"Letters from War" has been a steadily changing template for Christian singer Mark Schultz.
It started in 2003 as a poignant, chart-topping song about a mother who receives letters from her son on the front lines during World War II.
Then, in 2008, the U.S. Army used it for a video to encourage the troops fighting overseas.
This year, "Letters from War" has been transformed into a novel by Mr. Schultz, and is also the theme of the singer-songwriter's tour coming to the Toledo area next Saturday.
"We went back and tried to make this show take on a bit of a movie feel," he said in an interview from Nashville. "As far as the beginning of the concert, it feels very epic."
He said the song, which tells a story through correspondence in which the son risks his life to rescue another soldier and is then captured, generated so many heartfelt comments from audiences that he felt inspired to write a novel based on the lyrics.
"Audiences have really responded well to it over the years, it really resonated with folks. And with this year being the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I felt it would be a great way to reintroduce the song in book form and even make it more updated to be in the current time," Mr. Schultz said. "Instead of being about World War II, which the song is about, the novel is about the Afghanistan and Iraq war."
He said he was glad to have a way to expand the story from the limitations of a song format, and changed it to keep music fans from knowing how the novel ends.
"When you sing a song and write a song, you only have about 3 1/2 minutes to put into it," he said. "From the way this song has been received by audiences, I felt it needs to grow a little bit, become a movie or a book. So we were able to take those letters and kind of expand the story and fill in the blanks."
Mr. Schultz is simultaneously releasing an album of instrumentals, titled "Renaissance."
"I've never done one before and when I was over in Europe -- my wife and I took some time to go over there and do a few shows -- we saw things that surprised me. She took me to Normandy, which ties in with the whole war thing. My grandfather and his brothers landed on the beach in Normandy. And I just got these melodies that came up," he said.
He recorded the album in Florence, Italy, and in Spain.
Mr. Schultz was raised in rural Colby, Kan., and adopted into a Christian family when he was 2 weeks old. He was a standout athlete in high school, playing basketball, quarterbacking the football team, and running track, but found his calling in music.
He moved to Nashville to pursue a music career, but was waiting tables when he found a steady job as a youth pastor.
He held that job 10 years before making it as a recording artist.
"I would say being a youth director is one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs I've ever had. When you're forming kids and helping to bring them up and setting an example, you just know that in general they are going to make great strides forward and great strides backward -- sometimes in the same day," Mr. Schultz said. "Then graduation comes and you feel pride in their accomplishments and seeing how they've matured."
His tenure as youth director provided plenty of real-life scenarios that have provided material for his songwriting, he said.
Mr. Schultz's Letters from War tour starts Monday in Lebanon, Tenn., and comes to the WPOS Christian Center, 7112 Angola Rd., Holland, Ohio, at 7 p.m. Sept. 24 with 33Miles and Finding Favour opening. Information: 419-865-9767.