Posted by Robert Sagers
This is the fourth (and final) installment of an interview with writer and musician Andrew Peterson. For a bit of context, see part I of the interview (and part II and part III).
RES: You’ve produced ten albums. Which has been the most satisfying, and why? Which has been the most frustrating, and why? What has the Lord taught you through both experiences?
AP: I know this is an overused answer, but it really is like asking which of your children is your favorite. Every album is fraught with frustration, both financial and creative. Several times during the making of every album I have questioned my career choice, my gifting, my sanity. On the other hand (sometimes only minutes later) I have experienced bliss in the camaraderie, or when a song suddenly becomes more than the sum of its parts. And later, elation when you hear from someone that they were moved by it and you know your labor was not in vain. I approach the making of every album with fear and trembling.
RES: What is the process that you go through in writing a song? In other words, is there anything in particular that you do to “get in the zone,” or is it more a matter of living life, observing people, and working as inspiration hits? How does that differ from the process that you go through when you’re writing a blog post, or even a book?
AP: When the book is finished and I can focus my energy on songs again, I start by getting the guitar out of the case. I lean it against the wall. It stares at me while I eat dinner. I begin to remember how I used to ride my bike a mile to my friend Lance’s house and beg him to lend me his dad’s Harmony guitar. When my begging worked I’d wobble home with one hand on the handlebar and one carrying the old black case. I’d sit in my bedroom for hours, playing along with Lynyrd Skynyrd songs till the tape wore out. Now I have my own guitar (and a pretty nice one at that). I can play it whenever I want, but I usually don’t until I remember how much I love it. Then when I’m sure the rest of the family is fast asleep I pick up the guitar, pretend I'm thirteen again, and hope to make something pretty. Most of the time it ain’t pretty. But sometimes, when the barometric pressure is right, the moon is high, and I’ve eaten my Wheaties, songs are born.
I usually start with something to say, some idea I had and scribbled in my journal, but many times the song becomes something else entirely. I used to fight that, but I don’t anymore. It’s very different from writing a book. A book is a nine-to-five job, and requires as much endurance as creativity. When the album is finished and it’s time to work on a book, I put away the guitar and spend my mornings at the local coffee shop for a few months. I’m pretty sure I keep them in business.
RES: You have three children. Please tell us about your family devotions—is there anything specific that you try to do, and anything that you want to avoid?
AP: After the kitchen is clean and the jammies are on, we read a Bible story (we love The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones), then we read the next chapter in whatever book we’re working through (right now we’re enjoying 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson). Then we pray. We don’t call it “devotions.” Reading time is just as much a part of our day as throwing the Frisbee or watching the “Twilight Zone.”
RES: Why are you writing books for children? Please tell us about On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and the forthcoming novel, North! Or Be Eaten.
AP: As for why I’m writing books for children, allow me to quote myself (from a Rabbit Room blog last week): “Those of us who write, who sing, who paint, must remember that to a child a song may glow like a nightlight in a scary bedroom. It may be the only thing holding back the monsters. That story may be the only beautiful, true thing that makes it through all the ugliness of a little girl’s world to rest in her secret heart. May we take that seriously. It is our job, it is our ministry, it is the sword we swing in the Kingdom, to remind children that the good guys win, that the stories are true, and that a fool’s hope may be the best kind.”
These books follow the adventures of twelve-year-old Janner Igiby and his brother and sister. In the first book they discover that their quiet little town is anything but quiet, and that their lives are more important than they could ever imagine. In the second book they’re running for their lives, and learning to live with the truth of who they are. Of course, there are swords, sea dragons, toothy cows (the horror!) and bumpy digtoads (which are too loathsome to describe in this esteemed blog).
The Wingfeather Saga is my attempt to tell a great story, one that children and adults alike will enjoy and be comforted by. North! Or Be Eaten, as the title implies, isn’t a safe story. There’s quite a bit of danger and darkness, but I hope it only serves to make the beauty shine brighter.
RES: Which musicians do you think really “get it,” and why?
AP: I’m truly a fan of every member of the Square Peg Alliance (Ben Shive, Andy Gullahorn, Jill Phillips, Eric Peters, Jeremy Casella, Randall Goodgame, Andrew Osenga, and Derek Webb). Other than that, I’d suggest Pierce Pettis, Jason Gray, and of course the late, great Rich Mullins. What I love about these artists is their commitment to excellence, and to telling the truth well, regardless of what's driving the market.
RES: What counsel would you give a Christian who is considering being an artist?
AP: Do your very best to not write bad songs. Care about the craft. Be objective. Be discontent with your first try. Be discontent with your fifth try. Aspire to create art that will last.
RES: Thank you again for your graciousness in taking the time to answer these questions! May the Lord bless you in your ministry as you seek to exalt Christ in your songs, your writings, and your life.