How has the series changed your relationship with the Lord?
I feel the accountability and stewardship pressures of both the resources and the visibility. If anything, because it has happened over the last few years--I'm 54 now--it has, if anything, humbled me. That might not have been the case 20 years ago. I want to finish well.
Do you consider yourself anointed or tasked by God to write these books?
I can't say I've felt particularly anointed or tasked, but in a strange way I do feel God prepared me for this. This is not false humility, but there have been times when I wondered why He didn't choose a better writer if He was going to pour out His blessing on a series like this. But I was raised in this tradition, knew this story, believed it, studied it, spent decades in the writing trenches, and even the way I was raised allowed me to interact with respect and deference to Dr. LaHaye. It's just been an incredible ride, and who knows, we may try something like it again soon.
You're in an enviable position, with almost complete freedom to write what you want. Is there anything you'd like to write but feel you couldn't get away with it?
I have a novel burning in me, but don't even consider that I wouldn't get away with it. Book two of my Soon trilogy, "Silenced," comes out in July. Down the road, I can't wait to get to the one I have in mind.
Some say Left Behind has bred an expectation that catastrophic events are leading to a better world, not a worse one. Do you agree?
That type of an assessment comes from someone who has not read the books but thinks he or she knows what's in them. The first chapter of the first book begins with the Rapture, which ushers in a seven-year period of tribulation that will be the absolute worst time in history. Our message is that we are coming to that time, possibly soon, and no one should want to be left behind to have to experience it. During the Rapture when believers are snatched away from the earth, chaos will ensue, with their cars, trucks, buses and planes crashing, etc. So many unbelievers will die from that alone. Of the people who survive the Rapture, only one in four will remain seven years later.
After that, yes, Christ returns to set up his 1,000-year reign on earth and that will be idyllic, but nothing that's happening now is leading to that. It's leading first to the horrible tribulation period.
You and Dr. LaHaye count among the successes of Left Behind the number of people who have come to Christ after reading one of the books. Has one book this power more than the others?
The first book, primarily. But we have been careful to weave into every book's story what we like to call a believable, reproducible conversion experience that includes a character praying the prayer of faith. People often tell us they prayed that prayer along with the character. Between us, Dr. LaHaye and I have heard personally from more than 3,000 such people.
Not consciously. I am sure there are many influences I am not even aware of, but I was mostly drawing on a lifetime of Sunday school and church, Bible reading, sermons and so on.
What were your first images of Jesus from church or Sunday school?
On the wall of our church as you faced the platform and pulpit were paintings of Jesus praying in Gethsemane and Jesus carrying the one lost and found lamb on his shoulders. Being the youngest of three boys for ten years, before another brother came along, I always identified with the lost sheep, or the baby or little sibling in a story. I saw myself as that lamb on Jesus' shoulders.
At home we had a painting by Warner Sallman--who painted the most famous portrait of Christ ever done--depicting Jesus knocking at a door with no handle on the outside. I asked my mother about it and she said it depicted the door of my heart and there was no handle because I had to open it to Jesus from the inside.
Those personal, loving, caring, knocking images of Jesus were in mind when I tried to tell the story of His interacting personally with millions at the judgment.
How has Left Behind's success has changed both the business and the creative side of Christian fiction?
In some ways it has opened a floodgate of Christian fiction, good and bad. There is always the temptation on the part of publishers to try to run with what's hot, and they have quickly found that fiction doesn't sell just because it's Christian. It also has to work.
Do you have any favorite Christian authors?
I have many, and I have so many friends and colleagues in this field that I don't dare mention some and not others. I would be safe with most everyone, however, if I mentioned just one--Francine Rivers--because most would agree that she's one whose work and approach we all aspire to.
Tell us about your Christian writers' guild. Is there anyone we should watch?
We have five full-time employees, three dozen or so mentors, an email correspondence course with 1800 students. We are judging our first-novel contest right now. We've had 285 entries, all by previously unpublished novelists, for a $50,000 first prize. The winner will be published by Tyndale, and edited by me. When we select the top three or so, they will really be writers to watch. We'll announce the winner in June.