1. Tricia: Francis Bacon once said, “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” Have you found this to be true?
Robert: Okay, first I have to translate this into English: Reading rounds out the personality. Conversation helps us to know what we believe. And writing sharpens our thinking.” Do you think he was saying something like that? Well, who can argue with Bacon? Especially the third part – yes, writing does keep the gears in my mind turning. Sometimes too much.
2. Tricia: You write fiction, books for youth, AND nonfiction. Out of the three, do you find any of them easier to write?
Robert: Nonfiction, for sure. It’s more of a formula—I don’t mean in a negative sense, but anybody can learn how to write nonfiction, just like anybody can learn how to repair a car engine. I just get into my old newspaper reporter mode, do the research, line up the facts, do the outlines, and start dumping information onto paper.
I hope that doesn’t sound bad! I love writing nonfiction for a change. But… (See the next question…)
Robert: Absolutely. Nonfiction is a head-to-head exercise. We look for ways to present facts as clearly as we can, in ways that people understand. We want the reader to get it.
Fiction, on the other hand, is heart-to-heart. It’s all about relationships, about people, about change. It can melt our hearts, help us feel things we’ve not felt, experience worlds we’ve never visited, see things through the eyes of a stranger. It’s far more powerful and far more difficult to pull off.
4. Tricia: Your parents are both from Denmark, and I know you’ve used their background in your fiction . . . can you share the details with readers?
Robert: My father was raised in Copenhagen, my mother on an island in southern Denmark. They grew up under the German occupation (World War Two), which I think made a deep impression on them. How could it not? So they came to the United States in the early 1950s, and raised my sister and me with a very real connection to their past, and especially to things Danish. What a rich blessing! We spoke only Danish in the home. That distinct Scandinavian flavor I think comes through in my writing – and obviously in the historical fiction I’ve written that’s set in World War Two Denmark.
5. Tricia: How has your family influenced your writing?
Robert: My own children’s interest in reading motivated me to write for them, and for other kids their age. Maybe I’m just a kid, myself! Today, whether I’m writing for adults or for younger readers, I always want to write something that still captures the fun and the fascination of reading, the joy of a good book. I never forget why an 11-year-old picks up a book during summer vacation. Because it transports them to far-away places, or helps them try on other people’s shoes.
Yes, my kids motivated me to write. And I also write to please my wife, who is my encourager and partner in ministry.
6. Tricia: Your fiction novels have been described as heartwarming and sweet, yet also full of humor. How did you come up with this style?
Robert: Life is full of humor, and if it’s not, it gets dry and boring. Ick! Please deliver me from dry and boring books. I would never want to be accused of writing anything that people can yawn at. And since most people don’t yawn at good humor, I hope it seasons my writing.
Also, I’m looking for an emotional point of contact, and humor is universal. It opens doors to deeper truths. And by the way, you know Danes have notoriously dry senses of humor.
Now, the heartwarming and sweet stuff merely reflects my personality. Understand, I enjoy action and adventure as much as any guy. But my favorite movies have always been “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Sound of Music.” That tells you something, I guess. But I like stories that portray life the way it ought to be, the way it can be. We get plenty of bleeding-edge reality on the daily news.
7. Tricia: Every night, for the past ten years, my husband has read out loud to my kids at bedtime. One of their all-time favorite series has been the ADVENTURES DOWN UNDER series. In fact, I think we’ve read through them all . . . twice. How did you come up with the series idea?
Robert: I loved writing those books, partly because I learned so much about Australia and that country’s past. What a rich, colorful history! The series idea came out of two things: One, I knew Americans have always been fascinated by Australia, from koalas to crocodile hunters. There’s always been a close affinity between Aussies and Yanks, and I hoped kids would connect with the books. And second, I have family in Australia on my mother’s side. (Her brother immigrated to Sydney about the same time she and my dad came to California.) So I’ve always felt a connection there, too.
8. Tricia: A couple years ago, I picked up Practicing God’s Presence for Today’s Reader. You did a fantastic job in paraphrasing Brother Lawrence’s centuries-old English. How did you feel “reworking” this book that’s been popular for centuries? Did it make you nervous to mess with his words?
Robert: Are you kidding? Petrified. But in a strange sort of way, I felt as if God had been preparing me for that project for decades. Years ago I started out writing ad copy, learning the craft from a man who specialized in teaching “Clear Writing” seminars. I took what I learned from him to the journalism world, then on to another ad agency. There my boss taught me about reaching the audience in a language they can understand.
Everything I did pointed eventually to rewriting/editing this book. And so with fear and trepidation I did my best to rewrite “Practicing God’s Presence” in a style that Brother Lawrence (the original writer) might have used if he had been living today. Lively, conversational, punchy, vivid… all that. I wanted the truths of his words to come back alive, after it had been snoozing for a generation or two. Keep in mind he only had a grade-school education, but he challenged the church of his day with his pithy, blue-collar approach to prayer and knowing God in a deeper sense. I felt a style resembling “The Message” (Bible paraphrase) would be appropriate.
9. Tricia: Lake breezes or mountain vistas?
Robert: Where my wife and I live in north Idaho, it’s both! We’re near a lake in the mountains, so we don’t have to choose between one or the other. Around here, they go together.
10. Tricia: If you could offer one piece of advice for writers interested in writing different genres, what would it be?
Robert: It sort of depends on if they want to make a living writing, or whether it’s just a fun hobby. Marketing reality can intrude on a career. So I guess my best advice would be to focus on one genre enough to get good at it. Understand that genre, know what makes for excellence, and chase it hard for the glory of God. Mastering the craft can take years… or a lifetime.
Once you’ve practiced enough to feel like you have a couple of tricks in your writing bag, though, don’t be afraid to pursue other projects that excite you—only not to the detriment of your bread and butter.
In sailing, you steer a straight course partly by keeping an eye on the wake (wave) your boat has made behind you. The goal is to keep it from being too wiggly. Writing is a little bit like that, because we steer a straighter course into the future if we don’t lose sight of where we’ve come from. In other words, writing in a lot of genres can be fun, but can also water down your impact if done without a plan. Proceed with your eyes open—in both directions.
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