Please Welcome...Jeff Gerke
What a joy to have Christian novelist and speculative fiction pioneer Jeff Gerke as our interview guest at WhereTheMapEnds.com.
Well, I can still say it's a joy if I'm talking about myself, can't I? If I have a positive self-image... ;-)
At the last minute the interview guest I had lined up for this month was unable to get the interview to me in time.
Instead of scrambling to find someone else quickly and then imposing on that person to drop everything and do the interview, I've decided just to interview myself.
I like to think I'm doing my bit to advance Christian speculative fiction, so I think it fits with the interview series I've been doing. If I weren't me, I'd want to include me as one of the interview guests on this column. So there you go.
Besides, it serves as a very nice transition between the innovators series I've been doing and the next series of interviews, which will feature Marcher Lord Press authors.
The dual photo above is supposed to be me on both sides. It's Jeff interviewing Jeff, after all. The first is just a photo, obviously. The second is what came out when I took a photo of me and applied it to a 3D computer model (via two programs called Daz Studio and FaceShop).
The two personas act as a good introduction into my many roles. Jeff Gerke is also Jefferson Scott, author of six Christian novels, including a series of near-future technothrillers.
Jeff Gerke is also a freelance editor and book doctor. He has served as a staff editor for three Christian publishing companies: Multnomah Publishers, Strang Communications, and NavPress. At Strang, he spearheaded the launch of Realms, still the only speculative fiction imprint at a major Christian publishing company.
Jeff Gerke is also the founder of WhereTheMapEnds.com. That's where you are right now.
And, perhaps most pertinent to this interview, Jeff Gerke is the publisher and CEO of Marcher Lord Press, the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction.
He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and children. He enjoys Mountain Dew, the Dallas Cowboys, acoustic guitar, and computer strategy games.
So without further ado, here's the interview.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with what's going on in your life.
Jeff Gerke: As I write this it is August 31, 2008, thirty days out from the launch of Marcher Lord Press. So I'm pretty much going crazy.
The books aren't ready, the covers aren't finished, the shopping cart system isn't working yet, the bonus books aren't assembled, the credit card processing system isn't in place yet, the store isn't up, and the prizes aren't all in yet! Did I mention that all the books aren't finished?
Now, I'm confident in Christ. I know it's all going to work out according to His perfect timing. Everything is proceeding nicely and is on a trajectory to completion right on time. But there are a billion things to do and remember and finalize and test, and I'm pretty much doing it all on my own.
Plus I'm doing it all in my "free" time, because my full-time job is working as a freelance book doctor, editor, and co-writer. I also have a part-time job as a cognitive trainer at a place called LearningRx. Not to mention family and church duties. And the fact that we're in the midst of an international adoption.
There's an amusement park in Denver called Elitch Gardens. It has one big indoor food court. All the fast food vendors are side-by-side and people can line up in front of whichever one they want to eat at. But sometimes there aren't enough servers to man every counter. So the Orange Julius girl becomes the hot dog girl or the Subway. The workers just slip through little side doors and take care of business.
If you imagine that entire food court filled with hundreds of people, all queued up in a dozen lines, and just one person trying to serve everyone, you'll get a good idea of what I feel like right now!
Hopefully after Marcher Lord Press goes live on October 1 things will begin to calm down again. But until then...I'm not counting on it.
Still, I'm not complaining. A bad day working for yourself beats a hundred great days working for The Man.
WhereTheMapEnds: That's very interesting, Jeff, but I think you're a big whiner. You want some cheese with that whine?
Jeff Gerke: Yikes. I thought you were going to be a friendly interviewer. Love yourself, man.
WhereTheMapEnds: Fuhgedaboudit. Now, what is your
favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why
is that your favorite?
Those two stories were both "hero's journey" tales, I came to learn later. That's Joseph Campbell's name for the "monomyth," the one story that appears in all cultures throughout human history. It's the story of God. It's the story of Man.
My current work in progress is an epic fantasy that follows the hero's journey motif.
I also love Magician by Raymond E. Feist.
The best Christian novel I've ever read is Byzantium by Stephen Lawhead.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Jeff Gerke: I think the original Star Wars set me on the path. I thought, I want to be able to produce stories with that kind of power. I felt like Star Wars unscrewed the top of my head and plugged directly into my subconscious.
That direction was solidified when I discovered The Lord of the Rings. It showed me that an author of a book could have the same kind of mythic power over a reader that Lucas had had over me as a viewer.
In college I studied filmmaking and have become a novelist. Readers tell me they like the visual richness in my fiction. I think that comes from the filmmaker part of me.
But my current WIP is my first attempt to consciously use the power of the hero's journey. I've studied Joseph Campbell's seminal work, Hero with a Thousand Faces, pretty carefully. I'm ready to use the monomyth for my story now.
WhereTheMapEnds: But isn't that just a formula? You're writing formula books now?
Jeff Gerke: No. The monomyth is fluid. It has main recurring components, but they can come in any order and can even be left out. Any time you're dipping into the power of a story that resides in the heart of every human (part of the fingerprint of God, imo), you're accessing Truth. It's not a formula.
WhereTheMapEnds: Hmm. Anyway, how was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Jeff Gerke: My first speculative project was an adventure module I wrote for Dungeons & Dragons. It never got published, but I was obsessed with creating it. I made maps and charts and weather forecasts for three years in this land I'd created. I think my parents were just glad to see me working on something I was interested in.
After that, I wrote a fantasy novel. It was terrible and too short and full of cliches, but my goodness, I loved it. It will never be published, I hope. But what it did was show me that I, too, could be a teller of tales, that I, too, could create a magical world and tell of fell deeds and ethical dilemmas. And that I could write a really long story.
I don't think I ever showed it to anyone, so I don't know how they reacted!
WhereTheMapEnds: You're a big chicken! Bwawk-bok-bok.
Jeff Gerke: You know it, baby. Next question?
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they're different, talk about that.
Jeff Gerke: I have two kinds of fiction I dearly love to write: speculative (both SF and fantasy) and military. My two published trilogies are just that: speculative (the Ethan Hamilton series) and military (the Operation: Firebrand novels).
My current WIP combines them: military fantasy. Oh, the ultimate goodness that is that story world.
As for what I read...I don't read much fiction. That surprises people since I'm a novelist, a book doctor specializing in fiction, and a publisher producing only Christian speculative fiction. But that's probably why I don't read much of it in my free time: I read it all the time for my work!
When I do read for pleasure, I enjoy nonfiction that helps me research my own fiction.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Jeff Gerke: Stunted. I personally don't think the Christian publishing industry (at least in its current CBA/ECPA form) will ever embrace speculative fiction. The CBA has its own pet audience, and that audience does not like weird fiction.
I know we've had Peretti and Dekker and Left Behind. I know there are editors saying they'll accept fantasy and SF. I know the industry has made progress in the last few years in terms of what may be published.
But I am unconvinced. Aside from the notable exceptions, Christian speculative fiction has not sold well for publishers. The big hits (praise God for them!) have not created a demand for more and more speculative fiction from any author who can write it. Speculative is not the fastest-growing genre in CBA. I'm not even sure it's growing at all.
In my view, we'll continue to have a few good attempts to broaden what the CBA will allow, but it will make no difference in the end. Until and unless the core CBA fiction demographic suddenly gets younger, male-er, and fascinated by something besides romance, the situation will not change, imo.
There are many Christians out there who are not being served by the current Christian publishing industry. Those people want awesome "weird" fiction from the Christian worldview. But they know they won't get it from Family Christian Bookstores.
Thus the need for Marcher Lord Press. It's a Christian publishing company for the people not being served by Christian publishing companies.
WhereTheMapEnds: What do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Jeff Gerke: There will be the status quo police who will fight to keep things as they are. The core CBA fiction demographic will continue to want what it wants, and therefore it will receive that kind of content from Christian publishing companies.
But as I've written elsewhere on this site (see Tip #79) I believe we are living in a publishing revolution. The status quo brigade will see things changing around them, even as they stay the same.
In ten years there will probably still be a few Christian publishing companies doing business very much like they're doing it today. But the environment will have changed. Things will have been opened up to the masses.
There will be many, many new indie presses getting their products directly to consumers and bypassing brick-and-mortar bookstores altogether. Indeed, there probably won't be many Christian bookstores left. Or they will have also become tea house cafes.
It's a great time to be alive if you hanker for Christian fiction (and film, music, online content, etc.) that the Christian establishment isn't currently providing. Soon everyone will be able to get whatever he wants.
It will be a sobering time, too. Many people in the Christian publishing industry complain about the little old ladies in Pasadena and the rest of the industry that acts as censor for what can be included in a Christian novel. However, in this new age, that censoring body will be bypassed entirely. Publishers will have to figure out for themselves what they do or don't want to put in their fiction. It's a brave new world.
WhereTheMapEnds: What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Jeff Gerke: Do it! Your day has come. In three to five years there will be all kinds of markets clamoring for your speculative fiction. They may not be the kind of markets you see now, and they may not offer big advances or multi-city book tours, but they will want your stuff. Speculative will suddenly be in demand.
The first thing is to write it. The second thing is to improve your craft. With the array of books and seminars and workshops and conferences (and of course my own Fiction Writing Tip of the Week column) available to you now, there's no excuse for not having first-rate fiction craftsmanship.
But after you avail yourself of those and you find you still need help, I offer a full menu of editorial services in which I'll look directly at your writing and tell you what's working and what needs improvement, and how to do it.
WhereTheMapEnds: Good advice, I guess. A little
self-serving, though, wouldn't you say? So what would you say is the
best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Jeff Gerke: Going on incredible adventures. Writing
the ultimate story ever (as I see it) and creating the book somebody
else should've but didn't. And then getting to take like-minded people
along with me. Dreaming the coolest journeys and sharing them with
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s a cool speculative story idea
you’ve had lately?
Jeff Gerke: I'd like to write an entire novel from within the mind of an autistic protagonist. His internal world is normal, of course, and he is normal and very smart. It's just everyone else who has freaked out and does bizarre things and speaks in a terribly difficult language.
Because he is brilliant, he manages to decypher enough of their ways to survive. Now if they'd just quit saying he's "challenged." They're the ones with the problem...
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately?
Jeff Gerke: I'm extremely excited about two books I hope to publish in a future season of Marcher Lord Press. One, I've already got under contract. The other, I'm still working on. I can't say much about them, but they've sent my mind soaring to incredible realms.
WhereTheMapEnds: Well, Jeff, you narcissistic silly person, what else would you like to say to the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
Jeff Gerke: Just that it's been such an enjoyable interview experience
for me. Thank you for being so...kind.
Also that I'm just as eager as everyone else to see what happens on
Launch Day for Marcher Lord Press. October 1 could be a smashing
success or a cricket-chirping silence festival. We'll see!
That's All for This Time
What a wonderful interview, huh? Thanks again to Jeff Gerke. Be sure to visit Jeff online.
As a special gift Jeff has given us a sneak peek at the incredible art e-book he's releasing as part of the launch of Marcher Lord Press. A Marcher Lord Gallery will be available for free to anyone who purchases two or more Marcher Lord Press novels on Launch Day. Be sure to check it out here.
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.