Robin Jones Gunn: Desires of a Writer’s Heart
- Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Best-selling author Robin Jones Gunn decided to become a missionary the year she turned 12. God ignited a fire in her to serve him at that tender age, and she wanted to spread the gospel around the world. Little did she know that God would use her stories to save souls.
Gunn has received numerous accolades for her work, and in 2007, won the prestigious Christy Award for her chick lit novel, Sisterchicks in Gondolas!
Upon the recent release of Peculiar Treasures, (which puts her close to 70 published titles) and as she celebrates her 20th anniversary as a novelist, Gunn shares with Crosswalk.com how through her writing, God has honored the youthful desires of her heart.
Did you know as a child that you were a gifted writer?
I don’t think I saw it as a gift. I got in trouble a lot while I was growing up for telling stories. I would be called to account—‘Did that really happen? Are you telling the truth?’ It seemed to me as I was growing up that this ability to always put out a story or spin something in my imagination was not a good thing. I needed to be factual and concise and not go on and on. That gifting was always there, but I didn’t see it as a blessing.
I’ve kept journals for many years. All through high school I wrote handwritten letters to pen pals. Some of those letters would be 36 pages long and my pen pal would say, ‘I read your letter to my mom and my girlfriend. You have such an interesting life.’ I was embellishing.
What was your first career choice?
I grew up in a Christian home, but when I really came to know Christ was at 12 years old, at summer camp. I had been so motivated by the talks of the missionaries that came to visit camp, I thought that was the best way to serve God—to go to a foreign country and learn another language and translate the Bible into another language that never had God’s word before.
When I was 21, I worked at a mission in Europe and helped smuggle Bibles into Eastern Europe. I applied after that to go to Africa with a mission organization. The job opening was to be a laundry supervisor in Kenya. I was turned down because I didn’t have the right criteria. That was devastating, at 22, to know that you couldn’t even wash clothes in Africa!
Where did God direct you after that?
I married my husband (31 years ago). He was a youth pastor at the time. I loved teenagers and being around them and worked with them in a youth group. Our son is now 26 and our daughter is 22. When our son was just a baby, I had an idea for a children’s book, and that’s what’s started the writing process.
My husband signed me up for a writer’s conference (in 1979), because he saw something there. I began writing articles and devotions. I ended up writing 14 children’s books. Zondervan is coming out with a reprint of the Mrs. Rosey Posey series at the end of April.
How was the Christy Miller series, your first books for teens, born?
These girls in my youth group challenged me to write books for them, because I was always telling them stories. I really just loved to sit with the girls and listen to them and joke and talk. They would say, ‘You understand us and you understand our age group. We really like it when you give us advice, because it helps, it makes sense.’
That’s when I began to understand the power of story. By giving a story and using fiction, you can be a smuggler. I knew what it was like to smuggle Bibles into countries where there was resistance. What about into the lives that have resistance to God at the head level? I could go into the heart level and make it real and authentic, because readers get so caught up into characters. The first book, Summer Promise, was published in 1988 (and is now) part of the Christy Miller series volume 1-4.
Though that first book was published 20 years ago, your characters continue to resonate with teen readers, and you continue to publish offshoots of that original series. What are some of the more recent releases?
Peculiar Treasures is the first book in the Katie Weldon series and just came out. The next book in The College Years series will be out in the fall.
You’re also a best-selling women’s fiction novelist. How did you enter this genre?
In the middle of writing the teen series, I wrote eight books in the Glenbrooke series. These books are gentle love stories set in an imaginary town called Glenbrooke, and they were a response to readers of the Christy Miller series now in their 20s, who wanted stories about how to make good decisions about whom to marry and how to know it is the right person.
I was invited to write a book for the Women of Faith series and wrote Gardenias for Breakfast. In writing that, I found I really loved writing for my age group after writing for teenagers all these years. I loved incorporating that sense of travel and adventure I’ve always had into the stories. Through a variety of steps, there was an opportunity to write this series that turned into the Sisterchick series.
The first book, Sisterchicks on the Loose!, was loosely based on a trip that I and my best friend took to Finland about 15 years ago. We had such an adventure and really saw, in being out of our comfort zone, how God is much bigger than we are, and how his body is all over the world. The first book sold 100,000 copies.
It began this writer’s dream. In the last five years, I’ve had the opportunity to travel around the world. I’m meeting sisterchicks all over the world and finding that we’re all the same at heart.
How has God brought the desires of your heart full circle, through your writing?
Six years ago I was teaching a writing conference in Cambridge, England. At the lunch table a woman said she had read the Christy Miller books for teenagers and made a decision for Christ. Her name was Wambura, and she said she lived in Nairobi, Kenya.
I told her I had wanted to give my life to getting God’s Word out to people around the world and about being turned down to serve as a laundry supervisor in Kenya years earlier. She said, ‘You know, you did not need to come to Africa to wash our clothes; God sent your stories and they washed our hearts.’
This is how God works in our lives. He plants those dreams and brings them along in ways we never expect, and it’s always creative—in ways we could never see.
The (Christy Miller) books are translated in nine languages now. Those stories are going places I’ll never go.
Photo by: Ross Gunn III
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