Please Welcome…Rebecca Miller
(*Originally posted August 2008)
What a joy to have Christian novelist and speculative fiction pioneer Rebecca LuElla Miller as our interview guest at WhereTheMapEnds.com.
Becky is one of those ladies you need to get to know if you’re serious about Christian speculative fiction fandom. Not only is she a novelist herself, she is the administrator of the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour, the editor of the Latest in Spec e-newsletter, a blogger on her own site and at Speculative Faith, and the initiator of the Clive Staples Award for Christian speculative fiction.
Yikes. Add all that together and you could make a case that Becky Miller is the hardest-working woman promoting Christian speculative fiction in our day.
Becky is a delightful person with a ready laugh and a quick wit. She also thinks about wonderfully strange things, like basketball players falling into alternate fantasy dimensions. Awesome.
So without further ado, here’s the interview with one of the primary movers and shakers working to promote Christian speculative fiction today.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with what’s going on in your life.
Rebecca LuElla Miller: You mean besides blogging at my site and at Speculative Fiction, administering the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour, editing Latest in Spec, and initiating the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction?
I have a couple of articles coming out in the October issue of Victorian Homes magazine.
But I’m most excited about my short story, “Haj,” which placed in the Writers’ Digest Short, Short Story Competition and will be coming out in the competition collection in August (copies available here). That story is illustrative of the type of Christian fantasy I write, and I was pleased to see it well received in a secular contest
WhereTheMapEnds: That’s fantastic, Becky. Congratulations! What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Rebecca LuElla Miller: One of C.S. Lewis’s least known works, Till We Have Faces. Other books have transported me to new worlds and have created empathy with the main character as this one did, but Lewis added the spiritual dimension in such a powerful way it made a significant difference in my life.
WhereTheMapEnds: Tell us a bit about the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour, Latest in Spec, the Clive Staples Award, and your other activities promoting Christian speculative fiction.
Rebecca LuElla Miller: The Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour began in May 2006 with thirteen bloggers discussing a review Web site that had a fantasy fiction feature.
The impetus for the tour was twofold. A number of us fantasy writers who belonged to ACFW began discussing what we could do on the grassroots level to promote the genre.
T.L. Hines had recently begun a blog tour which became the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, headed now by Bonnie Calhoun. Inspired by what Tony was doing, that group of six or so started off. Donita K. Paul’s DragonKnight was the first book we featured.
Since then, we’ve grown to a membership of over 100 bloggers. We conduct tours once a month, highlighting the best Christian speculative books and Web sites (and will be featuring Marcher Lord Press in September). To learn more about CSFF, visit the site.
As a companion to the blog tour and in conjunction with the Lost Genre Guild, we started the e-newsletter Latest In Spec, more like the classified ads of the genre.
My vision is that this publication will become a tool to bring readers (and bookstore owners) together with books, Web sites, authors, podcasts, chats, and all else available in the genre.
Readers can’t buy books they don’t know about. Or go to book signings they didn’t realize are taking place. Or sign on to a chat they aren’t aware of. Or read the short fiction in the on-line webzine they haven’t heard about.
Latest in Spec can serve as the information hub to report what all is available to fans. If you would like to subscribe to LIS you may sign up here.
WhereTheMapEnds: I can attest to the effectiveness of the Blog Tour. You guys profiled WhereTheMapEnds.com when it had been online only four months or so. After the blogtour my readership at monthly hits more than doubled and stayed at that elevated rate permanently. And I can’t wait to see what happens when you guys promote Marcher Lord Press! So, Becky, what made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Rebecca LuElla Miller: Reading Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever trilogies, especially the first one. He took his character to the point of realizing his need and his inability to change, but he had no answer. I was struck by how incomplete the story was and determined that I’d write a story that told the whole truth.
WhereTheMapEnds: Excellent call to arms. Amazing how people can get so close and yet still miss the Truth. So how was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Rebecca LuElla Miller: Honestly, I’ve been at it so long, I don’t remember.
The first professional to see my work gave me great feedback and was very supportive. When I finished the first book she took it to a publisher, and I began to think this publishing thing was going to be easy. When that house rejected it, I was certain another would snap it up in quick order.
Thank God none did. I have learned so much about writing fiction since then. The whole story is better.
WhereTheMapEnds: That’s a funny story. Yes, I shudder to think what I would’ve felt if my first manuscript had been published. Ack! What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Rebecca LuElla Miller: I really do enjoy reading epic fantasy. I just don’t see very many of them out there to be honest. I suppose that’s what has helped me stay with writing epic fantasy. I write what I want to read.
WhereTheMapEnds: Exactly! No one ever seems to write what I consider the ultimate book. So I have to. I think every novelist needs to believe that. From your perspective, Becky, how would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Rebecca LuElla Miller: Burgeoning. So many writers are working in [Christian] fantasy, in particular, but more and more in the darker branches of the genre. In addition, publishing houses affiliated with the Evangelical Christian Publishing Association are at long last increasing their number of speculative fiction titles.
Meanwhile, a number of individuals, dissatisfied with the cautious advances of the genre by standard publishers, have established alternatives. Bill Snodgrass with Double Edged Publishing is an example, as are you and your own Marcher Lord Press.
WhereTheMapEnds: What have you seen that encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Rebecca LuElla Miller: I’m reading more and more really well-written [Christian speculative] books. It’s one thing for us to put a lot of titles on the shelf and another thing to have people clamoring to buy them. The latter won’t happen if the books are no better than average.
I’m also encouraged by the sales figures I’m aware of, by a company like Zondervan signing a speculative writer (Bryan Davis) for their YA line, and by the upcoming West Coast fantasy book tour involving eight authors, double the number involved in last year’s well-publicized tour up the East Coast.
WhereTheMapEnds: What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Rebecca LuElla Miller: I suppose what discourages or frustrates me is the same as what discourages or frustrates other unpublished authors—while editors want good books to publish, they also want books they have a pretty good idea will sell, which means they look for an author with a platform. And if they don’t find a new one, they may “convert” a writer they already have a relationship with.
Consequently, publishing is hard to break into, regardless of genre. Add in the speculative element and the strikes against a new author mount.
One more thing. Even though more ECPA [Christian publishing] houses are publishing speculative fiction, agents still seem reticent to look at fantasy. For the unagented like myself, that’s discouraging.
WhereTheMapEnds: I’ve heard a few Christian publishing people say they want a novelist with a platform (by which they mean a large built-in readership or audience, like someone with a speaking ministry), but I can’t understand why they would want such a thing. Novelists are not usually outgoing, speaker types.
Besides, the fiction reader doesn’t care if she’s never heard of a particular novelist before. She’ll buy the book if she likes the cover, title, genre, and premise. It’s not like in nonfiction when you’re thinking of buying a book on, say, parenting and you’re deciding between a book by someone you’ve heard of who is over a large parenting ministry and a book by a no-name.
Sometimes I think such answers are just reasons to say no to something these agents or editors don’t want to publish anyway.
If you were to write a novel that would be certain to interest the core CBA fiction readership, you wouldn’t be hearing about platform, I gaurantee it.
Okay, Becky, what would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Rebecca LuElla Miller: You mean, if my pipe dream came true? I’d like to see the industry embrace speculative fiction as the form of writing that tells the whole truth about life—physical and spiritual.
I’d like to see publishing houses throw the whole weight of their marketing departments behind selling speculative fiction so that Ted Dekker and Left Behind aren’t seen as anomalous but as the norm.
WhereTheMapEnds: Preach it, sister! What do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Rebecca LuElla Miller: God only knows. I’m not going to second-guess Him. If we are indeed writing stories that honor and glorify His name, I suspect He will bless the endeavor. Whether that means an increase in published works and best-selling status, or one more person introduced to Jesus Christ, I can’t say.
WhereTheMapEnds: What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Rebecca LuElla Miller: Did you say you want me to write a regular column for you? Seriously, I’d say: don’t start with an epic trilogy. Start with short stories that can help you learn the craft, give you sales or publishing credits, and begin creating a platform for yourself.
I’d also add something I learned from my critique group—don’t feel compelled to spell everything out for your readers. Give them credit for being able to imagine, pick up on hints, and understand symbols.
WhereTheMapEnds: Good advice, Becky. I think you can go too far on that and end up leaving readers completely clueless about what’s going on in your scenes or what anyone or anything looks like. But I agree you can also go too far in explaining, and thus numb your reader’s mind and insult her intelligence. So what would you say is the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Rebecca LuElla Miller: The best part? If you’ve ever been lost in a book for hours at a time, to the point that you have to reorient yourself when you come up for a break, then you know what writing Christian speculative fiction is for me.
But the best part might be answered prayer. When I have a thorny place [in my book] and can’t see an answer or a way out, when I bring that to God, time and again He sparks my imagination.
OK, another “best” is embedding spiritual truths in the story and having readers uncover those and actually recount the experience as affecting their real lives. Of course this has happened only with my readers and crit partners, but it’s exciting to think that something I’ve written can serve someone else on the spiritual plane.
WhereTheMapEnds: What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Rebecca LuElla Miller: I’m revising Battle for the Throne, book 3 of the Lore of Efrathah.
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately?
Rebecca LuElla Miller: Sorry, I keep those close to the vest. I will say I finished a story I’m excited about called “And the Stones Cry Out,” this one for the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition, Genre Short Story Division. I’ve got the beginnings of another short story, too, perhaps for the fall WD contests.
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?
Rebecca LuElla Miller: I recently read Demon: A Memoir by Tosca Lee (NavPress). That is one of the finest books I’ve read.
WhereTheMapEnds: Well, Becky, what else would you like to say to the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
Rebecca LuElla Miller: People in the Christian publishing business, when asked what fans can do to encourage publishers to produce more speculative fiction, always say, “Buy books.” Sales speak louder than rants on blog posts or in email loops. Buy Christian speculative novels for Christmas presents, birthday presents, housewarming presents… There are good ones out and more on the way.
That’s All for This Time
What a wonderful interview, huh? Thanks again to Rebecca Miller. Be sure to visit Becky online.
As a special gift Becky has let us read her fantasy short story, “Swallow and Beyond.” Be sure to check it out here.