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Monday, December 2, 2019

It's Beginning to Read a Lot Like Christmas: Author Interview with Chris Fabry

I am so happy to introduce you to today’s interviewee, Chris Fabry, as I’m a big fan of his writing. His writing awards include five Christy Awards, an ECPA Christian Book Award, and two Christianity Today Book Awards of Merit.

Chris has published more than 70 books, ranging from nonfiction and film novelizations, notably the Kendrick brothers' War Room and Overcomer, to novels for children and young adults. He co-authored the Left Behind: The Kids series with Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, as well as the Red Rock Mysteries and The Wormling series with Jerry B. Jenkins. RPM is his latest series for kids and explores the exciting world of NASCAR.

And if that’s not enough, he’s also a radio personality who hosts the daily program Chris Fabry Live on Moody Radio. He is also heard on Love Worth FindingBuilding Relationships with Dr. Gary Chapman, and other radio programs.

Since this is the start of the holiday season where I promote Christmas reads, I’d like to start the focus on two of his Christmas themed books – A Marriage Carol, and Away with the Manger. What inspired you to write Away with the Manger: A Spiritually Correct Christmas?
That was my second published work and I had been doing radio programs on the “Creche wars” for so long, I was really frustrated. Every year the same stories were written about cities and towns kicking Jesus out of the public square. Lawsuits would be filed and most of the time Jesus won, at least in a legal sense.

But I felt we were all missing the reason Jesus was in the public square in the first place. So, I came up with this story, an allegory in a sense, of the purpose of the incarnation and how we’ve gotten it out of whack in America.

How do you keep your stories from sounding too “preachy” but to still bring a spiritual punch?
When I read Away with the Manger now, it comes off as preachy to me. Some of my attempts at humor weren’t really funny. I would write it differently now. I get the same feeling with people who write with any overarching agenda if you are trying to make me act on something or believe something you believe strongly, get out of the way.

I think of To Kill A Mockingbird and the subtle way we see the injustice in that book/film and are left to make our own appropriate response to it. I think that’s key. I want to produce art, not propaganda. I want to be Nathan telling a story to David that has a specific point but isn’t heavy-handed.

Any options open for making Away with the Manger into a movie?
That story has been adapted as a play and I’ve actually seen it performed twice. There aren’t any plans for a film, but if there are, I would want to change some of it! 😊

 Have any of the books you’ve written been adapted to screenplays?
June Bug was made into a film titled, Child of Grace. They moved the setting from West Virginia to Maine but stuck with the heart of the book. I’ve had people reach out about other novels through the years. Of course, War Room, Overcomer, and The Song were films I adapted into novels.

I love your new take on the Christmas Carol theme in dealing with marriage. How did this book come about with Gary Chapman?
I’ve always wanted to write a Christmas novella. I’ve been working with Gary Chapman for many years and I thought it would be a good idea to meld the 5 love languages with Ebenezer Scrooge, so I came up with a fun/dark story about a marriage on the rocks and the power of love. Jacob and Marlee are the couple. It was a lot of fun and easier to patch their marriage up through fiction than…. well, I don’t want to give it away. 😊

You’ve co-written books with others, done novelizations of films, and had one of your books turned into a movie. Which of those three were the most challenging to you?  
The process of taking a film and making a novel from it was a lot more creative than I thought. I like to say the Kendricks’ put up the fence posts and I get to play in the pasture. I get to fill the story out in ways a film can’t.

But there is a challenging aspect to it—to stay true to the vision of the creators of the film and stay in step with the heart of the movie. It’s easy to go off on a tangent with characters and have them do or say things the film characters wouldn’t. Having June Bug turned into a film wasn’t hard at all—I was basically out of the process from the start, which has its own challenge and set of fears.

How do you handle co-writing a book? Do you both have equal say?
It depends. If I’m writing with Drew Brees, he’s the QB with the story. I try to just get out of the way. If I’m writing with Gary Chapman—we did a book titled Extraordinary Grace—I use his existing material and expand it.

With Jerry Jenkins and the Left Behind Kids stories, since Jerry’s name was on it, he wanted full veto power over anything in there he didn’t like. But we worked so closely together on those stories that I don’t think I ever sent him anything he objected to. He did edit me tremendously, making the books read more like his own writing, but we got into a groove together and I saw myself trying to write as Jerry each morning.

In turning the movie into a book how do you keep from inserting your interpretation of a character and keep true to the Kendricks’ conceptualization? Did it ever get contentious?
No, we never disagreed harshly. I remember one response to a bit of dialog that wasn’t in the film. The response was, “This doesn’t sound like any teenager I’ve ever heard.” And when I looked at that section, I had to agree. I approach writing with others and even writing for an editor as an exercise in making them happy, as if they’d written this themselves.

If I can enter into their voice, catch their vision of the end product, everyone wins. Now, I do have ideas and story trails that I will fight for. For example, I wanted to start Overcomer right after Hannah was born, when her parents were still alive. I was a little nervous sending it because the film begins when Hannah is 15 and I wasn’t sure they would allow that earlier scene. As it turned out, the Kendricks’ loved the approach and were ecstatic over the way it was fleshed out.

Your novel, June Bug, was made into a movie. How did you handle letting go of the reins to the production company?
Actually, it was optioned several years before and sat with the producer. They tried to write the script but kept hitting a wall. When the option ran out, the production company that was waiting for it was ready to start filming. They really believed in the story. It was kind of like watching your child get married—scary but also that you have to let go.

You’ve been a five-time Christy Award Winner, which is an amazing achievement. What was your first book that was nominated? Besides awesome writing, what makes your stories stand out to be such award winners?
My first novel for adults was Dogwood and it won a Christy that year. June Bug was nominated but didn’t win. I think that was a better story, so it just shows that you never know with awards. I don’t know why some books stand out in comparison with others—perhaps it’s just that they seem different.

Though I write in the “Christian fiction” genre, I try as much as I can to simply write a “human” story. Something authentic. The best compliment I can receive is someone who says, “Those people feel real to me.” I think the key is writing something that readers lose themselves in—that it doesn’t feel like you’re reading, you’re just in that world. That’s what I strive for, anyway.

When I saw the movie, Overcomer. I thought that’s the kind of story I want to write. However, with all the major Christian book publishers being absorbed by secular publishers how does an unknown writer break into that field either with books or screenplays?
That’s a huge question but let me answer this way. When I was starting out, Christian book publishers weren’t looking for fiction. It wasn’t really on the radar. Then came Janette Oke and Frank Peretti and after that Jenkins and LaHaye. Publishers saw that fiction could really take off. But I wasn’t Oke, Peretti, Jenkins or Dekker. Still, I wrote.

So, I would suggest you write the story rolling around your soul. Write the thing that you can’t NOT write. If it’s good, it will find its way into the world no matter who is publishing. Don’t allow the secular/sacred conundrum to stop you from doing what you’re called to do and don’t base success simply on the financial performance. There’s a lot more going on than we can know.

What advice do you have for authors who want to share their faith in their novels?
I have a book signed by Pat Conroy for my 50th birthday. Someone went to his door and got his autograph. He wrote, “Go deeper. Always go deeper.” Now, I’m not sure what that means, to be honest, but I think it’s good advice. I want to grow in my writing, I want to go deeper and peel back the layers of my heart so that what the reader encounters is authentic, genuine and not contrived or sentimental.

One of the best compliments I ever had was an atheist in our little town who read June Bug. She told me she was an atheist and that she didn’t like Christians much. Then she said, “But I liked your book. I could understand why someone would believe the way you do.” I still recall the feeling of her words—and that fact that something that was in my head that made it onto the page had entered her own heart.

Whether she becomes a Christian or not is not the point. I mean, I want her to become a Christian, of course. But for me, the point is, will I be faithful in telling the stories I’m given? Will I allow them to come from my heart to the page and then be okay with wherever they land? That’s my daily struggle. I want to control things and write best- sellers and be able to write full time.

That hasn’t happened to me and part of me thinks it’s because I’ve been protected from “wild success.” And it makes me grateful that I can write my stories and allow them to be what they are instead of what I dream for them to be.

What has surprised you the most in writing/publishing?
The fact that nobody knows. Nobody knows the “secret” of publishing. Nobody knows what makes a story a bestseller. You can guess, of course. And I know lots of people in the publishing industry who know a LOT about the business of selling books.  But nobody knows.

What has frustrated you the most?
That’s my own penchant for trying to figure it all out! I can’t tell you how many books I’ve written and I’ll think, “This is the one!” And the book will go out into the world and some will find it and respond. Most won’t. And that’s okay. The struggle these days is getting noticed in the sea of material published every year. And I have to come back to the idea that I’m not writing to get noticed, I’m writing to tell a good, redemptive story.

What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?
That nobody really knows what makes a bestseller.

Are there any other points about writing you would like to add?
I started a writing website in January of 2019. It’s for inspiration and encouragement for people who want to write. I had a professor write on an evaluation sheet, “Hey, you can write!” That was so encouraging that I never forgot it. So I named my site For years I’ve resisted sharing what I’ve learned because I felt I wasn’t ready. Now, I see it’s time to pull back the curtain on the things I’ve learned from Jerry and the Kendricks’ and others.

What is the next book coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis?
I’m writing a novel that will be released in the Spring of 2021. That feels terribly far away. It’s titled, A Piece of the Moon. It’s about a little town and a treasure hunt and a quirky old man who wants people to read the Bible. I set the heart of the story in a little Country radio station so you hear some classic Country hits woven throughout the story. And the reader will be thrust into the search for the biblical clues as to where the treasure is hidden.

That’s all for today’s interview. If you’d like to learn more about Chris’s writing and his writing program – which looks impressive, here are two options.

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