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Interview with Jerusha Agen

Jerusha Agen believes words are powerful and when used to tell stories, they’re unstoppable. Jerusha writes unstoppable stories that tell of the powerful redemption found in Jesus Christ. Her latest release, This Redeemer, is the third in the Sisters Redeemed series.

Stories, like people, come in all shapes and sizes, and yours have taken shape in books and screenplays. So, which came first for you—the novelist or the screenwriter?
Wow, I feel like I’ve just been asked to figure out God’s blueprint for my life! I can hardly say whether I was truly a novelist or a screenwriter first in spirit. Technically, I’d have to say that I was a novelist first, since I began writing my first novel when I was a teenager, long before I ever thought of writing screenplays.

When in college, however, I recognized that my lifelong, passionate love of movies also offered career opportunities. By the time I graduated, I was committed to becoming a screenwriter and breaking into the film biz. I was blessed to have my pursuit of screenwriting lead to some work in the local film industry, where I also tried my hand at directing and producing.

God’s plan for my film career was much different than my own, however, and He eventually brought me around, back home in a sense, to my novelist beginnings. I am a lover of story, first and foremost, so I’m happy to pursue telling stories whether they’re written only for the page or intended to become films. If and when God directs me to return to screenwriting, I’ll follow that design with a willing heart, but I know that God has me right where He wants me at present, happily wearing my novelist hat.

And how do you approach writing a story differently for a screenplay than a book?
In my own writing of screenplays versus books, I handle the initial plotting and outlining for both in the same way, knowing that the screenplay needs to be tighter and shorter, while a novel offers more time to flesh out characters and themes. The actual writing out of the story involves many differences, particularly in form. In addition to the tenses used (present in screenplays and past in the books), screenwriting style is different from novel writing in many respects.

The biggest difference, though, is that the screenplays often involve a lot of dialogue without much description or narrative. For me, the focus on bare-bones dialogue is an advantage, as I enjoy the ease of writing dialogue without getting bogged down with needing to fill in flowing passages of prose. On the other hand, I’ve come to appreciate the advantages of writing books, as well. The longer length of books allows for more time to develop characters, themes, and complex plots to a degree that isn’t possible in screenplays. While books take me more time to write, the end result is a piece that has more depth and is more fully developed. With novels, I also have more control over the final story that actually reaches an audience.

Books being made into movies seems to happen a lot these days. Since one of your hats is movie reviewer, can you give us your take on the relationship between books and movies? How can we who love written stories make room for and appreciate stories on screen? And how can movies positively influence our storytelling?
How much time do you have? I think I could spend an hour on each of those questions alone. The strongest relationship I see between books and movies is story. That fact may seem quite obvious, but I sometimes think it can be overlooked by those who view the two mediums as opposed to each other. Story is not only present in books and movies, but it is crucial and necessary to both. A weak or nearly nonexistent story will kill a book, but it will just as easily kill a movie, despite all the money and special effects that Hollywood can throw into the production. The power of literature and the power of film also come from story, which is, in my opinion, the greatest influencer of the human mind and emotions.

Lovers of written stories, then, can perhaps learn to appreciate films because of the shared basis of story at each medium’s core. At the same time, however, the expectations for the two forms of storytelling must allow for differences. Stories told on screen, of course, generally vary a good deal in form from those in books. Even with the changes in contemporary fiction made to mimic the speed of movies, the on-screen versions are still far faster in their pacing and are always more brief.

A misconception exists, however, concerning the differences between movies and books that I think is unfair to both mediums. The theory goes that film is an exclusively visual medium while books are not, and that books are solely concerned with the use of words while movies are not. Movies, particularly silent ones, can indeed be primarily visual, but most films also involve crucial sounds (music, sound effects, voices) and words (usually in the form of dialogue). How many of us movie lovers have ever quoted our favorite film or pondered something a character said, long after the credits rolled?

Likewise, books are not given their due by those who claim they are entirely devoted to the written word. Those words are in fact aimed at conjuring visual images that play on the screen of your mind. Even for those who don’t imagine a story they’re reading in scenes like a movie, those words are still inspiring the images that the words describe and relate.

I think that understanding these areas of common ground between books and movies can help lovers of each medium be open to, and perhaps enjoy, the other. As for storytellers like myself, movies can teach how to build tension, keep a reader’s attention, and more. Most importantly, though, I like the way movies demonstrate how to have a tighter focus, how to cut all the extraneous trimmings of your story away to grab hold of the essential core of your story. If your novel were a movie, which parts would you keep and which would you throw away? The parts you would keep form the heart of your story. That heart is what you need to keep front and center as you write.

What do you see in your mind when you read and write stories? Do they play in your mind like a movie? Has a movie ever “ruined” a book for you?
Yes, my stories and those I read always play like a movie in my mind, complete with spoken dialogue that I hear, as well. I’ve been blessed that, despite this tendency, a movie has never ruined a book for me. That’s likely because I’m very careful not to watch a movie of a favorite book that I think could be ruined by a poor film adaptation. But usually, as long as the book images got into my mind first, they’re the ones I can hold on to even after I watch the movie version.

What’s the first story you remember reading that left an impression on you?
The White Stallion by Elizabeth Shub. I was a big horse lover as a child, but I remember loving this book for more reasons than that. The writing of the story really touched my young heart and brought me to tears. I would hold off rereading it until special occasions when I wanted to be moved. I remember declaring to my mom that it was my favorite book—the first book about which I had made such an announcement.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
God. This journey has been so wildly different than I had imagined and, in my human plans, how I thought it should go. I had an early start in the writing business which I expected to lead to early publication. I didn’t plan on a detour into film or years waiting to be published as a novelist when trying to write full-time. But God did. He is the One in control, and that is the best news of all! By His grace, I’ve become a published author, and by His grace, my future—whether that be writing novels, screenplays, or flying to the moon—will shape me into the person He wants me to be.

What led you to choose the genre in which you write?
I came to the Women’s Fiction genre naturally with the Sisters Redeemed Series, since that was the genre this story best fit. When God gives me a story to tell, I’ll follow that story to whatever genre it leads me. As a result, I expect that I’ll continue to write Women’s Fiction as I branch out into other genres, as well. I have projects planned in suspense, romance, general fiction, and even futuristic sci-fi. Wherever He leads me, there I will go!

This Redeemer is the third (and final?) in this series. How is it connected to the first two books in the series? And what do you have brewing next?
Yes, I’m excited about This Redeemer, which is indeed the final installment in the Sisters Redeemed Series. As for how This Redeemer is connected to the first books in the series, there’s a little mystery surrounding that very question, since Book One and Book Two are about the two Sanders sisters. Only readers who pick up this third book will get to find out the answer!

My next task is polishing up a suspense novel based around the unsolved theft of the Irish Crown Jewels.

What books are on your nightstand right now?
I actually have a whole table by my bed, so I get to cheat and keep a stack of more books than the poor people with little nightstands. I recently finished reading Just for the Moment: The Remarkable Gift of the Therapy Dog by Deanna K. Klingel—this book is a touching read for lovers of dogs and people. I also just finished Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and am looking forward to starting Liz Tolsma’s Daisies are Forever next. In nonfiction, I’ve moved on to The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield.

Finish this statement: A movie I’d pay twice to see is ___________.
Hmm. Well, I paid six times to see The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in theatres. Does that count?

Any parting words?
Thank you for this opportunity to be featured at ACFW and for your thought-provoking questions, Lisa! I’d just like to encourage other authors, aspiring or already published, to hold fast to the truth that God’s timing and His will are always best. If we knew what He did, we wouldn’t want anything but His plan for our lives. Our God is a loving God, Who will work out ALL things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

Thanks for sharing with us, Jerusha!

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