Addie Zierman’s second book, Night Driving: a story of faith in the dark, is the story of a woman in the midst of a cold Minnesota winter, and the winter of a soul, still sorting through the evangelical history from her debut, When We Were On Fire. As an antidote to the darkness, she packs up her two young children and takes a road trip to Florida, seeking the sun. Along the way, it becomes clear to her that the darkness isn’t something she can run away from, it’s something that comes with her, something that she needs to make peace with.
In anticipation of the book release on March 15th, I caught up with Addie to talk about the book, her history with road trips, and what she might say to her past selves. Feel free to listen along as well.
Cara Strickland: So Addie, would you tell me a little bit about your book?
Addie Zierman: It’s called Night Driving, obviously, and what that refers to, it’s actually kind of two-fold, it refers to this sort of spontaneous, ill-planned road trip that I took with my kids in February a couple of years ago. It was the coldest winter of all eternity and also for me it was a time of a lot of spiritual darkness and just kind of a numbness and so [it was] sort of this act of desperation and ‘I have to get out of here, I’m going to die.’ I just packed everybody up and called the preschool and told them we wouldn’t be there for a couple weeks, and we just hit the road.
I think in some way I was trying to get to the warmth and the light, thinking that I would be able to feel God and feel myself, so I could just get out of this cold dark place. But of course that’s not really how it turns out, how it ever turns out, you can’t really run away from the darkness, especially if it’s inside of you in some way, and that’s how it turned out with me. What the journey actually became for me was this wrestling with that darkness and trying to make peace with it and trying to find a way to see God there as well.
CS: So tell me a little bit about your history with road trips?
AZ: Road trips, well, I have always loved road trips, who doesn’t? I think they’re just amazing. I love to drive, I love the thinking time it usually allows, although not, it turned out, with a two and a four year old in the car as much.
Some of my best memories are on road trips, and actually I was thinking a lot about this recently because I was thinking about this book in the light of a talk about faith and darkness that I just gave. So my earliest road trips were with my high school youth group and during that time in the ’90s evangelical world it seemed like the main metaphor for God that sort of characterized that time was light, right? God is light and you want to be in the light, right? There’s a few songs about that.
One of the ways that we did that every year was we took a road trip with my youth group. We got in this big bus called the Lightrider bus and we would take it down from Chicago to Florida and there were seats that folded into beds, and we would go down and we would stop along the way and it was like this thing every year that you looked forward to, in the middle of winter when things were really hard at school and your faith was flickering then you would go to Florida and have this sweet time with God and with your friends and you would come back all reignited. And so as I thought about this I just wonder what part that played in my own psyche without even realizing it in my own decision to sort of pack up my kids and myself in the middle of sort of the winter of my own struggling and my own disbelief and heading south.
CS: You talk a little bit in the book about some road trips that you took with your friends and also about the Elizabethtown road trip, so would you say that there’s some romance to the idea with you as well?
AZ: Absolutely, oh absolutely. Like I said, I love road trips. There was one particular one I took with my two very close friends Kim and Alissa, who you might recognize from the first book, about the time things all fell apart for me several years ago, and we just made a trip. We just went down to Memphis and we stopped along the way in Metropolis, Illinois, to see the world’s largest Superman statue and just I think the kitsch and just the weirdness and beauty, I just love how much is hidden that you don’t know about until you see it, I guess.
CS: So your past self is a pretty prominent character in this book and I’m kind of curious because now your road trip self is a past self, too, so I’m wondering what you would say, both to the past self that you write about in the book, and also to the past self that’s on the road trip.
AZ: Well, you know it’s so interesting because when I wrote When We Were On Fire, I wrote through all that stuff, my growing up in the evangelical world and I untangled as much of it as I could, and I remember having this feeling when I got done with that book: ‘okay, we’re through that, okay.’ But of course we’re not, are we? You past self continues to inform everything and even though I feel like I’ve done a lot of good work in working through some of the ways that my faith both helpfully and unhelpfully informed my image of God and my image of myself and of the world, it continues to be a dominant part of who I am.
Of course in this book too, here’s this evangelical girl who just so wants to be in the light and who so wants to feel God and who thinks she knows what that feels like, when you feel God. And to her it feels like being at an Acquire the Fire conference and the bright lights are fluttering through your closed eyelids and the percussion boom is accentuating these really loaded lines of speech from this really charismatic speaker and you feel it in your heart, you feel it in your body, you feel it because they’ve designed it so that you can feel it, right? This is what it was, it was, I want to say a manipulation, although I don’t really think they meant it to be a manipulation, I feel like they were just trying to give you an experience of God and get you excited. But of course it was, they were using the lights in a way that was strategic. So I guess I think about her and I think about this girl who was taught that feeling God feels this particular way and I want to tell her that it doesn’t always and I want to tell her not to be afraid of the dark, that God is there, too. But of course I don’t think she’ll really understand that for a few years yet.
And then to my 30-year old mom past self who thought it was a super good idea to get in the mini van with a four and a two year old, I want to say ‘Are you kidding? What are you thinking? Don’t do it!’ But of course, she needed to, she was at the end of another rope and it was move forward into something new or it was kind of shrivel up. Of course, there’s all sorts of things you could tell yourself but I think part of understanding them is living through it, so it’s kind of cycle isn’t it? Can’t really change the past.
CS: Well, and maybe that’s good, right? Maybe that’s good because we wouldn’t have either of your books if you had been able to communicate with your past self.
AZ: Yes, it’s true.
CS: Friendship seems to be a major theme in this book. You have a lot of close friends at home, you stay with friends along the way, and you have a really wonderful friendship with your husband. I’d love for you to talk about the role of friendship in your life.
AZ: I actually hadn’t thought about all of the friendships in that book until I read that question of yours and it’s really very interesting to me because I am — when I am healthy — I’m an extreme introvert. And then when I’m in my own version of a repeating darkness that occurs in my life as a version of clinical depression, and one of the symptoms of clinical depression, particularly for me, is this need to isolate, and I find myself withdrawing from the key healthy relationships in my life.
When I planned this trip, sort of spontaneously planned this trip down to Florida with the kids just because I had to, I had to go and we didn’t have much money and so I made this map with all the people I knew along the way where I could stay. And at the time it wasn’t really a decision about seeing people, it was about ‘how can I get to Florida and back and stay in our budget? You know, how can I make this happen?’ But actually it was sort of a gift to me because here in a part of my life where I would have isolated, God had me staying with people and being in these relationships and these friendships and here at a part of my life where I was most prone to isolate, people became a lifeline to me and I think even as I wasn’t able to really outrun my darkness I feel like there was ways in which those relationships helped me see the beauty in it instead of just kind of drowning.
CS: This book is completely different from your first book, but shares many of the same themes. What was different for you about writing this book?
AZ: It was like night and day writing this book and the last book. Of course, you know, your first book you essentially have your whole life to write it. It’s all the things you’ve ever been thinking about and you have all this time to do it and there’s no deal yet so you’re just kind of working at your own pace. I wrote my first book in grad school so I was surrounded by people who were reading it all the time and giving me feedback all the time, so it was just kind of born in this very interesting atmosphere and environment and also, as I was sort of working a lot of this stuff out so a lot of the things that were happening were sort of real time almost. I even remember asking a writing professor ‘should I be writing about this? Should I have some more distance from it?’ and her being like ‘nope, this is your work right now, just keep doing it.’
It was a long writing process, I wrote it over five years of grad school and then it was another two or three before it actually came out into the world with Convergent. So it was a long, slow process and then it was a two-book deal, so immediately I had a deadline, which I did get them to push out for about a year. They wanted the draft of the book about six months after When We Were On Fire came out, and obviously that didn’t happen.
But it is really different to write with a deadline, to write with some expectation of ‘what are you going to say next?’ It also changed a lot, I knew I wanted to say something about this next step so after you’ve sorted out your past and sort of begun to make peace with that, what’s the next step? I thought it was going to be about finding a faith home, and of course I realized pretty quickly that I don’t know what that means yet.
Actually, the idea of writing the book within the road trip only happened within a writing group after somebody said to me ‘sounds like a lot of the stuff you’re trying to get at is stuff you were working through on that road trip and that was such vivid writing and maybe you should try something around the road trip.’ And I thought, well, maybe I should.
I love road trips, and I love that it gave it a narrative arc within which I could sort of explore some of these things that were going on with me and my own grappling with darkness. It’s a heavy topic, and grappling with my relationship between light and darkness and between how I feel God and don’t feel God, and what does it look like to be a grown up person who is sure she wants to be in her faith but is still sort of a mess about everything. What does that look like and how do you sort of live in that ambiguity and tension?
It was just such a different experience from the first book. I shed a lot more tears over this one, I believe. I feel a lot more insecurity about this one, just because it was such an expedited process, whereas [with] my last one, I had about eight years of people giving me feedback and compliments and I was pretty sure it was everything it could be by the time it went out. This one it feels a little bit more like ‘okay, we’ll see.’ I hope this connects.
CS: Well, it connected with me, so I’m sure that it will connect with lots of our listeners and readers.
I’d like to know what your hope is for your readers as you send your book into the world?
AZ: I think there’s no real arrival when it comes to faith. I think lot of it continues to be messy and this book is a lot about the ways we are, all of us, trying to flip on these artificial lights, trying to make things feel brighter and avoid the darkness in our lives. For me that’s looked like a lot of different things and I think it can look like a whole gamut of things from things as innocuous as TV, to alcohol, to churchy things like ‘join a new Bible study or a new group and that’ll fix everything.’
I guess what I hope for my readers is to find some peace in the darkness and to find that God, who is light, can still be there in the darkness with us and that there is beauty there. I think for me, in this book, as a person who has sort of recurring depression in my life that comes, often with the seasons, sometimes not, but on a regular basis, I needed a theology of darkness that wasn’t just about getting through. It was about finding some peace and beauty and goodness and mystery and holiness there in that dark place that I was, because I’m there so often, and so I hope readers will find that, too.
Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark is available everywhere now.