1) How long have you been writing?
We have been writing for 26 years. We started writing a newsletter and promotional material for Youth With A Mission in the Philippines. We did this for a year, after which we began writing books and have been doing so ever since.
2) How did you learn to write?
We both discovered that we had natural writing ability while serving as missionaries, and we put that ability to work writing a national newsletter and promotional material for Youth With A Mission in the Philippines. However, writing books is a more specialized skill, and we were blessed to learn the craft of doing it from John and Elizabeth Sherrill. The Sherrills wrote The Cross and the Switchblade, The Hiding Place, God Smuggler, and many other classic Christian books, and were wonderful teachers, breaking down the necessary steps involved in shaping and writing a book. Another writer and editor, David Hazard, was also a wonderful mentor to us in the early stage of our book-writing career. Like every other craft, once you know the basics you continue to hone and develop your craft by doing. And that had been our experience. We have learned a lot about how to write simply by doing it, and taking note of our mistakes.
3) How many books have you written in the Christian Heroes: Then & Now series?
We have written 38 books in the Christian Heroes: Then & Now series. 36 of these books are in print, and the two books we have recently completed, Paul Brand and D.L. Moody, will be published soon.
4) How many books have you written in the Heroes of History series?
We have written 19 books in the Heroes of History series so far, and all of the books are available in print. We hope to write the twentieth book in this series next year (2011).
5) When did you start writing these books?
We began writing the first book (Hudson Taylor) in the Christian Heroes series in June 1997. And we wrote the first book in the Heroes of History Series (George Washington Carver) in 2000.
6) How do the two of you write these books together?
Basically the writing process we follow goes like this, though very occasionally, for various reasons, we change the process. Janet does the initial reading for the book, this involves reading other biographies about the person, autobiographies, dairies, journals, online material, basically anything we can get our hands on about the person. Following her reading, Janet writes the first draft of the manuscript. However, in many places she just jots notes and references in the text. When she has finished a draft of a chapter, Janet hands it on to Geoff. He then begins editing her work and when he comes to the places where she has left notes and references, Geoff reads all the material referred to and writes a scene or the passage that needs to be added to the chapter. Once he has complete the chapter, Geoff then goes through it again editing some more and polishing the language. Once the manuscript is complete we both go through it one more time to pick up any errors, typos, bad grammar and syntax and the like. At that stage the manuscript is complete and we send it on to our publisher.
7) How do you choose whom to write about?
Sometimes we find a person that we think would be interesting to write about and suggest that person to our publisher, and sometimes our publishers tells us of a person they think would be interesting for the series. Eventually, we agree upon who the next person to write about in the series will be and we go to work.
8) What are you favorite books in the Christian Heroes series?
This is not an easy question to answer, we like so many of the stories we have written in this series. As a result it’s hard to boil it down to one book, but here goes:
For Geoff, one of the books I like the most is the story of John Williams. Those of you who have read this book will know that he was an early missionary in the Pacific, in fact, he was probably the most important missionary in the Pacific Islands. Coming from New Zealand, we were always aware of John Williams and his importance to the spread of Christianity throughout the region. And when we visited Janet’s parents who were living on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands at the time, we saw the church that John Williams established there. I have spent a lot of time in the Pacific, and so when we wrote John Williams’ story it came alive even more for me, since I had been to many of the islands he went to and seen firsthand the results of his work. So for that reason John Williams’ story is one of my favorites. And if you haven’t read the book, I hope you will get a copy and read it, I know you’ll like it.
For Janet, if you ask me at different times, you’ll get different answers! Right now my favorite Christian Heroes book is William Booth, Soup, Soap and Salvation. I have always loved Victorian English history, and William Booth had a significant impact on England at that time. I love the way he saw a problem in society and instead of complaining about it, set to work to solve it. I also love the way his wife Catherine and his daughters were fully involved in the work with him. When I was young, I read a lot of Charles Dickens’ books, (I still have the book reports to prove it), and I loved “spending time” back there. One of the things I love most about writing all of the books is that I get to research and imagine other times and other places.
9) What are you favorite books in the Heroes of History series?
As with the Christian Heroes series, this is not an easy question to answer, we also like so many of the stories we have written in this series. But here goes:
For Geoff, one of my favorite books in this series is Meriwether Lewis. For me, this was one of the most enjoyable books in this series to write, since the scenery kept changing as Lewis and his expedition kept moving from place to place. But what really attracts me to this story is the sense of adventure and the courage of Meriwether Lewis and the men on his expedition. They went off the end of the map in a way that is impossible to do today, and made their way across a vast uncharted swath of land. And when they finally made it all the way to the Pacific Ocean, they had to turn around and retrace their path back across the continent. It was an amazing achievement, and more so given the fact that only one man died on the expedition, and then from natural causes. Of course there were lots of opportunities for others to be killed along the way, but Meriwether Lewis’ leadership managed to keep them safe.
For Janet, I love the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder. She had a difficult life, and she did not start writing until later. It was a total surprise to her and her family that she became a famous writer. I enjoyed writing this book because her life was so “ordinary” to her—crops being harvested and eaten, floods, snow drifts, Indians passing through, but time has made this ordinary story of an ordinary girl in the late 1800’s extraordinary. It reminds me how important it is to document everyday life, because it is thousands of every day experiences that add up to an interesting story. Like Laura, in the future, the simple things you and I do will seem very exotic and interesting to someone else.
Copyright 2010 by Janet & Geoff Benge
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