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Interview With Marlo Schalesky

Marlo Schalesky is a speaker, columnist, and an award winning author. Add to that wife, mother of five, and a love for reading the New Testament in Greek, and you might just know a fraction of what this gifted writer is up to. She describes her latest book, If Tomorrow Never Comes, as a love story with a twist.

Marlo, your website shares that you hope your latest release, If Tomorrow Never Comes, “will impact readers at their deepest levels.” Can you share a little more about that with us?

Our culture tells us that we can do anything we set our minds to, we can accomplish any dream . . . and we should. “Reach for your dreams,” we say, as if that is the highest goal of humankind. Success posters (and platitudes) abound. Our culture calls us to a shallow life.

But 15 years of infertility and miscarriage have shown me those deeper levels, the hard way. I’ve discovered that I’m not the god of my life. There are things I cannot control, no matter how hard I try.

And through that I’ve seen that real depth in life comes from a call not to the pursuit of our dreams, but to love. “Love one another,” Jesus exhorts in John 13:34-35, and also gives, as the second greatest commandment, the exhortation to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18, and all 3 Synoptics)

So, I’m hoping that through living this story with Kinna and Jimmy Henley, readers will find that call to love deeply, truly, and sacrificially. In our Grasp-Your-Dreams culture, I hope this book will stand against the tide, inspiring readers to lay down their lives for others instead of clutching their own dreams and plans.

I also hope readers will be inspired to fight for their marriages with sacrificial love, and will be challenged to look to the future for the rewards of loving fully, and to the past to remember the seeds of real love.

You have a B.S. in Chemistry and a Master in Theology. Has writing always been a passion of yours or something that developed out of your various studies and ministries?

When I was thirteen years old, I wrote a poem on the bus on the way to school. It was about an old tree, forlorn and desolate, standing alone in a field. I read that poem at every recess, tweaked it, polished it, and for the first time, felt the thrill of how the written word can convey profound beauty. That day, I fell in love with writing.

Shortly after that, I told my mother (with all the angst of a newly-turned teenager), “I will just die if I don’t write!” So naturally when I grew up I decided to get my degree in Chemistry. And, oddly enough, I didn’t die. I enjoyed chemistry. But always that desire to write was with me, in the back of my mind, saying “Someday, someday.”

And now, someday has finally come, and I find that my initial passion for writing has been fueled and deepened by my ministries, studies (especially Greek!), and life experiences.

Okay, I have to ask. Reading the New Testament in Greek…how does this compare to reading the translations?

Oh, it’s a lot richer and more nuanced. I absolutely love finding some little thing in the Greek that you can’t see in the English. For example, reading in the Greek has deepened the meaning of so many familiar passages for me. Two of my favorites are 1 Peter 5:7 and Philippians 4:13. 1 Peter 5:7 usually reads, “Cast all your cares upon him for he cares for you.” But in the Greek the meaning is more along the lines of “because it matters to him concerning you.” When I was struggling with whether my pain, my hurt, my sorrow, my disappointments mattered to God, if I truly mattered to him, it was the Greek that spoke so deeply to me to confirm God’s love. I had read the passage a hundred times in English, but when I saw it in the Greek, God used it to heal my heart.

Similarly, Philippians 4:13 is the familiar passage which usually reads, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” But in the Greek, the word for “strengthen” is actually “in-power.” And that has been so encouraging for me. God doesn’t just take what I already have and give it a boost (which is how I’d been reading “strengthen”), but he puts his own power in me (like it says in the Greek). And that’s why I can do all things – because I am in-powered, not just strengthened.

And one more before I move on (I could go on about the Greek for pages and pages, but I’ll spare you!) The name of my “mystery character” in If Tomorrow Never Comes is Aletheia. That’s the Greek word for Truth. It also shares the same root as the word for “unhidden.” So, I’ll let readers figure out how truth and unhiddenness are key to understanding the book’s final twist. Happy reading!!

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey thus far?

This is going to sound strange, but the significant thing for my publication journey was finally letting go of the desire to be published. God had to pry my fingers off that dream born when I was 13-years-old, but when He everything changed. I had bought in to mindset of “pursue our dreams, reach for the sky, dream big, nothing’s impossible if only you try hard enough.” It sounded good. But for me, that philosophy was deadly. I needed to completely surrender my dreams in order to live God’s. It was like ripping out part of my soul. But it was worth it. Now, when I write, it can be an act of worship and obedience, instead of something that’s all about me and my dreams. And I tell you, that’s made all the difference in my writing, and became a good part of the theme in If Tomorrow Never Comes.

How do you balance your writing time with other responsibilities?

Great question! With 5 little kids (ages 9, 5, twins at 3, and a new baby), plus homeschool, church ministries, and running the construction consulting firm that I own, it’s all about balance! And it isn’t easy.

I find it takes a lot wisdom on a day to day basis. And one thing that helps me is knowing that God won’t ask me to do what’s not possible to do. So, if He has called me to be a mom, wife, business owner, and writer (as He has done!), then there must be a way to do it all well. So, I find that I need both careful scheduling (of alone writing time, time working with each of my kids individually, hubby time, work time, time with God alone, etc.) and also the flexibility to listen to God’s promptings about how each day needs to go. Sometimes I’m good at listening for that balance, other times I blow it.

As for specifics, I developed a loose schedule (subject to God’s daily re-arranging!) to incorporate all the things I’m responsible for into some time during the week. Mostly I did that to assure myself that with God all the things I need to do really are possible! ☺ In that flexible schedule, I try to set aside three or more chunks of time during the week to focus on first-draft writing (not editing, emails, etc. – those things I squeeze into odd times during the day). For that type of creative writing, I have to be by myself. Lately, those times have been a couple evenings a week while hubby watches the kids, and also a chunk on Saturday morning or afternoon. In the evenings, I usually take my writing time just before the girls’ bedtime, and in between baby’s feedings, so my husband doesn’t have too much time when he’s needing to take care of everyone himself (though he’s quite able, it’s just hard with so many little ones!). Also, when I get close to deadline, I often write on Saturday mornings when my husband can watch and play with the kids. This gives him some time to play with them alone, and is fun for all of them.

One interesting thing is that I find that I’m a better mom if I have some time “off-duty,” time when I’m not responsible for changing diapers, doing laundry, answering questions, being mom-on-call. I need times away to keep me sane. To catch my breath. Other moms go shopping with friends, talk on the phone, maybe go to a movie during those times. I write. For me, it’s rejuvenating.

And how do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture?

My relationship with God forms the center of my life and my understanding of life, so my writing, as it grows out of my faith journey, also flows from that center. And the lessons I learn in my spiritual life provide the foundation for what’s at the heart of my stories.

But what’s really neat is that on the one hand, my stories flow out of my faith, but on the other hand my faith is deepened and grown through the writing the stories. By living vicariously through the lives of my characters as I write, by encountering the true God even in a made-up plot, I am touched, challenged, changed. I see God in new ways. My vision is broadened and deepened, and I discover truth with new clarity. My writing lays bare the imperfections of my soul, stirs my doubts and questions, and drives me into the throne room of God. It teaches me to not settle for the easy answers but wrestle with the tough questions of life and faith, to dig deeper with God. And that’s what I love about it.

What would you describe as your biggest obstacle in writing and how do you overcome it?

I’d say my biggest obstacle these days is finding the time and energy to focus on writing the story God has for me to write. With the kids and everything else, keeping the balance that I talked about above is tough!

And then, of course, there’s also the doubt. Every time I start a new book, I find myself muttering “What was I thinking?!!? I can’t write this book! Why did I ever think I could do this?” By the end, though, I see God working and how He’s been faithful in the writing of the story He’s given me to write. So, right now I’m in the early stages of the next book, and of course all those doubts are raging. So, I have to remind myself that this always happens. I just need to push through, do my best, and the story will come.

For both challenges, my best solution is to remember that God knows my situation and will give me what I need to do what He wants me to do. He’s not asking me to work miracles, just to be faithful – just to do my best every day to follow Him and be who He wants me to be. The rest will come.

What do you consider the highest moment of your writing/publishing career?

Ooo, that’s a tough one. I thought about getting my first piece (a little poem on the front of Sunday School take-home paper, The Standard) published, or my first book contract, or winning awards, of getting my first multi-book deal (that was fun!), but honestly what makes me most jazzed is that moment in every book when I see something, when I write something, that I didn’t plan, or expect, or realize the story had been leading up to. That’s when I feel the touch of God and sense His pleasure. It’s when I’m reminded that I’m partnering with God in the creative process. I love those moments . . . those flashes when I know that this is what God has been doing, and the story impacts my heart and life in some new and wondrous way.

Who/What is your greatest inspiration to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?

Lately, it seems that God gives me new ideas only when I really, really need them. For If Tomorrow Never Comes, my publisher was excited about my proposal (which came from a dream!) for my first book with them, called Beyond the Night. They wanted two more ideas along the same lines. Usually it takes me months to come up with an idea, and they wanted two in one week. It seemed impossible. But God came through. It was amazing. The idea for If Tomorrow Never Comes came on the first day of the week, and the idea for my next novel, Shades of Morning (releasing in 2010), came on the last day of the week.

The idea for If Tomorrow Never Comes specifically began with a single image that popped powerfully into my mind – an old man, walking along a foggy beach at dawn, bending to pick up an old locket from the sand. The rest of the story grew from there. The funny thing is, when you read the book, you’ll find that Kinna finds the locket, not an old man. But originally the image of the locket in the sand was so intriguing to me that I kept thinking about it until a story began to develop.

After that, I drew on my personal experience with infertility. I’ve spent most of my adult life – 15 years – dealing with infertility and miscarriage. I’ve had some successes along the way, and whole lot of failure, disappointment and pain.

So, as far as plot-line goes - what happens to the characters and how they’re changed and challenged through the book - that is uniquely Kinna & Jimmy’s story. But the emotions, the fears, the questions they face are things I drew from my own experience.

The longing for a baby that seems like it will never be fulfilled. I’ve been there. Month after month of trying and failing. Turning into year after year. I’ve been there. Frustration. Doubt. Wondering how God could possibly love me in the midst of this. Been there. Having to pry my white-knuckled fingers off my own hopes and dreams. Been there. Choosing to love anyway. Choosing to believe anyway. Choosing to trust God anyway. Been there.

It seems that just about every deep and meaningful thing I’ve learned about God, I can point to my journey through infertility and say, “Yeah, infertility taught me that.” So my hope is that If Tomorrow Never Comes is a deeper, more meaningful, and more vivid story because of those person lessons I’ve learned in my own life.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?

What I love about these new “love stories with a twist” I’m doing is they really are unique in that they combine the poignancy of a Nicholas Sparks type love story with the jaw dropping surprise twist of an M. Night Shymalan movie (his older movies, that is – he seems to be getting away from the super-wow twists in his latest efforts).

So what you get is a type of story that offers the reader both the emotional impact of a tender love story and also the surprising delight an unexpected, intriguing twist. I love that! And they’re so fun to write.

What else is really neat about these is that the point of the twist is more than just surprise and delight. For all these books, the twist reveals a deeper meaning in the story. It reveals the wonder of God’s secret activity in the lives of the ones He loves. So what we see is not just the love between a man and a woman, even when that love reflects God’s love, but we end up seeing the love of God Himself revealed in an amazing and breath-taking way.

And, in the end, that’s really my vision behind the “loves stories with a twist” tag -- to reveal God and His work in a way that causes readers to catch their breath in wonder.

Finish this question. My hopes for my stories…
… is to reveal God’s incredible love in the midst of trials and tragedies. I dream of opening readers’ eyes to the wonder and mystery of our vivid God. And I hope the vision of Him will take their breath away.

Any parting words?

I hope people will visit my website at and check out the audio interview, infertility resources, and other goodies there. And, I’d love for people to sign up for my e-newsletter, which I put out a few times a year (or whenever there’s exciting news like a book release!). You can sign up on the front page of my website. There’s a sign-up box there on the right hand column above the audio/video player.

I hope readers will also visit my blog at About once a week I post news and hopefully helpful info on rekindling the wonder in our walks with God.

Thanks for sharing with us, Marlo!

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