Authors are often asked where their ideas come from, and while each storyteller has his or her own process (or lack of process) for finding them, I remember quite clearly the conversation I had that led to the conception of Critical Times. (Depending on how far you’ve read, the following may contain spoilers, so you might want to skip this post entirely before finishing the book.)
It was about two years ago. I was sitting in a coffee shop with a friend talking about the Great Tribulation. There was so much in the news at the time regarding ISIS and terrorism and natural disasters, and we got to talking about what chain of events might lead to the attack on false religion. (It’s important to note, of course, that ultimately it is Jehovah that “puts it into their [world governments] hearts” to attack Babylon the Great (Rev 17:17); however, this could still mean that certain world events related to religion may precede it.)
After mulling over various scenarios, I mentioned that I wanted to set my next novel during the Great Tribulation. I thought it would be exciting (if not a little terrifying) to write (and read) about the collapse of society, the ensuing chaos, and how the friends were carefully maneuvered to safety. Although it was entirely guesswork, it was an interesting mental exercise, and there were plenty of Biblical precedents to meditate on and research.
For a change of pace from the first two novels, I decided early on that the protagonist would be an unbeliever. I thought it’d be interesting to see the end of the world through his eyes. From there, casting him as a police officer seemed like an obvious choice. This way, he’d be even more invested in the safety of his community, and bad things happening around him would feel all that more personal. Then came the kicker–what if his wife were studying with the Witnesses… in secret?
This was the “Aha!” moment that set me firmly on course for writing Critical Times. There was plenty of potential for conflict, both internal (when the protagonist discovers what his wife is doing and must make a decision), and external (societal collapse, terrorism, etc). This was enough for me to start writing the first scene of the novel–the fire at the Kingdom Hall. Only, at first, it wasn’t a Kingdom Hall but a church.
In the original concept, Luke and his partner respond to a fire at a church and rescue a pastor from the flames. In this version, Luke was a detective, and this inciting event would lead him on an investigation which would span most of the novel. The problem was, it was starting to dilute Luke’s character. I didn’t want him to be a sharp-minded criminal investigator with misgivings about the government and/or the police. He needed to be loyal to the force, respectful of his captain, and protective of his community. Thus, he was more effective as a patrol officer, one pursuing a promotion as Sergeant and eager to please his superiors. Consequently, Eva’s character came along, as she was someone who could deliver chunks of the investigation to Luke without us having to plod along behind her every step of the way.
After writing the first few scenes (Luke responding to the fire, saving Brother Harris, getting interviewed by Eva), I realized something else was wrong. Since the novel was written from Luke’s perspective, the reader was missing all that was happening behind the scenes with his wife. It wouldn’t do for Luke to suddenly discover what she was up to. We had to see it coming. We had to get emotionally invested with her plight. Thus–and with a bit of trepidation–I decided to write from a multiple first person perspective. (I’ve had a few emails from people complaining about this, and I can certainly understand why it can feel disorienting, but trust me when I say that it was the best option available. I actually wrote several of the scenes in three different perspectives, but none of them worked as well as this.)
As I’ve written about in a previous post, I’m not one for meticulous plotting when writing a story, and Critical Times was no exception. I didn’t know, for example, that Jesse would turn up later in the novel, or that we’d finally found out what happened to Eva, or that the story would end at sea. I went with instinct for a lot of it, constantly upping the stakes, making things increasingly difficult for the protagonists, until the final showdown at sea.
The lessons that many readers have drawn from the book are spot on. Don’t get too attached to material things. Reach out to unbelieving family members. At the very least, see things from their perspective and empathize. Improve skills in informal witnessing. Stay close to the organization, and be obedient.
While none of us can be sure what awaits us in the final days at hand, we can be sure that improving now in these areas will pay off in a big way!