Saturday, July 11, 2009

Interview with Mike Lynch and Brandon Barr, Part 2

Chawna: In the last post, Mike and Brandon discussed what it was like to be authors and to collaborate together. But their novel, When the Sky Fell, sparks a few questions of its own:

Why did you choose to work in this subgenre?

BB: I generally see the Sky novel as Military space opera. I’ve read some enjoyable books in this genre, but I don’t think I would have chosen it necessarily if it weren’t for Mike having offered me co-authorship. So Mike, why did you choose this genre??? :)

ML: Science fiction is a hugely broad genre. It can be near future or far future, soft sci-fi or hard. There are sub-categories such as apocalyptic, dystopian, military, alternative history, space opera, steampunk, and cyberpunk.

Like most other genres, it can either be escapist or direly relevant—or somewhere in between. Science fiction has so many gifts that other genres don’t have, and I would certainly say it’s the freest genre in terms of rules.

As far as why Brandon and I wrote a Christian Science Fiction novel, we recognize this particular genre gives us the opportunity to talk about issues that have a huge impact on people’s lives, but at the same time, in a way that allows us to communicate ideas and concepts that are easier for the reader to accept than if we told them in a more straightforward manner. This was the strategy Jesus employed when He communicated the truths of God’s kingdom through the use of parables. Brandon and I wanted to do the same thing with “When the Sky Fell.” Using the science fiction genre as a metaphor, we were able to incorporate the gospel message into the story in a way that is both entertaining, but still communicates the truths of the Bible.

It should be noted that this strategy is not without precedent in our time. In the original “Star Trek” television series, Gene Roddenberry tackled the tricky issues of the Vietnam War, prejudice, society injustice, and poverty in many of the episodes he produced. He didn't come out and say, "Hey everyone, stop hating each other." He had Captain Kirk beam down on a planet where that was happening, and showed them a better way to live. Since the audience isn't being pounded over the head with the message, they are more apt to accept and think about it. In our case, rather than telling the reader he needed to repent of his sins and find salvation in Christ, we incorporated that message into a science fiction story in a way that is still accessible to him, but in a way that doesn’t water down the gospel message.

One thing that popped out at me in When the Sky Fell was your use of “creators,” something that is likely to raise some eyebrows. Would you explain a bit more about what is going on there?

BB: Yes! I really like the use of the plural, “creators”. The “Great Creators” as they are called in the Sky novel is an illusion to the trinity. Each person of the trinity a separate person. In Genesis 1, the bible records the following:

Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, let us make man in our image, in our likeness...”

It seemed only natural to have a similar motif for our story, showing a God with three centers of self consciousness (IE: One God revealed in three distinct persons: Father, Son, Spirit).

ML: One of the things Brandon and I agreed on from the beginning was making Sky a story that shared the truths of the Bible to the reader, but in a way that was fun and engaging. In fact, the main character in the story, Commander Frank Yamane, is based on the life of Paul the Apostle. Many of the elements in the novel were taken straight out of the Book of Acts, though they were modified to fit into the story. As we previously discussed, the allegorical approach Brandon and I took found its inspiration in Jesus when he taught the people about God using parables. Using everyday examples from their lives was much easier to communicate Biblical truths than if He talked about those things outright. A simple story often has a much deeper impact on a person than saying something plainly—hence, the Great Creators, and all the other allegorical elements found in Sky.

And your allegorical elements are so well integrated! Far too many books I review become preachy from botched attempts at allegory. But yours flows naturally and enhances the story rather than hinders it. I applaud the job done so well.

Now I know that as writers we hope to impact our readers, but often we are the ones who are affected the most. What impact did writing When the Sky Fell have on you or what is one thing you learned in the process?

BB: I learned it wasn’t beyond my reach to write a novel. I had always looked upon the prospect as daunting. Then going through Mike’s drafts, tweaking and editing, I realized it wasn’t the ferocious beast I’d once feared.

(Really? I was certain writers ranked up there with lion trainers who stick their heads in the animal’s mouth…)

ML: I can sum up what I’ve learned about writing the novel in one word—perseverance. In total, it took 28 years for Sky to get published. As you can imagine, there were a host of ups and downs along the way, a lot of doors slammed in my face. But the one thing that carried me through was a belief that God had given me a story that needed to be told. Though He never promised me it would ever happen, I did have a strong sense it would be published one day, which meant I couldn’t give up, even when I was tempted to do so numerous times. Writing is an endeavor with only a 1% success rate. The other 99% of writers out there will never see their work published. With odds like that against you, you really have to believe in yourself and your stories.

As I keep finding out! I’m very much in awe of your 28-year wait. Writing with hopes of publication is definitely not for the weak of heart.

What’s one book besides the Bible and your own work that you would recommend for readers?

BB: I am but only a man! Have mercy! I tremble at such a question. Okay, I’ll give it a go, but I’m throwing out TWO books. In the realm of fiction, works I’d recommend would have to be either The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, or The Legend of the Firefish. Both books have powerful Christian truths that could have an eternal influence on the readers.

ML: I’m going to have to cheat on this question. There are few things that inspire me more than watching a really good movie. The visual medium is where I live. I know that sounds funny coming from an author, but seeing heartfelt performances or watching a scene that has a profound impact on the lives of the characters stick with me far more deeply than most things, including reading. I know that sounds sacrilegious, but in terms of your question, that is the best way I can answer it.

For those movies I feel meet this criteria, I also have two to offer you: Chariots of Fire and Kingdom of Heaven. In both cases, the main characters are men of faith who find themselves embroiled in extraordinary circumstances that will affect the lives of others, but at the same time struggle to remain faithful to God.

There’s nothing sacrilegious in your answer. There’s much to be said for a well-constructed film and the potency it carries.

Finally, what’s one question you wish you had been asked but never have been, and what is the answer?

BB: Question: As someone who works with Christian teens, what trends do you see in our young generation that is antithetical to a Christ-glorifying life?

Brandon’s answer: I see entire relationships built around humor, put-downs, and cruel jokes. I see opportunities for real, sincere love forsaken because our “youth relationship culture” can’t be serious long enough to taken serious. I see young men and women enslaved by technology. Their cell-phones are like leeches on them. Is it not sad to see a kid interrupt his taking of communion to read a text?

It’s not all bad news though. There are still a few, whose backs won’t bend in the lions den...(as Josh Garrels puts it beautifully).

ML: The question I often ask myself is why do some people submit to God when they are confronted with the truth of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, while others dismiss it as inconsequential?

Answer: I don’t know, and am still trying to figure it out.

Aren’t we all?

I think that about wraps it up. Thanks again for answering all my questions and such detail too! It has been a delight to chat with you. Any last comments you’d like to add?

BB: Great questions Chawna. Thanks for all you do—reviewing books so that other Christians can know what they’re getting into with they pick up a book. I’m looking forward to seeing some of your own writing in print.

ML: I too appreciate you giving us this opportunity. I wish more people out there were just as passionate about stories and the impact they have on other’s lives. If we can get people to think about the truth, then we have the potential to bring them that much closer to God. Keep up the good work.

Back at you! I'll look forward to seeing future work from you both.

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