A Chat with Ted Dekker at CBA 2004
By Stacy Oliver
CBP: I have really enjoyed reading the Circle Trilogy. How do you create such vivid worlds in your stories?
Ted: The vivid part is simply honing the craft. Coming up with the worlds and scenarios that are different Ė I work very hard at coming up with ideas, thoughts, and twists that are completely fresh. Iím kind of burned out on stories in the general market. You see movies, and pretty soon you have them figured out in the first fifteen minutes. When I watch previews, and it looks remotely interesting in the first few seconds, I plug my ears and hum to myself. My wife hates it. I know that if I see the rest of the preview, Iíll know the whole story and it ruins the viewing.
So I find that many stories bore me. I figure if my stories are interesting enough for me to spend four months writing, thatís a long time to spend writing a story, then theyíll be interesting to a reader. I have to come up with interesting stories, otherwise Iíd never be able to spend four months on them. Iíd be bored to tears after two weeks. As a writer, you have a really difficult challenge, and that is to keep fooling yourself.
CBP: In the last year, how many of your books have been published?
Ted: My schedule is two books a year. But the trilogy was three books because the publisher wanted to do it that way. I keep a year ahead of myself. So Obsessed comes out in February 2005, and itís done. Then I have a story coming out in the spring 2006 that Iím almost done with.
CBP: I donít know if everyone is familiar with your background. Do you mind sharing your Christian testimony?
Ted: I was born in the junglesÖIím trying to make it sound exoticÖwith year birds calling overhead and others swooping down. I was born in the jungles of Indonesia, my parents were missionaries. We were surrounded by headhunters. It was very unique. Primarily because when I was 6 years old, I went off to a boarding school. My parents werenít around, my siblings werenít around. I had friends, of course, but I saw myself in a situation where I had to put my own walls up at a very early age.
This had the affect of making me very comfortable with myself in order to survive. You learn to be comfortable with isolation. Which incidentally is a real critical element to being a writer. Like I said, many people write novels and the reason their stories arenít great is that they donít have the patience to make them great. They really do get bored with themselves.
So they write a mediocre novel, and Iíve written mediocre novels. Iíve gotten halfway through a story and have found myself bored with it, pulling my hair out, feeling lost, drifting; primarily because youíre lost and alone in this tub in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and the sharks are circling. You donít know what to do. It takes a unique inner strength to continue rowing that bathtub across the Atlantic to find the opposite shore.
I learned that God uniquely prepared me for this calling at a very young age. I wasnít disadvantaged as a boy, just very unique. I was exposed to cross-cultural communications, and thatís awesome for writing well. Taking a message and contextualizing it for a culture. I consider myself a missionary of this culture. My parents went overseas to a native tribe and they learned the language and they contextualized the message to that culture. Now I am in this culture, a foreigner, and I look around me and see the culture and contextualize the message for this culture in a language that they understand, which is story.
CBP: I think readers are longing for the well-written novel, which is why your books have become so popularÖ
Ted: My next book is called Obsessed, we are creatures created by a God who is obsessed. We are created to obsess, we are insatiable. We are always heading beyond ourselves or the thing we will never have fully until we die. What a glorious day that will be. Until then when we reach beyond the skin of this world, for some fulfillment of a hope that resides in our hearts, and this is why weíre always looking for more, more, more. Is this a bad thing? Yes, in one sense it can be a very destructive thing, because the enemy fills that longing with his devices. On the other hand, it is what we were created to do, weíre in His image. And thatís a good thing to understand about ourselves. I try to enflame the readerís mind towards a greater reality beyond ourselves.
CBP: One scene that stands out in my mind is when Thomas jumps into the lake for the first time; it was so refreshing to think in a different way that conceptualized the abstract in your imaginary world, but that is representative of the feelings we would have meeting our Lord. I loved that.
Ted: The whole lake scene, man, what a honor it is for God to give me that vision. Actually, I had that snapshot in worship, during private worship about a decade ago. It was one of the most compelling images I had of God. It was then that I felt the Spirit of the Lord speak to me and say, ďI want you to write this, put this in a story.Ē I mean, what if you could die and breathe, like the water in the Abyss (the movie), like youíre breathing and you dive into a bowl of heroin, well, I guess that wouldnít be terribly tasty, but anyway, some kind of intoxicant and it ravishes you with pleasure. Essentially, this is God. This is what He holds out for us. Sin has ruined that.
Itís something we need to embrace, but weíre afraid of it. Itís been defiled, so understandably we donít want to approach it. When I get into my writing, I found a way to go wild and really present a relatively unique perspective. Even in When Heaven Weeps, I was looking for a new way to present the unabashed love of God. Itís like a Hosea-meets-Song-of-Solomon. The desperation this person has for the love of God, and the desperation of Godís love for this person, is expressed to a woman. The question I wanted to ask was, ďWhat if God would put His heart for the church, for His bride, His heart for you, into another man and then direct that love to you?Ē So what if I was a man who suddenly has this love for a woman Iíve never met before? She walks into the room, and my knees go swimming. Itís the big Ďwhat-if?í All my stories are big Ďwhat ifís?í Thatís the premise, so I go and discover it. I go write that way.
CBP: Do you bounce your ideas off of other people, or, as you mentioned, work your stories in isolation?
Ted: I talk to my wife and a few very close friends. It does take about a year to develop most ideas. At least. I have ideas now that go through 2008. I already have the log line for the next five books. They are standalone books, but a connected series, called Project Showdown. Iíve never done anything like it. No one has as far as Iíve seen. Certainly not in CBA. Itís a huge, monumental task. Itís not boring.
CBP: Are there any writers who have influenced you?
Ted: I draw a lot from non-fiction books, Philip Yancey, Dallas Willard, John Piper, Thomas Murton. And then fiction-wise, I read primarily ABA, secular fiction, New York Times Bestsellers, because I hope that one day my books will be selling along with the rest of them. If not, thatís fine. I want to communicate with the contemporary culture today, and thatís what most of them are reading. My favorite author is probably Dean Koontz, because is ideas are so different, and he executes a few books fairly well.
CBP: In your opinion, do you see any negative trends in Christian fiction?
Ted: No, I donít. Not trends. I donít pretend to be close enough to be an authority either. Iím setting trends, but not intentionally. Iím blazing a trail without knowing that it needs to be blazed. Iím just going where I feel I should go. Iím following a path I think God has given me, and it turns out itís a new path. Not that new, nothingís really that new under the sun. But it turns out that a lot of people seem to think itís new. Iíve been really blessed with a tremendous amount of acceptance, because I havenít had any resistance in the market from the Ďgatekeepers.í I think itís because, although my stories are gritty and very real, there is such an overpowering theme of redemption. I donít mean salvation but overall redemption and Godís love, the presence of God, His character is so strong. I always start a book with two things in mind: one is a plot that intrigues me, and will keep riveted for a long time, and two a theme that is compelling, that Iím drawn to investigate with a vigor.
CBP: And thatís where you draw from the non-fiction, philosophy?
Ted: Right. I write pure escapism with inescapable truth.
CBP: Do you see any hole in the Christian fiction market? Some theme, idea, or other that is missing?
Ted: (pause) Yeah, a story with speaking monkeys, but I hear Angela Hunt is working on that one. (laughs).
CBP: Many of your books contain precognition. What are your thoughts on that?
Ted: Well, precognition is just a fascinating device for a story, and it happens to be a reality in nature. Obviously God has foreknowledge. There are many humans throughout history that have had foreknowledge. Itís a fun device to use for plot; it really is just a plot device. I havenít read any books about prophesy, Iím more interested in the basic themes like, ďDoes God love me?Ē ďHow does that look?Ē ďHow does that feel?Ē ďWhatís my response to that?Ē Basic things. I donít really like plumbing doctrine. Blink was all about precognition, but, again, it was a device. The theme of that book was ďDoes prayer work?Ē ďCan you affect the future is it already set in stone?Ē Itís a fun, fun story.
CBP: What do you hope to create through your stories?
Ted: One, I hope that people will be immensely entertained. And then, secondly, that they will be drawn to new questions, new views, new perspectives of Godís character. ďHmm, I never thought about it like that,Ē like the lake scene. In every novel, for me there are three or four different points, where I want the reader to come, not to an epiphany, but a dawning or Ďah-haí moment. In the book Three, at the very end when you understand what Iíve done, which is really a personification of Romans 7, you say, ďoh my goodness.Ē Itís really difficult to figure out the plot, but you see what Iíve done, now it works. Thatís neat. To get someone to really say, Ďah-haí is not that easy. There are just so many sermons, and weíre just peppered with messages. You need a whole fresh way to do it.
Fiction is beautiful, because you take them into the character, and they can discover it with the protagonist. Thatís what I do. Thatís what we all do.