Interview with Kerry Nietz

Time for another interview from wherethemapends.

(*Originally posted November 2009)

Please Welcome…Kerry Nietz

What a joy to have Christian speculative fiction novelist Kerry Nietz as our interview guest this month here at WhereTheMapEnds.

I first encountered Kerry when he hired me to do some editorial work on a novel he had titled 2000 AP. I was immediately struck by Kerry’s radical style and cyberpunk voice. The idea of an I, Robot kind of mystery in a sharia-controlled future was instantly engaging.

So I wanted it right away for Marcher Lord Press. But the thing was way too short. I think it was like 48,000 words. That’s way under the 65,000-word minimum.

So I told Kerry that I was interested in publishing his book on the condition that we’re able to make the story big enough to legitimately reach 65K without adding fluff.

We were able to do so, and the resulting novel, A Star Curiously Singing, just released from Marcher Lord Press, rings in at over 73,000 words! All of it brilliant, IMO.

Kerry Nietz grew up on a farm in Ohio as, in his words, “the shy and skinny son of a high school quarterback and a fair queen.” He says he wasn’t made for most of the things people clung to in my high school—sports, farming, music—most of it wasn’t him. He was more of a reader and dreamer.

Kerry became a computer programmer and worked for the company that created the database program called FoxPro. That product (and a related lawsuit) resulted in Kerry writing a nonfiction book called FoxTales: Behind the Scenes at Fox Software, which is still available through Amazon.

The success of the product and the uproar over the lawsuit got Fox Software enough prominence that it was purchased by Microsoft. So Kerry moved across the country to Redmond, Washington. Seven years later, he decided it was time to follow a new dream and write a novel.

Kerry and his wife have a son and a daughter.

And now, here’s the interview.

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

Kerry Nietz: October has been a cooling down period for me. I’m still doing some promotional work for A Star Curiously Singing but also trying to get my head back into the writing. You see, my publisher did this crazy thing and actually put “Book 1” on the cover of my book. So now I’m busy figuring out what that means. I think I have a good idea, thankfully. And I think it will be real cool…

WhereTheMapEnds: Whew! [wink] What is the first speculative story you remember reading as a kid?

Kerry Nietz: That would be either The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key or The Runaway Robot by Lester Del Rey. The latter is a bit ironic, now that I think about it, considering the storyline of my own novel.

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

Kerry Nietz: I can’t help myself. I’ve been a storyteller my whole life. I’ve also been a Christian since I was very young. If I get a cool idea, I write it. Since it is near impossible to lock God out of anything I do now, His thoughts invariably show up in my stories. Believe me, I’ve tried to write a strictly secular book. Can’t do it. As for the speculative part, I don’t think about it. It is just what comes out. Weird? Yes. But it can’t be helped

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

Kerry Nietz: Very supportive. My father is an avid reader, and so has been submitted to some of the worst of what I’ve written. But he never said “That’s just plain dumb,” though he did once ask “So, is this a Christian book? Because it seems like it is, but there is nothing specifically biblical in it.”

As for my wife, she’s my biggest literary fan. Good thing too, because if it were any other way our house would not be happy. She gives me lots of alone time to dream big, when I’m sure she’d rather ditch the kids and run off to the mall. <g>

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

Kerry Nietz: I’m pretty flexible, really. I read anything from sci-fi to thriller to mystery to you-name-it. In fact there have been periods of my life when I’ve forced myself to sample different authors and genres…specifically those that are considered classics. I like to study books and figure out what makes them work.

Mostly I write sci-fi, but occasionally one of the other genres pops out. None of those creations have seen the light of day yet, though.

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

Kerry Nietz: Actually, I think it is exciting. The boundaries have yet to be imagined or explored. No better place to be in.

I probably have an unusual perspective, though, because I started out in the software industry at the end of the eighties. It was an amazing time to be a programmer. If you found the right gig, you could really carve out a name for yourself. Do things that had yet to be done.

Initially, I worked on a team with only a handful of people. That meant I could point to a huge chunk of the product and say “Yep, that’s mine!” It was just a step removed from when people were creating companies in their garage. (The company I worked for started in a hotel room, actually.)

That’s where I think Christian spec fic is right now. Maybe a step away from the garage

WhereTheMapEnds: But a step before it or a step beyond it? [ahem] What have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative writing and/or publishing?

Kerry Nietz: I agree with what Kirk Outerbridge said last month: the improving quality of Christian work. Also it is nice to see independent publishers like Marcher Lord Press start to get some respect for what they’re producing. I think the fact that MLP had two of its first release titles be finalists in the ACFW awards this year shows that.

I also find it encouraging that Christian fiction in general is taking a larger space at my local secular bookseller than it used to. That bodes well for all Christian fiction, I think.

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

Kerry Nietz: Maybe the fact that it has to be grouped into its own niche at all. I mean, sci-fi and fantasy books have touched on spiritual issues since their inception. Hard to name a master of the sci-fi genre who didn’t also have spiritual themes in his books: Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, Dick, Burroughs…they all touched on the divine.

Many of those authors had a secular worldview, of course, but why should that place them in another category, another section of the bookstore, than the books Christian sci-fi writers are writing? There are certainly Christian writers who are more subtle in their spirituality than secular writers. (I may be one of them.) Is it because there is a chance that the gospel might be shared with Christian spec-fic that they are put in a different section? Doubtful. If it is a good story, it is a good story.

The only reason I can think of for the separation is that Christians like an aisle where they can feel safe from offense. But even that might not be a good reason. I’d like to see more salt out of the shaker, I guess. Mixed with the rest of the meal.

WhereTheMapEnds: This segregation has little to do with Christians demanding their own aisle. If Christians tried to demand anything from these secular bookstore chains, the chains would just laugh. I think it began because religious nonfiction books do belong on their own shelf, in my opinion, and then when religious publishers started putting out fiction, the natural place to shelve it was where those publishers’ other books were being shelved.

New question: What would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?

Kerry Nietz: The notion that POD outfits like Marcher Lord Press don’t qualify for some rewards or benefits simply because they are POD [i.e., they use the “print on demand” technology and distribution model].

The publishing world has changed. Why should it matter whether there are 10,000 copies of something collecting dust somewhere or not? I’m not an environmentalist, but I do think we should be good stewards of what God has given us. So why the preference for publishers that kill more trees?

I can see reasons to differentiate between vanity or self-publishing and publishing where there is a bar of acceptability you have to meet. But making that bar be POD is crazy. POD is just a delivery mechanism.

WhereTheMapEnds: I think POD was originally embraced first by vanity presses and has therefore gained the connotation that anything printed on such a machine is self-publishing. Which is like saying that anyone who rides in a limo is the president, but whatever.

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

Kerry Nietz: I think all books will be digital and download directly to our heads. Next question.

WhereTheMapEnds: Sorry, had to download my latest book purchase. [shakes head] Okay, brain cleared now. Ready to proceed. What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?

Kerry Nietz: Stop talking about it and write it. Also, don’t be afraid to chart a new course. Just because it has never been done, doesn’t mean it can’t be.

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

Kerry Nietz: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (Browne and King) and Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain.

WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?

Kerry Nietz: Buying a garage-full of motorcycles with your royalty checks! Actually, I haven’t done that yet, but I think it would be cool.

Probably the best part is holding the finished product in your hands for the first time.

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

Kerry Nietz: The sequel to A Star Curiously Singing!

WhereTheMapEnds: Well, you know I had to ask! What’s a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately?

Kerry Nietz: If I said, it would spoil it. I never talk about my ideas until they are on paper. If I talk about it, I won’t want to write it. This drives my wife crazy.

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

Kerry Nietz: The last one I finished was Ice by Shane Johnson. Cool idea. (Literally!) I’m really looking forward to reading the releases of my fellow MLP sci-fi cohorts, though—The Word Reclaimed by Steve Rsaza and Eternity Falls by Kirk Outerbridge.

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

Kerry Nietz: Support your favorite writers. (Like me!) Buy their books, share them, review them, and talk about them to your friends.

You never know, you might be in the same position someday. All about the Golden Rule, people!

That’s All for This Time

What a great interview, huh? Thanks again to Kerry. Be sure to visit Kerry Nietz online.

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