Burnside Sells Out: Stephen W. Simpson

Burnside is blessed with a whole slew of talented contributors. Sometimes, to our utter delight, those contributors become published, and some area already established authors.

Our to goal is to interview each and every one for this feature, which we've entitled "Burnside Sells Out". It's our dream that this goal is never attained, not for lack of effort, but because our compatriots just keep getting book deals. Here's our first interview with Ariele Gentiles.

Our next Sell Out is Stephen W. Simpson. Steve has a PhD in clinical psychology and an MA in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He's written two books on relationships, What Women Wish You Knew About Dating and What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Sex, the latter of which probably wouldn't teach me anything new. (Right, honey?)

His most recent book is a memoir, Assaulted By Joy: The Redemption of a Cynic. The book chronicles Steve's exodus from the throes of disillusionment, primarily through his marriage and the subsequent birth of his four children.

Oh, and the four children all came at the same time.
Burnside: Tell us about how "Assaulted By Joy" ended up in print.

Stephen W. Simpson:
I wrote an article about our first year with quadruplets. Angela Scheff, an editor at Zondervan, read it and asked if I'd be interested in doing a book. Since I'd spent the past 3-4 years blasting out proposals and query letters, I can't tell you how good it felt to be asked for a book! I wrote a proposal, Angela made some suggestions, and then I rewrote it. She saw the book I wanted to write more than I did. I was thinking CBA fatherhood book, but she could tell that I was working with a couple of themes and suggested I do a straight memoir. Love that woman!

It took me about four or five months to write the first draft and another three or four months working with Angela to make changes. The book was on shelves about two years after the initial proposal.

BWC: The first four chapters deal specifically with growing up in the church and your building disillusionment toward not only Christianity, but your relationship with God. I was surprised at times how much our lives paralleled, and I kept wondering if this was unique to you and I, or if that bent toward cynicism is common. If cynicism is a natural part of who we are, is there a healthier focus it can take?

SS: I think idealism and passion in youth almost sets you up for cynicism. Cynicism comes from having big expectations lead to big disappointments. A lot of evangelicals start off thinking that God and The Church will bring them nothing but happiness and safety. That illusion gets shattered pretty fast for most of us, but it's a good thing. If we believe that faith is just about freedom from pain and individual happiness, then it's just a prosperity gospel that has little to do with the Bible.

How heavily was your content edited? It seems like there were times you weren't telling everything, or couldn't.

SS: I was heavily edited but in the opposite way: Angela kept asking for more. I have a terrible habit of "telling instead of showing" in first drafts, and Angela broke me of that. She wanted everything to be a story. She opened me up a lot more than reigning me in. I ended up adding about 20,000 words. But, yes, I didn't tell everything. It's a CBA book and I knew what to avoid, but I'm cool with that. The important stuff is all there.

BWC: That's a great way to put it. So the first half of the book, you're basically mired in this ebb and flow of cynicism. Then you meet Shelley, and you guys get married. After two miscarriages, your doctor prescribes Clomid, a fertility drug. Does anyone on fertility drugs NOT end up with at least triplets? Because that's my impression. Fertility medication seems like the monkey's paw: "Be careful what you wish for".

SS: Multiple births are only slightly higher for women taking Clomid, so people shouldn't be afraid of it. It's in vitro that gets you a litter. Our situation was very unusual.

You and Shelly learn you're having quadruplets. From that point on, your lives...and particularly Shelley's...become a living nightmare. Just one horrific obstacle on top of another. It's astonishing. This may be my sadistic side, but there were points reading where something else awful would happen, and I'd just laugh out loud, like I was watching someone comically tumble down a hillside. I realize this is a ridiculous question, but did you ever see it that way, even for a minute? If Job wasn't just an allegory, I'm going to ask him the same question in heaven.

SS: We laugh about it now. While it was happening, we just went nuts and snapped at each other all the time. Once, however, we were having a really bad day and a can of peaches fell off a shelf and hit me on the head. It hurt like hell, but I just fell on the floor laughing. I looked at Shelley and said, "We'll break out in boils any minute now."

BWC: That sounds like that show "John and Kate Plus Eight". If you haven't seen that, you should watch it just for the relational dynamics. It seems like their marriage is doomed, but then you realize the incredible stress they're under and it's at least somewhat reasonable. By the way, I'm honored you named your son after me.

SS: I wanted to dedicate the book to you, but Zondervan vetoed. They've heard that story about you and Bette Midler in Biloxi.

BWC: Bette Midler? Zing. Moving on...are you planning on having any more children? Think of how easy it would be with just one!

SS: Let's put it this way: another child would be a real miracle.

I love taking just one of my kids to the park or something. I realize that I'm actually a pretty laid back dad instead of some stress ball constantly scanning the environment for danger or shenanigans.

BWC: I think one of my favorite parts of the book is toward the end, when you acknowledge life doesn't always turn out so well, that the miracles you experienced don't happen for everyone. I think the line many of us toe is about expectation of miracles. I know a family, for instance, who's child has a chromosomal disorder, and they believed very fervently for a long time God would heal her. It seemed crazy to me, but on the other hand, I rarely expect God to intervene tangibly in my life, even though He has on occasion. Is that a cynical way of viewing things? Does the expectation of miracles set someone up for more disillusionment?

SS: The primary message of the book is that joy is about something bigger than happiness or comfort. It's realizing that you are connected to something that will make sense of your life if you let it. That doesn't mean we will always know the reason for everything. Rather, it's finding a sense of meaning and purpose in trusting a God who is much bigger than quick answers or instant gratification.

Most of the miracles we want are about freedom from pain. I'm all for that and I think God provides those sometimes, but He's got much bigger things in mind. I believe that miracles happen to us all the time, but we won't recognize or understand them until we get to heaven. We might be playing a part in God's plan that doesn't have anything to do with our happiness. When I remember that, it give me peace. When I don't, I just get pissed off.

Our kids were in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for six weeks. They all came out healthy and thriving. Other babies in the NICU suffered and died. There's no way our family deserved a miracle more than the ones who lost their kids. I believe in miracles, but I'm not going to pretend that I understand how God chooses to use them.

BWC: Being someone who suffers through some of the same issues, is there a way to get around cynicism without having quadruplets? I'm sure you're glad for everything you went through now, but I'd like to avoid going one year without sleep.

SS: No. You're screwed without quadruplets. Otherwise, my book is a cynic's only hope. They should visit www.assaultedbyjoy.com before their heart shrivels into a prune.

BWC: Way to get that plug in there. We don't call this "Burnside Sells Out" for nothing.

SS: If you had any idea how much we spent on diapers, you'd understand.

1 comment:

  1. great job guys...good interview. Can we pay for the book in diapers?