Did you meet with/interview any of the current church officials of FBC?
No. They're so far removed. The church has moved to the outskirts of Fort Worth. I vaguely know the pastor, his name is Don Wills. His uncle is a very good friend of mine and we just haven't connected. When I get to Fort Worth again, I'll probably stop by and see him. The pastor that followed Norris, was a guy by the name of Ritchie, Homer Ritchie. I actually had several sit-down conversations with him about Norris. But from what I understand he is not terribly happy with the book — how I treat Norris. An interesting point here is that about ten or fifteen years ago, the church [FBC of Ft. W.] went back into the Southern Baptist Convention. Norris would probably flip in his grave, because they (the SBC) voted him out.
Are you Baptist?
I grew up as an independent Baptist. We're non-denominational now.
What was the most interesting "Norris" story for you?
Norris shifted away from his rabid anti-Catholicism, particularly after the Second World War. Then the Cold War started and he shifted his gears, he always had to have an enemy. He was big into conspiracies and he looked at communism. In the course of that, he became an ally of the Roman Catholic Church to the extent that in September of 1947, he had an audience with Pope Pius XII in Rome, and got a papal blessing. I think its fascinating considering his past. It's terrible irony!
What was the most significant or telling story about Norris' character?
The fire in 1912. I went over this pretty quickly because it wasn't the focus of my book. But I tried to drop hints where I could. I read the coverage of that and the transcripts and it was an amazing thing that Norris got away with acquittal, particularly on the perjury charge. Because of course, if he was guilty of perjury, then he was probably guilty of arson. Even though it's not conclusive, even historians don't think it is, I don't see any way around it that Norris was somehow involved with a coverup there, and perjured himself.
You said about Norris, that "No one is neutral." You made your views clear, but managed to write in such a way that readers weren't overly influenced by your opinions — they can make up their own minds. Was maintaining the voice of a neutral narrator a difficult task?
Yeah, it was, because if anything, I think I was harder on him than I had originally planned to be simply because of where the facts took me, I got more into the story. Also, knowing of my background and upbringing, how this would be such a hard pill to swallow for some of the people that admire Norris. For example, the remnants of Norris's old empire are in a little college in Arlington, Texas. They have about a hundred students and a little museum there with a lot of Norris memorabilia including some old papers and stuff. The curator is a wonderful lady and she actually helped me by lending me some valuable research materials. I made a donation and I processed some microfilm into printed form and made it available to that school and gave them a copy for their own research. It was a good deal for them. But I know that that school isn't terribly happy with the outcome of the book. So I felt that I was trying to be sensitive to that. Now, having said that, from what I've been able to hear from that side of the camp, they don't see any mercy in what I wrote. If anything, they say that I demonized this man. I don't think I did. You can't read a story of this guy, even with all his flaws, without coming away saying, "The guy certainly had some gifts."