Melissa: The Promise of Jesse Woods has a dual timeline. The events of 1972 tell a traditional coming-of-age story whereas the events of 1984 tell, in part, a spiritual coming-of-age story. In what ways was this unique type of story planned and how much of it simply fell into place?
Chris: Much of the story is autobiographical and those two years, twelve years apart, were pivotal for me. The baseball teams in both years, the geopolitical events—all of it shaped and mirrored the smaller story of Matt and what happened in Dogwood.
Melissa: There is a great deal of nostalgia in the 1972 events. Growing up during a simpler time in a small town was so fun and refreshing to read. But I also enjoyed seeing how the events of 1972 affected the main characters’ lives twelve years later. What did you like most about writing each of these story lines?
Chris: I was surprised how much I remembered from this time and how the sights, sounds, smells, and dialogue from those days came rushing back. And I love the idea of misfits finding each other and trying valiantly to move forward against the odds.
Melissa: I love the theme in this book that people make lousy saviors. However, Jesus calls us to help others and be actively involved in the community. What advice would you offer to those who struggle to find balance between helping and rescuing?
Chris: It’s a matter of the heart. At the beginning of the story we see Kristin talk to Matt about the struggle of those in Cabrini-Green. They’re doing the same work with much of the same outcome, yet Kristin is drawing from a different well than Matt.
Melissa: While I don’t watch as much baseball as I used to, I still love the game and enjoy spending an evening in the stands eating ballpark nachos and cheering on my team (Texas Rangers). The 1972 Pirates play a prominent role in Matthew’s childhood. When sports teams or events are featured in books, I’m always curious to know what type of influence (if any) those the teams had on the author. In what ways can you relate to Matthew and his love of the 1972 Pirates?
Chris: I was a huge fan of the Reds. The Big Red Machine. But as I wrote the story, I was moved with compassion for Pirates fans. I wondered how a kid growing up in Pittsburgh felt on that Wednesday afternoon when everything fell apart for the team. That sense of elation I felt as a Reds fan was exactly the opposite for the Pittsburgh fan—so I tapped into that loss and depression as much as I could.
Melissa: The Promise of Jesse Woods is not the first book you’ve set in Dogwood. Your fans will certainly recognize it from previous books. Dogwood is a vibrant, lively town that is as important of a character as Matthew, Jesse, or Dickie. This place is breathing and brings a sense of authenticity to the story. What are a few of the characteristics about Dogwood that you particularly enjoy and what have you incorporated from real-life experiences?
Chris: A town is as good as the people who populate it. And Dogwood is off the charts. You know Ruthie Bowles lives there. And Billy Allman. And June Bug, Natalie. I remember the feed store and the volunteer fire department and the dusty roads. I was home recently and drove past the hollow where I pictured Jesse living. There were three crosses in almost the exact spot where I pictured her house.
Melissa: When reading this book, the biblical image that kept coming to my mind was whitewashed tombs. But really I think the church and the people of Dogwood are more complex. As I was reading, I kept thinking the setting and characters make for a great object lesson. In what ways do you think Dogwood can or is misunderstood and what would you like to see people learn from this setting?
Chris: I agree—you could say that the church people who are manipulative and domineering are just there for selfish reasons and treat the church as a “club,” but this is actually where Jesse sees a great change in her life. You see Matt’s father change over the years as well—though he stays stuck for quite a while. The church has always been a hospital housing some very sick people. To expect those people to all be “healed and whole” as soon as they walk in the door is foolish. And to not see our own sense of sickness and just look at others is also foolish. So Dogwood and the church there is a mirror for our own hearts, in a way. Some days you laugh, some days you cry, and most days you rejoice that God loved you enough to put you together with these other people who need grace every day just like you do.
Melissa: What’s next for you?
Chris: I’m percolating several stories—I’ve written six short stories for LifeWay magazine and that was a fun project. But my heart is being drawn, for personal reasons, to another story that may be in Dogwood. Stay tuned!