T. Davis Bunn is the author of fourteen best-selling books including The Book of Hours, The Presence, and The Meeting Place (co-authored with Janette Oke). His new book, The Great Divide is a legal thriller that tackles the issue of slave-like labor practices in China. Christianbook.com recently spoke with him about himself and his new book.

How did you go from teaching international finance and directing an international business advisory group to writing novels?

I had one of those "lightening bolt" experiences. Sometimes when I talk about it, I find it difficult to believe that it actually happened. I became a Christian about two weeks before I started writing. There was that moment of walking into faith and then two weeks later as I was waiting for a conference to begin I had an experience with God. Sometimes when you have these very powerful experiences, it's only later that you really understand them. That certainly was the case here. I can look back at it and without reading too much into it, I believe there was a sense of not so much finding what I've always wanted to do, but rather finally being willing to listen to God's plan. That was a really amazing experience.

Do you miss the whole international financial scene?

It's strange. It was so much my life, basically I lived and breathed it, but I haven't missed it ever.

How does your international background help you in crafting your novels?

I try to be very authentic in the work that I do. I come from a very small town in North Carolina and there is certainly a lot of that small town sentiment in some of my stories, but there's also a desire to move out to greater boundaries. And to apply the issue of Christian morality and Christian principles to bigger issues. Not necessarily more important issues, but bigger in the sense of applying to more people. The Great Divide is a result of not only my international background but also my wife's.

What inspired you to use the harsh labor conditions in Asia as the backdrop for The Great Divide?

My wife is an international lawyer who went back to school when we were able to live on the proceeds from my writing.  She's been studying theology and wants to teach legal and business ethics. For her thesis she looked at the issues of human rights and labor conditions in certain countries. It was a very difficult and traumatic period for both of us because some of the things she found were quite harrowing. But it was one of these moments when we both knew that there had to be something said about this, something more than just her thesis. So the issue of the lao gai prisons, the conditions, that political and religious prisoners are held in China without trial and used in many cases in unpaid labor positions, was just something that I had to use.

It is certainly something that needs to be addressed. I remember several years ago when this issue came to light because of Kathy Lee Gifford.

I think there a lot of factories out there—a lot of American companies—that don't realize what's happening. In many cases, if they are working with one of these larger groups, they will be shown one factory but then a great deal of the work is actually taking place elsewhere. Of course there are some that just don't care. The only thing they are worried about is the bottom line. I think with Kathy Lee Gifford selling her name like that it is one of those very difficult things to work through. Just how far do you dig before you agree to something? I think it was very big of her to come out, really against the wishes of the company that she had contracted with. I think she was very brave to do this.

Legal thrillers are quite popular these days. What do you believe has contributed to the growth of the legal thriller genre?

A court of law is very much like a very controlled theater. It has it's own rules, it is as stylized as a chess match, but it is a perfect avenue for a thriller. There is so much emotion and so much tension in there that it's a perfect venue. I've wanted to do a legal thriller for years.

You've written a wide range of books, including romantic fiction, historical adventure, contemporary thrillers, gift novellas, science fiction, and even children's books. Which type of story do you prefer writing?

Contemporary drama and historical drama are the two I think that hold me the most. They're the ones that I keep coming back to over and over again.

You've also co-written some books with Janette Oke. Do you like working in partnership with another author?

Very much. It's one of those amazing miracles when you are able to have two people who are involved in a solitary profession like writing come together. Now that I have done six co-authored books I feel that anyone can do a book with someone else, but to have a long-term relationship that works between two people who are truly devoted to a solitary profession like writing, it's an ongoing miracle. We have found ourselves on many occasions witnessing together this gentle, invisible hand on the work in just remarkable ways.

What do you think sets Christian fiction apart from other fiction? 

There are positive and negative attributes. In the best of times Christian fiction is entertainment that offers something more. In other words, with The Great Divide my first and foremost desire is to offer an edge-of-your-seat style of entertainment. People pick up fiction because they want to lose themselves in the characters and the story. This is absolutely what I want to do, but at the same time what I'm hoping is to offer something more, something that they can take away with them, even if it's just a fragment of a thought. But to be honest, I also feel like there is a sentiment, not just a conscious thought, but a feeling that they have been rewarded in some way. Not just entertained, but there is a feeling of walking out lighter.

On the bad side, Christian fiction can become overly preachy. The story becomes lost in a multitude of spiritual messages, which unfortunately doesn't do the job of entertaining.

A good novel personalizes an issue. Almost all good fiction will have a message. One of the critical parts of any good film or book is that it does have a message. Even if it is an action genre, it can be a bitter, cynical attitude towards life—that's their message. Humphrey Bogart was an excellent actor at putting across this kind of hopeless cynicism and holding the heart within this iron cage. You don't have to state the message to have a powerful impact. What you do have to do though, is to limit the story to a single message and then the characters inside the book are able to examine the message from a multitude of different perspectives and give it the heart of people who are living it. That's what makes a good story—to have a single issue rather than a multitude and you don't preach but rather you show.

Have you heard from readers about how your stories have impacted their lives?

All the time, that's one of the great things. Because we live so far away, the letters we get from readers are a real source of inspiration and encouragement. They do come back with some amazing tales.

My wife and I have become involved with a church in the United States. We've been going to the same little village in Florida now for a month every year for the past eight or nine years, and the head of the Sunday school there has a sister who is not saved. She has been going through a very debilitating illness called Lupus. She's really had trouble. She's been extremely energetic, powerful, very self-contained all of her life and this has really been tough on her. Tom sent her three of my books. He's liked my work and thought that these might be something that would not be too overbearing. He sent The Great Divide and two other books. She called him the day I started off on this book tour and said that they had saved her. They had helped her find a sense of hope in an impossible situation. This is the first book tour I've ever done and I've been very worried about it. It was such a gift to me that this woman in an impossible situation who I don't know, has sort of reminded me of what the central purpose here is. It was such a gift.

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