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Afterlife: The Resurrection Chronicles

I first met Merrie Destefano at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference. She initiated a gathering of speculative fiction writers where she gave each person an opportunity to share the premise of their work in progress. I’ll never forget the […]
| Nov 22, 2010 | No comments |

I first met Merrie Destefano at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference. She initiated a gathering of speculative fiction writers where she gave each person an opportunity to share the premise of their work in progress. I’ll never forget the reaction of the twenty-five or so writers present when Merrie related hers—the premise of the book that would become Afterlife: The Resurrection Chronicles.

In this story, science has discovered the way to bring people back from the dead, over and over, up to nine times. Resurrection has actually become big business, but some are not content. They thirst for immortality.

As it turned out, Merrie ended up finding a publishing home for her novel with the general-market house Eos, an imprint of HarperCollins. Is her novel a “general market” story? Or is it “Christian fiction”? After all, when I met Merrie she was pitching her book at a Christian writers’ conference to Christian editors and agents who primarily work with Christian publishers. In fact, she signed with a Christian agent shortly after we met, and he sent her novel out to the main Christian publishing houses. Eventually Merrie went a different direction, and her book sold quickly.

Was it not “Christian” enough for Christian publishers? I can’t answer that question because I’ve not talked with any of those Christian publishing professionals who passed on the project. My guess is, they weren’t convinced their target audience would buy the numbers of copies they needed to sell.

Afterlife is dystopian science fiction though Merrie’s publisher is marketing it as urban fantasy which seems to be a hotter commodity right now. Christian publishers, however, apparently believe neither genre attracts their target reader.

Why, I wonder. The writing is stellar, the story thought-provoking and all but devoid of the two things that some Christian readers seem to think sully a book—graphic sex scenes and cuss words.

Are there “faith elements” in Afterlife? If by this phrase, a person means characters, conversation, plot points that make the reader think about spiritual things, then the answer is a resounding, YES! If instead the question means, has the author laid out a spiritual lesson consistent with Biblical principles, then, No.

The thing is, Merrie doesn’t “lay out” her theme but weaves it into the fabric of the story as a skilled writer should. The reader, then, is left to connect the dots, to ponder the issues, to ask the questions, and to seek for the answers, if he so chooses.

Interestingly, I found far more Biblical inferences and intentional questions about spiritual things in Afterlife than in many of the novels considered “Christian fiction.” In fact, the opening epigraph set the tone:

“Remember, death is a choice.
And I know you’ve all heard the latest rumor,
that One-Timers don’t really exist.
They say that everbody’s a First-Timer
and that when death comes, we all choose life.
I’m here to say that’s just not true!”
-Reverend Josiah Byrd, leader of the first pro-death rally

A reverend, leading a “pro-death” rally? Why would he do this?

I opened the book randomly and came across this opening sentence to Chapter Fifty—an example of how Merrie has dyed the fabric of her story in the language of the spiritual:

Silent as an empty midnight mass, the silver-and-black chopper thumped to a velvet halt, descended like light from heaven, landed on the roof of the Carrington Hotel.

And here’s a more specific passage, not alluding to a Biblical passage or using spiritual imagery, but actually raising questions about God:

“This thing, this guilt”—I paused uncertain how to express what was in my heart, especially when I knew that a black monster was swimming through the room—”it isn’t between you and the dead guy. Not really.” I thought I heard the swish of a reptilian tail. “It’s between you and God. He’s the one that you need to talk to.”

“Do you think I haven’t tried?” There were tears on his face now, glimmering in the darkened room. His own personal river of pain. “I feel like he hung up the phone on me. Like he isn’t taking my calls anymore.”

“Then let’s call Him together,” I ventured. I expected him to laugh and tell me to leave, to go back to my pretty little childhood while he drifted off into dark, unfamiliar streets. I expected black water to swell, to come to life, to swallow him whole right in front of me.

But that wasn’t what happened.

Instead Russ lowered his head and wept. Then he got off his chair and knelt on the floor. I suddenly forgot about the monsters and knelt beside him.

For the first and only time in our lives, my brother and I prayed together.

The scene continues and the story continues. This isn’t the climax or resolution but one of many inferences or suggestions or introductions to spiritual matters.

In reality, who can read a book about dying and coming back to life, and dying and coming back to life, without thinking about death and what happens for real?

Merrie’s debut novel, released in September, is one Christian readers will want to have on their shelves. It’s a great book to start a discussion with those who aren’t Christians. And it’s an excellent story by a talented writer, especially for those who enjoy dystopian science fiction or urban fantasy, whichever you choose to classify it.

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E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Rebecca, this looks like a fascinating story with a familiar, yet original concept. I just might have to check it out. At the same time, a question based on this:

The writing is stellar, the story thought-provoking and all but devoid of the two things that some Christian readers seem to think sully a book—graphic sex scenes and cuss words.

At the same time, the front cover seems to ooze with Sexy, which is a slight “stumbling block” in the truest sense to many readers — and I might include myself! I’d be interested to hear about the cover choice and what factors might have went into choosing the character’s appearance. These things are so different between readers, I’m quite aware; but speaking for myself alone, I’d almost prefer some well-chosen and relevant “cusswords” in the novel itself to a slinky-looking model on the cover!

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Sally Apokedak
Guest

Loved this review. It really was a great book and Merrie is a wonderful writer. Thanks for the reminder, Becky.

Stephen, buy the book and rip the cover off if you like. Or maybe it’s for sale on Kindle. I agree that the cover is too sexy–if her skirt was a few inches longer it would a great cover. It depicts the graveyard, the dog and the girl, and it shows that the book is dark. And it is dark, literally. A lot of it takes place in the night in New Orleans, if I recall correctly. And why would a general market publishing house think to make the skirt longer? Or have her stand with her hip not thrust out quite so far? In that world, the woman is wearing lots of clothes. Of course they were trying to make her look sexy, but why wouldn’t they? The don’t think sex is a bad thing for a young, unmarried women to be involved in and they don’t think seduction is bad. So…

Overlook the cover. I doubt if nonChristians find it bothersome at all, and Christians can take a permanent ink pen and give the girl a longer skirt and a make the top into a turtleneck. (No kidding, I once colored clothes on hundreds of pictures in an exercise book I used because I didn’t want my son to be tempted by the woman in the short-shorts and leotards.)

Merrie Destefano
Guest

Rebecca,
Thank you so much for the awesome review! I really appreciate it. =) I really liked this line: I opened the book randomly and came across this opening sentence to Chapter Fifty—an example of how Merrie has dyed the fabric of her story in the language of the spiritual

Sally,
Hi! And thanks for the wonderful review you wrote for Afterlife too!

Stephen,
Hi! Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I’m sorry you don’t like the cover. I actually think it’s quite beautiful and I think the team at HarperCollins did an excellent job. Yes, I confess, in my mind the character on the cover was dressed more modestly, but in many ways producing a book is like producing a movie. A team of artists are involved and they all have input. I was thrilled with the work my editor and copy editor did on my story, and I trusted my editor’s vast experience when it came to the final decision on my cover. I hope that you might be able to judge the book on it’s entire content and not just on its cover. But I do appreciate your opinion and I’m glad that you took the time to post your comments. =)

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Merrie: would you believe I completely forgot there was a well-known, yet often true, cliche that too closely resembled the question I was asking? 😀

I hope you could see that my question was not based on merely “well that’s an un-Godly-looking cover, so I am not interested” (which I’m, ah sure that no Christian has ever said to you, right?) but rather wondering how working with a general-market publisher may have resulted in that. I’ve certainly no wish to “judge a book by its cover”!

Actually as a cover, as a tease to reflect the book’s inner substance, it’s an awesome one. the only problem is that as a guy I have an instinctive reaction to keep looking for the wrong reasons. Side-effect, and I’m not thrilled about it, and you’d think having identified it so easily I could just stop? Wretched man that I am! etc. Someday I’ll have that beat — for now I just thank God for salvation, not blame an author, artwork or any other Thing for my own sin-shrapnel, nor judge un-Biblically a writer or artist, and move on — and not be deterred from missing what sounds like a great story.

Nor would that discourage me from recommending the book to others. Similarly, while some people might use the Harry Potter novels as excuses for their sin (inquiries into real Wicca have gone up! etc.), that doesn’t affect me — and hasn’t given me cause to miss out on those novels and films either.

Great to have you at Speculative Faith! Might you consider sharing more in the future about your publishing experience, writing craft/philosophy, Christian views and more?

Merrie Destefano
Guest

Becky,
Hi, again, and great discussion going on here! Yes, I’d love to do a guest blog or interview. I’ve been meaning to write back to you and let you know that. So here I am, publicly announcing that my answer is yes. *grin*

Stephen,
Hi! And I understand the stumbling block thing. I have a problem with things of an occult nature, so I can be easily turned away from a book if it has a pentagram or something similar on a cover. I completely understand. Right now, the main purchaser of urban fantasy and romance in the general market is a woman and I think this cover really does sell well to women who like those genres. So far, I haven’t had very many men tell me that they have read the book. But the book was written to appeal to both men and women, and one of the main characters is a man. I guess I always thought that Chaz (the male lead) would be on the cover. But there again, covers and marketing are really tricky and I totally trust the team at HarperCollins.

Here’s a weird thought from a first-time novelist. I was really surprised and a bit embarrassed that my name was so big on the cover. I never expected that. I mean, I’ve obviously seen other covers and yes, other author’s names are pretty big. But I never took that information and applied to myself.

And back to the outfit that my character is wearing–one thing that was really important to me was the fact that she could not be wearing high heels and that her dress had to be somewhat loose-fitting. All that is because she wears this outfit during a fight scene and there’s no way she’d be able to tumble and run if she was wearing high heels or a tight dress. So the artist was really great about meeting those requests. And he got her look spot-on. I always saw her looking like Kirsten Dunst with really long hair.

Thanks again, for all the great comments! Like I said before, a great discussion here. Surprisingly, this books usually generates a lot of discussion and it’s been really fun seeing how people react to the story.

🙂

Morgan Busse
Member

Hmm, I liked the cover, but then again I’m not a guy 🙂 Just keep a permanent marker handy and put a turtleneck on her like Sally said.

I’m working my way through 2-3 books right now, but definitely want to pick this book up. Saw it in B&N a month ago and started reading, but had no money in the book budget at that time, so it had to go back on the shelf. Really liked the opening. Now to see hubby about the budget and expanding the book category… lol 🙂

Merrie Destefano
Guest

Morgan,
Thanks so much for commenting! That’s so cool that you thought about buying Afterlife, and I’m really glad to hear that you liked the opening. 🙂

And yes, you can easily put a turtleneck on the character on the cover. Believe it or not, I’ve heard that there are a number of guys who like to read romance and paranormal romance. Sometimes they’ll say they’re shopping for their wives or girlfriends when they buy the books, and then put a cover on the book when reading it.

Morgan Busse
Member

Haha! That’s funny. My husband and I read the Twilight Saga to see what the big hoopla was on that. He actually enjoyed the series better than me (more because he was a youth pastor and cracked up over all the teen angst… don’t think that’s the reaction Stephenie was going for ;P)

Christian
Guest
Christian

The book sounds interesting. It’s a pity about the cover. I don’t find it the least bit sexy, more awkward and posed than anything else. And a turtle-neck sweater? Seriously, is that necessary?

Kaci Hill
Member

I’m gonna go out on a limb here, because her neckline really is lower than I’d expect of a breathing person. Overall, I don’t quite get how that’s “sexy.” Too low, yes. Especially provocative, not so much. She’s wearing a loose-fitted dress and those are either tights or leggings underneath, and she’s got knee-high boots on.

Now, we could probably ask the romance genre why a genre aimed at women likes to show off the female body – but I’ve asked that of Victoria’s Secret, too. I actually didn’t notice it was a dress till someone commented. I thought it was a long shirt and leggings.

Anyway. I checked out the trailer and website. Very nice. 0=)