Please Welcome…Grace Bridges
(*Originally posted February 2010)
What an honor to have Christian speculative fiction novelist and publisher Grace Bridges as our interview guest this month here at WhereTheMapEnds.
Grace is dyed-in-the-wool advocate of Christian speculative fiction. She is the author of the science fiction novels Faith Awakened (2007) and Legendary Space Pilgrims (both by Splashdown Books) and the owner of Splashdown Books, an independent publisher of inspirational sci-fi and fantasy.
She’s a Kiwi of Irish descent living in beautiful New Zealand. I know, right?
In her own words, she is “a chocaholic, a cat-lovin’ Trekkie, a Jesus freak, a bachelorette geek, a repeat globetrotter, a hack web designer, and an all-round DIY gal who also takes care of the Lost Genre Guild blog.”
Grace is a stalwart encourager of Christian speculative authors and can be counted on to give thoughtful, honest reviews of these books and post them in various places around the Web.
So without further ado, here’s the interview.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with you. What have you been up to lately?
Grace Bridges: [In my capacity as publisher of Splashdown Books] I ‘ve just signed a two-book contract to re-publish the novels of Caprice Hokstad, a wonderful fantasy writer whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with for several years through the Lost Genre Guild.
Others are in the pipeline, but they’re still secret! Let me just tantalize you by saying they include superheroes, space travel, and virtual reality. Cue drooling, ye sci-fi fans!
I’m also preparing for the upcoming release of my own second novel, Legendary Space Pilgrims, which is best described by saying it’s kind of like Pilgrim’s Progress in space.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Grace Bridges: Empyrion by Stephen Lawhead. It’s epic, it blows my mind, it makes me cry, and it points me to God. I’ve never read anything to match it for sheer impact–the layers of story, the way things are slowly revealed to the reader, the surprises, the satisfaction, and the full-bodied emotionality of the main characters. In short, everything fiction should aspire to!
Coming in a close second is Flashpoint by Frank Creed, also a forerunner in the Christian spec-fic slash indy publishing world, and what list would be complete without a mention of Frank Peretti‘s This Present Darkness–the book that, in essence, birthed our genre and is still among its foremost examples.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Grace Bridges: I’ve always been a voracious reader, but it’s clear that speculative fiction takes the mind far beyond the realms of the everyday–off the edge of the map, as you say. It’s totally addictive, this feeling of having my brain expanded to take in new sights in the imagination.
It’s even more powerful to do that expanding myself by writing my own stories. Writing is an incredibly intense experience for me, coming in long bursts where everything else falls by the wayside. And it goes a long way back–I penned my first space opera at the age of eight!
And why Christian? Well, God is more awesome than anyone can imagine, right? It’s like all this imagination-stretching opens my eyes to see a little more of just how great he is, far more than a novel in a “normal” setting could do. So it’s natural that He’d be a part of that. Sometimes more obviously, as when I include supernatural elements in my sci-fi, and other times less so, like when I have Christian characters dealing with really sticky situations.
WhereTheMapEnds: How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Grace Bridges: You know, I can’t remember. My first book, Faith Awakened, went around secretly in my head for seven years before I got anything on paper, and it took another seven to write. I think people were pretty supportive, but I kept it under wraps. After publication it just got better, with most reviewers taking a liking to my two stories in one–a pretty risky thing for a newbie author to attempt, but it seems to have worked for most people 🙂 I even have a couple of rabid fans, which is nice. For them, at least, I can keep going.
WhereTheMapEnds: Fans. Ah, yes. Having people who “get” your work is priceless. So, Grace, what is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Grace Bridges: Sci-fi, duh 🙂 In all of its forms: space opera, cyberpunk, time travel, superhero, you name it. This is also apparently the only genre I can write in. Trust me, I’ve tried. I like to read a good fantasy too, as the next best thing. You’ll find a heap of reviews for a wild variety of Christian spec-fic titles on my Splashdown Reviews blog.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Grace Bridges: We live in exciting times! Long we have mourned the lack of books in our genre from the big traditional houses, but I believe that old dam is showing serious cracks–Marcher Lord Press is, of course, one stream pouring through, as are the many other independent publishers springing up to put out exactly the stories we love. Ahem, yes, I’m one of those publishers too.
WhereTheMapEnds: Tell us what’s up with this Splashdown Books thing! It sounds great.
Grace Bridges: I was terribly frustrated at the slow rate of publication for books in our genre. In my various critique groups I would come across brilliant manuscripts that deserved to be published, but of course would not be.
It slowly dawned on me that I could help the situation. Using my intrepid book-designing, editing, and marketing skills 😛 there was nothing stopping me from setting up a business and doing it myself. So I did, and I decided the best place to find stories was right there in the critique groups.
My first “victim” was Fred Warren, who unwittingly sent his novel, The Muse, to me for comment about a year ago in exchange for my first draft of a book called CyberDublin. When I replied, it was not with a critique but with an offer of publication. I wish I could have seen his face. I love surprising people.
Anyway, it’s history now–he accepted, and his book appeared in November. It’s a great book, you should check it out! Plus I was so stoked (that’s Kiwi slang for happy, but different) to be able to make a book trailer for it with real actors. It’s right there on The Muse page.
WhereTheMapEnds: That’s terrific, Grace. We need more people putting out Christian speculative novels. More power to you! What have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative writing and/or publishing?
Grace Bridges: There are a remarkable number of Christian speculative ezines out there right now, publishing regular doses of short stories and serials. I’ve listed all the ones I know about on my Genre E-Zine page at Splashdown Books.
This is tremendously encouraging for new writers, because they have so many choices of where they can send their work and, most likely, if it is good, it will be accepted. I don’t write many short stories, but when I do it’s always a tough decision–where’s it going to go? Now that’s luxury.
The recent Marcher Lord Select contest was also pure luxury, having all those amazing stories to browse. Confession time: I still sometimes go back to the older forums and read over the entries that got voted out in all the rounds. The Anomaly is a great source of encouragement for those like us.
WhereTheMapEnds: Why, thank you, Grace. One of the great new venues for short Christian speculative fiction is Cross & Cosmos magazine. A couple of Marcher Lord Press supporters and regulars at The Anomaly run it.
Grace, what have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Grace Bridges: In my search for new talent to publish, I often come across the attitude that independent publishing is a lesser life form. I believe this to be a sad and outdated misconception. True, we use print-on-demand tech and are not likely to sell as many copies as a big house would.
But I just wish authors would understand that we offer many advantages as well, such as bigger royalty shares, personal treatment, environmentally responsible stocking, and, of course, that we publish fantastic stories that would otherwise never see the light of day.
WhereTheMapEnds: What would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Grace Bridges: Um, tough one. I think we’re headed in the right direction, but would definitely like to see more acceptance for indy ventures.
WhereTheMapEnds: I suspect that’s not going to happen, at least not by choice. The traditional publishing companies are deeply invested in “the old way” of doing publishing. Anyone who comes along representing a new way, especially a way that they couldn’t easily do on their own, will be seen as a threat. Forward-looking companies should seek to change with the times, but most will cling to the Titanic even as it goes down.
But even forward-thinking companies won’t welcome small presses. They won’t want anyone crowding in on what they see as their piece of the pie.
Besides, why do we need the acceptance of larger publishing companies? Why do we need their blessing? We don’t–and it won’t come anyway. Let’s just go out and do it better and change with the times and meet the niche audiences. I don’t want to see anyone go down with the ship, but I do expect the ship to go down and for bigger companies to have to shed more staff to try to stay afloat.
I personally don’t think we’re out of this recession yet. I think more layoffs are in the future, and beyond that: publishers closing their doors. It’s no longer a time of plenty and the large companies can’t change fast enough or jump nimbly enough to thrive in leaner times.
I think we’ll see more emphasis on those few home run hitters in Christian publishing (Max Lucado, James Dobson, etc.) and fewer chances taken on unproved or less popular authors.
It will be the publishing version of what would happen if the movie industry made fewer and fewer movies but made them all with only the biggest stars: Denzel Washington, Harrison Ford, Will Smith, and Jennifer Anniston (wait, that’s already happening…). They might be good movies and they might be our favorite actors, but how much of it can you take, you know?
All of which gives room for new voices and new models. Small, agile publishing outfits can serve the demand of the Christian reading public, and more small presses will arise to do just that.
Okay, stepping off my soapbox. Grace, what do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Grace Bridges: Well, I don’t know what I think, but I know I can dream: that everyone who writes a publishable novel in the genre will be able to get it published on that merit and enjoy success with it, in fulfillment of the creative gifts they’ve been given.
If this happens, I reckon it’s most likely to come through one-man outfits like you and I, and that means there are scads of publishers-in-training out there right now! Isn’t that exciting!
WhereTheMapEnds: Very. We’re definitely in a publishing revolution. It’s publishing on the YouTube model: jillions of content producers, lots of junk, but some genuine brilliance–and the brilliance tends to find its way to the top.
It’s a time when content and audience are allowed to find each other. Gone are the gatekeepers and censors that tell us what may or may not be published. Now anyone can publish anything, and any reader craving any kind of fiction will be able to find it–or produce it herself!
In a way, it signals the death of the so-called Gutenberg Parenthesis, because it’s all going digital. But in another way, it’s the perfect culmination of what Gutenberg started: the power of ideas expressed in the written word and placed in the hands of the people.
Ack, me and that crazy soapbox! You’ve gotten me going, Grace. Okay, so, what advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Grace Bridges: First of all, just do it. There are many people who want to write a novel, but few who finish one.
Then make it the best it can be by learning the craft. An important part of this is to read as much fiction as you can to widen your imagination and vocabulary while teaching you grammar and style, all while you’re enjoying a good book!
After you’ve finished your novel, go get critiques from people who know what they’re on about and get practice in giving critiques on the work of others. As you do this more and more, you’ll gain a feeling for your own style and what styles you like in others. This is mega hugely important if you’re thinking of becoming a publisher yourself, as you’ll be the editor. And if there’s one thing that’s central to this work, it’s that we have to put out top quality products in every respect.
WhereTheMapEnds: Great advice, Grace. What’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
Grace Bridges: Oh, there’s so many! 🙂 The first and most basic textbook is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King. Master what it contains and you’ll be a long, long way towards your goal. I’m also a raving lunatic fan of Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method for novel plotting, and enjoy the craft books of James Scott Bell.
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Grace Bridges: Being a part of the “supply chain” to provide readers with their favourite genre. It’s incredibly satisfying, whether as author or publisher. I write too slowly, you see, only a book or two a year, so I went into publishing to help put more stuff out there than I could ever produce on my own.
WhereTheMapEnds: What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Grace Bridges: CyberDublin. Oodles rules the world, but when its global hyperweb network falls prey to sabotage, society spins towards chaos. In Dublin, the heart of the fallen cyberworld, an orphan rebel and her housemates face a reality far less virtual than they’re used to–and the saboteurs are closer to home than they realize.
Godspeed (sequel to Faith Awakened): If you could end world hunger, you’d do it, right? What if governmental experiments caused your miracle fertilizer to become a weapon of mass destruction? Meet Naomi, the Belfast biologist forced to run from her own creation–across the real world and into a virtual one. But there, a strange power wrestles for control of her life.
WhereTheMapEnds: They sound great. So, what’s a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately?
Grace Bridges: Comet Born, a superhero romp where Earth passes through the tail of a comet bearing an organic compound that sweeps invisibly through our atmosphere. In that half-minute, several babies across the globe draw their first breaths of that substance, changing their physical characteristics forever…
I’m hoping to write this as a braided novel, meaning that it will consist of a number of short stories which are each able to stand alone.
WhereTheMapEnds: Sounds fun. And what’s the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?
Grace Bridges: I have you to thank for this! As a result of your Marcher Lord Select contest, I was able to get hold of the (sadly non-winning) manuscripts for Alpha by Paul Baines and Caffeine by Ryan Grabow. I haven’t quite finished editing these, but they excite me very, very much and are just the kind of things I love to read. Caffeine is available for free download at www.egrabow.com.
Now this isn’t really a story, but the connection to spec-fic is undeniable. I believe we should be exploiting the creative connection between stories and music, and here is an example.
Fellow sci-fi fan and Christian Michael L. Rogers goes by the name “Eleon” as a musician. He creates incredible soundscapes for fantasy worlds. Many of his tracks are sci-fi inspired and perfect for writing to. He also provided the soundtrack for The Muse’s book trailer, which he wrote especially for us. Please, if so inclined, check out his music. It’ll be good for your inspiration. He’s also on iTunes under both names.
I also recommend Jeff Johnson’s soundtracks that go with Stephen Lawhead’s fantasy novels. That’s great music, too–haunting Celtic melodies and passionate orchestral journeys. And indie all the way 🙂
WhereTheMapEnds: What else would you like to say to the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
Grace Bridges: Writers in our genre would do very well to check out the Lost Genre Guild, a tight-knit community that has been my best support ever since I “went public” about writing sci-fi. We have a private (read: safe) mail group and a blog that posts three times most weeks. I took over running this just over a year ago and I’m constantly amazed at just how much is going on in the genre.
I also write a pretty-much-weekly travel column for the Colorado City Record (TX), in which I go on about life in New Zealand and a bunch of the places I’ve visited. You can find my articles on their travel page.