If I Live
With her fugitive series If I Run
racing toward its finale, the author talks about why her thrillers are
infused with romance - and faith.
Bestselling author Terri Blackstock
wraps up her latest series with the thriller If I Live (Zondervan).
Casey Cox is on the run after being indicted for murder, and investigator
Dylan Roberts is now her only hope. But with the clock ticking, exposing the
real killers is more complicated than they knew. Will one life have to be
sacrificed to protect the other?
In April, If I Live entered the Christian Booksellers' Top 50 list at #5.
It's now #1. That
wave of popularity has swept the two preview books in that series, If I
Run and If I'm Found, to #5 and #7 respectively. On the Top 5
Fiction list in the Suspense/Mystery category, the three books occupy the
top three spots.
In this interview, Terri shares the
childhood memories that sparked the series, why she chose to end the series
now, and why the faith in her novels is always woven into the story...
Terri, in your If I Run
thrillers, Casey Cox is on the run because she's wanted for
a murder she didn't commit.
Dylan Roberts was sent to bring her to justice.
What inspired you to create characters with this kind of complex
When I was young, I used to watch
The Fugitive TV series starring David Jansen, in which the hero
has to run from the law while he tries to find his wife's real killer. In
each episode, he'd be found out, and he'd leave town and start over again in
a new place.
I wanted to explore a female fugitive who has to keep running and start
over in new places, and try to forge a life when she knows that everywhere
she lands will just be temporary. It gave me a lot of great opportunities
for her to get into situations that were fun to write about, and I hope were
compelling for the reader.
Casey Cox is one of my favorite characters in any of the books I've
written. She's complex and simple at the same time. She loves people and
gravitates to them wherever she goes, but she's also pretty adept at staying
off the grid.
She's been accused of committing a heinous murder and knows that her DNA
is all over the crime scene, because she found the body. Instead of calling
police, she decides to run. She knows who really did it, but she can't go to
the police because they've failed her abysmally before. She knows that if
she's caught, she won't just go to prison, she'll be murdered.
Dylan Roberts is hired by the victim's family to work in conjunction with
the police department to go across the country looking for Casey. He's
struggling with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after surviving
improvised explosive device (IED) explosions in the war, and when he begins
to research Casey Cox, he realizes the two of them have more in common than
He's pretty sure she has PTSD, too, but he doesn't know if it caused her
to snap and kill her friend, or if she just did the wrong thing because of
In If I Run, he's chasing her to bring her back for prosecution,
but by the time we get to If I'm Found, he realizes Casey is
innocent. In If I Live, time is running out for both of them, so -
well, you have to read to find out!
There are lots of TV series
that have borrowed that model and they go on for years. How long were you
planning to wait
to let this play out?
I decided to make it three books. I've
gotten to the place where I kind of get bored when I get to, like, the
fourth and fifth book of a series. I knew myself well enough to know that I
didn't want to just drag it out.
I like to do series because my readers like it so much. But it's tough
doing a series because there are so many things you have to remember that
you've written in the previous books.
For instance, If I Live - the final book in the series - was
really tough, because I had to tie up everything. I had to tie up every
loose end that I had in the previous two books and bring about a satisfying
Another thing is, I just didn't want to leave my readers hanging forever.
They really want an end to the story. I didn't want to just drag them on for
You bring up an interesting
point. I've noticed that for a lot of suspense writers in the general
market, it's either a lot of stand-alones or series that go on for years.
In the Christian market, it does seem to be more normal for suspense series
to be shorter. Why do you think that is?
think it has more to do with the author and what they want. Gilbert
Morris and others like him have done series that go on for dozens and
dozens of books, because their readers love that. Karen Kingsbury,
for example, has her Baxter Family series. I don't know what book
she's on, but her readers love that, and they come back for each new book.
In my case, it's about my attention span. It takes me a year to write a
book - so, if I do three books, that's three years. Am I still passionate
about something four years after I started? I have to consider all that.
Sir Arthur Conan tried to
Sherlock Holmes because he wanted
to do something different...
Exactly! I don't want to get to the
point where I'm sick of my characters. I try to plan the series in such a
way that I'm still excited about writing it when I get to that last book.
You write suspense, but they
often include romance. What is it about that combination of suspense and
romance that makes you gravitate in that direction?
Well, I think in my mind, most romantic
suspense novels center more around the romance than the suspense. In my
case, it's the opposite - the suspense drives the story, and then the
romance is sort of secondary. And there are some books I've written that
don't have any romance at all.
I really like writing about all kinds of relationships - family
relationships, husband and wife, mother and son, mother and daughter, that
kind of thing. When you like writing about relationships, the most natural
thing in the world is writing about romance.
In this series, the romance is developing between Dylan and Casey. In the
first book, If I Run, he was chasing her to prosecute her. And he
took it personally because he grew up with the victim and was one of his
best friends. The victim's family has hired him to find Casey and work with
the police. But by the second book, If I'm Found, he's realized that
she's innocent. He's trying to find her so he can protect her from the
So, the chemistry begins to really work between them. I just love it. I
think my readers love it, too. They're hanging on from book to book to see
what's going to happen with Dylan and Casey.
I do tend to have that in every series. I may not have in the first book,
but it works toward that in the series. As much as I can, I try to get
romance in there. I think that's what engages readers. Even the men.
As you develop the
characters, it carries more weight when they're in danger...
Exactly. I like for time to be running
out in a story, so there's kind of that ticking bomb and time's running out.
If that person dies or if something terrible happens - like you said, it
just raises the stakes when there's romance.
How does your faith impact
when you're writing about people who are in danger? There are crime
elements, your stories have murders - where do you find that balance between
being realistic without dwelling on it? Where do you find that line?
The fact is that I'm a Christian reader
as well. So, I really think about when I'm reading a book, what makes me
feel defiled in some way? If I'm reading a really gruesome book, and there's
a lot of blood, and there's a lot of violence, you know it makes me feel
I don't want to do that to my
readers, so there are lines I won't cross. But I do have murder, and I
do have blood. But I try not to make the reader wallow in it.
Probably my most gritty book was
Predator. I deliberately did it in that book, because I wanted to scare
the socks off people who were dumping all their information on social
networks. I wanted them to understand that social networks are a predator's
playground. And that if you were a predator, where would you go to find out
where somebody was at any given time, you know, and what their habits were,
what their routines were.
I just wanted to scare mostly young people, but even adults. I think that
book was probably the grittiest, and that was for a purpose.
But mostly, I try not to show too much blood, not to get too gory, and to
describe things in a way that it gets across what happened, but they don't
have to wallow in it.
You've mentioned in in the
past how you draw from your own personal trials to create plots for your
books. Tell us about that...
I often use events from my own life,
and the emotions I've experienced, in writing my books. I don't waste much
in my life. When I go through something painful, there's a part of me that's
always kind of standing outside myself recording how it feels to be in that
situation, and later I process it by writing about it in some way.
I don't always use the exact event from my life, but I might have someone
going through something similar to it, so the emotions I write in those
characters are real.
With so many books to your
is it difficult to create so many
new characters and storylines?
You'd think that with 80 books
published, I would recycle plots and characters over and over, but that
isn't the case at all. My books have to be exciting enough to hold my
attention, and I get bored easily. So, I try to make each book different
from all those that came before. I don't seem to have any trouble coming up
with new ideas, and new ideas for plots always generate new, unique types of
You started out as an author
in the general market. Why did you make the transition to writing Christian
After I'd been writing for the romance
market for 13 years, I became miserable. I loved being a writer, but I
wasn't fulfilled at all. I was a Christian and had what I call a spiritual
awakening, and I felt an intense conviction that I wasn't using my gift the
way God had intended. I had several books under contract at that time, but I
didn't want to write them.
I remember the day I got down on my knees, literally, and told God I
didn't want to write anything else that didn't glorify Him. I didn't know
how that would look. I knew there was a Christian fiction market, but I
didn't know anything about it.
I told my publisher that I wanted to buy back my contracts, and it
happened that they owed me more than I owed them, so that worked out really
well. Then I was able to get an agent who sold to the Christian fiction
market, and I wrote my first book proposal for a suspense novel with a
Christian theme. It just so happened that Christian publishers, who had
mostly published prairie fiction and historical or biblical fiction up until
that point, were ready to expand their list to include more genres.
I came in at exactly the right time, and Zondervan not only bought that
suspense novel, but they gave me a four-book deal. I've been writing
suspense for them ever since.
When your novels have faith
and suspense, which of those elements
is the easiest for you to write?
Faith is the easiest. Sometimes I have
to sort of dial it back.
When I started writing Christian books, I didn't really know anything
about the market. At the time, there really weren't suspense novels in the
Christian market. I was coming from the romance market, and I was learning
my way. But the one thing I did know is that I wanted the faith element to
really have an impact on my readers.
In that that first book I wrote, I had my Christian character falling to
her knees a lot and praying a lot. My editor had to show me, well, that may
be what would happen in real life, but your readers may not buy that. They
may not think that seems authentic. He kind of had to teach me how to
restrain it a little bit and pull it back so that I'm not preachy.
Over the years, the faith element comes very naturally to me. I write
about characters who don't have it all together, who maybe are suffering in
some way - or I put them through the suffering - and that makes it
easy for me to get the faith element in. I think people who are reading my
books are suffering in a lot of ways. They're going through trials, and I
want to show them that even though God doesn't necessarily erase all our
trials, He certainly is there for us through them. Romans 8:28 you know
As long as I kind of keep that in my mind as I'm writing, the faith
element just weaves its way naturally through my plots.
How is faith generally
in your stories?
I first try to tell a great story, and
my worldview naturally comes through. I think every writer has a specific
worldview that works their way into their books. Mine happens to be a
Faith is always a part of my plot. An example is my Cape Refuge
series. That first book, Cape Refuge, opens with the murder of a
beloved couple in town, and their daughters are determined to find the
killer while they deal with their own grief.
The theme through those books is why God allows suffering. I have a
character who wants to be as far removed from her parents' ministry as she
can get, because she's outraged at God for letting them die that way. But
over the course of four books, she comes to a better understanding of who
they were and why they did what they did, and she begins to understand how
God used what happened in their lives.
My Restoration series - beginning with Last Light - was
about a massive global power outage, because of some electromagnetic pulses
that knock civilization to its knees. My modern family who were addicted to
technology now have to live without transportation, communication, currency,
electricity or any technology. They come to the place where they have to
decide whether to hoard the food they had left, or share with others - even
if it means they risk starving themselves. They choose to put their
Christianity into action and help the desperate neighbors around them.
While people are looting and killing to survive, this one family tries to
be light in the darkness, even while they're having to defend themselves
from all the danger around them. They change in drastic ways that wouldn't
have been possible without the hardship. I take that family through some
tough times before it's all over.
So, the faith element is a critical aspect of the plot. It's not just
plugged in. I want to write page-turners that entertain my readers, but
ideally, I'd also like to challenge them and encourage them before they get
to the last page.