Subtitle: An Interview with Gut Check Press Founder and Author Ted Kluck
(Editor’s Note: In spring 2011, E. Stephen Burnett interviewed author Ted Kluck [coauthor with Kevin DeYoung of Why We’re Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church] about his forays into satirical end-times fiction. Now Kluck is back with another interview, this time with himself — which helps shortcut the process.)
Tell us about your new collaborative end-times novel, Beauty and the Mark of the Beast.
Well, it has all of the following in it: guns, microchips, professional football, hipsters, romance, and a little bit of dispensational theology which, as we learned by reading (or as it were, not-reading) the Left Behind series in the 90s are all the ingredients of a good end-times thriller.
Also, it can be yours for only $2.99 which makes it cheaper than pretty much everything in the world.
Talk about the enduring appeal of end-times literature.
I think people have a fascination with what happens when the world ends … which as we all know includes people getting microchips implanted in them as well as people floating up into the air naked and leaving behind little piles of clothing with their glasses sitting on top (of the piles of clothing).
So this is a send-up of Left Behind in the same vein as Gut Check’s other semi-successful send-ups if you count selling a few copies, making people laugh and making other people very angry as “successful”?
Not exactly. I mean I think it started as a send-up but then the four of us really started to enjoy getting to know the characters, weaving the plot, and watching this story come to life. That’s not to say that it doesn’t get funny and stay funny (I think it does) but it’s also a real novel in the way that a real novel paints multi-dimensional characters and then has those characters doing interesting things on the page. We also don’t ever directly mention Left Behind (Frank Turk’s foreword notwithstanding) and we’re careful not to really even spoof dispensational theology.
So what exactly are you spoofing?
We’re spoofing what we call “dispensensational” theology which is what happens when Christians make a really creepy industry (television, books, movies) out of eschatology – what happens when the world ends which, let’s face it, we all have our theological opinions about but we’re all, also, a healthy kind of clueless about as well. That’s a long-winded way of saying that none of us are dying on that particular theological hill. In fact, we all acknowledge that there are dispensational-leaning theologians we respect, and who have worked very hard, even if we don’t agree with them.
We’re also spoofing the kind of Christian culture that creates a Christ-figure out of a kid who throws a football on television.
Not exactly. Okay, maybe. We’re not really spoofing Tebow as much as the culture that created Tebow, if that makes sense?
I’m glad we had this talk.
Me too. But still … how do you feel about laughing at some individual’s expense? Is it wrong?
I actually think it’s imperative that we laugh at the kind of culture that makes an idol out of somebody like the Ted Strongbow character in our novel. A culture in which fans and readers are drawing all of their hope, energy and inspiration from a celebrity rather than from the glorious grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ whose death and resurrection paid for our sins and is our only comfort in life or death. That culture, to me, is kooky … and is ripe for satire. And that happens to be exactly the culture we’re living in.
How do you manage living, and making your living, in that culture?
Starting a publishing project like Gut Check Press certainly helps me maintain my sanity in this business.
Because we’re both (co-owner Zach Bartels and I) Christians and our faith drives what we do as a company…but a very close second ethic is that we do absolutely whatever we feel like whenever we feel like it…which usually means eating lunch out, smoking cigars and laughing a lot. And also occasionally releasing a book and then doing very little to market the book.
What was it like, logistically, writing with three other people?
It was fun. More fun than writing by myself, that’s for sure, which is saying something because I’m an introvert who got into this business (writing) primarily so that I could be alone most of the time. This book was a blast. We would each write a chapter and then hand it off to the next person with no instructions and no expectations. Our idea was to put a handful of really talented, fun people in a “room” (virtual) and see what happened.
173 pages of pretty non-stop humor and action. There are very few pages in which somebody isn’t either getting punched, shot, implanted with a microphip, falling into or out of love, falling off a light stanchion, feeling conflicted about something, or else doing or thinking something funny.
But shouldn’t writing novels be a serious enterprise?
Yeah, but it doesn’t have to be all the time. We were particularly interested in doing the kind of end-timesy, sci-fi-y book where people use contractions and actually talk like real people.
How is it different than the Left Behind books?
It tries to be funny, whereas those just sort of were, unintentionally. And although we have discussions underway for 161 sequels, action figures, and a commemorative calendar, it’s been markedly less successful, financially. This book has made, wait for it, hundreds of dollars.