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'Inventor of Christian Romance' Janette Oke Still Going Strong at 90

Maina Mwaura | CrosswalkHeadlines Contributor | Updated: Apr 10, 2024
'Inventor of Christian Romance' Janette Oke Still Going Strong at 90

'Inventor of Christian Romance' Janette Oke Still Going Strong at 90

New York Times best selling author Janette Oke is a woman who loves God and loves to write about what he is doing in her life so that others can experience what God is doing in her. In a rare interview with CrosswalkHeadlines, Oke, who is 90 years old, still feels like she has a lot to write about and seems to find joy in doing it, as she just recently signed another book contract with a release slated for next year. Oke, who is the wife of a pastor and lives at a retirement center in Canada, seems to be thankful for what she has seen God do in her life. When Oke started writing in her forties, Christian publishing companies weren't yet printing fiction books. But Oke knew the mission and purpose God called her to, which may also explain why she doesn’t see herself slowing down in her later years...

CH: When you look back at what God has done in your life, what do you think? 

Janette Oke: I was always interested in writing. My husband was a minister and then was president of our small denominational college. We had a family of four, so my writing was put on hold until our children were in their teens. Looking back, I am amazed at all that God has done and the way he led in every step forward. I was already in my early forties; we were still extremely busy and Christian publishing houses were not publishing fiction. Yet God had given me the desire to write fiction for young women and teens. It shouldn't have worked, but it did, and God gave me a ministry that went far beyond anything I could have dreamed. The readership also includes all ages, even men. And the books have been published in many languages. My writing has been much more to me than an occupation - it has been a ministry, and I have been able to share my faith with many people that I will never meet in this life. I refer to the books as 'paper missionaries' because they have gone to places I will never be privileged to go.

CH: Why do you think your books resonate, forming community with others? 

Oke: Anytime ministry takes place where some heart, somewhere, responds to God's message, it is the work of the Holy Spirit. We can share our faith and encourage response but only God can change a heart. There are things we can do, and I have tried to be faithful in doing my part. Each book has been written for the reader - not the critic. I have tried to express my faith in some way in each different story. I pray as I write for whoever will be reading the book in the future, that God will minister to the reader's heart and enjoyment or need. And, also, I keep it simple and easy-to-read, and I try hard to make interesting characters that readers will wish to spend time with.

CH: How did the Hearties group form?

Oke: I had nothing to do with starting the Hearties. It began by viewers of the television shows connecting with one another on the Internet and chatting about the happenings of the characters in the stories. Friendships developed and soon they were sharing not just about the shows but also about their own life’s interests and even prayer requests. Brian Bird, one of the show producers, heard of it and got involved and it became more organized, and more and more viewers joined the group. Eventually it was decided by the filmmakers to arrange a Fall Heartie event where those interested could visit the film site and meet one another and the film stars, staff, and crew. This brought much interest. People have even joined us at the Hearties Reunion from a number of other countries. Covid stopped the meetings for a few years, but the Hearties Reunions have been started again. Brian Bird's capable and talented wife Patty has spent many hours arranging and coordinating these events.

CH: How have you been able to stay with writing during the hard times? 

Oke: It has often been very busy, stressful, and energy draining. Not only was I writing two or three books a year if I added a children's story, but there were many speaking engagements, special events, and lots of mail which I personally answered, and a busy family. There were also family and special friends who were of great importance to me.

Strength, energy, clearness of mind, time and wisdom was required. There were also interruptions from normal living, such as illnesses, special events, family needs. I found that I could plan and prepare a new work but when it came to the first draft of the book, I needed time apart where I could write without interruption. I did this first by using my sister's home when they were away, then by renting a hotel room, followed later by buying and renovating and empty farm home, and finally by buying a condo in the nearby mountains. Once I was off by myself and would write from morning to night and in that way, I could get a first draft written in a short period of time. I could then fit in revisions back at home by working it in with other duties. Even so, you still need to rely on God's help and direction day by day. And as best as possible, sort out and plan your schedule so you are prepared to make the best use of the time you have.

CH: How do you decide what to write about? 

Oke: I'm quite sure that each writer would answer that question in a little different way. I once wrote, 'Ideas are like little birds hiding in the grass along the path. And you never know when one might be startled or encouraged to take flight.' Different events, promptings from life, from prayer, from a remark that someone casually expresses. Ideas come from all of life. Some you can use easily. Others take much more time and work. Many are discarded, but they may start your thinking down another path. But basically, it all goes back to 'life.' What is life trying to teach us? What is God trying to teach us? And what person, in what circumstance, would best be able to address the issue? But, many times, it is not sitting down and thinking, 'Now what do I wish to write about?' It is a single thought that for some reason is the nudge that sends you on a trail of thoughts that need development in order to make a story.

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CH: How much does prayer weigh on what you write? 

Oke: Prayer is of utmost importance through every step of the creation. It gives you a beginning as you receive an idea for a story, and as you work you continue to pray your way throughout the work. Many, many times new thoughts or direction have come to me as I have written, that I had not preplanned as part of the story. There are other times that you come to a place where you are uncertain as how to proceed. Prayer can direct you at such times as well.

CH: What advice do you give to people who want to write for a living?

Oke: Be prepared for hard work. Acknowledge that it is 'work' that will take much time and attention. You may need to sacrifice some other things you love to fulfill your dream. Expect to need encouragement and help from family and friends. If you are in a family relationship where writing would take your time and attention away from those you love and have promised to support, give serious thought and prayer as to how this will work. Writing may not work until those issues have been worked through. If you feel this is God's leading that will fulfill God's plan for the gift he has given you, seek his direction, and prayerfully-yet-boldly move forward.

Writing is a valid occupation. There are many things to write about, many ways to communicate through the written word. Even so, if one is a follower of Christ and God has gifted you with the skill of sharing knowledge, or life, or stories, one should not hesitate to use your gift. One does not need to feel you need to be writing sermons or spiritual content in everything you write. But as a believer, like everything else in life, what you do or say should be to the glory of God.

However, one common caution for new writers is, 'Don't quit your day job.' One way to describe the world of writing is by using a large iceberg. You only see a very small part of it. All the rest is under the surface. So with writing. Far more people are writers that the few who gain recognition. When I first received a writer's check, I found that for each of my books that sold, I received 10 cents. Through the years book prices went up and more books sold. But it is wise to have a good back-up plan if one is serious about using writing as an occupation.

CH: How can we connect better in the body of Christ? 

Oke: Connecting takes community. We have so many things in our day that draw us apart. Even though we have learned that we can now sit at home and hear good services, that does not replace our need for actually gathering together. Christ told his followers to 'love one another.' It is hard to love someone you do not know. If you really do love them, you will be interested in them. You will wish to share with them in some way. Eat with them, laugh with them, cry with them. Feel they are 'family.' That takes even more intentional planning if we come from different cultures. But if one is intentional, there can be so much enrichment in learning from one another.

Janette Oke headshot courtesy of Baker Publishing

Maina Mwaura headshotMAINA MWAURA is a freelance writer and journalist who has interviewed over 800 influential leaders, including two US Presidents, three Vice-Presidents, and a variety of others. Maina, is also the author of the Influential Mentor, How the life and legacy of Howard Hendricks Equipped and Inspired a Generation of Leaders. Maina and his family reside in the Kennesaw, Georgia area.

'Inventor of Christian Romance' Janette Oke Still Going Strong at 90