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Between These Walls

February 10, 2015

Between These Walls

Published 2015
Formats: Print, e-Book

H unter is a Christian. Hunter is the man next door.

Hunter Carlisle is gay.

At 26 years old, Hunter Carlisle has a successful sales career, a devoted girlfriend, and rock-solid faith. He also guards a secret torment: an attraction to other men. When a career plunge causes muscle tension, Hunter seeks relief through Gabe Hellman, a handsome massage therapist. What begins as friendship takes a sudden turn and forces the two friends to reconsider the boundaries of attraction. Along the road to self-discovery, Hunter’s secret is exposed to the community. Now Hunter must face the demons of his past and confront his long-held fears about reputation, sexual identity, and matters of soul.

A story of faith, fire and restoration, Between These Walls braves the crossroads of love and religion to question who we are and who we will become.

  • "Herrick will make waves."
    Publishers Weekly
  • “[John Herrick] wants readers to feel the conflict and turmoil that Hunter feels. And he performs a service by giving Hunter the 'traditional' male qualities -- athletic, popular, masculine -- that illustrates his point that anyone can be gay.”
    St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • “With Between These Walls, John Herrick has crafted an engaging, inspirational story with a resounding message about faith, matters of the heart and above all, inner peace.”
    Edge Media Network

R eaders ask why I choose particular storylines for my novels. Many stories are worth telling, but I’ve discovered the best stories result from characters who come to me when I’m not looking for them.

Such was the case with Hunter Carlisle and Between These Walls.

Early in 2011, I had almost wrapped up the first draft of my third novel. One afternoon, when I went for a walk, a character arose within me: a middle-school kid who was a Christian but harbored an attraction to the same gender. I pondered facets of this character’s circumstances as I walked. His fears, his feelings of guilt, the hits to his self-esteem—everything about his struggle grabbed my heart.

At that point, I wouldn’t have had the courage to write a book about him. But when characters arise from within, I believe it is God’s way of telling me individuals share the character’s struggle and need a book written for them right now. A novel about homosexuality, however, would test the boundaries of my comfort zone. Though I hate to admit it, I worried about what others might think. So I tucked the idea, safe and silent, in the back of my brain.

But as the ancient prophet Jonah discovered, you can’t hide from God. He’ll find you.

One year later, the concept remained unexplored—until a feature story caught my attention on the television news. The nationally syndicated story revolved around the plight of a high school student on the verge of suicide. This student, about fifteen years old, had endured a continual onslaught of bullying.

The bullying occurred for one reason: The kid was gay.

After enduring all the emotional damage he could handle, this kid reached his breaking point. Desperate and exhausted, wrought with pain, he posted a video online. Too hurt to speak—I imagine the bullying included poking fun at the way he spoke—the kid had written his words in black marker on sheets of paper. So here sat a blond-haired kid who looked like an average high school freshman, wiping tears from his eyes, making a desperate plea for somebody to hear him, for someone to care … for someone to offer him hope.

My heart broke for him. I know nothing about that student. The reporter didn’t mention the his name. She didn’t mention his city or state. I don’t even know if he’s still alive. But I couldn’t erase the sight from my memory.

Anger arose in me. My immediate gut response was, Never again. Not on my watch. Not if I can help it.

Allow me to explain: A close family member of mine ended his life at sixteen years old. I was thirteen at the time. If you’ve never experienced such an event, trust me when I say it changes you forever. It changes your perception of life and people. From that point on, you view life with the awareness that many people appear happy but live in pain. You look into some people’s eyes and wonder if their happiness is a charade. You wonder which individuals feel they don’t matter. While others might assume few individuals consider suicide, you know better.

As I pondered the news story about that high school student, I thought, Nobody that age should know what it’s like to feel that kind of pain.

Never again. Not on my watch.

At that point, I knew I needed to pursue the book topic and pursue it immediately. So my third novel, still in its first draft, returned to the back burner, where it has resided off and on for eight years. I began work on my fourth novel, Between These Walls, which you now hold in your hands.

My novels aren’t geared toward the Young Adult genre, and I wanted to make the book accessible to as many individuals as possible. So I took my initial character idea—the middle-school kid—and doubled his age, which brought him into early adulthood. To capture the struggles and vulnerability of his teenage years, I could weave some of his memories into the fabric of the story.

I don’t have quantitative data to back up my hunch, but I’ve long believed more people deal with same-sex attraction than we assume. I believe many simply hide it well or have a simultaneous attraction to the opposite gender, which enables them to live a “typical” life without raising suspicions. Therefore, I constructed Hunter as a character who finds himself attracted to both genders—technically, a bisexual male—with a stronger attraction toward males. This characteristic would allow him to remain in hiding for years. In fact, I chose the name Hunter to call to mind a hunter-gatherer image, the classic male stereotype—and the last place we might expect to find a gay male. His name symbolizes his attributes and interests, yet belies his deepest secret.

Regardless of whether the reader has experienced Hunter’s battles, I attempted to tell his story in such a manner that the reader can find points of commonality with him. So, as a reader, you might not have experienced homosexual feelings, but you might hold another secret that torments you. A dark secret you never want revealed. You might relate to Hunter’s fears or guilt. In that respect, perhaps Hunter’s story is your story, too.

Between These Walls is not a political statement or a judgment of church bodies. It is not an attempt to interpret Scripture or resolve an argument. My purpose was to put the reader into the shoes of one character, to experience his emotions and inner fire—a story behind the story.

As you read this novel, I hope you know you are loved.

Discussion Questions

  1. To which character did you most relate? Why?
  2. Hunter experiences growth during the novel. When does his growth begin: before or after his relationship with Gabe begins? Does growth occur after his secret is exposed to the public? Does Gabe experience growth as well?
  3. Hunter has kept his sexual attractions a secret for 14 years. Was there a time in your life when you found it easier to build walls around yourself than to face the truth?
  4. Much of the story occurs against the backdrop of a cold Ohio winter and the construction of a new home. How does the author use seasons or events to reflect the internal processes of Hunter and Ellen?
  5. Jesse Barlow, a supporting character, also appeared in John Herrick’s novel From The Dead. How has Jesse grown since then? How might Jesse’s battle have changed his outlook or prepared him to support Hunter?
  6. Can you identify parallels between Ellen Krieger’s silent struggle and that of Hunter?
  7. Which chapter do you consider your favorite? Why? Which chapters do you believe reveal the most about Hunter, Gabe and Ellen, respectively?
  8. How would you define Hunter’s relationship with Kara versus his relationship with Gabe? How does each relationship affect Hunter’s personal growth?
  9. In the Prologue, we are introduced to a young Hunter Carlisle. Do you think the Prologue’s events helped shape who Hunter is today? If so, in what ways?
  10. Hunter has solid faith, yet he harbored a secret. Do you consider his actions hypocritical?
  11. In Chapter 22, Hunter recalls a classmate, Christopher Patton, and regrets he allowed Christopher to face humiliation alone. Are there events in your life you wish you had handled differently?
  12. In Chapter 35, Hunter confides in his pastor. Do you feel his pastor handled the scenario in an appropriate manner? If you were in Hunter’s shoes, what would have helped you during that discussion?
  13. In Chapter 36, Hunter reveals his secret to his parents. How do you feel his parents reacted to the news? How might sudden, similar news from your child affect you?
  14. How has Hunter’s relationship with his father impacted Hunter’s growth processes during childhood and adulthood?
  15. In Chapters 4, 9, 10, 22, 24, 29 and 43, Hunter recalls events from his past. How did those events help shape who he is today?
  16. How do religion, emotion and sex drive Hunter? How do these factors seem to drive other characters, or do they?


  • Gather Up - Peter Bradley Adams
  • Letting Go - Jennifer Knapp
  • Breakthrough - Colbie Caillat
  • The Blessed Unrest - Sara Bareilles
  • Songs

  • "All You Wanted" - Michelle Branch
  • "Always" - Erasure
  • "Begin Again" - Taylor Swift
  • "Carry On" - Ne-Yo
  • "Come On Get Higher" - Matt Nathanson
  • "Dream Big" - Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband
  • "Fast Car" - Tracy Chapman
  • "Fields of Gray" - Bruce Hornsby
  • "Forever and For Always" - Shania Twain
  • "The Greenest Grass" - Joshua Radin
  • "Ho Hey" - The Lumineers"
  • "I Can't Make You Love Me" - George Michael
  • "If You Told Me To" - Hunter Hayes
  • "Just to See You Smile" - Tim McGraw
  • "Lips of an Angel" - Hinder
  • "The Longer I Run" - Peter Bradley Adams
  • "More Time" - NEEDTOBREATHE
  • "Not Over You" - Gavin DeGraw
  • "Nowhere To Go" - Melissa Etheridge
  • "Ours" - Taylor Swift
  • "Streets of Philadelphia" - Bruce Springsteen
  • "Suddenly" - Soraya
  • "Today Was a Fairytale" - Taylor Swift
  • "When Love Sees You (Jesus)" - Mac Powell
  • "Why Ya Wanna" - Jana Kramer
  • "The Words I Would Say" - Sidewalk Prophets
  • "4 Seasons of Loneliness" - Boyz II Men
  • Chapter 1 - Hunter Carlisle

    Had Hunter seen what he thought he’d seen? Had he given Hunter a second glance?

    At twenty-six years old, after so many years, Hunter wished the temptation would release its grip on him.

    Hunter’s heartbeat increased at the possibility of mutual attraction, but he steadied himself.

    Surrounded on three sides by frosted glass walls, the conference room sat in an interior section on the fourth floor of a suburban professional building. Pipeline Insurance Corporation offered extensive packages for life, home and automobile coverage. Its customers ranged from individuals to small businesses to large corporations.


    Chapter 2 - Hunter in Hiding/Hunter & Kara

    Heading west on Interstate 480 after work, Hunter’s mind drifted back to that morning’s unsuccessful meeting. Another potential sale lost.

    His third major turndown this month.

    He hadn’t seen this one coming, though. In fact, he had considered Pipeline Insurance Corporation a hot prospect, with high likelihood of becoming a long-term client. In his phone conversations with Jake Geyer, he had perceived genuine interest in hearing more about the software product. Jake had acknowledged how the product could help, but hadn’t mentioned his employer’s limited scope of need.


    Chapter 20 - Hunter the Hypocrite/Hunter's Image of Hell

    On Sunday morning, Hunter heard drum beats reverberate as he approached the church building from the parking lot.

    He never had trouble getting to work or an appointment on time, yet week after week, he arrived to church a minute after the worship service started. With its large congregation and a music segment at the beginning of each service, though, individuals like Hunter could trickle in without anyone noticing their late arrivals.

    When he opened the door to the worship auditorium, the music’s volume doubled in his ears, the audible equivalent of a blast of heat. A greeter who stood inside the door, a man Hunter had never officially met but had seen for years, gave him a wide smile and a pat on the back. Hunter found an open seat near the middle of the room.


    Subsidiary, foreign and film rights are available. If you are a publishing industry professional, feel free to contact John Herrick at represent(at)