Here is another interview brought to you from wherethemapends.com. Enjoy!
Please Welcome…Randall Ingermanson
(*Originally posted August 2007)
What a joy to have Christian author Randall Ingermanson as our interview guest at WhereTheMapEnds.com.
Randy and I have been friends for a number of years. He’s funny, painfully smart, and as whimsical as a child. He’s always laughing and always willing to help someone out.
Randy is, I’m sure, the only physicist I know. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from UC Berkeley. He is also the author of six Christian novels, each of which has won some sort of award. Two of his novels have won Christy awards.
Randy is the creator of the famous “Snowflake method” of designing a novel, a method used by many novelists around the world for analyzing and organizing their story.
He made news in 2007 because of his brilliant analysis of the weaknesses in the arguments in favor of the so-called “Jesus Tomb.”
He’s also something of a Web marketing genius, as you’ll see below.
Randy lives with his wife and kids in southern Washington.
Now, the intereview…
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with what’s going on in your life.
Randall Ingermanson: I spent most of 2006 just pulling up stakes from San Diego and moving. The housing market went flat just as we put our house on the market (and the house was in pretty bad shape). So it took ages to sell the thing and get moved out. We moved to Washington and bought a house on a couple of acres and got moved in shortly before Thanksgiving last year.
In the meantime, I’ve been developing a site for novelists at AdvancedFictionWriting.com. This has consumed a lot of effort over the last couple of years. My Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine has been the world’s largest e-zine for fiction writers for over a year now, and is continuing to grow rapidly. I’ve recently launched an Advanced Fiction Writing Blog. And I’ve been rolling out products for novelists.
I also continue to keep a foot in the technical world. I do a few hours of consulting per week for a high-technology company in San Diego: Vala Sciences, Inc. I find it fun (and rewarding) to do techie stuff.
All of that has left me little time to actually write fiction, so I’ve had rather a long sabbatical. It’s been a nice break, but I’m working now on a proposal for my next novel.
WhereTheMapEnds: And I’m glad to hear it! What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Randall Ingermanson: I’ve been a big fan of Lord of the Rings since I first read it in college. I think this choice needs no explanation.
I’m also a huge Harry Potter fan, and having just finished reading Book 7, I have to say that Harry has moved into a dead heat with LOTR. Again, no explanation could possibly be required. Both of these series are brilliant.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Randall Ingermanson: I used to read fiction in graduate school. It helped to take the pressure off. After awhile, I decided that I could write fiction at least as well as the authors I was reading at the time (Robert Ludlum, John LeCarre, Tom Clancy, etc.) I was also doing a lot of reading in New Testament history and I thought it would be cool to combine my interests—to write a novel that showed some of the stuff I was learning about the earliest church in Jerusalem.
Ultimately, I came up with the idea for a time travel novel to first-century Jerusalem. This was just crazy enough that nobody had ever done anything quite like it, but it was just cool enough to succeed.
I should add that my early optimism about how “easy” it is to write was wildly wrong. I found out pretty quickly that my writing wasn’t all that good. That motivated me to try harder. Eventually, after about 12 years of hard work, I broke into print with my first novel (Transgression), a story about a rogue physicist who travels back in time to kill the apostle Paul.
WhereTheMapEnds: How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Randall Ingermanson: Well, it won a Christy award, much to the astonishment of everyone in the entire world of Christian publishing. I was, after all, a nobody and my novel was a finalist in the same category as a couple of extremely well-known and talented authors. So nobody expected me to win, least of all me. Hardly anybody even knew who I was, not even the emcee who slit open the envelope and read my name.
That novel has really stood the test of time. It’s out of print, but it’s available free on my web site and it continues to bring in reader email. So I’m happy with how it turned out. You can find out more about it here.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Randall Ingermanson: For reading, that’s hard to say. As noted, two of my favorite series are Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series. However, I don’t read a lot of fantasy. I tend to read more suspense, particularly historical suspense.
I really like Ken Follett’s book The Pillars of the Earth, which is set in 12th century England and has a slightly supernatural flavor to it. Also, Wilbur Smith’s books River God and the sequel to the sequel, Warlock. (The middle book in this series was actually pretty wretched.) Both of these are set in ancient Egypt and again have a slightly supernatural flavor to them.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Randall Ingermanson: I would say it has a long way to go. Somebody somewhere needs to solve the “chicken and egg” problem, which I would summarize this way:
Christian readers read a lot of speculative fiction, but they don’t expect to find it in Christian bookstores, so they don’t shop for it there. Therefore, Christian bookstores don’t stock such books, because there are no customers for them.
I don’t know how to break this logjam. It can be done either by erosion or by dynamite. Here’s what I mean by that. “Erosion” means slowly building the market by adding a few new authors per year. “Dynamite” means creating a market from nothing by having some big
name author write a blockbuster in the genre that suddenly brings in lots of customers.
I am convinced that eventually the logjam will break. I just can’t predict how or when.
WhereTheMapEnds: Another option is to bypass the whole Christian publishing industry altogether, stop trying to get into Christian bookstores, and create something marvelous primarily through the Web. That’s the model I’m exploring with Marcher Lord Press. What have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Randall Ingermanson: When I teach at writing conferences I talk to the young writers—teen writers and twenty-something writers. Most of them are writing fantasy or science fiction. That tells me where the wind is blowing. Eventually, one of these young kids is going to break out.
WhereTheMapEnds: What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Randall Ingermanson: I have not seen that level of success in the adult market. It’ll happen, I’m sure. But it’s hard to know when. There are just not very many champions of speculative fiction inside Christian
publishing, and some of the biggest champions (such as Steve Laube and you, Jeff) are no longer editing [at publishing houses].
There are some new fantasies just coming out this year. I’m thinking particularly of Sharon Hinck’s Restorer series, which you acquired, Jeff, when you were at NavPress.
I met Sharon years ago at a writing conference and immediately saw that she was something special. One reason I think she might make inroads where others haven’t is that her novels’ natural audience is right in the heart of Christian fiction readership—soccer moms. Sharon’s heroine is a soccer mom, in fact, and begins the story fighting depression.
WhereTheMapEnds: Yay. Go, Sharon! Okay, Randy, what would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Randall Ingermanson: I would like to see better writing. I would also like to see . . . hmmm, better writing. And if you’ll give me three wishes, I think my third wish would be to see . . . BETTER WRITING.
WhereTheMapEnds: Yikes! Seeing some not-so-great writing lately, I take it? I’m glad people are finding your snowflake method and my character creation system and tip of the week column. So what do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Randall Ingermanson: I think that eventually, spec fic will explode in the Christian market. But I don’t know exactly when. Could be next year. Could be ten years from now. But I’m sure it’ll happen.
WhereTheMapEnds: Or possibly it will explode in spite of the Christian market and the whole CBA industry will scramble to get a piece of the action. Oh, well. That’s business. What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Randall Ingermanson: Develop excellence in your craft. All the Christian novelists I know are obsessive about improving their craft. So shoot for stupendously good writing. If you can also arrange to inherit a few million from a rich uncle, do so. It’ll take the heat off of you financially so you can focus on writing well rather than writing for money.
WhereTheMapEnds: Yeah, that’s pretty much my plan. Got any spare rich uncles lurking about? In the meantime, what’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
Randall Ingermanson: I’ll assume that’s a leading question to force me to mention my Advanced Fiction Writing site, where I sell two complete lecture series on writing fiction: Fiction 101 and Fiction 201. Thanks for twisting my arm, Jeff! There is complete info on these series here.
I will also mention my absolute favorite book on writing: Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. I learned how to write by reading Swain’s book. Some of my friends have complained that Swain is boring. I never found him boring, although I’ll admit that his writing is fairly dense and it takes a lot of work to digest. If I’ve accomplished anything with my fiction courses, it’s to boil Swain down to the essence.
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Randall Ingermanson: Anyone who writes in this genre is a pioneer, and that’s always exciting. The rules are fuzzy and indistinct right now, and anyone who writes in this genre gets to make the rules. So go to it!
WhereTheMapEnds: What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Randall Ingermanson: I’m writing a proposal for a serial killer story set in first-century Jerusalem, about the year A.D. 30. I would like to focus on historical suspense novels with supernatural elements for the immediate future.
I should mention that I had a bit of fun in March of this year because I found an opportunity to make a small contribution to the world of New Testament era archaeology:
Most everybody has heard of the alleged “Jesus family tomb.” In March 2007, the Discovery channel ran a “documentary” by Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron alleging that the family tomb of Jesus had been found in Jerusalem, with bone boxes carrying the names of “Jesus son of Joseph,” “Mary,” “Mary Magdalene,” “Yosi,” “Matthew,” and most explosively, “Judah son of Jesus.”
The documentary people hired a statistician who claimed to show that the odds of this tomb in favor of this being the real tomb of Jesus of Nazareth were 600 to 1. Naturally, a few people were upset, but nobody seemed to know how to deal with those odds. So I talked to my friends in the world of Biblical scholarship and did some calculations and wrote an article showing that the odds were actually quite strongly against this being the tomb of Jesus.
I didn’t see any reason to bring in a “faith element” to the argument. What I showed was that solid mathematical reasoning alone made this tomb a long-shot. I wrote two articles, and the second one (coauthored with Jay Cost, a grad student at the University of Chicago) really destroyed any hope of the tomb-sayers being right. Here’s a link to that article.
That was very satisfying—to apply my math skills to a question that bears on the faith of millions of Christians. It was also kind of fun to discuss the issue with a number of New Testament scholars who called or emailed me after reading my articles.
So I’ve been thinking lately about what other problems in New Testament Studies a mathematician might be able to work on. And I’ve come up with a couple of promising ideas. I don’t want to tell you what they are just yet, because it’s all rather speculative at the moment and there’s no point in creating false hopes. I will say only that I’ve worked a bit on the easiest problem to see if it’s
doable. I’ve written a computer program that can solve a certain type of problem and have tested it with some sample data. So far, it looks very promising.
It remains to be seen whether any of these ideas will actually work. If they do, then it will be possible to solve problems that are 2,000 years old. I’ll say straight off that I’m not smart enough to solve them myself. If they can be solved, it’s only by applying the power of modern computers. Luckily, I have a certain talent for writing
WhereTheMapEnds: My goodness, that sounds cool. Oh, I know; you’re calculating how many dinosaurs could’ve fit on the Ark, aren’t you? Knew it! Okay, so, what’s the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?
Randall Ingermanson: Harry Potter. I’m glad to see that the cries of outrage against Harry by certain Christians has died down. It got rather embarrassing there for awhile. By now, it should be obvious to everyone that there are some strong Christian themes in the Potter series. I detected them in Book 1 and I was sure of them by Book 4. They’re flat out obvious in Book 7.
WhereTheMapEnds: What else would you like to say to the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
Randall Ingermanson: Just this: Never let anyone tell you that you can’t write a particular type of book. That is plain bull. The boring people are in the middle of the herd. The real excitement happens at the edges—where that pesky map ends. Go there! Do the exciting stuff that you dream about. If somebody tells you your work won’t sell or nobody will want them read it, tell them to take a long walk off a short pier. If you don’t write it, nobody else will, ever. So write it. Now.
That’s All for This Time
What a wonderful interview, huh? Thanks again to Randy Ingermanson Gansky. Be sure to visit Randy online.