Interview with P.A. Baines

Please Welcome…P. A. Baines

(*Originally posted December 2010)

P.A. Baines

This month our interview guest is Christian speculative fiction novelist P. A. Baines!

Paul was born in England but currently lives in Holland with his wife and two teenage kids. He says he “enjoys speculative fiction but does not enjoy the way the genre tends to disrespect God.”

Paul’s aim, then, is to write stories that make you think while drawing you closer to God, or at least showing Him the proper respect.

Recently Paul saw his story Alpha Redemption published by Splashdown Books. Although Alpha is his debut novel, Paul has been writing for quite a few years now. He is delighted to finally make it to print. Alpha Redemption was chosen as the ACFW book club reading selection for March 2011.

With that, let’s start the interview…

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

P.A. Baines: Well, since Alpha Redemption went public on September 1st, I’ve been doing just about everything except writing.

Around that time, Kerry Nietz emailed me and said, “Now the real hard part begins. . .getting people to buy it!” He was right!

I’ve spent the past few weeks blogging, doing interviews, and generally studying up on how to draw attention to my book.

Happily, I have been getting some tremendous feedback, with a few people even saying they stayed up all night to read it. Just hearing that has made the whole journey worthwhile.

WhereTheMapEnds: I remember when a friend came up to me after reading my first book and said, “This was great. I read it in one sitting. What do you have for me now?” LOL. It had taken years to get that book to print, but just a day for it to be yesterday’s news. Well, you’ve got to like voracious readers. Keeps us all in business. So, Paul, what is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?

P.A. Baines: The Long Walk by Stephen King, which is the only novel I have ever read twice. It is set sometime in the near future and deals with a competition in which participants are not allowed to drop below a certain speed. If they fall below that speed three times in a row they are literally “taken out” by one of the armed soldiers monitoring the race. The last one still walking can basically have whatever his heart desires. The walk starts with one hundred boys and we watch how their youthful arrogance slowly changes to stark fear as they turn from children into old men in a matter of days. The tension builds relentlessly and the ending is King’s best in my opinion.

WhereTheMapEnds: Wow, that sounds cool. I may have to read that one. What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?

P.A. Baines: Many years ago I wanted to find something I could do to serve God. I prayed about it and soon found I had this story rolling around in my head.

The premise was hard sci-fi with the inspiration taken from the book of Revelation, which put it squarely in the Christian speculative basket. It would not go away, so I wrote it down and sent it out. In spite of it being very rough, an agent liked it, and I signed up with that person for a year. It never made it to publication but came close. I think that was enough to hook me. I have been writing on and off ever since.

That door having now opened to me, however, I find speculative fiction not only fun to contemplate but also a great way to touch readers with a message that’s on my heart.

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

P.A. Baines: The premise was very well received by two agents, including the agent who took it. One agent who was previously a famous author even offered to drop his usual reading fee because he liked the premise so much.

Sadly, my writing wasn’t strong enough and he rejected it after seeing the first three chapters. Looking back, I now know that I should have put substantially more effort into the editing before I sent it out. We live and learn 🙂 .

WhereTheMapEnds: Hmm, you may’ve dodged a bullet there too. I don’t know who the agent is, but “reading fees” and “handling fees” and the like are the domain of scam artists. If an agent ever charges you anything to consider representing you, flee. Always be sure to check out a prospective agent at Preditors & Editors too. What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.

P.A. Baines: I was raised on Stephen King, so I enjoy anything with well-developed characters. I love writing science fiction, but will not necessarily read within that genre just for the sake of it. I will read a good story in any genre, so long as it pulls me in and carries me along.

The quality of the writing is important. Even if the plot is dull, I am carried along by a strong voice. I may feel a little bit robbed at the end, but at least I will have enjoyed getting there. Happily, we are seeing more and more of that quality of writing in the Christian speculative genre, so I am now reading much more of that than I used to.

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

P.A. Baines: Hesitantly excited. The writing industry moves along at its own pace, so everything seems to happen in slow motion, but there are signs that people are getting increasingly interested in this genre. It feels as if we are on the brink of some exciting times.

WhereTheMapEnds: I don’t know if people are getting more interested or if the people who were interested all along are finally getting what they want because of the efforts of small indie presses. Either way, it’s a good thing! What have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?

P.A. Baines: The sheer enthusiasm for the genre is very encouraging. I think people are starting to realize that there are more ways to talk about God than just talking about God. Jesus told parables that would probably offend a lot of people if He told them today. The Prodigal Son, if written as a modern novel, would probably be rejected by the big publishers for being too “edgy.”

On a personal note, to have readers on a review site normally dedicated to romance novels come on and say that my sci-fi novel looks “fascinating” is very exciting to me. It means that the readers of our genre are out there, if we will just provide them with quality material.

WhereTheMapEnds: Yes. We have to find them first (or second, or all the time) and then give them excellent novels to read. What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?

P.A. Baines: The big companies still seem hesitant to venture off the beaten track and try something other than “safe” romance. One thing I noticed during my interviews online is that my book is sometimes surrounded almost exclusively by romance novels, which can be a little unnerving. When I see my cover depicting a futuristic space scene in the middle of a whole page of covers showing women in period costumes and/or bonnets, it can feel a little bit like being the elephant in the room.

WhereTheMapEnds: Viva le elephant! As I discuss in the interview here, traditional Christian publishers will not—and should not—venture off that path. But someone has to do so to serve the readers who left the path long ago. So what would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing??

P.A. Baines: I would like to see it gain proper recognition within the Christian publishing community as a valid expression of Christian creative thought that can and does glorify God.

WhereTheMapEnds: What I found while working at Christian publishing companies is that there are a number of people at those houses who really do love speculative. But they’re constrained to publish what their market wants, and what their market wants right now is bonnet and buggy. I think we do get nice recognition from these folks, but no emulation. And for good reason.

I get the sense from my friends in the industry that Marcher Lord Press and Splashdown Books and others are actually providing a service for the industry at large. Finally, they have somewhere to send these authors who come to them wanting to get their fantasy novel published.

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

P.A. Baines: Three years: Perhaps one or two more independent publishers.

Five years: A handful of these publishers competing with the big companies and possibly even giving them a run for their money.

Ten years: Christian spec-fic occupying a fair amount of shelf space in bookstores as the big publishers marvel at the success of the independents.

WhereTheMapEnds: I like how you think, Paul. Personally (and as you can again see at that other interview), I think most of the large Christian houses will be gone in ten years, along with the bookstores. I believe we’re in the age of the niche publisher. What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?

P.A. Baines: Be prepared for the fact that you are writing for an emerging genre. If you set off down this path it has to be for the love of it.

Writing for a living is tough in any genre, so you have be ready for hard work and you should learn to handle rejection. If you get any feedback from a publisher that isn’t a stock rejection letter, treat it like gold.

Lastly, we are writing as God’s representatives, so give your best for His glory.

WhereTheMapEnds: Good counsel. And I like that you point out that no one writes Christian speculative fiction to get rich. LOL. One way to keep out the posers is to offer no money for writing this kind of fiction! So what’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?

P.A. Baines: Finding Your Voice: How to Put Personality in Your Writing by Les Edgerton. I was given this to read as part of my college writing course and it opened my eyes to what I was doing wrong. About a quarter way into the book, I suddenly understood what was missing from my writing. It really helped me to find my own voice.

Basically, what the book does is demonstrate the importance of telling your story in your own way. This industry doesn’t want another Stephen King. What it wants is a voice it hasn’t heard before.

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

P.A. Baines: The best part about writing in this genre is that you get to serve God. If we do this right, we should nudge our readers a little closer to God. What a joy to be able to use our time, energy, and talent to further God’s kingdom.

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

P.A. Baines: I am now busy writing a humorous (I hope) space opera called Hanzet, the Universe, and Everything. I have been told that it sounds like something Douglas Adams might have thought up and, although I haven’t read anything by Douglas Adams, I have seen the recent Hitchhiker’s film, and suspect they may be right. Perhaps it is the premise of finding “the meaning of life” that makes them seem similar. Anyway, I’m having terrific fun writing it and hope to have the first draft completed this year.

WhereTheMapEnds: Well, yes, and the title, of course. What’s a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately?

P.A. Baines: I’ve put that into Hanzet, so you’ll have to wait for it to come out. Actually, you’ll have to wait for me to persuade a publisher to bring it out.

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

P.A. Baines: The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett. If you don’t know Terry Pratchett, he has been writing novels in the Discworld series of books for many years. His stories are essentially a spoof of the fantasy genre and largely center around the failed wizard Rincewind and his attempts to avoid Death by being as cowardly as possible.

The Last Continent is about a place very similar to Australia. Anyone even vaguely familiar with the continent will appreciate the humorous references. Pratchett is one of the few writers who can make me laugh out loud on public transport.

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

P.A. Baines: If you are writing Christian speculative fiction and you are having a hard time finding a publisher, please stick with it. The only way to get good in this business is keep practicing. If you read the genre, please support it by buying books from the independent publishers. The only way we are going to persuade the big companies to invest in Christian speculative fiction is if they see the books selling in big numbers. For that we need good writers and supportive readers.

That’s All for This Time

Another great interview! Thanks again to P.A. Baines for spending time with us. Be sure to visit him online.

And don’t miss his special treat for us: A speculative short story he wrote for a college course entitled “Ears.” Read it here.

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