Please Welcome...Greg Mitchell
This month our interview guest is Christian speculative fiction novelist Greg Mitchell!
Greg has a background as a screenwriter. He worked behind-the-scenes in the Christian film industry for ten years—screenwriting and script doctoring.
His just released novel, The Strange Man, actually began life in 1999 as a screenplay he'd hoped to get produced. But since nobody was biting and he had no money to do it himself, he “novelized” it. He self-published it in 2007, then later revised it and shipped it out to traditional publishers.
Realms Fiction acquired it and offered him a contract for the entire The Coming Evil Trilogy. The new updated and revised version of The Strange Man landed on shelves on February 1, 2011.
Greg has also written two stories for Coach’s Midnight Diner. He's had short fiction published on the official Star Wars website for Lucasfilm, and on the official Halloween Comics website based on the original Halloween film by John Carpenter.
Now, the interview...
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with you. What have you been doing lately?
Greg Mitchell: Right now I’m promoting The Strange Man, waiting for the edits to come in for book two of The Coming Evil Trilogy, as well as finishing up my draft of book three! This story has been with me for a really long time. It’s exciting to see this stuff finally coming out.
WhereTheMapEnds: I'll bet. What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Greg Mitchell: This is the part where I should say Lord of the Rings or something, but, honestly I couldn’t finish that series. After the ninth hour of Frodo examining a rock, I was done.
Really the novel that blew me away was John Steakley’s Vampire$. That novel was like a revelation on how to approach the sort of monster B-movie material that I love, but from a really human and emotional place. It was so real and visceral in what the vampire hunters experienced psychologically while fighting the creatures of the night. If time allowed, I think I’d read that book once a year.
WhereTheMapEnds: Ah, the Rock of Gethnilion? How could it be perceived in fewer than five hours? [ahem] What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Greg Mitchell: Well, there were a lot of contributing factors. Initially, I was a young boy who liked Freddy Krueger movies (watched on late night TV with my hands over my eyes, mostly), and my mom took me to the local Christian bookstore to look for some “alternative” to Freddy and those kinds of movies, ha ha. As you can imagine, there was Frank Peretti and that was it in the “monster” genre. I think even then I subconsciously thought “I’ve got to fill this need!”
Later, though, a big defining moment came from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. No kidding. I’m sitting here watching this show about people hunting monsters and I’m loving it and it strikes me that I would love to see something like this where the hunters were using their faith to fight these monsters. Holding up a cross to ward off a vampire is a classic icon—I wanted a whole book like that, ramped up to the nth degree. I mean, the Old Testament is full of men and women of faith combating insurmountable odds in a really external, supernatural way. I wanted to see that kind of power going up against a bunch of monsters.
From there, my writing really focused on that—just exploring faith versus fear. But I wanted it to be a struggle, not just a simple “I cast you out” and all demons everywhere vanish. I wanted to see the war of soldiers using their faith as a weapon to hold back the hellborn hordes.
WhereTheMapEnds: Very cool! How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Greg Mitchell: Ha. A lot of strange looks, head scratching, and “Nope.” I actually pitched the idea to a fellow struggling writer back in the day. I said, “I want to do Buffy meets the Bible!” and he automatically said “Not gonna happen.” But those responses just made me more determined to prove everyone wrong.
My own mother’s still not comfortable with my passion for monsters, I think. Despite the fact that I’ve been married for nearly ten years, have held down a steady job my entire adult life, pay my bills on time, don’t smoke, drink, or swear, and gave her two adorable granddaughters, I think she still thinks of me in some way as a degenerate because I continue to like Freddy movies :p
I still get the strange looks when I say I’m writing “Christian Horror”—which is probably why the publisher softened that to read “Supernatural Suspense.” But it’s still horror to me. On the flip side, I went to one workshop years ago and the instructor read a bit of The Strange Man and said I’d have a hit if I just cut out all that stuff about Jesus.
I’ve been caught in the middle—too "horror" for Christians, too "Christian" for horror fans. But my wife, Meghan, whom I married a number of years after I started work on The Strange Man, has been nothing but supportive and enthusiastic. I’m not ashamed to admit that she kept the dream alive even when I felt like giving up.
WhereTheMapEnds: I like to say that when you’re kicked from both sides it must mean you’re doing a good job walking a middle line. What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Greg Mitchell: If I’m looking to relax, I actually don’t want to read novels. I’ll just want to watch a Phantasm movie or something. When I’m reading, it feels like work: I’m either subconsciously studying someone’s style or just feeling totally inadequate in my own.
And, while I love writing horror, I really don’t read a lot of horror fiction, because the horror that I love most is a particular breed. I like fun. I like monsters. I love Lovecraft. I love Stephen King’s Dark Tower series with a white hot, searing passion—though I’ve never read any of the man’s other novels. (I know. Shocking!)
I’m a big Harry Potter fan.
I actually read a ton of Star Wars novels, and it’s a breath of fresh air. Some might scoff at media tie-ins, but I have a huge respect for authors who can immerse themselves in someone else’s creation, but bring things out of it that are personal and unique to them.
Star Wars fascinates me too as all the novels, comics, movies, etc, are all interconnected into this single (mostly) cohesive continuity. It’s such a cool thing to see all these authors referencing and building on each other’s work for the last thirty years. For the most part, there’s a lot of respect and trust there, and I find that remarkable.
I’m an avid comic book fan too. I read mostly horror comics. Mike
Hellboy is a constant treat and always inspires me
to be a better writer.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Greg Mitchell: I’ve not been around the publishing industry long enough to comment on how the current state differs from the “old” state. But after shopping around The Strange Man for all these years and finally getting accepted—either something in the industry changed in my favor or I just found the right person to look at it.
Among the authors, though, I see a huge rift, and, again, being new, I’m not sure if that’s new too or if it’s always been there. There’s almost a war between those who are writing overtly Christian material and those who are writing the more downplayed Christian material. Working in the Christian film industry, I’m seeing this spring up a lot in that realm too, so I feel like I’m hearing it no matter where I turn, and it gets ugly sometimes. I’ve heard shouting matches where people are arguing over, basically, who is better serving the Lord, ha ha. It’s tiring.
I think there’s a need for both—reaching the un-churched and challenging the churched—absolutely. And then there’s the other group that doesn't think faith should be brought up in their writing at all, overtly or covertly. I see a lot of bickering and looking down noses coming from all the different sides, and it’s disheartening. If I’m not careful, it really makes me sorry I became an author at all.
Maybe those conversations need to happen for the industry to
move forward—but I don’t like to squabble or “debate.” It’s draining.
I’d rather write stories that I want to see, regardless of which group
they fall in. At the end of the day, I’m telling The Strange Man
the way I felt it needed to be told. This is what’s important to me,
and I try to focus on that and stay on the path, regardless of all
this back-and-forth in the author community. Nobody wants to be
“uncool,” least of all me, but you can’t please everyone, no matter
what you do.
Greg Mitchell: Not to sound like I’m kissing up to
the host, here, but I’m really excited about
Marcher Lord Press. I
think it’s awesome to have so many different spec-fic titles under one
banner. It makes me even happier when I see MLP’s name pop up in
larger venues, like a CBD catalog. That’s exciting stuff. Getting the
word out there
WhereTheMapEnds: Thanks, man. We’ve also won some major awards. Slowly the word is getting out about what we’re doing. I’m grateful to see it. What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Greg Mitchell: I wouldn’t say this frustrates me, but
I’m still hoping for the day when I see more “Buffy meets the Bible”
on the shelves. That’s just me, as a fan.
WhereTheMapEnds: You might give up seeing it on bookstore shelves. But the day when that material will be plentiful is hurtling toward us. You’ll have to buy them online or directly from the publisher, but you’ll be able to get them. We’re living in the age of the niche publisher and the micro-publisher. Underserved genres will flourish.
What would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Greg Mitchell: Again, I’d like to see more harmony between the author “missionaries” who want to cross over into the general market, and the “keep the home fires burning” authors in the CBA. I’d like to see support and encouragement, since we’re all writing out of a love for God and out of a desire to use our gift in a way that’s meaningful. I think it’s especially easy for the undiscovered Christian spec-fic talent to cast their blame on the CBA.
I played the blame game, myself. When I was younger and couldn’t get The Strange Man picked up, I was all like “Aw, man, the CBA is scared of my awesome!” I blamed the publisher for not being “daring” enough. I blamed my agent. I blamed other writers who made it in while I was still out in the cold.
Ultimately, though, I think it’s all about timing. I’ve grown so much as a person in the struggle to get published that I’m actually glad it took me ten years to get The Strange Man published. God was growing me. So I don’t want to blame the industry or the consumer for my book not getting out sooner. It happened when it happened because that was God’s timing.
WhereTheMapEnds: I like to shock people by saying that Christian publishers would actually be wrong to publish lots of speculative fiction. But how long can you stay in business producing tons of things your market has clearly and repeatedly told you it doesn’t want? That’s why it will be the niche publishers who succeed with Christian speculative fiction.
What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Greg Mitchell: Be yourself. You can go to all the writing seminars in the world, you can read every book on writing fiction, you can listen to every professional insider’s opinion, but at the end of the day you just gotta write what’s in your gut. Be true to your vision, to your principles, and just go for it. But be prepared to do the work to stay true to that vision and be prepared for those who are gonna hate it. (I still struggle with that one.)
I think the best advice I could give has nothing to do with writing at all. Be fearless. Be hard-working. Don’t burn your bridges. A big one is to be kind. Getting published is not an event—it’s a journey made up of many different encounters with many different people. Make those good encounters. Leave a good impression, and be polite and nice because you never know if that guy you met in the lobby at that convention that one time is going to be the new acquisitions editor for your favorite publisher. Even if he doesn’t become the new editor, you will have made a friend and you can’t have too many friends in this industry. Support and encouragement is vital, I think.
WhereTheMapEnds: Great advice. What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Greg Mitchell: Best part of writing? Wish fulfillment! Writing is a total fantasy. I can write about gnarly monsters and people fighting them off with shotguns and a Bible, and it just makes my inner twelve-year-old giddy. It’s an escape for me, a place to explore different thoughts and different sides of my personality. I hope it provides an escape for the reader too.
The best part of publishing, I think, is that, should some other unfortunate kid be caught watching a Freddy Krueger movie and subsequently dragged to the local Christian bookstore by his mom to find an “alternative”—he’ll find The Strange Man, waiting and ready to give him all the untamed monster-y goodness he wants and his mom will buy it, to boot!
WhereTheMapEnds: What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Greg Mitchell: I’m writing two unofficial guides to the Back to the Future films with Rich Handley for Hasslein Books. One is a timeline, the other is a lexicon. The books are going to cover all media tied into the Back to the Future Trilogy including the games, cartoon, comic books, and some Pizza Hut commercial I found on YouTube… It’s pretty ridiculous the kind of detail we’re striving to include here.
I also wrote a screenplay for Cloud Ten Pictures’ Apocalypse V, and am working on a lead-in Apocalypse comic for them, as well. Trying to get a couple monster movies produced and am looking at breaking into more comic book work. I like to stay busy!
WhereTheMapEnds: No kidding! Wow. What’s a cool speculative story idea
you’ve had lately?
Mr. Cornish has created a fantasy world that is mind-boggling in its
detail. For each novel—and they’re already 600 pages apiece—he’s also
got a couple hundred pages of dictionary/encyclopedia! I just drool
when I see that kind of passion and attention to detail. Plus, D.M.
Cornish is a brother in Christ, so how cool is that?
That's All for This Time
Another awesome interview! Thanks again to Greg Mitchell for talking with us. Be sure to visit him 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.