I’m pleased to be able to present this interview with freelance editor, Jeff Gerke. Jeff has been influential in forwarding the cause of Christian speculative fiction within the Christian fiction market. He is continuing the championing of the speculative genres with his new site www.wherethemapends.com. But I’ll let him tell you more about that. So without further ado, let the interview begin.
1. If you were an alien or fantasy being, what kind would you be, and why?
Awesome first question. Totally gets me into the mood of the interview. I thought about saying I’d be some kind of non-human character, but whenever I dream about living in fantasy worlds I’m always a human paladin. In the epic fantasy novel I’m currently working on the hero is a Luke Skywalker-type young man from the backwoods who dreams of becoming a paladin—and gets his wish. Paladins are warriors, hardened from training and discipline. But they’re also holy men, men of prayer. The idea of the holy warrior is very appealing to me as a writer and a person.
2. What Christian speculative fiction work is your favorite or has most influenced you?
Definitely Lord of the Rings. Boring and predictable, I know, but what can I say? I discovered LOTR in college and couldn’t read them fast enough. I thought, if fiction can do that, I want to figure out how to do fiction.
3. What secular speculative fiction work is your favorite or has most influenced you?
Do movies count? If so, I’ll have to say the original Star Wars (Episode IV). I encountered that when I was 12. It impacted me on a tremendously deep level, as if George Lucas had figured out how to plug his movie straight into my cerebral cortex. Note that Luke was also a holy warrior.
The cool thing about both Star Wars and LOTR (and several other fantasies) is that they’re both “hero’s journey” stories. I’m referring to Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth,” the story of stories he encountered in every civilization throughout history. I see this story as man’s story, and as such, as part of the fingerprint of God in every human soul. There’s a reason this story—of a young person dreaming for adventure and finally cast into it, of learning the spiritual truths of the world, of encountering the evil one, and of returning home with wisdom—resonates with all of us. I think God’s hand is involved in that.
The epic fantasy I’m working on is a hero’s journey story.
4. What is your vision for Christian speculative fiction?
Part of my vision is what I’m doing over at WhereTheMapEnds.com. I long for a place—similar to ritersbloc [Ed. Speculative Faith]—where those of us who love Christian speculative fiction can come together and celebrate the wonder of the kind of fiction we love.
From my perspective from both sides of the author/editor scenario in Christian publishing—both as a published novelist and as a fiction editor—is that Christian speculative fiction has made some progress since This Present Darkness, but not much. There are more titles in these genres than we realize (the booklist I have at WhereTheMapEnds.com features over 250 Christian speculative novels), but still there is not much, all things considered.
My desire is for Christian speculative fiction to not have to justify its existence anymore, that it can stand unashamedly next to romances and chick-lits, that no one raises an eyebrow if there’s a dragon or spaceship on the front cover of a Christian novel.
Through WhereTheMapEnds.com I have a dream of becoming a small print-on-demand publisher producing original novels in this genre. If the site goes well and begins generating some income, I may be able to do that sooner rather than later. By offering original Christian speculative fiction directly to the people who want it, we bypass whatever roadblocks there may be in the current CBA system.
5. Print on demand books have a real stigma in many circles, being seen as not a valid avenue of publishing, or of being of an equal quality with books from more traditional publishers. Do you have a plan on how to overcome that stigma? Or is that something you see as slipping into the past?
I understand that question and the stigma. I think the quality issue is a thing of the past, though. The samples I’ve received from LightingSource have been high quality. They look like they came from a standard publisher. The cover design for Marcher Lord Press books would be done by the same guys who are doing the covers for all the major CBA publishers, so no quality drop there. The editing, copyediting, and typesetting, too, will be done by professionals in the industry, people doing the same work for CBA publishers today. No quality drop there, either. And, of course, the writing will be great.
I can see how an author, especially one just getting started, might not want to publish with a POD outfit because the unit sales are not typically as high as with standard CBA publishers. Such an author might not want to have such low-selling titles on his or her résumé. I completely understand that stance. However, once you’ve been around that block a few times, as I have, you may find that those things aren’t as important to you as they once were. You realize that you know enough people and have enough connections that you could probably get published somewhere with just about anything you’d like to write.
So then you start thinking about what you want to write. You start getting back to the stories burning in your heart that have not been welcomed by the major publishers. You start yearning for a way to get the goods straight to the people who want them. You start writing something because it’s what you want to write, or feel led to write, not what will necessarily please the masses.
Don’t hear me saying that every author ought to “see the light” and begin POD publishing. No. Most CBA novelists are right where they need to be. But a few of us have reached a point where we want to get the speculative stories we want to write to the people who can appreciate them. Even if that means taking a lower advance. Even if the sales numbers won’t equal what we’d get with other stories at traditional publishers.
Who knows, maybe if we do this for a while the rest of the industry will see that this kind of fiction is a safe bet and will be willing to open the door even wider to speculative fiction. Then everybody wins.
6. What are some common mistakes you’ve seen in aspiring speculative fiction writers?
Good question. There’s really no difference between the mistakes aspiring speculative fiction writers make vs. the mistakes aspiring novelists in any genre make. The first is simply not taking the time to learn the craft of fiction. You may have the coolest Zubonian Rhymbots ever seen by man or beast, but if you haven’t mastered POV and show vs. tell and character and pacing and the rest, your wonderful world will never see the light of publishing day. Get a copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King and master its every technique.
There may actually be one fiction gaffe that afflicts speculative novelists more than other novelists, and that’s the danger of falling in love with the made-up world to the point of having no story or characters. Usually a beginning novelist is much better at either plot or characters. Both have to be good or the novel doesn’t work. But with speculative fiction there’s a third pitfall: being good at creating the world but not being good at plot and characters as well.
We can become so interested in our world and its history and government systems and legends, etc., that we forget (or never knew how in the first place) to make a great story with interesting characters in that great world. It’s possible, as with Tolkien, to make the land a character in the book. But it can’t be the only character.
7. Should Christians really be exploring the various genres of speculative fiction and would you consider anything to be off limits?
Absolutely we should be exploring them. We ought to own these genres. Who knows good vs. evil better than Christians? Who understands demonic enemies better than Christians? Who understands archangels and paragons of good, who understands the fantastic invading the mundane, who understands accessing extradimensional power better than Christians? Secular SFF is full of spiritual and supernatural elements these days. That’s our territory and it’s time we took it back.
As far as off-limits, I think we should stay away from anything that stirs up the flesh. I think we could be telling vampire tales, for instance, but we shouldn’t be taking the sensual, even erotic, route that secular vampire stories take. We could be doing Goth and horror (though I prefer the term “chiller”) and the rest, I suppose, though we need to be sure we’re not providing the godless elements that the secular counterparts provide. Horror for the purpose of giving Christians the creeps…? I don’t know. I’d best withhold judgment. If God is leading someone to write in a certain genre, I wouldn’t want to be speaking against that. We just need to be sure we’re not sowing to the flesh when we do it (Galatians 6:8).
8. What is WheretheMapEnds.com?
Glad you asked! There are many wonderful sites out there, like ritersbloc, that offer a great place to go and congregate for people who love Christian speculative fiction. However, I thought that because of my background I could provide one that was slightly different. The emphasis at WhereTheMapEnds.com is a little more geared toward those who wish to write and publish in these genres.
Of course I offer a lot to those who love to simply read in the genres: a giant booklist of Christian speculative fiction, interviews with the pillars in the industry (my first interview is with Frank Peretti; Jerry Jenkins is next, followed by Ted Dekker), and even original short fiction by some of these authors. But I also offer a ton of information, resources, and utilities for those who are all about creating their own speculative stories: articles on writing, idea starters, world builders, and information on the current state of the Christian publishing industry.
If I’m known for anything in the Christian publishing industry it’s for liking this kind of fiction. I’m the editor who likes “the weird stuff.” (I love it.) So it made sense for me to create a site that pulled all of this together.
Through the site I’ll also be offering my services as a book doctor, editor, and even writer or co-writer.
I hope WhereTheMapEnds.com will be a helpful addition to the great sites that are already out there for people who like this kind of fiction. I hope to provide an element that might be missing from the aggregate.
Future plans for the site include contests, live chats, forums, collaborative fiction projects, and even the publication of original speculative novels.
9. What inspired you to start the site?
Partially because I wanted to create a place for these people to come together. It’s a genre I love. It’s a group of people I love. Because I know so many of the authors writing in these genres and because I’m kind of known for liking this fiction, it was a natural for me to do a site like this.
I also wanted to do it for myself. I love wading in these waters. I was amazed and personally helped when I saw that the booklist I generated (which I hope will instantly become the premier such list on the Web) had so many titles. I looked around at other lists online and saw some that had 20 or even 40 titles, so imagine my surprise when mine had 250 and could’ve had more! That was cool.
I think it would also be cool if the site generated a large readership that would then be interested in original Christian speculative novels when I was able to produce them. Instead of me having to go out and find the people who might be interested in these novels, those people would’ve already found me and I could just say, “Oh, by the way, we now offer these new novels. Might you be interested?”
It’s all part of my master plan, you see. Everything is proceeding according to my ultimate design…
10. Can you tell us a bit about your own journey of writing and editing speculative fiction?
My first-ever novel was a fantasy about a guy who had the gifts of a warrior but who was bound by his faith’s restrictions against taking human life. I was very interested in that dilemma. Still am, actually—my 4th, 5th, and 6th published novels are about a modern-day warrior who has strong feelings against killing. Anyway, that first novel was pretty awful and will never be published, but oh the joy of creating and living in an alternate world. I was completely hooked.
My first published novels were only a little less speculative: they were near-future SF stories involving virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and genetic engineering. The idea of virtual worlds, and virtual life, was and is very interesting to me.
The novel I’m working on now (which can be sampled at www.jeffersonscott.com/swordmakers_charm.htm) is an epic fantasy. It is the novel of my life, my magnum opus. No pressure, right? I’ve been working on the world, the plot, and the characters for over 4 years now. Ahhhh…
As far as editing, the first speculative novel I ever edited was Nancy Moser’s Time Lottery, an awesome story about people who get to go back in time to a crucial point in their own lives and decide whether or not to take a different path this time around. That novel won a Christy Award in the Visionary category.
When I was on staff at Strang Communications I had the honor of conceiving, designing, crafting, and launching Realms, an imprint dedicated to Christian speculative fiction. The first imprint of its kind in the CBA. We launched with an epic fantasy, a time travel novel, a SF, and a spiritual warfare novel. I acquired and edited all of those. Amazing fun.
When I moved to NavPress to direct their fiction line I was always looking to bring in more speculative fiction. I acquired a fantasy trilogy by Sharon Hinck, aided the development of Austin Boyd’s SF trilogy about manned voyages to Mars, and acquired a novel that was essentially a book-long conversation between the reader and a demon.
If I could do nothing but help Christian speculative novelists do their thing, I would be perfectly happy. So long as I could do my own writing, too.
In a way, that’s what I’m hoping to do now that I’m a freelancer. Through WhereTheMapEnds.com I hope to work with individuals—like your readers—who long to be published with their fiction but who need a little experienced help. That’s what I’m there for! Now if I could just figure out how to move my own novels forward, too…
11. Are you currently working on any new writing projects?
Just the epic fantasy referenced above. Ahhh… (www.jeffersonscott.com/swordmakers_charm.htm)
12. Which of your published works are you most proud of?
I’m proud of all six of my novels. The ones that get the least recognition become my favorites, just because they’re my babies, too, and I want them to have a fair shot. I’ve done two trilogies, both of which I love. The first books are near-future technothrillers. The second books are Christian military thrillers with enough high-tech gadgetry to please the staunchest spec fiction fan. Check ’em all out at www.jeffersonscott.com.
13. Which of your unpublished works excites you the most?
Definitely my epic fantasy. I’ve written around 85,000 words of that thing—just in my notes!
14. Any thoughts on how to build grassroots support for the Christian speculative fiction market?
Things like what you’re doing here and what I’m doing at WhereTheMapEnds.com have to be at the top of the list. Blog tours are good, too.
Then if we can just generate a little niche publishing operation, as well, we wouldn’t even need the existing system of Christian publishers and Christian bookstores. Not that those things aren’t important or should go away. Not at all. It’s just that I’d be happy to let them keep doing their thing and serving their demographic so long as we in our demographic can happily do our thing, too.
15. You’ve recently become a freelance editor. Do you have a price list for services yet? How should people contact you for more information?
I’m a full-service editorial provider. [grin] Whatever you need—anything from reviewing a proposal for you before you take it to a writer’s conference, to providing book doctoring services, to performing full edits—I know I can find a way to accommodate you. For current rates, just send a blank e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org. That will generate an automatic message with my services and rates. For direct contact with me, folks can write me at email@example.com.
16. How can we pray for you during this time of transition in your life?
Thank you for asking. Pray that through my various editorial and writing endeavors I can generate a solid and steady income that will be sufficient to support my family for the long haul. Freelancing is perfect for my temperament—but it has to work financially or I have to give it up and get a real job. Pray also that God will make a way for me to write and publish my own fiction, as well. When I’m not writing, a part of me suffers.
Thank you for the prayers and for having me as a guest of your awesome site!