Today my guest is Francine Rivers. I met her in 2003 (if my memory serves me correctly) at The Christian Writers Guild writing conference in North Carolina. I had my picture made with her (I cannot find the photo album that holds that picture) when I first got there because a group of ladies asked me to take their picture with her. I did not know who she was at the time, I’m ashamed to say, but I didn’t want to miss out on the photo shoot. I ate lunch at her table and listened to everyone talk about her books. What amazed me was how she wanted to know about all of us. Then that night, she was the keynote speaker. How had I missed such a lovely lady through all the years of my reading and writing? I do not know. But I can say that she blessed me through and through. Today, we honor Francine and her book, Redeeming Love, which is twenty years old now!
Francine, tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up outside Pleasanton, California, a small farming community over the hills from Oakland, California. There were fields of Jackson-Perkins rose, and later, fresh tomatoes. The biggest event was the Alameda County Fair. I have one older brother, Everett, who lives up in the redwoods with his wife, Evelyn. Both of us waited seven years to have children. Our parents had just about given up hope of ever having grandchildren, and then were blessed five within four years; my brother has two (a son and daughter), and I have three (son-daughter-son).
I was brought up in the Pleasanton Presbyterian Church, had a wonderful pastor, good teachers. My parents were always active, and served as deacon and elder. They sent me to church camp (Mount Hermon in the Santa Cruz Mountains) several times. So I had knowledge about Jesus, but I didn’t give my life to Him until I was in my late thirties and my husband, Rick, and I were struggling in our marriage. I started attending a small non-denominational church that taught straight out of the Bible. We opened our home for a Bible study. Rick and I were both baptized in May 1986. We moved from Sebastopol to Windsor and now live in Santa Rosa, and the Bible study is still going after 27 years. Rick is the teacher.
Before becoming a Christian, I had a successful career writing steamy historical romances for the general market. After becoming a Christian, I couldn’t write at all. I tried, but nothing felt right. It took a long time to realize that God had taken that part of my life away because it had become an idol. I thought my identity came from writing. I felt I had control in that area. I also felt God was saying I needed to spend time with Him, studying His Word, and getting to know Him. Up until those three years, I had never read the Bible all the way through. I did several times during that time, using the One Year Bible – which I still read on a yearly basis. Our pastor was teaching the home study at that time, and when we began reading the minor prophets, I felt stirred by the story of Hosea. I knew this was the love story God wanted me to write as a way to share my faith, especially with those readers who had followed my career. It was the most incredible year of writing I’ve ever had. I felt Jesus’ presence and followed His leading.
And that novel has changed many lives! Any time I mention your name, that’s the one book that so many mention to me as being inspirational to them. You’ve published over 20 novels, remained on the Best Sellers list, won awards, and had The Last Sin Eater released as a movie. How do you feel to have achieved these milestones?
Humbled. These things don’t happen alone. I had the encouragement of my husband, children, prayer partners, editors, an entire publishing team, and readers who are every bit a part of everything that’s happened. I’ve been blessed with great editors, the first of which is my husband, Rick, then Karen Ball and Kathy Olson. I try to stay focused on my writing. I no longer compete. I don’t enter (and have asked my publisher not to enter) any book I write in a contest or award system. For a long time, I’ve felt this is contrary to what God wants for me. In my opinion, this is a golden age of fiction and there are numerous outstanding, gifted writers. My job is to keep improving and keep writing stories for as long as God wants me to do that. He could take writing away again if it becomes too important to me, and I’ve asked Him to do that if my priorities aren’t right or my motivation for writing changes. We’re all apprentices in whatever we do in life. There’s always something more to learn.
Amen! I have not entered any contests as of yet and may not do so after hearing your heart on the subject. Do you have a favorite novel that you’ve written? Is so, which one is it?
Redeeming Love – because it was the first book I wrote as a born-again Christian. It’s based on Hosea, and is God’s story, not mine.
I went on a trip with three other women in my church. We’d all longed to follow the Oregon Trail. While on that 5,200 mile drive to Independence and back to Oregon and down to California, we visited numerous small museums and read all kinds of personal diaries and stories. What I learned is people from the past and the present are all struggling to find their way in the world, contending with what they believe controls their lives, be it hard times, a husband’s new job, illness. Some realize that God is sovereign. For those of us who surrender to our Creator and Lord, we can look back and see how He was there from the beginning of our lives, reaching out, offering guidance and hope and a plan that would give us joy. I had the women separated by a century because I wanted readers to see we all have a common struggle, and we can have true intimacy with our Creator, the omniscient, omnipresent God through Jesus Christ.
Your books have been great therapy for your readers. Have you found that writing them has been therapy for you as well?
Definitely! I always start with a question and the process of writing brings me before the Lord who has the answers I crave. With that question foremost in my mind, I receive constant insights and instructions through scripture, conversations, situation, observations. I know God loves me. James 1:5 and 6 comes to mind: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him (or her) ask of God who gives to all men (mankind) generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him (or her). But let him (or her) ask in faith without any doubting..” Those who seek find.
James is my favorite book of the Bible and that is one of my favorite passages. I love that you start with a question when you write instead of just a story idea that could be meaningless. Before writing for the Christian market, you wrote for the general market. What was your biggest obstacle in becoming published in the Christian market?
Several publishers turned down A Voice in the Wind because of my general market books. They didn’t believe I was a Christian. Tyndale flew me back to Chicago and met with me at their offices in Wheaton. They wanted to see me face-to-face, ask what I wanted to do with my writing, and know when and how I came to Christ. They weren’t just interested in my writing, they wanted to know me. That’s rare in the publishing industry. I’ve been working with them for twenty years and feel blessed to be one of their authors.
What are you working on right now?
A story based on Ezekiel 16 and I’ve set it in a small Northern California town. There are lots of characters, but the main story revolves around a foundling, a pastor and his son.
What inspired you to write this particular book?
I’ve been pondering the wrath and love of God, His character, His desire and passion for us, His faithfulness. And I’ve been thinking about Satan and how he longs to destroy each of us. When he succeeds, he is stabbing the heart of God. The story centers on that spiritual battle.
(Left) Francine on the movie set of The Last Sin Eater
Where do you get ideas for your books?
Ideas come from everywhere; Bible stories, scripture, something I read in the newspaper, day-dreams, things I see. Sometimes I go out for long rides when I feel creatively dry. There’s always something new around every bend. I keep an idea file which is about two inches thick. An idea can be a sentence or a paragraph or a hundred pages outlining a story that doesn’t really make sense to anyone but me. I try to leave myself open at all times. I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night to jot down an idea. (Advice to writers: always keep a notebook and pen handy!)
I do the same thing, except now I use my smartphone instead of pen and paper and I email my thoughts to my laptop! In three words, describe your style of writing.
Dependent on God.
Are you a plotter, a pantster, or somewhere in between, and can you elaborate on your answer?
Somewhere in between. I do write out an outline, but seldom stick to it. In fact, I’m re-outlining several chapters right now. The best part of writing is when characters take over and begin to show me their stories. When that happens, I can’t type fast enough.
What is your writing schedule and where do you write?
Rick and I are early risers. We read our One Year Bibles separately and then read portions of several devotionals to one another. (We’re always on the look-out for new books to read!) We pray together. I have breakfast, then exercise for about half an hour before showering and getting ready for work. I head downstairs for my office sometime between 8 and 9 a.m. My goal is to write four pages a day, five days a week. Saturday is usually my day to answer mail. I don’t work on Sunday. Writing blogs and earth psalms for the website is both fun and challenging, but I’m always afraid I’m wasting readers’ time – which is the last thing I want to do.
I highly doubt you are wasting anyone’s time! You are a gifted writer. Share something about your day-to-day life that might help a reader feel as though they know you a little better.
I spend a good deal of my life sitting at a computer. Our German Shepherd, Sarge, will come in and stare at me until I take him out in the backyard and throw the tennis ball for him. He’s never caught on to giving me the ball — which is fine because I don’t like handling a ball covered with dog slobber. So, I use two balls. He’s learned to drop one as he runs past me to get the other one. So we’re both chasing tennis balls around the backyard. It’s great exercise for both of us, and gets me out of the office for fifteen minutes five or six times a day.
Do you have a favorite scripture? If so, why is it your favorite?
Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will make your path straight.” I love this scripture because it summarizes the life of faith, and it was my mother’s favorite verse.
Beautiful! What is the bravest thing you have ever done?
Have three babies without using any drugs. I wanted to feel everything. It was amazing. Lamaze classes helped, and Rick coached me through childbirth. He almost passed out (and he was a Marine). Lucky guy got to hold our babies before I did.
That is brave! What is the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you?
The most embarrassing thing that still happens to me (all the time!) is forgetting people’s names. I remember faces. I know I know the person, but can’t remember in what context – church, somewhere I spoke, Bible Study Fellowship classes, classmate. This isn’t something new. I’ve been known to call one of my children by the dog’s name, and the other way around. (My children often roll their eyes.)
Glad to know I’m not the only one! What is your number one spiritual gift?
I have no idea. I love Jesus. I want to glorify Him.
I believe you are an encourager. Do you have a writing tip you’d like to share with aspiring authors?
Proverbs 16:3; 1 Corinthians 15:58; 2 Corinthians 10:5, Proverbs 16:1, 1 Chronicles 28:20.
Thank you for those verses. Homework for our readers! Where can fans find you and your books on the internet?
Thank you, Francine, for blessing us with this interview. I am so excited to see what else God does with your life!