Paul McCusker

October 04 2021 | by

YOUR literary production is so vast that I cannot hide my amazement. How do you manage to produce all this written material?

I have written from a very early age, and I seem to have a gift from God for writing quickly. I don’t know why I have this gift, and sometimes I fear that if I try to figure it out, I might lose it. I think I’m obsessed with expressing myself through writing. I’m enthralled by exploring ideas through story and characters. Ultimately, I’m motivated to write about the human condition and our relationship to God. I hope people will be drawn closer to Him. My desire is to give Him glory.


You have worked with Focus on the Family for a long time. Can you explain to our readers what this organization does? And how you have contributed with your work?

I worked with Focus on the Family for over 30 years, though I am now working with the Augustine Institute. Focus on the Family produces audio programs, videos, and books that are dedicated to helping families thrive together. One way to do that is through storytelling, which is a very powerful way to communicate the truth and to model what good marriages and family life could look like.


You helped Focus on the Family to develop a particular radio show for kids which later became Adventures in Odyssey. What does this series represent for you?

When Adventures in Odyssey began in 1987 many people thought we were crazy to produce a radio drama for kids. Few companies were doing radio dramas at all then. In many ways, we were creating something entirely new. But we were determined to do the best we could, using professional actors, sound effects, and custom music.

All in all, Adventures In Odyssey taught me a lot about how to tell compelling stories from a Christian point-of-view.


How is writing for children different from writing for adults?

C. S. Lewis wrote that a good children’s story should be as enjoyable to adults as it is to children. So, writing for children still applies the basic rules of storytelling. We want to tell a really good story with interesting characters. When we write for children, however, we shouldn’t talk down to them. We simply want to use words they’ll understand, and avoid situations beyond their comprehension.


You have written several novels, full-length plays, musicals, lyrics, and many audio-dramas. Which of these genres has given you the most satisfaction?

It’s hard to pinpoint one genre that gives me the most satisfaction. Every artistic form has its own challenges, which I enjoy. Though, I think writing scripts comes more naturally to me than writing novels, probably because of my love for writing dialogue. And, with scripts, I get to let the actors and production team do the really hard work. With novels, I have to create everything for the reader, which is more of a challenge. I have been blessed, though, to be able to write in a variety of genres.


In 2018 you wrote the audio drama Brother Francis: The Barefoot Saint of Assisi. Why is St. Francis such a relevant person in today’s world even for people of all faiths and none?

For every generation the life of Saint Francis shows us that the love of God may take us to unexpected places. Those places may be uncomfortable. They may require sacrifices of us that we are not always ready or willing to make. And yet God gives us the grace to follow Him. In St. Francis we see an almost reckless obedience to God. Francis was willing to do what God wanted him to do, no matter what it would cost him.

Saint Francis challenges us to get rid of anything that is getting in the way of our relationships with God. As a young man, Francis was part of a wealthy family. But he realized that wealth, whether great or small, was too great a temptation for him, so he purged all of his material possessions. That drew him even closer to the poor and outcast.

If something in his life couldn’t be redeemed for God, he got rid of it. But he kept those things that could be redeemed, like his love for music and singing. He kept those and used them for the glory of God. He became God’s troubadour.

It’s a great challenge for us. We are easily distracted by possessions, entertainment, and social media. We rationalize keeping a lot of things that get in the way of our relationship with God. Saint Francis understood the problem well. So he went to extremes to get those things out of his life. Are we willing to do the same?


Your latest book The Hidden Heroes, the third from The Virtue Chronicles, offers a fresh and exciting perspective into the lives of martyrs from Elizabethan England. Why do you think these martyrs are so little known, even by Catholics?

For years, the narrative of post-Catholic Britain is that the Protestant Reformation drove out those nasty Catholics who were like jackbooted Nazis oppressing the people. So the martyrs of the Elizabethan era are often ignored or treated as villains. The narrative says that Queen Elizabeth was enlightened and tolerant. However, the tortures during her reign were some of the worst in history.

Over and against this brutality, we find the inspirational stories of the priests who trained overseas and then returned to England to minister to the faithful, knowing they would be tortured and killed. It’s sad that their story has been lost to so many. I hope the book will help bring their story back.


Are you going to continue The Virtue Chronicles series? And if so, since the two protagonists can travel back in time, what era would you like them to arrive at?

I love writing time-travel stories and The Virtue Chronicles gives me a chance to do that for the Catholic community. Andrew and Eve, the two main characters, have all of history to explore. Though, it’s hard to decide where they should go and who they should meet. I’ve been thinking about sending them to the time of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Or maybe World War II, to Maximillian Kolbe, and so many of the other Catholics who sacrificed themselves to maintain the faith against the Nazis.


You were raised as a Baptist. Then in 1991 you became an Anglican and joined the Church of England; eventually in 2006 you converted to Catholicism. Can you explain to our readers the main reasons for your spiritual journey?

Each of those steps was a progression of faith, with factors that were sometimes circumstantial, sometimes intellectual, but always based on a desire to draw closer to Jesus.

As a member of the Baptist Church, I learned about having a relationship with Jesus, the importance of the Bible, and the value of church.

Later I moved to southern California and attended non-denominational churches. That was at a time when they were using a lot of the latest marketing gimmicks to evangelize. I found myself yearning for something more than trendy tactics and techniques.

I moved to England with my wife, who is English, and discovered the High Church liturgy of the Anglican Church. To my surprise, I felt like I had “come home.” As an Anglican, I learned to appreciate the history of the Church. However, years later, the Anglican communion went into crisis over a variety of social and sexual issues. The inherent chaos led me to the question: Who has the authority to interpret Scripture and establish doctrine?

To answer that question I went back to Scripture, especially the Book of Acts and the Gospels. I wanted to know what the Ancient Church believed and practiced. I also began to study Church history prior to the rise of Anglicanism. In the end, I discovered that Apostolic Authority was the answer to my question, since the apostles had received their authority from Jesus himself. Then my question became “Where do I find the apostles’ successors now?” After much study I concluded that the Roman Catholic Church carries that Apostolic succession and authority. I asked to be received into the Roman Catholic Church, where I’ve found the fullness of the truth that Christ has given us.


Do you think that Western society is making a virtue out of selfishness?

Absolutely! In the West we have become very narcissistic in an almost adolescent way, like teenagers who reject the past and ignore the future. All the emphasis is about me, myself and I in the here-and-now. Personal satisfaction is touted as the most important thing in the world. If I’m not happy, then I’m a victim. The secular media keeps reinforcing this tendency.

Sadly, people are encouraged to see themselves merely as individual, separate entities, and to overlook their place in the bigger story which is, of course, God’s story. But if you remove God from the story, what else do people have? Small, disconnected little stories. That is very sad.


What is your idea of God?

From a very early age, I’ve had a sense of God as a Loving Father. I believed that God really loves me, even though I don’t deserve His love. As a child I could never have explained it. I even have a hard time explaining it now. I’ve simply believed it my entire life. And the reality of Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross moves me deeply. I wanted to follow Christ then. I want to follow Him now.


Is it easy to speak about God to young people?

It’s not easy, since we have to figure out how to speak about God in a way that is meaningful, not only to young people, but to everyone. That’s why I believe stories work so well, especially with young people, who are so imaginative. Through stories we can explore spiritual themes drawn from Scripture and Church teaching, and present ideas that nudge our audience towards God. We can show the love of God in a modern setting or in a fantasy or in science-fiction or a mystery. All of the genres let us do that.

Every generation has struggled with the problem of how to pass the faith on to the next generation. Perhaps it’s even harder now in the 21st century because there are so many voices screaming at them through the internet and social media, but I think it’s a challenge that we can meet, even though we have to work very hard at it.


Has there ever been a moment in your life when you felt God was particularly close to you?

I have felt God close to me many times, especially in my writing, with my family, when I go on retreats, and in times of crisis. I feel God is very close to me during Mass. I’ll admit that the closeness seems to come in waves, depending on my state of mind and heart. However, even when I do not feel God’s closeness, I am always aware of His presence. He is never absent.


How do you view the saints in general? And St. Anthony in particular?

The common theme about the saints is that they were imperfect men and women who were willing to do anything that God asked them to do, even though it may have seemed crazy for them to do it. They courageously said “Yes” to God, like Mary did. That’s the lesson they have for us, learning to say yes to God without necessarily knowing where it’s going to lead. Call it “reckless” or “abandonment” or whatever you like, but it’s a very real submission that we’re called to make.

This can be seen in St. Anthony’s life. He had intended to become a martyr in Morocco. That was his passion. But God had other plans and instead led him to St. Francis in Assisi. He became the first teacher in the Franciscan Order. I’m proud to say that I have a relic of St. Anthony here at home. He’s an inspiration to me.


PAUL McCUSKER has written dozens of books, plays and musicals. McCusker graduated from college with a degree in journalism, and from the late 1970s he began writing sketches and plays, many of which were published and are still in print.

With Focus on the Family, Paul has written over 300 episodes of the acclaimed audio drama Adventures in Odyssey along with over 20 tie-in novels and videos. Paul also developed Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre where he dramatized C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters, as well as other classics like A Christmas CarolLes MisérablesOliver Twist, and original productions like The Luke Reports, and the Father Gilbert Mysteries. He won a Peabody Award in 1997 for his work on Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Freedom.

Paul’s novels include the first-reader series The Adventures of Nick & Sam, The Virtue Chronicles for young adults, and adult stories including Blue Christmas, The Body Under the Bridge, Death In The Shadows, and TSI: The Gabon Virus and The Influenza Bomb (with Dr. Walt Larimore).

Paul has continued his audio drama work with the Augustine Institute, writing and directing Brother Francisthe Barefoot Saint of Assisi (winner of the prestigious “Audie Award” in 2018); The Trials of Saint PatrickOde to Saint Cecilia, and The Legends of Robin Hood.

Paul McCusker lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with his family.

Updated on October 04 2021