Twice a week, for the next several weeks, the original interviews with Christian speculative authors over at Wherethemapends.com will be reappearing here at the new Marcher Lord website. Enjoy!
Please Welcome…Mitchell Bonds
(*Originally posted October 2008)
What a joy to have Christian speculative novelist Mitchell Bonds as our interview guest at WhereTheMapEnds.com.
Mitchell is an irrepressible young man with an impish sense of humor and loads of talent.
When I asked him how he’d like to be introduced, this is what he said:
I require no introduction. I am the Legendary Mitchell Bonds.
Should this not immediately trigger your memory, perhaps some small amount of introduction would be in order.
I was born in Alaska in the Year of Our Lord 1988. I moved around a lot, as my father was in the U.S. Army. By the time I was five, I had lived in more houses than I was years old.
Most of my life I have lived in Priest River, Idaho, a small town nestled along the banks of the river from which the town draws its name. And its water.
I have always had a penchant for writing silly adventure stories, and making a grand fool out of myself whenever there is a stage venue available.
So, you know, you kind of see what I mean.
Mitchell is one of three authors whose novels form the debut list for my Christian publishing company, Marcher Lord Press. MLP publishes only Christian speculative fiction.
Mitch is the only one of the three debut MLP authors whose novel came over the transom. I already knew the other two authors and specifically went after their novels. But I had a third slot to fill, and for that I turned to my acquisitions form at the MLP site.
When I read Mitch’s book—indeed, when I was less than one hundred pages through it—I knew I had found my third novel.
I contacted this guy and then found out, to my amusement-slash-horror, that Mitchell was only 19 years old! By the time I acquired him he was 20 and off to college again, but I couldn’t believe that someone so young could have as much talent and polish and voice as this author.
Hero, Second Class is a comic fantasy about a young man who yearns to be a Hero in a land where Heroes owe monthly guild dues and Villains are allowed only one eclipse per fiscal quarter. It’s 600 pages of comedic mayhem on an epic scale.
So without further ado, here’s the interview.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with what’s going on in your life.
Mitchell Bonds: Well, the last few weeks have been rather hectic, as I have resumed my college career. I was forced to take last year off in order to build up sufficient funds to return, so my younger brother has caught up to me, school-wise, and never lets me hear the end of it.
I’ve moved in to the Fine Arts hall at the University of Idaho, surrounded by people who love theatre, and where everyone knows and loves Joss Whedon’s Firefly. I have Air Force ROTC to help me pay for it all, and classes ranging from Statistics to Media Writing to Fiction Writing. Fun stuff, but rather time-consuming.
I still manage to find time to write and/or edit, along with some small amounts of socializing with all the nifty people in the dorm. Aside from class and planning another trip to see my girlfriend (who happens to live on the other side of the United States), my life has been mostly tweaking H2C [Hero, Second Class] to prepare it for publication.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Mitchell Bonds: Probably Her Majesty’s Wizard by Christopher Stasheff, because it makes clever use of Shakespeare (and some other poetry) as some of its basis for magic spells. It’s inspired me many times.
Aside from that, I would say that the Enchanted Forest Chronicles (i.e. Dealing with Dragons, Talking with Dragons, etc.) by Patricia C. Wrede are most definitely my favorites, as they never take themselves too seriously and do a lot of poking fun of traditional fantasy as well.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Mitchell Bonds: To be honest, it wasn’t really in my mind to write specifically “Christian” fiction. I just wanted to write. The fact that I come from a Christian background kind of creeps into my writing unintentionally, like cooking chicken soup in a pot that you just fried some garlic in. The flavor’s going to stick.
WhereTheMapEnds: How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Mitchell Bonds: No publishing agent would touch it with a standard-issue ten-foot-pole. I tried to get it looked at several times, each time receiving a polite, “No thank you.” My friends thought it was a great idea, but they weren’t going to be the ones publishing it. Several people who read the early form of the manuscript said it was interesting but that it still needed work (no kidding: if it weren’t for MLP, I think the book would be terrible right now). But here it is, getting published, so…
WhereTheMapEnds: Uh, no. It would not be terrible. It wouldn’t be as magnificent as it is now, of course, but if it had been terrible I wouldn’t have employed my own standard-issue ten-foot acquisitions stick. So tell us, Mitch, what is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Mitchell Bonds: I love reading SF and steampunk. I like writing fantasy and I would like to try my hand at some steampunk. I just don’t think I have the willpower or mental stamina to do the research required to build a believable SF world. At least with fantasy, if something doesn’t seem possible I can just say “It’s magic” and that works just fine.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Mitchell Bonds: Boring. Trite. Preachy.
WhereTheMapEnds: Mmm, I see. Don’t you want to equivocate or at least give one hem or haw? Come on, Mitch, tell us what you really think. Well, have you seen anything that encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Mitchell Bonds: People seem to have noticed the above three traits and are making a concerted effort to write some truly good material. And it encourages me that places like MLP are actively seeking content, even from unlikely sources like myself.
WhereTheMapEnds: What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Mitchell Bonds: Poor quality and general preachiness. The situation frustrates me because it seems that no Christian publishing company is actually interested in publishing a sci-fi or fantasy novel unless you’re already one of the well-known giants in the industry.
WhereTheMapEnds: It’s true, for the most part. CBA publishers want to have the best chance of succeeding when they try a “risky” genre like speculative fiction. So they want to limit their vulnerability by going with a known commodity and proven market winner. I actually think it’s the right decision for them, given the demographic they reach. So don’t pull any punches now, Mitch, tell us what you would like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing.
Mitchell Bonds: Everything. The largest problem with this genre is that it has been crummy for so long that any secular critic or reader is automatically biased against it. A “Christian” spec-fic novel has to go above and beyond to actually get a second, or even a first, look from anyone outside the Christian publishing realm. It’s time for a new generation of spec-fic authors to change this.
WhereTheMapEnds: Spoken with all the confidence of youth, my friend. LOL. Just remember that when you get older there will be a new generation of Mitchell Bonds-types wanting to get rid of you too! But all in good time. First, let’s change the face of Christian speculative fiction publishing! Speaking of that, what do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Mitchell Bonds: I hope it doesn’t change too fast, otherwise more of my writing might not see the light of day. But since I can inaccurately predict the future as well as anyone, here is the Prophecy of the Advancing State of Fiction:
Sometime in the future, some Magnificent Writers shall Rise Up from Obscurity and bring Christian Spec-Fic into the Glorious Light of Mainstream Fiction where its Truth and Deeper Purpose shall Reach the Masses.
And my not-being-silly prediction? Well, I think it’ll look the same as it does now in three years. In five it will start becoming grudgingly accepted. And in ten it will be a recognized and sought-after genre for those who seek more than just empty adventure stories.
WhereTheMapEnds: Well, Punxsutawney Phil, we’ll see if you’re right. In the here and now, what advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Mitchell Bonds: Write your book how you want it to be. Don’t be concerned about being overtly Christian. That will come across on its own. If your publisher tells you to “Add more God stuff” then do so. Just don’t worry about deliberately adding “Christian” content as you go. Because that makes you sound preachy, and nobody wants to read that.
WhereTheMapEnds: Well, apparently someone wants to read it, because “regular” Christian fiction is selling well. But I see your point. So what would you say is the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
Mitchell Bonds: I have no idea. I’ve never been to a seminar on writing. But I do recommend Write Tight by William Brohaugh and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Both will tell you how to cut the fat out of your work and make it a much more readable, enjoyable work before you send it in to a publisher.
I’m afraid I should have picked the latter up much earlier, as I’ve made my publisher do an unfair amount of work tightening up my writing.
WhereTheMapEnds: Oh, the pain, the pain of it all! What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Mitchell Bonds: Well, it’s fun to write, because writing is one of the things I love. And it’s one way to (sort of) evangelize without being confrontational. If I make someone think that there is something higher than themselves, just plant that idea, without being preachy, then I consider my task well done. Not that that’s why I write, mind you. I write to get all this silliness out of my brain and because I love doing it.
WhereTheMapEnds: What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Mitchell Bonds: A 250-word short story (yes, I know that is very short) for my English class, and some work on what may or may not turn out to be the sequel to H2C. And a silly random idea I had about turning H2C into a musical theatre production, but that’s just something random, more random than usual, not any kind of serious project. It’s fun anyway.
[Editor’s Note: The sequel to Hero, Second Class released in April of 2011, and is entitled Hero In Hiding.]
WhereTheMapEnds: Saints, preserve us! What’s a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately?
Mitchell Bonds: Honestly? I haven’t had a good deal of time to come up with new, fresh ideas. What with all this college stuff my brain is as fried as a solar panel in Arizona. Only without the aspect of recharging.
A random idea I had in class yesterday was a funny short story where there’s been a zombie apocalypse and the Pope is driving around in the Pope-mobile slaying zombies with holy water and other religious-looking gizmos. Like a Roman Catholic Batman. I tell you, my brain is a scary place.
WhereTheMapEnds: I don’t think your story idea would work—unless you made it a musical. So, Mitch, what’s the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?
Mitchell Bonds: Well, I happen to be an overactive consumer of that insidious form of entertainment, the webcomic. I recently ran back across one called “Gone with the Blastwave,” a story in a postapocalyptic setting where three armies are attempting to find their way out of a giant deserted city. They intermittently fight each other and constantly fight sheer boredom as they wander about. Definitely worth a read. And each panel is a painting, not like those cheap things done in Photoshop.
WhereTheMapEnds: What else would you like to say to the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
Mitchell Bonds: Always brush your teeth, don’t forget to put the toilet seat down, and never, never push the red button.
That’s All for This Time
What a wonderful interview, huh? Thanks again to Mitchell Bonds. Be sure to visit Mitchell online.