Lisa Tawn Bergren is the best-selling author of eight novels, including Firestorm , Chosen , and her newest book Midnight Sun , book three in the Northern Lights series. Lisa is also the executive fiction editor for WaterBrook Press. recently spoke with Lisa.

How did you get started writing? Directly after college I had a friend who had a friend who had written a romance for Harlequin. I had always been interested in writing a book and I thought that the formula of romance was something I could follow and could get through. The basic structure—boy meets girl, boy and girl break-up, boy and girl get back together gave me the confidence to at least try it.

I had another friend who had a friend who answered a personal ad in Rancher's Journal, went to Montana, fell madly in love, and became a rancher's wife. That became the basic plot line for Refuge, my very first book.

The same day I got a job at Questar (Multnomah) was the same day I was offered a contract on Refuge. Multnomah said to wait and let them look at it. They took a look at it and published it 6 or 9 months later. After it did really well, we decided to launch Palisades and a whole line was born. Suddenly I was a writer. God just opened doors for me.

I know that you've written romance and historical romance novels. Do you do any other types of writing? I just finished a children's book that will be coming out this fall and I've written a couple of gift books as well.

Which type of writing do you prefer? It's fun to be able to write all kinds of stuff, wherever God leads me. I seem to have lots of ideas. I love the aspect of historical writing where you really enter a different world. Even though it is our world, you enter into a different time where people dressed differently and spoke differently. I think it's just fascinating to go back and still deal with issues that are very contemporary yet are rather timeless, but still feel like you are someplace totally different.

What are some of the challenges of writing historical fiction as opposed to contemporary?  I love the research. I think it's fascinating. When I'm doing the research I often get ideas for the plot line movement. It feeds my imagination as I'm spinning the story. Probably the biggest challenge is coming up with analogies and metaphors that work in an historical context. Oftentimes you want to relate things in a contemporary way and you have to think, Okay. They didn't even know about this, or they would never have said it this way. It's not only putting it in a correct historical setting, it's telling a story using words that were only used in that time. So you're checking your dictionary all the time trying to figure when a word came into use. It's much more challenging and much more time consuming.

I switched back to contemporary for the book that I just finished called The Bridge and was amazed at how much faster it went.

Where did the idea for the Northern Lights series come from? My ancestors were from Norway and I thought it would be fascinating to do a little research about people who had come here from Norway. When I wrote Torchlight, my second book, it was set on the coast of Maine above an old shipyard and I thought it would be interesting to research more about how people started shipyards and where they came from. I started with a community in Bergen, Norway who were known for shipbuilding and have them come over to America to begin another shipyard on the northern American coast. 

Of all the characters in the books you've written, who is your favorite? That's a tough question. I think there is a little bit of me in all of them, so it's hard to peg any one. I try to make them different, although many of them are very strong women. I love to show good role models especially for the young women who read my books. To show them that you can be a feminine women and still be very strong in what you believe, how you handle yourself, and how you portray yourself and your God to the people around you. So, I think there's that commonality among them regardless of where they start out. They find that inner strength that God gives us. I like them all for different reasons. Sorry I can't peg one for you.

The Christian romance market and the Christian fiction market in general has grown tremendously in the last few years. Why do you think this is so? I think people always love a good love story and if it's well told, it's a heartwarming, reassuring thing that love still prevails. I think that is a timeless thing that will always be a part of our society, something that people always hunger for—to know and be reassured that love is there.

It's very encouraging to see our fiction market expand, offering more and more variety. I think that authors are getting better and better at their craft, too, which is encouraging. Ten or fifteen years ago we just didn't have enough competition amongst ourselves even to solicit the best of the best. It has become so much more competitive that our authors have been forced to become as good as they can at their craft. 

I've heard it said that romance novels, even Christian ones, are nothing but fluff. That they have no substance or value. How would you respond to that? I think that is a bunch of bunk! If you look at my Northern Lights series I think you are dealing with pretty serious issues. We have a woman who has been left by her husband who is a philanderer. In Midnight Sun the heroine Kaatje, is long-suffering. She has her own child, as well as the child of her husband's lover who was just dropped at her feet. So she is dealing with some pretty serious, big issues in life. In a very heartfelt, soulful way she's adopted this child and made her her own child of love and really shows her an agape love that I think I would be hard pressed to find in my own heart. So I admired Kaatje in so many ways because she is kind of who I would like to be if I were in a similar position. She is so dedicated to her vows that she actually goes off to Alaska to find the truth about her husband—whether he is dead or alive. She finds this amazing inner strength and through God gets there and gets through it. She then discovers a whole new love that is obviously so much healthier. Yes, there is some fantasy and some escapism but I think we need that break once in a while, too. Even amidst that fanciful story line there's some very deep issues that I think people grapple with and they feel those feelings with Kaatje and really think, "What would I do in that situation?" It makes them think about more serious things.

I know books like The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers or The Forgiving Hour by Robin Lee Hatcher are very powerful and can speak volumes to people as they read them. Those are both books that really came out of their own hearts and their own experiences. I think fiction writers are opening up their lives to tell stories that really come from a guttural level of experience. People get to see it through their eyes and think, Okay, that's what it would really be like to have an abortion. Rather than saying carte blanche that abortion is bad they say, "Here's what it would be like to be in that situation, and here are the ramifications for three different women." What a powerful means to experience those issues and to think through those issues through a story line. It just brings it home in a way that a theological conversation wouldn't. Those sorts of conversations can be so dry and they may make you think it through, but they don't make you feel it through.

You work as executive fiction editor for WaterBrook Press as well as write for a living and care for your family.  How are you able to balance all that you do? I've been able to work from home, which has made a big difference for me. Since January I have been using flexible hours so I try to work a lot when my kids are either asleep or at school. I have been working weekends as well. I'm trying to compartmentalize my life a little bit more so that when I'm with my family I'm fully present and when I'm doing other things, I can do that, too. So I'm restructuring as we speak.

What would you like to accomplish through your writing? First of all, I really like to tell a good story. I think that is the primary goal of a fiction writer. Something that really captivates the reader and makes them think. I think where Christian fiction has come to—which I think is very strong—is that it has to be story first. I always want the gospel to shine through but it needs to come through very naturally, wherever it makes sense for the characters. I want people to identify with my characters as real people. I want a very naturally told, captivating story. That's what I'd like to accomplish.

Can you tell us a bit about your new book? Yes, my new book is called The Bridge and it was inspired by Gary Chapman's song Sweet Jesus. The prologue is a two-page prologue and essentially it is Gary's song in narrative form. There is an old man fishing on a river in Montana. A mother and child come across the bridge, the bridge collapses, the fisherman goes in and can only save the child, he can't save the mother. He pulls the child out, gets to the shoreline and dies. The book is about that baby boy now grown. He's forty years old, a commodities broker in New York, and is successful in many worldly ways but is totally empty inside. Through a series of circumstances he ends up going back to that bridge in Montana to really contemplate what sacrifice means and what embracing the gift of sacrifice can really mean for a life. It's my favorite book yet. I'm very excited about it! It's due out in September or October of this year.

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