All your books have a spiritual theme. Why?
The main reason is simply chromosomes. My dad was a preacher; my three brothers are preachers. My grandpa and my great-uncle were preachers. I have two cousins – Lou and Morris Venden – who were among the most successful ministers anywhere in recent years. So the DNA is pretty overpowering. If I ever wrote a regular potboiler, Mom would kill me with a guilt trip.
I also think that religious themes – grace, heaven, the goodness of God, the reality of a great spiritual war going on around us – are fascinating and life-changing. I write what I care about. I create characters that I wish more of us could become.
Where do you get ideas for the fiction stories like “Bucky Stone”?
That’s a good question. Basically, I just sit and think and stare off into space while munching on pita chips. That sounds hokey, but here’s a story. I was in Santa Fe for a PR conference once; when it was done I had to ride in a shuttle van back to the airport. In just that two-hour commute (this is before iPods), I suddenly got the idea for, not one, but two of my Bucky Stone stories. I just went: Hmmmm, let him go to Hawaii for a basketball invitational. He’s rooming with Dan, but all of a sudden, Deirdre shows up – whooh, that’s a heavy romantic story. By the time I got to the airport, I was ready to start writing.
A lot of times, when I wake up at 3:00 a.m. and don’t want to wake Lisa up by padding over to the bathroom, I just lay there and let story ideas spin around in my brain. So most of my good fiction brainstorms can be attributed to the blessings of God, and also to having a glass of diet root beer right before bedtime.
I honestly do think that a Christian writer who keeps their eyes and ears open can also count on God actually moving within them to help spring a new idea into existence. More than once, I’ve just had this flash and then gone: Where did that come from? Thank you, Jesus.
Is writing hard?
For me, no. I enjoy it a lot. I spend just a few hours each weekend – a bit more in the summer, when I’m not teaching – at my laptop. The first couple chapters of a fictional story (It was a dark and stormy night) can be tough, but once a story really gets flowing, it’s almost hard to stop. I’m blessed that Lisa is both savvy and tactful; we go for long four-mile walks each weekend and bounce ideas off each other. She tries to avoid words like “stupid” and “puerile,” but I can sometimes read it in her body English.
Truthfully, if you simply sit down and get started, even a couple of hours a week soon add up to something that is hopefully going to make an impact.
How do you map out an extended fiction story? Do you plan the entire plot, or does the story ever get away from you?
I do try to scratch out an unofficial “treatment” that outlines the bare plot. My normal way is to try to write down just two or three sentences per chapter, and then start writing. But in almost every case, the story does take on a life of its own,and I find myself coping with plot twists that I hadn’t anticipated. More than once in the Bucky Stone series, I suddenly sat up straight and cried out: “Hey! How’d I get clear over here? How’d we end up in Honolulu?” (There are worse detours in the world.)
Interestingly, as I wrote Love in a Distant Land, I found the story determinedly taking itself toward a conclusion I hadn’t allowed for. I tried to resist it for a while, but finally bowed to the inevitability of how the Lord was leading. (I’d better not say any more than that!)
So I once said to a college class I was teaching: “Fiction writing isn’t really that challenging. Write the first third of a story, and the rest seems to take care of itself. I just sit there and watch it all unfold.”
Do you ever write things that you later wish you could retract?
Yes, lots. But I’m not going to say what they are. I think all of us have views, especially spiritual ones, that evolve and grow through the years. One nice thing about repackaging e-books for Kindle is that I can excise the heresy (and lame humor) from times gone by.
What’s the Quadratic Formula?
Oh, come on, you guys. Sigh. X equals negative B plus-or-minus the square root of B squared minus 4AC, all over 2A
What’s the latest?
I’m really excited about the new trilogy project: Love in a Distant Land. Rachel Marie Stone (the little sister in all the Bucky Stone stories) has just broken up with her hunk boyfriend, Adrian, because they simply are not in the same spiritual universe. After the loss of a close friend, she decides to take a year and teach sixth grade at a Christian school in Bangkok. What follows is a stirring love story mingled in with the saving appeal of the gospel.
Volume 2 is an awesome story entitled And a Happy New You. Samantha Kidd, divorced and with a seven-year-old daughter, relucantly accepts a one-semester post at Bangkok Christian School teaching calculus. Tommy Daggett, the school’s chunky but talented musical director, is an unlikely romantic prospect – but this is Bangkok! A chilling subplot involves the kingdom’s infamous child-prostitution go-go bars and the faculty’s efforts to rescue a girl held captive within.
And coming soon: All the Winning Numbers. More action is unfolding at BCS, as 55-year-old Pastor Sue Baines arrives in Thailand ready to be the interim principal. A colorful Aussie, Dr. Miles Carington, seems poised to win her heart except for one thing: his teenage son, Gino, is a total snot. Can their love rise above this kid’s insufferable resentment and potty mouth?
These aren’t “romance” in the strictest sense of the word – and I suspect that there aren’t many men who write Christian love stories, but it’s a marvelous genre. So many of us have sensed the presence of the Lord guiding in our own romantic quests, and there’s nothing like creating a story where God leads an appealing main character in an inexorable quest for true love.
Here’s the back-cover blurb of Book #1 to whet your appetite!
Her California life is perfect, and so is her man . . . but not quite. Rachel Marie’s love for Adrian is tempered by one inescapable reality: he’s never going to do more than cordially coexist with her devout spiritual faith.
Finding the courage to break things off, she’s abruptly whisked away to an exotic foreign world. Her 28 students at Bangkok Christian School adore their new teacher, “Missie Stone.” But the mingled aromas of orchids and spicy Thai cuisine are quickly masked by an insistent scent of romance.
A handsome vice principal seems to have more than a passing interest in the rookie instructor from America. Then Nigel, an expatriate TV correspondent in Thailand’s capital city, begins to charm Rachel Marie with his matinee looks and very secular flirtations.
The story builds to a wrenching gaan dtatsinjai (decision). Is she God’s chosen vessel to lead Khemkaeng, a casual Buddhist, into embracing Christianity? Or must she settle for the tacit unequally yoked but chemistry-drenched relationship offered by Nigel? Or, in that case, Adrian? The school year is slipping away, and she does have a round-trip plane ticket.