New book: “Pastors’ Wives”

What’s it like when the man you married is married to God?

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Praise for “Pastors’ Wives

“I’m digging into Pastors’ Wives, a lively, funny novel set at a Southern evangelical megachurch. Even for non-religious readers (like me) it’s a fun read. Cullen had me at “What’s it like when the guy you married decides to marry God?” —Julie Dam, People.com

Pastors’ Wives is often surprising yet always emotional, set in a world most of us know only from the outside.” USA Today

“With a reporter’s eye for detail and a writer’s heart for the everyday truths we all face, no matter where we’ve come from or where our lives take us, ‘Pastors’ Wives’ is a terrific first novel. Fast-paced and fresh. Full of sly wit and compassion, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen deftly intertwines the stories of three very different women who need to find their own faith—in themselves.” Laura Zigman, bestselling author of “Animal Husbandry” and “Piece of Work”

“Cullen’s story of these three pastors’ wives—their characters, their husbands, their conflicts, and the world of Greenleaf Church—is riveting, perceptive, and funny. Once you pick up this novel, you won’t be able to put it down.” Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of “The Happiness Project” and “Happier at Home”

“When I received ‘Pastor’s Wives’ by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, I had my guard up against stereotyped and caricatured portrayal. I was so wrong! Cullen, a former foreign correspondent and staff writer for Time magazine, reveals a remarkable depth of truth and strength of character within the women of ‘Pastor’s Wives.’ I was captivated by their stories, cheered them on as friends, and was terribly disappointed when it ended. Novel Rocket and I give it our highest recommendation. This is a must read for everyone who attends a church.” —Ane Mulligan, senior editor of Novel Rocket

“As a journalist, I’ve been trying for a decade to help readers understand the emotional nuance and social complexity of life inside a megachurch.  Nothing I’ve read even comes close to Cullen’s shrewdly observed and utterly empathic writing in ‘Pastors’ Wives.’ That said, by Chapter Two I had completely forgotten that I was reading fiction written by a crack reporter, I was too busy alternating between fits of laughter and multiple-Kleenex sobs. I can’t stop thinking about what this book has to say about love, struggle, and commitment, not just to a faith, but to our families and our very selves.” Lauren Sandler, journalist and author of “One and Only”

“In her sparkling debut novel, Cullen captures so well the truth of faith—not the pretty facades we may put up for Sunday mornings but the messy reality of believing and struggling to believe. Her pastors’ wives aren’t the plasticized, perma-smiling automatons of stereotype, but complex characters whose journeys are bittersweet and often funny, just like life itself. This is a novel that’s full of hope and full of heart.” Jeff Chu, journalist and author of “Does Jesus Really Love Me?”

Funny, generous, welcoming and ultimately deeply moving.” —David Van Biema, author of “Mother Teresa: The Life and Works of a Modern Saint” and the upcoming “Speaking to God: A Cultural History of the Psalms”

“I could not put this wonderful book down—so much so that I missed my subway stop for the first time ever. Don’t for one minute assume that a novel about pastors’ wives is not for you because within a few pages you’ll discover that the three protagonists’ hopes, struggles, and attempts to get through the hard stuff in life as best as they can mirror your own and those of everyone you know. Then you will spend the rest of the novel wondering which of these three women do I love the most—Candace? Ruthie? Ginger?—until you get to the end and realize that you just love them all.” Donna Freitas, author of the novels “This Gorgeous Game” and “The Possibilities of Sainthood”  

 

How “Pastors’ Wives” came about

What’s it like when the man you married is married to God?

This is the question that stuck with me long after I wrote my article about pastors’ wives for Time magazine. Sometimes, it happens that way. You report a story, you write it, it publishes, you move on. But this one stuck. The extraordinary women I interviewed stuck. The topic stuck. And most of all, that one question stuck

It all began with an assignment. My editor Jan Simpson dropped by my office at Time and handed me a press release. “It’s a convention of pastors’ wives,” she said.

“A what of what?” I said.

“Exactly,” she said.

Raised Catholic, I pictured a pastor’s wife—insofar as I pictured one at all—as the smiling woman behind the man behind the pulpit. In the weeks and months that followed, I learned the pastor’s wife is way more complex. She’s strong. Passionate. Devout. Sometimes angry, often put upon—and, to me, fascinating. The article published in 2007. But it wouldn’t let me go.

I set out to research some more. Just Between Us, the magazine for pastors’ wives, allowed me to attend its retreat, and the Global Pastors’ Wives Network its convention. The ladies tolerated my nosy questions and shared with me their moving stories. Heavily pregnant with my second child, I had my belly blessed by nearly every woman I met. Books by pastors’ wives including Carol Kent and Lorna Dobson provided insight. Pastors’ wives are terrific bloggers, and among those I followed I most enjoyed my candid conversations with Amy Lynn Andrews, who now preaches technical how-tos at BloggingWithAmy.com; Janice Hildreth, of PastorsWife.com; and Lora Horn, of RebelliousPastorsWife.

Becky Hunter, the gracious wife of Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church near Orlando, Florida, let me trail her as she performed her many duties. A doting mother and grandmother, she labors in support of her husband and church, has authored two books, and at the time also led the Global Pastors’ Wives Network. Becky offered me thoughts, observations and advice. “Be kind to your husband on purpose,” she likes to say. (I try, Becky! I try.)

What happened next is not typical in the birth of a novel. One morning as I drove into Manhattan on my way to work, a ridiculous thought popped into my head: “This could be a TV drama series.” I had less than a clue how to go about creating one. And yet. My book agent introduced me to a TV agent, who teamed me up with a producer. I met show-runners and wrote treatments. Then, complications ensued. Suffice it to say the whole thing ended in disaster—heart-ripped-out-of-chest-by-alien disaster.

At that point my book agent Theresa Park shook me hard. “You have the characters and the storylines and two years of reporting,” she said. “Just write it as a novel, already.”

It wasn’t just that I had the material. Several intense life changes occurred right around then that lit in me a profound need to reconcile my faith. My mother died of cancer, and then my father, nine months later, of a broken heart. I had a second child. I quit my job as a staff writer at Time, and my career as a journalist.

Mom and Dad

This is my mom and dad. I miss them every day.

The loss of my parents shook my faith especially hard; they were, after all, the very root of it. My father was a Roman Catholic priest from Philadelphia. Sent by his religious order to a provincial city in southern Japan, he met my mother, the coddled daughter of a wealthy merchant. She converted, he left the priesthood to marry her, and it all caused quite the scandal. As if in penance, they raised the four of us children in strict devotion, never allowing us to miss a Mass or our turn at the dinner-table Bible reading. I know their faith sustained them during my mother’s illness and my father’s swift decline, and that the many comforts of religion graced my extended family after their deaths. But in my grief, I felt forsaken.

In many ways, writing “Pastors’ Wives” saved me. Through the characters and their journeys in faith, I examined my own. What did I believe? What was my truth? Believers and nonbelievers alike discussed their views with me. My bookshelf grew crowded with versions of the Bible (the King James, the New American Standard, the Good News), the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the writings of St. Augustine and C.S. Lewis.

Not everybody gets to process their faith through characters of their own creation, and I feel immensely blessed that I had Ruthie, Candace and Ginger to guide me. My journey continues; mine is an ongoing education. My hope is that “Pastors’ Wives” will spark thought and conversation about the role of faith, love and duty in your lives…but first and foremost, that you’ll find it a ripping good read.

“Pastors’ Wives” is scheduled for publication by Plume/Penguin in April 2013. If you’d like a friendly reminder at the time, please e-mail me at lisa dot cullen at gmail dot com. I’d be delighted if you’d also friend me and/or subscribe to my author page on Facebook and follow my posts on Twitter (@lisacullen).