Interview with author Andrea Graham

What is your motivation for writing?

I like to joke I started writing because I was too old to play with dolls. Seriously, as a teenager, I had a weird game I liked to play called “Author.” I was actually a daydreamer with an overactive imagination. Thankfully, the Lord ran into my fantasy worlds after me, and turned a bad habit into a productive work for His kingdom. By the way, my teenage game of “Author” lasted until my first year of college and resulted in around six full length manuscripts out of that game, maybe half of which had enough literary merit to allow for turning them into serious works. The first draft of Heaven’s Mark, a speculative novel currently under consideration for publication, was the last manuscript I produced from this period, and the first manuscript I turned into a serious effort.

I was a creative writing/religion double major in school. I learned I could have probably aced the final exam of the four gospels class on my first day (I may exaggerate slightly) and the sort of thing cemetery— er, seminary— professors think can replace the holy spirit. Useful, sure, but the head knowledge my professors had often doesn't correlate with the heart-knowledge/ relationship actually vital to our faith. As the bible says, “Knowledge puffs up.” And, “pride cometh before a fall.”

My formal education covered the basics of the craft, but I learned far more in critique groups—for free—than I did in college. I was mentored by a fine lady from my first critique group, Kingdom Writers, Chris Egbert. The principles she taught me have been invaluable to my growth as a writer.

Why do you write Biblical speculative fiction?

Because I’m always asking, “What if?” Serious, it’s just the way my brain is wired, it’s natural for me to look forward and try to anticipate what’s around the corner. I’ve written non-speculative stories, but most of the ideas the Lord gives me tend to be speculative in nature. By the way, I don’t mean to profess any exclusive source of inspiration by invoking the Lord. I simply don’t believe in minor Greek gods like the muses, and the bible states all good things come from above, meaning from God, and that usually includes inspiration. Don’t get me wrong, He uses various prompts, but in my view, all good ideas ultimately come from God. I’ll take credit for all the mistakes and all the bad ideas. I could blame the devil for the bad ideas, but I was the one who listened to the wrong voice.

To get back to the question at hand, it helps that my dad introduced a love for sci-fi at a young age. It’s one of our few common interests. So he should get some credit here, and my mom gets credit for making sure her daughter looked up from her word processor long enough to eat. Now I have the hungry husband coming home from work to feed, who is thankfully a writer and somewhat understanding of the occasional writing frenzy.

The Christian community has varying opinions on the appropriateness of speculative fiction. Can you explain your take on the compatability between speculative fiction and your Christian worldview?

I answered this question in an article I wrote for the guild’s blog, "Beyond What If," which you can read on my authorsden.com page. In brief, there is a lot of ungodly speculative fiction out there. That’s why more Christians need to be salt and light in this genre. This is the genre dealing with much of the medical ethics issues of today. We are in great need of speculative fiction that reflects a biblical view of the kinds of things this genre grapples with.

A major reason you don’t have more speculative fiction of this kind, other than end times treatises in a thin disguise, is because most evangelicals are too busy watching the sky and praying, “Lord, come quickly.” Hoping tomorrow all time will cease to exist for us doesn’t usually lend folks to speculate about what could happen if they’re wrong. Christian authors that love speculative fiction tend to float towards complete fantasy or supernatural tales set today, often with hints of the day of the lord coming soon. In my observance, some of us at the Lost Genre Guild are getting bored with the same old same old and mean to shake things up. And the God I know loves to shake things up Himself.

What length of fiction do you prefer to write?

I'm a big fan of the scene. Sometimes, at the end, the scenes will be short-story length. More often than not, they're novel length. We have a bunch of short stories from the world of Heaven's Mark, most of them back story, and we're experimenting with braiding them together as a prequel. This includes "Frozen Generation" and "Chosen of God."

What writing techniques work best for you?

In my school days, I was a bit of a method actress, and I use such techniques to get inside my POV character’s heads. Some like the old omniscient, but I couldn’t write that way, I tried once in school as part of an exercise. It came out, looking back, more a third limited multi. I think I even included scene breaks. Call me a creature of my generation if you will. You get such an intimate relationship with your main character(s) with POV, to me omniscient is cold and distant, and even confusing at times.

My husband, he’s an action/ plot oriented. I’m character centered. I start with a main character (Okay, I’ll admit it, sometimes half a dozen or so), give them a world to live in, and let them loose. If I don’t like the direction they’re heading, I’ll introduce another character, setting element, or circumstance that’ll produce a decision from the character that moves them in the direction I want them to go in. Most of the time, when I have a set-in-stone plot in mind, I’m borrowing from the bible (I sometimes disguise bible stories in futuristic or modern settings.)

The kind of preparation/ development I do depends on the story. Traditionally, I played with different story elements in my head, including dialogue and setting, for a period of time. After I’ve captured a pretty firm grasp in my mind, sometimes the entire book even, then I’d set words to paper (or computer screen nowadays.) To a certain extent, I still do this. I have a couple story ideas bouncing around/ filed away in my head. If a story is relatively straight forward, I still don’t feel the need to write my mental notes down. However, some stories are so complex, to ensure continuity, I’ll write the important story elements down. The most interesting file I have like this is named, “Revolution Notes,” for the third book that follows up to Heaven’s Mark.

I haven’t needed a place names list—yet—but I did do a character’s list for the second book in the trilogy, which included some I didn’t use, and I’ve jotted down possible character names before, for an idea I have for a story set on another planet, as well as for the Heaven’s Trilogy, because people that don’t take names from the bible often name their kids weird stuff in their time and I wanted to reflect that. Names related to the sky or the second coming are especially popular with Christians of their day. I even used the name Raptura once, for a minor character that doesn’t appear on stage.

Have you had any life experiences that have influenced your writing?

Of course. I use my past hurts to relate better to the hurts my characters feel, and I’ve even transferred my pain into their situations. For instance, my dad’s an alcoholic, and I used that pain to relate to Gabrielle’s, who suffers from sexual abuse. That may not make much sense to you if you don’t have an alcoholic parent, I know, but for many writers, this kind of emotional transference is an effective way to bring emotional authenticity to a story without exposing our actual raw wounds for public consumption.

My experiences also can inform the issues I deal with. I’ve written about what many term, “reverse discrimination” because I fell victim to it as a child. Namely, at a school 80-90% minorities, no one wanted anything to do with the little red-haired girl with freckles. I attended grammar school during the AIDs scare, back when nobody knew exactly what the symptoms were or how you caught it, and I ended up on the 80’s version of a black list. The school’s futile attempts to handle this only seemed to further entrench in the other kids minds' freckles were some horrible contagious disease they could catch. I still have a hard time believing my husband when he says he likes my freckles.

But, as Michael Card wrote in one of his songs, “Our wounds are part of who we are, and there is nothing left to chance” (from “Underneath the Door”) God indeed works all things for good.

Any advice for new writers in general? Christian writers?

Participate in critique groups, stay close to the Lord, and place your gifts on His alter as an offering. He’s a deep well of inspiration. If you work hard, learn the craft with all diligence, and truly commit yourself to writing for Him and His glory, He’ll take you places you’ve only dreamed of.

When do you write?

At my upstairs computer typically, whenever the inspiration hits at a workable time. I haven’t done much drafting lately. I’ve been mainly co-authoring with my husband and he drafts much faster than I do. I have a few ideas, so I’m hoping to change that and get something new down this year, Lord willing. Other than the projects I co-authored with Adam, I’ve been focused on polishing my craft, so it’s been a while since I soloed on a novel length work.

Who do you think would most likely enjoy your fiction?

I believe what you mean is who is my audience. That’s a tough question, because I write first and foremost for my King. Or I try. I’ve found it’s easy to get distracted and lose my focus. Just as judgment begins in the house of God, my second audience is the Church. The unbeliever is rarely a concern I take into consideration, at least for my fiction. While I’ll present the gospel if that’s where the story naturally leads, but in general I aim to write the story given me to the best of my ability, offer it back up to the Lord, and let Him worry about using it to draw people to Himself.

Practically, as I’ve said before, the point of view character (s) largely control the content and spiritual depth or subtlety. A story or scene from the point of view of a backslidden Catholic man with a weakness for revenge will have a different emphasis than the same story or scene would have, if written from the point of a Protestant young lady who had nothing better to do than memorize the bible from cover to cover and is not afraid to quote it. Same story, different appeal. I don’t intend to get stuck in a rut in this department, and the Lord has a way of shaking me out of it when I do.

Do your stories/ novels have any common themes or threads? Do you try to provide a message for your readers?

Other than twins?

Seriously, I’m coming out of a stage where twins showed up in every manuscript if I let them. My human antagonists also have a bad habit of reforming, and sometimes even become the protagonist in spin offs. I favor redheads because I feel there aren’t enough of us in fiction, and have a fondness for names starting with A and J. Lefty’s have made appearances at times, and I’ve noticed a female protagonist—male romantic interest—brother figure (or actual relative) pattern in my early novel manuscripts, and at times it deteriorated into a variation on the classic love triangle.

With much prayer, I’ve since realized in this meme, one of the two symbolized the Lord, and the other was my then-future (and unmet) spouse, and it arose from a fear realizing my desire for the later would draw me away from my ‘first love.’ I don’t expect to have any published works that fit smoothly into this old form, though.

What you’ll see most often in my work is the in breaking of the Kingdom of Heaven. It fascinates me, and takes various forms, some more subtle than others. But God’s presence comes down in almost every situation. I’m not talking about a deus ex machina. God is simply an unseen character in the story with a very real presence, in general, He’s so quiet, you might miss Him if you’re not looking for Him, but every now and again, His wonder is displayed, usually borrowed straight from the pages of the bible.

I doubt you’ll get many yeses to the last question, the word try makes the message sound forced, and most minds will fly to the popular maxim, “don’t preach.” I’ll leave the preaching to the preachers, but neither will I stifle and hence grieve the holy ghost to obey the dictates of man.

In general, I don’t sit down to write with a series of answers I want to spoon feed to my readers. I tend to start with questions, that’s one reason my work tends to lean speculative. It never feels tacked on, because my narrator is always in a place and situation where she or he has to grapple with the question. The question can be anything almost. A topic that fascinates me or arouses my curiosity, an issue dear to my heart, or even a question I’m struggling with myself and searching for an answer to by writing a novel. I’ve found the later is actually a form of prayer for me, and the Lord usually honors that and meets me there. To speak plainly, I tend to arrive at an answer, but the honest searching in the meanwhile makes it work.

I’ve found writing from a spirit of questions, rather than answers, softens the tone of even stories dealing with hot button issues, such as my short story “Frozen Generation,” which is included in Light at the Edge of Darkness.

Speaking of “Frozen Generation,” I understand it’s part of a much larger world. Can you tell us a little more about that project?

Considering I wrote part of this question myself? Sure!

“Frozen Generation” and the short story I coauthored with my husband Adam Graham, “Chosen of God” are origin stories for A. L Snyder, a character Adam introduced in the second book of a three part series that begins with my novel Heaven’s Mark. I’m sharing my by line on Heaven’s Mark with Adam because he appears with me on the cover of the other two (due to fact he actually wrote the first drafts of those two), plus I wouldn’t have an end for story if it weren’t for him, and books don’t sell too well that don’t have an ending.

The initial concept for the storyline of Heaven’s Mark came from my personal bible study at the tail end of my teenage novel writing frenzy as I transitioned from my senior year of high school to college, and I was likely seventeen, almost eighteen. In that phase, I favored first person and my narrators tended to be similar in age to me. The narrator of Heaven’s Mark, Gabrielle, goes through a major trial at that age, which the plot turns on.

The Revelation had long been a mystery to me, and I was struggling with the interpretation I’d been taught at church and had the desire deal with it like I had other major issues I grappled with, so I prayerfully read the actual scriptures. A passage leapt out at me, that had not been already done to death. The image of the woman, the child who was to rule all nations, and the red dragon first sparked the story of Heaven’s Mark.

Incidentally, that old triangle pops up: The narrator is a young female, Gabrielle, who falls in love with her foster brother after running away from a public harem upon learning she’s been sold as an Imperial Concubine, under a future regime many connect to the old prophesies due to Emperor Herald’s insane declaration of godhood, worldwide tolitarian rule, and requirement of a microchip in the right wrist in order to participate in the only legal system of commerce (an underground economy flourishes). The triangle is completed when Gabrielle’s past catches up to her and she finds herself in the Imperial harem anyway, and in a battle of wills with the Donovan the Steward, whom she assumes to be a glorified butler, who seduces her, determined to win her heart—and in the process could destroy her soul.

The major themes of Heaven’s Mark encompass God’s promise that all things work for good, grace, and redemption.

Donovan and Gabrielle have to be my all time favorite characters, their struggle takes three novels to resolve fully. Adam’s favorite—Snyder—comes in at a distant third for me. In “Frozen Generation”, we actually spend our time mainly with his Mama Borden—the African American woman who carried him—in her mission to save Black babies from slavery by smuggling embryos out of breeders, facilities that in their day process the “products of conception” harvested from terminated pregnancies. Her internal conflict comes from God confronting her, in ways most of us can relate to, with the fact He wants her to care about children of all races just as He does.

The market is flooded with apocalyptic stories and some people are getting sick of them. Why Heaven’s Mark? What makes your stories different?

So glad you asked, self.

My stories aren’t disguises for treatises laying out end times tables (with all respect due to the giants of the genre.) Because of that tendency, and my firm belief, by “no man knowth the day or the hour,” the Lord doesn’t want us trying to figure out the year, either, I’ve long avoided revealing what year the story events are actually occurring in, and have never known for certain myself, though I recently worked out a tentative time line based on tentative dates in order to keep things straight in my own mind.

Also, Heaven’s Mark and her kin are centered around the characters and their personal struggles in wicked times. They’re written so they can be enjoyed no matter what your views on the end times are. Other than a couple givens I’ve already mentioned, I shunned the clich├ęs that crop up so often in end times fiction. That’s simply not the goal or the point of the story. If the series has any message concerning the end times, it’s occupy ‘til He comes and be humble in interpreting prophecy. The Pharisees thought they had the first coming all figured out. Time proved they had the prophesies about the messiah so figured out, when He arrived, they crucified Him for blasphemy.

To conclude, Heaven’s Mark itself is more of an allegory or a parable than an actual end times story. Discerning that level of meaning, however, is left between the reader and God. I wouldn’t be surprised if He used my little offering to speak different things into different lives. That’s just the kind of God we serve. I hope, though, that it will offer a glimmer of real hope for readers in these troubled times and stir people to obey the command to occupy ‘til he comes rather than letting evil reign while we sit around watching the sky. The second coming ought to inspire us to keep fighting against the darkness no matter what happens, not toss our hands up in despair and do nothing.

Andrea on the web:

Ask Andrea —Blog featuring an advice column and book reviews.

http://authorsden.com/andreagraham Information on Andrea as an author

http://lostgenreguild.com/andreagraham Andrea's official bio

adamsweb.us Andrea and Adam Graham’s official home on the web. Read more on how this novel duo got together and more. I’m planning major changes here this year.


chrisd said...

That is quite an interview--you always know where you stand with Andrea!

I like the attitude of being salt and light in that particular genre, where salt and light seem to be scarce.

I also like the fact that Andrea and her husband work so closely together. That's lovely.

Great interview!

Andrea Graham said...

Thank you, Chris. I take that as a compliment.

I must be married to a politian; I'm long winded :)

cyn said...

It certainly is an insightful interview Andrea. I especially like how you are willing to share details of growth (with humour), e.g. the twin stage! very enjoyable.

Deborah Cullins Smith said...

Enjoyed your interview, Andrea! I think being "long-winded" comes with the territory of being a writer! It's how we do what we do.

You and Adam are so blessed. Having a spouse who not only supports your calling, but shares in it is such a rare and beautiful thing. Thanks for sharing yourself with us, Andrea.


Andrea Graham said...

Cyn: Thank you.

Deb: You're welcome and thank you. Adam is a blessing, and I take what we have for granted too much. I also sometimes share more than most people want ;)

Daniel I Weaver said...

A very thorough interview, Andrea. There's a lot of good info about your trilogy here, and that would certainly make me want to read it more. I look forward to reading your anthology submissions once the book comes out. You have always been a great critiquer and I can't wait to see what you've done with those pieces.

God Bless,
Daniel I Weaver

Andrea Graham said...

Thanks, Dan. That means a lot.