Being married these days is no easy task. With so many demands on our time from work, the kids, and our extended families, it’s a challenge to keep up with our busy schedules. Imagine what it must be like for someone married to a minister of a megachurch. The thought of having to compete with God and the church’s parishioners on a daily basis for some quality time with your spouse would definitely be an added strain to a marriage.
This month’s Jen’s Jewels Lisa Takeuchi Cullen addresses this very topic in her debut novel, Pastors’ Wives. It’s the story of three ministers’ wives who question their own faith, love, and sense of duty to their marriage and the church as they try to support their husbands’ life missions. With a behind-the-scenes look at a fictional megachurch and the role it plays in the community, this riveting depiction is a must-read for those who have ever questioned their own faith.
As part of this interview, Plume, a division of the Penguin Group, has generously donated five copies for you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end of the column. Good luck! Be sure to keep up-to-date on all the latest news in the publishing business by stopping by www.jennifervido.com or follow me on Facebook jennifervido.com or Twitter @JenniferVido. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your reading adventure.
Jen: Despite being a debut novelist, you are no stranger to the publishing business. So that my readers may catch a glimpse into the life of the woman behind the words, please briefly share with us your educational and professional background.
Lisa: Oh, my. "The woman behind the words" sounds so mysterious! …which is not how anyone I know would describe me. I’m a New Jersey mom with two extremely chatty little girls—I don’t know where they get it—and a husband who hides in the basement and plays the clarinet. New Jersey is my adoptive home state; I was born and raised in Japan, and I first came to America to attend college (I got my bachelor’s at Rutgers and my master’s at Columbia, both in journalism, which, I’ll tell you right now, is not a field that requires advanced degrees). I worked for nearly two decades as a journalist, mostly in magazines. My last job as a journalist was as a staff writer for Time magazine. I quit in 2009. Now I make stuff up.
Jen: Please describe for us your "Aha!" moment when you decided to write a fictional book and add the title novelist to your impressive list of accomplishments.
Lisa: You wouldn’t think I was impressive if you saw me right now, in my pink bunny slippers and my hair still unbrushed! My "aha" moment—if you can call it that—happened during my drive to work, when I idly realized an article I had just written about Pastors’ Wives for Time would make an awesome TV series. Not that I had any idea how to go about that. Somehow I soon found myself with a TV agent and a producer. Many complications ensued. Suffice it to say it all ended in disaster. My wonderful book agent urged me to write the story anyway, this time as a novel. I did. We sold Pastors’ Wives to Plume/Penguin in February 2012.
Jen: In terms of nuts and bolts, approximately how long did it take for you to complete the manuscript? And, what was the most challenging part of writing a novel in comparison to your previous experience as a consummate journalist?
Lisa: The article I wrote for Time published in 2007. And I just happened to find the file marked Pastors’ Wives DRAFT 1, and it was dated September 2009. But I know I didn’t really get cranking on it till 2011. The most challenging part was the plotting. I live and die by outlines, and this was my first attempt at a novel. I needed a very clear, very detailed road map. And then, of course, there’s the sitting-down-to-write part. As a mom, I could really only count on writing during school hours. Which meant I found myself doing everything but until after lunch, and then writing like mad until I had to leave for pickup.
Jen: Pastors’ Wives is a truly engrossing story depicting the behind-the-scenes drama of a fictional megachurch. How did you arrive at the premise?
Lisa: Thank you so much! The idea came out of a feature article I wrote for Time magazine. The Pastors’ Wives I’d met and interviewed for the article were such fascinating, complex women that I couldn’t get them out of my mind. My interest in the subject intersected with some personal events: my mother died of cancer, then my father of a broken heart. I suffered a crisis of faith. As writers, we have the great privilege of writing through our issues, so that’s what I did. My three main characters—Ruthie, Candace and Ginger—all helped guide me through my own crisis.
Jen: One might say that your fictional Greenleaf Church mirrors some highly popular megachurches in existence today. As for research, did you meet any resistance from these entities? And, what was the most fascinating tidbit you discovered along the way?
Lisa: I think a lot of us who don’t belong to the world of megachurches are fascinated by the superficial things: the razzle-dazzle, the telethons, the sheer wealth. But I think the enormous popularity of these institutions speaks to what we as a society seek. The writer Susan Cain has some very interesting thoughts on this in her book "Quiet," in which she argues that our reverence for extroversion extends even to religion. Maybe. I do know that millions of Americans get something out of it. I researched and visited churches big and small, and interviewed dozens of Pastors’ Wives. Not a one of them turned me away. The wives spoke to me with searing candor, leaving me all the more impressed.
Jen: Let’s talk about the three main characters, all of which have a major stake in this church. Ruthie, a Catholic Jersey girl, becomes immersed in the Greenleaf community when her husband accepts a ministerial position. How does Ruthie’s new role as a pastor’s wife cause her to question her own spiritual beliefs?
Lisa: I think Ruthie always questioned. She always had doubts. But like most of us, her faith was so interwoven with the fabric of her family life that she never dared pick at the stitches. When her mother dies and she follows her husband away from her family and into megachurch life, she’s forced to confront her own beliefs. She realizes she doesn’t share her husband’s faith, and she’s terrified. She thinks: "How long could two people sustain a marriage when one believes what the other does not? I could love a man of God. I could, and I did. But as I edged toward the side of the infidels, could a man of God love me?"
Jen: Candace Green is the matriarch of Greenleaf Church. Her role as wife and spiritual confidante to the senior pastor Aaron makes her undeniably the most powerful woman in the church. How does her relationship with her sons impact the future ministry of the church?
Lisa: Candace is very, very good at her job, which is unofficial Chief Operating Officer of the church. This lady could run a small country. She adores her two sons, one of whom runs a planted offshoot of Greenleaf called Newleaf. But there are two problems. One, Timothy’s heart is in his overseas ministry, not his fledgling church. And two, Timothy is married to Ginger, a woman Candace feels is incompetent, at best, and untrustworthy, at worst. Candace wouldn’t trust Ginger to run a bake sale, let alone a church. So Candace orders a surreptitious audit of Newleaf finances, which leads to a shocking revelation and a crisis in their relationship.
Jen: Ginger plays the pitiful role of the outcast in the Green family. How does her inability to put the past aside affect her relationship with the other members of her immediate family, and her friendship with Ruthie?
Lisa: I’ve never lived with a terrible secret like Ginger does. So I can only imagine that perpetual pit-in-the-stomach fear of being found out. She’s scrabbled her way out of an awful life and into Paradise Estates, the pristine gated community where Candace and Aaron have provided her and her family a lovely home. Candace dotes on Ginger’s children. Ginger knows she can’t offer the manna of the Greens’ love on her own. When she befriends Ruthie, she starts to see herself as her new friend sees her: a good, generous woman. But her fear of losing everything still drives her radical actions.
Jen: Let’s switch gears now and talk about your promotional plans. Please take us on a brief tour of your website highlighting points of interest.
Lisa: Thank you for mentioning my website, www.lisacullen.com! It’s my pride and joy. I keep a regular blog on which I detail my adventures in book publishing and TV writing. There’s also a bio page, and pages for each of my books, and a page for links to stuff I’ve written…it’s basically a whole lot of me. Which isn’t to say I think I’m so great. It’s just that the book business is what it is and a girl has to flog her books!
Jen: Are you present in social media? And, what is the best way for my readers to keep abreast of your latest news?
Lisa: Please friend me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/lisa.t.cullen), like my Facebook author page (www.facebook.com/LisaTakeuchiCullen), and/or follow me @lisacullen on Twitter!
Jen: Any chance for a sequel? And, are you currently at work on your next novel? If so, what may you share with us?
Lisa: Well, I still think Pastors’ Wives would make a fun, soapy TV drama…don’t you? Maybe on Lifetime? As for my next novel, yes, I’m hard at work on a murder mystery set in Okinawa, Japan. It too is inspired by an article I wrote for Time. (Apparently I have no ideas of my own.)
Jen: I would be remiss if I didn’t inquire about your upcoming CBS television pilot, The Ordained. Any updates?
Lisa: It’s been quite a roller coaster ride. The Ordained was produced this spring, starring Charlie Cox, Sam Neill, Audra McDonald, Jorge Garcia and Hope Davis. We shot it in New York City over 13 very, very cold days. Then we edited and tweaked it into an absolutely riveting show…which we just found out the network didn’t include it in its fall lineup. We’re devastated. You can read all about the ups and downs at www.lisacullen.com!
Jen: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with my readers. I absolutely loved Pastors’ Wives. I highly recommend it to my Jen’s Jewels readers. Bravo! Best of luck in all of your future projects.
Lisa: Jen, thank you so much for a wonderful interview. I’m flattered beyond belief! Now back to reality as a working mom…
I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Lisa Takeuchi Cullen. Please stop by your favorite bookstore, online retailer, or library branch and pick up a copy of Pastors’ Wives today. Better yet, how would you like to win one instead? Okay, be one of the first five readers to email me firstname.lastname@example.org with the correct answer to the following trivia question and you’ll win!
What are the names of the three main characters in Pastors’ Wives?
In June, I will be bringing you my interview with New York Times bestselling author Nancy Thayer. You won’t want to miss it. Until next time…happy reading!