The parable of the Prodigal is a great story. It's been told and retold, most recently, perhaps, by Marilynne Robinson in Gilead and Home, but as well as she retold it, it seemed to me that there was still a lot of fictive space left open. We came back to the Prodigal and made all the characters more real, more fleshed out, because the primary difference between a novel and a parable is that a novel has to be about people, not about teachings. It has to be about conflict. Our Prodigal needed to be a creature of today if he was going to be a living breathing character and at the same time, help us illustrate some of Brennan's teachings in a dramatic way. So we had to give him a backstory, and make him believable at the same time as his life was going to demonstrate love and forgiveness.

Beyond the lessons Manning might have taught you while writing this novel, what are some personal discoveries you've made in finishing this work?

I can't claim that the book changed me in a substantial way spiritually, because Brennan and I were already substantially on the same page. It did confirm my beliefs in God's radical love, in the importance of our accepting that love, and in our recognition that God loves us as we are, not as we think we should be. At the same time, Jack's journey is a convincing story about how we are meant to respond to such transformative love—by being transformed.

I can say it was an amazing artistic experience to work on The Prodigal. I never would have written the novel in this way (my first three novels all have first-person narrators, and that was just not the way to tell this story) or explored Brennan as a character, as I did with The Prodigal's Father Frank, if I hadn't been asked to do the book. I grew so much as a storyteller wrestling with voice and creating real emotion with these characters. And I grew to love them. I hope I can come back to them someday and see where they are in their lives—and where I might take them next.