Please Welcome…Austin Boyd
(*Originally posted June 2007)
What a joy to have Christian author Austin Boyd as our interview guest at WhereTheMapEnds.com.
This is the third in a series of three interviews with up-and-coming authors in Christian speculative fiction. There are many excellent candidates for this category, but I have selected these three because of their outstanding contributions to the fiction we love and because of their interesting stories.
Austin is an intriguing guy. He’s a former Navy pilot with 32 years flight experience, a NASA astronaut finalist, the holder of patents for top secret anti-terrorism inventions, a marketing VP for a multi-billion-dollar defense contractor, an outspoken advocate of crisis pregnancy centers, and the father of four children.
When it comes to his writing and his writing career, Austin is a machine. No, really: he’s cybernetic. How else can you explain his iron discipline (up at 4 a.m. every morning to churn out his writing quota for the day), his dynamic presence as a speaker, and his uncanny marketing savvy and endless energy? I’m telling you, there are positronic parts in this man.
Austin writes hard-SF thrillers based on actual technology in development or in existence. His cautionary tales about the colonization of Mars or bioengineering are as sobering to consider as they are fun to read. He also writes military-flavored action stories.
And now the interview.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with what’s going on in your life.
Austin Boyd: I’ve been researching my next novel series, diving deep into the intricacies of Islam. Oliver North and I are releasing a book series in the fall of 2009 that will touch, in part, on Islamic issues and Muslim characters. I’ve been knee deep in books by Bernard Lewis and novels by Joel Rosenberg. It’s fascinating!
I’ve also been working hard at marketing my NavPress series [The Evidence, The Proof, and The Return], developing an audio book of the first three chapters of each book and a DVD of interviews, posters, and promotional material. It’s been a very busy spring.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Austin Boyd: It’s a toss-up between three favorites: Dolphin Boy (Ballatine Books, 1967) by Roy Meyers, The Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum, and Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I grew up on all three, and they are all favorites because they put imaginary worlds in my grasp… worlds I could escape to in my mind. As a child I dreamt of writing in a way that took others to imaginary places, too. Now I get to live that dream.
WhereTheMapEnds: So is that what made you want to write speculative fiction?
Austin Boyd: My parents were the inspiration, in a circuitous kind of way. More than anyone else, I wanted my mom and dad to see Christians…and Christianity…in a way where we (Christians) weren’t perfect, just forgiven. I wanted them to see real people dealing with real problems, and upheld by God’s hand of grace and love. And I wanted to create a 400-page tract for them, one that did not read like a tract, a fun, action-packed novel infused with the essence of Christ, inspiring my parents to want to know more about our Lord.
WhereTheMapEnds: That’s a great story, Austin. My own first novels were, in a way, an effort to witness to my dad. So how was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Austin Boyd: My parents thought it was a great idea [the idea behind The Evidence]. My wife thought I was nuts. Maybe that’s because I spent so much time on a task that was, in her mind, headed nowhere.
And then there was the terrorism plot… No one believed me in 1996 that a terrorist would fly an airplane into the Pentagon to attack it. They thought that strained the limits of credulity. When the attacks really happened in 2001, I put the novel on the shelf for two years and almost trashed it. I’m glad now that I didn’t.
WhereTheMapEnds: So am I! What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Austin Boyd: I like action thrillers best. I think…
I am just now diving into Joel Rosenberg’s work. It looks like it will be fun [to write in that genre] but the old classics that I mentioned above are the books that I can never forget. I’d like to write one book like The Wizard of Oz or Tarzan in a lifetime. Wouldn’t we all?
WhereTheMapEnds: I’d like to write something that endured like those and inspired generations of writers like those did, that’s for sure. Tell us, Austin, you’re fairly new to the Christian publishing industry, what’s your take on it? How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Austin Boyd: My perspective, because I am selling those kinds of books successfully, is that the publishing industry is doing well. I see my kind of action thriller writing out there more today than I did five years ago. That’s good.
However, the state of publishing that I’m concerned about is the artificial division between the “Inspirational Fiction” aisle and the “Fiction-Literature” aisle in bookstores. I noticed today, buying all four of Joel Rosenberg’s novels, that his Tyndale House books were in the fiction section (not Inspirational section) at Barnes and Noble. I would hope to do the same with my writing.
If we are going to be light for the world with our writing, one bridge we will have to cross as writers, and ultimately as publishers, is getting our books into the hands of the mainstream reader, what some call a “secular” or “general market” reader. I’m concerned that we are segregated from general fiction in almost all bookstores.
WhereTheMapEnds: I wonder how Tyndale got Joel’s books off of Death Row (er, out of the Christian fiction section) in Barnes & Noble. Possibly because he’d written secular fiction previously so book buyers already knew his name. Well, have you seen anything that encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Austin Boyd: The publishers are willing to take more risks, diving into unusual books like Tosca Lee’s incredible work Demon: A Memoir, or time travel books that take you back to early Christendom. [Be sure to see the WhereTheMapEnds interview with Tosca Lee.]
I’m glad when I see publishers willing to tackle the incredibly important issue of sexual abuse like Mary DeMuth and NavPress did so beautifully in Watching the Tree Limbs and in her sequel, Wishing on Dandelions. As long as we address only the easy issues, we will not advance the genre of Christian fiction.
Tosca Lee and Mary DeMuth made some major impacts and I hope that more publishers take on even harder issues. We live in a tough world and we need to write about life in a realistic manner, but not in a gory or prurient way, and always write with a message of hope.
WhereTheMapEnds: I agree. What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Austin Boyd: I get the sense that the fantasy genre is taking a back seat to other writing. I have heard you say, Jeff, that you share that perspective. There are plenty of folks out there writing Christian fantasy, but they are not finding interested publishers.
J.K. Rowling has touched a nerve in the readership of kids with her Harry Potter series. Let’s do the same in Christian fantasy. Surely there is a J.K. Rowling out there with a Christian message.
I’ll bet we haven’t given that Christian audience that likes fantasy writing, largely a youth audience, the products that they deserve.
WhereTheMapEnds: Preach it, brother! Amen. What would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Auston Boyd: In the publishing world, I’d like to see more “out of the box” marketing ideas. I’m a marketing person in my real job, and I feel like most of publishing uses “tried and true approaches” to marketing, yet the entire science of marketing is just the opposite: you have to find new and innovative ways to capture the public’s attention. You have to do that every day.
If that weren’t true, geckos would not be selling car insurance and nerds with cell phones in their ears wouldn’t be selling wireless service. You have to get outside the box. I don’t see much of that innovative thinking [in the marketing of Christian fiction].
But then, I’m pretty new to the industry. Take my comments for what they are: the rantings of a “newbie.”
WhereTheMapEnds: You and I have talked about this before. You know how deeply I agree with you. If any publishers are reading this, take my advice: hire Austin Boyd as a marketing consultant for your fiction line. He comes up with fresh ideas like crazy. Austin, 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?
Austin Boyd: My vision for what it looks like, because I intend to have a hand in helping to shape this, is a lower wall between inspirational fiction and general fiction, if in fact the wall endures at all.
I want to see marketing and writing done in such a way that many of our novels find their way to the general fiction aisle. I think we’ll get there in ten years. It might only happen through publishers creating new imprints, but it will definitely happen.
Some innovative publishers have already told me that they share my vision and that they are making plans to accomplish that bridging action between inspirational and general market products.
My [personal] tag line is “a novel approach to truth.” That’s what we need: truth in the pages of a novel, but in a way where the novel does not come off as a blatant Christian apologetic when you read it. Yet the novel tugs at you to know more about this faith you’ve just encountered.
WhereTheMapEnds: What a victory that would be, to “tear down this wall”! What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Austin Boyd: Write for God, not to get published. If you feel led to write, then write. If publishing is in God’s plan, you’ll understand His plan over time if you are investing yourself in prayer.
And invest in yourself. Assume your writing is not nearly as keen as you think it is. Hire a freelance editor (I use Jeff Gerke, for one) and let that editor kick your teeth in a few times, forcing you to rewrite your material and learn the craft through practice and critique. Over time, you’ll refine your writing to the point, using your own money, that it really shines.
WhereTheMapEnds: I promise, I didn’t put him up to that prop (Austin, you’ll find your cash in the usual place). What’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
Austin Boyd: Without a doubt, Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. That book, along with the Bible and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers are the three most important books in my library…and I have hundreds of books.
James Scott Bell provides all the basics you need to lay out a fantastic book, and he shows you how to develop the discipline you need to finish the work on time. Using his techniques, I wrote the first draft of a Christy award finalist (The Proof) in 10 weeks. Get Bell’s book! Then hire a freelance editor. Between those two, you can’t go wrong.
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Austin Boyd: Losing yourself in the story. I walk or ride my bicycle and talk to the characters, talk through the plot, or just pray over book ideas. I love investing myself in all the plot threads, running some into dark quicksand corners that can’t possibly succeed, and finally hitting on the winning option that makes the entire book a winner. Those “Aha!” moments are the most thrilling part of the writing process.
WhereTheMapEnds: What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Austin Boyd: I am researching Islam for a novel series I am writing with Oliver North. I have learned some fascinating things about the Muslim faith, and encourage everyone to get informed on what Muslims believe, and why.
I’m also researching a novel series I would like to complete in a couple of years based on some new technologies that are coming in medicine that will change our lives in twenty years or less. That story’s still under wraps.
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately?
Austin Boyd: I’m working on a fantasy series for kids based on life in the woods, and critters you never ever see. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there, right?
WhereTheMapEnds: Absolutely. I was just saying that to my brownie at lunch. (No, wait, I just ate a brownie at lunch. Oh, no–what have I done!) What’s the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?
Austin Boyd: I recently read 1984 by George Orwell. It’s a fascinating look at life and Orwell’s idea of the world 35 years after he wrote the book. Some parts of it are particularly eerie in the context of the Patriot Act and post-September 11 security measures. It stretches your mind.
WhereTheMapEnds: What else would you like to say to the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
Austin Boyd: Write for God, not for man. Write with a passion to share the good news of Jesus Christ, and do it in a way that is gentle enough that readers will cross the aisle at the bookstore to pick up your book on the inspirational fiction aisle.
Get outside the box with your ideas and your marketing, but remain true to the Christian faith. Invest in yourself to improve your craft and you’ll be amazed at what happens!
And when all else fails, read. Read your Bible first.
That’s All for This Time
Another excellent interview in the books! Thanks again to Austin Boyd. Be sure to visit him online.