Terri Blackstock talks about her latest, Twisted Innocence
(Zondervan/ February 3, 2015/ISBN: 978-0310332367/ $15.99) beloved suspense author Terri Blackstock weaves a gripping tale of murder, mistaken identity and human frailty.
Q: Your stories address some of the messy issues of life that some may not expect in Christian fiction. Could you share your approach to storytelling?
Q: In Twisted Innocence, you tackle some messy issues in the life of a Christian. Tell us a little about your character Holly, and the challenges she’s facing in this book.
I wanted to tell Holly’s story because she’s my favorite character in the Moonlighters Series. Of the three sisters in the series, Holly has been the most troubled. In the first two books, she’s a taxi driver who has trouble keeping any other job, and she discovers she’s pregnant. She struggles with how to tell her sisters she’s made another mistake and even considers abortion. But she decides to do the hard thing and go through with the pregnancy, despite how it will alter her life. In Twisted Innocence, she has just had the baby and is struggling to change her life when some consequences of her past catch up to her. My hope was any reader who feels God has given up on him or her will relate to Holly’s struggles and see it’s never too late to start over.
Q: Do you think readers will be able to identify with what Holly Cramer, a young woman facing the consequences of her youthful indiscretions, is going through?
I think many readers will identify with Holly. Ever since I wrote the Intervention series, which featured a family dealing with drug abuse, I’ve heard from many, many people like Holly. I know it gives them hope to see someone who’s made all the wrong choices and still learns God hasn’t given up on them. He knows how we’re wired and why we are the way we are, and while there are no excuses for sin, God has made all the provision necessary for us to find forgiveness and salvation. It’s never too late to start over. God sent Jesus so He could wipe our slates clean.
Q: Many people feel as though they’ve done things in their lives “out of order.” Do you think God holds those things against us?
I like to think about the biblical story of the woman at the well and how out of order her life was. Jesus pointed out she’d had five husbands and was living with a sixth. But Jesus chose her to be the one who would take the good news of the Messiah’s arrival to her village. He came that time as a savior, not a judge.
I used to have a pastor who often said churches should send an ambulance, not a firing squad. That’s what Jesus did. He looked at people such as the woman at the well and knew she needed a savior. She had plenty of judges already. He changed her life, and she was never the same after that. She’s now an example of Christ’s redemption that has been told for 2,000 years.
Q: Although Holly thought her party lifestyle wasn’t hurting anyone, she ends up pregnant by a man she hardly knows. What does this teach us about how our decisions can impact the lives of others?
Holly has had many consequences throughout her life — job losses, financial collapse, relationship problems — but nothing has ever shaken her like her pregnancy. When she comes close to aborting her baby, she realizes she has to change. She cleans up her life as she carries her child but never tells the father about his child. When he learns about Lily’s birth, he comes back into her life but brings a world of trouble with him. He’s a suspect in a murder case, and when Holly uses her private investigating skills to help with the investigation, the tables turn and he takes her and the baby hostage. But nothing is as it seems. Is he a killer or a victim? His link to her family’s arch-nemesis creates an even more tangled web.
This story shows the domino effect of our decisions on others’ lives, but it also shows those decisions can be redeemed. God can use even our worst mistakes.
Q: In the first book in the series, Truth Stained Lies, Holly learns she’s pregnant and briefly contemplates abortion. What stops her from making that choice?
Holly values life, and even though she dreads the thought of admitting to her sisters she’s messed up, she can’t make it through the door of the abortion clinic. In Truth Stained Lies, the first book in the series, she sits in the parking lot across from the abortion clinic and tries to convince herself to go in. She finally realizes though this child is real — it’s not a blob of tissue. It has fingers and toes and nerve endings and a brain. She decides to have the baby, even though it’s the most frightening thing she’s ever faced.
Q: What challenges do single mothers face? How were you able to capture her fears and difficulties so realistically?
I was divorced when my children were young, so I was a single mother for a while. It’s so hard to have to do every little thing yourself and be forced to navigate the rocky emotions of motherhood alone.
Q: Holly struggles with self-loathing as she surveys the rubble her life has become. Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt like you’d never be able to pick up the pieces?
There have been many times in my life when I felt like I’d never pick up the pieces, but God has always given me the power to do it. One of the themes in my novels is that our crises can turn into blessings. We can feel like our world has crumbled, but ten years down the road when we look back on that time, we can see God’s hand at work. I love writing that theme into my books.
Q: After suffering the consequences of bad decisions, it’s tempting to try and piece together your life by yourself — to get your life on-track by being “good.” Why does this never completely work?
It doesn’t work because we can’t “be good” enough under our own power. We can try to change our behavior for a few days or months, but eventually we stumble and fall. And why should we try to do it alone, when God has offered His spirit to empower us? He is our Helper, and it’s only through His strength we can change our lives in a meaningful, long-term way.
Q: Even after receiving the gift of grace and forgiveness Christ offers, it can be difficult to forgive ourselves. What advice do you have for the person who wants to be truly free from his or her past?
Lamentations 3:23 tells us God’s mercies are new every morning. Think about that. There is nothing we’ve done that can’t be wiped clean by Christ. I think parents understand this concept. Most of us are eager to forgive our children when they mess up. If they apologize or admit they were wrong, we can get up the next day and start over without dwelling on the bad behavior of the day before. There’s nothing heavier than the weight of sin in our lives. It’s crushing. But what a luxury to know the burden of it can be lifted off of our shoulders if we repent and give it to God.
Q: While Holly’s family is supportive of her, you can tell some are just waiting for her to mess up again. Is there any way to overcome people’s perceptions of us?
It takes time, and true humility means you give the same grace to those skeptical family members as they gave to you. That means you show patience to them when they doubt you, knowing your new life is the only proof you can give them you’ve truly changed. And you take comfort in the knowledge that God knows your change is real.
Q: You have been a best-selling author of Christian suspense novels since 1994 — but your journey as a writer didn’t start there. What kinds of books did you write before then?
I started my career in the romance market, writing for Harlequin, Silhouette, Dell and HarperCollins.
Q: What happened that led to your decision to write only Christian novels?
I was a Christian when I went into that market, but in the interest of fame and fortune, I began to make compromises. That meant adding content to my books that didn’t reflect my Christian values, and it took its toll on my spiritual life. After thirteen years and thirty-two books, I was miserable. After intense spiritual conviction, I rededicated my life to God and gave Him that last thing I’d been holding back from Him: my career. I left that market, bought back some contracts and turned to the Christian market where I could write books that impacted lives. I had been writing under two other names, so I started over with my real married name, Terri Blackstock. And because I was reading more suspense at the time than romance, I decided to switch genres and bring faith-based suspense novels to the Christian market. The timing was perfect because Christian readers were starving for that kind of book.
Q: Do you feel like you grow spiritually as you develop the characters in your books?
Absolutely. When I’m struggling with something in my life, I have my character struggle with it. It’s a way of taking it and examining it from every angle, and it’s extremely therapeutic. I often find God speaks to me and teaches me as I’m writing through that story. I may not have any answers to my own dilemma when I begin writing, but by the time I get to the end of the book, I have more insight for my own battle. The letters from my readers indicate I’m passing that insight onto them as well. That’s one of those God-things that happens. I’m not crafty enough to engineer that, but God can use anything we give Him to minister to His people.
A long time ago I realized Christianity doesn’t necessarily insulate us from suffering. Christ’s blessings are abundant when we trust Him, but He promised in this world we would have trouble. I like to have my characters ask the hard questions people really ask when they’re in pain, and I put them through serious trials because real people experience trials. I once had a Christian friend who was dying of cancer, and she said, “Christians need to talk about suffering.” She felt so many of us are unprepared for it, and when it comes, it shakes our faith. I hope my stories will give people courage and hope for the trials ahead and that people already in a time of suffering will relate and feel understood. If they can say, “Yes, I’ve thought that same thing,” and see God’s provision for the character, they might recognize it in their own lives.
Q: As readers experience Holly’s journey as a broken woman, trying to piece together the pieces of her tattered life, what do you hope they walk away with?
I want this book to reach anyone who’s ever made bad choices and feels like God is disgusted with him or her. I want readers to come away with the realization that God knows what challenges they’ve had throughout their lives and that He understands what got them to this point. He doesn’t want to dwell on their sins or bad choices. He wants to wipe their slates clean because He has big plans for them. It’s never too late for them to start over. If people close the book inspired to start over with a clean slate and experience the unfathomable love of God for them, then I’ve succeeded.
To keep up with Terri Blackstock, visit www.terriblackstock.com, become a fan on Facebook (tblackstock) or follow her on Twitter (@TerriBlackstock).