Christian Retailing

ONLINE EXTRA: Ask the Author: Francine Rivers Print Email
Written by Leslie Santamaria   
Friday, 07 March 2014 01:58 PM America/New_York

FrancineRivers-CreditElainaBurdo-webWhy did you want to reimagine the parable of the Prodigal Son? 

The parable of the Prodigal Son plays out in lives all through Scripture, and in our lives as well. We can start with Adam and Eve who went after what Satan offered rather than heed the Lord. Abraham played the prodigal when he went to Egypt and gave up his wife to Pharaoh. When he confesses, they are sent away with gifts, one of which was a slave girl named Hagar, an Egyptian handmaiden who would change history. What about Judah who was so willing to make money off selling his brother Joseph and then running away to Canaan because he couldn’t stand seeing his father’s grief? Or Joseph who had to learn humility the hard way? We can go through the judges and kings and even the disciples who followed their own counsel or ran with fear before turning around and crying out to God. Some never did. We are all prodigals because we all sin. God’s grace is the amazing story. He pours it over us. By Jesus’ blood we are healed. That’s the heart of the story: how God is at work from the beginning and how He can use anything and everything for His good purpose for those who long for Him—even when they don’t even realize it.


What was your inspiration for Abra’s character, and how did you come up with her name?

Abra is like so many girls who feel they are outsiders. They want to belong, but feel they never quite fit in. They don’t feel pretty enough, thin enough or smart enough. Because Abra is born and abandoned under a bridge, she believes she is worthless and unloved from the beginning. She listens to her own chorus of voices rather than the truth spoken to her. When hurt, she casts blame. She struggles against rules, finding them restrictive rather than protective. She finds excuses for making wrong decisions, and then allows guilt and shame to imprison her.

I chose the name Abra because it means “mother of nations.” Which nations could she mother if left in the darkness of a self-centered life built on lies? On the other hand, what difference can one person choosing to live by faith [have]? Just as evil has a rippling effect, so does faith in Christ.


What type of character is Joshua, and is his character based on anyone specific?

Joshua started out to be like Jesus, but my wise editors felt he needed to be less perfect and more human. Jesus may pour grace on us continually, but human beings seldom do. Joshua struggles, gives in to temper, strives to be good, suffers from post-traumatic stress during and after the Korean War, and is in love with a girl who takes him for granted. He’s a nice, hard-working guy, and Abra is in love with a rich and handsome bad boy. 


What research did you conduct and how long did it take for you to complete this work?

Writing a book always begins long before the first word is typed on paper—or computer. The characters begin to tell their stories in my head. Sometimes they are like a chorus, more often like children on a playground. The actual writing took two years or more with starts and stops, and one manuscript in the trash can.

Scripture is always central to my research. Human nature is there to study, the good, the bad, the ugly laid bare. I also have a pile of books on Hollywood history, biographies of various stars, maps, pictures, timelines. Haven is a composite of small communities in Sonoma County. I mapped out my imagined town and took pictures of homes and buildings, posting all this on my bulletin board, along with pictures that fit my characters.  

Sometimes confession is a form of research. Rick and I lived in Southern California for seven years. Many of the people we met were convinced there was a right and wrong way to live. The “right way” was to make lots of money, buy a big house, hire an interior designer to decorate it, put a BMW or two in the garage and have children you shuttled off to private schools. We didn’t like the right way, but weren’t ready for the “wrong way” yet—despite the loving efforts of Christians who invited us repeatedly to church. We were already attending one, but Jesus had left the building. Nevertheless, God made sure seeds were planted. Part of my research for Bridge to Haven was remembering with honesty how hard the pull is to follow the herd, to be part of the culture, to blend in with everyone else, to belong. That pull can even be felt in a church. I also remember the heartache and emptiness we felt and saw in others who did give in to that pull. Satan roams hungry and ready to devour. And hell is an outer darkness of torment most people refuse to believe exists.


What messages do you hope readers will take away from this story?

There is no sin so heinous that God cannot redeem you. What God thinks of you is what matters, not what others think, not even what you think. We yearn for purpose and joy, and both are found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Come to the river. Cross the bridge. Find peace.