Writer's Style

posted for Donna Sundblad

Fingerprints are unique. Although identical twins have the same genetic makeup, once the fertilized egg splits, two individuals form with their own set of fingerprints. God creates each of us with unique traits and abilities. In the life of a writer this literary fingerprint becomes our “style.”

For this post, writer’s style means your way of presenting yourself in words. Life experiences put in our path mold who we are and how we write. Not all Christian writers create within the same genre, nor do they read the same genre. Our spiritual genetics come from God, but while still in our earthly tents we have diverse interests which reflect in our writing style.

One such interest for me is time travel. Is it possible? I don’t think so, but when writing fiction is a fun element to consider.

Albert Einstein showed that space is curved and time is relative. Based on his theories, time travel is possible. My literary fingerprint and spiritual genetic make up allow curiosity to carry my imagination to reflect on the possibilities. What is possible in a fictional world if the theory is true? My musings carry me through wormholes and bend the concepts of space and time. It’s not only interesting but fun to steep my imagination in theoretical conjectures as I consider definitions physicists use when discussing the possibility of time travel.

Terms like gravitational time dilation which means the slowing of the flow of time near a gravitating body—but the word dilation—could that be a portal in time? Think of the potential! Would slowing of time near the portal allow a time traveler to make a change in history (either past or future)? Or how about traveling through hyperspace? Those who allow their imaginations to be tickled by such nonsense know hyperspace includes pieces of our curved universe imbedded in a flat space. What does this mean for time travel? See I got you. Your mind started down the trail of what if. It’s my style? And because my spiritual genetic make up comes from the Lord, it’s part of my literary fingerprint.


Interview with artist/ writer Duncan Long

posted for Chris Deanne

As I had said in my interview with Wayne Batson Thomas, I suppose that I am a shallow Science Fiction/Fantasy Reader. When I go to the local Border's Bookstore and look for a new Sci Fi/Fantasy book, I alway check out the cover. Frankly, if the cover does not grab me, I'll look for something else.

As Lost Genre Guild is primarily a Writer's Network and blog, I thought it would be nice to hear from some artists in the industry. Who happen to be Christian as well. I was concerned that this was a bit of a stretch--to find a Christian artist who also loved Science Fiction and Fantasy, but lo and behold, I found Duncan Long.

Duncan Long is a profession artist and has written several books, including Spider Worlds, a chapter book published by Harper Paperbacks. He was gracious enough to tolerate a novice interview.

C-Tell me about doing art when you were in grade school. What was your favorite art project that you can remember?
I always liked assignments where I could draw what I wanted. The teacher simply asked us to draw what we'd done during the summer, a face, etc., and that was always great. I can remember my fourth and fifth grade teachers singling out the drawings I created for such projects. I guess there was always a little trickery going on as well with my artwork. I can remember (being near-sighted helped) taking pains to draw the tiny reflection of a man hanging on a noose, reflected in the eyes of a woman I'd drawn in fourth grade. I thought the teacher was had noticed and was about to read me the riot act when she stopped in front of my drawing. But instead she told the class that I'd captured a very sad expression on the woman's face; thus my first exposure to subliminal messages (ha) and risk taking.

Since then I often add a little extra to reward viewers. Perhaps a small fly walking on a stone, or a ghostly image that can be picked out if you look long enough. Oddly, as viewers get to thinking there are such things to be found, they often discover objects I didn't actually put in (faces in clouds, etc.). So I guess this is sort of a two-way street with the artist getting surprised sometimes as well.

C-What about high school? Did you find yourself spending a lot of time in the art department?
I'm pretty much an "outsider" artist, being self-trained for the most part. Our little school had only 40 students in the entire high school. So there was no art department (and after grade school I was pretty much self-taught with my dad, who was also a musician/writer/artist, supplying some hints and art books to help me along). However I was often chosen for making murals and lettering for plays, dances, and so forth so I actually had a lot of experience creating artwork to please the masses during the last three years of high school. I'm not sure what might have happened had I been in a school with an art department if I had learned some good art techniques rather than monkeying into them on my own. Fortunately, I was always a good drawer and when the computer/paint programs/digital tablet came around I was able to pounce on them. The ability to use the "undo" option has been a big part of my creation of artwork. It enables me to experiment and thrash around until something finally works. I have a sort of dab and tinker sort of working system that allows me to gradually stumble into what I want to see -- okay, maybe that's a little extreme (ha), but I don't think I would have got this far with real paints as opposed to digital. The computer allows an artist to really stretch his wings if he is so inclined.

C-Where did you go to college? Did you find yourself challenged there, encouraged or both?
I got no training at all in either writing or artwork -- well, except for the basic English/literature course (where I had papers singled out by the teacher -- but only got Bs on them because "We reserve our As for English majors" and an art course I needed so I could teach grade school as well as high school (Art for Grade School Teachers or some such thing, where we spent time learning about the proper way to cut paper, how to color in the lines, and so forth -- I kid you not -- all the stuff designed to knock any creativity a child might have out of their personality, near as I could tell). I went to Sterling College (in Sterling Kansas) and switched my major from science (then mired down in Evolution -- which still is the case today) to music, thereby enabling me to either teach music or ask, "Do you want fries with that?"

I got my Master's in music composition at Kansas State University, and that actually proved very useful because while there I developed the concepts of composition that now are employed in my artwork and to some extent in my writing. I taught for high school and grade school music for a time, then started a mail order business where I sold my own how-to books, often creating the illustrations. I eventually started selling the book rights (I enjoyed writing/illustrating and great to hate the marketing end of things) and found I could make a living of sorts at this. I wrote mostly non-fiction books but have also seen 13 novels go into print (three being the Spider Worlds stories).

C-I found Spiderworlds, a children's fantasy book that you wrote about 10 years ago! Could you tell me about that?
Yes, that was with HarperCollins. I had been writing Action/Adventure books (the Night Stalkers series about an elite US helicopter team) when the bottom dropped out of the action adventure market. So my editor at Harper jumped into the young adult market, the R. L. Stine books were big then, and soon Harper wanted something along those lines for intermediate readers. I am afraid while my intentions were good, my heart was in the science fiction arena so of the book proposals I sent, the Spider World concept was the one chosen (ironic as it started as an adult short story -- and my agent thought there was no hope for the idea in terms of a book, let alone a series, and certainly not a series aimed at younger readers -- and I think my agent had ever reason to think this). So the Spider Worlds books were never really spooky (despite the covers) and were actually sci-fi in concept with a few chills here and there, though lots of plotting and action. Oddly most of those readers who seem to have enjoyed the books were adults, reading the books to their kids. Well, needless to say, with the marketing aimed at the young horror market, the covers projecting that idea, and the books themselves having a a sci-fi bent with a humorous undercurrent that only adults were likely to pick up on, the books didn't catch on, and so we only did three books in the series. But they were surely fun to write and I wish, someday, adult readers might discover and appreciate them (if wishes were horses, I would be a cowboy).

I might also note, as it could be of interest to your audience, that each of these three Spider Worlds books was based on one of the ten commandments, the first dealing with not lying, the second with not stealing, and the third with honoring your parents. These messages are buried in the storyline, but there. I have been somewhat saddened that the Christian community doesn't get behind ideas like this and instead often rants about how there's no Christian literature out there, yet when I have approached Christian publishers and commentators they seem stunningly indifferent. I think that churches tend to see "Christian Literature" as something that must have lambs and sunshine and perhaps take place in Biblical times. (And ditto for Christian music and art, come to think of it.) And thus the arts languish with the world having say in what is produced rather than Christians. Were the Sistine Chapel built today, Michelangelo would likely be asked to paint the walls a nice pink :o)

C-I've been to your website and see that you have published some stories that are free for reading. What prompted you to do so and has there been a response?
Well, I have followed the theory that putting stuff online is a way to be discovered by editors and readers, etc., etc., and found that this doesn't always work (ha). Seriously, the idea is sound only most book editors are still pretty much firmly entrenched in the 19th Century, only begrudgingly sending emails and still wanting paper manuscripts. They are not out trolling the Internet looking for new, old, or alien talent. Likewise most readers of ebooks have not yet found a decent, affordable ebook reader, and thus haven't found the joys and advantages these devices have over print books (and there is one out there: The eBookwise reader -- and possibly others).

I have discovered a lot of material on the net to read (I love my eBookwise reader which is perfect for the task of reading novels and such downloaded from the net). I think this is where the industry will eventually be headed and hope to live long enough to see ebooks catch on -- provided someone comes up with a way to pay those whose work is being read. If a system is not developed, I can see writing and the arts becoming something people do for a hobby because there is no money to be made at it. Sadly the major publishers are all but ignoring this potential market and the marketplace is thus sorting itself out in less than ideal ways for writers, musicians, and artists. (And the record industry, which causes me to shudder every time I think about how it has gone about things, seems to have headed in the other extreme, often making war on its customers or treating them as if every buyer is a criminal -- while gouging the customer with prices that are ridiculously high, and have been for decades -- I can remember when the recording industry told consumers the prices were going to tumble on music if only we would go along with the switch from LPs to CDs and invest in new players, for example.)

The old saw that "information wants to be free" (which is actually a misquote, I believe) may be true. But it is true in the same way that one might say, "germs want to be spread." The idea that information should be free, and that authors should therefore work for free, seems ingrained with much of the Internet and in the end may very well kill the golden goose (with said goose being currently throttled by both the corporations as well as the pirates). Unfortunately the high prices that publishers are asking for their ebooks has not helped, with a few folks now scanning books and putting them online for free -- whether the author and publisher agree to this or not. I think eventually this practice is going to create problems just as the MP3 has for the music industry, even though publishers are generally ignoring the growing problem and failing to lower their prices on ebooks, which would do a lot to prevent this from happening (scanning a book and then OCRing it being a whole lot more work than ripping a CD). So thus far the solution -- charge too high a price for the product and hope cheap ebook readers don't become popular -- has been the only one the publishing industry has adopted, and thus the industry has encouraged those who feel justified in sharing books for free since it's easy to rationalize, "I would never buy the book at this price, and since the publisher is obviously gouging me for a handful of electrons anyway, I will read this pirated version for free." Yet the shame here is that I suspect, given the choice to buy and read an ebook for, say, 99 cents, a lot of folks would be willing to pay if for no other reason than to help their favorite authors. A lot of business might be enjoyed by the publisher and writers were that the case. But as long as the cost of an ebook is going to be nearly that of a book, and as long as the ebook reader is going to cost hundreds of dollars (with the exception noted above), then I can't see this situation changing for the better any time soon.

All right, I'm getting off my soapbox now.

C-Have you been primarily focused on doing art or are you writing other things as well?
My bread and butter is ghost writing books for other people. This is a tad depressing sometimes with folks claiming credit for my work. I think this is another example of things being trapped in the past in the publishing industry. Today, people are outraged when a "rock star" is discovered to be lip syncing to music performed by someone else. Yet most people seem to be fine with the fiction that their favorite rock star (or movie actor or politician) is simply lying about writing the book with their name on it, instead having hired someone else to write it. But it is an odd situation and one more thing that has messed up the publishing industry since the millions of dollars paid to celebrities for books they don't actually write could buy a wealth of really fine novels and such from unknown writers. In fact, for each million dollar book advance paid to a star without any real story to tell, our society is losing perhaps 100 or even 200 quality novels. This happens month after month, year after year so that literally thousands of quality works are being lost so our society can gain insights from people, many of whom we wouldn't want to babysit our kids or be alone in the room with our teenage son or daughter.

Of course I won't complain too loudly (or reveal who my clients are) since this is where my money is coming from. But I would rather be trying my hand at quality works with my own name on the cover.

That said, I still am putting a few in print with my name on them. The most recent is(see: Protect Your Privacy ) and I'm hoping it will take off -- and perhaps wake folks up to how their rights are quickly being gobbled up by both the government as well as the big corporations (the two often working hand in glove).

C-Because this interview will be for a Christian speculative group, I have a few questions regarding this genre. Have you had much experience doing art for Christian speculative fiction?
A very few. Most of my illustrations are for secular novels or, oddly enough, for supermarket tabloids (my wife having been startled one day to see a picture that I'd based on my own face staring at her as she waited in the supermarket checkout line - ha). The neat twist to these latter illustrations is that they often are on Biblical subjects and thus the artwork is paid for so I can then offer it to Christian groups wanting artwork for PowerPoint presentations. The Lord really does provide in mysterious ways.

C-Are you writing any speculative fiction yourself?
Yes, I have a couple of sci-fi novels but thus far no takers. That said, I have been remiss in not sending these to more publishers since with much my time is so tied up with my non-fiction and artwork. I often tell beginning writers that the secret of getting into print is persistence, sending out your manuscript again and again and again -- and I fear I need to follow my advice a bit more of the time

C-Have you had experience doing art for Christian Speculative Fiction writers or magazines devoted to that genre?
On occasion my work is used with Christian publications, but very seldom with Christian Speculative Fiction. I think perhaps the market is small and my work not that well known. I seem to get enough business by word of mouth and by folks stumbling into my web site, so I really have not spent much time pursuing new avenues or customers. And it seems like I never quite have enough time to do all I wish I might . . . Often I spend time creating artwork or music rather than pursuing projects that would bring in more money (and thus we often live hand to mouth here as well -- but so far no starving artist). I think perhaps cloning is the answer to my time problem :o)


Part two of my interview will be published at my weblog Write and Whine .

...But Not as We Know It

"Wow! I can't believe it! I've finally been abducted! Hey, you aren't going to probe me or anything, are you?"

"No, human. We have come hundreds of light-years to share the secrets of universal peace with you."

"Hey, cosmic! What are they?"

"Have you ever heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?"

"Okay, you can just beam me down again."

Last time I defended the idea that extraterrestrials could exist. But what would they be like?

1. Little Green Men? Could they be non-humanoid? Presumably they could look like us; in Perelandra, C. S. Lewis mentions that following the Incarnation, all sentient beings will be humanoid. But most who suppose that they would be humanoid base the idea on our being made "in the image of God" (Gen 1:27). But although the Hebrew does involve a visible representation (elsewhere it refers to idols and to the models of rats and tumors made by the Philistines in 1 Sam 6:5, 11), most scholars agree that the resemblance involves our spiritual side and authority. If God could create sentient beings as odd as Ezekiel's cherubim or the living beings of the Revelation, we probably shouldn't be too quick to say what he won't do.

2. Exosoteriology. Don't look it up--I made it up. But it's a properly formed word for the doctrine of alien salvation. There are various views here:

a. Unfallen beings. Perhaps Eve's alien counterpart didn't take the bait. Perhaps sin is the exception elsewhere. I doubt it would happen, personally, and it's so hard for us to imagine an unfallen being (look at how regularly writers get weird with Jesus!), let alone a race of them, that I'm not sure it's a practical topic.

b. Fallen, but redeemed by their own Savior. In other words, God the Son incarnated there, too. This would be my guess, and I'm not alone. Some say that Jesus couldn't become an Ugerblat (Light up your gorks, any Ugerblats in the audience!), but this is a confusion. I'm going to get into big trouble here, but while Jesus is fully God and fully man, I don't see that the Incarnation necessarily limits God the Son: if he incarnated as Frenar of the Ugerblats, it wouldn't diminish the deity of Jesus any more than his humanity currently does.

c. Fallen, but saved through Jesus just like us. In his book Miracles, Lewis writes that even if there are unfallen races, the outworking of the Incarnation and Atonement could benefit them as well, since through these events God exalts all creation. Similarly, he says that he doubts there have been multiple incarnations--though his reason is that he supposes God would not simply copy elsewhere what he has done here. Some other means must be found, though what that could be I doubt we could imagine. I don't propose to try, for anything I come up with will not only be wrong but probably dangerously misleading. Yet if the glorification that comes through the triumph of God in this world and this race could exalt other beings elsewhere in the universe, perhaps our Savior could be theirs as well. This is the view taken in Adam Graham's short story "Your Average Ordinary Alien," coming this April in the anthology Light at the Edge of Darkness.

Join us next time for "You Say You Want an Evolution":

"So you won't go out with me 'cause I'm a caveman? Well, the joke's on you: this 'Insta-volve' pill will shoot me right up to Homer Simpson!"

"I hope you mean 'Homo sapiens.' Anyway, evolution is supposed to require numerous generations of micromutations."

"You only say that because it rhymes. But this has the special ingredient, 'Hopeful Monster.' Watch! Gulp! Nyah! Ygyde-ygyde-ygyde... D'oh!"

"Make that 'Hopeless Monster.'"


Conversations With A 300-Year Old College Student

I met Thomas Hobbs when I was in college. I worked part-time in the composing room of the local newspaper. In that job, I used computers a lot. I scanned art, typeset ads, printed proof-- but this vignette is about Tom, not me. I'm not into guys and never have been, but if I were, I'd say Tom was attractive. He had jet black hair, green eyes, he was tall and well-formed. He could have had any of the gals in our little town, but he didn't. Tom worked at the newspaper also. Difference was, I didn't know exactly what his status was. He was in the composing room some evenings when I was there, and sometimes he was doing phone interviews over in the newsroom. A couple nights, I saw him go into the backroom to bag papers for the carriers. Tom seemed to have his hands in everything.
Did I mention that Tom also went to my college? I didn't know what his major was, if he had one. He took a variety of classes; in the evening, mostly. There were rumors about him having been a student for a long time.
Before I really knew him, I thought Tom was like an anti-social Van Wilder. You know the guy in that movie who got all the girls and hosted all those wild parties? Well, Tom didn't hang out like that, nor was he exactly popular. Tom supposedly had a lot of money and his own suite in one of the dorms, but he never flaunted the fact.
Anyway, when I in my third year of college, I noticed Tom was around a lot. I never noticed him looking at me, but he was always there. Like, he would walk into the library right after me, or I'd see him at the store. I got the feeling that these were more than mere coincidences, and I confronted him about it.
"Why are you following me?" I asked him one night at the gas station. I had thought it odd that he came in there at the same time I ducked in to gas up my bike. It was just a random evening after work. He shouldn't have been there.
"How do you mean?" replied Tom.
"You always seem to be in places where I go," I answered.
"Wanted to pick up a snack." Tom held up the package of Twinkies he'd just pulled from the shelf. That even seemed a little odd. I'd rarely ever seen him snacking when at work or anything.
I paid for my gas and went outside. Tom was standing by my motorcycle, drinking his energy drink and eating his Twinkies.
"Where are you headed?" he asked casually, as if it weren't odd for him to be standing right next to my bike.
"Home," I answered. "What's up?"
"Gerald works Thursdays and Harris is out with his girlfriend," said Tom, speaking of my two housemates. "So, they won't be home for hours."
"So, I could come over and we'd be alone for a while."
"Tom, c'mon, you know I'm not that kind of guy," I chuckled. It was a little uncomfortable. I put my helmet on and climbed on my bike. "What, are you stalking me or something?"
"No, my friend, nothing like that. And I know you aren't into men. I just want to talk to you, tell you something." Tom's eyes flashed right and left. There were other customers coming out of the convenient store. "I want to just be away from prying eyes."
"Where's your kick?" I asked him. He swung his head in the direction of the black and white Harley Softail beside the building. "Follow me, bud."
"So, what'd you want?" I asked Tom after we were seated in the living room of the Cape Cod I shared with the two other guys at the edge of town. "You could've invited me over to your place, you know. I hear it's huge."
"I'm not going back there. In fact, I plan on leaving town tonight."
"Why are you leaving? Are you dropping your classes? Does the paper know? What about your apartment?"
"You are the first person I've told my plans." Tom acted confident, but his hesitation told me he was a little nervous. "As for the reason, well, something... something is about to come out..."
"Geez, Tom, I told you I'm not that kind of guy. I'm not gay--"
"I know that, and neither am I. I am..."
"Go ahead, spit it out."
"I'm what you'd call a vampire."
The statement freaked me out. I'd always had a passing belief in vamps, though it was a little silly. Maybe they existed, but probably it was just insanity. I jumped to my feet and backed towards the wall. I picked up Gerald's hockey stick and held it in front of me.
"Now I know why you came after me, why you wanted me alone. Go ahead, Tom, get out. You aren't getting me. I'll kick your white--"
"Calm down, my friend," Tom hadn't flinched from his place on our couch. He continued evenly, "You are not my 'prey.' I don't go after people at all. Like you are fond of saying, 'I'm not that kind of guy.'
"Now, sit back down, so I can explain."
I sat down in the recliner we had across the room from the couch. I lowered the hockey stick to my lap, but didn't let my guard down. Tom had always been a pal, but I was afraid of his vamping out on me. "I'm listening."
"I don't feast on blood, not like in the movies. I go to church like you do."
"I was raised Methodist, what's your reason? You scoping out kills?"
"Like I just told you, I don't feast on blood. I haven't touched human blood in over a century."
"Don't you need it to survive? How could you live so long without it?"
"That's what I aim to tell you tonight."
"Why me? Why now?"
"As to the question of time, it has to do with an adversary of mine; I'll tell you more about that later. But, why you? Well, why not? You are a smart young man and you've always been a good friend."
"That doesn't answer the question."
"I know, I'm just stalling. See, I don't want you to freak out or jump to any conclusions."
"So you beat around the bush?"
"You want to know why you in particular and not any of the other six hundred people at our school?"
"What color is that bush you're beating, anyway?"
"It's because... because I want you by my side."
"I told you--"
"It's not like that, buddy. I'm getting older and I need someone to help me out with things. I want you to come with me and... well it's like my valet."
"You don't seem old."
"I'm over two and a half centuries. See, you keep whatever form you had when you were bitten."
"And, you're a shapeshifter, right?"
"Naw, Hollywood got that wrong. Vamps can live a long time, but they can't change how they look. Not at whim, anyway. One time, I knew this blond vamp with blue eyes and the next time I saw her, a couple years later, she was a brown-eyed brunette. Vamps can will themselves to change, but it takes time and concentration."
"Okay, so you're old on the inside and twentysomething on the outside."
"Kinda like that."
"Lez get back on track: why me?"
"Well... You're an open-minded guy and seem pretty caring. You've got a good memory and an eye for detail. You've got a passion for travel.
"Besides that, nothing's keeping you here."
"School? Work? Ring any bells?"
"You are less than twenty credits from receiving a bachelors degree. In what? Liberal studies? I can take you further than any degree can.
"And, the newspaper can get on fine without you. The work you do there can be done by any number of people.
"Don't tell me you like that stuff, friend, because I know that you do. I also know that you want more than to be a mediocre college graduate without a real job. I know you want to see the world and get out of this town."
I looked at him. He was pretty serious, and he had some valid points. What would a college degree get me, really? Didn't I really want to make something of myself any way?
"Can I get my stuff?" I asked, thinking of my CD collection.
"Of course. Whatever you feel you need."
"Okay, let's just say I'm going with you: where would we go?"
"I've got train tickets heading west. They go as far as Colorado. We will stop somewhere near Boulder for now. I bought a house out there a few years back. We'll stay there for a while, and I'll fill you in more about my life."
I had to admit to myself that the idea showed promise. Tom was a nice guy. If even part of what he said was true, being his valet or whatever would be fun. This seemed like it would be cool. I smiled, stuck out my right hand, and we shook.


Interview with author Deborah Cullins Smith

What is your motivation for writing?

My Dad was career Army, and in the mid-sixties, we were stationed in Heidelberg, Germany. I remember Mom and I got sick on the boat crossing, and I didn't get to start school right away when we landed. It was a tough time for me. I was only about 9 or 10 years old, no friends, no English-speaking television, and hadn't learned German at that point. And in 1964, we didn't have internet, computers, or any of the fancy gadgets kids today have! So I played with my Barbie dolls, and I wrote my own stories. Mom gave those back to me a couple of years ago. Pitiful . . . really pitiful. "My Adventures on a Desert Island," "My Adventures with the Pirates," and fully illustrated, too! Except that NO ONE will ever see them!

Anyway, I guess you could say that was the start of my literary career. Once I enrolled in school, I proceeded to shock the librarian of the Post Library by checking out – I kid you not! – 10-12 books every week. I'd leave the library with my arms as far down as they would stretch to hold the biggest book, then the stack reached under my chin! Without television, I began my life-long love of books during those two years in Heidelberg. Since then, I've read thousands – yes, thousands – of books. Mysteries, histories, biographies, fantasy, horror, classics, science fiction, Biblical fiction, anything and everything! The book clubs really love me, because I can't just check them out anymore – I feel the need to own them! My home is crowded with many, many bookcases, all of them loaded down with books. A writer READS!

Right after I got married (1976), I tried one of those writing courses where they promise to help you place your work. BIG waste of money, and left me feeling I was not meant to be a writer. I gave up until around 1987. I went to a Sunday School Convention in Denver, and as I scanned the list of seminars, I kept coming back to this "Writing for Publication" workshop. "NO way, God," I said, "been there, done that, struck OUT." So I chose something else, went to the designated location . . . was greeted by the sign, "Class canceled." I checked the list again. That heavenly highlighter lit up "Writing for Publication." "NO!" I said, and picked another class. You guessed it, "class canceled" note on the door! With a sigh, I said, "Ok, Lord, before you close the entire convention, I'll go already . . ."

Within the next couple of years, I was published in several magazines and Sunday School publications. Poetry was the biggest seller. After all, I lived in one of the most gorgeous states in the Union – Colorado! With the Rockies for a backdrop, and three rambunctious kids to keep my creativity at a peak, I was seeing publication on a regular basis. But I still hadn't found my niche in life, and I knew it.

With a marriage on shaky ground by the middle of the 1990's, I ran into an old friend at a high school reunion. James K. Bowers (if you don't know that name, hang on to your hat, because you will sooner or later!) challenged me to write something for this "project thing" he had going on by internet. He had collected several premium writers from Elfwood, which is the largest sci-fi/fantasy writers & artists website in cyberspace. The first story I wrote was called "The Rise of the New South" and told about a wealthy couple who owned the perfect butler – an android. It was a little clumsy, but I had finally found my niche! I loved the fantasy aspects of a story. And as a big fan of the old "Twilight Zone" episodes, most of my tales have a twist at the end, something my readers never seem to see coming! So Jim continues to mentor me, to edit most of my stories, and thankfully, he's brutally honest. So if it's less than my best, he tells me! Now a good deal of my work straddles the fence between spec fiction and historical fiction.

Is there any writer who has influenced your work more than any other?

Besides Jim Bowers and the Herscher Project? Well, I would have to say that Eugenia Price is probably the author who has motivated me the most. She wrote a marvelous historical novel called Margaret's Story many years ago, (don't ask me the copyright date!) and side by side, she wrote a journal to go with it. The journal was a library book, which I have not been able to find since, but I remember so much of it. Her meticulous details were amazing. The focal characters were a real family from St. Simons Island, so she was bound by historical data, like birthdates and death dates. I remember this one segment in her journal. She told how she'd written this beautiful piece about Margaret diapering one of her babies, pulling the soft fabric around his little legs and fastening the diaper pins. Then it occurred to her to wonder if they had diaper pins then! She checked with her local librarian/historian source. Diaper pins were invented two years AFTER this child was born! Now her readers would have never known the difference. I mean, two years??? Do you usually check those little details? But Miss Price asked the librarian how they would have fastened diapers without pins, which involved knotting the ends, and she rewrote the section! That impressed me. I love historical stories, but I have taken my cue from Eugenia Price, and I spend more time in research as a result. If something catches my fancy, my bookshelves fill at an alarming rate!

And another big influence was writer Ruth Vaughn Kaul. I met her at that same Sunday School Convention, and we've corresponded ever since. Ruth believed in me when few others did, and she encouraged me at a time in my life when I had hit an emotional rock bottom. Ruth has written several books, but my favorites are Write to Discover Yourself (my autographed copy!) and Letters Dropt from God.

Why do you write Biblical speculative fiction?
I'd love to tell you that I had this thunder bolt calling, but I have to admit that I more or less fell into the genre! As I said, Jim Bowers got me into sci-fi/fantasy. But I found myself coming up with angels and/or demons more and more! Now most of my stories have some basis for spiritual warfare, or at the very least, they are stories of morality. Some of my tales are darker than I set out to make them, but this world can be a dark place, and not all stories are "happily ever after." I usually let the characters go where they want to go with just a hint of guidance from the author. And often, I'm more surprised than anyone where that happens to lead!

What length of fiction do you prefer to write?
I think I've become too comfortable with the novella range. I tend to get too long winded to keep it down to short story range, yet not quite long enough for a novel! But I've graduated to this length from poetry and short stories, so I'm determined to make 2007 my year for a novel-length story. Watch for it!

What writing techniques work best for you?
I start with a special notebook for each specific project. If there is research indicated, all the notes go in that specific book for easy access, as do interviews, or notes from DVD extras. Those are amazing sources! You can get all kinds of details from historians in those extra features if you're willing to pay a couple extra bucks for the special edition. I will add, though, that I double-check those sources with textbooks.

Then I map out a general idea of where I intend the story to go. That's not always where it winds up, but at least I have a basic idea. Next I briefly sketch the character's main features, any particular traits I plan to portray, and their relationships with those around them. I don't usually plan more than the major 5 or 6 characters. Anything else is dealt with in abbreviated notes, but also kept in that one notebook. My problem at this point is not writing fast enough to keep up with the ideas! I think I have about 10 notebooks and keeping them straight can be a full-time occupation all by itself!

Have you had any life experiences that have influenced your writing?
Of course. We all have. Every experience becomes fodder for your writing. I've been through childbirth, miscarriage, divorce, death of loved ones, helping my daughters give birth, a broken heart. I've moved half way around the world and back between childhood with a career Army Dad and adulthood with a career Air Force husband. A few months ago, a writer friend asked me to take a look at the first couple chapters of a novel he was toying with. It took place in Anchorage, Alaska and the bayou of Louisiana, and involved police and forensics. I've lived in both places (he hadn't) and my ex-husband was in law enforcement! I was a perfect fit for his edits. And of course, my own characters tend to exhibit some of my fears, dreams, inadequacies, and strengths. I think that happens to most writers. Our personalities leak into our characters. On the other hand, sometimes they become all we wish we could be and aren't. The novel I'm currently working on is about a woman who must confront her memories of 1969, when she ran away with her boyfriend to join the counterculture. But even in the midst of all the drugs, she never used. It scared her too badly. That was me. I was terrified of drugs. I didn't run away from home – that has been 100% research, research, and more research. But there is a large part of me that empathizes with my character. Yes, the poor girl has inherited all my fears . . . The things we writers do to our character!

By contrast, I am collaborating on a novel with Jim Bowers and H. Lynn Rummel called The Song of the Grey Lady. We've written a variety of characters for this piece, but concentrated on one central character each. Mine is an herbalist called Morianne. Somehow I think she's everything I want to be but am not. She's brave and bold, a little scarred by the losses in her life, but willing to step out and help others even when her help isn't appreciated. I like that about her!

Any advice for new writers in general?
Read, read, read, and read some more. We learn best by what we take in. My style is my own, but it comes from the influence of many, many excellent writers. People like Eugenia Price, Ruth Vaughn, Francine Rivers, Chris A. Jackson, Kathy Reichs, Jeffrey Deaver, Steven Alten, Bernard Cornwell, Alison Weirs, Brock and Bodie Thoene . . . the list is endless. Reading teaches you how to form your own thoughts into cohesive ideas.

Once you have some stories or poetry, articles, fiction, non-fiction, whatever you are feeling strongly about writing, get a good Writer's Market and begin researching. Then start sending your work out. One thing's for sure: it won't get published if it never leaves your desk.

Most importantly, get involved with a local writers' group, or an internet group, preferably one you know is reputable. But be careful not to get so over-involved that you wind up doing nothing but answering email! That's an easy trap to fall into. You start with one group, then another, and soon, you belong to 15 groups and your creativity is going into emails and debates instead of into your own novel. (Yes, this is my life right now!) Keep the traffic manageable. Networking is great – and necessary – but don't forget to write!

Do you have a specific time and place to write?
Truthfully, my best work is done late at night (fewer interruptions) either on my laptop or handwritten in a notebook. Then I hone the script when I key it in. I also try to take a loose-leaf notebook with me to doctor appointments, on long trips in the car, or any place I am going to have to sit and wait! My scribble is generally unreadable to anyone else, but I can decipher it well enough when I'm back home later.

As to place, well . . . I write anywhere and everywhere! For some reason, I have a harder time writing these days when I'm home. Seems like I get easily distracted by a messy desk, email, or the television. But I'm working on that!

Do you do any research for your writing?
Oh, YES! I've set many of my stories in the medieval era, and I have volumes and volumes of material to draw from, including historical clothing, battle techniques, and general history books. I've also got an idea brewing for at least one novel on pirates, so I've invested in about a dozen research books on the subject, from ships to lifestyles to weapons, including many of the world's most famous pirates!

My current novel The Last of the Long Haired Hippies required 3 or 4 books on the counterculture of the 1960-70's so I could make sure I kept my facts straight. There is one particular scene involving Woodstock. I made sure my details were as accurate as I could possibly make them without having been there myself. The beauty is in those little things. Otherwise, my credibility goes out the window before I'm even off the ground.

Do your stories/novels have any common themes or threads? And do you try to provide a message for your readers?
Like I said earlier, many of my stories involve angels and/or demons or spiritual warfare. And I believe that message is clear: Christians have nothing to fear from demons, but we should never underestimate their influence either. It IS a war, but it's one we'll win if we hold on to Jesus' hand.

What can you tell us about your stories included in Light at the Edge of Darkness?
I have three stories coming out in this collection. "The Rider" tells a unique tale! Few spec fic writers tackle a western, but I got adventurous and tried it. Alice Henderson is a preacher's daughter, traveling by stagecoach on the Santa Fe Trail to join her father in his ministry to the Indians in New Mexico. Along the trail, the stagecoach is attacked and Alice is forced to flee across dangerous territory with the only other survivor, a young man named Buddy Edgerton. But this journey takes many unexpected twists and turns, as Alice's faith hangs in the balance.

Then there is "Fumbleblot's Task." This is one of my favorites! Gretchen Hobson is an executive in a publishing house, and although she is a Christian, she still harbors a wide variety of fears in her young heart. Satan sends one of his minions, Fumbleblot, to corrupt those fears and destroy Gretchen's faith. Will he succeed?

Lastly, "Allison" is a look at a child who longs for the mother she's never had a chance to know. She's been praying for a long time that God would open the door for her to meet her mother. At last, He has. But will her mother love and accept her as she is? This story holds a special place in my heart, but I won't spoil the surprise by telling why!

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?

There are many Christians who don't believe spec fic has a place in our world of faith, but I couldn't disagree more. The realms of angels and demons are very real, and we should be challenged by the revelations they represent. Roger Elwood and Frank Peretti opened those doors for the rest of us, and I would hope that this new influx of Christian writers will be able to pick up the gauntlet. If readers cannot get speculative fiction from us, they'll go to those who glorify the demonic and the "dark arts." I believe it's our responsibility to fill the gap and represent Christ, to Whom we owe our very lives. I want readers to be drawn to the Lord, not torn away from His love by mystics or charlatans. Hopefully, our work in the Lost Genre Guild will pave the way for future generations of writers in the wonderful world of Christian speculative fiction.

Postscript from publisher Cynthia MacKinnon of The Writers Cafe Press:

I just received an email this evening from the associate editor of Yellow30 Sci-Fi one of the many reviewers of Light at the Edge of Darkness. In this email, he spoke of how much he enjoyed reading the anthology and then made a special mention that I would like to share: ". . . I found Deborah Cullins-Smith a wonderful author."