Interview with Bestselling Author Randy Alcorn
Get to know Randy…
Randy is a best-selling author of over 40 books including Heaven, If God is Good, The Treasure Principle and the 2002 Gold Medallion winner, Safely Home. He has written numerous articles for magazines such as Discipleship Journal, Moody, Leadership, New Man, and The Christian Reader. He produces the quarterly issues-oriented magazine Eternal Perspectives, and has been a guest on hundreds of radio and television programs including Focus on the Family, Family Life Today, The Bible Answer Man, Revive Our Hearts, Truths that Transform and Faith Under Fire. Alcorn resides in Gresham, Oregon with his wife, Nanci, and their Dalmatian, Moses. The Alcorns have two married daughters, Karina and Angela, and are the proud grandparents of four grandsons. Randy enjoys hanging out with his family, biking, tennis, research and reading. For more info, follow him on Twitter.
Let the conversation begin!
What advice would you give young writers?
Immerse yourself in God’s Word, and study sound doctrine, good theology. (One great book, for reference or to read all the way through, is Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, or his abridged version of the same, called Bible Doctrine.) Our worldviews permeate both our fiction and nonfiction, and if all we soak in is popular culture, a few hours a week at church won’t be sufficient to give us depth and durability. We need to read great books by great Christian thinkers. Read Edwards, Spurgeon, Tozer, Packer, and Piper, past and present.
You can write a novel without quoting a single Bible verse, but if God’s Word is daily at home in your heart and mind, your writing will take on a perspective, and an air of solidity and permanence it won’t have otherwise. God promises his Word won’t return unto him empty, without accomplishing the purpose for which he sent it (Isaiah 55:11). He does not promise that about OUR words, but HIS. If we want our words to have lasting value and impact, they need to be touched and shaped by His words—and that won’t happen without a daily choice to expose our minds to Scripture.
Are your characters completely fictional?
At the beginning of all novels, they have a page that says something like, “Any resemblance between the characters in this book and real-life people is completely coincidental.” Every novelist I know totally laughs at that page. The author doesn’t put in that in the novel; the publisher does, to avoid lawsuits. The only thing is, it’s just not true! A book is full of people who are inspired by real-life characters. They’re inspired by people the author knows; sometimes they’re composites of several people.
Take, for example, the character Ollie Chandler in my novel Deception. He’s part this unbeliever that I know, that unbeliever that I know, this homicide detective that I know, that police officer that I know. He’s even part me. Those who’ve read Deception might remember that Ollie likes his toast burnt, so he leaves his toaster outside on his porch. I have my own toaster that I plug in outside, because I like burnt, charcoal toast.
What initially drew you to writing?
I really enjoyed writing the term papers lots of people hated, and got encouraging feedback. I wrote my first articles for publication in the late seventies. That’s when I started thinking of myself as a writer. Then in 1983 I started work on my first book, a history of the sexual revolution and its effects on the Christian church. I’ve now written over 40 books.
How many words do you write each day?
I have no certain hours or word count as a goal. Once I get going on the writing, which is always a monumental struggle because of all the other things vying for my attention, I work until my brain shuts down, or my fingers stop moving on the keyboard. This is the sign that I’m done. Often I work very late, into the wee hours of the morning.
What are some lessons you’ve learned about writing?
The most valuable lesson I’ve learned about writing is that it’s hard work. Writing is both energizing and draining, something I love to do and sometimes hate to do. Sometimes it’s a joy. Sometimes it’s like the tenth hour of chopping wood: you just want to be done. It’s never done, but eventually it has to be turned in.
I’ve learned that what’s easy to read is hard to write, and what’s easy to write is hard to read. I’m a steward of words, and I’m accountable to God for how I arrange them. That’s the best reason for working hard at rewriting: “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23).
I’ve learned I need honest critics and careful editors. But above all I need Christ, who said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). When I work this hard at something, I don’t want it to amount to nothing. I want it to last forever. I want to hear the Audience of One say, “Well done.” No payoff could be bigger than that!
Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer?
I’ve tried outlining, and it works better with nonfiction for me, since fiction is so organic. While fiction has structure, it’s not as easy to control as nonfiction, because it has a life of its own. Your characters do tend to surprise you, and sometimes attempt insurrections. Of course you are still in charge and occasionally you must remind your characters of this. After all, they owe you their very names, which you are free to change at any time. Sometimes you must even threaten them with extinction.
Do you write with music?
I like Chris Tomlin and others, but I often listen to classical music while writing as it fuels the imagination and inspires, while not distracting me with words. When you are writing words you don’t want to be hearing them! (I don’t, anyway, though some writers are different.)
Anywhere Nanci’s with me, it’s warm, and I can snorkel for hours at a time, then read for hours at a time, then go out to eat and laugh and enjoy God’s extravagant kindness with Nanci for hours at a time. If there are some dogs around, that’s a real plus, too.
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