Recently, I had the chance to catch up with Francine Rivers, one of the most amazing Christian writers I know. She’s been quite busy lately launching her new novel, Bridge to Haven. She’s got another best seller on her hands. You don’t want to miss it!
So let’s get to the interview!
Tell us about the birth of Bridge to Haven. Do you remember where you were when the seeds were first planted in your mind and heart to write this? How did it unfold?
Each time I’ve read the Bible and come to Ezekiel 16, I knew it was an allegory about God’s love for Israel, but also felt it was an evocative story showing the journey to faith of a single person. The same is true of the prodigal son parable. Even if we haven’t crashed and burned and ended up in the gutter, we have all been prodigals at one time or another. The entire Bible is filled with stories of stubborn, stumbling, struggling people and how God continues to love and draw them to Himself.
Part of the reason I placed Bridge to Haven in 1950s Hollywood is I remembered idolizing stars as a teenager. I believed all the stories about them, though those stories turned out to be untrue. Even their names were made up. Even now, the headlines in the magazines next to the supermarket check-out are blazing the private lives of young stars and starlets. We’ve watched a few crumble under the strain of fame, dying of drug overdoses, arrested for shop lifting or drunk driving, every detail of their lives open for public consumption and discussion. These beautiful, rich, and talented young man-made and man-demolished idols are vulnerable and exposed, hurting and in need of a Savior. It’s not just about the Abras of the world, but also the Pastor Zekes and Joshuas. Every life has a backstory.
Oh, wow! Thank you for sharing that with us.
Here’s a little about the book:
To those who matter in 1950s Hollywood, Lena Scott is the hottest rising star to hit the silver screen since Marilyn Monroe. Few know her real name is Abra. Even fewer know the price she’s paid to finally feel like she’s somebody.
To Pastor Ezekiel Freeman, Abra will always be the little girl who stole his heart the night he found her, a wailing newborn abandoned under a bridge on the outskirts of Haven. Zeke and his son, Joshua—Abra’s closest friend—watch her grow into an exotic beauty. But Zeke knows the circumstances surrounding her birth etched scars deep in her heart, scars that leave her vulnerable to a fast-talking bad boy who proclaims his love and lures her to Tinseltown.
Hollywood feels like a million miles from Haven, and naive Abra quickly learns what’s expected of an ambitious girl with stars in her eyes. But fame comes at an awful price. She has burned every bridge to get exactly what she thought she wanted. Now, all she wants is a way back home.
In this riveting and highly anticipated tale of temptation, grace, and unconditional love, New York Times best-selling author Francine Rivers delivers big-canvas storytelling at its very best.
Francine, this book deals with burning bridges and coming home. You write about forgiveness, grace and reconciliation in your books. When a “prodigal child” is beginning to find the way home, there’s a fear of rejection. Hope doesn’t often abound in the heart of this prodigal. What words of encouragement would you give to someone who fears she may have burned one too many bridges and finds it difficult to return?
Life and relationships with people are always a risk, but God’s love is certain. He keeps every promise He makes. Sometimes we have to confess and make amends. Sometimes those amends are simply a well-lived life and the hope that bridges can be built over time. Keep your eyes on the One who made you and loves you no matter what you’ve done. He has a plan for your life. Surrender to Him. Live for Him. Treat others the way you would have them treat you. Do what is right no matter how hard it is and leave the results in God’s hands. He is always working. He is the God of hope and restoration.
You said in your interview with Nora St. Laurent (Book Fun Magazine, May 2014) “Consequences are God’s blessings because they make us aware of our sin.” Please elaborate on that for our readers.
Quite simply, sometimes the worst things that happen in our lives or the worst choices we make are the very things that bring us to the point of crying out to God and seeking a relationship with Him. God is the healer and restorer. He is the lover of our soul. He made us for a purpose. We will never find real, lasting serenity without Him.
In Bridge to Haven, which character did you identify with the most and why? Which character did you find it the hardest to understand/love and why?
In my earlier years, I would have identified with Abra. Now that I’m older, I connect with Mitzi Martin. I loved writing about her. She has her own dark past and journey to faith in Christ. She understands Abra in a way even Abra doesn’t understand herself. Mitzi knows how much God loves Abra and that one day the girl’s eyes, ears and heart will be opened to Him. So Mitzi makes it a point to plant secret seeds of hope. Abra balks, but Mitzi is a determined lady. And, because I get to write the story of both women, those seeds do grow and blossom. I also like the edgy nature of Mitzi, an earthy, outspoken woman of faith from hard knocks who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. I know women like her and admire them.
Irene Farley is the church secretary. She’s funny and helpful to others. Knows what’s going on with everyone in the church but never gossips about them. In today’s world, that’s something you rarely find! People often gossip while “sharing a prayer request”. What made you include an amazing character like Irene in this book?
Irene is based on several women I know who have been long-time workers in churches. Our congregation was blessed for many years with a woman like Irene who knew everybody and everything about their problems, and dispensed Godly wisdom and compassion. What was said to her remained with her. Some people came to church just because they were drawn by the warmth and love in her telephone voice. She was as much a minister as the man standing in the pulpit. Even he said so.
It is true you can’t trust everyone. My mother gave me some great advice when I was young. She told me not to make friends too quickly. Sometimes the ones who are eager to welcome you turn out to be gossips and busy-bodies. My mom encouraged me to spend time observing how people live and relate to others outside the church as well as inside the hallowed hallways. I’ve learned the hard way to choose friends carefully. Trust is foundational and goes both ways. We are only as good as our word. By the grace of God, I have a number of very good and trustworthy friends. They are all very different in personality, backgrounds, and life styles. A few I see on a regular basis, some only once a year and we stay in touch through frequent email correspondence. I feel blessed with the friends God has given me, and try to be a blessing to them as well.
Boy, that’s a chunk of wisdom right there! I, too, know the pain of making friends with the wrong people. It hurts and takes a while to get over. You seem to be such a loving and caring person and it is reflected in your books. In life, do you ever meet difficult-to-love people, what I call “sandpaper people”? If so, how do you deal with the situation?
I listen. I ask quiet questions. Everyone has a backstory, and we are all difficult in our own way. Some are difficult because they have been abused and used and had to become tough to survive. Some have been deeply hurt (sometimes by Christians or a church) and are protecting themselves from being hurt again. People who have been judged tend to judge. I have to be careful, too, when entering into a new friendship because I tend to be an enabler. I’ve learned over the years to listen carefully, move slowly and cautiously, and evaluate frequently as to whether I am falling into old, unhealthy patterns. If I am, I withdraw. It’s not just about my emotional and spiritual health. It is also about the other person. I cannot save anyone. That’s God’s business.
That’s all about guarding your heart and guarding the heart of your friend, too. In your writing, you never shy away from sharing Jesus with your readers. You’re not preachy, but you certainly don’t water down the message either. How do you find the balance?
I’m busy pursuing a relationship with Jesus and spending time with Him in His Word and talking with Him throughout the day, and all of that will hopefully and naturally permeate my life as well as my work. Sharing Jesus and the Gospel isn’t something I add into a story or lay over my work. It’s just there. I write in order to draw closer to Him and find the answers I need. Wherever I am and whatever I do has everything to do with what God is doing inside me through the transforming process of the Holy Spirit. We are all works-in-progress.
What would you say to new Christian writers who may compromise and write something a bit too edgy just to make a sale?
If the writer has already made up his/her mind, then I would say nothing. God will speak to them in a still quiet voice. If they asked for my opinion, I would encourage the writer to think long and hard about who their real audience is. Nothing is hidden from God. He is the audience of One. Write from your passion and don’t be afraid to go to the darkest places in your life because that’s where God will be waiting to shine His light. Don’t be lazy in your writing. Being explicit is easy. Evoking an emotional response in a reader that will enlighten them in some way is much more difficult – and far more rewarding.
If you were to write something totally outside of your norm, something that people would say, “Woah, that’s a Francine Rivers’ book?” what would it be?
Science fiction! I’m a Trekkie. I watched the first Star Trek series in college and loved all the morality tales. I have the full set of The New Generation. I’ve watched all the movies, and have the newest two on DVD. I even attended a Star Trek convention years ago when it came to our area. I’ve had a few ideas come to mind, one even sparked by Noah’s Ark.
I love it!!! I would definitely read it. What bit of advice do you have for managing a writing career/hobby while maintaining a healthy balance with other areas of life (home life, ministry, work)?
Everything in life is a matter of priorities. God first, family second, career third. When God is first priority, He’ll help bring everything else into the proper balance. When I forget to make God my first priority, the day quickly unravels and becomes a mess.
Just for fun:
What is your favorite season?
Late spring when the flowers are blooming and the temperature is rising.
Do you prefer the beach or the mountains?
I love the sound of surf and crashing waves. I love scent of salt-water washed and sun-baked sand, the bark of sea lions, the cry of gulls. But I also love the scent of pine and the sound of the wind through the redwoods, the moss-covered ground and stillness of a mountain forest. Sorry. I can’t pick only one or the other.
Sunshine or rain?
The flowers wouldn’t grow for lack of rain – or sunshine.
When/where do you get most of your productive writing done?
I work best in the morning in my downstairs office (which I share with my husband, Rick), but my best ideas come at night when I’m about to fall asleep. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve jumped out of bed, grabbed my mini-flashlight and scurried into the kitchen to jot down notes.
Tell us a little about your recent sailing trip around the Horn. Did this journey plant any seeds for new stories in your heart and mind?
Rick has long wanted to follow the journey of his Swedish grandfather around the Horn. It’s been on out bucket list for years. We flew to Buenos Aires and boarded the Golden Princess and cruised south. As it turned out, there was a storm and the seas were too rough to approach the Horn. The Captain had to re-route the ship. Though somewhat disappointed, we felt we had a very small feel of the dangers at the Horn. Grandpa Johnson was a sailor on a windjammer and it took 90 days for the crew to make it around the Horn in 1905, the worst year in written history for passages around the Horn. Grandpa worked the ropes and repaired rigging. We were cozy and comfortable in our cabin, rocked to sleep by the rock-and-rolling currents.
The entire voyage from Buenos Aires to Los Angeles took thirty-one days and we had excursions in almost every port. The highlights for me were the Magellan penguins, spending two days visiting and sight-seeing with missionary friends in Valparaiso and Coquimbo, Chile, and a macaw refuge.
Although I didn’t come up with an idea for a story, I never know what these experiences will bring out in the future. My trip journals are not always about what is happening each day, but what ideas are floating around in my head.
Thank you so much, Francine, for joining us today! We wish you much success with this latest book and look forward to many more.