Please Welcome...Jack Cavanaugh
This month our interview guest is Christian speculative fiction novelist Jack Cavanaugh.
In his own words, Jack is a speculative novelist masquerading as a historical fiction novelist. His first love has always been science fiction and fantasy. In fact, in elementary school he cut his reading teeth on Tom Swift books. One memorable summer in junior high was spent reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Martian series. In high school it was Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein.
When Jack first started writing, no one was publishing Christian fiction (yes, he's that old). Publishers told him that Christian fiction just wouldn’t sell. Times changed. (Thank you Janette Oke, Brock and Bodie Thoene, and Frank Peretti.)
All of a sudden publishers wanted historical fiction, which happens to be Jack's second love. (He has a B.A. degree in History.) Doors started to open. Now, twenty-some historical novels later, he's been able to talk a couple of publishers into letting him try his hand at speculative fiction. He loves it!
So without further ado, here's the interview.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with you. What have you been up to lately?
Jack Cavanaugh: Starving. There is no coasting for mid-list authors and
a combination of a changing Christian market and the downturn economy
has hit hard. But hope burns eternal. In addition to marketing proposals
(both historical and speculative) I’ve been honing my fiction skills,
everything from story structure to sentence structure. I’ve also tried
my hand at screenplays. Love the format; so much so, I’ve taken to
crafting story outlines using screenplay software.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative novel of all time
(Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Jack Cavanaugh: When it comes to stories, I’m a fickle fan. My favorite
is whatever good story I’ve read last. However, I can tell you who is
the most inspirational speculative fiction author for me: J. R. R.
Tolkien. Can’t help but love a man who crafts a secondary world with
such detail and takes fourteen years to write his tale (while spending
his free time reading Old Norse myths aloud with friends in the original
language). The man was a wordsmith; he loved words and stories. Some of
his poetry is exceptional.
WhereTheMapEnds: Yes, the life of the party, ol' J.R.R. What made you
want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Jack Cavanaugh: There is no better vehicle to explore spiritual truth.
WhereTheMapEnds: Amen! How was your first idea for a Christian
speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent,
publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Jack Cavanaugh: Actually, my first fiction publishing credit was a
speculative short story, When Heaven Was Helpless. The piece portrayed
the frustration of the angelic realm as they were forbidden from
intervening in Jesus’ crucifixion. These are beings who had seen Christ
in His glory. How heart-wrenching it must have been for them to stand by
helplessly as a sin-riddled creation killed Him. I was encouraged by the
story’s reception. It appeared in the Easter issue of an international
publication. My first fan mail came from the Philippines. I was also
invited to read it aloud at an Easter sunrise service.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To
write? If they're different, talk about that.
Jack Cavanaugh: Again with the “favorite.” Do you not realize you’re
talking to a polymath? I love it all—science fiction, fantasy, medieval
knights, fairytales, etc. Writing, however, is a different story. I
don’t feel qualified to write science fiction. My background is Bible
and history. So I write biblical supernatural suspense and stories that
involve multiple historical settings. That said, I would love to write a
fantasy novel someday.
WhereTheMapEnds: Why don’t you? Maybe pick an obscure culture or period
from history and turn it into a fantasy world? That would give it
realistic underpinnings (something most fantasies outside of Tolkien
don’t have) but would allow you to do whatever fantasy story you wanted.
So, Jack, how would you characterize the current state of Christian
speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Jack Cavanaugh: It’s a genre in search of a savior. Established
publishers are attracted to it, but afraid of it. Consequently, they
lack commitment to it. At the same time, there are within the industry
and without, a faithful few, die-hard devotees who dream of the day when
Christian speculative fiction establishes a lasting foothold in the
WhereTheMapEnds: Yes, but I personally believe that won’t happen. The genre has had its saviors over the years, both in terms of champions inside the industry (like Steve Laube) and bestselling authors (like Frank Peretti, Jerry B. Jenkins, and Ted Dekker). And there has still been no change.
As I’ve said before (see Tips 15-17 on
this page), I think this has more
to do with the ladies who buy Christian fiction than it does with the
genre lacking a savior. I certainly don’t begrudge those ladies their
bonnet and buggy fiction, their cozy mysteries, or their chick-lits. But
it’s just not a group that will ever be largely accepting of stories
about alien fungi that turn humans into zombies and breed from their
decaying corpses. [grin] Hence the need for
Marcher Lord Press and
others like it.
Jack Cavanaugh: The lightning-strike successes. Peretti’s
Darkness, for example. Crossway Publishers was as surprised as anyone
with the book’s success. It’s impossible for publishers to ignore
phenomenal sales and a fanatical readership. I pray for a thunderstorm
of similar successes.
WhereTheMapEnds: What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you
about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Jack Cavanaugh: A lack of commitment to quality writing by some writers
of speculative fiction. Unfortunately, many focus on the speculative
nature of the work (the fun part) and not enough on the techniques of
fiction (the hard part). But let’s face it, the bar for speculative
fiction has been set high by writers such as—J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S.
Lewis, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, etc.—so that readers
(and publishers) expect superior writing in the genre. Tolkien said that
fantasy (kin to fantastic) stories require much more thought and logic
than contemporary stories. I agree. And if we’re going to win over the
Christian publishing world, we’re going to do it with superior
WhereTheMapEnds: You’ve written mostly historical fiction. What
speculative novels have you written?
Death Watch (Zondervan) — this is a contemporary
thriller. My co-author (Jerry Kuiper) came to me with this story idea.
Normally, I’m quick to tell other writers this is their story, they need
to write it. But Jerry’s idea was so captivating, I wanted to be part of
it. The concept: People start receiving notices that they will die in
48-hours. They do. Every one of them. On the stroke of the forty-eighth
hour. All from different causes. A news team sets out to discover who is
behind the mystery deaths and finds supernatural forces at work.
WhereTheMapEnds: I read
Death Watch and fully enjoyed it. Haven’t read
the other ones yet but I’ll bet they’re great. What do you think
Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like
in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Jack Cavanaugh: A squadron of young buck writers streaking across the
publishing skies to the cheers of legions of adoring readers.
WhereTheMapEnds: Ah, what a vision. May it be. What advice would you
give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative
Jack Cavanaugh: It’s a time honored adage for which (in my opinion)
there is no substitute: Read, read, read. Write, write, write.
WhereTheMapEnds: What's the best book or seminar on fiction writing you
Jack Cavanaugh: It’s out of print now. Dean Koontz’s
How to Write
Bestselling Fiction. My copy is falling apart. Among the techniques I
learned from Mr. Koontz is when and how to write a page and a half long
sentence. A powerful tool...
WhereTheMapEnds: LOL, as an editor I would probably cut it to shreds!
What's the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative
Jack Cavanaugh: You’re kidding, right? It’s fun. To quote myself, when
it comes to storytelling, “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing
WhereTheMapEnds: That’s so true. Fiction is incredibly fun. But
speculative fiction—and especially Christian speculative fiction—is the
most fun of all. What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Jack Cavanaugh: I’ve just completed a proposal and sent it to my agent.
The story in a sentence is: Repeatedly thrown from his body by violent
seizures, a sixteen-year-old boy must learn the ways of life in the
spirit in order to defeat an ancient evil.
Jack Cavanaugh: Certainly one of the funniest short stories I’ve read
recently is, "They're Made Out of Meat," by Terry Bisson.
WhereTheMapEnds: What else would you like to say to the readers of
Jack Cavanaugh: One year for Christmas, my brother stood in line to get
an autographed copy of Dean Koontz’s
Intensity as a gift to me. He told
Mr. Koontz I was a writer, so the inscription was personalized, writer
to writer: “Perseverance counts.”
That's All for This Time
What a great interview, huh? Thanks again to Jack. Be sure to visit Jack Cavanaugh online.
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 read them here.
And be sure to come back next month for an interview with another mover and shaker in the world of Christian speculative fiction.