Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Polivka on Technology, the Sea, and the Peculiar Art Called Writing

Today it’s my privilege to introduce you to Mr. George Bryan Polivka, author of The Legend of the Firefish.

C: First off, many readers enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at writing. Could you share one or two trivia facts/anecdotes about the process that we might otherwise not know?

GBP: It's hard to know what might be interesting. All right, true confessions... I focus on wordplay a lot, having studied Shakespeare and having started out writing poetry. I will occasionally come up with a turn of phrase I really like, and I mean really like, but find to my great disappointment that it doesn't really fit in the story.

So I have actually gone back and rewritten scenes, even changed plot lines, so that my little turn of phrase will work! I love quotable, memorable lines that sum things up, and I'll do a lot to make sure every book has enough of those to satisfy me.

Another thing I will share... I don't believe anyone, no matter how good a writer, can do this alone. It's a peculiar art, in which you have to dive deep, deep, deep into an imaginary world that becomes so real you can see, hear, touch, smell it... and you put all your secrets into it, your dreams and hopes and fears and failings (whether you mean to or not)... and then you emerge, ta da! and everyone else passes judgment. And that is how it must be.

But what I've found is that my wife, Jeri, is my best critic because she knows me and doesn't let me get away with anything. She tends to read the first stages, what are ultimately early drafts, and really provides the painful input. She's an avid reader of all sorts of fiction (final drafts only!), and so when people praise my writing she wonders what all the fuss is about. I like to say she's never read anything I've written that's any good! And I thank God for it.

C: Lol! And writing is a peculiar art—that’s why I think we writers are peculiar people. But peculiar people often beget unique ideas. Could you share come of your inspiration for The Legend of the Firefish and some of the reasons you decided to do this genre in the first place? High-seas adventures aren't exactly common fare in CBA.

GBP: There were several factors that went into it. I wrote Firefish more than 10 years ago, when the Internet boom was just picking up steam. I was fascinated by the power of new technologies, which are essentially about taking what God has created in the physical world and reshaping it, mastering it, for human ends. Gun powder, nuclear power, rocket engines, computers, all great technologies fit that description. I remember thinking that greedy men with no scruples could do a lot of damage with a powerful new technology, while those who had higher goals would be caught up into their maelstrom, and only by the grace of God find some way to work through the mess to find a positive outcome, harnessing that technology for the good of all. Out of that came Firefish, pirates, and Packer Throme.

As for the high seas... to me, having been born in farm country in Illinois, there is nothing more alluring than the ocean. It speaks of greater, bigger, deeper things, tamable to a degree, but always dangerous. The perfect setting.

C: I can perfectly identify with that allure, being a Midwesterner myself.

At the start of this book, you make it clear that this isn't a "magical" story, but more like a pseudo-history of an era long. What was your rationale behind this decision and how did you capture the feel of that time period so well?

GBP: It wasn't a conscious decision to leave the magic out. I wrote this before Harry Potter, before Pirates of the Caribbean, and was really influenced more by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien than anyone else. Lewis wrote a space trilogy without magic.

My big "what if" was just, "What if on all those old charts of the sea, where they put the sea monsters on the outer corners, there really were sea monsters?" I never liked alternate histories, so I just created a world in which that was true.

As to capturing the time period, my mother used to get me and my brothers involved in historical re-enactments, open houses in restored 19th century homes where we'd spend the day showing visitors how everyday life looked in 1818 or whatever. So I picked up a lot of the details doing that.

But a lot of it is just imagining yourself in the situation. What do you see? How would this be done? And where I don't know, there's Google!

C: What reader would you like to reach with this story and what would you like them to take away from this series?

GBP: It's aimed at believers. This is not missionary work, and I'm no evangelist. If you don't already have an appreciation for spiritual things, then being thrust into the mind and hearts of people working out their faith may not be that appealing.

But I do believe there's an important message here, one that God has worked into me through long, hard struggles... and I think for the most part He's finally beaten me into submission over it. And it's this: Power is granted from above to the meek, the weak, the humble who seek him with all their hearts. Great power, power beyond anything the world, flesh or devil can throw at you. And (here's the kicker) it's the only way He grants power. Anything else is human strength, people waving banners and psyching themselves up to "just do it." And that won't stand the flames.

This is a truly revolutionary truth, when you start to work it out into everyday life. Lay down the struggle; cease striving. That's the truth these books attempt to portray.

C: So how has writing this story exactly impacted you?

GBP: As hinted above, the way God impacted me plays out in the story, not the other way around. But He has given me this stage on which to share his Truth, and a talent to do it, and I'm extraordinarily grateful that he has humbled himself once again, allowing himself to be cast in a poor story from a cracked and crumbling earthen vessel like me. I know God wanted these books published. I know it because I wrote a dozen books over 25 years with not so much as a nibble, and he made it painfully clear all that while that it was not time. Now it is.

C: Any final thoughts you'd like to add?

GBP: I want to thank you, Chawna, for taking an interest and getting the word out.

C: Thank you for taking time to answer my questions.

For more interesting stuff, check out Bryan's blog or some of reviews posted by the other bloggers (listed at the bottom of yesterday’s post). Or if you can’t wait to dive into The Legend of the Firefish, click here to order.


Valerie Comer said...

Thanks Chawna and Bryan! That was great. You're right, all in God's timing. I must keep remembering that.

Chawna Schroeder said...

So must we all.