Randy Alcorn's interview with Kevin Lucia, Titletrakk.com, in 2007 when Deception was published.
Randy Alcorn is the founder of Eternal Perspective Ministries (EPM). Prior to 1990, when he started EPM, he served as a pastor for fourteen years. Randy is the bestselling author of more than 60 books (over 12 million in print), including the novels Deadline, Dominion, Lord Foulgrin’s Letters and the Gold Medallion winner Safely Home. His fourteen nonfiction works include Money, Possessions and Eternity, ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments, In Light of Eternity, The Treasure Principle, The Grace & Truth Paradox, The Purity Principle, The Law of Rewards, Why ProLife? and Heaven.
Randy, many people are certainly familiar with your novels, but they might not know much about your ministry, Eternal Perspective Ministries. If you could, take a moment to share with us how this ministry came about and what its chief aims are.
The key verse that defines our goal is Second Corinthians 4:18: So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Eternal Perspective Ministries is a Bible-believing Christ-centered nonprofit organization with two goals:
to teach the principles of God’s Word, emphasizing an eternal viewpoint;
to reach the needy in Christ’s name, calling attention to the special needs of the unreached, unfed, unclothed, unborn, unsheltered, unreconciled, untrained and unsupported, that is, Christians suffering for their faith. All the royalties from my books go to support these causes, so when we get the eternal perspective message out in the books, we also have the privilege of giving the proceeds directly to God’s kingdom work.
After so many years in the ministry, what would you consider to be the most memorable, touch stone moment?
My mother’s death in 1981. Every day as she was dying I’d read to her the last two chapters of Revelation. This was before I’d written my first book. And though I didn’t know it then, God was preparing me to integrate the subject of Heaven, and in particular the New Heavens and New Earth, into all my writing.
How did God lead you from preaching into your current ministry?
I’d been on the board of the first Crisis Pregnancy Center in the Pacific Northwest. My wife and I had opened our home to a pregnant girl, who came to Christ while she lived with us. Then I was involved in peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience, standing in front of the doors of abortion clinics to intervene for unborn children, trying to convince parents not to kill their babies.
The abortion clinic sued me and a few dozen others. In the judgment against me, I was ordered to compensate the clinic for the income it lost due to abortions prevented by this presence. I told the judge, “I will pay anyone money I owe them, but I will not write out a check to an abortion clinic, because they’ll use it to keep killing babies.”
My church then received a writ of garnishment, ordering them to pay a portion of my monthly wages to the abortion clinic. The only way around that was to resign, so the church didn’t owe me any money. It was heartbreaking—I loved being a pastor of this church I helped start thirteen years earlier. I didn’t envision myself ever leaving. But the Lord providentially yanked me out of that position, and it ended up being a great blessing. It was just like Genesis 50 and what Joseph said to his brothers—the abortion clinic intended it for evil, but God intended it for good.
When I had to figure out what to do, I thought, I have a love for missions, prolife work, and writing, and I enjoy teaching. How can I wrap those all together into one ministry? So my family and I started Eternal Perspective Ministries, and did the exact things the Lord laid on our hearts. My life calling was refocused and deepened, and I realized God had used everything up to that point to prepare me for it.
Now I was suddenly free to write much more. As a pastor, it had been a continual challenge to carve out the time to write. I didn’t want to write on “church time” and periodically asked for unpaid leaves of absence to devote to writing. Now, in the new ministry, writing was part of my job description. I enjoy it (well, most of the time, anyway), but writing isn’t an end for me, it’s the means to my primary calling—to point people toward Jesus, toward Heaven, and toward an eternal perspective. Through the books, our free newsletter, and our website (www.epm.org) God has allowed us to reach an amazing number of people. I am overwhelmed with gratitude. And we get to send to worthy ministries all those royalties, close to $3.75 million dollars so far, and more coming in all the time as the books have remained bestsellers. I thank God for this privilege. (EPM note: through 2012 this number is over six million dollars in book royalties given away.)
What initially drew you to the world of fiction? Were you always a big reader growing up?
I loved reading as a child. I was the kid who, after mom said “lights out,” turned on the flashlight and read comic books and science fiction under the covers. I’ll never forget my favorite book as a kid, that I checked out repeatedly from the library, a juvenile fiction called Stadium Beyond the Stars, by Milton Lessor. I loved that book. A few years ago I ordered a used library copy on line. So fun to have it and reread it again.
Deception is my seventh novel, and my third murder mystery. I like reading clean non-gory murder mysteries—particularly the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout. I love Sherlock Holmes. In fact, every chapter of Deception starts with a great quote from a Holmes story. It was fun matching those with the contents of particular chapters. Many people enjoy murder mysteries, so it’s an opportunity to get the book into the hands of a wide audience. Last night I sat beside a woman at a sporting event. When she asked about my writing I told her of Deception and she was very interested, so I’m sending her a copy. If it had been an obviously Christian book she might not have read it.
My first novel Deadline was an experiment. I love research and wanted to write something different, so I spent time with homicide detectives and journalists, to see if I could get inside their world, and take readers there. Based on reader responses, the experiment seemed to work. I still get letters from readers who’ve read Deadline and Dominion for the first time.
The idea for Deadline just came to me, ultimately I think from the Lord. Of course, it was a lot of hard work to actually write it. Sometimes I say at writers’ conferences that while many people think they want to write a book, what they really want is to have written a book. Satisfaction after you’ve done it is nice, but the sacrifices to make it happen are the cost of that satisfaction, and sometimes they’re paid years in advance.
As difficult as some of my books have been to write, I don’t regret having written any of them. I think God gifted and called me to write, so I do the hard work with a sense of purpose and calling. God is gracious to answer my prayers as I write, and the prayers of many people who lift me up to the Lord as I do so.
Fiction allows the imagination to soar and also allows you to bring a “Trojan horse” effect—which is letting people open up the gates of their minds and you come into the city, but they don’t know everything that is coming in. You’ve brought to them a story, and if it’s engaging, you’ve earned the right to stay with them, and influence them as the story unfolds.
There are many non-believers and there are many nominal Christians who will read fiction who would not read the equivalent subject matter in a non-fiction form. Once you are in there, you’re presenting characters and a story-line—hopefully in a believable way—in a manner that can deeply effect their minds and their emotions. In some ways, they’ve even let their guard down, their defenses down. I’m not suggesting that we’re manipulating or pulling strings, but I am saying that people become open to certain truths and realities in a fiction form when they are not open to them in a frontal, direct, non-fiction form.
You’ve written many nonfiction titles along with your novels; which is harder to write? Both are designed to have spiritual impacts, of course, but are there any struggles unique to writing fiction and not non-fiction, or vice versa?
The hardest to write is whichever I’m currently working on. Seriously, though, they both have unique challenges. For me, I’d have to say nonfiction is easier, in that it comes more naturally. God has blessed me with a fairly organized mind, so laying out a direction and developing a line of thought isn’t all that difficult, though crafting the actual words takes a lot of work.
Fiction is fun to write, and I love getting into the flow of it. I love the creativity, working as what Tolkien called a “sub-creator.” God is the Creator, and created us in His image, and our creativity is a finite and tiny, but very real reflection, of His own creativity. That’s one of the reasons I argue in my book Heaven that I believe writing and reading, arts and drama and invention, will continue and flourish on the New Earth, to the glory of God.
One challenge in fiction is weaving together a story line in a way that’s engaging to the reader, that shows them just enough, but not too much, that makes them think. Non-fiction involves a lot of telling, fiction involves more showing. Sometimes people write and say “your character is an alcoholic, that’s not good.” And I write back “my character isn’t me, and I don’t endorse all his thoughts and actions, and I show the consequences of the ones that aren’t good.” That’s the nature of fiction. You’re showing things as they are, but I love to also give the reader a picture of what could be and should be.
Your three most recent novels, Deadline, Dominion, and now Deception all deal with different characters that are principal characters in their own novels, and then supporting characters in the others (Jake Woods—Deadline, Clarence Abernathy—Dominion, Ollie Chandler—Deception). It lends a nice effect, making each novel a building block upon which a more unified and developed story is created with each novel. Any fore planning in this, or is that just the way it turned out?
It seemed a natural direction to go. I like spin-offs more than strict sequels. I like reusing familiar characters, but shaking up the story. I like the fact that readers can enjoy Deception first, and then if they like it, go back and read Deadline and Dominion. You can really start with any of the three, then go backward or forward to read the others.
Will we see Ollie Chandler in the future? I admired the way you didn’t wrap things up for him spiritually; that leaves a lot of room for character development, a lot like Brandt Dodson’s Colten Parker (Original Sin; Root of All Evil).
Though publishers and readers have asked me to, I’ve never in my previous six novels felt I wanted to go back and use the main character again as such in a subsequent book. I know it would be easier in some ways, but I’ve felt like each person gets one book on center stage. Ollie Chandler is the first character that has made me feel different about this. When I started Deception I thought this would be it, no more stories centered on Ollie. But once I got inside his head things slowly changed. I thought, I like this guy, I like his quirks, his sense of humor, the gruff exterior and the soft heart, the head-butting toughness and the vulnerability of a lifetime of hurts. So, depending on the response to Deception (because I’ll find out whether readers really like Ollie), Lord willing, there may well be one or more other Ollie stories to come.
With the abundance of Sherlock Holmes quotes before every chapter and the references to Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin, and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, (I happily discovered Nero and Hercule my senior year in high school), you’re either a diligent researcher, or an old-school detective mystery fan. Which is it?
Both. I research fanatically. And while I haven’t read all the great old-school mystery writers, I really enjoy some of them, particularly Rex Stout and his 47 Nero Wolfe books, nearly all of which I’ve read or listened to on audio. I even mention in the book Ollie listening to Nero Wolfe mysteries, read by Michael Pritchard, who is the voice of Archie Goodwin. I love those books, and as I said in the acknowledgements of Deception, I managed to import into the text some Goodwin-isms and Wolfe-isms, and I credit Stout for inspiring them.
What’s the first CD you pop into the radio when driving?
Among others, I enjoy Chris Tomlin, Andrew Peterson, Rebecca St. James, Third Day, Sarah Groves and Selah, who perform wonderful Christ-centered music that leads my heart to God.
There’s been quite a bit of discussion as of late about the future of Christian fiction, and how important it is to tell uplifting, edifying stories that somehow have broad appeal. Care to chime in with your opinions on this?
Christian novelists have been warned against writing fiction that’s thinly veiled propaganda. Of course, I’m opposed to that too. But it’s possible to present a story artfully with significant spiritual themes. I try to earn the right to integrate eternal themes into my stories by writing them well. If a story is poorly written or comes across as a sermon, then obviously it won’t reach people. They’ll be aware that you’re imposing something on them. But in a good story, the spiritual component is so woven into it, so inseparable from it, that it has credibility and lasting impact.
I think the fear of being perceived as preachy and heavy-handed has become too heightened now, to the point that some Christian novelists have become gun-shy about including any spiritual content. Why? Because experience has shown that the vogue even among Christian reviewers is automatically to label a story “preachy” if it has substantial spiritual content, even when it’s an integral part of the story and true-to-life. The result is that “Christian fiction” is sometimes now merely “clean fiction,” defined by the absence of profanity, explicit sex and gratuitous violence.
I think a Christian novel is better understood not by the absence of the unspiritual, but by the presence of the spiritual. Of course, that does not mean a novel is merely a lengthy gospel tract! It must be a genuinely good story. But it does mean there is something more than the mere lack of offensiveness. Indeed, a truly Christian novel may be spiritually offensive to some readers, while captivating and inspiring at the same time.
The truth is that prayer, church, and discussions about the Bible and spiritual longing, are a very real part of some people’s lives, even if they are foreign to some readers. So it’s not being “unreal” to integrate these things into a story. It just needs to be done thoughtfully and skillfully, making sure it comes from inside the story, not outside it. Fiction should be art, but art is certainly not devoid of spiritual meaning.
There’s something else we often overlook. Every author—whether atheist, agnostic, Hindu, New Age or Christian—has a worldview. And every author’s worldview is evident in a storyline, with varying degrees of explicitness. While not every writer is called to include the same degree of spiritual content, I find it ironic that some Christians are pulling back from letting their worldview emerge in the course of a storyline. The result may appease some critics. But it will leave many readers—who in real life long for meaning and eternal perspective—feeling mildly entertained but ultimately unchallenged and unchanged.
What fiction or non-fiction projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently taking a long-needed break from writing, but one book that I’ve already written comes out this summer. It’s a beautifully illustrated book done with my friend Ron DiCianni, a magnificent artist. It’s called Tell Me About Heaven, and it’s a story for children and families. It can be read aloud in an hour and a half, or one chapter at a time in ten minutes each. The art is breathtaking. There are eleven of Ron’s paintings in the book, and eight of them are brand new, never before seen. Ron and I both think that these are among the finest paintings he’s ever done. As you can tell, I’m very excited about Tell Me about Heaven.
I’m also excited about another children’s book that was just released. I wrote it with another exceptionally gifted artist, Doron Ben-Ami. This one’s a thin 32 page picture book called Wait Until Then, involving a disabled boy and his grandfather who used to play professional baseball. Though the story is very short—you can read it in ten minutes—the impact is powerful, I think, and that’s the feedback we’re getting from everyone. Again, the artist gets most of the credit for this, because it’s just stunning work. All the royalties from this particular book go to Joni and Friends ministry, serving the disabled. Nanci and I know and love Joni, and we think the world of her ministry.
For all of us newfound Ollie Chandler fans, any clues about what’s in store for the sarcastic, witty and cynical detective?
I think it may involve the search for his oldest daughter, who disappeared years earlier. We’ll see.
Finally—if a movie were made based on Deception, who would you pick to play the characters? (My money is Powers Boothe for Ollie!)
Okay, I’ll go with Powers Boothe. Good choice! Roger Mueller, who’s the voice of Ollie in the audio version, from Oasis Audio, does a fantastic job as Ollie. The first audio reader who auditioned was an award-winning reader with a great voice, but it just didn’t fit Ollie. Roger really does. For audio book fans, like me, I highly recommend it.
I went over every line of the abridgement myself, editing and adding essential material back in, so the listener doesn’t need to fear that they’re missing something vital from the original. That sometimes happens with audio abridgements, so I pay careful attention to make sure it’s okay. So, while you’re waiting for Deception to become a movie, you can listen right now to the voice of Ollie in the audio version.
Kevin Lucia, Titletrakk.com