Monday, March 29, 2010
Francine Rivers, Welcome to Seekerville!!!!
If Reba McIntyre is the queen of country music, (and you all know better than to dispute that, right???) Francine Rivers is the go-to gal on Christian fiction. From Redeeming Love to The Atonement Child, to the Mark of the Lion series, to The Last Sin Eater and now her just-released Her Mother’s Hope, Francine’s work has spanned a generation with vibrancy, faith and love.
I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Francine at the 2004 ACFW conference in Denver. It was my first ACFW conference and the birthing ground of The Seekers. I distinctly remember meeting Tina Radcliffe (then Novinski) in the ladies’ room. She was washing her hands, I was standing just behind her and to her left and saw her nametag in the mirror. Being fiendishly clever, I read it backwards, smiled, nodded and said:
“So. This feels quite normal. Ruth Logan Herne coming in second to Tina Novinski… once again. Why don’t you get published and leave the first place contest honors to the rest of us?”
Yup. Typical Ruthy. And yet she loves me. Still.
As our keynote speaker that year, Francine’s loving words spoke to the heart of a Christian author. She treats everyone as an equal and that warm humility blesses everyone who knows her. With a publishing career that spans over three decades, Francine has credits that boggle the mind and a personality that endears the spirit. Several years ago I contacted her for something, a contest perhaps…
And I remember being awestruck that I could just E-MAIL FRANCINE RIVERS AND SHE ANSWERED ME!!!!
When I confessed that, it was almost as if I could hear her laughing through the returning e-mail. “Ruth,” she wrote, “We’re both authors, just having a little chat.”
Umm. Yeah. Right. Only one of us was Francine Rivers.
But that’s how Francine comes across. Sweet. Kind. Straightforward. Honest. And I’ll make her uncomfortable if I wax too long, but that giving spirit is what we gravitate to in her books. She emotes a honest examination of conscience that offers inspiration, a gift I see as the work of the Holy Spirit.
I would love to sit in her kitchen and eat toast with home-made jam, watch the birds and swap stories someday. But for now we’ll PRETEND we’re in the kitchen. Hers. Mine is rarely clean enough to host anything more than a three-year-old tea party. Three-year-olds overlook things like dust, dog hair and science projects in the refrigerator.
I made a fresh batch of Ruthy-bread, Mary Connealy sent some fresh-churned butter from Nebraska, Cara Slaughter has picked and shipped ginormous Florida strawberries and Francine has brought the homemade jelly along.
Sit down, grab a cup of joe or help yourself to the cappuccino bar. Sweet tea is to your left and fresh lemons are on a bowl of ice just beyond. Cozy up and welcome Francine with me while we chat about love, life and God.
Thank you for coming over, Ruthy. And for the sweet, over-the-top introduction. Why don’t we sit here at my kitchen nook table? Aren’t the little American finches cute? They eat their weight in seed every day. There’s a mourning dove. I hope our young hawk doesn’t swoop by this morning. Rick said the other day this is definitely a bird feeder – all kinds of birds. I enjoy it when he visits and perches on one of the oak branches. The other birds go into hiding, and he keeps an eye on me. If I move, off he goes.
I know you were published in the ABA before switching to the CBA. Given the conservative nature of the CBA at the time, did you think Redeeming Love would be long shot to get published in either market? Can you give us the story behind the publication of Redeeming Love (i.e. your agent's thoughts as to the likelihood of publication, the difficulty of getting it published, if any, and the eventual "call"?)
Redeeming Love was my first book as a born-again Christian, and it was a “hard sell”. The editor at Berkeley-Jove with whom I had worked for a number of years didn’t want it because it was “an allegory about God”. Other publishers rejected it for the same reason. A Christian working as an editor for Bantam had been looking for faith-based stories. She offered a contract. The book didn’t last long on the shelves. As soon as it went out-of-print, my agent, Jane Jordan Browne, requested the reversion of rights. I wanted to make some revisions to the original manuscript – soften some of the more explicit scenes, remove a few “hard-core” words and add a conversion scene. Tyndale House President, Dr. Taylor, didn’t feel the book was right for their lists (and it wasn’t at the time). He and I talked and he prayed with me. Karen Ball, my editor at Tyndale House, had recently taken a job with Multnomah, and she wanted Redeeming Love. Dr. Taylor prayed a blessing over the project. That meant a great deal to me.
The “redeemed” version of Redeeming Love was published by Multnomah with a letter in the front warning readers of the “R” rated content. Bible stories are often very edgy. Redeeming Love remains my personal favorite of all the books I’ve written because it comes from Hosea which had a profound effect on my life, and the story is all about the Lord and His love for us. I consider it my statement of faith.
Adult relationships between parent and child are not always easy. I’ve been to your website and your new release intrigues me. Can you tell us about Her Mother’s Hope?
When my grandmother died, she and my mother were somewhat estranged. Mom thought Grandma “willed herself” to die just so they would never be able to talk things out. That broke my heart because I knew how much Mom loved Grandma. Mom had also told me that Grandma had never once said “I love you” to her, but she had heard Grandma say it to me often.
Those things haunted me for years. I knew “the reason” Grandma had been angry at the end (though it wasn’t entirely rational, and definitely not “fair”), but why would a mother never tell her daughter “I love you”? That’s what started the exploration of mother-daughter relationships – and the other possibilities of why someone might not be willing to share their feelings. I also wanted to show how patterns can be passed down to the next generation, yet can be changed by one person who loves God and loves as He loves.
The theme of the book is grace. Grace is a free and undeserved gift from God given to us so that we can extend it to others. I also hope readers will come away wanting to share their lives with their family members. Too often we keep secrets, never sharing the experiences of relationships that shaped our lives.
The manuscript was so long (and I wrote it twice!) that Tyndale decided to divide it into two books. So the first half of the story – Her Mother’s Hope – centers on Marta and Hildemara, characters based on my grandmother and my mother. The second book – Her Daughter’s Hope – continues the story with Hildemara’s daughter, Carolyn, and her grand-daughter, May Flower Dawn.
There was so much I wanted to say through these four women (Marta, Hildemara, Carolyn and May Flower Dawn). Each generations views God and faith differently. Grandma believed God helped those who helped themselves. My mother believed God loved those who served. My generation thought God was dead and then later cried out to God for help. My daughter’s generation is polarized. Some think God owes them a blessing. Others are walking examples of Christ, fully devoted to the Lord and walking in His ways.
If you haven’t seen the “trailer” on my new website, I hope you will take a look. It has the “feeling” of what issues are in Her Mother’s Hope and Her Daughter’s Dream. My heart – and family – are interwoven into these books.
How do you deal with being an author in the spotlight -- contests, ratings on Amazon, glowing reader mail, reviews, etc.? Is it a struggle to "become less so He can become more?"
A few years back, while in an RWA competition, I saw the effect of the awards on a dear friend who “lost”. She was devastated and cried. She was happy I had received the award, but she longed for affirmation for her work. This writer had published far more novels than I had and is a wonderful writer. Seeing how hurt she was crushed me. Hence, I decided not to compete again. Why do we do it? For the market? We are one in Christ, and I don’t want anything to come in the way of that. And I don’t believe there is any such thing as a “best book” (unless it’s the Bible). If a novel or non-fiction book changes someone, encourages them, or opens their hearts to Christ, that is their best book of the year whether it sold ten copies or a million.
I don’t read reviews if I can avoid them. Good ones tend to stir pride, and the bad ones crush the spirit, neither of which is good for my faith walk. Reviews are one person’s opinion. God is the one we want to please. I’m one of those people who would love to please everyone, so it’s better if I keep my audience to One. All I can do is put heart and soul into my work and leave what happens with it to Him.
And, following that, how do you graciously handle spontaneous interruptions in your life by well-meaning fans? Is that difficult or intrusive?
I’m never sure what to say when a fan stops me or wants to tell me how one of my books has impacted their lives. I think God can use anything to reach into the hearts of His children – even a work of fiction. But saying that sounds like false humility. So I say “Thank you”. I am thankful. Hearing how God uses something I’ve written for His good purpose encourages me to keep working.
As to interruptions, they often come. Sometimes I can feel the impatience well up inside me, and then I remind myself that people are far more important than work. And there is probably a good reason for the interruption. I need to stop work and listen. It’s not about giving up time, but receiving whatever it is God wants to offer through this person. And, hopefully, giving whatever they need in the way of encouraging words. Nothing happens by accident. Sometimes an interruption is a divine appointment.
Frannie, Michael Landon Jr. did a film version of The Last Sin Eater and you said you were amazed at how the actors were able to emote time and again as scenes were re-shot. I saw there’s a movie version of Redeeming Love in the works. How much or how little input do you as an author have in that project and is it difficult to hand over the reins on a beloved book?
And can they do it justice? Part of the draw in the book is the reader’s investment in the inner feelings of the hero and heroine. The reader empathizes and/or sympathizes with both characters, but so much of that is because of their internal struggle. Does the nature of this story make it more difficult to transfer to film?
Ah, Redeeming Love, the movie. This project has been in the works for a number of years and hasn’t really developed “legs”. Christy Lee Taylor, lovely young woman came to a retreat to meet and talk with me about making a movie. She had worked at PAX TV and also done some acting and created her own production company, Abba Productions. She had a passion for Redeeming Love, and a vision of how it should be made into a movie. Although she had little experience and no real movie-making credits, I decided to let her run with it.
The contract I had written by an entertainment attorney made certain I would have final say on the script, and would see the final cut before release. If the movie isn’t what it should be (quality and story), I can remove my name and any mention of the book from the credits. Christy has worked very hard and made many amazing contacts. Some very well-known writers and directors are interested in being part of the project. Financing is the major stumbling block. It’s all in God’s hands.
Francine, when you were the keynote speaker at the ACFW conference, you gently compared writers who are Christian to Christian writers. Can you explain how they differ? Is one a better way to use a gift than the other or are they roads less traveled comparatively?
There is a big difference between a Christian who writes and a Christian writer. A Christian who writes can write anything, and not necessarily something that is glorifying to the Lord. They write for a market. A Christian writer centers their work on Jesus Christ. He is central to their story. The purpose of Christian fiction is to whet the appetite of the reader for the real thing: a relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and a passion for His Word.
It’s not that one writer is better than the other. Each is called to a different purpose. A Christian who writes can still (and often does) weave their “world view” into their stories. Their goal is to entertain. A Christian writer is focused on presenting Christ. And, of course, both want to sell books.
I’m not sure I’m explaining this very well…
I think you explained it just fine.
As an author who wrote for ABA , you had a host of titles and awards to your credit. I saw that you described your first books as Western Gothic Romance and I laughed. What a fun combination of emotions that must have been.
You’ve since bought back the rights to those books to block them being remarketed. Francine, that takes guts and moxie. Not everyone has the conviction to turn their back on the promise of more money. Was it a difficult decision? And expensive?
I called the first books western-gothic-romances because I loved all three of those genres and liked the fun of combining them.
Getting the rights back to my B.C. books was a business decision to start. My agent always made it a practice to get the reversion of rights as soon as the book went out of print, in the eventuality that the book could be sold again to another publisher. After becoming a Christian, the B.C. books were not the message I wanted to offer to readers. They were about “eros”. Redeeming Love was an attempt to define “agape”. I didn’t want people going back and forth and getting confused about my focus. That made the decision easy. Keep the old books off the market. I made that promise to God.
A few years later, I forgot that promise when my editor suggested I make revisions (like I had with Redeeming Love) and republished sanitized, Christianized reprints of old books in the Christian market. I dove into revision work, but it grew more and more frustrating. I couldn’t figure out why until my daughter, Shannon, reminded me of the promise I had made to God. Oh! That’s right! I did make that decision and promise, didn’t I? Ooops! I contacted my editor and explained the project was over.
We did find out a few years ago that the original publisher had sold the rights of one of my old Second Chance at Love books to another publisher – who then reprinted the book as a “new release. I called my agent as soon as readers let me know. I ended up hiring an attorney at considerable expense to make certain the book was pulled off the market and we had written confirmation of reversion of rights. I also wrote a letter on my website, letting people know what happened.
I encourage people to check the copyright date before buying a book. Anything before 1991 (pre-Redeeming Love) is B.C. Publishers often repackage books to attract new readers and increase sales. I’ve purchased books I thought were new, only to find out I had already read it. Saves money and time to check those dates in the front of the book.
You seem to write as the Lord directs, with him leading powerfully as you go, making your writing seem more an act of obedience than a job. Is that how you see it? How it feels?
Yes, I believe the Lord directs me. Not always where I want to go. But He knows where I need to go – always somewhere in my own life that needs realignment with Him. It can be painful. I’ll see myself in some character’s bad behavior. God is amazingly merciful – even when He’s pointing out our sins and crusty attitudes. He tenderly works on transforming us one-day-at-a-time.
Writing has become a form of worship for me. I have to start in Scripture before writing each day because there is always something in His Word that clarifies where I’m going in the lives of the characters. When you ask God a question, expect answers. He will show you want He wants you to know in all kinds of ways. Writing for the Lord is more exciting than any other kind of writing I’ve ever done. I’m never quite sure where I’m going. Even when I think I know, God surprises me.
Francine, just so you know I am NOT comparing myself to you…
Well, okay, maybe a little because I like to 'fix' things by writing their stories, too.
You wrote The Atonement Child because of your personal experience with abortion and the internal guilt that festers even after we acknowledge God’s forgiveness. I tend to ‘fix’ my past that way, too. It’s good therapy for me and I know others can relate to the helplessness and guilt inspired by traumas. Has being open about things come back to haunt you at times? Has there ever been backlash?
Amazingly enough, I’ve never had any backlash from The Atonement Child – though Rick and I both expected it. It turned out to be the most healing book I have ever written – healing for me and healing for my husband. I was “Hannah” in the story. Rick was “Doug”. He wasn’t in my life when I had an abortion. Sadly, Rick had to live through the consequences and aftermath with me. I lost three of his babies, largely due (I believe) to what the abortion does to a woman’s body. It was almost eight years after I became a Christian before I admitted I needed help. God kept reminding me, and I kept shutting down.
God had forgiven me. What I didn’t understand is how we can refuse to forgive ourselves. When I finally gave in to the Lord’s prodding, I went through the post-trauma Bible study at the local pregnancy counseling center while writing the book. Later, after the book was released, Rick went through a Bible study geared for men who live with post-abortive women. Rick and I grew closer. I told him things about my past that I had never shared before, and he had the compassion of Christ.
The year of writing the book was the most difficult of my writing career, but so many blessings came out of it – not the least of which was a much stronger and more loving marriage. What is it Annie Dillard said? “You have to stand in the darkness to see the stars.” I love that. It’s so true. We don’t have to be afraid of the darkness. God is standing right beside us.
I love the rippled jelly glasses, they’re ‘shabby chic’ country elegance at its best. Umm… what kind of jelly is this, exactly?
It’s my favorite jelly -- homemade quince. Hard to find now. I order it from a catalog. Grandma used to make quince jelly every year from fruit off her own tree. I never realized what an act of love it was. Quince is one of the hardest fruits to work with – but, oh,my, the jelly that comes from that bitter fruit is sweeter than honey. (I think there’s a spiritual lesson in this jelly.)
Thank you for dropping by for a visit, Ruthy! I’ve loved chatting with you and the Seekersville ladies about writing and life. God bless each of you. Write on!! Proverbs 3:5-6!
You know, just reading your answers gives me that cozy Francine feeling I had in Denver, and when I e-mailed you that first time years back. Francine, you have a blessed gift of insight and acceptance that makes people feel welcome at your table, at your door. God has blessed you with that and blessed us with your sharing nature. And I get all ver klempt during Holy Week so I’ll say no more, just…. Thank you, dear woman.
Friends of Seekerville, come on in, try some of my homemade bread and Francine’s quince jelly. Mary’s fresh butter. Cara’s Florida berries.
My kids used to love homemade bread spread with homemade jam (although our favorite was sour cherry jam) and it’s such a simple, old-fashioned feast. Grab a mug or a glass and help yourself to whatever suits this day.
Don’t you just feel like you were tucked at Francine’s table, sharing stories, sharing life? And the purple finches???? Oh my stars, the upside of not being the neatest thing going is that if you leave your artificial Christmas wreaths up on your door, these sweet songsters will nest right in your wreath, while it's on the door. Seriously. How sweet is that????
And please leave us a comment to be entered in a drawing for Francine's newest release, Her Mother's Hope. Be sure to leave your e-mail address in your comment, or if you'd prefer to have it unpublished, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org It will go no further. Promise.
And Francine is on book tour right now, so we're not sure if she's going to be able to physically 'drop by' today. We'll leave that up to her and her schedule while she's promoting this long-awaited release.