17 April 2014

Interview with James Pence

Interview with James Pence

God was calling you to ministry at 14 years of age. How did you know it was Him?

I always get double-takes when I tell this story, but God called me into ministry before I was saved. It’s a long story, but here’s the condensed version: I grew up in church and always believed in God, but I’d never cracked open a Bible. In fact, at 13 I was much more interested in the occult than I was church. One of my favorite books was The Black Arts by Richard Cavendish. Believe it or not, I also served as an altar boy at the time.

One day just before the service started, my pastor dropped a bomb on me by asking if I’d ever considered going into ministry. I told him that I wasn’t really interested in being a minister. I thought it would end there, but it didn’t.

God had planted a seed in me, and over the next six months or so, I couldn’t get the idea of ministry out of my head. It seemed like everything that happened to me was something else that pointed toward the fact that I should go into ministry. And so one night I clearly remember laying on my bed and praying and saying, "God, I don't know why you want me, but if you want me to be a minister that's what I'll do."

After that time I took an interest in reading the Bible and learning about the things of the Lord. I even turned on the television one day and decided to listen to a preacher named Billy Graham. And you can imagine what happened after that. It wasn't long before I placed my faith in Jesus Christ. So God actually used that call to ministry to bring me to Himself. And that's why I can look back now and have no doubts about God's call on my life, because I knew before I was even saved that he wanted me to serve him.

Knowing at a young age is one thing, but following through as you grow into adulthood is another. Did you purposefully take any steps to help you fulfill the call on your life?

I got involved in quite a few home Bible studies and found a Bible-believing church. However, I also had plans for the future. I knew of only one Christian college--Letourneau college in Longview Texas. One of my cousins went there a number of years before that. And so I planned to go to Letourneau and major in Bible. From there I went on to Dallas Bible College and later from there to Dallas seminary.

It’s inspiring to see how many ways God’s using your talents! One of those talents is chalk talk. Could you share with us how you got involved and developed your skill in this type of art?

I've always been interested in art, painting, and drawing. Even when I was growing up I loved to paint and sketch. When I was in Bible College I saw some chalk artists and, like many people, was fascinated by what they did. But I didn't become interested in being a chalk artist until I was in ministry down in south Louisiana. I was a youth pastor at Lake Charles Bible Church and was working at a summer camp. That summer, the speaker was a chalk artist. When I watched him draw, something just clicked right there. I asked him to give me a few pointers one afternoon, and after that I went back to Lake Charles, built a monstrosity of an easel, and began to draw.

My development as a chalk artist took off when I went to classes taught by one of the greatest chalk artists who has ever lived, Rev. Ding Teuling. I studied under Ding for eight years running, and that's where I learned how to develop my skill and improve the quality of my artwork.

You’ve said in an interview: “One of the great things about chalk art is that even if the people who see the drawing don’t remember everything I say, they will remember the picture and the Scripture that the picture represented.” Do you feel the same way about your fiction writing? Why or why not?

I never really thought about that, but I'd have to say that I do feel the same way about my fiction. There are many details woven into a story that most readers are not going to remember. But if they can remember the main idea, the main theme, and perhaps the Scripture associated with it then I think it can have a lasting impact on their lives. If the story is powerful enough, people will remember.

Speaking of fiction, share with us how you developed the story of Unseen. How much did you know ahead of time about the plot and characters?

Actually I knew very little about the plot and not much more about the characters. Before I started writing I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted my cult to look like and who my main character was going to be, but I didn't spend a lot of time writing detailed character profiles. As for plot, I remember writing a one-page, single-spaced synopsis of where I wanted the story to go. It was very sketchy and just covered the main points of the plot.

Many of the plot twists in Unseen came as complete surprises to me, and that's when writing is fun. Stephen King, I believe, has said that he often feels like the first reader of his novels rather than the writer. I can understand that. When I wrote Unseen, it was almost as if I was just watching the characters go through the story rather than write the story. It was a blast!

The novel deals with many serious topics, including cults. Does this come from personal experience or research?

A little of both. As I mentioned earlier, before I trusted Christ as my savior I had a very deep interest in the things of the occult. I read many books on ghost hunting, ESP, demonology, and just about anything else I could get my hands on. I had a very deep desire to become involved in these things, but God in his grace and providence prevented that from happening. However, there was that background of interest in dark things.

After I became a believer, I struggled for a while because I really didn't have a source of good teaching. But one day I came across a Christian bookstore and discovered cassette teaching tapes. One of my favorites back then was Dr. Walter Martin and his Kingdom of the Cults series. So, early in my Christian life I knew more about cults and their false teachings then just about anything else.

Finally, in my life I’ve seen three major cult events--Jonestown, David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and the Heaven's Gate cult in San Diego. When I wrote Unseen I wanted to portray cults like this and how they manipulate the minds of their victims.

You also teach karate to a group of homeschoolers. How did you come to learn karate yourself?

I started learning karate back in 1997 with my eight-year-old son. We took karate together as a father-son activity, and at 42 years old I was in serious need of some exercise. However, I had no idea that I would eventually end up as an instructor. Better than that, I own the school now.

Is there anything about karate you’ve learned, perhaps a principle that you’ve been able to implement in your writing?

Well for starters, karate has had a practical impact on my life. Writing is a very sedentary way to earn a living and it's easy to get out of shape. Teaching karate at least forces me to work out and not become a couch potato. Actually, I do a lot of my writing in a recliner, so maybe it would be recliner potato.

I think one principle from karate that does come through is that of persistence. It takes a long time and a lot of hard work to earn a black belt. You have to be committed over a long period of time if you want to reach your goal. Likewise, writing a novel or a nonfiction book takes that same kind of persistence and commitment over time. You've got to be in it for the long haul if you want to reach your goal.

Several of your books have in some way tackled the question where is God in tragedy? That’s a theme that’s hit close to you and your family too. Can you share about the tragedy that struck your family many years ago and what would you say to someone who’s facing a similar tragedy and is tempted to leave their faith behind?

I suppose if there is an overriding theme to my writing, it is that we can trust God in all circumstances—even tragedy. That theme is present in Unseen, as well as my other books. And it all grows out of my wife's and my own personal experience with our daughter.

We lost our first child when she was a week old. It wasn’t a surprise; we learned twenty weeks into the pregnancy that she had severe birth defects and wouldn't survive long. I struggled with that for quite a while, wondering how or why God would allow something like that to happen. It's a very long story, but over the years I have seen how God worked in our lives through the loss of our little daughter and how he has used that event to impact others. God does not explain himself to us; he asks us to trust him. I think one of the goals of the Christian life is to learn to trust God in that way.

There are a lot of little "insider" elements in Unseen that you wouldn't pick up unless you knew me and knew me well. One of those is that one of the characters in Unseen, Michelle, is named after our daughter.

What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?

I love astronomy. I’m on the board of commissioners for the Greenville (TX) Housing Authority.

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

Reading novels, chilling with my wife, and going to movies with my daughter and her boyfriend. Also playing piano and doing watercolor paintings.

What did you eat for breakfast this morning?

Cereal and milk, with uncooked oatmeal sprinkled in. Yum.

Three things always found in your refrigerator:

Diet Soda, tortillas, and cheese.

You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?

Whatever the coffee of the day is – strong, black, and undoctored.

What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?

Taking a cruise to Alaska and seeing the Northern Lights.

Three words that best describe you:

Blessed beyond measure.


by James Pence

Where is Justine Bishop? And why did she abandon her children?
Thomas Kent is determined to find out. Asked to pick up a "package" at the airport by an old friend he barely remembers, Thomas is shocked when he finds two desperate children looking to him for help. As he’s reluctantly drawn into the murderous plot of a ruthless cult, Thomas is forced to come face-to-face with his own torturous guilt over the tragic loss of his family and faith. Why does the cult so desperately want the kids? Their mother, Justine Bishop, holds the key. He just has to find her . . . or die trying.

Author Bio

James PenceJames Pence is a multi-talented author, published in both fiction and nonfiction. James broke into book publishing in 2001 when Osborne/McGraw-Hill published How to Do Everything with HTML, a book about Web authoring. He is also the co-author of Terror by Night, the stunning true story of Terry Caffey, a modern-day Job who lost his wife and children to murder and then forgave the killers. When he's not writing, James is a performance chalk artist, singer, and speaker. In his spare time he teaches karate, writing, and art to home-schooled children. James has been called a “Renaissance man,” but he prefers to be known simply as a follower of Jesus Christ and a storyteller. James and his wife, Laurel, live near Dallas, Texas. They have been married for 33 years and have two grown children and one granddaughter.

Author Website: http://www.jamespence.com 
(Photo credit: Alan Lindholm)

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