Many know best-selling author Lee Strobel for his apologetic “The Case For” series. Now, the author has combined his experiences as an investigative reporter and pastor to create his debut novel.
“I’ve always been intrigued by fiction,” says Lee Strobel, veteran journalist and best-selling nonfiction author of books like The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith. So when his publisher and his daughter Alison, a novelist, encouraged him to give novel writing a try, Strobel saw it as a way to communicate truth to an audience who might not pick up his blatantly Christian nonfiction titles. The result is his debut novel, the legal thriller The Ambition (Zondervan).
Of course, Strobel didn’t start out writing New York Times best-sellers. In kindergarten, he and a friend wrote and illustrated little books they peddled around for ten cents. Later, when he was a teen, Strobel started a neighborhood newspaper. “I printed two hundred copies in my basement on a mimeograph machine,” he says. “At that time a guy who was the production manager of the Chicago Tribune heard about it. He came out to see my operation. Well, years later he became the publisher of the paper. I didn’t know this, but he had put a mention in his notebook that said: In the year 1974, Lee Strobel, this kid who owns the neighborhood newspaper, is going to be graduating from college. Check up on him. So I’m at the University of Missouri and my journalism professor comes up and says, ‘I just got a call from the Chicago Tribune, and they want to talk to you!’ That’s how I landed my job at the Tribune, first as an intern and then as a reporter.”
Lee’s journalism background, in fact, informs his new novel. “There’s a corrupt judge, for instance,” he says, “who’s representative of some of the corrupt judges I knew, several of whom ended up in prison because of their corruption. There’s a cynical journalist, who’s not too dissimilar from myself when I was a reporter. He’s a spiritual skeptic and feels motivated to expose a megachurch because his girlfriend became a Christian through it and he wants to kind of get back at them. It all goes back to my work as a journalist covering the criminal and federal courts system, seeing what goes on in the shadowy corridors of the courthouse.”
Of course, even though much of the novel is based on real life, Strobel’s imagination fueled the story, too. “It’s so liberating to be able to make stuff up!” he says with a hearty laugh. “Here I am, almost sixty years old, and I’ve spent my entire life as a journalist. I’ve tried my hardest to be as accurate and meticulously careful as I could be. To make up a story and have the freedom to create characters who take on a life, who have a will and decide things you don’t even anticipate is exhilarating. I really enjoyed it! More than I thought I would.”
With publishers constantly vying to be on the cutting edge of technology and the e-book revolution, Zondervan and Strobel give us a special treat with The Ambition. The e-book edition features QR codes (specialized bar codes) throughout the book that lead readers to video clips of Strobel expounding on many of the real life stories he refers to through the novel, including a hair- raising account of how he was once threatened by notorious Chicago mob hit man, Harry Aleman.
The Ambition may be Lee Strobel’s first novel, but thankfully it won’t be his last. He’s recently signed on to write the sequel, which will be based on more real life cases, though it will also take what Strobel calls “flights of fantasy” into areas he’ll be researching. He can’t wait to hang out with his fictional creations again. “There’s a relationship an author has with his characters that is fun and nurturing and exciting,” he says. “I’m looking forward to picking up where I left off with them.”