Gary Thomas is the other of more than a dozen Christian books. He is an international bestselling author and speaker. He writes about spirituality, marriage, parenting, and health and fitness. Through his books and speaking he tries to draw people closer to Christ and to each other. His books have been translated into over a dozen languages. Gary recently took some time from his busy schedule to answer some questions for the readers at Book Reviews and More.
1. If you had not become a writer what do you think you would be doing for a living?
Can't even imagine. I have wanted to be a writer since I was 8 years old, and since I have a very limited skill set, I honestly can't even imagine what else someone would pay me to do.
2. Your book Every Body Matters will be a controversial book within the Church, especially in North America. What gave you the courage and fortitude to write this book that will challenge many believers even many pastors way of life?
Paul's words in Acts 20:20: "I did not hesitate to preach anything that might be helpful to you" provided some significant encouragement. I'm old enough and have written enough books that I'm able to take a bit of heat without becoming too unsettled. The thrill of writing a book is now familiar; I don't just want to see a book in print-I want the books to count eternally, so I write them as a way to honor and serve God. That might sound like a cliché, but it's true. I truly believe God wants this message to be heard by the church, and that he has chosen me to be one of the people who proclaim it (there are many of us, and the number is growing). From a personal perspective, this truth has been so helpful, I couldn't keep it to myself. While some people might resist it, if they eventually embrace it, I think they'll become very grateful when they see the results-relationally, physically, and spiritually.
3. In the book Every Body Matters you draw heavily from Christian classics, the church fathers, and many medical doctors. What was your process of synthesizing such varied sources into a book that would be accessible to almost any reader?
I've been reading the Christian classics for almost three decades, so I'm pretty familiar with them and know where to go (and all my copies are underlined). With the classics, you have to watch the language, though-it can sound outdated. So I'm careful with which writers I choose. Dealing with both gluttony and sloth, there was a wealth of material to draw on-this really is a consistent theme throughout the ages-so I was able to be rather discriminating. Mainly, I wanted to show the breadth of this teaching, so I purposefully chose writers from a variety of traditions and centuries to show this isn't a fad or a limited concern. Quite the contrary.
4. Every Body Matters is not a how to book, not a diet book, not a program. It is however a theological underpinning of the need to look after the temple in order to server better, longer and more effectively. If someone were looking for a program or how to book to start or improve on the physical fitness journey what would you recommend?
Dr. Ed Young, Dr. Michael Duncan and Dr. Richard Leachman have written companion books entitled "Total Heart Health for Men" and "Total Heart Health for Women." Dr. Young is a pastor; Drs. Duncan and Leachman are physicians. The material is basic and solid.
5. What advice do you wish an artist had passed on to you early in your career, which you only learned through experience?
The ones who make it are usually the ones who feel like they "need" to, not just "want" to. It can be so difficult breaking in that if you allow failure to be an option, it probably will be. I see so many young artists planning for failure: "Well, if this doesn't work out, I can always…" They spend as much time planning on how to deal with failure than they do fighting to succeed. The arts, across the board, are excruciatingly difficult to make a living in, or even to participate in in a significant fashion. But if it's what motivates you, if you feel that's what you're called to, it's worth the hassle to get there or at least to give it a fair try.
6. What does your writing process look like? Takes us through the steps from idea to publishing?
The idea usually floats in my head for a couple years. I'll start a file with notes, thoughts and stories-just snippets here and there. Then, when my publisher asks, I'll throw some of the ideas out and there will usually be one they grab onto with more energy than the others. If it's a new publisher, I'll usually have to do a short proposal. If it's a current publisher, I can often get by with just a verbal agreement on the topic (though there is a signed contract, of course, with the title). I like to have at least a year, after signing the contract, to complete a book. For me, writing is re-writing. I write the book, rework it several times, and then send it out to six to ten readers, doing nothing for about 6 weeks (I want it to look fresh by the time I get the comments back). I'll then gather the comments from the readers and, depending on their comments, rewrite the entire thing, rework sections, or just do another gloss.
7. What of your books was the hardest to write and why?
That's language I don't normally use. It's never "easy," but then again, writing brings so much joy I wouldn't use the word "hard," either. The only time writing has ever felt like work for me was when I was doing ghostwriting or collaborative writing-writing in another voice. That's hard. That's work. My own books? That's why I was born.
8. Have you ever considered writing fiction?
Yes. I've completed a novel on the relationship between Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. My agent loved it, thought it would be a huge seller, but in the end, we couldn't find a publisher. They thought an evangelical writing a book on two Catholic mystics just wouldn't find an audience. I've worked on some other novels as well. What makes it so difficult now is that I have to complete a novel to get paid anything, and nothing is certain, whereas I can put together a nonfiction proposal and have a check to deposit in just a few months' time. When you write for a living, that's kind of how it goes.
9. Do you use a playlist when writing? Are certain books written while predominantly listing to the same music?
Can't even imagine listening to music while I write, and I've always wondered how others do it. How do you create art while encountering someone else's?
10. In many ways you are a modern renaissance man, philosopher, educator, researcher, student, author and more. Very few people today are as well rounded as you are to what do you attribute this?
If I even begin to accept your premise I'm going to look like an arrogant narcissist! As I've already stated-I actually think of myself as quite limited. I'm an idiot when it comes to mechanics, I'm a wimp when it comes to handling personnel, and I get bored silly when it comes to having meetings or dealing with numbers. But as for education, I've always loved to read. I've been in a serious relationship with God for 42 years; I've been reading Scripture daily that whole time. I've been regularly reading the Christian classics for about 30 years now. And I love the way neuroscience seems to back up everything Jesus said, and most of what the classics have been saying, for thousands of years now. That fascinates me. But most of what I share is second-hand-from Scripture, from the classics, from prayer, from science. Maybe, rather than calling me a renaissance man, you might want to think of me as a guy who is forced to listen really hard because he doesn't have much to say on his own.
11. What are the specific tools you use to help keep yourself so centered?
Daily time in prayer, Scripture and the Christian classics are a mainstay; regular long runs are key for handling stress, with the added benefit of getting me outside and fostering worship; movies and novels to relax; and one day a week off to try and shut my mind down (which is increasingly difficult for me to do).
12. One of my goals in life is to find balance between body, mind and spirit. You seem to have achieved that balance in both your work and your life. What do you do to maintain your balance?
It's a natural rhythm, being a guy who loves to study and loves to run. Where I'm weak is in strength training. I could do much better there, and I don't think I'm balanced in that area. But my mind and cardio-the exercise they get springs from desire as much as discipline, to be honest.
13. What does your typical day or week look like for our mind, body and spiritual development? Do you try and keep to a specific regime or schedule?
Mornings begin with devotional times, and then the main effort at writing. After lunch, it's usually all busy stuff-email, meetings, powerpoint, etc. I prefer to run in the afternoons (which you can't do in Houston's summers), and early Saturday morning. If I'm not sick or injured, I run five days a week, usually taking off Sunday and another day due to travel or scheduling.
14. What books are currently in progress for you? Writing, researching, planning or even just ideas that you would like to work on?
I'm just finishing up a book for a new publisher, David C. Cook, with a working title of "Don't Get Married…Until You Read This Book." That likely won't be the final title, but it's on helping people make a wise marital choice. I've been writing and speaking in this field for years, and I'm so passionate about it. It's been a lot of fun to write-what would I tell myself thirty years ago? What would I tell my kids? How can I help them see how important this choice is, and what questions do they need to be asking?
Following that, I'll do another book on marriage-but my publisher wouldn't want me to give the subject away just yet…
15. Who are your favorite classic Christian writers?
Depends on when you ask me. I have a list of the top 25 or so that have influenced me most in my book Thirsting for God, but I'd be hard pressed to narrow it down any more than that.
16. What are some of your favorite contemporary religious authors to read?
I'm not sure you can call Elton Trueblood contemporary anymore, since he's dead, but he only died about 15 years ago. I'm a big fan of Dallas Willard and N.T. Wright, but please don't make immediate theological assumptions just because I mentioned those two (and didn't mention others). Both Willard and Wright have styles I relate to very well, and admire. As far as sheer writing skills go, for research, style, and storytelling, Laura Hillenbrand may be the best writer alive today, though her output has been rather limited. And for fiction, I'm besotted by Susan Howatch.
17. Some of your books are available in electronic formats but with that comes bootleg distribution. What are your impressions of ebooks and the distribution of them through torrents and other illegal means?
It's too early to tell, and I'm too clueless about this to know… One of my books, Pure Pleasure, was offered as a free download for 30 days. Somebody neglected to shut down the button, and over 7,000 copies were downloaded for free. Sales-wise, the book underperformed considerably and I think that had something to do with it. Add in the 7,000 downloads, and it didn't do so badly.
18. Some authors monitor torrent sites and have their publishers contact them to remove their content. Do you do so are have someone do so for you?
This is the first time I've ever heard of a "torrent" site. Thank you for giving me something else to worry about…
19. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want with you?
Glittering Images and Glamorous Powers (now sold as one book) by Susan Howatch.
A collection of C.S. Lewis.
A collection of Elton Trueblood.
After You Believe by N.T. Wright
John Calvin's Institutes
The Complete Works of A.W. Tozer
Henry Drummond's "The Greatest Thing in the World"
Anthony Trollope's Collected Novels
Whatever book Laura Hillenbrand is working on right now
20. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors and artists particularly those looking to have their art reflect their faith?
Get to know God; art will beat you up as much as it will lift you up, so make sure you learn how to let God love you back to health and sanity. The closer you grow to God, the more you become who he created you to be, giving you your distinct voice. The more intimate you become with God, the more you can reflect his divine creativity and brilliance (however poorly-none of us gets it right). Plus, God may be the only one who truly appreciates your heart. No one else knows what you had to go through to get it out. He does, and he looks at it with the eye of an approving parent.
Thank you Gary for taking some time to interact with us and for doing an author interview. I look forward to reading more of your books and to what will be forthcoming.
Books by Gary Thomas:
Every Body Matters
The Glorious Pursuit
Sacred Marriage Gift Edition
Devotions for a Sacred Marriage
Devotions for Sacred Parenting
Thirsting for God
Author Profile and Interview with Gary L Thomas.