Monday, April 16, 2007

Christian Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog Tour: Karen Hancock & The Return of the Guardian King

CSSF Blog Tour


Welcome to the twelfth--can it be true?--Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour! We've been doing this a whole year now, come next month.

What a joy and honor to be leading this month’s tour—as we highlight Christian SFF writer Karen Hancock and her fifth book, the final of a series, Return of the Guardian-King. I first discovered Karen’s work—her first book, Arena—in Family Christian Stores four years ago … and without knowing anything about her or the book, I felt compelled to buy it. At that point, I rarely bought new books, even Christian fiction, even Christian SFF, and I actually walked away and came back before deciding to get it.

Soon after, The Light of Eidon, book 1 of the Guardian-King series, was released. By the time I finished that volume, Karen had won her place as my favorite Christian sci-fi/fantasy author.

I love the modern age of the Internet, which makes authors so much more accessible than in years past, with email, e-newsletters, personal author websites, blogs, and blog tours. In the course of following Karen’s writing, I’ve been blessed by her in many ways, and I’m thrilled to be able to thank her publicly for that.

I’m also thrilled to present a short interview with her, as a continuation of the one we did on the Christian Fandom list last year. It’s well worth the time to read the transcript of that first interview, since my questions and her answers build on it.

So, without further ado …

Q: What did you learn through the writing of this book—spiritually and as relates to the writing craft, or in any other way?

A: I learned that God really does come through, that He really was guiding me, and that it’s okay to relinquish control and trust Him to see the writing through without a schedule.

I learned not to beat myself up for “not producing enough,” to keep my expectations realistic and to give myself tasks that are reasonable and doable in the writing. For example, “read through your notes and write down whatever occurs to you” as opposed to “write the complete chapter this morning.”

I’m learning to get comfortable with the confusion, chaos and blindness, for I’ve realized it’s an integral part of my writing process.

Finally, I learned that I really do have a gift and a talent that God is using, and I no longer need to concern myself about what He’s going to do with it. It doesn’t depend on me, but on Him and He is utterly faithful, wise and capable. He will see that I have everything I need to carry out whatever it is He wants me to do.

Q: This is related to the first question, but how do you feel you’ve grown since Arena and The Light of Eidon?

A: I’m more aware of how weak I am, more aware of how easily I can get pulled out of the Plan, and more aware of the types of things that do distract me and get me sidetracked. I’m also more aware of how vital God’s word is to me on a daily basis, how important it is to keep short accounts and the incredible subtlety of the devil’s schemes against us. I’m better able to trust Him with more and more things and just relax in knowing He will handle them. I’m more focused on eternity, less on the baubles of this world, including success; more focused on what God is leading me to do, and firmer in the face of people telling me to do otherwise.

I understand better the fickleness of the world and the emptiness and unreliability of worldly success. I’ve learned how to be content in more circumstances, and the importance of building up God’s people rather than finding fault and tearing down. I’ve also learned something of the power of words to hurt and to deceive and to discourage. Most of all I’ve learned the importance of “He must increase, I must decrease.”

And that brings up one of the challenges I faced with Return of the Guardian King. When I started the series decades ago, I didn’t have nearly enough experience in the spiritual life to write the final book, though I didn’t know it at the time. Now as I was faced with the prospect of actually writing it, I realized that the whole concept I’d had in developing the series -- to make the journey of an invisible hero visible – was severely challenged by this “He must increase, I must decrease” thing. The only way to get there is to go through a process of being stripped of one’s abilities, reputation, and every worldly or human thing one finds strength in so all would know the only real strength lies in Him… Maybe you can’t make an invisible hero visible… After all, the greatest hero in all of time is our Lord Jesus Christ, and His most heroic moment came at the time when He was hanging naked and beaten on a Roman cross, dying the ignominious death of a common criminal. That didn’t look very heroic. Analogizing something like, I feared, wasn’t going to make readers’ hearts swell…

So in the end I had to go back to the invisible. It’s the invisible decision that we make to rely on Him, to trust Him utterly and to obey Him no matter what that makes a true hero…

Q: How did the writing process of RotGK compare to that of the others?

A: It was much more compressed. I had less time than I did for the others because I kept going over deadline on the earlier books and so stealing time from the last one. I thought the last would be the easiest, but it was just as hard as the rest of them. I never had the feeling of having gotten my mind around the entire story, and I never had the time to get away from it long enough to attain any kind of cool-headed objectivity toward it. In fact, the first time I read it straight through was when I saw the galleys.

With each successive book the first drafts I turned in were increasingly ragged and this was the worst. I’m talking about giant holes in the story where the conversation stops in the middle because I can’t think what comes next. So I leave it and jump on to the next thing I can think of. After the two-week break I took between turning in the first draft and starting on the “final,” I dove straight in to addressing the editor’s concerns without doing a read through. What’s the point of reading through a thing when you already know it’s full of holes and wrong turns and other big things have to address?

I’ve never before turned in a final draft, though, with the last ten or so chapters still needing extensive work. It seemed on this book I was doing things simultaneously whereas before I had done them successively. Here I was dealing with content and structural issues at the same time as I was trying to reduce the word count. It was weird to be hurrying to rework sections so I could turn them in before my editor reached that part in her own pass through the story. In fact, I turned in final edits of the last couple of chapters after she’d already sent the whole thing off to the copy editor. It shows how flexible editors can be – and I’m profoundly grateful mine is – but it sure doesn’t help to give you any big-picture sense of what you’ve done. So I had to trust the Lord a LOT.

I’ve never made so many changes to the galleys either, and I can only thank the Lord that He knew what I did not: the typesetters were even then switching to a new program that allowed them to insert the Word documents I had supplied for the changes rather than have to type in the new material by hand. It made the whole thing much easier, and no doubt cut way down on the number of errors present.

Q: What would you like to do differently with the next book?

A: Well, the hope is always to finish in a reasonable amount of time so you can let the material cool and read it through to get that comprehensive sense of what you’ve done. I don’t know how to accomplish that, unfortunately, beyond being stricter about the things I allow into my life. That’s offset, though, by the fact that I just can’t write continuously, so what good does it do to impose monastic conditions when three quarters of the time you’re staring out the window? Life does enrich your writing, so I guess it’s a balance I’m still learning to cultivate.

Thank you so much, Karen!

The second half of the interview will be tomorrow, and Wednesday I'll post my review of Return of the Guardian King. (My other reviews of Karen's books can be found at this page: Christian Fandom's Award Winning Books List. The page isn't updated, but a link to the review of her 3rd Guardian King book can be found within my review of the 2nd book. Confused yet??)

As always, please visit the other Most Excellent Blog Tour participants [edited for additions]:

Nissa Annakindt ~ Wayne Thomas Batson ~ Jim Black ~ Grace Bridges ~ Jackie Castle ~ Valerie Comer ~ Karri Compton ~ Frank Creed ~ CSFF Blog Tour ~ Gene Curtis ~ D. G. D. Davidson ~ Chris Deanne [also posting an interview!] ~ Janey DeMeo ~ April Erwin ~ Kameron M. Franklin ~ Linda Gilmore ~ Beth Goddard ~ Marcus Goodyear ~ Rebecca Grabill ~ Andrea Graham ~ Jill Hart ~ Katie Hart ~ Sherrie Hibbs ~ Sharon Hinck ~ Christopher Hopper ~ Heather R. Hunt ~ Becca Johnson ~ Jason Joyner ~ Karen ~ Dawn King ~ Tina Kulesa ~ Lost Genre Guild ~ Kevin Lucia and The Bookshelf Reviews 2.0 - The Compendium ~ Rachel Marks ~ Rebecca LuElla Miller ~ Caleb Newell ~ Nicole ~ Eve Nielsen ~ John W. Otte ~ Robin Parrish ~ Rachelle ~ Cheryl Russell ~ Hanna Sandvig ~ Chawna Schroeder ~ Mirtika Schultz ~ James Somers ~ Tsaba House Authors ~ Steve Trower ~ Speculative Faith ~ Daniel I. Weaver

7 comments:

  1. This is so fantastic, both Shannon and Karen!

    Karen, your words really resonate with me: "I’m learning to get comfortable with the confusion, chaos and blindness, for I’ve realized it’s an integral part of my writing process." This is SO hard. I absolutely love revision because there's *something* there, it's not all blindness and confusion (ahem, not usually). Of course, the problem of revising also tends to enable me to put off starting new projects.

    At any rate, thank you! Shannon - great questions and what a wonderful addition to the tour!

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  2. Like you I happened across her book Light of Eidon years ago and was raving about.

    Then I had babies.

    Then I got a computer.

    THEN I joined this tour and interviewed Karen too.

    Yes, it was a slightly rock star moment for me.

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  3. I'm with you, Rebecca. I much prefer revision than drafting. Unless the revision involves throwing out the original draft and writing something entirely new! Even then, though, at least I have more direction than I do when I'm doing the first draft.

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  4. I really appreciated the answer to the second question. I saw Abramm being a passive hero and the resolution to many of the conflicts often read too much like a deus ex machina. I certainly understand the difficulty of what Karen was trying to portray, and the Truth of "He must increase, I must decrease." Unfortunately, as she stated, it can come across as less than heroic.

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  5. Great interview!
    Karen, you summarized so much of those "meaty emails" you've shared over the years. The key of not chasing after the world's baubles, of seeing our writing as obedience to His call - and the results as TOTALLY His business, and not ours. I continue to wrestle with all those issues, and sometimes feel crushed under my own silly expectations. But knowing you has given me a picture of the writing life that is healthier and more Christ-centered - and I'm seeing little bits of growth in my pattern of angst and grappling. :-)

    Thank you for being you!

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  6. Love the interview. Thank you, Karen for your candor. I'm wrestling a little bit with some of the things you have spoken of as distractions and temptations. I must admit to spending too much time worrying about some of the things you've shorn away. Things like reviews, sales numbers, etc.

    I'm really quite torn on some issues such as the amount of promotion I do for my own books. It seems to me that the publisher AND the industry requires diligent self(book) promotion.

    I certainly agree that I could do nothing to promote my books, and God could take the books to whatever level He wants. But He also could be waiting for me to go out and use my talents to promote and bless through that.

    Hmmm...

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  7. Kameron, thanks for the comment. I'm glad my answer clarified some things for you with regard to the book.

    Wayne, as I think I've said before, I believe it's a decision we each have to make for ourselves before the Lord. And it's not one that will bind us for eternity. You could start out doing promotion and stop, or you could start out not doing it and start.

    The important thing is motivation, I think: would I be doing it because I think I have a gift for ministering to others through the activities of promoting a book, or am I doing it because I'm terrified that if I don't the book will tank? Do I have the time and energy to do it, and still do the kind of work I want to do on the new books I'm writing? Still have time and energy to devote to my family, my health and to my relationships with God and with His people? Those are things only the individual can answer, and what's right for one may not be for another.

    Hmm... I feel a blog post coming on...

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