Robert Liparulo: Knocking Down a Wall

Robert Liparulo had little choice when he sat down to write his first thriller—Stephen King and Tom Clancy were waiting. A former journalist, Liparulo interviewed both and told them of his passion to one day write novels. To his surprise they actively encouraged him. “Both would call periodically and ask ‘Have you started?’ ” says Liparulo. “I eventually began writing Comes a Horseman [Thomas Nelson, 2005] so when they called next I could say I did!” Three more novels and a young adult series followed; all were general fiction.

The 13th Tribe (Thomas Nelson, Mar.) is the first “Christian fiction” novel for Liparulo, who resists the label but knows it’s inevitable in publishing. “I still feel like a thriller writer. It’s the subgenre that is shifting. Instead of a high-tech thriller, it’s a Christian thriller.”

The challenge, says Liparulo, was to write a book that he would want to read himself. “Anything faith-based would have to be organic to the story, not preachy,” he says, citing Raiders of the Lost Ark as a perfect example. “If the power of the Ark was taken out of the story you wouldn’t have one.”

With vigilantism at its core, The 13th Tribe begins with Moses and the Golden Calf. One tribe of idol-worshipping Israelites—the 13th—is not forgiven by God for their sins. Their punishment is immortality with no hope of entering the Kingdom of Heaven. They resort to vigilantism, and throughout the centuries kill those they deem sinners in a quest to earn their way back to grace. It’s up to a present-day protagonist to stop them.

Liparulo admits his decision to embrace faith-based themes more overtly in his writing wasn’t an easy one at first. “I felt like I was getting into an area of my life that was private. This book opened the door and knocked down the wall between my spiritual side and my writing. Once I got over that, it felt good.”

When asked what the recurrent themes are in The 13th Tribe Liparulo says, “One is that you can’t earn your way into Heaven. That is a gift you accept or not. Two is that anything done in secret can be twisted.” Like any good thriller writer he wants his audience to be entertained, and with this book he also hopes readers learn “that God is present and active in our lives, that he is there and a force for good.” —Karen Jones

Suzanne Wood Fisher: Inspired by the Amish

“We get distracted by the buggies and the beards and bonnets, but there is so much more to these people,” says Fisher. “They are trying to live a life that puts the brakes on ostentation, on consumption, on individual rights over the rights or the interest of the community. They are endlessly fascinating to me.”

That fascination has yielded three Amish-inspired nonfiction titles and five Amish romances, and garnered Fisher two Christy Award nominations. Her newest Amish romance, The Keeper (Revell, Jan.), is the first of the three-part Stoney Ridge Seasons series, which also will include The Haven (Aug.) and The Lesson (Jan. 2013).

Fisher’s interest in the Anabaptist faiths—Amish, Mennonite, and Quaker—is an offshoot of her family tree. Her mother’s ancestors were Old Order German Baptist Brethren, and she has many family members and friends in the Anabaptist community in and around Franklin County, Pa., where she frequently travels for research.

But her interest runs deeper than a family connection. “There is something about the faith-based community that calls me,” she tells PW from her home in Alamo, Calif. “They are trying hard to live a life that is pleasing to God, and in 400 years they have not wavered in holding fast to their values.”

Fisher again turns to Amish culture for several more books, all for Revell and slated to appear in 2013 and beyond, including a follow-up to last September’s A Lancaster County Christmas, which made the CBA bestsellers list in January, and Keeping the Peace, a nonfiction book examining the Amish qualities of forgiveness and conflict resolution.

“Their forgiveness is a remarkable model to all of us,” Fisher says. “They live it. The [response to the] Nickel Mines [murders] wasn’t a show—that was a lifetime of training for turning the other cheek and trusting in God for all life’s circumstances.”

Also in the works is a new series, Petticoat Row, about Quaker women in whaling-era Nantucket. And lest the Amish feel slighted by her time among the Quakers, she’s planning another Amish series for 2014, about an Amish-run bed and breakfast and the “English” (non-Amish) who stay there. This summer Fisher branches out with a children’s series, the Adventures of Lily Lapp, for ages 8–12.

The staying power of books about the Amish, Fisher says, stems from multiple factors. Readers are seeking escape from the rapid pace of technology and to the balm of rural settings. A secure and changeless way of life has strong appeal in times of economic uncertainty. “The ground beneath your feet is solid in these books,” she says. —Kimberly Winston

Anne Elisabeth Stengl: The Power of Story

It’s no surprise Anne Elisabeth Stengl became a writer. She grew up listening to the stories of her fighter pilot father and scribbling on the back of historical romances. Her father made up fairy tales for fun; her mother, Jill Stengl, has published 16 books with a focus on historical romance fiction. “I even colored pictures on the back of some of her manuscripts,” Stengl says. “It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that writing was a difficult field to go into.”

After a childhood moving around a lot as a military brat, Stengl settled in North Carolina. She majored in English at Campbell University, then studied illustration at Grace College. After graduating, she taught art classes and painted family portraits. Stengl now lives with her husband in Raleigh with four cats (she calls them “a passel”) and her first rescue dog—a Christmas present from her husband.

While she was blogging about the lack of chivalry in American culture—writing about knights, princesses, and dragons—she stumbled upon the idea for her debut novel, Heartless (Bethany House, 2010), a fantasy that revolves around a dragon king seeking his princess. The blog, which bemoaned a world of fewer brave men used to defeating dragons to win their princesses, led her to write a short story, which she also posted. The response encouraged her to finish writing the book, which garnered a Christy Award for First Novel. That kicked off the Tales of Goldstone Wood series; the second book, Veiled Rose (Bethany House), was published in July 2011; the third, Moonblood, releases in April.

The fairy tale/fantasy genre turned out to be the best fit for her writing, though it wasn’t something she considered a viable career. “It was always the genre I picked to read just for the pleasure of it,” Stengl says. But when she began writing, she found that some of her favorite writers, like George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, and Madeleine L’Engle, lit her passion for conveying a universal truth through stories that reflected her Christian values.

Spinning fairy tales helps Stengl avoid “a preachy aspect that can easily start creeping into Christian fiction,” she says. Truth, the depravity of humankind, and the possibility of forgiveness are topics Stengl likes to delve into in her work. Through story, she says, “you can make readers see what you believe in a whole new way, so it becomes exciting.” —J. Victoria Sanders

Frank Peretti: Timeless Love

Frank Peretti starts his novels with a germ of an idea, letting the book fall together from what he calls “a zillion different directions.” His newest novel, Illusion (Howard Books, Mar.), is no exception. The bestselling author (This Present Darkness; The Oath) takes readers in myriad directions thanks to the illusions of magic and his many spiritual allusions.

Mandy and Dane Collins have been married 40 years when Mandy is killed in a car crash. While Dane mourns, Mandy returns as 19-year-old Eloise, thinking it’s 1970. Their lives collide, and the two jump-start the young woman’s magic career, even as Dane believes he’s crazy thinking she’s the Mandy of 40 years ago, while she thinks she’s crazy in a world she doesn’t understand. Time travel, magic, love, and the abuse of power all find a home here.

Peretti, who lives in Idaho, spent two years researching, planning, and writing Illusion, his 19th novel. “I’m just a slow writer. I’m picky and careful and fastidious,” he says. While working on promoting Illusion, he’s gearing up to start another book, eager, he says, to begin “listening to the Lord’s saying. I don’t know what idea is going to hit me when.”

Illusion is rife with underlying themes and symbols as Mandy, step by step, regains the memory of who she truly is. There is the gentle presence of the Holy Spirit in the form of a magician’s doves, the lure of evil made manifest in the city of Las Vegas, and man’s obsession with power illustrated by scientists who stop at nothing to accomplish their plans.

“The book is going to be enjoyable at several levels,” says Peretti. “There is good stuff for those who like to probe into a story, and it will appeal to those who want to be entertained. I wanted to write a novel where the meaning is in the story and characters and the subliminal, in the shades and nuances. It’s exciting to develop that as a writer.” Peretti’s research included learning a few magic tricks—he doesn’t admit to succeeding—as well as studying how time travel might occur. “I did enough research to create a nice, scientific-sounding fantasy. But it’s mostly made up. There’s a little bit of truth and a whole lot of fantasy.”

He didn’t make up the love, though. Dane and Mandy’s 40-year marriage mirrors that of Peretti and his wife. That love, he says, is a picture of Christ’s love for the church and God’s love for his children. “Illusion is a story of God’s love and our hunger to find him when we’re separated from him. If I can paint a picture of two people still in love after 40 years, that’s a pretty good message.” —Ann Byle

Tom Pawlik: Scaring the Children

Some authors have written bedtime stories for their children, but Tom Pawlik’s tales might keep his five kids awake and afraid—very afraid. His new book, Beckon (Tyndale House, Apr.), shifts gears from his previous titles, introducing a new setting and three characters whose lives converge in a small town in Wyoming, where something creepy this way comes.

Pawlik’s first book, Vanish, won the Operation First Novel Contest, sponsored by the Christian Writer’s Guild and Tyndale, and it went on to win a Christy Award in the Visionary category. The sequel, Valley of Shadows, was released in 2009.

Though Beckon is not a sequel, Pawlik says it’s connected to the other books and will connect to future books, creating a sort of scavenger hunt for his fans. “I’d like to write a novel about an eccentric novelist who’s hidden a treasure map of clues, linking back to all the novels,” he says.

Tyndale is betting on Pawlik to play well with fans of authors like Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker. Peretti focuses on the supernatural and visualizing the unseen spiritual world, and Dekker does serial killers and serial novels, but Pawlik leans more toward the speculative science fiction thriller genre, an uncrowded field in the Christian market.

Pawlik has agreed to write a novella in a multiauthor project called “7 Hours,” a concept created by James Andrew Wilson to be published as e-books–only by Tyndale in May. Seven authors will each write a 25,000-word novella about one character, Thomas Constant, with the same premise but from seven different perspectives. Each novella covers a seven-hour period during the story, not necessarily in order; Pawlik’s is titled Recollection.

By night Pawlik writes while his children sleep; by day he is a project manager for hospital labs. Could there be a sci-fi biotech story on the horizon? He says he keeps up with the latest in bio-tech research, so maybe Pawlik’s next story idea will bubble up out of a test tube. —Greg Taylor

Jane Myers Perrine: Welcome to Butternut Creek

Jane Myers Perrine’s new series, Tales from Butternut Creek, is a departure from the stand-alone romance novels Perrine has written. “There is romance in it, but the series centers on a small town in central Texas, and the main character is a minister who has come to a small church,” says Perrine. “He’s all this little church can afford, and a group of women called the Widows—who de facto run the church—set about working on the young minister with two prime directives: to train him and marry him off.”

The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek (FaithWords, Apr.) is the first of the series. The second book is planned for fall 2012 and the third for 2013.

The Widows think the young minister should “be fruitful and multiply” and fill up the parsonage, but it turns out he’s not very good with women. With a three-book contract, it’s handy the minister starts out single, leaving plenty of room for him to grow as a character, get married, and have a family by the end of the series.

There is no real Butternut, Tex., but the idealized town is a composite of places Perrine has lived. “My husband has served in pastorates in many small towns,” she says, “and all those experiences shape what I write. Funny things happened in those churches, like the time the donkey ran away with a child on Palm Sunday. In real life the donkey went about five feet, but in the book the donkey and child go all the way down Main Street.”

While the town is idealized, the characters are flawed and will grow across the series, Perrine says. “The Widows become a bit softer, the minister learns to stand up for himself, and he even takes in two homeless children. And though he was awkward with women, he learns how to build a relationship with the woman he’s going to marry.”

Still, it turns out the minister is not the romantic focus of the first book. While the Widows continue to work on him, they turn their attention to a more promising budding romance between a reforming alcoholic Marine amputee who is back from the war in Afghanistan and the soldier’s physical therapist.

There’s more edginess to this new series than meets the eye or matches the Americana cover of the first book, Perrine says; readers will find a gentle, humorous book, but not a “sweet” narrowly focused romance. The Marine amputee coming back from war isn’t sweet, but gruff and rattled.

Perrine says that while the series is about a community and a church, it is written for a wider audience than evangelical Christians. “There’s not a particularly evangelical message, no Damascus road experience, no dogma. I’ve tried to make this for a general audience, not for people who practice a particular belief.” —Greg Taylor

Kathy Tyers: Builder of Worlds

In Daystar (Marcher Lord, Apr.), Christian speculative fiction author Kathy Tyers wraps up the story of a character she created when she was only seven years old. But she didn’t commit the story of outcast Lady Firebird Angelo to paper—on an electric typewriter perched on her kitchen table—until she was 29 and home with a baby.

“This series has been part of my life for many years,” Tyers says. “I have tried other world-building stories, but these characters kept coming back to me, and I wanted to finish their story well.”

Firebird, the first installment of the Firebird series, was originally published by Bantam Spectra in 1987, as was its follow-up, Fusion Fire (1988). The books are set in a dystopian universe that resulted when the Virgin Mary said “no” to the Angel Gabriel.

In 1999 and 2000, Tyers revised the first two books for Bethany House to emphasize their spiritual themes. The third book in the series, Crown of Fire, was published by Bethany in 2000.

Then, as Tyers dealt with family problems, she took a 10-year break from Lady Firebird. The fourth book, Wind and Shadow, was published last October by Marcher Lord, a self-described “micro-press” that emphasizes Christian speculative fiction. Tyers wrote it as her master’s project for Regent College in Vancouver, B.C.

In Daystar, the messiah finally appears. Ending so long and sweeping a tale has been a challenge, Tyers says. “I wanted to satisfy the readers who have followed the characters from book one, and I wanted to write a story that stands alone. But I also wanted to bring in the greater truth of the story all of humanity revolves around. If I can juggle all those balls, I will feel like I have done a pretty good job.”

Marcher Lord Press founder Jeff Gerke calls Tyers and the Firebird series “trailblazers.” He notes, “For many of us, they were the first we’d ever heard of Christian science fiction. [Christian fiction] had many novelists who were females, but then, as now, most of them were writing prairie romances and the like. She paved the way for other female writers of Christian speculative fiction.”

She feels “just very peaceful” about wrapping up Firebird, Tyers says. And she is at work on another series, this one set closer to home, in an alternative Bozeman, Mont.

“I am starting from zero with the process of creating characters and world-building,” she says. “It is a little more daunting than it was when I was 30, but I am game.” —Kimberly Winston

Rachel Coker: Teen Author

The loss of a loved one is difficult to cope with at any age, but at 13, Rachel Coker channeled her grief and landed a publisher at the same time.

Coker, now a homeschooled 11th-grader, started writing Interrupted: Life Beyond Words (Zondervan, Mar.) three years ago. The story, set in the late 1930s and 1940s, focuses on Alcyone “Allie” Everly, who is sent to live in Maine after her mother dies from cancer. Coker lost her uncle to a brain tumor, and she says the story came from her conversations with God about why people die. “What I realized is that death is something that young people face,” Coker tells PW from Virginia, where she lives with her parents and two sisters. “I realized it could make us bitter, but it could also make us stronger. Even though that bad thing happens, [Allie] can learn to love again.”

The publication of her book when she was just 15 also inspired an international peer group of young writers who comment on her personal blog and on what she writes as a guest blogger for sites like Go Teen Writers.

“I think the most frequent comment I hear from e-mails or in comments on my blog is, ‘I didn’t know this was possible. I always thought some day in the future, one day when I was older, I would be a writer. Now that I know it’s possible, there’s a chance for me, too,’ ” Coker says. “That’s my favorite thing to hear.”

She didn’t think she would get published as a teenager, either. “I thought it was silly and insane when I sent out my query letter. I prayed, ‘God, I know this is probably impossible, but I’m going to try anyway.’ Now that it’s all finished, knowing that other people are willing to go out there and take a chance is good for me.”

Coker has already written her next book, a novel set in the 1960s, which will also be published by Zondervan. She is nevertheless looking forward to what could be a successful writing career. Meanwhile, she also teaches piano.

“I’m really open to whatever God has in store for me,” she says. “I’m 16 years old, I don’t have the answers, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I want to be happy and I want to bless other people. I want to not just make a living but also to live a God-filled, hope-filled life.” —J. Victoria Sanders