|The God Cookie|
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( Available to ship on or about 08/18/14. )
* Coffee shop owner John Parrish challenges God to speak to him---and receives a message in a fortune cookie: "To the corner." Once there, John finds nursing student Audra and a missive detailing someone's hopelessness. Embarking on an absurd adventure, they meet larger-than-life characters and learn a lot about themselves---but will they discover the letter writer? 320 pages, softcover from Waterbrook.
Our Interview with Geoffrey Wood
What inspired the concept for the god cookie?
"My sheep will hear my voice." Those words by Jesus are both comforting and frightening. Most of the time, people are content to hear second-or-third-hand info instead of trying to faithfully grapple what this verse might actually mean on any given ordinary day. And once you've heard from God, then things get trickier from there ---did you really hear? do you do it? what if it doesn't work out the way you imagined? The plot for this book sort of tumbled out once I pushed that first domino.
How did you choose the three settings, the bus stop, the coffee shop and a Chinese restaurant?
I've always worked in coffee shops, all my life, love coffee, love it do. People who've read the book often say, "The guys in the shop are fun, but no one really talks about those things." Well, I'm here to tell you, they do. This over-caffeinated freakish-philosophical banter is precisely the sort of thing I've heard a million times. So coffee shop was writing-what-i-knew. And there's always been a Chinese buffet within walking distance to any coffee shop I've ever worked in, that and I needed the fortune cookie. I liked the fortune cookie for the God message because it's an ordinary thing we all know about, and, come on, we've all sort of been spooked by a fortune or two if we tell the truth. Not that we generally think of them as God-sent, but you know what I mean ---maybe I will meet someone? I did just get that job offer? I was just talking about the number 32! The bus stop served perfectly as a contemporary version of the city gate in Jesus' time, a place where all sorts loiter and wait and beg and complain, where people are thrown together and have to deal with each other.
How long did the god cookie take you to complete?
Once I get an idea, I percolate it, see if it takes, then sort of brainstorm/outline the key stuff. That takes an indefinite while, until the idea starts talking back to me. Once I've scratched down enough thoughts on pads and envelopes and coasters, then I dump all that stuff in a pile next to me and begin to write. That usually goes pretty fast --one or two months of doing pretty much nothing else but sitting with my laptop at Starbucks. The editing usually takes seven or eight months, but most of that is wait time ---my editor waits on me to send her a new draft, I wait on her to send me back her thoughts-- that sort of thing.
How closely is the god cookie related to your own life?
All of it; none of it. That's the best answer, really. I write fiction, so nothing I write is autobiography, 'cause it's the character's story and responses, not mine. But, of course, I like coffee and, as I said earlier, I wrestle with what it means to hear God and follow. A good rule of thumb, I've found from talking to readers is that the reverse is most often true. Any time someone has said to me: "Oh, that part! That must have really happened to you." Those are the parts I completely pulled out of thin air. The parts that readers find the most quirky and unbelievable, those often are things that bear the closest resemblance to real events.
Are Parrish, Duncan and Mason shaped after people in your life?
Not exactly. Working in coffee shops ridiculously early in the morning, when it's only men working and we're all way tired and stupid and over-caffeinated, let's just say the words and milk-foam they are a flyin'. So that dynamic, yes, is shaped after my experience, but not the actual characters.
How did the sadness come into play? Alcoholism.
I wanted the adventure to be Parrish's, but the book belongs to Audra. In a way, absolutely everything that happens is for her benefit, even when others benefit along the way. From his point of view it's silly and uncertain, at best an adventure, at worst, an idiocy, and Parrish has to find each step as it comes. But from a different point of view, all these things are orchestrated to bring Audra to a moment of grace and redemption. That has been my experience of God, what I've seen of the shape of how redemption works. If he told me the plan, I'd get in the way and mess it up. Better to teach me to trust in the moment, in the uncertain, in the valley, and every so often he gives a glimpse of the beauty of the landscape from the hilltop. And redemption, I'm discovering, is most often a substitution, a remaking. Audra's father fails her; God remakes what "Father" means for her. That's the real plot to the book, that remaking.
How did you choose the composition of the characters?
I come from a theater background, so the first thing that happens for me is that characters start talking --to me, to each other, to other cars sitting in traffic, etc... Once the characters start talking to each other the incidentals fill in of their own accord.
Do you have a favorite character in the god cookie? Why?
I love Duncan --because, bless his heart, he's so stupid, and because, occasionally, he bumbles his way across some wise advice.
How much research did the god cookie take?
None. (Except about fortune cookies ---that they're not Chinese, but Californian.)
What was the most interesting fact that you learned while writing the god cookie?
I don't know about a "fact" that I could mention. But I always learn things when I write. Like the second fortune cookie's message: Hope is to rejoice early. Now, I troubled that little phrase to death, trying all sorts of stupid, crazy sounding junk, till I got that. And really, I was mostly going for that mystic-fortune-cookie-enigmatic feel. But I've had that phrase come back to me in some pretty dark times and it's proved useful.
What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
Getting the book out there, getting enough people to read it. That's what every author wants to figure out, I'm sure, how to create that buzz that will send people to your book. If lots of people read my books and hate them, well, then, I need to do something else. But, so far, readers seem to like what I do, there's just too few who've read it.
What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?
I would spend the majority of my day imagining anyway, even if I didn't have a deadline. It's nice when you're natural bent turns into a job opportunity.
What is your writing style? (Do you outline? Write “by-the-seat-of-your-pants?" (Or somewhere in-between?)
I percolate for a good while over an idea, to make sure it's good enough to hold the weight of a book. When I'm pretty sure about that then I storyboard everything in a fairly obsessive fashion. By obsessive I mean lots and lots of jots and scribbles and arrows and numbers that would mean nothing to the untrained eye, but mean oodles to mine. Once that's done, then writing is usually furious and fast and frustrating and delightful. During the writing, I don't really do anything else but sleep and sometimes eat (when politely reminded).
Then editing. Editing is particularly confusing to me. Imagine you've just rebuilt your car's engine and slammed the hood and you're wiping the grease off your hands and then you see that really important looking gizmo over by the garage door. That's editing for me. I have to take the whole thing apart and get huffy and maybe even think about buying a whole new car.
Do your characters begin to take on a life of their own as you write?
I generally know where things are headed, so characters don't go plumb wild on me or anything, but yes, often they'll say a thing that I hadn't expected and that cracks me up.
What other new projects do you have on the horizon?
Still searching for the right idea for book #3.
Who was the person who influenced you the most with your writing?
The honest answer would be other writers. The clarity of metaphor in C. S. Lewis; the beautiful pairing of adjective and object in Eudora Welty; the fierce truth of insight in Flannery O'Connor. Their genius sparks a longing in me, makes me want to work and shape and imagine something not altogether unworthy of them.
What message would you like your readers to take from the god cookie?
The quote at the beginning of the book is from Oswald Chambers: "Trust God and do the next thing." Terribly simple, terribly difficult. If readers felt encouraged that this was not only possible, but adventuresome and, indeed, the only way to live, I would feel the book was a success.
What is your greatest achievement?
Haven't done it yet. But I'll let you know as soon as I do.
What is your goal or mission as a writer?
Learn to write better each day. Tell stories that make readers ask the right questions.
What do you do to get away from it all?
I have pretend tea parties with my friends' three-year old.