Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How many books have you written?


  2. What kinds of books have you written?


  3. How do you get the ideas for the books you write?


  4. How did you first get started as a writer?


  5. Why have your books been published under several different names?


  6. What new books have you written that havenít been published yet?


  7. What other books are you still hoping to write?


  8. Do you ever help other people who want to write?


  9. Why do you like to write so much?




  1. How many books have you written?

    More than sixty of my books have been published. That isnít quite as big a total as it sounds, because anything that has 32 pages or more can be counted as a book. Several of my books have been quite short . . . but interesting just the same!

    That big total of sixty is also a little misleading because about half of my books have been written and published in the Indonesian language. Yet, a good thirty of my books in English have also gotten into print at one time or another.

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  2. What kinds of books have you written?

    So many different kinds that some people wonder what kind of writer I really am!

    A good many of my books have been written for younger readers Ė either children or teenagers. Others have been written for adults, but generally with clear, simple, basic wording.

    About half of my more than sixty published books have been written in the Indonesian language. For thirty years I worked at a publishing house in Indonesia. More of my books are still in print in Indonesian than in English.

    Some of my books have been historical or history-based. Some have been biographies or collections of biographical materials. Some have been works of fiction (both novels and dramas), but still based on historical fact.

    Several of my books have been about The Holy Bible, or based on parts of the Bible, or suggesting ways to read and better understand the Bible.

    Besides all of that prose, I have also written poetry of various kinds. A few of my poems have been published in magazines; Iím still hoping for more of them to get into print, both in periodicals and in book form.

    Sometimes Iíve even written music, or words to go with someone elseís music. One of my hymns has been in print for a long time. Iíve also written the librettos for three childrenís musicals, two of which have been published.

    What ties together all these different types of writing?

    For a long time I really didnít know. Then I discovered the term POPULARIZER.

    A popularizer is someone who can read and study books and other materials that are hard to find, or hard to understand, or both Ė the kind of reading and studying most people will never take the time and effort to do. Then the popularizer takes ideas from that difficult reading and puts those ideas into easier reading; in other words, into books that ordinary people Ė even younger people Ė will want to read.

    This description fits most of what Iíve written. I donít write scholarly books, but I can read them. Then I can use the fruits of scholarship to write other books that more folks are likely to read.

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  3. How do you get the ideas for the books you write?

    One of the most interesting things about being a writer is, the unusual people you get to meet.

    Some of our most unusual friends in Indonesia are circus stars Ė high-wire walkers, trapeze artists, bareback riders, clowns, tumblers, jugglers, animal trainers, and all the rest. A long time ago I wrote a childrenís book about our circus friends entitled Church in the Big Top. I also wrote two long chapters about them in one of my most recent books, Good News from Indonesia: Heartwarming Stories from the Land of the Tsunami.

    Several of my books are biographies, and writing those helped me meet some interesting people, too. In preparing to write Oz and Mary Quick, Taiwan Teammates, I had fun eating delicious Chinese food as I heard the Quicks themselves tell me about their hair-raising adventures during and after World War II, when they were missionaries in China, Japan, the Philippines, and Taiwan.

    I didnít get to meet Jamie Ireland, Freedomís Champion in person, because he died in 1806. But as I sat in the rare book vault of a library and leafed through the musty pages of Irelandís autobiography, I realized what a lively freedom fighter he was during colonial days in Virginia. Thatís when I knew I must try to bring Jamie Ireland back to life again for younger readers of today.

    To Be the First: Adventures of Adoniram Judson, Americaís First Foreign Missionary, was another book that took me back into the past. Yet I felt a special closeness with Judson. He, like me, ventured out from America to become a missionary in a troubled country of Southeast Asia. Some things about such an experience donít change that much across two centuries.

    My most recent book to get into print, Pilgrims on the Wilderness Road, tells about the three Craig brothers along with their numerous kin, who had all passed off the scene long before I was born. Yet these sturdy pioneer preachers, and those who knew them in American frontier times, left such vivid reports that I could feel I had been introduced to them through my research and writing.

    The same thing is true of From Slave to Governor: The Unlikely Life of Lott Cary, which is also considered a historical novel rather than a biography. Yet it contains fuller and more accurate information about this remarkable African American Christian hero than youíll find anywhere else.

    In writing Bold Bearers of His Name: 40 World Mission Stories, I got to meet Ė in person and through their writings Ė many fascinating people from all over the world. Even more so with the book Good News from Indonesia: Heartwarming Stories from the Land of the Tsunami: I have known personally nearly every man and woman, boy and girl whose story is told there.

    All of the biographical subjects in Judges and Kings: Godís Chosen Leaders have been dead for two thousand years and more. Yet their stories still blaze up like bonfires from the pages of The Holy Bible. I got to know them better as I wrote their stories for girls and boys of today.

    I Sailed with Saul of Tarsus, a novel for young adults, brought me a different type of acquaintance. Of course I had heard and read about the Apostle Paul (also known as Saul of Tarsus) ever since I was tiny. But as I mapped out the most complete record of a sea voyage that has survived from ancient times (you can read the age-old logbook for yourself in The Acts of the Apostles, chapters 27 and 28), I got to know that first great missionary in a special way. So I began to wonder: What would it have felt like to be a teenage boy on the same ship with Saul/Paul? Thatís what my book is all about.

    A special favorite among my books is Indian Treasure on Rockhouse Creek, because it helped me dig into my own familyís roots in western Kentucky. This juvenile novel took me 25 years to write, off and on, and it was turned down by 18 different publishers (or was it 21?) before it finally got into print. Maybe that experience will encourage others to keep on trying to write!

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  4. How did you first get started as a writer?

    I started writing fiction, nonfiction, poems, and plays when I was in the third grade. Some of my writings began to be published in school papers and annuals by the time I was in the sixth grade, and in newspapers and magazines of wider circulation while I was still in my teens.

    About 600 of my articles, stories, and poems have been published, in periodicals as diverse as Midwest Folklore and Cricket, Youth Alive! and Open Windows, Interlit and The Upper Room, The Church Musician and Childrenís Leadership, Living with Teenagers and Adventure. Iíve given up trying to count how many of my Sunday School lessons have gotten into print, both in English and in Indonesian.

    From experience I would suggest that writing shorter pieces is a good testing ground and practice field for longer writing. It generally takes a long time and a lot of discipline to write a whole book.

    My first books were published while I was still in my 20s, but I had already done a lot of shorter writing before that. One of my books, published when I was in my 30s, stayed in print for thirty years; does that give you a clue as to how old I am?

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  5. Why have your books been published under several different names?

    I started using pen names during the thirty years we lived in Indonesia. Many books published there are translations from other languages, especially European languages. When a name that clearly looks European appears on the front cover, an Indonesian reader is likely to assume, ďThis book must be a translation.Ē

    Translations are important. For example, most of us have never read The Holy Bible except in the form of translations. Yet good translations arenít easy. Many translations donít read smoothly; they seem to be still partly in a foreign language.

    When I began to write (not just translate) in the Indonesian language, I didnít want prospective readers to reject my books just because they saw a European name on the front cover. So I started using Indonesian pen names instead. (Thereís a funny story about how I selected my main Indonesian pen name; if you knew both languages, I could explain it to you.)

    When we came back from Indonesia to America, the habit of using a pen name stuck Ė especially as I began to write books for adults that were different from anything else I had ever written.

    So there are several reasons Ė those Iíve mentioned and some others as well - why my books have been published under several different names. After all, using a pen name seemed to work for Samuel Langhorne Clemens, didnít it? Do you suppose so many people would have read his books if they hadnít been published with the authorís name as ďMark TwainĒ?

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  6. What new books have you written that havenít been published yet?

    Can you let me be a little secretive about the answer to this one?

    When another of my manuscripts seems well on the way to being published, Iíll be sure to tell you all about it. For now, letís just say that Iím trying to find willing publishers for books of fiction, biographies, and a Christmas musical for children.

    You can find more current information on the "News" page of this web site.

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  7. What other books are you still hoping to write?

    My, there are so many! Life wonít be long enough.

    Here are a few of them:
    • A gently humorous travel book entitled Six and a Half Times Around the World. (This one is already in the final stages.)
    • A childrenís book about growing up on the home front during the first year of Americaís involvement in World War II.
    • Iím not planning to write a memoir as such, but three fictional possibilities for adult and young-adult books are all strongly based on times that were turning points in my youth. The Children of a King is the first of these, set in 1950 when America entered the Korean War; see the ďNewsĒ page of this website. The other two will be set in the late 1950s and in the middle 1960s.
    • A biblical novel about King Joash, who survived a palace massacre and came to the throne when he was only seven.
    • A new nonfiction book about music in Bible times, updating and enriching an older book I wrote a good many years ago.
    • A book for children or youth about those troubled times when rival kings and queens were reigning in the lands of the Bible.


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  8. Do you ever help other people who want to write?

    Yes, Iíve been trying to do that for a long time.

    I have held writersí workshops and taught basic writing courses on three different continents. I have worked one-on-one with many aspiring writers. I have corresponded with people of all ages, from all over the world, about their desire to write. And I have had the joy of seeing some of these people go on to become published authors themselves.

    Guess what? Through this web site I'm still trying to help other people everywhere who want to write. The page marked "For Writers" offers a continuing series of free tips for would-be writers.

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  9. Why do you like to write so much?

    For twenty centuries, followers of the Lord Jesus Christ have used the word ďcallingĒ in a special sense. It means the way God gets us into the kind of work He wants us to do and then equips us to do it.

    Thatís why I like to say that I have been called as a writer.

    Iíve always been interested in what others have written; in other words, Iíve always loved to read. I came through all the educational levels from elementary school to graduate work. At different times Iíve been a summer camp worker, part-time cafeteria employee, schoolteacher in the inner city, part-time music and youth director of a church in the suburbs, and pastor of a church in the backwoods. After all of that, for many years I was both a foreign missionary and an editor of books, magazines, and Sunday School lessons. Now Iím back in my native country again, working as a translator, interpreter, and community volunteer. Yet during all of this time I have also kept on being a writer.

    You canít write a lot unless you live a lot. God has been good to me: Heís given me a faithful wife, two strong sons, two daughters-in-love, seven remarkable grandchildren, and Iíve lost count how many nephews and nieces, both blood kin and borrowed, both American and Indonesian.

    God has let us hike up Vesuvius and the Great Wall of China, splash in the surf of the Malacca Strait, weather a hailstorm in Bryce Canyon, hydrofoil down the Danube, cruise through fjords in Norway and New Zealand, and sail across lakes in Scotland and Switzerland, Russia and Chile.

    For three decades God let us live in a gorgeous tropical country where you can sleep out on the slopes of a live volcano and see a lava flow glowing red through the night, . . . where you can swim outdoors 365 days a year, . . . where you can climb temple towers built six centuries before Columbus sailed. All of that time, God let us meet all kinds of people Ė as many different shades of skin among them as youíll find different candy colors in a Whitmanís Sampler.

    My job in life is to tell the people I meet about my Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. And I especially like to do it through writing. After all, thatís my calling.

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Cover of To Be the First
Learn about America's first foreign missionary!