In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy interview biographical author, speaker and nuclear medicine physician Dr Ernest Crocker, whose three books include Nine Minutes Past Midnight. Ern discusses his writing process, his path to traditional publication, and the medical event that set him on the path of exploring God’s role in healing today.
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In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of young adult urban fantasy
- Dr Ernest Crocker, biographical author, speaker, physician and photographer.
Topics covered in this episode:
- The medical drama that led to Ern’s quest, and eventually becoming an author.
- Ern’s unorthodox non-fiction writing process.
- Accessing God’s strength and inspiration in the writing process.
- Writing crossover books for both Christian and non-Christian audiences.
- How Ern found a publisher and developed an ongoing relationship with them.
More about Dr Ernest Crocker at https://ernestcrocker.com/
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Hit subscribe on your favourite podcast player so you never miss an episode and find show notes, useful links and a full transcript at gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, we welcome author, speaker, physician and photographer, Dr Ernest Crocker.
I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my blogs, books and online courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a former early childhood educator. I live here in south-east Queensland. I have four adult children and I write under the pen name Alison Joy. You can find all my information on alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hello, I’m Donita Bundy and for the past 20 years I’ve been using my theology degree to inform my preaching and teaching and more recently my writing and my blogging. You can find out more about me at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: Dr Ernest Crocker, is the author of three books including Nine Minutes Past Midnight. He is also a nuclear medicine physician, author of 75 scientific papers and New South Wales chair of the Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship of Australia.
Welcome to the Gracewriters podcast, Ern.
Dr Ernest Crocker: Thank you for that. It’s great to be here.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you, Ern. Can we start you with the rapid-fire five? Are you ready?
Dr Ernest Crocker: I am.
Belinda Pollard: Who is your target audience?
Dr Ernest Crocker: When I did my first book, they perhaps described my book as a crossover book and I guess that’s what they have remained. I appeal to people globally – Christians and non-Christians. I tell them stories that they will never forget and stories that will make them pray and think about God. I don’t care if they’re young or if they’re old. I’ll sell them to people in retirement villages or to young people at colleges.
Belinda Pollard: What is your main genre?
Dr Ernest Crocker: Well, I guess it’s biographical. I started writing about an experience I had as a medical registrar at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. I started that about 15 years ago and it developed from there and I started to ask other doctors and people if they’d had a similar experience and it’s just grown from there. Now, I’ve interviewed 60 people.
Belinda Pollard: Your optimum time for writing?
Dr Ernest Crocker: About 6 o’clock in the morning, right here in this room.
Belinda Pollard: Excellent. That’s answered number four, as well. And how did you get into writing?
Dr Ernest Crocker: Well, also the other place I like to write is in the shower. I don’t know if you know about that but a lot of people find they get inspired in the shower. You do, don’t you, Donita?
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Dr Ernest Crocker: And there is a medical basis for that. When you’re in a nice warm shower, your brain generates delta waves and these help you to think and everything else is closed out. So, I always keep a biro or a pencil and pad near me when I’m in the shower and if I get some great revelation, I’ll get out and write it and get back into the shower!
Donita Bundy: Pity we have tank water!
Belinda Pollard: Yes! How did you get into writing, Ern?
Dr Ernest Crocker: Well, it was about that experience I had as a registrar but I didn’t know then that God was setting me up for life. And I’ve only just come to realise that it was because of that, God was saying, “One day you’re going to write this story and you’re going to write a whole lot more stories.”
English was my worst subject at school. I was into science and languages. It started with that one amazing experience that changed my life.
Belinda Pollard: I think we really do have to go on from there to ask you, what is that one experience that changed your life?
Dr Ernest Crocker: Well, it was when I challenged God as to whether he heals today. I was a member of the College of Physicians. I had all my post-graduate degrees and goodness knows what, and I was hearing about God healing and I thought, “No, it just doesn’t happen.” So, I actually challenged Him.
One Sunday night after church we sat down with a cuppa and said, “God, if you heal today, you need to show us in one week.” I’m embarrassed when I even say that but God is patient.
Belinda Pollard: That’s laying a fleece, isn’t it?!
Dr Ernest Crocker: That’s laying a fleece. So, the next night I was called out to see a lady and she died on me. And she died and she stayed dead having a heart attack and while I was giving her CPR by myself in her bedroom this inner voice said, “Now’s the time.” I prayed for her. She flinched. I’d given her adrenaline, even into her heart hadn’t worked. But the long and the short of it was she was completely restored and left hospital two days later. And I thought, “I was there. I saw that.”
About three months ago, I was just going through it in my mind because we all doubt and I’m sure you guys doubt as well. But when I doubt, I think, “No. I was there. I saw it. It happened. I documented it at the time.” And as I was saying that, God said to me, “If I can raise a woman from the dead, I can do anything,” and I guess that’s what’s inspired me through life.
Alison Joy: So, this is something that set you on another path in terms of recording and documenting what you’d seen and then also recording and documenting what others had seen. What is your process when you’re writing? How do you put it all together?
Dr Ernest Crocker: I don’t know anyone that has the same process as me. I mean, most of the books I see, somebody has got 10 points and they write them down and then they expand those chapters but it doesn’t work that way with me.
God will give me something then it becomes a passion with me. For instance, this latest book, The Man in White, I’m so frustrated that there are so many Christians that follow a historical Jesus. They want to go to Bible studies and learn where he worked, what he did, what he said. They don’t seem to realise that He’s the same yesterday, today and forever and they can have a personal ongoing relationship with Him now and that was my burning passion for this book.
So, when I get that, I just sit down and I write. Just write. Just sit down and write. Just do it as the old motto says. And then I find from there it grows and eventually it grows into a giant jigsaw puzzle and God sends people to me. I hear things on the radio. I read things in books. I think, “Yes, that belongs in the book,” and it goes. A great line from poetry:
Ah, but a man’s reach should extend beyond his grasp else what’s a heaven for.
So, I’m talking about that. That we have abilities and talents that God wants us to reach out far beyond what we’ve got and by the power of his Holy Spirit He will enable us to achieve so much more than we ever thought we could. And eventually, I’ll end up with a jigsaw puzzle with a hole in it and I’ll say, “Oh Lord, are we finished the book yet?” and there will be something. “No, there’s something else.”
With the last book, When Oceans Roar, I had a very strong impression that I should follow up the Bali Nine. Andrew Chan is a Sydney man who did something silly when he was 17 years of age. He became involved in a group of people that smuggled drugs from Thailand. They were picked up in Indonesia and he was sentenced to death. At that time, he became a Christian in his cell.
For 10 years he improved that prison. I’ve walked around it. You cannot believe it doesn’t look like a prison after Andrew. But after 10 years, for political reasons, he was executed. And so, I just knew that I had to tell his story. So, I went up to Bali, to Denpasar, went into the prison up there, talked to Andrew Chan’s relatives, got to know Feby, his wife and spent two days up there locking myself away and writing.
And I’ve gone ahead and talked about more of that in this current book and I spoke to Feby Chan, his wife, who has been encouraged to write her own book which has just been published called, Walking Him Home, which is an amazing story which will just take you to tears. Yes.
Alison Joy: Now, obviously you’re very busy just at work and just life in general, how do you fit your writing in around that?
Dr Ernest Crocker: I think you know the answer to that. I think when something’s burning inside you, you just make the time. It’s your priorities. If you think, “I’ve got to write that down. That’s important.” You will do it. You’ll find the time. When something’s important to you, you’ll find the time. And that’s my time and it’s a good time because nobody else is up and there’s no disturbance and no phone calls and I can just do it.
Belinda Pollard: A bit of a challenge there for us all. How did you go about getting published, Ern? How did that work?
Dr Ernest Crocker: Well, I came and talked to you!
Belinda Pollard: But I think you talked to other people before you talked to me!
Dr Ernest Crocker: I did and they all knocked me back and I came and talked to you and you liked the book and you said, [holds up book] “Okay, that it? Yes, that’s it,” and you edited it for me. And in that form, I then submitted it to a publisher, Authentic Media, in the UK and they grabbed it and published and now sold, I think, I don’t know, 22,000 copies or something.
And so, once I had that link with Authentic Media it wasn’t a problem after that. They would send my contracts even when I was starting to write a book. And so, it’s developed well since then.
They do the editing so I don’t have to pay for the editing. And I’ll answer one question you might ask me. Once I’ve signed that contract there’s nothing to pay.
Belinda Pollard: But that wasn’t the case initially.
Dr Ernest Crocker: Well, it was with Authentic. As soon as they accepted the book, they had their own editors and then they did an American version with an American editor. She edited the book and then went on to the mission field on the basis of reading the book.
Alison Joy: Wow!
Belinda Pollard: Wow!
Dr Ernest Crocker: Which was pretty amazing! And that’s sort of the way. So, I had an Australian editor, yourself, for the first one and I had an English editor and then an American editor who changed all the Australianisms.
Belinda Pollard: And I think you’ve had a translation too, haven’t you?
Dr Ernest Crocker: Yes, there’s a German translation.
Belinda Pollard: So, there would’ve been another editor in the mix there, probably.
Dr Ernest Crocker: I’m sure there would.
Belinda Pollard: Yes. And that’s a religious market publisher, isn’t it? But it’s a crossover book. Can you just explain a little bit about what a crossover book is?
Dr Ernest Crocker: What it is to me is one that will be applicable and relevant and interesting to people who are not Christians but may be searching and for those that are Christians. And one thing I make sure when I write is I do not use Christianese or Christian terms, at all, and that’s very, very important.
So, I gave a copy to one of my staff and she read it. She wasn’t a Christian girl and she said, “Oh, I really like your book,” and I said, “Why do you like it?” and she said, “Because it’s not ‘churchy’,” which is a strange word. You scare people off and they don’t understand what you’re talking about when you use Christian terminology so you’ve just got to keep it simple. Jesus told simple parables and that’s what is remembered.
My publishers said to me, “People want to hear stories. Everyone wants to hear stories.” They may not necessarily want to hear all your high and mighty ideas about what you think but they want to hear stories. And that’s what stays with them and the stories make me cry.
This latest one, is so full of so many stories. A man that was almost on the point of being beheaded by the Taliban and God spoke to him and said, “I will not die. I will tell them of your message to me from the Psalms.” They released him. When he went home, his wife said, “I went to the hospital chapel this morning,” this is in northern Pakistan, “and I opened my Bible and it said, “I will not die.” The same words. I mean, these are remarkable things.
Belinda Pollard: It’s an interesting mixture though, isn’t it, Ern? Some of the stories that you’re pulling together you’ve got miracles in there. Things that are just beyond human understanding but there’s also the times the miracle didn’t happen.
Dr Ernest Crocker: Well, that’s right. From the very beginning, I made sure I was like Luke the physician. I had to really tell the truth. What’s the word that Luke used? That something had to be – I can’t remember it now. But I have to tell it as it is.
And my reputation rests on what I write and I think, yes, I’m not a miracle chaser. Not at all. But I’m interested in the intervention of God in people’s lives which I see all the time. All the time.
Belinda Pollard: And that’s a miracle too, isn’t it? Even though it’s not necessarily the miracle that we were always hoping for but sometimes it’s an even bigger miracle.
Dr Ernest Crocker: Well, Sunday morning, I’m getting my prayer letter ready to send out to all the doctors and God woke me up and said, “Here’s a verse. I want you to use it.” I had not expected to see that. ‘The hand of the Lord in the land of the living.’ So, I thought, “Okay, that’s important.” Then I opened my verse for the day; that was the verse for the day. And I said, “Okay. There’s a confirmation.” So, God does speak to us in so many ways. Sometimes so subtly. Occasionally audibly but never to me though.
Belinda Pollard: Just a few little practical things that some of our listeners will be interested in. How much creative control do you retain over your manuscripts once they go to the publisher?
Dr Ernest Crocker: Probably too much! No, I seem to control it all. In fact, when they originally told me that you never let an author choose his cover or his title but they’ve always allowed me to choose my covers and my titles.
The only content that they’ve bucked on was where I quoted somebody that might have been a word that wasn’t acceptable in Christian circles. That was in their own list of what you do and what you don’t do when you write for them and that’s fine. But I’ve had total freedom to say as I wish.
Belinda Pollard: And how much of the marketing of the book do you do yourself versus how much they do for you?
Dr Ernest Crocker: Well, they do market and they take it round to international book fairs which is good, in Europe and things like that. They arrange radio interviews. It’s a bit difficult because they’re in the UK but they arranged an interview with Hope here in Sydney. And another couple in the UK and then I contacted a friend of mine in Vision. And then I followed up a friend and ended up doing an interview in Alabama and then another one in the UK.
I’ll approach the shops to do my own book signings. I’m happy to talk to anybody. Spoke at an old people’s home to 30 people in their 90s last week and they loved it. And I’ve just done the Generation Podcast for young people. So, a lot of it just occurs. And the audiobook. I initiated the audiobook.
Donita Bundy: Doing the audiobook, was that your idea or was that part of Authentic Publishing you’re with in the UK? Whose idea was that?
Dr Ernest Crocker: When I approached Authentic with the last book for an audiobook they said, “No, people are more into ebooks than that at the moment.” But that’s all changed. I mean every time you get on the bus or the train everyone’s listening to something on their phone.
So, when I approached them this time they said, “Yes. We’ll do it and we’ll pay for it.” So, that was good. So, I worked through Pineapple Media here in Sydney. They do the Wesley Mission Sunrise Service and a lot of other stuff and a guy there was happy to do it. He came here, where I’m sitting here in this room which is pretty quiet and over three days we did that. Then it went back to the UK and Audible sort of rejected it about six times because there was a breathing sound here or not a sufficient pause there or something. So, it took about three months to get it through but it’s out and you can hear the first chapter on my website. It’s gone very well.
Donita Bundy: You were the one who had the contact to get the person to read the book through Pineapple Media or did Authentic help you with that?
Dr Ernest Crocker: I read it. I read the book myself.
Donita Bundy: Okay. Cool!
Dr Ernest Crocker: I would have liked – who’s the guy that does Poirot? David…?
Belinda Pollard: David Suchet.
Dr Ernest Crocker: David Suchet would have been great but I think he might have been expensive!
Donita Bundy: So, you did it yourself and then you went through that process with Audible and eventually it was acceptable and it’s now published as an Audible book. Was that the process?
Dr Ernest Crocker: Yes. It’s available through Amazon and, I think, iBooks and on Audible and you can hear the first chapter on my website which is just ernestcrocker.com. That’s on the front page.
Belinda Pollard: We’ll include a link to your website in the show notes, Ern. For those listening out there who want to find Ern’s website, it is ernestcrocker.com or you can find the link at gracewriters.com.
Donita Bundy: So, Ern, obviously your faith has a huge part in your writing process not only how you write and get the ideas but also the desire to write and those stories, by the sounds of it. How has this journey of writing from that time that you first felt God challenge you to write that story, how has your journey with God changed or developed or grown over the years of writing?
Dr Ernest Crocker: Every story I write changes me. You can’t help but be exposed to these people that have had these amazing interventions of God in their life without being changed yourself. So, especially in these last two years, I’ve become more of a person of prayer. I’ve become more dependent on God’s Holy Spirit to empower me and to tell me more about Jesus. I’ve become just much closer to Him.
So, I get to talk to these people. I spent a morning down in Melbourne with Graeme Clark who developed the bionic ear. At the end of each book, you’ll find I’ve had a section called The Bottom Line, and this is probably important, when I interview somebody, well, I record it now but I didn’t for the first book but I record them now with their permission so I can go through because I like to use their terminology. That’s important. It gives it more reality.
But I will pray and I will listen and I will wait and somebody will say something that’s the key theme to the whole chapter. Eventually, I’m going to hear it. I’ve got it. I know it’s there. When Graeme Clark said, “Inventing the bionic ear was like a lifelong relationship with a living God who showed me how to do it.”
Matt Crocker, who’s my nephew, who’s a worship and songwriter with Hillsong, I interviewed him because he’d had an amazing experience after a suicide in the family when he was a young boy. He said, “I’m good at what I do but I’m not that good.” He said, “God takes the little I’ve got and turns them into something wonderful.”
So, he wrote, I surrender. He wrote, Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) and The Creed. And that’s what I’m waiting to hear because there will be somewhere along the line and the pregnant pauses, so incredibly important. Just wait and let them talk and you’ll hear what you need to hear.
Donita Bundy: So, the process of finding the person to interview to start that process, is that something you feel God-led or is it through direct contacts of yours or how do you find the ideas of who to interview and the stories to write?
Dr Ernest Crocker: Everybody asks me that question. I don’t find them; they come to me. Graeme Clark, I met under the most remarkable experience you’ll read in the book.
People just come. I don’t understand it. God sends them. When I sit down and write and I write on this computer we’re talking on now, I put my hands on the keyboard and I say, “Lord, write the book. It’s your book. It’s not my book.” And He does.
People say, “I’m thinking of writing of a book.” Well, I say, “You’re wasting your time. Don’t do it unless you believe it’s God’s will and you have a passion to do it, otherwise you’re wasting your time. So, if it’s God’s will, it’s going to be useful. It’s going to help people. It’s going to bless others and will bless you too. But if it’s just something you want to do, well, go ahead but it probably won’t bring much joy.
Donita Bundy: And I think that pretty much sums up the Gracewriter heart, really, doesn’t it. We’re here and we’re writing because we feel that passion from God to get those stories down and get them out. People want to hear those stories and God has an amazing story to tell through each of us and our voices.
You said that you have a lot of liberty with Authentic and you can get that message out and it’s not something that they are interfering with and those gracenotes that you are writing, it sounds like you have that permission to write that message that God gives you. Would you say that’s correct?
Dr Ernest Crocker: Yes. Yes, I would. Yes, I would. I’ve had no problems with that at all. None at all.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you, Ern. I’ve just got amazing things out of that and a lot of encouragement and ideas for all the Gracewriters out there.
How about I pray for youbefore we finish.
Dr Ernest Crocker: Yes please. Absolutely.
Belinda Pollard: Heavenly Father, we thank you for the passion and the inspiration and the opportunities that you have given to Ern. We thank you that you are using his words for your purposes in many places, in many ways, around this world.
We pray that you will bless him and strengthen him as he continues to write. That you will inspire him and encourage him and that you will use those words and those gracenotes that are scattering out across the world in your ways, in your purposes for your glory, for your kingdom.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Dr Ernest Crocker: Amen
Belinda Pollard: Dr Ernest Crocker, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. Thank you, Donita Bundy and Alison Joy. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
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