Interview with James L. Rubart

Please Welcome…James L. Rubart

(*Originally posted January 2011)

James L. Rubart

This month our interview guest is Christian speculative fiction novelist James L. Rubart!

Jim dreamed of writing fiction from 7th grade on, but was too scared to pursue the dream until 2006 when he attended his first writer’s conference. It revolutionized his life.

He burst onto the Christian speculative fiction scene in April 2010 with his debut novel, ROOMS, which hit the ECPA fiction best-seller list in September of 2010. ROOMS has since been nominated as an INSPY finalist in the speculative category, and is a Book of the Year nominee for the RT Book Reviews reviewers choice awards.

He lives in the Pacific Northwest spending time with his amazing wife, jumping off cliffs, and riding dirt bikes with his two outstanding teenage sons.

Now the interview…

WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with you. What have you been doing lately?

James L. Rubart: My second novel, Book of Days, releases this month [January 2011] from B&H Fiction. A young video producer is losing his memories of his late wife—as well as his mind—and his only hope is to find a legendary book—written by God—that has recorded the past, present, and future of every soul on earth. But he’s not the only who will do anything to find it.

I’ve been gearing up for its release as well as continuing to promote ROOMS, which is still selling strong.

WhereTheMapEnds: What writing project(s) are you working on now?

James L. Rubart: I’m finishing the final draft of my third novel, The Chair, which is about an antiques dealer who is forced to confront his greatest fears and greatest failure when he’s given an artifact that might have supernatural powers, and might be a legendary chair made by Jesus Christ.

I’ve started initial brainstorming on my fourth novel, Backspace which will release summer 2012.

My day job is running an ad agency/marketing firm, and for the past few years I’ve been speaking at writers conferences about how to powerfully market fiction. Now I’m taking it to the next level and am developing a series of online marketing courses for novelists who need to be more proficient and effective at marketing their books.

And I’m working on an ancillary product tied into ROOMS. Probably shouldn’t say more than that since the deal isn’t sealed yet.

As you can probably guess, I’m not sleeping much these days. But I’m loving all the projects.

WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?

James L. Rubart: A story I recently re-discovered; the movie Frequency, staring Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel. I was looking for a movie to watch with my sons and Frequency popped into my mind. It’s a great mix of science fiction, strong characters, engaging plot, the relationship between a father and son, and alternate realities. How can you not resonate with a movie like that? And my boys loved it, which was cool.

WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?

James L. Rubart: The Chronicles of Narnia. Those books blew up my little eleven-year-old mind and were a large part of slinging me into the writing journey. From the moment I finished I knew I wanted to attempt to do for others what Lewis had done for me. And I have to mention Arena by Karen Hancock which never got the sales numbers it deserved. To me that book is Pilgrim’s Progress for the 21st century.

WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?

James L. Rubart: Is that what I write? I never thought of genre when I started writing. I just wrote the types of stories that have enthralled me since I was a kid.

Toni Morrison has a famous quote where she says if there’s a story you’d like to read and it hasn’t been written, you need to write it. I’m writing stories I’d like to read that I haven’t found anywhere else.

WhereTheMapEnds: That’s pretty much how most novelists got started. I remember walking the aisles of a large bookstore several years ago thinking, “What could I possibly add to this massive assemblage of novels?” Then the thought came, “Yes, but none of these is the book I want to read.” How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?

James L. Rubart: When I gave people my elevator pitch for ROOMS—A young Seattle software tycoon inherits a home on the Oregon coast that turns out to be a physical manifestation of his soul—they would say, “Oooo…sounds cool.”

But getting it published? Almost didn’t happen. When my agent shopped it in the fall of ’06, every major publisher turned ROOMS down. (Even B&H, who eventually bought it.) No one knew what to do with it.

The majority of the rejections said something along the lines of, “Well, the guy can write, but we don’t know where to put it. Is it science fiction? No. Is it fantasy? No. Is it alternative reality? Uh, kind of, not really. Alton Gansky has given me the best definition of my genre so far: supernatural suspense. But even that isn’t a completely accurate description.

So I’m extremely grateful to B&H for taking a chance on this weird book which is a mix of The Screwtape Letters, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Twilight Zone, The Shack, The Kid, The Matrix, The Family Man, and a thousand other influences.

WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.

James L. Rubart: Time travel. Favorite to read, favorite to watch, favorite to daydream about. Unfortunately, you often have to slog through mediocre renditions to find the jewels within that sub-genre but when I find those diamonds I’m enraptured.

As far as my favorite to write, as I mentioned above, I’m not sure my fiction falls into a specific speculative genre. But everything I’ve written or want to write involves elements that wouldn’t ever really happen and creating a story around it.

WhereTheMapEnds: That’s the beauty of the term “speculative fiction”—it’s a great catch-all for strange stories that don’t fit anywhere else. Stories that are beyond the place where the map ends, if you will [ahem]. My short definition of speculative fiction is “anything weird.” So, Jim, how would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?

James L. Rubart: Horrible. Wonderful. Yes, those two can co-exist. Wonderful because people like you, Jeff, are producing excellent product and promoting the genre as a whole. An incoming tide raises all boats. Horrible because of ignorance and misperception. So many don’t realize these type of books exist within Christian fiction, so they buy general market speculative books instead. Misconception, because so many readers would discover they love spec fiction if they’d try it.

WhereTheMapEnds: LOL, that may be the best answer yet to this question. What have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?

James L. Rubart: Three things. First, seeing Stephen Lawhead roar back onto the publishing stage with The Skin Map. I think he’ll draw readers within CBA back to the genre who will be hungry for more.

Second, people such as yourself who refuse to accept the standard, “Spec fiction doesn’t sell,” and are proving it will sell if done with excellent craft and story.

Third, Allen Arnold. Here’s a guy at a major publishing house that could easily cruise along by publishing only the guaranteed winners. But he doesn’t. He’s pushing the edge, taking risks, trying to find the next Dekker or Peretti or Lawhead.

WhereTheMapEnds: What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?

James L. Rubart: ROOMS wasn’t an easy sell at B&H. They said, “Well, we’re not sure about this one—there are no babes in bonnets on the cover.” In other words, when something outside the norm comes along, there is significant resistance.

WhereTheMapEnds: Story of my career, baby. It’s not just that it’s different; it’s that it’s so different that it may not sell in Christian bookstores. Mainstream Christian publishers have neither the time nor the willingness to explore and develop new audiences. They’re concentrating on serving the already established market for Christian novels. And so they should.

That’s great news for small, new, and nimble niche publishers who can successfully reach markets the rest of CBA is ignoring.

What do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?

James L. Rubart: Three years, growth. Five years, accelerated growth. Ten years, explosion. The stories will continue getting better. The craft will continue to improve. The audience will continue growing because the young lions in the field (I’m talking the late teens and early twenties writers) are focused on spec fiction. In other words, the readers in that generation will search hard for good spec fiction.

WhereTheMapEnds: Not only will they search for it, they’ll publish it. They’ll write it, sell it, and turn into publishers themselves. It’s the homeschoolers and other teens who love Christ and speculative fiction. I’ve long said that it’s this next generation who will save us (in terms of Christian speculative fiction). What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?

James L. Rubart: Learn the craft. Learn the craft. Learn the craft. From what I’ve seen, there are wonderfully creative stories being written, but weakness in craft. I helped coordinate the ACFW Genesis contest for a number of years in the Spec category. I read a large number of entries that had a fascinating premise, but the craft was too weak to carry it.

Treat learning to write fiction like you would becoming a brain surgeon. It takes time and hard work. But the good news is that most people give up or aren’t teachable. If you are, you’ll be one of the few who have a good shot at being published. Spec stories stand out from all the Amish, romance, suspense fiction and historicals that are currently flooding the market because they are different by definition. I believe great writing will always eventually get published.

WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?

James L. Rubart: Book singular? Jeff, you’re killing me. You save the tough questions for the end? If you’re starting out I would say must reads are James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure, and Randy Ingermanson‘s Writing Fiction for Dummies. After that, Writing the Breakout Novel. Was that one or four? I’m a creative—never was strong at math.

Conferences? No question. The American Christian Fiction Writers’ conference. Nowhere else will aspiring writers find more top agents, editors, authors, and classes to help vault them forward in their career.

WhereTheMapEnds: I agree that the ACFW conference is the best for Christian novelists. Best simply in terms of the conference grounds (and also being a great conference): Mount Hermon. What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?

James L. Rubart: First, that I’m still swimming in that lake called surreal, still not believing the biggest dream of my life has come true.

At the ACFW conference this past fall a friend told me, “I was sitting by these two ladies who pointed at you and said, ‘Hey, look, that’s Jim Rubart!'” I found it hilarious. I’m nothing special. I’m not trying to be falsely humble. Truly, I’m just me and a few people like my story.

But I do love Jesus, and wonder of wonders He not only loves me, He likes me. In that I will celebrate.

Second, my favorite thing is to be swept away and immersed into a world of the fantastic. To think I’ve done that for others is a thrill.

Third, when a reader writes and says my novel changed his life, set him free, healed him, I’m blown away. I think, “We did it, Lord. We did it.”

WhereTheMapEnds: Awesome, and amen. What else would you like to say to the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?

James L. Rubart: Eighty percent of a novel’s sales come from word of mouth. Eighty! So if you want to see Christian speculative fiction grow, tell others about the titles you love. Facebook them, Twitter, talk on blogs, and talk to your local bookstores.

Finally, remember what Annie Dillard says, “You have to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”

That’s All for This Time

Another great interview! Thanks again to James L. Rubart for spending time with us. Be sure to visit him online.

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