Jess Lederman is the author of over forty books on financial marketing and recently debuted his first fiction book, Hearts Set Free (read the TBAP review here), a Historical General Fiction that is sure to delight and intrigue any lover of excellent Christian Fiction. Jess took the time to answer some questions about his personal life, his walk with Christ, and offered some advice to new fiction writers in this TBAP interview. Take a look!
Miranda ~ Hello Jess! Glad to have you visit TBAP today. Please tell us a bit about yourself that we don’t already know.
Jess: The Secret Life of Jess Lederman. I’ve been writing stories and poems ever since I was ten years old, when my older sister read me a passage from John Dos Passos that set my imagination on fire. A few years later, I also developed a passion for music, and ended up majoring in music history and theory at Columbia University. These days, when I’m not chasing after my young sons or writing, I’m probably playing Chopin, Beethoven, or Brahms for my wife, Ling, at the piano. I’ve always got lots of strong ideas about the background music I’d like to hear if any of my novels are made into movies!
And speaking of my sons: when Ling and I were married, doctors told us that it would be medically impossible for us to have children—don’t even think about paying them for IVF or any other procedure, nothing could ever work. Well, I imagine some angel overheard that and suggested this just might be a good opportunity to show how for God, nothing is impossible! So about ten months after getting that report from the doctors, little David Elginbrod Lederman was born. He’s now almost four, and I brought home Daniel, almost thirteen, from an orphanage in China a couple of years ago. How good is the Lord!
Finally, while I admit that Ling does most of the cooking at our home, I do make a mean matzo brei from time to time. That’s an old Eastern European Jewish traditional breakfast, a recipe I learned from my father. If you’re not familiar with it, think cardboard with eggs, onions, and cheese—but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
Miranda ~ How did you come to make Jesus your personal Lord and Savior?
Jess: I spent the first fifty years of my life as an arrogant atheist—not unlike the character of Tim Faber in Hearts Set Free. Then one day, my late first wife, Teri, heard an interview on the radio with Francis Collins, who had just published a book called The Language of God. He’s an eminent scientist who was instrumental in decoding the human genome, and his book is about both that experience and his own journey from atheism to becoming a devout disciple of Christ.
It’s a wonderful book, and in it Collins quotes extensively from C.S. Lewis, whose writings were important in his own conversion. Teri and I were so impressed with those quotes that we bought and eagerly read many of Lewis’ books. C.S. Lewis in turn pointed us to the man whom he called the greatest influence in his life (next to Christ!), the 19th-century Scottish writer and minister, George MacDonald. Well, if Lewis was the mind that pointed us to Christ, MacDonald revealed the glorious, loving Father-heart of God.
Lewis and MacDonald were the midwives of our rebirth from above. I have a hard time talking about that period of time without shedding many tears of thanks to the Lord, who relentlessly pursues us, who will never rest until every soul has come to Him. I can’t say that I’m yet a slave of Christ, but I’ll tell you this, Miranda, to be like Paul, the Lord’s utterly obedient slave, is my highest and grandest ambition.
Miranda ~ At what point in your walk with Jesus did you realize that He was more than a Savior and that you were friends?
Jess: One of the beautiful things about coming to Christ with George MacDonald as my guide was that, from the hour I first believed, I never thought of Him in any other way (and that’s one of the reasons I run a website, worksofmacdonald.com, devoted to works about or inspired by MacDonald, who has helped so many to come to the Lord!). I realized that I was one of the sinners with whom Jesus eagerly sat down to eat and drink, that He offered the loving friendship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to me just as He did to Zacchaeus. And, you know, most of the time, Jesus sat down at table with many, not just with one; His is a friendship that ought to draw us into closer friendship with our neighbors, with fellow believers and with those who are not yet part of the Body of Christ.
Miranda ~ You clearly have much knowledge of Scripture (especially the Psalms!); when did this start to happen for you, and, what season of your life first made you hungry for God’s Word?
Jess: My love of God’s Word has grown steadily since I came to Christ thirteen years ago. At first, there was much in Scripture that puzzled, frustrated, or even depressed me! I’m not alone in this, and the way people sometimes struggle with understanding the Bible is an important theme in Hearts Set Free. While the beautiful story set forth in the Gospels attracted me from the start, at first many of Paul’s letters left me cold—or worse. Then a wonderfully wise pastor in Alaska suggested that I paraphrase every verse in Paul’s major epistles, beginning with Ephesians. I balked, came up with all sorts of excuses, and tried to stall, but when I finally buckled down and obeyed, it was a life-changing experience!
We often have a tendency to read Scripture too quickly, thinking we “get it,” but when I had to restate every verse in my own words, I slowed WAY down. I found myself meditating on each line, researching the meaning of words, comparing Reformed and Anglican and Orthodox commentaries, and it was utterly amazing. Before long, Paul was my all-time hero!
There’s just no substitute for immersing oneself in Scripture. God freely gives us His amazing grace, but He doesn’t always make things easy for us! His Word will endlessly reveal layers of meaning if we are willing to do the work. I strongly encourage readers to look beyond the writings of contemporary theologians from their own denomination, and benefit from the wisdom of Christians from multiple parts of His Kingdom throughout the centuries. Personally, I’m looking forward to delving deeper into the writings of the early Church Fathers.
Miranda ~ You’re not afraid to admit fierce trials and battles are present in the lives of God’s children—whether in their walk or in purpose. When did you embrace this truth in your personal walk, and what has led you to be particular about presenting this in your fiction writing?
Jess: The trials we go through can test our faith; they can break us, or shape and prepare us for tougher battles yet to come. But any pat answers as to “why” we’re going through them can enrage us! I think often we’re too quick to want to explain away mysteries. I’m not one who says that every affliction is sent from God as part of His plan; nothing evil is of God. The rape and torture of children is not part of His plan. The nature of His sovereignty is not that He is controlling everything that happens, but that He will, in the end, wipe the tears from every eye, that He has, despite all appearances to the contrary, defeated evil and death, and that our current sufferings will not be worth comparing to the future glory that awaits.
This is far more than abstract theology for me. My first wife was in perfect health, at the peak of her life with her new-found faith in God, when she was diagnosed with ALS and given two years to live. Such is the reality of living in a cosmos ruined by the Fall, in a world under the sway of the Prince of This World. She knew that if He wished, God could heal her in a moment, “incurable disease” or no. But her faith never wavered, and the memory of that serves to strengthen me.
By bearing up under the worst that Satan can do, we are picking up our Cross and following Him. What better way to honor God, what more worthy theme for a novelist to explore in his writing?
Miranda ~ Your profession, which is closer to business and finance, has led you to publish much books on financial marketing. What then drew you in this season to write fiction?
Jess: During my business career, I published over forty anthologies on the global markets. I left the world of finance five years after coming to Christ. While I’ve written fiction and poetry since the age of ten, leaving the business world has enabled me to focus on writing Christian-themed fiction (and publishing books by other Christian authors as well). A few years ago, however, I decided to round up fifty high-level bankers and brokers, get them all to work for free as part of a project for charity, and publish a three-volume set of books for financial professionals which I’m thrilled to say has raised over $150k for several great causes. I wrote one chapter myself, at the end of which I included a section entitled “The REAL Secrets of Success.” As you can guess, that consisted of quotes from Scripture!
Miranda ~ What would you say is your greatest desire that readers of your fiction book, Hearts Set Free, walk away with?
Jess: While I hope that readers enjoy a good story and come to love the heroes in Hearts Set Free, I do have an even higher hope. There are several episodes where the characters are discussing difficult passages in Scripture. They do this not out of any sort of academic interest in theology, but out of an urgent desire to love the Lord their God with all their heart and strength and soul and mind! My highest hope is that readers will be invigorated by this searching, and have yet greater fervor to devote themselves to the study of His Word.
Miranda ~ What word of advice would you offer to someone looking to break into fiction writing but with a career at the opposite end of the spectrum?
Jess: The most important word of advice to aspiring writers: Write. Even when I was still in the thick of a very hectic career, I made time to write. Next, recognize it’s a long, often lonely, road, upon which you’ll encounter endless rejection. I quit the business world in my mid-thirties to devote myself to writing for five years but was too young and too addicted to the instant-gratification of business to bear up under the weight of rejection. That right there is the snare to be aware of—you’re undoubtedly far more successful in your day job than in your writing, at least for a long time. Finally, start to network in the writing world, even while you’re still doing something else! Take a few days off and attend a Christian Writer’s Conference, for example—there’s no better way to interact with other writers, agents, and publishers.
THIS or THAT
Coffee or Tea? Coffee
Gym or Outdoors? Outdoors
Sneakers or Boots? Sneakers
Running or Walking? Walking
Cereal or Fruits? Huh? Cereal or Fruit is an Either-Or????? Well, if you mean for breakfast, okay, I guess Cereal!
Music or Books? Music or Books?????? Why not just ask me to choose between Persons of the Holy Trinity, while you’re at it????? 🤔😀
About Jess Lederman
Jess Lederman, founder of the website, The Works of George MacDonald, is well known worldwide to fans of the Scottish novelist and minister whom C.S. Lewis referred to as his “master.” While Hearts Set Free is his first work of fiction, he has published over forty books on the global financial markets and is currently at work on a Christian-themed novel set in Las Vegas in 1955. When he’s not writing, Jess is apt to be playing Chopin nocturnes on the piano. He lives with his wife and two young sons in a small town in the Pacific Northwest.