Please Welcome...C. S. Lakin
This month our interview guest is Christian speculative fiction novelist C. S. Lakin.
Susanne describes herself as a longtime avid fantasy/spec fiction reader, having read hundreds of sci-fi and fantasy novels before deciding to write in the genre. In 2005, she got the idea to write full-length fairy tales, thinking no one had ever really done that. The idea was to take traditional fairy tale elements everyone was familiar with and create new stories and deep characters, using all the “rules” inherent in fairy land. She wrote the first three books of The Gates of Heaven series over the next few years, along with a YA sci-fi/romance called Time Sniffers (which is being considered by a publisher for a series at the time of this interview.)
Susanne also wrote three contemporary novels (psychological mysteries), one of which, Someone to Blame, won a Zondervan contest and was published in 2010. According to her, "I always think I will just write fantasy, but for some reason I keep coming up with these crazy plots for contemporary books and so I take a break and write those in between. I’m a bit scatterbrained and schizophrenic when it comes to writing."
And now, the interview...
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
C. S. Lakin: Wow, that is a great question and so hard to answer. I will just name a few that really blew me away and changed my life. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Dune by Frank Herbert. The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov, the father of sci-fi, IMHO.
I would even throw in one of my all-time favorite novels: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I imagine most wouldn’t consider the South American writers of surrealistic style as spec fiction writers, but the fantasy elements of books like that are great.
I tend to lean toward deep, rich, involved, wild imaginings. And The Book of Atrix Wolfe is my favorite Patricia McKillip novel (more on her later).
WhereTheMapEnds: How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
C. S. Lakin: That’s a funny one. I prayed asking God to show me what to write for Him after I'd stopped writing for over a decade. He showed me quite plainly that I was to blaze the trail with this fairy tale thing. So I wrote a literary fairy tale called The Wolf of Tebron, then rushed off to a Christian Writers’ conference (Mount Hermon), where I just knew I would blow away all the agents and editors with my stunning novel.
Well, I was a bit taken aback to learn that no one in CBA [ed: the world of Christian publishing] was at all interested in fantasy. I talked with this cool guy named Jeff Gerke after taking his class on synopsis writing, and I learned that he planned to start a small publishing company that centered on spec fiction. Hah, good luck, I thought. I was a bit discouraged by then. But at least one person believed that there was a readership for this stuff. Never mind that there are hundreds of millions of fantasy readers “out there” in the world. And that most of the best-selling books in all of history fall into that category. I thought—what is wrong with these CBA editors?
At other conferences, I
pitched my cause to editors in my appointments. I didn’t bother
pitching my book, because I made appointments with editors I knew were
not acquiring fantasy. Instead, I spent my precious fifteen minutes
giving my speech on why they should be publishing fantasy. Every
editor I talked with agreed. I told them it was time to get on the
boat before it sailed away. Or on the spaceship before it zoomed away.
Something like that.
So now, six years later, with a seven-book fantasy series contracted and the third book about to be released, I am finding my “hunch” was right. God had a plan. He has a big plan. I was so pleased to find a publisher that had the same plan—to focus on reaching fantasy readers with tons of fantasy books and storm the market.
I’m glad to see Marcher Lord Press doing
this with the same passion and dedication. I was shocked that
Wolf made the Carol Award finals. I never expected that, seeing as the
book is very literary and weird. I mean, come on—a wolf that spouts G.
K Chesterton? You gotta wonder. . .
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they’re different, talk about that.
C. S. Lakin: Frankly, I’m not big on spaceship/fighting battles kind of stuff to read. I love watching it. I’m a big Star Trek fan (Firefly too.) But I don’t find it all that fun to read.
I am much more drawn to lyrical evocative fantasy. Patricia McKillip is hands down my favorite author of all time. She is the queen of the adult fairy tale. No one writes as beautifully as she does—it’s indescribable. I strive to write as well as she does but I fail miserably in comparison.
As far as writing goes, I really loved writing Time Sniffers. It is chock full of physics and time travel paradoxes and teenage angst. And yes, love. I am hoping this will sell as a series because it is just way too much fun to write. I raised two daughters who majored in physics and could, off the top of their heads, spout string theory like reciting a recipe, so I pulled a lot from their varied experiences working at national labs and growing crystals for lasers and designing parts for the Mars Rover.
But I’m thinking that after I finish the 7-book series for Living Ink I’ll come up with some other fairy tale series set in a different world with a different premise.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
C. S. Lakin: Don’t get me started. It’s pathetic. Not the writing. Some great stuff is out there. It’s the lack of interest by the CBA publishers to build a huge platform of spec fiction authors and market to the needy readers.
I say "needy" because I see my readership as my mission field. So many lost people search out fantasy because they can’t take this world. They are looking for God’s Kingdom, although they don’t know it. It’s up to us to show them what that looks like, even if it’s a fat talking pig who tells them the truth while buried up to its neck in a mud puddle.
We should be writing as a response to our charge to be ambassadors of Christ urging the world to reconcile with God. Not writing to entertain other Christians. But that is the CBA market. Writing only for believers. And I know it’s not my place to tell CBA who their audience should be. I would just like to think these publishers would have that as at least part of their agenda in publishing.
Okay, more people will hate me now and think I should be ousted. I get that a lot, but I have to say what I believe needs to be heard.
WhereTheMapEnds: I don’t think more people will hate you. However, I do maintain that every Christian novelist has a calling, but the callings are not all the same. Some are called to reach out to the lost, and others are called to challenge the church. Both callings are valid. And both groups use entertainment to achieve their objectives, so that shouldn’t be thought of as a negative. People don’t read unentertaining fiction.
What I like to encourage is each group cheering the other on. Sometimes I see people in one camp saying that everyone ought to be in that same camp or else they’re not obeying God, but that’s not true. I don’t think God would even be pleased if we all did only one or the other. We need both callings. Let Paul go to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews.
As for traditional Christian publishing houses, that model is pretty much dead now, so it’s not as much a concern as it was. But even in its heyday, I don’t think CBA houses were wrong to publish for Christians.
That’s partially for the reason given above—that Christians need to be challenged and ministered to as much as non-Christians do—and partially just from good business sense.
If people come into your firewood store looking for firewood, trying to sell them tennis balls would be bad business. If you want to reach the people wanting tennis balls, create a new store to do that.
Okay, now I’ll get off my soapbox. LOL. What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
C. S. Lakin: Man, I have so many editing clients who have written a spec fiction book and want to know how to make it a best seller. If it’s not overtly Christian, I tell them to try to sell it to the general market. In fact, I would like to encourage just about all spec fiction authors out there to think how they can craft their stories to still have those important faith elements but directed at the general market. That’s where the readers are.
(Okay I know there are Christians who read fantasy—lots of them, but we all know we go to the fantasy section of a bookstore, not the Christian section, to find our fantasy books. I went to a Barnes & Noble in Elizabethtown KY in June, while I was teaching writing workshops at a conference there, and found one of my fantasy books in the youth section, one in the Christian section, and one in the general fantasy section. Even I got confused.)
But I say this because you have a better chance of getting published in the general market in fantasy overall, although I will say it’s a lot harder. I am trying to get Time Sniffers in that market. I don’t mention faith in the book per se, although at one point Bria prays for help.
I do have the highly intelligent alien searchers make a pointed remark about how Earth is a shadow world, though, that it is under the “shadow world paradox," meaning that people on Earth tout their great intelligence yet deny acknowledging the great intelligence evident everywhere around them in the universe.
This is ignorance of the highest order. My hope is that teens who don’t think about God might at least consider the concept of intelligent design. I will work in “God” by the third book but by then it will be too late!
WhereTheMapEnds: It’s cool that you found your Christian fantasy in the general fantasy section. Wonder how that came about. So, what’s the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
C. S. Lakin: I just took Donald Maass’s week-long Writing the Breakout Novel workshop (BONI to those on the inside) held in Oregon in April. Hands down, the best. I learned everything I lacked in my knowledge of novel writing. I now know it all! (Just kidding.) Really, worth every penny and an absolute blast. I stayed up writing sometimes until four a.m., and my writing ability skyrocketed.
WhereTheMapEnds: You hear that, folks? A future Pulitzer Prize-winner in our midst! Awesome. What writing project(s) are you working on now?
C. S. Lakin: I’m about a third of the way
Crystal Scepter, book five in my series. I have five books out on
submission hoping to sell. I just completed an amazing contemporary
modern-day story of Jacob and Joseph covering 40 years (1971-present
day) and written in flash fiction style (165k words). It is my best
book, but I'm clueless about who might publish it. I know it will
win the Pulitzer if I can just get it published. The problem with it
being such a literary stylized book is it is also all about faith in
God. So ABA won’t want it, and it’s too snazzy and original for CBA. I
am waiting for God to tell me what to do with it.
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s a cool speculative story idea
you’ve had lately?
C. S. Lakin: Come, on, you don’t remember that cool song?What about “Spooky?” “Time of the Seasons?”
C. S. Lakin: All right, I’m really revealing my age.
WhereTheMapEnds: Well, we’re into time travel here, so it’s all good. What’s the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?
C. S. Lakin: Bill Myers’s The God Hater. If you have not read this book, run, DO NOT WALK, to the nearest computer and buy it. It’s fantastic. I never got the relationship of Jesus to God, the image of the Father, and all that, not really until I read this book about the “programmer” and the avatars in the computer world. I have always thought of us humans as a hologram, like Data’s Moriarty in the Enterprise holodeck, who knows he is just a hologram but wants to live. So they work it out to let his program run indefinitely so he can enjoy his “life.” That’s pretty much how I see us in the mind of God. Really, read this book. It will blow your mind.
WhereTheMapEnds: Sounds cool. And Bill’s great. What else would you like to say to the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
C. S. Lakin: If you are a writer, keep writing. Be
imaginative. Say “What if?” Learn how to write well. Hire someone like
Jeff to critique your work and give you pointers to help you be the best
writer you can. Stay the course. Ignore criticism. Write dangerously.
Be passionate. Don’t worry about what your friends and family say. Ask
God to show you what to write and to fill your mind and heart with
amazing ideas. Then apply butt glue, and stick to your chair.
A lot of what is sold in the general market in fantasy, spec fiction, paranormal is depressing, violent, negative, hopeless, evil, disheartening. There are great books in these genres that aren’t dark and evil. They offer great entertainment as well as inspiring hope. Those are the books that need to be broadcast about. Go to it!
That's All for This Time
Another awesome interview! Thanks again to C. S. Lakin for stopping by. Be sure to visit her online.
If you missed any of our previous interviews with other speculative authors, including Frank Peretti, Jerry Jenkins, Karen Hancock, Tosca Lee, and Ted Dekker, you can read them here.
Come back next month for an interview with another heavy hitter in the world of Christian speculative fiction.