Please Welcome...Frank Peretti
What a joy and honor to have novelist Frank Peretti as our initial interview guest at WhereTheMapEnds.com. As I've said elsewhere on this site, and as I'll say to anyone who cares to listen, I consider Frank Peretti the father of Christian speculative fiction in the modern era. His novel This Present Darkness ushered in the modern age of Christian fiction in general. I personally love it that the novel that started it all was speculative.
Mr. Peretti was gracious enough to participate in this interview, and I am deeply grateful for his time.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with you. What have you been up to lately?
Frank Peretti: Well, I work during the day as a writer…novels mostly, but lately I’ve been working on a screenplay for Monster, which we hope to produce as a film next summer—which brings me to my newest day job, that of film director. I’ve done a lot of novel writing, and now it’s time for a new season in my life; I want to make some movies.
Latest novels: Monster, by myself, and House, co-written with Ted Dekker, and currently in film production over in Poland.
I’m married to Barbara (34 years), I love her very much and she loves me; we still smile at each other across the breakfast table. We have two dogs, adorable mutts by the name of Cyrus and Cindy. We live in a log home on the Coeur d’Alene River in northern Idaho.
Hobbies? I think most of my printed bios are outdated on this one. Current hobbies include playing the banjo (presently limited by an ear condition, but I hope that will pass), flying (I sold my Cessna 182 a few years ago and tried flying two different weight shift ultralights—an absolutely stunning experience, totally fun—and now I'm hoping to sell the ultralights and go back to flying a Cessna 182 again), bicycling, clearing trails in the woods, and astronomy (I really love telescopes).
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Frank Peretti: I can't think of one.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Frank Peretti: I never planned to write speculative fiction; I'm not even familiar with the term. I just like a good story, with a lot of imagination and always a certain touch of the fantastic. You'll find that my stories often involve a one-foot-in-each-world approach: half in the "real" world and half in the imaginative, fantastic, or, as you put it, speculative.
This Present Darkness involves the supernatural world juxtaposed against the natural world all the way through; The Oath involves a dragon, but the setting is a secluded mining town that could've been back in the mountains of Idaho, Colorado, or California. Monster could have been set entirely in the real world, depending on whether Bigfoot turns out to be real or a myth.
But to answer your question, I think I set out to write Christian speculative fiction because that is what I was designed to do. I came across an interesting equation the other day: desire = design = destiny. I have always desired to be a storyteller because God made me that way, which means that's what I'll probably be doing.
WhereTheMapEnds: How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Frank Peretti: That's an interesting question because it brings up what Christian publishing was like back in the mid-80s. My first novel, This Present Darkness, was so weird and different that most of the publishers I approached had no idea what to do with it—and I got a nice little card in the mail saying as much. This was in the days when Christian fiction was mostly prairie romances and biblical biography written for the female members of the choir. There was a little bit of fantasy out there, a little bit of science fiction, but it took up about 4 inches on the Christian bookstore shelf. As a matter of fact, fiction itself was taken very lightly. I used to hear lines like, "I never read fiction," "Well, it's fiction; it's just for entertainment," and "It's fiction, it's just a story, so what's the point?” I even had trouble getting broadcast or print exposure because "It's fiction; there's nothing to talk about." I felt like a leper.
So it's very much to Jan and Lane Dennis’ credit that they took such a chance and chose to publish This Present Darkness back in 1986. Even they rejected it the first time around, but gave it another try after they'd read and published a few of my Cooper Kids adventure stories for young people.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they're different, talk about that.
Frank Peretti: I enjoy thrillers and mysteries, but I usually like to read stories that take place in the semi-real world, stuff like Michael Crichton turns out. I think I've read just about every one of Michael Crichton's books. He's a good example of starting out in the real world and then stretching things a bit - speculating, I guess you'd call it. I don't care much for pure fantasy. I'm much more intrigued by "real world" characters caught in “weird world” situations.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Frank Peretti: Growing, maturing, trying harder, taking itself more seriously and being taken more seriously. We’re beginning to get some fine, competent people in the field and I'm encouraged.
WhereTheMapEnds: What have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative writing and/or publishing?
Frank Peretti: Well, I think it’s mostly the competent editors and publishers who know what good fiction is and who demand high quality from their authors. Also, there’s quite a move afoot to wrestle free from the cultural expectations that come with anything labeled “Christian.” We're not here to write lengthy Sunday School papers reflecting an unreal, idealistic world in which the good guys are flawless, the issues are trite, and the bad guys are bad guys simply because they are bad guys. We want to write realistically – and yes, that applies even to the realm of the speculative and fantastic. Our stories have to reflect the hearts of people as they really are so that we can touch real hearts and make a difference.
WhereTheMapEnds: What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Frank Peretti: Not much. I suppose I could complain—or perhaps just chuckle—about the built-in expectations of this industry and its readership. I and other authors have exchanged many an anecdote about what so-called Christian readers expect and/or demand from Christian fiction: humor is still pretty rare, moral dilemmas have to be cut and dry and easily resolved, profanity is not allowed—we've noticed that it's allowable for a character to kill, stab, or shoot someone as long as he keeps all his clothes on and doesn't swear while he's doing it.
Ted Dekker and I did House together, which is a dark and violent story with all kinds of bloodshed, murder, terror and weaponry, and yet one reader wrote and took strong exception to a character’s use of the word “freakin” because it could be construed as a substitution for a profanity. Well...maybe, maybe not, but how interesting that this reader tripped all over that one word but had no problem with all that other stuff.
Just for the record, I don't use profanity in my work and I have no plans to.
Another thing that troubles me - and maybe it's just me—is the weird, bandwagon phenomenon that happens in this industry. When a particular title or franchise hits big, the industry rushes to milk every last dime they can get out of it. They come out with the kids version, a color book version, an audio version, a T-shirt, a board game, action figures, bubble gum, a study Bible—maybe a breakfast cereal? Would the almighty dollar have anything to do with it? Oh well. I’m smiling as I talk about this. It’s funny.
WhereTheMapEnds: What would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Frank Peretti: Ehhh … I dunno. I think the trends are good and in many ways the market – and the Lord Himself - will decide.
WhereTheMapEnds: What do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Frank Peretti: I don't know. I haven't a clue. Beats me.
WhereTheMapEnds: What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Frank Peretti: Try something new and unique, for crying out loud! One more Tolkienesque quest story with wizards, swords, and endless landscapes and I’ll go nuts!
WhereTheMapEnds: What's the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
Frank Peretti: I'm very impressed with the Christian Writers Guild and all that they do. Nowadays, when I'm approached for advice or someone wants me to review a manuscript, I refer them to the CWG. by Browne and King. I don’t know if it’s the best. To be honest, it’s the only one I’ve actually read. But I liked it.
One book that instantly comes to mind is Robert McKee’s Story. It's about screenwriting, but I think the teaching applies just as well to the construction of a good novel. By way of disclaimer, Robert McKee is not sympathetic to the Christian message, but this book is still excellent.
Generally speaking, there is such a vast wealth of fine how-to material available to the budding writer that ignorance is really no excuse. Name your genre, and I can just about guarantee there's a book on how to write it.
WhereTheMapEnds: What's the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Frank Peretti: Touching people's lives with the Gospel, impacting the culture, addressing life from a Judeo-Christian worldview, sowing seeds of truth in a confused world.
WhereTheMapEnds: What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Frank Peretti: A screenplay for Monster, with plans for another Darkness novel, a screenplay and hopefully a film production of The Oath, and possibly a full-length animated film. There are a lot of irons floating in and around the fire..
WhereTheMapEnds: What's a cool speculative story idea you've had lately?
Frank Peretti: Hey, ask me how much money I make or about my sex life, but don't ask me what ideas I'm working on.
WhereTheMapEnds: What's the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you've encountered lately?
Frank Peretti: Are you ready? Can you believe it? The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. That film was nothing short of a major landmark.
WhereTheMapEnds: What else would you like to say to the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
Frank Peretti: Welcome to the web site. Let's go places—far and lofty places—from here!
That's All for This Time
What a wonderful interview! Thanks again to Mr. Peretti. Be sure to visit him at his home on the Web: www.frankperetti.com.
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