Please Welcome...Rob Stennett
This month our interview guest is Christian speculative fiction novelist Rob Stennett.
Rob is an award-winning screenwriter, produced playwright, and film and theater director.
He has written three novels: The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher, The End Is Now, and Homemade Haunting. He considers them a trilogy of sorts, in the sense that each takes a piece of the Christian culture—church (and megachurches), the supernatural, and the Rapture—and has a satirical look at them.
Rob lives in Colorado with his wife and daughter.
And now, the interview...
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with you. What have you been doing lately?
Rob Stennett: My debut novel The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher has been optioned for a movie, so I’ve written a screenplay for it. It’s in the development phase now and may be coming to a theater near you. But they haven’t landed on a date for that yet. It’s still in the early phases.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Rob Stennett: I saw other writers creating satires about Christians but they weren’t Christians themselves. I thought they have no idea what it is to be a Christian. They have no idea what it feels like to be eight years old and worry that you might get raptured before you ever get married, or what it is like to wonder if angels and demons are fighting for your very soul.
So, I wanted to write stories from that perspective. I wasn’t guessing when it came to the feelings my characters experience. I was pulling from either my own experiences or the experiences of others I know.
WhereTheMapEnds: Plus no one can so beautifully satirize something as someone who loves that thing. How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Rob Stennet: I’d been writing screenplays and trying to get something sold but I also had this idea for a novel that I wanted to write. I finally just made myself sit down and begin to work through it.
When I finally had something, a friend gave it to an agent who said, “Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s biting but also really earnest. People are either going to get this or they aren’t.”
That's kind of the story of my life.
WhereTheMapEnds: LOL. I know what you mean. It’s the story of true Christianity in general, and even of Christian speculative fiction, among other things. What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Rob Stennet: I love comic authors like Chuck Klosterman, Tom Perrotta, Chuck Palahniuk, and Christopher Moore. They write stories that are funny but also dark and personal, and that’s what I aspire to create. But I also love the writers whom I guess you’d call “literary” authors, like Jonathan Franzen and Michael Chabon. I’d never write anything quite like they do, but the way they use language and story influences me, and it is a blast to read.
There’s lots of other stuff I like to read, but I won’t list it all here. I think the bottom line for a writer is that it is great to stretch yourself and read all sorts of different fiction. And I think it’s good for a reader too.
Sometimes you can stick to the same types of authors/books, which is fine, but it can be rewarding to discover something unique.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Rob Stennett: It’s a tricky time for all publishing. There are so many ways to read—iPads, Kindles, print books, and then fiction posted online. There are also blogs and fiction sites. And there’s a lot more self-publishing. In one sense, it’s great that there are so many options, but in another it’s tough to cut through all the clutter.
WhereTheMapEnds: I’ve said here before that it’s a YouTube model now. Almost no one is going to be out trolling the newest self-published e-book releases, just as very few people just want to watch the newest YouTube videos. Now, we wait until someone sends us a link and says, “You’ve got to read [or watch] this one.” Word of mouth is everything now.
What have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Rob Stennet: I think the caliber of writers is stronger than ever. In my world I see guys not just in fiction but overall like Jason Boyett, Chad Gibbs, Matthew Paul Turner who I think are all writing really interesting Christian books.
And then there are fiction writers like Matt Milatkos and Michael Snyder who are writing fiction that’s funny and honest and stretches the imagination. For me, it’s really cool to be writing at a time like this.
WhereTheMapEnds: It’s so true that this is a terrific time to be a writer. I’m glad when I encounter others who see that it’s a Golden Age, not a Depression, for fiction.
What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Rob Stennett: I’d say Christian readers still stick to just a few genres of books without giving other genres a chance. You see lots of Amish books and lots of thrillers on the shelves, while other writers are trying to get noticed. I think if readers would branch out more and if publishers would be willing to take a few more risks it would benefit everyone. It’s happening, but there are too few examples of books other than what you would “expect” from Christian publishing. I understand there are factors behind all that, but it’s still frustrating.
WhereTheMapEnds: What my experience on staff at Christian publishing companies taught me was that publishers do often take chances with novels in other genres. But the marketplace answers with a resounding no—in the form of poor sales of the “different” title. You don’t have to do that too many times to realize that you have to listen to your audience if you want to stay in business.
So traditional Christian publishers are sort of stuck with that demographic for fiction. But this opens a great opportunity to indie publishers, like Marcher Lord Press, who are willing to develop new audiences and get innovative fiction to them in the genres they love (and can’t find elsewhere).
What advice would you give to
someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative
WhereTheMapEnds: Good advice. What’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
Rob Stennett: Save The Cat. It’s a book for screenwriters but it gives lots of great ideas on outlining story beats and genre. I think a lot of books focus on the weeds of dialogue and scenes—which are very important—but a lot of seminars don’t focus on the story as a whole.
I also love Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Even if you’re not a fan of his books (though I’m a huge fan), I think his memoir of the craft has a lot to offer writers.
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Rob Stennett: You get to tell stories centered on some part of faith. My faith is very important to me, and I think fiction for a lot of us is not only how we’re entertained, but also shapes how we process the world. Nothing has helped my thinking more than writing these stories.
Plus, when I hear from readers about experiences and thoughts I’ve provoked with my novels it’s quite rewarding.
WhereTheMapEnds: What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Rob Stennett: Working on a few novels right now. One is a supernatural mashup similar to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Can’t say much more than that right now, but I hope to have an update soon.
WhereTheMapEnds: Sounds fun. What else would you like to say to the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
Rob Stennett: Thanks for your passion for reading, and thanks to Jeff and Kerry for the invite.
If you haven’t already, please pick up a copy of one of my novels and let me know what you think. You can find me on twitter @robstennett or feel free to drop me an email here.
That's All for This Time
Another terrific interview! Thanks again to Rob Stennett for stopping by. Be sure to visit him online.
In addition, Rob has sent us a special bonus. Rob says he is a fan of first chapters, and so he has started a lot of books that he hasn't quite gotten around to finishing.
So he's giving us the first chapter for a novel he calls Fallen World, and asks for our input as to whether he should keep writing.
So, read on, speculative reader, and send him some email. Your input can make a difference!
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.