Christian Book Previews' editor, Debra Murphy, interviewed Robin Jones Gunn about her book, Sisterchicks Down Under:
CBP: Could you share with us your Christian testimony?
Robin Jones Gunn: Gladly. My parents were believers, churchgoers, so I grew up going to church. When I was at summer camp, I was twelve-years-old, and the last night of camp the speaker said, “God doesn’t have any grandchildren, you’re a child of God or you’re not. It’s not just because your parents are believers that you’re automatically a Christian.” That’s when God really touched my heart and I knew that I needed to make a personal relationship with Christ start. It’s been a love story ever since.
CBP: I know you have written a lot of books; everything from children’s books, books for teenagers, and now novels for women. Tell us a little bit more about how you started writing.
Robin Jones Gunn: I never set out to be a writer, I didn’t think I would be, I wasn’t much of a reader growing up, but I’ve always been a storyteller. What happened was when my son was very little, just a few months old, I started playing with this idea for a children’s book. I kept at it and kept at it, and it was published when he was about two-years-old. Then I had ideas for more children’s books. Pretty soon I had fourteen picture books published; they’re all out of print now.
My husband was a youth pastor for over twenty years, he does counseling now, but I was at a youth group outing at the beach and the teenage girls were in their tent reading books from the library. I went in the tent and said, “Why aren’t you out here in the sun and the sand and the surf with the boys?” And they said, “We just like to read.” They had this stack of novels and I read a couple of them really quickly. I said to them, “I don’t like you reading this, it’s different from what I’m telling you in Sunday school. Does your mother know this is what you’re reading?” And they said, “Well, we just like to read, give us something else.” They challenged me to write something for them, and they told me what to write. That was how the first novel began.
CBP: You lived in southern California at the time. What sort of influence was Southern California on you and your novels?
Robin Jones Gunn: Southern California was the setting for the Christy Miller teen series because that’s where I grew up, and I’d go to the beach with all my friends. So Christy Miller, of course, went to the beach and sat around the campfire with her friends. It was easy to write about what was so familiar.
CBP: What part of California did you grow up in?
Robin Jones Gunn: Southern California, Santa Ana. My claim to fame was that I was in a little band with Bob Carlisle of "Butterfly Kisses" fame.
CBP: Sisterchicks Down Under, can you tell us about that story? Did you have to travel down under?
Robin Jones Gunn: After the first couple of books were out, the publisher said, “Well, we think Sisterchicks Down Under would be fun.” My husband said, “Well, you know, it would be great if she could go to these places and visit.” The publisher gave me a travel budget, so I’ve been able to travel and see the area. It’s so much easier to write the book. So last year I went to Australia and New Zealand. I wanted to write a story about two women who meet at the beginning of the book. I had received a lot of letters from women who were said, “Well, I love all these stories about women who have been friends for 25 years, but I don’t have a friend like that and I think I’m too old to find one.” In Sisterchicks Down Under they meet in New Zealand, both of them in mid-life, coming from all these vast life experiences, but when they connect, they find that it’s never too late to start blending your lives together. If you open your heart, if you’re really are willing to give.
CBP: That was the first book where the two women meet for the first time. Will that be the trend now?
Robin Jones Gunn: Oh, every book has been different. The third one, they are actual sisters from Canada who go on a cruise to Mexico. The book I just finished writing, Sisterchicks Say Oo La La, which comes out in the fall, the women go to Paris. They are two friends who grew up almost like sisters. They were in grade school together, were separated for years and years, and then they reconnect.
CBP: Great travel. What kind of a need does it meet for women in their quest for travel?
Robin Jones Gunn: I think what happens is they see that they are not stuck. They are not limited. They don’t have to go Paris, but I’ve heard from so many women who have said it gave them the courage to call up their friend and say let’s go for the weekend and shop and connect. It shows that these readers are realizing they need to take time for themselves to reconnect with friends.
CBP: So do all women know how to be friends? Do your books teach women how to be a friends by modeling friendship?
Robin Jones Gunn: Yes. That is the beautiful thing.
I was once challenged by a radio interview. After we were off the air the interviewer said, “Why don’t you write a book about mentoring and about discipleship, because I listen to you and it sounds like you have a lot good points about how to show women how to be friends.” And I said, “Because it seems as if the women who are reading these books are not the ones who would be reading a non-fiction book with a check list in it. They want stories.” I found that they want stories to show them what it looks like and then they can start to get the idea for their life and how it would translate to their situation.
CBP: Tell us about the characters. What about Kathleen?
Robin Jones Gunn: I put Kathleen and Jill as having both grown up in Southern California in the Tustin area and, of course, they haven’t met until they’re 50. They have all these similar life experiences. When I grew up in Southern California there was an orange grove right next to our house. We would play in the orange groves; it’s all changed since those days, but I have these characters having that common ground. When they meet at a coffee shop in New Zealand, it’s because Kathleen’s husband was in the movie industry and he’s on a film assignment there.
CBP: So that’s Kathleen. What about Jill?
Robin Jones Gunn: Jill has been in New Zealand for several years because her husband worked in the same industry. They came to New Zealand for a project and she ended up staying. Jill is just in a really difficult place, but she’s learned how to put on a face and act like everything’s fine. When Kathleen shows up in Jill’s life she starts to break down the walls that Jill has built. There are two mid-life mama birds about to fall out of their own nests, but they’re both just sort of hanging on. When they connect, it gives them great freedom to just soar.
CBP: Tell us how this book teaches us about the personality of God?
Robin Jones Gunn: I never really know until I start writing and I begin to listen to the characters as I’m going along and I’m going “Wow, this is what she’s learning.” It intersects with what God’s teaching at the time that I’m writing the book too. What kept coming back is that His mercy is new every morning. They’re renewed every morning. Weeping can endure for a night but joy comes in the morning. How many times have we gone through these deep, dark seasons and all we need is that hope to remind us that His mercies are new. It will be a new morning, we’re weeping right here now, but the joy is going to come in the morning.
CBP: This book touches hearts. How does it touch their hearts?
Robin Jones Gunn: I met a woman yesterday who came up to me and said, “Sisterchicks Down Under is the best one yet!” I asked, “What is it that got to you?” And she said, “I felt like I was out of my difficult situation, that I was in New Zealand and it was like a little virtual vacation to read the book and learn about New Zealand and Australia. I needed that more than I realized to just get out of my crazy making and to get over trying to fix my problems. In the story you showed me how God’s hand was on them and only in His time everything came together. And it gave me great hope that His hand is on me, His mercies are on me, and after a little bit it will all come together.” We just need to be reminded of that, all of us.
CBP: Another comment has been that it quenches a thirst.
Robin Jones Gunn: I think it quenches a thirst for that longing that women have for the intimacy with a friend that understands and the ultimate friend who is closer than a brother or a sister.
CBP: I think it also quenched a thirst for adventure.
You had a reader who said, “I didn’t want the story to end.” I understand that. It is difficult for readers because you’re not continuing the lives of these women in a sequel; it is new women each time. Have you thought about continuing their lives, because you set them off on to the next part of their life journey and you don’t follow through to let us know where they’re going. What are your thoughts on a sequel?
Robin Jones Gunn: What’s interesting is they’re like my imaginary friends, and I wonder about them too. At the end of the book Jill catches this vision to use her skill in art appreciation and art history and to begin leading tours. Her big dream is to go to Paris. Well, when we get to Sisterchicks Say Oo La La, I have the characters in that book at a museum and they meet this woman who’s comes from New Zealand and it happens to be Jill and they have this experience.
CBP: That’s incredible.
Robin Jones Gunn: I think that’s going to happen more and more in the future books because I’m just holding onto some of these characters; I want to see if they turn out okay. I want to see if they get past that season of life and really do launch their dreams.
CBP: What are your hopes and dreams for what readers will take away from the book?
Robin Jones Gunn: I just want their spirits to be refreshed and for them to draw back to the Savior if they’ve been wandering, or to come to Him whole heartedly if they’ve never considered Christ. Because I just see this invitation open that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. And sometimes as women, we just wait for that invitation, “Can I come to your luncheon, can I come be your friend?” And Christ’s invitation to come is just open, and I want readers to see that openness. I think this theme is continuing in my books. We can come and enter into a friendship and be vulnerable and open hearted. We have to make that effort to allow ourselves to be that vulnerable.
CBP: It seems that when you see someone is hurting that you don’t want to hand them a Band-Aid; you want to hand them something that will really make a difference in their lives.
You use a term “God Adventure.” I love that term. What do you mean by it?
Robin Jones Gunn: It seems that the times when I am on my own agenda, schedule, off trying to get things done on my own, and then I don’t really see or stop or allow myself to be in awe of what God is doing. However, the times when I enter in and say, “Lord, where should I go next? Who should I talk to? Asking which direction, right or left? It’s kind of an ebb and flow with God. And then these extraordinary things happen! And I go, “You did that, God, didn’t You?” And I didn’t miss “it” because I was open, I was ready. A God adventure.
CBP: Women want to know what they should be doing.
Robin Jones Gunn: About four years ago my dad passed away. It was a very long journey; very hard. I was very empty. My parents were in Palm Springs, so it was ten trips, 1000 miles in one year. When he went to heaven, I had no contracts, we were ready to refinance the house, there was no money; just emptiness. We were running out of options, what do I do? What do I write? Am I done writing? Is it time to be a greeter at Wal-Mart? The lack of confidence and feeling of emptiness and loneliness was so strong. I was journaling and I remember very distinctly, stopping and saying, “God, do you have any dreams for me that I’ve been too busy or deliberately not listening, or too stubborn to hear? Do you have any dreams for me that haven’t come true yet because I haven’t asked you?” It was really just a form of saying, “May Your kingdom come, and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I started to feel this calmness and this peace; that it wasn’t up to me to determine the course of my history.
CBP: Women think they need to sit down and put THEIR vision on paper.
Robin Jones Gunn: MY mission statement well, it was all blank. I said, “God do you have any dreams for me? I ‘m going to let Your spirit be in control.” And then came this idea for Sisterchicks, and the opportunity to write them, and feel like I am living a God Adventure – His dreams.
CBP: What if a woman feels she wants more in life?
Robin Jones Gunn: Of course, if the book prompts readers to respond to Christ in a more intimate way, well He fills every line. In the Narnia tales, in the last battle, where the phrase is “Deeper in and higher up”. I don’t know if I have that correctly, but it’s the point that it’s not just enough to be at this level but there’s more, go deeper in, go higher up. Just embrace life, run after it, and absorb everything that God has for you.
CBP: Wow, thank you Robin so much for your time, for sharing a wonderful story with us.