What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?
The sequel to Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, called
A Day with a Perfect Stranger, is due to be released on July 18, 2006. I hope readers will find it as interesting and engaging as they (well, many of them) found Dinner to be, but in a different way and with a different main character.
Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.
I’m still recovering from waking up and finding myself to be a fiction writer. It was the last thing I ever expected. In the late 90s I had co-authored a couple of nonfiction books on Christian living. I was a writer for a Christian ministry, and I only thought in nonfiction terms. But I took a creative writing course at seminary and found that fiction writing was fun. I then took a course in creativity, and some material on comparative worldviews that I had previously wanted to work into a nonfiction format morphed into a story about Jesus talking with a modern day cynic.
I wrote Dinner with a Perfect Stranger off and on for a year and a half, self-published it, then sent it to the only two contacts I had in Christian publishing. Both expressed initial interest, but WaterBrook Press was the one who caught my vision for the book and ran with it.
I realize that my relatively easy entrance into a book writing career is atypical. All I can say is that it seems to have been God’s time for my first fiction book. My “years in the wilderness” were spent not receiving publishers’ rejection letters, but spending twenty-plus years figuring out what I wanted to do when I grew up—that is, what God had designed me to do.
Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?
I didn’t experience much self-doubt with Dinner with a Perfect Stranger. No one was expecting it, I had no deadline, and I just had fun with it. The sequel,
A Day with a Perfect Stranger, engendered more doubts, but my deadline was short enough that I didn’t have too much time to dwell on it. I think doubts are inevitable, but they are alleviated somewhat if you are writing from the heart, writing a story and conveying a message that you are passionate about.
What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?
Write what God lays on your heart to write, not what someone else tells you or expects you to write. If God gives you a heart for a certain story or message, someone out there needs to read it. It may not be a blockbuster, but God doesn’t just work through blockbusters. I have been greatly touched by books that were mediocre sellers at best.
What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?
To find out what the market is looking for and write that. What the market is looking for may not be at all what God has laid on your heart, what He has gifted you to write, or how He wants to touch other people through you. If the writing is good, there will be a place for it, even if it’s never more than a niche book with modest sales. That may be exactly what God wants to do through you, to touch those people who will read it.
What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?
This isn’t directly related to the publishing business, but I wish I had known how important it was to understand and follow how God has designed you in regard to work. For a decade I pursued a career at which I had some success, but which followed neither how God had primarily gifted me nor where my heart was. Nevertheless, God has used even that to accomplish His purpose in me, so that time was not truly wasted.
Do you have a scripture or quote that has been speaking to you lately?
For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:8, italics mine).
What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)
The Glory and the Dream, A Narrative History of America, 1932–1972, by William Manchester. It’s the best U.S. history I’ve ever read. The Phantom Tollbooth, a children’s book by Norton Juster. I Promise You a Crown: A 40-Day Journey in the Company of Julian of Norwich, arranged by David Hazzard—great on God’s love. C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy. Jurassic Park (I’m a pushover for Michael Crichton novels). Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose’s history of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?
My wedding vows. They captured for my wife and I the reality of Christ living in us and through us toward one another and the high calling to see the glory of God in our lives together.
Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?
So much excellent material, which could truly deepen people’s relationship with God, reaches a few thousand, while less useful books reach millions. But that’s the nature of any market-driven business. God often seems pleased to use niche books to deeply touch lives.
Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?
I am trying to establish my typical. I wrote Dinner whenever I felt inspired. Since no one was waiting for it, I had that luxury. I wrote Day over a brief time span, working days and nights seven days a week. I don’t recommend that. I hope to establish a happy medium with my next book.
If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?
I would choose to be more disciplined in my writing. Most good writers are.
Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?
I would love to be used by God to help people know the depths of God’s love in Christ, and thus be filled to overflowing with God, as the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians.
Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?
Not yet. Ask me again in a few years.
What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?
My favorite parts are at the beginning and end: dreaming up the story, and hearing how God has touched lives with it. My least favorite part is doing self-employed income taxes.
How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?
I am a terrible marketer. I’ve gone the self-publishing route and I know. For now, I simply try to be available for what my publisher’s publicity department recommends, such as interviews, and respond to other opportunities that present themselves.
I've heard of people beginning to use it as an evangelistic tool. How does that make you feel?
I wrote Dinner with a Perfect Stranger because I wanted a book that I personally could give to family and friends that presented the person and work of Jesus Christ in an engaging and entertaining way—a book that you could read in a sitting or two. For people to read the book and want to give it to others for that same purpose thrills me.
Were you worried that readers might not agree with the way you portrayed Jesus?
Not really. I knew that some people would disagree with some things I did with the Jesus character, like having him drink wine. I did that intentionally, not only because he did so in the gospels, but also to challenge people to venture outside the extrabiblical boxes we construct for ourselves. The goal of the book is to present Jesus. People who aren’t Christians yet aren’t offended by Jesus drinking wine. Why should I hesitate to present a Jesus to them that they can relate to. , Especially especially a biblical Jesus?.
My goal was to make Jesus’s character, words, and action match as closely as I could to the biblical narrative. In fact, the book’s website, www.dinnerwithaperfectstranger.com, lists over 250 Scripture references that match to specific statements Jesus makes in the book.
Despite my experience, it’s hard to break into the publishing industry. Having a contact, as I did, is much more effective than sending in an unsolicited proposal or manuscript. If you think you have a great book, consider attending a good Christian writer’s conference, like the annual one at Mount Hermon, California. Talk to acquisitions editors and agents about your project. That’s an effective and enjoyable shortcut through the submission process.
Read a review of Dinner With a Perfect Stranger by clicking here.