A couple of days ago, I reviewed the just released title “The Redemption of Matthew Ryerson”. Today I am honored to print this interview I conducted with the up and coming author of this work, Mary Mueller:
[Questions are numbered and in italics]
1: Your Christian faith is clearly very important to you as is evident in your writing. Were you raised in the church or did you experience a later spiritual awakening?
Mueller: I was raised by an atheist father and an “I don’t want to think about it” mother, but God had a call on my life from an early age. I taught myself to read by sneaking time with my grandfather’s bible, so the first written words I learned were: “In the beginning, God…” I joined the Catholics at seventeen because they had the most structure and the most answers to my questions. Attending a Catholic university, I decided God wanted me to be a nun – until I met my future husband.
Our marriage began in faith but rapidly disintegrated due to his-and-hers alcoholism, poverty, five children and three miscarriages – well, no self-respecting soap opera would touch the story, because it’s too melodramatic to be believed. I prayed for God to fix things, and when he didn’t, I formally divorced Him. We weren’t on speaking terms for many years after that.
In 1972 I decided I needed to get sober. (By the grace of God and the help of a long line of fellow addicts, I have been ever since.) Meeting with others like myself on a frequent basis, I noticed after fifteen years or so that when we held hands and prayed there seemed to be something bigger than we going on in the room.
That conscious awareness began a long, desperate struggle to keep God out of my life. I reminded Him, “I divorced You. I don’t want You.” I told Him, “Shut up and leave me alone.” I had read Francis Thompson’s poem “The Hound of Heaven” when I was in high school. Thirty-some years later, I was living it as I “fled him down the nights and down the days…” and always “he followed, followed after.” No matter what I did or said, God kept chasing me and calling me by name.
Finally, like a winded sprinter, I just couldn’t run any more. I had come to the end of myself and most ungraciously surrendered to Christ at age forty-nine. It was less a spiritual awakening than a spiritual defeat .As I had struggled to stay sober, I struggled to have a relationship with Christ. There were moments of euphoria and deep pits of anger, fear and massive confusion. I had been traumatized by born-again people, and suddenly I was one of “them!” I’ve met so many people who had the “A-ha!” experience and came to Jesus with joy overflowing. I came with resentment, fear and questions. It was not fun.
To learn “the rest of the story,” read my answer to Questions 2 and 3!
2: What inspired you to write this book (The Redemption of Matthew Ryersen)?
3: Have you ever known anyone like Matthew Ryersen?
Mueller: About five years into the journey, I was asked by someone to write an essay to read for Pastor Appreciation Day. It later became the first chapter of the book. I believe God inspired me to write this book (as opposed to some other person or event). Once again, He called me until I had to submit. I had to write it, and I had to write the content pretty much as it is. The book languished in a cake-box for fifteen years before I was able to rewrite it to bring the characters to a better place.
I know Matthew Ryersen intimately, because Matthew Ryersen is Mary Mueller. His story is my story, and the people who help him to find love and to achieve forgiveness are my people. (There’s irony in a fat old woman from the city personifying herself as a young anorexic man from the hills of Kentucky. No idea how that happened!)
Matthew and I have both struggled to understand what it means to be a Christian and wrestled with the foreign concept of a God of love and forgiveness. We have both had to overcome horrible things in our pasts, (not the same ones), and to choose to accept love and forgiveness as well as to offer it to those who hurt us. We have both had misadventures and misunderstandings (often to the great amusement of those around us) as we tried to figure out the “rules” of being a Christian and going to church and praying… Well, there’s a lot to learn and unlearn!
The good news for Matthew is the good news for me, that God is good and His love endures forever.
4: Your work is very reminiscent of Janette Oke and possibly Jan Karon. Are there any particular authors that inspire your work?
Mueller: Since the first book I ever read was the Bible, it has probably had more influence than I would have credited twenty years ago. It can’t be coincidence that my first published novel, Stargazer, is the “autobiography” of Mary, mother of Jesus, or that all my work has biblical themes.
John Steinbeck is my favorite American author, and I think both he and Hemingway have influenced my style. (Pretty grandiose, isn’t that! Wow!) Among Christian writers, I have great admiration for Francine Rivers (the first Christian author I knowingly read) and Stepehn Lawhead. It would be an honor to write like (and as well as) Jan Karon, but I’ve never noticed a similarity before…
5: The Redemption of Matthew Ryersen would make a powerful movie, in fact it has “Hallmark Hall of Fame” written all over it. If you were the director, who would be your dream cast in the top 4 or 5 roles?
Mueller: I would love to have Ryersen become a movie! My strong desire for the story is that it touch many people either to say, “Yeah, that’s how I feel/felt, and there’s hope!” or “Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to get to know ‘those people’ and think about Jesus…” Book, film, made-for-tv-movie, any and all of these would be wonderful for that reason!
But cast it – I have no idea. I don’t get out to the movies often, so I don’t know who’s out there. Sorry! This would be such a great exercise if I only knew the players.
6: Hollywood is not considered to be very open to Christians or conservative themes, but there have been some recent success stories in Christian entertainment like the Kendrick Brothers (Facing the Giants and Fireproof). What do you see as the status and future of Christianity in popular entertainment?
Mueller: One always hopes the pathways will open for more Christian influence in popular entertainment. It grieves me to see Christians portrayed on television and in the movies as buffoons or bigots. It also says to me that if we want to have a positive effect, we need to stop acting like buffoons and bigots! Until more of us walk the walk as well as we talk the talk, I don’t think we are going to get beyond the occasional success story.
Money is probably another factor. It seems to take big bucks to produce a first-rate film. I often hear Christians praise a Christian film by saying, “It’s not too cheesy.” What kind of recommendation is that! We need wealthy Christian or Christian-sympathetic folks to finance A-List writing, directing, casting, etc., and we need first-line professionals to mentor up-and-coming Christian film directors, editors, etc. I have enjoyed the two films mentioned above, as well as “Like Dandelion Dust,” an adaptation of Karen Kingsbury’s best-seller. With an influx of money and the talent money buys, they would not need to be anomalies in the film industry. People will always go to see a first-rate film like Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”
7: The character development in Matthew Ryersen is simply stellar. They seem to live and breathe right on the page. Were there any real life models that inspired you, or at least that you can speak of?
Mueller: Thank you for those kind words! It’s wonderful to know someone else is taken with this group of people who are so dear to me. I thank God that He gave me grace to make them live for you.
As I said in Question 3, I am Matthew Ryersen. The main characters, in particular, all represent real people – and they know who they are. My personal theory is that all writers are cannibals. We ingest large chunks of other people and turn them into “material.” (Nasty image, isn’t it!) In writing about the Abbotts’ little boy David, I modeled him in looks and charm on my son Michael at those ages. The farmhand, Ed, was “countrified” from the real gentleman farmer who took my elbow and led me into the church my first time there. Pearl is so much like Florence Porter, a wonderful woman who mentored me, now gone home to Jesus and probably keeping things in good order there.
8: Do you have any other projects in progress?
Mueller: Yes! I have finished a third novel and am in the “refining” stage with it. I have begun a sequel to The Redemption of Matthew Ryersen which will follow the development of his relationship with Will and bring back Allison. Love in Matthew’s life after all? We’ll see! I also write short stories for the fun of it and have, for the last few years, written the Christmas and Easter dramas for my church. And a young colleague and I are collaborating on a couple of projects, one of them a scary novel. So many ideas, so little time!
9: Is there anything else you would like to add before we conclude?
Mueller: Thank you, Keith, for this opportunity to connect with new people, many of whom I hope will enjoy my work and become new friends. Thanks, too, to Skip Coryell, publisher, White Feather Press, who takes a chance on unknown authors and helps dreams come true. And all praise and glory to God, in Whom all things are possible.
If you who are reading this have a story inside and have always wondered, “Could I write a book?” – yes, you can! Whether you write for publication, for your family or just for yourself, don’t let anything or anyone stop you. Go for it!
— END OF INTERVIEW —