Not many Christian fiction writers can say the jungle provided inspiration for their craft. In that sense, New York Times best-selling author Ted Dekker has cornered the market. He is the son of missionaries who raised him in Indonesia.
Dekker’s vivid imagination has helped him create dramatic plots and compelling characters for novels like Blink, Thr3e and Chosen that take readers on wildly fantastic journeys. In seconds, he can brainstorm a plausible idea for a psychological thriller, fantasy or graphic novel that tests readers’ sensibilities, and in the process, draws them closer to God.
Dekker, 45, recently spoke with Crosswalk.com from his home in Austin, Tex.
Your career path included a stint as a corporate marketing director and business owner. When did you become a writer?
Writing was always a hobby. I wrote my first novel in my early 30s and enjoyed the process immensely. The idea of exploring (God’s) truth through characters was exciting.
I was in a time of worship when I had this incredible experience that propelled me into full-time writing.
I owned numerous companies and would increase their profits and sell them within a year or two years. I had enough money in the bank (in the late 1990s) to sell everything, move to a small Colorado town, buy a house for cash and write full-time for a couple of years while I tried to get my first book sold.
How long did it take for your dream to come true?
I wrote full-time for three years … and wrote five full-length novels before one was accepted and published. What kept me going was that I was very passionate about the themes of my novels—stewarding the mysteries of God through stories. That’s my calling.
During that time, I ran out of money. I began to sell my “toys,” my motorcycles. I began to suspect at the end (just before landing a contract) that I had made a mistake. But the idea of going back into marketing, into business, into that life I had before was so unattractive to me, that I quickly shoved it from my mind and bore down on the task ahead.
I finally decided (the Christian publishers) were rejecting my novels because they were too edgy for them. I decided I was going to write a novel that spoke their language. I wrote Heaven’s Wager and had four offers on it within a month.
Heaven’s Wager was published in 2000, and the books that immediately followed its release were suspenseful. However, your subsequent novels have become edgier, with an emphasis on psychological suspense and the battle between good and evil. Why did you up the ante, so to speak?
I wrote a string of four or five novels like Heaven’s Wager over six years. Then I decided I wanted to go back to the kind of novels I wanted to write, like Blink. There are very few Christians in there, but they really do explore the character of God as aggressively as the other novels. They just do it in a slightly different kind of story.
Thr3e, my story about a serial killer, got the (2004) Christy Award for best thriller and Gold Medallion Award (now called the Christian Book Award) for fiction.
I characterize my stories as pure escapism with truth. People are either searching for or absolving themselves of guilt, angst or secrets. I’m tapping into this vein that exists in all of us. One consistent is this full-throttled exploration of the struggle between good and evil.
What drives you to create these kinds of stories rather than take a more traditional approach to Christian fiction?
In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul says the task of Christians is to steward the mysteries of God.
Stewarding is taking care of and nurturing. You’re constantly working, almost in a business fashion, to bring about an end result, and that is understanding. You go and plumb the depths of a particular truth of God. But understanding is a two-way street: I’m understanding through my characters as much as my readers are.
A lot of writers will say, ‘My task is to simply explain His love…I have something to say.’ As a writer, you can’t simply mimic your beliefs. We’ve all heard so many stories about God’s love.
Why don’t we take a character into a situation where he is ravaged by everything but love, and in his search for hope, he finds something—the thinnest thread—and he begins to learn something new about himself, and in the process, something new about God?
If I’m successful, it will look like magic, because it took them seven hours to read what it took me two years to figure out.
What are you hoping to give readers with a Ted Dekker novel?
I want to take readers to a place where they say, ‘Oh my goodness, I can’t believe he did that’ and do it in a way that is palatable for Christians. I want to do it through scenes that are at once dark, disturbing and riveting, and at the same time, readers are saturated in the mysteries of God. I really like contrasting the dark and the light. When you bring hope into that context, it’s noticeable and almost overwhelming. In order to have light shine, you have to have darkness into which it can shine.
Your books are thrillers, but they often evoke deep emotion in readers. Does this surprise you?
In my fan mail one of the most common things people talk about is crying while reading my books. I got an email about my book, Sinner. This guy said, ‘I’ve never cried while reading a novel. I got up to ‘x’ chapters and sat down and wept for an hour.’ My book, When Heaven Weeps—I dare someone to read that and not cry.
Thomas Nelson Publishers, has partnered with Chevrolet for a series of promotions around your young adult fiction, The Lost Book Series. Chevrolet has given away 10,000 copies of Chosen. There’s also a book-related treasure hunt, in which a reader will soon win a 2008 Chevy Cobalt. Tell us about that.
In Chaos, the fourth book in my young adult series, (one of the characters) sees a red Chevy and it becomes part of the (storyline). We decided to work with Chevrolet, which will announce the winner of the Chevy Car Contest on May 16. That’s been a lot of fun.
What does your family think about your success?
I have two brothers and one sister. I didn’t write any more than the next child; I was too busy running through the jungles. They’re not quite sure what to make of it.
I have a very, very supportive wife. She was quite confident in my ability to succeed. My four children (ages 11 to 22), they’re kind of like my other relatives—they don’t quite believe any of this. When I go to a bookstore and there’s a line of 200 people, they can’t wrap their minds around it. I’m their Dad.
When I finish a novel and come flying out (I’m very dramatic about all of my stuff), they’re like, ‘Yeah, whatever. Another novel. So what are we having for dinner?’
You have a number of books in the pipeline and write six days a week. What do you do for fun?
I ride motorcycles. I watch a lot of movies. I like movies that make me cry and stretch me in terms of my emotions. I like fantasy, because it makes me wonder. I’m like a kid in that way.
What do you hope God will say about your work when you meet him one day in heaven?
Three words would be awesome: ‘We did it.’ That would be so cool to me if he were to say that with a smile.