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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sci-Fi Co-Authors, Mike Lynch & Brandon Barr

Brandon J. Barr was born and raised in Redlands, California, where he lives today with his wife, Amanda. He graduated from California Baptist University in 2004 with a B.A. in English. Brandon has published numerous short stories in various magazines, including his latest publication, “Running for Malaika,” in the inspirational magazine, Haruah: Breath of Heaven. In 2006, he took first place in the Christian Fiction Reviewer’s short story contest for his story, “At the End of the Time Jump,” and in the Dead Robots Society’s 2008 1st chapter writing contest for After the Cross. Brandon’s first novel, When the Sky Fell, is scheduled to be released by Silver Leaf Books in March 2009.

Mike Lynch currently resides in San Jose, CA with his wife, Kathleen, and two children. He graduated from San Jose State University in 1986 with a B.A. in History, and San Jose Christian College in 1994. Mike has written, Dublin, a book chronicling the history of Dublin, CA. Published by Arcadia Press, it was released in 2007. In March 2009, Mike’s first novel, When the Sky Fell, is scheduled to be released by Silver Leaf Books. Mike has also published short stories in several magazines, including “Surf’s Up,” a story awarded “Best of Show” in the Residential Aliens 2007 flash fiction contest. His latest novel, After the Cross, took first place in the Dead Robots Society’s 2008 1st chapter writing contest, and his latest short story, “Beyond Horizon’s Edge,” took 1st place in the 2009 Preditors & Editors Reader’s Poll.





You have a unique journey to publication story. Please share it with us.


Mike: This may be surprising for some, but I was not much of a reader growing up. Movies and television were my genres of choice. The flickering images of far off worlds and strange, alien civilizations during my growing years are what fueled my imagination. This makes it all the more strange that I would suddenly come to a realization in 1981 that I could write a novel.


Armed with only blind determination, and a writing style that lacked any semblance of coherent story telling in the beginning, I set about on a 28-year journey to get “When the Sky Fell” published.


Even though the first draft of my novel only took three months to write, it was so filled with spelling errors and story elements I wasn’t happy with, that I couldn’t bear the thought of editing it so soon after finishing, and so I shelved the manuscript until 1996. With the advent of the personal computer, I dusted off my novel and started plowing through the laughable dialogue and poorly realized characters.


After several months work, a halfway decent story began to emerge. But in so doing, I had created a 650-page monstrosity. Again, the thought of editing something I knew was way too long felt overwhelming, and so I shelved the manuscript again. I then spent the next nine years off and on polishing the story, and trimming it down where I could. When I felt it was finally in publishable shape, I went to the Mt. Hermon Writer’s Conference in 2005.


One of editors I met there thought my novel showed promise, and asked to see the entire manuscript. After a year of waiting, I received the bad news that the publisher decided to pass. I went to Mt. Hermon the following year, but the people I showed it to felt the Christian Science Fiction market was too limited, and they also passed. It was at this point I seriously contemplated quitting. But before I did I wanted to give it one last chance, and contacted another Christian science fiction author I recently met on the Internet—Brandon Barr.


Brandon: I met Mike over the Internet four years ago...we were both Sci-fi writers and Christians, so we had an automatic camaraderie. We exchanged a few critiques on each other’s writing, nothing major. When he gave me the proposal to heavy edit the novel and become a co-writer, I jumped on it. I was humbled, a bit scared, and really excited. After ten weeks I’d gone through the novel twice closely with Mike.


After we had it polished, Mike went to the Mt. Hermon writer’s conference and tried to pitch it to Christian publishers. When that didn’t happen, we sent it out to the secular markets. Silver Leaf Books liked it and we were excited to sign on with them.


Tell us briefly about When the Sky Fell.


The year is 2217 and a fleet of stellar cruisers led by Commander Frank Yamane has amassed at Mars to make a stand against humanity’s greatest threat, the Deravan armada. Outnumbered, outclassed, and outgunned, Yamane’s plan to stop them fails, leaving all of Earth at the mercy of an enemy that has shown them none.


Faced with the planet’s imminent destruction, Commander Yamane has no choice but to seek the help of the Antarans, an alien civilization he had defeated in a war a decade before. Though they have every reason not to come to Earth’s rescue, Yamane sets forth on a desperate journey to the Antaran home world, knowing that the survival of mankind is hanging by a thread.


Tell us about the experience of co-authoring.


Mike: Though Brandon and I have developed a good working relationship, I know co-authoring a story is not for everyone. The creative process is very personal, and some people have a hard time receiving negative feedback from someone else. But that is what needs to happen if they have any chance of finishing their novel.


A good way to do this is to spell out in detail the creative process that works best for them. Since Brandon and I know that the story must come first, each of us has the permission to critique the other’s work however we see fit. Sometimes, we are on complete agreement. Other times, a bit of convincing in required. So far, neither of us has taken negative comments in a personal way. We listen to each other’s reasons why something in the story needs changing, and then usually find ourselves agreeing with the other. In the end, the story always ends up being that much stronger because we both embrace the collaborative effort.


Brandon: Since writing “When the Sky Fell,” Mike and I have co-authored two other books, and I have to say, it has been the most enjoyable experience. Writing can be a very lonely pursuit. Hard work behind closed doors. It’s like you have a secret life that few people understand, and you end up spilling your ideas upon poor, unsuspecting friends and family at every given opportunity because—my goodness, there is so much creative energy pent up in your mind you feel like you’re going to detonate.


On the other hand, co-writing a book could be a complete disaster. Feelings can be hurt, toes stepped on. It takes the right personalities to make it work. On one side, we have to be very upfront with each other on whether we like something or not—be it a word, sentence, paragraph or chapter. But on the opposite side, we have to be understanding, empathetic, and encouraging. The end result...iron sharpens iron, and we come away with a great story.


Why science fiction? And why Christian Science Fiction?


Brandon: Science fiction is a hugely broad genre. It can be near future or far future, soft sci-fi or hard. There are sub-categories such as apocalyptic, dystopian, military, alternative history, space opera, steampunk, and cyberpunk.
Like most other genres, it can either be escapist or direly relevant—or somewhere in between. Science fiction has so many gifts that other genres don’t have, and I would certainly say it’s the freest genre in terms of rules. I can’t go into those gifts because I would need twenty pages.


Why science fiction? Well, in the case of “When the Sky Fell,” I would answer: because you can have good guys and bad guys duke it out in cool spaceships! You can have high adventure, experience amazing galactic wonders, and you can have great characters who carry out their struggles in these fascinating settings.


Why Christian sci-fi? I find it hard to exclude the biggest influence in my life, God. I know Mike shares this sentiment. We write from within our worldview, and that is a Christian worldview.


Mike: I agree wholeheartedly with Brandon. With science fiction, I have the freedom to write about far off worlds and places that exist in my imagination. To me, it is much more enjoyable to write about people and places that are not bound by the limitations of our present existence.


As far as why Brandon and I wrote a Christian Science Fiction novel, we also recognize this particular genre gives us the opportunity to talk about issues that have a huge impact on people’s lives, but at the same time, in a way that allows us to communicate ideas and concepts that are easier for the reader to accept than if we told them in a more straightforward manner. This was the strategy Jesus employed when He communicated the truths of God’s kingdom through the use of parables. Brandon and I wanted to do the same thing with “When the Sky Fell.” Using the science fiction genre as a metaphor, we were able to incorporate the gospel message into the story in a way that is both entertaining, but still communicates the truths of the Bible.


It should be noted that this strategy is not without precedent in our time. In the original “Star Trek” television series, Gene Roddenberry talked about the Vietnam War, prejudice, society injustice, poverty, etc. in many of the episodes he produced. He didn't come out and say, "Hey everyone, stop hating each other." He had Kirk beam down on a planet where that was happening, and showed them a better way to live. Since the audience isn't being pounded over the head with the message, they are more apt to accept and think about it. In our case, rather than telling the reader he needed to repent of his sins and find salvation in Christ, we incorporated that message into a science fiction story in a way that is still accessible to him, but in a way that doesn’t water down the gospel message.


What are some of the special challenges that go along with writing in this genre?


Mike: I am creating a world that doesn’t exist. That means it is my job to describe an imaginary world that has to come alive in the mind of the reader. My story must also be interesting, entertaining, and most important of all, honoring to God. Along the way, if I have communicated the truths of the Bible in a way that engages the reader, then I have done my job well.


Brandon: I think Mike really hit the point when he talked about making the setting and the characters come alive in an unfamiliar future world. There’s a balance of giving the reader new glimpses of what the future looks like, and grounding them in familiarity so that they can hang their imagination on something. If a reader can’t imagine the setting, or if a character is too strange and foreign, then we’ve let the reader down.


How are you reaching the fan base and/or doing your part to expand it?

Brandon: I’ve created a blog dedicated to “Christian science fiction” where I try to draw attention to all aspects of speculative fiction, but with a Christian worldview (www.brandonbarr.com). And another huge part of reaching our fan base has been joining with the Lost Genre Guild. The guild has been a supremely energizing catalyst for expanding the Christian speculative fiction movement, and Mike and I have enjoyed watching the excitement as it continues to escalate. Hopefully one day the speculative genres will have a serious presence in Christian bookstores.



Mike: We have also created our own websites, mine being www.mikelynchbooks.com, and are involved with other Christian writers who share our passion about science fiction and fantasy-based stories. We regularly participate on online forums committed to trying to convince Christian publishers that science fiction is a viable market that has enough of a fan base to warrant them taking a chances on our kinds of books, specifically the Lost Genre Guild and the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour. Silver Leaf Books already has the novel listed on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble online books sites. If people are curious about the book, they can check it out there, or just go to the Silver Leaf website (http://www.silverleafbooks.com/).

Tell us more about the Lost Genre Guild, it's purpose and how large the membership is.

Mike: As I have already alluded to, the Guild is made up of about 200 Christian writers who have a love of science fiction and fantasy. Like myself, many of the members have tried to get their novels published by many of the major Christian publishing houses, only to have the door slammed in their faces. Not because their work wasn’t any good. Rather, the reason offered is typically something along the lines of, “there is no audience for your stories.”


When one looks as the huge success of Star Wars, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia, etc. ,we refuse to believe their assessment is true. However, since most Christian publishers hold to the idea that the time-tested genres are the ones that ensure future success for their businesses, we will continue to write and hope for that eventual breakout novel. Only then, I suspect, will Christian publishers finally see the market that has been there all along, and we will proudly place ourselves on the bookshelves next to all those thriller and prairie romance novels.


Tell us about your publisher.


Mike: Silver Leaf Publishing is a small print that has been around for about 6-7 years. Since they are new, they are not in a financial position to offer us an advance for our novel, and most of the advertising rests on Brandon and mine’s shoulders.


However, the one big perk we do get with them verses a big publisher is creative freedom. For example, after we signed with Silver Leaf, they sent us some of the artwork from previous novels they published. It quickly became apparent to Brandon and me that it wasn’t something we wanted for our book, and were given permission to hire our own artist. I have a friend who works at Pixar Animation Studios, and he created a great cover for us. If we had gone with a big name publisher, there is no way we would have been able to come up with our own cover artwork.


Brandon: They’ve been great to work with. Since they are a small press, you receive more intimate attention. It’s almost as if your success is their success, and vice versa...you’re not just one of hundreds of authors sustaining their company. Since they only have a handful of authors, the success of the company really rests with us, and so they are much more motivated to ensure our success. With a big publisher, we would be seen more as very small fish in a large pond.


What are, in your opinion, a few of the best of the best novels of science fiction?


Brandon: In no particular order: Dune, Ender’s Game (the entire series), Fahrenheit 451, War of the Worlds, The Martian Chronicles, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Jurassic Park, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, The Postman. And there are scores of great sci-fi short stories.


Mike: Since I wasn’t much of a reader growing up, my experience is much more limited than Brandon’s. With that said, I would have to say Star Wars, Lucifer’s Hammer, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.


What have been your challenges trying to promote your novel? What seems to be working and not?


Mike: Since our novel is scheduled to be released until next month, we haven’t had any problems promoting it…at least not yet. Brandon and I have been talking it up with family members, friends, and on the Internet. So far, the results have been very positive. However, we also recognize that people telling us they like the story is not the same thing as them actually buying the book. My biggest concern at this point is getting our novel into bookstores. Since Silver Leaf Books is a small publisher, book chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders are far less likely to stock our novel on their shelves than publishing houses that are better known to readers.


How can fans of science fiction and fantasy help the cause of expanding the market?


Mike: The best thing they can do is buy science fiction and fantasy books. Unfortunately in our culture, reading is quickly becoming a lost art. In a world of downloadable movies and instant text messages, most people today do not have the patience to spend a week or two reading a book. In my mind it is simple math, the more books people buy and read, the more they will expand the market. That is why Brandon and I appreciate the work Novel Journey is doing. If more people set about promoting the joy of reading to others, I believe in time we can reverse this trend.


Brandon: I would have to say make books cool again by talking about them. Movies and television have replaced the written word as a form of social interaction (remind anyone of Fahrenheit 451). Let’s start talking about books again and get peoples’ imaginations and minds engaged. Science fiction is one of the best genres for positing big ideas, and philosophy’s. Christians need to be there.


Thanks so much for being with us. Parting words?

Mike: We appreciate you giving us this opportunity to talk about our book and our writing experience with your members. Through your efforts of exposing them to authors who are just getting started, such as Brandon and myself, you are giving us a chance to enjoy a greater measure of success as authors, and we thank you for that.

Brandon: I share Mike’s sentiments. Thanks for your interest!

5 comments:

Paulette Harris said...

That was one of the best most informative pieces about the two of you that I have read.

Well done!

Hugs and best wishes to both authors.

Paulette Harris
www.pauletteharris.biz
comeandsitawhile.blogspot.com

John Robinson said...

Great stuff, Mike and Brandon. Sounds like a terrific story (and would make a kick-butt film). And your cover is very cool!

Lynnette said...

Neat interview. Sounds like a great book.

gzusfreek said...

Great interview! Mike and Brandon I am so happy for you, you guys are my heroes!
This is a team destined for greatness!

Mike Lynch said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.