Author gets friendly with NYT best-seller list with titles on heaven, Palin


Lynn Vincent may not be a potter, but she still spends a good part of her days with her hands and her heart plying the mucky remnants of despair wrought from broken lives. And, as an author, her primary tool is not a wheel, but a keyboard, which she deftly uses to massage her pieces into liberating stories of redemption.

"I believe that God has hardwired us to respond to story, and I believe that's true of all people, not just Christians. We can look to the Bible for evidence of that," she said, adding that, as the best-selling book of all time, the Holy Bible offers the most compelling model of storytelling.

"I have done an informal, unscientific, non-empirical survey of the Bible, and I have deduced that only about 10 percent of the Bible is Christians telling other Christians what to do. Then you have the wisdom literature and the Psalms, and the whole rest of the Bible is stories. It's a collection of stories. It's usually about people that are messing up, and it's about how God redeems the situation."

The best-selling author has collaborated on a wide range of non-fiction topics including homelessness, terrorism, drug addiction, war, corruption and politics. In 2009, Vincent scored a literary coup when former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin chose her to pen her memoir, "Going Rogue."

This year, Vincent is touching hearts with "Heaven is for Real," a true-life account of a little boy's encounter with the afterlife, which she co-penned with Pastor Todd Burpo, the boy's father.

The latest book—published by Thomas Nelson—has sold more than 2.5 million copies and has been No. 1 on the New York Times Non-fiction Best Seller List for 22 consecutive weeks. The book chronicles the journey of Colton Burpo, who at 3 years old had life-threatening surgery but survived. Several months later, the toddler told his parents vivid details about his visit to heaven while hospitalized, including details of family events Colton was never told.

"The reason I do what I do is because of the philosophy I have that story touches us and changes us in a way that, frankly, is irresistible," the author said. "At the end of the day what I hope to do with my stories is inspire, give people hope, show God's power to redeem, even in the most horrible of situations."

She's hoping to expand the influence of Colton's story this fall with the release of an illustrated children's version of "Heaven is for Real."

"It has been incredible to watch the contagious enthusiasm of readers drive the success of 'Heaven is for Real,'" Michael Hyatt, Thomas Nelson's chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "Colton's story gives a wonderful glimpse into what lies ahead for believers and encourages us to embrace our childlike faith."

Childhood interrupted
While that childlike faith was evident in Colton's story, there was little room for any of it in Vincent's own childhood. Raised in a household where alcohol abuse took center stage, Vincent said she learned early on to depend only on herself.

"I dropped acid at my mother's birthday party when I was 13 years old because someone handed it to me,'" Vincent said.

By 14, she ran away from home, seeking refuge in Alabama with her grandmother. Months away from high school graduation, she dropped out to join the Navy, serving in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. She later took her GED test and earned a liberal arts degree from Excelsior College. Capitalizing on her love of writing—as a child she wrote a Wizard of Oz screenplay, tinkered with romance novels and wrote for the campus newspaper in high school—Vincent studied journalism primarily on her own, garnering various freelance writing gigs until landing a staff position at World magazine in the late '90s.

"I think the different things that people would look at—have looked at—in my life would go 'Wow, that's awful,'" she said. "God just turns from ashes to beauty."

Her experiences proved invaluable with the 2007 release of another collaboration, this one with Christian musician Michael English, whose career came to an abrupt halt in 1994 just days after earning Dove Awards for Artist and Male Vocalist of the Year. Revelations that he had committed adultery shattered his career and spawned years of drug and alcohol abuse that nearly cost him his life.

"He was messing it up big time," Vincent said. "He was screwing up his own life and for the people on the periphery of someone's life, that's where the story ends. That's not where Michael's story ended."

After years of intense personal work, the black sheep of Christian music returned to his faith. His redemptive journey led English back to his musical roots where he once again tours with the Gaither Vocal Band. In 2010 he was nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year for the Dove Awards.

His story, with Vincent's writing skills, is chronicled in the Thomas Nelson release "The Prodigal Comes Home: My Story of Failure and God's Story of Redemption." The collaborating process between writer and musician helped heal more than just English.

"It's astonishing to me," she said, pausing. "How does the Lord redeem a drug-infested childhood and adolescence? How does the Lord redeem the home of my adolescence literally being a drug house? Well, he puts me in a position to write an addict's book and show that behind that addict was a sensitive, repentant man who struggled mightily to kick his physical addiction."

Dual roles
For much of the last decade, Vincent pursued book publishing while still serving as features editor for World. In addition to the English book, she co-published offerings featuring retired LTG William G. Boykin and 16-year-old sailor Abbey Sutherland.

While garnering success on both writing fronts, Vincent said she began to sense God was moving her on to full-time book writing. Inside she was wrestling with herself, saying she felt a tremendous amount of loyalty to World magazine for taking a chance on her. After more than a year of prayer, Vincent said her frustration lapped over into her quiet time with Jesus.

"I said, 'Lord if you wanted me to know the answer to what I'm supposed to do, you could just actually tell me,'" she said. "'That would be really cool if you would do that.'"

That day while doing her regular devotion, not "Bible bingo,"—the process she calls opening the Bible and randomly picking Scripture—she came to Deuteronomy 1:6, where Moses recounts that the Lord told his people, they have stayed long enough at this mountain, now go.

Vincent, who by that time had been told she was on the short list to write the Palin book, made an appointment to meet with her boss at World to give her notice.

"I had sort of shaken my fist at the Lord, and he had provided me with this answer, so now I had to act," she said, admitting she was taking a professional risk by acting without knowing about the Palin book deal.

"The idea that this unknown writer from this very, very conservative Christian magazine would get this gig was pretty remote. … She was the hottest political figure in a very long time," Vincent told herself.

While on a business trip to Fort Worth and just minutes before she was due to call her editor at World to resign, her cell phone rang. Palin had chosen her to write the memoir.

"Would I look un-cool if I said I jumped up and down in the street in front of a homeless mission in Fort Worth? I was ecstatic," Vincent said, adding that working with a national political figure was only one motive why she sought the high-profile writing job.

 "One reason was because I felt she got such a raw deal in the press coverage," the author said. "The theme that has run through several of my books has been the theme of correcting the record. So I was excited about the opportunity to do that. I have what I sometimes call an 'overdeveloped' sense of justice."

It's that sense of justice that sustains Vincent during the often-monotonous, isolating days of molding raw details and stories into a redemptive work of literature.

"Each person's story is legitimate, no matter what their faith background is," she said. When I write these stories, the story is about their story, and the story reveals the way the protagonist walks in his or her faith without clubbing the reader over the head with it. That really reflects, I think, the way most Christians live their lives. Most Christians don't live their lives walking around with a sandwich board saying, 'The end is near.' We're salt and we're light, and I try to put that salt—and life—into the stories in a way that reflects the reality of that person's faith."

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