Harvest House Publishers, producing more than 160 new books each year and offering a strong backlist of more than 700 titles, has risen into the top five among American publishers of Christian literature. After years printing self-help, Bible materials, and gift books, HHP has made a strong movement into fiction. Senior Editor Nick Harrison joins us here at Speculative Faith for an interview to introduce one of their newest ventures—a Christian fantasy.
RLM: Last year at Mt. Hermon you were excited about a fantasy trilogy you had just acquired. What can you tell us about it?
NH: The Trophy Chase Trilogy is by George Bryan Polivka. The first book, The Legend of the Firefish releases March 1. The second book, The Hand that Bears the Sword, releases July 1. The final book, as yet untitled, releases January 1, 2008. Naturally, we hope that fantasy readers will love the books, but I hope the interest goes even beyond that. I think that it will appeal to both young and old readers.
RLM: So I take it, The Trophy Chase Trilogy does not target only readers who already love fantasy.
NH: I really think the public at large will love the series. To be honest, fantasy is not a genre that I read extensively in. But from the first page, this story captivated me. All the elements are here: wonderful characters (not just the protagonist, Packer Throme, but minor characters as well), a quest, danger, many twists and turns, a bit of a love story, and a very satisfying ending.
RLM: I’m happy to hear that the books aren’t aimed at a niche audience. Every indication, as we look at the culture at large, seems to suggest that fantasy appeals to a broad base of people. Does The Trophy Chase Trilogy remind you of any other fantasy on the market or is it something completely original?
NH: It’s quite original. The Kingdom of Nearing Vast (where much of the story takes place) is a fantasy world….and yet it’s one where the Bible is very much a part of the culture.
RLM: That’s a unique element for a fantasy world. Besides the setting, what, in your opinion, will readers enjoy the most, the characters or the story?
NH: Well, I’ve always said that, as an editor, I prefer character-driven stories to message- or plot-driven stories. And in the character of our hero, Packer Throme, we find a young man whom we are eager to follow into battle. Packer is very human and makes mistakes along the way, but he is such a well-drawn character that we easily understand why he does what he does. When I finished reading, I found myself thinking like Packer Throme thinks. But beyond the great characters, there is a strong plot and a wonderful message. It’s a page-turner, but also character-driven, AND with a strong message. I would not call it message-driven though.
I can’t say enough about Bryan’s characters. I challenge any reader to NOT care what happens to Packer and Panna….or to any of the wonderful supporting characters: Cap and Hen Hillis, Will Seline, Sam Delany,
Marcus Pile, Dog Blestoe…and in the second book: Bran Mooring, Prince Ward, and even a couple of the ill-fated bad guys. Truly a magnificent job of creating living, breathing characters.
One other great achievement here is that in addition to the high drama involving the hero, Packer Throme, Bryan has given Packer’s love interest, Panna Seline a major adventure of her own. Thus there are two major players in the book: Packer and Panna. I’m really pleased that this trilogy has not just a strong male figure, but also a very strong and compelling female character as well.
And if that weren’t enough, Bryan gives us a very keen insight into one of the story’s antagonists, Talon, a female Drammune warrior. And if THAT weren’t enough, Bryan also takes us into the mind of the title creature, the Firefish, a large and fierce sea-creature that figures into a major part of the story.
Bryan’s ability to handle the point of view shifts necessary to pull off this feat is awesome—and unique. Not many authors handle point of view as well as Bryan does. I consider Bryan’s use of point of view a huge asset to the book—even though I know that all the writing books warn against such shifts. I think they do this because few authors can handle those shifts well. Bryan is a master at it, in my opinion.
RLM: I know one of the things I learned from you at Mount Hermon was the importance of creating characters readers care about, so I’m not surprised by what you’re saying. But back to the elephant in the room—Harvest House is publishing FANTASY. Recently someone told me they thought yours would be the last publisher to pick up a fantasy. Was that an accurate statement and if so, what changed?
NH: Our mission statement at Harvest House Publishers is “to glorify God by providing high-quality books and products that affirm biblical values, help people grow spiritually strong, and proclaim Jesus Christ as the answer to every human need.” We try to do that with all the books we publish—fiction and non-fiction. In the past, it’s true we’ve not done much in this genre….but we like to think we’re always open to books that “fit” Harvest House and our mission statement, even if they’re in a genre that’s untested for us. Of course, a book in a new genre may have a higher hurdle to clear….and I think that’s what happened here. We feel the series is THAT good. It cleared a huge hurdle. We are willing to step out and publish something new that meets the criteria of our mission statement AND is a very satisfying story.
RLM: Makes sense. So, how did you find George Bryan Polivka?
NH: I love the way this happened too. It offers hope to unpublished authors. Every week (well, just about every week), I check the two major on-line manuscript-listing services: the one hosted by ECPA and Writer’s Edge. In all my years of checking those services, I’ve asked to see maybe 30 or 40 proposals….and in those 30 or 40, I think we’ve published maybe half a dozen. And I found Bryan Polivka on Writer’s Edge.
RLM: Wow! I know some people in the publishing business who didn’t think those services benefit writers. This is encouraging! But back to fantasy, do you have any plans to look for other speculative works and if so are there any particular elements you desire?
NH: Having taken the plunge with The Trophy Chase Trilogy, we may, at this point, want to wait and see how it does. But honestly, if I found a second series or a stand-alone that I felt was as good as Bryan’s books, I’d pitch it hard to our publishing committee.
RLM: Are there particular elements, like talking animals or magic wands, that you would avoid?
NH: I doubt we’d want wands or overt “magic.” We do not allow crude language or overt sensuality, and of course, the story has to be consistent with our mission statement.
RLM: How would you categorize the “faith element” in The Trophy Chase Trilogy? Is it allegorical? Present as the worldview of one of the characters? Symbolized? Or something else altogether?
NH: It’s overt Christianity. Packer Throme is a believer in trusting the God of the Bible and in Jesus Christ. That may sound strange to fantasy fans…but it really works. The world is a fantasy world—it’s called The Kingdom of Nearing Vast. And yet it is clearly set on earth. And yet the time is not modern times, but not ancient either. Bryan has done a marvelous job of making a fantasy kingdom that is very believable.
RLM: In your opinion what is the strength of the fantasy—the special elements a secular story might term “magic,” the other world, the other characters? Why is this element particularly engaging?
NH: Bryan has created a highly believable kingdom and compelling characters who inhabit that kingdom. He has also given them some enormous challenges that they truly can’t meet without a lot of courage and a strong faith in God. I think, then, for me, the strength of this fantasy is that one really believes in the Kingdom of Nearing Vast, much like one “believes” in Narnia.
RLM: What a ringing endorsement!
Nick, thanks so much for your time. You are a wonderful advocate for George Bryan Polivka and The Trophy Chase Trilogy. He is blessed to have you in his corner! After what you’ve said, I’m excited to read the first book, especially since you promised me a sneak-peek.
I also have to say, it is heartening that another publishing house has stepped into the fantasy arena.
You’ll be interested to know that last week during Kathryn Mackel’s Trackers CSFF Blog Tour, Technorati’s top four books on the Most Popular list were all fantasies, with Trackers coming in at number two. I think the future of Christian fantasy is looking brighter, in part because Harvest House has stepped up to meet the culture where it is at.