Mike Yorkey has a web site at
Mike Yorkey has a web site at
Dr. Nick: Mike, we should start out by telling everyone how we met.
Mike: It really was a God thing, or at least, I think so. In September 2002, I received a phone call from the editor of Physician magazine, published by Focus on the Family, where I used to work. The editor said he heard about this wild and crazy family doc out in San Diego who had lost a ton of weight, and he gave me an assignment to write a story about you. It helped that I lived in San Diego as well.
I was awfully busy with several book projects that fall, so I asked for an extension of my deadline until the end of the year. Then in November, I went to a men’s retreat put on by our church, and the first speaker that evening was you! We had never met or even been in contact yet.
Then you did this PowerPoint presentation of your amazing trip losing all that weight during the 2001 baseball season, and the before and after photos were amazing. While I sat in the audience, I said to myself, That’s a book!
After you spoke, there was a break, and I introduced myself, and we began talking immediately about the Physician article and your desire to have a book written about your experiences.
We began working together, and I wrote a proposal and several chapters, and then Thomas Nelson Books said they wanted to publish the book, and the rest is history. And it’s a great history. I can’t believe how smooth our collaboration went on the book, and your story, as we say in my trade, wrote itself. I consider My Big Fat Greek Diet a career highlight.
Dr. Nick: You’ve written more than fifty books. Tell me about your writing experience.
Mike: I thought I was going to be a sportswriter growing up in San Diego. I started writing for publication in my junior year at La Jolla High School for the school newspaper named—appropriately enough for a California coastal community—the La Jolla Hi-Tide. I went on to earn a journalism degree from the University of Oregon, but upon graduation, I returned to San Diego, but failed to get hired by the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper.
So I moved to Mammoth Lakes, California, home of the Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort. My parents had moved there, so I moved back in with them.
Two significant things happened in Mammoth: one, I met my future wife, Nicole, who was a visiting ski instructor from Switzerland; and two, I met Dr. James Dobson, who owned a vacation condo in Mammoth. This was in the early 1980s when Dr. Dobson was just getting Focus on the Family off the ground. At the time I met Dr. Dobson, I was editor of the small-town newspaper in Mammoth, a weekly called The Mammoth Lakes Review. That was a great training ground for me, and I even wrote the gossip column called “Mrs. Murphy.”
I’d run into Dr. Dobson every couple of months at the First Baptist Church or at the Snowcreek Athletic Club in Mammoth. He was very friendly. We played racquetball a few times at the Snowcreek Athletic Club, and when we were done, he told me about this organization he had started called Focus on the Family, based in his hometown of Arcadia, a Los Angeles suburb. I had never heard of Focus on the Family or his radio program since there was only one radio station in Mammoth in pre-satellite radio days.
At the Mammoth newspaper, I had a staff of three reporters to cover a county the size of Rhode Island, which kept me hopping. Living in a small town where everyone knew each other—and each other’s business—was fun, and our social calendar was always full. After a few years, though, I began looking to move up the ladder. Nicole and I had two children under the age of three, were living in a small 700-square-foot guesthouse on my parent’s property, and living on a tight budget. We owned one car, and during the summer, I rode a bike to work.
After three years in the trenches, I ran into Dr. Dobson at the Snowcreek Athletic Club and told him I was interested in coming to work for Focus on the Family. One thing led to another, but that was the start of my eleven-year stay as editor of Focus on the Family magazine. My interactions with Dr. Dobson were limited, as they should have been since he had more important things to do than be intimately involved with the production and content of Focus on the Family magazine, but he was energizing to work for. I found him to be unfailingly polite but always someone who knew what he wanted. That was fine with me.
After seven years with Focus, the Breakaway editor, Greg Johnson, came into my office one day and said, “We should write a book together on how busy dads can be better dads.” I had never thought I was up to writing a book, but Greg convinced me to give it a try, and that’s how we wrote our first book, Daddy’s Home for Tyndale House, released in 1992. The book did well, which led to more contracts. I left Focus on the Family in 1997 and have been writing books since then.
Dr. Nick: I understand you’ve tried your hand at fiction. What’s that all about?
Mike: My church pastor, Rick Myatt, and I were talking one day about our mutual love for thrillers, and then one of us said, “We should write a novel someday.”
This happened in the spring of 2000. Now, six years later, By the Sword released in January. Broadman & Holman is publishing By the Sword, which pleases me to no end. They’ve been doing the Ollie North fiction, and I’ve long felt that By the Sword is cut from the same cloth and would be a good fit for B&H.
Dr. Nick: Tell me the basic premise of By the Sword.
Mike: Our novel basically a Middle East techno-thriller with the following premise: What would the world look like if jihad-minded Islamic leaders sought to extend The Prophet’s influence through conversion by the sword? After all, that is how Islam took root more than 1,000 years ago.
We are confident there is an audience for a suspense thriller told through the eyes of Amber Robbins, an American reporter stationed in Jerusalem. Her dangerous search leads her on a path that pits her faith and her investigative reporting skills against Islamic fundamentalists intent on converting all people to Allah and his messenger, Mohammad.
Dr. Nick: Who handled the research? Plot line? The actual writing?
Mike: I handled the research and the actual writing, although Rick wrote bits and pieces of dialogue because he had a good ear for pious “religious” talk. Rick was great in talking out loud on the plot line . . . if we have this person do that, then we can do this . . . we really haven’t had any readers predict what happens in By the Sword, which is great since the last thing we wanted to do was write a predictable novel.
Dr. Nick: How do you think 9/11 affected the way publishers and readers view your story?
Mike: September 11 was huge—and didn’t help us at all. As the Twin Towers lay smoking in ruins, we were 75 percent done with By the Sword. Rick and I looked at each other and shivered. While our novel was not prophetic in terms of Osama bin Laden, it certainly seemed very plausible in light of the new global situation. We stuck with our view that Iran would play an increasingly larger role in Mid East events, and we’ve watched with amazement to see that happen, especially after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Getting back to 9/11, Rick and I hustled and finished our novel by December 2001. When our agent sent it out, the response was . . . underwhelming. In fact, no one wanted to touch a novel with a major terrorist act, and publishers were wary of how much interest Americans had regarding the turbulent Middle East.
We got rejected by every CBA publisher doing fiction. Some acquisition editors were forthright in their reasons behind the rejections, and we listened to them. One pointed out how the manuscript was not ready for prime time because of its writing quality. I took those criticisms to heart. I studied books on writing fiction. I rewrote scene after scene. I combined characters and simplified a few plot threads. I avoided any narration and stuck to action. I eliminated flashbacks. I tightened up the prose and reworked the dialogue. I reworked plot details based upon the Iraq war and new global realities. I paid two fiction editors to give the manuscript a hard edit. After more than two years of rewriting, I felt the novel was ready to be resubmitted in 2004, and I found a few publishers more welcoming. I was a happy fellow when Broadman & Holman greenlighted the novel—with our original title—in the fall of 2004.
Dr. Nick: Writers often find that their books mirror real life in ways they never anticipated. Have you seen this happen with By the Sword?
Mike: Very much so. Rick and I are blown away with the new president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and how he’s moving the country toward nuclear weapons. He’s also denied the Holocaust and wants to wipe Israel off the map. Lots of saber rattling. In By the Sword, we have Iran purchasing a nuke submarine from the Russians, intent on international havoc. Keep in mind that we originally wrote this more than five years ago. Scary.
Dr. Nick: When are we going to do another book together?
Mike: Well, I know you have a heart for childhood obesity, so I hope we get to do that book together some day.