Can you tell us something about your Christian testimony?
I was reared in a Christian home. My parents were active in church, my father an elder, my mother a deaconess. I attended Christian summer camps, youth group and said grace at every meal. I thought being born into a Christian family and raised in the faith made me a Christian. It didn’t. Each person makes their own choice, and it took me years to surrender to Jesus – not until after I’d gone through college, married, had children and started a writing career. Rick and I went to church, but came away dissatisfied and knowing there must be something more. We both had personal issues that brought us close to divorce several times. We wanted our own way and to have control over our own lives. Having control is an illusion. As a child, I’d asked Jesus to be my Savior. What I didn’t understand is I needed to surrender my life to Him and allow Him to be LORD of my life as well.
Our marriage was on the verge of collapse when Rick started his own business. We moved to northern California to be closer to family. We made many outer changes, but no change of the heart. As we moved into our rental house, a little boy came over to help and said, “Have I got a church for you!” We weren’t ready to listen. The lady on the other side of our fence also invited us to the same church. Out of desperation, I went a few weeks later. It was my first experience with “expository teaching.” The pastor taught straight out of the Bible, explaining the historical context, what the scriptures were saying, and what they had to do with me in the present. I drank it in! I took my three children to church. They loved it. Rick resisted (after having a somewhat disheartening experience with a denominational church in Southern California). I asked the pastor if he would be willing to teach a home Bible study. He agreed — if Rick agreed, which he did. Studying the Bible changed our lives. Our hearts and minds opened to Christ. We both accepted Jesus as Savior and LORD and were baptized in May 1986. Since then, God has been changing our lives from the inside out. The Lord also healed our marriage. We celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary this year.
How did you get started as a writer?
From the time I was a child, I knew I would be a writer. Because I didn’t know what I would write, I majored in English (emphasis in literary writing) and minored in journalism (emphasis on who-what-when-where-why). My parents had always been non-fiction readers. Rick’s family loved all kinds of books – and lots of fiction. Mom Edith loaned me novels and I loved them. On a dare (from Rick) I decided to write a combination of my favorite genres and wrote a “western-gothic-romance”. Romance novels were booming in the general market, publishers were on the look-out for new writers. My first manuscript sold and was published. I was hooked! I followed with eight or nine more (of what I call my B.C. (before Christ) books). They are all now out of print, are never to be reprinted, and are not recommended.
When I turned my life over to Jesus, I couldn’t write for three years. I tried, but nothing worked. I struggled against God over that because writing was my “identity.” It took that period of suffering “writer’s block” to bring me to my senses. God was trying to open my eyes to how writing had become an idol in my life. It was the place I ran to escape, the one area of my life where I thought I was in complete control. (Hardly!) My priorities were all wrong and needed to be put right. God first, husband and children second (we had three children by then) and third– work. I prayed God would change my heart. My love for writing and reading novels waned and my passion for reading and studying God’s Word grew.
Rick and I began hosting a home Bible study. I began working with Rick in his business. The children came along and played in the office, hiding in the shipping popcorn. Writing ceased to matter. I was in love with Jesus and my husband and children. God never stops with the transformation process. We began studying the book of Hosea, and I sensed God calling me to write again – this time a romance about Jesus’ love for each of us. Redeeming Love was the result. It is the retelling of the Hosea story, set in Gold Rush-era California. After I turned it in, I wasn’t sure whether I would write anything more. I had so many questions about what it means to be a Christian, how to live for God, different issues that still haunted me. I felt God nudging me toward using my writing as a tool to draw closer to Him. I would ask my question, create characters that would play out the different viewpoints and seek God’s perspective. I began work on A Voice in the Wind. Writing has become a way to worship the Lord through story – to show how intimately He wants to be involved in our lives.
Where do you get your ideas for your plots?
Almost every story I have written since becoming a Christian has come from a question that regards a struggle in my own faith walk. The plot centers around the different ways that question can be answered by “the world” – but the quest is to find God’s answer. Here is a list of my novels with the questions that started each story:
- A Voice in the Wind: How do I share my faith with unsaved family members and friends who have no desire to read the Bible or hear me talk about my faith?
- An Echo in the Darkness: How many times are we called upon to forgive people who hurt us deliberately — and (in many countries) would like to see us dead?
- As Sure As the Dawn: How do you deal with anger – especially when there is “good” cause? What is “righteous anger” and how does it look?
- The Scarlet Thread: What does “sovereignty” mean in man’s relationship with God? If He is in control of everything, what does that say about the bad things that happen to people?
- The Atonement Child: Is there complete forgiveness and restoration for a woman who has aborted her child? Does abortion have any effect on the woman and the man involved in the crisis pregnancy? Does it impact people around them? (This was my most painful and personal book because I needed to face and deal with my own abortion experience. The character of Hannah is based on my story; Evie is based on my mother’s.)
- The Last Sin Eater: What is the difference between guilt and conviction? This book came out of The Atonement Child. What I learned: guilt kept me imprisoned for years. Conviction sent me to my knees before the Lord where I received forgiveness and experienced His love and grace.
- Leota’s Garden: Are abortion and euthanasia connected? Is euthanasia merciful or an act of murder? This novel also came out of my work on The Atonement Child. While studying the abortion issue from all sides, I realized the arguments for abortion are exactly the same as those for euthanasia. While going through a post-abortion class with other women (one a nurse), I learned that the elderly are already at risk. One scene in the book continues to shock people. I wrote it for that purpose. I want people to understand life is precious. The movement toward legalizing euthanasia continues to gain momentum (and has less to do with “mercy” than saving money for care).
- And the Shofar Blew: What is a church? How do you build it? During my travels around the country and speaking at various churches, I saw many struggling through building projects and massive programs to draw more parishioners. Size of building and number of people in the pews seemed to define success or failure. Like a government out of control, the “church” (in many cases) has forgotten its foundation and purpose. Christ is the cornerstone. Believers meet together to study the Word of God, worship Him and encourage one another – and keep their doors and hearts open to those seeking God. Unfortunately, too many congregations have left their first love (Jesus Christ) and turned to idolatry (placing a building/drawing a crowd/being “politically correct” above a relationship with the Lord).
- Her Mother’s Hope / Her Daughter’s Dream: What caused the rift between my grandmother and mother? When my grandmother had a stroke, my mother raced from Oregon to the Central Valley of California to be with her. Grandma died before she arrived. My mother was heart-broken and said, “I think she willed herself to die just so we wouldn’t have to talk things out.” I have wondered since: What causes people (even Christians) to hold grudges? What might have brought resolution and restoration to these two women? Could my grandmother have loved my mother without my mother understanding it? The two books have many personal, family details woven in and I will be sharing this information in my blog.
Which is your favorite book of those you’ve written?
My favorite book is Redeeming Love. It was my first as a born-again Christian, my statement of faith, and the most exciting year I’ve spent writing anything. I felt God’s presence throughout the months of work, as though He were telling me His story through thousands of Scriptures as well as explaining the inner heart-ache and quest of each “my” characters.
Which book was the hardest to write and why?
The Atonement Child was the most personal and difficult to write because I had to face my own abortion experience. Added to the considerable research I did, and women who shared their experiences with me, I went through an intensive post-traumatic stress Bible study for post-abortive women at our local pregnancy counseling center. Reliving all aspects of my abortion decision and experience was excruciating – but healing. After twenty-six years of being imprisoned by guilt and shame, I was free through the power and love of God. Though the book was the most heart-wrenching to write, it also proved to be the most life changing. I’ve received countless letters from other post-abortive women and have learned my experience is not unique. Our nation is filled with wounded men and women. The character of Hannah is based on my story, Doug is based on Rick’s, and Evie is based on my mother’s.
Which character is your favorite?
My favorite character is Michael Hosea from Redeeming Love. He is like Jesus – the lover of my soul. I have another favorite: Hadassah from A Voice in the Wind. She is the kind of Christian I want to be.
Christian fiction continues to boom. What would you like to see happen in the field?
I want to see Christian fiction speak to the hard and real issues that tear people’s lives apart. We need writers who are willing to ask the hard questions and go through the soul-searching and agonizing to find answers – and present these stories with skill that surpasses the general market. Some of the greatest works or art and literature were rendered by Christians. I believe God is at work in these areas now. I would also love to see more Christian stories make it to the big screen and into the world of television, and to have the Christian worldview presented fairly. Much of what comes out of “Hollywood” appeals to the basest side of mankind and crushes the spirit. Right now, with war and a failing economy, people are hungry for stories that inspire them, lift them and give them hope. People need to know there are solutions and we can have peace and an abundant life — even in the midst of trials.
What is your goal or mission as a Christian writer?
I want to whet the appetite for the real thing: the Bible and a personal relationship with Jesus. I try to weave Scripture throughout the story so people receive the Word and see what it might mean in their lives – how the Lord is present and real and passionately interested in each of us. He is not an idea. He is real, all-powerful, all-knowing, the embodiment of love, deeply involved in our existence, and He created each of us for a purpose.
What advice would you give to a new writer?
Write what you need to read. Write from your heart and. Write truth. Sometimes it hurts to peel away the layers of self-deception and see ourselves in the mirror, but it will also draw us closer to Jesus. And your work may minister to others struggling with the same issues. Read the Bible every day so that it will flow naturally into the story. Study the Bible from beginning to end. It is the most exciting reading in the world. It is also alive – and will help you recognize when you are entering into sin and need to realign yourself with the Lord. Keep your focus on Jesus.
What made you decide to let Hadassah live in A Voice in the Wind, the first book in your Mark of the Lion trilogy? Do you think it would have been preferable for Hadassah to die than to live in constant pain and be crippled for life?
I let her live because my editor at the time, Karen Ball, was so upset by Hadassah’s death in the arena that she called me and said she wanted to throw the manuscript across the room.! “You cannot let her die,” she insisted. She wanted me to carry on the story in another book. What could I do? But I had also done some research on the customs of that day, and discovered there was a law against dissection (once a person was dead) but not against vivisection (if the person was still alive). So I actually had an historically accurate reason for her to have lived.
As to whether it was better for her to die than live in constant pain—in terms of the story, it was better for her to live, even though it was much more difficult. The focus of An Echo in the Darkness, Book 2, was forgiveness. How many times do you forgive someone who has hurt you or who desires your destruction? I have had to deal with that question. And what that book taught me was that no matter what anybody does to me, what they say about me, or what their actions are, I am still called upon to forgive. And I learned that once you forgive someone, there are three things you don’t do; talk to someone else about whatever it was you forgave; bring it up again to the person you’ve forgiven, or dwell on it yourself. Hadassah models for me what true forgiveness is. I wanted the reader to despise Julia. I wanted to continue the story of Hadassah to show how God used her to reach Julia, the least likely one to accept Christ. We are not here for our own good pleasure. God leaves us here to be salt and light. He wants us to live our lives to draw the lost to Him. It did me good to remember those things, and to have Julia be the first one to reach Heaven. The angels sang when she accepted Christ and she saw them coming to take her home. Hadassah was left behind to continue being salt and light, to continue to suffer as she lived for Christ in this world. That’s what the Christian life is about. All for Him. We are here for the sake of others who don’t yet know their redeemer lives.
In A Voice in the Wind, how does Hadassah remain true to her faith right up to the end?
Hadassah was the one character who was living out a Christ-centered life, and that was the source of her strength. She was in prayer throughout the book; her entire focus was on God. That was the only thing she could do, living the kind of life she had. When I wrote the book, the question that spurred me on was, how do you live out your faith among family members and friends who are not at all interested in the gospel? Through Hadassah, the answer came that it’s not what you say, it’s how you live that has the impact. Also, you don’t need courage ahead of time. God prepares you and supplies you with the courage you need to face difficulties when you need it, not before.
What made you decide include both a contemporary and a historical story line in The Scarlet Thread?
I originally meant just to write the historical story. I had always wanted to go on the Oregon Trail and write a story about it. When I finally did retrace the Oregon Trail with friends, we visited the museums. In pondering what those pioneer women had dealt with, I realized they faced the same bottom-line issue we do today: Who is in control of my life? Do I want to fight for control or will I surrender to the Lord and let him work in my life? I wanted to show that that is a question every person in every era has to face.
What made you choose the historical time period in The Scarlet Thread?
I’ve always been fascinated with that time period—the 1840s-1880s, especially in the West. My first books were set in that time period, and I did a lot of research. It’s an interesting time in history to me.
In The Last Sin Eater, how did you come up with the idea of a sin eater? It says in the beginning of the book that it is a real concept brought by immigrants to the Appalachian mountains. How did you discover this?
I once saw a movie about a doctor in Appalachia, and the story had a sin eater in it. I got interested in finding out what a sin eater was. I learned, mostly through research on the Internet, that the sin eater was a person who was paid a small fee or given food to take upon himself the sins of the deceased. Often the sin eaters were tricked into it. Some wealthy person would invite them in, serve them a meal and say, “By the way, you just ate the sins of our dead relative in the next room.” Then they were locked into that life as an outcast. Sin eating was practiced in England, the lowlands of Scotland, and the Welsh border district in the early nineteenth century, and carried over by immigrants into the remote areas of the Appalachian Mountains.
As I learned about the sin eater, questions started forming in my mind.
In The Last Sin Eater, why do you think someone would agree to do something that made him a pariah in the community?
The whole idea of a sin eater fascinated me. It’s like Christ in a way, yet it isn’t. To me it was a twisted gospel. The sin eater might think he was being a living sacrifice, giving up his life for his neighbors by taking their sins on himself, but in actuality, he was standing in the way of the true gospel because he’s not perfect and he can’t remove sin. So I used this as a vehicle to portray the gospel message.
Did you face any particular creative challenges with The Last Sin Eater? It seems different from most of your other novels—for instance, it’s told in the first person.
Yes, there were. First, there was the challenge of thinking from a child’s point of view. I like the power that first person can have when told from a child’s perspective in stories like To Kill a Mockingbird. A child can be plagued by guilt in a unique way yet also be open to spiritual truth and see things that adults perhaps are no longer open to seeing or believing. Another challenge was how to capture the dialect of the Appalachian people without losing the reader. Only recently did I read a book on writing by Sol Stein and learned it was best not to use dialect. That would have made it easier write, and perhaps easier for the reader as well! Another thing about The Last Sin Eater is that I didn’t know myself what terrible thing Cadi has done to make her feel so guilty. Nor did I know at first what terrible things the others in the story were trying to hide. It was only as the story unfolded that things became clear to me, just as they do for the reader.
In The Atonement Child, what made you decide to make your character a victim of rape rather than a woman who finds herself unmarried and pregnant?
I wanted to deal with the tough cases. Dynah, a Christian college student who finds herself pregnant after being raped, has to deal with the issues in a very personal way. As a Christian, she believes abortion is wrong, and so does her fiancé–until she’s raped. Then the question arises, “Would it be OK in a case like hers?” Dynah wonders, “What does God really want me to do?”
As Dynah’s story unfolds, we are drawn into the complexity of the issue, including the number of people who are involved. A lot of people think abortion just involves the woman, that it’s her decision alone, and that’s not true. In this story, there’s the mother, Hannah, who had an illegal abortion, and her husband, who had nothing to do with Hannah’s abortion but has had to deal with his wife’s inability to trust. And Dynah’s grandmother, who had had a therapeutic abortion, which her husband had encouraged at the time. There’s Dynah’s fiancé, who has a real hard time dealing with the situation. There is the dean of the Christian college, who faces the dilemma of whether or not to allow a pregnant student to remain at the school, which I against the rules. There is her fiancé’s roommate, whose girlfriends had gotten pregnant and had an abortion, which he opposed, but has no real say in the matter. There is the abortion doctor, whose sister had an illegal abortion and died; he feels he’s helping other women by providing “safe” abortions. There’s the pastor who struggles with how to advise his parishioners who are hurting from this issue. Every person in this story is feels the impact of abortion in some way, which I believe is true in our society. We often don’t even have a clue about how someone’s choice impacts us. I think there’s a real undertow of guilt and grief in our country because of abortion.
By developing all sides of the abortion issue and how deeply it affects so many people in so many ways, I hope to help people develop compassion for anyone who is affected personally by abortion. For a woman who has an abortion, for anyone in her family, the event is never forgotten—as I’ve learned from personal experience.
In The Atonement Child, the scene in which Dynah is raped is difficult to read. Was it as difficult to write?
Extremely! I had read a number of books on rape and its impact. I’ve been asked why I didn’t have Dynah pursue the man, bring him to justice. That wasn’t the focus on the story. I wanted the story to be about the impact of abortion. I wanted portray that even in the case of rape—which many people say justifies abortion—abortion is always a very complex issue.
The mother/daughter relationships in Leota’s Garden are very realistic. What did you base these on?
I’ve just seen many people who never seem to work out the misunderstandings in their relationships. They never sit down and talk things through in a calm manner so that each person can truly hear both sides. In the story, Leota and Nora never really could communicate. Annie was the catalyst that helped them understand each other. I wanted to write about a family who was dysfunctional and explore questions that many people grapple with. One of them was employed mothers versus those who stay home. Leota had been employed, and her daughter, Nora, bitterly remembers all the times her mother had not been there for her. Nora, now a mother herself, was always “there” for her children … always there to control and manage every aspect of their lives. Which is the better mother? The answers are not as simple as some might like to think. The Proverbs 31 woman worked and was a blessing to her family. It all comes down to living our lives in obedience to Christ, in the home and outside it.
Lack of communication can destroy a family. In Leota’s Garden, why did Leota keep her secrets even after her husband was gone?
She kept silent out of deep hurt and pride. Her mother-in-law had poisoned Nora against her, but Leota couldn’t bring herself to destroy her daughter’s love for her grandmother. Leota made peace with her mother-in-law and actually took care of her in her old age. Perhaps she hoped the woman would tell the truth to Nora. Unfortunately, she didn’t. Like many people, Leota hoped “time would heal all wounds”, but time didn’t heal anything because the truth had never been revealed. Nora still judged Leota by the bitter gossip she heard as a child, and her stubbornness cheated her out of a relationship with a mother who loved her deeply and sacrificed greatly for her. One of the things I wanted to show in this book was that sometimes you don’t get another chance to mend relationships. We have to jump at any opportunity to say “I love you” and hear each other’s story. Otherwise, the story may never told, the relationship never mended.
Which of the five stories in A Lineage of Grace was the hardest to write?
The hardest book in the series to write was Unafraid, about Mary. So much has been written about her, and of course, throughout church history so much has been made of her that it was not easy to see her afresh. Yet there’s not really much said about Mary in Scripture itself. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that all the traditions were developed. In order to write about her, I had to set everything aside and try to see her in her humanity, see her only as the Bible portrayed her, and that was a challenge. I think that making more out of Mary than the Bible does actually lessons the impact of her life. The fact that she was a very human mother, with all her ambitions for Jesus to reveal himself as the Messiah her people had long awaited, speaks more powerfully of her character, faith, obedience, and desire to do God’s will. It makes her presence and faith at the cross all the more amazing. Unveiled, about Tamar, was also difficult in a different way. Because the commentaries said it was about sexual issues, and I knew Dr. Taylor at Tyndale was especially sensitive to how such issues were portrayed in fiction, I originally wrote it in a way that I thought would be “acceptable.” I used a “he said—she said” sort of format. When I turned it in, they said it was all right, but not my usual style. I asked, “Can I write it the way I really want to write it?” They said yes. By then I realized the story was not about sexual issues, but about Tamar’s motivation in what she did, about her hope for a future, about her honor and integrity toward her role as wife, about her desire to have a child to preserve the line of Judah. God blessed her not with one child, but twins! The Lord used this Canaanite woman to bring Judah to his knees and change his character. Through Tamar, God kept Judah’s line going, and that line led to the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
So many churches today have become large, impersonal churches. What kind of church do you belong to and is your novel And the Shofar Blew based on your experience with a particular church?
While I myself was never involved in a church like the one in the book, the story is based on what I heard from many people I talked to who were concerned about what was happening in their church. It also came out of my reading books on church growth. There is in our culture an overemphasis on numbers and buildings and size. Big is considered important and small is unimportant. It’s easy to get off base by just a degree or two at first, but pretty soon you can find yourself way off course. Of course, a small church can fall away too; it’s not about size, but focus. Jesus is the cornerstone, the heart, everything. In my church, one summer we did a study on Experiencing God. As a result of that, the church decided to help plant two new churches rather than build one big building.
What questions do you explore in And the Shofar Blew?
Through the story line and the characters, I wanted to bring to light such issues as: What does a Christ-centered church look like? How far should a church go in order to reach out to the unchurched? What does true discipleship look like? How does lasting spiritual growth happen—through programs, or in some other way? How should one evaluate the effectiveness of a church or its pastor? What does godly submission in a wife look like? How are the sins of the fathers—even celebrated spiritual leaders like Paul Hudson’s father—passed on to the children if there’s no repentance? How does one confront sin in love, rather than anger?
What advice would you give a reader who is searching for a church home?
Look for a church that focuses on Christ. Is the Bible central? Are the leaders focused on pleasing God or man? Who is the cornerstone? Run if all you hear about is a building program!
Once success is measured in terms of numbers rather than genuine spiritual growth, watch out! There’s a fine line between sincerely wanting to reach out to the community, and beginning to cater to newcomers to the point where sermons are watered down so as not to “offend” anyone—especially those whose deep pockets are necessary to fund the never-ending building projects.
What made you choose the five men for The Sons of Encouragement?
The idea for this series came out of And the Shofar Blew. I talked to lots of people about the church when I was writing and speaking about that book, and I began to realize how important and influential the men behind the great leaders are, to give support and keep them accountable. When I looked at the great leaders of the Bible—Moses, David, Joshua, Paul, Peter—I saw that the men behind the great leaders were also very influential, though less visible. I wanted to honor all of these “behind the scenes” positions of influence. I wanted to choose representatives from different kinds of careers. So there’s the religious influencer (Aaron the priest); the soldier (Caleb); the politician (Jonathan); the person who is God’s spokesman representing truth, even if the leaders don’t listen (the prophet Amos); and the scribe who worked with Paul, Timothy and Peter to write their letters (Silas). He represents the reporter or media or teacher. All of these types of influencers are important to God’s purposes.
Tell us about your God box and how it inspired you to write The Shoe Box.
Before I started writing Redeeming Love, when I was still rather new at loving God with my whole heart, I had been a secretary at one point, and regularly used an inbox and outbox. I got the idea to start using what I called a God Box—an inbox for God. I would write out prayers and put the papers into the God Box. This practice helped me to let go of the issues, to put them into God’s hands by physically putting them into the box. Every few months I would read the papers and marvel at how God had answered the prayers, often in unexpected ways.
I also put into the God Box things like the Angel Tree Project ornaments, or the ornaments from the Salvation Army tree. I’d never know those children or what happened to them, but putting the ornaments into the box was a way to give them to the Lord and trusting them to his care.
When I was asked to write a short story for the Angel Tree Foundation, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I had never written a children’s story before. One afternoon the story came to me, based on the practice of the God Box. I wrote The Shoe Box in one afternoon—it just flowed out, and I knew exactly what I needed to say. That’s the only time a story came so easily!