by C.J. Darlington
Frank Peretti Interview
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"You know the Lord has a calling on your life when it won’t go away. It just stays there. You go through fazes, you go through fads, obsessions, but that calling that the Lord has on your life, that’s the thing that never fades, never goes away." -- Frank Peretti
With more than 15 million novels in print, Frank Peretti is nothing short of a publishing phenomenon and has been called “America’s hottest Christian novelist.” The Oath (Word Publishing 1995), sold more than half a million copies within the first six months of release. The Visitation (Word Publishing 1999), was #1 on the CBA Fiction Bestseller list for four months. Born in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada in 1951, Frank is a natural storyteller who, as a youngster in Seattle, regularly gathered the neighborhood children for animated storytelling sessions, drew comics, and tapped out stories on his mother’s portable typewriter.
What was it that kept you going through the discouraging times when you were working in a ski factory dreaming of being a writer but having trouble seeing how it would happen?
You know, it’s when the Lord makes you to do something, you just know that’s what your calling is. Like having a dream or vision for your life—you just know that you’ve just got to do that (Laughs). I just had to be a writer or storyteller. It was real murky though, because I remember in the early stages of my life in my twenties and up into my mid thirties I had the creative bug, but I was still trying to find out what avenue. I was into music, radio, acting in theater. I was knocking on a whole lot of doors and stabbing in the dark, going a lot of different directions. But I can remember the day, I was pastoring a church with my dad, and Barb and I went away for a weekend vacation at Deception Pass, which is a real beautiful coastline on the Washington Coast. I remember sitting way up on these rocks overlooking the ocean. It was one of those moments where all the fog cleared and the Lord really put into my mind, “Frank, I want you to be a writer.” Ever since that moment that was my vision, what I aimed for. I was writing This Present Darkness round about that time. When I was working at the ski factory, that’s what I did when I came home.
You know the Lord has a calling on your life when it won’t go away. It just stays there. You go through fazes, you go through fads, obsessions, but that calling that the Lord has on your life, that’s the thing that never fades, never goes away. When you try everything else, and eventually all the things that are secondary fall away, that one little thing, which is usually the quieter thing, is still there. Boy, I identify with the Rocky movies. Seabiscuit. All those movies with the little guy struggling trying to connect, that’s the story of my life.
If I recall there was a moment for you at the ski factory where God gave you a little glimpse into what your future held in terms of writing. Did that help you to have that?
Oh, my yes. I still carry that with me. I still reflect on it. The Lord’s never spoken to me that way before or since. He doesn’t have to! (Laughs.) He gave me just a glimpse of what it was going to be. The Lord brought me to the place of real breaking. I was just crying, and as Providence would have it I was way by myself in the corner of the factory. I could cry all I wanted, and nobody would see. This was after I went to the coast. You get the call from the Lord, but you still have your forty days in the wilderness. It’s that pattern, the Lord calls you . . . Moses had to herd sheep for forty years, David has to flee from Saul, Jesus going into the wilderness after his baptism. It’s a biblical pattern, and I think that’s exactly what it was for me. Okay, Frank, I want you to be a writer, then I’m going to have you work in a factory for a few years.
I remember after I got books accepted for publication and things started to click, I remember a big change . . . I remember walking down the corridor of the factory there. I was actually smiling and feeling good. I said to myself, “I like being Frank Peretti.” I’d never said that before. It’s kind of like the Lord was finally bringing me to what his ultimate plan was. It’s nice when you finally find who you are and what you’re for. It took me until my mid thirties to figure that out! (Laughs)
What sparked the concept of Illusion and how did the idea develop these past few years?
That’s a good question because the process for me is always so slow and piece by piece. You know, the number one question I used to get for This Present Darkness was, “What inspired the story?” I got so sick of the question because I could never come up with a good answer!
For Illusion I think it was three main ideas that I can remember. One, was the idea that I’d had for several years was the concept of somebody being able to cross dimensions, sci-fi, where they can actually transverse space and dimensions and move themselves and other things. I thought about that, and I’m trying to remember . . . where in the world did I come up with the reversion idea? Unless it was just working with a computer, and you know how computers these days are. If you foul up your computer, you can restore it to a previous state. You can go back and restore it to the way it was a week ago, or a month ago, before whatever you did wrong. My Dell used to do that, and my Apple is constantly backing up to an external drive through a program called Time Machine. You can take your computer back to the way it was months ago. But anyway, that’s the concept for this whole experiment that goes on in the book, this reversion, where Mandy is surreptitiously carried away at the point of death and reverted, accidentally, forty years. They didn’t mean to revert her forty years, but that’s one of those cool accidents that happen when scientists are messing around with things that have nothing wrong with them. I don’t know where that idea really came from.
Then the third idea is just that longing that we all feel. The whole bride and bridegroom thing, that the whole body of Christ . . . there’s always this awareness that we’ve just got to be with our bridegroom. It’s been stated many different ways, but we don’t feel at peace until we find him. Mandy is a metaphor of that. She doesn’t know this man, she’s never loved him, they never had a relationship, but she is drawn to him and that’s because he is her bridegroom. He of course lives on a ranch in the country, which is a metaphor for heaven. And she’s off in this crazy quagmire of the world in Las Vegas and all that, which is a metaphor for the world we live in.
Did you set about with those metaphors in mind or did you develop it as you wrote?
I started out with them, but it’s almost yes and yes to both of your questions. Did you start out with that? Yes. Did you develop it as you wrote? Yes.
Some of your novels are more obvious as far as the spiritual takeaway than others, but it sounds like with Illusion those elements are more subtle. Was that intentional?
Yeah, this is a more subtle approach to it. Some of my books, especially the earlier ones, were blatantly evangelical in their tone and content. This one is more metaphorical. All the stuff is in there, but I’m kind of in a more C.S. Lewis mode. For instance, you have doves. They’re present through the whole story. They’re obviously a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Dane is a metaphor for Father God, and he also becomes Christ, the bridegroom. Well, Mandy, she obviously . . . she’s us. It’s kinda cool. It’s the whole gospel, but it’s all couched in a whole different kind of world.
What was your favorite part about writing this novel?
My favorite part was experiencing, just living, feeling vicariously through Mandy and Dane, my own relationship with my sweet wife, Barbara. It was a real self discovery kind of thing for me. It’s like a painter painting a picture of his wife. There’s a lot of me and Barb in the story. As Dane reflects on Mandy and her tenacious love and devotion that she has for him. There’s a little picture of the book. Dane is thinking about Mandy and has a snapshot of her out in this public park when she was just maybe twenty, cooking their dinner on one of those outdoor barbeques the parks have. She’s wearing that she had made herself. That was back when they were traveling around with their magic act when they were just kids, just married. They didn’t even have enough money to get a place to stay. They were living in their camper, cooking their dinner in a park. She stuck with him the whole forty years. There’s a snapshot exactly like that of Barb, cooking our dinner in a public park, we were newly married, in clothes she had made herself. I was a musician for awhile, and we were on the road, and we had no place to stay. The devotion that Barb had to me . . . that’s kind of what propelled the book. As a matter of fact, I even say that at the end of the book where there’s a word from the author.
I don’t know, sometimes you think about the fact that you’re a Christian author, and you’re writing a book, and it’s supposed to carry some sort of Christian message. There’s all kinds of wonderful metaphors in here for the gospel, and our being the bride of Christ. If I can just write a story that talks about how beautiful a love relationship can be, and how wonderful it is for people to be married and in love for forty years, that in itself it’s a message enough! It’s a celebration of love and commitment. That’s the aspect that was my favorite. I love the characters. I think Mandy is just really terrific. She’s a Seabiscuit. She’s a Rocky. She’s just gonna fight her way through and survive. She’s really fun to identify with. She tries to keep a good attitude. What’s funny is that she encounters Dane, and he’s lost his wife, he’s sixty years old, and he doesn’t know what to do. It’s kinda funny. She’s this young little girl, she’s only nineteen, and she comes into his life and she won’t let him fall into the slumps. “Come on, get up! Get some testosterone! Buy a motorcycle! Don’t waste your life!” There are a lot of fun ironies like that. Here’s his wife, who doesn’t even know she’s his wife, she’s already coming alongside him and being his strength and encouragement.
What surprised you most in what you learned about magical acts and performers?
One thing that’s interesting is how the whole art of performing magic is not about the tricks themselves. It’s about the experience that you and your audience share together. The same trick can be really lame, or really sensational, depending on the execution. This is what Dane concentrates on the most in the training of Mandy. It’s not the trick, it’s the experience. The wonder, the astonishment. Everybody gets to be a kid again. When you’re a little kid, the most mundane things just fascinate you. That’s the appeal of magic. Even a grownup can have that moment where they go, “Wow, how did you do that?” It’s the appeal of magic, it’s the wonder, the idea that, wow, there are still some things that are amazing and astonishing.
You know, it’s funny about misdirection. Magicians know how to do that. They can misdirect you several seconds or even minutes before they actually do the trick that’s supposed to amaze you. We worked with Tony Grant down in Orlanda, he’s a magician and does a show there. Wonderful Christian brother. We spent the day with him, went to his show a couple times. He showed us how he does misdirection, gets you to look somewhere else while he pulls the wool over your eyes (chuckles). Even when we knew he was going to be misdirecting us it was amazing how hard it was to look at where we should’ve looked to see what he was doing. A good magician can draw your attention so well you just gotta look where he wants you to look! It’s a wonderful craft. It’s not easy. I tried to learn a couple magic tricks. I bought a whole bunch of magic tricks, a whole bunch of books, I read all about card tricks, you just have to practice for hours and hours, and days and weeks just doing the same thing over and over again to be able to produce the effects they produce. You can’t just buy a trick in a magic store and go out and amaze your friends. Even if you do a trick really well, that’s just a fraction of the battle because the rest of it is all about your audience, the experience, your personality, stage presence, your patience and timing, whether or not your audience likes you, and whether you like them. It’s the difference between a great magician and a so-so magician. I relate to all of that because of being a public speaker. All the chemistry that goes into how you relate to an audience comes into how you tell a story. It’s so much a sample of life of how we think, how we feel, emotion and all that stuff.
You think the big key to doing magic is knowing how the tricks are done, and that’s not really true. You can know how the tricks are done and be a terrible magician. You can be boring, you can be arrogant. That’s what Dane is constantly telling Mandy. It’s the wonder. You’re just captivated by your own stuff. You’re having as much fun as your audience. You have to be excited. It shows.
Thus far you haven’t really been pigeon holed per se. Your books are suspense, but they’re much more than that. Do you feel the pressure of having to write another The Oath or something like that?
A teeny bit. I’m aware. It is a journey. I started out doing spiritual warfare stories. I think that was the first two Darkness books and maybe Prophet. After that? I grow. I move on and try different things. The Lord takes us through different adventures and seasons of our lives. If folks just picked up my Darkness books and read them, then they’re thinking, oh this is the kind of books Peretti writes. If they pick up Illusion, they’re going to find a big, big difference. Illusion is a book written by a sixty-year-old man who’s lived and loved his wife for forty years and is basically writing about it. That’s a much different book than a man in his thirties who’s kind of all gaga about angels and demons.
That’s kind of what we want. We don’t want the same old same old!
I sure don’t. I write from my heart wherever the journey takes me.
It sounds like you take seriously how important it is as an author to live a well rounded life so that you can have a full well to draw from. I know you’re a pilot, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard how you came to be one?
I was just nuts about flying ever since I was a kid. Then when I finished Prophet, we were living in the Seattle area, and I’d just turned it in, and I just said, “Barb, I want to learn how to fly. I’ve always wanted to do that, I’ve finished this book and have some time now. I can afford it cuz I have some money, I want to learn how to fly.” So she said, “Well, if you’re gonna learn how to fly I’m gonna learn how to fly because I don’t want to be up in the airplane with you and have you die or something and I can’t land.” We just called a flight school at Boeing Field in Seattle, and she and I learned how to fly together. That was a lot of fun. That was . . . oh, I’ve got my pilot’s license hanging on the wall here. I’ll look . . . August 26th 1992. But I sold the plane. I’m not flying right now.
In the past couple years there’s been a lot of talk about Christian fiction and preaching to the choir. You don’t feel that way, and I appreciate that. You feel like you’re a builder, building up the body of Christ.
Oh, my, yes. It gets
people to think. It widens their awareness. What’s
art for? It’s to communicate ideas on an aesthetic level. I don’t
write technical books, books on mathematics, physics, and logic. I write
stories that reflect the human spirit, the heart. The best way to understand
the human experience is through a Judeo Christian worldview because that’s
where everything falls together and makes sense. I’m a storyteller,
and Jesus was a storyteller. That’s what we remember the most about
him--his stories. I write these books and then people come back and
tell me how that touched their life and spoke to their heart. Stories can
speak to the heart in a very special way. You can do a three point sermon,
and okay, you’ve communicated an idea. My role is to tell a story
because a story can give a whole other dimension to a thought.
Even writing Illusion and creating these characters it was written in a whole different dimension that’s hard to put it into words. That sounds funny since I’m a writer, but you know what? I didn’t put it into words. I put it into story! That’s the difference. I can try to describe what it feels like, what the experience is like, the emotions inside you that kinda quake when you think about your wife that you love for forty years, what that means, and how it symbolizes so well what Jesus feels about us, what we feel about him, but you know it’s better just to paint a picture. That’s what novels do. They reflect the human experience in a vicarious way. We identify with the characters, feel the same emotions, the realization and awareness. As you go through the experience with them it enhances your own. Stories work. I had that proven to me. I used to tell stories at Bible camp years ago. I told some of those Cooper Kid stories that became books, and years later there would be these grown ups with kids of their own, and they’d meet me and say, “I remember when you came to our camp and told us this story about ....” They remembered everything. You know, if I’d gone to that camp and preached a three point sermon to those kids, there’s no kid that would come up to me and say, “I remember when you came to our camp and preached a three point sermon on ...” They remembered the story, so boy. Hallelujah. There was a time when I was first starting out when Christian fiction was kind of the leper. Nobody gave it any kind of credence. I heard so many times, “Well, it’s fiction, we don’t do fiction.” Even my publicist back then said, “Well, I can’t book you on any radio shows because it’s fiction. There’s nothing to talk about.” What? Fiction has a lot to say! Then This Present Darkness sold over a million copies and people started to think maybe fiction does play a role, maybe it is effective. Of course it is. Story is part of the human experience. I mean, you’re driving home and a Moose runs in front of you, and you just barely miss it, and you get home and what do you do? You go, “Boy, you’ll never guess what happened to me today!” And you tell this whole story. Stories go on all the time. Our whole lives are full of stories. Boy, there’s nothing like getting a bunch of kids together and telling them a really good story. They’re eyes get really big, and they’re just looking up at you just really into the story.
I just live life. The years just run together for me now. Maybe it’s part of being sixty. It’s interesting looking at life from this viewpoint, looking at where you’ve been and figuring out where you’re going. You’re also aware of your own mortality. And how you’re not quite as strong and energetic as you used to be. I dabbled around trying to do some movies. That’s why there’s so much of a time gap in between this novel and the last.
I had thought Monster was going to be made into a movie sometime.
A lot of people thought that. I thought that. It came close. I wrote a script and everything. The whole movie world was enough to inoculate me. It’s just so different, and so futile most of the time to do anything worthwhile. I came back and starting writing a novel again, and that felt so good. I could just do it. I could make it happen.
Who is your favorite character from all the books you’ve ever written and why?
Oh, my. Wow. Well, I think right now Mandy is my favorite because she is so perfectly embodies faith, hope. The way she doesn’t give up. The way she trusts God even when she thinks she’s crazy in a world where nobody knows her and she has no identity. She still clings to the Lord for her security.
Another character I like is Marshall Hogan because he’s kinda crusty. He’s big and strong and can handle the bad guys the way I wish I always could when I was a kid. Marshall Hogan was a cool character.
I also really liked Sally Beth Roe.
Oh, there’s another one. What a noble, strong, courageous woman. So admirable and so willing to be honest about her lostness. She knew she was lost, and she was willing and honest enough to do something about it. There was a hidden virtue there. There’s your hero on the big long quest, the kind of hero that’s fun to identify with. The hero who sets their sites on something, and then they overcome terrible odds to finally arrive what they’ve set out to do. That’s always inspiring. Mandy does that. Sally Beth Roe did that.
I still find the scene when Sally Beth Roe comes to know the Lord one of the most powerful scenes I’ve ever read.
I’ve heard that a lot. That is a good scene. I think I was crying when I wrote it. That was a beautiful experience.
Here’s an off the wall question . . . do you have any pets. I think you have dogs?
I sure do. I have two of them. They’re mutts. Cyrus, I’m looking at him right now. He’s sleeping in front of the fireplace. He’s a big 100 lb guy. Real sweet. He is apparently part Lab and part who knows what. And then we have a little Border Collie mix. She’s really sweet. Cute. She knows how to use her eyes. She’d break your heart!
Anything else you’d like to share?
llusion is a story of love. On different levels, the love we have for our wife or our husband, which is a symbol of His love for us. I hope that’s what people take away from it. It’s a wonderful gospel message. I hope a lot of nonbelievers read it because they just might get a little spark and think there could be a deeper dimension to life. Maybe there is a point here. The gospel is in there. Mandy and Dane are Christians, they talk and act like it.
Are you working on anything else?
I’m in that in between tangled muddle of getting everything done
around here, and cleaning out my house and throwing out old junk. I just
got this list of things to do after I finish my book. I’m doing all
of that, and I’m hoping to get rid of all this clutter and all this
other stuff on my to do list, and then go back out to my little garden
house out back by the pond. It’s a little bitty thing, but it’s
fun. I go out there, get the heater going. I gotta put stuff over the windows
to keep it warm. I’d like to just start talking to my computer, that
voice software, about anything and everything. Kinda get my life written
down about where I am, what the Lord’s telling me. Maybe another
book will arise from that. I hope so. The Lord’s faithful. I don’t
want to go another six years between books.
Portions of this interview first appeared as an article in the Feb/March 2012 issue of FamilyFiction Edge Digital Magazine.
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.