The gospel as page-turner
Frank PerettiÕs debut novel, This Present Darkness, placed him front and center as a writer with wide appeal. The sequel, Piercing the Darkness, connected him with even more fans, and millions of readers have since snapped up copies of Prophet, The Oath and The Visitation — along with a host of books for younger readers. HangmanÕs Curse, one of his youth-themed works, was made into a feature film in 2003, and The Visitation is scheduled to hit the big screen this year. PerettiÕs latest novel, Monster, takes readers in a new direction but continues to explore ageless issues. Peretti recently spoke with Associate Editor Scott Harrup.
PE: Your fiction consistently directs your readers to examine the reality of God. Do you see that as your calling?
PERETTI: Absolutely. ItÕs a ministry. GodÕs called me to use storytelling to equip and edify the body of Christ. Also, to see if I can expand the body of Christ. So far, thatÕs worked out pretty well.
PE: What were some influences that shaped your faith?
PERETTI: Family mostly. I was raised in a Christian home; I grew up in the Assemblies of God. I had good Christian people around me. It was the grace of God and the calling of God. From the time I was a little kid, I loved the Lord Jesus and I wanted to serve Him. ThatÕs all there was to it. I canÕt say I was born saved, but it was awfully close to that.
PE: Can you identify an experience that set your life on its course?
PERETTI: Back in the days when they had 16 mm movies, our church showed a Christian movie. I remember being shaken and really moved and going back to the prayer room. I prayed, ÒLord, thatÕs what I want to do. I want to tell stories.Ó That was pivotal. Of course, I started out wanting to do movies, and that didnÕt pan out. I became a novelist instead. Now weÕre kind of going full circle because some of my novels are being made into movies. So God has His way of doing things.
I remember another epiphanic moment in my 30s. IÕd been pastoring with my dad near Seattle, but I was seeking the LordÕs will and trying to figure out what in the world I was supposed to do with my life. I was out with Barb, my dear wife, near Puget Sound up on the big rocks overlooking the sound. And it came so clearly to me: Frank, youÕre supposed to be a writer. IÕd tried so many things. I finally realized for once and forever that the only time I ever really felt at peace and felt fulfilled and full of joy was when I was writing.
PE: Whom do you go to, or what resources do you access, to maintain your spiritual vitality?
PERETTI: I develop a small circle of friends that I can share with. I attend church, of course, and the worship and the teaching from the Word are integral to my faith. But having that cluster of good, godly, mature people around me really counts for a lot. ItÕs a funny dynamic, when you become some kind of a known person, I guess. A lot of people know who you are and want to somehow be a part of your life. But that makes it so much more important that you have close friends who know you for who you really are. You need a group of people around you who can share life as it really is and share the Lord.
PE: This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness both examine satanic forces. ItÕs a subject youÕve said you may revisit. What are some current cultural markers that make you believe society is willing to consider the reality of demonic activity?
PERETTI: I donÕt see any markers that indicate, at least in our culture, in the West, that weÕre more preoccupied with demonic activity. But I do see a definite rise in the interest in spirituality. It takes different forms. Being spiritual creatures and being deprived of spiritual reality through humanism and evolution and all this other stuff, people are searching. A lot of films have come out dealing with spiritual issues, the hereafter and whatÕs going to happen to us when we die. ThereÕs a hunger out there.
PE: Youth-oriented fiction is a big part of your life as a writer. Why?
PERETTI: Youth have always been a part of my ministry. I cut my teeth as a youth speaker at youth groups and rallies and summer camps. The first book I ever published was The Door in the DragonÕs Throat, which was written for junior-high-age kids. The Cooper KidsÕ adventure series all stemmed from that.
I like kids. IÕve always been a child at heart. I try not to lose that. I jump back and forth between big grown-up books and books for young people. And, man oh man, there are people who come up to me — and theyÕre grown up with kids of their own — who still remember, ÒOh yeah, the first book I ever read was one of those kidsÕ books.Ó And now their kids are reading them.
PE: Much of your latest novel, Monster, takes place in the woods. Would you describe yourself as an outdoorsman?
PERETTI: When I think of an outdoorsman, I think of the hunter wearing camouflage and toting his gun and going out and getting himself an elk. I donÕt hunt. I donÕt have camouflage clothing. But I live out in the woods and I love it out here.
PE: I was interested in the stutter that you gave one of the main characters in Monster. I relate to someone in fiction who has a pronounced AchillesÕ heel. How did that factor into your shaping of the story?
PERETTI: The stutter was part of BeckÕs character, the fact that she is a frail person. That she doesnÕt fit in. A stutter or any kind of a defect like that has a social impact. For her, sheÕs just afraid to be around people. Afraid to talk. She has a lot of fears. That, of course, is what goes into her whole character development and the change that she goes through. At first sheÕs timid, stuttering, very sheltered, and wants to stay comfortable and in her own world. By the end of the story, sheÕs able to come out of that shell and assert herself and do what needs to be done and find strength in that.
PE: Is there any danger — when using mythical figures to drive a story that has a spiritual foundation — of relegating God to the arena of fable in some readersÕ minds?
PERETTI: I havenÕt seen that. I wrote about a dragon in The Oath, and I didnÕt encounter anybody who thought I was trying to promote that dragons are real. So, that falls into that interesting realm of Christian fiction and whether or not the body of Christ has gotten used to it enough to be able to draw the difference between what is fiction and what is theological treatise.
PE: In your introductory note to the reader in Monster, you point out that the title has a broader meaning. Many of your readers will probably connect that truth to your book No More Bullies. How did some of your own experiences growing up expose you to the monstrous characteristics that people can display?
PERETTI: In the course of the book you begin to understand who the monster really is. IÕm talking about the monster in all of us — when we are devoid of absolutes, when God is taken out of the equation, when we are told continually through evolutionary doctrine that weÕre nothing but animals. Who hasnÕt experienced firsthand that animal side of our nature that would most certainly prevail if we did not have a God-given conscience and God-awareness and some sense of accountability to a moral absolute? When you remove those things, which is exactly what evolution does, then you run into the kinds of problems that I put into the book.
PE: What do you want readers to get from Monster?
PERETTI: I want them to walk away asking questions. What are the moral consequences to evolutionary dogma? If we fully believed in it and it became the moral foundation for our society would we become more like animals? Could our society endure if that was the only truth that we really had? IÕm not just coming right out and going, ÒBam, bam, bam, this is the way it is and this is the way you should think.Ó IÕll be content if people ask questions about things theyÕve always been told.
PE: You were recognized last year with an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Indiana Wesleyan University. What did that mean for you?
PERETTI: ItÕs such a remarkable, wonderful good thing somebody did for me. IÕve had trouble believing I deserve such an honor. It was just so meaningful to me.
PE: YouÕve traveled the country with your monologue ÒThe Chair,Ó talking about people who create their own truth. Where do you anchor your truth claims?
PERETTI: My truth claims are anchored in the Word of God. The Bible is a consistent, coherent message from God applicable to all aspects of life in all times and in all places. It has proven itself through the centuries. It presents a whole scheme of truth that is consistent with what we observe in reality in terms of manÕs heart, manÕs needs and what can be done about manÕs needs.
How did Charles Colson put it? Three big questions: How did we get here? What went wrong? How do we fix it? The Bible answers those questions. Ravi Zacharias offers the classic worldview quadrants: Where do we come from? Why are we here? How should we live since we are here? Where are we going? The Bible answers all those questions.
Consider the implications of evolutionÕs answers. How did we get here? WeÕre strictly an accident. WhatÕs the purpose for being here? There is no purpose because weÕre an accident. How should we live? Any way you want. Where are we going? Nowhere.
I wish people would think about this before they just jump in and believe evolution. Look at the consequences. This is devastating.
PE: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
PERETTI: IÕd like to see myself still writing. IÕd like to see some really good films made from stories that I havenÕt even written yet. IÕd like to be a lot more involved in the production of those films. But more important, I hope that my life will be a life of peace. I really hope that I will fulfill GodÕs purpose for my life. I donÕt want to drop the ball and miss out on whatever it is HeÕs trying to perfect in me.
PE: Do you have a final word of encouragement?
PERETTI: DonÕt be afraid to ask questions. The truth will stand. GodÕs Word will stand. It was around long before Darwin ever challenged it. It will be around long after Darwin is just a memory.
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