Please Welcome…Kathryn Mackel
(*Originally posted December 2006)
What a joy and honor to have novelist Kathryn Mackel as our interview guest at WhereTheMapEnds.com.
She is the resident playwright for the Living Word Players of Dunstable, Massachusetts, coaches ASA Junior Olympic softball and is a singer and instrumentalist with the ministry of music in her church. She lives north of Boston with her husband and two children.
Her screenwriting credits and her own novels, which she terms “Christian chillers” and which other people sometimes call “Christian horror,” definitely qualify her as an honored guest at WhereTheMapEnds.com.
I first encountered Kathy when I was acquisitions editor over the Realms fiction line. I was amazed at Kathy’s wonderful speculative mind displayed across several story ideas. The girl’s a font of speculative fun. You’re going to enjoy her interview.
And isn’t it nice to have a woman featured here, too?
Kathy’s generosity didn’t end with taking the time for this interview. She has also provided for us a “deleted scene” from one of her novels. Don’t miss the creepy, never-used prologue from Outriders. Thanks, Kathy!
And now the interview.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with what’s going on in your life.
Kathryn Mackel: I’ve been writing screenplays! Namesake Entertainment (Visitation, Thr3e) hired me to adapt my novel, The Hidden, into a screenplay. And my partner and I are putting the finishing touches on a big-budget action/ adventure. It’s been weird being in scripting mode after three years of writing novels.
WhereTheMapEnds: Very exciting! Can’t wait for those to come out. So, Kathy, what is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Kathryn Mackel: I love The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King, because it involves three of my passions: children, the woods, and the Boston Red Sox. More importantly, this book has a lovely spiritual center to it. Another book I love is Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. And for those of you who groaned through the film The Postman (Kevin Costner), the novel by David Brin is great.
WhereTheMapEnds: I finally found someone else who loves The Postman! However, I loved the film (General Bethlehem is a fantastic villain) more than the book. True confessions. But Ender’s Game… Ah, pure brilliance. So, Kathy, what made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Kathryn Mackel: My plan was to write straight thrillers. It was my WestBow editor who asked me to give a bit of an edge to The Surrogate (my first book with WestBow). She enjoyed my alien middle-readers and, as a fan of The X-files, she was looking for something a bit speculative.
WhereTheMapEnds: How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Kathryn Mackel: It was well-received by all. My toughest reader is my daughter, who was 25 when The Surrogate came out. She seemed rather surprised that her mom could actually write something that intrigued her and her friends. That warmed my heart more than any reviewer’s praise.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Kathryn Mackel: I love to read good science fiction. HarperCollins has published four of my alien middle-readers, and my Birthright Project books qualify as SF. But truly, I feel inadequate to write hard SF. I find supernatural thrillers the easiest fit for my voice.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Kathryn Mackel: I would say it’s still speculative.
WhereTheMapEnds: Hysterical. Well said. Have you seen anything lately that encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Kathryn Mackel: The readers are out there, and hungry. There’s some excellent writers working in the genre and they’re given latitude to ply their craft.
WhereTheMapEnds: What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Kathryn Mackel: I’m not sure publishers know how to reach this audience. I suspect that many of these readers aren’t used to frequenting Christian bookstores—not because they’re not believers but because there’s not a broad range of offerings of what they like to read.
WhereTheMapEnds: What would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Kathryn Mackel: I’d like to see marketing campaigns to encourage more traditional CBA readers (romance, historicals) to sample speculative fiction. We as writers need to be sensitive to a more general readership that may need gentler introductions to what we’ve been reading since (in my case) I was 10.
WhereTheMapEnds: What do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Kathryn Mackel: I honestly don’t know. I hope it’s a thriving master genre, but we’re working on it.
WhereTheMapEnds: What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Kathryn Mackel: A writer has to write what’s in his or her heart. But the second part of the question—publish—means that we need to be wise about not only what we can sell to a publisher but what we can sell to the marketplace. My latest series (with Realms) is a supernatural thriller series. The first book is almost straight thriller—something that should be easily followed by a general audience. My goal is to ease readers into the story who may not be acclimated to speculative fiction.
WhereTheMapEnds: That sounds like a wonderful plan, Kathy. I faced the same dilemma while at NavPress as I tried to introduce readers (and my colleagues at the publisher) to speculative genres. One tactic was to give the reader a viewpoint character very much like the typical reader. That’s what we did with Sharon Hinck’s Restorer series of fantasies: the heroine is a soccer mom who falls into an alternate world. Your way, hooking readers with a straight thriller and then hoping they’ll follow you into stranger places, seems brilliant. We’re all pulling for it to work! Okay, so, what’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
Kathryn Mackel: Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, but I want to add a disclaimer—I simply haven’t read many books on fiction writing.
WhereTheMapEnds: No disclaimer needed! It’s a great book. Really helps you think about the big picture of your novel and what can make it feel like a “big” book to the reader. Okay, let’s see. For you, what’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Kathryn Mackel: In the writing part, it is the privilege of perceiving Christ in amazing ways during the creative process. The blessing of publishing in this field is in sharing Christ thematically, using story as a vehicle to make the inexpressibly awesome somehow available to readers.
WhereTheMapEnds: The inexpressibly awesome. I love it. What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Kathryn Mackel: My next project is a middle-reader novel for Dial Books, about girls and steroids. Steroids are rather a minor problem for female athletes but there is a growing trend for girls to use them for cosmetic reasons—to develop a more muscular look. The larger focus of the story will be body image and good health.
WhereTheMapEnds: Wow, I didn’t know that was an issue. Crazy. All right, here’s one for you: What’s a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately?
Kathryn Mackel: I walk in the woods every day. On a warm day like today (I live on the Massachusetts-New Hampshire line) I take my computer to nice knoll near a big beaver pond. With all the rain in the northeast in the past couple of months, the beavers have decided to turn the main path up there into a second pond. Every morning I need to go up and kick through a hole in their dam so the path drains. (Note to conservationists—I’m only draining the path, something has been around for fifty years.) Every evening the beavers fill the holes again. After I kick out the leaves and muck and sticks, I have to step down into the pond to kick all that mess away so the water from the path can flow out. Every once in awhile, my foot sinks into the mud under the water. I have a fleeting moment of fear that the beavers have an alliance with the muck to suck me under and subject me to the secret life of all that is damp and disgusting. Thus is the life of a speculative fiction writer!
WhereTheMapEnds: Hysterical. I love it. The dreaded beaver-muck alliance. Okay, what last thing would you like to say to readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
Kathryn Mackel: We’re all looking for ways to grow this genre. If you have great ideas, please share them. I personally believe that Christian speculative fiction is a great vehicle for evangelizing unbelievers. The genre is also a beautiful vehicle for giving voice and form to deep spiritual truths. If you’re writing in this (master) genre, pray about going mainstream. All of the genres that comprise speculative fiction are very popular in the secular world (horror, fantasy, SF, etc.) and the imaginative nature of these genres offers opportunities to engage people spiritually. I’ve done this in some of my children’s books and screenplays, and I hope someday to have the right idea to attempt an adult mainstream novel.
That’s All for This Time
Great interview! Thanks again to Kathryn Mackel. Be sure to visit her online.