Please Welcome...Randall Ingermanson
What a joy to have Christian author Randall Ingermanson as our interview
guest at WhereTheMapEnds.com.
Randy and I have been friends for a number of years. He's funny,
painfully smart, and as whimsical as a child. He's always laughing and
always willing to help someone out.
Randy is, I'm sure, the only physicist I know. He holds a Ph.D. in
theoretical physics from UC Berkeley. He is also the author of six
Christian novels, each of which has won some sort of award. Two of his
novels have won Christy awards.
Randy is the creator of the famous “Snowflake method” of designing a
novel, a method used by many novelists around the world for analyzing
and organizing their story.
He made news in 2007 because of his brilliant analysis of the
weaknesses in the arguments in favor of the so-called "Jesus Tomb."
He's also something of a Web marketing genius, as you'll see below.
Randy lives with his wife and kids in southern Washington.
Now, the intereview...
WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with what's going on in your life.
Randall Ingermanson: I spent most of 2006 just pulling up stakes from
San Diego and moving. The housing market went flat just as we put our
house on the market (and the house was in pretty bad shape). So it
took ages to sell the thing and get moved out. We moved to Washington
and bought a house on a couple of acres and got moved in shortly
before Thanksgiving last year.
In the meantime, I’ve been developing a site for novelists at
AdvancedFictionWriting.com. This has consumed a lot of
effort over the last couple of years. My Advanced Fiction Writing
E-zine has been the world’s largest e-zine for fiction writers for
over a year now, and is continuing to grow rapidly. I’ve recently
launched an Advanced Fiction Writing Blog. And I’ve been rolling out
products for novelists.
I also continue to keep a foot in the technical world. I do a few
hours of consulting per week for a high-technology company in San
Diego: Vala Sciences, Inc. I find it fun (and rewarding) to do techie
All of that has left me little time to actually write fiction, so I’ve
had rather a long sabbatical. It’s been a nice break, but I’m working
now on a proposal for my next novel.
WhereTheMapEnds: And I'm glad to hear it! What is your favorite
speculative novel of all time (Christian or
secular) and why is that your favorite?
Randall Ingermanson: I’ve been a big fan of Lord of the Rings since I
first read it in college. I think this choice needs no explanation.
I’m also a huge Harry Potter fan, and having just finished reading
Book 7, I have to say that Harry has moved into a dead heat with LOTR.
Again, no explanation could possibly be required. Both of these series
WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to write Christian speculative
Randall Ingermanson: I used to read fiction in graduate school. It
helped to take the pressure off. After awhile, I decided that I could
write fiction at least as well as the authors I was reading at the
time (Robert Ludlum, John LeCarre, Tom Clancy, etc.) I was also doing
a lot of reading in New Testament history and I thought it would be
cool to combine my interests—to write a novel that showed some of the
stuff I was learning about the earliest church in Jerusalem.
Ultimately, I came up with the idea for a time travel novel to
first-century Jerusalem. This was just crazy enough that nobody had
ever done anything quite like it, but it was just cool enough to
I should add that my early optimism about how “easy” it is to write
was wildly wrong. I found out pretty quickly that my writing wasn’t
all that good. That motivated me to try harder. Eventually, after
about 12 years of hard work, I broke into print with my first novel
(Transgression), a story about a rogue physicist who travels back in
time to kill the apostle Paul.
WhereTheMapEnds: How was your first idea for a Christian speculative
novel received (by anyone: spouse, friends, parents, agent, publisher,
readers, reviewers, etc.)?
Randall Ingermanson: Well, it won a Christy award, much to the
astonishment of everyone in the entire world of Christian publishing.
I was, after all, a nobody and my novel was a finalist in the same
category as a couple of extremely well-known and talented authors. So
nobody expected me to win, least of all me. Hardly anybody even knew
who I was, not even the emcee who slit open the envelope and read my
That novel has really stood the test of time. It’s out of print, but
it’s available free on my web site and it continues to bring in reader
email. So I’m happy with how it turned out. You can find out more
about it here.
WhereTheMapEnds: What is your favorite speculative genre to read? To
write? If they’re different, talk about that.
Randall Ingermanson: For reading, that’s hard to say. As noted, two of
my favorite series are Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series.
However, I don’t read a lot of fantasy. I tend to read more suspense,
particularly historical suspense.
I really like Ken Follett’s book
The Pillars of the Earth, which is
set in 12th century England and has a slightly supernatural flavor to
it. Also, Wilbur Smith’s books
River God and the sequel to the sequel,
Warlock. (The middle book in this series was actually pretty
wretched.) Both of these are set in ancient Egypt and again have a
slightly supernatural flavor to them.
WhereTheMapEnds: How would you characterize the current state of
Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Randall Ingermanson: I would say it has a long way to go. Somebody
somewhere needs to solve the “chicken and egg” problem, which I would
summarize this way:
Christian readers read a lot of speculative fiction, but they don’t
expect to find it in Christian bookstores, so they don’t shop for it
there. Therefore, Christian bookstores don’t stock such books, because
there are no customers for them.
I don’t know how to break this logjam. It can be done either by
erosion or by dynamite. Here’s what I mean by that. “Erosion” means
slowly building the market by adding a few new authors per year.
“Dynamite” means creating a market from nothing by having some big
name author write a blockbuster in the genre that suddenly brings in
lots of customers.
I am convinced that eventually the logjam will break. I just can’t
predict how or when.
WhereTheMapEnds: Another option is to bypass the whole Christian
publishing industry altogether, stop trying to get into Christian
bookstores, and create something marvelous primarily through the Web.
That's the model I'm exploring with
Marcher Lord Press. What have you
seen that encourages you about Christian speculative fiction writing
Randall Ingermanson: When I teach at writing conferences I talk to the
young writers—teen writers and twenty-something writers. Most of them
are writing fantasy or science fiction. That tells me where the wind
is blowing. Eventually, one of these young kids is going to break out.
Already, we’ve seen some very strong sales in books for young adults.
I’m thinking here of Bryan Davis and
Donita K. Paul, both of whom have
written dragon stories. They’re both doing well.
WhereTheMapEnds: What have you seen that discourages or frustrates you
about Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?
Randall Ingermanson: I have not seen that level of success in the
adult market. It’ll happen, I’m sure. But it’s hard to know when.
There are just not very many champions of speculative fiction inside
publishing, and some of the biggest champions (such as
Steve Laube and
you, Jeff) are no longer editing [at publishing houses].
There are some new fantasies just coming out this year. I’m thinking
particularly of Sharon Hinck’s
Restorer series, which you acquired,
Jeff, when you were at NavPress.
I met Sharon years ago at a writing conference and immediately saw
that she was something special. One reason I think she might make
inroads where others haven’t is that her novels' natural audience is
right in the heart of Christian fiction readership—soccer moms.
Sharon’s heroine is a soccer mom, in fact, and begins the story
WhereTheMapEnds: Yay. Go, Sharon! Okay, Randy, what would you like to
see changed regarding Christian speculative fiction writing and/or
Randall Ingermanson: I would like to see better writing. I would also
like to see . . . hmmm, better writing. And if you’ll give me three
wishes, I think my third wish would be to see . . . BETTER WRITING.
WhereTheMapEnds: Yikes! Seeing some not-so-great writing lately, I
take it? I'm glad people are finding your
snowflake method and my
character creation system and
tip of the week column. So what do you
think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will
look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Randall Ingermanson: I think that eventually, spec fic will explode in
the Christian market. But I don’t know exactly when. Could be next
year. Could be ten years from now. But I’m sure it’ll happen.
WhereTheMapEnds: Or possibly it will explode in spite of the Christian
market and the whole CBA industry will scramble to get a piece of the
action. Oh, well. That's business. What advice would you give to
someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative
Randall Ingermanson: Develop excellence in your craft. All the
Christian novelists I know are obsessive about improving their craft.
So shoot for stupendously good writing. If you can also arrange to
inherit a few million from a rich uncle, do so. It’ll take the heat
off of you financially so you can focus on writing well rather than
writing for money.
WhereTheMapEnds: Yeah, that's pretty much my plan. Got any spare rich
uncles lurking about? In the meantime, what’s the best book or seminar
on fiction writing you know?
Randall Ingermanson: I’ll assume that’s a leading question to force me
to mention my Advanced Fiction Writing site, where I sell two complete
lecture series on writing fiction: Fiction 101 and Fiction 201. Thanks
twisting my arm, Jeff! There is complete info on these series
I will also mention my absolute favorite book on writing:
of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. I learned how to write by
reading Swain’s book. Some of my friends have complained that Swain is
boring. I never found him boring, although I’ll admit that his writing
is fairly dense and it takes a lot of work to digest. If I’ve
accomplished anything with my fiction courses, it’s to boil
Swain down to the essence.
WhereTheMapEnds: What’s the best part about writing and publishing
Christian speculative fiction?
Randall Ingermanson: Anyone who writes in this genre is a pioneer, and
that’s always exciting. The rules are fuzzy and indistinct right now,
and anyone who writes in this genre gets to make the rules. So go to
WhereTheMapEnds: What writing project(s) are you working on now?
Randall Ingermanson: I’m writing a proposal for a serial killer story
set in first-century Jerusalem, about the year A.D. 30. I would like
to focus on historical suspense novels with supernatural elements for
the immediate future.
I should mention that I had a bit of fun in March of this year because
I found an opportunity to make a small contribution to the world of
New Testament era archaeology:
Most everybody has heard of the alleged “Jesus family tomb.” In March
2007, the Discovery channel ran a “documentary” by Simcha Jacobovici
and James Cameron alleging that the family tomb of Jesus had been
found in Jerusalem, with bone boxes carrying the names of “Jesus son
of Joseph,” “Mary,” “Mary Magdalene,” “Yosi,” “Matthew,” and most
explosively, “Judah son of Jesus.”
The documentary people hired a statistician who claimed to show that
the odds of this tomb in favor of this being the real tomb of Jesus of
Nazareth were 600 to 1. Naturally, a few people were upset, but nobody
seemed to know how to deal with those odds. So I talked to my friends
in the world of Biblical scholarship and did some
calculations and wrote an article showing that the odds were actually
quite strongly against this being the tomb of Jesus.
I didn’t see any reason to bring in a “faith element” to the argument.
What I showed was that solid mathematical reasoning alone made this
tomb a long-shot. I wrote two articles, and the second one (coauthored
with Jay Cost, a grad student at the University of Chicago) really
destroyed any hope of the tomb-sayers being right.
Here’s a link to
That was very satisfying—to apply my math skills to a question that
bears on the faith of millions of Christians. It was also kind of fun
to discuss the issue with a number of New Testament scholars who
called or emailed me after reading my articles.
So I’ve been thinking lately about what other problems in New
Testament Studies a mathematician might be able to work on. And I’ve
come up with a couple of promising ideas. I don’t want to tell you
what they are just yet, because it’s all rather speculative at the
moment and there’s no point in creating false hopes. I will say only
that I’ve worked a bit on the easiest problem to see if it’s
doable. I’ve written a computer program that can solve a certain type
of problem and have tested it with some sample data. So far, it looks
It remains to be seen whether any of these ideas will actually work.
If they do, then it will be possible to solve problems that are 2,000
years old. I’ll say straight off that I’m not smart enough to solve
them myself. If they can be solved, it’s only by applying the power of
modern computers. Luckily, I have a certain talent for writing
WhereTheMapEnds: My goodness, that sounds cool. Oh, I know; you're
calculating how many dinosaurs could've fit on the Ark, aren't you?
Knew it! Okay, so, what’s the best speculative story (Christian or
secular, book or otherwise) you’ve encountered lately?
Randall Ingermanson: Harry Potter. I’m glad to see that the cries of
outrage against Harry by certain Christians has died down. It got
rather embarrassing there for awhile. By now, it should be obvious to
everyone that there are some strong Christian themes in the Potter
series. I detected them in Book 1 and I was sure of them by Book 4.
They’re flat out obvious in Book 7.
WhereTheMapEnds: What else would you like to say to the readers of
Randall Ingermanson: Just this: Never let anyone tell you that you
can’t write a particular type of book. That is plain bull. The boring
people are in the middle of the herd. The real excitement happens at
the edges—where that pesky map ends. Go there! Do the exciting stuff
that you dream about. If somebody tells you your work won’t sell or
nobody will want them read it, tell them to take a long walk off a
short pier. If you don’t write it, nobody else will, ever. So write
That's All for This Time
What a wonderful interview, huh? Thanks again to Randy Ingermanson Gansky. Be sure to
visit Randy 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