Author interviews: Charles Shields, Jim Dyet and Brian Reaves
edited: Friday, August 10, 2012
By Casey Sean Harmon
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Wednesday, February 01, 2012
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Three authors, each his own style. One a suspense writer, one a historical writer, and one a how-to writer. Three authors, three different views on life. And yet, deep inside, all have something in common.
Brian Reaves is the author of Stolen Lives, a Christian Suspense novel. Charles J. Shields is the author of the New York Times Best-selling biography, Mockingbird. Jim Dyet is the author of The Master’s Plan for You and Out of the Rough: Meditations for Golfers, both of which are bestselling how-to books.
It occurred to me one day that writing is an art. And it is no different than painting or molding a figurine out of clay. I realized that all art begins in the imagination, and requires an artist to bring it forth into existence. Listen to these established authors as they share with you their ideas on life, religion and art.
Q. How old were you when you first started writing?
CJS. When I was nine, I wrote the definitive work on the Three Stooges based on hours of research seated in front of DuMont television. I drew a pencil on the cover to indicate that this was indeed a literary work and then created the binding with a stapler. You may be able to locate a copy in the Smithsonian, but I believe the original is lost.
BR. Around 26 when I started working on a novel, but I wrote poetry when I was in school and short stories in high school. I kept reading novels and thinking "Hey, I could do that!" Finally one day I sat down and actually tried. It was eye-opening because writing a novel can be fun and frustrating, but it's work either way.
Q. What encouraged you to write?
CJS. First my father was a journalist and I admired him. Second, I was a mediocre student in most things except English. If the teachers had put more emphasis on writing, I would have been happier.
JD. I was a young pastor with two preschool daughters who needed new shoes. However, my salary wouldn't stretch far enough to afford shoes so I submitted sermon outlines to a magazine for pastors. Within two weeks I received acceptance and a check. The check was big enough to put two little girls into new shoes.
BR. Ideas. I wake up sometimes with concepts and ideas in my head and think some of them through into stories. Most make it only to the short story level, but some of the more interesting ones I keep back for future novels.
Q. When did you gain an interest in the field in which you write?
CJS. When I taught English to high school freshmen and read To Kill a Mockingbird, my students always wanted to know more about the author— as rightly they should. But reliable information about her was unavailable. This and the fact that there was no biography of one of the most popular authors of the 20th century convinced me that a book was needed.
JD. As a pastor, the interest was always there but lacked opportunity until a magazine for ministers gave me a green light to write an article on how to teach teenagers to preach. From that point until now I have written hundreds of articles, and numerous Bible studies, devotionals, and books to help Christians grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.
BR. When I was a teenager I found a used copy of The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury. While I had grown up watching "Twilight Zone" episodes on television, that book was the first time I'd read something like that. These were stories based in reality with just a touch of the surreal. Short stories were never the same after that.
In later years I started reading Dean Koontz novels and that led me toward the suspense side of things. I loved the way he could tell a story that would keep you riveted to the book for hours without ever getting horribly graphic with violence. And no matter how strange the story becomes, he always finds a way to make it believable. That's the kind of stories I want to write.
Q. What was the hardest part about writing your newest book?
CJS. Miss Lee refused to cooperate and asked friends not to speak to me. This, despite my assurances to everyone connected with her that I was writing a fair and accurate biography.
JD. Getting the first sentence the way I want it.
BR. That’s an easy one to answer: cutting the fat in the story. My finished draft of the novel was over 140k words. I loved every page and it had some plot twists that came out of nowhere. The conversion of one character and the refusal of another to convert was detailed and added depth to the characters. Rachel’s parents played a much bigger role in things as well. But I had to cut it down for the final draft to 92k. It was like performing surgery on my child, as it were. I lost a lot of favorite scenes, but in the end the story was tightened a lot and the tension ratcheted up several notches. As an added benefit, it gave me a stronger place to go in my follow-up novel. Events in Levi’s past were fully explained in my original draft of the novel, but cut out of the final draft. Now they’ve been moved to the next one, and allow for a powerful crisis of faith in his life.
Q. What was the easiest part?
CJS. To be honest, there was no easy part. I used to compete in marathons. The first few miles are usually easy, but sometimes they’re not. Likewise you would expect this book to have been easy in the beginning stages but it wasn’t. To keep going I fell into a marathon mentality of just sticking to a pace, ignoring the discomfort, and visualizing the finish.
JD. Attaching my name!
BR. I guess writing the story itself was easy enough. I really feel like God is the One Who gives me the story ideas, and they flow fairly easily from that. I'm nowhere near creative enough to come up with most of the things I've written. Once I had the initial plot idea ("What if a man watched his family die and wanted revenge? And what if he could get that revenge in such a way that he could never be caught?"), the characters sort of developed themselves during the story.
Q. Every good author has an objective when writing. What is your objective?
CJS. To make the reader turn the page and gain the respect of persons who are informed about the subject.
JD. To help readers understand the message of God's Word and apply it to daily life.
BR. To bring people closer to God. I want to tell a realistic story with believable characters, while showing a realistic relationship with God throughout. Sometimes we don't understand why God works the way He does, but ultimately it all makes sense when we look back on it.
Q. When you first started writing your newest book, did you ever expect so much positive reaction?
CJS. I knew it would end up on the New York Times bestseller list. I can’t explain why.
JD. No, and I still don't.
BR. The idea of revenge isn't a new one, and it's something that resonates with everyone. I knew the story would be something most people would relate to, but I didn't realize how differently people would see it. Everyone seems to find their own person to cheer for during the story.
Q. Charles and Brian, how are your newest books different from your other books?
CJS. My earlier books were for young people and delved less into personality, motives, etc. A number of people who have Mockingbird liken it to the reading a novel. Sophisticated nonfiction for a popular audience shares features with good fiction.
BR. It's more of a straightforward suspense story. My first novel was Sci-fi, the follow-up to Stolen Lives is a supernatural thriller, and the one I'm currently working on could be classified as Christian horror, I suppose. Stolen Lives is based strictly in reality though, and could happen.
Q. What are your ideas on art?
CJS. Art expresses the experience of being human.
JD. Art offers tremendous help in gaining and holding reader interest.
BR. I think art is important in all forms. Our God created the universe with His words like an author, created man from the dust like a sculptor, painted the stars and sky like an artist, and gifted His children with music. He's the most creative being in the universe, and I believe when we use our artistic abilities for His glory it blesses Him.
Q. Do you think true artists are born or made?
CJS. I don’t know.
JD. Probably a bit of both. Regardless of having natural talent, creative people must pray and work hard to improve their talent.
BR. Both. There are those who are gifted from birth with some talent they develop quickly. Others have to work a little while to make it happen. In the end, they're both artists. Anyone with the desire to do so can become a true artist.
Q. What advice can you give to readers?
JD. Read with an open mind and heart, but weigh every teaching against what God has written in His Word.
BR. Never be afraid to let an author know if you enjoyed their story. I have several friends who are writers and it always makes their day to hear from someone who read their book and liked it.
Q. Any further comments?
CJS. No, except this: if you write or act or paint, don’t expect most people to understand what you’re doing. Reactions can range from bewilderment, to skepticism, to envy. Just keep doing what you believe you need to do to validate your place in life.
JD. Someone has called writing the hardest work you can do that doesn't involve lifting, but the hard work pays off in transformed minds and lives.
BR. If you have a dream, give it to God. If it’s from Him, He’ll make it happen with your obedience. If it’s not His dream for your life, it might not happen-but would you really want it to anyway? He can do more in five seconds with an obedient Christian than you could accomplish in five years on your own.
Thus concludes the interview.
Copyright 2010 by Casey Sean Harmon. All Rights Reserved.
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Casey Sean Harmon