Sweet because it marks the culmination of all your hard work to get published. Sweet because you can share your excitement and encouragement to others who aren’t quite as far down the path. But after the first few, they can become yet another thing to juggle as you work on edits for your contracted manuscript and write toward the deadline for your newest novel. Add in family and friends, social engagements and soccer practice, and you’ve got a problem. A big problem. So it’s easy to feel justified in serving up pat answers to the questions you’ve been asked to answer.
Don’t do it.
Interviews are important. They are a way to connect to your intended audience and gain new readers. To the question, “How long did it take for you to get published?” go ahead and answer, “Six years.” I dare you. Six years.
How profound. How inspiring. How. . .absolutely dull.
After reading the first question of an interview submitted for posting here at Novel Journey, I can tell whether the author has really put their heart into the answers or if the interview was approached as a necessary evil. Really good interviews will reward the time and effort you put forth in answering the questions. People will recognize the passion and feeling with which you craft responses. It will make them more curious about you as a writer and about your books.
Here are some suggestions to make your interview more memorable.
Target your audience.
Put personality into your answers.
Use a conversational tone.
Good questions = good interviews. If a question doesn’t intrigue you skip to the next one. (Like the time someone asked me if I were an inanimate object, what would I be–huh?)
Check your spelling and punctuation. Nothing screams, “I’m an amateur” like poor grammar skills, and it is not the interviewers job to edit.
Just as in your writing, use strong verbs, colorful similes and metaphors.
If the problem is time, pace yourself. Choose the toughest question and answer it the first day. Edit that answer the next day, then answer another question and repeat the process until the interview is finished. Procrastination is your worst enemy. When you’ve completed all the questions, shoot them to your critique group and ask them to let you know if anything falls flat, doesn’t make sense, or needs to be expanded upon.
You want people to click with you on that first question and stay with you through the entire interview. By then, hopefully, you’ll have won over a new fan. Or two. Or ten.
If you’re an author aiming for the Christian market, it is far easier to write about one character shooting another than cussing them out. Better a bucket of blood than a pinch of expletives. Just peruse the Christian fiction section of B&N and you will find your share of serial killers, hit men, assassins, abusers, and wannabe anti-christs plying their trades.
But I dare you to find one character who ever says “damn.” Why is this? Why do Christian publishers tolerate violence more than profanity? Now, by being “tolerant” of violence, I am in no way suggesting that there is a glorification of violence or an excessive amount of it. Indeed, in relation to the general market, violence and gore in Christian fiction is probably minuscule. Cursing, on the other hand, is non-existent. So somehow, somewhere along the way, a concession was made for violence and against profanity. But why?
I have two theories about why, in Christian fiction, violence is more tolerable than cussing. First, the presence of violence and bloodshed in the Bible allows us to condone the presence of violence and bloodshed in our stories. The world is a violent place. Christians aren’t immune to death, disaster, and criminal behavior. So why should we scrub our stories of it? Likewise, Scripture corroborates, telling of wars, dismemberment, hellish torment, and grisly crimes. Of course, the Bible does not go into graphic detail. We are told that David removed Goliath’s head, without a play-by-play of the hewing. Likewise, the “mass drowning” of Noah’s neighborhood is left to our imagination. Furthermore, the Christian life is often viewed as a fight. We are described as soldiers and warriors; our lives are a real struggle against real spiritual opponents. The inclusion of violence in our fiction is an expression of our struggle to follow Christ in a dark, evil, world.
So my first guess is that Christian publishers tolerate violence because the Bible contains bloodshed and violence, the Christian life is a battle, and Christian aren’t immune to the evils of our fallen world. But why is there a more liberal approach to violence than profanity? Why show a hit man stalking his prey and a serial killer fulfilling his sadistic urges, without so much as a single expletive? I’m sure there’s several possibilities, but the one I keep returning to is this: Contemporary religious fiction is tethered to Fundamentalist roots. Much of the Christian art industry — Christian film / fiction / music — is a reaction against secularism. This posture can be traced back to early Fundamentalism’s withdraw from many American institutions like politics and entertainment. Holiness, for Fundamentalists, came to be defined in terms of “negatives” — no smoking, no drinking, no movies, no makeup, no dancing, etc., etc. Much of the evangelical counter culture was rooted in this cultural separation. Christian art became an alternative to “worldly” fare. As such, it was defined as much by what it didn’t have, as what it did. I think that’s still true today. In this Fundamentalist “hierarchy of holiness,” some sins are just worse than others. Homosexuality is worse than gluttony. Smoking is worse than envy. Drinking is worse than gossip. And dancing… well, let’s not go there. Consumers of Christian fiction appear to employ this “hierarchy of holiness.” Thus, we’ve come to see the presence of profanity in our fiction as worse than the presence of violence. In the same way that we inflate certain sins like homosexuality or smoking, we have inflated certain words. (Which is why it is far easier to decapitate an antagonist than have him utter the dreaded “dammit.”)The flip-side, however, is that by cultivating this hierarchy we inevitably “deflate” or “diminish” other evils. Like violence. Either way, we have come to believe that it’s worse to read an expletive, than to read about murder. That’s why, for the Christian author, it is much easier to portray a drowning, a strangling, an electrocution, an assassination, or a mafia-style execution, than to simply show a character cuss. I’m just not sure how else to view it. Anyway, I’m interested in your thoughts. Do you think Christian publishers tolerate violence over profanity, and if so, why? * * * Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin’ Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Look for Mike’s debut novel, “The Resurrection,” in stores February 2011. You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.
The document’s white space mocked me as my fingers hovered over the keyboard. For the second day I’d sat at the computer for several hours. Nothing flowed.
“Lord, shouldn’t I work through this passage of Scripture?” I only had three days to write the remaining twenty-two devotionals for my book before editing it and sending it to my critique group. “Would I make the deadline? Would the publisher grant an extension? Was this the book God had led me to write?” Heaviness took over.
“Sounds like warfare. I’m on it,” promised a writing friend when I explained what was going on.
I sank to my knees that afternoon in desperation and surrender. “Lord, You’ve brought me this far. Help me trust You to see this project to the end.”
The next morning, a freedom took hold of me as never before as my fingers danced over the keyboard. I made my deadline with a day to spare.
When I tackled laying out the devotions over the year, I had no clear idea where to place each devotional. My new laptop restarted on its own every few minutes. Then it slowed down so much I could have cooked and served my family a gourmet meal. On the third morning I clued in. I prayed over my computer, manuscript, and the index cards that covered my dining table. A gentle peace took hold of me. A few days later the book was laid out.
I’m not one to see spirits behind every event or to blame the evil one when things go wrong, but I couldn’t get away from the timing of the two episodes. Spiritual warfare is real for Christian writers. Paul, in Ephesians 6, lists an array of weapons of warfare. Prayer was my offensive weapon. In the first episode, the breakthrough was miraculous and exhilarating. The second answer, while no less miraculous, only came through persisting.
Paul underscores the importance of prayer by mentioning the words “pray” three times, “praying,” and “prayers” once each in verses 18-20. He encourages us to pray in the Spirit (verse 18). I had no idea how to pray against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (vs. 12), but God’s Spirit within did, interceding on my behalf (Romans 8:25-27).
In verse 18, Paul urges us to “be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” We don’t know when the enemy will strike, but constant prayer keeps us alert. Constant prayer during the attack empowers us to get through. The breakthrough, whether immediate or over time, always comes when we’re on our knees.
Paul’s request for prayer in verses 19-20 resonates. It’s a prayer for writers of faith: “Pray also for me, that…words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel…Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”