Please Welcome...Alton Gansky
What a privalege to have Christian author Alton Gansky as
our interview guest at WhereTheMapEnds.com.
Alton ("Al" to his friends) is a good friend of mine. His novel,
Ship Possessed, was one of the first Christian speculative novels I
read. I was thrilled to find someone who could write cool action
adventures with a decidedly speculative edge and yet write from the
Christian worldview. I have remained a fan of his writing and am
honored to count him (and his wife—hi, Becky!) among my friends.
Al is a kind man, a quick wit, a good writer, and a fine orator,
having been a pastor for many years. He's also a savvy and prolific
author, as you can see from his entry in the
Booklist. Al has
certainly done his part to be sure we all have cool Christian
speculative fiction to read!
According to his own bio:
"Alton Gansky writes full time from a cluttered office in the high
desert of Southern California. Prior to taking this vow of poverty he
served as senior pastor of three Baptist churches over a course of 22
years. A professional used-to-be, Alton has worked for a bank, been a
firefighter, a businessman, and for a time published a magazine called
Persuasion until he ran out of money to throw at it.
"He is the author of 30 or so books, most of which are novels of
varying degrees of wackiness. He is an Angel award winner and Christy
Award finalist. He is also a well-traveled public speaker teaching and
keynoting in various parts of the country helping insomniacs find
"Alton’s latest books are
Crime Scene Jerusalem,
40 Days (nonfiction),
"On the really important matters, he is the husband to wife Becky,
father of three children, and grandfather of three (with two more on
Jeff here again. As you can see, Al's been at this business a long
time. Let's hear what he has to impart to us.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with what's going on in
Alton Gansky: Mostly, I’ve been writing and doing the
things writers do after a book comes out. Last year, a couple of
titles were delayed, resulting in a flood of books being released this
year. These are the things writers cannot control. I’m also working on
a couple of non-book writing projects that I hope to unveil soon.
WhereTheMapEnds: You master of suspense, you! Not
going to tell us, eh? Okay, we'll wait. In the meantime, can you tell
us what your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or
secular) is and why that's your favorite?
Alton Gansky: That’s tough. Arthur C. Clarke’s
Rendezvous with Rama and its sequel (Rama II) ranks way up there.
Competing for king of the spec hill is Dean Koontz’s
Thomas, and Michael Crichton’s
Jurassic Park (I liked the first movie,
On the Christian side, I enjoyed Jack Cavanaugh/Jerry Kuiper’s
Death Watch. Shane Johnson’s
Ice was a winner for me.
Jack Cavanaugh has a
new series coming out that I’ve had the pleasure to read and endorse:
Kingdom Wars should be a winner.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write
Alton Gansky: I grew up on Twilight Zone and
Outer Limits. Much of my early reading was sci fi and tech fiction. I
also had (and still have) a deep interest in science. Christian spec
fiction allows exploration into some of the deep shadows of life and a
peek under the rocks. Writing Christian spec allows me greater freedom
to examine the human condition in a spiritual light. That and it’s
WhereTheMapEnds: Definitely don't leave out the fun
part! How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel
received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher,
readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Alton Gansky: Better than I thought it would. I wrote
a book called By My Hands. (BTW, I give that book and its sequel
away—free—as an e-book through my website
wondered what would happen if someone with a gift of physical healing
began to haunt a hospital. Through My Eyes, the sequel, fell through
the cracks but those who read it offered mounds of praise. It was hard
WhereTheMapEnds: Dear reader, Al is alluding to one
of the brutal realities—and seeming vagaries—of publishing: sometimes
the books we think are the best fall flat, while books we think maybe
aren't that great sometimes seem to do well. Okay, Al, what is your
favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different,
talk about that.
Alton Gansky: Occasionally someone accuses me of
writing sci fi. I don’t but would love to try my hand at it. My books
often mix tech with spiritual elements. I cross several genres. I try
to avoid the pigeonhole and let the story dictate the genre. No two
books are alike. Formulas are great in chemistry and cooking, but not
so much in literature.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the
current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or
Alton Gansky: Anemic. There are great writers out
there doing significant and brilliant work but they don’t get the
attention they deserve. It’s a sad thing [now] but I believe the genre
will [eventually] get legs and take its rightful place in the
Christian market. The Christian market is still charting new territory
and previously under-represented genres are coming to life. As with
all things, it takes time.
WhereTheMapEnds: Have you seen anything that
encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or
Alton Gansky: Most publishers are open to the genre.
There are a few that eschew the genre, choosing to focus on such
things as women’s fiction and their various subsets. That’s not a
complaint. Publishing is a business and the execs have a
responsibility to their parent organization.
I’m also encouraged by the improvement in the craft. Early Christian
spec was pretty bad, but now quality books are hitting the shelves and
that makes the genre all the more acceptable.
WhereTheMapEnds: What have you seen that discourages
or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or
Alton Gansky: There’s a tendency to play it safe.
There is a great fear among CBAers that someone will be offended by
the material no matter how tame it is. This timid approach damages
spec fiction specifically and all Christian fiction in general.
I served three churches as pastor and I learned early on that it is
impossible to do any meaningful ministry without tweaking someone’s
nose. At my first church someone came to my office and said, “Pastor,
your preaching is too negative. I want to hear more about the love of
God.” Two hours later someone else came to my office and said,
“Pastor, your preaching is too positive. We need to hear more about
sin and judgment.”
What’s a pastor to do? I chose to preach whatever the Bible taught.
Writers need to do the same. Just tell the story.
WhereTheMapEnds: Great perspective, Al. It drives me
crazy, too, when I hear through the grapevine that publishers are
suddenly looking only for X or no longer buying novels that feature Y,
and all these authors go jumping through hoops trying to meet the mood
of the day. When what they should be doing is just concentrating on
telling a good story and improving their craft. So, Al, what would you
like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing
Alton Gansky: I’d like to see more publicity aimed at
men. We [in the Christian publishing industry] are living and working
under the assumption that men don’t read. That’s nonsense.
I traveled cross country several times this year and made a point of
noticing who was reading what in the airports. By my count, as many
(maybe more) men as women were reading. When I go into a Barnes &
Noble bookstore, I take a few seconds to observe the male/female
ratio. Men are holding their own.
So I’d like to see us stop perpetrating the lie that men don’t read.
I’m a male and have many male friends, all of whom read fiction and
WhereTheMapEnds: I think what's true is that
Christian men don't read the kind of fiction that CBA publishers are
for more on this topic.) Al, would you like
to take a stab at predicting what you think Christian speculative
fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five
years? Ten years?
Alton Gansky: I’m the wrong one to ask. My ability to
predict the future is, um, inconsistent. I once said, “Frozen yogurt?
No one will buy frozen yogurt. I’d be an idiot to invest in that.” I
also said, “iPod? Apple might sell a few, but how many people want to
download music and carry it with them? It’s a dumb idea.” So it’s best
not to turn to me for prognostication.
I will go this far: I think the genre will grow in number of readers
WhereTheMapEnds: May it be so! What advice would you
give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative
Alton Gansky: First, let your imagination loose.
Don’t settle on one idea until you’ve had twenty.
Two, be prepared to throw ideas away. That’s the way it works.
Third, study the masters. Learn from other writers, regardless of
their genre. Good writing is good writing. Learn.
Fourth, breaking in is difficult, but so what? Remember Al’s Axion #1:
“No one ever hit a homerun from the dugout.” (You may quote me.)
WhereTheMapEnds: I just might! What’s the best book
or seminar on fiction writing you know?
Alton Gansky: Book:
Sometimes the Magic Works by
Terry Brooks. Seminar: One of my favorites include the
Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference in North Carolina.
Conferences vary from year to year based on faculty. There are many
good conferences. Pick the one that fits your immediate need. If
you’re just starting out, then choose one that emphasizes craft; if
you have material to shop around, then select one that has many agents
and editors in attendance.
WhereTheMapEnds: Good pointers, Al. I talk about
Christian writer's conferences in
Tip #25. What would you say is the
best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Alton Gansky: Living vicariously through my
characters. My protagonists are all my friends. (Although I put them
in such trouble that none of them will return my phone calls.) Also,
spec fiction releases the imagination like no other genre—at least for
WhereTheMapEnds: Not just for you, my friend. It's
pretty much the whole reason any of us has hiked out here to where the
map ends. So what writing project(s) are you working on now?
Alton Gansky: I’ve just finished a book titled
for Realms. It’s dead-on-center supernatural suspense. It releases at
the end of the year. I’m reevaluating storylines for another novel and
considering another nonfiction book. I’m also about to kick-start an
entirely different type of writing project.
WhereTheMapEnds: There you go again with the
suspense! And I'm thrilled you're writing for Realms. I recall trying
to sign you to write for me when I was there. I leave and you finally
write for them. I promise not to take it personally [wipes tear].
Okay, Al, hit us with a cool speculative story idea you’ve had lately.
Alton Gansky: I have three I’m juggling, all spec
fiction. I’m trying to determine if they have legs. I have lots of
ideas, but some of them will never be books. Sigh.
WhereTheMapEnds: Tight-lipped, eh? Okay, I can
respect that. It's the pastoral counseling that's taught you to be
able to keep a secret, isn't it? Well, can you at least tell us what
is the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or
otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?
Alton Gansky: I really enjoyed Dean Koontz’s
Taking. Partly because it reminded me of his earlier work.
WhereTheMapEnds: What else would you like to say to
the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
Alton Gansky: Buy my books…no, that’s not it. Oh yeah, I
remember. One of the greatest gifts God has given you is creativity.
Find your creative medium and let yourself go. The world needs
That's All for This Time
What a wonderful interview, huh? Thanks again to Alton Gansky. Be sure to
visit Al online.
And if you missed the previous months' interviews with other speculative
authors, including Frank Peretti, Jerry Jenkins,
Karen Hancock, Tosca Lee, and
Ted Dekker, you can
And be sure to come back next month for an interview with another mover
and shaker in the world of Christian speculative fiction.