Murray Pura earned his Master of Divinity degree from Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia and his ThM degree in theology and interdisciplinary studies from Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. For more than twenty-five years, in addition to his writing, he has pastored churches in Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Alberta. Murray’s writings have been shortlisted for the Dartmouth Book Award, the John Spencer Hill Literary Award, the Paraclete Fiction Award, and Toronto's Kobzar Literary Award. Murray pastors and writes in southern Alberta near the Rocky Mountains. He and his wife Linda have a son and a daughter.
Favorite Verse: Psalm 27:1a – “Light, space, zest – that’s God!”
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’ve been writing seriously since I was 8 or 9 – by seriously, I mean I really wanted to write stories people would read and therefore wrote for my first real audience – mom. I came to the point of committing my life to Christ when I was 13 so then the two passions met and mingled. Now he is Lord of my imagination and my fiction. It is a good relationship because he is like sunrise over the Grand Canyon – spectacular, colorful, and intimate. Along with him and writing, I enjoy long conversations deep into the night, the sea, the mountains, wilderness forests, people and animals and children, all sorts of art forms, all kinds of Christian worship from evangelical to Orthodox, a noisy, happy gathering, and solitude.
What is your favorite Bible verse? Why? (Translation too, please.)
Do people have only one? If you will hold me to it, currently I favor Eugene Peterson’s translation of Psalm 27:1a – “Light, space, zest – that’s God!” Freedom to live a whole and expansive life is so important to me. I hate feeling trapped or bound by things that have nothing to do with God’s love and greatness. So picturing God in this way – life, space, zest – that he is the very source and embodiment of such things – this is very liberating and nurturing for me.
How did you come up with the concept for The Wings of Morning?
I love the old biplanes. How I would love to get into a SPAD or Sopwith Camel and just fly in an open cockpit with the wind streaming over my face. So I decided to write a story about a young man who wanted to fly as much as I do. I made him Amish because an important ingredient of dramatic tension would be there from the start – will his church let him fly? And I placed it in 1917 when planes were just coming into their own, and the Amish were already grappling with new technologies such as telephones, motorcars, and electricity.
Do you have a favorite character The Wings of Morning? Why?
Well, I think you have to set aside the hero and heroine to get an answer that’s a little different than the norm because most authors love their protagonists or they might as well pack up their laptops and go home – the story won’t catch fire with anyone if the most important people in the book can’t even get the author excited. So aside from Jude and Lyyndaya, whom I adore, you are going to make me choose between members of Jude’s squadron, his commanding officer, Lyyndaya’s father who undergoes a significant transformation . . . it goes on and on. But I will say Bishop Zook matters a lot to me. I feel very warmly disposed to this good man. So much rides on his shoulders: he is an Amish leader at a time of huge upheaval in technology and a huge crisis in American history – should America participate in a world war? He’s a man who must be wary that the new technologies do not destroy Christian community and also that war does not destroy the traditional Amish stance of never bearing arms against their fellow man. Meanwhile, all around him, America is bursting with a desire not only for the technologies but, once war is declared by the President and Congress, a patriotic desire to defeat the Germans. He makes a way for his people with equal measures of love, humor, and grace that I find very becoming. I don’t think the story would be as meaningful without his Christ-like presence.
How much research did The Wings of Morning take?
It was important at the outset to know how the World War I pilots felt so I read a number of biographies and autobiographies from both sides. Eddie Rickenbacker’s memoir, Fighting the Flying Circus, was particularly helpful in this regard, and I managed to get my hands on a 1919 first edition of the book. This gave me not only the early flying experience, but also the language used at the time – airplanes were aeroplanes, if something was going well things were "in the pink." The second major area of research was the persecution of pacifist groups like the Amish, Quakers, Hutterites, and Mennonites, who refused to join the war effort. The third area centered on the lethal impact of the Spanish flu epidemic on America in 1918 and 1919.
What are the most interesting facts that you learned while researching and writing The Wings of Morning?
I think I was surprised by the extent of the persecution against the Christian groups, especially those who spoke German – long time neighbors vandalized Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite property, churches were burned to the ground, men were beaten. Some Amish were actually forced into uniform and made to undergo military training in the belief it would turn them from their pacifist ways. Many of the young men of these religious groups were sent to army camps and even to Leavenworth and treated harshly – several died. Yet they did not retaliate and continued to follow Christ in the manner they thought best – peace and forgiveness.
How are you involved with the Amish community?
I grew up in southern Manitoba, just north of the Dakotas and Minnesota, and in this region there has been a lot of Mennonite settlement. Many of the Mennonite groups have a great deal in common with the Amish – pacifism, for instance, and Low German or Pennsylvania Dutch as one of their languages. Some even have the same tendency to avoid modern technology, though not all go that far, by any means. The Mennonites were my first introduction to the Anabaptist strand in the Christian Church, and from them I have branched off to get to know the Hutterites and the Amish. Presently, the Amish colonies in Canada are concentrated deep in southern Ontario, in the Great Lakes region, scant miles from the great Amish settlements of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. A good friend pastors a Mennonite church in this area.
What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
Loneliness. And disciplining yourself to get books completed – both of these have to work hand in hand. You can’t write if you’re not alone a good deal of the time or if you don’t sit down and produce a couple of thousand words a day. You need to carve out the time in your hours and weeks and devote that time to writing. No one will do it for you and there are many things that will steal that time away and disrupt your focus. You have to get almost ruthless about it. I don’t mean there can be no time for family or friends or a night at the movies. But you have to train those around you to understand writing is not only an art, it is a job, just like being a doctor or teacher or carpenter is a job – there are set hours, there are contracts, research is involved, and over a period of months a book needs to be produced and submitted to a publisher, just like doctors need to make diagnoses, teachers have to complete the courses they teach, and carpenters need to finish houses. If writers don’t get this into their heads and the heads of those closest to them, they won’t succeed. And, while they may have all kinds of support, they still have to do the job alone. It remains my biggest challenge too.
What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?
I love coming up with the story idea, creating the characters and storyline, all the research and prep work, and I love the writing too. I always look forward to squirreling away and getting into an imaginary world, to putting it on paper in such a way it springs to life for others.
What clubs or organizations are you involved with helping with your writing?
There are groups in Canada and the USA I have connections with and I am just starting to get involved with Christian writing conferences. However, I like to spend time with artists who honor God with their paintings, and acting, and poetry, and music as well. I find the approach to telling a story or a truth by other art forms very inspiring and stimulating.
What new projects are on the horizon?
There is a book that takes place during the Civil War that I will be getting ready for publication in January. I’ll be working with an editor to make sure everything is ready for its release in the fall of 2012. Right after that, I intend to begin a story focused on Pearl Harbor, a romance that takes a very different approach from all the great stories that have come out of that fateful day. I also hope to do something on the American Revolution. Beyond that I have plans for a possible historical series set in the era of sail, one bursting with romance and adventure and faith. There’s no reason to think there might not be an Amish twist to all of these.
What message would you like your readers to take from reading The Wings of Morning?
That America is one great family under God and that God didn’t put Americans on earth to fight one another, but to fight for one another – and others. I don’t necessarily mean this in a military way, but in a way that embraces prayer, love, and forgiveness too. The Amish may not fly the flag or enlist in the US Army, but they love their country and the freedoms it has given them. I want people to come away realizing that groups like the Amish are as American and as Christian as Methodists and Baptists and Pentecostals. They are a gift to the American way of life and faith even if other Americans don’t agree with all the stances the Amish take.
What was your favorite book as a child?
I’m going to distinguish between books read as a child under ten rather than try to sort through all the books I read after that age and before I was fourteen. The Dutch boy who put his finger in the dike always moved me. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow always gave me the goose bumps. I loved – and still love – Longfellow’s Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. And, of course, there was Treasure Island and King Arthur and Ben Hur. But one story still haunts me and I cannot name it. It was the last story in our reader in Grade Two or Three or Four. I always flipped ahead and read it again and again because I knew in June they would take the reader away forever and I would lose the story. A glorious and powerful black stallion takes a boy to Dreamland. They ride through the night sky and among the stars. Along the way they meet a dog and a cat who can talk and who jump up on the horse’s back to travel to Dreamland with them. They go past comets and moons and, at last, a little girl joins them too. The story and the color pictures absolutely enthralled me. I felt I was caught up in something profound and beautiful and deeply true.
What is your greatest achievement?
Every time I am published and hold the printed book in my hand with its glossy cover I am astonished. As a boy I wrote my own books, made my own front cover and back cover, stapled it all together, and sold the copies to my mother for a quarter. Now to see the real thing take place is truly overwhelming. This whole process of writing and publishing never loses its wonder for me no matter how many times it happens. How often do you get to hold a childhood dream in your hands?
What do you do to get away from it all?
I read other people’s books, fiction and nonfiction. I travel. I love nights and days with family and friends. I love worship in a Christian community. At various times and in various places, we have lived near vast forests and lakes and mountain ranges, and we have lived by the great seas, and I go to them with my dogs to think, and dream dreams, and listen to God. It’s very restorative. Don’t think of me as too monastic or seclusive though. I like to be with people and laugh and have long, long conversations too.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
There are three quotes I like to bring to mind when I am writing:
"If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." – Toni Morrison
"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." – Anton Chekhov
"The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter - it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." – Mark Twain, letter to George Bainton, 1888
I also like to bear in mind that the Bible really is the greatest book ever written and Christ’s life really is the greatest story ever told. Therefore I can draw on God in my holy task of putting pen to paper, and fingers to keyboard, and ask him to help me produce stories that are at least half as good as his, in honor of a Son at least twice as gracious to me in all my writing endeavors as anyone else on earth.