Please Welcome…Conlan Brown
(*Originally posted July 2009)
What a joy to have Christian speculative fiction novelist Conlan Brown as our interview guest this month here at WhereTheMapEnds.
Conlan is an energetic young man who will both talk your ear off and take a bullet for you.
I first encountered Conlan at the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference in 2008. I was teaching the advanced fiction track and I had this very sharp kid in the first row who volunteered for every skit, answer, or writing challenge I threw out to the class. He was outspoken and funny and, frankly, just about stole the show. But he was friendly and loved speculative fiction, so how could I not like him?
At that point Conlan was unpublished. He had some very promising fiction that I read and critiqued. Based on those, I was quite certain he was soon to be published.
When the conference ended, it looked like I’d missed my ride back to Colorado Springs. Conlan appeared and, when he learned of my predicament, offered to drive me home. I didn’t realize at the time that he was offering to drive me 100 miles in exactly the opposite direction from his home. Happily, my ride showed up in time.
I was not surprised to hear that Conlan had gotten interest from a publisher for his Christian speculative fiction. Then I was not surprised to hear that he’d landed a contract.
I was surprised when the cover design the publisher created was not to his liking and so Conlan created a new one—which they basically used! Like I said, outspoken.
Conlan makes terrific Web videos for his book and is a tireless marketer. Before his first book had even released, the publisher had to do a rush print run to meet demand from bookstores.
At the 2009 Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference I happened to be there when Conlan received his first box of The Firstborn, his debut novel. What a moment for any novelist. I have a signed copy of it on my shelf.
Conlan has recently been contracted to publish the sequel. It couldn’t happen to a nicer extrovert.
So without further ado, here’s the interview.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with you. What have you been up to lately?
Conlan Brown: My first book just came out and I’ve been doing a lot of book signings. I’ve also been doing a lot of personal travel. California, Arizona, Mexico. I just finished driving from Colorado to Maryland and back for a dear friend’s wedding. Next week I’m in Illinois promoting The Firstborn at Cornerstone music festival. All I need to do is hit Canada before the end of the summer and I’ll have seen every side of the nation.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Conlan Brown: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. It perfectly captured the place I was in emotionally when I read it in junior high. It’s just another example of how a story can smooth out the differences between us and give a common language to very different people from very different backgrounds.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Conlan Brown: I learned a long time ago that story is very powerful stuff and not to be treated flippantly. A good story is one that stays with you long after you experience it and will always nudge you in a certain direction.
When I realized that storytelling was what I loved most in life, I decided that if I was going to nudge people in a direction, I wanted it to be toward what I most deeply believed to be best.
WhereTheMapEnds: How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Conlan Brown: I was 16 when I started writing a military science fiction epic. It was something of a cross between Starship Troopers and The Lord of the Rings, all written as a collection of memoirs, journals, and fictional documents.
My cousin Allan (then 20) loved it, and couldn’t get enough of it. He’s been reading my stuff ever since. My mom, on the other hand, liked the writing but couldn’t get past the genre. Ultimately the idea became so overgrown with detailed minutia that I had to quit.
WhereTheMapEnds: When you were 16, eh? So, like last year then? [grin] What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Conlan Brown: I don’t have the attention span to stick to any one genre for too long—reading or writing. I’ve now written suspense, cyberpunk, steampunk, humor, historical epic, and chick-lit. Yes, chick-lit.
As for speculative fiction consumption: I love a good-old-fashioned Flash Gordon serial from the 40s and anything from the classic Star Wars trilogy.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Conlan Brown: It’s a business, filled with people who want to stay profitable enough to keep doing what they love. And, like any business, Christian speculative fiction is subject to supply and demand. There is a definite demand for speculative fiction, but it has yet to prove lucrative enough to really compel the big houses into risking the same resources on speculative fiction that they do on other, more traditionally profitable, genres.
WhereTheMapEnds: Good perspective, Conlan. It avoids the hysterics some people employ when answering this question. What have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Conlan Brown: Things like the Marcher Lord Press are a huge help. It shows that the demand is out there, and it demonstrates that we are in a place in the curve where it’s going to become financially viable for bigger houses to really start investing in speculative fiction. That, and the young people out there I keep meeting who are reading and writing in these genres.
WhereTheMapEnds: What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Conlan Brown: I’m not very discouraged at all. I understand that it is more difficult to make it in this genre than in others in Christian fiction, but facing adversity and overcoming tough odds is what makes a good story. We can’t write good stories until we’re willing to live them—and memorable characters don’t back down from a challenge. They welcome it.
WhereTheMapEnds: Courageously said. What do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Conlan Brown: No clue. But I am excited to be part of it. The way the book industry is changing in our current economy makes it a very unpredictable beast at the moment, and I really don’t feel I’m qualified to answer that with anything other than the most wild of speculation. On that note: I do hope there will be flying cars at the ten year mark.
WhereTheMapEnds: Oh, definitely. That goes without saying, doesn’t it? I’ve already installed the pad on my roof. [ahem] So, Conlan, what advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Conlan Brown: Write. There are a lot of enthusiastic writers out there who have a whole lot of talent and very few pages written. Like anything else in the world, writing requires practice. I recommend the “Conlan Brown School of Do It Badly at First, and Then Get Better.”
WhereTheMapEnds: Ah, yes. My alma mater! What’s the best book or seminar on fiction you know?
Conlan Brown: Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. If you believe story has any power at all, then you need to become familiar with the Hero’s Journey.
WhereTheMapEnds: Good choice. However, Campbell’s book can be a bit esoteric for the lay reader. A fiction-oriented primer to Hero is The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Conlan Brown: I’m not in this with the hope of getting rich or famous. To be able to spend my days writing—doing what I love—is a better kind of rich than any amount of money could ever buy. To have the approval and support of my friends and family is a better kind of famous than I could ever hope for.
WhereTheMapEnds: Well said, Conlan. What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Conlan Brown: I have the sequel to The Firstborn in the works right now. We’re in the process of contracting the second book, and it’s due September 1st. This is going to be exciting.
WhereTheMapEnds: Excellent. What’s a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately?
Conlan Brown: I have a friend, N. Paul Williams, who is an extremely talented Christian horror novelist who just self-published his first book, Ripper Grimm. He and I are working on an idea about a Lovecraft-esqe monster beneath the Cripple Creek gold mines in the 1890s.
The miners are waking the restless creature and going mad, cultists are coming in from across the world to welcome the beast, and a handful of werewolves, both good and evil, fight it out to determine the fate of humankind. We’ll see if that gets any traction for publication when we’ve had a chance to write it.
WhereTheMapEnds: Good werewolves, eh? A tormented lot, no doubt. So, Conlan, what’s the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?
Conlan Brown: The new Star Trek movie set me free. It was my kind of flick: funny, exciting, poignant, and action-packed.
WhereTheMapEnds: And speculative, of course. Well, Conlan, what else would you like to say to readers of WhereTheMapEnds?
Conlan Brown: It has been a pleasure following this site since long before I got published. I’ve always loved reading these interviews and have long hoped to be a guest here so I could address such an awesome community of readers. Doing this has really been a dream for me, and it’s been an honor and pleasure to share my thoughts and opinions with you guys.
That’s All for This Time
Thanks again for stopping by, Conlan! A big “thank you” for taking the time. You can visit Conlan online here.