Lorilee Craker is a prolific nonfiction author and freelance journalist. She is also a member of Madison Square Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich. She gave us some insight into her career.
Q. You've authored a number of books, including parenting books, devotionals, and a memoir with Britney Spears' mother. How do you decide what you will write about?
A. I thought up my first few book ideas based on my passion for baby names (I’ve written two baby name books) and to be able to write about what was going on in my life at the time, namely being pregnant and then mothering babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. I wrote two marriage books based on my own challenge of keeping my marriage vital and fun during what can be the slog of the early parenting years.
As for the Spears memoir, that was a complete curveball. My literary agent at the time happened to know a business manager for the Spears family, and she let him know she was looking for a Christian co-author for Lynne Spears. Trust me—I never saw that one coming! My next book, about the Amish, was also a curveball. It was presented to me as an idea by another agent who knew I had a Mennonite background. And then my last book, about a heavenly traveler, was also brought to me out of the blue. My motto has become “Keep an open mind, and then keep walking through the open doors.”
Q. Your latest book is Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing, and Saving (Thomas Nelson). So how are your financial skills?
A. Better, now that I’ve written that book! Seriously, interviewing the Amish and gaining their money wisdom helped me in ways I didn’t even know I needed. I don’t live a perfect financial life, but I did improve!
Q. Your upcoming book, as I understand it, is the story of a man who was considered medically dead, was revived, and in the meantime had an experience of heaven. How did you get interested in this story? Before talking to him, did you have any preconceived notions of the whole thing?
A. My heavenly traveler, Marv Besteman (who attends Friendship CRC in Byron Center, Mich.) had a near death experience (NDE). We’re not sure that he clinically died, but he was given a vision of heaven. This story was presented to me by an old colleague at Baker Publishing Group, and literally two weeks before I had met Cecil Murphey, the co-author of 90 Minutes in Heaven. Before meeting Cec, I was very cynical about NDE’s. I look back and see how God primed me for meeting Marv and opened my heart to his astonishing, all-true story. This book, which is yet untitled, will add lots of wonderful details about heaven to the books that are already out there.
Q. How do you balance writing and parenting? Both demand time and attention.
A. I have three kids: Jonah is 13, Ezra is 10, and Phoebe is 6. She just started first grade, which means for the first time in 14 years I have eight hours a day at my disposal, and suddenly life isn’t one big juggling act. Other mothers said, “Oh, it will only get worse,” when I complained about the juggling. But they were wrong! It got much, much better, even though I am grieving the loss of an era. Every mother knows that unique ambivalence, which doesn’t make sense to anyone but them.
Q. Are you also a reader? If so, what have you read lately that you enjoyed? What are you hoping to read soon? Any all-time favorites?
A. Oh yes, I am an avid reader, which is like saying Tom Izzo is an avid basketball fan. My late dad, Abe Reimer, ran a Christian bookstore in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where I was raised. My brother and I were steeped like teabags in a love for books. My brother is a more literary reader than I, which is ironic considering his work is completely outside of the book world. He’ll read Mortimer Adler, Saul Bellow, show-off-y things like that, while I devour quirky, witty writers such as Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Berg. My favorite books are about girls or women who want to write, not surprisingly. I love Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and I Capture the Castle. The last book I adored was This Hidden Thing, by a Canadian writer named Dora Dueck. I know Dora a bit, as she went to the Mennonite church I grew up in. The book is about Mennonite domestics in the 1920s, and it’s absolutely compelling and a page-turner. It began as an obscure book, but thankfully it has received some acclaim, in Canada, at least.
Q. I know you also do a lot of concert and show reviews. Any standouts? If you could get free tickets to anything, what would it be?
A. I love almost anything that hearkens back to the ’80s, when I was coming of age, musically. To me, interviewing Taylor Swift is nothing compared to interviewing Pat Benatar or Bryan Adams or the members of Styx and Journey! Over the years I’ve gone to more than 100 shows, and I guess the ones I’ve loved best are the ones I’ve mentioned above. On my bucket list is Billy Joel, Chicago, and The Guess Who.
Q. Do you ever struggle with what your fellow Christians might think of what you are writing?
A. Yes, sometimes writing about pop culture as a Christian is like walking the high wire at the circus. Most of the time, I just do my thing and there’s no agonizing over what to say. But sometimes I have to be very careful, “wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove.” Journalism is about writing what is, not what I wish it could be. Therefore I have given good reviews to people for their voices or talents, regardless of their morals and beliefs. Reformed theology has been a great revelation to me, that God works in every inch of our world and we are called to engage culture. I have seen his imprint over and over, in very surprising ways. He is alive and well in pop culture—make no mistake!
Q. If you were offered a contract to write any book you'd like, what would you write about?
A. My dream is still fiction, but after 12 nonfiction books I have no idea if or when that dream will ever come true. I think it’s also so much harder than it looks. My nonfiction dream contract is to write a memoir called The Mennonite Girl’s Guide to Rock ‘n’ Roll, a fish-out-of-water story flipping back and forth between my conservative upbringing (my two grandmothers wore buns in their hair until they died) and being backstage at Def Leppard, etc. I have so many hilarious and poignant stories about the Mennonite subculture and also about my music writing career. And most of all, I’d love to share with my readers my dad’s story of being raised in the hell of Stalin’s holocaust and how that shaped us all.