Please Welcome…Robin Parrish
(*Originally posted February 2008)
This month our interview guest is Christian speculative fiction novelist Robin Parrish!
I first heard Robin’s name in connection with his hip and influential e-zine INFUZE. I could tell from his editorials and the content on the site that he was a kindred spirit. Indeed, when he reviewed WhereTheMapEnds in 2007 he said it was an idea he wished he’d come up with himself.
(Note that as of this writing INFUZE is in danger of folding. Consider going to the site to see whether or not you might be able to be a part of saving this worthy enterprise—not to mention the financial stability of its editor-in-chief: Robin.)[Editor’s Note: Though the site “infuzemag.com” exists, it now appears to be dedicated to the New Age movement. For information on what happened to the original INFUZE mag staff, go here.]
It came as pleasant news but no surprise, then, when I heard that Robin had also become an author of a Christian speculative novel: Relentless. Robin’s second novel, Fearless, released in 2007, and his third novel in the Dominion Trilogy, Merciless, is set for a July 2008 release.
His writing has been described as “a blend of Dekker’s Black, Red, White trilogy, the X-Men movies, a dash of Lord of the Rings tossed in for spice, all mixed and baked with historical information along the lines of The DaVinci Code, National Treasure, and The Librarian.”
Robin describes himself this way: “I am a professional novelist, and I am a Christian. Too many Christian authors put the cart before the horse, believing that if they have something important to say, the artistry and entertainment value is almost beside the point. If we really expect to have any kind of voice in society’s marketplace of ideas, then we have to speak to them with real integrity as artisans serious about our craft.”
So, without further ado, here is the interview.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with what’s going on in your life.
Robin Parrish: My wife and I just celebrated the birth of our first child, a son named Evan! He was born December 19, 2007, and he has changed our lives in so many wonderful ways, I can’t even put it into words. He’s the most precious, most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I absolutely adore him.
At the time of this interview, I’m putting a polish on my third novel, Merciless. This is the conclusion of the Dominion Trilogy. It’s like my Return of the King or Deathly Hallows. I’ve been waiting three years to tell this part of the story, so I had a long time to perfect it in my mind.
I think that if you’re going to ask readers to wait two years between starting a story and finding out how it ends, then you’d better have an ending that’s worth getting to. And I think I have an ending that’s worth getting to.
WhereTheMapEnds: Excellent! I know your readers will be stoked. So, Robin, what is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Robin Parrish: Probably James Byron Huggins’ The Reckoning. [Note that you can find a listing of Huggins’ novels over at the Booklist.]
That book was one of the most exciting and compulsive reads I’ve ever enjoyed, and it still influences my writing to this day.
I also loved the level of realism in Byron’s details. He didn’t just regurgitate the same old clichés that get used in every story about guys who are trained to fight. He had actual personal experience and his prose was so gritty and efficient and I found it a tremendously potent experience.
It was the first time I can remember my heart racing in my chest while I was reading. And it was a really great story, too.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Robin Parrish: I don’t have a great story for this one. I think it’s just in my DNA to write. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve found my sweet spot, it’s the thing I was created to do. If I couldn’t write, I think I’d explode.
WhereTheMapEnds: [grinning] I know what you mean. Robin, how was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Robin Parrish: My route to publication was a very unusual one. I had conceived of this serialized story I wanted to write and deliver online like it was a TV show. Only you’d read it instead of watch it. It was great fun for me to have this elaborate story all planned out, to end each chapter with a cliffhanger to keep you coming back, to layer in all these secrets and character mysteries and this big conspiracy plot. I loved every minute of it.
It did quite well, and caught the attention of a few publishers. I was offered a book contract based on that.
My mother would tell you that that wasn’t my first novel, though. My parents bought me a plastic toy typewriter when I was in grade school—and it really typed. I wore that thing out writing all sorts of stories and “books” (most of which were no more than twelve pages or so). My parents were always wonderfully supportive of my creative pursuits, so I really have to credit them a lot for that.
WhereTheMapEnds: Ah, the power of supportive parents. What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Robin Parrish: I like just about everything except for historical or romance. My favorite kinds of stories are the ones that blend more than one genre together. That’s what the Dominion Trilogy does, blending some mild fantasy aspects with suspense/thriller stuff, big drama, heavy action, some mystery, and a little romance. I imagine I’ll always dabble with mixing genres together. They’re just different weapons in the arsenal, after all.
And I generally do read the same kind of stuff I like to write.
WhereTheMapEnds: I wish I could take a survey to determine this, but I suspect most novelists (myself included) got into writing because nobody was writing exactly the kind of story they wanted to read. If no one else is going to write it, I guess I’ll have to!
Or else we end up publishing it ourselves, which is also quite fun. 🙂
How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Robin Parrish: It’s been gratifying to see publishers opening up to more speculative ideas in fiction. So for what it is, I think the Christian publishing world is doing pretty good.
But let me take a big step back and look at the larger picture, the more “eternal perspective,” if you will.
I worry that there’s something fundamentally flawed in an industry that’s tailored to be, by definition, self-serving. I don’t see a lot of the Great Commission at work in any of the “Christian” industries, be it publishing, music, film, or what have you.
The desire is there to reach across the aisle, the publishers want to get their books out to general audiences, but in creating a dedicated industry for ourselves we’ve effectively segregated and marginalized ourselves in the eyes of the world at large.
Nonbelievers are not going to come into Christian bookstores to get our stuff, and they wouldn’t be caught dead buying a novel from the back corner of Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million.
How do we ever hope to reach the world when the world doesn’t even know we’re here?
WhereTheMapEnds: Well said, Robin. I agree. Having a distinctly Christian industry does kind of put us in a room off on our own. On the other hand, that specialization has also strengthened us and given Christian media an identity that has helped us survive.
If there were only secular publishers and they put out a few Christian books now and then, I think the Christian distinctives would begin to blur and there would be pressure to be more homogenized. Concentrating on a well-defined niche is good business.
But it doesn’t help us when we then want to reach back across the aisle and say, “Hey, you should read our books over here.”
That’s why I think the Internet is part of the solution. Online, there are no aisles. Or, as the child says in The Matrix, “There is no spoon.”
So tell us, Robin, what do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Robin Parrish: I have no idea. I hope it looks different. Christians have a place in the arts and in popular culture. Christian ideas have shaped art and culture for thousands of years. The Renaissance was largely brought about by artistic contributions from Christians. We were once at the forefront of shaping culture and ideas and art, but now we let ourselves get shunted off to positions of illegitimacy.
I’d love to see Christians reclaim dominance over artistic expression again.
WhereTheMapEnds: Excellent. Very Francis Schaeffer of you. Love it. What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Robin Parrish: Know your craft. Get good. Be a strong, entertaining writer or no one will care about what big, profound thing you have to say.
WhereTheMapEnds: Great advice, Robin. What’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
Robin Parrish: The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler remains a major favorite of mine. It’s required reading for anyone interested in the hero’s journey.
WhereTheMapEnds: Now you’re really singing my song, Robin. I have The Writer’s Journey on my shelf. I’ve even got a heavily marked-up copy of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, from which the whole idea of the hero’s journey was drawn, on my shelf, as well. My next novel will certainly be a hero’s journey story.
What’s the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Robin Parrish: Getting to tell my stories and actually have people who want to read them!
WhereTheMapEnds: Awesome. Excactly. What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Robin Parrish: My second draft of Merciless is due in just a few days. My editor will take his pass at it after that, and then I’ll get one last chance to tweak things before it releases in July.
Next up I’ll be doing a standalone science fiction novel about the first manned mission to Mars, and what happens when the crew from that mission returns home to find…well, something no one ever imagined possible. It’ll be another blend of genres with lots of suspense and mystery and action.[Editor’s Note: That novel was released as Offworld.]
After that, I’m planning a supernatural thriller with one of the most original story hooks I’ve ever come up with. I’m obsessed with this idea and can’t wait to write the story.[Editor’s Note: Nightmare?]
WhereTheMapEnds: Don’t you hate it when the story you really want to write is not the story you’re able to get to just yet? Beautiful misery. But hey, don’t give short shrift to the Mars story. I’m sitting here with the coffee table book Postcards from Mars on my desk. Seeing all those stunning photos of Mars from ground level is incredible. I’d love to see what you do with a trip-to-Mars story.
What’s a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately?
Robin Parrish: Oh come on, you don’t really expect me to tell you? I wouldn’t have much of a future as a speculative fiction writer if I went around blabbing all my ideas before I got a chance to use them.
WhereTheMapEnds: Oh pweese, oh pweese, oh pweese? All right. [sighs]
But hey, sharing our most awesome speculative ideas, even in their infancy, is pretty much all we do over at The Anomaly. Come out and join us, one and all. Recent what-if ideas on The Anomaly include thoughts about a female messiah on another world, the validity of Christian horror fiction, and my own speculation on why God may have an alien invasion queued up next in human history.
So, Robin, what’s the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?
Robin Parrish: Ted Dekker’s Adam. Best thing he’s ever written. Intense, smart, imaginative, and absolutely un-put-down-able.
WhereTheMapEnds: What else would you like to say to the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
Robin Parrish: Don’t ever settle. And don’t sit around on your thumbs. You get only one, very brief shot at mortal life—don’t waste it! No one is ever going to care about your work more than you do, so get out there and do it.
That’s All for This Time
Another great interview! Thanks again to Robin Parrish for spending time with us. Be sure to visit him online.