To me, it is not so much what I learned at Baker, but how I learned,” he said. “It’s that ability to delve into norms and examine them, and then tell a story about that journey. I have Baker to thank for giving me those tools.”

Written by Jenalea Myers, ’08

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