Please Welcome...Brian Godawa
This month is our second in a row featuring a screenwriter–turned–speculative author. Our interview guest this time is Brian Godawa.
thinks he may be stranger than fiction, but he is no stranger to
speculative fiction. As a Hollywood screenwriter, he made his break in
2001 with the award-winning WWII prisoner of war movie
To End All
Wars starring Kiefer Sutherland. He went on to adapt to film
Frank Peretti’s bestselling
supernatural thriller The Visitation for Ralph Winter (X-Men,
Mr. Godawa’s latest offering is a historical speculative novel, Noah Primeval. It’s a retelling of the biblical Noah like you’ve never seen him before—as a warrior in a world of gods, giants, monsters and men. The tagline reads, “This is not your Sunday School Noah’s Ark,” and Hollywood producer Ralph Winter says, “It reads like a Blockbuster movie!”
And now, the interview...
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with you. What have you been doing lately?
Bob Godawa: I just finished writing a biblical epic script, Jezebel for a couple of producers. This is a gangster-like tragedy about the rise and fall of the most ruthless queen in ancient history. It’s like Cleopatra meets Scarface. This will make The Tudors look tame by comparison. Hollywood studios are interested in Bible movies right now. Scott Derrickson’s Goliath, producer Dan Lin’s Moses, and Darren Aronofsky’s Noah are just a few that are being developed around town.
I also released my new novel, Noah Primeval, which I first wrote as a screenplay. But when I realized that it would be such a big budget that the odds of me selling it and getting it made were less than usual (which is already almost zero), I knew I had to write it as a novel in order to get the story out.
I originally wrote the novel because of some biblical study I'd read about the divine council and the sons of God. This research was led by Michael S. Heiser, an amazing biblical scholar of ancient languages. As I studied the issue, not only did it finally explain the most bizarre passage in the Bible to me (Genesis 6:1–4 about fallen “angels” and giants), but it opened my eyes like Elisha’s servant to an entire storyline I'd never seen before through the Old Testament.
That is why Noah Primeval is just the first in a four part series called Chronicles of the Nephilim that I am working on (go see cool stuff like a trailer and other goodies at NoahPrimeval.com).
WhereTheMapEnds: That sounds amazing. And that Hollywood is into biblical movies right now is great to hear. Makes me think of the Cecil B. DeMille epics of Hollywood’s Golden Age. What is your favorite speculative novel of all time and why is that your favorite?
Bob Godawa: You’re going to have to have some
patience with me because I am first and foremost a screenwriter and
filmmaker, so I always think of movies first. I don’t have any
absolutes, but one of my top choices would be the movie
Forrest Gump. Not the book, which was boring. This is one of the few
examples where the movie is better than the book. Gump is a movie that
runs through a short history of my generation and shows the speculative
influence of a simple good man who only wants to love and be loved.
Now, I don’t agree with all of the Existentialist philosophy that the
movie embodies, but I agree with a lot of its insights into human
existence nonetheless. I think of it as Ecclesiastes part one, without
the God conclusion.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Brian Godawa: Funny, I have never really desired to
retell Bible stories. But this last year I
was working on three of them. They just happened to be great
stories that embodied what struck my soul deeply. So if it’s a good
story, I’ll do it!
WhereTheMapEnds: Wow, I'm certainly intrigued! How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Brian Godawa: Agents found it hard to market. They of course are looking for big selling Christian self-help books, so they did not see this as mainstream enough. My wife couldn’t get through it ’cause it was too scary for her. But then again, she can’t watch any of the movies I make, either, or for that matter, any TV dramas because they’re too suspenseful. Some people are just more sensitive about things like evil and wickedness in stories. They’re not for everyone.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Brian Godawa: I have a personal love for time travel because I have an internal yearning to experience the world when it was different. I love history, and especially ancient history, and I would love to see the reality of what we mostly know through a glass darkly. There are so many mysteries about what really happened in history. I love to see those details and imagine what it would be like to experience those real worlds that used to be. Of course, I would want to come back to the present because we now have dental care and Apple computers.
I love horror because horror is the strongest biblical genre for a postmodern world that denies moral absolutes. Horror punches you in the gut and proves that there is real evil, and that, if we do not fight it to the death, it will kill us. We really need that right now.
WhereTheMapEnds: Great point. Many Christians would disagree that horror is a Christian genre, but your point is dead-on. It’s why I think vampire stories and all epic fantasy tales are inherently Christian conversations. How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Brian Godawa: In its infancy. We’re always 10–20 years behind the culture when it comes to creativity. To be honest, I’m new to the field. But obviously the patron saints, Saint Lewis and Saint Tolkien, not only paved the way for us, but are sometimes the only things protecting us from being lynched by the Pharisee mobs.
WhereTheMapEnds: Well said. And so true. Maybe we can add Saint Peretti and Saint Jenkins to the list in the modern era.
What have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Brian Godawa: To see Christians
embracing imagination for the good. Not as a means for sermonizing,
but as a God-given incarnation of truth. That beauty (imagination) is
good in and of itself, without a need for some kind of rational or
WhereTheMapEnds: What advice would you give to
someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative
When believers prioritize the Word at the expense of the image, they steer into the heresy of Gnosticism. When they prioritize the image at the expense of the Word, they steer into the heresy of Arianism.
Seek to incarnate your worldview into your story structure rather than place it on the lips of your characters. For understanding story structure better, see the next question below.
Seek to communicate more through subtext than through text, because when readers or the audience “figures it out for themselves” through interpreting subtext, they are entertained and satisfied rather than spoon-fed a sermon to a child.
Of course there will be some moments of clarity of a theme, but the more you embody it in the story itself, the less you have to explain anything. To communicate that man’s hubris is self destructive and that science without moral restraint is wrong, you don’t have to explain the moral of the story, just show cloned dinosaurs eating their human creators (Frankenstein revisited, of course). That says it all. And that hits the soul in a way that a rational argument or a sermonized story cannot.
WhereTheMapEnds: This is great stuff, Brian. I love your comment about incarnating the message into the story rather than putting it on the lips of the characters. So valuable. The story itself—and even the structure—are the message. It’s irreducible and powerful. No sermon necessary.
What’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
Brian Godawa: This is where novel writers can learn
something from Hollywood. I think Hollywood has honed its storytelling
to be the best in the world. So story structure used in good movies is
actually the same as that used for a good novel. It’s universal.
WhereTheMapEnds: In my books for Writer’s Digest, especially The First 50 Pages, I use many more examples from movies than from novels. I agree: Hollywood gets effective storytelling better than anyone else. And modern fiction is so influenced by cinema that we have to learn from their example.
There are some things that most novels do better than most movies, such as internal monologue, POV, and the feeling of being inside the protagonist’s head. Plus, in fiction all the words—not just the dialogue—are meant to be read and enjoyed, so the craft of stringing words together on the page is more in focus with novels. But for the most part, understanding what screenwriters do will help you write a better novel.
What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Brian Godawa: The best part is that you have to mostly self-publish because it is a small niche market. Why is that good? Because just a few years ago, it was cost prohibitive to self-publish. Now, thanks to Amazon and print on demand, a writer always has the opportunity to get his work out and read at no cost to himself. That is democratization at its best! We have an opportunity to make an end run around the big publishers, who would give you only a cheapskate royalty anyway. So your time is not wasted anymore.
WhereTheMapEnds: Amen, brother. You’ve done a great job describing the upside of this publishing revolution. It’s a terrific day to be a novelist. The downside is that publishers provided a useful vetting and editing process that is largely missing today. Now it’s more like YouTube than Hollywood. But still, overall, this is a great time to be a writer.
What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Brian Godawa: I am currently working on the sequel to Noah Primeval, called Enoch Primordial. It’s the story of the original fall of the Watchers and the origin of their plan that would carry on through the tower of Babel, Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, and to New Testament times. Like most origin stories, it will give explanation to some of the things that fans of Noah Primeval will love to find out.
WhereTheMapEnds: What's a cool speculative idea you've had lately?
Brian Godawa: I’m not going to tell you that. It would give away my secret. But it does have something to do with Enoch Primordial.
I also have one about zombies, but that’s a secret too.
WhereTheMapEnds: Interesting. Our previous month's interviewee, Rob Stennett, was working on a zombie project as well. Perhaps you two should collaborate.
What else would you like to say to the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
Brian Godawa: I’m just honored to be interviewed and read by a community of such dedicated fans of both imagination and their faith. Thank you for granting me the opportunity.
Unfortunately, I don't have any short speculative fiction to share. But I do have a new piece I wrote about retelling Bible stories to modern audiences and how the ancient Jews actually engaged in speculative fiction that the New Testament authors affirmed!
That's All for This Time
Another terrific interview! Thanks again to Brian Godawa for stopping by. Be sure to visit him online.
Also, 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.