An interview with Terri Blackstock, Author of If I Run
Fans of Christian fiction will find an unlikely heroine within the pages of New York Times best-selling author Terri Blackstock’s latest release, If I Run (Zondervan/February 16, 2016/ ISBN: 978-0310332435/$15.99). Wanting to feature a heroine different from what some readers might be used to, Blackstock’s protagonist, Casey Cox, isn’t a Christian, and when her life becomes complicated, she resorts to lies — even crime — to survive. While Casey is broken in many ways, Blackstock admits she is one of her favorite characters from any of her books.
Q: How does a Christian book feature a fugitive from the law, who changes her identity and lies about everything?
I wanted to feature a character who is an unbeliever, who has nowhere to turn when life crashes down around her. Casey Cox is one of my favorite characters in any of the books I’ve written because she’s complex and simple at the same time. When she’s accused of committing a heinous murder and knows her DNA is all over the crime scene, she decides to run. I wanted Casey to have a growth arc through the series that shows her journey from faithlessness to faith, and that allowed me to do some interesting things with her. She does lie and break some laws to protect herself, but I think readers will realize lost people act lost. They don’t always make the decisions Christians might make. So that’s not such a shocking thing.
Q: Why do Christians so often seem shocked when lost people act lost?
Maybe it’s because we know sin and bad choices wreak such destruction in people’s lives. We wish they understood God’s values are for our good, that His commandments keep us safe and enable us to live lives of peace. But more often than not, it’s because we’re judgmental, and we think people should just behave better. However, if they don’t have an underlying reason to behave better, why would they? The only reason Christians have any hope of living righteous lives is that the Holy Spirit empowers us to. And still some of us don’t.
Q: Did anything specific, or even personal, inspire the storyline of If I Run?
I’m just a fan of the movie The Fugitive in which the hero has to run from the law while he tries to find his wife’s real killer. I wanted to explore a female fugitive who has to keep running, starting over in new places and trying to forge a life when she knows everywhere she lands will just be temporary. It gave me a lot of great opportunities for her to get into situations that were fun to write about and I hope were compelling for the reader.
Q: Casey struggles with her view of God. Why is it so difficult for Casey to believe in God?
Casey found her father dead when she was 12. Police ruled it a suicide, but she knew it wasn’t. She felt an intense sense of injustice, and those authority figures were very negative to her. She also hasn’t had much of a Christian influence in her life, so she wasn’t trained to look to God for answers. She’s just always had to look for them on her own.
Q: It can be tempting at times to rely only on ourselves. How do you remain trusting, but wise, in a world full of unreliable and even duplicitous people?
In Casey’s case, she’s learned to stay quiet about the things in her life that trouble her. She feels like it could be dangerous to vent about the things that don’t make sense in her life. She feels that silence is what will protect her family and friends. The murder of her best friend has proven that to be true, but now Casey is accused of his murder.
Q: Casey contemplates taking her life after she’s forced to run after her friend’s death. What would you say to someone who thinks suicide would be the easy way out of their problems?
When life gets unbearable, suicide is often what seems like an easy answer. But in Casey’s case, she pictures her mother and sister at her funeral, unable to be comforted, and people performing her psychological autopsy. She says, “Taking my own life would be too selfish. Too many dominoes would fall, too many people would be impacted, and not just for a day or a week or a month, but for years . . . for decades. You can’t just check out and think it will all be over. It won’t be over for anyone who loves you. You’ll only leave them to run after the pieces that scatter in the angry wind. You’ll leave them desperately trying to solve the problems you wouldn’t. . . all while plugging their own wounds. Even if you’re like me, single without children, you could impact generations. Is quick relief worth it? No. I realize it isn’t. I’d rather take the pain myself so they won’t have to.”
Q: The investigator in the novel, Dylan Roberts, is an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, who is suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. How does PTSD impact his life and his search for Casey?
Dylan is 30 years old and has been working in the Criminal Investigations Division of the Army, but because he’s a survivor of some IED explosions that killed several of his buddies, he has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Due to his condition, he’s been discharged from the Army, and he’s had trouble getting another job. The family of the murder victim hires him to find Casey, the fugitive they think killed their son. As experienced as he is at solving crimes, his personal problems sometimes get in the way. He reacts intensely to loud noises, has nightmares that keep him from wanting to sleep at night, is depressed, has survivor’s guilt, and deals with a number of other things. But I really like him because he doesn’t see himself as a victim. He’s a Christian who’s trying to overcome his problems through his faith, but sometimes they’re just bigger than he is.
Q: When Dylan begins to understand Casey’s background, he realizes she has PTSD, too. How does this intersection of their lives help them to relate to each other?
When Dylan learns about Casey finding her father dead at the age of 12, presumably from suicide, he begins to relate to her. The more he gets into her head, the more alike he realizes they are. He thinks she may be suffering from PTSD, as well, and he wonders if that is what made her snap and kill her friend, even though nothing in her history suggests she would do something like that.
Q: You must have done a lot of research about PTSD. What was the most surprising thing you learned about it?
I was shocked to learn how many of our veterans are coming home from war with PTSD and how it manifests itself in their lives. Triggers, such as loud noises, can take them right back to that initial situation that caused it, and their brain and emotions react as if it was happening all over again. If they don’t get the help they need for it, it can impact their relationships, emotions and thoughts for the rest of their lives. We need to take better care of the people who are willing to lay their lives down for us and give them all the therapy they need. There are treatments that are successful in helping them. It’s a wound that is as deep as a physical wound, and it should be treated just as aggressively so they can live normal lives.
Q: You’ve written more than 70 books in your career, but only half of them have been Christian titles. Why did you make the leap in 1994 from the general market to the Christian one?
I was a Christian when I started writing romance novels in the general market for publishers such as Harlequin and Silhouette, but I told myself I would only write clean love stories. But those books didn’t sell that well, so in the interest of fame and fortune, I began to compromise. I added a little more sex and a little more, trying to justify it to myself and to God. But after 32 novels and 13 years, I found it had taken a serious toll on my spiritual life. I wound up repenting and telling God I didn’t want to write another book that didn’t glorify Him. I had to buy back some contracts, but I eventually found my way to the Christian market. I started over with my real name — Terri Blackstock — and tried writing suspense novels, which were what I was reading at the time. I wanted to see if I could incorporate a suspenseful plot with faith-based elements that pointed people to Christ rather than giving them stumbling blocks. I sold my first series to Zondervan, which was part of HarperCollins, and I’ve been writing for them ever since.