Interview with Ted Dekker

Posted by Goodreads on April 4, 2011
Suspense and thriller writer Ted Dekker borrows from the darkest recesses of his imagination with his pulse-racing plots. Full of characters struggling against acts of violence, feelings of despair, and manifestations of evil, his best-known works include the fantasy series The Circle, the spiritual adventure Blink, and the best-selling novels Thr3e and BoneMan's Daughters. Dekker calls his latest book, The Priest's Graveyard, the best novel he's written yet. A Bosnian priest takes up the cause of vigilante justice, doling out brutal judgment as he sees fit, and meets a woman seeking vengeance of her own. Dekker describes to Goodreads the intensity of his writing process and what he sacrifices for his readers.

Goodreads: You're quite a prolific writer and maintain a fast-paced publishing schedule. What motivates you to keep telling stories?

Ted Dekker: I write to discover, and I write in a way that will help other people to discover with me. Primarily my motivation is, "Everything I've written up to this point is crap. Now I'm going to write the real one." I've written 25 novels, but every time I sit down to write a novel, it's with the same fear and trepidation that I felt when I wrote my first novel. It's like, "That's well and good, but that was just practice. Now I'm really going to explore an issue." I'm totally obsessed with the issue of love and human nature. Why it is that we destroy each other. Why it is that we hurt each other. That's the cloth that all great thrillers are cut from. I'm obsessed with that process myself, perhaps because I've seen so much suffering in my life. Perhaps because I've been there and I want to find my way out. That's what motivates me.

GR: You have actively fostered a community of fans, online and off. Is your writing influenced in any way by fan interaction?

Ted Dekker wants to hear from his readers! He asks, "What elements of my novels keep you coming back for more?"
TD: I'm very aware that my reader is in the process with me. What I do is tell stories to a particular audience, meaning that I'm writing for Americans who love thrillers. That's a unique group of people. It's very important that you speak in the language of your audience, so you use the kind of metaphors and imagery that connect with your audience. I'm a student of culture. I'm very in tune with my audience, and I'm very interested in their language, the way they connect with the story.

Readers are people who are creative in their own way. As a writer, we are all entertainers since we tell stories. But it's a cocreative process. It's kind of like connect the dots. You fill out some of the dots for the reader, but they make the connections. You might say, "Sarah ran across the field," but you aren't saying it like you would in a movie. For example, the grass and how her feet are falling. You might give some detail, but the reader is actually fleshing out all of the detail. They're creating the movie, so to speak, in their minds with you. It becomes a possessive, immersive experience. I think some people are avid readers because they thoroughly enjoy that creative process. (I think that's why Goodreads is a place for readers. It's very unique. Unlike even, which is a place for people who buy books. I think it's fantastic.)

GR: A Goodreads review of The Priest's Graveyard describes the book as "something you would expect from Ted, yet totally different. Different than all his other novels." How would you say that this book is different?

TD: It is quite different in that it's executed better than any of my previous novels. For me, it's a fascinating story. It takes six months to a year, when you consider the time thinking about the book, wrestling with the concepts and the plot. You live a long time with that story. It has to fascinate you as a writer. It has to be very authentic to your own journey. I really do think The Priest's Graveyard is my best novel.

GR: What inspired you to have a character who is both a priest and a vigilante?

TD: Danny was 15 years old in Bosnia during the Bosnian war, and he witnessed his mother and sisters being brutally raped and killed. This fractured his psyche, and he hunted down and killed those who killed his mother and sisters. It's a very real situation. To honor his mother who was a Catholic, he decided to become a priest. It's the story of a priest who learns a very simple truth, and that is, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." My stories are quite thematic in that respect. I want my characters to come face-to-face with their own demons and beliefs and walk away changed. A prevailing theme in my novels is always love and why it is that we as humans cannot learn to love.

GR: When constructing Danny's character, what was the significance of choosing Bosnia as his cultural background?

TD: Bosnia is fairly recent, and it was a religious war. Christians fighting against Christians, which is very unique. You had Orthodox Christians killing Catholic Christians. I've always had a real problem with religion, so almost all of my books have taken a stance against religion. I really don't want to dwell on my religious background because I think it detracts from what I write in general. I've been pigeonholed in the past as a Christian author, which is really strange because most of what I've written is against religion.

In this case, I chose a religious war because I think religion has been very destructive over time. I love exploring characters who have this strange juxtaposition of beliefs, and they have to reconcile those beliefs. So it's natural for me to have this priest formed in a hotbed of religious conflict, which is Bosnia. I could have just as easily chosen Lebanon, which is very similar in many respects. Christians killing Muslims, and Muslims killing Christians. Everyone is guilty. I don't care who you are. Out of this comes the question, "What is the right thing to do irrespective of your particular beliefs?" Danny, the main character, is obsessed with moral philosophy.

GR: The novel alternates between Danny's story and the first-person narrative of your other protagonist, Renee Gilmore. Goodreads member Evan Morgan writes, "I think it would be great to ask Ted how it was to write in the first-person female in The Priest's Graveyard."

TD: I think we all have male and femaleness, and the disparity between the two is overstated. Obviously there is a difference. A writer is first of all an observer, and I love observing women. I have three daughters and a wife. I've written many, many female characters, just not first person. First person, though, I find to be very easy. Much easier than third person. It came very naturally to me.

GR: Goodreads member TinasBookReviews writes, "Many of your novels contain pretty dark characters, including vampires and serial killers. How do you as an author not get sucked into the darker aspects of writing and avoid having it affect you on a spiritual level?"

TD: You don't. Not if you want to write an authentic story. That's why I write both fantasy and thrillers. I'll write one thriller a year, and that's all I can handle because I'm living it for such a long time. A fantasy gives me a way to escape. The Priest's Graveyard is about a vigilante who is a sympathetic character, unlike some of my other novels. In BoneMan's Daughters or The Bride Collector, you go into the point of view of a killer who is truly demented. The Priest's Graveyard is not nearly as dark as my earlier novels. I needed to take a break as a writer from getting into the mind of a total demented person.

GR: Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?

TD: There are two parts to a writer's life: the creative process and the business side. For me, it's important to handle the creative process first. I need to sit down, put my hands on the keyboard, regardless of where my mind's at, and dive into the story. I need to begin to write and be swept into that world first. So I write in the morning until I reach a certain word count, usually 2,000 words. It's very important for me to have that kind of structure. Then, having done that, I can attend to all of the other distractions that come into a writer's life.

I write on a Mac. I drink coffee in the morning and listen to music all day long. Fairly loud. Music shuts out the rest of the world for me. The same albums, over and over and over again. I listen to atmospheric music. I was listening to the Tron soundtrack just now. It's ambient noise, but it's almost emotional ambient noise for me. It stirs me and shuts out the rest of the world.

Another thing I do that is kind of unique is to go away for two or three weeks each novel, to a resort or a hotel totally by myself. I take my computer with me. I have to have room service, and I just lock myself in my hotel room for seven days straight without stepping foot outside of that room. During those times, I'll write 4,000 or 5,000 words a day. All I do is write.

GR: Do you tend to take that week at the beginning of a new book or at the end?

TD: I take it after I've established some type of momentum. The first couple months of a book are really in search of the story. The most difficult time of writing is beginning and ending a story. I've never had a problem in the middle. My readers demand a lot from me, and I demand a lot of myself. They do not want to be bored. They want a certain level of intensity, and they want to be surprised. When you have readers who have read 20 of your books, and when you've written 20 books, you have to continue to surprise yourself. You have to hunt deeper and deeper into that jungle to find the bigger beast. It's new prey. It's something different you're hunting each time.

A writer's life is very isolated. You can become very lonely. You have to be comfortable with being lonely. There are times when you stand up in the middle of the day, there's no one around, you've been at it for days, and you're all alone. Suddenly you're just crushed. Going back ten years I've been like this. You get to the point of complete destitution and isolation. You just hate it for a few minutes. The thing is, writing is about putting your heart on the page. They don't want a story, they want heart. They don't want ink, they want blood. They want real stuff. At least my readers do. That requires a tremendous sacrifice on the part of the writer. They have to believe. There's no other way to put it. If I write a novel called Melt Down, I have to melt down. Otherwise I would be doing my readers a great injustice. Then I would just be some lecturer or person from a podium talking about a subject that I'm not experienced in myself. Stories are so powerful because they actually suck the reader into reality. Fiction is more real than nonfiction in many respects. A story is the greatest teller of truth, especially if the author is writing that story having lived it. Those readers who connect with it go, "Wow." That's what you want. There is nothing greater than a "wow." I've felt that.

GR: What authors, books, or ideas have influenced you?

TD: The first book that had a huge impact on me was The Stand by Stephen King when I was 15 years old. I was totally sucked into that story, and I thought, "Wow." I remember specifically that I was in the jungle at the time [Dekker grew up in Indonesia] under a tin roof, and the rain was just hammering down on that roof, and I was completely lost in the story. I was like, "Man! What an incredible experience to be swept away into this world." If I can ever do that someday for someone else, what a beautiful thing that would be.

Dean Koontz is probably the one author I've read the most of. With him, it's hit or miss. It depends on the book and how I'm really sucked into it. Writers go through journeys. Not all of their books are the same. I would say that Dean Koontz and Stephen King are the two authors who have impacted me the most as storytellers. Louis L'Amour, too. When I was a kid I used to escape into his westerns all the time.

GR: What are you reading now?

TD: I'm reading a ton of books on prison and incarceration for the book I'm writing now. It's an escape story. It's about the prison system in the United States. Talk about a subculture. In the United States, 1 out of 100 men are in jail right now. Our incarceration rate is five times higher than anywhere else in the world. Six times higher than Canada. We love locking people away. The recidivism rate (people returning to prison) is 70 percent in this country. Our whole prison system is deeply flawed.

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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message 1: by Ally (new)

Ally This is the first time I've ever read one of the author interviews! My favorite books by Ted Dekker are the original Circle Trilogy. I'm more into high fantasy than I am into thrillers so I wasn't sure I wanted to read his new book, but I'm thinking maybe I'll give it a try now.

message 2: by Steve (new)

Steve Emmett I shall have to look up this novel.

message 3: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Ted's books are so impacting that his work is the only Fiction that both my husband and I enjoy reading. We talk about the issues he brings out in his books. It's nice having this bounding together in a marriage. We are eager to read The Priest's Graveyard.

message 4: by Beth (new)

Beth Great interview! I've only read one book by Mr. Dekker (Thr3e), but it certainly will NOT be my last. I have most of his books on my TBR list, and it's the first author I check for when I go to the paperback store around the corner from me. Thr3e is one of my favorite books I've read so far this year! Awesome storyteller!

message 5: by Kim (new)

Kim McGee I was lucky enough to snag an advance read of this book and have to say I agree with an earlier comment- it is like his other thrillers but also very different. Great departure and we want more!

message 6: by Cece (new)

Cece (ProblemsOfaBookNerd) I first read Dekker when Black (Book 1 in the Circle Books) was suggested to me and I got hooked! I just finished Red last week and I read Thr3e in one day. Dekker is an amazing story teller and I am so excited to read this new book!
Anyone have any favorite Dekker novels? I'm looking for new ones to get my hands on.

message 7: by Sheldon (new)

Sheldon Lehman I have read every word of every book Ted has written. His way with words reaches into your very soul and makes you question.

message 8: by Steve (new)

Steve I read the Red-White-Black trilogy years ago and they were very absorbing; his books do make you think closely about relationships and the contrasts between evil and ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

message 9: by RocGoddess (new)

RocGoddess i love all his books its good that people are beginning to acknowledge christian writing.

message 10: by Shinetaha (new)

Shinetaha i love this book, it is crazy!!!!

message 11: by Terry (new)

Terry Parrish Sounds goo to me. I'd like to read it.

message 12: by Mark Brandwein (new)

Mark Brandwein I was first introduced to Ted Dekker books, back in 2008. As a Christian man I read at least 1-3 books a month from Ted' s Collection. When you dig deep enough into his books, you will find messages in each of them. He is one of my favorite authors of all time! Whats next Mr. Dekker?

message 13: by Lyvita (new)

Lyvita I have read several of Ted Dekker’s book and have always thought of his stories as thrilling, page turners, at least the ones I’ve read. He is worth following as an author. WOW!

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