Author of women’s fiction
What appeals to you most about writing fiction?
I was a journalist for nearly 20 years, delivering just the facts, ma’am. Now I get to make stuff up! It sounds fun—but to tell you the truth, making stuff up is way, way harder. I’m so new at it that I wind up relying on my reporter resources, which is to say I research the heck out of everything. Only then do I feel like I can take artistic license with a place, person or event.
Why Christian fiction?
It’s true I’m not your typical author of Christian fiction. I was raised Catholic (by an ex-priest, no less!). I only learned about pastors’ wives and megachurches when I began writing about them for Time magazine, where I was a longtime staff writer. But then my parents died, and I suffered a crisis of faith. Who was I? What did I believe? And these characters began to call to me: Ruthie, the outsider who follows her husband when he hears his calling; Candace, the fierce and fabulous wife of a charismatic senior pastor; and Ginger, the unhappy wife of a pastor who’s never around. I wondered what it was like to be married to a man who was married to God. These three women took my hand and showed me the way, and for that I feel nothing but love and gratitude.
Name five things you can’t live without
1. My family (my husband and our two little girls)
2. Daily phone calls with my sister (about extremely important things, like what we’re cooking for dinner)
3. Facebook (sadly)
4. Green tea (I drink it all day long)
5. Bikram yoga (it’s the one in the really hot room; I’ve tried going without, and I get fat and cranky)
Favorite book ~ Favorite movie ~ Favorite TV show
The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene ~ Children of Men ~ Game of Thrones
Where is the most interesting place you have been?
While reporting my first book, Remember Me, about weird and wonderful funerals and burials, I visited a tiny pyramid in Salt Lake City where you could have your loved one mummified. That was pretty…interesting.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be like my father. He woke up every day excited to go to work at his advertising agency in Osaka, Japan. He told me that whatever I chose to do, I should aim to feel that way, too. And I’m happy to report that I do.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
1.I didn’t speak a word of English until I started kindergarten. Now you can’t shut me up.
2.One of my two daughters is blonde and blue-eyed. To be surprised, you’d have to see me: I look completely Asian. I’ve been asked if I’m the nanny. Which I suppose you could say I am.
Ruthie follows her Wall Street husband from New York to Magnolia, a fictional suburb of Atlanta, when he hears a calling to serve at a megachurch called Greenleaf. Reeling from the death of her mother, Ruthie suffers a crisis of faith—in God, in her marriage, and in herself.
Candace is Greenleaf’s “First Lady,” a force of nature who’ll stop at nothing to protect her church and her superstar husband.
Ginger, married to Candace’s son, struggles to play dutiful wife and mother while burying her calamitous past. All their roads collide in one chaotic event that exposes their true selves.
Inspired by Cullen’s reporting as a staff writer for Time magazine, Pastors’ Wives is a dramatic portrayal of the private lives of pastors’ wives, caught between the demands of faith, marriage, duty, and love.
What was your favorite scene to write in Pastors’ Wives or share your favorite paragraph?
My favorite section is about Ginger, the daughter-in-law of senior pastor Aaron and his wife Candace at Greenleaf Church. She envies her sister-in-law, Sophie, a beautiful ballerina, who enjoys Candace and Aaron’s affections:
When it came to her sister-in-law, Ginger could not help but think of Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus. Jesus stopped at their house on his journey, as Luke told it, and while Martha ran around cooking and cleaning to make him comfortable, her little sister, Mary, just sat at his feet and lapped up his every word. When Martha complained, Jesus told her this: Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
Ginger recalls a trip to Hawaii with her in-laws, during which she finds herself doing the laundry, babysitting, and cooking (badly) while her sister-in-law enjoys herself. She realizes:
Mary hath chosen the good part. And Martha hath chosen the laundry.
Which character did you connect to the most?
On the surface, I had most in common with Ruthie. She, too, was raised Catholic; she, too, suffers the death of her mother. The scenes of her mother’s death are very close to my own. And she, too, has a crisis of faith. But I also connected deeply to Candace, who is the fierce, fabulous woman I wish I was, and to Ginger, who is the anxious, insecure woman I wish I wasn’t.
Which character was the most difficult to write?
Candace. I was terrified she would come across as a caricature, which would kill me because I loved her so much.
What’s next in your writing pipeline?
I am also a TV writer. I recently wrote and produced a 2013 drama pilot for CBS, which—to my bottomless disappointment—did not make it onto the fall schedule. I will soon start developing a new drama. And I am hard at work on my third book and second novel. It’s a murder mystery set in Japan.
Lisa Takeuchi Cullen is the author of Pastors’ Wives, a new novel from Penguin/Plume, and The Ordained, a 2013 CBS drama pilot. Previously, she was a staff writer for Time magazine. Readers can friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @lisacullen, or visit her website at www.lisacullen.com.