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Rich Christiano[Jeff Gerke]


Interview: Jefferson Scott

Jefferson Scott Gerke is the author Virtually Eliminated, Terminal Logic, Fatal Defect, and Y2K Resource Guide (cowritten with Shaunti Feldhahn.) Jeff holds a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin, and an M.Div. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He took part in the list in April, 2000. Manuel Edwards, Erin Gieg, Thomas P. Roche, and Greg Slade asked the questions, and here is an edited version of the question and answer sequence. You can find out more about Jeff at JeffersonScott.com.

TR: Where were you born?

San Antonio, Texas, USA. Lived there until age 8, then moved to Phoenix. Lived there until age 12, then moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where I lived until 1999, except for college years. Now I live in Central Oregon.

TR: Where did you go to school?

I went to Richland High School in Fort Worth. After that, I went to Trinity University in San Antonio for two years. Then I transferred to the University of Texas at Austin, from which I graduated in 1988. In 1991, I began attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. After I got married, I started attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. I didn't know what I was going there for – I was pretty sure I didn't want to work in a church – but I felt like God was telling me just to trust Him and go, like Abram heading out to Canaan. So I went. I received the Master of Divinity (the preacher's degree) in 1994.

People ask me if I've used that degree any, since I don't work at a church. But I know I use it every day. I use it in my job (I'm a non-fiction editor at Multnomah Publishers), and I definitely use it in my writing, if not for direct knowledge, then at least to be sure I'm on solid ground theologically.

TR: What is your marital status?

Blissfully married. By God's grace and our hard work, my wife and I have the kind of marriage people point at and say, I want what they have.

TR: Do you have any children?

We have a four-year-old daughter and a son due in late June.

How did you get started writing?

I think I have to say I started writing when I was playing with my G.I. Joes as a kid. I was constantly making up stories and scenarios for them. Isn't that writing? Story ideas just come to me, as I'm sure they come to so many members of this group. I'm always seeing them, usually as movies, in my head. I've got more ideas than time.

Teachers began encouraging me in high school, but it wasn't until a freshman creative writing class at Trinity that I really found out that not only did I enjoy telling stories but that I was actually decent at it. That led to other creative writing and screenwriting classes.

During seminary, I really felt myself leaning toward creative writing – perhaps because none of my classes called for it! I began seeking publication. What I mean is, I began collecting rejection letters. So I started reading books and articles on writing and how to present queries, etc. During my last semester, I got really close to a publishing agreement with Zondervan. It got to the final deciding body there. But the rejection letter didn't get me down like the others had. I thought, if I can get this far, next time I can get over the top. Sure enough, that's what happened. My next round of queries eventually resulted in my first book, Virtually Eliminated.

TR: What books have you had published? (not restricting yourself to SF titles)

Virtually Eliminated
Terminal Logic
Fatal Defect
Y2K Resource Guide (cowritten with Shaunti Feldhahn)

Numerous articles and short stories in magazines: Christian Single, New Man, CBA Frontline, Life@Work, Worldwide Challenge, OnCourse, and Focus on the Family Clubhouse.

TR: Of your books, which one is your favourite? (including works in progress)

Tough question. I like my second book, Terminal Logic, because it's done the worst in the marketplace. Terrible cover art and title by committee. It also came out when the publisher was going through a huge upheaval. Marketing money went to only the surefire hits. TL fell through the cracks.

I'm also very fond of a dark medieval book of which I've written three chapters. It's my best writing yet, though it may never see the light of publishing day. It's everything a CBA novel cannot be: It's dark, it's a man's book, it's not a romance, it's a historical, it plumbs the depths of the justice of God, and it may not have a happy ending. One editor who reviewed it said the marketplace just isn't ready for the Christian Braveheart. I liked that. You can read the first three chapters online by going to: Nappaland.com.

Now I want to write a UFO book or series. It's my new favorite, or will be, when I write it.

TR: Who are your influences as a writer, and why?

My first taste of what fiction could do was the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I was absolutely transported. My first novel, especially, has some pretty strong Tolkien references. I love Michael Crichton's style. He and Tom Clancy do technothrillers, which I play at, too.

Now I'm very impressed with Bernard Cornwell's Warlord Chronicles and George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series. I finished book one in that series: A Game of Thrones, and am halfway through A Clash of Kings. I'm tempted to say I'm liking this series every bit as much as I liked Lord of the Rings. Both are wonderfully written series Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Both works absolutely unscrewed the top of my head and plugged in. There's something archetypal about both works. I think I'm just hooked on the Jungian individuation thing, where the young, untried underdog must overcome great adversity to become a man and defeat the powerful devil figure. It's the story of Jesus, if you think about it.

I also really enjoyed Ender's Game, by our Mormon friend Orson Scott Card. I enjoyed the few William Gibson books I've read, notably Neuromancer.

I very much liked Startide Rising by David Brin.

TR: How did you become a Christian?

I did not grow up in a Christian home. In high school, the choreographer for both the show choir and musical I was in invited me to an all-church sing at his church. Because so many of my school friends were going to be there, I went. As I watched, wanting to be up there with them, I wondered what it was they were singing about. My choreographer friend and I sat talking in his car in the parking lot until 3 AM. As soon as I heard the gospel, I knew Christ was right for me.

I became a Christian that night. My younger sister became a Christian soon after. My parents, on the other hand, were resistant. Finally, after 17 years of prayer for him, my father has just become a Christian. My mother, a former Christian Science member, is... thinking about it all. We're still praying.

TR: What church do you go to?

Sisters Community Church, here in Sisters, Oregon.

TR: How did you come to go to that particular church?

When Multnomah flew my wife and me out here to interview, we met with the pastor, who is also on Multnomah's board of directors. He's a wonderful man. We hit it off right away. Then, because the church preaches the Bible, is close to home, has a great staff, allows us to serve (I teach kids), and is the home of so many of our friends from work, it was the natural choice. It was through the ministry of this pastor that my father became a Christian.

TR: How does your faith affect your writing?

My faith permeates my life and being. Even if I wrote secular novels, it would still be, in a sense, Christian fiction, since a Christian wrote it. I write novels in which Christianity is integral to the stories and the characters, not just their setting or something tacked on later to sell in the CBA market. I like it when there are Christian issues the main character is dealing with during the course of the story.

It's like how I witnessed to my dad all those years. The direct approach stopped working early on. I learned to talk about something that was happening to me in my spiritual life. I didn't ask anything of him, so he couldn't complain. But all day long I could talk about the reality and sufficiency of Jesus Christ, I could bring out Bible verses galore, I could talk about this and that element of the Christian life. He got a fuller picture of a real Christian life that way than the direct approach would ever give.

That's what I try to do in my writing. They're not evangelistic, not directly, but I do always write with both the intelligent Christian and the intelligent non-Christian in mind. One of my great themes is that Christianity is not only relevant to life in the 21st (or any) century, but that it is superior to all other systems that are out there. If I can do that while I'm also spinning an entertaining yarn, all the better.

TR: What Christian book(s) (fiction or non-fiction) have had the greatest impact on your thought and writing?

In seminary, I had to take a class called Systematic Theology. It's designed to run through all the doctrines of the Christian faith – or, said another way, to go through the entire Bible – and synthesize it all into a coherent system of belief. It was a wonderful experience for me. The text we used was written by the professor, but it is available through bookstores. It's called, curiously, Systematic Theology (volumes 1 and 2), by James Leo Garrett.

What I appreciated about Garrett's style, in his classes and his books, was that he presented all the options that were out there about a certain doctrine, then came to a conclusion about which he thought was best. He gave reasons for why he chose what he did, but placed no pressure on anyone to accept his particular view.

The next most influential class I had was called Philosophy of Religion. Like Systematic, this class helped me understand what I believed in order to better evaluate the world and other beliefs. Sorry, no published textbook from that class.

As far as Christian novels that have affected my writing, I can't think of many. I have a not very high regard for the quality of Christian fiction on the whole. I have, however, enjoyed Alton Gansky's fiction (A Ship Possessed, Vanished, Distant Memory, etc.). I keep telling him (he's an e-friend) that he's got to quit writing books that sound interesting to me or I'm going to have to stop saying nobody's writing Christian books that sound interesting to me.

Most of Stephen R. Lawhead's books start out well but then bungle it by the end. His novel, Taliesin, has some unforgettable imagery. But Lawhead has the privilege of holding the prize for the best Christian novel I've ever read. It's his Byzantium. I loved it. I kept waiting for it to get a little silly toward the end, but it never did. I've not read his Iron Lance, but it looks good, too.

I've not been overly impressed with Christian writing, as I said. If I've been influenced by it, it's mostly been in the opposite direction. I'll read it and get so disappointed that it motivates me to try to do it better.

TR: What are your main critiques with the current "Christian" writing?

That's a frustration of mine about the CBA fiction industry. (This is for free.) Like all businesses, it's almost completely market driven. Noble causes and "important" books don't sell well. What sells well is what's selling well right now. There's a me-too element in any consumer industry, and this one is no exception.

Or consider men's fiction. Because men's fiction hasn't sold well, publishers aren't interested in men's fiction. Then you've got the male Christians who would love to read a great Christian men's novel, but can't find any in their local Christian bookstore, so they stop going to that store. Then publishers find out that men don't go into Christian bookstores, so they don't want to consider men's fiction. And so it goes.

I also think there's an undercurrent of legalism regarding Christian fiction. People look askance at you when you're buying it or reading it, as if you're not "redeeming the time." It's a quiet little hypocrisy, I think, that doesn't do much more than create a resistance to new things. Like Christian SF, great Christian movies, Christian literary fiction, or fiction that doesn't give pat answers and have everybody saved by the end.

I've championed many books in house to our publishing committee, books that were wonderful fiction, but which didn't fit into the mold of what's selling now. They've all been shot down. Why? Because those books would probably not sell well. It's understandable – they have to sell products to stay in business, after all – but no less disheartening.

For awhile I was investigating the option of a small print run/on-demand publishing company. It's still a great idea. It could cater to the "small" book, the book that ought to be done but won't be by bigger houses. But you still have to sell enough copies to pay the people who put the book together, and if you're talking lower quantity, you're talking higher per unit price. Plus you've got to get the word out, and advertising space is very expensive. Still, if someone's got a hundred thousand dollars lying around, I'd gladly take it to get the thing up and running. ;-)

GS: Have you got a name for the three books featuring Ethan Hamilton? (Like, the Cyberspace Trilogy, or whatever...)

No. I call them Ethan Hamilton books or the Ethan Hamilton series.

GS: When you were writing the Ethan Hamilton books, were there any theological "puzzles" you had to sort through to your own satisfaction before you could continue with the story?

Well, Virtually Eliminated deals with computer addiction. A lot of that material was autobiographical. For me, it was computer games. I'm a strategy game junkie, I'm afraid. I think I had just discovered X-COM: UFO Defense when this all came to a head. I was showing all the signs of addiction, but didn't see it. I finally had to get my priorities back in line. It's still a struggle, even today. I have my weekly Starcraft night with some buddies, but that's it. And it has to come after Christ, after my wife, and after my children.

Terminal Logic was actually the second book written to be my second book. What I mean is, I wrote an entire other story as the sequel to VE. It was also about artificial intelligence. I was very much into the Internet consciousness idea. But that book also dealt with a child molester/murderer. My daughter had just been born and I was fiercely protective. I wrote about my worst fear and played it out, imagining how the protagonist could keep his family safe against such a predator.

The story had good writing, I think, but it was way too dark. My editor read my ending and went, "Hold on, we can't publish this! We'll be blacklisted." Well, I agreed. He thought we could fix it, but I wanted to throw the whole thing out and start from scratch. Now that I work for a publishing company, I can see how unpopular that move was. It didn't make me any friends. But it was the right thing to do. I wrote what is now TL, and am much happier with it overall. It was more of an Ethan Hamilton book than the other would've been.

For Fatal Defect, I had to try to sort through the ethics of biogenetics. I know I don't have it all figured out, but I worked through it enough to pull off the story.

My biggest theological puzzle, however, came in my research for the UFO novel I want to write next. I had to grapple with the evidence for and against extraterrestrial life. I wanted to see how and where this whole phenomenon fit within the Christian worldview. I was not willing to accept that ET, if he existed, had a genesis outside Genesis, if you see what I mean. I'm completely satisfied with the conclusion I've reached, and now I want to tell a story about it.

GS: I thought your treatment of Ethan's addiction to computers and VR was excellent, and the "breakthrough" when he realised it and swore off was, for me, the highlight of Virtually Eliminated. So why did you climax the book by having him go right back into battle with an even more immersive VR system?

It was the ultimate "Oh, no." Here he is, precariously on the mend, and the only way to save his son is to do the one thing he fears most. It forced him to be completely reliant on God, which was what he needed anyway. It was the "right" situation to throw him into for the climax of that story.

GS: In Terminal Logic, Ethan gets the impression that he is battling demonic forces, rather than artificial intelligence. Is he, or is his imagination getting away from him?

I wanted to leave that unanswered. I wanted there to be a logical explanation for almost every demonic-seeming thing that happened. In my mind, he wasn't battling Satan himself, as he was tempted to think. But I won't say that some of what went on wasn't touched by the demonic. I really like the idea of cyberspace being a half-physical/half-spiritual realm in which the devil might be quite comfortable.

GS: Why is it that your books have one name on the cover, and a different name on the copyright page?

I write under the pen name Jefferson Scott. My full name is Jefferson Scott Gerke. I chose the pen name for several reasons. For one, Gerke is hard to pronounce (it rhymes, as every schoolyard smart aleck ever told me, with "turkey.") Why invite abuse for me and embarrass those who do not mean to offend?

Second, I didn't want to have to change my phone number and address for fear that some wacko would track me down and do whatever it is wackos do.

Third, it was a psychological defense system. If the books did really well, I didn't want to get a big head. Because people don't always say, "Michael Crichton's books always do great." Sometimes they say, "Michael Crichton always does great." I wanted to be once removed from that. And, if my books did poorly, I wanted them to be Jefferson Scott stinking up the joint, not Jeff Gerke. I don't want my ego tied to the success or failure of my books. It's a good thing I did this, since the books have done pretty poorly.

Fourth, and most importantly, I went with a pen name to avoid pride. Again, since my books haven't done well as of yet, it turns out I didn't have anything to worry about. But back when I decided to go with a pen name, I didn't know. I thought they could just as easily rise as fall. If they had risen, I didn't want to sign every check or receipt and wonder if the person recognized my name. I didn't want my photo on the back of my books (they slipped one by me on TL) because I didn't want to walk into a room and catch myself wondering if anyone recognized me. It was a pride thing. If I had it to do over, I'd do the same thing.

One interesting side note. Once you've worked under a pen name, you have very little reticence to using another pen name. This may be what I choose to do. It works like this. Salesman for the publisher shows his catalogue of new books to the bookstore buyer. Buyer flips through and spots one that looks interesting. "Jefferson Scott, huh?" He turns to his computer and types it in. Up pops the disappointing sales history of Jefferson Scott's other books. "No thanks. Pass. Next." Now, let's say Jefferson Scott is suddenly Henrietta Higgensworth? Buyer types it in and doesn't find it. The book looks interesting, so he decides to give a new author a chance. Bingo.

Having books published is not always a good thing. If they're published but sell poorly, due to your fault or not, buyers – and publishers – are less likely to give your later books a chance. Take it from me, sometimes it's better to be a new nobody than an established "loser."

GS: Is there a web site (run by you or fans) devoted to your work?

Nope. I had one up for awhile, but then I moved and changed ISPs. Mike Nappa of Nappaland represents me, so his site (www.nappaland.com) has some info. Amazon.com has great reader reviews. You all go chime in, too. I'd love to hear from you that way.

GS: Do you have plans for any more books?

Of course. I've mentioned some in this interview. Right now, however, I believe God has me in a season in which I'm not supposed to be writing. I'm working 40+ weeks, squeezing my brain, then I come and play with my daughter (and soon my son, too, God willing), then I have time with my wife. Then it's time to go to bed and do it all over again.

When I wrote my books, I had a job that let me write full time. Can you believe it? I was a security guard. Even working on my research and writing 40+ hours a week, it still took me over eight months to do each book. When I think how long it will take me to complete a book now, with only about 4 hours a week I will give up for such activity, I just throw up my hands. I'm not spending 6.66 years writing a novel.

I heard a scientist say that he wouldn't board an interstellar spaceship now, with current technology (should anybody build one). Rather, he would wait until faster means of travel were invented, and still end up there way ahead of the first ones to leave. That's how I feel with my writing right now. I'll wait until I can work faster.

When it's all said and done, I'm not going to wish I had written more during these years. I'm going to wish I'd spent more time with my children when they were young. I believe God will bring me into a season of writing again. I just don't know when.

GS: For some odd reason (possibly because it's sitting right on my desk) I find myself thinking of Fatal Defect rather a lot these days. So here's another question: There seems to be a lot of buildup about the crabs on Clipperton Island. I was half expecting them to play some major role in the climax (like eating the bad guys alive or something.) They didn't do that, but are they supposed to be a metaphor for something (like lurking evil)?

I had fun with those silly crabs. I did like using them as a kind of device to give menace to the island. I wanted there to be almost a supernatural presence there, one that did not want humans around. The otherworldly crabs seemed like a good way to get at that. I was glad I thought of a way to use them in the front-burner story at all! Their main purpose, as I said, was to give a sense of setting. I thought it was poetic justice that in the end, Clipperton returned to the crabs.

TR: How many science fiction or fantasy titles did Multnomah publish last year?

Zip. Multnomah's been pretty conservative when it comes to fiction. Haven't done a lot of less-traveled genres. More's the pity. Several of my own proposals have been shot down in committee for that reason. What we do excel at is giving new authors a chance. A large chunk of the novels in our newest catalogue are done by first-time authors. In fact, one criticism we give ourselves is that we're great at discovering and developing new talent – but lousy at keeping it around!

There is one romance we're putting out this time that might qualify as fantasy. I think it's called Maire. Cover art has a Celtic look.

TR: How does Multnomah go about finding these new authors? What do you do to investigate the Christian credentials of your authors?

Multnomah receives thousands of queries and proposals every year. We have a system in place to bring the promising ones to the surface. Each editor sees about five or ten queries and/or proposals a month. We have an approval process that refines things even more. Only the best ideas and writers get published, but get published they do.

The genuineness (or lack thereof) of the author's Christian faith is usually quite clear in the proposal, whether the author intended to show it or not. Football fans can tell a non-fan right off, simply by terminology, assumptions, knowledge, and the presence or absence of a "right" feeling. Same with Christianity.

I still remember one proposal we received from someone who wanted to do a book called, "I Kissed Meat Goodbye." I kid you not. Jesus was a vegetarian, this author said, and so we should do this book. Hmm. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. There's this perception that it's easier to get published in CBA (Christian publishing) than ABA (secular). 'Tisn't so. But some authors try to get their horror or whatever book published by tacking on a spiritual component. Won't fly.

There are times when an author with, um, different spiritual sensibilities makes it through the process. Sometimes this is something we know about: like when we publish Rabbi Lapin or Brennan Manning. Sometimes it sneaks up and bites us – or we think we can keep the fringe stuff marginalized, and find to our chagrin that we were wrong. It happens.

TR: I do not know Manning – what is he and what of his did you publish?

I don't really know his work, either. With 100+ books published every year, we can't all read every book we publish. Apparently he's a Catholic author who is somewhat controversial in Evangelical circles. Don't know why. We're putting out his Ragamuffin Gospel.

TR: Do you work with literary agents, and, if so, specifically "christian" literary agents? Do ever accept works that come in over the transom? Would you advise a would-be Christian fiction (or nf) author to retain the services of such an agent?

We do work with agents. It's funny how that's changed. When I was submitting my first novel in 1994, the feeling was that Christian houses would never work with agents. The perception was that agents were only out for money. But now we like going through agents, because if a proposal was good enough to get an agent's attention, we can usually assume it's better than the bulk of the proverbial slush pile.

I think the change is just the result of the explosion of Christian book publishing. With more and more proposals and queries coming in, any help we can get with surfacing the cream is appreciated.

As far as I know, we haven't worked with any non-Christian agents. They usually realize that they don't know the CBA market – no contacts there, doncha know. So Christian writers usually secure Christian agents. Alive Communications is the largest agency in CBA right now. Savvy Christian agents can do deals with ABA houses, but the opposite isn't always true. I'm sure we'll see more non-Christian agents hitting up CBA houses and authors as ABA houses realize that Christian books can generate real money – Amigo money.

But we do still work with over-the-transom submissions. Some houses will not. If the writer's guidelines say "No unsolicited proposals," that's often what they mean, though some will come right out and say "No unagented proposals." However, some houses will still consider unsolicited queries.

If a writer can secure the services of an agent, it's a good thing. But beware agents who charge reading fees to consider taking you on. A bad agent is worse than no agent at all. If an agent has good contacts in the right departments at the right houses, that will help you.

Some agents will only take you on for a single project. She might be your agent for book X, but nothing else. Other agents take on the whole writer and simply try to find publishing homes for whatever her author wants to write. Those are the best kind, especially if they have good contacts and good reputations.

I know it's difficult to find out who the good ones are if you're on the "outside,#34; but it can be done. Consider dropping publishing houses an e-mail asking for a few recommendations. If the house likes to work with an agent, that's a good sign.

TR: Do you accept recommendations for new authors from existing ones, known Christian leaders, pastors, etc.?

We'll consider anyone. The whole world is free to submit us a query letter. There's a kind of preference hierarchy, of course. Bestselling household name authors (Dobson, Lucado, Swindoll, Peretti, Jenkins, etc.) are most favored. Popular speakers/authors are next (Tony Evans, Andy Stanley, Gary Chapman). Personalities in other fields are attractive as well (Christian musicians, especially; some sports figures). Then there are those in the next tier: the promising prospects – radio personalities with nationwide shows, public speakers with large audiences, and so forth. Next come experts in their fields, coming with a unique message. Last of all come those with an incredible message or story.

The three things we look for in an author are big name, fantastic idea, and great writing, in that order. We'll take a big name with a lousy idea and terrible writing, but we'll never take a no-name writer with a zilch idea, no matter how the sentences sparkle. So you can start seeing what you're up against in breaking into publishing.

Fiction writers have it a little easier. A reader (and thus a bookstore and thus a publisher) might take a chance on an author she's never heard of if the novel seems interesting. But who's going to buy a book on, say, the end times if it's written by Joe Blow Pastor? In non-fiction we want authorities, experts. Especially experts we've heard of and trust.

TR: You said you are lousy at keeping this newly discovered christian talent around? Why is this? What kind of money can a successful Christian novelist writing for Multnomah make?

You have to know that the typical Christian novelist – including many you've heard of quite a bit – don't make it as writers. They're pastors or housewives or lawyers. Even authors with multiple books and copies sold in the 100,000s don't make a living writing. Only a very few – like maybe Jerry Jenkins and Frank Peretti and maybe a handful of others – can actually quit their day jobs.

But on to your real question. Multnomah pays more than do 70% or so of the CBA houses. The big boys in fiction: Tyndale, Zondervan, Word/Nelson, Waterbrook, and Bethany, probably pay more. Multnomah is primarily a non-fiction house. Novelists wanting to get their start sometimes find a friendly spot with us, but if their books take off, other companies with bigger pocketbooks come calling. Multnomah hasn't always shown the willingness to make counter-offers that keep the novelists home. We do that more often with top-selling non-fiction authors.

A typical advance for a first-time Multnomah novelist will probably be in the $7,000-12,000 range. I got $5,000 for each of my three novels. It's a pittance compared to some, especially if you're trying to support your family with it. But I was just glad to be paid at all.

Now I hear that YA novelists (authors writing for kids) get about $5,000 per book, which seems pretty good for a 125-page novella.

TR: I assume because they feel that they can sell more copies of YA books?

Maybe, but maybe not. It may just be that expectations for advances have changed. Five thousand dollars was probably on the low end for an adult novel's advance, even back in 1994. But now that's probably up around $12,000-15,000, so $5,000 for a book one-third as long ought to earn one-third as much.

TR: What types of fiction are you currently publishing now? If a genre is labelled "Christian X", etc., what is done to verify the Christian credentials of the novel in question? How do you deal with critics from the Christian community, WRT things like sex, language, violence, etc.?

It's an eclectic list. Some romance, some Al Lacy westerns, some historical, some contemporary. Mostly first-time authors. We've got Randy Alcorn's Lord Foulgrin's Letters coming out, which we hope to be big for us, and Sharon Ewell Foster (I think I got her name right) has Passing by Samaria coming out, a book that NAACP has really gotten behind.

The fiction editors here pick what books to publish, though they all go through a final deciding body of VPs and higher. Hopefully a book will have Christianity and Christian issues and Christian characters at its core or it won't get published. However, I've already mentioned the story of the Jewish boy trying to avoid capture by the Nazis. There are a few secondary characters who are Christians. They help the boy. But Christianity is not at the heart of this book. I voted against it in committee, but lost.

The sex, language, violence thing is very tricky. There's always the debate between the realists and the conservatives, for lack of better terms. The realists say, "Well, that's how this character would really talk." The conservatives argue that they came to Christian fiction to get away from how the world really talks. I try to find creative ways to show someone's depravity without spelling out their curses and following them into brothels. There will always be this tension, and I think it's healthy. No matter what you write, someone's going to be offended. So you might as well be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, listen to your editor, and just go for it. Write it the way it feels right. But be teachable and humble.

TR: Do you ever run into conflict with your authors as to what level of such stuff would go into any particular book?

Usually not, but it does happen. The typical Multnomah author is pretty conservative, so we're usually safe. But we're going after some less conservative authors, and sometimes they want to stretch the boundaries. When it happens, we get to have the final say. If a book is going to blow up in our faces, we fix it or we can it, though that costs a lot.

GS: How many do they have in print in total right now? (And can you provide the authors and titles?)

That might boil down to my three technothrillers: Virtually Eliminated, Terminal Logic, and Fatal Defect.

TR: Did your working for Multnomah help or hinder you in your attempts to get them to buy your stuff? Can you use other houses when Multnomah is not interested?

This is an interesting question. Every house has editors who also write. The skills are complementary. Every house has a different policy. Some say you cannot write for the house you work for. Others say you cannot write for anyone else (helping the competition, don't you know.) Others say you can write, but only if it's in an area you don't work in: i.e. if you're a children's editor, you can write adult fiction, but not children's books. Or vice versa.

At Multnomah, there's nothing set down in writing. There are rumblings that sound like leadership doesn't want us helping the competition, but nothing is formal. Some editors here take a don't ask, don't tell approach. I tend to think I need to give Multnomah right of first refusal. If they don't want the project, or if they say they might want it in two years, I feel I'm free to shop it around. In the case of the YA books I'm developing, I'm good to go, because M. doesn't publish YA.

And yes, there is a strange dynamic at work when I present my own ideas. They know me and they want to be nice to me, but they also need to be free to evaluate the idea on its own merits. Sometimes I think I should just leave the room while they talk about it. So far, they've shot down everything I've presented. No, that's not entirely true. They approved one in a lower committee, but I withdrew it before the final committee saw it. I lost interest in the project. Long story.

TR: Does Multnomah have any sort of policy with regards to genre fiction, like so many titles per year per genre, or is it strictly on a manuscript-by-manuscript basis as to whether they think something will sell, regardless of genre?

Not really either. There's nothing written down, but the novels we publish tend to fall into major camps depending on the three fiction editors' likes and dislikes. Each has a different set of preferences when looking at potential books. Within those sets, there is a freedom to try new genres, but that only goes so far. An editor might love a proposal, but if it's in a genre Multnomah either hasn't done before or has had bad luck with, the thing will probably get canned. And I keep trying to push the envelope there, both with my proposals and with other writers' proposals I bring to the committee. So far I'm 0-12, but I keep trying.

TR: Who's on the committee – just editors? Is Multnomah a for-profit concern, or a non-profit ministry?

We're for-profit.

The first committee is made up of everyone in the Editorial staff: editors, managers, VP, and support staff. Some wonderful discussions. The final deciding body is made up of the President, the Executive VP, and the Editorial VP.

TR: So you really have no in-house Perettis, novelists who repeatedly publish their works with Multnomah and spurn offers to go elsewhere?

Many of our authors prefer Multnomah. We try our best to offer in relationship and a feeling of family what we can't always pony up in cash. But sometimes authors do go to other houses, and sometimes it is over cash. We can't judge, because they may have financial obligations we know nothing of or may be donating their advances to a ministry or may sincerely believe the other house will do better with a book they feel especially passionate about. We have some authors who stay with Multnomah simply because if it ain't broke... Al Lacy is a good example.

Publishing houses have reputations. They have character. I should say they are perceived or expected to put out certain kinds of books and stay away from other kinds. Some houses are known as doctrine houses, serving the seminary community. Others are known as fiction houses, primarily. Others deal mainly with well-known speakers. Those characters change over time.

TR: Between the time a book is presented to an editor for consideration, how long to decide definitely yes or no to publish? If it is accepted, how long to get it to press?

Depends. Usually if I read a query I like, I'll present it at our next weekly editorial meeting. If they like it, it will go to the next meeting of the final deciding body (the publishing committee). They meet twice a month or so. It is sometimes several weeks before a book comes before that committee. Even then, sometimes they want further development, which could take any number of weeks. Some books are no-brainers. If Max Lucado comes to us with a book idea, we say yes. He doesn't go through committee. Most everybody else does.

Then, once a contract is authorized and signed, it takes about 9 months to get a book to bookstores. We're pushing to have 12 months, because when things are rushed, errors are more likely. Sometimes we can "fast-track" books in 4 months or so, but that's asking for trouble.

TR: Who owns the firm? Publicly traded, or privately held? Connected with some denomination or christian organization? Seems I recall hearing of something called the "Multnomah School of the Bible" out your way – any connection?

We're privately owned. No denominational connection, but we come from a conservative-to-moderate Evangelical orientation. Multnomah began as Multnomah Press, which was part of Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland. That organization was purchased by Questar Publishers in 1995 and moved to Sisters, in Central Oregon. The new company became Questar Publishers and retains no formal connections with the school.

TR: Is all this management, including the president, on site with you in Portland, or are you answering to corporate HQ in NYC or elsewhere?

We're in Sisters, Oregon, and yes, everyone's on-site. Very nice.

TR: Do your sales people call on Barnes and Noble, etc., or do they come to you?

We have salespeople assigned to B&N and other chains. Our guys go out to their buyers.

TR: What assistance with their writing does Multnomah provide to writers who have had a ms. or proposal accepted?

The less help they need, the better. The more writing we need to do for them, the slower the project moves. And the higher the possibility that the author won't be pleased. Sometimes, though, if a Big Name who can't write wants to do a book with us, we'll do whatever it takes to produce a book. The bigger the name, the more we're willing to do, because it's money in the bank. We have editors on staff who do a lot of writing. I think I'm being groomed for that kind of thing.

I know I've talked a lot about money in these conversations and not much about ministry. I'm sensitive to that. But the bottom line is, unfortunately, the bottom line. We do want to make money (to stay in business) and extend the kingdom of God mightily. If we don't do the one, we can't do the other. Sometimes we put out books that actually hurt us financially, but are deemed important enough to justify it. Those that are close to Multnomah's core mission. Theoretically, we put out the moneymakers in order to afford to put out the important ministry books.

GS: Looking at it from the outside, it almost seems to me that CBA publishers are half ashamed of the genre fiction they put out. I have written to the public relations addresses on the web sites of several (including Multnomah), asking what SF titles they have available, and never get a reply. Would you say that Multnomah has a "problem" with publishing genre fiction?

I think that's a bit sweeping. Palisaides, our line of romance novels, is nothing if not genre fiction. And we have quite a few westerns and various series. One editor in particular is really looking for literary fiction. Those can be in almost any genre.

But again, we're all shackled a bit by the we-tried-that-once-and-it-didn't-work mentality. Publishing is a risky business. Venture capitalism, if you will. You make a bad decision – publish an unpopular book – and everybody loses. So I think Multnomah as a whole is a little gun-shy when it comes to SF or men's or thrillers or whatever other category you might throw out, if we've not had success there before.

I think writers look at publishing companies and see rich, faceless firms just doing whatever they want and thumbing their nose at the world. That's not true. Publishing companies have to make money to stay afloat. That's the bottom line. We're influenced by the market just as any other business is. True, we should publish some books as a part of our Christian mission – whether they make money or not – and we do, but you can't do too many of those and keep all your employees paid. Sad as it is, publishers have to look at the bottom line with potential books. If your idea is good – even great in some respects – but won't sell in the bookstore, most houses are going to pass.

And houses change. I think Multnomah's gotten more conservative with fiction in the last few years. I'm pretty sure that if my books came to committee now, they'd never make it past the first level.

But if you think it's bad to not be able to get published, consider what it's like getting published but having the books fail miserably. Now neither publisher nor bookstore is going to take a chance on future books by you. It's better to be an unpublished "nobody" than a published "loser." Which is why I may write under a different pen name in future books.

TR: What does Multnomah do to sell its books? What do they expect you as an author to do in this regard?

Every book is different, but typically, it goes like this. There is advertising in trade and consumer magazines. There are radio interviews and sometimes TV interviews. Sometimes they do book signings. Bigger books have bigger budgets. Usually this just means more of the above. Multnomah's not into author tours these days. The sales force goes out to their buyer contacts with the entire catalogue of new books, and tries to secure shelf real estate for every title. Multnomah has a great sales force.

The author is welcome to do whatever he or she can on his or her own to make the book sell. Of course they want you to keep your appointments for interviews or signings. But some books, especially the "smaller" ones, aren't going to get much attention at all. So anything the author can do to drum up interest, the better. It helps everyone. It's possible to feel like the red-headed step-child of a publisher (believe me, I know.) Other books get more fuss. The writer has to have a heart of stone to survive. Which of course good writers never have.

GS: Do you have any book signings or appearances at conventions scheduled?

Nothing right now. Every now and again I hear rumblings, but they usually don't coalesce into anything. I'm a member of a Christian novelists' e-mail list. Several of us live in the Pacific NW. We're trying to get a group signing going in Portland, possibly in August.

A wise man once told me that a book is like a tomato. When it's new to the shelf, it has a certain beauty and attractiveness. But that quickly fades and newer tomatoes are brought to the front. Right now, since my latest book came out in 1998, I'm a pretty old tomato. Not a lot of interest in my books these days.

To stay at the front of the shelf, you've got to keep putting out produce. So far I've not got anything major on its way to market. I've got a short story in "The Storytellers' Collection," a compilation of short stories coming out this summer from Multnomah. And I'm working on an idea for a YA series, as I mentioned. It's this full-time job thing. I've also got a new baby due in June, so my free time will be less than zero.

I am going to the Write-to-Publish conference in Chicago this June. I'll be there as an editor, but I might just sneak into a few workshops as a writer.

TR: Is "Christian fiction" a large enough tent to include fiction which lauds virtues Christians hold dear without making conversion or spiritual fulcrumism a plot element?

Good question. I can only answer for myself and for Multnomah. I personally don't need to have someone get saved in a book to call it a Christian novel. If you've read my three novels, you've seen that no one gets saved until book 3. That's more realistic, I think.

But then how far do you go the other way? Can a book be considered Christian fiction if it just doesn't have cussing and sex in it? No. Not for me. If there's no difference (besides those elements) between a Christian book and a non-Christian book, I say it's not Christian fiction. I want to have some Christian element at the core of the book. Those writers who try to tack spirituality on to a story just to try to get published in what they consider an easier market can be spotted a mile away. I want fiction from the Christian worldview, fiction in which Christianity is at the heart of the story and/or the hero.

But not everybody agrees, not even at Multnomah. We are preparing a novel about a Jew trying to escape Holland in WWII. In my estimation, there's no Christian component to the story at all. But the committees all liked it, so it's going forward. It's great writing. I might even read it. But it's not what I call Christian fiction.

One of my themes is the absolute superiority of Christianity, rightly lived, over every other worldview or approach to living. All of my stories need to show that – not overtly, goodness sakes, no, but at the core of the tale.

TR: How did you approach this salvation in your novel? Does your denominational preference affect it?

Well, I suppose it would have to. I mean, my character is of a certain denominational bent, as am I. Of course we always think our way is best and right, don't we? If you're asking how I approached it in the story, it was like this: This character had been the "co-star" of all three novels. He'd been with my hero, who is a Christian, through thick and thin, seeing him respond well or poorly, but always within the context of Christianity. He'd taken baby steps toward Christ in the first two books. Some things challenged how he'd always thought. Then, in book 3, I have my hero witness to him. I thought he'd earned the right to do so by then.

I wanted the character to get saved at the outset, and then to have lots of problems. I'm always bothered by Christian fiction that has the person getting saved at the end and then living happily ever after. In my experience, it's when a person becomes a Christian that the real problems begin. The enemy's not going to lose one of his own without a fight. The difference is the resources the person now has to call upon.

If you're asking how I approach the plan of salvation, I guess I just sat down and wrote it. It has elements in it that I've used in my own life, and some I've never used but always wanted to. I'm sure it shows my theological bent quite clearly.

TR: Good point. I imagine you receive some pretty sugary, sappy, drippy, and generally outright horrible submissions at M. How do you structure rejection letters, and is this different depending upon whether you perceive the author has real talent and could get published, or whether he is a dreck-monger who should have his keyboard smashed up?

Nice imagery. Your hunch is right. When we get submissions that are clearly inappropriate, we send out a standard rejection letter. I've got a bulging file full of these – from Multnomah and the rest – for my own projects. Just part of the biz.

If I see a project that shows promise, but is not suitable for us for whatever reason, I'll often jot off an e-mail. Perhaps because of said bulging file, I have a real heart for writers on the outside trying to get in. What I usually say is something like this: You've got real promise; now go out and get Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, do everything in it, and send your proposal back to me later."

There are some projects that must be handled with care. Friends of Multnomah, someone's Aunt Ruth (that's for all my fellow Veggie Tales fans out there), or authors represented by agents can't get form rejection letters. They usually get rejected all the same, but with a little more TLC.

If you get a rejection letter that is at all personal – a note pencilled in the margin of your query, an encouraging Post-It, etc. – you'll treasure it. It's also often a sign that you're beginning to get warmer.

EG: LOL! Poor Aunt Ruth <G> I would imagine that being a writer, it might make it more difficult to edit. Do you find that editing non-fic is easier, because you write mostly fic? Or am I wrong there? :)

This was my hunch, too, when I started. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to distance myself from someone else's fiction, that I would impose my own style on their writing, trying to make it over in my image. Non-fiction is "safe" in that way. It's easier than you might think to get into someone's voice – for non-fiction, anyway. But now I think I've figured out how to stay distant from the book I'm working on. I think I'm ready to edit fiction. Just haven't gotten the opportunity yet.

TR: If the editor on whose desk novel x has landed is ambiguous about it, can he ask a second editor for a second opinion?

Definitely, but this rarely happens. The second editor has a stack on his or her desk, too. If I'm too close to a proposal, like if I know the person or something, I'll have someone else look at it. But usually we just believe that God made sure the proposal landed on the desk of the editor He picked for it.

We don't have time to anguish over every manuscript that comes in. If a proposal is great, it's pretty clear. If it's terrible, that's clear, too. If it's so-so and doesn't strike us as interesting, we usually give it to the editorial secretary to send out the standard rejection letter.

TR: How do you as editor decide whether sufficient Christian elements are in the book to style it a "christian" book?

Again, if a book doesn't have some element of Christianity at its core, for me it's not a Christian novel. I like books with Christian sub-plots or likable Christian minor characters, but that's not Christian fiction to me. No one has to get saved for it to be a Christian novel, mind you. But at its heart it has to deal with some aspect of living as a Christian in this hostile, alien world. For me.

You'll find that editors are just folks, and sometimes your novel will get passed or picked depending on whose desk it happens to land on. God is most certainly involved in those "coincidences."

TR: Do you estimate that there will be an audience for this book [about a Jew trying to escape Holland in WWII]? How will it be marketed?

I hope there's an audience. It is good, perhaps even literary, fiction. There is an audience for that, though it's not as big as for the crowd pleasers like the Left Behind books. I don't know if it will be marketed in any way differently than how I described in an earlier message: advertising, interviews, and sales.

TR: Do you know any houses that would publish a PG version of, say, The Green Mile or Saving Private Ryan? Could any of these houses have marketed to the ABA? And since the subject is SF, what about a PG version of The Mote in God's Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle?

I believe Christian houses are getting bolder when it comes to literary fiction. But remember, this will only happen as publishers discover there's a market for it. If they put a few out and they don't sell like crazy, future books like them will not be likely.

I have a novel I want to write that shows houses' reticence. (Go to www.nappaland.com, click on Sneak Previews, and then on "Grasping at Angels" to read what I've done so far.) I sent this to all the big houses. Without exception I got very polite letters back praising my writing to the sky – but declining my proposal. They were saying, "Send us anything but this!" One editor said, "Our readership isn't ready for the Christian 'Braveheart.'" They all know it's good, but they all suspect it'll sell about 1,000 copies max. That represents a sizable loss for them, so they regretfully decline.

TR: What non-fiction genres does Multnomah publish?

We do general Christian living, parenting, marriage, spiritual disciplines, men's and women's issue books, weight loss, social issues, relationships, humor, and more. Very general Evangelical publishing. I'd like to see us get back into more meaty doctrinal books, though you can't argue with the success of books like the Stories for the Heart series. Got to pay the bills somehow.

TR: How many copies of Christian a novel does Multnomah have to sell to make money?

Good question. Usually this depends on how "big" the house expects it to be. If it's hoped to be a really big book, we'll give a larger advance to the author and spend more for advertising and publicity. Therefore we'll have to sell more copies to make that back. Smaller books need to sell fewer to make back Multnomah's investment – but have a harder time doing so because less marketing effort has been put into making it take off.

I think my books needed to sell about 9,000 copies each to break even. First printing was 10,000, so we pretty much had to sell out of the first printing before I ever saw a royalty check. So far, we're not even close. I get royalty statements every quarter, but there's always this pesky minus sign in front of my royalty payment amount.

TR: How long will they keep your book in back-list before pulping or remaindering the rest of the copies and putting it out of print?

Good question. Multnomah decides based on sales. If sales for a title have absolutely stopped, it will go on a recommended OOP (out of print) list. Sales looks at the list to see if they think a new cover or something would breathe life into anything on the list. Then editorial looks at it for similar cues. If Sales doesn't think they can sell a book even with a new cover, we usually pass, too.

One of my books is teetering on the edge of going out of print. Terminal Logic is clinging to life, selling in the double digits every quarter. I actually received my OOP letter, but they said it was a mistake. I'd almost like it to go OOP so the rights could revert to me and I could shop it around again. I'm partial to that book, possibly because it's been beat up on so much.

EG: What does pulping and remaindering mean?

MVP: Pulping: Just what it sounds like. The books are ground up into paper pulp and recycled. Or otherwise destroyed.

Remaindering: The books are dumped at a steep discount to some place that sells discount books. I think Crown is one of these. I believe the author gets little or no royalties on this sale of remaindered books.

Used to be, authors could build up a stable of books, and even if they sold only a little, a trickle of sales of a lot of books could add up to a decent living. Not any longer.

GS: In Virtually Eliminated, you quite thoroughly develop Patriot's motivation. Did you do this simply to help us identify with him, or did you intend us to sympathise with his motivation to some extent?

We like to think bad people are just bad. Evil. Nothing like us. But it gets stickier when we begin to understand them, and stickier still when we start wondering if maybe they're right and we're the ones who are wrong. I wanted to play around with that dynamic in VE. At the time, I was feeling a little sympathetic to the villain's perspective, myself. I'm not there anymore, but I did want to send a yes/no/maybe? message. Life is ambiguous. Sometimes we want our fiction to be nice and neat. Movies like that leave one feeling good – if a bit empty. I tried giving a little graytone to the black and white scale we all prefer, but which is usually wrong.

TR: What was the reaction of the editors to your doing this? Of the readers?

Had no editorial concerns. We did get one letter from a Japanese American saying that he and others had suffered because of the kind of thinking he saw in my books. I wrote a letter apologizing to him. I probably wouldn't write that book the same way again if I had it to do over.

TR: If you were asked to give advice to a teenage christian who wanted to get into christian sci-fi writing, and wanted to know what training/experience to get, what would you say?

What I say to every amateur novelist: Get Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King and do what they say. That's the quickest path to skill I've yet seen. As for the training, just live life. Get educated so you can get a good job that will support you as you try to make it big in fiction. Read a lot. Learn to think analytically about novels: what could've been done differently to make it better? Write a lot. Read books on writing.

TR: How should a budding young author seek to have his practice writing efforts evaluated?

Wow, tough question. I think the better question might be: should a budding writer have his efforts evaluated. Of course I'm jesting, but I know how terrifying it is to let someone see your writing, especially your fiction. It's your baby. And not only that, but you rightly suspect that you've revealed more about your deepest self than you even realize, and you're sure everyone will see right through you. Standing naked before a jury of your peers just about gets the feeling across.

For some writers, it's too much. To survive, you have to have a combination of a soft heart and thick skin. Of course it's not possible, so you just get hurt and try to work up the courage to be vulnerable to pain again the next time.

Now on to your question. Before said budding writer ever let his writing be seen by anyone else, especially a professional "anyone else," I would implore him to take it through Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

(I know you're saying, "Will this guy ever stop about that book?" Well, sorry, folks, but that little tome says everything I would say a hundred times better than I could say it. Funny how people can complain when something isn't difficult enough!)

If that writer doesn't want to take the time or apply the discipline to go through such a book, then I can already tell you his writing's substandard. But if Mr. Budding Writer does send his writing through the ropes of that book, then I think he can feel more confident letting someone else see it.

Try to get it before a professional (for free, if possible). An editor would be best. Fellow writers, if they are insecure, can sometimes crush young writers. I had that happen to me. The guy had published a few articles, so I thought he was a real pro. He crucified my writing – and, I might add, my hopes – with his little red pen. Took me years to get over it.

I don't know. Maybe it's best that you don't show your stuff to anyone, except maybe to acquisitions editors at magazines or publishing companies. On the other hand, if you can find a talented, secure, mentor type who will tell you the truth in love, you've found a wonderful thing.

TR: What is your opinion wrt the changes in the Christian book industry, specifically the mergers, chain bookstores, etc., and buy-outs of Christian houses by large secular media concerns? What do you see as the future of the industry?

Always in motion is the future. I'm afraid I don't have any opinion on the mergers and whatnot. I hope it translates into more interest in Christian fiction. As for the future, I think small presses, e-publishing, and especially on-demand publishing are really going to blow the book industry wide open. Won't necessarily make books better, just as having camcorders didn't make everybody into Spielbergs, but it will make them more available. That's the beauty and the danger of the Internet: the availability of whatever you want.

TR: Do you suspect some of these new mostly electronic options might put Multnomah out of business?

No. As I mentioned before, people will always want to hold a book in their hands.

TR: Is Multnomah active on the web?

Yes. Check us out at www.multnomahbooks.com, www.authortalk.com, www.foulgrin.com, and www.christian-fiction.com. Those are all Multnomah sites. There are more I'm forgetting.

TR: Is it contemplating actual web publishing efforts?

A little. Tentatively. I mentioned previously that we're looking at electronic and on-demand options for a pre-OOP option. We're looking at digital audio books, too. E-books will be a few more years down the road for us, probably.

TR: What is the house policy for dealing with a book that is in print, if the author falls into some scandal or should repudiate the faith?

That depends. If it's a clear case of immorality or spurning the faith, then we'll probably just act like Joseph and seek to put the book away quietly. We'll usually eat all the returns that will come pouring back from bookstores.

If it's just a controversy, a case of interpretation, with good Christian thinkers on both sides of the issue, we'll usually stand by the book and the author. We have one series of books that seems to surface in the news every few months. And guess what? Every time it does and articles protesting it are written, sales shoot up. People want to see what all the fuss is about. We don't seek controversy, but sometimes we don't mind when it comes.

TR: How important to your business is the CBA annual convention and your association with this organization?

The CBA convention is the huge trade show for the Christian publishing industry. There bookstore buyers from all over the world come to see what's available in the entire industry. But I think it's just as much for the publishers than for the buyers. Each one tries to show up the others. (It's usually all done in fun.) Bestselling authors abound, new banner products are announced, publicity stunts and freebies are common. Each publisher spies on the others. It's great fun.

Lots of deals are made there – and not just for authors. Editors, salespeople, and PR folks sometimes make deals to go work for other houses. Houses assign guides to their authors, but the guides function as much as guards against the advances from other houses as anything else. Agents find it convenient to basically shop products around to the entire industry in person in one short week. A real boon for agents, actually.

I really don't know anything about membership in the organization. I think that's mainly for the bookstore buyers, but I really don't know.

TR: As a writer of christian sf/fantasy, how do you research your efforts? Do you attend sci-fi conventions, read fan/sf trade literature, participate on listservs (other than this one), chat rooms, etc.?

If you want to write "fantasy," whether it's space fantasy or medieval fantasy, you don't need to do much research at all. Make it all up. If you want to do a fantasy that feels like a historical medieval book, or if you want to do actual science fiction, you'll need to do a ton of homework.

For my near-future technothrillers, I was reading graduate school AI textbooks, interviewing geneticists, driving long distances to play with different VR gear, etc. Even so, I've had readers write to me and tell me all my technical mistakes. That's the joy and the danger of writing about something you don't know from your own education or life: You don't know what you don't know, so you're likely to get something wrong.

For me, half the fun of writing is the research. I love learning and discovering. That's why I wrote my three books. I wanted to know more about VR, more about AI, and more about genetic engineering. And, so long as I'm learning about it, I might as well write a book about it. Especially since my imagination doesn't leave town when I'm researching. The kernel idea for Virtually Eliminated went something like this: "Ooh, what if two guys, separated by thousands of miles, duked it out hand to throat in virtual reality?"

I've read very dry medieval tomes for my medieval and fantasy research. Right now I'm reading NASA studies and university lab transcripts to research my interstellar ark idea. You have to to give your writing the ring of authenticity. Plus, I'm just interested.

I will say that many of the folks in SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) – medieval faire types – are extremely knowledgable about all things medieval. Some of these guys are the genuine article, real experts in their fields. If you're considering writing in this genre, look up your local SCA chapter (you can also find them online). There is sometimes some real social and lifestyle junk to get past with these folks, but once you do, you can find some real help.

I haven't been to any SF conventions and I don't read comix or trade cards or anything. I'm only on one listserv besides this one: a group for published Christian novelists.

EG: I'd have to say that TL is my favorite of the three... probably because that's the one I found first... So as soon as something goes out of print, the rights revert to the author again? If that were to happen, would you rework it?

The rights revert after a set number of months, usually six. If there is a good reason to release the rights early, or if the author simply asks, the publisher is usually agreeable to releasing them early.

As for revisions, the only thing I would do is fix the few typos that slipped through. Of course I would push for a better cover (for Terminal Logic, at least) and a style of covers that makes it more clear that the three books belong together. Of course, that would only be if all three books went out of print. Another thing I might work on is electronic publishing or some kind of on-demand situation.

EG: Thank you for answering all our questions :)

You're welcome. Thank you all for inviting me here and for asking such insightful questions. I've heard that this interview will be edited and posted to the Web. If so, I think it could be a great resource for Christian writers.

A final request. If you've found anything I've said useful, would you do just one of the following for me, please?

1) Go buy (not borrow or check out from the library) a copy of one of my novels. Virtually Eliminated, Terminal Logic, or Fatal Defect. If you already own them all, buy one for a friend's birthday. It's sales and word-of-mouth from folks like you that really help a "small" book take off.

2) Go to your local Christian bookstore and look for my books on the shelf. If they're not there, ask the manager what happens if someone places a special order but then decides he doesn't want what he ordered. If the manager says they would put the book on their own shelves, please go ahead and order one book copy of each of my books. That way, a bookstore that wouldn't normally carry my books would now carry them. How can they be sold if they're not in the store? (As I'm typing this, it feels a bit dishonest. Hmm. Let the Spirit guide you.)

3) If you see one of my books in a bookstore, turn it face out. People are more likely to pick up a book whose cover they see than a book whose spine is all they can see. (And grab the customer next to you, the one browsing for a novel, and recommend mine to her!)

4) Go to Amazon.com and write a review of one or more of my books.

Thank you all for a fun time. God bless your lives!

Signing off...

Jeff Gerke
a.k.a. Jefferson Scott


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[David R. Beaucage] [Kathy Tyers] [James BeauSeigneur] [Jefferson Scott] [Walker Chandler] [Alton Gansky] [Ray Hansen] [Emily Snyder] [Randall Ingermanson] [Theodore Beale] [Steve Laube] [Laura Lond] [Frank Wu] [Donita K. Paul] [Brenda W. Clough] [Bryan Davis] [John Granger] [Karen Hancock] [Miles Owens] [Robert Liparulo] [Bryan Davis, part 2] [Chris Walley] [Kathryn Mackel] [Gene Wolfe] [Sharon Hinck] [Wayne Thomas Batson] [Lars Walker] [Christopher Hopper] [Jeffrey Overstreet][Rich Christiano][Jeff Gerke]