Please Welcome...T.L. Hines
What a joy to have Christian novelist T.L. Hines as our interview guest at WhereTheMapEnds.com.
Tony L. Hines writes what he calls "noir bizarre fiction," which to you and me looks a lot like supernatural thrillers. He mixes elements of the crime/mystery and supernatural/ fantasy genres. He says we should blame it on an unhealthy fascination with The Night Stalker and Rod Serling's Night Gallery as a child.
Okay, that gets us into the ballpark, doesn't it? I still remember this Night Gallery in which a guy is sleeping on a bottom bunk and the top one (with nails pointing down) slowly slides down to skewer him. And the other one about the earwig in the guy's ear that ate his brain. And the other one about the spider that, every time someone tried to wash it down the drain, came up again, larger than before.
Aaaaagh! I want my mommy! (I mean, I wanted my mommy. Then. Of course. Not now. Un-uh. I'm all g-grown up now.)
Tony would like you to know that he likes pudding. And that he's an award-winning air guitarist, specializing in ZZ Top riffs. Finally, you should know that before finding success as a novelist he tried a number of odd jobs, including trimming Christmas trees, sorting seed potatoes, selling strawberries, and cleaning cadaver storage rooms. Ew.
And now, without further ado, here is the interview.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with what's going on in your life.
T.L. Hines: I'd have to say that 2007 was a Charles Dickens year for me: the best of times, the worst of times. I signed a new four-book contract with Thomas Nelson and then, shortly after that, was diagnosed with Follicular Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma while working on my first book for them.
Following treatment, I've been officially declared in remission and cancer-free, so that's a wonderful praise. And in an odd way, I'm thankful for so many positive things the horrible cancer experience has done for me. But that's another story.
As a result, I think the book I wrote in the midst of all this (The Unseen) is always going to hold a special place on my shelf. I’m excited to see it in the marketplace, because I think it's my creepiest book yet, on a human level. In an odd way, it's the most unsettling one I've written so far, even though the true supernatural elements in it are probably lighter than anything else I've done.
WhereTheMapEnds: I'm so glad you're doing better.
What a terrifying time for you and your family. Tell us, Tony, what is
your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and
why is that your favorite?
I do keep track of my "all-time favorite" books at LibraryThing (a great site, if you haven't been there). That list includes a lot of Stephen King, who was probably more responsible for making me want to be a writer than anyone. King fanatics seem to gravitate toward The Stand, but I'm more drawn to It. I also really liked Desperation, which isn't one of his better-loved ones among fans. But then, I pretty much go for anything he's written.
I like a lot of crime fiction, as well. But you asked about spec, so, in that vein, I might have to go with Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber books (the first six, anyway), Peretti's This Present Darkness, and William Hjortsberg's Falling Angel.
See? I told you I can't narrow anything down to one.
WhereTheMapEnds: I didn't realize Hjortsberg had written any novels. He wrote the screenplay for one of my favorite fantasy movies, Legend. Awesome. I'll have to look up his books. So, Tony, what made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
T.L. Hines: I don't think I ever made a conscious
decision to write a specific genre, really. I knew what I liked to
read, and I knew what I wanted to write, and that's what I wrote.
It just so happened that Frank Peretti,
Ted Dekker, Bill
Myers, Randy Alcorn, Brandilyn Collins, and others had been paving
the way for voices like mine to be heard in the CBA. I'm grateful to
everyone who blazed the path, and made it possible for me to find a
publishing home and an audience.
WhereTheMapEnds: Thank the Lord for supportive spouses! Speaking of wives and such, how was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
T.L. Hines: Most people don't get their first novels published. It's more like their fourth or fifth. I'm an oddball in that my first novel, Waking Lazarus, was also my first one published. (It ended up not being published until after I'd gone on and written two other novels, but once again, that's another story.)
I have to say, when I finished the book, I was scared of it before I ever showed it to anyone else. Not because I was in danger of breaking my arm by patting myself on the back—"Good job, TL, you cranked that one outta the park"—but because of the subject matter. It is, after all, about a kidnapper/killer who abducts children. Really, who wants to read about that?
Even worse, who wants to write about it? I certainly didn't, but
that's what came out as I sat down to write a book about a man coming
to terms with who—and what—he is. His antagonist became this abductor,
because in an odd way, the main character (Jude Allman) needs to face
his own fractured childhood to grow as a person.
Anyway, my wife was chomping at the bit to read it, but I felt odd
handing it to her. I felt odd letting other people read it, as well.
I knew I'd have a hard time finding a home for the book, and that was
largely proven true when I received more than 80 rejections from
literary agents—first ABA, and then CBA—before Dave Long at Bethany
House downloaded a sample chapter off my blog and asked to see more.
(For this simple gesture, I've nominated Dave for sainthood, even
though neither one of us is Catholic.)
I've had a few reviews from people who just couldn't stomach the
subject matter, and that's okay. In truth, it still makes me
uncomfortable, in some ways. Whenever a conversation or email starts
with "I just read Waking Lazarus..." I still have to hold my breath a
little bit. I keep expecting people to say, "Why on earth did you
write about that?"
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To
write? If they’re different, talk about that.
T.L. Hines: I've gotta read what I write, and vice versa. I love
anything that mixes elements of the supernatural and the dark
underbelly of crime.
I'm huge into Charlie Huston now, whose "Joe Pitt" books are about
gangs of vampires in New York. They're harsh and profane and brutal,
but at the same time they're funny and oddly hopeful. Joe Pitt, the
character at the center of the novels, is a heroic anti-hero. I also
love the "Repairman Jack" novels by F. Paul Wilson, and need to catch
up on the last few in that series.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of
Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
T.L. Hines: I'd have to give the politician's answer: it depends.
There's a lot of stuff happening in YA Fantasy that's done quite well.
Donita K. Paul,
Wayne Thomas Batson, and G.P. Taylor come
And supernatural thrillers, for want of a better term, sell well in
general, thanks in part to recognizable names such as Peretti and Ted
Dekker, who, it must be said, come from the heritage of C.S. Lewis,
Charles Williams, and the Inklings. (Without The Screwtape Letters,
I'm willing to bet there would be no This Present Darkness.
On the other hand, pure fantasy written for the adult Christian
market, as well as pure SciFi, don't seem to have matured yet. I don't
think we've seen a giant, breakaway success in these genres, in terms
I do think, however, it's just a matter of time before it happens.
WhereTheMapEnds: May it be according to the words of your mouth. I'm
certainly hoping Marcher Lord Press will be the place where that
breakout speculative novel for the adult Christian market springs
forth. Tony, have you seen anything lately that encourages you about
Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
T.L. Hines: Growth. Success. I think there's a tendency to bemoan the
state of Christian fiction in general, and speculative Christian
fiction in specific. But Christian Fiction is getting more daring—and
that bodes well for Christian spec fic. I mean, I'm the guy who wrote
a book featuring a child abductor—something more than a few ABA agents
told me was too much—and it found a home in the CBA.
Kathryn Mackel, and Melanie
Wells all play in the same general sandbox as I do, and I think we've
all been finding audiences. In the past few years, we've seen old
tropes in the supernatural arena get some fresh new twists with books
such as Tracy Groot's Madman and Tosca Lee's
Demon: A Memoir, among
In the suspense genre, we're seeing some people really push the
envelope; guys such as Tim Downs and Robert Liparulo. Crime fiction is
growing, too, and even starting to get some innovative, humor-laced
voices. I'm thinking specifically of stuff by Chris Well, as well as
My Name is Russell Fink, the debut by Michael Snyder. Even Claudia
Mair Burney's forthcoming
books (which, I believe, are
actually being sold under an ABA imprint).
I mean, come on, who would have published those 10 years ago? So I
think we're seeing the whole industry growing and stretching—and
that's in stark contrast to ABA fiction, by and large.
WhereTheMapEnds: That's a very encouraging survey, Tony. Thank you. As
an aside, I acquired Tosca Lee's fiction for NavPress, and worked hard
to get Russell Fink and Mair's Exorsistah books. I'm just glad to see
them getting published. So what advice would you give to someone who
aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
T.L. Hines: Write what you're supposed to write—what you feel
compelled to write. Don't worry how marketable or how sellable it is.
I want to pull my hair out every time I wander into online discussions
about Christian fiction, and I see questions like, "Can I have two
characters hug each other, as long as they're fully clothed, have
taken a vow of chastity, and close their eyes?" I think writers often
imagine more roadblocks than there really are.
Never, never ask "Can I do this?" while you're writing. That will only
choke your story, and it will be the death of anything good or
WhereTheMapEnds: Excellent advice. The internal editor can become the
internal censor, which then becomes the internal paralyzer. Just write
it down first. Figure it out later. Tony, what’s the best book or
seminar on fiction writing you know?
T.L. Hines: I already mentioned Stephen King, so I suppose it comes as
no surprise when I say you could do worse than to read his book
Writing. It's interesting because it's part memoir (and because he has
a style I've always loved). It's helpful because it's general enough
to apply to pretty much everybody, and it's specific enough to be
That said, I'm really not a fan of how-to books on writing. I dislike
it when people start off conversations about books with "Well, Dwight
Swain says, for a hero's journey…" or "According to McKee…" or
anything along those lines.
I think 90% of the writing books out there are just people telling you
how they do it—which is fine—but too many aspiring writers take it to
mean how everyone should do it.
You gotta find your own way and your own style. It's like playing a
guitar: you can keep playing "Louie, Louie" for only so long before
you have to vault into new territory and perform your own stuff. If
you don't, you're forever stuck in a creative rut as a musician who
WhereTheMapEnds: Spoken like a true air guitarist! [grin] Well, I
agree for the most part. I don't read many books on writing, for
exactly the reason you mention. However, when I'm stuck on a certain
aspect of writing, I actually want to read about how someone else does
That's the impulse behind my own character system:
for the Plot-First Novelist. It's how I—a non-character guy—create
characters. Hopefully, it will help other writers find their way to a
system that works for them, too.
So what would you say is the best part about writing and publishing
Christian speculative fiction?
T.L. Hines: So many things, really, but most of all, the general
feeling that All is Right With the World. I've wanted to be a
writer—specifically, a novelist—since I was 12 years old, and now, I'm
living the dream. I get to do it full-time, too, and there aren't many
people who are in that position, so I'm thankful each and every day.
As part of that, it's wonderful to have a voice that gets heard, and
to hear from people who have read my books and taken the time to let
me know. It's a definite encouragement when I check email, and get one
of those "I loved your book" messages.
WhereTheMapEnds: Wow, full-time writing? It's the Holy Grail.
Congratulations. What’s the best speculative story (Christian or
secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?
T.L. Hines: I mentioned Charlie Huston's "Charlie Pitt" series earlier
(the first is called
Already Dead), and I quite love those. Definitely
not CBA-friendly, though, so if bad language and violence are
deal-breakers for you, step away.
I'm currently reading
Whitechapel Gods, a debut Steampunk novel by
S.M. Peters. I'm not a huge fan of the Steampunk genre in general, but
I was drawn to this book's mix of Orwellian mind control in the era of
Jack the Ripper.
[Editor's note: Steampunk is the term for a subgenre of speculative
fiction that involves SF or fantasy in the age of steam (19th
century), usually in Victorian England.]
I'd also like to put in a plug for some faith-based writers who work
in the ABA, but who don't seem to have much of a following among CBA
Specifically, a pair I see as a modern-day Tolkien and Lewis: Tim
Powers and James Blaylock. Most of Powers' stuff is alternate history,
whereas much of Blaylock's stuff falls solidly into the Just Plain
WhereTheMapEnds: Ah, Just Plain Weird. Gotta love it. I think the
Booklist may need a new category! Plus when can we get some Christian
Steampunk to put on there? Thanks for your time, Tony!
That's All for This Time
What a wonderful interview, huh? Thanks again to T.L. Hines. Be sure to visit T.L. online.
But that's not all the T.L. Hines goodness we've got. Tony has graciously offered us the first scene from an unpublished dark fantasy novel called (S)leaper. 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.
Come back next month for an interview with another heavy hitter in the world of Christian speculative fiction.