Q & A with the Author

Interview with the Author, David Housholder

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Is this book autobiographical?

No. I identify with a tiny piece of each of the characters and occasionally am repelled by them. I came up with the thirteen main characters before writing the plot and developed them in great detail before letting them interact with each other. Some have taken on a life of their own and started doing things in the book I didn’t like. Adri intimidates me, so I didn’t give her much airtime in this book. That will come in a later volume. All this being said, and getting back to the question, everything in every novel comes out of the author’s head.

 

You seem very familiar with the geography. What’s with that?

I absolutely love the region from Oberwinter to Rotterdam along the Rhine shipping lanes; it’s a second homeland for me. I was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Bonn, and I know Ommoord well. My wife and I lived in Oberwinter for a year and deeply appreciated the church there; Wendy sang in the choir. If you look carefully, I put the two of us in a cameo….

I make my real home in Huntington Beach, California, where I walk to the pier (or drive to the Cliffs) and surf most days. My imaginary home in California, of course, is in Zarzamora. In California, you see, we have both—there is a fine line between fantasy and reality here.

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Why all the symbolism around blackberry bushes?

1) They start out pleasurable but start to take over. Just like the darker parts of human behavior.

2) They can draw blood.

3) Over time, the combination of impossible demands (from parents, God, society, peers, etc.) and our broken responses to these demands creates a thorny thicket from which we cannot free ourselves. This bramble separates us from our Maker.

4) Freedom from the blackberry bush requires a total shift in orientation to a more spiritual mode that is less indexed on meeting the demands of others.

There is much, much more, if you think about it for a while. But this should get you started on your own musings.

 

Your inside views of the churches are more spiritual than theological in this novel. What camp are you in?

I avoid theological labels and “-isms.” But I am drawn to churches that are uninhibited in their worship of God, especially churches with roots in the Global South. The churches in Hossegor and Zarzamora, are fictional, but all embody this ideal. The warehouse church in Ommoord is loosely based on the Evangelische Gemeente on Bertrand Russell street. Delightful people. Visit them on a Sunday. Robinwood Church, my home church in California, which meets in a warehouse, has this vibe.

My theology is conservative, but I don’t think God is all that impressed with anyone’s theology, including mine. I just want to know and love God and do the same with people. Jesus taught me that.

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What motivated you to write this book?

I’ve always had this book, and many others, clanking around in my subconscious. I also felt that this new generation of young adults needed a book of their own rather than one borrowed from an earlier, older generation’s coming of age. I was also looking for a way to reintroduce the truths of Western spirituality to the new multicultural world. And in this “wobbly” world since the World Trade Center attack, a realistic voice of encouragement needed to sound out.

 

What other symbols are in the book? Is there a secret code?

I have planted hundreds of symbols, in multiple layers, all over the book. Like hiding Easter eggs. You will never find them all. And I’m not going to tell you where they are. To start with, pay attention to numbers and names. Knowing your Bible helps a lot too.

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Are you as into action sports as Josh is?

I’m afraid so. Half pipe is my happy place. I live for stoke. A couple of times, I have experienced his danger moments, personally, out in the waves. It’s harrowing. I teach surfing in Orange County, California, and spend much of my winter at Big Bear, snowboarding too much. I wrote most of this book up there. I get cable just for one channel: Fuel.tv. My favorite movie ever is Second Thoughts, by local Huntington Beach surf film prodigy, Timmy Turner. His family runs the Sugar Shack on Main Street, arguably the best place to get breakfast in the universe.

 

Are the themes of the story patterned on anything?

Yes, Paul of Tarsus writes: “If ye be led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” I believe this is the whole reality around which the Bible rotates (Galatians 5:18).

 

Who are your favorite authors?

They are mostly Dutch. Harry Mulisch. Thea Beckman. Cees Nooteboom. Maarten ’t Hart. I don’t read a lot of English-language stuff. Mulisch’s Ontdekking van de Hemel (Discovery of Heaven) may be the greatest novel ever written, but you kind of have to be Dutch to get it.

I also loved Steffen Kopetzky’s Grand Tour (German) and share his passion for classic wristwatches. Steffen, if you’re out there, come to California, and I’ll teach you to surf.

As for theological writing, no one comes close to E. Stanley Jones. His Victorious Living (Summerside Press) is worth reading over and over for the rest of your life.

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How do you see the book being used?

Primarily as a group or class study. High school students will get a lot more depth and hope out of it than from the dated classic Catcher in the Rye, and they may enjoy reading it. It would also make a good college text in an “intro to religion” class.

It would be especially good for book clubs (read the book all the way through together and then do the discussion questions) or youth groups (when led by an adult). The discussion questions have a level one (for younger age groups or those with a limited discussion time) and a level two (questions that take individuals and groups deeper).

Sunday morning junior high, senior high, or adult Sunday school classes may enjoy focusing on it for a few weeks.

Obviously, it’s also fun to read on vacation in the sunshine all by yourself….

 

Why two main characters?

I wanted both a male and female perspective on growing up in our contemporary world. I also wanted to play them off of each other. Plus, as with two newscasters, you don’t have to look at the same face the whole time.

 

Did things like the tar and feather scene (pek en veren) really happen in Europe after World War II?

Unfortunately, yes. This comes under the heading, if you want to look it up, of the “politics of retribution.” Occupied countries often feel humiliated by their occupiers, and when the latter leave, there is an explosion of anger directed at those left behind who cooperated or collaborated with the invaders.

There was almost never any due process in these “vigilante” actions of retribution, and the singling out of those who were punished was done arbitrarily. Many collaborators escaped punishment altogether.

Researching this material is especially difficult because nations are ashamed, after coming to their senses, of this especially cruel and uncivilized retribution. So, for obvious reasons, they destroy and suppress the evidence of such incidents.

For (disturbing) photos of Dutch victims of retribution, please consider searching for photos under “Moffenmeiden” (Kraut girls). The most deeply disturbing ones have been removed from the Internet.

Please hear me: I did not choose the Hillegersberg location because of any evidence I have of such an event there; this book is totally a work of fiction. I chose the site because of its aesthetic beauty which provides the ultimate contrast to the tar and feather scene.

I have attended the Hillegonda church there, and had a profound experience of God’s presence. I hope those from Hillegersberg who read the book will see the last scene in the book, which also takes place in their neighborhood, as the final word of restoration for postwar Europe. A Romans 8:28 moment.

It is almost impossible, for obvious reasons of the shame involved, to nail down actual times, places, and people involved in such widespread postwar events. A lot of pictures were taken of such events. And a lot of pictures were later burned by the owners when they fully realized what they had done.

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For a serious book, it was written in very casual English. Why is that?

For the most part, the narrators are Kati and Josh, and at the climax of the book, they are only twenty-one years old. I did not want to put language to their thoughts that would not have integrity. I did clean up a little of their grammar, though.

The entire book is written in the casual register, much of it in first person.

 

Are you a Christian?

I don’t like being vague about this. I am a committed follower of Jesus Christ and blessed to be a member of his Church. So, yes. I was raised in a wonderful Christian home and came to personal faith toward the end of college. I am part of the team leadership at RobinwoodChurch.com and we have a worldwide podcast. You can tell from this novel that I have an abiding love for the Bible. That being said, I deeply love and cherish my friendships outside of my faith family. God loves all of us the same. When walls come down…

 

What languages do you speak? You seem to handle the European characters as a native would.

We are an international family. Wendy, my Dutch wife, was born and raised in Asia. Lars, my son, was born in Bonn, Germany. I was raised in the mountains of the American West. I speak fluent English, Dutch, and German and read the Bible in its original languages of Hebrew and Greek. Wendy’s parents suffered through the German occupation of Holland, growing up in Rotterdam. They often had nothing to eat for days on end. Wendy’s grandparents, who could not longer feed her father, sent him on an extended hungertocht, or “hunger trip,” into the countryside to find food for himself. These all-too-common survival pilgrimages for little children, on their own, often lasted for months.

 

Josh and Kati do not get along with their parents. Do you, the author, have parent issues?

All humans have parent issues. But I am blessed to have been raised by outstanding parents in a loving, stable home. If you look carefully in the book, I identify more with the generation of the parents than with Josh and Kati. Look for pieces of my parents in the grandparents. When it comes to parenting, I am less satisfied with the job I did in parenting than the job my parents did. You can see some of that transparency in certain slivers of the book.

 

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the human race?

Militantly optimistic. With God’s help, we will prevail. You will see some specifics about my optimism if you read the Zarzamora chapter of the epilogue carefully.

 

Will there be more books in this series?

Absolutely. Work with me on Twitter @RobinwoodChurch if you have ideas for the next volume.

 

What do you hope the reader will carry away after reading The Blackberry Bush?

 

The realization that it’s human to trap ourselves in broken responses to impossible demands. The awareness that there is a way out of this trap. You can be reborn onto a new path of life in the Spirit.

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