Friday, August 13, 2010

Jane's Interview with Francine Rivers

"Years ago I was introduced to Francine Rivers' work through her Mark of the Lion Series. I fell in love with her story-telling. Imagine my delight in meeting her a few years later as we rode together in Los Angeles to a publisher event. She's funny and gracious and faithful. Her latest, Her Mother's Hope is a classic and made the New York Times Bestseller list. The sequel to this family inspired story, Her Daughter's Dream will be out in September. Francine has agreed to be my first blog interview. I hope you enjoy meeting her and discovering her books if you haven't already." Jane

Blog Interview with Jane Kirkpatrick

JK: You’ve written so many best-selling carefully researched and beautifully told stories through the years. How was fictionalizing your family story in Her Mother’s Hope and Her Daughter’s Dream different from writing your other historical and Biblically-based novels?

FR: Writing this novel was difficult because I was too close to the story in the beginning. I kept trying to bend things to portray real people, and there wasn’t enough drama and conflict to make the story interesting to readers. It took over a year to write the first manuscript (1200 pages!) and I didn’t like it. We talked of ways I could revise, but I knew even massive revisions wouldn’t make it what I wanted it to be. One of the editors at Tyndale asked questions about Marta and Hildie, and said she’d like to know more about various events. I knew then what I needed to do. Scrap the manuscript and start over. Completely restructure the novel.

My grandmother and mother were the inspiration behind the story, but they were not the real story I wanted to show. Marta and Hildemara had been fighting to become real. They still share time lines with my grandmother and mother, but the events that shape their lives and how their character develops are imagination and not speculation. It probably sounds strange to readers to say characters take on a life of their own. When their stories begin to move on in ways I didn’t expect – that’s when writing becomes exciting to me – that when I know God is about to teach me new lessons.

JK: Was there a particular family story that first inspired you to fictionalize a portion of your ancestor’s lives? As you wrote, did that story become more or less important in the overall stories of Her Mother’s Hope and Her Daughter’s Dream?

FR: My great-grandfather did tell my grandmother that education was wasted on a girl. He did take her out of school, put her to work, and use the money to pay her brother’s tuition and supplement the family income. But the question that started the project was: What caused the estrangement between my grandmother and mother at the end of my grandmother’s life? I knew in part, but there had to be more to it. When I looked back over my grandmother’s life, I could see why she would take offense and hold a grudge. But I also saw how this hurt others and did the most harm to her. I wanted to find all the possibilities and the “better” reasons for the decisions she made. Sometimes what appears to be rejection is love in disguise.

JK: A famous physicist once said as advice to young people considering entering that field of science that they should “find something strange and thoroughly explore it”. Is that what writers do, too? Did you find anything strange in your family story that made you want to thoroughly explore it?

FR: The strangeness is my family is that my grandmother and mother loved one another deeply, but were never able to express it. After I nagged my grandmother to write her memoirs, she wrote fourteen pages that summed up over ninety years of her life. Lines like “I had a younger sister, but a foolish old man gave her cherries and beer and she died” made me gasp. She didn’t write her sister’s name or the impact that death had on the family. My mother wrote journals, but was careful not to touch on her feelings. She wrote a daily chronology of what she, and later, the family did. I have all her journals except three years that would have covered the most difficult and traumatic time in her life. I’m certain she destroyed those.

My mother told me Grandma never said “I love you” to her. How is it possible for a parent never to say those words to their child? I’ve learned this is fairly common in the older generations. Love wasn’t expressed in words. It was revealed in action. Mom said she knew Grandma loved her because “she worked so hard to provide for her children”. People say “I love you” too easily these days, but few seem to understand what commitment means. We have to work hard at loving one another. Love may begin with “feelings”, but then must move to the mind, soul and strength God gives us to keep it alive and growing. Love, real love, is not easy.

JK: Without spoiling the story, a family tragedy in Her Mother’s Hope affects the lives of the immediate family members and the next generations as well. Were you surprised to discover one tragedy having such a far-reaching impact? Do you suppose most families have a secret or a tragedy that can act as a shroud through generations keeping joy and hope suppressed? What allows that shroud to be lifted or can it ever be?

FR: There are two character-making tragedies that happen in the story, and neither of them happened in my family. I’m thankful to God they didn’t. We’ve had and continue to have other tragedies that shape and strengthen our family ties. Over the past few years, I’ve been looking and listening closely, and I every family I know has had character-shaping tragedies of some sort in their families – in the past as well as in the present. Romans 8:28 comes to mind. God uses the hard things life throws at us to soften our hearts and turn us to Him. God doesn’t waste anything.

JK: Having writing two books myself based on my grandmother, I discovered some similarities in how she handled problems in the way I handle mine. That reflection wasn’t always, well, positive and yet I wondered if there might be some memory DNA being transferred from her life to my own. Did you discover any familial patterns that you still carry (if you care to talk about them!)? Will recognizing them help change how you look at your own life and that of your family?

FR: I see patterns of behavior. I often think of the scriptures about the curse of the father being visited on the son and the next three generations, but then also remember the words that come soon after about God blessing those who love and obey Him to a thousand generations. So much of our pain has to do with our sin nature inherited from Adam and Eve. Sin brings pain. We haven’t evolved into higher beings. We are exactly the same as we were in the Garden of Eden. Recognizing that offers me choices, constant choices throughout the day, week, month, years. Even as a firm believer in Jesus Christ, living out my faith in Him is difficult. There is a constant battle going on inside me. Like the Apostle Paul, I have to remind myself that God’s grace is sufficient for me. But life in the here and now – heaven to come whenever God decides – is all about the work of not listening to and not giving in to my sin nature.

JK: One of the many scenes in Her Mother’s Hope that moved me was a discussion between Bernie and Hildie speaking of Bernie’s yet-to-be born baby. I loved it for capturing a brother and sister moment as much as for your sensitive portrayal of how betrayal manifests within family dynamics. What did you hope to convey by that scene? Would you say the first book is about forgiveness as much as about the hopes we have as parents and children that sometimes go awry even when we believe we are allowing God to guide us through separations and misunderstandings? What do you hope your readers will take away with them as they finish the series?

FR: I wanted readers to come away from that scene convinced that forgiveness is the high road and the best road to take. We all sin. None of us understands fully what goes on in the mind of someone else. Often we don’t even understand ourselves! And who was the first one to betray in this scene? Hildie had judged and then learned of another side of the situation which gave her new eyes and heart in the matter. Love finds a way to work things out. “Find” is an active verb. I pray readers will find ways to tear down walls and build bridges so they can love one another the way Jesus first loved us.

As to parents and children, very often, we (parents) are so busy wanting to impose our will on our children that we fail to allow God’s will to be done – with them or with us. Pain is a great teacher, and one we avoid at all cost. Christian parents have a high calling to teach Biblical principles and be living examples of what it means to walk with Christ and strive to be like Him. Life reminds us we are “works in process”, too.

Her Mother’s Hope is a story about how love often means sacrifice and we shouldn’t make assumptions about one another. Tough love is tough! And it’s often necessary. What we see is not all there is. My hope is readers will come away wanting to know the “back stories” of family members, and they will be willing to share more of themselves as well.

JK: Her Daughter’s Dream releases next month. What do you hope readers will take away from the conclusion of this story?

FR: Hope. My family is in pain right now, watching someone we love self-destruct. Keeping our eyes on Jesus is an act of will. I cling to the promise that God does not lose anyone who belongs to Him, who has confessed Him as Savior and Lord. But that doesn’t guarantee everything will go perfectly from that day forth. When my mind goes into hyper-drive with doubt and worry (usually at night), I repeat, “I love YOU, Jesus. I trust YOU.” No conditions or limitations. I trust Jesus no matter what circumstances of the moment -- no matter what comes, even if it means death. My work is to believe and keep walking with Jesus. And pray, pray, pray, even when I don’t have words and depend on the Holy Spirit to speak for me. I cannot be someone else’s Holy Spirit. I am not the Redeemer. I can’t save anyone. So I cling to the One who is and can. That’s my hope for readers and the message I want every book I ever right to convey. Cling to Jesus. Follow Him.

JK: Your readers are always hoping for more. What can we look for next?

FR: Something very different from what I have written before! The story that is playing in my mind right now doesn’t fit any genre. It’s allegory, but also fantasy. I have no idea how to write it in a convincing way, but I dream scenes all the time. I “hear” dialogue. And I’m in love with the characters. I had several other ideas, but they dried up like grapes into raisins. So I think this new “thing” is the way I have to go, no matter how impossible it seems.

Francine Rivers
Francine Rivers had a successful career in the general market where her works received many awards. In 1986, she became a born-again Christian and wrote Redeeming Love as her statement of faith. First published by Bantam Books, and then re-released by Multnomah Publishers in the mid- 1990s, this retelling of the biblical story of Gomer and Hosea set during the time of the California Gold Rush is now considered by many to be a classic work of Christian fiction.

Her Christian novels have been awarded or nominated for numerous awards including the Rita Award, the Christy Award, the ECPA Gold Medallion, and the Holt Medallion in Honor of Outstanding Literary Talent. In 1997, after winning her third Rita award for Inspirational Fiction, Francine was inducted into the Romance Writers’ of America Hall of Fame. Francine’s novels have been translated into over twenty different languages and she enjoys best-seller status in many foreign countries including Germany, The Netherlands, and South Africa

Sunday, August 1, 2010

August 2010

Here's how it went. While riding horse with my sister 35 years ago, moving in and out between the juniper trees and sagebrush on their ranch near Sisters, Oregon, The white-capped Cascade Mountains in the distance, she asked me what was the hardest thing about being divorced. There were lots of things, but what came to mind right then was saying that I missed the company of men. Not to date, no, I wasn't ready to date. And I worked with men at the clinic so it wasn't that. It was just sharing a meal with a man, listening to his voice as he talked about his day, having him ask about mine.

(Years later a widowed friend told me that at some point she missed the sound of a man's voice in her life, too. She decided to apply to be the conductor for an all-male choir; got the job and loved it!)

Anyway, my sister then said, "Does anyone like that come to mind, someone just to talk to?"

I'd met Jerry the year before while he recovered from an industrial accident that broke five vertebrae in his back. He was visiting my sister and I was in Oregon for a job interview. He impressed me with his kind blue eyes, baritone voice and that he knew the birthdays of his kids. He was just a nice guy to talk with. But he was married and so was I.

"Well, someone like your friend Jerry Kirkpatrick," I said. "Not him, I know he's married, but that kind of gentle soul who has lots of interests and is just a good person."

"He's not married anymore," my sister said.

"Oh. Well, he doesn't live here now. He moved away, didn't you tell me? So NOT him. He was just an example."

"Yes, but he's moved back. He's building a veterinary clinic in Bend."

"Oh," I said and that was the end of the conversation. I certainly didn't want to pursue this line of conversation with someone in it who was no longer 200 miles away and no longer married!

The next day at my office, Jerry Kirkpatrick arrived, a rolled-up set of house plans in his hand.

He says he stopped by to ask if I wanted to go for a cup of coffee. I didn't hear that. My mind was a gerbil cage of angst. What had my sister said to him! What must he think? I'll kill her for saying anything to him, I will.

Flummoxed, yes that's the word, flummoxed beyond belief I never heard the request for a cup of coffee. Instead I began to blubber about how sorry I was about what Judy must have told him, that I hadn't meant anything by it. It was just sometimes it would be nice to have dinner or a conversation with someone, not a date, oh no, not a date, never that, but I never intended for her to say anything at all and I was so sorry she'd told him of our conversation and I didn't mean anything by it, I had no idea what she might have meant so I hope he didn't misunderstand, lalalalala.

He hadn't said anything during my blubbering, just twisted that set of plans in his hand and kept a serene smile on his face. When I apologized for the third or fourth time he said, "So would you like to have dinner sometime? Not a date," he added. "Maybe at your place,

"Well, sure, not a date, just dinner. Just a conversation. That's all I really meant."

"How about Monday?"

"This Monday? Oh, well, sure, I guess that would work."

And with that he smiled and said he'd see me about 6:30 then if I'd give him directions."

I did and he left.

I called my sister.

"What on earth did you tell Jerry Kirkpatrick? You had no right to --"

"What are you talking about? I haven't seen him in months."

"He was just in my office and said he wanted to go out for dinner, not a date or anything like that. The very words I said to you!"

"Well you must have said them to him too because I didn't say them." She sounded indignant. "Will you have dinner with him?"

"Yes. I guess. But good grief, what must he think of me babbling on about what you said if you really didn't say anything?"

"I guess you'll have to ask him."

Jerry came to dinner and not then, but much later, after he told me he'd really come into the courthouse for an appointment with the planning department and that he had asked me out for coffee just because he enjoyed my company. "What did you think when I went on and on?" I said.

"Truly? I thought to myself how fortunate I was that a man like me could befuddle a woman like you."

He also remembered the day at my sister's ranch when we'd first met and he said he was sad when I went into the house because he'd enjoyed my company, a nice person to talk to, just a pleasant conversation. That's how it all began, I guess.

We'll celebrate 34 years of marriage on Saturday. Very few people actually attended the wedding service held beside the Deschutes River, officiated by our Lutheran pastor Don Parsons. My sister and her husband, their kids; Jerry's youngest son, Matt; our friends Dave and Blair Fredstrom (Dave was Jerry's best man); my parents. But afterwards, our friends joined us for a pot luck and celebration, many of them colleagues at the clinic where I worked and hunting and building friends of Jerry. I wore a white dress with embroidery on the front that I bought to square-dance in. I guess I could have at least bought a new dress!

My sister is gone; my parents are, too. They worried over our marriage in the beginning because of our age differences (Jerry's 16 years older than me) and they still grieved my divorce. I've lost touch with a number of those colleagues but Jerry is still connected to his hunting friends and Blair and David are still in our lives as foundational friends. And of course Matt works for us so he and his family are a part of who we have become, too. Even my nephews are spread across the country, one in Florida the other still in Oregon. My brother didn't make the wedding. I wish he had I love him so.

I'm not sure what has made it possible for Jerry and me to continue to care deeply for each other. I've had friends say they are amazed that people sacrifice for each other as we do but we really don't think of it that way. We have our ups and downs. Jerry's health, especially the growing deterioration of his back from the injury he was recovering from when I first met him at my sister's, continues to take its toll. I obsess about my writing, my work, the future. He's steady and reassuring. We make each others' lives interesting, never boring at all. We've found ways to support each others' dreams and hold each other through the disappointments.

I think reading scripture together, sharing devotionals, and trying to live lives inspired by faith -- though we fall short -- we have found ways to continue to grow in our love and care for each. Oh, yes, there are still days when I want to just move away. Not for a long time, you understand, but enough time to not want to bop him over the head when he decides to remodel the living room two days before Christmas, for example. Or when he decides to buy more cows.

I think, though, it a mark of our sustaining marriage that when he told me he wanted to go elk hunting this Saturday, our anniversary, so he could be near Elgin where he hunts on opening morning, that I told him that would be fine. I want him to enjoy his life. And really, I'm looking forward to the time alone when I can control the remote and let the dogs sleep on the bed.

Accommodation, adaptation, faith and love have seen us through. Those and a good sense of humor.

We hope to see some of you in August at various events. Please check my schedule to see where we'll be -- I say "we" because Jerry's back being willing, he plans to be with me.

Stay cool and please visit my website and sign up for the newsletter, Story Sparks. You never know when there'll be a story that will spark your interest. Thanks for being a part of our lives.

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