Lynn Austin is a former teacher who now writes and speaks full time. She has won three Christy Awards for her historical novels CANDLE IN THE DARKNESS, FIRE BY NIGHT, and HIDDEN PLACES. She and her husband have three children and make their home near Chicago, Illinois.
Lynn Austin Answers The Faithful Fifteen
Lynn Austin, a former teacher who now writes and speaks full time, has won three Christy Awards for her historical novels CANDLE IN THE DARKNESS, FIRE BY NIGHT, and HIDDEN PLACES. In this interview Austin details how her spiritual calling permeates through every aspect of her life --- including her work as a novelist --- explains the ways in which the novels of Chaim Potok (a Jewish rabbi) have influenced her writing of Christian fiction, and shares touching stories about the profound effects her books have had on others.
FaithfulReader.com: What kind of testimony to your faith are you demonstrating in this book? If you are writing fiction, do you write fiction that is based upon your faith or that has a message for the reader? Is your goal to demonstrate your faith in your writing?
Lynn Austin: My goal, first and foremost, is to tell a good story. I never begin writing with a specific "message" in mind for the reader, but I know that my Christian worldview colors everything I write. I want to create realistic characters that readers from any background can identify with; characters who are flawed just like us. I then put these characters into real-life situations --- ones that we all face --- and let them make choices and decisions. Always, God is working in the background, just as He is in real life. If my characters choose Him, they'll find purpose and meaning in life and the strength to face any hardships. Characters who make wrong choices suffer consequences --- as in real life --- but the possibility for redemption and grace are always there no matter how many mistakes people make. I want God's love to loom large in every book. Many modern novels seem to have the theme that "life is hard and then you die." I want to show that "life is hard but God is good."
I don't choose a theme for a book before I write it, but when I finish the first draft I can usually see that a theme has emerged. It often coincides with what the Lord is teaching me in my own life or in the lives of the people I love. My newest book, ALL SHE EVER WANTED, is a testimony to God's faithfulness; a demonstration that no one is beyond the reach of His love and grace.
FR: When did you come to a saving knowledge of Jesus? Where are you today in your walk? Is your faith an important part of what you do?
LA: I heard the Gospel being taught as far back as I can remember, and I learned about Jesus at home, in Sunday school, and in catechism classes. But Jesus became personal to me when I was in college and I realized that I was a sinner in need of grace. Even though I had gone to church all my life, I hadn't been able to keep even the first commandment: to love God with all my heart and soul and strength. One day I sat in a chapel service and sang the words to the hymn "Be Thou My Vision" as a prayer for forgiveness and then committed myself to God's service: "I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord. Thou my great Father and I Thy true son. Thou in me dwelling and I with Thee one."
This hymn is still my favorite --- and still my prayer. I have been walking with the Lord for almost forty years and can't imagine living my life without Him. I have seen Him answer prayers miraculously, and I have learned to trust Him when my prayers aren't answered the way I want. My faith is the most important part of my life and it fuels everything I do --- the choices I make, the lifestyle I live, and especially the novels I write.
FR: Tell us about your church experiences, how you grew up (or maybe didn't grow up) in the church, where you attend now, your involvement in your local assembly, etc.
LA: I am one of those blessed people who grew up in a Christian family with parents and grandparents who loved the Lord and attended church faithfully. My father's family was Methodist and my mother's was Lutheran, but they raised my sisters and me in the only Protestant church in town, which was Reformed. The church had an excellent Sunday school and a yearlong catechism class during my teenage years that was required before making a public profession of faith and becoming a member of the church. This class had an enormous impact on me in my formative years, and I later chose to go to a church-affiliated Christian college after high school. I am currently involved in several leadership positions in our local church, including committees, teaching adult Sunday school classes, and serving as a lay reader for worship services.
FR: Tell us about your current church family/fellowship. How does it influence your work?
LA: My family and I currently belong to a small, local Presbyterian church of about 600 members whose motto is: "Called by God to know God's word, grow in Christ's love, and go in the spirit of service." Both of our pastors have a deep love for Christ and for Scripture. They are both exceptional preachers with a rich, poetic use of language --- which I love. They also preach the word of God, and I often find myself jotting notes during their sermons to use in my writing.
I love our church because it combines the beauty of traditional liturgy and music with a family friendly atmosphere. I find that the poetry of the hymns nourishes me, and I'm fed by the content and language of the church's traditional prayers and creeds. Yet the church is also small enough to feel like a family. We meet every Wednesday night for a family style dinner, then gather in small groups for prayer, children's activities, Bible study, and discipleship. My fellowship with other members and the spiritual nourishment I receive from these small groups have a direct impact on my writing, giving me the fuel and "fire" I need to work. When I miss church fellowship, for whatever reason, my writing suffers.
FR: Who are your spiritual mentors? Your professional mentors?
LA: My spiritual mentoring has largely been done through reading. As part of my daily quiet time, I read nonfiction works by Christian authors who have served as my mentors. These include St. Augustine, Henri Nouwen, Philip Yancey, Eugene Peterson, Jane Rubietta, Oswald Chambers, C. S. Lewis, Richard Foster, Charles Colson, Michael Card, and others too numerous to list.
As for professional mentors, mine was a wonderful Christian author named Alma Barkman. God miraculously brought her into my life when I was first starting to write as a stay-at-home mom --- and didn't know a thing about writing! She took me under her wing and encouraged me to keep going, took me to writing conferences, and gave me the courage to attend her writers' critique group. I'm not sure where I would be today without her help.
The only two fiction classes I've ever taken were taught by editor David Lambert and author Jerry Jenkins. I still refer to the principles of fiction-writing that I learned from them. I also read books by a wide variety of Christian authors in order to learn from them, and I try to attend an annual writers' retreat with an organization of Christian authors that I belong to called Chi Libris. This group "meets" online throughout the year and we discuss a variety of writing-related issues. I still study the craft of writing by reading a variety of how-to books on writing, and I belong to a local Christian writers' critique group that has been meeting monthly for the last twelve years.
FR: Discuss your calling/mission --- as a writer and as a Christian.
LA: My calling and mission as a writer is really an offshoot of my calling as a Christian. I believe that my faith is a call to total commitment to God in worship and obedience. In Christ, I'm part of His redeemed covenant people whose mission it is to be His servants, charged with establishing His kingdom on earth. Wherever He places me, I'm called to demonstrate the good news of His redemption to a fallen world. I serve God in everything I do, whether making supper for my family or doing volunteer work, but the specific work He has given me to do is writing fiction for His glory.
FR: What are your Scripture-reading habits?
LA: Thirty years ago someone gave me a leaflet from the Bible Society that contained a daily schedule for reading through the entire Bible in a year (and the Psalms twice a year.) I felt convicted that I should be feeding on spiritual food every day --- since I certainly made sure to nourish my physical body with three meals a day. I established the habit of daily reading that year and have been reading through the Bible once a year ever since. I have my quiet time each morning before I start to write.
FR: What books have most influenced your work?
LA: I'd have to say the novels of Chaim Potok have influenced me the most, particularly THE CHOSEN and THE GIFT OF ASHER LEV. Potok is a Jewish rabbi whose novels bring to life the world of Orthodox Jews so masterfully that readers feel a part of that world. He is able to weave spiritual themes into his stories in a way that is seamless and natural. I read THE CHOSEN at a time in my life when I was wrestling with God over unanswered prayer, and I gained insights into God's nature through that book that changed my life. He inspired me to try to write Christian fiction the way he writes "Jewish fiction" --- to set out to tell a compelling story, yet to weave my Christian worldview and my own spiritual wrestling into the story in a way that is seamless and glorifying to God.
FR: Do you read secular fiction at all? If so, who are your favorite authors and why?
LA: I do read a lot of secular fiction, mostly to see what people in our culture are reading (and therefore what answers they are seeking), and also because there are some excellent writers who I can learn from. I try to see what the latest bestsellers are all about, but I avoid any books that have violence or graphic sex. I belong to a book club with women from my community and they've come up with a lot of interesting titles with the same criteria.
I try to read a wide variety of genres, including suspense, mystery, historical, and general fiction. Some of my favorite authors are Maeve Binchy, Rosamunde Pilcher, John Grisham, Anne Perry, Barbara Kingsolver, Dick Francis, Chaim Potok, Anne Rivers Siddons, and Connie Willis.
FR: What are your other media habits --- television, movies, music, etc.?
LA: Because I do so much reading, I have very little time for television or movies. My husband is a professional musician who performs with two orchestras, so classical music has always been a huge part of my life. I listen to it as "background" music during my leisure hours (while reading) and I always draw enormous inspiration from attending concerts.
FR: Do you and your family have any special faith-based traditions?
LA: Sundays have always been a special family time when we gather for dinner after church and enjoy a day of rest from our work. When our children were small, we made sure that all of our holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, kept their focus on God --- we had a birthday cake for Jesus every Christmas, for instance, and exchanged presents because God gave us the gift of Christ. (The Easter bunny and Santa Claus were not welcome in our home.) Our grown children still gather with us each year to begin Advent by setting up the family crèche and reading the Christmas story aloud from Scripture. We then decorate the tree with ornaments the kids made or that have special meaning.
FR: Tell us about your prayer life and habits.
LA: I have a daily time of prayer as part of my morning quiet time. But I also take the command to "pray without ceasing" seriously and I like to talk with God whenever and wherever I happen to be. For me, this also includes stopping to give God thanks for the hundreds of gifts He gives us each day, like a cool breeze, or a beautiful flower, or a child's smile. I don't want my prayers to always be "shopping lists," but also prayers of thanksgiving and praise throughout the day.
FR: Describe what you believe the role of writing in religion is.
LA: God chose to speak with us through the written word --- the Bible. This tells me that writing has an enormous role in religion. I recently read C. S. Lewis' book SURPRISED BY JOY, in which he credits Christian authors for leading him to Christ. In SOUL SURVIVOR, Philip Yancey names several authors and novels that profoundly influenced his faith. St. Augustine also came to Christ through some of the books he read. The Holy Spirit can use written words across the miles and the centuries to speak to readers of all ages.
FR: Tell us about one or more of your favorite encounters with readers.
LA: My books have all been translated into Dutch, and this summer I had the opportunity to visit the Netherlands for a short book tour. Meeting some of those readers was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Even though we are divided by culture and language and geography, I felt a kinship and fellowship with them that made us feel like family. I was deeply moved and blessed to hear of the many ways the Lord has used my books to touch their lives --- which are so far removed from my isolated office in Illinois! He is truly able to do "exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think."
FR: Would you share a story about someone you've brought to Christ or share how your writing has helped someone?
LA: One of the letters that has moved me the most was from a thirteen-year-old reader who isn't a Christian. She said that her past experiences with Christians have not been good ones, but she was so moved by what she read about Jesus in my novel that she read the book twice --- and cried both times. She still hasn't decided to become a Christian, but if the Lord can use my book to plant a tiny seed of faith in this young girl's life, then all the hours of research and writing will have been more than worth it.
Another letter that comes to mind was from a reader in New Jersey who witnessed the September 11th disaster from her office building. She wrote to say that she had a hard time with forgiveness after those events, until she happened upon my book WINGS OF REFUGE, which takes place in Israel and deals with the theme of forgiveness. She thanked me for the story, saying it helped her to heal from this tragedy and begin to forgive.
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SONG OF REDEMPTION
(Chronicles of the King, Book 2)
Bethany House Publishers
Buy from Amazon.com
THE STRENGTH OF HIS HAND (Chronicles of the King, Book 3)
Bethany House Publishers
Buy from Amazon.com
ALL SHE EVER WANTED
Bethany House Publishers
Buy from Amazon.com
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Chronicles of the King
GODS AND KINGS (Bethany House, February 2005)
SONG OF REDEMPTION (Bethany House, May 2005)
THE STRENGTH OF HIS HAND (Bethany House, September 2005)
Refiner's Fire series
CANDLE IN THE DARKNESS (Bethany House, November 2002)
FIRE BY NIGHT (Bethany House, October 2003)
A LIGHT TO MY PATH (Bethany House, November 2004)
EVE'S DAUGHTERS (Bethany House, November 1999)
WINGS OF REFUGE (Bethany House, July 2000)
HIDDEN PLACES (Bethany House, August 2001)
ALL SHE EVER WANTED (Bethany House, October 2005)
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