Interview with Jill Williamson

Time for another interview from wherethemapends.com:

Please Welcome…Jill Williamson

(*Originally posted May 2009)

What a joy to have Christian speculative fiction novelist Jill Williamson  as our interview guest this month here at WhereTheMapEnds.com.

Jill has a passion to reach teens through ministry and art. Her fantasy novel, By Darkness Hid, was originally conceived as a YA title (i.e., for teen readers), but Jeff convinced her it would work very well for adults too.

By Darkness Hid is one of three books that comprise the second release list from Marcher Lord Press.

Jill is married to a youth pastor, so she knows and loves teens and strives to write books they would enjoy.

She also runs two Web sites for teens and Christian fiction: www.teenageauthor.com gives tips for teens to improve their writing, and www.novelteen.com is where Jill gives her well-written reviews of teen and adult fiction.

Jill is a terrific marketer and could easily be a hotshot in the marketing department of any Christian publishing company. By Darkness Hid, Jill’s debut novel, was reviewed by Library Journal (that’s huge, btw) and given its “highly recommended” rating.

So without further ado, here’s the interview.

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

Jill Williamson: I’ve been living and working in the bustling metropolis that is John Day, Oregon. My computer recently crashed and all the files were lost.

My son and I had been working on his second short story about him and his friend, who happens to be a giant. Boy and giant had landed a space shuttle on Mars and encountered some strange aliens. They had just fled into a cave and came upon a mysterious door…when the computer breathed its last. Now, it’s back to square one on that one. Sigh.

WhereTheMapEnds: A space shuttle on Mars? A mysterious door with aliens? Dude! You guys have got to get that thing written again. I want to read it. Well, in the meantime, maybe you can tell us what is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why that is your favorite.

Jill Williamson: Hmmm. I don’t do favorites with books. I like too many. But I’ll have to say the Lord of the Rings is amazing and leave it at that.

WhereTheMapEnds: It’s a common answer here, Jill. It’s my own answer, in fact. I wonder how many speculative novelists were created by Tolkien’s work. That has to be considered part of his legacy. Okay, Jill, what made you want to write Christian speculative fiction? Was it Lord of the Rings?

Jill Williamson: Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness really opened my imagination to the possibility of writing something Christian. I had never read Christian fiction before that book.

When I did start writing, I didn’t set out to write something speculative. I just wanted to write something entertaining for teens. Teen boys especially, since I felt that they had the least out there to read. Something that was complex and wonderful and gripped teens like the Harry Potter books gripped me and twenty million other people—but something a parent of teens wouldn’t have an issue with.

WhereTheMapEnds: How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?

Jill Williamson: My pastor, who was also a writer, encouraged me. Once he saw I was writing a Christian teen novel, he said, “Awww, write something bigger. Write a bestseller.” So if you all will go out and buy my book so that it will become a bestseller, it would really help me out in achieving my pastor’s advice. [grin]

WhereTheMapEnds: By all means, do so! LOL. Jill, what is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.

Jill Williamson: I love teen books. Teen fantasy, most of all. I feel like some adult books get too many points of view or get too technical and don’t give me characters that I can really grow to love over the course of the book.

Books like Harry Potter, Eragon, The King of Attolia, and Maximum Ride give me characters I want to read about again and again.

WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?

Jill Williamson: I think things look pretty good. Being a book reviewer, I get to read a lot of books. And there are a lot more [Christian speculative novels] out there than most people think.

I know that things look bleak now with the poor economy. Some publishers are holding off on new contracts and even canceling series. But people are still buying books. And people love speculative fiction.

Teens love it even more. And someday soon those teens are going to grow up and will still love reading it. So publishers will need to keep publishing it.

WhereTheMapEnds: Excellent point, Jill. Not only that, but many of those teens are going to go into publishing and will see to it that the kind of fiction they love gets full voice.

I have said for years that young people who are in their teens now represent the generation that is going to save us (in terms of Christian speculative fiction, anyway!). It’s just this middle time when we have to wait for them to grow up and take on positions of leadership in our industry.

Hopefully some of them will be inspired and fueled by WhereTheMapEnds and Marcher Lord Press.

You sound optimistic, Jill. What have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?

Jill Williamson: That edgier books are being published by CBA houses. Thomas Nelson is publishing Eric Wilson’s Jerusalem Undead series, which is about a girl and some creepy vampires. The books are well-written and entertaining and are books that the world, not just believers, would enjoy.

As a writer, I want to write books that reach unbelievers. But oftentimes CBA houses are hesitant to publish things that they feel the Christian public might not tolerate, which limits a writer’s creativity and the method of using fiction to show Christ to an unbelieving world.

I’m really excited to see a publisher like Thomas Nelson take that risk. Christian publishing houses need to stay current and competitive with what’s out there in the ABA market if they expect to reach everyone who needs reached.

I think CBA houses do fine with women and teen girls and even men. But the spec fiction genre needs some TLC. And Christian fiction has little to offer teen boys

WhereTheMapEnds: Preach it, sister! Though I wouldn’t be as quick to say that CBA fiction does a fine job of giving men the kind of fiction we want. But that’s a topic for another day.

We also need to watch how Eric’s books do and how John Olson‘s Shade does in terms of sales. It’s terrific that these houses are taking a chance on books like this, but if the market doesn’t respond well, we won’t see many more like them.

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

Jill Williamson: That it’s hard for smaller publishers to market a speculative book like Eric’s. I recently saw a copy of Field of Blood (which is the first book in the Jerusalem Undead trilogy) at Barnes and Noble. And they had put it in the young adult section where they sell Twilight, Charmed, and A Great and Terrible Beauty.

I was totally excited for Eric. Maybe that’s not really where the book should have been shelved, but I bet Eric would love to know he’s reaching that audience.

Not many Christian speculative fiction authors can get their book on a shelf next to those popular ABA titles. I wish it were easier to get the word out. The world is too big and we can cover only so much territory on our own.

WhereTheMapEnds: There is much speculation about why we can’t get Christian novels on the regular fiction shelves. I’ve asked sales guys at two CBA publishers and gotten completely different answers, neither of which really made sense to me.

But for now, it’s safe to say that a Christian novel from a Christian publisher will get shelved in the Religion or Christian Fiction section (a.k.a. Death Row).

Jill, what would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing.

Jill Williamson: I’d like to see Christian publishers publish more books of interest to young people. Teens go through books in a few days and they want more. Several I know have read everything I have on my shelves. So they go off to the library to read ABA stuff, and a lot of it is trash. We need more good books.

I’d also like to see a movie made from a Christian fantasy title. I heard that someone bought the movie rights to Dragons in Our Midst by Bryan Davis. If it were well done, a movie could really help the Christian speculative fiction market. I think someone should make Blaggard’s Moon into a movie. It could be awesome.

WhereTheMapEnds: That would be terrific! I think By Darkness Hid would make a great movie… What do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?

Jill Williamson: I don’t know about the years, but I’m hoping that Marcher Lord Press will set the stage for a new way of publishing. If more publishers printed their books like Jeff does, it would save a lot of money and would enable publishers to publish more books.

Plus, ebooks are becoming more popular. I got a Kindle for Christmas. It’s so convenient and fun. All six of the currently released Marcher Lord Press books are or will soon be available on Kindle. As the ebook reader devices get cheaper, more people will have them and they will be buying ebooks.

WhereTheMapEnds: Very cool! So, Jill, what advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?

Jill Williamson: Learn to write and tell a good story. You do that by reading a lot and writing a lot.

And don’t start a dozen books and never finish one. Finish writing one whole book, even if it isn’t perfect. Then go back and rewrite it. Get into a critique group and go to a writer’s conference to get some feedback.

Then write another complete book and go back and rewrite it. The more you write and rewrite, the better you will get at it.

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

Jill Williamson: Randy Ingermanson’s Fiction 101 and 201 are amazing. He uses some really great examples for the visual learner. He’s also writing a book, Writing Fiction for Dummies, which will be out in November 2009 from that famous “Dummies” series. Not that I’m calling anyone a dummy… Anyway, I’m sure it will include a lot of his Fiction 101 and 201 techniques.

WhereTheMapEnds: Randy is a terrific teacher and all around great guy. I’d like to also take this opportunity to plug my own new book on fiction: The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction.

Jill, what’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?

Jill Williamson: I don’t think writing Christian speculative fiction is all that different from writing [regular] Christian fiction. The best part of writing in general is creating a story that’s so powerful it grips readers’ emotions in such a way that they look at the world differently forever after. And since I write Christian fiction, my prayer is that they would look at God differently as a result of the stories I write.

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

Jill Williamson: I am working on To Darkness Fled, the sequel to By Darkness Hid and the second book in the Blood of Kings series. I wrote the first draft. Now I’m rewriting it. Then I’ll start posting chapters to my critique group and see what they say. Then I’ll rewrite it again.

WhereTheMapEnds: Hurray! What’s a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately?

Jill Williamson: I’ve been thinking up a story about a fallen angel. I think that’s what I’ll call it: Fallen Angel. He lives up in the National Wilderness of the Strawberry Mountains and is punishing himself over a mistake he made hundreds of years ago. Some teenagers will stumble upon him and attempt to form a friendship, but only one will discover that he has wings…

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

Jill Williamson: I just finished George Bryan Polivka’s Blaggard’s Moon and enjoyed it a great deal. It’s a pirate story, and I love a good pirate story. I’d like to read his Trophy Case Trilogy now, if I can find the time.

WhereTheMapEnds: What else would you like to say to readers of WhereTheMapEnds?

Jill Williamson: Thanks for having me here. If you like my book (or any author’s book) spread the word! Tell everyone you know.

Also, try to buy a new book every so often. I know you can get some great deals online with used versions, and I know you can’t afford to buy every book new, but if authors don’t sell some new books, they don’t get paid. And if they don’t get paid, publishers will not be eager to publish more of their work. Then the authors will have to get a job at Denny’s or something and won’t be able to write more books. And then there will be nothing new for you to read. Isn’t that sad?

So, if you can, support the book industry in this hard time by purchasing a new book every now and then.

That’s All for This Time

What a great interview, huh? Thanks again to Jill Williamson. Be sure to visit Jill online.

Don’t miss Jill’s SF short story for young readers, “The Merak Galaxy,” which she has provided to us as a special feature.

 

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