Friday, June 27, 2008

An Interview with Thomas Phillips

This feature is part of the FIRST Wild Card Tour, BUT Thomas Phillips has also graciously answered some questions about his new book, The Molech Prophecy, and his incredible writing journey. His is a fascinating story of transition and obedience, from secular to Christian fiction. Sit back and enjoy a this wonderful story of God's grace and blessing!

Thomas Phillips grew up with a reading disability. He did everything possible not to read. It wasn't until he was in seventh grade that he finally read a book from cover to cover. Now a voracious reader and prolific writer, Phillips uses his accomplishments as a motivational backdrop for speaking at school assemblies.

Born and raised in Rochester, New York, Phillips has worked as a freelance journalist and currently works full time as an employment law paralegal. When he isn't writing, Phillips plays his guitar, is active in his church, coaches his children's Little League team, and plots his next story. The Molech Prophecy is his first published Christian novel.

Visit him at his MySpace, ShoutLife, and blog.

Thomas, you have a very interesting story behind how you became a Christian Fiction Writer. Can you share that with us?

In 1995 I began my professional writing career with the sale of my first short story. From there, I went on to sell more than 70 short stories and articles until in mid-2000, my first secular novels was published. By 2003 I had five mystery novels under my belt. And then in April, everything changed.

I became a Christian.

It wasn’t that anyone told me to stop writing, or to change the way I wrote. It was that I realized the books I’d written did nothing to honor God. With sex, bad language and graphic, senseless violence filling my pages, I knew I needed to take a break.

It was bad timing for my then-publisher. My first hardcover had recently been released, and I decided not to do much to promote it. As a New Christian, I was confident that the works I’d written—as I said—did nothing to bring honor and glory to God. At that point, I quit writing, more or less.

But, eventually, I got into writing weekly devotionals for my church’s e-newsletter.

In late 2005, I began a journey into a deep, dark valley. I felt like God was testing me. As time went on, I realized, the valley only got deeper and darker. In the fall of 2006, I was inspired to write a new mystery novel. But this would be a Christian themed work.

I believe that God allowed me to begin to work my way out of the valley through writing. Only this time, He wanted me to write books that glorified Him (and not just feed my own insatiable need for fame).

When I completed the manuscript, I managed to sign with an awesome agent and she placed the work with Whitaker House in just a few months.

See, my earlier works were all released through small presses. Overall sales were small. But, at the time, I was happy to be publishing at all.

The big difference is that for the first time, I’ve landed a large publisher. An awesome publisher, I might add. And I believe that this happened because I’ve changed from secular to Christian writing. I like to believe that God is blessing this new ministry I’ve undertaken, and that, perhaps, He is more pleased with my writing than He has been in the past.

The key, however, will still be visibility. Getting my name out there. There are so many talented suspense writers. Before, for me, it was about competition. Now, it’s not. It’s about spreading a message. Sharing my faith through my stories in some way. And I’ve talked with some great writers (James Scott Bell, Mark Mynheir, Eric Wilson) who have been nothing but supportive and helpful.

I want to be sure I answer the questions. There is a difference. It’s not about making money. Not this time around. Sure, I’d love to make my living writing full time. What writer wouldn’t? But I’m not consumed with that thought – the way I used to be.

And I think my latest works are some of the best stuff I’ve ever written. You always hear writers say things like, You have to write for you. That was the old me. Now, when I write it is for me, yes, but for others, as well. And although I guarantee my characters are flawed, and like real people, there will always be God’s presence in power, and love fit in between the pages. I didn’t have that before. Thankfully, I have that now.

Where do you feel God is leading you on this journey?

To be honest, I wish I knew. It’s a question I ask myself all the time. I want to say He wants to see me on some best seller list. But I know that is not His goal—or if it is, there is a bigger reason for that ever happening, lol! All I know is, despite the tough times I am dealing with in my personal life, I know that God is still with me. I know I don’t deserve that kind of unconditional love. I just pray that, as He leads me I follow.

What is your main inspiration behind your stories? Behind your characters?

Although I believe I write solid mysteries with plenty of tension and suspense, I like to pride myself on my characters. A lot of the characters I use are me. Or from bits and pieces of me. I am a huge people watcher. I compile profiles mentally all the time. My family, friends and strangers inspire both the stories and the characters. In The Molech Prophecy, the book starts with a church being defaced with spraypaint. Most of the first chapter is all true, unfortunately. In real life, those responsible were never caught. In my book, there is resolution.

What roll do you think Christian fiction plays today within the church and within the lives of Christians?

It seems like Christian fiction has been around for some time, but is only now being recognized as a legitimate genre. There are plenty, numerous, writers putting out high quality work. James Scott Bell is, in my opinion, better than any legal-thriller writer out there. The challenge, I think, is to tell a story that has God in it, working, doing miracles without preaching – this way the book can be read and appreciated by Christians, and more importantly, non-Christian readers. When I finish a well-written Christian fiction novel, I share it with non-Christian readers. It is like the perfect witnessing tool. A book exchange. Non-threatening. And I hope and pray that people see that quality and opportunity with the books I write, and share them with as many people as possible.

What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of Christian fiction?

Balance. Again, it’s telling a story without preaching. Adding just enough of this and that to keep it edgy, without crossing that line. But, for example, my second and third books are far better than even my first. Why? Because I am still learning. The Molech Prophecy is fast, tight, and people will enjoy the tale. I believe this. But it is really the very first Christian piece of fiction I’ve ever written. And to think I signed with an agent and sold it is amazing – on a first try? That blows my mind when I think about it. But that’s how I know God is in this. He has to be.

Can you give us a glimpse into your next book project?

Love to … (tell me if you see any parallels between Noah Fuller and myself … I think it would be hard to miss if you’ve read this interview, lol).
Best-selling mystery author, Noah Fuller, shocks his readers when he announces that he’ll only be writing mysteries with a Christian theme from now on. When angry letters are sent to the publisher, his agent and even to his house, Fuller is certain the storm will pass. But when his four-year-old son is abducted from a grocery store parking lot, the police suspect the author’s fans are more than just fanatical.

In an attempt to employ his fame, Fuller utilizes the media to generate a nationwide search for his son.

However, the police investigation uncovers a dark secret about Fuller’s past that threatens to kill his new writing career, his marriage and the very life of his son…
… Well? How does that sound? Hopefully this book, I call Convicted, will be released next summer from Whitaker House, as well.

Sounds absolutely riveting, Thomas! Thank you for sharing your amazing story.

Chapter One

The first things I noticed when I pulled into the church parking lot were the two police cars. Instinct wanted to kick in, but I stopped myself from turning my car around. The police weren’t there for me—couldn’t be there for me. I’d done nothing wrong. I wasn’t the same man. My days of running from the police had ended when I became a Christian. I reminded myself of this simple fact and felt a grin play across my lips. Thankfully, my days of running from the police ended four years ago.

On any given Sunday, I have come to expect many things from Faith Community Church. And why not? I have been attending weekly services for years. I expect smiles from Faith’s Greet Team—from those helping direct cars in the parking lot to those handing out programs and pencils at the sanctuary doors. I expect powerful worship music, a variety of jokes from Pastor Ross—some funny, some not so funny—and I expect, each week, a message that will impact the way I live the rest of my life.

But what I did not expect this morning was what I saw next: the complete defacing of the church building. Black spray paint covered the pecan-colored bricks in horrific graffiti.

After parking, I sat silently in the car, taking it all in. A large pentagram—an encircled, upside-down, five-pointed star—was displayed at the center of it all. Painted on every other available surface were words like “Death,” “Die,” “Faggots,” “Hypocrites,” and “God Is Dead.”

Seeing all of the graffiti felt like a punch to the gut. Faith Community was like my second home; the people who attended were like my second family. It was impossible not to take this attack personally.

Slowly, I climbed out of the car, ignoring the early November morning chill. The wind blew relentlessly all around me, howling and moaning as if it too was furious and saddened and confused by the desecration.

Other cars pulled into the lot. The people get-ting out of them emerged as slowly as I must have. I could see the stunned expressions on their faces—dropped jaws and wide eyes that surely matched my own.

Who would vandalize a church like this? I wondered as I walked toward the entrance. As I stopped in front of the pentagram and took in the mess that attempted to dirty my church, I realized that who-ever did this was hurting—hurting badly. That thought did not stifle the anger—the righteous anger—I felt boiling deep inside.

I nodded a grim good morning to the greeter who held the front door open as I walked into the church. The atrium is usually packed with people mingling before the start of the service. Free coffee, hot cocoa, and doughnuts set out on a table each and every week encourage people to arrive early for fellowship.

This morning, however, only a few people lin-gered in the atrium. Whispers were all I heard. As I entered the sanctuary I saw that this was where everyone had gathered. I usually sit toward the back, far right, as if there were assigned seating. The things I’d seen outside left me feeling hollow and alone. Today, I sat closer to the front, middle row.

I nodded hello to people here and there. Many sat with heads bowed, deep in prayer. I decided praying would be a good use of the extra time before the service.
I tried to cope with a flood of mixed emo-tions, such as anger, sadness, confusion, disbelief, and then, once again, anger. Instead of praying, questions ended up filling my mind: Who could do such a thing? Why would someone do such a thing? How are we going to get that filth off the bricks? If I ever get my…. I broke off the last thought before it got out of hand. I’m in a church, I reminded myself. There is no place for thoughts like that, but especially not in a church.

The service did not start the way services nor-mally did. The church band usually opened wor-ship with a fast-tempo song, one that got those present up on their feet, clapping and singing along, and one that brought those lingering in the atrium into the sanctuary.

Today, in dead silence, Senior Pastor Ross Lobene walked out and stood center stage, grip-ping the podium. He seemed at a loss for words. I think he knew what he wanted to say but was afraid that if he tried speaking too soon, he might lose his composure. I wouldn’t blame him.

As usual, roughly two thousand people filled most of the available seats. Two large projection screens hung on the wall at either side of the stage. Both showed a close-up of the pastor’s face. He could not hide his red eyes—or stop his quivering lips.

Pastor Ross opened a Bible, and when he finally started to speak, his voice was weak and shaky, as if he were on the verge of crying. “I want to read Matthew, chapter five, verses ten through twelve: ‘God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs. God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.’”

He bowed his head.

I felt sorrowful pain in my chest.

“Shock. Pure shock,” Pastor Ross said. “You don’t think stuff like this will happen here. It will happen elsewhere, like in run-down, gang-ridden areas, so we think. But from what I know of human nature, it happens everywhere, because people can be dark-hearted everywhere. God is always in con-trol, and He wants us to learn to deal with prob-lems in God-honoring ways. I have come to realize through this incident, and through other incidents that have occurred in our church family, that our enemy, Satan, attacks those churches that are a threat to him and his evil ways.”

I nodded in agreement, listening intently and watching as Pastor Ross released his white-knuck-led grip on the podium and began to come into his own. He paced back and forth on the stage, addressing the congregation, righteous fire heating this impromptu sermon.

“Jesus tells us in Revelation three, verses four-teen through seventeen, that He will spit out of His mouth the church whose people are lukewarm in their faith, because they are neither hot nor cold. It is my desire for Faith Community Church to be a church that is hot, making a difference for Christ and His kingdom in Rochester and the surround-ing area.”

As Pastor Ross paused, he stroked the sandy-colored goatee that covered his chin and used a handkerchief to wipe away the beads of sweat that formed on his bald head. “This, friends, this is a great opportunity for us to love our enemies as ourselves.” He pointed out at us and then pointed back at himself. “It is my desire to see everyone at Faith truly model this command from Christ and not become bitter by this incident. I pray that we have an opportunity to minister to the needs of the person or people responsible, so we can share the life-changing message of the gospel with them.

“I have known many people who have been enslaved in the bondage of satanism and witch-craft, and although the hold these things have on them is strong, it is no match for our all-powerful, all-loving God. It will take time, but if we can be models of Christ’s love to this person, I have full confidence that he will become a child of the light instead of a slave to the darkness.” A second, brief pause followed. Then Pastor Ross added, “Don’t get me wrong. I also hope that the person who did this crime is caught and processed fairly through our justice system.”

I tried to let my own anger subside. If Pastor Ross could move on, so could I. All I needed now was help unclenching my hands, which had been rolled into solid fists since the beginning of service.

Used by permission of the publisher, Whitaker House ( ). All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Suspense Novelist Thomas Phillips said...


Your site looks great. Thank you for the interview. I appreciate your support more than you might realize! Have a blessed weekend and an awesome 4th of July!