My brain! I can’t shut it off. I’m constantly bombarded with thoughts about what’s on my to-do list (I live or die by the list), what arrangements I need to make for the next conference, book festival, or school visit; what work I need to do to elevate the relationships of my characters or ways to make them more authentic; what manuscript I need to concentrate on next (I’m always juggling three or four at one time). When those things aren’t keeping me up, it’s one of my mouthy characters, deciding he or she has something to say that just can’t wait until morning!
What is your proudest career moment?
Entering the White House as a guest for the first time, on the invitation of First Lady Laura Bush, as part of the National Book Festival in 2003, with my sister—my oldest fan—on my arm, beaming! Winning the Coretta Scott King Award for Bronx Masquerade is what got me there.
Ice-skating! I have absolutely no talent in this area, but ice-skating is the one Olympic sport that keeps me glued to the television screen. That combination of lyrical movement and technical skill fascinates me. I especially love those moments of spontaneity when each athlete’s personality shines through. The programs are planned and choreographed, but the performances are very much in the moment. Anything can happen, and I love that! I feel that way when I’m writing a story. Anything is possible. Anything can happen! I put in the work, I lay in the structure, set my character’s back-stories, and then, somewhere along the way, I get into the zone, and—boom! Magic happens, and I score tens across the board—in my mind, at least! Yeah. Ice-skating.
What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
Face down an armed robber, high on drugs, in a Swedish boutique I managed in Stockholm. I was working behind the counter when this guy came into the store and confronted me, his hand in his pocket pointing a gun in my direction. He demanded the money in the register and, when I did not comply, he bared a mouthful of yellowed teeth.
“I will blow you straight to hell,” he told me.
“No,” I said. “You’ll blow me straight to heaven.”
That got him off his game, I think. He took a step back from the counter and gave me a long, hard look.
“What? What did you say?” he asked.
I, calm as the proverbial cucumber, explained to him that, as a Christian, when I died, I was going to heaven, not to hell. Then, blanketed in the perfect peace of God, I proceeded to share with him the gospel of Christ, and invited him to accept Jesus.
Now, mind you, this was an out-of-body experience, because part of me was standing back, watching, asking myself, “Are you crazy?! This man’s got a gun!” But, somehow, in that moment, by God’s grace, I felt no fear.
I talked with him quietly, slowly as if I had all the time in the world.
He asked me a few honest questions about faith and forgiveness, which I answered. As the scene played out, his posture changed. His shoulders softened, his head began to bow, the hand in his pocket relaxed and he let the gun drop. Eventually, with both hands at his side, he shuffled out of the store, whispering a string of apologies.
Once he was gone, I returned to my body and trembled from head to foot, like a normal person! It was an extraordinary moment that taught me the reality of the power of God and the perfect peace he can offer in any circumstance. Okay, so maybe this is as much a story about faith as it is about bravery. Anyway, there you have it.
What TV show can’t you turn off?
There are a few, but the one that most surprises me is Shark Tank!
There is something riveting about a person baring his heart in pursuit of a dream, and fighting for that dream in a do-or-die moment, when self-confidence is the key to success. I have wrestled in pursuit of my dreams my entire life. Maybe that’s why this show resonates with me.