Thank you, James Pence, for joining our chat circle today. This chalk art drawing of a lion is totally beautiful.
Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise.
Gather ’round as we get to know this multi-talented author/artist/musician who claims he lives “out in the boonies.”
Sounds very interesting …
Welcome, James Pence. I know you’re a busy man, so accept my gratitude for finding the time for another item on your to-do list.
- Tell us about how you came to be a writer.
Our daughter Michelle died when she was only a week old. We learned via sonogram, about 20 weeks into my wife’s pregnancy that she would not survive long after she was born. The next several months were a deep emotional and spiritual struggle, and I told myself that someday I’d write a book about our experience. I never did write that book (although I did write an article), but the loss of our daughter set me on the path to becoming a writer.
Have you had formal writing education? Have you had mentors?
Sort of. When I decided to begin writing, I took the Writer’s Digest Writing to Sell Fiction course. I also did a lot of reading and studying on my own. When I worked on my master’s degree at Dallas Seminary, I took their journalism and creative writing courses.
I’ve had several mentors over the years. The three I remember most are Dr. Reg Grant from Dallas Seminary, Becky (Freeman) Johnson, and Cecil Murphey, co-author of 90 Minutes in Heaven. Cec is a dear friend and has been a huge influence in my life and work in recent years.
- Are you in a writing group?
Many years ago I was, but I’m not currently involved with a group. I live out in the boonies, and connecting with other writers regularly is a bit of a challenge.
James Pence, the non-fiction author:
- Give us the scoop on your first book.
My first book was How to Do Everything with HTML. I’d been trying to break in as a fiction writer with no success. It’s a long story, but I was in the process of trying to develop a class on HTML and I noticed that most books on the subject were written by technical writers who didn’t know how to communicate to “regular” people. On a whim I sent off 13 query letters to computer book publishers, pitching a book on HTML written for non-techies by a non-techie. McGraw-Hill liked the idea and the rest is history.
- Please tell us about your other books.
James Pence, the novelist and collaborator:
I’ve released three novels with Mountainview Books, all of which are enjoying their second life:
Unseen (originally published by Tyndale as Blind Sight)
Mercy Killer (originally published by Kregel as The Angel)
Friendly Revenge (originally released by Hard Shell Word Factory under the same title).
I also work as a collaborator. I ghostwrote a novella,
The Encounter, for Stephen Arterburn (Thomas Nelson).
I co-authored two memoirs: Terror by Night, with Terry Caffey (Tyndale)
More God with Nate Lyle (Westbow).
I also collaborated with pastor Bill Cornelius on the motivational book Today is the Day (Baker). I have three other collaborations, all nonfiction, in various stages of development.
What genre do you write and why?
When I’m writing fiction, I gravitate toward suspense/thriller. I write those kinds of stories because that’s what I enjoy reading. I like a novel that will keep me turning the pages until late in the evening.
Now that I mostly work as a collaborator, and so I don’t do much fiction writing. I enjoy helping people tell their stories. I strictly do nonfiction collaborations, though. I tried working with someone else on a novel and it didn’t work for me at all. When I write fiction, I just go where the story takes me, and it’s difficult to do that with another person in the mix.
How much of these stories comes from your life or someone you know? Have some ideas come from headlines or media reports? Or something else?
There’s something of me in every one of my novels, but you would have to know me well to know what those elements are. When my wife read Unseen (Blind Sight), she was shocked at how much personal information was in the book. But, again, unless you know me you won’t be able to pick out what is from my life.
Unseen was directly inspired by the Heaven’s Gate cult mass suicide back in the late 90s.
Have you received feedback that your book(s) have impacted someone?
Yes. And in an amazing way. The story is too long to tell here, but my book Terror by Night tells how a single page from my novel Blind Sight (Unseen), changed the life of Terry Caffey, a man whose family was murdered and his daughter implicated in the crime. The killers (his daughter’s boyfriend and another man) killed Terry’s wife and two sons, and shot Terry five times. Then they burned the house down. Terry escaped but was severely wounded.
He learned in the hospital that his daughter had survived, but then learned that she had been arrested as the mastermind. Terry was crushed and lost the will to live. But about six weeks later he returned to his property and found a burned piece of paper leaning up against a tree. The paper was a single page from my novel that had survived the fire and subsequent clean-up, but it wasn’t just any page. It was the page where my character came to grips with God’s goodness in the face of his loss.
The first line that Terry saw when he picked up the paper was, “I couldn’t understand why you would take my family and leave me to struggle along without them, and I guess I still don’t understand that part of it. But I do believe you’re sovereign. You’re in control.”
That page turned Terry’s life around, and now he goes into churches and schools and shares Christ with kids all over the country.
- How do you advertise your books?
Mostly through my speaking engagements. I do the usual online things: blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc., but I’m not a particularly good marketer. However, whenever I speak or do a chalk art program somewhere, I try to take books with me and make them available.
What have been your high and low points along the way?
Unquestionably, the high point has to be learning about how the burned page from Blind Sight (Unseen) put Terry Caffey on the road to recovery emotionally and spiritually. After that happened, I told my wife, “If I never write another word, I’ll still be fulfilled as a writer.”
As for the low point? I don’t know that I can identify a particular low, other than the uncomfortable realization that writing isn’t remotely glamorous as a career. It’s mostly a lot of hard work and long hours for not very much pay. I came to that realization early on, and I’m still writing, so I guess the low wasn’t too bad.
Tell us about your interests and involvements apart from writing. (You’re an artist. Cool.)
I’m a performance chalk artist and have been drawing for 38 years. I’ve drawn in venues as large as the Anaheim Convention Center and as small as a family’s living room. I also sing and play guitar and keyboard. I’m a former pastor and do prison ministry when I can. I’m an avid rock collector and just recently began tumbling rocks. I live on six acres in North Texas with my wife Laurel, two dogs, and two cats. We have two grown children, Chris (27) and Charlene (23); a wonderful daughter-in-love, Betsy; and an amazing seven-year-old granddaughter, Elly.
How amazing, James. Your involvement in the Terry Caffey story makes your journey live and breathe in ways few authors can point to. Thank you for sharing a bit of your inspiring life journey with us.
James Pence is a man worth knowing and a writer/speaker/artist of note. He can be found in cyberspace at http://jamespence.com. Check out his chalk drawings, book table, and writing/editing/speaking services. Check out James’s current project, Nate Lyle’s story.
Lord, blessed is Your name in all the earth. How marvelous–how beyond understanding–are Your ways. Give us eyes to see Your fingerprints in our lives and in the lives of others, ears to hear Your voice in storms and in quiet places, hearts that long to know and follow You, and minds that seek Your perfect and holy will. For Jesus’ sake …