Greetings from Marti Pieper in stormy, in-the-midst-of-rainy-season Mount Dora, Florida. Today, I have the privilege of sharing an interview with my friend and fellow author Jesse Florea. I know Jesse through serving on faculty together at various writers conferences. I know you’ll find him as fun, engaging and inspiring here on our CAN blog as he is in person.
Welcome, Jesse, and congratulations on the release of most recent book! Please tell us about it.
Girl Talk/Guy Talk: Devotions for Teens focuses on different aspects of teen life to help guys and girls better understand and communicate with the opposite sex. Stories, checklists, quizzes, fact-based news and skill-building tips will encourage and equip young girls and guys to relate to each other in God-honoring ways.
Why did you write this book?
CAN Treasurer, Karen Whiting, and I wrote this book because there’s nothing else like it in the Christian marketplace. Communication is complicated, and I think a lot of us can remember how awkward it was to try and talk with the opposite sex during high school—especially if it was a girl or guy you liked. So this is really a book I wish I had as a teen. Not only does it provide helpful tips and insights for teens (such as understanding personality types, reading body language and protecting your reputation), but it continually points guys and girls to honoring God with their lives and in their relationships. It’s also just a fun book that teens will relate to without being preachy.
I could have used that book as a teen, too. What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?
Since I’m the editor of Focus on the Family Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. magazines, I know a good editor can really help a manuscript. And working with Linda Howard and Sarah Rubio at Tyndale really helped us narrow the focus of this project. Karen and I wanted to speak into a lot of different areas of teen life. And, honestly, our initial draft of the manuscript was pretty scattered. Sarah and Linda saw that and made some great cuts and edits. Then Karen and I went back and did a lot of rewriting and rearranging. The end result is a book that’s an easy read, while still digging into some important spiritual and relational topics.
That sounds great. When did you first recognize God’s call to write for Him?
During my sophomore year in high school, I took an introduction to journalism course. A couple weeks in, I knew this is what God wanted me to do with my life. Writing, English and spelling had always been my worst subjects. But I loved journalism and thrived on interviewing people and writing their stories. I began writing for the school newspaper and also wrote sports stories for the town newspaper. In fact, I covered high school sports for weekly or daily newspapers for more than 25 years. Writing is like lifting weights: the more you do it—the stronger you get. I went to Wheaton College in Illinois to study and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications and master’s degree in print journalism in 1992. I thought I might work for Sports Illustrated, doing stories on Christian athletes. But God had other plans. I’ve been at Focus on the Family for nearly 24 years, where I’ve edited magazines for children, teens and parents. And I’ve written, co-written or edited more than 30 books.
God has used you in some special ways. Why do you write devotional books in particular?
I tend to look at the world and see object lessons and devotional nuggets of truth. So devotional writing comes pretty naturally. I’m always amazed when I talk with a fiction writer who can create settings, characters and storylines in 120,000-word books. My brain doesn’t work that way. I like writing short, fun, practical pieces. I think this is my tenth devotional book. And that doesn’t even count the hundreds of devotions I’ve written for Lifeway’s men’s magazine and Walk Thru the Bible’s teen publication. I’m stealing this line from another editor, but I love that devotions can be read in five minutes and remembered for a lifetime. That’s why I write. I hope that something that I’ve crafted or discovered in my own life will help teens and younger children grow closer to God. That’s my prayer.
I love that. Do you have a “day job” or a previous career? Does it influence what or how you write?
My day job is working at Focus on the Family as the editorial director for the children’s publications. That means I get to choose, edit and/or write all the stories that appear in Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. magazines. I’ve been doing that at Focus for nearly 20 years. And before that I was the associate editor for Focus on the Family’s magazine for teen boys called Breakaway. So I’d say working in teen and children’s ministry has very much influenced what I write. All of my books have been aimed at these demographics, because ultimately, I’m passionate about kids growing closer to Christ.
And so many kids become book-lovers through the work of library. Please tell us about your favorite library memory.
I’ve always loved books. Growing up, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was my favorite. A very funny book with lots of twist of phrase and silly language. Anyway, I’d hang out in the school library pretty frequently. So when I was in seventh grade, the school librarian asked me to be a library aide. I’d shelve books, help students check out books and provide suggestions. Plus, it was a great way to meet girls. Ha! Actually, I was too shy to talk much with girls back then. (Hmm, maybe that’s why I’m excited about this Girl Talk/Guy Talk book.)
Then in high school, I continued to hang out in the library and get to know the librarian. During my junior year, the librarian asked my to write a rap for National Library Month. I’m not much of a rapper, but I did always like rhyme. Anyway, I wrote some stuff, and then some friends and I recorded it and played it over the school PA system. Somehow my mom kept the recording and gave it to me years later, and I shared it as a joke with some of my friends on “Adventures in Odyssey” (Focus on the Family’s kids’ radio drama series). To make a long story slightly shorter, we ended up featuring my library rap on the Official Adventures in Odyssey podcast that I co-host.
Here’s a link if you want to listen. You have to go in to about the 10:20 mark of the podcast for the set-up. It’s totally embarrassing, but still one of my favorite library memories. (And, no, I didn’t breathe in any helium before recording that song.)
As a fellow childhood (and beyond) writer of parodies and raps, I am very thankful none was preserved for posterity—much less featured on a radio program. Thanks for sharing! Can you tell us about your next project?
Later this fall, I’ll be working with Lee Strobel on The Case for Miracles for Kids, the third book we’ve done together. It’ll be in stores early in 2018!
We’ll look forward to that one as well. Thanks, Jesse, and best to you and all your writing and editing endeavors.
To learn more about Jesse Florea, check out Jesse’s website.
For His glory,