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Rich Christiano[Jeff Gerke]


Interview: Miles Owens

Miles Owens is the author of Daughter of Prophecy, a fantasy by Realms, the new SF/F imprint under Strang Publishers. He took part in the list during March 2006. Shannon McNear, Beth Goddard, Stuart Stockton, and Greg Slade asked the questions, and here is an edited version of the question and answer sequence.

SM: 1. Tell us about your background, birthplace, where and when you grew up, what your childhood was like, etc.?

I was born in Tallahassee, Fl. I grew in Perry, FL, a small town 50 SE of Tallahassee. Typical Bible belt childhood. I played football, hunted, showed horses. I was the only one of my close friends who was a reader. They put up with it because I did the 'regular' stuff too.

SM: 2. Where did you go to school?

I did pre-vet at University of Florida in Gainesville. Did vet school at Auburn University in Alabama. War Eagle!

SM: 3. What did you take in school, and why?

I had two great desires: be a veterinarian and be a writer. Writing seemed such a daunting task, so uncertain (it is) so I felt I better have pursue a profession. I did not take any writing courses in college, I just tucked that dream away and got on with the main task, as I saw it. I wish now I had.

SM: 4. What is your family situation? (Married? Kids? 1.7 dogs?)

Married for 30 years to the best wife in the world. 3 kids, all currently in college (see answer #3) 4 cats, 2 dogs, 1 horse. A boat and fishing gear,a gun cabinet full of guns. Typical Bubba.

SM: 5. How did you get started writing?

As I said, I tucked the writing dream away. Ten years ago this month – truly – March, I was 43 and my life was established, if you will. No issues: practice was going well; marriage still great; kids great, secure of where I am with the Lord. But, typical mid-life, if not crisis, then a re-evaluation. "Okay, dude, you're starting the downhill side of this. How are you going to spend the second half?" Then I came across a quote from the novelist Sinclair Lewis. If memory serves, someone asked him what was the most important thing in his writing. He said: "First, you must sit down." So, I did.

SM: 6. What works have you had published? (not restricting yourself to SF/F titles) Articles, short stories?

Only Daughter of Prophecy. People in this industry have told me I should try to get non-fiction articles published as a way to break in. I never tried. I'm a storyteller. I'll sink or swim with that.

SM: 7. Of your works, which one is your favorite? (including works in progress)

Book 2, which is titled The Calling of the Halfhand. It is deeper and more involved than Daughter of Prophecy.

SM: 8. Who are your influences as a writer, and why?

Several, of course. As I've thought about this one, I realize most of them are dead. As I write, I am standing on these guys shoulders. Not only have I read them over and over – and continue to do so – I have studied them.

Alistair MacLean's earlier novels: The Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra, Where Eagles Dare

John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee novels

Steven R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant novels. The first three, mainly.

Two novels by James Clavell – Shogun (my #1 novel, period) and Tai-Pan.

Robert Jordan – the first four or five for how to do this – the rest for how not to do this

George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books.

SM: 9. What was the first exposure you can remember having to SF/F as a genre?

The Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, books. Loved them. When my boy became that age, I got on the Internet and bought them for him. He loved them, too.

SM: 10. What is your personal all-time favorite SF/F work, and why?

Hmm. Hmm. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant. I was captivated, enthralled. Totally consumed. I read and kept changing the themes into Christian ones. That's why I'm here now.

SM: 11. What is your faith stance, and how does it affect your writing?

I'm such a mixture. I was raised Methodist, came to know the Lord in a real way in a Southern Baptist church, spent several intense years in a charismatic church – charismatic with a capital 'C.' I've been back in the Southern Baptist church for fifteen years now. I guess I'm a Bapticostal. I write mainly from my charismatic days.

SM: 12. What Christian book(s) (fiction or non-fiction) have had the greatest impact on your thought and writing?

This may sound like heresy, but I can't identify one in and of itself. I said in # 8 that I am standing on those guys's shoulders, but the true guts of my writing springs out of my daily walk with the Lord. Everything – Bible reading, teaching books, taped sermons, live sermons (I'm in a small town, but our pastor can preach with anyone in the nation – we have folks driving for miles around to hear him) – all of that is what comes out of me when I write.

SM: 13. What non-Christian book(s) (fiction or non-fiction) have had the greatest impact on your thought and writing?

Same as # 8. I'm not that deep from a philosophy standpoint.

SM: 14. When you write, have you ever come across theological " puzzles" you had to sort through to your own satisfaction before you could continue with the story?

One thing stands out. The centuries-old debate of freewill versus God's sovereignty. I come down about two-thirds freewill and one-third on sovereignty. My characters face choices – and face the results. But the Lord has things that are going to happen the way he wants them to. So I wrestle with that now and again as I write.

SM: 15. What do you do when you aren't writing?

I fish. I do combat pistol shooting where a bunch of mainly grey-haired guys pretend we are SWAT team members and run and gun paper-target bad guys.

SM: 16. What sorts of things provide inspiration for your writing?

Several things. 1.) All the fantasy stories I've read through the years, of course. As I said before, for years I read secular fantasy – and still do – and mentally changed the plot and motivations to Christian ones.

2.) I dream stuff up. I thought everybody did that. But I've learned it's just some of us who are still enduring a prolonged childhood where we say 'let's play pretend.'

3.) The few – very few – good movies and TV programs out there. For instance, I've bought the DVD's for the first five seasons of The West Wing. My family and I've watched them for the pure entertainment. Now I'm going back through them and studying them. Superior writing, great characterizations, great plots, marvelous examples on how to develop a series over time. And, as I've working on Book 2 which has my heroine now as a green as grass princess dealing with court intrigue and power politics, The West Wing is helping me develop ideas for that.

SM: 17. Do you have a favorite place for writing?

My home has a wrap around porch. I have taken in one corner and made an 13' by 10' office. It is wonderful. I have solid bookcases on two walls; a big corkboard for storyboarding; a 10' by 5' l-shaped desktop where I can lay out notes and stuff. The desktop is open underfoot and I can roll my chair up and down. When I'm done, I can walk out, shut the door, and know nothing will disturb it until I come back.

SM: 18. Do you try to work each day until you're "done," or do you have certain hours, or daily word count goal?

I work until done. Or more typically I write until I have to stop and remember I am a father and a husband and a vet who sometimes has to answer emergency calls. Life keeps happening.

SM: 19. Do you tend more toward outlining, or do you work with just a general idea of where the story is going, and the characters just tend to take over on the details?

Here's how I approached (am approaching) Book 2. I spent quality time just thinking. I knew the general things that needed to happen: Rhiannon needed to grow as a princess. She needed to have conflict with her new mother-in-law, Queen Cullia, and slowly win her over. I had to develop Prince Larien and his and Rhiannon's relationship. Rhiannon had to grow in the Lord, get involved in the use of political power – and spiritual power – then grapple with how her faith comes into play with the demands of politics and Clan maneuvering – and through all of the above, she had to learn what Protectoress of the Covenant really means. Then there's Harred, Lakenna, and Branor. They have to grow and develop, make bad choices, struggle to rise above their shortcomings. And, very important for me at any rate, I decided how the novel had to end. I made several pages of notes to keep it all straight.

Once I had a broad grip on the above, I sat down with The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler. I read it page by page. (I have read it several times. I study it and will continue to do so.) As I read, ideas went off. I wrote them down:

"The Ordinary World" – okay Rhiannon is doing this; Harred is that; Lakenna is this; Branor is that.

"The Call to Adventure" Hmm. I've got four important characters – two main ones – Rhiannon and Harred; and two that play lesser roles – Lakenna and Branor. Do all four get a Call, or just Rhiannon and Harred? Hmm. How about a major Call each for Rhiannon and Harred (that wind up tied together, of course), with Lakenna and Branor presented with lesser Calls? (that are tied in between them, and wind up being tied in with Rhiannon and Harred's major ones) So I played 'let's pretend' for a while, making notes, getting into it, getting more specific with time and place and plot. Then I went on to:

"The Refusal of the Call" I spent a lot of time here. If you buy into the mythic thing, "The Refusal of the Call" drives Act I. And that is the case with me in Book 2. Harred in particular faces some difficult choices. His Refusal is spiritual. Does he follow the Eternal as his new wife is pleading with him to do? Or does he follow Lord Gillaon and the path to Clan power, aided by pagan resources? Rhiannon's Refusal is spiritual as well and is tied into to her relationship with her husband, Prince Larien.

"Meeting with the Mentor" Here's a neat twist. Harred's Mentor is Lord Gillaon. Ah, but Gillaon, a positive Mentor in Daughter of Prophecy, is becoming a bad Mentor in Book 2. Rhiannon's Mentor? Hmm. How about it slowly becoming Queen Cullia as part of Rhiannon's character development as she wins the grudging respect of her mother-in-law.

And so on through the rest of the way – "Crossing the First Threshold"; "Tests, Allies, Enemies" etc. Sitting in the chair, notepad in hand, scribbling away. For some reason, I find this plotting, idea stage works better for me if I do it with pen and paper. When I sit down at the computer, it is just, "Write Baby."

That done – four or five weeks of concentrated effort – I had a grip on the thing. Not completely, but enough to start writing. I put the notepad away, sat down at the computer, and had at it. I refer to the notes if I get stuck, or every now and then to make sure I'm not leaving something important out. The story has changed in some ways. Some of the notes don't work anymore. New things have appeared, but it's still 90% of the what I had when I sat down to write. A road map.

I write by chapters. By that I mean I write one chapter at a time. I spend time thinking about what needs to happen in the chapter. I may make a few notes to keep the ideas straight, but once that mental prep is done, I sit down and have at it. When I'm done with Chapter 10 and start Chapter 11, Chapter 10 is ready to go the editor. It doesn't go to the editor at that point, but I simply cannot write a whole novel first draft. I do one chapter at time, first draft through six or seven, as polished as I can make it before going to the next chapter. Once the novel is finished, I go back and polish even more, but it's 98% done when I get to The End.

SM: 20. Could you share something of how you came to write Daughter of Prophecy, and your journey toward being published?

Daughter of Prophecy is the second novel I wrote. The very first one, hopefully, will see light of day as Book 3 in the series. That very first novel started when Rhiannon had been Queen for several years and had a ten year old son. As I got near the end, I kept writing so many flashbacks when Rhiannon and Harred were younger that it dawned on me that I was not writing the first book in the series as I had thought. So I made the difficult decision to go back and start at the beginning, which of course, wound up being Daughter of Prophecy. Can't start much earlier than her birth. :) That decision has helped greatly because I have spend time with the characters when they are older and I know where this thing is going.

My journey to getting published. Long. Very long. I started writing in 1996. Worked on the aforementioned Very First Novel until sometime in 1998. Spent 1998 and 1999 writing Daughter of Prophecy. 1998 and 1999 I went to two Christian Writers' Conferences. Editors read the Prologue. Got great reviews – followed by the hard news that "Fantasy Will Not Sell In The CBA." Most publishers would not even consider fantasy. I sent proposals out. Rejections – some encouraging, most just form refusals. I read the handwriting on the wall and started on a contemporary novel. Took the first chapters of that novel to Sandy Cove Christian Writer's Conference. Lauraine Snelling, a multi-published Christian author was teaching the fiction track. She read those chapters and liked them enough that she recommended me to the agent that was handling her children's novels, Janet Grant. I met Janet at Sandy Cove the next year. We hooked up. I kept working on the contemporary. When Realms started up, Janet sent in Daughter of Prophecy, and here we are. Janet has sent the contemporary to a few publishers. No takers at this point. I do fantasy better.

My advice to all trying to break in is to go to the Christian Writer's Conferences. The good ones, Sandy Cove, Mt. Hermon, Blue Ridge, Colorado, Glorietta. Part of your fees is to have the editors and agents there to read your stuff. They are there to find new talent. If they like your writing, you've got a chance. Submitting without that type of contact is a waste of time. My agent gets over 100 unsolicited requests a week. 5000 a year. She simply can't give time to them all, not with 50-60 contacted writers. But she does go to several of the bigger Conferences each year. That is the time to meet her and have her and the others to read your work. That's how I did it.

BG: You mentioned that going to conferences is the only way – or at least the best way to get published. Now that you have an agent – do you still believe that? In other words, do you still feel the pressure to do conferences and meet editors, etc.

I've talked to my agent about going to conferences. Her advice is to not worry about going just to meet editors and show my work. When she submits my stuff to a publisher, I get a serious read because they know she would not be sending it unless it is a certain quality. She reads my proposals and sends me rewrites and suggestions until she is satisfied.

She suggests that now to only go to conferences that offer more advanced fiction classes. (And believe me, after going through editing Daughter of Prophecy with Jeff Gerke, I have had a graduate-level course in writing fiction.) Mt. Hermon is one that offers more classes geared toward published authors. I think the ACFW one also offers more advanced classes as well. It seems to me that most writer's conferences are geared toward the beginning writer. Which is great. As I said before, that is why editors and agents go to them. They are paid, of course, but the time spent away from the office is only worthwhile to them in the effort to find – and train – new talent.

So, I don't feel the pressure to go any more. I plan on attending Mt Hermon next year to improve my craft and to keep learning how to do this better. And to meet editors. Face-to-face interaction is always good, but my best calling card is my agent and the reputation she has in the industry.

I do not believe that self-publishing is the way to break in. I do not believe that submitting stories to small e-zines and websites is the way to break in. Nothing wrong with that, but I will tell folks that that does not impress my agent or any of the editors I have talked to. What self-publishing tends to say to them – just being frank here – it suggests to them that the person's writing is not good enough yet to attract serious interest. So I would beg – truly beg – folks to not waste their money and dreams by paying thousands of dollars to have someone to self-publish a novel. Far better in my opinion to use the money and effort to go to the better conferences, get the critiques from the editors and agents and take them to heart, go to the classes, get the tapes and study them and keep getting better and better until one day an editor or agent says, "This is really good. Send the manuscript to me when you get home. Here is my email address."

SM: Did you get much input on the cover of Daughter of Prophecy? Did you like it?

I had zero input. I received early versions by attached file, but it was: 'Here it is. Isn't it great?' It's different than I had envisioned, but I'm okay with it. The guy who did it, Cliff Neilsen, is big time. He's done covers for Stephen King and other big names.

SM: Do you feel the whole "Realms" experiment is successful so far, or not? I've gotten mixed opinions from others in the CBA industry and wondered what your opinion is.

Currently, I would say it hasn't been successful. Daughter of Prophecy has 'earned out' which means it has recovered the publisher's initial investment, and my agent says the sales numbers are very good for a first time author. But it seems that the folks at Strang Communications, the parent company of Realms, wanted higher sales figures. I was supposed to hear about my Book 2 in Dec. Then it was January. Then it was February. And here we are in March and still no word. So, frankly, it's looking like Realms may be a 'one and done.' Me too, maybe. Thirty years from now I may be a drooling eighty-three year-old fart sitting around the fire with the great-grandkids and telling them: "Did I ever tell you about the one novel I had published?" And they'll roll their eyes at each other and say, "Only about a thousand times..."

Anyway, we'll see how this plays out, and if any other publishers will be intested in taking on the series. If not, then I had at least a few moments in the bright lights.

SM: How many books in the series are you planning?

I have plans for two trilogies. My great-grandkids may be the only ones to hear about them. :)

SM: What 3 bits of advice would you offer to new writers?

1. Read, read, read. Read the good stuff and then go back and study why you liked it.

2. Study your craft. There are plenty of good books on writing ficition, and as I've mentioned before, there are plenty of good conferences with great teaching.

3. Write, write, write. Turn off the TV, really limit your time spent on the Internet and cell phones and coffee shops or anything else that keeps you from sitting down and writing.

GS: What's your opinion about attending fan conventions as a pro guest? This is practically a job requirement in the secular market, but many Christian writers have never even attended one. What's your take?

I would love to. But here's the deal: Unless I'm totally mistaken, all those secular authors are either sent by their publishers – plane tickets, hotel rooms, per diem, etc – or the convention pays for all that to have the names there to improve attendance. At this point, anyway, who is gonna go anywhere because Miles Owens is there? Of course, I could go to get exposure that might get folks to try DoP and to help build a readership. Great idea at first glance. But in my case it would mean lost income from taking off from work, plus the expense all of the above. Would it pay off in the long run? I don't know. Maybe when I'm better know – if that ever happens. But again, to answer your question, I would love to attend these happenings. I think all Christian writers need to step outside our "church zone" and engage the world. And, I guess, put our money where our mouth is. Hmm.

SS: Hello, brand new here so don't know if this question had been asked yet. But here goes. :) Miles, prayer was a central theme of Daughter of Prophecy. What thought process did you go through in making the decision to have prayer play such a visible link in the battle against evil in this story, even to the point of prayer enabling characters to enter the spiritual realm?

I wanted to portray the reality of Eph. 6 "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers..." and II Cor. 10:4 – "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds." I think many Christians pay lip service to that, but do not understand the full impact of it in our daily lives. I wanted to write about that unseen struggle in very real terms.

SS: And what do you hope readers take away from this book in how prayer can affect their lives?

That we must win the battle in the spirit realm before we can be successful here on earth. And to provide the opportunity for readers to put themselves inside the characters – average folks just like all of us – who find themselves called to great and momentous events. Hopefully, the characters's struggles with their inward doubts and sins gives the readers a chance to examine themselves and to believe that they too can rise above the fears that so easily beset us and to become a useful tool in the Master's hand. I'm waxing eloquent here, but I think such is one of the major strengths of the fantasy genre. Great events, kingdoms and whole peoples threatened by a dark and brooding evil. And who is there to stem the gathering tide? Well, there's Stuart Stockton and Shannon McNear and Graham Darling and Marlon Clark and Miles Owens and others. Sic' em, heroes, and remember, "The battle belongs to the Lord."

SM: I know of a couple other CBA authors facing the same possibility [of having one novel published then the publisher declining others]. Would you try to shop Daughter of Prophecy elsewhere once it's out of print, or just the successive books?

From what my agent has been told, if Realms continues, they want to do Book 2. If Realms goes bye-bye, then I hope to acquire the rights to Daughter of Prophecy so we can shop the whole series. But all this is new to me. I'll follow my agent's lead, of course.

SM: You mentioned two trilogies ... I'm assuming they're all set within Rhiannon and Harred's world? Do you have ideas for any other projects, separate from these stories?

I have notes for another fantasy series entirely. Different world, different characters, different "power" stuff. But if Rhiannon and Harred are no-go's, then I'm abandoning fantasy in the CBA. Not gonna try to ride that horse anymore. I'm thinking on a action/suspense novel. Kill people with guns instead of swords; cars and planes instead of horses and wagons.

SM: And, since we were talking about conferences ... do you have any plans to attend ACFW this year (or any others), since they do have a track for published authors? (For those of us who are ACFW members and would like to meet you!)

Not any this year, unless something changes. If Book 2 finds a home, I need to be writing. If it doesn't, then I need the rest of the year to work on the above non-fantasy, non-fantasy, non-fantasy!!!! novel. I'm shooting for Mt Hermon '07. I would love to meet all of you. One fine tomorrow, my brothers and sisters. One fine tomorrow, may we meet and greet and rejoice in each other and what the Lord is doing in our lives.

Blessings and thanks for this opportunity.

Miles


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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]

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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]