Gayle Trotter:This is Gayle Trotter, and today I’m speaking with New York Times best-selling author Frank Peretti. Mr. Peretti has a thrilling novel coming out called Illusion. Thank you for speaking with me today, Mr. Peretti.
Frank Peretti:It is absolutely my pleasure.
Gayle: I understand that you’re a Christian. What made your faith come alive for you?
Frank: Having a personal, loving day-by-day, moment-by-moment relationship with Jesus Christ. And having his presence and his love and his guidance in my life every day. It’s more than religion; it’s just that relationship. Which is kind of interesting because that’s what the book, Illusion, is about in a metaphorical sense.
Gayle: Your books have delved into dark topics like spiritual warfare. Why don’t you avoid dark topics as other Christian novelists do?
Frank: That was just my genre that I chose and it seems to be effective as a storytelling medium. Suspense, danger, darkness, and a very nice fast-paced story with a chase or a battle at the end — these are things that work very well in fiction. I don’t have any particular preference for a dark, edgy story. As a matter of fact, at this point in my life I’m edging away from that. I think I’d like to do stories that are a little more character-driven and delve more deeply into just personal heart-level matters. Illusion is like that — it’s a good story and it moves, but it’s a very character-driven story. It deals with a relationship.
Gayle: And your new novel Illusion describes some gripping circumstances endured by a husband and wife who’ve been married for forty years. I understand you’ve had a long-lasting marriage too. How much of your marriage is in Illusion?
Frank: I draw upon the love and experience from my own marriage and how I marvel each day that my dear sweet wife has remained so loving and committed to me for forty years. There are images in Illusion that Dane has of Mandy that are straight from my own life: How Mandy smiles and how she travels. In the early days she cooked our dinner on a barbecue out in a public park because we couldn’t afford a room anywhere.
Gayle Yes, that was a great part of your book.
Frank: Yes, Barb and I did all that stuff. I was a traveling musician, and she traveled with me. We didn’t have a roof over our heads. She had a little sewing machine she took with her and she made her own clothes. I marvel now. I look back and I say, “What is it about this wonderful woman that she would remain so tenaciously bound to me in love and commitment for all these years?” It’s the same thing Dane is thinking and feeling and yes, you see at that level my own experience and my own love for my wife are woven through this story. So it’s a tribute to love and relationship and commitment. Boy, it was just time to write it, so I did.
Gayle: In the book, Dane and Mandy are magicians. Is there a deeper meaning for Illusion than the magical acts that Dane and Mandy create?
Frank: Yes. When you’re lost and separated from God, there is a sense of illusion. What is life really about? Is this some big trick that’s being played on me? What is true and what isn’t? And a fascinating aspect of this is Mandy’s whole predicament where suddenly she doesn’t know who she is. She doesn’t know who she is or where she belongs or where she came from. All of life becomes an illusion for her. It’s kind of like that song —Amazing Grace — where once I was blind but now I see. That’s a biblical metaphor where a person is blind for a while and is under an illusion or lost, like the blind leading the blind until they find the Lord and the scales fall from their eyes and they say, “Oh! This is who I am and this is where I belong.” That’s the process that Mandy goes through. So illusion plays through the story on a lot of different levels.
Gayle: How much Christian symbolism do you use in Illusion? I’m thinking of the doves, for example.
Frank: Oh my, yes. You’ve got the doves. You have Mandy’s father who is kind of a Father God figure. You have the ranch in Idaho, which is a symbol of heaven, not that Idaho is heaven, but it looks pretty heavenly today, looking out the window. But it has its bad days too. And, of course, Vegas, that’s easy. You can figure that’s the dark, sinful life. That’s easy to pull Vegas out of the hat. The fiery volcano at the end, of course, that’s obviously hell and judgment. She’s falling headlong toward hell and judgment. A whole flock, a whole legion of doves grabs her, the Holy Spirit bears her along and she finds the way back to heaven again where she’s reconciled back to her bridegroom who is a symbol of Christ. And so all that stuff’s in there. It’s kind of cool. It’s like being C.S. Lewis or something and writing the Narnia books with Aslan and all this other business.
Gayle: Yes, absolutely. The main protagonist in your book is Mandy, the wife. How are you able to get inside the mind of a woman?
Frank: Man, I don’t know. Being married to one sure helps. A woman is — just speaking from experience, being married to Barb — women are sure marvelous creatures. They are so delicate and insightful, and they’re just fun. There’s a certain word — I don’t want to use the word “mystique” because there’s a book, The Feminine Mystique, and that’s not at all what I’m talking about. Women are just intriguing and kind of mysterious to me. I don’t know, it’s just part of their charm, I guess. The Lord made them that way. Guys tend to be the logical, macho, warrior caveman — even when we’re sophisticated and wearing a suit, we’re still going out there and clubbing a bear and dragging it back to the cave. But the woman is the nurturer, the creator. You know what’s even interesting about that is how — this is a sidebar, but — women magicians, as opposed to man magicians, it’s interesting how man magicians are: sawing women in half and blowing things up and you have big saw blades cutting people in half. When you have a woman magician, she produces flowers, she weaves things together, and she uses scarves and produces these fun, creative things. The woman is the nurturer; she’s the creator; she’s the one who brings things to life and all that stuff weaves in. I just gave my wife a kiss; she’s going off on a plane. Now getting back to how did I get inside a woman’s mind, I don’t know. You just have to be real sensitive and just live with a dear wife like mine for all those years and for me, in terms of my own personal experience, you just have to maintain a sense of fascination. I think Mandy is fascinating.
Gayle: I agree.
Frank: Even as I’m writing this story I’m just kind of caught up and really intrigued with the character because she’s just so interesting. And that’s the way Barb is; she’s just so interesting. I never have quite figured her out.
Gayle: Are the trials of Mandy and Dane similar to the trials many Christians face during the Lenten season, and if so, how?
Frank: I’m not very familiar with the Lenten season, maybe you can describe that and build your question a little bit and then I can answer.
Gayle: Sure. The season of Lent is basically a representation of the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted before Easter and the thinking about that time that he spent in the desert — in the wilderness — is he was being prepared for the major trials that he would face in going through the events leading up to his crucifixion and ultimately his resurrection. And it seems to me that in reading your book, Dane and Mandy go through unbelievable trials that are hard to comprehend for them, for the reader. And did that in some sense prepare them for the final victory of their life together?
Frank: Yes, that’s right, that’s exactly right because this is a biblical pattern. Moses had to herd sheep in the wilderness for 40 years. David was anointed king of Israel and yet had to flee Saul for who knows how long and cry out, “Lord, why are you doing this to me?” It’s a pattern where the Lord, when he calls you he also takes you through a time of testing and trial to prepare you for what you’re doing and every Christian has to go through that. In some form or another we often go through many, many different trials and lessons in life, and the Lord continues to hone this character in us. So what you have in the book is this really neat long-term testing of faith where Mandy is continually crying out to God because she doesn’t even know who she is or where she belongs. That, of course, is metaphorical of our own lost condition in which we also try to find our way and God can be just so silent.
Gayle: Do you see Illusion as a Christian novel or a novel written by a Christian author?
Frank: I see it as a novel written by a Christian author. It’s a novel anyone can enjoy and those who have the insight, they can see that oh, this guy was a Christian all right. He comes from a Christian view of reality. Kind of like C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, just to draw names out of a hat here. I think that it must be a cross because there are authors who are pessimistic. They are decrying the evils of the world and the struggles of man but they never have an answer. I won’t name any names though I’ve got some coming to mind, but there are authors that are really good at showing how bad things are and decrying the evil in the world, but they don’t have an answer for it and I’m delighted that I could write about the struggles of life but you know what? There really is meaning behind it. And that’s what’s cool about being a Christian writer who writes novels. My novels reflect that kind of hope.
Gayle: Is writing hard or easy for you?
Frank: Sometimes the planning stage, planning and outlining, that’s the hardest part. That’s all work. I admit I’m a slow writer. I take about two years to do a book and for the first year I spend planning and researching and outlining, laying the whole thing out. That’s just nuts-and-bolts work and it’s not a whole lot of fun. But then the second year when I’ve got it all planned and I can just write it, that’s a whole lot of fun.
Gayle: Why do you write?
Frank: Because that’s what God made me to do. It’s really hard to explain other than that. God makes you to do a certain thing. You’re just made to do it. You love it. It’s the one thing that brings you peace and joy in your life. I was a carpenter. I was a printer. I tried a lot of different things. I was a minister — a pastor of a church — but I was never truly happy and fulfilled unless I was writing. And so it took me until I was turning thirty before I finally zeroed in and said God wants me to be a writer. And once I made my mind up about that — oh man, the joy, you just feel this race in your heart. It’s almost like that guy from Chariots of Fire — Eric Liddell — he said, “You know, God made me for a purpose, for China, but he also made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.” When I write, I feel his pleasure. That’s what God made me to do so it’s this back and forth. I can feel God saying, “Go get ‘em Frank. Write away because that’s what I made you to do, and you pay attention now because I’m going to give you an idea for your next book. You keep your eyes open.” And check this out: It’s working. Because God called me to be a writer, and so I write, and guess what: it works. Because God has reached a whole bunch of people with the writing I’ve done. And so I sit at home getting my books written and then he takes care of the rest. So, wow, what a deal! Works great.
Gayle: I really enjoyed your book and I can just see someone trying to make a movie about it because it’s got such amazing scenes in it. I don’t know if they’d be able to be faithful to the original work that you’ve done, but it’s really a gripping novel.
FP: You read the book, and it just cries out to be a movie, but I like to write cinematically anyway. It’s kind of bridging those two worlds I guess. I try to write visually and give the eye of the mind a lot to look at.
Gayle: Thank you so much for speaking with me about your new novel, Illusion, Mr. Peretti.
Frank: Oh yes.