Born and raised in North Carolina, Davis Bunn now divides his time between the United States and England, where he serves as Writer In Residence at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University. Bunn has sold more than six million books in sixteen languages worldwide and has been honored with three Christy Awards—yet he has a special affection for helping new writers.
His new release, The Black Madonna (Howard, September 2010), is the second book in the Storm Syrrell Adventure Series.
Writing was not your first career. Was it always something you thought you would do some day? How does your faith play into your writing? Has God ever provided an unexpected “detour” in your life that turned out to be positive?
I thought it might be nice to group these first three questions together, because they are all closely interlinked, at least in my life.
I came to faith at age twenty-eight. At the time, I was living in Germany and working as a consultant. I loved to read, but writing anything longer than a business report had never entered my mind.
Life for me was good, at least in earthly terms. We often hear stories of adults coming to faith as a result of failure. In my case, the issue was success. I had everything, and I had nothing. Arriving at a point where my earthly dreams were coming true acted like a wrecking ball. I had two choices. I could turn away from this newfound awareness and go through life blind to what I had glimpsed, or I could look for a new direction. I looked. And Jesus found me.
Two weeks later, I started writing. I can still remember the moment, the place, the setting, even how the room smelled. I remember that feeling of being flooded with something so immense and incredibly powerful I knew that it came from beyond myself. God called. For the second time in my life, I knew that for a fact.
I wrote for nine years and completed seven novels before my first was accepted for publication. Throughout that time, I continued to work as a consultant. It was very hard. I travelled to two and sometimes three countries every week. But this struggle taught me discipline, and something else. Something vital.
I learned what it meant to focus intently upon our Lord and His calling. I came to understand the meaning of sacrifice. And now, when I talk with other new authors and hear their difficulties in finding time and energy and space, I am able to share with them the stress and pain and struggle. And speak to them from this core of experience. Because the truth is, every artist I have ever met goes through this same struggle. The difference is, we have God’s strength and wisdom to help us achieve the goal.
Let’s talk about The Black Madonna—A Storm Syrrell Adventure, your new book from Howard Books.
The Black Madonna is a sequel to Gold of Kings, carrying forward some key characters and pursuing further mysteries tied to religious relics. It is a thought-provoking adventure story, with the external quest for treasures mirroring the internal quest for spiritual truths.
The story opens as a venerable Catholic priest, charged with preparing the icon of the Black Madonna for public display in a Polish church, draws closer to the painting for inspection. Whatever he witnesses leaves him stumbling from the altar, clutching his chest. He lies motionless on the ancient marble floor, as an old woman cries out for help for a dying man.
Storm Syrell’s flush of notoriety over discovering the treasures of the Second Temple has done little to pay the mounting debts of her arts and antiques business. Her situation is exacerbated by the global economic crisis and investment scandals, which have left her lofty Palm Beach clientele with little appetite—or indeed cash—to spend on their next trophy. So she is delighted to hear from a out-of-town buyer, anxious to secure a Russian oil painting. The portrait itself appears to be of secondary quality, so Storm surmises its cachet must be due to some unsubstantiated stories. The painting is linked to superstitious tales of sudden healings and answered prayers. After intense bidding at auction, she manages to secure the work for the secretive new client. Then another assignment is phoned in–another relic, this time in Spain. And then still more relics, taking her to England and Switzerland and Italy.
Storm is forced to contend with a number of bizarre encounters. Is someone out to get her—to keep her from succeeding in collecting these artefacts? Or is she just imagining such threats because of the dramatic turn of events with the temple treasures? When her friend Emma Webb turns up, an agent now on detail with Homeland Security, Storm’s doubts coalesce into fear. National security, Emma explains quietly. A master-forger is at work. Together they must track the clandestine commerce in certain religious artefacts and determine the motives of their buyers and sellers. Other whispers reach Storm—strange voices of Russian oligarchs, and Vatican emissaries, and Rasputin-like figures promising miracles. This is no small game of mis-attributed canvases. Storm is taken to Poland, to a monastery which houses one of the most powerful icons in all Christianity—the Black Madonna. As she gazes upon the scarred image with the open-handed invitation to trust in something beyond herself, Storm resolves to see the mystery through to the end. But when she feels a strong grip upon her shoulder, she turns to face a future she could not have imagined.
What gave you the idea for the book?
For many writers, the seed of an idea germinates for some time before being brought to fruition. The Black Madonna captured my imagination some fifteen years ago, on a visit to the ancient walled monastery at Czestochowa. My wife, Isabella, is of Polish heritage. As I came to know her family and the traditions of the Catholic Church, I learned about the importance of images and rituals in sustaining faith. While we were in Krakow one summer, her ailing uncle Marian expressed a desire to go on one final pilgrimage to Our Lady of Czestochowa. This turned out to be an extraordinary journey, awhirl with equally astonishing legends.
It is said that the Black Madonna was painted by Luke the evangelist on the wooden board that served as a table for the holy family. From Jerusalem the painting made its way to Constantinople and eventually to the church in Poland. Since the early 1400s, the painting has sustained the Polish people though occupations and division and Nazism and Communism, and was linked to the Solidarity movement which eventually brought about Poland’s independence.
The Black Madonna depicts Mary holding the baby Jesus, who extends His hand in a blessing to the viewer. The surface is darkened by centuries of smoke and incense. Seven hundred years ago, the mother’s face was scarred by a Tartar’s sword thrust. Today, the Black Madonna remains Poland’s holiest relic and one of the country’s national symbols. The church that houses it is an elaborate Baroque-styled structure with worn marble floors.
And what of Uncle Marian—did he receive the miracle he was praying for? Surely he still felt frail upon settling back into the car for the journey home. But he whispered to Isabella, “Now I can die in peace.” So I, too, can appreciate the power of the Black Madonna—not so much as a source of victory—but as a symbolic reminder of divine protection.
I understand you are working on another book with Janet Oke. When will your new book together be released?
Janette and I have written eleven books together. This newest story, entitled The Damascus Way, is slated for release in January of next year. This story completes a Biblical trilogy that includes The Centurion’s Wife and The Hidden Flame.
The greatest lesson I personally have gained from this series is how our world is reshaped through the vision of Jesus. This is a truth revealed time and again through the Book of Acts. We hope this same truth will shine within our pages. Our hope is that each of these stories will ignite in the reader a new hunger to enrich themselves through the treasures found in the Book of Acts.
Our first book, The Centurion’s Wife, dealt with the forty days between the resurrection of Jesus and the arrival of Pentecost. The key component of our second book in the series, The Hidden Flame, was what I called the passing of the torch. Jesus left, and His disciples took over. They moved from the position of followers to leaders. What an enormous challenge that must have been, and yet how similar it is to the challenge any leader faces today.
In the third book of our trilogy, we create a story based upon outreach. We look at what it means to engage in evangelism, and seek a clearer understanding of the challenges and mysteries faced by those earliest believers. And we seek to enrich the glorious moment when Saul, the early church’s greatest enemy, was called to faith by our Lord.
A few fun questions:
This website is about both writing and music. Do you also have musical talent?
I have always loved music. For my fourth birthday my grandmother gave me a little 45 rpm record player and a stack of classical records for children. I wore those suckers out. For my sixth birthday she gave me an accordion, something her son—my father—has yet to forgive her for. I shifted to the trumpet at age eleven, because the school band didn’t have a spot for an accordion, which was great as far as I was concerned, because the band gave me the trumpet. All I had to do was play it. Like that was going to be tough. And my father thought the accordion was loud.
But I didn’t have the talent to go pro. It was a tough thing to accept, I shifted to what local bands in high school were called—combos—that’s a word I bet a lot of your readers have never heard of. We played beach music—what was hot in the late sixties and seventies in North Carolina. Four Tops, Temptations, all that. I loved it. But I also realized there was a world of difference between playing someone else’s creation, and creating it myself. When I went off to college, I just stopped. It’s amazing to think it left so quickly. But I was sort of burned out by then. And sports were a big part of my life, and I didn’t have time for both at the collegiate level. But I have always continued to love music. Nowadays I listen to a range of music that can only be called bizarre. Everything from Christian rock to fusion jazz to opera. And bluegrass. And flamenco. Like I said. Bizarre.
Are you a major or a minor chord?
What a beautiful question. A song done mostly in a major chord, with a minor refrain.
In the story that is your life, are you the tall, dark stranger; the romantic lead; the mythical warrior; the mad scientist; or the child in an adult’s body?
That’s an easy one. I’m the perpetual eleven year old mad scientist who invents the incredible potion that turns him into the tall dark stranger who hides a warrior’s gift beneath his Valentino duds.
And a requisite question here at DivineDetour, are there any pets at the Bunn household? Dogs? Cats?
My wife and I love pets. Love them. Right now, though, we are both involved in teaching and working six months each year in the US, and six months in England. As a result, we can’t have pets. But when this phase is over, we have already decided what we are going to get. We intend to buy a baby Himalayan kitty and a baby Dutch Dwarf bunny and raise them as a family. I want a dog too. A West Highland terrier. My wife has drawn a line in the sand. I’m trying to erase it. More on that later.
As a writing instructor, what’s the most important thing you teach your students?
It remains a great pleasure to work with new would-be authors. Truly. I wrote in the lonely wilderness for nine years and finished seven books before my first was accepted for publication. Anything I can do to assist other authors to avoid some of the pitfalls I struggled through is a genuine pleasure.
The most important advice I can possibly offer a Christian author is this: Attend one of the major five-day Christian writers’ conferences. Seven are listed here. I have selected these because they are large enough, and so well-established, that every major publisher and agent will attend at least one of these each year, and perhaps more. This is a crucial component of a successful conference. Do not be swayed by one that is quicker, closer, or cheaper. You need to have the connection to the commercial world, and see your work through the eyes of those people who have the power to offer you a contract.
There are a number of significant differences between one of these Christian conferences and the mainstream counterparts. Most of these began as church-based ministries, and ALL of them see their work as a service to our Lord. The same is true for the teachers. We come in order to serve God and further the Kingdom’s work.
The days are basically split in two. In the mornings are ‘major tracks’, ongoing classes designed to cover the basic nuts and bolts of your chosen direction—fiction, non-fiction, song and poetry, magazine articles and greeting cards, and screenwriting. The afternoons are focused upon the commercial side of the writing world—meetings with agents and publishers, classes on pitching and presentations and marketing, and so forth.
Two other advantages come from attending such a conference. The first is, you have the opportunity to discuss your work with other authors, and know what it means to translate a private dream into a commercial reality. The second is, you are granted a set of realistic expectations and tools for change. Both of these are vital components to growth and success.
The main Christian writers conferences are as follows:
The American Christian Fiction Writers Conference, each September, location varies
The Write to Publish Conference, Wheaton College, Illinois, each June
The Christian Writers’ Guild conference, Colorado, each February
The Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, Santa Cruz, every April
The Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference, each May
The (formerly) Glorietta Christian Writers Conference, New Mexico, each October
The Florida Christian Writers Conference, each February
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To purchase The Black Madonna or other books by Davis Bunn at Amazon, logon to http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_1_10?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=davis+bunn&sprefix=davis+bunn.
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To purchase The Black Madonna or other books by Davis Bunn at Christianbook, logon to http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/easy_find/1129271389?Ntt=davis+bunn&N=0&Ntk=keywords&action=Search&Ne=0&event=ESRCN&nav_search=1&cms=1&search=.