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James Pence

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The Advocate

James Pence Interview

by C.J. Darlington

"It takes a long time and a lot of hard work to earn a black belt. You have to be committed over a long period of time if you want to reach your goal. Likewise, writing a novel or a nonfiction book takes that same kind of persistence and commitment over time." -- James Pence

Jim Pence, his wife, Laurel, and his two children, Christopher and Charlene, live near Greenville, Texas, where he directs Tuppence Creative Ministries. Tuppence is both a prison ministry and an outreach aimed at encouraging Christians to develop and use their creative gifts for God's glory.

I’ve heard you say that you knew God was calling you to ministry at 14 years of age. How did you know this?

I always get double-takes when I tell this story, but God called me into ministry before I was saved.

It’s a long story, but here’s the condensed version: I grew up in church and always believed in God, but I’d never cracked open a Bible. In fact, at 13 I was much more interested in the occult than I was church. One of my favorite books was “The Black Arts” by Richard Cavendish. Believe it or not, I also served as an altar boy at the time.

One day, just before the service started, my pastor dropped a bomb on me by asking if I’d ever considered going into ministry. I told him that I wasn’t really interested in being a minister. I thought it would end there, but it didn’t.

God had planted a seed in me, and over the next six months or so, I couldn’t get the idea of ministry out of my head. It seemed like everything that happened to me was something else that pointed toward the fact that I should go into ministry. And so one night I clearly remember laying on my bed and praying and saying, "God, I don't know why you want me, but if you want me to be a minister that's what I'll do."

After that time I took an interest in reading the Bible and learning about the things of the Lord. I even turned on the television one day and decided to listen to a preacher named Billy Graham. And you can imagine what happened after that. It wasn't long before I placed my faith in Jesus Christ. So God actually used that call to ministry to bring me to himself. And that's why I can look back now and have no doubts about God's call on my life because I knew before I was even saved that he wanted me to serve him.

Knowing at a young age is one thing, but following through as you grow into adulthood is another. Did you purposefully take any steps to help you fulfill the call on your life?

I got involved in quite a few home Bible studies and found a Bible-believing church. However, I also had plans for the future. I knew of only one Christian college: Letourneau college in Longview Texas. One of my cousins went there a number of years before that. And so I planned to go to Letourneau and major in Bible. From there I went on to Dallas Bible College and later from there to Dallas seminary.

It’s inspiring to see how many avenues God’s using your talents! One of those talents is chalk talk. Could you share with us how you got involved and developed your skill in this type of art?

I've always been interested in art painting and drawing. Even when I was growing up I loved to paint and sketch. When I was in Bible College I saw some chalk artists and, like many people, was fascinated by what they did. But I didn't become interested in being a chalk artist until I was in ministry down in south Louisiana. I was a youth pastor at Lake Charles Bible Church and was working at a summer camp. That summer, the speaker was a chalk artist. When I watched him draw, something just clicked right there. I asked him to give me a few pointers one afternoon, and after that I went back to Lake Charles, built a monstrosity of an easel, and began to draw.

Blind Sight by James PenceMy development as a chalk artist took off when I went to classes taught by one of the greatest chalk artists who has ever lived, Rev. Ding Teuling. I studied under Ding for eight years running, and that's where I learned how to develop my skill and improve the quality of my artwork.

You said in a recent interview: “One of the great things about chalk art is that even if the people who see the drawing don’t remember everything I say, they will remember the picture and the Scripture that the picture represented.” Do you feel the same way about your fiction writing? Why or why not?

I never really thought about that, but I'd have to say that I do feel the same way about my fiction. There are many details woven into a story that most readers are not going to remember. But if they can remember the main idea, the main theme, and perhaps the Scripture associated with it then I think it can have a lasting impact on their lives. If the story is powerful enough, people will remember.

Speaking of fiction, I read your novel Blind Sight when it first came out a couple years ago, and I have to say it is one of a few novels I still remember vividly. In fact, my dad and I (who also read it) were just talking recently about how clever we thought the climax scene was. I know it’s been awhile, but could you share with us how you developed the story of Blind Sight. How much did you know ahead of time about the plot and characters?

Actually I knew very little about the plot and not much more about the characters. Before I started writing I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted my cult to look like and who my main character was going to be, but as I didn't spend a lot of time writing detailed character profiles. As for plot, I remember writing a one-page single-spaced synopsis of where I wanted the story to go. It was very sketchy and just covered the main points of the plot.

Many of the plot twists in Blind Sight came as complete surprises to me, and that's when writing is fun. Stephen King, I believe, has said that he often feels like the first reader of his novels rather than the writer. I can understand that. When I wrote Blind Sight, it was almost as if I was just watching the characters go through the story rather than write the story. It was a blast!

Blind Sight deals with many serious topics, including cults. Does this come from personal experience for you or research?

A little of both. As I mentioned earlier, before I trusted Christ as my savior I had a very deep interest in the things of the occult. I read many books on ghost hunting, ESP, demonology, and just about anything else I could get my hands on. I had a very deep desire to become involved in these things, but God in his grace and providence prevented that from happening. However, there was that background of interest in dark things.

After I became a believer, I struggled for a while because I really didn't have a source of good teaching. But one day I came across a Christian bookstore and discovered cassette teaching tapes. One of my favorites back then was Dr. Walter Martin and his Kingdom of the Cults series. So, early in my Christian life I knew more about cults and their false teachings then just about anything else.

Finally, in my life, I’ve seen three major cult events: Jonestown, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, and the Heaven's Gate cult in San Diego. When I wrote Blind Sight I wanted to portray cults like this and how they manipulate the minds of their victims.Blind Sight by James Pence burned page

This novel has just been re-released, and I’m excited to hear it! But I bet you never expected it to impact someone’s life as it did Terry Caffey’s. Jim, would you briefly share with us how Terry came to be impacted by a burned page of your novel Blind Sight?

In its initial release, Blind Sight sold only about 8000 copies, and I was mighty disappointed. In fact I pouted for quite a while and actually became quite depressed about it. Then the Lord took me to the woodshed and reminded me that I'd written this book for him not for myself. When I finally came to my senses I gave the book back to God and prayed, "Lord, if you'll just use this book in one life I'll be happy."

Once Blind Sight went out of print I began giving it away to anyone who would take one. One of those copies went to to Penny Caffey, the mother of two children in my karate class. In March of 2008 two gunmen entered the Caffey home at 3 a.m. shot Mr. and Mrs. Caffey and their two sons and set the house on fire. Mr. Caffey was able to escape the burning house but only he and their 16-year-old daughter survived. Only hours after the murders, Mr. Caffey learned that his daughter Erin had been implicated in the crimes.

After he got out of the hospital Mr. Caffey went back to his property with the express purpose of having a "one-on-one" with God. He was standing on the ashes of his house and crying out to God when he saw a scorched piece of paper about 10 to 15 feet away. He went over and picked it up and began to read it.

That piece of paper was a single page from Blind Sight. But it wasn't just any page. It was the very page where my main character—a man who has lost a wife and two children—comes to grips with God's sovereignty in his loss. The first lines that Terry Caffey read on that burned page were "I couldn't understand why you would take my family and leave me behind to struggle along without them, and I guess I still don't understand that part of it. But I do believe you are sovereign, you are in control." That page turned Terry Caffey’s life around, and he is now sharing his testimony all over the country.

When I learned about that I realized that having a best-selling book isn't what's important. It's how God uses that book in people's lives.

Terror by Night by Terry Caffey and James PenceWhat do you want TitleTrakk.com readers to know about the book you wrote with Terry called Terror by Night?

Well, I've already given you a brief summary of the story. Terror by Night tells the story of Terry Caffey and how God worked through this incredible tragedy to bring many people to Christ. When I wrote it, I wrote it and paced it the same way I would a novel. And I've been told, it's a very difficult book to put down. The thing I love about this story, is that so many amazing things happen that I could never get away with if this were fiction. In fact, I've said many times that if I had written this story is a novel my editors would kick it back to me and say it's unbelievable. That's how incredible the Terror by Night story is.

[Note: The 700 Club is airing a segment on Terry Caffey’s story on Friday, Feb 5th at 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. on the ABC Family Network.]

Back to the amazing variety of your talents, Jim. You also teach karate to a group of homeschoolers. I’m intrigued with how you came to learn karate yourself. Care to share?

I started learning karate back in 1997 with my eight-year-old son. We took karate together as a father-son activity, and at 42 years old I was in serious need of some exercise. However, I had no idea that I would eventually end up as an instructor. Better than that, I own the school now.

Is there anything about karate you’ve learned, perhaps a principle, that you’ve been able to implement in your writing?

Well for starters, karate has had a practical impact on my life. Writing is a very sedentary way to earn a living and it's easy to get out of shape. Teaching karate at least forces me to work out and not become a couch potato. Actually, I do a lot of my writing in a recliner, so maybe it would be recliner potato.

I think one principle from karate that does come through is that of persistence. It takes a long time and a lot of hard work to earn a black belt. You have to be committed over a long period of time if you want to reach your goal. Likewise, writing a novel or a nonfiction book takes that same kind of persistence and commitment over time. You've got to be in it for the long haul if you want to reach your goal.

The Angel by James PenceI’ve noticed that several of your books have in some way tackled the question, where is God in tragedy? That’s a theme that’s hit close to you and your family too. If you’re okay with it, I’d like to ask about the tragedy that struck your family many years ago when you lost your little girl. What would you say to someone who’s facing a similar tragedy and is tempted to leave their faith behind?

I suppose if there is an overriding theme to my writing, it is that we can trust God in all circumstances—even tragedy. That theme is present in Blind Sight, The Angel, and Terror by Night. And it all grows out of my wife's and my own personal experience with our daughter.

We lost our first child when she was a week old. It wasn’t a surprise; we learned 20 weeks into the pregnancy that she had severe birth defects and wouldn't survive long. I struggled with that for quite a while, wondering how or why God would allow something like that to happen. It's a very long story, but over the years I have seen how God worked in our lives through the loss of our little daughter and how he has used that event to impact others. God does not explain himself to us; he asks us to trust him. I think one of the goals of the Christian life is to learn to trust God in that way.

There are a lot of little "insider" elements in Blind Sight that you wouldn't pick up unless you knew me and knew me well. One of those is that one of the characters in Blind Sight, Michelle, is named after our daughter.

Of all your fictional characters, who’s your favorite, and why?

I think it would have to be Charles Hamisch, the detective in my novel The Angel. Charles has been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and throughout that novel he has to come to grips with living with a debilitating disease. As for why he's my favorite, it's probably because I tend to write about things that I'm afraid of or things I have questions about. I gave Charles ALS because of all of the diseases that could affect me I find that one the most frightening. But as I watched Charles learned to come to grips with that disease it encouraged me in my own walk.

We’d love to know if there’s more fiction in the works!

I am presently working on a sequel to Blind Sight. I've had many people ask me if I planned to do a sequel, because the first book leaves that door open. But I've been holding off until I came up with an idea that wouldn't just be re-telling the same story. I have that idea now and so in my spare time I'm beginning to work on that sequel.

I'd also like to write another Charles Hamisch novel, but I don't have anything in the works on that one just yet.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?

I wish I'd known how important it is to go to writers conferences and network with other writers and editors.

Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?

If you do decide to read Blind Sight or Terror by Night, he sure you don't have anything important to do at the time. You won't want to put the books down.

What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?

I love astronomy.

I’m on the board of commissioners for the Greenville (TX) Housing Authority.

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

Reading novels, chilling with my wife, and going to movies with my daughter and her boyfriend. Also playing piano and doing watercolor paintings.

What did you eat for breakfast this morning?

Cereal and milk, with uncooked oatmeal sprinkled in. Yum.

Three things always found in your refrigerator:

Diet Soda, Tortillas, Cheese

You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?

Whatever the coffee of the day is – strong, black, and undoctored.

What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?

Taking a cruise to Alaska and seeing the northern lights.

When was the last time you cried?

About two weeks ago.

Three words that best describe you:

Blessed beyond measure

What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?

The collected works of Ken Medema (Christian musician extraordinaire)

Stephen King’s new novel, Under the Dome

The Broadway cast recording of Billy Elliot: The Musical

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C.J. DarlingtonC.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.