Interview with Sally John

Sally John has been a favourite author of mine for many years and a delightful responder to my emails! Check out Sally’s website for full descriptions of her many inspiring novels, here! Sally recently “visited” with my book club when Castles in the Sand was our May selection. Here’s what Sally had to say to us:~

ON WRITING…

No doubt God blesses you through your writing – when did you first know that is what you wanted to do and did you get positive support from family & friends from the beginning?

Oh yes, He blesses me abundantly through it. I ALWAYS wanted to be a writer. I’ve read fiction since I first learned how to read and so wished that I could write it. It was such an odd thing to dream I never told anyone or took it seriously for myself. Authors were not real people who lived in the Midwest (I was convinced they all lived in New York). And how on earth could one make a living at it?

It wasn’t until our children were in school (1987) that I took a class on “how to get published;” one thing led to another. I remember asking God if I could just have one book on library shelves I would be so happy. He keeps giving and giving way beyond anything I can imagine.

My husband has always been my greatest supporter. Actually, before taking that class, I wrote a software manual for him and his business associate. That was when we started thinking that maybe I could write. Bless Tim! My kids think it’s wonderful. My daughter and daughter-in-law are my best editors.

What is the reason you write epilogues?

Sometimes they just seem to work. Often I or my editor are like many readers: we want to see what happens later in the characters’ lives. This is why series are so popular too: we get to see what’s going on next, what’s happened after their “adventure.” Sometimes I can’t do an epilogue; the story is finished as is.

How long does it normally take you to write a book from first ideas to finished product?

Long long time. Anywhere from six to twelve months. We like to put out one every six months, but sometimes it’s hard to keep up that writing pace.

Did you have the whole story in your mind or do you just start with an idea and then it flows out?

Basically I start with an idea: either a situation (like with Castles) or a character (a fireman and his wife) or a combination. Then I create the necessities: characters, setting, theme, plot. Then I work on a general outline, called “the hero’s journey.” I know the characters have to get from point A to point B, they have to grow. Most of the details come during the writing itself. In Castles, Susan had to come to terms with Kenzie and with Drake.

I liked your pushing each other’s buttons analogy in Castles in the Sand and how you used it. Do you have a list of analogies that you draw from each time you write or did this one just evolve with this story?

Thanks. Analogies just come along with the writing. I imagine how a character might see things, what word pictures work for her. For example, Susan is a typical mom who adores her daughter’s face; this went to the nose button thing. A current character I’m working on is a violinist; she often thinks in musical terms. Analogies can be difficult to write; I find myself reusing them. My very smart editor catches those things. She’ll even remember when I used one in a different book.

What story, if any, are you working on now? What is in the future pipeline?

I’m working on a new series. I just turned in Book 1 and I’m working on Book 2. It’s a saga type, about a family, about relationships between mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, and four grown children. It’s set again in San Diego. Book 1 is due for release in December.

ON CASTLES IN THE SAND…

From where did the ideas for this book originate?

Six years ago my granddaughter joined us before her mommy and daddy got married. The situation was, to say the least, a difficult experience for everyone involved, but also the best way for God to work in our lives. He has brought great blessings through it; a precious new life and a loving daughter-in-law in her mom, just to name two. (Romans 8:28 is true!)

The book is not based on particulars of what happened in real life – except for the emotional journey. As we all know, it is not an uncommon occurrence in Christian families. I thank Harvest House for letting me explore different aspects of it.

I did not want to “take sides.” I tried to just “present” a situation and let the characters find their own ways to resolution. I showed two extreme views: Drake’s and Pepper’s, with Susan in the middle. Do we toss the kids out on their ear or do we accept whatever they do with a smile?

Have you ever felt imprisoned by rules & regulations like Drake?

Yes. I think we Christians sometimes place these expectations on our pastors and/or on ourselves to perfectly keep God’s commandments. We won’t. We can’t. We’re human.

I find the character of Pepper interesting & refreshing. Was her character based on someone that you know well?

No, I don’t know a real-life Pepper. I had such fun with her though. She just sort of appeared. I think she’s one of those people I’d like to know or one who possesses characteristics I wish I had. I totally liked her husband too.

I planned to write the story completely from Susan’s point of view and then it was as if the Lord said, “You need to go there. You need the boy’s mother in the story.” Sigh. Too close to home, but He is faithful.

As I said above, the particulars of the story are not from my life. I’m not Susan or Pepper – but I know their emotions, some experientially and some because this is what writers do: we imagine and we look at things from all sorts of angles.

Do you have a ‘Martha Marvens’ support group? I have experienced the blessings of prayer support from such a group and it is a wonderful thing.

You are blessed! Sometimes I write about people I would love to know or wish I had in my life. J Hmm…I think God may be answering this prayer. Since our move a year ago (from Illinois to California), we’ve become involved in a church with a great group of prayer warriors.

What was it that prompted you to write a story about a Pastor whose image became more important than serving his church family?

It could stem from going to a church (ages ago) that made “keeping the rules” the end-all. If you went to a movie, you must not be saved. That sort of thing. Which of course leads to not telling certain people I went to a movie, which in time leads to “no, my son did not get his girl friend pregnant, he must be someone else’s kid.” Hmm…your questions are making me dig deep, aren’t they? Narelle, if this is too much information, feel free to delete!

Not at all, Sally – thanks for your honesty :)

I do know I wanted to explore this teaching that implies we must be “perfect” in the sense of the word that says we don’t make mistakes. Do you have this in Australia? It seems grace has been lost in some ways.

Sally, I think we do but from what I can gather not to the same level. Aussies tend to more relaxed by nature so this may contribute to that.

Unlike many books, the characters had flaws and in some cases, were quite unattractive people due to their behaviour. How intentional was that?

Very intentional. The more I write, the more I’m trying to portray real people. I realize this makes for not-as-nice-an-escape type of reading. But I feel so strongly about God’s grace and mercy making all the difference in a person’s life, I can’t get away from showing it in a story in hopes that someone will benefit from that truth. God sees us all as His most beautiful works of art. He sees us as already finished in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. Of course we’re not “there” yet. But the journey to get “there” is what life is all about.

The topic of premarital sex is one that isn’t often dealt with today from a Biblical standpoint. How do you fell churches should handle such a situation that seems to becoming more and more acceptable, so to speak?

Good question. The church and parental teaching is necessary: that this is not God’s plan, that it is a spiritual union that is not severed. I think an expectation that the kids will fail is not helpful. We can expect God to show up in every situation; our teaching needs to include the power of prayer, ours as well as those of the single people. Of course, a person who loves God and wants to please Him will grasp this, but so often the young ones don’t have an understanding of this yet. They’re still finding their identity in Britney Spears or whomever.

Loving, wise mentors can make a difference. More effective than dispensing information is to build safe relationships. We can preach against something until we’re blue in the face, but if the listener doesn’t love and trust us, it’s not going to make much of a difference in their life. The Bible says don’t do it. We need to explain why not in positive ways. It seems so often only the negative is presented. We skip over the part that physical intimacy is a good thing; it is a gift from God meant to be enjoyed; the desire for it is wired into us. To deny or repress that fact is dangerous. According to Scripture it is not acceptable outside of marriage, but it is forgivable. Whew! This is a big subject. I don’t mean to portray premarital sex as acceptable. I mean to show that it happens and the consequences are lifelong. I believe we make choices detrimental to our well-being not because we don’t know better, but because we are wounded people and some hurt has not been healed in us. Not to solely blame parents for our choices, but Kenzie’s wound was from Drake not being the best dad (and he wasn’t because his dad wasn’t and he wasn’t because we’re fallen humans). She needed that core wound – his seeming rejection of her – healed by Jesus.

When I read the scene where the ‘Martha Mavens’ are dissing Drake and making the decision to boycott I lost a lot of respect for these characters and felt their behaviour was really no better than Drake. Was this your intention? What was your motivation behind this scene, especially in light of the fact that the boycott is not what changes Drake?

I wanted someone to take a stand against Drake. The boycott got his attention. Susan needed some affirmation, some human to say that yes, it was okay for her to disagree with her husband. She’d never had the courage to do this before. Again, the real life thing…they were angry and they showed it and were disrespectful, but they loved him. They did it out of love for both Drake and Susan

This is one of the first Christian books which clearly shows two committed Christians choosing to live together before marriage (as opposed to the more typical scenario of unbelievers who become Christians in the story and then decide to live apart until marriage). What made you decide to portray the characters this way? What general feedback have you received regarding this?

The only feedback I’ve received to date is: “I’ve been there too. Thank you.” A few of these emails have been from pastors’ wives. I cry when I read these things. It’s easier to accept the nonbeliever who blatantly sins than the believer. There are Christians, especially the younger generation, who don’t think this living together is a sin. They truly love Jesus – as best they know how. They are making an impact on their world for Him. Again, it’s the showing of life in the 21st Century; it’s not a prescription of how to live. Part of me too rebels against rating Christianity by behaviour: well if she did this (went to a movie, went bowling, drank wine, said a curse word, is fat, is too skinny, got divorced, engaged in premarital sex), she must not be a believer, she can’t possibly be saved. Only our Father sees our hearts. He’s always working on healing them and bringing us into a fuller understanding of Himself. He holds us accountable, He expects to see “fruit” in us – but He deals with us through His love.

If you were casting actors for a movie of “Castles”, who would you choose?

Fun question! Hmm…my daughter is better at this; I’m not up on current actors names… Russell Crowe works for Pepper’s husband; Jake Gylenhaal for Aidan (I’m sure the spelling is wrong; and does he sing? he has to sing; he might be too old)… What do you think?


Mmmmm…….here’s a few ideas:~

Pepper ~ Bonnie Hunt
Kenzie ~ Hayden Panettiere
Aidan ~ Tom Wellings
Susan ~ Sela Ward
Drake ~ Jack Coleman

ON MATTERS PERSONAL…

Please tell us about your faith journey.
It is a journey! I grew up going to a Lutheran Sunday School. In 1974 Jesus overwhelmed me with His love. He’s still doing that. I’m a “work in progress.” I trace a lot of it through my fiction. I often go to forgiving a dad (mine was an alcoholic) and to God at work in our every day lives, answering prayer, healing emotional scars.

Have you had a time in your life where you felt the need to ‘run
away’? Did you actually do it?!?

Yes and no. This one is for another book.

I have read all your books and enjoyed each one. Do you have a particular book or character that is closest to your heart?

Thank you! Maggie and Reece, Rachel and Vic, Kate and Tanner. In a Heartbeat. In the Shadow of Love is a favourite still, probably because it was my first and I spent years writing it.

What are you reading now or who are some favourite authors?

I’m reading Richard Rohr’s From Wild Man to Wise Man, Reflections on Male Spirituality (great research about men but also full of God’s truth for women too) and John Lescroart’s The Suspect (I like mainstream fiction, police-lawyer stuff). I like Agnes Sanford (an old Christian author, fiction and non-fiction), Leanne Payne, Brennan Manning. For fiction: Jamie Langston Turner, Robert Crais, David James Duncan, Jane Austen, Nick Hornby.

THANK YOU ALL!! Blessings on you. ~Sally


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2 Responses to Interview with Sally John

  1. I think our July book club selection is CASTLES IN THE SAND. I look forward to reading it. Thanks to the both of you for the great interview!

  2. Thanks for posting the interview Rel. I felt like I’ve finally caught up after having missed book club!!!

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