Please Welcome…Bill Snodgrass
(*Originally posted March 2009)
What a joy to have Christian speculative fiction champion Bill Snodgrass as our interview guest this month here at WhereTheMapEnds.com.
Bill is a published author of Christian speculative fiction, but he is mainly known to fans of these genres as the mastermind behind Double-Edged Publishing (DEP).
DEP publishes books, poetry, and a wide array of e-zines of interest to fans of Christian speculative fiction. Two of their publications, The Sword Review and Dragons, Knights, and Angels were merged in 2008 to form Mindflights.
DEP’s other online publications include Ray Gun Revival, Teenage, Haruah, and Fear and Trembling. Check these out, plus their podcasts and book publishing wing, on this page.
Bill is or has been a music professor, a youth minister, a school counselor, a coach, a Web designer, a seminary student, and a therapist. And of course a publisher and editor. I think if I was all that, I’d need to be a therapist too!
Bill Snodgrass is an extremely hard-working champion of Christian speculative fiction. Many aspiring authors and artists have gotten their start in the pages of Double-Edged Publishing’s publications, whose sites receive millions of visits per month.
So without further ado, here’s the interview.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with you. What have you been up to lately?
Bill Snodgrass: Most of my time goes into graduate seminary studies and to my duties as a professor at VISIBLE SCHOOL, where I teach in the Ministry Praxis department. Beyond that, running Double-Edged Publishing takes up a great deal of time. I have very little time left to write fiction, as it turns out, but I believe I am in the middle of an active ministry, so that’s fine with me.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Bill Snodgrass: Lord of the Rings. Like many who have found their way into spec fic, LoTR was one of the first in the genre to which I was exposed. I appreciate it for its complex and dynamic characters as well as for the inter- and intrapersonal relationships it explores.
WhereTheMapEnds: Hurray! That’s mine too. What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction, Bill?
Bill Snodgrass: I don’t necessarily write “Christian speculative fiction,” but rather I write speculative fiction in which—as C.S. Lewis said—Christianity is a latent component. I do this because to do anything else would be impossible for me. What I want to do is to demonstrate Christian principles through fiction. I do this sometimes by exampling them and sometimes by exampling the opposite, along with the consequences.
WhereTheMapEnds: How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Bill Snodgrass: I have had nothing but positive regard and support from my family for my spec fic endeavors. Double-Edged Publishing wouldn’t be what it is without the support of my family. Of course, it is an all-volunteer organization that relies on the efforts of dozens of people literally around the world, but my personal experience has been supported by my wife and two sons. They have been very encouraging.
WhereTheMapEnds: Nothing beats support at home. I know I couldn’t (wouldn’t) do the things I’m doing for Christian speculative fiction if I didn’t have the support of my wife and family. Bill, what is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Bill Snodgrass: I am definitely oriented mostly toward fantasy, but science fiction is a close second.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Bill Snodgrass: I am very optimistic about Christian speculative fiction. Zondervan has just launched a fantasy line with a series from Bryan Davis.
However, at the other end of things, a lot of really bad works are being self-published in the name of Christian speculative fiction. That really does nothing to help the genre. When someone puts out a work devoid of plot and characterization in which the setting is a mask for them to use as a bully pulpit to tear something down, more harm is done than good.
As a small independent publisher, Double-Edged Publishing is careful to make sure its books are first and foremost quality works of fiction, and, if they are, that they also have a value for how they treat Christian principles and traditional values. Many self-published works fail to do this, and when they are labeled as Christian speculative fiction, the whole of the genre suffers.
WhereTheMapEnds: Good points. I have sometimes seen aspiring Christian novelists fail to get their speculative fiction published through traditional Christian publishing companies and then conclude that it is just the lack of support for those genres that has resulted in his or her failed efforts.
However, sometimes the rejections are coming in part because the author has yet to elevate his or her fiction craftsmanship to a publishable level. Too often, the mostly closed door to Christian speculative fiction has given unready authors the feeling that their writing is pefect as it is but Christian houses won’t touch it because of genre alone. Many of these writers turn to self-publishing.
Sometimes self-publishing can be the perfect choice. But every author can benefit from editorial guidance from industry professionals. Two of many places to gain that are through the WhereTheMapEnds editorial services and BelieversPress.
Okay, next question, Bill: what do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Bill Snodgrass: Emerging print technologies provide an exciting transition in the publishing business. Many think we are on the front edge of a revolution that is equivalent to what iTunes and mp3s in general did to the music industry.
The next three years will see more and more small independent presses, which means more authors will reach smaller numbers of readers. Innovation of digital reader devices is likely to make the electronic medium more widely utilized.
In five years, I think we’ll be able to know where the printing revolution is going. Perhaps success of a book will be measured in much smaller numbers, but more people will be considered successful. Much like the independent labels in music have made quality music on a much smaller scale possible. I believe within five years we are going to see trends that will suggest where publishing is headed.
Ten years ago, the Internet was an infant. Where Web browsers have gone in ten years suggest to me that we have no idea what is going to be going on ten years from now!
I’d bravely suggest that technology is still going to be central to the changes going on. Devices like the iPhone will frequently take the place of laptops for casual “coffee shop” browsing and communication, so publishing will have to find a way to get to those devices too—magazines and newspapers are already available. I read the New York Times on my iPhone, for instance.
WhereTheMapEnds: Good predictions. I agree. I also think it’s fun that we’re in midst of this thing and no one knows where it’s going. To me, that leaves room for small outifts like Marcher Lord Press or Double-Edged Publishing to do some of the paving of the road it will travel.
So, Bill, what advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Bill Snodgrass: First off, learn to write. As in learn to write, period.
If a person cannot write fiction, then he probably shouldn’t. Sing. Play an instrument. Write nonfiction.
There is an art to writing fiction, and not everyone can do it well. Most can learn to do it better, though. So if you want to write fiction, learn how.
Second, have a message. My father would say that if a person has nothing to say, he should keep quiet. If there is a message that is fittingly exampled through a fictional story—particularly a speculative fiction story—then tell it.
Next—and last—have a story. A vignette with characters is not a story.
This may sound simple, but have a beginning, some conflict, and an ending. I’m serious. I present at conventions and find myself shocked how many people find that simple formula to be a new idea to them.
So, my winning formula for speculative fiction is this: a good story illustrating a worthy message (or making a worthy point), well told.
A writer who learns to do that with everything he or she writes is going to come out ahead.
WhereTheMapEnds: Good stuff, Bill. You sound like a publisher who has read through a lot of books that weren’t ready for prime time. What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Bill Snodgrass: I actually have two nonfiction, non-scholarly works in the mill.
Double-Edged Publishing is continuing to release books—some speculative, some not. Mostly fiction, but a couple of poetry books are set to come out. Through the Windows by Marcie Lynn Tentchoff, illustrated by Michelle J.A. McIntyre, is scheduled for release by the end of September, as a matter of fact.
We also have another fantasy novel and two space opera novels in the immediate queue, with no plan to stop publishing.
Coordinating all that takes a lot of my time. Thankfully, Selena Thomason has been chiefly responsible for keeping MindFlights running smoothly.
WhereTheMapEnds: You’re a busy man! What would you say is the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?
Bill Snodgrass: I am obviously very fond of the books Double-Edged Publishing has put out. Otherwise, they’d have never gone to press. They can all be found at our Web site.
WhereTheMapEnds: Good stuff, Bill. So what else would you like to say to readers of WhereTheMapEnds?
Bill Snodgrass: On the day I did this interview, I preached a sermon in which I called on a passage from Luke to provide insight into our duty as Christians:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Do this. If you are doing so in any area—and particularly as a writer and reader of speculative fiction—I believe your behavior will lead you to one of Paul’s summations: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).
If you write and read—if you live—in a way that fits with “in the name of the Lord,” then you probably are going to be okay.
That’s All for This Time
What a wonderful interview, huh? Thanks again to Bill Snodgrass. Be sure to visit him online.