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Interview with Erin Healy

Erin Healy has had the distinct honor of having worked with many “names” in the publishing world—including such well-known monikers as James Scott Bell, Brandilyn Collins and Frank Peretti. She edited twelve of Ted Dekker’s heart-pounding tales before finally collaborating with him on Kiss—the novel that seated her firmly on “the other side of the desk.”

Erin lives with her family in Colorado, where she owns WordWright Editorial Services, a consulting firm specializing in fiction book development. She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and the Academy of Christian Editors.

Erin, your website left me tingling! I love the whole “thin places” concept. You cited the phrase’s definition as “a Celtic name for locations in the world where the veil between physical and spiritual realities is so delicate that a person can see through it.” In your own words, you defined thin places as “revelations about what it means to be a spiritual creation in a physical world.” Your books have suddenly become “must-haves” for me. ☺ How did you become interested in this particular subject?

In college I spent a semester in England studying literature, and while there my class visited a particular town that disturbed me in a way I’d never experienced before. The locale’s history is steeped in druidic events. We merely passed through for a lunch hour, but I found the atmosphere so intangibly upsetting that I didn’t join others to window shop or hike after eating. I sat on the bus and waited to leave, uncomfortable because I couldn’t give any logical explanation for my discomfort. But others were also unnerved. We talked about the mystery of that visit for weeks.

The study of Celtic spirituality was in vogue at the time, and though I don’t recall exactly when, I came across this term thin places, which I later learned C. S. Lewis also wrote about. The concept has stayed with me, because nothing else I’ve encountered so accurately describes experiences such as that one I had in England. That’s an example of a negative encounter; I’ve also had many positive ones, such as when the Word of God takes on sudden clarity, or when God’s peace supernaturally overwhelms my problems and I feel completely free of anxiety. For me, thin places have been more moments or events than locations, though I think all these “places” are equally legitimate. The fascination for me is that I can’t create these places by my own will—something else is at work, something spiritual and, in my opinion, outside of me.

Absolutely true. The authenticity lies in how out of our control these situations are.

I love how you describe your writing: “I write supernatural suspense novels from a Christian worldview, with eyes open to God’s mysterious side.” That He has a mysterious side is certainly biblical, as indicated in the verse that reads “great is the mystery of godliness.” Tell us about your most recent “revelation” into this side of God’s persona.
I’ve always placed a high value on having things figured out, having a good strong answer for everything. But the older I get, the harder this becomes. I wrestle more. For example, is God a God of love or a God of judgment? That he might be both, as portrayed by the Bible, is a mystery that I can’t explain. A few years ago I wouldn’t have been okay with the fact that the answers to many of my questions are so elusive. But here’s what changed that for me:

The ending chapters of Job are intimidating. God speaks harshly out of whirlwinds and storms. He itemizes the wonders of behemoths and leviathans. He seems to patronize, to criticize, to belittle. I’d always read it as a supernatural smackdown against Job—dear Job, an amazing, honest, upright servant of God who has suffered so much! (Ouch!)

But one day while walking my dogs and listening to a podcast I heard a scholar suggest that God was on no tirade here. Can you read the words with a different tone? What if this is God saying, This world is so far beyond you that you don’t stand a chance of deciphering it all, and I am even more unfathomable than that. So don’t worry about it! I’ve got it covered. You’ve just spent 37 chapters trying to figure me out. It’s not gonna happen. So rest awhile. I’ve got you.

I love this interpretation in part because it’s in alignment with the opening chapters of the book, where God says to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” After Job’s response to suffering I doubt God’s opinion of him would diminish. But I also love the perspective because it turns the mystery of God into a beautiful mercy, permission to be free of the fruitless intellectual arguments and brain bending that so many of us Christians get tangled in. We can rest awhile. Because he’s got us, we don’t have to have everything figured out.

Let go and let God, right? I love it!

“Read with me into the thin places where God’s world intersects ours, and changes it forever.” What reader could possibly resist that invitation from your website? Are any of the thin places depicted in your books based on your own life experiences?
Well, I fear many readers resist that particular temptation every day! But I trust God directs my books to the readers who might find something of value in them. Yes, the unforgiveness and bitterness that take a demonic form in Never Let You Go were based on the experiences of a family member—but I should explain that this person never went (as far as I know) head-to-head with a demon. Lexi’s story is simply my third-party speculations about what might have been going on in this person’s life. I think House of Mercy is my most personal novel so far. I wrote it in the thick of asking for a miracle that may never come. The idea in that novel about being guided through wilderness by a wild animal doesn’t have anything to do with animal spirit guides—it’s about the way I feel being guided by a mysterious and sometimes unpredictable God through uncharted territory.

Oh, I love hearing an author say a particular novel is “personal” to them! Those are always the best, most deeply felt and gripping read.

You’ve “brushed shoulders” with so many well-known authors. I’m sure you’ve learned something significant from each of them. What piece of advice or example given by these successful writers do you see as most significant to your publication journey?

I once complained to Ted Dekker that I felt like I was an illegitimate writer because I still have so much learning to do. I can see my failure on every page. He said, “Don’t be selfish. Don’t withhold your stories because you don’t think they’re good enough for the world. Everyone suffers the same. It’s the author’s job to process the suffering and make sense of it on behalf of others.” In other words, perfection isn’t the point; speaking up for someone else who needs to hear your voice is the reason we writers must show up every day. I still wish my stories were perfect, but they will never be. So now I try to write not for some artistic level of greatness, but for what my true reader needs from me. Of course I don’t ever know exactly what that is, but God does.

He certainly does. Erin, you not only write, but operate a consulting firm specializing in fiction book development—and you have a family. What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with those other responsibilities?
The long answer to this question is in a blog post I was invited to write last month for Inspiration for Creation. But the short answer is that I’m not sure “balance” is achievable. My days seem full of unraveling plans and tension between competing priorities that are equally important. I spend a lot of time weighing what I ought to do in this moment. These days my prayer for balance is based on Proverbs 16:9: “Lord, teach me to make plans that leave room for you to direct my steps.”

What a perfect verse for that purpose! How do your faith and spiritual life affect your storytelling?
I’ve always embraced the belief that there is a spiritual world, and that it’s real and dynamic and integrated with our physical world. I think I’m writing about human experiences that are universal on some level, but perhaps I’m dropping these experiences into a surprising context. That’s what I love about supernatural stories: their ability to jolt us out of our lackadaisical perspectives.

Where do your story ideas come from?
They come from personal crises, from my pastor’s sermons, and in one case (the novel Afloat, 2013) from my publisher. They come from eavesdropping on friends and strangers, from asking strange “what if” questions, and from listening to podcasts of RadioLab and This American Life. My brain takes such odd journeys that more than once someone has asked, “Where did you get the idea for such-and-such book?” and I honestly can’t remember. So the ideas come from all over, but my editor and publisher have been instrumental in helping me decide what form the ideas should take. Branding is a team effort.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
The day one of my daughter’s peers complained to his mother, “It’s not fair. Amber’s mom is famous.” Just keepin’ it in perspective.

And I’m laughing out loud. I love it!

What do you think it is—other than the obvious “thin places” concept—that makes your style of storytelling unique?

Mm. That’s a question I’d rather put to my readers. But I aim to tell stories that make readers say, “I’ve never thought about faith that way before.” I try to create lifelike characters who speak the broad variety of ideas real people struggle with. And I try to keep my writing fresh and unexpected without testing my readers’ patience. My books are easy to read cover-to-cover in a day or a couple of sittings.

Finish this question: If I could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, I’d go to... .
Ireland, because my honest-to-goodness real name is Erin McMahan Healy. And I hear they have a few thin places.

Well, then Ireland is certainly a must for you. It’s also one of my most longed-for places to visit. Can I come along? ☺

Any parting words?

I just want to say thanks to all my readers who spend some of their money on my books and spend some of their time writing me notes and visiting my Facebook page (erinhealybooks). Writing can be a lonely life, and the interaction with readers is really one of my favorite aspects of the job. Also I’m hugely thankful for ACFW—there is just no other organization like it, and I’m proud to be counted among your number.

So am I, and I think we’re both probably right where God meant us to be…in a wonderful organization that encourages and supports our efforts to write the words God gives us. Thanks for sharing with us, Erin!
Thanks for giving me the space to ramble.

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