I’m writing this more for me than for the folks who visit these posts. I’m not able to maintain the blogging habit these days, clear from the length between the last post and this acknowledgment. It’s a small failure to state it so clearly, but the lingering of my blogs hurts just as much. Perhaps I’ll return after my clinical pastoral education or after the dryness under my words has been refreshed.
Before getting into things with your book, tell us who else you are. A bit about you. I used to be a journalist…now I make things up. I was a longtime staff writer at TIME magazine, where I wrote an article about pastors’ wives that led to this book (more on that below). I left TIME in 2009 to write fiction. “Pastors’ Wives” is my second book and first novel; my first book was called “Remember Me,” about the year I spent crashing weird and wonderful funerals (HarperCollins). To put food on my family’s table, I write TV pilots.
Your novel has an interesting origin. How did Pastors’ Wives begin? I was assigned to write a feature about pastors’ wives. Growing up Catholic, I knew nothing about the pastor’s wife, except that our pastor wasn’t allowed to have one. But whatever preconceptions I had about them were blown out of the water when I began meeting and interviewing these women. They were smart, funny, and not at all okay with being just the woman behind the man behind the pulpit. The article published in 2007, and the women somehow stayed in my mind. I first pitched it as a TV series, but when that ended in disaster my agent told me to just write it as a novel already.
You say that you prevailed upon many pastors’ wives in researching for this book. What did you learn in your prevailing? So much from each and every one. I learned what it’s like to be married to a man who’s already married to God. I learned about their faith and about my own. Something I learned from the lovely Becky Hunter of Northland Church in Florida became a mantra in my marriage: “Be nice to your husband on purpose.”
There is marriage and friendship and fear and a host of other relationship realities in your novel. In what ways are the lives of pastors’ wives different from the wives of non-clergy? The scrutiny they endure from the congregation, for one. Imagine your every choice picked apart by people who barely know you: your style of hair; your musical skills; your husband’s make of car. For another, these women have to accept—not always happily, mind you—that the church and God often come first for their husbands.
You wrote about women married to clergy, women who had ministries of their own. What does that mean for how you tell others about the book? Do people assume it is Christian Fiction, which it isn’t? Do they assume things about the story itself? What should readers know going into their reading of Pastors’ Wives? “Pastors’ Wives” is women’s commercial fiction—a page-turning story about marriage, faith, and what we do for love. Though it is set in a church and revolves around Christian characters, it is not strictly Christian fiction. Its publisher, Penguin/Plume, is secular, as am I. But I hope I told this story with the respect I felt so deeply for these women. I’m delighted to report that the vast majority of the many Christian reviews I received embraced the book. I’ve noticed that some Christian reviewers point out the use of some language, a bedroom scene (between a husband and wife), and the sordid history of one repentant character—so reader, beware!
Can you talk about the uniqueness of your novel’s development from an article to a book? What did the “revisioning” and “reviewing” of your earliest conceptions do to you as a writer? This is my first novel, but I spent almost 20 years as a journalist, interviewing people both ordinary and famous. So I found I relied a lot on my reporting skills to come up with dialogue and story lines. It’s really hard to make stuff up!
The stories of characters in the novel were interrelated. Talk about why or how you chose to write the book that way. It added a richness and a social engagement that could have been absent had it been written differently. Thank you so much. I started out with two voices in my head, that of Ruthie, the reluctant and doubting pastor’s wife, and Candace, the ruthless, brilliant senior pastor’s wife. Then I started to hear Ginger, a more typical PW…except, of course, for her secret past. I wanted to give them equal weight, but this turned out to be difficult. I hope I did them each justice, as I loved them equally.
If your characters gathered at your home for dinner, who would bring what and why? Ha! That’s a great question. I’m sure Candace would bring something elegant and absolutely perfect, like a beautiful cake and gifts for my children. Ruthie would bring wine. Ginger would bring homemade cookies that are burned but still delicious.
What are you reading these days or what good books would you recommend to new friends? I read a lot for my other work as a writer of TV pilots. I’m always on the hunt for books to adapt into a drama. So I’ll ask your readers instead: if you’ve read any books you think would make for a great TV drama, please post it on my Facebook page!
How can readers support your work? Please “like” my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/LisaTakeuchiCullen)! My website is www.lisacullen.com, where I blog about the daily indignities of writing TV pilots and novels. You can read there about my crazy experience filming my CBS pilot “The Ordained” with Sam Neill, Hope Davis and Audra McDonald, right down to its rejection for series in fall 2013. I am also working on a second novel, a legal thriller set in Okinawa, Japan. Thank you so much for your interest!
I haven’t in a while, but I started writing and posting prayers for writers and for others. These prayers come out of my writing life, out of my hopes for the writers among us, and out of my desire for this blog to sit at the intersections between faith and writing. Pray them or a line from them, with and for the writers you read, know, and support. This prayer is about rejection and persistence. Join me, if you will.
When the anticipations which once gave hope have fallen away; when the dreams which decorated our imaginations have turned; when the efforts and energies which once swelled purpose have drowned in reality; when rejection has convinced us that the full space of received creativity is too crowded and the consistent whispers of friends is forgotten; when passion has been misplaced, misdirected, and misshaped; grant us the ever-increasing melody that will not go unheard, the rumble of an instrument underneath our feet, the blaring of an unseen horn, the striking of unseen strings. Pull that music from every possible source and play it into us that the embers of persistence might churn and shift and renew us and every word that comes from you. In the name of the One who wrote lost words in the sand, Amen.
One day the teacher, Frederick Wilkerson, asked me to read to him. I was twenty-four, very erudite, very worldly. He asked that I read from Lessons in Truth, a section which ended with these words: “God loves me.” I read the piece and closed the book, and the teacher said, “Read it again.” I pointedly opened the book, and I sarcastically read, “God loves me.” He said, “Again.” After about the seventh repetition I began to sense that there might be truth in the statement, that there was a possibility that God really did love me. Me, Maya Angelou. I suddenly began to cry at the grandness of it all. I knew that if God loved me, then I could do wonderful things, I could try great things, learn anything, achieve anything. For what could stand against me with God, since one person, any person with God, constitutes the majority?
That knowledge humbles me, melts my bones, closes my ears, and makes my teeth rock loosely in their gums. And it also liberates me. I am a big bird winging over high mountains, down into serene valleys. I am ripples of waves on silvery seas. I’m a spring leaf trembling in anticipation.
From Maya Angelous’s Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now
One of my favorite people is Eugene Peterson. He’s up there with Howard Thurman, Gardner C. Taylor, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Henry Nouwen in terms of heroes. In this video he talks about being a pastor. If this is meaningful to you, you should certainly read Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor.
I read Barbara Holmes’ book on contemplative practices in the Black Church the other month, and the book was as amazing as it was historically grounding and refreshing. In it she says, “Some sacred spaces bear none of the expected characteristics.”
It is within the spirit of contemplation and the gift of sacred spaces that I offer this poetic piece which Nate shared with me. You may enjoy it, but hopefully you won’t (in the best way). There is language in this that you may not want to blast: