Please Welcome…Alton Gansky
(*Originally posted July 2007)
What a privilege to have Christian author Alton Gansky as our interview guest at WhereTheMapEnds.com.
Alton (“Al” to his friends) is a good friend of mine. His novel, A Ship Possessed, was one of the first Christian speculative novels I read. I was thrilled to find someone who could write cool action adventures with a decidedly speculative edge and yet write from the Christian worldview. I have remained a fan of his writing and am honored to count him (and his wife—hi, Becky!) among my friends.
Al is a kind man, a quick wit, a good writer, and a fine orator, having been a pastor for many years. He’s also a savvy and prolific author, as you can see from his entry in the Booklist. Al has certainly done his part to be sure we all have cool Christian speculative fiction to read!
According to his own bio:
“Alton Gansky writes full time from a cluttered office in the high desert of Southern California. Prior to taking this vow of poverty he served as senior pastor of three Baptist churches over a course of 22 years. A professional used-to-be, Alton has worked for a bank, been a firefighter, a businessman, and for a time published a magazine called Persuasion until he ran out of money to throw at it.
“He is the author of 30 or so books, most of which are novels of varying degrees of wackiness. He is an Angel award winner and Christy Award finalist. He is also a well-traveled public speaker teaching and keynoting in various parts of the country helping insomniacs find rest.
“On the really important matters, he is the husband to wife Becky, father of three children, and grandfather of three (with two more on the way).”
Jeff here again. As you can see, Al’s been at this business a long time. Let’s hear what he has to impart to us.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with what’s going on in your life.
Alton Gansky: Mostly, I’ve been writing and doing the things writers do after a book comes out. Last year, a couple of titles were delayed, resulting in a flood of books being released this year. These are the things writers cannot control. I’m also working on a couple of non-book writing projects that I hope to unveil soon.
WhereTheMapEnds: You master of suspense, you! Not going to tell us, eh? Okay, we’ll wait. In the meantime, can you tell us what your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) is and why that’s your favorite?
Alton Gansky: That’s tough. Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama and its sequel (Rama II) ranks way up there. Competing for king of the spec hill is Dean Koontz’s Phantoms and Odd Thomas, and Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (I liked the first movie, too).
On the Christian side, I enjoyed Jack Cavanaugh/Jerry Kuiper’s Death Watch. Shane Johnson’s Ice was a winner for me. Jack Cavanaugh has a new series coming out that I’ve had the pleasure to read and endorse: Kingdom Wars should be a winner.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write speculative fiction?
Alton Gansky: I grew up on Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits. Much of my early reading was sci fi and tech fiction. I also had (and still have) a deep interest in science. Christian spec fiction allows exploration into some of the deep shadows of life and a peek under the rocks. Writing Christian spec allows me greater freedom to examine the human condition in a spiritual light. That and it’s fun.
WhereTheMapEnds: Definitely don’t leave out the fun part! How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Alton Gansky: Better than I thought it would. I wrote a book called By My Hands. (BTW, I give that book and its sequel away—free—as an e-book through my website www.altongansky.com.) I wondered what would happen if someone with a gift of physical healing began to haunt a hospital. Through My Eyes, the sequel, fell through the cracks but those who read it offered mounds of praise. It was hard to take.
WhereTheMapEnds: Dear reader, Al is alluding to one of the brutal realities—and seeming vagaries—of publishing: sometimes the books we think are the best fall flat, while books we think maybe aren’t that great sometimes seem to do well. Okay, Al, what is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Alton Gansky: Occasionally someone accuses me of writing sci fi. I don’t but would love to try my hand at it. My books often mix tech with spiritual elements. I cross several genres. I try to avoid the pigeonhole and let the story dictate the genre. No two books are alike. Formulas are great in chemistry and cooking, but not so much in literature.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Alton Gansky: Anemic. There are great writers out there doing significant and brilliant work but they don’t get the attention they deserve. It’s a sad thing [now] but I believe the genre will [eventually] get legs and take its rightful place in the Christian market. The Christian market is still charting new territory and previously under-represented genres are coming to life. As with all things, it takes time.
WhereTheMapEnds: Have you seen anything that encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Alton Gansky: Most publishers are open to the genre. There are a few that eschew the genre, choosing to focus on such things as women’s fiction and their various subsets. That’s not a complaint. Publishing is a business and the execs have a responsibility to their parent organization.
I’m also encouraged by the improvement in the craft. Early Christian spec was pretty bad, but now quality books are hitting the shelves and that makes the genre all the more acceptable.
WhereTheMapEnds: What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Alton Gansky: There’s a tendency to play it safe. There is a great fear among CBAers that someone will be offended by the material no matter how tame it is. This timid approach damages spec fiction specifically and all Christian fiction in general.
I served three churches as pastor and I learned early on that it is impossible to do any meaningful ministry without tweaking someone’s nose. At my first church someone came to my office and said, “Pastor, your preaching is too negative. I want to hear more about the love of God.” Two hours later someone else came to my office and said, “Pastor, your preaching is too positive. We need to hear more about sin and judgment.”
What’s a pastor to do? I chose to preach whatever the Bible taught. Writers need to do the same. Just tell the story.
WhereTheMapEnds: Great perspective, Al. It drives me crazy, too, when I hear through the grapevine that publishers are suddenly looking only for X or no longer buying novels that feature Y, and all these authors go jumping through hoops trying to meet the mood of the day. When what they should be doing is just concentrating on telling a good story and improving their craft. So, Al, what would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Alton Gansky: I’d like to see more publicity aimed at men. We [in the Christian publishing industry] are living and working under the assumption that men don’t read. That’s nonsense.
I traveled cross country several times this year and made a point of noticing who was reading what in the airports. By my count, as many (maybe more) men as women were reading. When I go into a Barnes & Noble bookstore, I take a few seconds to observe the male/female ratio. Men are holding their own.
So I’d like to see us stop perpetrating the lie that men don’t read. I’m a male and have many male friends, all of whom read fiction and nonfiction.
WhereTheMapEnds: I think what’s true is that Christian men don’t read the kind of fiction that CBA publishers are producing. (See Tips 16-18 for more on this topic.) Al, would you like to take a stab at predicting what you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Alton Gansky: I’m the wrong one to ask. My ability to predict the future is, um, inconsistent. I once said, “Frozen yogurt? No one will buy frozen yogurt. I’d be an idiot to invest in that.” I also said, “iPod? Apple might sell a few, but how many people want to download music and carry it with them? It’s a dumb idea.” So it’s best not to turn to me for prognostication.
I will go this far: I think the genre will grow in number of readers and writers.
WhereTheMapEnds: May it be so! What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Alton Gansky: First, let your imagination loose. Don’t settle on one idea until you’ve had twenty.
Two, be prepared to throw ideas away. That’s the way it works.
Third, study the masters. Learn from other writers, regardless of their genre. Good writing is good writing. Learn.
Fourth, breaking in is difficult, but so what? Remember Al’s Axion #1: “No one ever hit a homerun from the dugout.” (You may quote me.)
WhereTheMapEnds: I just might! What’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
Conferences vary from year to year based on faculty. There are many good conferences. Pick the one that fits your immediate need. If you’re just starting out, then choose one that emphasizes craft; if you have material to shop around, then select one that has many agents and editors in attendance.
WhereTheMapEnds: Good pointers, Al. I talk about Christian writer’s conferences in Tip #25. What would you say is the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Alton Gansky: Living vicariously through my characters. My protagonists are all my friends. (Although I put them in such trouble that none of them will return my phone calls.) Also, spec fiction releases the imagination like no other genre—at least for me.
WhereTheMapEnds: Not just for you, my friend. It’s pretty much the whole reason any of us has hiked out here to where the map ends. So what writing project(s) are you working on now?
Alton Gansky: I’ve just finished a book titled Angel for Realms. It’s dead-on-center supernatural suspense. It releases at the end of the year. I’m reevaluating storylines for another novel and considering another nonfiction book. I’m also about to kick-start an entirely different type of writing project.
WhereTheMapEnds: There you go again with the suspense! And I’m thrilled you’re writing for Realms. I recall trying to sign you to write for me when I was there. I leave and you finally write for them. I promise not to take it personally [wipes tear]. Okay, Al, hit us with a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately.
Alton Gansky: I have three I’m juggling, all spec fiction. I’m trying to determine if they have legs. I have lots of ideas, but some of them will never be books. Sigh.
WhereTheMapEnds: Tight-lipped, eh? Okay, I can respect that. It’s the pastoral counseling that’s taught you to be able to keep a secret, isn’t it? Well, can you at least tell us what is the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?
Alton Gansky: I really enjoyed Dean Koontz’s The Taking. Partly because it reminded me of his earlier work.
WhereTheMapEnds: What else would you like to say to the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
Alton Gansky: Buy my books…no, that’s not it. Oh yeah, I remember. One of the greatest gifts God has given you is creativity. Find your creative medium and let yourself go. The world needs creative people.
That’s All for This Time
What a wonderful interview, huh? Thanks again to Alton Gansky. Be sure to visit Al online.