Interview by Nathan Sturgis (PWR class of 2014)
What is something you have learned as an editor that has affected your writing?
Writing and editing are different skills and tasks, of course: same genus, different species. But one of the major takeaways of my editorial experience is to write to a specific target audience, always. As the editor of a teen magazine years ago, I had two school snapshots taped to my computer monitor—two kids from the church I had recently pastored. Everything that went into that magazine was targeted to those two kids. I figured if the article or art or layout was perfect for them, in particular, it would be appropriate for others, in general.
How has being a pastor affected your writing?
It might be easier to answer how writing has affected my pastoring, but I’ll do my best to answer the question. For most of my writing, having a pastor’s heart helps me to achieve the right tone—less didactic than conversational, not preaching but identifying with the reader and sharing encouragement.
You’ve coauthored a few books with Josh McDowell and others, both fiction and nonfiction. What is that process like?
Every coauthored project—and I’ve done more than a dozen—is different. For Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door, it involved me first-drafting some chapters and sending them to Josh for revision, and him first-drafting others and sending them to me for revision. For Right From Wrong, I flew to California every month for about six months and spent a week at a time across the table from my coauthor, asking questions, picking his brain, and then returning home to write until the next trip. For Josh McDowell’s Handbook on Counseling Youth, he shipped me seven thousand pages of research and said, “See what you can do with it.” One of the most important things in coauthoring is to make sure (in writing) that each person’s role is clearly defined and carefully followed.
What was your first byline–the first piece of writing you had professionally published?
The first time I saw my name in print was in Highlights for Children, when I was eight or so. But my first byline was as a fifteen-year-old in my denomination’s national teen magazine. I think I was paid five dollars for it! (My older brother shook his head when I showed him the check, bemoaning the fact that I could no longer claim amateur status. I said, “So I guess I’ll never compete in the writing olympics, then”).
What is your favorite book that you’ve published?
I suppose you also want to know who my favorite child—and grandchild—is, right? Okay, since I am asked this question fairly often, now that I’ve published fifty books, I will give my usual answer: the NEXT one.
What books have influenced your life?
Oh, dear, there are too many to list. I think My Side of the Mountain (Jean C. George) was the first book I fell in love with. Mere Christianity (Lewis) and Evidence That Demands a Verdict (McDowell) guided my early thinking as a Christ follower). Heart Talks on Holiness (Brengle), The Renewed Mind (Christenson), and The Cost of Discipleship (Bonhoeffer) influenced my early spiritual life. Mr. Jones, Meet the Master (Marshall) molded my preaching. Hand Me Another Brick (Swindoll) and Spiritual Leadership (Sanders) molded my leadership. With Christ in the School of Prayer (Murray) and The Divine Hours (3 vol.) by Phyllis Tickle changed my prayer life. And The Contemplative Pastor (Peterson) and The Pastor as Minor Poet (Barnes) shaped and transformed my pastoral ministry.
Name a book, nonfiction or fiction, that is not directly about writing but has taught you something about writing.
The word pictures and story-telling skills of Peter Marshall, the great preacher and chaplain of the U.S. Senate (and subject of the book and film, A Man Called Peter) strongly influenced my writing (and preaching) voice in my teens.
In a nutshell, what knowledge or skills do you want to pass on to conference attendees?
Let me boil it down to a story told by novelist Bill Crider, who tells of doing a book signing with several other writers. One of them came up to him afterward and said, “You don’t remember me, but I was at your session at a writers’ workshop a couple of years ago, and you’re the reason I got published.” He was flattered, of course, and asked her what he had said that inspired her. “Oh, it wasn’t anything you said,” she answered. “But after listening to you, I figured that if you could do it, so could I.”
Bob will be giving to keynotes at the conference:
If John Had Not Written
Read, Pray, Write
and will be teaching one session:
First Verse: Four Tips for Beginning Poets