Please Welcome...Anne Elisabeth Stengl
This month our interview guest is Christian speculative fiction novelist Anne Elisabeth Stengl!
Elisabeth is a fairy tale fanatic. She spent her childhood years in
England where, as she says, "the air you breathe is full of
traditions, history, and, most of all, legends."
though, she is focused on writing. Her Christian Fantasy novel,
Heartless, was called "a clever debut from an author worth
watching" by Publishers Weekly. Her second novel,
is due this summer from Bethany House.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with you. What have you been doing lately?
Anne Elisabeth Stengl: Lately I’ve been getting married and settling into my new home with my husband. We have decided that we are green thumbs (first batch of dead sprouts notwithstanding) and are planting a rose garden this year. Here’s hoping for good results.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Anne Elisabeth Stengl: Favorite? Of all time? Oh dear. How about I’ll pick the first that comes to mind, which is Terry Pratchett’s uproarious and heartbreaking Nation.
Terry Pratchett writes laugh-out-loud comedy that will keep you in stitches from page one. The wonderful thing about Pratchett isn’t the laughs, though. It’s his amazing way of preaching a sermon (not a Christian sermon, but a sermon no less) in the context of his story. You don’t realize you’re being fed a message until it’s already been fed to you.
In the case of Nation, Terry Pratchett is preaching a very atheistic message to his readers. As a Christian, I find it tragic, but as a writer, I cannot help but marvel at the genius! He lets his message work into the very fabric of the story. Without it, the story doesn’t exist.
For Pratchett, it’s not a matter of just telling a good story and slapping a moral onto the end. The moral (if you want to call it that) is the story. What he is trying to say is as important as how he is saying it. Neither takes dominance. The balance in Nation is just about perfect.
I love reading that book for the beautiful story, the hilarious comedy, the unforgettable characters. I also love reading it because it reminds me of everything I want to be as a writer: someone who not only has a story to tell, but has something she wants to say within that story.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Anne Elisabeth Stengl: It’s not so much a question of “what”
as of “who.” And that answer is: George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis,
Tolkien. These Christian writers who knew what fantasy was meant to
be: A means to illustrate reality by tapping into the imagination. A
tool to tell the truth in the form of fancy, which makes the truth so
much more real.
That’s what I have always wanted to do—tell fun, bright, comical, tragic, colorful stories with a purpose.
WhereTheMapEnds: How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Anne Elisabeth Stengl: From the get-go, there has been
interest in the storyline of my debut novel, Heartless. I
first wrote it as a short story experiment that I posted on a
(long-neglected) blog. The reader response was surprising. People were
fascinated. I posted it in small segments, and everyone was desperate
to see what would happen next. Many even posted suggestions and
predictions of where they thought the story would go.
WhereTheMapEnds: Interesting. I’ve seen that reaction to some of the novels we’ve published at Marcher Lord Press. For instance, Aphra, the heroine of The Personifid Invasion, struggles with selfishness and weakness, and some readers said she was whiney and weak. [shrugs] So what is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Anne Elisabeth Stengl: I love YA fantasy adventures. Stories by Diana Wynne Jones or Megan Whalen Turner that are peppered with strong, flawed characters and lots of intriguing plot twists.
My first love is always for fairy tales, which is what I write. But I
do enjoy reading sci-fi, spiritual warfare, and even a dash of
dystopian now and then.
WhereTheMapEnds: Aha, well, at MLP we’ve got your Dystopia, baby. We’ve got a whole section dedicated to the subgenre. Speaking of dystopias, how would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Anne Elisabeth Stengl: Growing.
WhereTheMapEnds: Hmmm. I hope you're right. What have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Anne Elisabeth: I like to see that it is growing and
more people are starting to dabble in the genre. There are so many
wonderful imaginations out there, just waiting to reveal worlds the
rest of us could never dream up!
WhereTheMapEnds: Amen to that. What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Anne Elisabeth Stengl: I don’t read a lot of Christian
speculative fiction. The reason for this is that the styles tend to
sound alike to me. There are a lot of wonderful story ideas happening,
but the styles in which they are written read so much the same. Strict
third-person narratives, sometimes first-person and a bit of
first-person present tense. But gone are the days of Lewis and
MacDonald and Tolkien’s highly expressive omniscient narratives!
WhereTheMapEnds: Yes, it’s not typically readers or even publishing executives who frown on omniscient. It’s certainly true that omniscient is the predominant style of yesteryear. I’m glad you’re finding success with it. What would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Anne Elisabeth Stengl: I would like to see the omniscient
narrative make a comeback. I would like to see authors use this
narrative style to express their individual voices, just as the
secular fantasy authors are doing. Omniscient narrative is not
being left in the 19th century, and Christian speculative fiction
should notice this fact and jump on board!
WhereTheMapEnds: I wouldn’t say omniscient POV is wrong. I would say that, in the hands of beginning novelists, it can lend itself to lazy writing. It’s often related to telling (as opposed to showing) in those same authors’ hands. Why work so hard to figure out cinematic methods for revealing information when you can just spell it all out and explain exactly what everyone is thinking? I also think you lose a layer of suspense and ambiguity about characters when you tell us what’s going on inside their heads. But there’s no denying that some popular novels even today are succeeding with omniscient.
So, what do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Anne Elisabeth Stengl: I suspect Christian speculative fiction is going to boom sometime in the next five years. There are so many writers experimenting with the genre in all its various forms and styles! With all those imaginations hard at work, I look forward to plenty of good reading...the sooner, the better
WhereTheMapEnds: I certainly hope you’re right. My hunch is that there will be a boom but that it will not be in traditional Christian publishing companies. The boom will come with the small presses and even some self-published authors. What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction??
Anne Elisabeth Stengl: Pray a lot! Know what it is you want
to say with your novel. Have a purpose behind all those
dragons or spaceships or alternate dimensions—and make that purpose
the story itself.
WhereTheMapEnds: Great advice. If you’re in the mood for a fantasy that will make you laugh (on purpose) check out Hero, Second Class. What’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
Anne Elisabeth Stengl: Stephen King’s On Writing. I have read a handful of King’s novels and didn’t really enjoy them. But On Writing is brilliant, so full of truth! Read it and take it to heart. Every writer has a different writing process, and no diagram, chart, or formula will solve all your problems for you. But there are some universals out there that will help, and King knows all of them!
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Anne Elisabeth Stengl: The opportunity to use fairy tales to
illustrate the truth of Christ and the story of the Christian walk.
This is the joy of Christian speculative fiction. We take readers on fantastic journeys into other worlds, other dimensions, other times, but there’s more to it than the adventure. We take them there to reveal to them through fantasy the truth of reality.
WhereTheMapEnds: Terrific answer. What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Anne Elisabeth Stengl: I am just finishing up the galleys for Veiled Rose, book two in my Tales of Goldstone Wood series. It is due to hit the shelves this July, so watch for it! I’m also beginning the edit-and-polish stage for book 3, Moonblood, coming April 2012. I’m drafting a super-secret new novel, but since it is super-secret, no more on that just now.
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s a cool speculative story idea
you’ve had lately?
Anne Elisabeth Stengl: Um...that's super-secret...
WhereTheMapEnds: Gotcha. What’s the best speculative story
(Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?
WhereTheMapEnds: What else would you like to say to
the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
That's All for This Time
Another awesome interview! Thanks again to Anne Elisabeth Stengl for stopping by. Be sure to visit her online.
If you missed any of our previous interviews with other speculative authors, including Frank Peretti, Jerry Jenkins, Karen Hancock, Tosca Lee, and Ted Dekker, you can read them here.
Come back next month for an interview with another heavy hitter in the world of Christian speculative fiction.