Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Interview With Jeff Gerke: Finding a Home for Speculative Fiction

The following post was originally published on the OCCWF (Orange County Christian Writers Fellowship) blog. I had the honor of doing the interview as a guest blogger.

By now you’ve probably heard of Jeff Gerke, and Marcher Lord Press, publishing fiction beyond our world-- of flying castles and vampire wars. I thought it would be fun for Jeff to introduce us to the unusual and why he loves it.

Beneath this fantastical umbrella we’ve come to know as speculative fiction lie a few subgenres. I’m certain not everyone is familiar with these.

Jeff: My short definition of speculative fiction is “anything weird.” So it would include science fiction, fantasy, time travel, vampire, superhero, alternate history, supernatural thrillers, apocalyptic/end times, spiritual warfare, paranormal, urban fantasy, cyberpunk, technothriller, and more.

Introduce us to the world of steampunk?

Jeff: Steampunk is a delightful subgenre that postulates a fantasy world in which there is “high-tech” machinery based on steam power. So it’s kind of fantasy or history meets Industrial revolution. You get steam-powered helicopters flying over elven castles or the American Revolutionary War battles. It’s great.

But it’s a loose definition. Some steampunk novels are not in fantasy times but in, say, the U.S. Civil War. The idea is just to be creative with what machines and technologies might be invented that could be powered by steam. It’s retro science fiction.

Are there any Christian authors writing well in this genre? Can you suggest a few steampunk titles?

Jeff: There are a number of Christian authors writing in this genre, though I don’t know of any yet published. I’m looking for the right steampunk novel for Marcher Lord Press, actually.

Some secular steampunk titles: Boneshaker and Dreadnought by Cherie Priest and Leviathan by Scott Westerfield.

How about Christian horror? Are we talking vampires and werewolves, or the underworld from a Christian’s POV? I’ve talked to the Ladies of the LOLB, and they object (lol). I’ve come to the conclusion, however, that they simply are unclear about this genre. Care to shed a little light on the subject?

Jeff: There have been a number of Christian vampire novels done in the last five years. Shade and Powers by John Olson and The Jerusalem Undead trilogy by Eric Wilson. There was even a vampire Amish novel written by a Christian author (Leanna Ellis) but for a secular publisher.

These books are perfect for small niche publishers like MLP. The larger houses crash and burn with them. Because of the LOLB.

Which is your favorite subgenre? Why?

Jeff: My favorite speculative subgenres are military science fiction and epic fantasy. If I could be a space marine or fighter pilot on a space carrier in a war against an alien species—or an unlikely farm-boy hero on a quest to vanquish the Beast, rescue the beautiful damsel, and save the realm—I’d so do it.

But I like to publish whatever Christian speculative fiction takes me away to wild new worlds, even if it’s not in these subcategories.

Let’s talk SF(science fiction) since it’s the most familiar. What makes a good SF novel? If you were teaching a Science Fiction workshop what’s the lesson plan in a few short paragraphs?

Jeff: Yikes. Well, the first one would be to go take every other workshop at the conference to learn the craft of fiction writing. You can have the best idea in the world, but if you can’t write, the whole thing is moot.

Then pick an aspect of our own culture that you can extrapolate into the future so we can examine it from that perspective. For instance, A Star Curiously Singing is Kerry Nietz’s imagination of what a far future Earth ruled by sharia law would look like. The Personifid Invasion by R. E. Bartlett looks at the ramifications of staving off death indefinitely through the use of artificial bodies. These are issues we’re wrestling with—or advancing toward—in our own culture, so it’s great to examine them in the once-removed parable style of SF.

Another place to look for great SF ideas is to just write the things you think ought to be in the ultimate SF adventure ever. I think that’s what makes Steve Rzasa’s The Face of the Deep series (The Word Reclaimed and The Word Unleashed) series so compelling. He’s got massive capital ship battles, infantry combat with powered armor suits, pirate ships, secret police, and banned holy books. There’s so much to love.

For me, it comes down to excellent fiction craftsmanship and a story that makes me go, “Oh, whoa! I want to live there, I want to live there!”

Any plans to bring a Marcher Lord Press book to the big screen? Which one?

Jeff: Why, sure. We’ve got an option out for Jill Williamson’s Blood of Kings trilogy, but so far no joy. Optioned novels that are never made into movies are a dime a dozen. We’re not buying our Hollywood red carpet outfits yet, but it would be fun if something happened on that front.

Plus, I think all Marcher Lord Press novels would be terrific movies. Any interested producers out there looking for solid scripts for values-based stories in the most popular movie genres of our culture?

Jeff has written three books to help improve authors’ fiction skills. The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction (Marcher Lord Press), Plot Versus Character (Writers Digest Books), and the forthcoming The First 50 Pages (Writers Digest Books).

And btw, Jeff is judging the OCCWF’s first fiction contest.

Debby A.

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