Friday, July 10, 2009

Interview with Brandon Barr and Mike Lynch, Part 1

Chawna: Thank you, Brandon and Mike, for taking the time for this interview. It is always a privilege to hear what writers say about their own work.

First, I would love to hear about your favorite part of being an author.

Brandon Barr: I love being able to speak through stories. Often times, my deepest thoughts, and the ideas that I wrestle with go into my fiction (some stories more than others). I enjoy the act of creating story. People. Settings. Exploring ideas through character and narration.

An author doesn’t stand on a stage (at least 99.9% of authors). A writer is very much unlike a musician, or an actor, which is much more popularized in America. He/she is like an artist, they work behind the scenes. I think that is one reason why there are so few young people who go into writing, there is no fame in it. Our culture revolves around fame. Singers, movie stars, bands, comedians...those people often get major attention. For those of us who like to stay in the background, just another face in the crowd, and yet have a chance to impact the world of ideas, writing can give us that voice. However, few people ever attempt it.

Sometimes when I tell a person that I write books, they stare at me as if I were crazy.

Really? I can’t imagine why. Writers are strange or anything. :o)

Mike Lynch: I enjoy telling stories. It’s as simple as that. Ever since I was a kid, I always found myself making things out of legos, model airplanes, or pieces of wood lying about. There’s something about taking one thing, and transforming it into something else. The God we serve is the God of creation. He took nothing, and spoke the universe into existence. One only need look at nature to see the beauty and variety He created for us to enjoy. The birds in the air and stars twinkling in the sky all tell His story. Writing is no different. From mankind’s earliest history, we have been fascinated with stories, and have committed ourselves to preserving them, first as an oral history, then in the form of words through written language. And in the societies that have come and gone, story tellers have been there to spark the imagination of those eager to listen. That is the way God has hard-wired me. I love hearing a good story, and I love telling a good story.

For the book I’ve written, there is nothing better than sitting down with someone and talking about the characters, the way the story unfolds, the overall message I wanted to convey, how the characters overcome the inevitable setbacks—in truth, everything about When the Sky Fell. There is a profound sense of satisfaction for me when I have the chance to share something I’ve created for someone else’s enjoyment. I suppose it is the same for God, which explains why He shared all this good stuff with us.

Beautifully put, Mike.

This book was obviously a joint effort. What was the collaboration process like?

BB: Mike wrote the first draft entirely back in 1981, the year I was born! I didn’t come along until 2006. When I arrived on the scene, I basically tried to make the story my own, and cut and add where I saw fit. I’ll let Mike fill in the sugary Oreo Cookie details of what happened in between.

ML: In order to answer this question, you have to go back to the beginning. As Brandon mentioned, I first wrote the book back in 1981. Mind you, this was on an old-fashioned manual typewriter, and the home computer, which was just becoming available to the public, was too expensive for me to afford. As I read through one page after the other, I soon discovered the manuscript was filled with so many spelling errors and plot elements that needed changing, I felt overwhelmed at the thought of revising the entire story, and so I shelved the whole thing and moved on with my life.

As the years passed, thoughts of the story would pop up in my head from time to time, and so when I finally bought a computer of my own in 1996, I dusted off the novel and started plowing through what I soon discovered to be laughable dialogue and poorly developed characters. After several months of hard work, a halfway decent story began to emerge. But in so doing, I had created a 650-page monstrosity. Again, the thought of editing something I knew was way too long felt overwhelming, and so I shelved the manuscript again.

I then spent the next nine years off and on polishing the story, trimming it down where I could. When I felt my story was finally in publishable shape, I went to the Mt. Hermon Writer’s Conference in 2005. One of editors I met there thought my novel showed promise, and asked to see the entire manuscript. After a year of waiting, I received the bad news that the publisher decided to pass. I went to Mt. Hermon again the following year, but the people I showed it to felt the Christian Science Fiction market was too limited, and they also passed. It was at this point I seriously contemplated quitting. But before I did I wanted to give it one last chance, and contacted another Christian science fiction author I recently met on the Internet—Brandon Barr.

Like myself, Brandon has strong interest in science fiction. It also helped that our writing styles were similar to each other’s. In a kind of roll of the dice, I asked him if he would be interested in re-editing the entire novel, and as compensation for his efforts, I made him a co-author. My gamble paid off since we found a publisher not long after he whipped When the Sky Fell into shape.

Brandon and I kind of stumbled our way through the collaboration process at first, but over time, have developed a good system that works well for the two of us. Since finishing Sky, Brandon and I have collaborated on two other novels, and are presently working on our next writing venture.

As far as how we collaborated on the book, one of the things we agreed upon from the beginning is that we have the other’s permission to change anything we see fit. Nothing is sacred or off limits. In most of the cases, the other writer sees the value of the change, and usually agrees to it. As you would expect, we run into a differences of opinion about the story from time to time, such as a way a character might react, or how a particular scene should be written. There have only been very few times when one of us has put our foot down on something, and is unwilling to budge. When that happens, we offer explanations why that part of the story should remain unchanged. In the end, we both realize the story must come first, and whatever we put to paper is for the benefit of the reader, and not ourselves.

Now that’s a story and half! What a testament to the work of God.

When working with your fellow author, did anything strike you as exceptionally cool or funny that you can relate?

BB: Good question. Well, I found working with someone whom I’d never met before rather humorous! We wrote When the Sky Fell, and then another book, Midnight over Midian together before ever meeting face to face! I find that hilarious, but also something only God could ordain.

ML: I echo Brandon’s sentiments. In today’s electronic age, I am co-authoring books with someone I’ve met only once, signed on with a literary agent who lives in Pennsylvania, and have a publisher based in Massachusetts. We all have this publishing relationship with each other, but interact with each other primarily through phone calls and e-mails. It’s a peculiar life indeed.

LOL. The wonders of modern technology.

What are some of the outside influences on this book or on your writing in general?

BB: I’ll let Mike answer about the influences on this particular book. But as far as writing in general goes, I’d have point to authors like C.S. Lewis, Cordwainer Smith, Ray Bradbury, Michael Crichton, and Orson Scott Card have all had a big impact on my writing. Each author listed affected me in very different ways.

ML: This may come as a surprise to you, but I was not much of a reader growing up. Television and movies were my genre of choice. I am pretty much a visual thinker, and so I tend to be drawn to the visual medium. Fortunately for me, there is a full body of work that have inspired me over the years—Forbidden Planet, When Worlds Collide, War of the Worlds, Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Lost in Space, Battlestar Galactica, & Babylon 5. If I had to pick one person who influenced by story-telling above all else, I would have to say Rod Serling. Even though he produced the Twilight Zone in the early 1960’s, I still find the show relevant in today’s society. In most cases he took ordinary people and placed them in extraordinary circumstances. The thrust of those episodes centered on how the characters dealt with it, sometimes with surprising results. Much of my writing follows the same model.

It has been a delight hearing your answers, but now I need to quit for the moment. But there is much, much more to come!

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