BIO: Chris Fabry is an award-winning author and radio personality who hosts the daily program Chris Fabry Live! on Moody Radio. He has written more than 70 books for children and adults. His novels, which include Dogwood, June Bug, Almost Heaven, and Not in the Heart, have won three Christy Awards, an ECPA Christian Book Award, and a Christianity Today Award of Merit, but it's his lyrical prose and tales of redemption that keep readers returning for more. Chris and his wife, Andrea, have nine children and live in
Welcome, Chris. How did you “discover” The Promise of Jesse Woods?
I don’t discover stories, they come to me in bits and pieces. I grew up in a small,
Dogwood and the people who populate this story are echoes of those people. Like
Matt, who moves to Dogwood from a bigger city, I felt a little like an outsider
or an observer of life as I was growing up. We have the opportunity to watch or
participate in life and Matt is forced to begin living because of his two new
friends. West Virginia
Where did you get the name, Daisy Grace?
My mother grew up near a little mining town called Putney on
’s Creek. Her sister, Grace, would
toddle into the field near their house and pick daisies and bring them to her
mother. Her mom acted surprised each time. Grace died during a diphtheria
epidemic when she was three. My mother still takes daisies and puts them on
Grace’s grave. When I heard that, I knew I wanted her to be part of this story. Campbell
What is significant about the title, The Promise of Jesse Woods?
When you hear those words, you immediately wonder, What did Jesse promise? Who is she? How does this promise shape her life? We all make promises or agreements with others, with God and with ourselves. These shape us and others in ways we often don’t realize. So the story looks at what Jesse’s promise did to her, Matt, Matt’s parents, the church and the town.
Talk about the themes you develop in the novel.
The most arresting theme is the dawning of first love and what this coming of age passage does to each character. Matt falls for an Appalachian girl and the longing this awakens in him follows him a dozen years into the future and compels him to return home. There is a strong theme of secrets kept and what those secrets do once they are uncovered. Faith—real faith and what it is—that theme runs through the novel. What if my father’s faith is not my own? How do I navigate a real relationship with God when my example is less than perfect? Coming home to a world you left behind is a strong theme—and the way music shapes a life and calls back memories.
Your main character, Matt, finds himself tied to his past. How strong a hold does our past have and how do you develop this idea?
Our adult lives are spent trying to figure out what happened to us in the rearview. Why am I the way I am? What forces shaped me for good or ill? Do I really know the truth about all that happened to me and why it happened? Matt knows, intuitively, that something in his past doesn’t add up, but he can’t figure out what that is. The book is really his search for that truth and once he finds it, it’s like a key that unlocks all the other rooms and gives him answers he never received as a boy.
As parents we sometimes see red flags in our kids’ lives. How does fear play into parenting and what are the negative effects of that kind of parenting?
Once you have tasted this fear, it’s difficult to break free. Fear will cause you to avoid real life—it will make you choose something other than life. Matt’s parents are in many ways guided by their fear and this has devastating effects on their family, though their motives are good. They want to protect Matt from mistakes. I’m hoping parents will see this as a cautionary tale—that in order to really love a child, fear cannot be your guiding force. Fear and love will shove each other off the mountain—only one can be king of the hill.
Did you like growing up in the small town where you were born?
I didn’t have a choice, nor anything to compare it with. Like Matt, my life was contained on a farm—a solitary existence with animals and fishing and hunting and farm work (though my brothers would argue that I ever did any work). The seeds of my imagination and becoming a writer began in those hills, I’m sure of it. And the people I met and all our relatives brought such a rich tapestry of character and honor and a love of stories. I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anyone else’s because it made me who I am today.
There is a huge theme of the “savior” role people play in others’ lives. Why do we do this and what happens when we do?
Everyone has someone in their life they want to “save.” There is something going on in that other person’s life that brings out this desire to rescue. The desire is not bad—but any time we fashion ourselves as saviors, we set others up to depend on us in an unhealthy way. There is only one Savior. We can be agents of change in other people’s lives, we can influence, but it’s a dangerous thing to think we can save anyone. This idea runs through Matt’s childhood and adult life and it really keeps him from fully living and embracing faith.
When Matt returns to Dogwood 12 years after the events of that first summer, what does he discover about himself and others?
The hardest thing about going home or discovering what really happened in your past is seeing the truth—and seeing how you chose not to see the truth. In other words, someone can lie to us about something—but we have to believe the lie in order for it to work against us. We get to choose whether we question or acquiesce. In that sense, we want to write our own reality. We want to live in the world we want to have rather than the one that is. Maturity or growing up is the process of living in reality rather than the world we would like to have. This is hard for Matt, his parents and everyone in the novel.
What’s the power of a promise and how does this play in the story?
Betrayal is a strong force in our lives and all of us have felt it on some level. Jesse is the strong, moral, driving force in the story and she prides herself on never breaking a promise or a vow. What will she do when two promises collide and force her to choose? There are some promises we can’t keep. How do we reconcile this? And can we be forgiven by God and others if we break a promise? Can we forgive ourselves and truly live with the specter of a broken promise?
What do you want faith-driven readers to take away from The Promise of Jesse Woods?
If a writer tells an honest story and paints characters on the canvas of a novel well, there will be lessons drawn from those characters I didn’t plan. I’m hoping I hear from readers that this story really hits some deep, subterranean part of their hearts. I have a heart for younger people who are struggling to find where they fit in the world—and in the church. I would love to have someone read this and recognize some unhealthy parenting in their life or their past and avoid it—or deal with it. I always want people to pursue a real faith of their own rather than someone else’s faith or a list of rules and regulations. In a way, I hope this story will set people free to really live.
There is a lot of humor in this novel. More than in some of your other books. Why is that?
Jesse and Dickie are two of the funniest characters I’ve ever found. They have, even as kids, a wry, jaded view of the world because life has been so hard. Jesse’s family is the poorest in town. Dickie is half Caucasian/half African-American with a father fighting an unpopular war. The humor is a “southern” thing. You laugh at something so you won’t cry. You look at life a little fatalistically—like you know something bad is around the corner, you just don’t know how fast it’s coming. So the humor springs from these situations and endears you to the characters.
You dedicate the story to Kristin Kent and Dantrell Davis. Why?
Kristin was a student at Moody Bible Institute when I first came to
. I did not know her personally. She
had a heart for the city and the people who live there. In August of 1984, walking
home from her job one night, she was attacked and murdered. She was just a
couple of blocks away from safety. I wanted to honor her life and her heart for
missions in some small way. Chicago
Dantrell Davis was walking to school with his mother in October of 1992. He was shot and killed by a gang member. He was seven. His death was a wake-up call to
and the nation,
but sadly the cycle of violence and death for children in the inner city
continues. I wonder what Kristin and Dantrell would be doing today if they
hadn’t been killed. Chicago
Matt’s father becomes the pastor of a small church. What happens there might make some believe you are jaded about the church.
The church is God’s plan to change the world and give hope to those without it. Period. Unfortunately, the church is full of sinners and hypocrites. These are the people Jesus came to save. The struggle is how to keep from getting jaded by those in the church who rankle us—people like Mr. Blackwood. He doesn’t see that he’s treating the church like a country club. The irony is, it’s easier to see the faults of others and want them to change than it is for us to see ourselves and our need to change. This idea runs through the stories I write. Though we can see someone else’s sin, it’s only our own we can truly deal with and bring to God to see real change. When we do that, it will influence others around us.
What would you like parents of teens to take away from the story?
Every problem with your son or daughter is an opportunity to go some deeper place with God. Most parents who have a problem will ask, “How do we fix this? How do we get out of this or solve this problem?” Solving problems is good—but I find that I rarely ask the deeper question when a child struggles. What is God doing in me in the midst of this situation? How is he growing me up and maturing me in this process? It doesn’t lessen the struggle of the child’s problem to think this way, but it takes the pain and uses it for good in my life if I can get to that point. In other words, a parent can try to be the savior of the child or the parent can allow the child’s struggles to point out the need for a savior in their own life.
The Promise of Jesse Woods/Written by Chris FabryISBN: 978-1-4143-8777-2/July 2016/ $14.99
Thank you, Chris, for sharing your new book with us. i'm eager to read it.
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