PW: Why the travel-book form for A Travel Guide to Heaven?
Anthony DeStefano: I tried to write it as a straight book but it just didn't flow. So I put it aside. Then, I was in California with my wife. They lost our reservation at the Beverly Hills Hotel so they gave us the Presidential Suite. There was a black Steinway grand piano and I thought Rachmaninoff was going to come in and play. I was out on the terrace with my wife and a glass of champagne and I said, "This is heaven on earth." The second it came out of my mouth I stopped and knew this was the way to write the book: use a travel theme. Everybody understands getting away from it all. My wife was left holding the champagne and looking at Sunset Boulevard. I went into the room and immediately started writing down chapter titles. It was the closest I've ever come to having a grand moment of inspiration.
PW: What prompted the book?
AD: I've been around a lot of death and suffering in my life, and I've seen a lot of grieving. I've always thought the Christian teaching on heaven is incredibly consoling, but it's not being put forth in a way that is resonating with people. It's always been a question in my mind: why doesn't the church play its strong suit? There are all these incredibly joyful, happy doctrines there, one of which is heaven. Why not emphasize that?
PW: Who do you want to read your book?
AD: I don't want to just preach to the choir. Even people who are not religious are scared of death. Even people who are not spiritual are heartbroken when their mom dies. This is the biggest problem that faces mankind—forever. Christianity has the answer, and people haven't connected with it. I wanted to translate this teaching into something that wouldn't be rejected out of hand as holy-roller stuff.
PW: You've drawn on traditional Christian teachings and sources that are Catholic and evangelical Protestant. How inclusive are you trying to be?
AD: It's very, very important for me that people don't perceive this as a "Catholic book." I really tried hard to communicate with a Christian audience. The readers I used as consultants went through it intensively, maybe even more intensively than my editors, to make sure that the theology was right.
PW: Many traditional Christians believe that only Christians will go to heaven. Are there non-Christians in your heaven?
AD: The whole strength of this book is that I'm not talking about controversial theological, political or moral questions. But if you asked me straight out directly, "Do people other than Christians go to heaven?," the short answer is yes. Now, how they go to heaven is where it gets a little bit more complex. Everyone is saved in some way through Christ.
PW: What do you remember being taught about heaven when you were little?
AD: My mom told me that everyone is happy in heaven and you get to be with God and God loves you. I imagined it as some sort of white place and God was there and I didn't know what the heck that meant.
PW: Who are your influences?
AD: C.S. Lewis is obviously a tremendous influence. His approach is to take heavy theological subjects and put them in language that anybody can understand. G.K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man is a great book. Also Dick Eastman and Billy Graham and James Dobson. And the pope, definitely John Paul II. In literature it was the Russians, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. My father introduced me to that stuff when I was 13.
PW: What are you working on next?
AD: Doubleday made me a two-book deal and the second book is Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To. God says no to a lot of prayers—we all know that—but he says yes to a lot, and why not write a book about those kinds of prayers? Doubleday heard that title and they asked me, "Could you write that book first?" They thought the title was enough to sell a million copies.