Please Welcome...Rachel Marks
This month our interview guest is Christian speculative fiction novelist Rachel Marks.
Rachel Marks (a.k.a. Pixydust to all her author and artist friends) is the mother of four wonderful children, wife to, in her words, "the most amazing guy on the planet," and she is also a recent cancer survivor. She's a youth leader with her husband, but finds the kids teach her more than she can teach them.
Being a native SoCal girl, she grew up at the beach playing in tide pools and reveling in the ocean—she even fancied herself a mermaid at one time. In her spare time her favorite thing to do is nestle in the corner of a bookstore with her laptop or sketchbook, creating new worlds with words and images, with her iPod blaring Red or Linkin Park. Her artwork was featured in Marcher Lord Press's own A Marcher Lord Gallery and will soon begin showing up on book covers.
Rachel is a member of SCBWI, a graduate of Orson Scott Card's literary boot camp, and is working to publish her first novel. Today, she has pink hair. Who knows what color it'll be tomorrow.
Rachel’s character, ebullience, and determination in the face of cancer have not gone unnoticed by her peers. At the 2010 Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, she was the very first recipient of the Lauren Beyenhof True Grit Award, given in honor of a young woman who persevered in her writing despite the cystic fibrosis that ended her life. Rachel received a standing ovation when her name was announced.
That said, let's begin the interview.
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with you. What have you been up to lately?
Rachel Marks: Well, of late I'm feeling very blessed to be whole and well again. God has given me so much this last year, it's hard to believe sometimes.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?
Rachel Marks: That's a tough one. I have so many favorites, and they seem to change with my life and my mood. Plus, how do I pick just one!? Let's see...in high school it was Stephen King's It (the scariest book of all time) and Robert McCammon's Swan Song (a post-nuke tale of a girl with a very special power; it has the most amazing spiritual twist in it I've ever read). In my young-mother years I didn't read much speculative work because I was trying to be extra holy and holy people don't read about dragons and wizards, right?
Well, needless to say, it didn't really work...lol...
Then I started working as a youth leader and found all the youth were reading speculative books. I decided, to understand them I needed to read what they were reading. So, I picked up The Giver and Holes and was never the same again (both must-reads for anyone over twelve).
I've always devoured books, but when I started writing it was like I couldn't read enough. And just when I thought I'd found THE best book ever, I found another even better. At this point in my life I would have to say my favorite book is the most recent book that gave me that feeling, and that would be The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. This books takes you to a place you couldn't imagine in your wildest dreams. Stunning and evocative. If you don't love this book and want to sleep with it under your pillow you might just need therapy. Or maybe that's just me.
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative fiction?
Rachel Marks: I have always been an avid reader. Books are my escape, my adventure. And what better way to escape than to dive into a strange new world or to tackle monsters or to discover time travel? I have tried to write ordinary stories without monsters or magic, but it just never works. I'm so fascinated by the worlds we can't see beyond our own. And if we believe in a big God, then why limit our imagination?.
WhereTheMapEnds: How was your first idea for a Christian speculative novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher, readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Rachel Marks: Well, no one but my husband ever heard about my first idea. That's my secret manuscript. He was sweet. He would just nod with a vague look of confusion in his eyes any time I babbled on about it.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To write? If they're different, talk about that.
Rachel Marks: Mostly right now I'm writing urban fantasy for older teens and college age. I love writing the gritty settings and fast pace. I do read a lot of teen fantasy to keep up with market trends but my favorite book to read is a lovely, lyrical, historical fantasy. I'm obsessed with Celtic legends and can't get enough of forests and faeries and green. The more tormented the characters the better. And a dash of humor is a plus. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marrilier is the best retelling of a Celtic legend ever. I've read that one about six times. And the sequel, Son of Shadows, is even better. Hmmm...Maybe that's my favorite book...Libba Bray's Great and Terrible Beauty is a good choice for the YA historical fantasy. Rich setting and lovely voice. It's like reading dessert.
WhereTheMapEnds: Wait, have you changed favorite books in the course of our interview! LOL. No wonder we never know what color your hair is going to be. So, Rachel, how would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Rachel Marks: I've been very encouraged lately by what I've been seeing and hearing. I would definitely characterize it as "looking up." I really think we're seeing an uptrend. Slow but sure. I hope it continues.
WhereTheMapEnds: Have you seen anything that encourages you about Christian speculative writing and/or publishing?
Rachel Marks: I have seen a lot of younger blood coming into the market, on both the editorial as well as the writing sides of the game. I think this is helping the change along. Most people my age grew up watching Star Wars and reading C.S. Lewis, Bridge to Terabithia, and A Wind In The Door. And the young people of today—the guys buying all the books—read almost exclusively speculative fiction in one form or another. Between Manga and Harry Potter, there is no escape. Can you say, Twilight? Say it quietly, though, 'cause some teen girl might tackle you at the sound of the vampire-love bible being mentioned (Don't laugh, it's been known to happen). I also think some of the houses are at last noticing speculative work is a valid choice for Christians.
WhereTheMapEnds: I hope you’re right. Long-time readers of this column know my reasons for doubting that traditional houses will be willing and able to make that change. What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Rachel Marks: I think the most frustrating thing to me has always been The Box. You can't call something speculative and then say, "Oh, but it has to fit in this box." So, inevitably, CBA misses chances to reach a wider-aged audience. Where are the hottest sellers right now? In YA speculative. Teens are buying books. Lots of books. But CBA hasn't been able to find manuscripts that appeal to them. By the time the first vampire book came out on the CBA side the market was overly saturated. I think if CBA publishers would look at setting trends rather than following them and if they could peek outside The Box a little bit, they might find a huge pool of readers ready and waiting for them. I really think that's what you're doing so well, Jeff, at Marcher Lord Press. Keep up the good work!
WhereTheMapEnds: Amen, sister. The thing that has me a little riled lately is the realization—which came while teaching at Mount Hermon, I believe—that there actually is a kind of speculative fiction that is hot in CBA (the Christian publishing industry) but nobody recognizes it for what it is. It’s a whole genre about an alternate world with a bizarre culture and it’s own language and odd rules. It’s truly another world. It’s called Amish fiction. Christian readers apparently have no problem jumping to alternate realities. They just want certain alternate realities, with bonnets and buggies as the fantasy trappings of choice. Grr. But, whatever.
Okay, off my soap box again. What would you like to see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Rachel Marks: I would like to stop seeing so many writers worrying about putting a message in their stories and focus more on learning how to write an amazing work of art. Let's let God put His own message in the story and stay out of His way. Let's just be good stewards of our gifts and be the most amazing writers we can be. Then we can follow where The Spirit leads us and be freed from worrying about what the Gatekeepers would think about what we write. Who knows what might happen then!
WhereTheMapEnds: What do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Rachel Marks: Let me get out my Magic Eight Ball...ummm...it says, "Ask again later." :)
WhereTheMapEnds: That’ll teach you to consult Magic Eight Balls! So, what advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?
Rachel Marks: I would say write well, and write from the heart. If it isn't the most difficult thing you've ever done, you're not doing it right.
WhereTheMapEnds: What's the best book or seminar on fiction writing you know?
Rachel Marks: I have read numerous books on writing but I'd say the top three are Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages, James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure, and Orson Scott Card's Characters & Viewpoint. Bell's new book The Art of War and Writing has been extremely helpful to me over the last week or so. I wish I'd had it months ago! The most helpful workshop I've done is Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp. I recommend every speculative writer considers trying to apply. It's hard work, but completely worth it. Jeff's speculative workshop on plot and character at Mt. Hermon was amazing as well. I haven't gotten that much out of a class for a long time. I can't thank you enough, Jeff!
WhereTheMapEnds: What's the best part about writing and publishing Christian speculative fiction?
Rachel Marks: No limits to where your imagination can take you!
WhereTheMapEnds: What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Rachel Marks: I'm working on a story set in post-apocalyptic Manhattan entitled Golden. The world has been desolated and man must now contend with roving zombie-like creatures (my weird cross between a zombie and a vampire) power-hungry faeries/angels, as well as fighting against their own corruption. It's all told from the point of view of a half-breed girl who earns her bread by being an assassin. I'm really enjoying writing it.
WhereTheMapEnds: Awesome! What's a cool speculative story idea you've had lately?
Rachel Marks: I love the idea of Robin Hood and his band of merry men, or Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, so I'm hoping my next project after Golden will be similar to that vein—with a twist, of course. Mine would be in modern day and involve the hunting down of demons. We shall see...
WhereTheMapEnds: Okay, so, what's the best speculative story (Christian or secular, book or otherwise) you've encountered lately?
Rachel Marks: Story premise-wise I'd have to split it between three books—too much exciting new stuff out there lately. These books were the beginning of the new trend, so pay attention now...
Gone, by Michael Grant, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and last but definitely not least, my personal #1 as you now know: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. All are a dystopian setting with the adults all gone or all gone bonkers in one form or another. It's quite fun, actually.
WhereTheMapEnds: What else would you like to say to the readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?
Rachel Marks: I wish you all the best in your reading and writing lives! Don't give up!
That's All for This Time
What a fun interview! Many thanks to Rachel for taking the time. Be sure to visit her online, where both her artwork and a sample chapter of Golden are available for you to see.
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.