Jim grew up playing sports and loves athletics of all kinds. But he especially loves baseball, the sport htat is a little bit closer to God than all the others.
Before you became an author, you were (and still are!) a very successful business attorney. Tell us how and why you began to write novels.
I was a journalism major before I went to law school, and I have always enjoyed writing. A few years back, I set out to write a book of Sunday school lessons for a class I was teaching, but I struggled with a strong urge to change the stories to suit my teaching purposes. I concluded that God might not look favorably on my editing of his work, so I decided to write a novel instead. My goal was to weave a biblical theme seamlessly into a page-turning story. The result was my first novel, Something That Lasts, which was very well received, both critically and by the public. I’m only interested in writing novels with faith-based themes, because in my mind issues of faith are the big issues in life.
In your latest novel, Forsaken, your main characters are presented with what seems an almost impossible dilemma. Why did you choose to address this thought-provoking topic for your book?
I always start my books with a biblical theme in mind and weave the plot around that theme. The idea for Forsaken came from Matthew 10:37: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” I pictured what it would be like to have to choose between God and my own child’s life. That dilemma is the central plot point of Forsaken.
Taylor Pasbury is my favorite character ever. She is enticingly flawed. By that, I mean that she is nearly a complete wreck on a personal level—drinks too much and sleeps around, for example—but there is so much that is good and courageous and vulnerable about her that it’s impossible not to root for her. She needs faith desperately, and her relationship with Simon Mason is her first step.
In Forsaken, you choose to tell the story through the eyes of a non-believer, or at least a tepid believer. Why?
I try to be careful not to write preachy Christian fiction. I think that can come off as boring to believers and unreadable to non-believers. I’m not trying to administer an evangelical bludgeoning. I want to write page-turning stories that will stimulate thought on important issues of faith. So I try to weave Christian themes and discussions seamlessly into the plot.
Will Taylor Pasbury make it all the way back to God?
Why did you choose a televangelist as a protagonist in this story? What makes Simon different from the stereotypical televangelist?
For the full impact of the central dilemma to play out, I thought it was necessary to make the decision—my faith or my child—to be very public. That raises the stakes, for the characters and the reader. Simon is nearly as flawed as Taylor. Together they learn to live with what they’ve done in the past, and they do the best they can under impossible circumstances. There’s a great life lesson for all of us in that. There are no religious superheroes in Forsaken.
Forsaken raises challenging questions. By the end of the book, do you answer those questions, or do you leave readers to find the answers for themselves?
I try never to answer the questions for the reader. That would insult the reader’s intelligence. I try to tell a page-turning story that stimulates thought about specific issues of faith. I’m very careful not to make my stories into evangelical bludgeonings.
What lessons did you learn through the course of writing this book?
Were you able to come up with an answer to what you would do if you found yourself in Simon’s situation?
I don’t know what I would do. I don’t know if I could watch one of my children die.
Forsaken addresses martyrdom—its motivations and its results. What was the point you were trying to make?
In both of the Taylor Pasbury books (the sequel, Double-Cross, will be released in the fall of 2009), there is an underlying theme: Grace is a gift, and we can’t earn it. So that raises the question of why there have been so many martyrs. What motivates a person to die for faith, when it’s not necessary to salvation? Love is obviously the most important motivator, but there are other, more subtle motivations also. For example, would the Apostle Peter have been as motivated to die for his faith if he did not suffer from the guilt of denying Jesus three times? Would Paul have been as motivated to suffer for his faith if he was not wracked with guilt over his persecution of Christians before his conversion? Martyrdom is not necessary to salvation, but in some instances it may be something a person feels he owes. No human sacrifice can be as pure as Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
Your characters are not religious superheroes. In fact, they are very obviously flawed. Why have you chosen to present a message of faith through characters whose faith is so readily assailable?
My goal is to write entertaining stories first, and to weave the Christian message into the stories naturally. I’m hoping that many readers who would never consider picking up a “Christian” book will read Forsaken because it’s a page-turning story with well-developed characters. Cookie cutter characters with no depth bore me, and I never want to create shallow characters for my readers.
What do you have planned for Taylor in the next book of the series?
Taylor’s mother, who ran out when Taylor was nine, reappears in Double-Cross. She has her own set of flaws and quirks. Together they get themselves into some serious scrapes as they try to unravel the mystery of a suicide that just doesn’t add up.